Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Last Stand (2013)



Genre: Action, Thriller
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Luis Guzman, Peter Stormare, Johnny Knoxville
Director: Jee-woon Kim
IMDB Rating: 6.7/10
My Rating: 7.2/10
Runtime: 1hr 47mins

Synopsis: 

'What will we watch?'
'The Last Stand?'
'Who's in it?'
'Arnie, Forest Whitaker and Johnny Knoxville'
'Jesus, Johnny Knoxville'
'Yeah, I know, and Expendables 2 was okay but I think Arnie's best is behind him'
'Sure, it's a bit of brain candy, throw it on there'

Boy were we not disappointed! The Last Stand is the perfect action film where you get to switch off your brain and allow the images on the screen go through your cornea and pupil and sit there drooling with your tongue hanging out, and thankfully, Johnny Knoxville isn't in it that much at all. It's a bit of a return to form for Arnie who thankfully avoids throwing in quotes from old films such as 'I'll be back' and has some great new one-liners. When I laughed during the film about the idea of a sheriff in a sleepy backwater town near the Mexican border having an Austrian accent, I was reminded that a recent Governor of California also had an Austrian accent, touché. 

The plot is basic enough, but also, considering it's an action blockbuster, is relatively realistic. Sheriff Ray Owens (obviously his ancestors amended their surname from Opfens to get jobs many years ago), is settling into the quiet life in rural Sommerton after a career in the LAPD. Meanwhile, a Mexican drug cartel boss, who Forest Whitaker describes at a briefing to FBI agents as 'the most notorious drug lord since Pablo Escobar', escapes custody en route to prison from the courthouse in Los Angeles. In a well planned operation, he flees the authorities and makes a hasty getaway toward the Mexican border, and yes, you've guessed it, it's up to Arnie and his rag-tag band of local police officers to stop him. 

The film speeds by at electric pace, you barely notice the hour and 45-odd minutes pass by and is thoroughly enjoyable. It wasn't until the credits rolled at the end that I realised the director was Jee-woon Kim, director of three amazing Korean films, A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), I Saw The Devil (2010) (a highly-rated thriller one critic hailed as the best serial killer film since Seven) and my personal favourite, A Bittersweet Life (2005), which is one of the most enjoyable revenge-action films I've ever seen (I've included a trailer below for this last film to give you a taste). Don't get me wrong though, I know as much about Korean cinema as Justin Bieber, but it's definitely full of gems if Kim's work is anything to go by. Okay, so enough of my adulation for the director. It did make sense at the end though as one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film for me, for a big budget American film, was the inclusion of a nice heap of blood and guts and people losing limbs, a trademark of Kim's, even if it's a bit toned down for the audience. 

Well, it's coming up to the weekend and I see that The Last Stand is available to rent in all good video shops, if you feel you can't handle subtitles or a David Lynch film over the next few days, look no further than here, it may very well be Arnie's last watchable action film, I promise you won't be disappointed. 

A Bittersweet Life (2005), trailer

I am on anti-depressants and suffer from severe anxiety, should I watch this  film on a Sunday night? There's never a bad time to watch Arnie.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

1971 Baby Huey & The Babysitters - The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend



Baby Huey & The Babysitters, 'Listen To Me', 1971

Info: The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend has been one of my favourite and most rewarding discoveries of the last few years, the definition of a mother-funky and uplifting album. Real name James Ramey, he was born in Richmond, Indiana in 1944, before his family moved to Chicago when he was 19 years old. Ramey played in various bands after relocating and in 1963 formed Baby Huey & The Babysitters with organist/trumpeter Melvyn "Deacon" Jones and guitarist Johnny Ross. The group played many local spots and slowly grew in popularity, all the while releasing 4 singles over a stretch of time including 'Messin' With the Kid' and 'Monkey Man' (not to be confused with the Stones version). 

The band adapted quickly to the changing music scene around them which was going from bands in suits and ties to a more psychedelic feel in the mid to late sixties, Ramey himself grew out his afro and started wearing flowing traditional African garb, along with his 400 pound weight he became an even more noticeable frontman. The band moved on to Broadway clubs, the Thumbs Up venue in particular, and performed mostly cover versions alongside some originals. It was here that head of Curtom Records, Curtis Mayfield, saw them for the first time and wanted to sign Ramey up on his own without the band. Jones and Ross would still be involved in the recording process for their first album, but both left before it was completed, citing later their lead singers lazy nature and failure to turn up at sessions. Ramey had developed a heroin addiction along with an alcohol problem, and following a stint in a rehabilitation centre, went back on the drug, leading to a heart-attack at the age of 26 at the Robert's Motel in Chicago. 

Baby Huey's legacy would last longer than he himself did however, with tracks such as 'Listen to Me' (above video), and more frequently, 'Hard Times', being sampled by many artists. 'Hard Times' was to be used predominantly by hip-hop producers from the late-80's onwards, such as Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest ('Can I Kick It?') and 90's one-hit wonders The Blueboy on their great track 'Remember Me'. Ramey has also been cited as the pioneer of freestyle rapping, regularly coming out with on the spot lyrics during the instrumental parts of songs when performing live, one such quoted by music writer Bob Mehr went; 'I’m Big Baby Huey, and I'm 400 pounds of soul. I'm like fried chicken, girls, I’m finger-lickin' good!'. The album itself was released posthumously in 1971, and while it was largely overlooked and ignored at the time, it is now considered to be one of the great unknowns of the 1970's. My favourite tracks are 'Listen To Me', the trumpet and organ-heavy 'Mama Get Yourself Together' and a really nice chilled out version of Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Going To Come', which has some great screeching vocals by Baby Huey. If you're feeling tired and have to reluctantly head out somewhere, stick on The Baby Huey Story and you'll be nicely pumped by the end of the second track.


Track Listing:

1. Listen To Me
2. Mama Get Yourself Together
3. A Change Is Going To Come
4. Mighty, Mighty
5. Hard Times
6. California Dreamin'
7. Running
8. One Dragon Two Dragon

Thursday, 4 April 2013

1970 Free - Fire and Water



Free - Fire & Water, 1970

Info: I'll start off the 1970's album reviews with Free's amazing album, Fire and Water, but before that, I have to say that I know this is going to be the hardest decade to review in terms of the number of great bands and albums that were around during this period. Personally, I believe the 70's was the greatest decade for music, both new bands and existing ones such as Deep Purple, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, I think all of these groups produced their most intriguing albums at this time and pushed the boundaries of experimentation as well. If I was told I could only listen to music from one decade for the rest of my life, it would be this one.

In the same year that Black Sabbath released Paranoid, Neil Young After The Gold Rush, Led Zeppelin's third album, George Harrison's All Things Must Pass and Deep Purple had In Rock, Free brought out there third, and best, studio album, Fire and Water. We all know their famous song 'All Rright Now' which is the last track on the album, but the preceding 6 songs are all killer and no filler, especially 'Oh I Wept', 'Mr.Big' and 'Heavy Load'. Formed in London in 1968 the original line-up consisted of Paul Rodgers on vocals, Paul Kossoff on guitar, Simon Kirke on drums, and a ridiculously young Andy Fraser on bass (15-years old when the band were formed). Rodgers and Kirke would eventually go on to form Bad Company, while tragically guitarist Kossoff died in 1976 at the age of 25 from a heart-attack as a result of his drug-taking habit. Their blues rock style appealed to many and the band toured incessantly, however, it was the aforementioned single, 'All Right Now' that shot them to fame, and ultimately led to them playing in front of 600,000 people at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. The group would go on to release three more studio albums, and a live one (Free Live! in 1971, the unique vinyl album cover in the form of an envelope), before disbanding at the start of 1973, (Kirke and Rodgers becoming increasingly fed up with Kossoff's inability to play live left in '72). 

As always I prefer to introduce people to albums or artists that you may not commonly come across, I wouldn't see the point in me doing a write-up on Abbey Road or Dark Side of the Moon for example. With Free in particular I feel compelled to mention them as a band that have seemingly become overlooked in music writing, rarely appearing in 'best of' lists or referenced by critics. To sum it up I refer to the words of reviewer Matthew Greenwald from www.allmusic.com (very user-friendly site and database of artists / discographies); 'If Fleetwood Mac, Humble Pie and Foghat were never formed, Free would be considered one of the greatest post-Beatles blues-rock bands to date, and Fire and Water shows why.' (I've never heard of Humble Pie either - a hybrid of The Small Faces and Peter Frampton it seems). If I was to guide you to one track above all apart from the album track in the above video, it would be 'Oh I Wept', it's moody, uplifting, has a very smooth loungey bass and great guitar solos, it's also a real summer song, so if you're in Ireland, you can listen to it by the fire with a cup of Bovril. What the hell, here it is below. The album itself, remastered with bonus tracks is currently €6.71 on www.play.com

Track Listing:

1. Fire and Water
2. Oh I Wept
3. Remember
4. Heavy Load
5. Mr.Big
6. Don't Say You Love Me
7. All Right Now

Oh I Wept