Rubber (May Contain Spoilers)

Sometimes, things happen in films that don’t seem to make much sense. They happen every so often, on a small scale or a large scale, whether it’s how Jack Bauer can go a whole series of 24 without needing to eat or use the loo, or the entire third Matrix movie. But sometimes, you get an entire film that makes absolutely no sense for the sake of making no sense. These films fall solidly in the “surrealism” genre, and they’re very hard to make unless you’re already a bit mental to begin with. Rubber, as it happens, is definitely a surrealism film of the best kind.

Rubber is, as is said by Stephen Spinella’s sheriff character in his opening monologue, an “homage to the ‘no reason’”.  Rubber follows the story of Robert, an inanimate tyre that comes to life and starts exploring the world, only to find he has destructive psycho-kinetic powers and can explode things at will. As he goes on a murderous path of destruction, a mysterious woman becomes his obsession. That’s the official synopsis of the film, but what isn’t mentioned is that the only reason all this is happening is because there are people watching from the start which means the characters involved have to carry on as long as they are still watching. Pretty bizarre stuff, right? Until you’re actually watching the film, it’s hard to grasp just how bizarre and surreal Rubber can get.

Ok, so Rubber is obviously meant to be incredibly kitschy and overblown, and in no way meant to be taken seriously, which is what makes Rubber so funny and entertaining. In fact, if it weren’t for the monologue explaining things happen in films for “no reason” and very nearly breaking the 4th Wall in the process (it turns out he’s talking to the spectators that keep cropping up to keep track of what’s happening, and doubling as a reminder that perhaps other people are just as confused as you are), Rubber perhaps wouldn’t be half as funny as it is. After you’ve accepted the “no reason” rule, the rest is just fun.

Technically speaking, the camera angles from a tyres-eye-view and the way Robert gets animated in such a way that he takes on a personality of his own is a very clever bit of filmmaking in an otherwise bizarre film from the mind of Quentin Dupieux, otherwise known as Mr Oizo, who made the music for Rubber as well.

This is possibly the 3rd or 4th most surreal film I’ve seen (falling short of some Salvador Dali and Louis Bunuel films), but the surreal acts of the sheriff telling the other cops that none of it is real and they can go home despite how the victim is missing a head, or the point at which you realise that watching a tyre roll around has never been so interesting, all contribute to the comedy in some fashion. The only way it could have been more surreal is if they had continually broken the 4th Wall like in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, but the use of the spectators is almost a round-about way of doing that as they represent the audience during the movie.

Rubber is, essentially, the best kind of a waste of an hour and a half. It’s not serious, it’s not arty, but it is just a total mind-mushing shock-comedy. Rubber gets 7 out of 10 for being completely and utterly batshit, but in the best kind of way.

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Foo Fighters – “Wasting Light”

Arguably one of the biggest rock bands in the world today, Foo Fighters are back with their seventh studio album Wasting Light. After their last album Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace I personally found Foo Fighters to be coming out with one particularly good song per album, and the rest coming across as background songs – just the same old stuff on a new album.

With Wasting Light, Dave Grohl took his band back to the drawing board and took a close look at their “early days” albums like their debut and The Colour and The Shape, and took on producer Butch Vig who had produced Nirvana’s Nevermind album to put the new album together. Right from the outset, it is possible to tell that going back to basics has worked in their favour.

Album opener Bridge Burning is evidence of Foo Fighters going back to their The Colour and The Shape era, with a more melodic sound of Monkey Wrench taking the foreground on this song but with a different kind of twist behind it. It’s powerful, like their recent stuff as show by Dave Grohl’s opening line of “These are my famous last WOOORDS”, but also more technical and melodic at the same time.

First single Rope introduces a new, ethereal sound to what they are trying to achieve on Wasting Light before the anthemic chorus comes in and gives a feeling of nostalgia, already showing just how much Foo Fighters are going back to the days of experimenting and trying out new sounds. White Limo also goes in a new direction, taking on a heavier kind of rock with its angry, distorted vocals coming across more like a combination of Foo Fighters’ powerful rock and a Queens of the Stone Age stoner-rock fuzz. This is also a good reminder of Dave Grohl’s side project Them Crooked Vultures, as White Limo could easily have been lifted off of that album too.

These Days is a pleasant, chilled out song to start with, contrasting a lot of the rock madness on the rest of the album, but then becomes something much bigger as it grows into a more butch, beastly song showing how Foo Fighters don’t want anything to slow the pace they started the album with.

Back and Forth and A Matter of Time both have a mix of heavy, fuzzy guitars and Taylor Hawkins’ salvo-like drumming layered under melodic vocals, demonstrating more straight-talking lyrics like “my past is getting us nowhere fast, I was never one for taking things slow”. These kinds of simple lyrics over a stripped back sound show that Foo Fighters can exist without a big budget studio recording and come out with something as good as this.

The heavy bass middle section in I Should Have Known comes courtesy of ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, and was apparently written about Dave Grohl dealing with the suicide of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain so it’s fitting that the singer and the bassist of that former band should re-unite for this song, before Walk closes the album.

If it took Dave Grohl and company going back to their roots, working out of their garage and stripping back to a rawer, unpolished sound to produce something as good as Wasting Light, then clearly it’s a formula that works incredibly well for them!

Scream 4 (May Contain Spoilers)

With all the Hollywood Horror franchise re-boots happening over the last few years (see Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th for a better understanding), it’s gradually becoming apparent that some horror makers are starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for fresh ideas. Now, at this point, I could quite easily go on an essay-long rant about how horror films are constantly having to be re-invented in order to one-up themselves, meaning what was once considered scary is now laughable, and how audiences now rely on cheap visual horror and gore than the psychological horror of the 80’s and 90’s. Fortunately, I can save that for another time since Scream 4 goes most of the way towards pointing the finger at the horror film industry in an accusing way for me!

When Scream first came out, it had such an interesting mix of slasher-horror and cynical outside observations that it immediately became a success among horror freaks for its ability to mock the industry whilst also re-defining it at the same time. And now, 15 years after the first in the series, Wes Craven has made Scream 4 (or Scre4m, depending on where you see it) to poke some fun at a whole new generation of horror films. Ten years after the events in Woodsboro, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has brought herself back together after writing her story and publishing it as a book. But on returning to her hometown on her book tour and reuniting with fellow survivors Sherrif Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers-Riley (Courtney Cox), a new Ghostface arrives to torment Sidney and all those around her. And a new Ghostface means all new rules in this game of horror – which means anyone could be a victim, and anyone could be the killer…

The way this story develops is much the same way as the first Scream, as the producers have gone back and taken a long look at what made the first one so good and updating it for the newer generation. But this in itself is where the genius comes in to Scream 4, as there are conversations about the horror re-makes throughout the film and, more accurately, about how bad they are. It’s actually said by the character Charlie that everything has been done in a certain way that “the unexpected is the new cliché”. There’s also a lot less character development among the characters, but that’s down to the fact that a lot of the surviving characters have already developed as much as they can and Scream 4 is all about focusing on the new generation and the younger cast of victims, including Hayden Panettiere (whose character surely only survives for so long due to her knowledge of horror films), Rory Culkin and Emma Roberts as Sidney’s cousin Jill Roberts (or “the new, young Sidney”).

The great thing about Scream 4 is that, even though you sort of don’t want them to, any of the surviving cast could potentially be offed in this instalment, and they each have their encounters with Ghostface, harking back to the question of just what exactly IS “unexpected” in slasher films nowadays. For all its pointing towards who the killer could be, Scream 4  does still keep you guessing until the end reveal.

Scream 4 ups everything – from the blood and gore killings, to the satirical cynicism of the Hollywood horror industry such as the opening scene with the various piss-taking Stab film openings, cramming as many famous names into the first five minutes only to be killed off in faux opening scenes, to the way the killer has to “re-invent” itself in order to stay relevant for the Online generation. Essentially, Scream 4 has everything in it that made the original so much fun to watch, with all the hilarious satire that made the original relevant updated for an evolving film industry. Scream 4 gets 8 out of 10, but only loses points because I wanted to see more closure after the end resolve. But could that only mean more Scream films on the horizon…?

Yellowcard – “When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes”

After a two year hiatus, Floridian pop-punkers Yellowcard are back with their seventh album When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes. Originally, they met with mixed opinions over having a violinist (Sean Mackin) in their regular line-up, adding a new and interesting element to their pop-punk sound. After the popularity of Ocean Avenue in 2003 though, their unique mixture of pop-punk with added strings became a unique and significant sound in the genre in the following years.

I always found Ocean Avenue to be a good record as it brought the band into the public eye, but after this they seemed to fall short of the mark with their following albums. It’s clear on When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes that Yellowcard are going back to replicate the sound and the dynamic they had on Ocean Avenue (that of deep, chugging, staccato guitars and flowing violins and riffs in the chorus) but also trying to evolve their sound to stay relevant in a genre that has seen bands come and go with popularity in the time they were simply on hiatus.

When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes has a lot of what made Yellowcard so recognisable with songs like With You Around and Sing For Me almost coming straight out of the Ocean Avenue era. While these songs are good, it makes it seem as though Yellowcard are living in the past rather than evolving their sound to become something more cutting edge.

That being said, songs like album opener The Sound of You and Me evoke certain feelings of nostalgia that remind fans why they liked Yellowcard in the first place with its swirling, high-end guitars, and first single For You, And Your Denial shows an element of evolution among the band that keeps them in the present day through its pounding riffs and lyrics of “Desperation kills, but when it’s on your sleeve you wear it well”. While the strings may not play as prominent a part on the album as a whole, when used in songs like this they make more of an impact rather than blending into the background.

Second single from When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes is the slower, more melodic Hang You Up. While its lyrics of “I don’t hear music anymore, my ears are tired of all the pictures in the words, you are in them still” may seem typically love-struck, its melody and execution bring emotions to the surface of the listener rather than allowing them to switch off from the album for any moment.

Life of Leaving Home is another song that shows a new side to Yellowcard with its use of heavier riffs mixed with melodic choruses and high-end guitars, owing more to post-rock rather than their usual pop-punk sound and is definitely a highlight of the album. Hide and Soundtrack also give long-term fans something to enjoy with the latter in particular using more of the sound that got Yellowcard the notoriety they have now, and uses more prominent strings during the chorus. See Me Smiling is another evocative song that Yellowcard do so well with Ryan Keys vocals giving the lyrics their meaning, before Be the Young rounds off the album with a snippet of what Yellowcard are gradually becoming through their changing sound.

When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes easily has a lot that fans of Yellowcard’s earlier work will be pleased with, but there are also a few gems here that can attract fans from a newer brand of pop-punk bands.

Funeral For A Friend – “Welcome Home Armageddon”

The Welsh power-house quintet known as Funeral For A Friend have been going strong since forming in 2001, and were pretty much the leading band in the post-hardcore movement of that decade. Welcome Home Armageddon is studio album number five from the Bridgend Boyos, and for many reasons sees a new and reinvigorated approach to their sound.

Firstly, there is another line-up change from their last album Memory And Humanity, seeing founding guitarist Darran Smith leave the band and bassist Gavin Burrough (who joined the band on that album) take over as guitarist with new member Richard Boucher take over bass. On top of that, Welcome Home Armageddon has been released through independent record label Distiller Records, whereas Memory And Humanity was released through Join Us Records, the bands own record label. The combination of these means Funeral For A Friend have shaken everything up, torn up the instruction manual and gone back to basics on Welcome Home Armageddon.

The band has said themselves they want to progress rather than go back on themselves with their sound, and that’s very true of Welcome Home Armageddon, but there are definitely similarities in its sound to their successful first album Casually Dressed & Deep in Conversation. While Memory And Humanity went back to the heavy/melodic mix and the technical sounds their first album had, it was also very studiously put together. Now, Welcome Home Armageddon has a more raw and infectious side to it, and never lets up for a second with its onslaught of brutal and beautiful (…or “brutiful”?) sounds in equal measures.

Album opener This Side of Brightness is a melodic instrumental bit, but also lulls you into a false sense of what the rest of the album will be like when the first actual song Old Hymns jumps to life with its technical drums and high-end guitar. The slow build-up on single Front Row Seats to the End of the World gets rudely shoved out the way when the angular guitars, machine gun drums and brutal vocals tumble out of the speakers and create a sound reminiscent of the FFAF of old, giving longer-term fans something to enjoy in the process!

Sixteen brings back a riff-heavy sound similar to that of Casually Dressed… but also manages to mix in a more punk-rock sound in process, adding a new element to an already good sound. Normally, each album Funeral For A Friend make has a melodic acoustic song to break up the mayhem on the album, and at first it sounds like Owls (Are Watching) might be that song for this record. But when the raw, heavy groove comes in, it becomes apparent that with Welcome Home Armageddon Funeral For A Friend aren’t taking any time out to rest.

Damned If You Do, Dead If You Don’t carries on the fast paced onslaught of riffs with Medicated slowing the pace down again before becoming a more anthemic and emotion-led number with the lyrics “Screaming out for another feeling, paper houses cutting corners.” Broken Foundation busts out the grooves so fast and hard it could knock down walls, and is a pleasant surprise towards the end of the album when you think things are dying down a bit, before the title track rounds off the album in the true Funeral For A Friend style of leaving you wanting more.

Welcome Home Armageddon is packed with some of Funeral For A Friends finest works of the last few years, meaning long-term fans will be happy with what they hear whilst also being inventive enough to gain new fans in the process.

Red Riding Hood (May Contain Spoilers)

Obviously taking the majority of the storyline from the original children’s tale with a darker twist, Red Riding Hood takes place in a small medieval village which is plagued by a werewolf roaming around the outside forests. Living in this village is Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), a young girl who is torn between two men – the dark, brooding outsider woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and the man she is arranged to be married to, the rich and young Henry (Max Irons). Three guesses which one she goes for? Unfortunately for Valerie, after the villagers start hunting it with the help of notorious werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), it becomes apparent that she has a deep connection with the wolf terrorizing the village. Solomon tells the people the hard truth –the wolf is someone within the village. It then becomes a village-wide hunt to find out who the wolf is while Valerie fears the wolf is closer to her than she thinks… Starting to sound a little familiar? Possibly like some other supernatural franchise with a similar style to this one? Yes, that’s what I thought too.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I saw this film was being made, my mind (like many others) immediately thought “Really? Another Twilight? Why do we need that?” While it’s unfortunate in some respects that this film bears an uncanny resemblance to Twilight, and the fact that Catherine Hardwick is also directing this film and has her name followed by “…From the director of Twilight”, there’s no denying that particular franchise has done well for itself. So the fact that these two are apparently so closely related comes across as a bit of a double-edged sword, or a back-handed compliment from someone you don’t like but are sort of impressed by.

After seeing Red Riding Hood, and gritting through all the “Twilight School of Film-Making” parts, the majority of the film doesn’t actually have too much in common with the vampire franchise other than the landscapes look very familiar, it bears a resemblance in the love story and Shiloh Fernandez was at one point a would-be Edward Cullen. The film that Red Riding Hood actually reminded me most of was a slightly tamer Sleepy Hollow, which was actually a good film. So in that respect, it comes across more like the film Catherine Hardwicke would have made Twilight into if she had more of a budget behind it and more options for casting.

The only thing that became a little tedious about Red Riding Hood was the deliberate pointing to who the wolf wouldn’t be through characters accusing others of how they could be the wolf. It almost became easier to work out who it would be from who hadn’t been accused of being the wolf by the end of the film. It’s a cheap technique in these films sometimes, and normally works out better if no-one gets suspicious of other people, as that way everyone remains potentially guilty until the big reveal at the end. But that possibly just comes from watching too many of these films!

Credit where credit is due, Red Riding Hood does keep you guessing a little bit as the film progresses and the wolf itself makes an impact in the small amount of screen time it gets. But what is perhaps most impressive about the film is that it manages to achieve in about an hour what it has so far taken the Twilight films three movies to achieve – the establishing of a woman torn between two men, falling for one who isn’t right for her but everyone seems to be rooting for anyway, having a connection with supernatural beasts out to get her and ultimately coming out the other side stronger for the experience. All rounded off within the two hour mark. It’s Twilight Lite – all the action, all the story, and only one-third of the fat!

Red Riding Hood gets 6 out of 10 from me for being entertaining and a bit original, but still playing a little to the masses as part of a trend of “gothy” films.

Source Code (May Contain Spoilers)

When I first saw posters advertising Source Code, I wrote it off as another attempt to re-package some same old crap from before in order to keep the sci-fi meter ticking over in Hollywood as all inventiveness was going out the window. Much like Battle: Los Angeles was. But then I saw that Source Code was directed by Duncan Jones, the same guy that directed the incredibly popular and interesting Moon last year, and I thought again about my initial judgment.

Source Code sees Jake Gyllenhaal as ex-helicopter marine Colter Stevens who wakes up to find himself in someone else’s body on a commuter train headed for Chicago. Across from him sits Christina (Michelle Monaghan), a beautiful young girl who seems to know the person Colter is currently in the body of. 8 minutes later, the train explodes killing hundreds of innocent people in the process. When Colter next wakes up, he finds himself in a capsule being talked through his mission by military official Officer Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). He gets told that he is part of an operation called “Source Code” – a new technology which allows someone to go into the echo of the mind of someone else for 8 minutes before they died, and it is Colter’s mission to re-live the same 8 minutes until he can find the bomb on the train and who set it off before more people get hurt.

The element I found most interesting about Source Code was the same element that I liked most about Moon, which is that throughout everything that’s happening you only know as much as the lead character knows – all of his questions, all the information he gets and everything he learns is the same for him and the audience at the same time. It doesn’t talk down to the audience by explaining everything in one go, but at the same time doesn’t leave anything unanswered by the time the credits roll either.

The drip-feed of information and the side-by-side storyline of Colter find out about the military programme he doesn’t remember being part of and working out who planted the bomb on the train and how to stop it is a very clever way of breaking up the action between the two. Of course, the big explanation that people want to know from the beginning is how “Source Code” works in the film. While it does get explained, it’s explained with such “real-world” physics and algorithms that no-one except your particle physicist mate sat next to you will understand it. But basically, he can be put in the echo of someone’s mind and it’s described as “time manipulation, not time travel” – he doesn’t go back in time, he just re-lives it.

A lot of ad campaigns right now seem to be drawing parallels between any new sci-fi film and Inception. Which personally, I don’t like as its partly killing the reputation of Inception but also because Source Code comes across more like a mixture of Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap. Each of those would be good enough on its own, but when they come together to create something as cerebral as Source Code, it can only be a good thing! In fact, Scott Bakula who played Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap is the voice of Colter’s father on the phone – coincidence? Well, not really, no.

Overall, Source Code has its own kind of originality that lets it stand out from other sci-fi white noise currently on the go, and the structure of the script and quality of the direction makes the story that much more gripping to watch. And considering that it ends in a way that isn’t ambiguous or with a dual meaning, everything gets rounded off in a satisfying way too. Source Code gets a 7 out of 10 from me for originality, and because I used to enjoy watching Quantum Leap as well!