Thursday, 26 August 2010

Everything Everything - Man Alive

2010 hasn't been too good for new bands apart from electro-indie rockers Everything Everything getting some notice, but with their first album finally being released, can the Manc's produce results or is it more Nothing Nothing?

People who initially listen to this record will probably consider it an assault on their senses. Riffs juxtaposed with noise, hooks and the odd high-pitched voice crashing through never sounded so blissfully engaging. No matter how messy the sound might appear, it works together wonderfully and masterfully that you can tell a lot of craft and hard-work went into every second. I've been waiting for a while for this album and I'm happy to say it was worth it.

MY KZ, UR BF for instance, is a great opener and their most accessible track. It's energy, structure and melody is a great introduction to what you're about to be let in for and as the band have re-recorded a new video it must certainly be getting more of a push than it got first time round. If you're going to listen to just one track, it might as well be this.

QWERTY Finger plays like a less poppy Maximo Park song, which isn't necessarily a good thing. It's not one of their strongest songs but maintains the energy and works better in a live environment than on your iPod. It leads nicely to Schoolin' which people might argue was their 'breakout hit' depending on when you first heard them. It's catchy, strange, whistling riff would always stand out on the radio and did the job of bringing in the attention of the regular listener if anything.

Leave The Engine Room slows the pace down and shows how the band enjoy the reflective aspect of putting together some beautiful sounds to make up something less energetic and more emotional. They're not afraid of putting themselves out there with an immediate mature sound that it took Foals a good few years to develop.

Final Form keeps with an emotional, futuristic feel but ups the tempo from the previous track and invokes a lonesome atmosphere as the trademark three way harmonies that they do incredibly is left at the side for a few minutes. But it comes back with Photoshop Handsome, a fan favourite, which is one of the stand-out songs and they have worked on since the first time it was recorded so it sounds a bit different from what you might have heard before. It'll definitely make a nice surprise for old fans to look forward to.

Two For Nero, might initially sound like it comes from an old ye English court or another version of Golden Brown, but it soon dissolves into a heartfelt plea to a friend from a dark place. The build-up invokes a feeling of desperation and finally dissipates into a chorus of voices. Not something you're likely to skip to, but somewhat moving nonetheless.

Suffragette Suffragette is another stand-out record that always goes down a storm live. It's more of a balls-out combination of quiet and loud that has trademark Everything Everything lyrics - random, Burroughs-esque cut-up sentences, but with a touch of humour or geeky nichisms (is that a word?). "Who's going to sit on your face when I'm gone? Who's-a-gonna sit on the fence when I'm not there?" plays on the English language and semantics, but that might be reading too much into words put together that just fit the song. Maybe.

Come Alive Diana I'm still undecided if I like or not. The trumpets give me a headache for a start but I don't think it shows their strongest side. NASA Is On Your Side is their beautiful masterpiece and I could listen to it on repeat for years, it's ambient, slow, yet powerful vocals do indeed make me feel like I'm on a space mission floating amongst the stars. It takes some bands years to reach this kind of brave songwriting and they do it flawlessly and unashamed - these are four twenty-something guys who aren't trying to look cool and by doing so, and by creating such pieces as this, make them even cooler. To go from this song then onto Tin (The Manhole) is exquisite and almost mesmerising, it shows such a forward-thinking sense of sound. Compare this record to Klaxons' latest offering and you see how talent will always shine through hype. Could you imagine Klaxons making a song like Tin? Not only would they be unable to do so, but they wouldn't have the guts to stand behind it. As much as I love the out-and-out rockier pieces, by showing their more delicate side as this, it proves that this is a band to invest in and who won't let you down by giving nothing but their best, and aren't afraid to conform.

The final song Weights has always been a great closer and I can see it working as a real epic song that blows up the small stages they have been used to the last couple of years. The build-up and crescendo is on par with any of the biggest bands out there, the telling 'I know how it all ends, I know how it ends' just shows that in terms of this band, you really don't, but if they carry on with such great music, it can only end well.

Overall, this album has to be an essential purchase and I'd perhaps go as far as saying it's my favourite album of the year so far. Mainly because I can't remember what else has been released. There are a couple of songs I'm not so hot about but seeing as the highs are ever-so-high, I'd say this is up there with some of the best debut albums ever. If you're looking for something different, something new, something exciting, something beautiful, something energetic, something with a bit of everything; then make it Everything Everything because it has ... everything.... everything.

You can listen to the album for yourself for free on their myspace page

Rating: 10/10

The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski takes on Robert Harris' novel about an ex-PM guilty of war crimes. Sound familiar?

If not, then it should. Tony Blair was apparently the inspiration behind this and the similarities fade the further the film continues. Mainly because it turns into a by-the-numbers thriller that doesn't have many thrills.

The story is about McGregor being taken on (by a weird looking Belushi) as the ghost writer for ex-PM Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). The last ghost writer was found floating face down in a nearby beach. Oh dear. McGregor is sent out to their holiday home in the States or wherever it is at the same time that the ex-PM is suddenly accused of war crimes. It all goes a bit mad. But there is a deeper truth here than people are letting on....

Anyway, the pace of this story moves ... so ... slowly ... that you want it to constantly hurry up and get to the point. McGregor does well keeping it all together and trying to figure out what's happening, but it's pretty obvious that nothing is as it seems. Poor old Brosnan, who is around a fair bit during the beginning hardly gets a look-in for the rest of the film and the wife, well ... it's just ridiculous. Polanski comes through on some bits like the 'chase' scene (the slowest chase ever) but his style seems to be lost in trying to tell the story. I'm guessing he probably had other things on his mind anyway.

I can't say much else about this film rather than 'blah'. You could tell it was from a novel as it was so 'talky' but felt so fake, sometimes watching people act out what you read in a book looks forced and unnatural. Like every novel-turned-film, it runs the risk of being lost up it's own arse, and this is almost the case. The politics of it all might ring close to home, but makes a mockery of it by suggesting silly notions for the sake of drama. It was slow, not thrilling, predictable yet well acted. The last scene for instance was sheer stupidity. It's also nice to see Kim Cattrall not acting like an idiot either. If nothing else is on, watch it, but don't expect the action-espionage-thriller the trailer makes it out to be.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Expendables

Stallone gets together with some action mates to bring back some good old fashioned 80s cinema excess. But is it just cannon fodder?

Stallone knows how to put together an action film that people want to see - fact. "The Expendables" has already got some great box office results and it proves that him and the audience agree on what makes a film entertaining. I enjoy Stallone both as an actor (he was Oscar nominated remember) and as a director/writer - he never tries to be more than he is, he sticks with what he knows and is clearly out to have fun and doesn't try to make his films too clever. He knows people mostly go to the cinema for escapism, adventure and to see some bad guys get their asses kicked. Well, "The Expendables" ticks every box.

In fact, you might as well call it "Rambo 5: Rambo & Friends" as it is pretty much the same thing as Stallone's return to Rambo a few years back. Go into bad guys place in some tropical setting, save the girl, kill a load of people, blow the whole thing up. But there is a bit more to it, the plot basically follows a group called The Expendables who are mercenaries that are a bit past it. Stallone heads up the group and Lundgren's Gunner is a bit of a mental and is sacked, Statham plays Stallone's trustworthy sidekick and Mickey Rourke ... does tattoos. They get asked to kill some leader of some island who is really being controlled by evil suit Eric Roberts. The island is ruled under an iron fist and there's a girl who wants to save it and helps out on a recon mission Stallone and Statham take. They escape, come back with the rest of the guys and cause some damage. They try to make it a bit more twisty but essentially it's nothing your half-demented Gran couldn't figure out.

The acting is surprisingly good I thought, for the most part anyway. Statham shows time and again that he is a great cheesy action star and shows up huge beefheads like Vin Diesel by stealing all their work. Stallone does his self-deprecating bit but does go through some kind of journey as he finds what it's like to stand for something again. The 'love interest' was satisfying because it wasn't a sexual thing but rather a paternal thing. The girl wanted a father figure she could be proud of, and to Stallone the girl resembled some kind of hope. It's nice that they didn't just want to fuck as there was probably about 45 years difference between them anyway. Stallone has always been nothing but a gentleman in his films. Jet Li's acting was awful but bearable ("I'm short" - okay I get it! You're being racist about yourself!) and I loved Dolph Lundgren. Rourke did his bit but you could tell when he gives his little soliloquy, he pulls out the acting guns and it does get quite emotional - for a minute, you forget you're watching a beefy action flick. Willis and Schwarzenegger are only in it for one scene, but it's pretty awful and self-aware to the point where they are almost slapping each other on the back. Steve Austin was himself as always, though I thought the reference to him being a woman beater, seeing as he actually did beat his wife, was a bit close to the bone. The real let-down, not for any reason but for his previous work, was the General himself David Zayas. He is better known for being the cheeky, fat cop in Dexter and I couldn't take him seriously as a tyrant at any point. Shame.

So let's get to the good bit, the action. Well, I thought it was great. From slicing heads off, to some huge fucking guns, to exploding helicopters, to some great fist-fights - it had it all. Some of the fighting, especially from Statham was amazing and made me get those tingles at the back of my neck because it looked cooooooooooooool. They are shooting from planes, from cars and generally shooting all over the place. The dialogue isn't too cringeworthy but it does sometimes get a bit much, but the odd one-liner is forgivable.

Overall, this is a definite boys-only affair, Statham even ditches his cheating girl halfway through the film and realises that he always has his mates. Awww. They hang out at some kind of garage/tattoo parlour and ride around on their bikes in their leathers. It sounds slightly gay and to be honest, it is a bit, but in a completely 80s macho way. If you want to see some good old fashioned action where everything explodes then this is for you but if you want a more sensible, serious, smart action thriller then look elsewhere - and make sure it's not Salt.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Angelina Jolie goes back to her Tomb Raider roots for another action flick that promised to be the next Bourne for chicks. But is it worth it's salt?

There had been a lot of hype around this film before it's release. It promised to be a global spy thriller that would make James Bond fans blush as Angelina Jolie kicks some ass. But once I heard Phillip Noyce was directing, the cracks started to show. The man had a lot of ups and downs with mediocre films - Dead Calm, Sliver, Patriot Games, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American, The Saint - all of which could be equally accused of being shit or enjoyable, depending on your tastes. I am one of the latter having enjoyed the chills of Dead Calm, the sexiness of Stone in Sliver and even thought The Saint was alright, there was an air of the Nineties about his work that I enjoyed. But I don't think there's much controversy on how awful Salt is.

Let's start with the story, Jolie is a CIA agent that is accused of being a Russian spy, so she goes on the run. That's just the beginning in a plot of twists and turns that surpass ridiculous and venture into near-insanity, but with a driving force like Jolie behind it, then surely she'll keep it all grounded right? Well, no. In fact after the first 15 minutes, she doesn't really say much or expose any emotion at all. It doesn't come across as subterfuge but rather indifference. It seems Jolie just doesn't care how her character comes across, she blazes her way from one scenario to the next without letting the audience, or anyone at all, into what she's doing. This isolation might need to work in terms of the story, but surely some more dialogue would help? It would at least make it more credible. I don't mind being confused as long as people are talking about it rather than ignoring everyone.

The film is non-stop action and I was completely bored. I had no emotional investment in any of the characters and couldn't care less if Jolie died at any point. At some points, I would imagine the audience would think she deserves it! Her callousness towards shooting the police yet the audience's wish to sympathise with her and the plot twists made me give up after a little while and so I just sat back and watched it play out without any interest whatsoever.

I'd heard people were worried about Jolie's weight during the filming and I'm not surprised. She is so thin that I doubt she could lift her arms let alone knock a guy out. The stunt men have to really work hard to make it look like she is tough but believe me, if she knocked me with her arm against the wall, I might be slightly shocked but not unconscious - and I'm not even hard. They could have made her more acrobatic to justify it somewhat but it seems she relies on her strength for most of the fighting, which is stupid.

I also couldn't help but think how much better Tom Cruise would have played the role as he was first choice but it proves again that Jolie hasn't got the acting chops to deliver consistent results. I liked her work in Girl, Interrupted, I liked her in Changeling and who didn't like her in Hackers? But it seems as if all the energy has been pulled out of her and in an action film that doesn't really cut it. Let's be honest everyone, Angelina Jolie is quite a shit actress. Which brings me on to the ever-lovable Liev Schrieber who is just waiting to get those big roles coming in - which is deserving as, even though he pretty much plays the same character as he did in Repo Men, it still shows that he can do his bit. In fact the entire rest of the cast were the only ones keeping it together. Ejiofor again shows how well our young British actors can fare overseas and even unknown (in Western cinemas anyway) Daniel Olbrychski as the Russian turncoat plays a mean part. He is apparently known for his Bale-like temper and legend has it that he rides horses through towns. It's even been reported that a picture of him in a contemporary art exhibition put him in an SS uniform, so he got a TV crew and a saber and cut up the painting. This has nothing to do with the film, it's just cool.

So for an action film, what's the action like? Well, it's alright. It's not anywhere near Jason Bourne status and for the sheer scale of it, it didn't feel like anything special. In fact, I felt I was waiting more for the action to finish so I could understand what was going on rather than enjoying it. It also had moments of stupidity that I can't forgive such as Jolie dressed up as a rather effeminate young man, wearing a stereotypically Russian outfit to be 'Russian' and the fact her husband is ugly as sin.

Overall, I hated it. I wouldn't even recommend this for the action. The plot is it's only saving grace by being a bit different, but essentially it's a load of crap trying to twist things up as far as it can in a world full of films with twists. Don't bother, there's better films to waste your time on. I'd rather have watched Tekken again - and that's saying something. Oh and there will probably be a Salt 2. Great.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 20 August 2010

Klaxons - Surfing The Void

After the massive Myths Of The Near Future and with so much anticipation, can Klaxons deliver another great album?

I have a slight problem with Klaxons. Mainly in that they kind of fell into the scene and suddenly became pioneers. Their album was essentially all their top songs they've been working on since they started - like pretty much all first albums I guess. But suddenly they became the leaders of Nu-Rave or whatever, but after inconsistent performances, health issues and more, they basically fell out of existence. We heard a while ago that they presented a new album to the label and were told to strike it off and start again - which must be discouraging to say the least. This is the result of all that hard work and does it show? No, not really.

It's clear from the off they haven't got the same buzz, youthful energy or enthusiasm that brimmed over the top of 'Myths...' but this seems quite a lacklustre performance from a band that are supposed to be the new wave of rave. Sure some tracks are good. Echoes, due to be the next single, is OK and if you like this song, then you'll probably like the album. The whole thing is hardly rave at all, instead it's got quite a slow regular pace throughout each song and the sampling isn't exactly amazing. Their vocal trademark is still around, and works a lot better than in past songs but, what my biggest fear of what would happened has happened, they've tried to recreate the same sound on the first album, with average results. The title track Surfing The Void is evidence that they have almost tried to completely recapture Atalantis To Interzone for example, but just not as good.

The Same Space is proof that the rest of the album won't be as electro as people hope. It's only when they digress into a more mature sound that they come up trumps such as the next track Valley Of The Calm Trees probably being my favourite track and the most accomplished. With bands like Foals creating a new, perhaps less energetic but certainly more expansive sound, it's a shame Klaxons haven't followed suit. Instead the middle of the album towards the end is just a mess. You can tell they're trying too hard to sound edgy and cool, but instead it's chaotic. Extra Astronomical is a joke - it sounds like 70s space-rock and not even good space-rock, it's pretty bad. Flashover, which was their first release I believe and a good choice because it sounds like it could have come from a lost session in 'Myths...' and one that I actually enjoyed.

Generally the album has a lot of ups and downs but more downs than ups, it won't rock your boat and they've lost their edge completely. It all feels so forced and unnatural, but not in a good way, it just doesn't feel inspiring and instead is clearly more of a mainstream 'pop' effort. It makes me wonder what that lost album was like and if it's better than this because, to be honest, I'd rather go back and listen to 'Myths...' again than this. If you're looking for another Golden Skans you won't find it here.

Rating: 5/10

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Disney turn another old classic into a modern remake that doesn't hold back on action, magic or laughs. It's quite a surprise...

Walking into this I thought it would be another CG-riddled ridiculous Disney money-maker but in all fairness, I quite enjoyed it.

Loosely based on 'Fantasia', Nic Cage (who looks like a weird older version of myself) plays an old wizard looking for Merlin's bloodline which turns up in Jay Baruchel's Dave (who I SWEAR acts just like some weird young Peter Falk) and they have to defeat this evil spirit trapped in a ... doll ... that Alfred Molina's Maxim intends to awaken. There are some other details but that's the basic idea. It obviously deals with confidence, romance, self-belief and I'd like to think the final battle in a fountain is a metaphor for the defeat of a 'wet' incident that plagues the young apprentice to this day, but maybe I'm reading too much into it, after all it's a kids film right?

Cage does his bit as the mentor very well, but you feel like he's holding back at times and too weighed down by the fact he has to take everything seriously to get the plot moving for the reluctant protagonist (which plays the Hero's Journey to a tee). Alfred Molina relishes in his evil persona and looks great doing it, another remarkable turn by one of our well-loved thespians. Which leads me on to one of my favourite British actors Toby Kebbell as he does his best Russell Brand impression as Molina's wacky Essex-boy sidekick. Hell, I don't even mind the love interest too much. Jay Baruchel again does his geeky, awkward acting (which I think is at times a lot better than say Michael Cera) and gets some genuinely funny lines in, but when it all starts getting Disney-esque, where he starts to believe in himself and all that, he does pull it off but you can't help but think he's suddenly jumped into a pool of cheese and left you alone on the sun lounger.

You can't help the Disney edge (or lack of it) and some bits, like the Tesla coils, Monica Bellucci in the end, the ridiculous opening sequence and all that, let it down greatly. Some bits I cracked up in because it was just stupid, not because it was supposed to be funny. The end was just sheer stupidity. But along the way I did enjoy the action scenes, the banter between Cage and Baruchel, the awkward dating scenarios and all that, but there just wasn't enough depth to it to warrant it a must-see. You can pretty much guess what's going to happen in each scene for instance.

However, it's a bit of mindless fun and you can see how it's the same as National Treasure. The kids will love all the magic and nonsense and there's enough for adults to enjoy as well as the teens, so it successfully works on all levels for all audiences. It's just so bloody stupid, cheesy and predictable at times. If you take it for what it is, you won't go wrong. To put it simply, I liked it better than the National Treasures. It gains marks for trying something different at least.

Rating: 7/10


The King Of Iron Fist Tournament based on the widely popular video game series hits the cinemas. But is it just another Street Fighter or does this pull more punches? Is it game over from round one?

It was only a matter of time until Tekken went from beat-'em-up madness to the big screen. After all, the first game was released in 1994 and Tekken 7 has just been announced as well as the imminent release of Street Fighter Vs Tekken. It's never been a series to give up fighting and with an intriguing storyline, with even more bizarre characters and backstory, there's a wealth of material to be played with. The game also features the toughest Grandad, Heihachi, that has ever existed. However, it's telling to say that Heihachi is a little bit different in the movie. Skinnier, less threatening and looks a bit of an idiot - much like the film.

In it's defence it takes a bold attempt to recreate the atmosphere and energy that surrounds a quintessentially Japanese title such as this. It's all bright lights, ridiculous moves and lots of colours. But it falls down in the same old places that every video game adaptation falls down in - it's too bogged down in simple plot (meaning the video game fans who are the most likely audience won't be surprised by any plot devices) and just looks a bit silly.

Saying that, it could have been a lot worse. Funnily enough, I thought the acting was good. Luke Goss was a highlight and I didn't even mind the bland cardboard beefed up guys too much - they weren't exactly left too much time to delve into their characters. However, the simple idea that Jin (who only came about in Tekken 3 if I remember rightly) is the People's champion coming up from the slums to fight alongside the best in the world is workable. The evil Tekken corporation is commercialism gone mad but for the average cinema-goer, you don't really understand the correlation properly between the Iron Fist Tournament and Tekken. The actual tournament itself seems to be a complete mess, not only is it over quickly with some characters you don't even see fighting, but the fights feel like they are over before they've actually begun. Which is a shame because they're rather good. Another terrible idea they've had is that instead of the globe-trotting that happens in the game, they've tried to recreate different scenes in the middle of the arena - meaning they have put a fake castle or some trees there. It just seems ridiculous.

The father/son/grandfather storyline is a bit dishevelled and even Heihachi comes across as a nice guy, but I can't help but feel there could have been so much more. Jin isn't a nice guy as he appears here either, in the games he's still got a bit of the (literal) devil from his father in him and this evil power would have been far more interesting than the whole revenge thing that the film turned into.

I had pretty low expectations but it does stand-up to some degree thanks to actors like Goss and Ian Anthony Dale. Harmless, brain-dead action that won't completely bore you but I can guarantee once you watch it, you'll never return to it. I doubt there will be another 6 of these.

Rating: 4/10

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days

Kane & Lynch are back from what was a disappointing first game to try and improve upon its flaws and make killing people just look darn cool. But is it time to put this dog down?

I never played the first game 'Kane & Lynch: Dead Men' because I was one of the people who hated the demo. It was a shame since I enjoyed the premise of these two psychotic killers in for all they can get, but I just found the controls and gameplay not worth the hassle. It seemed like I wasn't the only one.

Everyone was willing to give it a try, but critics found many a flaw and the audience reception wasn't too great either, which made me wonder why they wanted to continue the franchise. A spokesperson said that this would be more character orientated, that the gameplay would be a lot smoother and will be a massive departure from the flawed 'Dead Men'.

In a sense, he's right. The story takes place some years later from the first game, so the characters have aged a fair bit, and Lynch is living in China, slightly overweight and looks like he could be in a retirement home soon. He needs Kane to help him with an arms deal and in a nutshell it all goes tits up. Plot-wise, it's sound, I enjoyed it but I wish there was a bit more depth, the story moves too quickly and it feels too forced. However seeing as that this is an action game, you don't want to be twiddling your thumbs for ages but there's a balance and unfortunately the game hasn't found it. It's close, but it's not quite the 'character piece' we were promised.

Saying that, the gameplay works well and from what I remember, it's a massive improvement from the first game. You press a button to cover and pop out with the aiming and then shoot. The problem is, this is pretty much the whole game. Run, cover, shoot, move on. It works the same way as say, Army of Two, but at least you got to drive things, customise things and you had loads of weapons. Instead, with Dog Days, you pretty much pick up whatever you can and just keep running forward. I don't really mind this per se, as for the realism it works (you're not going to be able to carry an arsenal with you) and you can't drive a tank through Shanghai but there wasn't really much variety to keep me entertained. Every time I went into a new room, I'd take a deep breath and move on knowing that I had to kill a bunch more people and then move into the next bit. Once a game begins to feel like a chore, you know there's a problem, no matter how cool it looks.

Also, the cover system isn't great. There were times where I'm covered and somehow, someone from a slight angle is still able to hit me so I'd have to 'uncover', crouch and move out of the way a bit, which becomes frustrating. Also the aiming can be annoying, unless you have a sniper rifle, you're going to have to move quite close to make sure you hit an enemy, which does add an element of realism again, but I felt like I had to shoot these guys a lot before they would die. The AI is also quite exemplary but could do with some tweaking, they will take cover and slowly try to flank you and will hide while you're shooting but sometimes it makes them a pain to come out to kill. At the same time it works well if you're badly injured; just keep shooting in the general direction while you find cover and you should be safe - something I imagine would work in real life!

When you do get hit, blood starts to fill the screen and the picture goes fuzzy and at times you will get completely smacked off your feet meaning you can shoot people on the ground or press a button to get up to cover (or if no cover is around just to get up). This works well because I imagine even with protection on, getting hit by a shotgun might knock you back a bit. There's enough guns to make the average gamer happy but in essence it's quite repetitive. However, when it does mix it up a bit, it works well. Flying over the skyline of Shanghai shooting a glass building from a helicopter was a real treat for instance and running around the tiny back alleys of the city felt like a real crime thriller. A lot of the shoot-outs would feel like they came straight out of Heat and it just felt fucking cool. You can even grab someone and use them as a human shield as you move forward.

The real plus here though is the style, something that IO have kicked up a real fuss about - and so they should! The whole game looks like it's being recorded through a shaky camcorder, so the whole things compressed, when it's dark it goes grainy, lights smear the lens and it moves all over the place. This looks absolutely wicked. When you sprint, the screen is everywhere and it feels like you're in a real movie with the camera keeping up with the pace of the action. I'm hoping this innovative style will influence a lot of other game production companies to take notice and think of things slightly differently, Dog Days proves that it can work. It's sometimes just the little details - a naked woman is blurred out, or an exploded head is blurred out, all while you are still playing. It's great. The cut scenes which are presented in the same style are exciting, the sets are exquisite, and bits such as where you're being tortured (which looks like something from Martyrs) really do make you feel like you're in a Tarantino movie. I mean, you're spending most of the game killing cops - you can't get more bad-ass.

So what's the real problem? Firstly, apart from the repetitive gameplay, I found the dialogue levels weren't quite right. Maybe it's my TV, but I couldn't hear what some people were saying which was infuriating when you're trying to move with the quick pace of the plot. But the real issue here is the length. It must have taken me about four or five hours, if that, to complete it - that's with dying occasionally and all that. The whole thing just feels short. You wonder if it's because the gameplay is perhaps too tiresome that it doesn't want to make players angry by stretching it out too long - but at least make it an 8 hour game - that's standard these days. It's a massive problem and hearing that there's the arcade mode (for the people who want to complete the levels with a score system), the co-op system (which I haven't tried and is supposed to work well) and a somewhat flawed yet interesting heist multiplayer mode, there isn't really that much here to justify it as a full game. It's like an EP rather than an album.

I have to say, I really did enjoy playing the game and it took me no time to complete it, you could easily buy it, complete it, and refund it within a day. I'm not joking. Keep in mind I completed it in three hour and a half sittings. I would recommend people play it just to see what they've done with the game but I don't think £40 (or £33 in Sainsbury's tomorrow) can justify it. I just feel there should have been so much more, which is a shame because for some reason I like these characters, I liked the game but once again it is ruined by some massive flaws. Maybe they should just come back to Kane & Lynch when they can do it justice. Rent it, borrow it, or wait until it comes down to £20 or something because it's well worth a play, but I just can't rate it highly against other, more 'full', games. I really wish I could.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Interpol - Interpol

A return from one of New York's greatest exports in the last decade. Interpol's new self-titled album takes us back to the dark side.

In my eyes, Interpol can't do no wrong. Their first album was incredible but since then they have been getting gradually less impressive, and I'm sorry to say the trend continues.

Don't get me wrong, there are some stand out songs here, but like the former albums, it starts strong and slows down to a gradual death by the end of the album. It's the same dark epic sound that they have latched on to and slowly moved to since their inception. Opener 'Success' I would say might be their strongest, new single 'Lights' perhaps a close second. But after a while the guitars drown out to more atmospheric sounds. Songs like 'All Of The Ways' hit a very personal note and was very close to the bone (for anyone who knows what crap I've been going through the last few months) and you can almost feel the pain that clearly surrounds this record, perhaps more so than their past work. However, the songs feel like they're missing something ... oh yeah! Carlos D! Now the bass lines feel empty and has been mixed into the track so deep it's often hard to hear it. It's a shame because the bass isn't taking any chances, playing strange notes or clashing with the guitars, instead it's buried inside the music. Carlos D will be sorely missed.

The guitar-work though is still inspiring and the ever-cool Paul Banks still has a voice to kill for, but the songs feel slightly diluted and perhaps too try-hard. They've clearly tried to go back slightly to Antics days but they can't help but try to make everything sad and melancholy and for some reason it just doesn't feel right. The lyrics are again dark, cut-up and provocative - they never fail to impress.

All in all I'm giving this album a hard time. Interpol have a unique sound that can't be matched and it's a lot better than other albums out there - I just have high standards to match them against as they are still one of my favourite bands. It's becoming harder and harder though with each record to justify how much I like their work but they still are creating sounds I won't be able to hear elsewhere, so it gets marks for that alone. At least they haven't caved in and tried to go mainstream and until that day, if it ever comes, I will stand by them through thick and thin. I just don't want the thin to get any thinner.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


Produced by Guillermo del Toro, directed by the guy who did Cube, this B-Movie monster horror is a bit deeper than others, but should it even exist?

I've got a lot of time for movies like this, a high-concept, no bullshit horror film that plays out slowly and dramatically until a final burst at the end. Unfortunately, this movie feels like it should be so much more than what it has become.

This is mainly due to the director - the shots often feel standard and uninspiring yet there are odd moments where some glimmer of creativity comes through. You only have to look at what he's done since Cube to get a feeling that this is his last big shot, and it is in something that his art department background can justify, the monster horror theme.

But what makes this different, and kudos to Natali for co-writing the thing, is that you're never sure who the real monster is. The set-up is that Brody and Polley (who I don't think I've seen since Dawn of the Dead) are doctors playing with genetics to create animal medicines etc., but when they want to combine human DNA for medicines for us lot, they are quickly turned down. So what else to do but do it themselves? I think you can get the rest of it.

The problem is Adrien Brody just can't really hold a film together, his passiveness in The Pianist was either great acting or non-acting and this proves the latter. Polley I feel sorry for, she always seems to be left behind and doesn't seem to ever age, her acting is mediocre at the best of times and she's a strange choice for the role. It's really Delphine Chaneac as the creature Dren that shines through. Her animal-like behaviour and visual confusion is impressive, the brilliant CG and make-up helps, but Chaneac really makes Dren a complete character.

So what of the 'monster' Dren? From the minute she's born, she's an object of disgust so initially we seem to side with the idea of killing it. However, she starts growing at an alarming pace (not evolving - species evolve not individuals) and soon that disgusting thing with a tail is a little girl. The fact that she's mute and relatively sweet makes it harder and harder to consider her a threat as she turns more and more human. The plot moves nicely so that you're never at ease when she's around, there's a nasty streak in Dren and she tends to lash out with ferocity.

You start to realise that this all one big metaphor for how Polley's character Elsa wants to not let Dren down like her mother did her and soon, after a medical incident in a barn screaming metaphors (Freud would enjoy this film), you start to sympathise more and more with Dren. Is she being kept alive for the sake of Elsa? Is she actually just as bad a mother as her own? It's only about two thirds through the film that things start getting a bit weird, Brody's character Clive soon breaks loose from being the audience's grounding force to start messing with things he shouldn't - and for what reason I have no idea. Then when all hell breaks loose and Dren develops again, it gets really incestuous to the point of sickening. Dren's suddenly changed completely (in more ways that one) and has become a true monster. Was this from the result of her 'upbringing'? Or was this because of her genetics? See what they've done here? Because, to be honest, Dren goes through a lot in a short space of time that would mess anyone up, let alone a creature that doesn't know if it's even human.

So what's wrong with this picture? Firstly, the acting is pretty atrocious from everyone concerned, there's not enough tension as I would have liked there to have been and why the characters are doing what they are doing isn't explained fully enough, or there's not enough reference to any subtext to justify it. The effects, CG, make-up and everything in creating Dren is pretty damn good and looks authentic and it's the disturbing plot that wins it over from being some weird farce.

Overall, this is a great original story that takes a few chances that pay off. But ultimately, there's not enough method in the madness and it all seemed to happen so quickly that we couldn't get close enough to Dren to fully engage with the character. I enjoyed the idea, the story and the film itself but I was left feeling disappointed.

And also Brody's nose kept drawing my attention away.

Great film to kill some time and get you thinking about the morals of messing about with God's work, but ultimately more forgettable than it should have been.

Rating: 7/10

Toy Story 3

Woody and the gang are back in one of the most successful franchises of all time. But should this story have finished a long time ago?

I'm afraid I'm one of these people that doesn't really understand why Toy Story is so popular. I think it's clever, at times funny, but it's so full of cheese and can be so annoying that it makes me want to tear my head off. I can't stand that bloody music they use for one, I detest Tom Hanks' voice (could there be a lamer voice on the planet) and it's just so ... so ... soppy. But saying that, I would go as far as to say this was probably my favourite out of the three.

If you haven't seen it, their master Andy (who they refer to as a friend but their devotion is somewhat unhealthy) is all grown up and going to college, so the toys end up in a school of some sort where things aren't quite as sunny as they seem.

In order to carry on this review, I have to say what bugged me throughout the entire film. Firstly, Woody is the lamest cowboy ever, even for a toy, I mean - what the hell is he wearing? He's such a pansy and it just feels like he was the cowboy that was bullied at school for being 'gay' and so is left in charge of a bunch of losers. Which is probably why they're so appealing. Buzz is it's saving grace but the whole idea of him and his identity issues is made farcical in this after being quite seriously observed somewhat in the last one. The music again is enough to rip my head off, if I hear 'you've got a friend in me' again I might go crazy. But all this I can easily let go if it wasn't for one major, weird aspect which for me stood out like a sore thumb ... Andy.

Now, Andy has grown up to be 17 and is still attached to his toys. 'Cute' some might think, but I think that's just weird. It's clear he's never had a girl round, done anything bad or rebellious and he just feels so, so, so lame. He might as well be 12. I felt like giving him a slap the whole time and telling him to grow up and be a man. 'Oh but it's about letting go' - yeah, AFTER he plays with a little girl for ages that he's never met before. That whole scene made me feel physically sick - I mean, this kid is WEIRD! Go to college and get laid, don't play with 5 year old kids you weirdo! Also, going through puberty, the toys don't seem scarred or anything by any self-abuse that might have happened in his room. I mean, he's still got stars up on the bloody wall! Maybe he's a closet homosexual? It will certainly explain his close relationship with Wood(y). Either way, I developed a strange disposition to Andy that made me scared of what this kid is going to grow up to be (a paedophile). I mean, where the hell are his own friends? The toys should be thankful they got out of there.

This might sound quite dark, but to be honest the whole film was relatively dark. In a jokey way, the menacing clown standing by the window was great and slightly disturbing, but what wasn't funny was the baby. My God, that baby was horrible. For those who don't know me personally, I don't think there's anything scarier than babies in horror films. I don't know why. But this baby didn't help. The main bad bear guy was good, but he just seemed a little pissed off so didn't exactly scare me too much, not like that monkey watching the cameras did. That was weird.

I loved the way it looked like a prison and there was even something close to a torture scene at one point. Not only this, but the bit with the pit of fire even made me think 'Christ, this is a bit much'. So I'm happy to say, that this dark, evil side to Toy Story made me have a greater appreciation for it as a film and clearly they didn't want it to be as nice, bright and shiny as their previous movies.

The story worked well, but the whole escape thing kind of made me think - why didn't they sneak out how Woody sneaked in? It also felt a little short. The animation was, as always, superb and I saw it in 2D but I'm sure 3D would have looked great. Unfortunately, they have the little end bits in the credits where it's singing and dancing but I suppose I have to remember that it's a kids film. Which is what I want to stress to all those adults loving it - it's a kids film. When I hear about how sad it was and how people were crying, I could not for the life of me think which bits they were crying at. Getting melted? Saying goodbye? I was thinking they were lucky to get away from weirdo Andy and can actually be toys again. I think people get caught up in certain frenzies and the necessity to conform takes over, this film wasn't that great. Yeah ok it looks good, story was good, I even liked the dark stuff, it made me laugh a couple of times, but not once did I think - 'this film is amazing'. Maybe it's just me? But then, I love children's films, I love children's cartoons and more - so what makes this so special? I can't stand Shrek either. I just think it's all kind of lame and they might have pushed the boat out a bit with Toy Story 3 but, for kids this is amazing, as an adult it's alright. Great family movie, nothing more. I just know I'm going to be sitting on the tube next to a 45 year old man on his way to the City saying to his colleague 'oh I saw Toy Story 3 the other day, LOVED it, you HAVE to see it, it's AMAZING, best film I've seen for a long time'. I think they need to broaden their horizons. Don't get me wrong, go see it, but c'mon, get a grip - it's Toy Story.
I mean, you could be spending that money on seeing Inception again.
Have I offended enough people yet?

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 9 August 2010

Alan Wake

Microsoft's psychological thriller is finally completed in what can only be described as one of the strangest games to be released on the Xbox 360.

It has taken over 5 years for this game to be completed. Think about what you have spent the last 5 years doing - think about what you were doing in the Summer of 2005 and that was when this game was started. Unfortunately, it just isn't really worth the wait.

The initial concept is great, a renowned writer visits a small town and suddenly gets caught up in a nightmare scenario where his wife is missing and the little island they were staying on has suddenly vanished. There's a lot of nods here to TV series' such as Twin Peaks, The Twilight Zone and more, but the overall experience isn't quite as satisfying.

The game is divided into 6 chapters which play like episodes ('Previously on Alan Wake...') but each one is essentially the same thing over and over again. You start with nothing, pick up some ammo, a flashlight, then get more and more ammo as you walk in a linear fashion towards the next light. Enemies come at you and sometimes objects fly at you, but essentially it's the same thing again and again. It's also way too easy - this takes away any concept of 'survival horror' and instead you just end up throwing all your firepower at everything because it is very rare that you will find yourself short handed when you need it. To kill enemies is somewhat original, but essentially you shine a torch on an enemy until it's weak enough to shoot it and move on. That's it.

There's about 3 or 4 different types of human-like enemies (some move fast, others are slow and a lot stronger, some have chainsaws) but really, you will be hard pressed to be in a situation you can't get out of. Baring in mind a flare, which are dotted frequently around, is the same as an old-school 'invincibility potion', because they won't come near you and you can wait for your health to revitalise, it almost feels like you're cheating. It's a shame because it could be quite freaky and scary seeing as it's all about staying in the light, but it feels like a washed out Silent Hill. I was very rarely freaked out and at no point was I in a situation I felt like I couldn't handle leaving any tension at the door.

Saying that, the graphics look great and the scenarios kept me entertained enough. The length of the game was probably about 9 hours or so but there's more DLC to be had in the near future (one of which is already released). Why can't they have released this in the main game? Why should I pay out even more? Anyway, I don't want to give away the plot, but let's just say ... it's confusing.

The main pull of this game was that it was an adult interactive thriller as such, but released as the same time as Heavy Rain, there was no way this was going to push any boundaries like the PS3 hit did. Instead, Alan Wake continues a tried and tested formula and concentrates more on plot. But even after completing the game, I still have no idea what really happened. After some online research I was relieved to find others didn't either and there are a number of theories about it all swimming across the Internet which I did enjoy reading. But in order to keep the audience consistently entertained, the plot should maybe have been more grounded or the gameplay more experimental. The mix of quite boring, formulaic gameplay with such a weird story jarred with me and I was left feeling somewhat cheated.

A lot of hype went into this game, the online mini-series prequel looked promising and the trailers looked incredible, but really this was let down by the fact that rather than being cool it instead was quite boring. I hate to say it because I did enjoy playing it and glad I completed it, but I feel it could have been so much more. It's just not Heavy Rain. Sales figures also show that it didn't quite do as well as Microsoft wanted, and as you can probably see in any electronics shop, it's come down significantly in price. A little tip as well here, don't call a game Alan Wake - it was never going to fly off the shelves with a titles like that. Why not just 'Wake'? That sounds better at least - or 'Bright Falls' like where it's set and the mini-series?

I would like to think that given so much money and time thrown at it, that a team of creatives could do better and even though it looked good and the story, though confusing, was somewhat enjoyable in it's post-post-postmodern way, it's just let down by repetitive gameplay. A lesson for all I think.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

UK Film Council News - An Insiders Knowledge

Right, usually I wouldn't bother with such things as this but the closure of the UK Film Council and the big uproar that's happened in it's wake has really got to me. Firstly, before this causes so much backlash like my Lost article (death threats aren't great thank you), I WORKED for the UK Film Council so let me give you all a little insight into what kind of establishment this place was.
I doubt this will impair my career within film as not only is it ages ago, but no-one of any importance will read this and they never helped to get me into the film industry anyway and I landed in TV instead. Less money, less creativity, less time, yet more hours. It's what happens when you're not rich or related to someone on the inside.
So anyway, I worked in Development and for all you guys who don't know, this is where scripts get entered, digested and thrown back up. They decide essentially if something is good enough to fund and then they see it through. This department was headed by a woman and with about a team of fifteen people, there were three men, one was a very camp gay man, another an assistant and myself. In fact, rumours spread that they had been told off because they only employed women and it showed a lack of diversity. Naughty naughty. But then, it's widely known that TV, maybe not so much film but definitely TV, is a woman's game - and these girls stick together. I'm generalising, but it's an area where men are completely outnumbered and unless you're gay, you usually have to work harder to get a look in. Either that or you have to be good looking or lick arse. A lot of people would argue this, but more would probably agree.
So, what did these women do at Development meetings and such? Well, and I'm telling you now I'm not a sexist person, they would discuss their ex-husbands, the men they are having affairs with, gossiping about pregnancies, holidays etc. while we sit there smiling, laughing and looking like we're fine with this. I would sit there with the scripts they got me to read (to keep me busy) and we wouldn't bring it up at all. All that would happen is at the end of the meeting, they'd talk about what they're doing for the day.
A commissioning meeting would take place where they would dismiss independent films and only discuss anything that could, or has, a name attached. This means if they can't get any kind of US backing or a big star or director involved, they weren't interested, but they make up for it by commissioning shorts. Cheap, cheerful and representative of young filmmakers. It's bollocks.
They don't give a shit.
One meeting with a screenwriter I was involved with had me getting 10 minutes to quickly read the script and then overhearing one of the producers saying 'yeah, I looked over it last night but the fucking kids were running around everywhere. Doesn't matter, it's not as if we're going to get it made' then laughed. When I went into the meeting it was actually a cool little horror story that wasn't perfect, but she wanted to change it into more of a love story. I fought his corner, which he got excited about as I understood where he was coming from and rest assured I wasn't spoken to by this woman again for the rest of my contract. Also, the film never got made.
They also hated anything that was male-orientated unless it fitted into what they thought was for 'lads' - hence Danny Dyer in 'Severance' for example. Which was worse on page than it was on the screen. They were going crazy over a script that they were trying to get commissioned which was this - and I joke you not - a rich man (which was going to be Pierce Brosnan apparently) has his own zoo and one of the workers there gets in an accident and dies, so the wife of the dead worker goes to complain but ends up working there herself, she then befriends a chimp and falls in love with the rich man who she hated. That's it. If this film did get made can someone tell me because they were in love with it, and it sounded like someone had been sick on a plate and then took a shit on it and poured it down my ears.
So when people are crying that it will affect film, I agree that it's a good thing to promote British film, obviously, but I assure you the UK Film Council was a horrible establishment that paid itself up to £100k a year each for the big wigs and was solely interested in big budget movies that they could slap their name onto instead of putting the money into the actual British industry. Take a look at what films you see their logo in front of, it's very interesting.
In my opinion, they aren't worth a pot to piss in and I hope they find trouble getting another job, but let's be honest, I'll still be making them tea by the time I'm 50.
So don't commiserate because the money we were wasting on these wankers isn't worth it. It's better off going back into film via another route and I think the gutsy decision to close it down was the right one. Why have an inept Film Council? It doesn't make sense. I just feel sorry for the poor Production Assistant who worked there who would cry at her desk because she wasn't being paid enough to make rent and decided she had to give up her dreams and leave to get another career. Meanwhile, the 40-odd year old women are analysing their shoe purchases. I'm not making any of this up. But alas, it's the way of the world in this industry.
No rich parents, no family connections, no hope.
Doesn't matter how hard you work - if you can't pay through your nose to do a job you enjoy, then no wonder creativity in the British film industry is stifled - and it's NOT about piracy. It's about people like the UK Film Council.
Begin death threats now please ...