When a Discovery is not a Discovery

I think I hate Daft Punk.

Or at least heavily resent them. “Discovery”, their second album by came out in March 2001 and I instantly dismissed it as sounding too over produced, smug and facetious, but above all, too concerned with what Wikipedia describes as “…disco, post-disco, garage house and synthpop-inspired house…”. Namely all the facets of dance I hold to be most cheesy, contemptible and, above all, moribund. I mean; disco? Seriously?

It was only at the end of the decade after I’d spent years wondering why dance music as a genre had lost its edge; why all my favourite acts seemed to have had died out one by one; each putting out their respective best ofs in succession…

Orbital
Work 1989–2002
Released: June 2002

Chemical Brothers
Singles 93–03
Released: 22 September 2003

Underworld
1992–2002
Released: November 3, 2003

Groove Armada
The Best of Groove Armada
Released: 2004

Basement Jaxx
Basement Jaxx: The Singles
Released: 21 March 2005

The Prodigy
Their Law: The Singles 1990–2005
Released: 17 October 2005

Leftfield
A Final Hit: Greatest Hits
Released: 2005

Fatboy Slim
The Greatest Hits – Why Try Harder
Released: 19 June 2006

…That I really questioned why? How had this happened? These acts didn’t stop being great producers of innovative and arresting ideas. It was at the end of the decade when everyone was writing their lists of Best of the Decade that I kept noticing with increased annoyance that the only dance album featured was “Discovery”. Everyone banged on about it: Q magazine wrote that the album… “transcends the dance label”; Mixmag credited Daft Punk for “altering the course of dance music for the second time”; NME found its pop art ideas enthralling and credited Daft Punk for “re-inventing the mid-’80s as the coolest pop era ever.”

Well, I’m sorry, but it didn’t transcend, it regressed; it changed the course of dance music in a bad way and the 80’s were never, ever, the coolest era for anything.

The sound of the vocoder (which gave way to the ubiquitous auto-tune motif in dance and electro music throughout the rest of the noughties and, let us not forgot; fucking Glee) caused everyone to drop what they were doing and build a track around it.

The problem was that no one seemed to be as good with it as Daft Punk and even their follow up was widely more of the same, just not as good. Daft Punk had changed what people wanted from dance music and no one was interested it anything my favourite acts could produce, which is why they all turned to the live circuit or to scoring feature films (Daft Punk included).

And this why I resent them. Especially as they now seem to have dropped much of the electronica and fully embraced authentic sounding disco. If I wanted that I’d listen to disco-era tunes. I need something much more progressive in my studio-produced dance music and I just wish there was the market for it that existed before Daft Punk helped people realise that dance music could be just like it was in the 70s and the 80s and not threatening, or challenging or y’know, interesting…

James Bond Will Return

Bond producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have said: “Due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio, we have suspended development on Bond 23 indefinitely.”

It was the word “indefinitely” that made me wonder if anyone was really all that bothered. With all the talk of delays and the arguable dissatisfaction with Quantum of Solace comes the inevitable talk of rethinking the franchise. I was under the impression that the franchise had been rebooted quite successfully. It would surely take a lot more than one weak instalment to necessitate yet another back to basics reboot. I came to conclusion that I was bothered and that I just wanted the producers to make the next film better.

Quantum of Solace managed the impressive achievement of being the only official Bond film to date to not feature the character of James Bond in anything other than name. I’ve mentioned before that The International (starring Clive Owen, who was heavily rumoured to be taking the role of 007) was almost as good, and whilst it was a particularly unremarkable film it is comparable since both it and Quantum of Solace were heavily derivative of the Bourne films; both were directed by largely humourless German directors; both contained very driven protagonists similarly with no sense of humour, and both were concerned with evil multi-nationals using either the environment or the economy to propel the interests of terrorism. World domination, just not with sharks and frickin’ laser beams.

A little note at this point on Bourne. I can’t really continue without addressing the success of this franchise…The Bourne novels by Robert Ludlum, which I haven’t personally read, are by all accounts thrilling, gripping, can’t-put-them-down-they’re-so-fucking-good spy yarns. 2002’s The Bourne Identity was all of these things. Directed by one of my favourite filmmakers, the immeasurably talented Doug Liman (who had previously made Swingers and Go!) this film had intrigue coming out of its ears, a superb soundtrack; it was pacy, well edited, featured the ever-gorgeous Franka Potente and above all it reminded audiences that this genre could be presented in a way that made it all appear vaguely plausible. In fact it was so good that two years later they remade the film almost shot-for-shot. And again in 2007. As I’m writing this I can’t remember in which order The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum come. I know they’re both quite indistinct and directed by Paul Greengrass who fails to excite me on any level, and I know that the second one featured nearly all the exact same set pieces as the first film (including Bourne fighting a hitman in someone’s kitchen and a car chase through the streets of a major European city) done in a slightly less diverting way (was it supposed to look like a documentary?). After Bourne learns who he is the mystery was lost and by the time the third film came round my interest had evaporated.

The producers for Bond obviously didn’t feel the same way. They felt panicked enough to try and emulate the style of the Bourne films for some of Casino Royale which wasn’t necessarily a problem because they could use this style for the scenes in which it counted; namely the stunt sequences, fight scenes and other explosive bits. The rest of the film could then rely on Fleming’s original story and the sterling work the screen writers had done in getting all this on screen (such good dialogue) and also through Bond and Vespa’s relationship (Vespa herself is by far and away the most fully realised Bond girl ever – to the point where it’s hard to describe her as such). With Casino Royale there were two films in one and you almost don’t notice it because it was so well marshalled by Martin Campbell (who had previously relaunched the franchise with GoldenEye 11 years earlier).

When I heard the events of Quantum of Solace would take place directly after Casino Royale ends I thought this would be an exciting idea, even the suspect title didn’t especially bother me because it was taken from a Bond short story Fleming had written (even if James Bond features absurdly briefly) and it suggested that Bond would be caught up in grieving for Vespa’s death (and by “grieving” I mean “killing a lot of people”).

So what went wrong with Quantum of Solace? It was fairly slick; one of the shorter Bond films clocking in at 106 minutes (compared to the usual 2 hours), it had decent locations (even if a few were recycled from Casino Royale) and familiar characters. My prime concern as mentioned above was with those characters; Bond seemed weirdly absent, as though he could have been played by a stuntman. The villain was equally as anaemic and the Bond girl almost an utter non-entity, so much so it seemed this film was half the film Casino Royale had been. This was a desperate shame because there was room in Quantum of Solace for more character, especially of Bond. Daniel Craig proved that he could fully embody Ian Fleming’s spy in Casino Royale and now that this novel’s storyline has been thoroughly exhausted by both Casino Royale and its sequel let’s just move on…

…As long as the tone and flavour of the next film are that bit more inspired. As Casino Royale proved, there’s room for Bourne style antics inside a more satisfying story. It might not be a bad idea for Craig to leave some of the more dangerous stunts to the actual stunt men this time – although it’s great to know he’s game for leaping across roof tops, it does slightly limit what can be achieved, especially if the script originally called for something even more exciting. We’re all knowing viewers and are aware the actor might not have been dicing with death in quite the way the character seems to be (if a freak accident occurred it would be a shame to lose such a talented actor – an accident that might not happen if a professional were involved). Certainly I remember not being especially excited by the involvement of Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road) but then it’s been argued that Bond films are essentially director proof and it’s great news that Peter Morgan (who did such great work on political screenplays such as The Deal and Frost/Nixon) will be co-scripting.

Many bond films have demonstrated the thrills to be had with Bond using his initiative rather than novelty gadgets, e.g. Goldfinger’s electric heater-in-the-bath scrap, and although Quantum of Solace was good for this approach (with the sublime moment when Bond hurls a guy from his motorbike merely by over revving the accelerator) it shouldn’t be to the exclusion of fun, iconic gadgets such as the Aston Martin DB5 or “Little Nellie”, and some advice for you Campbell – if you are going to feature a gadget-laden car, don’t neglect to actually use it; how much of a let down it was in GoldenEye when the BMW Z3 drove off into the sunset without us having seen the wonder of the “Stinger missiles behind the headlights…” that we were promised or Bond destroying his Aston Martin DBS in Casino Royale having only utilised the defibrillator and the slightly-supped-up glove compartment…

Some of the best Bond films have proved that the villain doesn’t need to look freakish to be 007’s match for eccentricity or charisma; Roger Moore was particularly fortunate to get a lot of the best villains e.g. Scaramanga and Zorin and poor old Pierce Brosnan whose villains were larger than life, were arguably the least successful (many of the Brosnan era villains were undermined by something unfortunate: Xenia Onatopp had a ridiculous, carry-on name; Janus/006 had an unnecessarily haughty accent and staff who frequently wouldn’t obey his instructions; Elliot Carver was possibly the least threatening damp-squib of a megalomaniac ever…).

There are plenty of little touches you could inject to advance the series and yet make a nod or two to what’s worked in the past. The next theme tune might benefit from a return to vocals from Shirley Bassy – the mighty Propellerheads who reworked the theme from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” on David Arnold’s Shaken and Stirred collaborated with her to great effect on the supremely enjoyable “History Repeating” and her voice would create that instantly recognisable Bond vibe. The Brosnan era films did such a great job in making me realise the possibilities for quality title sequences and they could be conceptually developed well beyond projecting different coloured texts onto semi-naked women holding water pistols (well, the projections anyway).

It was immensely satisfying to be shown Bond’s apartment in both Dr No and Live and Let Die, the introductory films of the two actors who’ve played Bond most often on the screen, and to see a little more of the private life of Fleming’s character. These moments are always especially intriguing passages in the books: Bond tends to enjoy the brief time he has off between assignments frequenting “Blades”, his private club in Mayfair and his flat off the Kings Road in Chelsea, with the odd visit to the golf course thrown in. Our spy actually consumes far more whiskey than any other alcohol and is rarely seen without an accompanying cigarette; indeed it would be difficult to be seen any other way when you smoke 60 a day on average. More could be made of our character through behavior that was shaped at Eton, Fettes College in Edinburgh, The University of Geneva, and Cambridge. There are probably endless ways to enliven and broaden the franchise, which is why it was unforgivable that Quantum of Solace turned out the way it did. As the Bourne films have proved, there’s no mileage in their approach. If there is ever this level of debate about Bourne 23 I’ll reconsider, right now I just hope MGM find some cash from somewhere.

The Awful Truth

Tim Burton is a genius.

There’s no getting round that. The man is responsible for many of the most loved and admired films of the last few decades. Infact, he is so revered that people will not hear a word against his films, so enamoured are they with the worlds and atmospheres he has created for them.

So it came it came with some degree of difficulty that I had to finally accept recently, much as I hate to admit it to myself, much as I have denied it throughout the last ten years, that Tim Burton was a genius and sadly is no longer, in short: Tim Burton has lost it. If you haven’t reached that conclusion yourself, you’d best not read on because you may end up wanting to kill me (the adult equivalent of being told Santa Claus doesn’t exist might be too hard to stomach).

As far as his 25 year career goes, it’s still possible to divide his films into two distinct categories: before he started using the word “reimagining”, and afterwards. The last film of his I really enjoyed was 1999’s “Sleepy Hollow”, it’s far from his best film but it’s one of my favourites because, for me, it combines everything Burton does really well. The screenplay is confused and over complicated and bit dull in places but Burton managed to weave his magic so that on a first viewing, you somehow didn’t notice. As a viewer you’re too preoccupied with the amazing forest he conjures up; the performances; Danny Elfman’s score and other visual affects and make-up. His eternal-Halloweened world of eerie, dreary Pennsylvania-Dutch witchcraft is for me, truly spellbinding.

Then we witnessed the spectacular train-wreck that was Planet of the Apes (not even quality performers like Tim Roth could save this deeply ill-judged experiment). Big Fish now appears an attempt to rediscover that essential Burton originality after two Burton-isings of other popular stories (not everyone felt Sleepy Hollow was a success and obviously Planet of the Apes was roundly rejected). Infact this abortion turned out to be arguably the worst film Tim Burton has ever made. It’s twee, self important, meandering, inconsistent, bloated and diabolically saccharine at almost every turn – exactly the kind of film a young Burton, seething about everything he felt was wrong with Disney, would have never dreamed of making. Thinking back now, all I can remember is Ewan fucking McGregor (fresh from being deeply awful in Moulin Rouge!, deeply boring in Star Wars Episode 2 and deeply plastic in Down with Love) standing in a field of daisies, or sunflowers or something, proclaiming his undying love for the heroine. Eeurrggh.

Having established that Burton probably shouldn’t try an original story again for… ever, Charlie and the Chocolate factory sounded a perfect project for Burton to bounce to: “Great! What much loved Children’s story can Tim Burton work his magic on next? Roald Dahl’s classic about Willy Wonka, you say? Er, even though there’s an intimidatingly good version already filmed? Er, great, go for it…” Having found Mark Wahlberg and Ewan McGregor to be too dull to really front a Burton production the obvious move was to get Depp back (the formula has been good in the past, so seeking to recreate it made sense). Dahl’s story’s is already in place so Burton almost neglected to really shape a pleasing script and just concentrated on the weird and wacky world of his central character. It was a shame then that Depp’s Wonka had about 3% of the charm and charisma of Gene Wilder, spoke with a voice that sounded like a cross between Michael Jackson and Doctor Evil and whose appearance resembled Zoe Wanamaker.

The panic appeared to continue with another attempt to recreate the magic of a former success. Live action wasn’t doing it anymore so Burton turned to his first love – animation. Audiences who flocked to The Corpse Bride were expecting another Nightmare Before Christmas except not many people appeared to realise that the main person responsible for the genius of this earlier feature was one Henry Selick, its erm, director. Without Selick, the feature didn’t have the charming story or pleasing little touches that made Jack Skellington such an iconic character and the erm, the main people in Corpse Bride, (oh now… what are their names…?) so utterly forgettable.

Sweeney Todd…, despite being a musical, is in many ways the best thing Tim Burton’s made for a long time. I can’t really fault it, I just don’t like musicals. I found the songs distracting and a bit annoying but they were in keeping with the piece as a whole and much as I’d have preferred them to be stripped out of the film, it wouldn’t have worked without them. It was also nice to see Helena Bonham Carter in a decent role that exhibited her considerable talents well.

So to now. Like everyone else I was utterly, pant-wettingly excited about Alice In Wonderland – the images of the production design and costumes looked so outlandish and inspired that it could be no one other than Burton and – it could be the much longed-for return to form, to rival even something like Beetle Juice. The only note of warning was that Burton would now be working for Disney. His journey to the dark side would be complete. The only question would be whether our Tim could retain his filmmaking identity, complete with all that idiosyncratic genius, or would it be utterly drowned in feel-good schmaltz and put the service of Disney? The results; were disappointing…

Many of the elements were there and the film looks incredible. It’s well cast and I didn’t even mind that a few of my favourite characters like the Mock Turtle and the White Knight and The Walrus and The Carpenter weren’t included. It’s just that it isn’t very interesting. I was more enticed by the promotional stills of the characters than I was with what they say or do in the film and maybe this is because Burton’s job, even before the film was released, was already done. His name’s attached to the project and his ideas have been duly wrong out of him and conjured before your eyes and very little more is required of him for the film to make lots of money. Alice is potentially a more interesting character here than she is in the book but her journey, full of wonder and intrigue when explained by Carroll, is shallow and very un-involving here: the Burton magic is very much weaker now. And if it was strong on a difficult project like Sleepy Hollow, which was mired in development hell for years and only Burton could get it made, but weak here on a epic, heavily backed, Disney, 3-D, CGI spectacular, you’ve got to wonder where the director’s passion has gone (or how he allowed himself to be bullied by the studio). Burton-by-numbers has come to pass for Burton. It’s almost as if he’s parodying himself except it’s not because that would require some effort. If everything during the noughties were failed projects, or attempts to recapture his filmmaking mojo then that’s commendable. The man tried. Tried everything in his repertoire and truly cast about for something worthy of his earlier work. Alice… for me, feels like the first Burton (possibly of many, hopefully not) to be an admission of defeat, it’s almost been phoned-in.

As a devotee of TB, you remember the past greatnesses and convince yourself that this production is going to provide a similar experience and this time it’ll be better. Perhaps better to go back to Wonderland as it was then than to experience the updated “Underland”.

Kung Hey Fat Choi!

The year of the pig has arrived. Also known as the year of the boar, this year is supposed to be an especially good year to have a child as they will be blessed with good luck both in fortunes and in relationships. I do know at least one couple who are expecting their first so this bodes well for them. It’s also meant to be a good year to get married too and I know at least one couple who have recently announced that they’re tying the knot which also makes me happy.

pig.jpg

What makes me really chuffed though is that I can say a firm good bye to the bitch that was 2006’s year of the dog. Although the year wasn’t entirely without merit (I did get to initiate and develope a number of personal projects aswell as pack in some travelling) much of the year for me was a frustrating, sluggish, dispiriting, depressing and basically a horrid affair across all areas of my life. I’m glad to be able to draw a line under it and move on. Apparently this year is supposed to be good if you’re a sheep/ram like myself so I’m looking forward to a reversal of fortunes (or if not a reversal then an upswing). I hope it’s a good one for you too!

Only One Man Would Dare Give Me Raspberry…

So my blog’s rapidly approaching its first birthday (first post March 1st ’06) and since Rob’s just finished doing a lot of work moving it from one server to another and tweaking various settings I thought it would be a good opportunity to thank the man for all his hard work, to remind him how grateful I am to even have a blog, and for all his patient advice. So here’s a big thank from me for all the Jam!