The Zero Hour

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

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Music Monday #4: Howling Bells – Self Titled

I’ve never really been sure why, but I’ve always been drawn to bands with female vocalists, which would probably explain why I’ve so heavily endorsed Metric and Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the past couple of weeks. Whilst I can’t exactly give a straight answer to why, I think it partly leads into the vocal style, I tend to find that you can get more emotion out of a female voice than you can a males. I’m not saying male voices are devoid of emotion, in fact I’m sure in future weeks we’ll see many cases that are the opposite, but for now, let’s talk about Howling Bells.

Howling Bells are a band who like a lot of bands of the period, never quite managed a level of huge success. They came close to it, having toured with Coldplay, critical acclaim and being pick of the week on many radio stations, but it never translated to number 1 albums. Maybe they never will have a gold record and maybe their best years are now behind them (Their 3rd album, The Loudest Engine, whilst enjoyable, didn’t have the magic of the previous two albums), but they are a fascinating, unique band who hold a very special place in my heart.

Formed in Sydney and originally as “Wakiki”, peddling a pop rock sound, the band were dis-satisfied with their sound and decided to change direction, and this involved a big name change to Howling Bells. The making of their first album really kicked off after sending demos to Coldplay producer Ken Nelson, who wanted to work with them in England, this meant the band upping sticks and moving to Liverpool, but there was a catch. Nelson was working on Coldplay’s X&Y and the band spent 10 months waiting for him to become available after X&Y sessions ran on. The unhappiness in the band, stuck in the UK during the cold winter and the delay in production, began to seep into their sound, creating a strange mix of country, gothic blues and indie rock and it suits the vocals, coming across as part Bronte novel, part twin peaks, part PJ Harvey.

So you’d expect this strange mash of styles to be a mess, right? Wrong. It’s a beautiful album, Juanita Stein is possibly one of the best vocalists out there, and it’s her voice and lyrics that lift songs like Setting Sun and The Night Is Young to another plain. Setting Sun especially is a particularly stand-out track, its slide guitars and build-up give the sense of floating as it creates this psychedelic crazy chorus. And then we have Broken Bones, where her feather light falsetto keeps the track feeling bouncy and breezy and even youthful.

For all its gothic twang, the album does have this element of child-like playfulness. Velvet Girl has this one line of teenage ambition that, excuse the pun, completely struck a chord with me. “I’ll be your velvet girl/we’ll leave this town/and change the world” and right there, you have this simple line that feels silly in the eyes of grown-ups, but for an impressionable young teenager, it was just inspirational. That said, in my honest opinion, the album is at its best towards the end when it grows up in a sense. In The Woods is possibly one of the most heart-breaking songs I’ve ever heard, it’s got whispering intimacy against what seems like a magical backdrop and boy/girl vocals sharing each verse like airing their problems out to the world. And the chorus delivery “I can’t run away/from myself/like yesterday/and I/I’ll change my ways/someday soon” is acknowledging their problems, but being helpless to change them, it’s so startling and haunting that it sticks in your mind.

And then the album ends with I’m Not Afraid, which feels like the soundtrack to some kind of Wild West Wasteland, being lost and confused, but strong about what’s coming next. And that’s kind of a nice message to end on, don’t you think?

Key tracks

– Setting Sun
– In The Woods
– The Night Is Young

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Wrath of the Titans

You won't feel the wrath, you might feel boredom though...

Confession time. I’ve not seen Clash of The Titans, the 2010 poster-boy for post-production conversion 3D with Greek gods and that bloke from Avatar, usually that term’s reserved for absolute movie classics like Citizen Kane, but Clash Of The Titans was a classic…right? Oh, apparently it was a mess and was a pretty terrible movie, but clearly enough people didn’t get that message and a sequel was made. So, have the film-makers learned from their mistakes? Well, it’s kind of hard when Warner Bros replaces them for budgetary reasons…

Doing the research that I usually do for a review, I found out that a lot of the creative team behind the first one were sacked for cheaper alternatives, (it was developed with a smaller budget than the first) at the expense of quality. Louis Leteerier, the original director, was replaced by Jonathon Liebsman, who directed classics such as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”, “Battle: LA” and he’s taking the helm of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot…so basically, judging on the quality of those, that movie’s screwed. The long and short of it is that I’m saying his track record isn’t particularly great, so will Wrath of the Titans join that list of “It’s not great”? Oh boy, does it…

The one thing I was worried about entering this movie was the fact that because I’d not seen the original, I’d miss out on perhaps plot and character development. The plus side is they sum up the first movie within about 3 cave paintings and a voice over from Qui-Gon-Jinn, in the opening 2 minutes and there’s a couple of references to the events of it, but it’s glossed over for a new tale, which in all honesty never feels like it begins or ends, within the first 5/10 minutes. We’re introduced to characters, given tons of clunky plot exposition and Zeus is betrayed and kidnapped by Voldemort. No seriously, Ralph Fiennes is in this movie, but he looks incredibly bored and doesn’t emote at all. I wanted pure grade ham, this is the man who literally danced over Harry Potter’s dead body in the last Harry Potter movie, but instead it was just a rotten pork chop from him and all involved. Not that the script gives anyone a lot of room to actually create memorable character, they just exist to either fuel the “plot” or just for the sake of having that type of character in there. For example, we have Rosamund Pike as Queen Andromeda, and you’d think “Female action queen who goes into battle” plus with Pike’s acting chops, we’d get some kind of strong female character that would probably make Katniss Everdeen look like a snivelling wimp, NOT IN THIS CRAPPY MOVIE! If you want strong female characters, go watch The Hunger Games, Andromeda literally does nothing in the whole movie. Actually, if you just want to watch an enjoyable movie, go watch The Hunger Games, I can’t recommend that movie enough. Andromeda’s personality is based around two things. First, she is a warrior. Second, she is a female. Neither of those things are really brought to any attention and she just tags along for no real reason, doing very little. Even Bella Swan had more personality and she was as interesting as a block of wood.

Also, why is Sam Worthington acting in his native Aussie accent? this is accent Greece, I can understand everyone else’s classic English, because that’s just default “fantasy accent” but god-damn was that out of place. Although he was just generally pretty dull and to probably busy chasing the almighty dollar to care (Has he done anything else outside this series and Avatar?). There are side characters that are at least slightly fun, but like a lot of things on show here, they feel out of place and just make the tone just loop around all over the place. It can’t decide whether to be a gritty action movie, character motivated piece, or an adventure movie, and it’s clear the writers don’t know either. Characters announce their motivation or clunkily (it’s a word…) announce who they are to people who know that. I don’t walk up to my brother and go “Hello my brother,” why does Zeus? And there’s another line that bugged me where an older woman is fixing Perseus up after an opening battle that makes no fucking sense and says, and I quote; “You said you wanted your son to grow up as a fisherman, not a swordsman” And I’m just sitting there thinking, why does she need to tell him this, he knows this. In fact, we’ve already seen the child out fishing and seeming like he enjoyed it, there is no need to announce what he wants for his son, because we’ve already established this through the visual act.

And then we move onto the “plot”, which is essentially just a 2 part television plot. It’s literally “Perseus goes to rescue Zeus, fights Kronos” THE END! And that’s literally the movie’s storyline in a nutshell. I don’t have a problem with simple plots, but in order for them to work, you need good characters to keep you interested and immersed in the world, but there’s none of that here and I was just bored. There’s interesting backstory in the Greek mythology regarding the titans that is just never gone into. The entire budget has gone on the CGI, which mind, you is pretty impressive, but as stated without characters, without a decent plot, it’s all mouth and no tunic, which isn’t a nice image, now that I think about it…

BRAIN BLEACH, PLEASE!

So Wrath Of The Titans is essentially a wasted effort, it’s confused, it’s clunky, it’s poorly paced, the acting is terrible and not given any time to develop, which is at its heart, a real shame when you see the cast involved in this, and It’s held together by a loose plot based entirely on spectacle that honestly makes little sense. It’s quickly trot to make a quick buck, it’s really apparent and it is not worth your money. Least we know Hollywood movies can’t get worse this month…

Oh wait, Battleships out next week? ****

The Muppets – Silent Reviews

(Click the picture for the video)

Sorry for the delay in new content, I took a job making a documentary for a company and it kind of took over my time to make other videos and posts.

Also, there is a slight delay in the audio/video at the start, it’s not your computer or flash player, it’s merely a small mistake that honestly I thought I’d fixed and it’s only in that opening few seconds.

The Top 5 Games of 2011

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians – A Silent Reviews Christmas Special