Death Proof

November 9, 2007

Death ProofThe Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double-feature Grindhouse was a fun idea: slap together two deliberately B-grade films, complete with film wear, missing reels and fake trailers, and show it in cinemas as a nod to a bygone era.

But Grindhouse flopped in the US, so us lucky souls in international markets are getting expanded versions of the two films, each released separately. Death Proof, the first to see a separate release despite it being the second feature in the original double-bill, is Tarantino’s half, expanded from its 90 minute Grindhouse cut to a full 114 minutes.

The plot is fairly basic: Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) has a thing for stalking and killing young women using his “death proof” stunt car. We follow the exploits of two sets of women while Mike prepares to commit vehicular homicide on each group.

The good news is that Russell is excellent — creepy, menacing and occasionally hilarious. Furthermore, the driving sequences are spectacular and quite amazing to watch.

The bad news is that, as a genre exercise it works well, but at 114 minutes it more than outstays its welcome. Long, long stretches of Tarantino’s trademark dialogue feel like padding that adds nothing and lacks the wit and spark of, say, John Travolta’s banter with Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. All I could think of while watching was, “I’m sure the 90 minute cut wasn’t this tedious.”

The problem here is that this material was never meant to stand on its own, and so, removed from its context and with 24 minutes of filler added for good measure, you end up with something that feels rather pointless. We’re being asked to treat the international cut as the new Tarantino film, and on that level it completely fails.

I’d like to think that the original Grindhouse worked as what it was, but Death Proof in its expanded form — despite its countless references and in-jokes — just isn’t that fun. The average filmgoer would be bored stiff.

Eagles: Long Road Out of Eden

October 31, 2007

Long Road Out of EdenIt’s been 28 years since the last Eagles studio album. 28 years! And so, finally, comes Long Road Out of Eden, an album that alone took six years to complete. While you’re listening to this new set of songs, however, it’s hard to imagine that any time has passed at all.

The classic Eagles sound is still there in full force, but this is not simply a nostalgia trip — Don Henley in particular anchors much of the album with biting critiques of current American culture and foreign policy. Sure, it’s trendy to bash the current political climate (cf. Pink), but only Henley (or perhaps Roger Waters) can write lyrics like “And we pray to our Lord/Who we know is American…/He supports us in war/He presides over football games.”

Still, there’s more beauty than bitterness amongst the 20 tracks on offer, such as “Center of the Universe”, a gentle piece that hits just the right notes with its pastoral guitar-work, or the near-a cappella “No More Walks in the Wood”, which manages to be environmentally-conscious without sounding too preachy or condescending.

There are too many great moments to run through them all, but it would be remiss not to mention the ten minute title track which serves as a centrepiece to the album. Somewhat reminiscent of “Hotel California”, “Long Road Out of Eden” replaces dark observations on the price of fame with pointed political commentary, juxtaposing the dream of empire-building with the realities of war in a foreign land. (And all she still wants to do is dance, I guess.) It’s the music, however, that sells the song, and this track above the rest deserves to be played loud: it’s full of nuance and atmosphere that needs to be felt more than simply listened to.

At 90 minutes over two discs, the risk is that the album wears out its welcome, but instead the experience remains pleasant and engaging throughout. I cannot overemphasise just how good this album is — I have yet to hear the new Bruce Springsteen, the new John Fogerty or even the new Neil Young, but Long Road… is perhaps so powerful, so surprising, because it’s so unexpected. How many other bands can manage material this strong after a near-30 year hiatus? Very, very few.

David Gilmour: Remember That Night

October 31, 2007

Remember That NightThere are fans of Pink Floyd who will argue that once Roger Waters left, the band ceased to be (and Waters certainly wouldn’t have disagreed in the past). While 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason can easily be regarded as a solo album by David Gilmour in all but name, the beauty of Gilmour’s 2006 release, On an Island, was that it didn’t have the baggage that the Floyd name carries with it — expectations are somewhat different for a Gilmour solo release, and so, ironically, it allows the listener to draw the conclusion that, indeed, Gilmour is as much Pink Floyd as Waters ever was.

Remember That Night, Gilmour’s new live DVD and companion piece to On an Island, benefits in the same way. Firstly, Gilmour is joined on stage by Floyd founding member Rick Wright, so you’ve already got somewhere between 40-66% of the band there (depending on your perspective). Secondly, the staging, while spectacular, is much more intimate than the overblown PULSE setup: there are no flying pigs, no giant video screens and no flash pots. Instead, we’re treated to an evening of Pink Floyd classics and the entirety of On an Island performed live.

The highlights of the first disc are the performances of “Echoes” (all 20+ minutes of it) and a stripped-down “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, but the biggest treat is seeing David Bowie alongside Gilmour for “Comfortably Numb” and “Arnold Layne”, the latter fitting Bowie’s style amazingly well. (Having Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera along for the entire ride is just icing on the cake.)

The second disc fills out the selection with bonus tracks and promo videos, but there’s one particular surprise on the tour documentary Breaking Bread, Drinking Wine that I won’t spoil except to say that it’s both awkward and touching at the same time.

In short, any Pink Floyd fan should pick up this DVD ASAP. And if you haven’t heard Gilmour’s On an Island yet, buy that, too. This is music too good to go unnoticed.