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April 28, 2003

Madonna - American Life

Madonna does it right, yet again

I'm confused. I look at the top selling singles chart and see mostly dross from new young artists. Is no one interested in buying music these days that has a little integrity? Pop Idol and their ilk have a large part to play, but the rot really set in with Steps and S Club a few years back. So why am I confused? Well, Madonna has been making top quality pop music for over 20 years and can still wipe the floor with everyone else around. So why aren't the record companies recognising this, why are they consistently pushing MTV friendly, clear faced, bland pap at us, instead of marketing real talent that may have a shelf life of more than 15 minutes.

OK, rant over. This is a tremendous CD, and once you've finished listening to it for the first time, you'll immediately click the play button again and go round for another turn. In fact, like me, you may find that you play it six times on the trot and only stop because it's past your bedtime, oh, and then you'll stick it on the walkman for the journey to work.

So what makes it so good? real lyrics about things that matter (if a bit self indulgent); a super cool combination of acoustic guitars and analogue synths sounds mixed up and produced to perfection with some great timing tricks that really get your toes tapping; Madonna's vocal, though never a really great voice, is a reliable one that you recognise in these homogenous days which is a big bonus; the sheer hummability of the melodies; and the overall feeling that this hasn't simply been produced just to make money, the people involved are interested in music, and in making the best damned CD they can.

I do have a couple of complaints, just to prove I'm not just a dedicated sad Madonna fanboy. The vocal is pure on some tracks, but has had some serious electronic tricks played with it on others, and on some of these it is so distorted I had to check my stereo equipment to see if it was OK. If you've ever played a vinyl record, and had the needle get covered in dust, this is the way some tracks sound throughout. This is overdone, and some cheap speakers just won't be able to handle it. The second thing is the swearing on the title track, this was a bit unnecessary, and because of it I'll be keeping the CD away from my children.

I'd like to do a track by track analysis, but haven't time now, so briefly I think that Love Infusion and Easy Ride are the most beautiful tracks to listen to, and Die Another Day is the best of the over-engineered synthpop ones.

Madonna is still making interesting music, and other pop acts have quite a way to go to catch up. Radiohead and Coldplay haven't got much to worry about, that's a different market, but in pop terms, I'm struggling to think of anyone else in her league nowadays.

Posted by se71 at 03:15 PM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2003

The Rugrats Movie

Animated adventure for children

If you have ever seen an episode of The Rugrats on TV, then this film won't hold many surprises. It's just an extra long show, which bobs along quite nicely, and you would probably mistake it for a normal episode if you missed the titles at the beginning.

The Pickles have a new baby boy, and Tommy's younger brother gets the unfortunate name Dylan (or Dill for short, gettit, Dill Pickles). Later, whilst the kids are all playing together, Grandpa Pickles falls asleep, and they all get accidently carted off in the back of a lorry, and end up stranded in a forest. Angelica is left in the house, but discovers that the babies and her doll Cynthia are missing, so sets off with the dog to search for them.

When the parents return, a full scale police hunt is started; but after spending the night stranded out in the cold it is actually Mr. Pickles in an experimental toy flying dinosaur who finds and rescues them.

If you've paid money for this, either at the cinema or on video/DVD, you might be a bit disappointed. Your kids will enjoy it, but they'd enjoy watching a couple of episodes on Nickelodeon better. There isn't really anything wrong with the film, but it's nothing special either.

AE 0

Posted by se71 at 04:19 PM | Comments (0)

April 09, 2003

Extreme Measures

Effective low budget thriller

Hugh Grant plays a brilliant young English medical student. He is working in a New York hospital when he discovers a patient has died mysteriously. He tries to get the postmortem notes, and finds that they have disappeared. What's going on? Colleagues tell him to just let it go, but he is an idealist, and starts investigating. He finds other vagrants have also died in a similar way, and uses a contact to go underground to mee the community of tramps living under the city. This is the last straw for the shady characters in the background, who try to kill him, and though he escapes with a small wound, his career is over. He gets framed for drug abuse, and sacked.

It's difficult to see why he kept on investigating earlier, but now he has nothing to lose and the pace and tension of the film really hots up as he discovers the truth. Gene Hackman is doing experimental spinal surgery on homeless people, and disposing of them when they die. His daughter is in a wheel-chair, and he has made it his life's work to try and find a cure for her disability. All the people helping him are either similarly disabled themselves, or have close relatives who are, and this is the sinister conspiracy alluded to earlier.

There is a big dramatic showdown, and Grant eventually wins and gets his job back. A nice touch is that he also gets Hackman's notes, and so can continue the research on a more ethical basis.

All in all, an overlooked gem, with a very watchable Hugh Grant and supporting cast (including Sarah Jessica Parker). You feel a real empathy for what Hackman is doing; he makes a very moving speech supporting his case, after all, it's only a few bums who get killed, and who cares about them, whereas thousands of useful disabled people will be given new lives. But of course, you know it's wrong, and you rightly root for the moral choice.

AE 0

Posted by se71 at 05:25 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2003


Big budget battle blockbuster

Russell Crowe will probably never match the hights of this popular performance - His lines:
"At my signal - unleash Hell!" and
"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius. Commander of the armies of the North, general of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife..."
have entered the language, and have turned him into the megastar he is today. But does the film deserve the plaudits and popularity? Well, not entirely.

Gladiator begins by setting the scene. Maximus (Crowe) is a general who leads from the front, and is loved by his army for this. He defeats the barbarian horde in Germania, a remote Roman province. The Roman emperor is there, and is dying, but offers the succession to the throne to Maximus. Before he can accept the offer, the emperor's son Commodus turns up and realises what is going on. He kills his father, takes control of the army, and tries to have Maximus killed. Maximus escapes, and heads for his home in Spain to his wife and son, but they have already been murdered by the Romans.

The rest of the film writes itself. Maximus is captured and becomes a slave, and gets sold into a travelling gladiator show. He wants revenge, and sees his only chance is to be the best Gladiator in Rome, as that would grant him an audience with the emperor, and he could kill him there. Things are very bloody and gory, there is a political sub-plot as the Roman senate also want to get rid of Commodus. The climax is a battle where a wounded Maximus and Commodus fight to the death in the Colliseum.

That would have been enough for a two hour film, but somehow another story got integrated involving Lucilla, Commodus's sister. This is all very messy and badly explained. She has a son, a dead husband, and has in the past had a relationship with Maximus. She is also involved in an incestuous relationship with Commodus. None of this is explained properly however, and it slows the action down too much; it must have been added in to try and attract the less bloodthirsty demographic, but they won't want to sit through the first 15 minutes battle so why bother. I suppose it all helps to show us how evil and depraved Commodus is.

Notable is Hans Zimmer's score, which is very beautiful music in the main, with ethnic overtones. Something else you should know is that Oliver Reed died during the making of Gladiator, and some of his scenes were cleverly recreated using computer technology - see if you can spot which ones.

Its a very impressive film, with great action sequences, massive sets and crowds. It has a powerful, broody performance from Crowe and an excellent devious slimy character in Joaquin Phoenix. If you like gladiator film, you can't get much better than this.

AE 0

Posted by se71 at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)