December 2, 2016

Perfume: Game (2008)

Game is the debut album of Japanese vocal group Perfume, released back in 2008 to fairly mixed to positive reviews. The album was produced by electronic musician and composer Yasutaka Nakata, whose own band Capsule have been performing since 1997. It was Nakata who developed Perfume's 'technopop' sound: electronic music, strong beats and digitally transformed vocals.

It is clear on the first listen of Game that French electronic duo Daft Punk was an influence. The two bands share a similar pace, tone and melodic style. Like Daft Punk, Perfume have a relatively homogeneous sound. It is possible, if you enjoy the general sound of the band, to play it in the background and simply let the album flow from one upbeat pop number to the next. Assessing the relative quality of each individual song comes down to which ones have the best combination of beats and specific sounds. If this kind of ultra-cute Japanese electronic pop does not appeal in the first place, none of the songs on Game will likely change your mind.

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1974)

It is 23 December 1974, and time for another Ghost Story for Christmas.

The Reverend Justin Somerton (Michael Bryant) is a medieval scholar investigating the apparent hidden treasure of the Abbot Thomas - a priest in the Middle Ages accused of demon worship.While aided by his young protege Lord Peter Dattering (Paul Lavers), Somerton's research appears to awaken unearthly and unwelcome powers from beneath the church.

I recently mentioned in a review of The Stone Tape just how impressive and underrated an actor Michael Bryant appears to be. Here he is again, delivering a sterling lead performance in this excellent short horror feature. At 37 minutes in length, it does not have much time to tell its story, and so it boldly dives in without an unnecessary moment in it. The short feature is a near-impossible length of movie to sell commercially, and so it's commendable that the BBC dedicated so much time in the 1970s to such productions.

December 1, 2016

Pink and Gray (2016)

In the opening moments of Pink and Gray, a new film by director Ikao Yukisada, we watch a young woman lead a contemporary dance troupe. At the same time an impeccably well dressed young man in an expensive apartment climbs onto a stool, wraps a rope around his neck and hangs himself. A friend arrives and discovers the body, as well as six separate suicide notes sealed in envelopes and an invitation for the friend to choose one - and only one - to act as the victim's final words. That is one hell of an opening hook.

Before we can process what has actually happened, we are thrown back 14 years to the childhood of the two friends. We follow them into adolescence and adulthood, where they are spotted by a talent scout one day and invited to become part-time models and extras. One friend, Gotch (Yuto Nakajima), immediately finds success and becomes a major film and television star. The other, Daiki (Masaki Suda), struggles and largely fails. The contrast in their lives begins to tear their lengthy friendship apart. Between them is a third friend, the aspiring artist Sari (Kaho), who enters into a troubled relationship with Daiki during his career collapse.

That is honestly as far as this film can be discussed without ruining some of its best surprises. The bottom line is that Pink and Gray is a surprisingly inventive and unexpected sort of film that stands head-and-shoulders above other Japanese idol dramas.

The Angriest: November 2016 in review

I was underwhelmed by Class, the BBC's new Doctor Who spin-off series, so much so in fact that I still haven't watched past the first episode. That still didn't stop my review of that one episode from being the most-viewed post on The Angriest in November. Now that the series is almost over, I'd actually be interested in hearing other people's thoughts on whether or not they liked the show and if it improves after the first middling episode.

Other popular posts this past month included reviews of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes "Realm of Fear" and "The Inner Light", as well as two instalments of The Pull List reviews column - one headlined by Ms Marvel, the other by The Sheriff of Babylon. All up, in November The Angriest reviewed five 2016 films, five older films, 10 TV episodes, one anime episode, four music albums and 54 comic books. Thanks for reading.

A full breakdown of November's posts is included below the cut.

Star Trek: "The Next Generation: "Man of the People"

It is 5 October 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) begins acting strangely after she meets an alien diplomat sent to negotiate a badly-needed peace treaty. She becomes highly sexualised, jealous and ages rapidly. I would go on with the synopsis, but to be honest it is a superficial, simple and blindingly obvious story that is not very entertaining to watch.

In the production team's defence, they were making TV drama at a time when they were required to produce 26 episodes every year. That's a tall order, and not all of those resulting episodes are going to be winners. It's inevitable that a few low-quality ones will get across the line, and very occasionally an absolute stinker will make it too. It is usually an issue of time: there's simply so much pressure to get the episode made that now and then one goes through without a script that works.

November 30, 2016

Black Hawk Down (2001)

In October 1993 a United States military mission to enter a heavily defended part of the Somali city of Mogadishu and capture two senior lieutenants of the militia warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid went disastrously wrong. Two black hawk helicopters were downed by enemy fire, and the soldiers in the combat zone became pinned down by militia fire. By the next day, when the majority of the soldiers were successfully extracted, 18 American soldiers were dead, 78 were wounded and somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 Somalis had been killed.

Black Hawk Down is a 2001 film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Ridley Scott that replays those events out in a semi-fictionalised format. It is a tightly focused war movie, ignoring the political and moral debates of US and UN involvement in the Somali civil war and focusing instead on the capture attempt, its failure and the ultimate rescue mission. As far as war movies go, this is one of the noisiest and most chaotic-looking examples of which I can think. War, as they say, is hell, and it seems Scott was pretty intent on showing an audience what that is like.

Sting: "57th & 9th"

It has been 13 years since Sacred Love, the last fully original pop-rock album from Sting. In the mean-time he's openly struggled with writer's block, produced an album of medieval lute music and a winter-themed collection of old English folk songs. He wrote, staged and briefly co-starred in a Broadway musical, The Last Ship, and even recorded the musical's various songs on his own solo release of the same name.

Despite all of this other activity, it really has been a long time between drinks. That puts a huge amount of pressure on Sting's long-awaited new album 57th & 9th. Fans of Sting previously had to wait about three years between releases, so this kind of delay feels enormous.

I think the amount of change that can take place in 13 years is important, because while Sting has set out to return to his pop-rock roots it feels as if he has not acknowledged just how far his own career has moved on. This album feels largely mechanical: there is visible talent here, but it lacks enthusiasm. There is a strong sense that he reached a point where the album simply felt 'good enough' and stopped at that. Familiarity may improve its standing over time, but based on the first few listens this feels like the weakest album Sting has ever released.

November 29, 2016

The Stone Tape (1972)

It is 25 December 1972, and time to watch The Stone Tape.

A research project to discover a new recording medium relocates to a large English manor house. When the project leader Peter (Michael Bryant) looks into why a cellar room has not been converted for data storage as requested, he learns that the room is reportedly haunted with multiple people having heard cries and screams while inside. The research project is suspended so that the haunting may be scientifically investigated - an investigation with troubling consequences for the team's programmer Jill (Jane Asher).

I recently reviewed Lost Hearts, a BBC television play broadcast over Christmas, and noted the BBC's odd attitude to Christmas in scheduling ghost stories on Christmas night. It is a choice perhaps stemming from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a ghost story which pretty much nailed the zeitgeist of the Victorian era's obsession with Christmas. That still does not quite explain why the BBC elected to broadcast The Stone Tape on Christmas night 1972. It has nothing to do with Christmas. It does not tap into an sense of winter of Victoriana. It is also possibly the most dark and effective horror story that the BBC has ever broadcast. I still can't work out if this scheduling decision was folly or genius.