Garbage – No Gods No Masters


Album review

I’ve now had a few listens to the seventh studio album by my favourite band Garbage. I can confidently say it’s both impressed and surprised me. The song selection here, like all their albums varies from up tempo rock & synth jams to moody, atmospheric ballads. This time they tackle prominent subjects like sexism, racism, religion and relationships and it all feels a tad more biting than anything they’ve delivered in the past. Songs like The Men Who Rule The World confront the patriarchy, whilst Waiting For God explores Black Lives Matter. However it never feels preachy or too in yer face, still managing to deliver anthemic choruses or meaningful melodies amongst heavy subject matter.

Shirley and co deliver again…

Personal highlights are the throwback 60s spy movie vibe of Anonymous XXX, the exhilarating industrial rock of Godhead and the dark, sinister western movie styled A Woman Destroyed … and although songs like Flipping The Bird and Uncomfortably Me didn’t gel with me as instantly, there’s really no filler on this album. What impressed me the most was the ideas, creativity and sheer ambition on show, with no two songs sounding the same and each one delivering a sense of passion, with something important to say.

Although the use of provocative lyrics and swearing, such as Godhead’s ‘if I had a dick would you blow it?’ or The Men Who Rule The World’s numerous F-bombs caused this to lose a point for me (even if it’s the closest they’ve ever come to eclipsing 1998’s near-perfect Version 2.0) – the slick production, and the writing are otherwise strong enough to (mostly) overlook personal preference. So there we have it. 25+ years into their career, with No Gods No Masters, Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erickson show no evidence of going through the motions and remain in my opinion prominent voices in music that are just as relevant now as they’ve ever been. Give this a listen!

Verdict: Recommended

Cruella


Viewed – 08 June 2021 Disney+

There, I admit it … I have a bit of a crush on Emma Stone. As one of the most versatile, likeable and talented actresses around, it’s difficult not to fall for her charms. This latest vehicle, an origin story of notorious Disney villain Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmatian has Stone playing Estella, an orphaned girl with dreams of making it big in the fashion industry. However what starts out as a sort of ‘Devil Wears Prada’ tale turns into something else entirely when Estella finds herself pitting her wits against famed designer The Baroness who may or may not be linked to Estella’s mother’s untimely death.

You caught me on a bad day….

La La Land’s Emma Stone is clearly having a ball here, paired wonderfully with Emma Thompson’s Baroness, both of which chew up the scenery with their vivid characterisation. This has a throwback Disney setting with the cor-blimey-gov’nor of Mary Poppins London but given a dark Tim Burton-like twist. Stone’s journey from Estella’s street kid / thief to fashion rebel Cruella is an interesting one. Yet at times some of the one-upping and rivalry between the Baroness and Cruella gets a bit silly, and Stone’s forced upper-class English accent can grate.

However, with an engaging 70s soundtrack spanning everyone from The Clash to Nina Simone, plenty of energy and character (Cruella’s two sidekicks are great fun), and a wealth of fun dog moments (of course), this was still highly entertaining. It’s a bit long at almost 2hrs and 20 minutes but rarely drags and had enough story, twists and fun sequences to keep this viewer glued. One to watch.

Verdict: Recommended

Raya and the Last Dragon


Viewed – 05 June 2021 Disney+

I’ve always enjoyed animation and few can argue that Disney (and Pixar) still lead the industry when it comes to animated movies. This latest offering tells the story of Raya, a young girl who grows up amidst fantastical tales of dragons who saved the world from an evil force that once turned people into stone. However their actions also lead to their mysterious disappearance, and when warring factions cause a sacred crystal to get damaged, the evil force returns to reclaim the land. Raya then takes it upon herself to seek out the fabled ‘last dragon’ in hope of banishing the evil for good.

You got a friend in me…

With a Far Eastern theme, similar to Mulan, this gorgeous looking, mystical fantasy adventure had it all. An engaging story, fun characters and some great action with a strong influence from Chinese cinema hits like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Raya (voiced by The Last Jedi’s Lisa Marie Tran), at first seems typical Disney Princess, yet develops into a fleshed-out and likeable lead, aided well by a bunch of quirky characters, including a mischievous baby, a lovable warrior from a rival clan … and especially Sifu as the Last Dragon, who proves this movies shining beacon.

It may not re-write the rule book when it comes to this kind of thing, and it’s themes of trusting / believing in one another are cliched … but done particularly well here, especially towards the end where I must admit it got me quite emotional. Another slam-dunk then for Disney, and possibly one of my favourites in a while from the house of mouse. A must watch.

Verdict: Essential

Zack Snyder’s Justice League


Viewed – 29 May 2021 Blu-ray

This doesn’t happen very often, does it? A movie getting pretty much re-released that isn’t simply a director’s cut but in fact almost an entirely different movie. I feel I was one of the few that enjoyed the original 2018 version of Justice League, and while I could see the flaws, overall it still did its job. So sitting down to this much expanded, 4 hour version was both exciting and a bit intimidating.

Avengers assem… oh, wait.

The story has a megalomaniac villain called Steppenwolf who is searching for three ancient cubes that once brought together will transform our world, destroying all life in the process. So on learning this Bruce Wayne / Batman rushes to form a team of super-powered heroes in hope of stopping Steppenwolf in his tracks.

Zack Snyder, for some reason delivers this version of JL in 4:3 aspect ratio, and despite black bars either side of the screen, after a while I stopped noticing them. His style is so striking here, and with a muted colour pallet compared to the garish tones of JL 2018, this immediately felt more serious and epic. Much of the humour has been toned down, although The Flash’s wise-cracks remain intact. Also, with so much more time there’s far more emphasis on character, especially that of Cyborg, and at times this can feel very much his story, given the most interesting character ark. Superman’s status of being dead and his eventual resurrection is also packed with emotion. The villain’s motives are also better explained, with the addition of one character this time around filling a Palpetine type role to Steppenwolf’s Vader.

The movie may be over 4 hours long but with how it is split into six parts, and spread over two Blu-rays (I watched it over two nights) it didn’t feel bloated or padded and in fact zipped along at a decent pace with several great action scenes. It never gets as powerful as say, Avengers: Endgame, its central plot feels cliched and Steppenwolf isn’t all that interesting. There’s also some unnecessary sequel-bating here and there, with scenes involving Martian Manhunter and even Jared Leto’s Joker needing to be left on the cutting room floor …. but overall this was still an improved, highly entertaining, visually stunning and satisfying experience.

Verdict: Recommended

The Conjuring 3


Viewed – 26 May 2021 Cinema

The Devil Made Me Do It

The universe created for The Conjuring franchise, has in my opinion been (mostly) consistent, quality horror. This latest entry is based on the case of Arnie Johnson, who in 1981 was trialled for murder and as his defence, the lawyers said it was demonic possession.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as real-life paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren who are called in to aid the defence and prove Arnie was possessed. Along the way they stumble upon a satanic curse linked to other incidents. The central story was intriguing and held my interest and how the movie further explored the Warren’s relationship was welcome. Jump scares were plentiful and for the most part well done, and certain set pieces definitely got the hairs standing up on back of my neck (the morgue scene). Also, how Lorraine Warren’s psychic abilities are shown does get quite imaginative.

Franchise creator James Wan steps down from the directing chair, acting as a co-writer and producer and minus his skill at delivering carefully drawn out atmosphere and scares, this failed to get under one’s skin as much as the previous entries … but still retains high production values (with effective sound design) and strong performances. The weakest of the three movies then, but still well worth a watch.

Verdict: Good