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August 25, 2007

Review: Atonement (film)

Ian McEwan has – since about the mid-nineties at least – had a knack of writing books that are better than 99.9% of everything else that gets published.

The Child in Time gets a rough ride from critics, but I think it’s fantastic. Saturday was below his usual standard but still a scintillating read. On Chesil Beach took a simple plot and strung it out without making it prolonged. Amsterdam won the Booker prize, and you can’t do much better than that. And while Atonement didn’t win the Booker Prize, the majority seem to think it’s better than his book that did. And they’d be right.

Atonement is a three-part novel (plus epilogue) stretching from the 1930s to 1999. Each era depicts a very different time. The first section, set in 1937, is a lavish, dark setting where crimes take place underneath people’s noses. But it is the wrong crime which is reported. The second section is fought on the beaches of Northern France and the hospitals of London in the early 1940s. And the final section is set in the present day.

What makes the novel so powerful is that each section is better than the previous one, even though all are brilliant. McEwan gives you no preparation for where the story will lead next, and delivers a painful sting-in-the-tail at the end of the final act.

Asked what the story is about, you’d have to think for 30 seconds and then probably settle on “atonement”. It’s an apt title, you see.

Sadly the producers of the film version (out next month) have only read up to the third section and only included the important epilogue as an afterthought.

The film’s tagline, “Joined by love. Separated by fear. Redeemed by hope.” rather gives it away.

This is probably to be expected from Working Title, who have brought us Four Weddings…, Notting Hill, Wimbledon and Joe Wright’s directorial debut, Pride and Prejudice. But it’s wrong. The film is lavish, looks great, and has some good set pieces lifted straight from the page. But it completely confuses who the main character is.

The film is Cecilia and Robbie’s story told through Briony’s eyes. The book is Briony’s story told through Briony’s eyes.

Keira Knightley is very good as Cecilia. She’s the least annoying she’s ever been on film – although the trailer had me worried. But she steals the show from Briony’s character, who while played brilliantly by three different actresses, isn’t on screen enough.

And if they were going to insist on focusing on Cecilia and Robbie, they should at least have made Robbie (James McAvoy) less understated. Compared with his brilliant performance in The Last King of Scotland, McAvoy seemed half-asleep during the film. I imagined Robbie as younger, angrier and more naïve.

The scene on the beach is brilliant, and the three minute-long sweeping shot is just what the story deserved. And to be fair, it’s not a bad film at all. But I wonder if, with the same director, lead actress and a romantic theme with the atonement left as an after-thought, this film is more Pride and Prejudice 2 rather Atonement.

Atonement is released in cinemas on September 7th

May 16, 2007

Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Truman Capote - In Cold Blood Obsessive is the only way to describe Truman Capote’s study of what drives a murderer to kill. In Cold Blood, follows the story of Dick Hickock, Perry Smith, and the family of four that they murdered one night in Kansas.

It’s an incredible read. The pages read like a more convincing, more psychologically accurate version of a Patricia Cornwell novel. And there’s a reason for this feeling of realism. The events Capote describes were real.

Capote apparently decided to chase the story after reading a 300-word piece in the New York Times that started:

A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged … There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.

There was little more for Alvin Dewey, the detective sent to Holcomb, Kansas, or Capote to go on. The killers were only found because one had foolishly bragged to a fellow inmate that he intended to rob and kill the Clutter family.

Once the killers are identified, the book becomes a dissection of the relationship between the two killers, but also the relationship they had with their parents. Their plan is to escape to Mexico and search for gold. The first bit of the plan works well, the second less so. Their short cash reserves are quickly spent on prostitutes and only a dangerous return to the United States can resolve their financial difficulties.

What makes the book so incredible is the accounts that Capote manages to grasp from the key players in the story. Hickock and Smith seem to reveal every detail to him while they await execution, and even the hurt family members tell him quite personal details. All this becomes more surprising when you find that Capote infuriated the people of Holcomb, who detested the forensic examination of their already bruised community.

In Cold Blood is a brilliant book. Dripping with Capote’s obsessive streak, it becomes as much a book about the author as it does about the murder itself, but is no worse off for it.

March 22, 2007

An Embarrassment of Riches

The Riches

Take a troubled family of Irish travellers, kill two innocent rich people, and you’ve got a TV show that looks like being the intelligent Desperate Housewives, but with more endearing characters and greater potential for plot development.

The Riches is a new show on the U.S. network FX, and stars Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard – who also acts as Exec Producer and writer on the show. The two Brits may not seem the obvious choice for their roles – nor indeed the perfect on-screen couple – but from the evidence of the pilot, they really work.

The story begins with Izzard and three children travelling to pick up Driver, mum of the ‘household’, from prison, where she’s been doing two years for crimes yet to be revealed. Inside she’s picked up some atrocious braided hair and a nasty drug habit. And they’ve been running the family business, which might be described as “back-pocket cash repository retrieval”.

They travel back to their community where the self-appointed ‘leader’ of the clan wants Izzard’s daughter to marry his son and Izzard to be his bitch. It’s a neat way of forcing the family out of the community and out onto the road. Izzard steals the community’s cash and a chase – of sorts – ensues. This results in a car accident that has far-reaching consequences for the family, who for reasons that become obvious near the end of the episode, become The Riches.

Izzard is, thankfully, brilliant, and the show feels very much his own. His contribution to the writing of the show helps, as he inserts dollops of the comic insanity present in his stand-up shows. Driver, too, is a far more mature actress than the annoying, stiff Brit she was in Good Will Hunting.

I forced two of my housemates to watch the first episode with me, and after their initial reluctance they were won over by its “unpredictability” and “convincing performances”. Izzard’s accent slips occasionally, although from a Brit’s perspective this doesn’t bother me very much.

There’s real potential for this to be a great TV show. I hope the series can live up to its witty and warm pilot.

February 18, 2007

Very hot fuzz

Hot Fuzz is the funniest film I’ve seen in a long, long time.

I was unimpressed by the trailers. I didn’t like Shaun of the Dead. And yet it’s utterly fantastic. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are brilliant. The direction (Edgar Wright), editing and music (David Arnold – he does the James Bond films) are all brilliant.

The pop-cultural references are excellent: Judge Judy gets an honorary mention. Police officers’ rank is determined by the seniority of the actor playing them. At the start of the film you have Bill Nighy outranking Steve Coogan and Martin Freeman. Jim Broadbent runs the local police station. Bill Bailey is the desk sergeant. Even Gwyneth Paltrow makes a clever – and semi-secret – cameo.

It’s set in the sleepy Gloucestershire town of Sandford (actually Wells in Somerset). It could so easily be my home town of Tetbury. A shoot-out in a branch of Somerfield is beyond hilarious.

It’s so good, even my mum would laugh.

December 14, 2006

Phillips Review spells new phase in British politics

Setting out his latest thinking, Sir Hayden Phillips, who is writing a review of political party funding, says donations from Trade Unions should be capped at £50,000 per year.

He says:

“I see no reason why donations from trade unions should be exempt from the cap.”

And I have to agree with him.

While left-wing Labour MPs complain about the “historic link” between the Unions and the Labour Party, history should not be allowed to get in the way of a transparent political process. These same MPs would almost certainly be against uncapped funding of parties by big business, although their justifications for doing so are practically identical to those of the Unions.

Put simply, Phillips’ proposals would bankrupt the Labour Party if not balanced by another method of party financing. Which leads me to believing state funding for political parties is inevitable.

The status quo is simply not suitable for modern, media-driven politics. It is too easy for a Berlusconi or a Lord Sainsbury to drive their agenda by reaching into their wallet. It happens in all major parties, but is a fundamental obstacle to democracy.

But what the unionist Labour MPs don’t seem to realise is that you can’t cap donations from business without capping the unions as well. At heart, there is no difference between the two groups, except for their constituents. They both want what is best for their members.

Tony Blair is rumoured to support Phillips’ comments. I rather suspect this is because he too has realised state funding is the only way forward.

November 21, 2006

The Insider by Piers Morgan

The Insider by Piers MorganI’ve never read such a hilarious non-fiction book. Piers Morgan’s ramble through his years as editor of the News of the World and the Mirror are full of gossip, intrigue, and not very many cliffhangers. Virtually every morsel he throws at you is followed up by the juicy details.

His dealings with Cherie Blair, George Michael, Jeremy Clarkson, Paul Burrell, Princess Diana, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell are all fantastically funny. Did you know he introduced Paul McCartney to Heather Mills?

His diary wasn’t written at the time, so there’s an extent to which you wonder if he’s remembering the good bits and leaving out some of the bad, but some of his notes are pretty comprehensive and he relays some great quotes from the rich and famous.

You’ve got to have a fairly unique sense of humour not to laugh at loud at some of the pages, and to be honest some of the more serious stuff gets a little emotional too.

I’d definitely recommend it to anyone with any interest in the world of celebrities, as it’s a fantastic guide to how self-promotion really works.

And if you are feeling generous you can donate to the Chris Doidge Education Fund by buying the book from HERE. It’s only £3.99!

November 18, 2006

Review: Casino Royale

Reboot, remake, reimagination. Casino Royale is all of these. But primarily thanks to its star, it’s a revelation.

The 21st official film, yet confusingly the first James Bond story, Casino Royale is the story of how Bond became Bond, a fact that some reviewers – notably the Independent – have completely missed. They complain that Craig is different to Bond as we know and love him. But that, a-holes, is the point.

Casino Royale was the only way to forget the pisspoor Die Another Day and the Emmental-like The World is not Enough. They’ve taken it back to the beginning, brought in a real actor, and stripped Bond back to the basics. Literally, in one scene.

The script
Astonishingly, the producers invited the scriptwriters of Die Another Day and The World is not Enough back to write Casino Royale. Thank god they then gave it to Paul Haggis to ‘polish’. Bond has emotional depth for the first time since George Lazenby briefly stepped into the role. There’s even a great plot, although inevitably the set-piece action sequences aren’t always an essential part of it. There’s not much dialogue in the first third of the film, which is maybe a bit of shame. But when it gets going, it’s clear the 21st Century Bond isn’t going to be the tongue-tied ponce he was in the 1980s and 1990s.

The music
David Arnold’s soundtracks have been much criticised in recent years and it’s true that Tomorrow Never Dies was probably his highlight. But the rebirth of Bond also allowed some of the music to be reborn as well. The traditional theme is deliberately held back until the very end of the film, which has given Arnold the space to be a little bit more creative. And Casino Royale has definitely made the case for the opening titles theme to be written before the rest of the soundtrack. It’s cleverly inserted into many scenes in the film, far more subtly than with the awful Die Another Day. That said, Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name clearly isn’t perfect, but I’m pleased they went for talent over A-list credentials. Next time I’d like to see Kasabian give it a try.

The cast
Eva Green is fantastic, although her last scene in the film is perhaps a little over the top. I won’t give the game away, but she’s in a lift and her eyes look like they’re about to pop out of her head. I hope Mathis returns in the next film as he could potentially be a great ‘Uncle’ figure to Bond if he turns out to be a good guy. The same goes for Felix Leiter, who doesn’t get much to do in this film but will hopefully return. Judi Dench has never been better as ‘M’. Having Daniel Craig to play against obviously helps, but her relationship with Bond is far more interesting than ever before. She also gets more screen-time which can only be a good thing. If they ever succumb to the inevitable temptation of doing a Bond spin-off, it should be centred on Dench’s M. And Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre is a good villain. Not fantastic, but a good mixture of megalomaniac and human. I hope Mikkelsen gets a break in Hollywood as he has a lot of potential.

Martin Campbell, who directed Brosnan’s debut, Goldeneye, returns to wean Craig into the role, and does a fine job. The black-and-white sequence at the beginning is a fantastic introduction and some of the camera work during the poker scenes is very good too. If I had one criticism it would be that we don’t always get as close to Bond as we might. A few extreme close-ups might have given a little more emotional intensity, although to be fair it’s not as if the film is particularly lacking in that department.

Daniel Craig
And last, but by no means least, Bond himself. Quite simply, Craig is the best actor to play James Bond. That isn’t to say he’s absolutely the best Bond as I think he can only be judged after 3 or 4 films (assuming he makes that many). But no-one has tried so hard to understand the spy – or look like a realistic assassin – as Craig has. I was rooting for Craig before he even got the role, especially after seeing him in the BBC’s Archangel last year, and I’m really pleased he’s proved his critics wrong. The fact that the film has barely had a bad review is down to two men: Paul Haggis and Daniel Craig, with the emphasis on the latter. If Brosnan had been given the same material, much of it would have been corny.

My favourite part of the film is probably the torture sequence, where despite the darkness of the scene there’s a moment of humour which got the entire cinema laughing for the one and only time in the film. The reference to Photoshop is also brilliant, as is Craig’s first encounter with Vesper Lynd.

Having waited years for this film to arrive, it could so easily have been an anti-climax. In fact, it was anything but. Casino Royale is the best Bond film since the Connery era, and once the dust has settled on it, may turn out to be at the very top.

I’ve left my final gripe until the end.

I have to wait over 800 days for the next one.

November 04, 2006

Borat: Not 'A Great Success'

The important thing to remember about Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is that it’s not a parody of the people of Kazakhstan, as the hype would have you believe.

It is instead a Louis Theroux-like exposition of American people and their ability to be taken in by bizarre stunts, albeit with more jokes. The trouble is, this territory has been trodden many times, and the jokes don’t hit the target often enough.

There are some spectacularly funny moments, although you never quite know whether they’re staged or spontaneous. A scene with some college guys on a moving camper-van feels scripted and I wondered if the college guys were actors.

The subplot of chasing Pamela Anderson unfortunately doesn’t offer many laughs. Instead the film is based around a large number of small moments where something hilarious happens. Sadly there aren’t enough of these moments to carry off a 90-minute movie, and Borat leaves you wanting to laugh, but finding few good reasons to.

October 24, 2006

Review: The Departed

The premise for The Departed is a relatively simple one, and the great triumph is that Martin Scorsese has made it seem complex while making it extremely watchable. The film is also quite long (151mins), but again the film is good enough to make you forget just how late it is.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon put in great performances as two cops on opposite sides of the tracks. DiCaprio plays the good-as-gold cop who spends over a year undercover trying to infiltrate the Irish mafia who are sending microchips to terrorists. Damon is essentially undercover at the police on behalf of the mafia, and the film revolves around the two of them trying to discover the identity of the other.

If the film has a weakness it’s that it makes a half-baked attempt to throw in a love story. Surprise surprise, but DiCaprio and Damon both fall for the same woman, both at the same time.

Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio in

DiCaprio’s acting is probably the stronger of the two leads, although this may be because he has more to do. He is of course beaten by an incredible Jack Nicholson, for whom awards will be heading his way early in 2007. Martin Sheen as the police chief is also brilliant – putting up a far more passionate performance than his latter years as Josiah Bartlett, and Mark Wahlberg recovers from a shaky start to deliver a fine act towards the end.

The end is probably a little bit predictable, although I won’t give the game away.

The Departed is Scorsese’s best effort in a good while – certainly better than The Aviator and Gangs of New York. But I’m not sure it will earn Scorsese his long-deserved Oscar for Best Director. While the script is brilliant, the direction may be too subtle to stand out against some of the other films due out in coming months.

P.S. Fans of 24 should keep an eye out for Chase Edmunds (A.K.A. James Badge Dale) with hair! It’s not a pretty sight.

October 08, 2006

8.2m less than merry men?

Robin Hood (BBC)

Like John Kentisbeer I was disappointed by last night’s Robin Hood on BBC One. The trailers promised much but the first programme delivered little. There was none of the humour that I’d expected and very little chemistry between Robin and some of the other characters.

Keith Allen was a notable exception when it came to the acting – his Sheriff of Nottingham was very funny and if he’d had the lines to read, would have hit a home run.

But the plot was laboured. Yes, it was an opening episode, with a lot of exposition, but the whole programme plodded along. 8,200,000 watched it (helped by an England match just before it), but I’d be surprised if 7m tuned in next week. Reaction to it seems to have been lukewarm, and the show that promised much, delivered very little.

September 03, 2006

Review: Guillemots – Through The Window Pane

5 out of 5 stars

Bugger me.

Upon reaching the end of an album, my usual reaction is to work out what CD’s going in next, decide whether I require the toilet, think about what’s for dinner (yeah, usually that one), or grunt something about the world being shit.

Upon reaching the end of Through The Window Pane, my initial reaction was “Bugger me”. My second thought was whether to replay the whole album from the start or just play Track 12 again.

In the end I went for Track 12. But then it is just shy of twelve minutes long. And bugger me, it’s an opus. It’s like taking a first-class transatlantic flight only to be told that the plane’s accidentally gone the wrong way and ended up in Kyrgyzstan. “Oh dear”, you say, “that’s a shame, I suppose I’ll have to sit here for just a little longer, sipping champagne etc.” It’s so long that halfway through it you take a double-take and see your CD player’s telling you that you’ve still got a whole Champagne Supernova left to listen to.

Before today I’d only ever heard Made-Up Lovesong #43 on the radio, and was mildly impressed, but I had no idea it came from such a stupendously brilliant band as the Guillemots turned out to be once I heard the whole album.

For a good five years I’ve been trying to find a band to compare with The Divine Comedy. I’ve often seen reviews on Amazon saying “If you like this, you’ll like this too…” only to be faced with some random, obscure drivel which completely misses the ‘pop’ element of Neil Hannon’s music. For some reason no-one’s ever said “If you like the Divine Comedy then Guillemots will give you wet dreams”. Well now I’ve said it, and anyone who searches for “If you like the Divine Comedy” in Google will find my recommendation.

To be honest, if you have even a faint interest in good music then you should go and buy this album. You remember how Avalanches were supposed to be good before they disappeared from the face of the planet? You’ll find enough of them here to be happy. Same goes for those waiting for the next Radiohead album. Same for Ben Folds. Same for anyone who liked Lauren Laverne’s early stuff. Same for anyone who thought David Gray was on to a good thing, but was a little bit… grey. And anyone who thought Damien Rice was a bit of a wet lettuce.

The Divine Comedy reference is the most pertinent one though, and is why I’m so excited by this album. The orchestration is very Joby Talbot, and while the melodies are less… ‘esoteric?’ ...than Neil Hannon’s, there’s also something a little more frantic about the way the songs are put together. Who gives a damn if not everything’s in time with everything else? This album shows you why you shouldn’t.

We’re Here is a brilliantly haunting track that is just too good for radio, while the aforementioned Made-Up Lovesong #43 has piano lines wasted at such a low volume, but subtle enough to make you realise this band is a bit special.

I’m tempted to go through other tracks and spout praise, but Sao Paulo, the final track, is still nagging at me, asking for yet more attention. It’s not so much of a song as a concerto, but somehow the many parts of the song fit together so you don’t notice.

If Neil Hannon could write music consistently, he’d make an album like this. As it is, we have to settle for one or two brilliant tracks per album. Guillemots will never be able to pull this feat off again, and I predict their second album will be shit. Through The Window Pane is sheer class.

Only as I flick through the vast expanse called the internet do I find out they’re nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, announced this week. If they don’t win, the awards should be put to sleep for good. If this album’s not better than Arctic Monkeys, Editors and Muse, then this world really is full of self-important twats.

Watch them live on Top of the Pops:

Buy their freakishly good album Through The Window Pane now. Seriously, Right Now.

P.S. This band are so freaking good I’ve just ordered gig tickets after hearing their album once.

July 22, 2006

Review: Chance Witness by Matthew Parris

Matthew Parris is an interesting guy. A failed MP (by his own admission), followed by an inadvertantly successful journalist, his career trajectory's been quite odd, and his autobiography only occasionally refers to it. Instead, it's a brilliant read because of the bits inbetween.

With the (few) biographies I've read, I've usually tried skipping the start because the 'childhood memories' bit have been like watching paint dry. But Parris's childhood was very different, and so is his writing style.

Much of the book can be described as 'nice' without being derogatory. Parris seems acutely aware of the naivety of some of his actions, especially his visits to Clapham Common which ended up with him being beaten within an inch of his life. Similarly, writing Margaret Thatcher's correspondence provided plenty of holes for Parris to dig himself into, which he seemed to have no trouble in doing.

Parris is perhaps most infamous for 'outing' Peter Mandelson on Newsnight, much to the surprise of Mandelson's friend Jeremy Paxman. A lot of the book feels voyeuristic, with insights into the political underworkings that you rarely see, but without the boring self–obsession that you get from conventional politicians.

Chance Witness is probably the best biography I've read so far, and well recommended for anyone considering being in public life or in the public eye. Read it and you might avoid some of the many pitholes Parris fell into along his way.

July 07, 2006

Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

David Mitchell - Cloud AtlasDavid Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is, like his previous novel number9dream a complicated affair. There's several different narratives which all pile into each other at various points, with varying levels of success. The story begins in a confusing world of pirates and natives (not the most accessible start ever imagined), before taking turns into Belgium, California, England, South America, futuristic Asia, and then back again.

The most successful of these is probably the diary of Robert Frobisher, an English composer who goes to Belgium to meet his musical idol, and also to scrounge for a while. The tale is mischievous, yet sinister, and although his love–life is easy to predict in advance, it's the most engaging of the six narratives described. The story of the Englishman who is accidentally imprisoned in a nursing home is brilliantly comical and has elements of Last of the Summer Wine in its farcical nature. The futuristic chapters are also well-written, and most similar in nature to number9dream.

Less successful is the supposed "crime thriller" set on the West Coast of America, a genre which would have been best left to Patricia Cornwell. The villains are obvious from the moment they're introduced and the set–pieces are far from unique.

The awards acclaim for this book almost certainly derives in large part from the author's ease with different narratives within one book, although at times the chain between each story seems tenuous. There are few common themes, although many issues are addressed individually in the book, such as democracy, capitalism, freedom of information and artificial intelligence.

Mitchell's writing style is also fluent despite the regular changes in context and culture. That said, the central chapter of the book is too tiresome to translate into English, and the first/last chapter would be best placed elsewhere in the book, as they provide little in the way of a book–end.

Cloud Atlas is certainly proficient, although at times is hard to read and not recommended for the unambitious. If your last read was by Dan Brown, don't be fooled by the attractive artwork: this book isn't for you. If, on the other hand, you want a book to challenge you, then this is as good a candidate as any.

June 22, 2006

Review: Keane – Under The Iron Sea

Keane - Under The Iron SeaEver since they entered the mainstream and their singles got repeated on a seemingly never–ending loop by music channels and radio stations, Keane have been a band that it's not unusual to hate.

True, they're a little bland, with a bit too much public school scruffiness to be all that cool, and deep inside them is a burning desire to have been born as Coldplay. But despite all of this, they manage to penetrate the consciousness of every music–lover in the country and inspire feelings of either hate or reluctant acceptance.

The first thing that you'll notice is that they've suddenly got themselves a guitarist ("but hey, I thought they hated guitars…). Well, as I said, they really want to be Coldplay and had to make some compromises to sound more like them. So they've got a fancy new synth that sounds like a guitar. Personally I think this is ridiculous. I used to think that an electric drum kit did the job as well as an acoustic one. But that's because I was an ass. If you want the sound of a guitar, I say just go and get a bloody guitarist. Only guitar geeks will be able to tell the difference, but that's not exactly the point. Why do something complicated when there's a perfectly simple and traditional alternative. It's a bit like whisking an egg in an electric whisker when a fork does the job just as well without so much washing up.


First single Is It Any Wonder shouts very loudly "WE LIKE GUITARS NOW", and also suggests they've been listening to U2 albums of yore, as the riffs are catchy, if a bit predictable and somewhat familiar. The chorus does all you'd expect a chorus to do, with the exception of providing some form of climax. Instead it ends up sounding like a middle–eight that leads into the next verse. I'm not totally averse to this because the song's best lyrics are in the verse, but this is Keane, and not exactly poetry, so a weak chorus is a bit unforgivable.

Potential next single (and definately the track the BBC should play during the closing titles when England go out of the World Cup to a Messi hat–trick) is A Bad Dream. Hope you're listening BBC Sport. Melodically this is a very simple track, and forms a pretty blank canvas for whatever you put on top. This means it's almost as suitable for a Streets-style rant as it is for Keane's wisping lyrics. It's also possibly the easiest song to work out the chords for... Ever! The song's a reverse of Is It Any Wonder in that the chorus is considerably better than the verse, and there's a clear middle–eight which works pretty well.

Atlantic is a fairly weak start to the album, and perhaps the dullest track on offer too, while Nothing In My Way is an improvement but has Enya–style vocal harmonies. Therefore a bit odd, although it's a catchy tune which has just a tad of the Coldplay in it.

Leaving So Soon has the unfortunate burden of beginning like part of the soundtrack to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the new one), which is hard to get over as the track takes a different and largely unobjectionable turn. Lyrics are depressingly simple, such as:

Now you're here
I bet you're wishing you could disappear

which are almost as bad as some of my GCSE Music compositions. And they were tragic. Having said that, it does possess some of the Keane charm of their first album, and has that annoying knack of implanting itself in your brain.

Put It Behind You departs from the band's safe path to certain radio airplay by weighing in at a hefty 6m33. Sadly there's no good reason for this, except a piss–poor attempt at Muse–like instrumentals at the end. Oh, and a Blackpool–organ sound at the start.

Crystal Ball is quite catchy, but then so is Baa Baa Black Sheep, and the two songs discouragingly have quite a lot in common.

Broken Toy is another six–minutes–plus bloater, with lyrics as endearing as "I guess I'm a toy that is broken" and quite prosaically "I guess I'm a record you're tired of". Cleverer than they look.

Under The Iron Sea will almost certainly do well (it's already at No. 1), but this is in spite of many of the tracks on the album. There's the odd catchy tune (read: 'annoying' once it's released), such as Leaving So Soon and A Bad Dream, but half of the album misfires badly. It's background music, it's suitable for a shop that's looking to close early by driving all of its customers out, and it's got a certain something about it which will inevitably appeal to people who decide on radio playlists over the next twelve months.

By which time the real thing will be back with their fourth album and another implausibly–named baby for Chris Martin. It's too long to wait.

May 05, 2006

Review: Mission:Impossible III

Movie image
Mission:Impossible III
3 out of 5 stars

I wasn't altogether surprised to read that the Guardian had only given Tom Cruise's latest outing as Ethan Hunt one star out of five. Not only because these film reviewers tend to be fairly conservative sorts, preferring two hours of Y Tu Mama Tambien than a gripping action thriller, but also because I saw the film and at times was inclined to agree.

Tom Cruise is a bit of a batty fool nowadays, following his conversion to the religion of getting poor innocent girls pregnant and spouting crap about aliens and depression. But that shouldn't get in the way of his performance in MI:3.

But sadly it does. I find it hard to believe that someone as nutty as Cruise didn't play a part in scripting this film, as the central plot seems to revolve around a very tenuous assertion that the establishment have got it wrong and the only way to sort things out, promote democracy and generally make a mess is to wear latex masks, torture Cruise's wife and create a convoluted plot which makes little sense.

Despite seeing the film with some individuals who would probably describe themselves as relatively well educated, I think many of us came out wondering what the hell the film was about, or at least what it was getting at.

The stunts were pretty cool, ultimately because they felt realistic (apart from the wind–farm sequence). But the plot devices were either rehashed from the previous two films in the franchise or were so daft as to require a complete suspension of disbelief, not to mention having to remind yourself half–way through the film that it doesn't matter if it makes sense!

The best bit of the film was any scene with Simon Pegg in. He's extremely funny in the film, and his inclusion in the 'happy–happy' scene at the end (ugh…gonna be sick) suggests he might be back if a fourth film gets green–lit.

Overall the film was a very entertaining little yarn, but you might find yourself laughing at the film rather than with it. And there's the inevitable pain inside you which cringes at the idea of feeding the pockets of Cruise and his nutty friends.

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