Friday, January 22, 2010

The Jukebox (IV)

album reviews

Adam Lambert’s flamboyance remains in check, Weezer add another CD to the redundant rack, and Puddle of Mudd return with more of the same.

Adam Lambert
For Your Entertainment
Adam Lambert was probably the most entertaining and consistent singer on the latest edition of American Idol. Throughout the season, Adam’s glam rock persona and vocals received much attention and earned him the title of Glambert – he knew what he was all about, and so did we. But on his debut album, the singer’s identity seems muffled. For Your Entertainment sees Adam going for a dance pop sound that’s more Scissor Sisters than Queen, and once you get past the hideous cover art, you’ll find a compilation of songs written and produced by the who’s who of the pop music world; Max Martin, Linda Perry, P!nk, Ryan Tedder, Greg Wells, Lady Gaga, Rivers Cuomo and even Matthew Bellamy have contributed songs to the record… and that, in essence, is what’s wrong with the album – it seems to be the sum of the contributions of other musicians that in no way showcases who Adam Lambert really is. Soaked would be at home on a Muse album, Music Again sounds like The Darkness, Pick U Up would’ve fit on a Weezer set. For the most part, the songs aren’t bad; it’s just that they seem like they’re outtakes from the writers’ own albums and don’t have much to do with Adam Lambert. The fault is not with his singing ability; next time he just needs to pick (or, better still, write) songs that depict his personality and reflect who he really wants to be as a musician.
Highlights: Music Again, Soaked, If I Had You

The Avett Brothers
I and Love and You
Led by Seth and Scott Avett, folk-rock group The Avett Brothers have been delivering genre-blending masterpieces for a decade. Their latest effort, I and Love and You, is a pop-rock blend of folk and bluegrass, offering beautiful melodies and heartfelt sentiments delivered by way of poetic lyrics. Accompanied by the 13 chapter video series, the band has put together a seamless set of memorable tunes that effortlessly puts forth the underlying emotions while providing a brilliant showcase to the song-writing. The sound may be more polished than their previous albums, but I and Love and You is still easily one of the best albums of 2009.
Highlights: I and Love and You, The Perfect Space, Kick Drum Heart

Kris Allen
Kris Allen
The latest winner of American Idol was the picture perfect underdog who was as likeable as he was harmless. His first album since being crowed the champion is an extension of his Idol performance and is exactly what one would expect; the singer sticks to the niche he carved during his AI tenure, and produces an album that is melodic and pleasant but, at the same time, safe and predictable. To his credit though, Kris shares writing credits on 9 of the 13 tracks on the CD and his vocals add sincerity to the words, and yes, Kris shines on songs like the cover of The Script’s Live Like We’re Dying, but the album eventually falls into the abyss of monotony. Still, unlike Adam’s record, this album has an identity; it might not be a very interesting identity, but it has one nonetheless. The record just needed a little more of songs like the toe-tapping Alright With Me and a lot less filler so that the singer could’ve come up with a set that would’ve been more original and memorable.
Highlights: Live Like We’re Dying, Before We Come Undone, Alright With Me

Puddle of Mudd
Volume 4: Songs in the Key of Love & Hate
By the end of the ‘90s, the music world was overflowing with Nirvana clones, shamelessly stealing from Kurt Cobain’s recycle bin to end up atop the modern rock charts. Fast forward a decade and you’ll notice that most of these bands have now faded away, or, even worse, have started sounding like Nickelback. One of the few survivors in the post-grunge genre is Puddle of Mudd, a band that undoubtedly has a very derivative sound, but can still pull it off due to their ability to come up with catchy riffs and solid rock songs. With Volume 4: Songs in the Key of Love & Hate the group sticks to what they know best. Yes it is more of the same, but for post-grunge fans, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. PoM’s rock ability must be obvious to those who remember Come Clean, and while Volume 4 doesn’t equal the strength of their debut (largely because it’s weighted down by utterly juvenile lyrics), this album still hosts some potential winners and is quite worth a listen.
Highlights: Stoned, Keep It Together, Spaceship

Fifteen years after they first appeared on the music landscape, Weezer have gone from being the beloved suppliers of geek rock to makers of unremarkable throwaway electro-pop. Their latest release, Raditude, not only lacks the confessional charm of their earlier work but also features some of their least memorable work to date. The band tries to go for contemporary with the song Can’t Stop Partying which features rapper Lil Wayne, and one would guess they were going for cool with the sitar-driven Love Is The Answer, but both these songs are so unconvincing that it makes one wonder what Weezer is still doing here, and it feels like that’s what the band was wondering too when they made this album. But the saddest thing is that we know this band is capable of so much more; we have their earlier catalogue as proof. For now, Weezer fans, prepare to be disappointed. Everyone else, check out one of their previous albums instead.
Highlights: Trippin’ Down The Freeway, I Don’t Want To Let You Go

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly - Jan-Mar, 2010

The Big Screen (IV)

movie reviews

The world threatens to end, an old man goes off in search of a dream, and a young boy takes us on a journey through his imagination.

Cast: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson
Director: Roland Emmerich
Apocalyptic predictions (or even random apocalyptic theories) are usually known to spawn disaster movies, and in keeping with that tradition, we now have 2012, the story of a group of people struggling for survival as the world comes to an end in accordance with an ancient Mayan prophecy. Throw in an unimpressive script and unconvincing acting to accompany the implausible storyline further marred with lots of clumsy sub-plots, and you end up with a film that instead of encapsulating an epic disaster, itself appears to be one. True, the special effects are impressive (and with a reported $200 million budget, why wouldn’t they be), but ultimately what 2012 comes off as is the summation of all disaster films that have preceded it, carelessly employing borrowed clich├ęs from start to finish. And at a length of two and a half hours, the film is perfect for anyone who wants to have a headache. All in all, good special effects, but too cheesy and unoriginal, and way too long.

The Hurt Locker
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
A war thriller that promises to keep you riveted, The Hurt Locker is a poignant tale of a bomb disposal unit as they move through life-threatening situations during the Iraq war. Powered by a compelling script and some very solid acting performances (especially by Jeremy Renner), the film presents an account of war that is both chilling and gripping, and embeds the viewer with the squad as its members struggle with tensions from without and within, presenting a vivid picture of military conflict and what it entails… and manages to do all of this on a very limited budget. And if all this praise makes it sound like The Hurt Locker was one of the best films of 2009, then that’s because it really was.

Voice cast: Edward Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer, Bob Peterson
Director: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson (co-director)
To fulfil a promise he made when he was young, 78-year-old widower Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Ed Asner) sets off in search of Paradise Falls by tying thousands of balloons to his home, only to discover that he has inadvertently brought along a stowaway – an eight-year-old Junior Wilderness Explorer, Russell (Jordan Nagai). Together they set off on a journey that’s uplifting, heartbreaking, joyous, adventurous, and, all in all, a bittersweet cocktail of love, loss, and loneliness, that’ll make you laugh, tear up, and thoroughly enjoy the ride as the two unlikely companions, along with the help of a dog named Dug (Bob Peterson), try to fulfil their dreams, while providing us with yet another testament of Pixar’s consistent awesomeness. By far the best animated film of the year, Up is a must watch for both young and old.

Where The Wild Things Are
Cast: Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo; Voice cast: James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker
Director: Spike Jonze
Based on the 1963 children’s book by Maurice Sendak, Where The Wild Things Are is the story of a boy named Max (played by Max Records) who escapes into the world of his imagination to deal with his loneliness and frustration. The result is a fascinating look at childhood as Max journey through a make believe world, and a brilliant exploration of emotions like anger, sadness, and loneliness. The acting is spot on – Max Records is brilliant as the story’s protagonist – and the creatures that inhabit Max’s imagination are both creative and telling. The film is, however, much more abstract than something like Bridge to Terabithia, and whether someone finds that fascinating or confusing will vary from person to person.

Year One
Cast: Jack Black, Michael Cera
Director: Harold Ramis
In a film that is even worse than its premise would suggest, two prehistoric hunters (Jack Black and Michael Cera) wander through the ancient world, meeting biblical characters like Cain and Abel, Isaac, Abraham, and Adam and Eve along the way. The attempts at humour are embarrassing rather than funny; the film reverts to juvenile humour, and no tacky joke or gag has been left out. Jack Black’s presence in the film makes complete sense, but it’s sad to see Michael Cera in this train-wreck, and it’s downright disappointing that Harold Ramis and Judd Apatow would produce something so dreary. In short, avoiding Year One might be a good plan, unless you’re curious about just how bad it gets, in which case feel free to watch it, but don’t say we didn’t warn you!

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly, Jan-Mar '10

Holmes Sweet Holmes

movie review

Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
Director: Guy Ritchie

Just so I'd have someone to discuss the film with, I bugged a friend into watching the new Sherlock Holmes flick that was released late last month, asking him to tell me what he thought about it, start to finish… and that's exactly what he did: "What the hell," he messaged me as the film began, "he has martial arts skills. This can't be good!", eventually summing up the movie as "Star Wars meets Van Damme meets Sherlock Holmes". I respect his assessment, of course, but I'd have to disagree; I found it to be more Batman and Robin meets Scooby Doo by way of Dan Brown. If nothing else, that combination suggests big bucks at the box office, but the response from viewers, as you'd probably guess, has been mixed.

In his 2009 escapade, Mr. Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) finds himself on a mission to stop black-magic practitioner Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) as he plans to take over England and then the entire world, while suffering from separation anxiety as Dr. Watson (Jude Law) plans to marry and settle down. But throughout the two hours of the film that ensues, it becomes more than clear that the beloved detective has been reimagined as an action hero. Yes, the newfangled Holmes is still smitten with Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) and yes, he plays the violin and smokes a pipe (the deerstalker has been replaced by a beat-up fedora), but not only does he posses the fighting skills of Conan Doyle's Holmes, he seems to spend more time exchanging punches than he does making deductions. While action fans might find this change appealing, it may not go down well with those who thought of Sherlock Holmes as someone who is more likely to use brains over brawn, and purists, especially, could be miffed.

So that might explain why Guy Ritchie's take on Sherlock Holmes has received comments as varied as "no wonder Madonna left him" to "it will make Madonna jealous". From a neutral viewpoint that does not take the former Mrs. Ritchie into consideration, though, the film is neither an unmitigated disaster, nor is it anything akin to a masterpiece. This simply is a revisionist view of a classic character, and what you make of it will largely come down to you, the viewer. But no matter which of the two factions you fall into, the thing you are still likely to enjoy about the movie is watching Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in action, both of whom deserve an A+ for acting. Overall, though, the film seems longer than it needed to be and it could've certainly done with a better storyline. Oh and my friend thinks it didn't seem to have anything to do with Sherlock Holmes other than the name. "Why do they always have to make movies to fit the American audience?," he typed in frustration. Elementary, my dear comrade; it's all about the money.

- By Sam

Us Magazine, The News - 22 January, 2010