Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Under the Skin Was Terrible

I don't usually write poor reviews as I can often find the good in any movie but this particular film was an absolute chore to get through.  Several times I found myself wanting to just shut it off, but I stuck it out to the bitter end which was worth it as the best scenes in the movie are arguably the final few.  The film stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress who comes to earth in search of human specimens.  After donning the clothes of a deceased female motorist, she begins to pursue men as she drives around the Scottish countryside.  All the while she learns a little bit at a time about the humans she is interacting with.  After abducting then men she brings them back to her apartment (which appears to be a disguise for her ship).  Once inside the ship, a simple, infinite black void, the men are stripped and absorbed into a viscous liquid where their insides are sucked out leaving behind only their skin.  In the end, the alien begins to sympathize with humanity, eventually letting one of the men she brings to her house go.  However, her mysterious accomplice, a man on a motorcycle who we assume is another alien, quickly tracks him down and disposes of him.  At the end of the film, the alien is attacked by a logger in the woods who manages to rip some of her "human suit" off revealing the shiny, obsidian like alien figure beneath.  This is without a doubt the best part of the film as we get to actually see what this modern take of the "body snatcher" looks like.  I won't give away the ending as I encourage everyone to form their own opinion and watch it for themselves.  The film garnered mostly positive reviews (incredibly) so there's no saying that you wouldn't thoroughly enjoy it yourself.  While I understand what the movie was trying to get across, I felt that it took forever for you to come to the realization that this is all that is going to happen.  Just Scarlett Johansson finding men to bring to her empty black spaceship over and over and over again.  By the time you realize that the plot isn't going to go anywhere else it's too late and you might as well just wait it out til the end.  Overall, the film is a dark take on the "alien abduction" theme and is more about experiencing humanity through the eyes of an extraterrestrial than anything else.  If you go in to it with that mindset, then it's easier to appreciate what the film was trying to do.  But I assure you, if you go into it expecting a sci-fi thriller, or really action of any kind, you will be 100% sorely disappointed.  No part of it keeps you on the edge of your seat and the lack of any sort of meaningful soundtrack (while adding to the films haunting nature) makes it feel drawn out and flat.  Most definitely the most disappointing film I've seen in years.

Songs from Today's Commute

1. Doom 84 - Screaming Females
2. Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie
3. Sweet Pea - CHILDBIRTH
4. Terms of Endearment - White Pages
5. T.V. - Idiot Genes

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Music Streaming Has Taken Over

For the first time ever, digital download sales of music on services like iTunes have gone down by over 10%.  The converse of this is a dramatic increase in the percentage of people who use music streaming services like Spotify which offer paid users unlimited access to millions of songs on demand.  The shift is interesting in that the download has reigned supreme ever since the introduction of the iPod but as the smartphone revolution has taken over society, it's allowed the average person to have access to these online mobile services which were previously out of reach for people on the go.  This isn't limited to the United States either.  The trend has taken off worldwide as evidenced by Deezer, a streaming service available in 182 countries.  As technology continues to evolve it's only a matter of time until the next big thing takes over the music industry but it seems that streaming is certainly the way of the near future.  For those interested in the newest trends, read the Rolling Stone article on Deezer below.

Deezer - Worldwide Music Streaming

RoboCop - Classic 80's Action for the Modern World

                It's sad to admit that I have never seen the original RoboCop so I can’t comment on how well the 2014 remake follows the first film from the 1980’s franchise.  However, I can say that the film was very entertaining in its own right and was a perfect example of taking a tried and true idea from decades ago and adapting it to the modern world which has been the norm in Hollywood lately (See my review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes). 
                The movie takes place in 2028, scarily only 14 years in the future, in a time when the US conducts its foreign policy with robotic soldiers and drones to cut down on both US soldier and civilian casualties.  All the robots are supplied by multi-billion dollar corporation OmniCorp which is seeking to expand its market to the United States where crime is still a huge issue all across the country.  OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars has been trying for years to establish an artificially intelligent national police force which he believes would ultimately eliminate crime across the board.  Unfortunately, public opinion shows that the country is frightened by the idea of robot soldiers patrolling the streets and so Sellars must find a way to sway the public into thinking it’s a good idea.  Enter police detective Alex Murphy.  After attempting to bring down a major crime boss with ties to the Detroit Police Department, Murphy is critically injured by a car bomb outside his home.  Left with almost no physical body, Murphy’s wife gives the go ahead to OmniCorp’s head scientist Dr. Dennett Norton to build a robot body for him.  Alex first struggles with his new life as he comes to terms with the fact that he is nothing more than a robot with a human head.  Becoming the poster boy for OmniCorp’s overarching goals, Alex becomes RoboCop, a super soldier with the strength and skills of a robot soldier and the intelligence, emotions, and free will of a human being.  This last trait however is only mimicked.  Alex believes he is in control when in reality his body and mind are controlled exclusively by Dr. Norton.  Over the course of the film, Alex must fight this control and use the human side of him to take back control of his artificial body. 

                The film felt like any classic 80’s action flick updated for the modern world.  Explosions and beautiful effects are the focal point to help detract from the plot which isn’t too complex or intricate.  The curse words and occasional nudity give the film its R rating which is disappointing as neither is necessary and I feel the film would have been better with a PG-13 rating.  Overall, the film has some great acting, particularly by Gary Oldman who plays Dr. Norton.  Straddling the line between good and bad, his character is by far the most complex and fun to watch.  If you’re a fan of the original then I’m sure you’ll enjoy the remake purely for nostalgia’s sake.  If not, the movie is an ideal example of a blockbuster action film which keeps you exhilarated from start to finish as you rarely go more than 5 minutes without someone firing a gun or blowing something up.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tracks From This Morning

1. White Fire - Angel Olsen
2. Pretty Things - Radkey
3. Grip - Jawbox
4. I Against I - Bad Brains
5. Bodies Made Of - Parquet Courts

Angel Olsen's Debut LP Is Some Truly Captivating Indie-Folk Music

The soft, indie folk of Angel Olsen’s debut LP Burn Your Fire for No Witness is as diverse and eclectic as it is powerful.  Each of the albums eleven tracks are incredibly unique and yet the album feels very cohesive from start to finish.  Tracks like “Forgiven/Forgotten” incorporate some alternative influences using lo-fi guitar mixed with slow and steady folk drumming.  Still there is plenty of that modern, indie sound mixed in which is reminiscent of Silversun Pickups to a degree (albeit substantially toned down).  A wide array of instruments are used as well, including piano on several tracks like “High and Wild” which maintains the alternative sound of “Forgiven/Forgotten”.  Still, the albums strengths are in its slower songs which really capture Olsen’s exceptionally distinctive voice.  She channels Johnny Cash on the electronic acoustic “Hi-Five” which incorporates a distinct feel of the 1940’s.  Florence Welch comes through on songs like “Stars” and closing track “Windows” which both offer up Olsen’s voice as the focal point.  This is especially the case on “Enemy” an extremely soft, acoustic ballad with barely any backing track.  “Lights Out” exemplifies Angel Olsen’s style.  The vocals evoke some of the best singer-songwriters in the modern indie landscape and the alterna-folk sound subtly present on the whole album comes through heaviest on this song.  My favorite track on the album may be “White Fire” whose dark, melodic sound is unlike anything I’ve heard in a while.  The enchanting echo of the steady guitar and drums in the background drive Olsen’s poetic lyrics in a haunting and mesmerizing way.  The track is the longest on the album clocking in at nearly seven minutes long but that works to the songs advantage as you feel yourself getting sucked further and further into Olsen’s captivating lyrics.  This entire album blew me away with its many influences, instruments, and techniques.  Incorporating so many genres including folk, indie, lo-fi, alternative, singer/songwriter (the list goes on) the album has a little something for everyone.  While the tracks all have a slower, I hate to say depressing feel similar to Lana Del Ray, they invoke a wonderfully pleasing calmness which at the end leaves you feeling more serene than depressed.  Definitely an album EVERYONE should check out.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Lego Movie is a Must See

The Lego Movie was……fantastic!!!  I was skeptical when my wife asked me to bring this one home as the commercials showed me nothing more than a movie which was designed for kids to capitalize on the current extreme popularity of all things Lego.  I was sorely mistaken.  The film was laugh out loud funny from start to finish and brought back countless memories through the movies references to classic Lego sets new and old.  The film is an underdog story at its heart and focuses on Emmet Brickowski, an standard construction worker mini figure who goes through the motions of his everyday life in Bricksburg.  Everyone conforms to the rules of society and no one asks any questions.  They all eat the same food and watch the same show, a hilariously simple comedy called “Where Are My Pants?” which is an hysterical take on generic daytime sitcoms.  The point is that Emmet doesn’t have a single original or imaginative thought.  Then one day, he returns to his job site and bumps into the attractive, hair flipping, mysterious girl Wildstyle who is attempting to retrieve The Piece of Resistance to stop the evil President Business from unleashing the devastating power of the Kragle and destroying the known world.  After falling through a hole at the construction site, Emmet ends up finding the Piece and Wildstyle tells him that the prophecy dictates he is “The Special” and is destined to save the world.  Emmet is sucked into an adventure which leads him through the other Lego realms including the Pirate Sea and the Old West.  With the help of Wildstyle, the ancient wizard Vitruvius, Batman, and many other recognizable Lego faces, Emmet learns to become a Master Builder and unleash his imagination in ways he never thought possible.  With Will Ferrell as President Business, Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius, Will Arnett as Batman, and Elizabeth Banks as Wildstyle, the film has an all-star comedic cast which manages to insert plenty of jokes aimed at the older crowd watching the movie.  In the end, the secret behind the Kragle and President Business is revealed in an outcome which is both heartwarming and a tad predictable.  If you’re a fan of Legos then you MUST see this film.  Even if you aren’t it was still a hysterical movie that will no doubt appeal to children and adults alike; a perfect pick for family movie night.

Plague Vendor - "Free to Eat" is an Interesting and Diverse Debut

Plague Vendor’s debut LP “Free to Eat” is a 10 song burst of howling vocals and wiry guitar riffs which contrast some intensely groovy bass lines.  The California based four piece recently signed to the great Epitaph Records for the release of their first album and overall, I’m pretty impressed.  Lead in track “Black Sap Scriptures” is my favorite on the album.  The bass in the background establishes a phenomenal sliding beat which helps define sharp tempo changes and haunting vocals by lead singer Brandon Blaine.  After the lead in track, the band shifts dramatically which was shocking at first but ended up making a lot of sense.  Second track “Cursed Love Hexed Lust” sees Blaine’s vocals elevating to a shrill howl akin to Jack White on some of the early White Stripes records.  Jay Rogers guitar speeds up throughout the song and gets the blood pumping after the more melodic opener.  “Breakdance on Broken Glass” has a unique back and forth between the vocals and the pounding drums of Luke Perine who erupts with intense ferocity after each break in Blaine’s singing.  “My Tongue is So Treacherous” opens with a riff reminiscent of Dick Dale overlaid with a piercing howl which goes on for longer than I thought humanly possible, but works against the surf rock style guitar.  Self-titled track “Plague Vendor” sees the band spelling out its name as the chorus which gets a little annoying but works with the songs chunky, broken rhythm.  Other songs like “Seek the Ruby Scarab” bring Jack White back to the table in a big way with a chorus that could literally be a White Stripes or Dead Weather B-Side.  Interestingly enough, the album closes with “Neophron Percnopterus”, a song which sees Blaine returning to vocals similar to “Black Sap Scripture” allowing the album to come full circle.  In this way the open and closer act more as warm up and cool down tracks for the explosions of intensity that is the eight middle songs.  The band maintains the punk rock speed and aesthetic throughout most of the album with some definite Lo-fi influences and ample amounts of garage rock glory.  This young band is currently touring with the Vans Warped Tour which is stopping at its usual spot in Mansfield this summer.  If you have tickets I would HIGHLY recommend checking these guys out as their live show is supposed to be off the charts.  If not, at least give the record a listen because it’s some marvelously gritty rock and roll.