Retro Review – Tears Of The Sun

*Originally written in 2004

Tears of the Sun | War film Wiki | Fandom

After a slow start, Tears of the Sun turns into a decent semi-action movie with a fair amount of tension. Bruce Willis stars as Lieutenant Waters who, along with a small group of soldiers, is sent into Nigeria to ‘rescue’ any American citizens from impending death, as rebel fighters are entering the area intending to kill any outsiders. They have just wiped out the President and his family, and are taking control, and the US is not authorized to interfere. Primary target is Dr. Kendricks played by Monica Bellucci, the foreign widow of an American. Secondary targets for rescue are nuns. Tom Skerrit plays Willis’s superior, and sends the team in with strict orders not to engage the enemy. Of course, when they reach the doctor she refuses to leave as she has many injured patients. Willis reluctantly agrees to take 70 refugees with them, knowing that only the Doctor will be airlifted out. However, when the remaining doctors and patients are killed, Willis disobeys orders and returns to take the 70 refugees over the border to safety. However, the rebels are on their tail and no help is coming, and a twist reveals an important person among the refugees.

The film’s main faults lie in the fact that as an action movie there is little action for the majority of the movie, and as a drama there is not enough interaction between the characters to make us care for them too much. However, the performances from Bellucci, Willis and co. are all good, there are some tense scenes, the surroundings are stunning, and the final chase when the enemy catches up is very well executed. The issues of American intrusion, good vs evil, and morality are tackled well for a film of this type and much sympathy is aimed towards the victims of the conflict. Unfortunately some of the other soldiers are not given much screen time, and many look similar so we do not know who is who, undermining the emotional impact of the battle scenes. However, they all come to see that their jobs as soldiers is not to help their own citizens, but to protect the innocent at all costs, regardless of race. Overall a good attempt at mixing action and drama.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Tears Of The Sun!

Retro Reviews – Spiderman 2

Originally written in 2004*

Remembering 'Spider-Man 2,' 15 Years Later - mxdwn Movies

After the hype surrounding the decent Spiderman, I was looking forward to this because it introduced Doc Oc, one of my favourite comic book bad guys, but I wasn’t expecting it to be vastly better than the first. I was proved wrong. This improves over part 1 in every way, with the performances stronger, the effects better, it is more exciting and there is a less teeny feel about it. Not quite as good as the X-men movies, but better than most other recent comic book movies.

Peter Parker has been masquerading as Spiderman for some time, helping the city from crime, but he still has his critics. More importantly though he is trying to get on with a normal life, earning money and thinking about MJ. However, after the events of the first film, the three people Peter cares for most are becoming distant from him in different ways. MJ has fallen for someone else and Peter keeps letting her down, his best friend Harry, whose father (Green Goblin) was killed by Spiderman is closing in on his discovery and is becoming increasingly hate filled and paranoid. Aunt May is also getting older and becomes estranged from her nephew when she realises what Peter did in the first film. As well as this, Peter seems to be losing his powers. He decides that he must give up his alter-ego. Meanwhile, Doctor Octavius sees one of his experiments going disastrously wrong, simultaneously destroying the Osbourne company and turning the Doc into Doc Oc. Doc Oc goes on a crime spree, and puts New York in danger, particularly Peter’s closest friends. He must be stopped at all costs, so Spiderman is reborn.

Firstly the writers and Raimi deal with the many intertwining plot lines brilliantly, squeezing everything into the two hours, and leaving space for tonnes of action. Fans of the comic will enjoy seeing the appearance of later important characters such as John Jameson and Doc Connors. Each storyline is followed carefully and we feel sympathy towards Parker whose gift is becoming a curse. However, as this is primarily marketed as a summer blockbuster it is the stunts, action and effects which will matter to the masses. And they are excellent. The fights between Spiderman and Doc Oc are some of the most impressive action sequences to date, especially when the pair are flying through the city at break-neck speeds. Once the action starts, the excitement rarely fades, juxtaposed by the impending threat of peter being uncovered, and Harry finding out the truth. The film also sets itself wonderfully for sequels and spin-offs, as fans will know about the appearance of Venom, Doc Connors and the Hobgoblin. Maguire performs much better here than in the first, and his character’s depth certainly increases. Dunst is also much better, possibly her best performance since Interview with a Vampire, and Molina is perfect as Doc Oc. Franco as Harry also admirably shows range as he struggles between sanity and madness, and although he seems to be losing he still is capable of getting sympathy from us. Overall an excellent comic conversion, and a significant improvement over the original.

Let us know what you think about Spiderman 2 in the comments!

The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project' Premiered at Sundance 20 Years Ago

*Originally written in 2003

The wild hysteria surrounding this movie proves that the majority of the cinema going audience can still be fooled into believing anything they see or hear, or think they do, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is an extremely convincing and effective horror flick. A certain number of people on these boards (written originally on IMDb so refers to IMDb message boards), and who have reviewed Blair Witch Project HATE the film for varying, understandable reasons. When I first watched this, I watched intently, knowing exactly what the directors were playing at, and I found great enjoyment in watching the reactions of those who thought it was real. Did it unsettle me? No. Did it make me jump like the horror movies that rely on loud noises to scare (the recent Ring remake) – no. But it was the first horror movie in a very long time to put a smile on my face, and make me shiver. If you can remember back to when you played hide and seek as a kid – the feeling you had when the person looking for you was 10 feet away and coming closer – that is what this film gives, in a much greater quantity.

It is slow moving, and if you do not enjoy the pace, then you may not enjoy the film, but it compensates this by being short and concise, juxtaposed against how the 3 campers must have felt as the hours dragged by – the point I take from this is that in life we only remember a series of memories, images pasted together to make little sense, and life seems much shorter than it actually was.

The camera use and grainy feel again may be fuel for hatred or love, but it works perfectly – they don’t know what is going on, and neither do we, but that doesn’t matter because in an uncertain and threatening situation, the natural human reaction is to run or fight. Drained, exhausted, paranoid, they run. Ever had a nightmare about running away from something, but not knowing exactly what it was, or why you are running?

The best part of the movie (apart from the hilarious ‘I kicked the map into the river’ scene) is the last few minutes when Michael and Heather enter the house following Josh’s screams. This is perfectly spine tingling, and the ending is excellent as our feelings and fear somehow build and climax  in perfect harmony with what is happening on screen. The actors are clearly convincing, again look at the audience hysteria for proof, and although they are not called upon to do much, they do it well. Few great horror films come along these days, this is one- embrace it, let yourself be sucked in to feel the full effect, don’t be critical, and realize how good it is.

Let us know what you think of The Blair Witch Project in the comments!

Retro Reviews – Seven Samurai

*Originally written in 2003

Adventures and Quests: Seven Samurai (1954) | Detroit Institute of Arts  Museum

Kurosawa’s most famous film, and arguably the most famous film ever to come out of Japan over 50 years after its release. Endlessly influential, often touted as the first action movie, and full of rich cinematography, brilliantly constructed set-pieces, humour, sorrow, and some timeless characters portrayed by excellent performances. The Seven Samurai is still seen today by fans and critics alike as one of the best films ever made, almost flawless in every department and still as appealing and relevant as it was 5 decades ago.

The film begins by telling us that Japan over 400 years ago was a place of fighting and poverty, with Samurai and bandits wandering the countryside, some with honour, some stealing from the poor. We meet a group of 40 bandits who travel from village to village through the year, ransacking and taking whatever they can find. In the past they have murdered farmers, raped their wives and daughters, and taken their livelihood. They decide to raid one village once it is time for the farmers to harvest. A few villagers over-hear this and try to prepare. Some believe they should fight, some say they should plead with the bandits, others say they should just give in as always or they will be killed. Eventually their Patriarch Gisaku says they should hire some help, Samurai who will help them in exchange for food. This seems like an outrageous plan as Samurai are proud, but a small group of farmers led by Rikichi leave with some food to find such Samurai in the hope that their village will be saved, the alternative being worse.

They struggle at first and we see how there is no pity for them, that most people are too busy with their own affairs. Just as they give up hope they witness Kambei, a Samurai performing a selfless deed. They follow him and ask for help. Joining Kambei is a young apprentice Samurai Katsushiro who also saw Kambei’s deed, and following them is a fiery man who claims to be a samurai-Kikuchiyo. Kambei listens to them and eventually agrees, believing they will need a total of seven Samurai. He and Katsushiro make two, and they begin to look for and test others. Kambei’s old friend Schichiroji who he believed was dead arrives making 3. A woodcutting, quirky Samurai called Heihachi joins along with masterful swordsman Kyuzo making 5, and a man nicknamed ‘strongman’ makes 6. They leave for the village, followed by Kikuchiyo who wants to be part of their group even though no-one believes he is a Samurai. He proves himself and makes 7 when the villagers do not come to welcome their rescuers. We see how the Samurai and farmers mix, and we see mistrust and fear. Many emotions come out adding depth so rarely seen in action films. There is a love story, many twists, prejudices and hidden truths. As the bandits approach, the farmers are trained and a plan is made, but there will be many casualties.

As so many books have been written on this film alone I can only offer a summary. Each actor is excellent, with Mifune standing out. Shimura, Miyaguchi, Tsuchiya, and Kimura all give emotive performances and when a character dies or feels sorrow we genuinely grieve with or for them. There is so much going on and so many story lines that we are completely pulled into the lives of each character. Kurosawa’s direction cannot be faulted, and although it is slow at times and the search for Samurai takes up much of the film, we are captivated throughout. The action scenes, groundbreaking for their time still manage to create awe today simply because they are filmed so beautifully. This is an immortal story of winners and losers, of truth and honour, of love in all its guises, and of overcoming personal prejudice which will stay in the mind forever.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Seven Samurai!

Nightman Listens To – Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (Top 1000 Albums Series)!

What's Going On (Marvin Gaye album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! If you’ve been following this series you’ll know I’ve had a torrid time of it. The quest to find an album I genuinely enjoy has been difficult and any fans of the albums I have dismissed likely think I’m a complete tool bag. I’m hoping the tide will change today, because it’s Marvin Gaye. Without really loving anything I’ve heard by Gaye, I’ve liked it all and his smooth vocals, Motown melodies, and political sensibilities all point towards me liking this album. I imagine this will be a straight down the line collection of hits with no bullshit – many of the albums I’ve listened to recently seem to have so much acclaim because of cultural relevance or influence rather than how good the music actually is and while I already understand the relevance of this I just want to hear some decent tunes.

What Do I Know About Marvin Gaye: I soul/r’n’b/rock vocalist who also dabbled in some session music and writing jobs for other artists before finally finding solo success. I think he was murdered, like a few other notable contemporaries. I know quite a few of his bigger hits.

What Do I Know About What’s Going On: I know that it is frequently listed among the best albums ever by pretty much any critic or publication you can find. I assumed that it contained most of his well known hits, but looking at the tracklist there are only two I know. Also, I see it’s another 9 track non-metal album. Interesting.

What’s Going On: We open with some spoken voices before a brief and sultry brass flits over some soothing beats. Then that glorious voice takes over, allowing room to feel the plaintive lyrics. The song takes a loose approach to standard verse chorus structure and the violins quietly compliment the vocal melody. The song obviously has an important message for what was going on at the time but it’s a prescient one for today’s chaotic world too and I find it interesting that the song isn’t played more often.

What’s Happening Brother: This leads in directly from the previous song and feels very Motown in its approach – a lot of string and brass, backing female vocals, a bit of a groove. Lyrically it treads the same paths as the opener, with more questioning and pleading, and even references the first song by name leading me to think that this song was originally an outtake of the first, eventually expanded into its own thing. Musically similar too, it is brief enough that any repetition doesn’t get the time to take hold.

Flyin High: I like the ‘prog’ approach so far – each song bleeding into the next without a pause. This is slower and more free-form. Interesting bass doing its own thing in the background while the strings set an airy tone. The voice is smooth and angelic as you would expect, and melodically it reminds me of someone like Jeff Buckley – just jazzy enough without being needlessly complex or off-putting, but never reaching a peak and I assume staying quite uniform on purpose.

Save The Children: This blends in from the last one too, nice layered vocals between the spoken part, the backing ahhs, and the accompanying sung call and repeat. I assumed that format was going to just be an intro but it seems the entire song is going this way which is pretty cool. Unusual at least. It’s still political, this time questioning how future generations are going to cope with the fallout of current actions. Each line comes with a new instrument or slight twist on what came before – keeping that interesting tone where it’s uniform but free-form at the same time. At least until the final minute or so where the music reaches an instrumental crescendo before a more funky commercial climax.

God Is Love: That little commercial piece becomes the intro of this one. I had/have no idea of Gaye’s religion but this seems pretty straight forward and a liberal take on what should be the most important tenet of Christianity, or any religius or moral group – love one another. Musically it isn’t much of a stretch from anything else we’ve heard.

Mercy Mercy Me: This comes straight in from the last one and its power and quality are as clear today as they ever were. It’s the most obvious hit on the album with its infectious hook and swaying swagger groove. No matter how many times I hear it, that ending is still unexpected and seems to take the song off in a new and bizarre and downbeat direction.

Right On: Now, this is funny to me because the intro instantly makes me think of Anything Goes by Guns N Roses – a song about all sorts of kinky sex. I’ve no way if that was intentional but it wouldn’t surprise me. There’s quite a bit of piano and some sort of flute going on and it feels like a smooth backing track for a chilled gathering. There’s still a cultural message if not quite a sermon and again it has the loose melodic quality where Gaye puts down vocal riffs over the rhythm section instead of following a set pattern. Just when it seems like the piano is going to really come in and go off on one the song shifts to an even more quiet and smooth section. The sax tears off a couple of face melters but doesn’t hit a full stride. Just as it looks like the song will fade it, a thumping beat kicks in and the instruments jam on. I don’t know if this really needs to be over seven minutes long – I would have cut it somewhat but it mostly avoids needless repetition and stretching.

Wholy Holy: Continuing the no pause between tracks of the first half, this one blends in but quickly establishes a hymnal quality. There are more strings and sparkling and twinkling sounds, more religious lyrics, more hope, and more free-form vocal riffs. The message of love stands, if we love then violence and bullshit drops.

Inner City Blues: We’re at the closer already and it has flown in. Piano and hand drums, then more drums. It’s a little more funky than what has come already, but very much in the same format musically and lyrically. I like the double vocals and it’s a nice approach to old school blues. Some nice breaks and screams and recalls to previous songs.

What Did I Learn: That this didn’t contain the load of hits I assumed it would and that it was more in line with jazz that the Motown hit-making machine. It’s a very consistent album with not much variety from one song to the next. Normally I don’t like that sort of thing and rely on heavy melodic variance to differentiate songs. The album builds upon this by removing the standard silence between tracks so that the whole thing feels like one long piece.

Does It Deserve Its Place In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: On sheer cultural power alone it’s a yes but I would have preferred a couple more hits. I realize coming from me – I am fairly anti-commercial and listen to all manner of noise – that this statement is contradictory, but certain genres lend themselves to commercialism more than others. The songs I knew are bonafide classics but I’d need a few more listens for any of the other songs to take hold – on the surface quite a few blend too much into the other for me to identify each one specifically. Taking on board the sales and the acclaim and the fact that the two big ones at the very least are still loved today, it deserves its spot.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 39/1000

Let us know in the comments what you think of What’s Going On – is it one of your favourites, were you around when it was released?

Dead Of Night (1977)

Traumafessions :: Doomed Moviethon's Richard on Dead Of Night (1977)

This Halloween, and every Halloween, I try to watch a few portmanteau horror anthologies. Dead Of Night by Dan Curtis bares little resemblance to the Ealing film of the same name from three decades before, beyond the fact that they both offer little segments of horror and mystery for the viewer to enjoy. With only three stories and no wraparound it sets itself apart from many other anthologies, but thankfully the film still works thanks in a large part to the potency of its final piece.

It’s always interesting to me when an anthology film, ostensibly one in the horror genre, starts out with a segment which seems in no way related to horror. This is barely a Twilight Zone episode – one without an overly shocking twist or creep factor, but one which is still charming and watchable in its own right. Starring Ed Begley Jr as a car fanatic who picks up an old car to restore. The car has a bit of history, having been crashed 50 years earlier in a double death tragedy. Taking it out for its first spin, he finds himself somehow transported back to 1926 to learn the truth of the tragedy and maybe call upon some old relatives. It’s a strange, wistful tale which feels a little out of place but is still fun.

The second segment, is full blown Gothic Hammer goodness – creaking old mansions, butlers, sick busty women, and vampires. While this one does indeed have a macabre twist, you can see it a mile away if you’ve seen any horror movies of the last thirty years. It’s one of those segments which reminds me why I fell in love with Horror in the first place – even though it’s outdated and silly and not at all scary, it treats the material, and the vampire seriously – as this truly powerful and deadly threat rather than the lovelorn or easily slain anti-heroes we think of nowadays. It’s a piece which would be perfectly chilling and unforgettable for kids just dipping their toes into the genre. Plus you get Patrick McNee and Horst Bulchoz.

The final segment ‘Bobby’ is one of the most famous segments in all of anthology horror. Written by the great Richard Matheson, it’s the story of a grieving mother trying to raise her son from the dead using the dark arts. With little more than an exasperated sounding husband on the phone, it’s all about Joan Hackett and her attempts to resurrect her dead child. It’s a great performance, a chilling story, and one shot with literal thunderous aplomb – a stormy night becoming increasingly terrifying as Bobby teases his appearance, and proceeds to demand a game of hide and seek. It employs a lot of tricks to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, and it remains an effective and nasty tale.

Dead Of Night is a nifty little anthology to kick off your Halloween viewing, and a great introduction for younger viewers. Just snuggle up on the sofa and scar them for life, setting out with a gentle opener then racking up the tension until the final moments. Horror films aren’t made in this style any more – gore and swearing and sex free, but still scary enough that anyone can get a kick out of it and easily shared with younger family members who will get the thrill of the genre and hopefully want to explore further. Seasoned horror fans will enjoy the nostalgia factor even if the genre has progressed to deeper scares in the years since, but should still appreciate the dedication Curtis had for the craft.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Dead Of Night!

A Dark Song

A Dark Song - Film Hub Wales | Canolfan Ffilm Cymru

A Dark Song is a film to be nerdy about and one which embraces its nerdy ways. It would be more precise to call the film detailed, committed to being authentic. It’s something rarely seen these days, unless said detail is Product Placement. It’s also another one of those films which I was touted as being ‘the scariest of all time’ which both intrigues and worries me, because horror is subjective and because that’s usually a blurb to cover the cracks of a shitty film. Luckily, it’s not a shitty film, nor is it the scariest ever. It’s a solid, grief driven horror movie more concerned with detail, foreboding, and creating a somber tone – and it largely succeeds in delivering on each of those points.

If you weren’t aware, I always enjoy limited scope films – films with a single set or a very tiny cast or some other limitation which tends to mean filmmakers are more creative to work around those restrictions. A Dark Song is essentially a two character, or two actor movie, and for the most part is set in a single location. That location is a large Country House in the middle of nowhere, and the performers are Catherine Walker (Sophia), and Steve Oram (Joseph). Sophia is a grieving mother who has sought out the Occultist Joseph in order to perform a serious of rituals which will allow her to eventually speak to her dead son. Joseph is angry, bad-tempered, distrustful, while Sophia is guarded and defensive meaning the two clash regularly. Part of the ritual means they must live together in this house for many months, without ever leaving or making any contact with the outside world, following various increasingly difficult rites which bring forth both demons and angels to torment and test the pair. The plan is that if someone is worthy enough to complete these rites, a guardian angel will appear and grant any wish.

The film almost plays out like a Mike Leigh film – if Leigh was concerned with the Supernatural and Occult Rituals. It has that kitchen-sink realism and gritty downbeat British tone, all wrapped up in the overall theme of the lengths we go to with grief and guilt, and propelled along by depictions and discussions of the various exercises one must perform to step through the various realms of Heaven and Hell. These involve sleeping in certain places, types of mental and physical torture, drinking blood, chanting, drawing arcane symbols etc. With the fraught relationship between the pair, and the months of punishing tests, tempers fray throughout the movie and the viewer is never sure if it’s all an exploitative joke.

I’m curious to see how viewers will react to this film – horror fans and non-horror fans alike. For horror fans, you’re made to wait until closer to the end before anything overtly horror related makes an appearance while the first half of the film or so is intriguing enough to me in exploring the characters’ relationship and snippets of the history and background of what is being performed. There is a pay-off, and it mostly worked for me, but I imagine others may be frustrated by the ending. I would argue that the ending is exactly what the character needed, and for the viewer it should be the journey that matters – some questions concerning the mother and son aren’t answered, and people may feel those should have been resolved.

Oram is his usual warts and all self – he’s a physical actor who always seems to be eating or scratching or gesturing, while Walker plays the exhausted woman well. Director and writer Liam Gavin shows a genuine interest in the rituals and mythology taken from the Abramelin books and adds enough open-ended intrigue to make me want to go down the rabbit hole. It’s an assured handling of tension and of whatever scares come later, but he does seem more concerned in the build up and the lore and the emotion, than making a scary movie. It’s his movie, and that’s fine, but the marketing may suggest it’s something that it’s not. For me, it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking film of the sort which is rare these days.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of A Dark Song!

Nightman Listens To Madonna – Hard Candy!

Hard Candy (Madonna album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Album 11, eh? We’ve almost caught up to present day. As this is one of her more recent releases I can’t confirm that I have heard any of the songs included. I probably have heard snippets, and I have vague memories of seeing some of the videos, because its hard to erase the image of her unsettling gyrations from your mind once witnessed. In truth she does that sort of thing in most of her videos so it could have been from any of her albums of the last fifteen years. In 2008 I was no longer subjected to the radio choices of others while going to, from, or in work, so my knowledge of what crap was on the radio gratefully plummeted. Apparently the album is pop/dance-pop based, with an R&B vibe. In other words, the sort of music no-one should be subjected to. See what I put myself through for you guys? And where’s my damn parade? The injustice sickens me…

Candy Shop: Beats. Beats and breaths. Vocals. What is Candy Store a metaphor for? Her music? Her thighs? Verse melodies fine, not annoying, not anything special. The chorus places a low pitch/high pitch dynamic on the vocals – it’s about as (un)memorable as the verse. There’s a silly middle section with lots of bleeps and talky vocals which ensures the song reaches four minutes. Just as I think it’s going to end some guy comes in to say various city names for some reason. It’s always the same list. Why is it never ‘Yo. Portavogie. Ormskirk. Schaumburg, I see you. Uh. Humpybong. West Side’. Etc. An unremarkable opening album track, but not bad.

4 Minutes: Loud rappy horns. Some guy doing ‘wicky wick wah’ stuff. This goes on and one. I think this would sound pretty good on the dancefloor, those horns and parps are groovy. Decent verse melodies again, the male stuff is less engaging. Good chorus melodies too, but let down by all the stupid spoken stuff. When will people learn, spoken stuff is rarely better than cringey and almost always dated within 2 months. If it wasn’t for that bollocks this would be good. It’s still good, but that talking crap is distracting and really does make it sound incredibly silly. Like someone standing in front of you making really good arguments, but you keep looking down because his knob is hanging out. And it’s weird looking.

Give It 2 Me: That beat and sound sounds like it has been lifted from a very specific D12 song. Good melodies though, no talking yet. Lots of rave stuff going on too, but it all works. The middle goes off on one with more silly talking stuff – lots of repetitive layering which doesn’t quite work but isn’t as stupid as in the previous song. You get the feeling that someone with half a brain should have been in the studio and saying ‘look, the song is good as it is, you don’t need to add all of the superfluous garbage’.

Heartbeat: Good intro, good melodies, this time it actually feels like something. She’s tapped into something more real and vital here. Again there is a sour taste because some twat is breathing or grunting or shouting nonsense in the background. A perfectly good song on the verge of sabotage. Will she do another tuneless repetitive middle – and before I’ve even finished typing that she went and did it. Sigh. She does follow it with a better second middle before going back to the banging chorus. I have a feeling sabotage is going to be the key word in this album. A pity too that the lyrics are bullshit too – not the words themselves, but the subject matter.

Miles Away: Some acoustic guitars makes this feel familiar to me. More good melodies. One thing which seems to recur is the robotic rhythm of the melodic delivery in the verses – each-verse-seems-to be sung-in-this-static-way like this. It’s another song I quite like though – aside from the plain opening song each one has been good, outside of the middles and the male hollering. I listen to a Madonna album – she’s who I want to hear, not all these other hanger-ons.

She’s Not Me: Clappy beats. Retro funk. More catchy melodies. More dancing. According to the comments this is some veiled attack/rebuttal of Lady Gaga. It’s true, she doesn’t have what you have but unfortunately this smacks more of fear – fear of aging, fear of no longer being relevant, fear of being replaced. I mean, Madonna brazenly copied from Cyndi Lauper. She did ride that bandwagon and then go on to become her own thing – which of course Gaga has done herself. I don’t see why she’s bitter about it, but then I don’t follow celeb feuds. What the hell is this awful screeching singing? Another random just popped in to give his unwarranted two cents. The song fades out for a while, then builds up in good old cliched dance style for a hectic ending.

Incredible: What appears to have been a sweet ballad has been blown up and blown apart. There’s an awful lot of crap going on in here to make the song bombastic. That’s actually not a bad idea sometimes – taking a simple song and making it grandiose – I mean Roman writers did that shit two thousand years ago. It doesn’t quite work for me here, mostly because the little blasts of sound and the fabricated drums sound so dated and juvenile (ha). It’s not the first time I’ve said this about a Madonna song, but I’d like to hear a stripped back version of this without the bullshit to see if it works.

Beat Goes On: The start of this sounds like one of those awful 5 second Youtube ads – they all have some tinkling jingle which is just short and long enough to piss you off every time it plays. Good verse melody here but the chorus and other moments feel uninspired. An oddly average mid album track which covers ground she’d done better two decades earlier. And again more stupid crap from Pharrell or whatever other binlid is yelping in the background. We do get a full rap section, at least it’s an actual rap not the momentary shouts we’ve had before. The lyrics are nonsense and may as well be ‘uh, hey girl, I got a Wispa and a Twirl; lets watch some shit unfurl, from the sphincter of a rat, or a cat, hey I got my money back, from a fish in a hedge who I found up on a ledge of a house owned by some dude called Brian who I know cos I know that he knows I’m lyin’ that the Earth ain’t round it’s flat like a cat whose shat, unfurled, from a sphincter just like that’. And behold, that is the single greatest rap lyric ever written.

Dance 2Night: So it comes to this – most of the songs have been about dancing, or going out to the club at night and dancing – you know, the most meaningless subject possible, but just to drive the point home we have a song called Dance 2Night. And of course it panders to the masses with its ‘you don’t have to be rich or pretty to do it’ message, which is another way of saying ‘ we know most people are ugly/fat/average/stupid/desperate/poor but if we make a song they think is about them they’ll give us their money. Success! It’s funky enough – sub Thriller stuff with that obvious 80s vibe, the lyrics are insipid, the melodies are too shrouded in over-produced gloss that any feeling is ripped from it. There’s a C+ grade song somewhere here.

Spanish Lesson: Ah yes, the requisite Spanish song. For 12 seconds it’s not bad, but then the idiots get their mitts on it. Lyrically, it’s literally a Spanish lesson. Musically, it’s literally a lesson on how to write a shit song. Is this also a song about fucking your teacher? Like statutory rape? There’s another dancefloor reference. Why doesn’t she just make an album where the lyrics are entirely ‘dancefloor, get up, can’t stop, don’t stop, dance, dancing, yeah, baby, dance, enough, dance, heartbeat, tonight, club, dance’? Oh right, she’s already done that. On every single album.

Devil Wouldn’t Recognise You: A little more maturity in this one. But it’s too plain and melodically boring. This sort of song is fine for covering in production smoke and mirrors because the core is so mundane. Even with all the excess, it’s tepid. She finally brings her brains to the table but misses out with the heart and soul.

Voices: The closing song, can it bring things up again? Good verse melodies – at least that has been consistent. This is much closer to the merging of heart, soul, and brain. The static-laden beat works, the lyrics are better, and there isn’t a trace of any male interference. Yet. Nice orchestral ending. See what you can do when you don’t have a man trying to piggyback on your success. Forget about Gaga and worry about the real problem.

It’s a frustrating album. One one hand it’s much better than I was expecting – then again it’s Madonna so I’m not sure why I keep expecting failure. On the other hand, it’s not as good as it should have been. Many of the songs are top grade tiers brought down by stupid decisions and interventions. To continue the dubious educational metaphor, it’s like someone has completed an exam paper to the best of their abilities and is heading for a good overall score, but with 15 minutes remaining on the clock they glance around and see that others have written different answers so they panic and begin scribbling additional answers which take away from the good groundwork they already had and thus they end up with a lower overall score. The groundwork for many of the songs on Hard Candy is sound – melody, beat, vocals, all the basics, but then some plank comes in a craps all over it because that’s what the suits have said is selling at the moment. At this point in her career, I had more than aged and matured out of her target audience, so all of the sickly garnishing I’m referring to probably satisfied the people it was meant for. The more discerning fan should be shaking their head and saying ‘Madonna, it was good, but you ruined it’. The second half doesn’t have the punch of the first and while she’s experimenting with new people, if not new sounds, there’s nothing really new or exciting here – a by-product of working with today’s idea-less superstars. There are plenty of songs I’ll gladly give a second listen but plenty I’ll avoid.

Let us know what you think of Hard Candy in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Heartbeat. Give It 2 Me.

Inoperable

If I hadn’t established this already – I’m a big Danielle Harris fan, ever since my childhood seeing her in things like Eerie, Indiana, and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. She’s one of the best child actors ever. She has since been very prolific, more often than not appearing in horror movies and, sadly, more often than not appearing in not very good movies. Given that she usually manages to elevate whatever she’s in, I try to watch as many of her films as possible on the hope that she’ll appear in something as good as her most memorable movies.

Inoperable isn’t one of those. It is based on a fun and interesting premise though – one which was strong enough to pull me in even before I knew she was in it. Danielle Harris plays a woman who wakes up in a seemingly abandoned hospital, dressed like she is about to be operated on. With little memory of why she’s there, she wanders the halls and eventually finds other patients and staff, and catching snippets of weather reports hinting that a major storm will be passing through the area shortly. Also, she seems to keep ‘waking up’ in her car on a busy road – at first she assumes the hospital vision was just a dream, but when she keeps leaping between the two, reality and truth begin to blur.

The film mixes mystery and horror – why is any of this happening to her? How come some of the other people she meets seem to remember her, yet at other times forget? How come some of the hospital staff seem intent on murdering her? What is the significance of the weather? It’s part slasher, part Groundhog Day, part some more confused Lynchian nightmare. Unfortunately, it loses much of its early intrigue due to quite a lot of repetition and too many shots of running through corridors. There’s a good movie in year, but it’s hindered by what I can only perceive to make a lack of experience and innovation in the writing and direction and an uncertainty over how to wring the most tension and intrigue out of the premise while leading us towards a satisfying ending. Harris is fine, though spends much of the film in a confused and empty state, while the rest of the cast are adequate in mainly minor roles. It’s been at least a couple of years since I watched this so some of the finer details have probably been lost, but my most abiding memory of the viewing experience was being frustrated by the execution living up to the potential of the idea. Still, if you like films which bounce around in a non-linear way and ask mind-bending questions, or if you’re a Danielle Harris kinda person, it’s worth a go but I can’t see it earning many uber-fans.

Let us know what you thought of Inoperable in the comments!

Game Night

Movie Review: Game Night (Spoiler Free) | ReelRundown

It’s a pain trying a find a movie that my wife and I will both like. I follow tonnes of movie sites, blogs, fan pages, and am constantly updating lists of movies I want to see. She does none of these things and therefore generally won’t have heard of a lot of the movies I suggest. Of course, I’m constantly suggesting things no sane person would choose to watch, but when she essentially only knows the biggest, most recent blockbusters or whatever her friends have been talking about, reaching a compromise can be difficult. I’ll generally watch anything, though Romance and Musicals are at the back of that list, so I’ll let her decide and say yes to the first thing she picks. As I was putting the kids to bed one night recently, I came downstairs to see she had picked Game Night. Having vaguely heard of it when it was released, and given that it didn’t sound too irritating, I agreed, hoping it wouldn’t fall into the traps most modern mainstream comedies do.

Game Night sees a husband and wife, played by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, organizing their weekly Game Night with friends. We’re introduced early to the film’s ongoing conflicts – husband and wife are competitive, but a team, and are planning to have a baby. The husband has unresolved sibling rivalry issues with his much more successful brother who just happens to be attending the upcoming Game Night, and they live next door to an unusual Police Officer who used to be part of their Game Nights until he got divorced and went a little weird. When the brother (Kyle Chandler) shows up, he suggests he hosts the following week’s festivities, which turns out to be a Murder Mystery Night. Things take a turn for the Hitchcockian when a genuine kidnapping takes place, leaving the three playing couples wondering what’s real, who’s winning, and spinning the plot off in different overlapping narratives filled with maguffins and red herrings.

I enjoyed Game Night a lot more than I was expecting. I hadn’t read any reviews beforehand and only loosely knew the synopsis. The blend of humour and mystery pays off, the characters are more than lewd walking one-liners and feel suitably threshed out for the most part, and while the twists and turns do leave themselves wide open for plot holes, I was too wrapped up in the story and shenanigans to overthink things. Rachel McAdams has an unfortunate habit of being used in Rom Coms – and while this could loosely fit that mould, it gives her a greater opportunity to show off her comedy chops. She has always been an engaging presence and deserves better material than she tends to be given. Jason Bateman does his usual straight-man shtick here, but again it works, and the surrounding cast each get a chuckle at some point. The Directing duo and writer keep the audience guessing, even if there is ultimately nothing overly surprising, and everything from the slapstick action to the tense moments are handled well. The most notable moments to me were the faux Tim Burton-esque miniature shots to make the world and the actors seem more like players on a board. Like an actual Game Night, this is a fun and diverting time and will only be as enjoyable and as memorable as you choose to make it. I was all in.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of Game Night!