Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie Review - Sherlock Holmes

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was extremely excited. Guy Ritchie (director of Revolver, Snatch, Rockenrolla) and Robert Downey Jr.(Natural Born Killers, The Soloist, Tropic Thunder)? No wrong could be done with that combination. Guy Ritchie is a seasoned director and has some excellent films to his credit, and combined with Downey Jrs. immense talent I was on the verge of salivating. So was the film as good as the hype? (and there was hype a-plenty;I saw this movie advertised on the sides of those giant gas station mugs you get filled with 20 gallons of beverage for 49 cents. That's hype.)

Sadly, this movie was somewhat lacking in the amazing department. My hopes of a Snatch-esque super stylized, super fast paced, super thick plot and super snappy dialogue detective caper film were all but dashed as what I can only imagine to be Guy Ritchies desire to film a movie that actually made an impact at the box office took over. All his trademark filming techniques(multiple zigzagging plots lines, a diverse and quirky cast, odd camera angles and music choices)were exchanged for a completely...normal(for lack of a better word) type of movie, and I was sorely disappointed.

The shortcomings of lackluster cinematography was made up by the acting however; Robert Downey Jr. gives another terrific(though not brilliant) performance as the deductive Sherlock Holmes, assisted by Watson, played by Jude Law; also a solid if unamazing performance. Other roles include Lord Blackwood(Mark Strong) as the very obvious villain of the movie, and Rachel McAdams as Holmes rival/love interest Irene Adler, and both roles are well handled by the Strong and McAdams.

My biggest complaint towards the movie is one I addressed earlier: its just another normal movie, devoid of any of Guy Ritchies trademarks. Everything is GOOD, nothing is really...great. The plot is loose at best, being a simple villain-taking-over-the-world tale; at worst the plot being almost non-existent, and nothing more than a bunch of actors running through the streets of late 1800s London.

However, all this does not mean that it isn't an entertaining film. Downey Jr. and Jude Law have excellent chemistry onscreen, and the relationship between the two characters comes across as a genuine case of two very different individuals who happen to be best friends. The dialogue does pick up in spots, and every once in a while Guy Ritchie makes his presence known with some really gritty action scenes, particularly a slow-motion boxing scene that is is almost identical to a boxing scene from Snatch; but those moments are few and far between, and the movie is too long and too devoid of any real plot to hold the viewers interest between the few excellent scenes.

My final verdict is a rather unenthusiastic one; a National Treasure style plot and a overall subdued feel make this a rather disappointing movie; don't see this movie expecting anything amazing; rather, expect a somewhat disjointed, occasionally very entertaining film that well overstays its welcome.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Music Review - Extol - Burial

I'm not going to beat about the bush on how I feel about this album: this is the single best tech/death/black metal album ever created. Suffocation,Brain Drill, Necrophagist, Pitbulls in the Nursery and the entire tech-death scene can bow down to this absolute masterpiece. Let me state it again: this is, bar none, the greatest album of technical extreme metal ever made. Period.

I've heard a lot of metal in my time, and I've heard lots of technical death/extreme metal. Lots of boring, fast, hyper-technical, mindbogglingly boring metal. Extol is not one of those bands. The level of ferocity and savagery in this album has yet to be rivaled by any band currently active (except maybe Nile, but that's another review); I have never heard such a brutal combination of pure heaviness, technical wizardry without being boring, feeling and, to re-use a previous adjective, brutality. From the insanity that is "Burial", "Embraced," and "Celestial Completion," to the sad and somber "Tears of Bitterness," the folkish-black metal "Renhetens Elv" and the crushing "Work of Art," not a single song is filler or out of place.

The technical ability of the band-members absolutely is second to none here, but the two things I want to praise the most are the drumming and guitars. David Husvik put on a drum performance that, in my opinion, has not been rivaled since this albums release. Insane blasting, crazy double bass, slow, bombastic rhythms and ridiculously time changes are all just another day at the office for David, and he handles all this and more with the utmost ease. Guitars, handled by Ole Borud(who also handled the amazing clean vocals) are just as brilliant as the drums; fast, technical, and heavy, all without being retarded shredding or mindless technicality.

Vocals are flawless. Brutal, deep, shrill, and again, a performance that hasn't been equaled.

As I said before, this is THE extreme technical metal album. Released in 1998 on Solid State/Tooth and Nail records, this album stands as one of the greatest metal albums of all time, rivaled by few if any others. While their follow-up albums would all be very different and receive much criticism, with Burial, Extol cemented their place in metal history as one of the greatest bands to ever exist.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Music Review - Antestor - The Forsaken

In the early 90s, while the infamous and violent second wave of black metal was still going strong in Scandinavia,a small group of musicians in Jessheim, Norway decided to form a band under the moniker "Crush Evil." After producing a single demo under that name, the group was renamed Antestor, and went on to produce several more albums, eps and demos, among them being the landmark Christian Black Metal album "The Return of the Black Death." Their most recent(2005) album, The Forsaken, has in my opinion taken the place of TROTBD as the greatest Christian Black Metal album ever made.

The Forsaken is a marked departure in style compared to the much more primitive TROTBD(which I would compare to Satyricons masterpiece Dark Medieval Times in terms of style), and boasts modern production, more complex song structure, more prominent keyboards and, most surprisingly for Antestor fans, several long and technical guitar solos. Hellhammer(of Mayhem fame) was also recruited to play the drums, and he does nothing short of an astoundingly good job, and sets the bar once again for black metal drum performances.

The songwriting exhibited on this album is the strongest its ever been for Antestor; songs like "Old Times Cruelty", with its insane blasting and mad choirs, or "Betrayed" with its haunting keyboards and powerful lyrics are far beyond anything ever written by the band before. While the overall speed of the album is mid-to-fast paced and aggressive, there are slower, more emotional moments, like "Vale of Tears" with its uplifiting intro guitar, slowly becoming more somber; when the clean vocals emerge it nearly becomes a funeral dirge of sorts. Near the end of the album is the seemingly out of place "As I Die" consisting of power metal oriented guitars and minimal keyboards, and an almost folk-metal styled riff/breakdown midway through the song.

The lyrics are some of the best I have seen in any metal album, Christian or otherwise. Thought-provoking, dark, haunting and seemingly hopeless, but with a glimpse of light in every song, they are the high point of the album.

The individual instruments are handled with the utmost skill and tightness; guitars have a very sweeping feel to them, the keys are prominent and the drums have the signature Hellhammer sound. A minor would complaint would be the apparent lack of bass, I would have liked it to have been higher in the mix. Vocals are absolutely flawless, and performed by Ronny Hansen, who I wouldn't hesitate to call the best extreme vocalist in the metal scene today.

The Forsaken stands as one of, if not the, greatest Christian metal album ever created. Antestor have crafted a powerful, aggressive and emotional album of bleak thoughts, despair and pain, and of the hope, love and faith that sustains one through all the struggles of this world. If you are a fan of extreme metal in any way, make this album a top priority for acquiring. You will not be disappointed.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Music Review - Blind Guardian - Nightfall in Middle-Earth

Based on J.R.R. Tolkeins "The Silmarillion", Nightfall in Middle-Earth is a bombastic, epic journey across vast frozen plains of ice, dark fortresses and titanic battles.

First off, Hansi Kursch is absolutely one of, if not THE greatest male vocalist alive. His range is amazing, high, low, and everything in between; I've never heard another vocalist that sounds anything like him. The vocals are layered what sounds like thousands of times, especially on the choruses, giving the music an even grander feel. Songs like "Nightfall" prove this point, and that particular song may just be the catchiest chorus in all of metal.

In my opinion, this album is THE power metal album. This is everything power metal tries to be; fast, dramatic, catchy and even a little cheesy. The tightness of the band is impressive; you can tell these guys had been playing together for years and years when they made this album. Faster songs like "Mirror, Mirror," and "The Curse of Feanor" get your blood pumping with blazing solos, while slower tracks like the above mentioned "Nightfall" and "Blood Tears" really set the more somber mood for this epic tale.

All the instruments on this album are played exceptionally well, especially the drums. Thomen Staunch is the top power metal drummer in the scene today, and this album definitely shows it. Fast and technical, slow and dramatic, this guy does it all, and with an awesome tightness. Guitars are fantastic, awesome tone, great layering and superb solos, my only complaint is they seem to be mixed a little low and lack a good punch.

The narrations are a weak spot for the album; having an album of 22 songs, of which almost half are 30 second narrations broke up the momentum of the album. I'd have preferred one or two longer narrations as oppose to a half dozen short ones.

Narrations and slightly weak guitar mix aside, this a nearly flawless album. Highly recommended for anyone who likes power metal, catchy music in general and J.R.R. Tolkeins works.

Movie Review - The Proposition

The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat, is the bleak, brutal and touching story of of Charlie Burns(played by Guy Pearce), who is given an impossible proposition by Captain Stanley(played by Ray Winstone), who is in charge of the local army unit: to hunt down and kill his psychopathic murderer brother, Arthur Burns(played by Danny Huston), or have his younger, mentally challenged brother, Mike Burns, hung on Christmas Day.

To be blunt, this is not a mainstream, cookie-cutter movie. It's a very long, very slow, drawn out story that takes its time getting from one place to the next. The violence, as I stated above, is brutal, at times sadistic, but comes and goes in relatively brief doses. The treatment of blacks by whites is period-accurate, which is to say it is degrading and humiliating and in a few instances violent. The dialogue can be hard to follow, as much of it is almost muttered, and the thick accents of the characters makes subtitles a near necessity for first time watchers.

However, in spite of the the movies more violent and harsh tendencies, it is at heart a morality story, and a very moving one at that. Charlie Burns relationship with his younger impaired brother Mike is very protective and caring, though not overly affectionate. Captain Stanley and his wife Martha (played by Emily Watson) share a very affectionate and loving relationship that is at times strained by Captains Stanleys duties to civilize the land. All of the acting is superb and the dialogue, though muffled and thickly accented, is outstanding.

The cinematography is one of my favorite things about the movie; the lingering shots and beautiful landscaping is nothing short of amazing; it truly showcases the Outbacks brutality, desolation and beauty.

As beautiful as the cinematography is, I beleive that the movies greatest strength lies in the music, which conveys perfectly the feeling of unease, sadness, harshness and difficulty of life in the Outback. Written and performed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, the music is nothing short of beautiful.

An outstanding cast, amazing cinematography, powerful story and brilliant music make The Proposition one of my all time favorite movies. A harsh look at life in one of the harshest places to live in the world, and also a softer look at love, family, morality and faith in the Australian Outback, The Proposition is a must-see movie and one of my top recommendations.