[Movie Review] Premonition

PremonitionStarring: Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Nia Long, Marc Macaulay, Kate Nelligan
Director: Mennan Yapo
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2007

It’s been a long time since I first drooled over Sandra Bullock in “Love Potion No 9” and “Demolition Man”. She’s now managed to settle nicely in middle-age while still looking like the cute 30 year old she was all those years ago.

Since the heady days of “While You Were Sleeping” and “A Time to Kill”, she’s struggled with consistency. For every “Speed” or “Miss Congeniality” there was a, uh, “Speed 2” and “Miss Congeniality 2”. No, I’m not forgetting her career-best “Crash”.

None of this gets me to the point.

“Premonition” – it does what it says on the tin. Linda Hanson (Bullock) is going about her day when a local sheriff (Marc Macaulay) tells her that husband Jim (Julian McMahon) has been killed in a car accident. Devestated by the news, Linda asks her mother (Kate Nelligan) to stay overnight and help her and her two kids.

The next morning Linda wakes up to find that it was all a vivid dream – her husband is alive and well and eating breakfast. But she can’t shake the vividness of it all and she wakes up the following day to find that her days are alternating – and it’s the day of Jim’s funeral. Suspecting a hoax she forces the pallbearers to open the casket – it’s no hoax.

Soon she works out that the premonition is very real and time is running out to save her husband’s life. But with their relationship strained and a suspicion that he is having an affair with a colleague (Amber Valletta), Linda finds herself torn. Is letting someone die the same as killing them?

My hopes weren’t high for “Premonition” given that the backwards-forwards plot winding has been done exceptionally well already in “Memento”. But where edgy mysteries like this have fallen flat before (“Next”) or run out of steam (“The Forgotten”), a well-directed plotline (albeit probably with holes everywhere) and thoughtful narrative carry “Premonition” through.

Bullock and McMahon perform well – in fact most of the cast do (Peter Stormare makes a welcome appearance too). It’s interesting to see Bullock play a character who is essentially time travelling, piecing together clues and slowly realising what these clues might just mean.

Most of the credit should go to writer Bill Kelly and director Mennan Yapo who had no easy task in front of him. But he paces it well, unleashing subtle clues and plot twists that produce a layer of suspense throughout the film. It’s not gripping but it’s an intriguing 100 minutes or so.

3halfstar

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The Aerosmith Album Project: "Toys in the Attic"

Toys in the Attic - Aerosmith
Toys in the Attic - Aerosmith

Album title: Toys in the Attic
Year: 1975
Track Listing: 1. Toys in the Attic; 2. Uncle Salty; 3. Adam’s Apple; 4. Walk This Way; 5. Big Ten Inch Record; 6. Sweet Emotion; 7. No More No More; 8. Round and Round; 9. You See Me Crying
Running Time: 37m 11s
Units sold/certifications: 8 million (US)
Chart performance: #11 (US)

Track by Track

Toys in the Attic

Although not a big deal in Europe in the mid seventies, “Toys in the Attic” was the album that put Aerosmith firmly on the map in the US. There was no YouTube or file sharing back then and the positive press was hard to come by across the Atlantic. But it didn’t worry American music fans who embraced the band’s best and most consistent collection of songs yet. The title track remains a mainstay on American radio to this day. Suspected to be a reflection of the band’s drug fuelled existence (“voices scream, nothing’s seen, real’s a dream”), the toys in the attic were said to refer to the paranoia and mischief playing out in their junk-filled minds. If they were a band in disarray no one would guess it – quite phenomenal. Notably recorded by REM on their cult covers album, “Dead Letter Office“.

Rating: *****

Uncle Salty

“Uncle Salty” touches (as the band did again 14 years later on “Janie’s Got A Gun”) on the subject of child abuse. A young girl is left unloved by her parents (“her mammy was lusted, daddy he was busted”) and Uncle Salty saw this girl’s decline in mental health (“when she cried at night no one came/”And when she cried at night, went insane”). Eventually when she was old enough (“They left her to be trusted ’til the orphan bleeds”) it was thought that she would fend for herself but “soon she found her mother’s love for all the others/The pushers and the shovers, was the life to lead”. The closing refrain of “it’s a sunny day outside my window” contrasts strongly with the darkness that the girl lives in. And it’s unclear who Uncle Salty is, what role he played in the girl’s life and if perhaps his name is a euphemism for something more sinister. Brilliant mid-tempo rocker.

Rating: ****

Adam’s Apple

How many bands were comfortable turning biblical tales in to sleazy rock? “Adam’s Apple” re-tells the Bible’s account of the beginning of mankind (“Back when Cain was able/Way before the stable”) and the day Adam found himself face to face with Eve (“Conscience was related/Man he was created/Lady luck took him by surprise/A sweet and bitter fruit it surely opened his eyes”). Things turn sexy (“Well she ate it/Lordy, it was love at first bite”), temptation appears (“So the story goes but you see/The snake was he/And she just climbed right up his tree”) and nobody knew any better (“She ate it/Never knowin’ wrong from right”). Outrageously melodic, lyrically sharp-as-knives and brilliantly arranged.

Rating: *****

Walk this Way

It’s hard to put “Walk this Way” in to its mid-70s perspective since it latterly became the song that saved their careers alongside Run DMC in 1986. Back in 1975, fresh from ripping on a biblical yarn, Tyler turned his hand to sexual coming of age. The teenage “backstroke lover, always hidin’ ‘neath the covers” would soon learn about real sexuality (“you ain’t seen nothin’ ’til you’re down on a muffin/Then you’re sure to be a changin’ your ways”). The song (whose lyrics, Tyler claims, were written on the wall of the recording studio just before they went in to lay the track down) goes on to suggest all manner of innuendo (“See-saw swingin’ with the boys in the school/your feet flyin’ up in the air/Singin’ hey diddle diddle/With your kitty in the middle of the swing like you didn’t care”). The 1986 re-recorded cross-over version brought it to a brand new audience, adopted slightly different notes in the chorus (Aerosmith were already performing these notes in concerts) and it sounded hard-hitting and fresh. “The simple ideas are the best,” Joe Perry said of the riff he had penned.

Rating: ****1/2

Big Ten Inch Record

It’s hard to believe that Bull Moose Jackson’s original (from 1952) actually existed. But it’s true. And Aerosmith, being fond of the blues and sexual innuendo, couldn’t not cover it – double negative but it was necessary. The singer has this girl he wants to impress (“Believe me, this chick’s no sinch”) and he knows how to impress her (“I really get her going/When I whip out my big ten-inch”). Only for the fact you already know the title of the song you may have a second where time stands still.  But the chorus kicks in with “…Record, of a band that plays the blues”. Each verse leaves you with the ten-inch cliffhanger and the song – at the risk of sounding like I come from the 50s myself – is an absolute hoot.

Rating: ****

Sweet Emotion

“Sweet Emotion” ticks so many boxes: great intro, outro and arrangement, fantastic musicianship from bass line to solo and snappy lyrics. A radio favourite, featured in many TV shows and movies and a seminal rock tune that became the band’s mainstream breakthrough. its enduring legacy is the perceived influence the track had on many peers and the fact that it was remixed and re-released as a single in the 90s. Rolling Stone listed it at #408 in its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (behind “Dream On” and “Walk This Way”).  The lyrics were inspired by tensions between the band members and the various wives who were becoming more and more influential in matters: “You talk about things that nobody cares/Wearin’ out things that nobody wares/You’re callin’ my name but I gotta make clear/I can’t say baby where I’ll be in a year”.

Rating: *****

No More No More

A lot of fans cite “No More No More” as one of Steven Tyler’s more outstanding lyrics of the time. Although he could not be accused of having a cerebral moment, certainly compared to the raunch that came before, “No More No More” was a wilfully sober look at what his life was becoming (already touched on with “Toys in the Attic”). “Blood stains the ivories on my daddy’s baby grand/Ain’t seen the daylight since we started this band”, laments Tyler, who goes on to describe the “Store bought clothes fallin’ ‘part at the seams”, the “Tealeaf readin’ gypsies fortune tellin'” his dreams and the stark admission that “If I don’t stop a changin’ I’ll be writin’ my will”.

Rating: *****

Round and Round

In the context of “Toys in the Attic”, “Round and Round” is a curiosity, but a quality one at that. Brad Whitford notches his first song writing credit as he drags Aerosmith in to psychedelic-touched heavy metal. With the band struggling to come to terms with their rise in to superstardom Tyler specifically laments the surreal changes (“Now everythin’ changes/Ain’t nothin’ the same”) that are occurring: “If you believe in me/Like I believe in you/You wouldn’t be tellin’ me things/That weren’t exactly true”. There’s some head-down, duelling and pumping guitar work from Whitford and Perry as they add their own angst to the confusion. The closing minutes swirl chaotically with the repeated lyric of “I’m going round and round”. Rightly looked back on as a classic song.

Rating: ****1/2

You See Me Crying

After the intensity of “Round and Round” it seems fitting that the album closes with the beautiful piano-ballad “You See Me Crying”. Matching Steven Tyler’s pained lyric (“Honey, what ya done to your head?/Honey was it the words I said?”) over the ivories, orchestration, typical quality guitar work from Perry and Whitford and, arguably, the best guitar solo on the record, produces what might actually be the best song.  The mood of the track – about a guy dealing with a broken relationship – is summed up perfectly with the single line “You see me cryin’, I’m back to the lost and found”. It was noted for the length of time it took to record and produce with many complex guitar and drum parts and at one point the then-President of Columbia Records came in during the recording process and said “You guys got an incredible thing going here. I just came from a Herbie Hancock session and this is much more fun!”

Rating: *****

Summary

The first of back-to-back five-star Aerosmith albums it is probably not as revered as it should be, certainly not in Europe anyway. Even the weakest moments are still more than worthy and the leap the band made musically from their second to third record was even greater than the previous jump from “Aerosmith” to “Get Your Wings”.

5star

[Movie Review] Disturbia

DisturbiaStarring: Shia LaBeouf, Carrie-Anee Moss, David Morse, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Matt Craven
Director: D.J. Caruso
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2007

Who is Shia LaBeouf? Well, I thought he was a girl to be honest. Turns out he was in “Transformers”, “Constantine” and “I, Robot”. He seems to be a bit of a pin-up for the young girls and perhaps that’s why I’d never heard of him.

In “Disturbia” he plays the main protagonist, Kale, who, a year after losing his father in a tragic accident, gets in to a bit of trouble by punking out his goading Spanish teacher.

Because he’s under 18 a Judge puts him under house arrest, unable to leave the confines of his garden. Bored to tears, Kale spends his time eating junk food and playing video games until his mother, Julie (the MIA Carrie-Anne Moss), snips the TV power cord and cancels his internet game subscriptions. With time to pass Kale grabs his binoculars and takes up spying on his neighbours.

Maybe it’s Kale’s overactive imagination but one night he notices that neighbour Robert Turner (David Morse) drives a car that matches the description of a murder suspect’s car on a local news report. With suspicions aroused, he convinces his best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and next-door neighbour Ashley (Sarah Roemer) that something is going on. Although they are dismissive at first, further events lead them deeper in to the mystery. But things are complicated for Kale who wakes up one morning to find Robert in his kitchen, happily chatting to Julie.

With Officer Gutierrez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) eager to settle a score for his Spanish-teaching cousin, Julie becoming more and more disillusioned with her son’s selfish behaviour and Robert shooting some uneasy glares in Kale’s direction is the troubled teen biting off more than he can chew?

“Disturbia” (directed by DJ Caruso who was also responsible for the five-star “Salton Sea”) can be firmly categorised as a teen thriller, carried by the emerging LaBeouf and Roemer and with a lightweight plot to boot. Think “Rear Window” with a lite-tech “Mission Impossible” edge and you’re almost there. The plot doesn’t really go for the twists and the few question marks there are can be quite easy to see through.

Having said that, it would be disingenuous of me to dismiss it out of hand. Caruso does his best with the material and directs effectively, certainly well enough for most 15-20 year olds to be entertained. They will also pull for the angsty LaBeouf and Roemer to get it on. For the older folk like me we can get a kick out of the always excellent David Morse (sporting a mini-mullet) and the beautiful Carrie-Anne Moss who seems way too young to play the mother of a 17 year old character.

Overall “Disturbia” is watchable fare but it will try the patience of those of us who think they are a bit old to relate to the teen romance storyline. Yeuck!

2star

Football Manager 2009: The 30% price increase

It’s the release day of the most popular and successful football management game franchise of all time, “Football Manager 2009” (née “Championship Manager”).  Having sold millions of units since the early 1990s, the mere announcement of a game is enough to guarantee a #1 hit across Europe and that’s what will probably happen again.

In spite of being plagued by minor (and occasional major) bugs that require a quick-fix patch (or, to use the one-time popular euphamism of the game designers, “Enhancement Pack”), this can be overlooked given the complexity of the game.

The 2009 version of the game was not well-received when released as a demo a few weeks ago.  A significant number of users had problems even launching the game (which now features a much-vaunted 3D view of match day).  A significant number also reported jerkiness and poor performance of the match engine even though it itself was not advanced technology (granted, the number crunching “under the hood” is very detailed).

I played it and was quite unimpressed with the 3D.  I have looked forward to seeing a 3D representation for some time but found it wholly unconvincing and performing poorly on my decent 3.6GHZ workstation with 2GB of RAM and a 256MB Quadro FX 3400 graphics card.  However, I’ve read that performance improvements, once the release-day patch is applied, make the game far more palatable.

But today there has been uproar as the DRM on the disc required that users either validated their game online or phoned a helpline to register their game.  I haven’t looked in any great detail at the numerous threads on their forum (linked above) but some sample subject lines are “I wany an apology!”, “Key Code Problem, Please Help?”, “As SoftAnchor won’t work….”, “Sanity Check : Is anyone playing the game without any issues?” … and many more.  Sega (the game distributors) have acknowledge and apologised for the problems people have had trying to play the game.

But that’s not the reason I’m not buying it.  The reason I’m not buying it is the price.  Below are my e-receipts for the last four versions of the game.  From 2004 to 2007 I have paid no more than £19 for the game (nor would I).

Football Manager 2005 receipt
Football Manager 2005 receipt
Football Manager 2006 receipt
Football Manager 2006 receipt
Football Manager 2007 receipt
Football Manager 2007 receipt
Football Manager 2008 receipt
Football Manager 2008 receipt

Now, in time of recession, for whatever reason, the price has jumped significantly.  The cheapest I can find online is over £25.

Football Manager 2009
Football Manager 2009

This is probably a combination of increased costs and businesses (Sega and the retail outlets) both seeing an opportunity to increase margins.  Well, this price point has lost them one sale (no doubt offset many times over by the hundreds of thousands willing to pay the extra £6) and by the looks of things they are in no position to claim any brownie points over today’s events.

Irony: The Sarah Palin Way

Sarah Palin – the woman who makes George Bush look open-minded and knowledgable – lept to her own defence following comments from the John McCain team which didn’t paint her in the most flattering light.

It was alleged that she thought Africa was a country rather than a continent and that she could not name the countries that made up NAFTA.  Now that is naff.

“That’s cruel. It’s mean-spirited. It’s immature. It’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks if they came away with it, taking things out of context and then tried to spread something on national news. It’s not fair, and it’s not right.”

Let’s take a look back at some of Palin’s antics from the campaign:

– Claimed that Obama “palled around with terrorists” on the basis that he sat on a panel with William Ayres, a man who was a domestic terrorist in Obama’s childhood (ignoring the Republicans who worked with him)

– Failed (along with McCain) to denounce rally MCs who emphasised Obama’s middle name “Hussein” with the inference being that because of this he was a Muslim and, subsequently, a terrorist

– A tacit contributor to the paranoid and racist cries heard at Republican gatherings: “Treason!”, “Terrorist!”, “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!”  (Didn’t the enlightenment happen to these people?)

Commenting on her relationship with John McCain being distant she said: “This is so unfortunate and, quite honestly, sickening.  The accusations we are hearing and reading are not true.”

How ironic.

Cruel?  Mean-spirited?  Or just a small-town, small-minded woman with overt racist beliefs?