Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tommy Heavenly6 and the Kaiser Chiefs' New Albums

No, they're not recording together. That's just how I wrote the title...

I've been holding off on this one for a little bit until I had a something real to say other than a gut reaction. I got an advance copy of Tommy Heavenly's new album, "Heavy Starry Heavenly" a few weeks back. I didn't want to say anything about it until (a) it was closer to the album's release and (b) I was sure how I felt about it. Short version: I love it, but it's not as good as the self titled debut album.

The good: She's just as grandly goofy as ever. The line between camp parody and serious RAWK is nearly completely blurred. It's musically rock hard and the songs are becoming Geek Gothic, lyrically. There's one song called "Bloody Knee High Socks" that opens with her lamenting she fell asleep while playing FF! Well, that came out of nowhere, but rest assured the song in general is about Bloody Knee High Socks. Who else could get away with this stuff?

The not so good: There are too many songs from the 5 previously released singles. I expected to see Heavy Starry Chain", "Pray" and "I'm Gonna Scream+" listed, but was kinda surprised to see "Lolipop Candy BAD Girl" and "I {Heart} Xmas", as they are very much seasonal novelty songs. To it's credit, however, "Lolipop Candy BAD Girl" is edited down to include only the Tommy Heavenly sections and the Tim Burton Danny Elfman-esque intro is gone. The most disappointing aspect is the number of B-sides and Bonus tracks from the singles that are appearing here. Out of the 12 songs on this album, 8 are previously released on singles (that's 2/3 recycled material, folks!).

Still, all in all, I'm a fan of this album and I can't wait for the actual release with the bonus DVD.

A Quick Note

So, for all of you NOT into the J rock scene, I've also been listening to the new Kaiser Chiefs album, "Yours Truly, Angry Mob". I rather like British snot rock, so this new one didn't disappoint. It seems to me to be a perfect continuation to their previous album, "Employment". If you're in Europe, this one came out yesterday; if you're in the USofA then it'll be out the 27th of March.

The lead single, "Ruby" is fab, but if you're a big fan, you probably know that already. It's made number one in the UK. Other tracks like "Highroyds" and "The Angry Mob" highlight their socially concious lyrics (if you're into that message type stuff) and slower tracks like "Love's Not A Competition (But I'm Winning)" inject a softer touch while the snotty factor remains in the sratosphere. I'm still giving it a major car ride spin, so I'm sure it'll grow on me much more, but as for now, I recommend it... Especially if you liked "Employment".


(This Blog entry originally appeared Wednesday, February 21, 2007 on the ChezShockedelica Blog on Myspace.)

OK, I'm a little late with this one.... but maybe not. Since the movie doesn't drop in the US until the last of April, I'm actually a bit early I guess.

I'm talking about the new Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost movie, "HOT FUZZ", which opened a few weeks ago in the UK. I'll give you the short version of my thoughts first: It's fantastic, but not without flaws.

I think the problem most folks will have coming in to watch this movie will be seeing past "Shaun of the Dead". Yes, yes, yes, "Shaun of the Dead" is a modern classic. It's a nearly universally loved zombie movie. To top that would be asking a bit much. I don't know if they topped it, or if they were even trying to, but they did make a nice match. "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" would make an enormously entertaining double bill.

The plot, in short, is as follows: Nicholas Angel is the best cop in London. His arrest record is 400% above anyone else in the police service. He's so good, he's made everyone else look really bad, so the higher ups ship him off to a remote village where NOTHING happens. Of course, when he arrives, he immedately begins to realize somthing's amiss. I mean, even the smallest town must have more crime than underage drinking, graffitti and the occasional shoplifter, right?

The movie then unfolds, at different turns, as a murder mystery, a supremely bloody body count slasher flick (One kill in particular actually made me gasp audibly!), 1970's Clint Eastwood movies ("Dirty Harry" AND "High Plains Drifter"!!!), Sam Peckinpah blood ballets and Michael Bay Buddy Cop movies. There's even some "Wicker Man" in there (the original, of course)! 99% of the time, "Hot Fuzz" hits it's make with deadly precision. Thankfully there wasn't any cribbing from the Die Hard movies. This film was too smart to do that. It would have been painfully out of place.

Simon Pegg is astonishingly good as Nicholas Angel. He's not playing his Tim Bisley from Spaced character again, like he basically did in "Shaun of the Dead". He's actually playing a humorless, hardened cop; a cop whose life is so bland that he can't stop working, even when he's off duty. His character is a bit of the anti Shaun. Whereas Shaun never noticed the aopocalypse unfolding around him, Nicholas is all too aware, but can't get anyone to believe in him. Nick Frost plays Danny Butterman, a police officer of the small town that's only there because he's the son of the chief of police. Frost is also wonderful in his role as a sort of slow and soft, but endearing guy who endlessly watches crime movies like "Point Break" and "Bad Boys 2" in leiu of any real action in his line of work. Even if you didn't know the actor's backgrounds (they're best friends in real life), you wouldn't be able to deny Pegg and Frost's chemistry. They play off of each other so effortlessly, it's a bit mindboggling. There's also a bit of platonic homoeroticism (that you'd find in any Michael Bay actioner) that is played up wonderfully throughout the movie.
There are also roles by Timothy Dalton, Edward Woodward, Bill Bailey (in a small, but priceless, role), Julia Deacon (Spaced's Marsha) and Bill Nighy who all serve as foils to Angel at one time or another.

The first half hour felt kinda slow with the laughs seeming a bit forced (in retrospect, I believe that's my fault, and not the filmmaker's; I confess to have been a bit anxious to get things rolling), but once it hit the half hour mark, the film suddenly hits turbo speed and never stops until the end. The quickness of it all may be one of it's biggest faults, however. The film is shot in the same quick cut style of "Shaun of the Dead" from time to time and it may be a bit overused here. I was getting tired of seeing a great scene unfold, just to be interrupted be QUICK CUT QUICK CUT QUICK CUT. It was bordering on irritating. Also the film was a but long (2 full hours!!!) and the finale boasts multipule endings, one or two that might ave been better off cut. Still, though, it's not like they were doing anything that your average Michael Bay movie wouldn't do, and I'm absolutely positive that was the point: A movie with a slow buildup and an ending that doesn't seem to know when to end. Gee, how many movies like THAT can we name?

In that respect, the team of Pegg-Wright-Frost are absolute geniuses. Not only do they know their films, they know how to craft one without pandering and pointing to their references with big yellow arrows that say "LOOK! A REFERENCE!" in big neon letters. "Hot Fuzz", like "Shaun of the Dead" isn't a spoof of the genre it's contributing to, it's a fine example of said genre that just happens to be extremely funny.

One last gush. The soundtrack is even better than "Shaun of the Dead"! I can wait to get my hands on a copy.

Memories Of Matsuko

(This Blog entry originally appeared Tuesday, January 23, 2007 on the ChezShockedelica Blog on Myspace.)

I didn't do a Movies of 2006 this year. Bet'cha noticed. Yeah, I was waiting until I saw some of the movies that I had been unable to see prior to the New Year. Still, I'm not doing a Best of Movies list. It's not important and it's not like anyone cares enough to search out and see any of the (mostly) obscure films I'd put on the list anyhow. I saw some doozies this year. Yes I did.
I think in lieu of a list, I'll write about a film that I saw the other night; one that I had lying around on my hard drive for a few months but was reluctant to see since I didn't have any English Subtitles to guide me through. Finally, there was a Hong Kong release of this Japanese movie that included English Subtitles.

The film I'm speaking of is the latest film by Tetsuya Nakashima, the director of "Shimotsuma Monogatari" (Direct translation: "Shimotsuma Story" but best known in the USA as "Kamikaze Girls"). The new film is entitled "Memories of Matsuko" and it's a film that had me experience a multitude of emotions in it's 2 hour and 10 munite running time. Stylistically, it's a clone of "Shimotsuma Monogatari" in that it has the same garish, candy colored view of it's world. It even shares a few compositionally similar scenes within it. Thematically, however, it's the antithesis of "Shimotsuma Monogatari". While the earlier film cheerfully sang an ode to individuality, this new film belies it's sunny visuals with a story that is immersed in sadness, desperation and hopelessness. Imagine, if you will, if someone took "Amilie" and forced her to be the lead character in "Dancer in the Dark" and you pretty much have the feel of this film.

After a prologue that speaks of dreams fulfilled and shattered, we find that the title character Matsuko has already died. We know this because her brother has arrived, along with her creamted remains, at the apartment of his son, Sho; a young, frustrated musician who seems to be living in a cluttered squallor. Sho's father tells him of the Aunt he never knew he had and tells him, "Her life was meaningless". He tells his son to go to Matsuko's apartment and get things in order. Upon arrival, he's faced with a apartment that consists of one room filled with garbage and filth.

From there, the film splits into multiple narratives. We see Matsuko's life through the eyes of Sho, people that Sho encounters that knew Matsuko and even long stretches of storyline that's narrated by Matsuko herself. Her life is one of jealousy, betrayal and brutality as she goes from teacher to singer to massuse and prostitute; then to murderer to prisioner to hairdresser and, finally, recluse. All the while, she suffers at the hands of every man in her life; from a neglectful father to several suitors who physically abuse and humiliate her. The film is tough going, emotionally, but the sugar to sweeten that bitter medicine are the striking visuals and outstanding musical numbers.... Did I mention that? Yeah, it's a musical. A pretty danm good one, too. I found myself thinking on several occasions during the running time about how wonderful this would be on stage. It would be a dazzler.

The film even provides cameos from some of the better J-pop divas to sing in the production numbers. Bonnie Pink and Ai sing the most memorable tunes and there're even cameos by Anna Tsuchiya as a prisoner and Kimura Kaela singing "Trill Trill Recur" (from her album "Circle") in the very first scene. Yes, you could say the movie had me at Kaela. Curiously, the movie also has a cameo by Porn star Sola Aoi as... well... a school girl turned porn star. Bizarre to see her in a legitimate film, but I suppose she's making the leap over. Good luck to her.

The film is, frankly, a mess. It's a glorious mess, however. The film tries it's hand at comedy several times with varying degrees of success, considering the subject matter of the film. After the first half hour, though, the director stops trying so hard and lets any humor there is come from the internal workings of the story. There're always comical trappings to even the most tragic events and when the laughs do come in those circumstances, they come honestly. The film is at it's best when it just focuses on Miki Nakatani as Mitsuko and lets her take us with her. Ms. Nakatani is a delight in a very rough and demanding role. I'd seen her before in films such as "Ring", "Rasen" and "The Hotel Venus", but this is really a break out role for her. It's a role and performance that completely ingratiates her to us while we're opening our second box of Kleenex. Yes, bring a couple of boxes. You'll need them by the end.

The ending of the film is rather uplifting, although it didn't really hit me that way until I began thinking about it later. As it turns out, Matsuko's life was anything but meaningless. If anything, the only meaningless part of her life was her death. In that way, the film is a kind of perfect entertainment. It dazzles and entertains you at the moment and leaves something for you for later. That's my kind of movie.

Heavy Starry Crush

(This Blog entry originally appeared Monday, February 19, 2007 on the ChezShockedelica Blog on Myspace.)

This is my girlfriend. Her name is Tommy.
Can you dig this?

If you can't dig that, you don't like chicken on a Sunday.
If you don't love that, you can't love me.
I have a Heavy Starry Crush. There is no use in denying it any longer. I don't care what any of you think. I'm her's. She loves me.
Gaze into the eyes of Tommy. Become one with Tommy. We are all her imagination. We are all part of her Rock -n- Roll fantasy.
Her new album drops next month. It's called "Heavy Starry Heavenly" (and not UNTITLED, as it's stated on the Amazon.com website). You must own it. She needs the money so she can fly to America to marry me.
That is all.

NEWS FLASH: Sirius Satellite is merging with XM! It's been a long time coming and I'm glad I went with XM initially. I had the superior service all along and now I'll get it all!

...and I STILL won't listen to that prick Howard Stern.