[Movie Review] Closer

CloserStarring: Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen
Director: Mike Nichols
Genre: Drama
Cert: 18
Released: 2004

Obituary writer Dan (Law) and Alice (Portman) observe each other from a distance on the street and get so caught up in exchanging smiles that Alice wanders aimlessly in front of a car. Dan brings her to hospital and romance is born. We jump forward in time where Dan is sitting in a studio being photographed by Anna (Roberts). We learn that Dan has written a book based on the life of Alice, who he now lives with, but he’s taken with Anna and kisses her, even when Alice is only a few dozen feet away in another room.

Four very unpleasant charactersDan plays a part in Anna meeting Larry (Owen) when he interacts with him in an internet chatroom, pretending to be a sexually provocative girl called Anna. He sends Larry to a local aquarium to meet ‘her’ the next day. When Larry gets there he happens to bump in to Robert’s character and the two of them hit it off. What are the chances?

With the characters introduced, the rest of the movie trails their complicated and inadvertently intertwined lives. Dan loves Anna; Anna might feel the same way but she’s loathe to admit it. Dan does seem to love Alice and Larry does seem to love Anna, but when Larry meets Alice at one of Anna’s exhibitions he doesn’t hold back in showing his immediate attraction to her.

Marber’s play has been universally praised so I’m in no doubt that it’s a great picece of work and all that. But looking at it purely in it’s movie guise, “Closer” doesn’t work. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it’s a completely unenjoyable piece of junk.

Hands off, Jude. That ain't the babysitter.The movie is about four very troubled people who find each other, fool themselves in to believing that this is happiness when in fact they just end up wanting what they don’t have. They think the truth will set them free (‘without the truth, we’re just animals’ – Dan) but in fact it seems to lead to their downfall at different times. Each one seems adept at reading the others. They can spot a lie and choose to embarce that lie rather than ignore it. They’re probably very good at spotting a lie because their lives are built on them. In certain ways the characters are all weak, perhaps a microcosm of humanity.
Marber’s diaglogue is very realistic but this realism comes at a price – namely, vulgarity. I’m no prude but the constant use of sexually explicit phrases in the conversation was just downright unpleasant. Recognising the intense performances, occasional wit, quality dialogue and interesting direction (events skipped, leaving it to the viewer to work out what happened from the dialogue), is one thing, but actually feeling entertained at the end of the two hours is another thing altogether.

It might seem somewhat dense to award a star and a half to a movie that is based on one of the most acclaimed stage plays of recent years. It must be some play – but a good movie it does not make.

1halfstar

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[Movie Review] The Amityville Horror (1979)

The Amityville HorrorStarring: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Genre: Horror
Cert: 15
Released: 1979

The Lutz family have found their dream home – 112 Ocean Drive, Amityville. It’s huge and although about a third cheaper than it’s true value, is still going to be hard to afford. But George (Brolin) is determined to give his wife Kathy (Kidder) and her children the home that they all want. They know about the murder there a year earlier – a teenage boy killed his whole family, claiming that voices in the house told him to do it – but as George says ‘houses don’t have memories’.

But from the moment Father Delaney (Steiger) is ordered out of the house by a gruesome, angry voice, things start to James Brolin is crossgo wrong for the Lutzs. George wakes up at 3.15am most nights, he’s always cold no matter how much wood he chops and burns, both himself and Kathy are having nightmares, the kids are acting up and there are numerous accidents and strange events. How is it possible that a swarm of flies can congregate in a second floor room in the dead of winter?

While the 2005 remake relies on style and visuals to spook you out, the 1979 version aims to leave a lot of the horror unseen and, subsequently, created in your own mind. A hovering camera behind a table that slowly moves towards a prone character works very well – simple but effective.

The main music track is great – a freakily enchanting chorus of young girls that sounds like a group of brainwashed, wide-eyed children paying homage to their cult leader. It’s the simple things like this that make a movie subtly disconcerting. There are elements of “The Amityville Horror” which scream ‘dated’ and might put new viewers off but a test viewing of both films by my girflriend recently, saw her plump for the original ahead of the recent remake.

Performances elevate the movie above average. Outside of a few freaky lines and looks from Amy (Ryan), the children have nothing to do. But Rod Steiger is convincing as the persecuted priest and the Lutzs’ are played admirably by Brolin and Kidder.

3halfstar

[Movie Review] White Noise

White NoiseStarring: Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice, Sarah Strange, Chandra West
Director: Geoffrey Sax
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2004

Michael Keaton reappears from whatever cryogenic career-freeze he indulged in over the last few years to take the lead in yet another of those appealing spooky movies that everyone loves to watch. Think “Ghost”, “Stir of Echoes” and a touch of “The Ring” and you’ve got “White Noise” down pretty good.

After his writer wife Anna (West – “The Salton Sea”) dies in an accident one night, architect John Rivers (Keaton – “Batman”, “Beetlejuice”) spends the following months piecing his life back together again. After her death, a stranger called Raymond Price (McNiece – “From Hell”, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) tells him that Anna has contacted him from “the other side”. Although he dismisses Raymond at first, eerie calls from Anna’s switched-off mobile phone cause John to have a re-think.

He goes to see Raymond who tells him about EVP, an unexplained phenomena in which the dead seemingly contact the living through everyday technology like TVs and radio. He plays simple messages from Anna and intrigues John so much that he starts attempting to record his own EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena). Before long he’s hearing disturbing voices and receiving messages that he interprets as his opportunity to help people who are in trouble. He befriends one of Raymond’s other clients, Sarah (Unger – “The Salton Sea”, “The Game”), and while they investigate the phenomena they begin to realise that there is something more sinister at work.

Even Batman is finding it spooky.Michael Keaton is a somewhat niche actor who appeals to just about everyone – housewives (“Pacific Heights”), students (“Batman”), film buffs (“The Paper”) and families (“Beetlejuice”, “Jack Frost”). Likeable though he is, he doesn’t always add a layer to movies that come up short like, say, Rutger Hauer or Christopher Walken can. The whole cast of “White Noise” is clearly struggling to take anything dramatic out of the B-class script and Keaton just seems downright bored.

Director Geoffrey Sax has done little in the way of big screen action before and while he throws in the usual goose-pimple moments (effective panning, use of mirrors and shadows) he probably fails to elevate the script to where it needed to go. I was amused, like “The Ring”, at the use of “static” sounds and visual throughout the movie. As a kid, before the advent of 24 hour television, I always remember always being spooked out by static on TV. Even the radio static at 5am before programs started on some channels used to unsettle me a bit. Indeed maybe Sax is hoping that this focus will have the affect on me as a grown up. it doesn’t.

But more importantly, as the storyline itself unfolds, the eventual direction is something of a disappointment. There is the odd minor-league cliffhanger but the thrills are short-lived and not very memorable.

By no means a write-off of a movie but there are many better supernatural thrillers and therefore this one is somewhat redundant.

2star

[Album Review] "Joe Perry" – Joe Perry

Joe Perry - Joe PerryAlbum Title: Joe Perry
Artist: Joe Perry
Year: 2005
Running Time: 51m 27s

Track listing: 1 Shakin’ My Cage; 2 Hold On Me; 3 Pray For Me; 4 Can’t Compare; 5 Lonely; 6 Crystal Ship; 7 Talk Talkin’; 8 Push Comes to Shove; 9 Twilight; 10 Ten Years; 11 Vigilante Man; 12 Dying To Be Free; 13 Mercy

Joe Perry has been threatening this for twenty years – a fourth solo album. The previous three came in the guise of the Joe Perry Project (reviews of the first two ‘Let the Music Do the Talking’ and ‘I’ve Got the Rock N Rolls Again’) and a recent Australian ‘best of’ generated a small bit of interest in the veteran rockers back catalogue. His early music was characterised by killer riffs (‘Let the Music do the Talking’, ‘Shooting Star’, ‘No Substitute for Arrogance’) and the safety first approach of letting someone else handle most of the singing. This time Perry takes the mic for the whole record (with the exception of the instrumentals, natch) but the killer riffs are still prominent.

Like a statement of intent, the bluesy rock-n-roll guitar of ‘Shakin’ My Cage’ kicks us off, a throbbing slab of retro-metal that could have been plucked from the early 80s if the listener didn’t know better. Like much of the album, it doesn’t pull up any trees (‘Once in a while you get a dream that comes true/Once in a while you get a room with a view’). But forget that, and indeed try to forget Perry’s fairly monotone vocal delivery because it’s the music that does the talking here (chuckle). We slide straight in to the similarly tempoed ‘Hold On Me’ whose rather excellent opening riff isn’t matched by the disappointing chorus. And seriously, try to ignore the lyrics (‘Hey, come on over and sit down/You gotta know that I’m not down’). There’s some great guitar work and some good solos in the opening pair. The Arabian-tinged ‘Pray for Me’ is a slow, interesting rocker that probably deserves better vocals than Perry can provide (damn, I said I would ignore that).

But the album gets it’s first bit of magic in ‘Can’t Compare’. Without fail the previous three tracks feature a repetitive chorus where the song title is just repeated a number of times and Perry struggles to insert any inflection in his vocals to brighten things up or add a bit of variety. But ‘Can’t Compare’ is a nice slice of rock with a brilliant chorus (‘Love, nobody said it’s fair/Without you it’s despair’) and a riff that’s the equal of anything that’s come before it. What I quite like about the vocals on this one is that Perry lets loose a little more, not worrying about keeping his key like he seems to be in the early tracks. Great solo in the middle too – real top notch stuff.

Unfortunately he reverts to type on ‘Lonely’. Great opening and a real good metal riff gives you great hope before it descends in to another laborious chorus (‘Told me I won’t be lonely no more x ad infinitum). The first of two covers, ‘Crystal Ship’, from the Doors 1967 debut record adds a touch of psychedelia while Woodie Guthrie’s ‘Vigilante Man’ is a brilliant hard-rock cover of a 50s folk classic. Ironically Perry performs both with an intense confidence – his familiarity with the material clearly giving him a ‘bunt up’ as such.

‘Talk Talkin” is another straight-on rocker which is kinda neat and catchy but pales when it comes to the much better ‘Push Comes to Shove’, a song that possibly could have done a job on Aerosmith’s 2001 album “Just Push Play”. Again the chorus is repetitive but the riff is excellent.

Ballad-hater Joe Perry goes all ballady on us with ‘Ten Years’, a song he wrote for his wife Billie on their tenth anniversary. The music is nice, the message is cute but, and not wishing to sound like a broken record, the lyrics are the sort of thing you might put together in Song Writing 101 Class (‘When you smile at me/It’s a brand new day/When you smile at me/It takes my breath away/When you smile at me/My sun comes out/When you smile at me/It makes me wanna shout’). Now I don’t want to belittle what is obviously a heartfelt moment for Joe and Billie, but I’d love to see Joe shouting his head off when Billie fires a little crack of a smile at him. I digress: nice enough song.

‘Dying To Be Free’ totally rocks at the beginning, has a cool chorus and a great bridge but Joe again fails to lift the chorus out of the ‘average’ category. Still it’s good – in parts.

The two instrumentals on here are a mixed bag. ‘Twilight’ is a take it or leave it number that depending on my mood could be a skipper. Album closer ‘Mercy’ sounds very ‘Aerosmithy’ and pretty much asks to be turned up to 11 – killer bass, great licks from Perry.

So even though I’ve been somewhat critical of Perry’s latest solo album, it’s not that bad. There’s just a lot of average moments in amongst the brilliance of the legendary axeman and if you can get past the dodgy vocals (although the covers are sung brilliantly), ropey lyrics and dull choruses (with the exception of ‘Can’t Compare’) this is a rock album the type of which is rarely released these days. Looking forward to Aerosmith studio album #15.

3star

Looking to the sky

It’s common practice for people to over-dramatise their life. A slight inconvenience can become a major problem – then that inconvenience is overwritten by something bigger and the first one is soon forgotten. Sitting on the bus or in a doctor’s waiting room or wherever, you’ll often hear agitated conversation between people about how the window cleaner was an hour late or their new skirt has a hard-to-shift stain and how this is a pain in the hole. I’m as guilty of moaning about the mundane as anyone else – but it all fell in to perspective last week.

A young man that our whole family have known since he was a child, was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash about a mile from our house, and only a couple of hundred feet from his own. Rob was 25.

My brother, Ian, went to school with Rob and subsequently he spent years of afternoons becoming a part of the furniture in our house. Even though I’m over five years older than Ian, as we got older our two ‘gangs’ merged and we were all very close growing up for a number of years. I hadn’t seen Rob for a good while until January 2004 when I bumped in to him in a pub. He now stood at well over six feet, built like a Sherman tank. I must have been talking to the guy about rock music and his tattoos for about an hour.

Every few months after that I bumped in to Rob in the same bar. If you didn’t know Rob he may have seemed intimidating – his foreboding size, rocker appearance and attitude made him stand out and he might have seemed a bit fierce and unapproachable. But the guy was as sweet as a nut, friendly, funny and very likeable.

The news of his untimely death last weekend sticks in the throat. It’s hard to even make sense of writing the sentence out and digesting just what it means in real terms. Tragedy occurrs somewhere everyday, maybe even every hour, or every minute if you pay any attention to what Bob Geldof and Bono tell us. The cricket score of deaths from Iraq every day tends to flush over us as we wrestle with the washing up but each one of those deaths represent loss, grief and a lifetime of agony for many people.

I did so much head-shaking last week at Rob’s funeral, that I’m surprised it didn’t fall off my shoulders. Meeting his family one-by-one and doing the routine hand-shake/hug, I felt like I was doing it for me as much as doing it for them. Nobody likes to feel helpless in life and there are few situations you feel more helpless than after the death of someone. The only little gesture we have is that hand-shake, a few tears, a card. I wouldn’t say it’s useless but it’s not going to pull up trees.

But we all realise that in life. Rob’s family know that everyone is well-meaning and genuinely is devestated by what has happened. So they take what they can from the gestures and move on to the next minute, which will be as hard if not harder than the last one.

For my part, all I could do was write a little something. I’m not a musician or anything but I got a gentle tune in my head and I put a few words to it. And each one of them is for Rob.

Taken away
Didn’t have a say
Don’t ask ‘where to now?’
That decision is made

Split second
I believe in heaven
Now just need a hand
To get myself livin’

All I got is my belief
A velvet cushion for my grief

Look to the sky
Search for the star
I hope that it’s you
So you’re never too far

Seems to be
A constant need
To look to the past
And to the future, dream

Though time persists
The future don’t exist
Until we get there
It’s where you’ll be missed

All I got is my belief
A velvet cushion for my grief

Look to the sky
Search for the star
I hope that it’s you
So you’re never too far