Monday, November 24, 2008

Currently listening: GnR, AC/DC and Metallica

Alright, so I haven't blogged about music for a really long time. There hasn't been much good rock music around for a good part of this year. In fact, I found myself guilty of listening to popular radio hits when I needed a break from 90's rock. Velvet Revolver fired Scott "that unstable rockstar" Weiland, and are looking for a new singer, while band members pursue solo careers on the side. Duff McKagan's Seattle-based band Loaded is supposed to be pretty good, but I have yet to check it out. Slash's upcoming solo effort should be super! It could be something in between a Santana album with guest vocalists and a Joe Satriani compilation of long guitar solos. Scott Weiland has a solo album coming out tomorrow as well, called "Happy in Galoshes," and the songs that I heard on his MySpace page were... lame, unfortunately.

Anywho, the last 4 months of this year seem to have a burst of old-time musicians returning to the scene with new material. First, Metallica finally releases a decent album after 2003's debacle, called "Death Magnetic." It is no "Black Album," but has some good tunes and lyrics that blend well together. I would consider this album to be the sane kind of metal music. I will hopefully post a proper review shortly. Smart enough, this CD is available in all stores that sell music.

Hard rock veterans AC/DC are back this year, and with a bang! Their new album "Black Ice" is their typical music, no improvising for the present generation, no techno/emo salt and pepper, just pure rock. And yet, they don't sound outdated one bit. Their first single "Rock N' Roll" train has hit the charts, and I enjoy listening to it every time. The rest of the songs in the album are decent too, except for one that goes all Keith-Urbanesque country. I guess they're targeting a certain crowd.

And finally, finally, finally, Guns N' Roses released their album "Chinese Democracy," which has been in production since 1995! Wait, I'm just going to go ahead and call this an "Axl Rose solo project" because like any other old-GNR die-hard fan and Slash loyalist, the real GNR had to comprise of Axl, Slash and Duff. The presently so-called GNR only has Rose from the original composition, the rest being a handful of free-lancers and a Nine-Inch-Nails has-been guitarist who quit GnR not too long ago. Everybody wins a free 20 Oz Dr Pepper thanks to the soda maker's promise regarding GnR releasing this album.

This GnR is different. Less classic/hard rock, more industrial and emo. Axl Rose's voice has obviously gotten older, and it's the only thing that identifies with the band name right now. Guitarist Bumblefoot and former leads Buckethead and NIN's Robin Finck contribute to the solos in almost all the songs, but none of them beat Slash! However, the songs are not bad, honestly speaking. I might even buy the album just to have something to listen to while traveling abroad. But, is this the best that Axl Rose can do after 13-15 years? Like, seriously? Best songs: Chinese Democracy, I.R.S. and Better. The last one made me laugh.

Note: Guns N' Roses is streaming the full album of "Chinese Democracy" on that link above.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

Movie Title: Quantum of Solace
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright and Judi Dench.
Genre: Action/Adventure/Thriller
Directed by: Marc Foster
My Rating: 8/10

The 007 franchise reboot continues with Daniel Craig starring as the British super spy in a first time direct sequel in the history of Bond movies. QoS continues where Casino Royale last left us, with James Bond picking up Mr. White for interrogation regarding the "organization" and Vesper's (Bond's deceased flame) involvement. Alfa Romeos chasing the hero in an Aston Martin in the mountains of Siena, Italy start the film. Mind you, this movie doesn't start with the "James Bond shooting the screen and splattering blood all over" sequence either, and I do hope the next in the series has it. I won't give away much of the story, but will summarize the characters and flow a bit.

The Bond girls:
Ukranian model and actress Olga Kurylenko made her presence felt in the movie. She wasn't one of Bond's bimbos, but a femme fatale with some secrets in the past who works for the main baddie of this story. She isn't easily charmed by Bond, but is no Michelle Yeoh or Halle Berry as far as giving him the burn goes. The only fault was, she did not look South American one bit, not even with the ultra tan. I wouldn't hold that against her overall performance and character development, though. I look forward to seeing where her career goes from here, many Bond girls don't have much of a post-Bond career peak.

The other lady, a very young Gemma Arterton plays a British field agent based in Bolivia. Not a bad looker, red-headed, speaks with a polished London accent and hardly an ass-kicker. The weaker one of the Bond girls, as there always is.

The villains:
French actor Mathieu Amalric made his mark in English movies with his short but powerful role in Steven Spielberg's Munich, and was an excellent choice to play a Bond baddie. However, he wasn't given enough screen time as he deserved, thereby his character didn't have a chance to establish well with the audience. As a natural resources baron, Amalric's Dominic Green helps a Bolivian general stage a coup d'etat, with the blessing of the American C.I.A., and in return get a certain block of desert which could potentially be an oil field, or just a water dam to hold off water from the famished locals and distribute through the black market (like in Somalia). Hopefully when the DVD for QoS comes out, they'll add about 15 minutes more of Greene's screen time.

Mexican cine veteran JoaquĆ­n Cosio plays the ruthless Bolivian general who wishes to topple the government and rule the country on his own. Even though his character wasn't very likable and his last scene was a little graphic for a Bond movie, he did deserve a couple of more minutes in the first half for better character establishment.

The love-hate Bond aides:
James Bond may say he doesn't have any friends, maybe because he isn't always in their good books. Starting with his MI6 chief still known as M, played gracefully by Dame Judi Dench for the sixth time. Every time Bond catches a suspect, she is impressed. Every time a lead or agent gets killed and Bond is to blame, she asks for his head. James Bond even jokes in one scene that M likes to think she's his mother!

Bond's to be best-and-maybe-only-true C.I.A. ally was played by Jeffrey Wright just like in Casino Royale. A man of conscience, somewhat hesitant to collaborate with baddies, has some instinctive trust in 007, and always has time for a beer and a laugh, even when the marines come barging in. Wright, in my opinion, is an excellent American actor whose true potential is yet to be unveiled. Hopefully his performance in the upcoming Cadillac Records will earn him praise from the critics and audience alike.

Italian veteran Giancarlo Giannini returns as former MI6 associate Mathis, who helps Bond once the agency freezes his assets.

Finally, the flow.
The movie was very fast-paced. The chase at the beginning was rather well done. It was sometimes hard to pay enough attention to the dialogue because I was still recovering from inertia created by the action scenes. The Bourne movies of late have set the bar for action movies so high that even the Bond franchise could have a hard time catching up. The gun shots did sound real, however. If you have been to a shooting range once, or remember a shooting you heard outside your school as a kid, you will know that gunshots do not have a musical sound like they've made to sound in most movies.

For long-time Bond enthusiasts, this movie lacks gadgets. Completely. And somehow I was okay with that. Casino Royale had a few gadgets - in the car etc.. This time, Bond had a simple cellphone, it wasn't even a touch screen that everyone seems to flaunt around these days. The only paranormal thing that this handset could do was take pictures from far-far away. It was probably a 10 mega pixel camera, which is possible to have in a phone, and would always meet a 007 budget.

One thing reminiscent of the classic Bond movies, was how a villain got to Bond by "decorating" the weaker Bond girl. I won't say more, and spare you any spoilers.

This was a great movie! It did not have the novelty like its predecessor, Casino Royale, did. But provided a closure. The next movie in the series will probably be a new episode altogether. I will be surprised if a 70+ Judi Dench will return as M.

8/10. Shaken, not stirred.

P.S. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Actually, I forgot, then remembered. The theme song! Jack White (White Stripes/Raconteurs) and Alicia Keys sang a duet for the first time in 007 movie history, called "Another Way to Die." I am personally a fan of both the musicians, but the song seems like it was written and composed in a bit of hurry. Bond producers should have kept Amy Winehouse's song no matter what. Anyway, here's the video for that song, judge for yourself: