[Movie Review] The Iron Lady

Great Britain experienced a tumultuous eleven years under the conservative rule of Margaret Thatcher. During her years as Prime Minister Britain sank into recession, unemployment reached record highs, the manufacturing industry disappeared, and strikes were widespread. Supporters of Thatcher claim that her Government modernised an ailing economic power and ushered in radical but necessary reforms. On the contrary, her critics claim that these reforms came at a great social cost, with a rapidly widening gap between rich and poor. One thing everyone can agree on is that the ‘Iron Lady’ was a controversial and deeply divisive Prime Minister.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, The Iron Lady is a bio-pic about Thatcher, with Meryl Streep playing the Prime Minister. Much of the film is actually set in the present, with a frail and elderly Thatcher bumbling around her residence in the grips of dementia-hell. Thatcher is often shown hallucinating, conversing with her long-deceased husband, Denis (played by Jim Broadbent). The camera often pulls back to the perspective of a third party in the room (usually Thatcher’s daughter, Carol, played by Olivia Colman), revealing that the former-PM is talking to herself. These uncomfortable scenes are repeated, punctuated by Thatcher recalling memories from her career. The flashbacks cover her political awakening (in these early periods the young Denis is played by Harry Lloyd; the young Margaret by Alexandra Roach), rise as a political force and her years as Prime Minister.

Meryl Streep is mesmerising as Thatcher. She does not just play her. She is her. Not only does she look uncannily like Thatcher, she has captured the mannerisms, voice and steely resolve. Together it paints a picture of just how firm and decisive the Prime Minister could be. Do not be surprised if Streep adds a second Oscar for Best Actress to her mantlepiece for this effort.

As good as Streep’s performance is, it is not enough to lift The Iron Lady into the echelon of great political bio-pics. Given the controversy surrounding her years in office, you would expect a Margaret Thatcher bio-pic to make some kind of statement about her contribution to Great Britain. At the very least, you would expect that such a film would adequately explore the pivotal decisions and moments, allowing the viewer to make up their own mind. The Iron Lady does neither effectively.

While Thatcher’s real-life children, Mark and Carol, have described the film as a ‘left-wing fantasy’, the reality is The Iron Lady does not take sides at all. It does not delve anywhere near deep enough into her career to offer a stance or even implore the viewer to decide for themselves. Pivotal moments are rarely covered in more than a passing montage or a brief soundbite. The Cold War and her relationship with her ‘philosophical soul-mate’, Ronald Reagen, is ignored almost entirely, while public opposition to her leadership is reduced to brief clips of protests. Only the Falklands conflict of 1982 receives more than a passing look.

Indeed, for a film that is by definition about politics, there is very little politics. Really, too much of the film is spent showing Thatcher today, as a frail, old lady. While these scenes do effectively contrast her strength and iron will as a leader with the reality of old-age, they come at the expense of any analysis of her time in office. They also leave the viewer with an overwhelming sense of sympathy towards an ill, elderly woman, distracting viewers from passing judgement on the merits of her career. The scenes of Thatcher today could have been reduced to bookends at the start and finish of the film.

Despite these flaws, The Iron Lady is still a film worth seeing. For one, Meryl Streep’s performance is worth the price of admission alone. Secondly, while the story does not quite hit the back of the net, it is still a decent offering that effectively illustrates Margaret Thatcher’s iron will and hints at the turmoil of 1980s Britain.

There is a fantastic film waiting to be made about Margaret Thatcher. This is not quite it.

The Verdict
Meryl Streep shines in this slightly disappointing bio-pic

[Music] My Soundtrack to 2011 – Top Ten Songs

This is my soundtrack to 2011 – my ten favourite songs of the year just gone. In putting this list together, I gave myself two rules – first, the songs had to be officially released during the 2011 calendar year, and; second, I have limited myself to a maximum of one song per artist.

The List:

10.Somebody That I Used To Know’ – Gotye featuring Kimbra

It was impossible to go anywhere in the second half of 2011 without hearing ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’. An absolute ear-worm of a guitar riff (sampled from Luiz Bonfa’s ‘Seville’), haunting vocal contributions from Kimbra and deeply raw lyrics propelled the song to number 1, where it stayed for eight weeks. The short-priced favourite to take out the Triple J Hottest 100. Really, how could any other song win?

The Black Keys’ ‘Gold on the Ceiling’ could easily be a long lost Bad Company B-Side

9. ‘Gold on the Ceiling’ – The Black Keys

You almost wonder if these retro-rockers had a time machine and went back to the 1970s to steal this thumping rocker that sounds like Paul Rodgers backed by George Thorogood’s Destroyers. Driven by a fuzzy organ riff, ‘Gold on the Ceiling’ could be quietly slipped into a classic rock playlist without anyone noticing.

8. ‘Baby Says’ – The Kills

Alison Mosshart’s vocals, bluesy guitars, and crisp reverb came together like a jigsaw on this track from the Kills’ latest album, Blood Pressures. ‘Baby Says’ somehow manages to sound equal parts gritty and beautiful at the same time.

7. ‘You’ – Glasvegas

A richer and darker effort than their debut album, Glasvegas’ Euphoric Heartbreak served up a lush wall-of-sound filled with buzzing Jesus and Mary Chain guitars and gloomy, miserable lyrics. Unlike its predecessor, Euphoric Heartbreak did not offer up any obvious singles, with the songs best enjoyed as part of the overall album. Nonetheless, ‘You’ received heavy rotation on my iTunes playlists this year.

6. ‘The Roller’ – Beady Eye

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds may have stolen the post-Oasis limelight, but brother Liam’s Beady Eye group also delivered the goods in 2011 with a stronger-than-expected debut album. Different Gear, Still Speeding was anchored by the lead single and best track, ‘The Roller’, a song Liam Gallagher described as “T Rex doing Instant Karma” – and that is exactly what it is.

Foster the People will be bringing their catchy tunes to Big Day Out across Australia and NZ

5. ‘Helena Beat’ – Foster The People

‘Pumped Up Kicks’ was the obvious highlight from Foster the People’s 2011 debut album (Torches), but as that song had been released as a single in 2010 it is not eligible for inclusion on this list. Instead, ‘Helena Beat’ steps up to the plate to represent one of the most enjoyable albums of the year.

4. ‘Switchblade Smiles’ – Kasabian

The boldest song on their disjointed fourth album, ‘Switchblade Smiles’ saw Kasabian push their boundaries and fully embrace the electronic influences they have always hinted at. Channeling Nine Inch Nails and the Prodigy, but with that trademark Sergio Pizzorno guitar, ‘Switchblade Smiles’ leaves you wishing the Leicester lad-rockers had been as bold elsewhere on the slightly disappointing Velociraptor!.

3.AKA… What A Life!’ – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Blasting straight out of Noel Gallagher’s secret discotheque, AKA… What a Life! was the most exciting moment on Noel Gallagher’s otherwise predictable (but superb) solo effort. A piano-driven, almost house-sounding track, it is just waiting to be remixed into a dance floor hit. Fingers crossed that his sophomore effort – a collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous – offers up more songs outside of familiar Noel territory.

2. ‘If You Wanna’ – The Vaccines

As one of the most infectious albums of 2011, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? provided a volley of catchy songs. ‘If I Wanna’ is arguably the stickiest of them all – I challenge anyone to listen to it without getting “but if you wanna come back it’s alright, it’s alright / it’s alright if you wanna come back” stuck in your head. You can’t.

Arctic Monkeys did their best 1960s impression with songs like ‘Black Treacle’

1. ‘Black Treacle’ – Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkey’s fourth album, Suck it and See, completes the band’s re-invention from NME-darlings to genuine all-time greats. Moving on from the swampy sounds of Humbug, Suck it and See introduced jangly guitars and a sound that recalls the Byrds and Echo and the Bunnymen. Album highlights are numerous – the title track and ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’ spring to mind. In the end there can only be one winner and the nod goes to ‘Black Treacle’. Pop perfection. Best enjoyed on vinyl.

[Movie Review] The Inbetweeners

The Inbetweeners was a hit British comedy which followed four awkward school boys and their miserable attempts at pulling girls against the drab, bleary backdrop of teenage life in the suburbs. Narrated by the main character, the unbelievably-awkward Will McKenzie (Simon Bird), the gang also included lovesick Simon Cooper (Joe Thomas), clueless Neil Sutherland (Blake Harrison), and the sewer-mouthed, sex-obsessed Jay Cartwright (James Buckley).

The Inbetweeners Movie is the final chapter in the story, and picks up where the series left off. The boys are graduating from high school, but there is little to celebrate. Will has just found out his father has re-married and Jay’s grandfather has just died. But the greatest sorrow is reserved for Simon, who is distraught after being dumped by classmate Carli D’Amato (Emily Head) – the girl he had finally got together with after lusting after her through the TV series.

Neil is on hand to lift the mood, offering Simon his condolences – “it’s alright Si, anyone would miss those tits”. Jay is more helpful, and suggests a boys trip away, promising a week of “sun, sea, sand, sex, boobs, clunge, sex, fanny, minge and sex”.

Of course, reality is a little different, and after checking in to their vile hotel, the boys head out for a disastrous night on the town. Sitting in a deserted nightclub, a glimour of hope comes when the boys manage to dance over to four girls (it’s not quite David Brent’s Flashdance-MC Hammer fusion, but it is still very funny) and speak to them without scaring them off. The night ends on a bittersweet note though – Jay manages to harrass a doorgirl in the middle of the street (“she’s so wet I can hear the waves breaking in her fanny”), while Simon learns that Carli is also on holiday in Malia. The key story thread follows the four boys chasing the four girls (and Carli … ) in the lead-up to the end-of-week ‘Boat Party’ celebration.

Big screen adaptations of sitcoms are tricky, but The Inbetweeners Movie hits the mark. The writers, Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, have stuck to the winning formula, putting together what is essentially a 90-minute episode with better production values and more vulgarity (look out for Neil’s disturbing bidet mishap). Fans of the show will not be disappointed with all the awkward humour you expect from the boys.

The best part of The Inbetweeners Movie though is its portrayal of the awkwardness of adolescence. Much like Judd Apatow’s Superbad, The Inbetweeners universe is an entirely believable one. While many high-school movies paint a picture of teenage years full of raging house parties and beautiful people. The Inbetweeners strikes a blow for the rest of us – the masses for whom adolescence was about being awkward, failing with members of the opposite sex, having no money, and going to crap parties.

The Inbetweeners Movie is not perfect. It is never easy to sustain sitcom-type laughs over 90-minutes, and there are a few quiet patches where the laughter-rate drops. Additionally, while most of the new movie characters are effective (especially Lydia Rose Bewley and Jessica Knappett, who play Jane and Lisa, two of the girls the boys meet), some of the minor characters are one-dimensional. Minor criticisms aside, the Inbetweeners film is a funny film that at times approaches a Borat hit-rate of laughter.

One for the fans.

The Verdict

The Verdict
A medley of awkwardness that fans of the show will lap up

[Music Review] Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - S/T“Little things they make me so happy
But it’s good, it’s good, it’s good to be free…”

Noel Gallagher may have written those lyrics for a 1995 Oasis B-Side, but they are fitting words today as he releases his debut solo album, the self-titled Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.  Free from democracy of latter-day Oasis, this is the first album he has written from start-to-finish since 1997’s Be Here Now, and his first new material since walking out from Oasis two-years ago.

He may not have sent a song to the top of the charts for six years, but any question over Noel’s ability to deliver a big tune are laid to rest with the opening track. Album opener, Everybody’s On the Run, is an epic ballad drowned in choir and strings, anchored down by a line (“you gotta hold on” pleads Noel) that is this album’s “so Sally can wait” moment. Equally memorable is If I Had a Gun, a gorgeous acoustic track with opening guitar strains that recall Wonderwall.

The most surprising highlight on Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Bird’s comes from the bizarrely named AKA… What a Life!, a track which seems to have come straight from Noel Gallagher’s secret discotheque. A piano-driven, almost house-sounding track, it is just waiting to be remixed into a dance floor hit. As refreshing and intriguing as it is, it is the only time Noel wanders outside his comfort zone (at least until next year’s follow-up album is released – a collaborative effort with Androgynous Amorphous).

Elsewhere, influences come from for more familiar territory – Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks is Eleanor Rigby if the Kinks had written it, while on The Death of You and Me Noel almost lifts lyrics directly from Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in The City. Unsurprisingly, the sound of Oasis is never far away either, especially on (I Wanna Live in a Dream In My) Record Machine. Critics may deride Noel at times for ‘borrowing’, but such criticism is redundant when the songs are this good.

The only track that fails to hit the mark is also its most hyped – closing track, Stop the Clocks. The song was first mentioned by Noel Gallagher ten years ago and reached mythical heights in Oasis circles, fueled by a leaked demo and comparisons with Champagne Supernova. Released here at last, it sounds more like a lost track from (the admittedly under-rated) Standing on the Shoulder of Giants than anything to be particularly excited about.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds may not drift far from a well-worn path, but it is a fine album containing some of the best songs he has written since the Britpop era. Best of all, between this and Beady Eye’s Different Gear, Still Speeding, the remnants of Oasis have produced two albums far better than their final effort together as a band. It’s a great time to be an Oasis fan.

The Verdict
A solid debut but one firmly in familiar territory
Best Songs:
Everybody's on the Run, If I Had a Gun, AKA... What a Life!

[Music Review] Kasabian – Velociraptor!

Velociraptor! is the fourth effort from Leicester rockers Kasabian, and the hotly anticipated follow-up to their 2009 album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. It is their most eclectic album yet, with psychedelic, industrial, middle eastern and even hip hop influences permeating their electro-rock sound.

Anyone expecting West Ryder – Part II will find themselves underwhelmed by the opening track, Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To, a strings and horn infused song which at times almost recalls Paint it Black by the Stones. It is pleasant and catchy, but ultimately too innocuous to open an album by a band that has kicked off previous efforts with songs like Club Foot and Empire.

Normal service is resumed on track two and lead single, Days are Forgotten. An almost hip hop sounding beat underlines tribal screams, slashing electric guitars, nonsensical lyrics (I’ve got blood lust / feeding you bread crust) and a chorus you will not forget. It is big, it is over the top, and it is Kasabian at their finest.

Even bigger and more over the top is the album’s title track, which attacks you with all the speed and aggression of its prehistoric namesake. Best of all is the chorus, which somehow manages to be a contender for the title of both silliest and catchiest lyrics of 2011 (“Velociraptor! / He’s gonna find ya! / He’s gonna kill ya! / He’s gonna eat ya!”). With lyrics like that, it should be a dud, but it is not and it is coming soon to a festival encore near you.

Possibly the boldest moment of the album comes with Switchblade Smile. Here, Kasabian bring their electronic influences to the fore with a song that channels  the sound of Nine Inch Nails and the Prodigy, with just enough Sergio Pizzorno guitar to keep Kasabian’s DNA in place. It is an exciting track and one can not help but wish the group had explored their electronic influences to a greater extent through the album.

Other noteworthy tracks include the Middle Eastern flavours of Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter from the Storm), I Hear Voices with its Kraftwerk inspired synthesisers, and the Lennon-esque La Fee Verte (with obvious lyrical odes to the Fab Four: “I see Lucy in the sky telling me I’m high” and “Nothing is real”).

There are no bad songs on Velociraptor!, and with its wide-ranging influences, there is something for everyone. But here lies the problem – Velociraptor! tries to do too much, and lacks a single cohesive thread that demands repeat start-to-finish commitment from the listener. As such, it is a collection of great songs, rather than a truly great album. For now, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum remains the high water mark in the group’s discography.

The Verdict
An eclectic album that is too omnivorous to be called Velociraptor!
Best Songs: Switchblade Smile, Days are Forgotten, Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter from the Storm)

[Book Review] Oasis – The Truth (Tony McCarroll)

Tony McCarroll’s Oasis – The Truth is the first autobiography to be released by a member of Britpop’s driving force, Oasis. McCarroll hit the skins for Oasis up until his sacking in 1995, just as the band was about to launch through the stratosphere with their career-defining album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory. The author claims the book chronicles the “truth” about the early days of Oasis. In reality though, it is no more than a 300-page barb aimed squarely at Noel Gallagher.

I am an Oasis fanatic, but this is not a good book. McCarroll comes across as some kind of boring simpleton, with a one-dimensional writing style that does nothing to portray any personality that he may have. After I finished reading, I felt as if I had learned nothing about the man – other than the Noel Gallagher sized chip that lives on his shoulder. This seems to be the only reason McCarroll has bothered to author this lazily written book. Of course, there are two sides to every story,and so some of this book is undoubtedly true. How much though is irrelevant, for McCarroll’s bitterness is palpable and ruins any chance of the reader sympathising with him. The drummer even finds time to casually drop an anecdote belittling the size of Noel’s .. equipment. Most telling of all is the name of the final chapter: “Arise Sir Noel, the Lord Mayor of Loneliness”.

Ultimately, Oasis – The Truth, is no more than a chronological descent into the breakdown of McCarroll’s relationship with Noel. It is a rock autobiography that offers limited insight into the band, and is crying out for more tales of rock n’ roll debauchery. Oasis fanatics will find this a vaguely interesting read – albeit one with little substance. Everybody else – do not waste your time. For the record, Noel once had this to say about McCarroll: “Shite drummer. Shite hair. Shite trainers”. After reading the book, it’s hard to disagree.

The Verdict
Alongside the great rock biographies, this book is worthless. Only for the most ardent Oasis fans.

[Movie Review] Senna

Asif Kapadia’s Senna recalls the story of the great Ayrton Senna, a supremely talented and deeply complex Brazilian racing driver who won three World Championships in a tumultuous career peppered with controversy, triumph and tragedy

The film’s narrative follows his racing career, starting with his initial karting foray into Europe before fast-forwarding to his early years in Formula 1, first with back of the grid Toleman team, and then with the more competitive Lotus outfit. A couple of pivotal moments are featured – first, Senna’s stunning drive in the Toleman to second place at a rain-soaked Monaco, and second, his maiden Grand Prix win for Lotus. These years are only covered in passing, but serve to highlight his meteoric rise and provide context for his subsequent move to McLaren in time for the 1988 season.

It was here that the rising star was partnered with the defending World Champion, Alain Prost. Every good story needs a rivalry, and Senna vs Prost is up there with the best. Senna, the young, red-blooded hot shot with everything to prove, up against Prost, the meticulous, ultra-professional Frenchmen with two World titles to his name. At first the relationship is amicable, if a little uncomfortable. Then, as the Brazilian’s talents come to the fore, things began to become frosty. And then it became downright hostile, descending into wheel-to-wheel combat and one of the great sporting rivalries of all time, backed by a thread of off-track political bickering. It is drama that Hollywood couldn’t script. It is Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier at 300km/h, and it makes for incredible viewing.

There is not a single frame of new footage, with the entire film presented through archival footage that has been spliced together. Race footage (complete with original commentary), Senna family home videos, television interviews, chat show segments and news reports combine to deliver a film that plays out more like a live-action drama than a static point-in-time documentary. It is an effective way of presenting one of the great sporting stories, and brings you into the picture as events unfold ‘live’ in front of you. It is an effective way of delivering the story, and one that makes the tragic end to his career all the more difficult to watch.

If there is a criticism that can be levelled at Senna, it is that the sheer ruthlessness of the man is brushed over. Save for a single interview with Jackie Stewart, Senna’s ruthlessness as a racing driver is not explored in enough depth. In a way it is an important part missing in a film about the man who invented the “get out of my way or we are both going to have an accident” type of driving. Nonetheless, it does not detract from the enjoyment of this amazing film.

Many will choose not to see Senna under the assumption that it is a film about motorsport, solely for motorsport fans. That is a shame, for Senna is a gripping documentary that is arguably a better experience for those who are not fans of the sport, and for whom the story will be new. Additionally, the brilliance of the story comes not just from the actions on the track, but from Senna’s enigmatic personality off it. This is a real, human story, about a fascinating character. From the green light, to the chequered flag, this is one of the quintessential sporting films.

The Verdict
Superb - belongs on the shelf alongside the other great sporting films