Well its been a bit too long since my last post, I’ve been busy settling in to my new house for my second year of uni. Fortunately there has been no lack of media to talk about so first of all I’ll talk about romantic comedy, Hope Springs. When I originally saw the trailers for the film I thought it looked a bit naff but thanks to the persuasion of some trusted reviewers and a girlfriend who has had enough of miserable films I decided to give it a watch.
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star as a couple whose marriage has completely lost its spark, Streep, desperately trying to salvage it books an intensive counselling course in Hope Springs where they are helped through their issues by Dr. Feld, played by Steve Carrell. I went in thinking Carrell would be the one bringing the laughs, but his psychiatrist is a surprisingly straight turn for the actor best known for his hilarious performances on The U.S. Office. Instead the majority of the laughs come from Jones, whose grumpy old husband frequently produces a chuckle just from his facial expressions and extreme pessimism. Streep is, as always, perfect for her role but in my eyes it’s really Jones that steals the show.
With the exception of a about three scenes though, this film isn’t so much about the laughs and much more about its central couples relationship which it deals with very seriously and provides an uplifting look on long-lasting marriages with a heartfelt conclusion. It never feels to over the top or corny, it’s just all very nice indeed. The only issue is the film is so happy to just sit in its comfort zone. It will hardly stretch outside its target audience and will end up lumped alongside all the other romantic comedies about aging couples that middle-aged couples will buy on dvd and never watch, or maybe watch once and forget. But in truth it deserves to be more than that, perhaps the film makers should have taken a bit more risk and chucked a few more jokes in that would appeal to a younger viewing age, as this film should really get much more exposure than it inevitably will.
Pixar’s offering for 2012 saw their first non-sequel for three years. Brave is the story of a Scottish princess who has the tendency to be more of a boy than is thought acceptable by her mother and the film sees her attempt to break free of the forced life her parents want her to lead. On the way everyone learns an important lesson and manage to tolerate each other a little better than they did at the beginning.
The problem I thought from when I first heard about Brave was that despite not being a sequel it doesn’t sound that original, since seeing the film I can confirm that, no, it isn’t very original. It seems as though it would be much better put out as a Disney classic princess story. The plot points are familiar to say the least and the weak final message leaves you wanting to go back to the old greats like Up, Ratatouille or Wall-E. Because most of all where Brave falls short is in its character, unlike all the studios previous efforts there isn’t an element in Brave that sets it apart from anything else. More so, it brings elements that don’t push any boundaries, that sit nicely in the middle, not taking any risks and keeping everything safe.
On the other hand, the animation is, as always, stunning. The Scottish highlands by Pixar is almost as pretty as Bora Bora by god. The contrasting greens, the bright orange hair, the blue forest spirits everything looks amazing and it does prove that in terms of animation Pixar certainly do rule the roost. The dialogue isn’t all that bad and there are a number of decent jokes even if the laughter remains very light, in terms of the usual Disney princess stories it is just as strong as most, it would quite easily sit along the line of classic Disney cartoons but when put up against Pixar’s back catalogue it, sadly, falls below par. Leaving the cinema my biggest fear is, have Pixar run out of good ideas, their first original in three years lacks anything, well, original next year’s offering will be another sequel and a sequel of Finding Nemo is also in the works plus some talk of a possible Toy Story 4 when will we get ourselves another truly great stand-alone Pixar film?
Back when The xx’s debut was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2010 I decided to give the record a listen, since then the album has become one of my favourites of all time. Chilled, yet thought provoking, melodic and intelligent. The best thing about the album is its maturity, the band never give in to any inhibition to suddenly just burst into a bout of heaviness and instead bring brilliance in subtleness, and that ultimately is what sets them apart from any other band on the scene at the moment.
It was, in fact, in doubt whether The xx would even do a second album but I, as I’m sure most of you were, was very pleased to hear that they were. And this time their was a lot more hype surrounding it. Numerous articles, interviews and statements in the run-up to it finally being unveiled. The most interesting things being the claim that the album is heavily dance influenced and that Jamie Smith’s ultimate aim is to write a song for Beyonce. Both of which gave me the impression that Coexist might well be a world away from their previous effort.
When I first listened to the album, I have to say, I felt underwhelmed. I think I discovered for a short period of time that I was actually really hoping they had gone in a wildly different direction. They haven’t, and immediately I was disappointed. As I was listening I thought to myself, ‘My reviews are going to be the complete opposite of what I was expecting. I listened to Billy Talent and I thought it was going to be something to slate, it wasn’t. Then I listened to The xx thinking I’d have another album to gush about, but it wasn’t that good.’
Then, lo and behold, I gave the album another chance, and another, and another and it was on these repeat playings that I realised I was slowly falling in love with it without even fully knowing what was going on. In many ways now when I listen to it I find its actually so much better than xx. It is another masterpiece. They’ve taken everything they did on the first album and made it more defined and more profound creating another album that’s genius lies in its subtlety. This has got to be a shout for another Mercury Prize nomination although the win may not be quite so set in stone with newcomers Alt-J being the early favourites; but Coexist certainly deserves some recognition and it is definitely worthy of a high amount of praise!
So the second series of Jimmy McGovern’s Accused finished on Monday after a short run of four episodes but before I start properly reviewing I have to just clear something up. This is one of the biggest plot holes I’ve ever seen: In Robert Sheehan’s episode he stabs his step mother and is sent to jail then at the end of his episode we see his step mother come and visit him in prison hinting at the idea that Sheehan’s character might have been right to stab her after all, but then in the episode that aired on Monday we see Sheehan’s character taken into jail and after a day he has committed suicide, having not left his cell once! How could someone not have noticed such a glaring mistake? But any way now I’ve got it off my chest we shall ignore it for the rest of the post.
After the first series didn’t get very good ratings the second series was only a short four episodes long, the premise of the programme if you haven’t seen it, is that each episode focusses on a different character who has been accused of a crime. At the beginning of each episode we see the character in the docks and then we’re taken back to the beginning of the story as the case becomes more and more clear. Personally I think it’s a great show yet it never quite feels as powerful as McGovern’s last project, The Street (check the tag cloud for my review of that one) but nonetheless is one of the best dramas on TV. This series saw another stellar cast tackle the challenging topics in the scripts, starring Sean Bean, Stephen Graham, John Bishop, Robert Sheehan, Olivia Colman, Ruth Sheen and many more. We saw problems such as mental illness, knife crime, gangs, closet homosexuality, suicide and juvenile prisons covered. One qualm I would have though is the way that every episode in this series seemed to have justice served, whereas in series one there were a number of episodes where you felt the justice system had failed our protagonists. This idea made the programme a whole lot more thought-provoking and was lacking in this series.
I’d like to see another series of this programme mainly because the premise is so good, perhaps, its success rate isn’t quite 100% but when it is successful there is little else out there that tackles issues in society so well. BBC, please bring us just one more series.
Back when I was in school, about year ten, I went through a bit of a Billy Talent phase, their first two albums were probably two of my most played records at the time, I used to very much enjoy their catchy yet rocky tunes that weren’t all fluffy round the edges and sounded like they really had something to say. Then came Billy Talent III (if you don’t know already their first three albums were numbered not titled, Led Zeppelin style) I was quite excited before its release but was completely underwhelmed by the lack of anything that stood out, it was, in my opinion, a collection of mediocrity and with that album I pretty much forgot about Billy Talent, I put it down to being one of those bands that I just grew out of and they disappeared off the edge of my radar. Then just a couple of days ago I discovered they were streaming their new album, and this one actually has a title!
More out of curiosity than anything else I whacked the album on out my speakers. After approximately two minutes, I was sold. The first track is basically just a build up and then once you’ve got into it it bursts into ‘Viking Death March’ which jumps right out and yells in your face. The marching drum beat is accompanied by stabby, meaty guitar riffs with grooves that are so deep they can be filled with extra flavour, yes I just compared Billy Talent to McCoys crisps. And once you’ve realised that ‘Viking Death March’ is actually a proper good tune, you’re hit with another slab of solid guitar rock in the following twelve tracks, it never lets up. When there’s a slightly less heavy song, like ‘Stand Up and Run’ for example, the great riffs are replaced by incredibly mature vocal melodies which I can’t remember ever appearing on a Billy Talent record. And again as I mentioned about the first two albums the band actually have something to say, unlike most rock bands out at the moment.
As My Chemical Romance spiral further and further into a deep shit hole of pop punk, the punk emo stage is left with a rather large gap, maybe it’s time Billy Talent get the popularity they deserve and become the punk emo kings. To bring back my analogy from before, ‘Dead Silence’ is the real McCoy and a very pleasant surprise. I’m heading down to Tesco for a bag of crisps.