FILM REVIEW: BEAUTY (SKOONHEID)

Beauty (Skoonheid) is the uncompromising sophomore film by director, Oliver Hermanus. The winner of the Queer Palm award at Cannes, it is a dark and conflicted drama set in Bloemfontein, in present-day South Africa. It’s less of a narrative film and more of an intense and intimate portrait of a wildly conflicted character.

Francois van Heerden (Dean Lotz) is a balding and stocky Afrikaans man in his mid-40s. He is the married father of two adult daughters who leads a rather clean and controlled life of domesticity. At least on the surface.

At a wedding van Heerden meets a younger family friend, the engaging and charismatic Christian Roodt (Charlie Keegan) who affectionately calls him “Uncle” out of respect. The former soon develops lusty feelings for the latter and becomes so fixated on the younger student that he decides to concoct a plan. A “business trip” will take him to Cape Town where he hopes to catch up with the youngster, even though this exercise soon turns into stalking.

The film is a slow-burning affair where the dialogue is minimal and drawn-out. When this is coupled with long – albeit tense and silent – shots, it can make for viewing that is boring and tiresome. It’s a shame as the underlying idea of fighting with self-imposed and societal boundaries and grappling with sexuality are good ideas. Unfortunately the film is poorly executed, as the subject’s inner turmoil doesn’t make for particularly engaging viewing. It’s a storm too confined to his head rather than the screen. Plus, the little narrative that is offered is deliberately kept vague, leaving the viewer to have to fill in most of the dots.

The lead character – like most of the supporting cast – is well acted and portrayed. But the star is also hard to warm to or even empathise with. He is after all, a hypocritical and racist bigot that has violent tendencies. He also has a propensity to poke fun at gay people even though he goes to a grim house in the country to have casual sex with other repressed, married men Beauty comes to a searing end with a scene that is both difficult to watch and one that’s visually disturbing. The lead’s inner conflict turns into outright pathology and the thin veneer of respect quickly unravels. While visually provocative and conversation-starting, it also fails to see the protagonist get any sort of obvious comeuppance for his atrocious behaviour.

In short, Beauty is a bleak and slow character study of one tormented and unlikable individual. The focus on the minutiae of his daily life where the struggle is played out internally makes for subtle and often tiresome viewing. Less about actual beauty and more about one beastly creature, this drama is all about secrets, truth, ugliness and a picture of a conflicted man living a “normal” life rather than the one that would ultimately make him happy.

Review score: 2 stars

Originally published on 28 July 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/film-review-sydney-film-festival-2012-beauty-skoonheid-ctc

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

LIVE REVIEW: JACK WHITE & LANIE LANE @ HORDERN PAVILION (26.07.2012)

With two touring bands (one all boys, the other girls); no set list; the best-dressed roadies in the biz and recent exploits including sending records up into space, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Jack White wants to be in The Flaming Lips. But this third man and seventh son was just being himself in the lead-up to his debut solo tour in Oz. Sydney’s rock ‘n’ roll circus was at the Hordern and lived up to the high expectations everyone had for this great White.

The support came courtesy of White’s very own Third Man label signee and Sydney’s finest, Lanie Lane. The sultry songstress and her three-piece rockabilly band were squashed into the tiny crevices of spare room left at the front of the stage. They would put on an entertaining show for a warm and receptive home crowd.

She started with the bluesy, “Jungle Man” and initially sounded like a feisty, rock chick (at least in terms of her vocals). Musically however, it seemed to sit somewhere between the multitude of talent found in the best records of the fifties and sixties, with a hint of surf rock, blues and jazz. There was the sexy; “Like Me Meaner” where Lane shared a few things in common with Betty Boop and even received a few catcalls from the approving males in the audience.

Lane told us there’s “A great guy comin’ on stage after us”. “Jack” – she knows him on first-name basis, although I wished she called him “John” – had produced her recent, 7-inch single. The smoky, “Ain’t Hungry” and b-side, “My Man” were played with jamming ditties and pieces that boasted a rockabilly tinge. While her big single, “Oh Well, That’s What You Get Falling In Love With A Cowboy” was well received; the punters’ favourite was her cover of The Black Keys’ “Gold On The Ceiling”- where the guitars gurgled through the cavernous venue.

A community service announcement preceded the set by the star of the evening and former White Stripes frontman and member of The Saboteurs/Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. This was that the cast and crew had one request, for everyone to enjoy the show in 3D rather than behind a three-inch screen or “Enjoy it live now, rather than tomorrow”. An official photographer would shoot the entire set because White was making a stand against the distracting people who fumble with their mobile phones in the dark.

The band started with a bang in “Black Math”. It was a very different version to the one originally by The White Stripes, with more incendiary and dirty guitar riffs it would prove the template for how a number of the duo’s songs would be translated tonight. In full-band mode it was like every note had to be harder and bigger and while this occasionally meant it was stronger, there were some moments where you could be forgiven for longing for the raw, stripped-back simplicity the pair used to bring to the occasion.

This evening’s band was the all-male group playing a combination of drums, violin, keyboard, piano, double bass, mandolin, guitar, bass and slide-guitar. This was a combination befitting a stadium thanks to its musicality and intense power and volume. In some ways the latter elements seemed to rival The Who’s live show back when Moonie was drumming and they had a reputation for being loud rapscallions. (And White is clearly a fan of the ‘Orrible ‘Oo with the obscure “Armenia City in The Sky” played among the excellent, between-set music).

“Missing Pieces” had some keys inspired by the late Jon Lord from Deep Purple. Another new song, “Freedom At 21” was played at a breakneck speed. It was like listening to multiple walls of sound and made us all forget about the maligned, Phil Spector. Instead, Messer White was building a sturdy, brick house and that was before he’d don an acoustic guitar for the lighter, “Love Interruption”.

The first and perhaps best banter from Jack White came as he introduced “Hotel Yorba”. It was: “How you doin’ Sydney… This song is in the key of G. If you wanna keep up, go ahead”. This was an excellent version where the music was accentuated by mandolin and piano as people danced and sang along like it was 2001. It was one they all cherished, but “You Know That I Know” was clearly closer to White’s heart. A cover of the Hank Williams’ song, it served some country twang before it was back to the garage rock.

The set was a fluid affair, full of jams and different shades of black, white and blue. There was plenty of light and dark moments plus the cinematic and the sparse. At different times White would emulate guitar Gods like Hendrix and Clapton for the choice solos; Pete Townshend for the volume; and Jimmy Page for the virtuosity. There were many cuts from his three different outfits plus solo material and a cover. But at the heaviest moments the band could’ve been Black Sabbath while the most cinematic ones were the domain of Queen and then there was the blues – pure and simple – where the only thing that was missing was a gutbucket.

The 16-song main set included old White Stripes favourites “Dead Leaves & The Dirty Ground” and “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” alongside The Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like A Buffalo” and The Saboteurs/Raconteurs’ “Broken Boy Solider” and “Blue Veins. These offerings meant you could’ve been seeing a group in dinner jackets smoking cigars in a jazz joint, or a raucous bunch of punks in a sweaty garage or anything in between. It was truly happening, often heavy and distorted; bold and brash; and full of great, powerful moments offset by lighter shades although the four-song encore was all killer, no filler.

White didn’t employ stupid stage gimmicks; he let the music speak for itself. “Sixteen Saltines” had a crazy warble and was rougher than the recorded version, which shares a few things in common with the live copies of The Who’s “I’m Free”. The guitars were pushed to the limits – like most in this set – during “Steady, As She Goes”. It was rewarded by a sea of clapping hands that would eventually turn into air-drumming for “The Hardest Button To Button”. While the latter was a rousing end, it’s a tie between this and the climatic “Seven Nation Army” for the pick of concert highlight.

There had been many peaks during this stunning show. Jack White had proven an absolute delight with his earthy, old school approach. He must have blues coursing through his veins because this talented and creative all-rounder is one hell of a modern day guitar whisperer.

——————————————————

Jack White’s set list:
Black Math (originally by The White Stripes)
Missing Pieces
Freedom At 21
Love Interruption
Hotel Yorba (originally by The White Stripes)
You Know That I Know (originally by Hank Williams)
Hypocritical Kiss
Canon (originally by The White Stripes)
Broken Boy Solider (originally by The Saboteurs/Raconteurs)
Weep Themselves To Sleep
Trash Tongue Talker
On and On and On
The Same Boy You’ve Always Known (originally by The White Stripes)
I Cut Like A Buffalo (originally by The Dead Weather)
Dead Leaves & The Dirty Ground (originally by The White Stripes)
Blue Veins (originally by The Saboteurs/Raconteurs)
——–
Sixteen Saltines
Steady, As She Goes (originally by The Saboteurs/Raconteurs)
The Hardest Button To Button (originally by The White Stripes)
Seven Nation Army (originally by The White Stripes)

——————————————————

Lanie Lane’s set list:
Jungle Man
Like Me Meaner
Betty Baby
Gold On The Ceiling (originally by The Black Keys)
My Man
No Sound
What Do I Do
Don’t Cry
Oh Well, That’s What You Get Falling In Love With A Cowboy
Ain’t Hungry

 

Originally published on 27 July 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/jack-white-lanie-lane-hordern-pavilion-26-07-12

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

EP REVIEW: THE FALLS – HOLLYWOOD

Jack and Meg. Kim and Thurston. Stevie and Lindsay. Music is littered with creative couples whose relationships have gone bad. But if there is any silver lining to these grey clouds it is that they often continue making sweet music together. It’s usually relatable and often classic, capturing our minds and tugging at our heartstrings.

Enter Sydney duo – The Falls. Simon Rudston-Brown and Melinda Kirwen are two such folks. They met at the Hollywood Hotel and fell in love. They wrote some songs, fell out of love, made-up, broke-up and wrote some more music. These emotional tomes form the basis of their 6-track debut EP, Hollywood.

The catalyst for all this was the fall-out that they felt in the wake of Valentine’s Day. The two decided that the best way to deal with their broken hearts and wistful memories of love and betrayal was to pour it all back into their music. They enlisted producer, Tony Buchen (Washington, Old Man River, Andy Bull) and it’s fair to say that the following quote from Stevie Nicks wasn’t far from their heads, hearts and hands: “Devastation leads to writing good things”.

“Please” sets the scene with a cautionary tale that despite a dark lyrical edge is some glistening and peaceful folk-pop. The boy-meets-girl vocals are sweet and prove a perfect backdrop to the contrasts between the moments of toe-tapping goodness, soft gentle hum and broody atmospheric feel.

Debut single, “Home” crystallises all of the best aspects of this creative partnership. Starting off small it builds up to a major crescendo or a full-blown pop number that is full of warmth, melody, sublime harmonies, driving percussion and a playful children’s piano. It keeps the mood light and starry-eyed before the sadness-cloaked-in-mystery that is “Million”.

Then there is a song that is full of opposites AKA “Girl That I Love”. This one gets at the heart of the best and worst aspects of the relationship, as Kirwen is simultaneously described as the gal Rudston-Brown adores, but who also makes him as mad as hell. It also goes from being a soft and lilting number to a Boy & Bear-esque ditty before the closing, “Hollywood” where the duo’s meeting place, foundation and muse is documented in full, reverberating glory.

Hollywood is a heartfelt, folk-pop record where this pair filters things through their influences – Fleetwood Mac, Simon and Garfunkel and Neil Young – to craft their own sound shaped by their collective and individual experiences. This diary of their relationship is no-holds barred, an honest summary that is complex, stirring, emotional and just plain human. Ultimately, the message is one of hope and this offering is certainly one for fans of Big Scary’s lighter moments and Angus Stone’s earthy and natural sound. In short, sublime.

 

Originally published on 29 July 2012 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/nd/albumreviews/hollywood_falls_the

Visit The Dwarf’s homepage at: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/

LIVE REVIEW: KEVIN MITCHELL (JEBEDIAH, BOB EVANS) @ BELLA UNION, MELBOURNE

On July the 22nd Melbourne’s Bella Union played host to The Story So Far… The show proved the perfect marriage between music and musings at the family-friendly time of Sunday afternoon. Hosted by Sunny Leunig and Jacinta Parsons, the man of the hour was the Melbourne-via-Perth artist, Kevin Mitchell AKA Bob Evans.

Mitchell would play stripped-back versions of various songs with just an acoustic guitar and occasionally a harmonica, with a particular highlight being the gorgeous rendition of his most famous track, “Don’t You Think It’s Time?” There was also the gentle, “Someone So Much” and a cover of Lily Allen’s “Not Fair”.

It seems that Mitchell has a new contender for the title of biggest fan. That’s because his baby daughter was in the crowd and under the watchful eye of her Mum while Dad was on-stage, she babbled and clapped along where she could. It was heart-warming to see Mitchell light up and play for her, clearly relishing watching his bub enjoy herself so much.

Aside from being a family affair, the gig wasn’t just about a live music because we would also be treated to an interesting interview. We’d learn about Mitchell’s choice of desert island discs (including songs by John Lennon, Nirvana and Beck, no less). There was also the song he’d wished he’d written and a behind-the-scenes look at life as the Jebediah frontman who graduated to become a mature, solo artiste.

Mitchell proved to be a great interviewee. He was open, candid and animated. Showing he’s a real romantic at heart, he offered tender responses (like wishing he’d had the opportunity to have a beer with his late father) plus light and funny anecdotes too. The latter included talk about learning jazz ballet as a child (complete with an impromptu demonstration) and meeting Lily Allen at the Sydney Big Day Out. It was also funny to hear Mitchell want to cover his daughter’s ears during the R-rated verse of the Allen cover.

The Story So Far… is an absolute treat and an excellent concept where you get to hear things first-hand from your favourite musicians. Anyone fortunate enough to be in Melbourne on July 29 for the final chapter should go and check it out (especially because the bill boasts You Am I’s Tim Rogers). If not, you can stay tuned to this series because the hosts said it should be continued, and it’d be great if they took it on the road in true rock style. And if nothing else, we can just sit back and witness where these musicians will go in writing their next chapter(s).

ALBUM REVIEW: THE NEARLY BROTHERS – YOU CAN’T HIDE FROM YOUR YESTERDAYS

There’s six degrees of Kevin Bacon and rock ‘n’ roll’s family tree branches can intercept more than a game of piggy-in-the-middle. So it makes sense that supergroup, The Nearly Brothers would take on such a name, even though you could say it’s just two Aussies, an Englishman and an Irishman walking into a bar.

The plan was for the group to produce an album called, Mancini, Morricone, Wolf & Me for Henry, Ennio, Howlin’ and Mark Snarski. But they instead opted for You Can’t Hide From Yesterdays. The debut 12-track album was released overseas in 2010 but has only just been offered here in Oz. The record sees the aforementioned Messer Snarski (Chad’s Tree) teaming up with Mick Harvey (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds), Martyn Casey (The Triffids, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds), T.B. Allen and Mark Dawson (The Black Eyed Susans).

The result is some tight-sounding music that was produced live and quickly with 16 tracks recorded in just four days in Fremantle. The time constraint has helped lend a sense of intense urgency and melodrama to the songs. Snarski’s smooth baritone causes “You Make Me Ache” to sound like a Nick Cave song. It sets a high bar and sees the kind of atmospheric guitars found in Crowded House’s “Fingers Of Love” offered up like a ritual or lusty curse that’s drenched in gloom and menace.

The title track tends to be more like an evil road trip because a Cream-inspired, dirty rock riff is coupled with eerie strings. This lot is definitely indebted to these past masters even though the volume is turned down a notch on “When White Ants Come”. This is some dark and broody folk that segues off to take in some swirling, electric guitars.

Black Sabbath is a band that springs to mind on “Am I Diggin’ My Hole?” The chorus has a beefy, rock riff before things change tact once again and the pulse is slowed down to a more languid ballad. But things soon heat up on “Stung”, where some prickly warm sounds are like a gritty and dusty adventure to the desert, before the cool oasis that is “The Fish Girl”. The latter is caught somewhere between a dream and the deep blue sea.

“Let’s Find A Box Dolores” completes the set, where Snarski sounds like he is looking for a bar (not a box). You can’t help but feel like this whole exercise was to look for some sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll because the latter is definitely present in “It’s All Tumbling”. On this one you can imagine The Doors performing away before stopping rather abruptly so they could get in a verse of “Wild Child”.

You Can’t Hide From Your Yesterdays is full of guitar- ones that squeal, howl and rumble for added effect and subsequently induce some hip-thrusting glory. At times it is as dark and gothic as a film noir soundtrack while at other moments the rock music seems like the bastard half brother of bands like B.R.M.C and The Black Keys.

There is also a creeping sense of unease that punctuates the work with trouble kept at the forefront. What this ultimately means for You Can’t Hide From Your Yesterdays is that while you may not be able to exorcise your past demons, with help you can certainly dance with these princes of darkness.

Originally published on 13 July 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/33154/The-Nearly-Brothers–You-Cant-Hide-From-Yesterdays

Visit Fasterlouder’s homepage at: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/

 

ALBUM REVIEW: DAMON ALBARN – DR. DEE

Damon Albarn is a clever monkey who is never short of an idea. He’s left an indelible mark on popular culture with bands like Blur and Gorillaz, plus his projects with The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Rocket Juice & The Moon and Mali Music. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing this man can’t do. But it seems like all the good ideas in the world are unlikely to make Dr. Dee an accessible project for the masses.

The record is Albarn’s first solo album “proper” (notwithstanding his Democrazy collection of demos from 2003). It is also the soundtrack to the two-hour long opera that he wrote for the Manchester International Festival and is based on the life of John Dee, the medical and scientific advisor to Elizabeth I. The subject was a man born before his time and it’s clearly something that strikes a chord with Mr. Albarn who has continually proven to be a vanguard himself, with no shortage of dramatic and cerebral music forthcoming.

Dr. Dee was originally inspired by comic book author Alan Moore and sees the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Choral Vocal Group playing alongside English instruments from the Elizabethan era. These include the recorder and lute plus more exotic ones like the dulcian and shawm. Albarn sticks to his more typical acoustic guitar and producing, and is also joined by his Mali Music collaborator, Tony Allen. On paper the idea of Elizabethan music mixed with afrobeats may sound rather strange, but in the hands of Albarn it is also surprisingly cohesive.

The 18 tracks begin with “The Golden Dawn” where some organ-like church music is featured alongside some nature offerings like water drops and birds’ chirping. It’s a golden tune that plays out like the aural equivalent of morning breaking. And that’s before a choir chime in for the traditional and wistful folk of “Apple Carts”.

“O Spirit, Animate Us” sees the singers at it again and this time they’re doing the answer to the Lord’s Prayer while “The Moon Exalted” is a sweeping soundscape punctuated by a light and beautiful quality. The latter also includes a real lushness before the dark folk of “A Man Of England” and then “Saturn” sounds like a number by The Good, The Bad and The Queen.

On “The Marvellous Dream” you can’t help but look closely at the lyrics and see some parallels between Albarn’s life in 2012 as he contemplates his own revival (with Blur?) or the aforementioned “dream”. But the answer could be found in the following, “Preparation” where some pattering drums signal a return back to Africa where Albarn will likely be this generation’s answer to Paul Simon rather than any continuance of the pretence of “Britpop God”.

Dr. Dee sees Damon Albarn – like the record’s namesake – walking a fine line between the dark arts, pretension and common practice. This complex collection of frankly odd, pastoral folk is obscure yet bold; a higgledy piggledy set that is at times a pure mess of traditional English ideas, afrobeat numbers and some more archetypal folk musings. Many fans will see it as throwaway and that there is still room for a definitive solo album by Albarn with more digestible chunks of Britpop, rock or whatever else he feels like dabbling in on that particular day.

In the meantime fans will have the opportunity to ponder the many different ideas on offer here and there are moments of rolled gold to be found amongst the cinema-scopes, melody, chanting, religious tomes, impressionist lyrics and alright classic melodrama. You’ve gotta commend Albarn for combining such great and ethereal ideas in such a sophisticated and literate way, but there’s no denying that for some fans Dr. Dee won’t be what the doctor ordered at all.

Originally published on 13 July 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/33161/Damon-Albarn–Dr-Dee

Visit Fasterlouder’s homepage at: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/

FILM REVIEW: MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ : THE ARTIST IS PRESENT

Controversial performance artist, Marina Abramović has had as many devotees as detractors over the years. Earning titles like the “Grandmother of Performance Artists” and “Diva” has not come cheap. Nor has being asked the question, “But why is this art?” In Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present filmmaker, Matthew Akers helps shed some light on this enigmatic individual.

Abramović was then 63-years-old but looked decades younger. She was born in the former Yugoslavia to hard, unloving parents. As a girl she was often sad and disappointed. At the first costume party she attended she went as a devil, something that was a formative experience in her life. And when this was coupled with a lack of parental support and spiritual wisdom, this would set her up on a rather strange path.

Over the years she would become known for her challenging performance art that was littered with provocative and violent statements designed to challenge and shock the audience. These where not limited to whipping and stabbing herself for the “cause”. In one of her most notorious works she offered members of the public some 72 instruments to use on her in any way they wished (and among these were a gun and a bullet).

In 2010 after some 40 years of people questioning her craft and others dubbing her “insane,” she finally received some kudos. Her works were the subject of a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. These included recreations of some of her historic performances and stills from others. The former including the work, “Imponderabilia” where two nude bodies flank a tiny doorway and people have to push past in order to get through.

The exhibition’s centerpiece however, was a test of endurance and what some called a definitive show of patience and humility. For three months Abramović was the living subject of “The Artist Is Present,” where she took no meal or toilet breaks during the gallery’s opening hours and sat in a chair. The point was to gaze into the eyes of anyone else brave enough to sit in the chair opposite her.

To critics it was little more than a staring contest. But allies applauded her for indulging peoples’ innate human need to be acknowledged through stillness. It was overwhelming and engaging, with many participants falling in love with her. It also reduced some to tears while others were bemused or smiled and there were pranks (including one woman who stripped).

The best exchange was between the star and her old flame, Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen), a fellow performance artist and a Sagittarius with an intense streak to rival her own. Their volatile relationship lasted 12 years and ended shortly after the pair walked the Great Wall of China from opposite ends and met in the middle. In 2010 their “moment” saw Abramović disarmed with a smile and at her most emotionally bare; as the chemistry and feelings of mutual respect between the two are both electric and palpable in the silence.

Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present is a conventional documentary about an extreme and intriguing, avant-garde artist. Abramović proves a magnetic creature even through the repetitive closing act where countless devotees share unguarded moments in her presence. But ultimately the film is purely about the artist, and an interesting primer about the woman- her work, weirdness and the wonder of it all.

Review score: 3 stars

Originally published on 10 July 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/sydney-film-festival-2012-review-marina-abramovi%C4%87-the-artist-is-present

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

DVD REVIEW: DRAGON EYES

Everybody was kung fu fighting. Or at least that’s what it feels like in Dragon Eyes. The action film sees two feuding gangs disarmed by a mysterious stranger who hides his chequered past. But behind those eponymous eyes is a warrior king and one who is also the living embodiment of the great masters.

Cung Le stars as the defiant Mr. Hong and in real life he is also a champion mixed martial arts fighter. This possibly accounts for his stellar fighting ability on screen but also his rather dull and lifeless acting. The story is a non-linear one where multiple flashbacks eventually reveal that Hong was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. After getting into a scuffle with some toughs in the yard, Jean-Claude Van Damme (in cameo mode) takes the youngster under his wing and teaches him to be prizefighter.

The indebted Mr Hong leaves prison and decides to repay the offering to his master by returning to the latter’s hometown in St. Jude. This is a city under siege by multiple gangs and a corrupt, hear-no evil; speak no evil police force (one lead by Peter Weller who looks like he’s come straight out of Public Enemies). Hong cautiously earns the gang leaders’ trust but eventually uses them to his advantage; playing the two main groups off one another and making them all look like a pack of fools.

The energy is kept high and adrenaline-filled. With little screen-time devoted to the underlying story, most of the visuals tend to be drawn-out, dramatic stares or one of a multitude of fight scenes. The latter includes a combination of street fighting, marital arts, bashings and gun-toting. The overall tone is a gritty one with the colours favouring grey and brown hues. This means it all looks rather dreary save for the animated, almost comic book-like titles that are used to introduce each of the main players.

This dark story is ultimately rather muddled by all the different flashbacks and forwards through time and even when you piece them all together this reveals something that is rather generic. For some people the obvious plot holes – like huge prison cells for training and being allowed a gun in a cell – will make this whole affair seem less dragon eyes and more the rolling of eyes.

But if all you’re looking for is a vengeance-filled, no-brainer full of shocking and violent cops and robbers games then this showdown is full of enough bone-crushing, bullets, blood and bruises for you. Dragon Eyes is ultimately filled with lots of action but little substance, meaning it should give martial arts fans their kicks even though the rest of it fails to hit the mark.

Originally published on 6 July 2012 at the following website: http://lipmag.com/arts/film-arts/film-review-dragon-eyes/

Visit Lip Magazine’s homepage at: http://lipmag.com

ALBUM REVIEW: THE MEDICS – FOUNDATIONS

After two relatives got together with two close mates and formed a band you could say a solid foundation was built. The Medics released the well-received EP, This Boat We Call Love; won a Deadly award, played some festivals and were unearthed by triple j. Prior to the release of their debut album it’s fair to say there was a certain level of expectation awaiting this and yet the group have produced a strong and earnest record and are already thinking ahead.

For now we have the Yanto Browning-produced, Foundations, one brimming with full colour, stadium rock sounds. There are lots of distorted guitars lost in a swirling sea of tempos that reach ever so high, meaning that some hard crescendos collide with sound waves in sheer glory. The boys claim to be influenced by Radiohead and At The Drive-In. But for my money the music is closer to the epic tracks by Muse mixed with the rock of Kings Of Leon and the lush pop of The Temper Trap.

On “Beggars” we are treated to something that could be by the latter group as singer, Kahl Wallace’s vocals are like a breathy dream. It’s a great taster of things to come as his voice runs the full gamut of: fragile, wispy, haunting, edgy and feisty over the course of the 11 tracks.

“Rust” is a rocking ditty where the energy is found in both spades and full wide-screen. There is some skittish percussion courtesy of Jhindu Lawrie (the son of Coloured Stone’s Bunna Lawrie) while the words describe darkness falling, before the proceedings end with a great, big explosion. Musically these are about some rather heavy heights and they are soon replicated in “Griffin”.

There are some smatterings of percussion and reverb on “Ocean Eyes” where the harmonies soar up to the heights once scaled by The Bee Gees. “Joseph” meanwhile, is the absolutely perfect, popular single. This one shows how mature beyond their years this group of twentysomethings are. Consider them singing about walls being built to cover your pride while they build their own strong-house of guitars and what sounds like a thousand of these instruments.

But Foundations isn’t all about walls of guitar. There are moments that are like sweeping bellows off a mountain range like in the track, “Golden Bear”. Plus, “Deadman” is a rather soft ballad and “50 Years” is rather country-tinged. When this is combined with Wallace’s light vocals it seems like references to Youth Group are appropriate.

So while a lot of records ebb and flow and can contain as many moments of “miss” as “hit”, Foundations actually offers a lot more of the latter quality. It’s cohesive and fresh-sounding with just the right mix of melody, foot-stomping punch and smart, yet minimal lyrics that are about themes like: the passage of time, moving on and leaving home. Ultimately, this is one busy and exhilarating record that is full of a lot of different ideas including some real epics, while others are just hot, urgent and textured.

The Medics have said that they’ll continue to explore their sounds and find their musical footing (so to speak). But Foundations is one assured starting point. So if this musical journey of a thousand miles has begun with this single step, then this lot will continue to put their best foot forward for some time yet.

 

Originally published on 10 July 2012 at the following website: http://sludgefactory.com.au/medics-foundations-cd-review

Visit Sludge Factory’s homepage at: http://sludgefactory.com.au/

LIVE REVIEW: BOB DYLAN TRIBUTE (FEAT. JOSH PYKE, KEVIN MITCHELL, HOLLY THROSBY, KAV TEMPERLEY & PATIENCE HODGSON) @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (08.07.2012)

Lizzie had a party at the palace for her 50th while Elton John celebrated by frocking up as Louis XI. Fast forward to 2012 and in Sydney a fine group of local musicians became tangled up in Bob Dylan to celebrate the golden anniversary of the genius’s debut. With a picturesque setting in the Opera House plus some more than capable hands and a perfect soundtrack, there was nothing left wanting from this honest and affectionate tribute show.

Musical director, Ash Naylor (Even) played guitar alongside Paul Kelly’s backing band. They kicked things off with a slightly heavier version of “Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)”, one that proved closer to the Manfred Mann hit than Bob Dylan’s own. The flutes were replaced by knotted instruments and there were multiple harmonies before Josh Pyke entered the stage in classic Dylan mode. With an acoustic guitar and harmonica he did a sweet, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.

Dylan is obviously an influence on Pyke’s work and this was certainly apparent in the pop-like version of “Tangled Up In Blue” and the love-letter-to-your-sweetheart folk of “Just Like A Woman”. Dylan’s romantic side was amplified through the soft and delicate approach that Holly Throsby brought to “Girl Of The North Country”. This talented lady would also spread her wings and pay attention to some of Dylan’s lesser known but no less equal songs. She played “Tomorrow’s A Long Time” to protest against it not being a hit and she turned a few heads in the process.

But it wouldn’t have been a Dylan tribute without “Blowin’ In The Wind”. Kevin Mitchell (AKA Bob Evans) received a round of applause for the smooth, opening chords as these emanated from his fairy light adorned, acoustic guitar. Mitchell’s voice has really come into its own over recent years, it’s often hard to imagine that this is the same guy that had the nasally tones on the Slightly Odway album. Like Dylan, Mitchell was also able to level out the rougher edges in his voice, producing an easy croon on “Lay, Lady, Lay”.

During the first set Patience Hodgson (The Grates) was rather restrained, especially when she tackled “Visions Of Johanna”. But as the music kept coming with “Positively 4th Street” and others, she became more and more animated and eventually cut completely loose with “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. There were moments in the show that were country-esque, which made her resemble Dolly Parton. But her love of indie-punk dancing completely took over the Dylan classic when she flung off her shoes and shimmied and twisted around the stage like a silly yet sexy, possessed femme fatale in red.

Kav Temperley (Eskimo Joe) also did a good job of alternating his performance to suit the different moods for each song. In “It Ain’t Me Babe” the vibe was so bittersweet with the violin fusing well with his warm, choir boy-like vocals that it was hard not to feel your eyes well up. He also had the impressive job of learning eight minutes worth of lyrics for “Hurricane”. But it was the two big numbers in the second half that would’ve been the most daunting initially, although these also proved to be some of the most fun.

For “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” Temperley hammed it up and got the crowd nodding along to the rolling beat while Mitchell and Hodgson jumped into the crowd and played the pied pipers with tambourines to the classic line: ‘Everybody must get stoned.’ “All Along The Watchtower” was different again. The behemoth task of tackling both Dylan and Jimi Hendrix was never going to be an easy one. So while things tonight didn’t reach the lofty heights of the two legends, it wasn’t half-bad thanks to some excellent distorted guitar flourishes reminiscent of Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

The stars of the evening: Pyke, Throsby, Temperley, Mitchell and Hodgson had at times given the impression that they were pinching themselves to be in such a classy venue. They did, however, do a lovely job of performing some cuts solo and occasionally in a duet form. They kept the banter entertaining and funny with tidbits about each other and their own personal experiences and knowledge of Messer Zimmerman. A particular highlight was hearing the three boys (also bandmates in Basement Birds) sing together for “I Shall Be Released” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”, because their harmonies are really sublime.

Paul Kelly’s backing band is an accomplished crew and they did an exceptional job of translating Dylan’s songs for the stage. There were some jarring transitions as the mood switched from fragile as a feather one moment, to a completely feisty rock clout the next but it was all well intentioned and good to hear the music with a modern twist. I am personally no Dylan purist and I’m told the man of the hour isn’t either, so I thought it all to be thoroughly enjoyable.

One thing is for sure; you’d be heard-pressed to find a person who didn’t leave the night without a lot more respect for this talented and prolific writer. There were at least a few murmurs of ‘I’d forgotten’ or ‘I didn’t know’ he wrote that. And it’s fair to say this man has been on a career-long roll, writing so many classic songs- a fact often overlooked because other people have gotten famous from his work.

The only downside of this two hour plus show was that the audience didn’t sing along or dance anywhere near as much as I thought they would. In the rousing encore, “Like A Rolling Stone” it seemed like we finally got there when the entire cast and crowd sang along like one big, happy family. They’d finally managed to get us all on our feet and we were lapping things up.

You could say that it seemed like these things were happening too little, too late but my prevailing memory of the night will be seeing an elderly gentleman stand up from his wheelchair to clap along for a chorus. Now there aren’t many musicians that could claim to work wonders like that but then, there is only one Bob Dylan. So it seems like the man that was once called Judas could actually lay claim to the name “Jesus” because these days he’s working miracles from well beyond Maggie’s farm.

Set list:
1. Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn) [sung by Ash Naylor]
2. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue [sung by Josh Pyke]
3. Girl Of The North Country [sung by Holly Throsby]
4. Blowin’ In The Wind [sung by Kevin Mitchell]
5. If Not For You [sung by Kevin Mitchell & Patience Hodgson]
6. Visions Of Johanna [sung by Patience Hodgson]
7. It Ain’t Me Babe [sung by Kav Temperley]
8. Lay, Lady, Lay [sung by Kevin Mitchell]
9. Tomorrow Is A Long Time [sung by Holly Throsby]
10. Tangled Up In Blue [sung by Josh Pyke]
11. Hurricane [sung by Kav Temperley]
12. I Shall Be Released [sung by Kevin Mitchell, Josh Pyke & Kav Temperley]
———-
13. Love Minus Zero, No Limit [sung by Ash Naylor]
14. The Times They Are A-Changin’ [sung by Josh Pyke]
15. Positively 4th Street [sung by Patience Hodgson]
16. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall [sung by Patience Hodgson & Holly Throsby]
17. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 [sung by Kav Temperley]
18. Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright [sung by Josh Pyke & Holly Throsby]
19. I Want You [sung by Kevin Mitchell]
20. Subterranean Homesick Blues [sung by Patience Hodgson]
21. Just Like A Woman [sung by Josh Pyke]
22. All Along The Watchtower [sung by Kav Temperley]
23. Mr. Tambourine Man [sung by Josh Pyke, Kevin Mitchell & Kav Temperley]
———-
24. Like A Rolling Stone [sung by everyone]

Originally published on 09 July 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/bob-dylan-tribute-night-sydney-opera-house-08-07-12

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

Previous Older Entries