Sunday, September 28, 2008

There Are No Witty Titles For A Jennifer Hudson Album Review

Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer Hudson

A performer like Jennifer Hudson needs to be incredibly careful when they go out and make an album. Her voice is so incredibly strong that there are times when a producer may feel the need to drown a song with it, while another producer may think that all a song needs is her voice and no tune. These two issues present themselves on her debut album Jennifer Hudson. Take "What's Wrong (Go Away)" for instance, featuring T-Pain, it is basically an excuse to allow Hudson's vocal gymnastics and T-Pain's terrible computer-altered vocals to be let loose and, come songs end, I had a headache from all the noise. I just wanted it to shut up. Conversely there are slow tracks like "Invisible" and "Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There" - a gospel number - that just sort of flap about with nowhere to go. Hudson's vocals are impressive, but the songs are limp.

It is reasons like this that lead single "Spotlight" is so good. It neither goes excessively overboard with tricks and gimmicks, yet it doesn't feel like I should be using it to get to sleep. It's catchy and hooky and Hudson's voice is utterly gorgeous on it. Much to my surprise Hudson excels on the more hip-hop flavoured and obviously urban-edged tracks as opposed to the weaker-than-desired slow soul numbers she got given. The album's best track is the mini-epic "If This Isn't Love", which gradually builds into a truly stunning crescendo that, if this were a movie in which Hudson must fight to prove she really is a talented singer, would be the moment where the crowd starts to nod their head and think "Yeah, this is it!" Alas, it's track number two so it's really only down from there.

"Pocketbook", featuring Ludacris, is a beatboxing hip-hop track that has flare and sass, "My Heart" and is minimal but encompassing and lo-fi tracks like "You Pulled Me Through" and "Giving Myself" are nice and walk the fine line between pretty and turgid. The duet "I'm His Only Women" with Fantasia is an obvious try at recreating the stunning "The Boy Is Mine" by Brandy and Monica - it even includes a spoken work intro - but their voices don't work together inside the slow-tempo confines of the track and is a big disappointment considering the talent involved.

Tacked onto the end of the album are two of her finest moments. "All Dressed In Love" from the Sex and the City soundtrack is a great retro pastiche from Cee-Lo (Gnarles Barkley) while "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" is lifted directly from the Dreamgirls soundtrack even though Hudson was better on the smoother "I Am Changing".

Jennifer Hudson is a bit of a confusing album to get my head around. There are some fine urban tracks, but there are also some dodgy ones. There are some gorgeous adult contemporary-aimed slower tracks, but there are also some dodgy ones. It doesn't quite know what it wants to be and suffers because of it. Individually there are plenty of fine tracks here, but they don't gel enough to form a cohesive album. Still, at least she has an album out there, which is an accomplishment in itself.

Time to Rebel

Empire magazine released their 500 Greatest Movies of All Time list past week and, as you can probably already assume, it is a bit of a mixed bag. The list is after all 500 titles long so they were bound to hit a few snags along the way, and being voted for in the majority by Empire readers (as well as a handful of critics) there were also bound to be major fuck-ups. But, honestly, when clicking on to the first page (positions #500-#491) we are greeted with such illustrious titles as Saw and Superman Returns sitting next to bonafide classics Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Ben-Hur. It's all very frustrating. So much good yet so much bad. Are we truly going to believe that The Dark Knight is one of the twenty best movies ever made? It's only been out for three months.

I haven't gone through the entire list yet, I'm not sure my brain (and heart) can withstand such idiocy (example: #188 Ghostbusters, #187 School of Rock) and such flagrant blockbuster wanking and agism. If you're going to name your list the "500 Greatest Movies of All Time" then, I dunno, stuff like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (#113) shouldn't be able to rank higher than The Red Shoes (#149) and Notorious (#147). It just shouldn't. And that's from somebody who is a big advocate of populist work getting the same respect as smaller fare.

One of my five favourite films is Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause, which sits in the countdown at #477 between Andy Warhol's Flesh and Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Strange, which itself sits behind - of all things - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Yikes. Thankfully they made up for this egregious mistake by giving the James Dean-starrer a beautiful special edition cover. It's gorgeous, no?

For what it's worth, my favourite ever film - Bob Fosse's All That Jazz - places at #247 my other favourites are Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho ranking at #45, The Breakfast Club #364 while David Lynch's Mulholland Drive lands at number #391 (just three spots higher than Cloverfield and two higher than Garden State, yikes.)

It all just... aaagh! How can they get so much right and then so much completely wrong? Oh well, there'll be another one of these lists in a few months and we'll do this all over again, won't we?

Beyond the Cult

Beyond Our Ken is a fascinating and, at times, horrifying documentary about the makings and the processes of a cult and the forces behind them. Directors Luke Walker and Melissa MacLean have expertly crafted a film of immense power and sadness as they peek inside the workings of the Kenja Communication cult, a cult that like so many others deals in false smiles and life affirmations. That they were allowed unprecedented access to the group - they don't like being called a cult, naturally - and the group's leader Ken Dyers gives it a quality that is reminiscent of Amy Berg's heartbreaking 2006 doco Deliver Us from Evil.

Interviewing past - and in one case, a current - members of the group, Beyond Our Ken thoroughly details the shocking actions of the cult and its leader, a man so delusional that he and his associates equates himself to the most powerful man on Earth. Much like Berg's film about clergy abuse, Walker and MacLean's film gleans a lot of its strength of the tales of horror that emerge from behind the ever-smiling energetic faces of the cult's members. A mother reading her son's suicide letter that was written just months after being disowned by Kenja. Another mother's tortured story of her son, NIDA graduate Richard Leape, as she tells of how her son, after being unceremoniously kicked out of the sect, descended into homelessness and has been on the Missing Persons List for the past 16 years.

The film's biggest strength - if you can call it that - however, is that of Ken Dyers himself, and his co-founder Jan Hamilton. The two quickly show themselves to be, for lack of a better term, deranged crazies. With their talk of energy conversions and attached spirits, it soon becomes obvious that while the film was perhaps originally attempting to be even-handed and fair, it's hard to do so when the subjects are making it so darn hard on themselves. Several moments through the film in which Dyers discusses the transference of sexual energy always followed by his creepy laugh are down right irksome to watch and whenever he and Hamilton share the screen he shows his egotistical side and clearly doesn't want her to steal his spotlight, routinely interrupting her and not letting her finish any of her sentences. It all culminates in a shocking final sequence in which Dyers, who has since committed suicide in the face of yet another abuse scandal, goes into an angry rage that would earn him an Oscar if it weren't for the fact that it is all real.

Beyond Our Ken is an illuminating documentary and acts as the purest form of the genre. It's hard not to be disgusted by the words being put forth by these people, and it's scary to think that there are people walking around out there who are under the spell of this cult - there really is no other word for it, despite what Dyers says. The film's tagline is "You Wouldn't Know a Cult If You Joined One" and, sadly, that is very much the case with this institution. One can only hope that enough people see this wonderful film to help prevent the further loss of rationale and seemingly intelligent people to it's evil clutches. B+

Beyond Our Ken is out now on DVD and has a limited engagement at CinemaNova in Carlton, Melbourne so do check it out. It has also been nominated for the Best Documentary prize at the upcoming AFI Awards. If you wish to hear more about it click here for a Q&A audio file that was recorded after the film's screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Even more fascinating stuff!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sleeping in the Nothing

Yes, I just used a Kelly Osbourne album title (remember, there was more than one) as the title of a blog entry about a horror movie. You can't say I'm not imaginative, okay!

Below is the trailer for a new Australian horror flick called Sleeper, which has been getting a bit of underground press lately due to it's star - some WWE wrester called "Raven". I'm a bit clueless when it comes to that sort of stuff so I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it certainly can't hurt in the money-making stakes, especially since the film cost a pittance. There's also a man in there that looks like Wil Anderson! I think the trailer works well to sell what it's got, and the grindhouse feel it has at the start and the end is a nice touch.

RIP Paul Newman

Paul Newman passed away tonight. One of the finest actors the world of cinema has ever seen, and one of the greatest ambassadors for the arts has died after providing us with classic films, classic performances and a classic life that included humanitarian efforts and charity. May he be remembered for longer than every single other so-called celebrity of this day and age. If his Cat on a Hot Tin Roof co-star Elizabeth Taylor was to pass this weekend too I don't know what I'd do. It would be just too sad.

To choose just one performance to remember him by would be incredibly tough. My favourite film that he was in is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but I think I'll always remember his performance in The Sting more. The lovable cad personifies Newman to a tee. Bless him. The legend. Paul Newman.


So devastated.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Poster of the Day: Cat Edition

Today is the Grand Final and I will be out of the blogging office all day cheering on my mighty Cats as they attempt to go back-to-back and beat those horrible Hawks. So I thought we'd take a guided tour of movies with "cat" in the title. I don't think I need to tell you that a bunch of these aren't that good, but it's just a bit of fun. I have also included Wednesday's poster of the day because I didn't want to be unfair to that one.

And, yes, I've deliberately left off Cat in the Hat and Catwoman because I don't think you guys deserve it.

(and Brad!)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Aloud, Girls Aloud

Today over at the ever-resourceful InContention they linked to a funny post by music bible website PopJustice (yeah, POPJUSTICE is being linked on an American Oscar site! Never thought I'd see the day, quite frankly). In the comments, however, something much more amazing was being discussed than just how bad the new James Bond Quantum of Solace theme song "Another Way to Die" is.

a Girl Aloud Bond theme, something manically constructed and wildly produced along the lines of “Biology,” would be genius. At the very least, it would be more fun.

I know the producers of Quantum of Solace are seemingly desperate beyond belief to not even have their film be associated with anything that the franchise stood for in the past to a lot of people (ie; fun, guns, girls and gadgets) so they would never ever in a million years go to Girls Aloud for a theme song, but just try and imagine it for a minute.

1... 2... 3... ... 58... 59... 60...

There. Have you thought about it? I'll see if I can imagine what you're thinking:


And if you're not then, well, you're a nutjob. Girls Aloud performing a James Bond theme song would instantly be the greatest thing known to mankind. Make a song with a little bit of "Biology", a splash of "Sexy! No No No", a dash of "Something Kinda Ooh" a splish of "The Promise" and a nice healthy dollop of "Black Jacks" and you would have the first Bond theme song to truly rival the Shirley Bassey era.

Not only would the song be the first Bond theme to actually be a chart hit since Tina Turner's ace "Goldeneye" - well, in countries other than the USA because we all know America is allergic to good pop music - but the videoclip would be truly astounding. Picture all five of the lovely Aloud ladies playing different famous Bond girls from the past!

Cheryl Cole as "Honey Rider" in Dr No

Nadine Coyle as "Pussy Galore" in Goldfinger

Nicola Roberts as "Plenty O'Toole" in Diamonds are Forever

Sarah Harding as "Pola Ivanova" in A View to a Kill

Kimberley Walsh as "Xenia Onatopp" in GoldenEye

Although considering how much fake tan she uses she could probably pass as Grace Jones from A View to a Kill.

So, again, it would be AMAZING! And, yes, for what it's worth Jack White and Alicia Keys' Bond theme is terrible. It's called a tune, folks. Get one.

When Bad Posters Strike: Changeling

To quote Margaret Cho from the blisteringly hilarious I'm the One that I Want: "I had no idea I was this GIANT FACE TAKING OVER AMERICA!!!!HERECOMESTHEFAAAAACE!!!"

Hence, here is the poster for Clint Eastwood's Changeling starring - as if it isn't obvious - Angelina Jolie wearing a funny hat.


Look, there is not one single positive thing I can say about this poster. There really isn't. It's just TERRIBLE! Terrible in every conceivable way. From the plain and boring font to the annoying cavernous white space to ANGELINAJOLIESGIANTFLOATINGHEADOMG!!!!!!!!


I feel like it...


Sorry, everytime I look at it I get the horrible feeling like ANGELINA JOLIE'S FACE IS TAKING OVER THE GLOBE!!! Call CNN, there's a giant floating head on the loose. A GIANT FLOATING FACE ON THE LOOSE!!!!!!!


Absolutely terrifying!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Album Covers of Grace Jones

Much like I did with Diana Ross but... ya know, not. Grace Jones doesn't have as many albums as Ross (only nine studio albums if I'm adding correctly plus greatest hits compilations) so to make up for that I have included some of her single covers (god bless the inventor of the Maxi Single) as, in true Jones fashion, they are just as amazing and brilliant as the album covers (which is so rarely ever the case). "Nipple to the Bottle" and "La Vie en Rose" are, I think, particularly ace. It's odd to be anticipating an album cover, but that's what I'm doing as we await to see what crazy photograph she uses for the cover of her upcoming Hurricane album (which features "Corporate Cannibal").

Portfolio (1977)

La Vie en Rose (1977)

Fame (1978)

Do or Die (1978)

Muse (1979)

Warm Leatherette (1980)

Nightclubbing (1981)

Living My Life (1982)

Nipple to the Bottle / The Apple Stretching (1982)

Slave to the Rhythm (1985)

Island Life (1985)

Inside Story (1986)

Bulletproof Heart (1989)

Love On Top Of Love (1989)

Warm Leatherette [re-issue] (1989)

The Ultimate Grace Jones (1993)

Remember when high profile artists used to create interesting album art? Now you're lucky if someone wears a funny avant guard outfit on the inside of an album sleeve. GEEZ! And watching this clip of Jones on Countdown (Aussie music show, classic, below) just further proves how amazing the '80s were. Can you imagine someone getting away with this in any other decade? I saw MIA perform on Letterman a while back and I can tell ya that crowd did not get it. I guess we still have Roisin Murphy, hey?