Monday, 31 December 2012

Best Films of 2012

Once again, the following list should really be dubbed the best films I’ve seen in 2012, or better yet – “favourite” films of 2012, as there are a number of which I haven’t been able to get my hands on, or that haven’t been released over here in the UK. I feel that Lincoln, Django Unchained and Beasts of the Southern Wild would have all found a place on the list, but oh well, gotta make do with what we have. So here goes:

10. This is 40
Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Megan Fox, Chris O’Dowd, John Lithgow

This is hilarious. Ignore the reviews and go and see it for yourself. The "sort-of" sequel to Judd Apatow's Knocked Up follows the marriage of two of it's previous supporting characters, Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) and their children, Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow - as in Judd's offspring). Detailing the hardships of marriage as well as turning 40, I found this to be one of Apatow's most enjoyable films yet.

9. The Master
Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jessie Plemons, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek

Although the film didn't live up to my expectations, The Master is still really strong film. Beautifully shot and amazingly acted, the film is a healthy contender for the on-going award season. Phoenix stars as a wayward WWII vet that finds guidance in the creepy and charismatic author Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) that deeply mirrors the controversial religion Scientology. Full review here.

8. The Cabin in the Woods
Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Kristen Connolly, Jessie Williams, Amy Acker

Another title which I wasn't originally crazy about, but after a second viewing I realised it is in fact a horrific yet intentionally fun and hilarious horror film. Helmed by Joss Whedon creator of TV's 'Firefly' and 'Dollhouse', as well as the 'Buffy' and 'Angel' franchises and Drew Goddard, ('Lost' & Cloverfield) Cabin follows a group of teenagers heading off into the woods for a SUPER-FUN Spring Break. Naturally as teenagers do, they get hacked off one by one. Un-naturally, there is a whole other force at work which is sure to shock and surprise everyone. Full review here.

7. 21 Jump Street
Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Dave Franco, Ice Cube, Brie Larson

A remake/adaptation that is this good gives me hope for Hollywood cinema. Written by Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) 21 Jump Street sees rookie cops Morton and Greg (Hill and Tatum) go undercover to tackle a high school drug ring. Unlike most things with Jonah Hill in, hilarity actually ensues.

6. End of Watch
Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera

Probably the most unseen or unknown film on the list is also another cop title. End of Watch sees Gyllenhaal and Pena star as Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, two Californian cops who decide to secretly film their goings-on while out on the job in South L.A. Cue copious shoot outs, overtly obvious racism and a budding yet not-soppy love story between Taylor and sweetheart Janet (Kendrick). The film is harsh and unapologetic in it's content but still finds the time to be heart-warming in it's tone.

5.  Brave
Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters

Disney and Pixar's latest effort is one of it's greatest and underrated achievements. Merida (Macdonald) is a Scottish princess, who is much more focused on archery and forging her own destiny than crowns and ruling a country. Under the thumb by her loving but controlling mother (Thompson), who fails to ever see eye-to-eye with her daughter, Merida finds a spell to "change her mother" to make her accept her own choices. Of course, this wouldn't be a Disney film, or any film ever made, if something didn't go drastically wrong. While being a largely magical and fantasy based film, Brave is also an honest depiction of the complicated issues between mother and daughter without rubbing the subtext in our faces.

4. Looper
Joseph Gordon Levitt, Bruce Willis, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, Emily Blunt

I was blown away by this. "It'll never live up the hype" I said about this, as well as the final 3 entries on my list. I've never been so happy to be wrong, as Looper is a crowning moment for Sci-Fi cinema. Set in a future dystopia (obviously) where time travel is possible, Joe (Levitt) is one of many "Loopers" - someone who kills people sent back in time by their corrupt bosses after they've fulfilled their time and duties for them. However, after recognising his future self (Willis) and failing to assassinate him, Joe goes on the hunt for his older-self and on the run from his mob-employers, as failing to eliminate those sent back ends in death for the Looper. Those that have seen the trailer and not the film, should give this one a go especially, as it is one of the only titles in recent memory that has a whole narrative that is carefully left out of pretty much all promotional content. Prepare to be awed. 

3. The Avengers
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson

The second film on the list to be headed by creative geek/mastermind Joss Whedon. It's been a great year for him. This. Is. So. Good. (Full review here.)

2. Skyfall
Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe

'This is the end' Adele coos over the gripping title sequence to the latest instalment to the Bond franchise. Directed by the ever amazing Sam Mendes, (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary RoadSkyfall's themes are mainly to do with conclusions and new beginnings. Focusing heavily on the past of Bond's senior, M (Dench), MI6 find themselves confronted by Raoul Silva (the fantastic Bardem), a former agent who wants revenge on M for betraying him. It's the most ambitious Bond title so date, and arguably the greatest.

1. The Dark Knight Rises
Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard. 

"No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough", says Roger Ebert.

The marriage between mighty fine action sequences and a compelling plot have never been so perfect for each other as they are for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Where do I even begin with this? The cast is stellar, with not a poor performance in sight, from Tom Hardy as the unstoppable Bane to the sleek and powerful Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. The city's dark 'Occupy Gotham' setting and rise of our hero himself are mesmerising. The 165 minutes practically fly by. (Full review here)

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Best Albums of 2012

Much later than everyone else I've decided to finally detail the list of the best albums released in 2012. Or more accurately, the best albums of 2012 that I actually got round to listening to. 'Best' is a pretty tricky word, as what can be called the 'best' often comes down to taste and personal preference. So anyway, here are the best (my favourite) albums (and EPs that I heard) from 2012.

10. The Heist Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
'Who?' you ask yourself.
While the words "white" and "rapper" next to each other are a huge turn-off for a lot of people, one by the name of Washington-born Macklemore (born Ben Haggerty) partnered up with producer Ryan Lewis to build a fun and original rap album. What makes this album great is the fact that Macklemore doesn't try to be anyone else; not Jay-Z, not Eminem but purely himself. No imitations or stupid accents. Just good rap music.
      Key Tracks: Thrift Shop, Jimmy Iovine

9.  Reign of Terror - Sleigh Bells
American duo Sleigh Bells also released their second album this year, which featured thumping synths, electric guitars and even a contemporary power ballad. Together Alexis and Derek show a rare example of how bigger can sometimes actually be better.
Key Tracks: End of the Line, Demons

8. Brandy - Two Eleven
'Ohhhhhh (never-er) heyyyyyy' 
Brandy brings back the late 90s and early 00s without making her newest LP dated or irrelevant. Not even a Chris Brown assisted track can bring this album down. Two Eleven is Brandy's first release since 'Human' in 2008, an album she herself didn't even like. But Brandy is back once again on top form, deciding to forgo the blaring Pop/Dance trend to make a coherent and strong offering. Well done Brandy.
Key Tracks: Wildest Dreams, Slower, Put It Down 

7. Armor On - Dawn Richard
One of the year’s best albums is actually an EP…with as many tracks as an album has. Ex-Diddy -Dirty Money and Danity Kane singer Dawn Richard independently released the piece 'Armor On', as an opener to a proposed trilogy of albums kicking off with GoldenHeart in January. Richard is an innovator, who marries her distinctively incredible voice with the sounds of producer Druski. Every track coincides with one another, working perfectly as a strange and out-there concept piece. (Full review here)

6. Melanie Fiona - The MF Life

Melanie Fiona brought R&B back earlier this year, with an array of guests on her latest, 'The MF Life'. J. Cole, Nas, B.O.B and John Legend all assist Fiona as she put love and relationships at the forefront of the album, detailing the good, the bad, and the ugly throughout. Full review here

5. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean

I'm not gonna pretend that I've always liked and known Frank Ocean, because I haven't. In fact, I pretty much ignored most of his work, thinking he was just another over-hyped, here today/gone tomorrow internet fad. What a fool I was, as Ocean can siiiiing. 'Channel Orange' is a strong album, with Frank getting to work straight away in his falsetto on 'Thinking About You' and keeping our attention in a chokehold for the duration of the album.
Key Tracks: Lost, Pink Matter

4. Perfectly Imperfect - Elle Varner

I don't think I've ever heard Country strings and an 808 sound so good togethe..if it all, ever. Varner, who co-wrote every song on the album, worked with an intimate group of producers including Oak & Pop to produce 11 track wonderment. One of the best debuts of the last few years for definite.
Key Tracks: Refill, I Don't Care, Not Tonight

3. Born to Die - Lana Del Rey

Technically released twice this year, Lana Del Rey’s first huge release saw the starlet attract a huge amount of controversy on account of her alleged manufactured past. Nevertheless the disc released in January was undeniably great. (You can read reviews for both editions of the album here and here).

2. Music 4 TNGRS - Chester French

Ex-Harvard attendees Max Drummey and D.A Wallach released one of the freshest, multi-genre albums this year, that went disturbingly under the radar. Wallach’s voice is beautifully throaty, while the lyrical content and production infused big band style brass instruments, soothing strings and banging synths. You can read a full review of the album here.

1. Kaleidoscope Dream - Miguel

Miguel, still largely unknown in the UK, seemed to burst out of nowhere for his second LP 'Kaleidoscope Dream'. Similarly to Dawn Richard, Miguel's voice sits strongly over the distorted R&B sounds of the album, which takes prevalence over the production. The album opens with one of it's strongest tracks 'Adorn', a 'Sexual Feeling' for the 21st Century. To be honest, it's all continuously up from there, as KD fails to display a weak spot in its 54 minute runtime.
Key Tracks: Adorn, Don't Look Back, Arch & Point

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Master (film)

Although I found it incredibly difficult not to get my hopes up about a film that had received mass amounts of critical praise (as I had been looking forward to Paul Thomas Anderson's so called "Masterpiece" for months on end) I walked into the cinema to see The Master with good expectations, rather than great ones, just in case I was in fact let down.

The Master, a 135 minute arty-drama piece is sure to sweep every major award ceremony this season. It is both aesthetically beautiful in its cinematography, in addition to being wonderfully acted. Headed by Joaquin Phoenix in his first lead role since hilarious documentary I'm Still Here, Phoenix’s character Freddie Queller is a recently discharged World War II vet. who is lost, alone and suffering from major anger issues. He meets Ron L. Hubbard... I mean Lancaster Dodd, an author and leader in a controversial movement known as 'The Cause'. Queller finds himself drawn into the aura, and blatant lies of Dodd, played by the ever fantastic Philip Seymour Hoffman, and soon becomes one of his most loyal followers; much to the dismay of Dodd's son, Val (Jessie Plemons). Despite the fact Freddie may be enamoured by the new figure in his life, his manic and alcoholic tendencies swirled in with the nature of The Cause lead him down a path of chaos and destruction. 

The script is incredibly strong, with amazing on screen chemistry between Queller and Dodds. Although The Master is a solid piece, the film sags and drags in places, which can often make you feel as if certain scenes would've been better left on the cutting room floor.

Hoffman is the most crooked, sly yet well-presented "villan" in recent cinema history. But I did in fact find myself slightly let down by the events of the film, purely because its explosive dialogue scenes were few and far between. Plus, they could’ve given Amy Adams, who played Lancaster’s wife, Peggy, a hell of a lot more to do.


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Rihanna - Unapologetic (album)

Rihanna is barely a human being. Unapologetic marks the stars 7th official studio album, more than Christina Aguilera and tying with Britney Spears. Funnily enough it's also her fourth consecutive annual album release for the month of November, with Talk That Talk, Loud and Rated R preceding Unapologetic in 2011, 2010 and 2009 respectively. Although Rihanna may churn out albums faster than the Pussycat Dolls turnover rate, this is her only LP that actually feels rushed, with little thought gone into various aspects of the album.

'Phresh of the Runway' produced by pop and R&B mastermind The-Dream contains his killah signature but is in fact a slightly weak and redundant opener. Third track 'Numb' featuring Eminem is almost too ironic as it is in fact mind-numbingly repetitive. As Rihanna makes her way through the album, flirting with various musical styles including pop ballads ('What Now', 'Stay'), dubstep and dance ('Jump' and 'Right Now'), and 80s synth ('Love Without Loss') it is on the contemporary R&B styles and reggae fusion track 'No Love Allowed' in which the star truly shines. 

It's best to steer completely clear of 'Nobody’s Business' a throwback collaboration with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown (sample lyric: "You’ll always be mine, sing it to the world, always be my boy, always be your girl"), as the two lament the past claiming that it is in fact nobody business. The problem with this is the fact that the two choose to make their relationship everyone's business by writing and singing about it.

The album features heavier twinges of R&B than Rihanna's recent records have. But as previously stated, the album ultimately feels hurried and to be completely honest, lazy in its production and lyrical content.


Key Tracks: Diamonds, Love Without Loss/Mother Mary, No Love Allowed

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Lana Del Rey - 'Born To Die (Paradise Edition)'

You can read my review of the original Born To Die here

For those expecting an upbeat pop-y follow up to Del Rey’s debut album Born To Die released in January can look elsewhere, as Born To Die – Paradise Edition is treated almost as a complete continuation of what has been offered on the previously released disc. With this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that those who didn't enjoy the first outing are sure to feel the same way about this follow up.

As I am still avidly enjoying Lana’s first offering, the 8 track piece from the salacious siren is an uneven set – travelling through the interesting to lyrically labyrinthine then through to the mundane and the drab as the album progresses.

BTD – PE opens with the lead single ‘Ride’: a hauntingly beautiful Brandon Flowers inspired ballad. Lana’s temperament is apparent from the offset, and doesn't seem to change throughout the whole extended play. Even when she mutters that her “pussy tastes like Pepsi cola” on a track guessed it, ‘Cola’, she sounds as if she is on the cusp of boredom and lethargy. Similarly in ‘Gods & Monsters’, Lana coos “fuck yeah, give it to me” a number of times over a classically serene drum and violin combo. Not two concepts you would ever expect to married together. The fifth track, a cover of ‘Blue Velvet’ (originally released by The Clovers in 1950) is a sweet yet melodramatic throwback which wouldn't sound of out of place in the works of John Huston and Adolph Deutsch, while the last two songs 'Yayo' and 'Bel Air' are the least rewarding songs on the disc.

What saves Lana’s sometimes lackadaisical tone is the great production that runs throughout each track. The singer partnered up with Rick Nowels, who has crafted songs for Marina and the Diamonds and Sia, as well as Del Rey on the original Born To Die. Although the EP has its dreary moments throughout, Lana lets her inner nympho reign supreme, making for a complicated and captivating release.


Key Tracks: American, Cola, Gods and Monsters

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Dredd 3D

I couldn’t help but cry out in metaphorical anguish when I first heard the news of yet another remake/reboot coming this year, this time in the form of 2000 AD comic-turned-film character Judge Dredd. I also couldn’t help but role my eyes when I watched the trailer. In fact, my expectations were so low that I never even thought I’d waste my money bothering to see the film. Ultimately it would've been an absolutely foolish decision as Dredd 3D turned out to    be the most positive surprise of the year so far.

Dredd 3D, stars Karl Urban as the titular character, a law enforcer in a dystopian future where such are given the right to not only arrest and throw the guilty in prison, but also the right to sentence and even execute the guilty as they see fit. Dredd takes on new recruit Cassandra Anderson, (Juno’s bff Olivia Thirlby) an orphan and potent psychic on his latest mission to stop the terrifying and criminally insane “Ma-Ma”, (Lena Headey) a powerful drug dealer and former prostitute who has forced ownership over one of the most dominating and prominent apartment complex’s in the district.

Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby)
The film achieves everything it needs to within its 95 minute run time. Although there is little to no explanation as to who Dredd actually is, the charismatic figure commands the attention of the audience, as well as the characters on screen with his domineering nature. Stylistically the film bares a number of similarities to Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner- a bleak future in which the world is dark, dank and in complete and utter turmoil.

The pairing of juggernaut Dredd, who is as unforgiving as he is brutal and pixie sized Anderson, who looks like a living Final Fantasy character is perfect. In fact, whole cast and action scenes come together brilliantly throughout. But what comes as the biggest surprise overall is the fact that it is only one of two 3D films I have witnessed in existence with actually great 3D scenes. 

I can't wait to see this again.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

P!nk- The Truth About Love

P!nk, one of the highest selling female artists in the world is also usually one of the most underrated and sometimes forgotten. In a world of Nicki Minaj’s, Rihanna’s and Katy Perry’s, P!nk (real name Alicia Moore) has proven herself to be substance over style, time and time again. Most recently with her latest album 'The Truth About Love'.

Influenced by the birth of her first daughter Willow, as well as the split and reconciliation of husband Carey Hart, over 13 tracks (17 if you have the deluxe edition) P!nk details, well…the truth about love, enlisting frequent production collaborators Billy Mann and Max Martin, along with newer ones, such as Eminem, Lily Rose Cooper (formally Allen) and Nate Ruess of band ‘fun.’.

The sound of the album is the P!nk we are all already so accustomed to: loud, guitar driven, fist pumping pop that’s upbeat in sound, with a little bit of ‘f*ck you’ thrown in for good measure. Sadly, it doesn’t always work, as a number of the songs turn out to be filler for what should be a great album. Take out some of the harsher lyrics and ‘Walk of Shame’, ‘My Signature Move’ and ‘Here Comes The Weekend’ could easily be cuts from any Glee compilation album. Not really too fitting for someone people often refer to as one of the leading bad girls in pop music.

However, there are some beautiful highlights on 'The Truth About Love'. The instrumental on opening track “All We Are” wouldn’t sound out of place on Kanye West‘s 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy', and second single ‘Try’ is a wonderfully written un-cringeworthy ballad. Another one of the albums strongest points happen towards the end, as Moore “basks in the afterglow” of an old lover on ‘Where Did The Beat Go’, as she ponders what’s happened to the love she and her companion used to share.

Altogether, The Truth About Love starts off strong and begins to falter, ultimately finding its strength towards it's climax. The ultimate strength in this case being P!nk’s voice: one that most popular artists today can't exactly claim as their best asset themselves.


Key tracks: All We Are, Where Did The Beat Go?, The Great Escape

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

List: The 8 Great Returning Shows

Yes, 8 is an odd number to count down...well, anything - but with the new US TV season starting this week, I've profiled the 8 returning shows, that have me in a current frenzy anticipating their return. So here goes:

8. American Horror Story (Season 2)
FX- 17.10.12
Officially titled American Horror Story: Asylum, creator Ryan Murphy opted for the second season scare-fest to be a completely separate affair to what was offered last year. This time, the setting is, of course, a mental asylum, detailing the various goings-on with both the patients and the staff within its 1950s setting. Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and Zachary Quinto who all had roles in the first series will return as completely new characters, with details only revealing that they will play the “opposite” of who they portrayed last year. They will be joined by newcomers Chloe Sevigny, Jenna Dewan and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, along with a host of others.

7. Modern Family (Season 4)
ABC- 26.9.12
Ratings and critical killer Modern Family returns to ABC at the end of September, with big changes about to emerge. With the heart-breaking scene at the end of season 3 in which Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) had finally had enough of the stress of trying to have another baby with partner Cam (Eric Stonestreet), Gloria (Sofia Vergara) announced that she was pregnant with her second child. Being a huge comedic success I’m anxious to know how it’ll play out…as it’s been announced that the entire first episode will revolve around Gloria breaking the news to the extended family. There are sure to be fireworks, both of the good, and the awful kind.

6. 30 Rock Season 7
NBC- 4.10.12
Liz and co. will be talking their final bow in December, after the show finishes its short and sweet 7th and last season. 30 Rock can easily be called by many (including me) one of the best contemporary American sitcoms of the last 10 years, loosely based on creator and star Tina Fey’s early experience’s as an ex-head writer for the now ironically unfunny Saturday Night Live. The show returned mid-season in early 2012 and the signs that the show was standing on its last legs were imminent, due to the fact that it had lost so much of the spark and wit it carried in it's earlier seasons. Nevertheless, it’ll be sad to see Lemon and Donaghy part ways for good.
Until a film adaptation is announced.

5. Parks and Recreation Season 5
NBC- 20.9.12
Golden Leslie Knope returns for a full length fifth season on Thursday the 20th with a changing setting taking place for the cast. As Ben (Adam Scott) heads for Washington and Andy (Chris Pratt) hints at joining the police force, Knope will be taking her newly elected position in City Council when the show returns. Parks & Recreation has struggled to obtain a large viewership since its inception, but with its small yet devoted fanbase, NBC has given one of the funniest shows on television chance after chance as it rightfully deserves. Both Lucy Lawless and comedian Jon Glaser have been tapped for guest roles this season, with the latter playing Leslie’s new nemesis within her role in Office.

4. Revenge Season 2
ABC- 30.9.12
Although I named Revenge “the show Gossip Girl wishes it was” may have seemed harsh, it is also incredibly true. The surprise hit of last year, moves into the coveted Sunday night slot once occupied by Desperate Housewives. Styled as an appropriation of The Count of Monte Cristo, the series follows Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) and her subtle and extremely personal quest for vengeance. Many questions were left unanswered at the end of the first season, ready to be unfolded bit by bit over 22 episodes starting on the 30th of September. While it has been revealed that Emily’s mother is very much alive, the role that she’ll play this season remains completely unknown. It would even be completely unsurprising if she had her own manipulative plans for Miss Thorne herself.

3. Scandal
ABC- 27.9.12
You know what (rhetorical) question I’m gonna ask...yet I'm gonna say it anyway: “Who Is Quinn Perkins?” Scandal, fronted by Kerry Washington and created by Grey’s Anatomy and TV juggernaut Shonda Rhimes left us all wondering last season who the hell the woman Olivia had invited to work alongside of truly is. Washington’s character, Olivia Pope, serves as the head of a crisis management firm, dealing with minimising political scandals in and out of the White House. 7 episodes were shown on ABC earlier this Summer, completely proving that less is more; as each episode flowed smoothly and concisely, without any waffle or unnecessary plot turns. More TV shows need to learn from this.

2. Happy Endings Season 3
ABC- 26.10.12
The most underrated sitcom returns towards the end of October for its third outing. At the beginning of the last season, the show was dubbed “The Year of Penny”, as an ode to the hilarious show standout Penny Hartz. As the dreaded and inevitable “love triangle” started to rear its head earlier this year, one can only hope that Happy Endings writers can tackle the cliché sitcom go-to the only way Happy Endings should…by making overt and unsubtle references to ‘Friends’.
Although it is one of my favourites, the fact that it’ll air the same time as the universally adored New Girl worries me. This better not be the last season already.

1. X Factor Season 2
Fox- 12.9.12
Judge me. Judge me all you want, but I’m not even gonna lie and say I’m not looking forward to seeing you-know-who on the judging panel this week. Did I watch it last year? No. But this is soon to change. A third of people I speak to about the upcoming season say they’ll watch it because they love Ms. Spears, the second say she’s a mess which is exactly why they’ll watch, and the third don’t care…but are gonna watch it anyway. Having been on reality TV overload last year, I completely neglected the first season of the show. But with the addition of Britney and Demi on the judging panel, it’s sure to be must-see-TV.