“Star Wars” – Attack of the production line?

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Honestly, you go away for a couple of days – a work trip, not exactly exciting – and things get all confusing for any self-respecting member of the “Star Wars” generation.  It’s as though you’ve been out of the game for a while and people get delusions of grandeur or something…

The sci-fi franchise’s new overlords, the Walt Disney Company, this week unleashed dark, Sithian portents of wholly predictable corporate malevolence by announcing that films seven, eight and nine in the new trilogy will open two years apart in 2015, 2017 and 2019 , with spin-off movies featuring “Star Wars” characters filling in the gaps between new instalments of the main saga (“Salacious Crumb – Lust for Glory” – make it so).

So, the House of Mouse is borrowing a note or two from the thus-far successful Marvel Studios play book and pitching their comic book movie business against the biggest name in cinematic sci-fi in a playground battle to win all of the marbles in the yard.  Greedy, much?

I confess to be alarmed by the proposed timeline – is two years between movies really a realistic schedule which would allow for quality to be maintained?  It doesn’t seem as though director J.J. Abrams could realistically turn around movies on this scale in that production line fashion – could any director keep to that kind of workload and deliver something which didn’t feel like a product tooled to meet a release date line in the sand?

Is the plan, then, to alternate directors on each Episode? Curiouser and curiouser…

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Deftones’ Chi Cheng passes away

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Chi Cheng image via Deep Schismic at Flickr

In sad news, Deftones bass player Chi Cheng’s family have announced that the musician passed away on Saturday April 13th.  He was 42 years old.

Cheng had been in a semi-comatose state since a car accident in November 2008, and had shown tentative responsiveness to stimuli in recent years, but never regained the ability to communicate with his family and carers.  His recovery had been adversely affected by losing his medical insurance and by infections which required expensive hospital treatment – fans and band mates alike contributed to his ongoing medical costs via benefit gigs and the One Love For Chi website.

Deftones were a band who emerged with the Nu-Metal scene in the late nineties and early part of the 2000’s, but endured as many of their contemporaries drifted out of fashion in the post-Emo rock scene thanks to a sound which blended the best parts of punk, metal and experimental rock – I’ve always compared them more to Black Sabbath jamming Radiohead songs in Fugazi’s rehearsal space – and by refraining from adopting the loutish posturing which so blighted a lot of their contemporaries.

The band have continued to record and tour with bassist Sergio Vega (formerly of Quicksand), releasing the excellent “Koi No Yokan” album last autumn.

It hardly needs saying, but he will be missed – R.I.P. Chi.

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The Cutting Edge of Video Games…

Purple Box of Wonder…in 2001.

Yep, after fearing it lost forever in the great house cleaning of aught-11, the redoubtable Mrs Rolling Eyeballs managed to unearth Nintendo’s happy purple Gamecube from it’s most recent resting place and reinstate it to our lovely CRT telly, where it belongs.  The lesson to be drawn from this?  Tidying is for suckers – don’t do it, kids.

That golden era of titles like “Burnout 2: Point of Impact”, “Metroid: Prime” and “Zoocube” is even now being relived, via the medium of extended controller cables and an in-the-mail memory card from those nice folks at a popular online retailer.

Given that our platform-owning overlords are now seemingly bent on making us pay and re-pay to enjoy titles from back in the day by removing backwards-compatibility from video games consoles, my next course of action is to head into town and pick up a PS2 to enjoy some of the earlier Sony titles I missed first time around (and so that Mrs Rolling Eyeballs can enjoy other iterations of her beloved, Criterion Games-developed “Burnout” franchise).

Retro? No, I just love the classics…

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Transhuman Infinity and the Theory of Everything

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Keen followers of this  blog, ardent devotees of the nascent Scandinavian Symphonic Melocore scene and random Elize Ryd pervs duped this way via your custom Google searches – lend me your consciousness and read, won’t you please, an appreciation of the new Amaranthe album, “The Nexus”.

Without wishing to damn the band with the faintest of praise from the outset, their sound might best be described as that most hedged of bets, ‘musically diverse’.  The last time that I heard a band this keen to go off on one and veer between genres from song to song was on New Radicals‘ classic album “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too?” and that was a properly exhausting listening experience.  Amaranthe’s love of dropping in different musical elements is perhaps a bit more confined to metal and its sub-genres, but in its own way this album (and band) is equally capable of banjaxing casual listeners unprepared for the extent to which the group populate songs with everything and the kitchen sink.

Amaranthe start as they mean to go on with opener “Afterlife”, which bounces along on a wave of upfront synths, near blast-beat drums and Amaranthe’s unique selling point, a trio of male and female singers who cover the clean (Jake E.), harsh scream (Andy) and symphonic female (Elize) elements of the sonic spectrum.  Even the most casual music fan couldn’t help but notice the band’s energy and desire to make their tunes leap out of the speakers – and that’s where some metal fans may encounter a problem.

You might want to whisper it quietly around any more sensitive metalheads of your acquaintance, but Amaranthe have a distinct pop sensibility inherent in their music – I don’t know what they put in the water supply in Sweden and Denmark, but it’s resulted in a sophomore album so stuffed to the gills with once heard never forgotten, rock club dance floor-filling  ear-worms that the likes of Halestorm will be casting a nervous glance over their shoulders.

Sure, “The Nexus” is a nominally heavier proposition than the Pennsylvanian quartet’s “The Strange Case Of…” set from 2012, but the pop sensibility and command of state-of-the-art rock dynamics commanded by this European group is just as pronounced.  It’s not difficult to imagine an R & B diva like Rihanna covering soaring mid-tempo ballad “Burn With Me” – even the title sounds like one of her tunes – and having a huge smash with it.  Similarly, “Theory of Everything” has Gaga’s name written all over it – it’s a pop glam stomper just ripe for reinterpretation, but I’d be quite happy to see some enterprising radio station or music channel taking a punt on turning this band into the next crossover act.  Any body who likes a bit of Evanescence wouldn’t have too much difficulty getting into this wholly melodic and refreshingly direct band.

If you like your metal catchy, sonically ludicrously upbeat, lyrically driven by vaguely futuristic sci-fi positivity (it’s like cyberpunk self-help up in this joint!) and camper than an episode of “Strictly Come Dancing” with Justin Hawkins sporting a lilac Lycra catsuit, “The Nexus” is absolutely for you.  My love of Power Metal is well documented on these pages and extended listening to Amaranthe’s second album leads me to conclude that they’ve just CTRL + C’d the dragons and elves out of a classic rock record and royally CTRL + V’d them with songs about love, digital ultra-worlds and stuff.

TL: DR version – essential spring listening for any fan of massive, widescreen metal insanity and choruses which lodge themselves in your head and won’t bugger off afterwards.

 

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“Doctor Who – The Bells of Saint John” review

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“I’ve never seen a Jammie Dodger so scrumptiously perfect”

It usually takes me a couple of viewings to make my mind up about the episode which heralds the return of “Doctor Who” and I suspect that “The Bells of Saint John” is no exception.

For some reason – wanting to ease the wider audience back into the rhythms of the show, to introduce new characters, to just have fun with the premise – it always seems to me as if the opening salvo of each series is a little lighter and somehow less substantial than the episodes which come to follow.  Not that this is bad or ill-advised, per se, but I never quite feel that the Tardis is fully firing on all cylinders until episode two or three (Technically, of course, this is episode seven of series seven, so my misgivings shouldn’t apply).

The story dealt with a very contemporary fear – the extent to which technology enters our everyday lives and encroaches on our freedom via our inability to deal with it, which is a notion that I’m sure strikes a rueful note for any brave soul ever charged with the dire responsibility of providing technical support for computer-averse friends and family.  The villain of the piece this time utilised dear old endlessly useful wireless internet signals and used them to…do nefarious stuff.

I’ll not go deeply into spoilers, but the methodology of the Big Bad in this episode didn’t quite ring true for me on this first viewing – it smacked a bit of that notion ‘because…science?‘, which probably plays quite well with folks who view their modem and router as terrifying technology daemons which inhabit their living rooms and blink malevolently at them several times a second for no good reason.

The villain was, it may come as no surprise at all to you, hardly a match for The Doctor but the bad guy’s machinations did give Matt Smith‘s big kid in funky Edwardian clobber a chance to meet cute again with Clara – a charmingly sparky and energetic Jenna Louise Coleman – who we last saw in the Christmas special, having just died for the second time.

Clearly, her nature and repeated appearances in vastly different times and galactic locales will constitute an ongoing mystery and its to current “Who” show-runner and gigantic brainy overlord Steven Moffat‘s credit that you do want to know what her deal is and how she’ll come to affect the Doctor’s in the rest of the season.  I’ve read one theory to the effect that Clara constitutes a kind of Moorcockian ‘Eternal Companion’ and it would be interesting to know just what Moffat would do with that idea, were it to be an accurate assessment of just how the expiry-prone Clara fits into his master plan.

"Computers - how do they work?"

“Let me update my status…”

The story rattled along nicely, sure enough, but it didn’t seem to add up to much on first viewing – save for a last-minute appearance by a malevolent character we saw quite recently, albeit in somewhat different form than the last time that we encountered them (vague enough for you?), this was essentially stand-alone, monster-of-the-week stuff.   I suppose it’s daft to feel that the Doctor is ever really going to be truly challenged by the menaces he encounters, but this was somewhat a case of the Doctor waving his Sonic about, loudly asserting his intellectual dominion and then saving the day because he’s The Doctor and that’s his gig.  No real sense of the day not being saved – and so not much dramatic tension as a result.  First episode syndrome, and no mistake.

I don’t do ratings – meaningless things, be they numeric or arbitrary and letter-based – but if I did, I’d probably say this was a solid B-plus, perhaps an A-minus.    Extra marks for Clara rushing into the fray still carrying her cup of tea.  A nation salutes you, fine miss.

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White House Redux

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No sooner has Gerard Butler saved 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from wholly plausible and in no way absurd destruction at the hands of terrorists in “Olympus Has Fallen” than another screen hunk is up to the same patriotic larks.

Hollywood does love high concept duplication of effort, after all: we’ve had duelling volcano, asteroid, CGI Insect fable, Robin Hood and even Alfred Hitchcock films since 1990, so it’s no surprise that 2013 sees not at least two movies set amidst the smouldering ruins of a White House under terrorist attack.  Puzzingly, schlockbuster DTV studio The Asylum have been entirely remiss by not cranking out a Z-budget, franchise-aping homage to this trend.  Perplexed ain’t the half of it…

The aforementioned “Olympus…” is now out and garnering decent notices – as much for saving Gerard Butler from the inglorious rom-com movie jail he was seemingly doing time in.   The redoubtable Den of Geek even dubbed it a better “Die Hard” movie than the apparently dire “A Good Day To Die Hard“, which probably suggests that multiplex audiences might have preferred to see John McClane duking it out in the Oval Office than in Red Square.

Late June, then, sees the arrival of Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Channing Tatum (and Channing Tatum’s omnipresent nipples) in serial White House mangler Roland Emmerich‘s “White House Down” and a new trailer for said action opus has arrived, bringing with it amazing scenes of America under siege, panicky news people reporting on artfully staged chaos and Mr Tatum’s sweatily exuberant protuberances bewitching all who encounter them (I understand that Channing’s bits have their own three picture deal at Fox).

I’m intrigued to see what Roland Emmerich does with an unabashed action movie for a change – his stock in trade is the contemporary disaster movie and whilst he’s an old hand at laying waste to global monuments and iconic buildings, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be able to deliver on the tropes that fans of earnest blokes in increasingly dank vests wielding sub-machine guns seek from their Friday night frag fests.

The film opens on June 28th in the US, and in September in the UK.  It’s almost as if the subject matter won’t resonate quite so much with us cynical Brits…

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From our symphonic melo-pop-death metal correspondent …

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Spring?  It has sprung!  Well, it probably has somewhere in the world (the UK is presently shivering through the last snowy vestiges of a Winter which has long-since outstayed its welcome), so why not celebrate sunnier times ahead by enjoying the new, sophomore release from Swedish/Danish musical magpies, Amaranthe?

Pop diva hooks, growling harsh vocals, keyboards duking it out for riff-mungous supremacy, drums galloping along – Amaranthe’s sound is rather akin to a bizarre and distinctly pleasurable backstage mix-up at “A Song For Europe” with lots of genres colliding together and making for a pleasingly orthodox metalhead baiting mix of tunes.

For an example of the bonkers fare which awaits you if you pick up this record, why not try out the title track on the Tubes of You?

 

 

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