Sunday, January 31, 2010

I've been crawling in the dark, looking for the answer – “Edge of Darkness”

"Edge of Darkness" is a relatively standard thriller that is nevertheless affecting.

Affecting in the sense that I expected a sudden and violent death for several hours after my viewing of it. Walking back alone is not recommended.

Full of conspiracy theories and secret cover-ups, "Edge of Darkness" is much less an action film than the trailers would have you believe. The movie is an adaptation of the 1985 BBC television series, and despite the original series' 6-hour length, the film never becomes too complicated or overstuffed.

"Edge of Darkness" stars Mel Gibson in his first leading role since "Signs" in 2002. Though he has attracted much ire from, shall we say, his personal life in recent years, it is nonetheless good to see him back onscreen again.

Gibson makes an effective return in "Edge of Darkness."

Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston police detective whose daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) killed in front of him on his front porch. Authorities believe that he was the intended target and that she was caught in the crossfire. Craven is not so sure.

What follows is an investigation that leads Craven through many different sections and districts of Boston. He is helped in part by the enigmatic Jedburgh (Ray Winston, previously seen in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"), who could be friend, foe, both, or neither.

Referred to by his employers as a "clean-up man," Winston gives a wry and intriguing performance as Jedburg.

Gibson plays Craven as a straight and no nonsense man with a Boston accent who is driven by a single purpose: to find out what happened to his daughter. While this role has been played by many an actor in many a movie, Gibson brings a grounded and hard-boiled edge to the character that makes him less of a superhuman action star and more of a man, relatable and human.

At times, he is darkly comedic. Consider a scene in which his partner on the force tells Craven to sleep at his place instead of Craven's house. "There's a guy out there who's armed and dangerous," he says. "What do you think I am?" responds Craven. Or a scene in which he finds a guy who may have had an indirect hand in his daughter's death and gives him a good thrashing. "I'm not going to hit you again, she wouldn't want me to," sighs Craven, and then on second thought does it anyway.

After 8 years, it's nice to have Mel Gibson back to kick some ass.

Though the plot could be described as a standard police thriller, the dialogue and characters are rather well-written. The movie has many small touches where it seems to respect the thinking capacities of its audience and mentions things without overexplaining them, such as a reference to the writings of Scott Fitzgerald or an untranslated bit of Latin; "You know what that means," says one character, and the other simply nods because, yes, he does know what it means.

Producer Graham King, like in his previous production "The Departed," uses the Boston setting to great effect, allowing its distinctly New England look to distinguish the movie without drawing too much attention to itself. The whole world seems very lived-in, and not drummed up for the occasion: Craven's kitchen is full of old wooden cabinets and outdated appliances, and even Craven himself is a man who we sense has been around awhile and isn't acting world-weary for the sheer hell of it.

Here is a man who looks every inch of his 50+ years.

Director Martin Campbell, who also directed "Casino Royale," also takes things a bit old-fashioned. Rather than using the Queasy Cam effect to create more "immersion" or quickly cutting between the characters while they're talking, he simply lets the camera sit still and photograph them.

There is a fistfight during an earlier part of the movie, and dear readers, I could actually tell who was punching who. In a world where every thriller and its uncle is looking to ape "The Bourne Ultimatum," I can't tell you how nice it is to watch an action scene and know what's going on the entire time.

I enjoyed "Edge of Darkness," but it's definitely not for everyone. The movie is punctuated by moments of sudden and intense violence, and the ending is rather Shakespearian, if you get what I'm saying.

Still, the movie definitely had its moments, and Gibson's performance and character-work is a sight to behold. Tense and intelligent, "Edge of Darkness" will please moviegoers looking to have a darkly good time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Top Three Albums of the 2000’s (Plus Five)

The other day, one of my Facebook friends asked me what I thought was the best album of the 2000's. I initially decided to give him a poisoned-tongued back-lashing, but on further reflection I figured that, given my penchant for lists, it'd be a worthy and fun question to answer, if I were to disregard the initial limitations of just one album, as well as the concept of "best"; there were a lot of albums that I didn't listen to in the past 10 years, and a lot of genres of music I don't care for enough to purchase albums from. Also, "best" is a pretty general criteria, so it's hard to say what makes one album "better" than the others. With all of that out of the way, here are my top 3 (and 5 runners-up) favorite albums of the 2000's, because I happen to enjoy them (no particular order):

Fall Out Boy - Take This To Your Grave

This album basically perfected the power pop sound of most emo bands today, regardless of how you feel about it (I happen to like it very much). The lyrics were emotional without sobby, and they walked the line between being clever and being smugly self-aware. The music itself was incredibly punchy, with the guitars, drums, and bass creating an energetic package the was fit to burst; think a can of Monster in your iPod.

Kanye West - The College Dropout

This album popularized the "chipmunk soul" practice of beatmaking: find an old soul sample, speed it up, and add drums for a unique and energetic-sounding flavor for your music (yes, Wu-Tang did it first in 1993, but this album brought it to a whole new audience). Kanye's lyrics, similar to Fall Out Boy's, were self-aware and clever, but since this was when he had just been signed and before he grew to be his Taylor Swift-interrupting self, I can forgive it; the album is actually pretty funny for all of its lyrical left fieldness. It has a few too many skits, but since they literally add nothing to the album, you can take them out without adversely affecting the rest of the excellently produced and well-executed package.

Jurassic 5 - Quality Control

This album really got me into hip hop. Jurassic 5's combination of mic-swapping wordplay and singing harmonies (trust me, it's less pretentious and "independent" than it sounds) creates a light and very palatable package. Each MC has their own strengths and sounds, but together they create variety in their deliveries, ensuring that the song is constantly changing and guarding against fatigue from listening to the same person. Clever wordplay and exciting delivery help bring the performances up to consistently enjoyable and listenable level. The beats by Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark are varied and nostalgic-sounding, sampling older soul or jazz recordings for a laid-back and low profile sound that help bring the MCs to the forefront.


This list is actually more here for sentimental reasons. These aren't blow-you-away albums at all, but remain in my heart because of the time that's been spent with them. In listening to these albums, you may get to know me, or at least what I've listened to:

The Lonely Island - Incredibad

I'm actually blown away by this record. Not only because of how funny it is, but how consistently well it works as actual MUSIC. Clearly the members of The Lonely Island are avid hip hop fans, because the love they put into their style parodies and song structures is apparent from the moment you press play. Good hip hop is hard to make, and good FAKE hip hop is even harder (just ask Brokencyde...), and the care taken to make each beat catchy, each style parody work, and each lyric wack (but not too wack) makes this one a favorite of mine for reasons I wouldn't have expected.

Story Of The Year - Page Avenue

In truth, there's nothing special about this album. Many of the songs sit somewhere in the middle of the Thrill-O-Meter, and listeners who aren't a fan of this particular brand of music certainly won't have their minds changed. That said, I happen to like the genre of music Story Of The Year is in, and Page Avenue is one of my favorites; it helps that I was 15 and Reckless when this came out, so I have emotional attachment on my side. I'm always a sucker for energetic music, and Story Of The Year has it in spades. Future albums would have the band growing a bit too big for their britches, but this album truly feels like they're playing without a net, and it's that hunger that makes me love it.

Autopilot Off - Make A Sound

If the previous album was nothing special, that goes double for this one. This one is straight pop-punk from back to front. I can't adequately explain why I like this album, except that I do. To describe it is to describe a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup: there's absolutely nothing about this that makes it any better than anything else in the cupboard, except that it's comfort food. Sweet sweet comfort food.

Little Brother - The Minstrel Show

You know those romantic comedies where the hero is introduced to the heroine at a party, and they decide that the other is nothing special, but then they meet later in the movie and decide that they love each other after all? Neither do I, because I fabricated that scenario right now, but that's what this album was like. Witty like Kanye West, but with the verbal gymnastics like Jurassic 5, this album provides a bit of Southern comfort in the form of breezy, soulful productions and playful, tight rhymes. The concept album execution also adds a little bit of extra amusement: the whole album is an "episode" of a TV program called "The Minstrel Show" and the various fake viewer-endorsements and fake-commercials create a cohesion not found in most albums.

Goodnight Sunrise - Close And Counting

Sure, a decade is a long time, but Goodnight Sunrise throws its hat into the power pop ring with the best of them. Better than most, actually, because of Dan Murphy's songwriting ability (ie, he is able to write a song about Girls without making it sound like A Song About Girls; try listening to Amber Pacific and telling me the same thing). As a Montana band, these guys first blew me away in 2006, where their energy and hooks basically made me an uber-fan with only one show. Bright, energetic (the key word for this retrospective), and hooky like a fishing boat, Goodnight Sunrise is easily one of the better power pop bands in the business. Though their recent EP has more and equally good songs, I have to give the nod to this one; these songs made me into the frothing, ravaging fan that I am today, and how can you not say that the first hit wasn't the best?

There you go. 10 years of music, and I was mostly aware for six of them. Time will tell if I'm still spinning these in another 10 years, but for now they're basically my unofficial endorsement for the coveted If I Were Stuck On A Desert Island award.

Got any quibbles with my taste? Or perhaps any albums that were close to your heart during the 2000's? Sound off in the comments section!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Monday, Monday – Hey Monday – Hold On Tight

As I have addressed in previous posts, I love power pop. Power pop, for those that aren't in the Hip Genre Names club, is a style of music that resembles traditional pop music, but with more electric guitars and punk rock energy (it feels more "powerful," hence the name). Hey Monday, a quintet from West Palm Beach, FL, scratches my power pop itch with great melodies, booming energy, and excellent vocal work from one of the better female lead singers in the industry.

Hold On Tight is a record that in many ways feels very old-fashioned: it's lyrics don't wink at the audience, the production doesn't attempt any grandiose tricks like adding a symphony or a spoken word bridge, and the songs are all about 3:30—4:00 minutes long. In other words, this is a pop record the way they used to make 'em.

The music is sugar-coated enough to give someone a diabetic coma. The vocals soar, the guitars shine, and the hooks are big enough to snag Jaws, bigger boat be damned (check out "Obvious" and "Run, Don't Walk" to start off, but check your blood sugar first). Singer Cassadee Pope Brings appropriate energy and spunk to her performances, but lends a fair bit of sweetness and (dare I say it) prettiness to each song, making each listen a far cry from the many nasally-voiced bands that populate the genre.

In many ways, this album is the anti-Brand New Eyes. On Paramore's newest entry, the band is clearly on a cathartic streak, attacking the track with a tightly-wound blend of pop and therapeutic aggression. With Hold On Tight, Hey Monday seems bent on making a record for people to listen to and feel good doing so. Though several songs head into more emotional territory ("Homecoming"'s tale of someone who comes home to find their significant other with someone else, "Josey"'s story of a girl who parties too much), everything is played with such a bright sheen that even the more lyrically heavy songs sound downright jovial. Which one the "better" album is comes down to preference.

If you're not a fan of poppy music, or feel awkward listening to music that will be appealing to teenagers, I'd give this one a wide berth. However, for listeners that don't mind a bit of bubblegum in their music, or for those who prefer to listen to music with their tongue firmly in their cheek, Hold On Tight is a solid piece of guilty pleasure that is worth blaring in the car… with the windows rolled securely up, of course.