Tag: reade

MOVIE REVIEW | Working Girl (1988)

“I’m not gonna spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up, OK?”

When a movie is seen as a classic, or landmark, or some sort of watershed moment, even if I don’t particularly like that movie, I can usually still appreciate how it got its high status.  Exhibit A, Titanic.  One of the most predictable, cliched and corn ball screenplays ever written.  But its advances in special effects can’t be denied.  I’m not a fan of many Kubrick movies, but I can understand how the heightened style of A Clockwork Orange was a game changer.  And I can see how The Shining elevated the cheap and nasty genre of horror. But I can’t imagine how a predictable story about local girl made good, starring someone as painful as Melanie Griffith, could ever be anything worth watching.  Yet, with five Oscar nominations, I submit for your consideration Working Girl.

Griffith is Tess, a straight talking Staten Island girl from the school of hard knocks who has recently completed a business degree via night school.  She tries to infiltrate the corporate world of Manhattan through a series of temp jobs, but (get ready to suspend all disbelief) because she’s so gorgeous (apparently), this male dominated world can’t see past her looks.  Which is where Sigourney Weaver comes in as Katherine.  She has made it in this man’s world, and Tess sees her as the mentor she’s been looking for all along. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | The Book of Eli (2010)


“I need that book, I want that book.  I want you to stay but if you make me have to choose, I’ll kill you and take that book!”

I like Denzel Washington as an actor.  But looking at his IMDB, I realise that I haven’t seen all that many Denzel Washington movies.  It also makes me realise that while he makes a lot of popcorn, pay cheque movies, I’ve seen even less of them.  Instead, I tend to have seen the wankier, more highbrow movies.  But he’s a legit blockbuster movie star, making legit blockbusters.  Even the Denzel blockbusters I have seen, like Training Day and Crimson Tide, are all about tension and dialogue, not explosions and fist fights.  So I decided it was time to get some downright, low brow Denzel action into me with, The Book of Eli.

Wandering a post apocalyptic wasteland, Eli (Washington) is attacked by some bandits.  In quick order, he dispatches them all and continues on his badass way.  Coming to what passes for a town in this world, he has another run in to once again prove he’s not someone to be messed with.  He catches the attention of the town’s leader, Gary Oldman as Carnegie.  Carnegie is on the hunt for a very special book in a world where books are rare.  And it just so happens that Eli is in possession of a book that he seems very protective of. (more…)

The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth (2012)

When I wrote about The Mountain Goat’s 1994 lo-fi release Sweden, the production values (or complete lack of) stood out immediately, but they rarely over powered the songs and the song writing.  But in the years since, The Mountain Goats have only grown in success, meaning the resources available to them have also greatly improved.  So almost 20 years later, with added life experience, added musical experience and a much improved production budget, how has the band changed with Transcendental Youth?

These songs are still built around Darnielle’s uncanny voice and penchant for telling stories.  But you can tell he’s grown in the almost two decades since the lo-fi roughness of Sweden.  Epitomised early on by Lakeside View Apartments Suite, there’s a sound of a growing patients in Dernielle.  He still has stories that need to be told, but it sounds like he takes the time to craft them to as close to absolute perfection as possible.  Whereas Sweden sounded like a man with songs he had to get out there, and he had to get them out there as soon as possible, regardless of the shape they were in.

Cry for Judas goes all the way and is the most extravagant song I’ve ever heard from The Mountain Goats.  Complete with soaring horn section and dancing fiddle, it’s big, full and ambitious, while never losing sight of the song writing that gives it such a solid base.

I don’t know what Jon Wurster does, but for such a subtle, un-flashy drummer, I always notice what he’s doing and I always love it.  On a song like Harlem Roulette, there are no big fills, no indulgent solos, not a single extra snare snap, cymbal crash or kick drum beat that doesn’t need to be there.  He keeps things simple, but is always contributing, never just supporting.

With Until I Am Whole, we get the song most reminiscent of Sweden, before things get more removed from that early album than ever, with Night Light.  With its weird Celtic energy, this is by far the darkest sound to be found on Transcendental Youth.

Which is also immediately contradicted by The Diaz Brothers, an unexpected jaunt that almost sounds like the opening theme to an 80s cop show.  But not a serious 80s cop show.  The kind where two mismatched dudes get into hilarious predicaments before joking their way out of it.

On In Memory of Satan, Transcendental Youth busts out the horn section, but here, the song stays small and restrained. Even with the extra layers of instrumentation.  Spent Gladiator 2 accomplishes a similar feat.  It’s complete with drums, bass and piano, but it has a very similar feel to those complete stripped back, homemade sound of Sweden.

Which is what makes the title, closing track such an out of nowhere surprise.  There are plenty of ingredients that have been heard on previous Transcendental Youth tracks, but here the horns, piano, slick production and Darnielle’s unusually retrained vocals make for an uplifting, dreamy sound of optimism that’s just completely out of the blue, yet completely appropriate at the same time.

18 years after Sweden, The Mountain Goats is a different band, I don’t just mean it has different members, which it does, with John Darnielle being the only Goat still hanging in there from those days.  And I don’t just mean the fuller sound that comes with adding a permanent bass player and drummer (Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster respectively) to the line up.  And I don’t just mean the crisp production sound that comes with having the budget to spend on studios, engineers and a producer.  These songs are undeniably John Darnielle songs.  For every way the band has changed and evolved, his fingerprints remain the same.

The Mountain Goats

MOVIE REVIEW | The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

The rise of Ryan Gosling over the last few years has been interesting.  I first remember hearing about him because of art house and festival darlings like Half Nelson and Lars and the Real Girl.  Around the same time, he had also made an impact as a class–A dreamboat with The Notebook.  In the years since, he’s made an obvious decisions to not be nailed down to any genre or style of movie.  Instead, picking hugely different roles and hugely different collaborators.  From B-grade genre stuff like Drive and Only God Forgives, to big budget cheese like Gangster Squad, to serious drama, like Blue Valentine.   Then, there’s a strange movie that’s a combo of all of that, and a little bit more, The Place Beyond the Pines.

In a pretty amazing single shot, Gosling’s Luke makes his way from his dressing room, through a carnival and into a circus tent where he performs as a motorbike stunt man.  It turns out that a year or two ago, when the carnival was travelling through the same town, he knocked up town hotty, Evan Mendes as Romina.  When he finds out he has a son, Luke quits the stunt show so he can stay and try to build a life for his son.

Looking for work, he meets Robin (Ben Mendelshon), a local mechanic.  When garage work doesn’t pay the bills for either of them, they decide to use Luke’s motorbike skills to rob banks.  During one robbery, Luke gets in a high speed chase with local beat cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper).

It’s almost 50 minutes into The Place Beyond the Pines before Cooper’s character is introduced, and the movie takes a totally unexpected left turn.  Then, as soon as you get a handle on the new, Bradley Copper focused direction, it changes track again for the last third.  And while all three sections take place over different time periods, focusing on different characters, there is a very clear connection between them all.

Both Gosling and Cooper’s characters do some terrible things, and they both do them all in the name of their families and the pursuit of being good fathers.  We also get some straight up Bronte shit with some Wuthering Heights style themes of people suffering for the sins of previous generations.  Don’t let that put you off though, even at almost two and half hours, The Place Beyond the Pines turns these ideas into an unrelenting story that never drags.

As well as Gosling, Cooper, Mendes and Mendelssohn, the cast is also rounded out by Ray Liotta and Rose Byrne.  This is an awesome cast that is never wasted in any way.  Every actor gets their own little moments to shine and none ever seem under utilised.

When I saw director Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, I thought it was perfectly OK, while also the epitome of ultra depressing movie festival cliché.  Which was the reason that despite all the great reviews, I actively avoided The Place Beyond the Pines for a long time.  But that was a mistake.  It’s a clear step forward for Cianfrance as a writer and director and enough to make me see whatever he makes next.

The Place Beyond the Pines
Directed By – Derek Cianfrance
Written By – Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder 

MOVIE REVIEW | Dracula (1931)

There are so many classic movies and characters who I only know as references.  Even if I don’t know where those references come from, there  are clichéd lines of dialogue, mannerisms and ways of speaking that weren’t always a cliché.  Because they had to start somewhere, as a character or movie that, for whatever reason, took hold of the zeitgeist at that moment, and you can still see the effects today.  One of those is Bela Lugosi as the title character in Dracula.

If you’ve seen The Count on Sesame Street, you’ve seen Bela Lugosi’s take on Dracula.  If you’ve seen any black and white spoof of the character, you’ve seen Bela Lugosi’s take on Dracula.  Because Bela Lugosi’s take on Dracula is the quintessential, ‘I vant to suck your blooood’ take on Dracula that has been the basis of pretty much every version of the character in the more than seventy years since.

A solicitor named Renfield (Dwight Frye) arrives bright eyed and oblivious in Transylvania to help the local Count move.  Despite the obvious scared reactions of every local every time he mentions the Count’s name, Renfield goes to the castle anyway and his soon attacked by the resident Count, Dracula that is (Bela Lugosi).  Now nuttier than squirrel shit, Renfield accompanies Dracula to London by ship.  When the ship arrives, Dracula is gone, the entire crew is dead and Renfield, the only survivor, is taken to a sanitarium where he ends up under the care of Dr Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan).

The thing I noticed most about Dracula is its pace.  Or, more precisely, it’s complete lack of pace.  I don’t mind a movie taking it’s time, but this one is absolutely ridiculous in places.  It’s almost as if the film makers were told it had to reach 85 minutes or else they wouldn’t get paid.  Then when they started to shoot, they realised they only had half an hour worth of script.  But instead of writing more scenes, dialogue or action, they just told all the actors to move slower, pause longer and draw out every reaction.

Another thing that really stood out, and probably didn’t help the feeling of dragging on, was the complete lack of musical score.  I don’t know if the technology didn’t exist to include music in 1931, if no one had thought to do it yet, or if it was a conscious choice by directors Tod Browning and Karl Freund not to include any, but the long moments of inaction are only highlighted even more by the complete lack of music.

I’ll tell you one thing this movie really got right though, rubber bats bouncing up and down on fishing line.  There’s a heap of them, and each looks a little more ridiculous than the last.  They really are a sight to behold.

But even with the slow pacing, the hokey effects and the deafening silences, I still did kind of enjoy Dracula.  And I think that pretty much all comes down to Lugosi’s performance.  There’s something kind of cool about seeing the beginnings of such an influential and enduring character.  Even in another seventy years, I assume this vampire cliché will still be more iconic and recognisable than anything from Buffy, Twilight or True Blood.

Directed By – Tod Browning, Karl Freund
Written By – Hamilton Deane, John L Balderston