Saturday, December 31, 2011

What kept my barge bouyant in 2011...

So 2011 has seen a bunch of stuff happen and a certain percentage of it has been rather good. Here's what I deemed raddest subject to my own particular evaluation matrixes, neatly ordered in the popular "list" format, haute tension style.


There was a bit of a gulf between the best and worst of the newest Apes instalment. The first half got bogged down way too much in the human's stories and their so called feelings which I was supposed to care about more than apes smashing their way out of ape jail and going all Kong on humankind's arse. Once it focused more on Caesar and his simian colleagues I was on board in a big way. The ape effects were awesome and the final showdown on the bridge evoked the radness of Conquest of the Planet of The Apes.

I happened to rewatch the first two Robo Cop films around the time of seeing this which served as a great comparison piece to evaluate how well Hobo nailed the whole 80s exploitation B movie genre. I'm here to congratulate it on achieving full marks. The look, the score and the editing were all bang on. There was no self conscious winking at the camera/audience, just unrepentant violence and bone headed vigilantism just like it was written in the video nasty scrolls. Crazy and entertaining.

Being a parent of 2 young kids and an animation fan means I'm some kind of authority by default on contemporary animated films. I see pretty much every one multiple times, can assess them on  a technical level, how much they bother engaging me and other adults and what notes they strike with kids. The thing that stands out at the moment is we're living in a golden age for these sorts of films. It wasn't that long ago there were heaps of shoddy low budget, minimum effort projects lurching along the assembly line [Hows it going Barnyard?]. These days it's genuinely difficult to discern the best with the sheer volume of high quality stuff being produced and KF2 is another fine example. Gorgeous animation and design, engaging story, attention to detail and rollicking action. A worthy follow up to the original and something I will happily re-watch.

Whilst it's awesome to be living in the aforementioned golden age of animated kids films, it's even better that offbeat stuff like this is getting made and finding an audience. The character and set design in this film was so in my wheel house the wheels needed to be moved outside to make room. I loved the bizarre and often dark plot and the brief appearances of the beautifully realised cartoon Hunter S Thompson and Clint Eastwood.

Whilst not as esoteric and mesmerising as his first film Moon, Duncan Jones's follow up was still a very solid chunk of mainstream sci fi goodness. The 12 Monkeys parallels were a little hard to ignore, but ignore them I did and found it all pretty damn entertaining, right down to Jeffrey Wright's quirky rendering of the pronunciation of the title phrase.

This instantly falls into the category many of my fave films sit in - Pulpy, familiar sounding stories elevated by a director  imprinting them with their own distinctive kick arse style. Drive was filled with cool little touches that I was still thinking of days after seeing it. It's the polar opposite of the feeling that something was created by a committee trying to copy a previously successful film/genre. Albert Brooks is great as the Jewish mob boss and provides an extra layer of fabness by making possible the shutting of ones eyes and imagining the film's villain is Hank Scorpio.

4. SUPER 8
This wowed me way more than I expected as I'd constantly been non plussed by JJ Abrams gear previously despite trying and expecting to like it. Super 8 on the other hand hit all the right notes on my cinema bugle. Sure I'm probably in the perfect demographic to get sucked in by the 80s Spielbergian nostalgia [and I was] but the central story was engaging and fast moving and the characters [especially the kids] funny and likeable. Almost the polar opposite of how Cloverfield's twenty something protagonists were meh and boring. I also love a good film within a film and The Case was a total hoot.

A tight, fast paced action flick with some greatly appreciated effort put into creating interesting, multi dimensional and believable protagonists [the lack of which is the most common and annoying fault with action films imo]. I also really liked the creature designs which is important in this kind of film and Nick Frost's involvement didn't hurt either.

I have been quietly championing Kristen Wiig for a while now, and though still not a household name in Australia I'm happy this film has ensured she probably will be in the next few years. The cesspit of laziness that is the romantic comedy genre should hang it's head in shame [if a cesspit has a head, or shame] upon seeing how a film like this can mine so much comedy from situations and characters that usually make sane movie goers kick their eyes in the balls. The jewellery shop scene between Kristen and the school girl was killer and yet another example of how genuinely funny the word "cunt" can be if used properly in a comedic setting [see also Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz - Edgar Wright is rude].

What a whacked out, artfully blurred, dirty lensed ball of crazy this was! These kind of mumble-core, plot-lite indie films can often find cause me to quickly lose interest and/or get angry but this had me riveted till the final shot. It was basically a twisted twenty something relationship / coming of age drama that somehow sandwiched in some serious Mad Max festishism which as a serious Mad Max fetishist, had my undivided attention. Seeing it was the most unique, giddy and cuckoo movie experience I've had in a while. 

Films I haven't had a chance to see yet that I suspect may have challenged the top 10:
Hugo, The Adventures of Tin Tin, Martha Macey May Marlene, Shame.

Films I saw that were the opposite of my favourites: Your Highness, Cars 2, The Adjustment Bureau.

The criteria for the list below is simply albums that I discovered and got into during 2011. Some came out this year, some are over ten years old. That's how this category rolls.

In a fairer world JJ Speedball would this year have swooped onto the ARIAs stage via a Bon Jovi Bungee rope to accept his lifetime Rock and Roll achievement award. Sadly, the world is unfair and, yet perhaps it is this very unfairness that is necessary to help generate the cherry fuelled gold that JJ does. Maybe a critically loved, multi award winning Speedball would now be releasing jazz and spoken word records instead of continuing to keep it real, overheating select Brisbane hotels and generally saving rock and roll.

Primo Track: Very Cherry Street [nepotism alert - I made this video]

Hey another of my fave albums of the year actually released in 2011 - I totally have my finger on the pulse! Ha ha - but seriously whilst Boris did release an album called Heavy Rocks in 2011, they also released an album of that name in 2002 which is the one I'm talking about [Though both are great]. Yes sir we're in experimental art rock lets have two albums of the same name territory! A little outside my comfort zone but a zone I enjoyed a lot regardless. Boris toy with genres as casually and easily as I do similes and have dabbled in everything from noise, doom and J pop, though this album is pretty much balls to the wall stoner rock. The production is an unrelenting series of punches in the face and has me primed for their tour Australian tour in 2012. Bring it on!

Primo Track: Rattlesnake

Sticking with the theme of Japan based rock supremacy, I only stumbled upon Electric Eel Shock this year and the fact it took me this long to discover them led to a forehead slap that could be heard in Tokyo.. which is where the band are from!! [No idea why the NME don't return my calls]. The band joyfully straddle the line between old school metal, punk and garage with the lack of self consciousness that only Japanese bands can effortlessly pull off. Did I mention the drummer plays with 4 sticks in the nude? Well he totally does.

Primo track: Bastard [Live version below possesses extra fabness]

I got into these guys via Last FM's recommendation matrix. They are a tight three piece with a frisky, stabby style [Hello? NME?] similar to the The Hives. If that wasn't enough to win my favour they have a song called I am a Demon and I Love Rock and Roll. So there's that too.

Primo track: I Am a Demon and I Love Rock and Roll

Being a riot grrrl isn't the coolest thing anymore. Especially when you are also a forty year old dude driving kids to school in a white station wagon. Yet I still proudly sport my docs and flannos and flog L7 albums all the time so just try and tell me I'm not. Thus it was with great delight that I discovered this Wollongong 3 piece who delivered some awesomely hostile 3 piece fuzzed up chick rock directly to my wheel house. Lots of catchy, angry stuff and the incredible achievement of creating a lyric that makes the F6 to Wollongong sound cool [I've driven down it and it is not].

Primo track: Wollongong

Getting hit with TJJR's manic overdriven craziness makes me imagine and envy how 50s kids felt like when Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were blowing their minds back at rock and roll ground zero. Whilst not quite as out of the blue, The Revue's current day emergence still has an element of that danger and other worldliness and therefore provide the only substitute that will come close. I'm seeing them in a weeks time at The Annandale and expecting awesomeness.

Primo track: High Horse

Not really an actual album but a collection of songs briefly posted for free on the band's Facebook page, this nonetheless rocked my socks right off. The band's official bio states Diamondsnake combine "such disparate influences as rock, hard rock, metal, and heavy metal" which pretty much says all you need to know. The singer performed on the truly godlike Tragedy: All Heavy Metal Tribute to The Bee Gees album and the guitarist is Moby! No kidding!!

Primo track: Woman [Yeah]

This bad boy dropped in September and came to my attention after being championed by the awesome blog/podcast Long gone Loser. The Monsters are a Swiss garage rock band who have been kicking around for over 25 years. Based on this release they have somehow studiously avoided the notions of slowing down and/or becoming lame and Pop Up Yours has the fire and intensity of a much younger band. I'm enthusiastically traversing their back catalogue at the moment.

Primo track: Blow Um Mau Mau

I stumbled across this album via an iTunes genius recommendation, a function that has fluctuated from being really helpful to not really working at all this year [I was recommended a Best of Black n Blue compilation unchanged for about 2 months straight]. It's a sweet hard rocking power pop platter with some choice keyboard work that would totally fog the spectacles of my old Nancy Vandal colleague Tess. If you were ever after a snottier, more amphetamine loaded version of the Cars, this is your disc.

Primo track: Get Back At You
Get Back At You

My fave album of the year is also the oldest. I was right in the middle of a garage rock band love affair in 1999 but somehow never heard of these guys. Their discography spans a hugely diverse range of styles dipping into 60s, 70s and 80s influences, all done with an ease that might annoy a more jealousy inclined musician. Sometimes I Cry is in the garagey end of the pool and is an urgent, high energy tour de force of non stop rocking. Not only my favourite album of this year but pushing into my all time list.

Primo track: Fly The Orient


Despite the significant scorn this series seems to generate, I'm still tentatively on board with it. Sure the characters make some dumb decisions [lowering Glenn down the well being the nadir of the group's so called survival strategies], and the zombies manage to often appear suddenly given their mindless shuffling nature but the production values are great, adventures compelling enough and actual zombie effects awesome.

The fantasy tv series for people that like their fantasy based in reality. What kind of craziness is that? Whatever it is, I dig it. Epic scale, swords and sandal adventure that focuses on characters whilst still meeting the high HBO standards of quality sex and violence. Great first season.

In a Mad Men-less environment this show met my period piece needs. Deadwood-esque in many ways, the show boasts fantastic complex characters, wavering moral compasses and awesome set / costume design. Whats more the vast web of lies, burnt bridges and bitter rivalries suggest the best is yet to come.

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