Thursday, 23 February 2012

Alabama Shakes Live Review (2012)

If you weren’t at last night’s Alabama Shakes gig - their first performance of three in the UK having set up a three night residency at The Boston Arms in London - you missed a damn fine soul driven explosion of sweat, sweet tunes and a taste of Alabama’s finest. Opening with Goin' to The Party, the Shakes instantly had a comfortable swagger cramped onto one of the smallest stages used for a five (when live) piece band. They weren’t going to the party, they’d arrived.

The Shakes played a staggering 15 songs during their set for over an hour, mixing tracks off their debut record Boys and Girls with a couple of new ones, and a cover of Led Zeppelin’s How Many More Times for good measure. Their current single Hold On saw the crowd tear the roof a new hole as the hipsters got fully immersed in lead singer Brittany Howard’s distinctive southern drawl. She’s got a dang good set of pipes, and it’s clear the whole band were having a blast. Heck even Russell Crowe was there, getting his funk on.

Touring a debut record is a tough slog for any band, especially when you’re bringing the sound from across the pond. But Alabama Shakes have all the makings to hit the big time. Last night they showed this town how to party - Alabama style - and will continue for the next two nights at The Boston Arms. Their soul infused rock is simply infectious. Last night wails of “We love you Brittany!” were heard and acknowledged by Howard with a sly nod. The Shakes won’t be back in the UK until May, and then later this summer when they appear on a number of festival bills, so if you don’t see them this week, you’ll have to wait, but just hold on as they’ll be back real soon.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Woman In Black (2012) Review

The Woman in Black marks the revamped flourish from the Hammer studio, and a well publicised Harry Potter departure for lead Daniel Radcliffe. Type casting must be a frustrating scenario, and one that Radcliffe hasn’t been able to quite shake just yet. Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young London lawyer and recently widowed father, who must travel to a remote English village to salvage not only the estate of a recently deceased woman, but also his own salvation for the sake of his boy. Adapted for the screen by Jane ‘Kick Ass’ Goldman of Susan Hill’s 1983 chilling novel, The Woman in Black is a tough story to rework, as not only is Hill’s novel still a popular choice for a haunting read, but it’s already been made into the longest running stage show at London’s Fortune Theatre, since 1989. So how do you adapt an already successful and well received novel into a movie? With difficulty it seems.

Even if you’re not familiar with the brilliantly terrifying story of The Woman In Black, you’d be hard pressed to find a real scare in James Watkins big screen adaptation. A 12A cert, it’s a difficult market to sell to, without scaring the little darlings into a psychosomatic shock, which the novel and stage production have managed to do for a number of years. For one, there are too many characters, each not fully developed enough for anyone to really care about, least of all Radcliffe’s Kipps. He makes a good effort to hide the Potter in him, but the voice just isn’t quite right. A young father and lawyer, there’s no real conviction behind either role in Radcliffe’s eyes. Do his career and child matter that much? Not really.

As for the Woman in Black herself, well, there’s too much of her. Little is left to the imagination, and once you’re past her slightly grubby appearance, she doesn’t look that bad. Not that scary. Which is a shame, as she should leave you terrified to the core, dreading the next moment she may appear. Here, there’s a sense that she just needs a good chat, a hug and cup of tea to set her right. The score sets up the scares far too easily as well, there’s no moment of true terror, and you’re fully prepared for what will be ahead. Horror films are a hard breed to nail, especially at a 12A rating but for the majority, less is more in every sense. For a real scare, check out the theatre show, as you’re sure to be in for a fright or two.

Midnight in Paris (2011) Review

Woody Allen is a lot like Marmite. He writes the majority of his central characters as lost souls, the ones that are aware of it, and they’re usually driven by selfish whims. But realistically, who isn’t? Which is why Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris, isn’t a far departure from what we’ve come to know and love from the director. Owen Wilson is the latest A Lister to succumb to the Allen charm where he plays Gil, a frustrated throwaway screenwriter who whilst on vacation with his girlfriend Inez (Rachel McAdams) he unknowingly searches for a Hollywood almost forgotten. Gil finds himself detached from the LA allure, and longs for life to be littered with inspirational cultural legends. Cue an array of literary celebs, each of which he happens upon during midnight strolls through Paris, where he delves into a romantic version of 1920s Hollywood, and falls instantly in love with it.

It’s difficult to portray famous figures from the past, especially ones from the golden age of Hollywood, but as Gil notes they don’t have to be perfect, just as we want them to be. Like memories, the parts we’d rather forget are blurred away. He encounters F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and a brilliant version of Salvador DalĂ­ (Adrien Brody), who manages to capture a glimmer of the illustrious man’s imagination during such a small scene. Allen is so very good at writing love letters to cities, but what lets his Parisian affair fall flat is McAdams, her Inez is so obviously unsuited to Wilson’s Gil it’s quite distracting and two dimensional (though very much the point) this restricts a lot of McAdams’ own charm as an actor. As with many of Allen’s masterpieces, if you’re not the lead, you’re nothing. Still, there’s more here to keep the heart fluttering, and we’re reminded by Gil what it’s like to fall in love.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Black Bananas: Rad Times Xpress IV Record Review (2012)

Originally published in Nylon Magazine.

Strutting through the remains of Royal Trux, the multifaceted Jennifer Herrema’s new psychedelic infusion goes by the name of Black Bananas, but they’re hardly rotten. Rad Times Xpress IV pushes beyond what RTX achieved, namely by being more rad. Album opener It’s Cool draws on hot 70s infused riffs that would leave many a Jimi fan in a head spin. Rad Times however is definitely the record’s main beast: gritty disco beats, slick vocals and relentless guitars that makes you want to party. Crossover genres abound, (My House screams 80s hair mental, in a good clichĂ© free way) the only downside is there isn’t enough of each styled track to go around. If there was ever a moment to get into the Herrema gang, now’s the time.