Archive for the Music Category

The Muppets * *

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Family, Music with tags on March 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: James Bobin.
Screenplay: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller.
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin, Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Black, Bill Cobbs, Jim Parsons, Neil Patrick Harris, John Krasinski, Judd Hirsch, Dave Grohl, Mickey Rooney.
Voices: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Peter Linz.

It’s been a long wait (12 years) since the last theatrical Muppets movie and if this is the best they can come up with in that time, then I think the Muppets have had their day. It speaks volumes when Frank Oz, one of the biggest contributors to the furry little characters, dropped out because he was unhappy with the script.

Gary (Jason Segel) is the Muppets’ biggest fan. On a trip to Hollywood, with his Muppet brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) and girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), to visit his heroes’ studio home, he learns of a plot by evil business man Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to destroy the Muppet Theatre and drill the land for oil. The only way he can save the day is to find the disbanded Muppets and get them back together for a benefit gig.

‘Kermit’, ‘Miss Piggy’, ‘Gonzo’ and ‘Fozzie’ etc make their way back onto the screen for a new generation of kids, but in all honesty, I think it was more appealing to the parents who will fondly remember these great little characters from the television show “Sesame Street” which first aired in 1969. However, there is such a lack of creativity in this adventure that both generations should be disappointed. Yes, it’s great to see them again but their humour is seriously lacking. There are a handful (if that) of entertaining moments. It starts reasonably well and looks like it will be a good old fashioned slice of family fun but after the first couple of song-and-dance numbers (that aren’t all that great) you realise that this is all you’re going to get. Amy Adams is an actress I admire but she’s given little to do, leaving the limelight on Jason Segel who completely hams it up with some terrible acting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting a thespian amongst a group of puppets but he seemed really self-conscious and out of sorts. The introduction of the latest Muppet ‘Walter’, was a decent device to be reintroduced to the old favourites again but it’s the lack of attention the “Sesame Street” gang are given that ultimately let’s the film down. The jokes are few and far between and the story (co-written by Segel) is weak and sluggish, to say the least. Added to which, the celebrity cameos – that have always served The Muppets so well – are even of a lesser standard. These old favourites deserve so much more.

This has received remarkable adulation since it’s release and I have to say, I sit on the side of the sceptics. A very disappointing reacquaintance that lacks the heart and wonder that these fabulous little characters brought to so many.

Mark Walker

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Nine * *

Posted in Drama, Music, Romance with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Rob Marshall.
Screenplay: Anthony Minghella, Michael Tolkin.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Ricky Tognazzi.

Sometimes you need to weigh up your options. Either you go by the director (who happens to have made one of the worst and most overrated films ever with “Chicago”) or you go by the actor (who has delivered consistantly memorable performances in his career with “My Left Foot”, “Gangs of New York” and “There Will Be Blood”). In this case I went with the actor but that still didn’t save a poor director, poorly plying his trade.

1960s Italy. Once-celebrated film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) struggles with his unwritten script for his comeback film. Looking for inspiration, he turns to his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his wife (Marion Cotillard), his muse (Nicole Kidman), his confidante (Judi Dench) and his childhood memories to solve his crisis, with unsuccessful yet well-sung results.

I really wanted to like this film as I’m a big fan of Daniel Day-Lewis and the impressive cast of females has rarely, if ever, been bettered. However, I’m not big on musicals or director Rob Marshall for that matter. Thankfully, this is not quite as bad as Marshall’s overrated stinker “Chicago”, but it isn’t much better either. Day-Lewis was my main reason for attempting this and considering he’s quite fastidious in his choices, I thought I’d follow his lead on this one. I was wrong and so was he in choosing this meandering borefest. The look of the film is gorgeous, as expected, with fabulous production design and cinematography and the ladies (oh the ladies) look amazing and deliver their song and dance numbers competently. Having Judi Dench in a corset was just a tad too much for my liking though. It was around this point in the movie that I realised this thinly veiled attempt at recreating a muscial of Frederico Fellini’s “8 1/2″ was a great waste of talent.

A lush and extravagant musical that has style in abundance. Substance is what it lacks though, leaving a great cast struggling to save it from tedium. Suited to fans of the genre only.

Mark Walker

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Crazy Heart * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Music, Romance with tags on January 23, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Scott Cooper.
Screenplay: Scott Cooper.
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Beth Grant, Tom Bower.

Jeff Bridges is one of cinema’s most underrated of actors (and one of my personal favourites). He had been nominated for an Oscar four times (“The Last Picture Show” in 1971; “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” in 1974; “Starman” in 1984 and “The Contender” in 2000). He finally won his elusive Award with this film and on this evidence, it was a thoroughly deserved win – he was subsequently nominated for “True Grit” a year after this triumph.

“Bad Blake” (Bridges) is a washed up country and western singer, down on his luck and reduced to playing small gigs to make ends meet. He has a bad attitude, an even worse drinking habit and has been on a self-destructive path for years, but while playing a gig in a small New Mexico town, he agrees to an interview with a young journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal). This leads to a romantic relationship and hope for Bad Blake to turn his life around.

Writer/director Scott Cooper has (in his first film) produced a slow moving character study, in which Bridges completely immerses himself. Unfortunately, the film as a whole doesn’t do Bridges justice. It descends into cliche and the integral romantic relationship between the two leads is unconvincing. The story had actually been covered a couple of years previously – with grittier and more realistic results – in “The Wrestler” with Mickey Rourke. That’s not to take away from Bridges’ gritty and realistic anchoring role though. He is marvellously empathetic and highly realistic in his portrayal of a character that has reached a real low point in his life.
It’s not a 5 star film – it has too many flaws for that – but it’s definitely a 5 star performance from the always reliable and under appreciated Jeff Bridges.

An actor of such calibre deserves recognition and although this doesn’t stand alone as his finest moment – there are too many for that – it at the very least gives him centre stage to display his talent. Bravo Bridges.

Mark Walker

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Tom Waits: Under Review 1971-1982 * * * *

Posted in Documentary, Music with tags on January 13, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Chances are, if your a Waits fan then you’ll want to, or will have already checked out this documentary. It follows his career from his demo tapes to his first studio album “Closing Time” with producer David Geffen, through his long collaboration with jazz engineer ‘Bones’ Howe, ending with the album “Heartattack and Vine” before Waits’ style changed completely.

The influences on him are also looked at, from his love of jazz to Jack Kerouac and the ‘beat’ generation.
Its packed full of interviews and anecdotes from people who worked with Waits and about the tenuous comparisons with his contemporaries John Prine, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Sadly, it doesn’t shed very much light on the man himself (at least not much that a Waits fan wouldn’t already know) and although there is some nice footage of Waits being interviewed throughout the 70’s, there is no interview with him directly. We don’t get to hear his opinion on his wonderful albums throughout the 70’s era and his troubador style. It does show archival footage though, of live performances of some of his best songs throughout this time like, “Tom Traubert’s Blues”, “Kentucky Avenue” and “Small Change”, leaving you wanting more and heading straight for ‘You Tube’ to listen to the whole song.

For fans of the old Tomcat, it’s a nostalgic chance to revisit the lounge lizards early musical genius. For people new to him, it’s a nice introduction to his wonderfully original talents.

Mark Walker

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Shine A Light * * * *

Posted in Documentary, Music with tags on January 11, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Martin Scorsese.
Featuring: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Christina Aguilera, Buddy Guy, Jack White, Martin Scorsese.

Having already covered such musical talents as The Band in “The Last Waltz” and Bob Dylan in “No Direction Home”, director Martin Scorsese now turns his hand to iconic rock ‘n’ roll band The Rolling Stones.

The closeness that Scorsese achieves is nothing short of magnificent. He must have had cameras everywhere and manages to capture the vibrancy of this fabulous band during their “A Bigger Bang” tour, playing at the Beacon theatre in New York. He manages to get so close you can see every wrinkle, every pore and you can almost smell the whisky from Keith Richards. Having been going strong for nearly 50 years (they were formed in 1962) and each band member over 60 years old, they’ve still got what it takes and can still get a crowd going. Their vibrancy is second to none and you can see why they have lasted so long. Tour footage is intercut with old footage of the band in their younger days and rise to stardom. It also briefly shows how the film was put together with footage of Scorsese conducting his documentary as the legends on-stage conduct their music. You can see Scorsese has a love and a knowledge of this great band. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t hear so many of their classic songs played throughout his films. It’s just a shame that the band members have aged. This would have been a much better intrusive film had it been The Stones in their prime. However, they’re still an exceptional outfit, Mick Jagger’s energy still impresses and they remain my favourite.

For Stones aficiondos only. If you count yourself as one, then you’ll love it.

Mark Walker

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