Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ex Hex's Debut Rips in Title and Sound

I haven’t reviewed an album in a while and that is mostly because I haven’t heard one in full which was worth talking about.  However, I recently went and saw Ex Hex at the Sinclair and boy was it a show to remember.  I originally went to see two local openers the first of which absolutely killed.  But Ex Hex was a band that had been on my radar for some time after lead singer/guitarist Mary Timony formed the band Wild Flag alongside Sleater Kinney's Carrie Brownstein.  After an incredible set I picked up their debut record and after several times through, it only keeps getting better.  Entitled “Rips” the album contains twelve nearly perfect tracks of 80’s infused, guitar driver pop rock.  Album opener “Don’t Wanna Lose” establishes the "love theme" which is present in most songs on the album and starts things off with a whiny guitar sound which is ever present throughout the record.  “New Kid” calls to mind early Joan Jett and maintains a steady baseline with layers of lead and rhythm guitar which play off each other superbly.  Betsy Wright’s bass and Timony’s guitar work bounce back and forth like a perfectly timed ping pong match. “How You Got That Girl” is one of the two tracks written by Wright and hearkens back to 80’s giants like Pat Benatar with a chunkier rhythm and the snappy guitar squeals which define Ex Hex’s sound.  Heavy track “Beast” is a slap in the face before the haunting, muted “Everywhere” takes things in a different direction.  Later on “You Fell Apart” is right on track with other 80’s revivalists of today sounding like a cross between the Dum Dum Girls and L.A. garage pop vixens Bleached.  The album closes just as strongly as it begins with the upbeat “Radio On” bringing more sing along choruses and bubbly new wave a la The Go Go’s.  Closing track “War Paint” has one of the best lines of the album as Timony sings “Put your war paint on and dance alone in the crowd”.  This sums up Ex Hex. They are who they are and they do what they do and you'll just have to deal with it.  A band which clearly comes out of the marginalized, loner portion of society and provides the world with the kind of catchy radio rock which is friendly enough for your grandma and rough enough for your cousin going through his punk phase.  Although still relatively fresh having just released their debut back in October of 2014, the band is incredibly tight live and is destined for a phenomenal follow up in my opinion.  Keep your eyes peeled and catch them if you can because I’m sure they won’t be playing such small venues for much longer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Today's Playlist

1. Kari Ann - The Monsieurs
2. Waste Your Time - Ex Hex
3. Waterfalls - TLC
4. Walkin on the Sun - Smash Mouth
5. Cumbersome - Seven Mary Three
6. Molly's Lips - Nirvana (Vaselines cover)
7. Nu Punk - Ovlov
8. Bed for the Scraping - Fugazi
9. Peggy Sue - Blink 182
10. English Country Garden - The Darkness

Kingsman: The Secret Service Was Surprisingly Great

When I first saw the preview for Kingsman: The Secret Service I had 0 desire to see it.  First off, it appeared to be a kid’s movie.  Secondly, it seemed like it would be full of awkward, cringe inducing one liners, something I absolutely despise.  However, after a friend recommended it to me I figured I’d give it a go and I was pleasantly surprised.  The movie was fantastic.  First off, it was rated R so any aspect of “kid movie” went out the window after copious amounts of the F word and the superfluously violent fight scenes.  Add that to that Samuel L. Jackson as the flamboyant billionaire super villain with a lisp, alongside the always suave James Bond-esque Colin Firth as head agent Galahad and you’ve got the formula for a great movie. 
Beginning with a failed mission in the Middle East in which an agent in training sacrifices himself for his compatriots including Firth, we find the man had a young son at home.  Galahad returns and offers the boy a Kingsman medal with a number and tells him if he ever needs anything to call the number and give the code word.  Years later, the young man nicknamed Eggsy finds himself in some trouble and calls the number.  Gallahad reaches out and informs him of the Kingsman, a private secret agency tasked with saving the world from its threats free of the influence of world governments.  Eggsy begins his training alongside other candidates to replace the recently deceased Lancelot who was killed on a recent mission investigating billionaire Richmond Valentine (Jackson).  As Valentine’s plot becomes clear, a conspiracy begins to unravel as Eggsy must use his training to help the Kingsman take down Valentine.
The film was beyond entertaining and surprisingly thought out.  We get enough background on the history of the Kingsman to appreciate the organization and answer our questions (i.e. who are they, where did they come from, what’s their deal?)  The action sequences are wonderfully choreographed and when combined with a veritable smorgasbord of weapons and gadgets make for some intensely awesome fight scenes.  The training of the new agents is also fantastic as the young men and women are put into death defying situations in which they must react in real time adding an adrenaline inducing excitement to each task.  The humor is perfect as well.  Subtle enough to not be too in your face and cliché but over the top at just the right times; Samuel L. Jackson is superb.  Overall, the film was immensely entertaining and something I would most certainly watch again.  It felt like a mash up of James Bond, Harry Potter, and Kill Bill with sup
er cool spy gadgets and copious amounts of obscenities.  What could be better than that?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jupiter Ascending Was Flashy But Not Memorable

As sci-fi movies go, Jupiter Ascending was pretty typical.  Captivating plot twists and intriguing storylines were sacrificed in favor of stupendous action sequences and brilliant visual effects.  The resulting movie is a two hour burst of flashing lights and not a single memorable line.  That being said, the movie did have a certain entertainment value and thus can’t be tossed away entirely.
The movie centers on Jupiter Jones (played by Mila Kunis) who learns she is a genetic reincarnation of the powerful matriarch of the Abrasax family who until her recent passing, owned the Earth and many other planets.  Now pursued by the wealthy woman’s three children, Jupiter is assisted by Caine, an ex-soldier with a bone to pick with the Abrasax children and their demented methods to achieve immortality.  If this all sounds loose, that’s because it is.  Small details like Caine’s lost “wings” and his past mentor/friend Stinger (played by Sean Bean) are glossed over so quick they feel like snippets thrown in to try and establish more character depth.  But the film progresses from one thing to the next so quickly we never get the chance to really develop any sort of attachment to ANY character.  Even Jupiter’s backstory feels so rushed and insignificant that it’s hard to sympathize with her plight in any way.  While there are many grand declarations of futuristic technologies and processes interspersed with brief explanations of the history of the universe and the aliens Jupiter encounters, it is almost all lost amongst the flashy miasma of the action sequences which tend to flow from one to the next allowing for little time to understand what you’re witnessing.  On top of that, little explanation is given as to how these advanced human races have managed to maintain control over vast quantities of our own solar system without ever being noticed.  The only reason we are given is some sort of Men in Black rip off where Caine tells Jupiter that they erase people’s memories when they witness something they’re not supposed to.  That’s pretty flimsy when you see the scale of destruction left by many of the events in the movie.
While I totally appreciate a female lead in a genre which predominately sees male protagonists, I feel that Mila Kunis was a poor choice.  She has reached a level of notoriety that makes it hard for you to see her as this poor daughter of a Russian immigrant who works as a cleaning lady.  She doesn’t fit that role and when combined with Channing Tatum who is also a recognizable figure, the film lost much of its believability, something that is CRUCIAL for a good sci-fi film. 
Overall, I would have loved more backstory.  The story of the alien “humans” who are simply a more advanced version of our own species I found very intriguing and in my opinion would have made a far more interesting story than the one we got.   In the end, the effects were dazzling and the action sequences top notch (despite being a little too chaotic).  Fans of Divergent or Hunger Games will probably love the movie.  Fans of Cloud Atlas or Moon will not.  You get my point. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

This Morning's Music

1. Linger - The Cranberries
2. Wedding - Funeral Advantage
3. Green Eyes - Coldplay
4. It's Nice - Screaming Females
5. Roll Over - The Spirit of the Beehive

Theory of Everything Was Perfect

It almost doesn’t feel right to try and condense a film as powerful as The Theory of Everything into a blog post.  The film, which is far and away one of the most emotionally resonant and deeply moving films I’ve ever seen, was an absolutely stunning portrayal of one of the greatest minds to ever walk this earth.  Directed by James Marsh, the biopic does more than show the genius of Stephen Hawking.  It shows the deep rooted power of love and its ability to help human beings defy insurmountable odds.
When most people hear the name Stephen Hawking, they immediately think of the genius in a wheelchair with some disease who speaks through a computer; that generic, emotionless, monotone which has become synonymous with the famed physicist.  But Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of the man behind the voice and the chair transcended acting in a way rarely seen.  He WAS Stephen Hawking.  His anger and frustration is perceptible as he slowly slips into complete paralysis.  And yet, Redmayne is able to show the man within the body, never losing his sense of humor and conveying loss, hatred and jealousy through his unresponsive visage.
Beginning in the early 1960’s, a young Stephen Hawking is in the prime of his life and pursuing a PhD in Physics at the University of Cambridge.  While there two life changing milestones confront Hawking nearly back to back.  The first is meeting the love of his life, literature student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones); the second is his soul crushing diagnosis with ALS.  Hawking learns he has an estimated two years to live while his muscles slowly deteriorate into useless masses.  Jane, whom he tries to persuade to leave, opts to stick it out and make Stephen’s remaining time on this planet as happy and comfortable as possible.  Despite everything, Hawking completes his PhD, marries Jane and even has children as he continuously defies the odds which were so abruptly stacked against him.
The film is as much the story of Jane Hawking as it is her husbands.  The struggles she endures and her unwavering support year after year is both uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time.  Their relationship is one rooted in hope and built entirely on their love for one another.  Over the course of Hawking’s life Jane remains one of the few people who sees Stephen for who he was before the disease decimated his body leaving only his mind intact.  She continues to be the constant reminder that there is a normal man trapped inside his shell, which only serves to make the films climax all the more powerful. 
This is a film that EVERYONE needs to see.  It shows us the almost unimaginable power of hope and love against a backdrop of suffering and emotional hardship.  It reaffirms how lucky each and everyone one of us are and teaches us to not take our lives for granted.  In this way, we are humbled to watch a man accomplish so much in the face of such odds.  It allows for a level of self-reflection often not present in film.  Much like Hawking’s brilliant theories on time and the universe, the film is perfection.