John Martin: ‘Anywhere For You’ - Single review
It’s hard to believe John Martin is only just getting around to releasing his debut single, considering his now-familiar vocal helped make Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ the global phenomenon it became. The Stockholm-born singer had been working to break through nearing 15 years, before Axwell discovered him and turned him into an international name. That said, now the trio have retired the Mafia moniker, how does John fare without the chart magnetism of his DJ pals?
'Anywhere For You' is business as usual for the crooner; lyrics of persevering through adversity sprint into a rousing chorus ready for a sunburnt and sweaty crowd at Pacha. “Heaven knows you're a dreamer/ Don't hide it from anyone,” he declares, passing on a tidbit of wisdom from his own experience of rising through the pop world ranks - and with yet another Balaeric blow-out under his belt, it's a mantra that continues to serve him well. - GW
Kaiser Chiefs: ‘Education, Education, Education & War’ album review
After seven years of “Woooooooaaaaahhh”-ing their way to stadium-level success, the Kaiser Chiefs had the metaphorical floor fall out from underneath them in 2012 when drummer and chief songwriter Nick Hodgson quit the band. Yet, while the situation was far from ideal, truth is it had been a long while since the Kaisers had penned a classic (Hodgson, or nay) and perhaps this shake-up wasn’t actually the earth-shattering catastrophe that the band assumed it to be.
Though Education, Education, Education and War – the first album since their line-up change - has the relentless, all-guns-blazing bullishness of an album that is audibly trying very, very hard to prove itself, it still largely retains the hallmarks that the band has always touted.
There are choruses aimed somewhere between the arena and the football terrace. There are social commentary-style lyrics about the 9 to 5 drudge ('The Factory Gates') and ham-fisted couplets attempting to document the everyday ('Ruffians On Parade''s “I study military maps/ It helps me relax” – possibly not quite up there with “What do you want for tea? I want crisps”, but close…). There's even a chorus that just features singer Ricky Wilson maniacally laughing – a 'Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha' to their 'Na Na Na Na Na', if you will. In many ways, it's more quintessentially Kaisers than even their last effort – 2011's The Future Is Medieval – with Hodgson.
However, while the quintet have always been fans of a sing-a-long crowd-pleaser, what’s missing here (and what you suspect Hodgson brought to the table) is nuance. The quieter foil to Wilson’s cheeky-chappy jokes, it always seemed as though the former drummer was the one adding the softer touches and melodic quirks that originally set the band up as an oh-so-English Blur mk. II. Now, the group’s default setting seems to be to crank it up to eleven, doling out bombastic chorus after bombastic chorus when what the album is crying out for is a little change in pace.
That’s not to say that Education… is a safe record, however. Though lead single 'Coming Home' (almost definitely the album’s plodding nadir and a frankly baffling choice for a comeback song) suggests Radio 2-friendly indie-by-numbers, there are still moments of surprise – not least in 'Cannons'. Opening with Wilson ranting in a put-on, slightly crazed accent, it manages to feature lines from a speech by Tony Blair, a kind of workers’ tribal chant, a bizarre Sparks-sounding vocal interlude and a full, spoken word war poem recited by Bill Nighy. It’s hard to fathom if it even works, but you’ve got to applaud their guts.
In the face of adversity, the Kaiser Chiefs have just about pulled it out of the bag. In 2014, where guitar music is populated by the progressive like of Foals and Bombay Bicycle Club, will it win them any new fans? Unlikely. But it should just about keep a hold of their old ones. - GW
Kevin Bacon’s vibrant dance-a-thon Footloose attained ’80s classic status thanks to its tale of teenage rebellion and a catchy pop soundtrack that featured the likes of Kenny Loggins and Bonnie Tyler. In truth, it’s a flawed movie but one that’s immensely enjoyable in a guilty pleasure sort of way. As the years passed and nostalgia lent the film extra weight, Hollywood has been doggedly trying to get it remade.
After shuffling through a host of directors and actors (Zac Efron, Chace Crawford, Kenny Ortega), Footloose 2011 arrives with unknown Kenny Wormald (a former backing dancer for Justin Timberlake) stepping into Bacon’s shoes and Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) behind the camera.
This new Footloose pulls together all the elements that made the original fun and entertaining, and repurposes them for the iPod generation. The cheesiness is still there, with scenes such as the exuberant warehouse dance where Ren McCormack lets out his frustrations taking centre stage. Preserved too is the movie’s anthem ‘Footloose’, which accompanies the opening credits. Here Loggins’s hit is covered by Blake Shelton, while Ella Mae Bowen strips down Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ to the bare essentials.
The movie itself is like a good cover version, bringing all you expect and want back into the fold for a freshened-up take on an old favourite.
The story finds Boston city boy Ren (Wormald) arriving in the small town of Bomont following the death of his mother. A road accident years earlier claimed the lives of five high schoolers, prompting reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) to push through a curfew and a ban on all displays of public dancing. The reverend’s daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough), a goodie-two-shoes-turned-wild child, catches Ren’s eye in her denim shorts and red boots, while Rabbit Hole's Miles Teller is excellent taking on the role originated by Chris Penn.
Montage-tastic direction from Brewer keeps the energy levels high, and a game cast all turn out solid performances to invest the cornball premise with some believability. Crucially, Wormald and Hough have enough dancefloor chemistry to heat things up.
As with its predecessor, this Footloose is about personal freedom, rebel spirit, generational divides and how tradition doesn’t have to stand in the way of progress. Despite the inherent cheesiness, these themes give the story an enduring quality that make it as relevant today as it was in 1984. The universal struggle of young people trying to define and express themselves, it seems, will never go out of fashion.
The ending derails somewhat as Brewer’s gritty punch-up jars with the feel-good tone, but if you can leave your cynicism at the door then this is top-quality Saturday night popcorn entertainment. - GW
Kiesza ‘Hideaway’ review: ‘A thrilling debut from an exciting prospect’
There’s something oddly refreshing about Kiesza. Perhaps it’s because in an age where most new artists sell themselves on their backstory, a Google search on the singer gleans very little other than she’s 25, from Canada and used to be in the Navy as well as a ballerina. What’s more, the accompanying one-take music video for ‘Hideaway’ - the only song you’ll currently find by her on the web - does more than enough to sell her as an exciting prospect.
The song itself is club classics-inspired house; a genre that’s currently clogging up much of the top 40, but Kiesza keeps it interesting by putting a distinctly pop twist on it. The thick bassline and throbbing drum machine on the minimal chorus is offset by emotional, towering verses packed to the brim with hooks. The result is a thrilling debut that leaves you wondering what else she has tucked up her sleeve. - GW
'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' review
The omens were not good for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Attempting to revive a franchise that was left in tatters by Tim Burton’s lacklustre remake of the original Apes movie was a tough proposition, especially with that awkward, off-putting title and a director with only one little-seen Brit thriller movie under his belt. Yet, much like X-Men: First Class, this movie delivers a character-driven ‘origins’ blockbuster of unexpectedly epic and emotive proportions. Are CGI apes eligible for ‘Best Actor’ Oscar nominations?
That previous sentence may sound like a lost Philip K Dick novel, but the sentiment is justified. With the help of Andy Serkis (who else?) doing his motion capture movements, the ascent of simian Caesar from an orphaned, helpless baby into a powerful leader with a chi(m)p on his shoulder is fascinating to watch unfold. The script is magnificently structured to manipulate our loyalties while being both appalled and understanding (if not approving) of the acts perpetrated by humanity towards supposedly lesser species.
The dual themes of commerce versus ethics and animal testing are contemporaneous and resonant, with the skilful plotting putting James Franco’s scientist in a sympathetic predicament that forces us to adopt his conflicted perspective. His father (John Lithgow) has been ravaged by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, but a breakthrough remedy derived from the brutal testing on apes promises to reverse the situation. This serum, when injected, bolsters parts of the brain and increases intelligence. But what would happen if it fell into the hands of an ape with a serious axe to grind against those who have grossly mistreated him? Especially when that ape’s guardian was partially responsible for his mother’s death.
Aside from the moralistic meditations that underpin the narrative, with shades of the sadly forgotten 1991 miniseries Chimera, Rise of the Planet of the Apes offers plenty of visceral treats for the viewers courtesy of Rupert Wyatt’s direction. One sequence in which a band of fugitive apes storm through the trees, out of shot themselves but signified by the oncoming storm of falling leaves and branches, superbly conjures up a sense of foreboding terror. Every set-piece action sequence improves on its predecessor, again much like X-Men: First Class, culminating in a thrilling climax of pure carnage.
The compelling hybrid Serkis/FX performance of Caesar undoubtedly dominates the movie, but James Franco pitches his performance perfectly. It’s a wisely understated turn that never seeks to overshadow the main attraction. His scenes with the superb Lithgow are poignant and earnestly portrayed, providing a refreshing change to the Michael Bay style of blockbuster movies – which treat characterisation and human interaction with contempt. Nonetheless, Apes does serve up a few stock characters that are primarily walking plot functions - namely Freida Pinto’s love interest and David Oyelowo’s money-hungry research boss - but that’s eminently forgivable with the wonders surrounding them.
A fittingly fantastic prequel to the original 1968 Planet of the Apes, with a couple of winks to that movie thrown in for good measure, this latest instalment in the franchise is a near-perfect blockbuster that provides a myriad of visual and cerebral treats to devour. Once the story has tapped into your empathy, it relentlessly grips, confronts and thrills. Bring on The Further Rise of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes… and that Oscar for Caesar! - GW
Foster The People: Supermodel review: “An impressive progression”
Before Foster the People’s chief singer/songwriter Marcus Foster became the frontman of a globally successful indie group, he was a professional jingle writer - a conveyor belt production line for earworm ditties with more style than substance. When it came to 2011’s debut Torches, you got the feeling that Foster’s previous occupation was his main burden.
Though clearly interested in tackling topics far weightier than how to best market toothpaste, Foster couldn’t help but write catchy tunes that lent themselves more to humming in the shower than really digging into the artist’s true intentions. Top of the pile, of course, was breakthrough smash ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ - complete with an ambling bassline so amiable you would never realise it was actually a song about a high school shooting.
With Supermodel, the group’s follow-up release, Foster and his bandmates (bassist Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius) have clearly learnt how to harness their two sides to make them work in more equal harmony. Supermodel may not be as chirpy as much of its predecessor, but it’s a richer listen and far, far better for it.
That’s not to say that the trio’s newest offering is a difficult album by any means - there’s little on here that would sound out of place on Radio 1 - but Foster the People have come up with a record that thrives on variation and cleverly masked intricacy. Opener 'Are You What You Want To Be' flits between afrobeat-inflected verses in the vein of a meatier Vampire Weekend and a gargantuan chorus made for festival main stages. 'Ask Yourself', meanwhile, lingers on laid-back, West Coast vibes, like Real Estate pumped up to eleven, while 'Nevermind' begins on gorgeously understated, acoustic plucked guitars before Foster comes in with the kind of dusky vocal that sounds like sunset romance itself.
Elsewhere, the fantastically-titled 'Pseudologia Fantastica' (one of the album’s highlights) is all shimmering, almost prog-tinged synths and droning guitarscapes – a recipe for self-indulgent noodling, somehow turned into brilliantly skewed pop perfection. 'The Angelic Welcome of Mr. Jones' provides a short and sweet, 30-second snippet of harmonies so pure The Beach Boys would be proud, 'Best Friend' is all 70s disco-funk, dancefloor swagger and the fantastic 'The Beginner's Guide To Destroying The Moon' pits cooing falsettos against fuzzed up guitar lines and lyrics about “sharing this burden” and “the bottom [falling] out”.
Indeed, throughout Supermodel, Foster peppers his lyrics with self-questioning musings (“I tried to live like you wanted me to” - ‘Ask Yourself’) and jaded thoughts on the state of society (“We’ve been crying for the leaders to speak like real prophets/ The blood of the forgotten wasn’t spilled without a purpose” - ‘A Beginner’s Guide…’). But, whereas on Torches they were overshadowed, here they complement the darker, more intricate nature of their musical accompaniment.
Far from the jingle days, Foster the People have made a second album that’s catchy, but not to the detriment of being unexpected and damn smart. A genuinely impressive progression. - GW
Homeland season 3 finale review: ‘The Star’
2013 was a dark, dark year for television. From Game of Thrones' 'Red Wedding' to Breaking Bad's 'Ozymandias', the most celebrated episodes over the past twelve months have contained some of the most merciless and brutal storytelling ever put on screen. Darkness doesn’t necessarily equate to quality, and as a climax to Homeland’s third season ‘The Star’ had its issues. But you’d have to work hard not to be a little bit shattered by the awful ending to Nicholas Brody’s awful story.
Brody has led such a sad life. Born into a military family, he probably grew up with no greater ambition than to join the Marine Corps. Captured, held captive and tortured for eight years before being manipulated to turn against his country, he’s been used as a pawn by two equally ruthless governments ever since. This is a guy who’s never been anything other than broken, from the first moment we saw him on screen. “I just want it to be over,” he tells Carrie, and no wonder.
I knew Brody was going to die; his card has been marked all season long. But not like this. It was going to be a big, cathartic moment of redemption where he sacrificed himself once and all for his country, or for his unborn child, and he was going to die in Carrie’s arms and exchange tearful declarations of love with her right before the light in his eyes went out. It would be a little cheesy, and a little dramatic, but it would feel right.
For every moment of that scene in the square, as Brody’s walking up the noose, I was certain there was a rug-pull coming – one of those ridiculous Homeland plot twists that you roll your eyes at but also, in this instance, feel grateful for. Because being hanged from a crane and slowly strangling to death in the darkness, hundreds of miles from his family, surrounded by a jeering mob… that’s not how Brody’s story ends.
But it is.
What a horrifying scene. To use the crane rather than have him drop from a platform so that his neck broke instantly was especially cruel (although probably accurate), and to have Carrie there helpless, just shouting his name. None of which was quite as upsetting as her “Oh God… oh my God,” on the phone to Saul, when she realised it was really going to happen. Brutal. At least her face was the last thing he saw.
After the Carrie/Brody love-fest that was season two’s finale, the writers clearly knew that they needed to pull back on that, and it was startling just how little resolution that romance really got in the end. Yes, Carrie does finally tell Brody about his baby, and they make a vague plan to be together in a future that we all know is never going to exist. But there is no final kiss, there is no declaration of love. It’s just over.
The one moment that did stand out - a lovely, understated piece of resolution for Carrie and Brody - was right at the end of their final phone conversation. “Can you just stay here? Just for a few more seconds,” Carrie begs. It took me a minute to work out what this reminded me of – it’s the scene in season one’s ‘The Weekend’, when Carrie and Brody are having sex at the cabin and he pauses, saying “I just want to live here for a second.” (I’ll just be over here crying myself to sleep.)
Throwing Brody to the wolves was a solid ending to the slow-burn sense of moral decay at the CIA this season – and after so many episodes of his being ruthlessly pragmatic, it was interesting to see Saul as the lone voice of mercy. “Honestly, I don’t know what the f**k we’re doing here any more,” he spits, echoing Quinn in episode two down to the letter. It was satisfying, but it also feels like an abrupt 180 from where Saul’s been all season long.
So Brody was sacrificed in the name of the mission, because Javadi needed the public victory of executing him in order to ensure he’d be chosen to replace Akbari. By rights Javadi should feel like the villain of the piece, especially remembering what he did to his own wife earlier this season, and yet Shaun Toub is just so good and so fascinating to watch. In that scene with Carrie he was insightful and genuinely comforting, even though what he’s saying about everyone seeing Brody through her eyes is totally hollow. Brody is forgotten. Brody’s heroism is classified. Brody does not get a star.
The first 40 minutes of this episode were bleak perfection. It was after that ‘Four Months Later’ jump that everything turned wonky, as though the writers felt pressure to prove that the show could move on without Brody and set up a whole bunch of stuff for season four that we didn’t need. What we needed was time with Carrie grieving, time to let the aftermath of killing this beloved, pivotal character sink in. Hell, how about some time with Brody’s family, given how much bloody time we spent on them in the early season?
One of two things needed to happen. Either this episode needed to end much sooner after the execution, with everyone still reeling, or the execution needed to come at the end of episode 11. That would have allowed for the whole finale to cover the immediate aftermath and gradually move through to the point where Saul and Mira are gloating in the South of France and Carrie is making smiley small talk with Lockhart.
As it was, the coda mostly just felt trite and weirdly disrespectful to the significance of Brody. We needed to see Jess and Dana and Chris react to this. We needed to see Carrie utterly wrecked by the loss of the father of her child – the “I’m so f**king sad” beat was wrenching and well played by Claire Danes, but after the scene in Lockhart’s office it just felt disjointed.
Honestly, when Carrie walked in there smiling and shook Lockhart’s hand, I was half-expecting her to pull out a steak knife and butcher him. Because… really? These two had an antagonistic relationship all season long, and now four months after Lockhart literally doomed Brody to die, Carrie’s the least insubordinate she’s ever been? Okay.
The same goes for Carrie telling Saul “You won!” Really? She of all people knows the human cost of that victory, and yet she’s reveling in it. Yes, she’s a great agent and takes pride in her work, but she was willing to leave everything behind and run away with Brody last week. She’s compromised the agency time and time again when Brody’s safety was on the line, and now suddenly she’s toeing the jingoistic party line after he’s dead? Would the real Carrie Mathison please stand up?
The one justification I can think of for her weird acceptance is that on some level, she always knew this was coming. Back when Brody made that desperate dash across the border, she told him: “You will die over there.” He responded by saying he had faith that she would get him out, and she told him that was a fantasy. And it was. She never really believed he would leave Iran alive.
A lot of people have spent the last two years loudly declaring that Brody should have died at the end of season one. I was not among those people. Brody was a fascinating, tragic, truly unique character played with haunting commitment by Damian Lewis, and the prospect of a Homeland without him is troubling. Not least because of how misjudged the tone of these last fifteen minutes felt.
But somehow, all my misgivings fell away in the final moment when Carrie stood in the dark and drew that crooked little black star. So fitting. So final. RIP, Brody.
- Okay, I’m going to play devil’s advocate/stupidity’s advocate here for a second. What if Brody is still alive? His neck didn’t break, we didn’t see his moment of death, we didn’t see his body. Rather disturbingly, there was a real-life case where a man survived being hung in Iran very recently. What if Javadi’s long game is to turn Brody back against the US, using the CIA’s ruthless abandonment of him as the incentive? Maybe I’ve just got Sherlock on the brain, but given some of the ridiculous stunts these writers have pulled before, it actually feels very plausible.
- Speaking of which… After Walden, I did know Brody had a knack for offing ridiculously important and powerful people inside their offices in broad daylight, but that scene with him strolling out after hiding Akbari’s body? Come on. It was extra-painful because it was so extended – if you’re going to have a scene that silly, just skip over it! As if there wouldn’t be security waiting outside the room to go back in and see Akbari the minute Brody left.
- “In my heart, I want to spread my wings and soar.” Love Dar Adal and his waffle-based ambitions.
- What the heck was Carrie thinking when she told Javadi’s men that she knew him? Since she was clearly helping the man who just assassinated Akbari, surely implying that she had any connection to Javadi would massively compromise his cover? Obviously she was panicking in that moment, but still.
- That shot of Brody gazing out of the window as Carrie drove them through the desert was stunning. He’s felt so much like a walking ghost for this entire season, and in that scene he just looked peaceful, like he was already gone.
- When we cut to that wide shot of Saul and Mira’s villa, was anybody else expecting it to explode?
- “The Maestro”? Come on, everybody knows it’s Saul ‘The Bear’ Berenson! - GW
Homeland review: Brody is back in action in ‘Good Night’
The best episode from Homeland's second season, 'Q&A' – which saw Brody detained, questioned and systemically broken down by the CIA – would have been even better if it had taken place entirely within the interrogation room, with Brody, Carrie, Quinn and Saul the only characters on screen. In a sense, this episode fulfilled that promise, focusing entirely on Brody’s mission in Iran without any cutaways to tertiary stories.
Cutting so rapidly back and forth between Iran and the CIA command centre was a great way to inject pace into what could have been a slow episode. Instead, it was lean and shrewd and thoroughly compelling, and demonstrated once again that Claire Danes is more than capable of doing quiet and understated. She gets undeserved flack at times for over-acting, but here Carrie’s terror and heartbreak were perfectly downplayed as she watched Brody essentially back in the trenches.
And ‘Good Night’ was yet another tour de force for Damian Lewis, as Brody went from traumatised panic to a kind of steely resolve after the explosion happened, which forced him back into military survival mode. We’ve never really seen Brody ‘on the ground’ before, being a soldier and facing battle and making decisions in the moment. Saul’s promise to him last week wasn’t hollow: this mission really has allowed Brody to be a marine again, and that in itself is remarkable given how lost he’d become.
So it’s no surprise, having just got that part of himself back, that he’d refuse to let it go by aborting the mission. He knew he was never going to get another shot at this, and for the first time redemption was actually in his sights. Now it’s his turn to have blind faith in Carrie, rather than the other way around; he knows she will find a way to get him out. And she will, even if it means putting Fara’s family in mortal danger. Carrie’s nothing if not tenacious when it comes to Brody’s safety.
Saul’s no less tenacious, but it’s becoming increasingly less clear that he gives a damn about anyone’s safety at all. He sees everybody involved in his plan as expendable; a pawn in play, a means to an end. There’s probably a worthy debate to be had in whether this kind of ruthlessness is essential for a man in Saul’s position, but it’s certainly not the most endearing quality in a television character, particularly when he and Dar Adal are being so plainly contrasted to Quinn.
Because as Saul has become quietly colder and more brutal by inches, Quinn has been growing more human – and humane – with every episode. This really kicked off in the second season finale, when he watched Carrie and Brody at the cabin and later couldn’t bring himself to assassinate Brody. It’s not clear exactly what it was that he saw between them that made him change his mind, but his concern for Carrie all season long has been really touching. And heck, it’s about time somebody showed some concern for that baby.
Carrie and Saul’s moment of shared elation at the end here was lovely, but at the same time fascinating because their motivations are so different: Carrie is laughing in relief because Brody is safe and still in play, while Saul is doing the same because he himself – as Carrie shrewdly articulated – is still in play. His mission is not dead.
Your judgment of Saul here will probably end up depending on how much sympathy you feel for Brody at this point. The scene where Turani (out of respect for the dead, we’ve learned his name rather than simply calling him Hot Bearded Fellow) asked Brody what torture was like was another powerful reminder of exactly what this guy has gone through. So much has happened in the show since his initial return that it’s easy to forget just how traumatic his time as a captive was. And now, Turani is just one more death he’s got on his conscience, on top of those bodies in Caracas.
- It’s possible I’m over-thinking the foreshadowing in terms of Brody’s death, which I’m still convinced is not far off, but those heat signatures on the monitor looked so much like ghosts.
- Saul’s food tics are rapidly becoming the thing I like most about him. He’s moved on from PB and saltine crackers to mainlining Blackjacks, which made for a couple of great moments where dramatic tension was punctuated by Saul and/or Carrie aggressively chewing.
- Quinn had to know Carrie was lying to him about the baby’s paternity, right? He saw them at the cabin (which Carrie doesn’t know), and he can do the math.
- Did I mention that I’m really upset about Turani? Although his card was basically marked after he made that foreshadowing-tastic speech about his family last episode. Sniff.
- So, the secret to tender goat meat is to make sure the goat is really chilled out before you slit its throat. Good to know, right?
- It’s interesting that Brody has retained his faith so strongly, even after what he went through in Caracas, and that was a stunning sequence where he prayed against the fading sunset. In theory, it could help to make his cover story more plausible to the Iranians too.
- I knew I didn’t like that Mike guy at the White House! What a douche. Lockhart actually looked sort of mild and reasonable by comparison. - GW
'Bad Teacher' review
They say those who can’t do, teach. Cameron Diaz is a case in point as Miss Halsey, a brazen gold-digger merely passing the time till the dinner bell rings and the next meal ticket comes along. He appears in the guise of Justin Timberlake, who makes a self-conscious grab for laughs as a tweedy fellow teacher and heir to a fortune, distracting Miss Halsey from her true match, a PE instructor played by Jason Segel. It’s a refreshingly low-concept comedy, but its appeal can be neatly summed up as America’s Sweetheart turned sour - sure to provoke lots of sniggering at the back.
Strutting through the halls of John Adams Middle School in short skirts and killer heels, Elizabeth Halsey looks out of place from the start. She’s happy to rub everyone’s faces in it too as she picks up her P45 and zooms off in her sports car to a new life with a dim-witted sugar daddy. Alas, he’s also a momma’s boy who is persuaded that Halsey is bad news so our anti-heroine quickly finds herself back behind the teacher’s desk, swigging booze from the bottom drawer while the kids are treated to educational movies like Michelle Pfeiffer classic Dangerous Minds. Oh, the irony…
Fortunately for Miss Halsey, the small-town kids that make up her class are angels compared to the street tough crowd Pfeiffer had to put up with. Roles have been reversed, but Halsey’s tendency to mouth off (going as far as to spit home-baked cookies in the face of an ingratiating nerd) is nothing compared to the immaturity of her next plan. She’s convinced a boob job will lure her a millionaire even after fixing on Mr. Delacourte (Timberlake) who stubbornly sees the best in people, whatever their race, creed or cup size. His earnest waffle makes him the butt of jokes for PE teacher Russell, but Segel has an easygoing style that tempers the sarcasm.
Diaz and Segel don’t have any great chemistry. They’re bonded by the dubious virtue of being the only sane members of staff at John Adams (cutely dubbed ‘Jams’ by John Michael Higgins’s over-friendly principal). The real fireworks happen between Diaz and Lucy Punch (the bunny boiler in Dinner for Schmucks) playing to type as the erratic Miss Squirrel. She jumps at any chance to show up her colleague and cosies up to Delacourte with surprising success. Miss Halsey is forced to go to Plan C, which means actually educating her pupils to ace the State exams, thus earning herself a cash prize to get that boob job. Still, a little cheating proves hard to resist.
Halsey’s mission is tenuous and convoluted. Looking at the bigger picture, it just doesn’t make sense that a woman so resourceful could decide that bigger boobs are the only pass to a better life. It points to an underlying flaw with the script; veering between hardnosed humour and utter silliness. Walk Hard director Jake Kasdan keeps it from slipping too far one way or the other, but the better gags capitalise on Diaz acting inappropriately whether hosting a charity carwash in hot pants, or giving a bullied boy her underwear for bragging rights. Of course her misguided actions serve the greater good and that gradually inspires her, but Kasdan is wise to keep the touchy-feely stuff to a minimum. Diaz has a girlish charm that means she gets away with a series of cynical pranks, even though she’s not quite as big and clever as she thinks she is. - GW
'Homeland' review: Carrie gets reckless in 'A Red Wheelbarrow'
"You’re the smartest and the dumbest f**king person I’ve ever known" is a line that’s become familiar to every Homeland viewer this season, thanks to its place in the opening credits’ updated montage of mumbling. It’s Saul describing Carrie, and it’s never been more apt than in this week’s episode. She’s so sharp and so tenacious and so good at her job, and yet she’s so capable of being blinkered and obtuse when she gets fixated on a goal.
In 'The Yoga Play', Carrie blithely jeopardised months of work and an entire operation just to help the Brody family (damn you, Dana), and here she did the same thing on an even bigger, stupider scale. Her double agent role with the lawyers was finally beginning to pay off, but her interest in the operation disappeared with the possibility of clearing Brody’s name – that’s her only real objective, and probably has been all along.
She’s just as short-sighted as Lockhart in some ways; she’s really not interested in the long-term prospects of having Javadi as an asset, so long as she can prove that Brody wasn’t involved in the bombing. The question is, is she doing it all for love, or is she also trying to vindicate herself? We’ve been given plenty of reason to think it’s the former, especially now we have confirmation that her baby is Brody’s, but Carrie’s also got a healthy ego and a self-righteous streak that probably has her itching to prove everybody wrong about Brody. Again.
So she keeps walking, despite Dar Adal’s orders and Quinn’s warnings, and gets a bullet in the bicep. Thank God Quinn’s such a crack shot, is all I can say. I hope this doesn’t put too much of a dent in their friendship, which has become the closest thing this season has to a human centre. And while it doesn’t feel likely that Carrie will lose the baby at this stage, that would certainly be the last straw for Quinn in terms of feeling that “nothing justifies the damage we do”.
At least Carrie did acknowledge the possibility that she’d done damage to the foetus by taking lithium and living inside a tequila bottle for a month, although her fears would have felt more sincere if she hadn’t immediately followed up by getting herself shot. Being told “You’re not on your own anymore” was probably disturbing for someone who’s clearly always been so independent, and it might have spurred her on to being physically reckless again, even if she never really believed Quinn would take the shot.
She’s not the only one letting her emotions get the better of her. Seeing Fara’s home life for the first time helped to make sense of her slightly out-of-the-blue rebellion in the last episode, although it’s not clear why she’s so confident that her job will be safe even if she doesn’t show up. She’s obviously driven by a sense of duty, and felt she could offer her services to the CIA after the bombing, but it turns out that the decision could have dire consequences for her family back in Tehran.
While Quinn put a pin in his moral disillusionment from last week here in order to get the job done, it’s important to have a character like Fara in contrast to him and Saul and Carrie, someone who’s less able to sweep the horrors of this job under the carpet. Homeland has a good track record with introducing new characters – when they’re not dating Dana Brody – and as with Quinn last season, we’re being drip-fed just enough information about Fara to be compelling without sidetracking the central plot.
And it’s just as well, because that central plot suddenly got a whole lot more exciting when Saul arrived at a certain partially-constructed skyscraper in a certain South American city. We’d seen Dar Adal congratulating him on his “f**king genius” plan, a plan which must be kept from Carrie at all costs, but the shape of it only became clear when Saul walked into that festering cell and looked into Brody’s bloodshot, hazy, heroin-wrecked eyes.
We know that Saul’s long-term goal involves moving Javadi up the military ranks and ultimately instilling a regime change in Iran, and we know that Brody is somehow the key. We also know that the prayers of viewers who have been pining for Brody over the past month have been answered – he’s going to be front and centre for the remaining four episodes. And I can. Not. Wait.
- After ‘Gerontion’ last week, the writers may be going for a poetry theme for the second half of the season. “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow” is a line from a very brief, vivid poem by William Carlos Williams, which unlike last week’s TS Eliot bears no clear relevance to the episode’s plot, except that it was Carrie and Franklin’s code to set up their meeting. How did they come up with that line? Did they agree on a particular anthology of poetry ahead of time?
- What type of acid was Franklin using to dissolve the bomber’s body in that bathtub? I just hope he’s seen Breaking Bad.
- Fara wasn’t even vaguely trying to pull a convincing sick day there, was she? Come on, at least have a few tissues strewn around the house and a discarded blanket on the sofa. And anybody who has ever had a migraine will know that the idea of driving anywhere with one is just plain insane.
- Another thoroughly enjoyable, well scripted Saul vs Lockhart exchange at the White House. At this point, Lockhart needs to stay around in some capacity just so that he can keep being loudly indignant while Saul is quietly unapologetic. That dynamic is gold.
- I knew Mira’s French squeeze was up to something shady. So, who’s he working for? And why did he wait until she dumped him to bug Saul’s house? It’s not as if he was there 24/7 before to listen in.
- I hope we get to see more of Saul in the Tower of David while Brody detoxes, if only for the series of awkward conversations he’s in for. Especially when the paedophile doctor turns up for a visit. - GW
Aloe Blacc ‘The Man’ single review: “A smooth serenade of hope”
It would have been incredibly easy for Aloe Blacc to come back with a collection of folk-soaked electronic dance numbers, following the success of his uncredited feature on Avicii’s global smash ‘Wake Me Up’ last summer. The fact the US singer was willing to work with the DJ without sharing his spotlight proved that he’s not in this game for a quick buck, so it came as no surprise to hear him return to his soulful roots for his new single.
Naturally, for an artist who has been in the business for nearly two decades, Aloe knows what he does best. Lashings of brass and strings elevate his gospel tones into a smooth serenade of hope and perseverance. “I played my cards and I didn’t fold/ Well it ain’t hard when you got this soul,” he notes, before he bursts into the declaratory chorus which interpolates Elton John’s ‘Your Song’. It’s a clear statement that Aloe isn’t in the business of chasing musical trends - and I suspect he’ll be better off for it. - GW
'Homeland' review: Carrie plays a dangerous game in 'The Yoga Play'
Five episodes into season three, we’ve finally met our new villain, and I already like him more than Abu Nazir. The latter was always more of an archetype than anything, and became truly cartoonish throughout much of season two (I still have fond memories of his Skype sessions with Brody), before his master plan was revealed in the finale.
Shaun Toub’s Javadi seems like more of a professional with less clearly defined motives - on the one hand, he bombed the CIA, but on the other hand he seems to have some affection for the US (or at least its fast food). It’ll be very, very interesting to watch his long awaited face-to-face with Carrie next week, which came about in a much more brutal and frightening way than she had anticipated. That strip search scene was one of the most viscerally disturbing in Homeland’s history.
The cutaways during the sequence were slightly confusing - at one point it looked as though Quinn knew what was happening to Carrie and was choosing to let it happen, which it then became clear wasn’t the case. And as it turns out, last week’s twist hasn’t changed very much at all in the Carrie-Saul-Quinn dynamic - Quinn is still very concerned for Carrie’s wellbeing, while Saul is still surprisingly callous. “She’s on her own, Saul” / “She’s always been on her own.” Cold.
But being fair to Saul, he was not having a good day. In quick succession he finds out that he’s being passed over for the CIA director job in favour of an idiot, that Carrie’s jeopardized months of planning on a whim, and that his wife is playing away from home, at home. So on balance, I’ll forgive him for being a little snippy and bitter.
Given that Carrie and Virgil had clearly used “the yoga play” before, it seemed all the more ridiculous that she would risk discovery just to help the Brodys - the play depends completely on the real Carrie getting back in time to replace the decoy before the class ends. So why was she so blasé when Virgil told her they needed to leave, particularly when there was no guarantee the FBI agent would listen to her anyway? Whether she did it purely out of loyalty to Brody, or sympathy for Jess, or because Dana is the person Brody is most likely to contact, isn’t clear, but for her to put this hugely intricate undercover mission on the line, a mission she has personally put herself through hell for, felt like a stretch.
All that said, I loved the scene where Jess begged Carrie for help. These two haven’t shared the screen since the season one finale, and it was satisfying to hear Jess refer back to that day and how she should have listened to Carrie. There’s so much history and nuance between these two, and Danes and Baccarin sparked off each other wonderfully, so while we don’t need to see Carrie get too bogged down in the Brody Bunch’s side plots, Carrie and Jess’s relationship would be a great one to explore further.
Speaking of the Brodys…oh, Dana. Last week I thought she’d turned a corner, because against all odds the runaway plotline actually led to some really effective reflection on her relationship with Brody and her state of mind. But this week, everything involving Dana was once again the worst. The confrontation between her and Leo was just flat-out bad, both of them over-emoting to the point of comedy. And if this weird anticlimactic split is all their relationship was building to, it falls into the same time-wasting category as her hit-and-run storyline with last season’s unstable boyfriend.
Homeland is by and large very tightly constructed in terms of its narrative; no other character is given stories with so little relevance to the central plot, so why do the writers continue to think it’s a good idea to do it with Dana? And yes, she’s trying to work through all the unresolved issues she has with her father by getting attached to unstable, erratic boys, and I get it, and it still isn’t working on a basic level.
On the bright side, I noted in the first episode that Senator Lockhart felt like an oddly cartoonish character, and given that he’s now being set up as the new (and potentially much worse) David Estes, that portrayal makes more sense in retrospect. How ridiculously galling it must have been for Saul to have to keep his mouth shut while Lockhart talked about “the old games” becoming obsolete, just as his and Carrie’s months of work using exactly those methods are starting to pay off.
But we still don’t know whether Carrie did get made - the yoga studio scene was intentionally ambiguous, as was Javadi’s final line. “You’re in good shape, it must be all that yoga,” could either be Javadi acknowledging that he knows the yoga was a cover-up, or simply a “we’ve been watching you”. All I know is that for the first time all season, I genuinely can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
- Was anybody else expecting Carrie to invite Quinn in when they were talking on the phone? “I’m at a safe distance,” was just begging to be followed up by a flirty “I wish you weren’t” kind of comeback. Not that I actually want Carrie and Quinn to happen, because she probably needs to stop dipping her pen in the office ink.
- Dana, when you’ve just discovered that your boyfriend might have killed his own brother, don’t get in the car just because he tells you to! Good Lord, woman. Getting out of it again ten seconds later just made the whole scene kind of silly. While I’m at it, how exactly did she plan on “getting a place” with Leo with no money for a deposit or rent?
- “It’s two teenagers running away on a f**k-fest, it’s Romeo & Juliet.” I’m pretty sure this guy has never read Romeo & Juliet. Props to Carrie for calling him out on that.
- I’ve been less than kind to Morgan Saylor this season, although most of what’s wrong with Dana isn’t her fault. But I’ll give her this: her ugly cry is a worthy rival to Claire Danes’s.
- Carrie flushing away her meds can’t be a good sign. Presumably she’s still worried that the lithium makes her less sharp, and given how dangerous her position is now she really needs to be on the ball.
- Javadi sure was enjoying that burger, wasn’t he? And judging by the scene where he watched that mother and child, he’s got some strong ties to the US that go beyond its fine meat products. Maybe part of his ultimate goal is to find a way to immigrate, although it’s hard to reconcile that with his being behind the Langley bombing. -GW
'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' review
Transformers director Michael Bay blamed a writers’ strike for the disappointing 2009 sequel Revenge of the Fallen, yet with no such production issues for third instalment Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the filmmaker will have to get a bit more creative with his excuses - this blockbuster is riddled with all the problems of its predecessor and then some.
Dark of the Moon begins with an extended prologue telling of the Autobot versus Decepticon war that tore apart Cybertron, and the race to get to the moon in the ’60s (complete with a digitally revived John F. Kennedy). The montage provides a striking start - particularly the swooping camera moves through the robot planet - but all that goodwill is swiftly squandered as the film sinks into the incoherent bombast that plagued the last outing. The first shot after this impressive opening sequence is a close-up of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s rear as she ascends a staircase. Consider this the moment Bayvision is reactivated.
The story this time concerns the efforts of the two warring mechanical races to uncover the secrets of a spacecraft that crash-landed on the moon. Ageing robot Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) also plays a key role in proceedings, while a fresh-out-of-college Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has moved from Megan Fox onto Huntington-Whiteley’s Carly Miller. The robot and human plot strands collide, leading to a series of thunderous set pieces courtesy of ILM’s hard drives. Bizarrely, Dark of the Moon shares a crucial plot point with Melancholia - if only Bay had an ounce of Lars von Trier’s instincts for character and story, then all this wouldn’t be such a bloated, two-and-a-half-hour waste.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is like some furious adolescent fantasy, all super-awesome fighting robots, stacked army grunts, fast cars and hot babes. In some instances, the latter two overlap. Take, for example, a scene where Patrick Dempsey’s multi-millionaire race driver describes the sleek curves of his prized motor while Bay’s camera lingers seedily on Huntington-Whiteley. Howlingly terrible. The likes of John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and John Turturro (on his third Transformers now) relieve the boredom by bringing eccentricities to their innately ridiculous characters, although when Malkovich starts to mock-box with Sam’s Autobot pal Bumblebee you begin to hope this role bought him a nice swimming pool. Even legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin can’t escape with his dignity intact, popping up to lend credence to the hokey outer space plot in a moment that’s akin to him dousing his own legacy in petrol and lighting the touch paper.
Bay’s extreme 3D compositions at least makes the format a worthwhile bolt-on to the franchise, but with the constant LOUD NOISES, anaemic storytelling, non-existent emotional resonance and cringingly bad comedy, this expensive sound-and-light show is a bit like slamming your head repeatedly against an arcade pinball machine for 150 minutes. - GW
'Cars 2' review
Cars may have been one of the less well-regarded Pixar movies, but that didn’t stop John Lasseter from getting behind the wheel again for the sequel. It’s Lasseter’s passion for all things automotive that drives the follow-up, which has a co-directing credit for Brad Lewis. Cars 2 lacks the storytelling wit of Toy Story 3, Up and WALL-E, being the animation outfit’s first movie in a while that plays broadly for children. However, it’s still a breezily entertaining spy caper that owes a debt to early globe-trotting adventures of James Bond.
Widening the scope from the first’s Radiator Springs location, Cars 2 kicks off with a thrilling infiltration of an oil platform by Finn McMissile, a spy car suavely voiced by Michael Caine and resembling Sean Connery’s Goldfinger Aston Martin. Meanwhile, racer Lightning McQueen is feeling stagnant at home and agrees to takes up a challenge from flamboyant Italian Formula 1 car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) to race in the World Grand Prix. Tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) hitches along for the ride and ends up embarrassing his pal in front of the racing elite high-fliers, including Lewis Hamilton in a cameo role and tournament sponsor Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard). In a case of classic Hitchcockian mistaken identity, Mater inadvertently finds himself pulled into an espionage mission with McMissile and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).
Tokyo, Italy (the fictional town of Porto Corsa) and London provide the backdrops as Cars 2 unfolds as a high-octane spy movie. The film gains traction as an action picture in the final third when events move to the UK for the final leg of the Grand Prix. The capital is rendered in stunning detail as cars whizz by the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, even leaving room for cameos for the Queen (voiced by Vanessa Redgrave) and Prince William (here called ‘Wheeliam’). A memorable sequence inside Big Ben[tley] also puts the heroes in a ticking clock jam that’d stump even the most resourceful blockbuster hero.
As with much of Pixar’s work, the theme of friendship is underlined. Here it’s Lightning and Mater charged with providing the emotional backbone, but the pair lack the charm and warmth of Woody/Buzz, WALL-E/Eve and Carl/Russell. It’s possible that cars - man-made machines - don’t quite capture the imagination, connect on a universal level or have the same power to pull on the heartstrings the way previous Pixar stars have. More likely, though, is the lack of storytelling polish on display. Aesthetically Cars 2 is as accomplished as anything the studio has done, but look under the bonnet and the script doesn’t quite have the sophistication to shift into top gear. The movie is preceded by short Toy Story Toon: Hawaiian Vacation, a super little 5-minute reminder of just how good Pixar can be. - GW
Shakira’s new album reviewed: A deft shimmy over a tightrope of integrity
"It’s a fickle world," sings Shakira all-too-truly on the exuberant, bubblegum-snappy 'The One Thing'. One of the Colombian star’s great attractions in a yes-man pop landscape is her refusal to pander to passing fads. Of course, she doesn’t need to - a songwriter since the age of 8, her infectious, emotive blend of Latin and Arabic musical heritages, her peculiar feline yowl and her personal, idiosyncratic lyrics made her a superstar in the Latin American pop world years before her breakthrough into the US and European markets with 2001’s Laundry Service.
So coming after the more electropop stylings of 2009’s She Wolf, news that she’d signed a management deal with Roc Nation, been hanging around with the likes of megabangerz merchants Dr Luke and Max Martin and collaborated with Rihanna brought mixed feelings - what would become of our non-mountain-breasted true original, the one who wrote angry songs about East Timor and hung around with Gabriel Garcia Marquez?
But there was no need to fear - though you might find this she-wolf in the odd closet, she’ll be crammed into no man’s Procrustean pop pigeon-hole. Though her new World Cup track 'La La La (Brazil 2014)' has the bones of a monstrous, reptile-brained banger, it’s animated by a spirit that’s unmistakably Shakira; its flouncy, fiery come-and-have-a-go challenge romping across both the football field of dreams and, on the alternate lyrics of the standard album version, the gladiatorial love-combat of the dancefloor.
It characterises an album that nails a fine balance between keeping what’s best about Shakira and running with the rat race of relevance. Just as finely judged is Rihanna collab 'Can't Remember To Forget You', its antsy, itchy-rhythmed verses and crashing, dramatic chorus both purest Shakira and fighting fit for the pop agenda.
As befits a self-titled 10th album, the rest of the record ranges wide across Shakira’s styles. 'Empire' is a more mature, classic, piano-led sort of pop with a star-gazing, philosophical rush, Shakira keening: “The stars make love to the universe” as the track rushes to a cosmic-orgasmic chorus. 'You Don't Care About Me' is bruised and moody Latin guitar-pop, while her co-producers on that track and 'The One Thing', The Messengers, are given a guest spot in their guise as Magic! on the wounded reggae-pop of 'Cut Me Deep'.
'Spotlight', one of several tributes to footballer boyfriend Gerard Piqué, has the feel of a Katy Perry or even a Carly Rae Jepsen ballad, but that purr and that way with words lift it clear of the commonplace. The oddest stylistic turn of all, though, is a collaboration with her fellow former The Voice US coach Blake Shelton; a heart-wrenching modern country ballad of the shlockiest order called 'Medicine'.
Lines like, “I won’t reach for the bottle of whisky/ You won’t see me popping the pills” sit a little oddly on Shakira, but one of her other great powers is the ability to get away with being adorably naff by virtue of charm, gutsy connection and great songs.
Shakira feels like quite a short record after over four years out of the fray, but given that fillered-out overreaching is the downfall of so many pop albums, brevity is a blessing enjoyed by the self-confident. If you’re after something cutting-edge that pushes pop forward, you won’t find it here, nor will you find, this time around, much in the way of political comment.
Shakira’s quite content to dance a deft, concise shimmy over a tightrope of integrity and currency - the fickle world can either shake its hips or sling its hook. - GW