The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

Monthly Archives: August 2009


I’ve been listening to the new Arctic Monkey’s album recently, and it is one hell of a CD. It’s heavier, but sounds reminiscent of their first album for some reason (especially Dangerous Animals)  It’s been produced by Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age and James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco and does sound like a QOSTA album, not that that’s a bad thing. It takes a few listens to really get it, but once it does, you’ll love it. It’s not as good as Favourite Worst Nightmare (My favourite Monkey’s album) but it’s a solid album that’s worth your time.



Pop is back!

I was talking to one of my friends the other day, who’s a big fan of Japanese music and classic rock and we had a big music discussion that at some point involved me praising the current pop movement. After a quick iTunes browsal and considering what albums I wanted to buy, I realised I’m really into current pop music at the moment and after a few moments thought, it hit me. Pop is suddenly cool and popular again.

Remember the late 90’s and early oo’s. Millenium fever, the early internet and when we bought CD’s in shops and the single format ruled the roost. Electronic music was paving the future with Radiohead’s Kid A. guitars were left to bands like Coldplay and Travis and Pop just consisted of boy and girl bands and Disney Mouseketeers, formed simply to capture the hearts and minds of the tweenage market or because they’d won a talent competition. Every pop song realised would sell well, then be forgotten, only remembered for nostalgia sakes, cheesy school discos and as guilty pleasures.

Around last year, pop acts began to turn around. Indie was on it’s last legs, so many bands decided to re-invent themselves or make unique choices in order to win over music industry big wigs and earn fans. They went 2 ways, they went electronic or they went pop. Unfortunately, the latter resulted in bands like Scouting For Girls and The Script. However, those that went electronic went back to their childhood, they went back  the 80’s and Joy Division, The Human League, New Order and other electronic bands. The result? Franz Ferdinand went more pop than ever. The Horrors went for a more sweeping Joy Divison sound and artsits such as Little Boots, Ladyhawke, La Roux and Lady GaGa appeared on the scene, taking the charts with them. Xenomania (a group of writers, musicians and producers) upped their game, making talent show nobodies Girls Aloud cool for the tween market, the casual consumer and with the help of NME, also for indie kids, with both brilliant songs and a genuine hardwork attitude, they’ve collaborated on 20 songs so far and the band are now the most succesful vocal group ever. But how did it get this way?

Well, unfortunately, it’s partly down to the death of the mainstream indie scene. Since the Strokes appeared in 2001, boys and girls on both sides of the atlantic picked up guitars and played a strange combination of The Smiths jangly guitars and the New York garage scene, with catchy lyrics and snappy drum sounds. It took off to great acclaim and Indie took over the world and being in a band was suddenly cool again. Now 8 years later, independent music shops, self made demo tapes and bands that were once full of energy are all but gone. Indie became corporate and stale. Bands moved away from that sound and a good indie band (something I would be discovering on a weekly basis 2 years ago) is becoming rarer and rarer, not to mention that the bands just aren’t selling any more. Kaiser Chiefs latest album “Off With Their Heads” flopped, only releasing one single. As did The View’s. The mainstream music press and media know this. A recent listen to Radio 1 has turned their nose up at indie, Arctic Monkeys aside. Jo Whiley, the daytime voice of indie, is being replaced by Fearne Cotton, former Top Of The Pops host and pop enthusiast. Zane Lowe’s show, which used to be full of indie gems, is more concentrated on Alternative Rock and the fast growing grime genre. Steve Lamaq, the man who introduced the world to Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys has been given the boot from the station.

However, the indie magazine NME, all being to aware of this prepared earlier. In 2008, they championed Ladyhawke, giving her album a glorious review, they also highlighted future pop acts like Florence and The Machine and La Roux to the world, months before they began successful. Allowing the premier indie buying market to ease into the change, which as one of them, I have managed to do.

Pop has gained it’s re-energised success mainly due to one thing. Freedom. Back when pop was big in the late ’90’s, it was because it was a big record company executive telling everyone how it’s done. Meaning female artists had to strut around in as little clothing as possible, sing what’s put in front of them and not have a personality. Now things are very different. The current pop revolution is led by females and they’re doing things their own way, they write their own lyrics, from songs about Sexual politics (Pokerface) to lending a helping hand (New In Town), they tour excessively, they bring a unique sense of glamour and they kick. Ass.

The Cleveland Show: Pilot

I’m not going to lie, when the Family Guy spin-off was announced, starring Cleveland Brown, I was a bit surprised, but I wasn’t enthusiastic about it. Don”t get me wrong, Cleveland was always a funny and likeable character, but most of his humour was based mainly on him bouncing lines of Peter and without that, I was worried that the show wouldn’t work. Well, I can happily say it does and then some.

The episode starts off very similar to an episode of Family Guy, in fact the whole episode feels like a Family Guy episode, which is fine for the first episode, but it’s going to need some killer changes (No flashbacks for example) to distance it. Cleveland and his now overweight son, Cleveland Jr lose the house because of his divorce to Loretta, so they decide to go to California, so Cleveland can live his dream. On the way, they go to Stoolbend, Virginia, Cleveland’s hometown, where Cleveland meets his old high school flame, who’s kids are running wild. He helps her take care of her kids and falls back in love with her and decides to stay. Oh and his neighbour is a Bear.

The episode plays around and feels very light. As far as introductory episodes go, it gets the job done and does it well. MacFarlane has done well to learn from the fairly average pilots of Family Guy and American Dad. But again, because it’s a pilot, it feels held back. There should be an extra depth that’s missing, but maybe I’m grasping at straws.

The characterization is fairly good here as well, the characters aren’t all as diverse as Family Guy or American Dad, but it keeps the absurdity of it’s sister shows, mainly by making one of Cleveland’s best friends a talking bear called Tim. Rallo is instantly a favourite, he’s a five year old, a bit like if Stewie was raised by Quagmire.

All in all, it’s a fairly good first episode and shows good signs of things to come (with a 2nd season already commissioned, it better be), but the main problem with it is it’s just not funny enough, I’m hoping the laughs were moved so they could focus on characters and introductions. Definitely one to watch…

Futurama: The Wild Green Yonder Review

I am a huge Futurama fan, it’s often up there in my top 5 TV shows, so when the final of their 4 DVD “movies” and possibly the final Futurama ever appeared on my doorstep yesterday, I tore open the packaging and shoved it in my DVD player almost immediately. I literally couldn’t wait to see how it all ends. Thankfully I can happily say, it’s no dissapointment.

The DVD opens with a different title sequence than usual, it’s Las Vegas themed, coupled with some good gags and a great Sinatra-esque tune sung by Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, who’s incredible singing talents always blow me away. the earlier parts are based in Mars Vegas, a brilliant alternate version of Las Vegas, all completely owned by the Wongs. There are some great gambling gags and it sets up things nicely, Bender falls in love with a fembot and Fry becomes able to read minds and it all comes together when they enter a poker tournament, however, with the excpetion of Fry’s mind reading ability, this is pretty much all over in about 20 minutes and would have made a good single episode.

The plot twists around a lot and ends up with Planet Express going out of business, Fry, Leela and Bender all on different sides of conflict with each other and then of course there’s the main story which they’re all connected by. Some of Futurama’s best moments are when it’s up to Fry to save the universe (such as The Day The Earth Stood Stupid) and this film really gives one of those stories time to shine, it also adds a bit to the mythology in the form of the number 9 man, dissapointingly his purpose for stalking Fry within crowd scenes throughout the series isn’t mentioned at all and then there’s the return of the Delta brainwave. His story and Leela’s half of the story really compliment each other well and the whole scope feels bigger than a DVD movie.

As ever, the cast are fantastic, Billy West once again does a sterling job as Fry, Farnsworth and Zap Brannigan and John DiMaggio could still run for best cartoon voice for Bender. There are also some great guest voices that amused me greatly, Penn Jilette (I think he’s some magician or something…) plays himself as a big head in a jar. Then there’s also Snoop Dogg, again as a head in a jar and Chief Justice of The Supreme Court, which lends itself some fantastic lines (If it plizzles the cizzle, instead of if it pleases the court) and as ever, the writing is top notch and almost cinematic, as the DVD reaches it’s climax, the main villian turns out to be a leech Leela saves at the start in a great twist (I thougt it would be Leo Wong…) and at the end, the characters enter a big wormhole and Fry and Leela confess their love for each other, leaving the series in a possible eternal cliffhanger. It should tick me off, but it doesn’t, it really feels like an incredible end to an incredible series and quite frankly, as much as I want to see more Futurama, if it ends on a note this high, It’s the best note I’ve ever heard.

In conclusion, Into The Wild Green Yonder is easily the best of the 4 DVD movies, although it doesn’t quite reach the highs of the last seasons, it’s still up there with the best TV conclusions. The only real downside I’ve found with this is that it’s on DVD, I would happily pay £5.50 for a cinema ticket to go see this on the cinema. Ah well, I’ll just play it with surround sound next time. However in the end, I’m just happy to see the show come to a close in the most exceptional way possible.

Skins Series 3 Finale

SCREEN ADDICT: Skins season finale

Ah, Skins, the teen drama that’s captured the nations heart. Over the past 10 weeks, I’ve tuned in to watch the escapades of this new generation of characters and for the most part, I’m not going to lie, I’ve been disapointed. Whereas the first 2 series were pretty innovative, this series has proven that the now tried and tested forumla could do with shaking up. In the first episode of this, we were pretty poorly introduced to the new characters, they felt bland and uninspired and very few I felt I could grow to like. Fast forward 9 weeks and I feel almost the same.

Don’t get me wrong, the series has had some really good episodes, Episode 3-9 weren’t that bad, they had some good storylines and a couple of the characters started to become interesting. However 2 characters never did, those were Freddy and Effy, who unfortunately, are the main characters, and as such the finale caters for them.

The episode leads in from the end of Episode 8 where Cook and Effy ran away after Effy hit Katie with a rock (this was apparently supposed to be a shock, but I couldn’t have cared less). Anyway, it joins them in a small town, somewhere north of Bristol (which could be anywhere…) Where Cooks father lives. Effy, unsurprisingly hates it, and calls Freddy for help and it culminates in a big steeplechase involving piggybacking grannies and stealing a boat. It’s all fairly rushed towards the end and throughout it was impossible to tell where it could go from there. However, that said, it wasn’t the rush other finales have been known to be and as such, it felt weak and disapointing throughout.

The way I see it, last weeks episode would have been a better finale, they could have kept Cook and Effy’s whereabouts as an opener for next series. What I’ve always thought Skins does best was always it’s cliffhangars, even if they don’t go anywhere, they were always excellent in bringing the audience back next year, Tony got hit by a bus in season 1, which effectively garunteeed my viewing next year and Sid went looking for Cassie at the end of season 2, now this wasn’t going to be solved, but I watched this series, hoping for a tiny bt of insight (which we never got). This year, we got nothing, all the loose ends were tied up and there was no cliffhanger. Maybe it’s been done so the writers can start afresh next year, now we know the cast.

In conclusion, in terms of quality, it wasn’t a bad episode, a nice guest appearence from Peep Shows Superhans (I couldn’t imagine anyone else being Cooks’ dad) and some good characterisation. But if you look at it in terms of a series finale, you’re bound to be disapointed.