james debate
james debate

Monday, 12 December 2011

As you have probably noticed, I haven't had a lot of time (read: any time) to write new articles lately. However, now that the holidays are upon us I intend to get started again. A few big articles coming up, but before then I'm going to get a few essentials out of the way, with a round-up of all the recent reviews I haven't been posting.

"Drive" Film Review
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by Hossein Amini, James Sallis (novel)
Produced by by Michel Litvak, John Palermo, Marc Platt, Adam Siegel
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
Running time 100 minutes

drive ryan goslingOn paper, Drive is a film that ticks all the boxes. In Ryan Gosling, they have one of the hot actors of the moment, and with the Danish Nicolas Winding Refn they have a hotly tipped director whose last big western release was the critically acclaimed Bronson. Critical reaction has been strong and indeed Drive has been doing the rounds in many a top ten film list for the year, but this is not a film that will live long in the memory.

The plot is your standard heist-gone-wrong, with Gosling's unnamed stunt/race/getaway driver getting caught up in the illegal shenanigans of Irene's (Carey Mulligan) jailbird husband. This story may not be particularly remarkable or compelling, but the performances bring it to life with Gosling showing again why he is held in such increasingly high regard. More impressive are the outstanding supporting roles played by fellow up and comer Carey Mulligan, multi Emmy award winner Bryan Cranston, and the two mobsters played by the superb Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman.

However, what most stands out about Drive is undoubtedly the bold style of film making, with events being told through heavily stylised noir and some admittedly captivating cinematography and production. Sadly pretty visuals can only go so far, and this focus on style over substance simultaneously hurts the film more than anything else. The repeated reliance on music-backed montages and segments often makes portions of the films feel like a long music video, and with little meat to fall back on the end product feels superficial in the extreme.

This perception is not helped by actual shoe-horning of other films' scores into this film. On first viewing I noted the 28 Days Later score used repeatedly, and one extra long sequence set to Trent Reznor's Academy Award nominated score for the Social Network. For such polished production, this feels incredibly tacky, and quite jarring when you're familiar with the score in its original use.

In the end Drive is a flashy, but at times fairly grating crime noir film that nevertheless deserves notability in a year so far bereft of classics.

"Mylo Xyloto - Coldplay" Album Review
Genre Alternative Rock

coldplay mylo xylotoA new Coldplay album is always going to be pretty big news and pretty big business, sadly by the point it feels like the band is just phoning it in. I am reminded of the claim that Chris Martin made six years ago that he was on the verge of retiring, not wishing to drag his career, and yet here we are still milking that Coldplay cow.

Don't get me wrong I love classic Coldplay as much as anyone, but this time around the memorable songs are few and far between, with just the dance-riff based Every Teardrop is a Waterfall pushing the band into new and exciting territory and only Don't Let it Break Your Heart doing justice to the classic stadium busting Coldplay sound. Credit where it is due, these are very fine songs indeed, but they are the diamonds in the rough rather than highlights.

Mylo Xyloto has been billed by the band as a move into more "poppy" music. Strangely though I have yet to find a single person who was of the opinion that Coldplay's biggest problem was that they were not "poppy" enough. Nevertheless it is unfortunate that their interpretation of "poppy" seems to mean bland rehashes of their old music. Even less forgivable is the apparent shallowness of the album as a whole, devoid of any coherent theme or structure that one might have expected from their earlier albums.

Coldplay has never been everyone's suit, but even for long time fans Mylo Xyloto is a disappointment. Too early to say that the band's best days are behind them? Either way, this one is just Coldplay by the numbers.

"Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds" Album Review
Genre Alternative Rock/Britpop

noel gallagher's high flying birdsMany are still feeling the bitter fallout from the split of britpop band Oasis, but little by little those wounds are beginning to heal. The elder Gallagher Liam returned to the limelight earlier this year with his solid solo project Beady Eye. Now it is the turn of the younger and arguably more musically gifted brother Noel.

Noel is the man behind some of Oasis's finest hours like Don't Look Back in Anger, often described as the more creative force within Oasis. So it is with great interest that we finally get a look at what he can do on his own, and finally determine once and for all which Gallagher is best.

Happily I can report that this album is not only a triumph, but also the best collection of Gallagher written songs since the early days of Oasis. Embracing his new central role, Noel's fingerprints are all over this album; from full blooded sing-along anthems to grittier rock and roll songs, the self-titled album captures all the best elements of Oasis and imbues them with a new charm and panache rarely seen in the band's back catalogue.

The album maintains a refreshingly high quality throughout, with several excellent songs and a handful of strong supporting songs. The soundscape is richer, the melodies more grown up and the range broader, with standout tracks like If I Had a Gun, Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks, and A Simple Game of Genius.

Noel's solo career is off to an excellent start. You should buy this.

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