Monday, 28 February 2011

Alexi Murdoch - Some Day Soon, out March 14th

This is a little different from our usual posts - the video below is a live performance - but it's worth bending the rules from time to time. Alexi Murdoch's appearance at New York's The Mercury Lounge on February 7th is hopefully not the last we'll hear of this guy.

Some Day Soon, the song performed here, is released as a single on March 14th, while Murdoch's album Towards the Sun offers more astonishingly simple music which continues the back-to-basics trend that saw Mumford & Sons claim Best Album at this year's Brits.

Love it or hate it, this kind of thing is gathering momentum in the face of over-produced, manufactured pop. I actually love both, so it'll be interesting to see what happens in the months to come...


Wye Oak - Civilian, out March 7th

If you're eagerly awaiting the March 7th release of Civilian, the new album from Wye Oak, we have a sneak preview for you. This is an acoustic performance of the haunting title track, which cuts to the very core of the album's themes of aloneness and letting go. Take a look at the video below and crank up your excitement about the impending release of Civilian by one more notch.

For more about the album itself, check out our full review here.

80s Movies: Week 4

Our month-long special look back at some of the greatest movies of the 80s comes to a close, but there's still time for a carousel of the past seven days' cinematic heroes, if you've got a spare fiver burning a hole in your Amazon account...

80s Movies: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

It's the end of the road for this month's 80s movies series... and we're rounding things off with a sequel, which is a little out of character. It's a good one though, as we're ending with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

There are inevitable comparisons between Star Trek and Star Wars. I've always been more of a Trekker - I really don't like Star Wars at all. Sorry about that. But it's worth noting the importance of Wrath of Khan in the history of Star Trek.

Where the first Star Wars trilogy stands as a single entity now - albeit with the benefit of hindsight - the Star Trek movies were never so cohesive. The show and its big-screen spin-offs have always been primarily a series of separate stories, rather than being split into chapters or volumes.

In Star Trek II, however, we have the first in a three-film story arc that remains probably the biggest tale the Star Trek world has ever told without distraction or interruption.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

80s Movies: Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins is yet another fine example of a standalone 80s movie. Sure, they made The New Batch in 1990, but that wasn't planned from the outset. Gremlins was never the 'first' film in a franchise (as far as I know) - it was just a one-off, cute comedy-horror movie.

It stars Gizmo, the wide-eyed mogwai who pretty much personifies the concept of Pandora's Box, along with his human friends, Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, who play Billy and Kate. This is Gizmo's show though, along with the eponymous Gremlins who later emerge - the humans are basically cattle waiting to be slaughtered.

This movie pushes slapstick to its acceptable limits - if it's Christmas and the protagonists are puppets, is it OK to fire an old lady through her own skylight on an overclocked stairlift? The answer, happily, is yes. I was one when Gremlins was released so can't have been more than four or five the first time I watched it on TV. I don't remember ever actually being scared of the Gremlins - but then, I may have been too busy thinking Gizmo was awesome.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Dragon Age 2 - Preview

Though sadly unlikely to reach the heights of the original Baldurs Gate, at least in my head (hey I was 13 when it came out and it blew my mind), a new Dragon Age game is the next best thing in my gaming world. I spent something like 90 hours game time on Origins, and actually, I haven't even completed it yet (must get round to that).

In any case this sequel promises to be even more epic, more exciting, more challenging, and looking at the concept art even more beautiful than the first. The full game doesn't drop until March 11th, but I have played the PC demo which Bioware posted online this week, and very encouraging it is too.

The demo lets you play through the prologue, and will probably take you around an hour to complete. Your reward if you do so is a free (virtual) sword, and if the demo gets 1 million total downloads Bioware will release another two extra in game items.

Let's Dance for Comic Relief 2011

Let's Dance for Comic Relief 2011 pitted a whole new cohort of celebs against each other. The real question was, could anyone other than a male comedian in drag ever win this title? Robert Webb's Flashdance... What a Feeling won the 2009 series, Let's Dance for Sport Relief 2010 was won by Rufus Hound's Fight for This Love and Russell Kane proved a popular option in week one of the 2011 contest with his take on Beyonce's Crazy in Love.

Singles Round Up: Dum Dum Girls - He Gets Me High

So Adele stormed both the singles and album charts this week following her remarkable performance at the Brits, and it looks like she might well stay top again tomorrow. There are no big challenges to that dominance coming out this week, but there are a one or two very good smaller releases. Dum Dum Girls are our pick of the lot.

Dum Dum Girls - He Gets Me High
Dan: He Gets Me High is a 4 track EP in truth, but we'll treat it as a single here. The title track is a really nice piece of Spector-esque indie girl-pop, all swirly blustering guitars and sweet underlying melodies. Dee Dee's clear vocals have a very 80s sound to them, she's often been compared to Susana Hoffs of the Bangles, but she sounds a lot like Blondie on this track. Also on the EP is a cover of the Smiths classic There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.
» Dum Dum Girls on iTunes

80s Movies: Weird Science (1985)

If you watch just one 1985 teen sci-fi movie this year, make it Back to the Future. But if you've had enough of paradoxes and jigowatts and you'd much rather see Kelly LeBrock in her prime, watch Weird Science. She pretty much single-handedly carries this movie in the way that, for example, Liz Hurley doesn't quite manage to do in 2000's Bedazzled.

So much happens in Weird Science that it's hard to know quite what to say about it. This might be one of those movies that you just have to watch - otherwise it's like saying Ferris Bueller's Day Off is about him 'not going to school'. It just doesn't quite encapsulate the full story, does it?

Also, just the briefest of mentions here for Bill Paxton - a muchly undervalued actor who pops up in quite a few of my favourite movies (Twister, in particular) but is often given fairly one-dimensional characters. As Chet in Weird Science, he doesn't exactly buck that trend, but it's still fun to see him playing that numbskull role for which he's become so well known.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Dananananaykroyd - E Numbers

Bored on a Friday afternoon? Jump-start your weekend with a play-through of E Numbers, the new track from Dananananaykroyd. It's also a glimpse of what to expect from their upcoming second album, which any of you who bought debut effort Hey Everyone have no doubt been hotly anticipating.

It's a rowdy, high-energy affair, and borders dangerously close to that I'm-going-to-play-my-instrument-fast-and-loud type of music that I'm not totally enamoured with, but E Numbers manages to escape falling completely into that trap. Instead, there's a fine balance between the frenetic parts and those that are perhaps a little more carefully considered. Not a bad effort, by any means... your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the last 11 seconds though.

80s Movies: Aliens (1986)

Aliens, if you didn't already know, is the 1986 sequel to 1979's Alien. We've largely avoided sequels - and even the first films of franchises - during 80s movies month, with a couple of exceptions. But this one deserves including for a number of very good reasons.

Firstly, it's almost unilaterally agreed that this is the best of the Alien films. Start the old "sequels that were better than the first film" conversation in the pub and Aliens is usually one of the first films to get a mention.

Secondly, it's got some great people in it, most of whom I associate specifically with that decade. Sigourney Weaver has come to be defined by her role as Ellen Ripley (and, of course, also starred in 1984's Ghostbusters). Lance Henriksen delivers a star performance as Bishop. Bill Paxton is... well, Bill Paxton, in that same meathead character he always plays - here it's Pvt Hudson, but it could easily be bonehead Chet from Weird Science or the slightly more well-meaning Bill Harding from Twister.

There's also Paul Reiser - the comedian I know best from My Two Dads and Mad About You. Here he's playing a slightly dubious, whose-side-is-he-on company suit. It's an odd casting choice but, like each of the others in Aliens, it works well.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

80s Movies: Fatal Attraction (1987)

Fatal Attraction wins its place in our 80s movies run-down not by being good (although it's not all that bad...) but for one very good reason. We might not all go around saying "Great Scott!" when we're surprised, or dropping "I ain't lost ma heed!" and "Them's ma rightful propertah!" into conversation, but everybody - everybody - knows what a bunny boiler is.

Admittedly, not everyone may have seen the movie or really know the derivation of the phrase, but that doesn't detract from the fact that this film was a history-maker. It looks a little dated now, but the performances are as strong as they ever were, and it has that kind of harrowing nature that seems to be sorely lacking from most modern-day movies.

It's interesting to think that this gritty psychodrama was released in the same year as Mannequin (see yesterday's review) - all too often the 80s gets 'flattened' into one genre or other, but people seem to neglect the fact that this was an entire decade of movie-making, music, fashion and culture, with all the complexity you might expect to come from that.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

80s Movies: Mannequin (1987)

Mannequin stars Andrew McCarthy as Jonathan Switcher - and Kim Cattrall as Emmy, the eponymous mannequin. She can only come alive in the presence of Switcher, meaning her more outlandish behaviours get blamed on him.

In a sense this movie is like having the highest-maintenance girlfriend of your life - you feel like you're going crazy, nobody else can see what it's like, and you get blamed for all the weird things she decides to do when nobody's looking.

There are plenty of montages, the most brilliantly dated 80s soundtrack of them all, and of course Starship's Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now to tie it all together in the end. For that song alone it deserves its place in history.

Mannequin is one of my favourite movies of all time, even though I know it's fundamentally terrible. That doesn't really matter - it's like expecting Clueless to be Pan's Labyrinth or something. However bad Mannequin may be, it's impossible to hate it - it's just too upbeat.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

80s Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The fact that Raiders of the Lost Ark doesn't begin with the words "Indiana Jones and the..." is the first sign that yes, this was the first one. Never one to start slowly, Indy ploughed straight into treasure-hunting by looking for the Ark of the Covenant, in which the Ten Commandments were reputedly stored. Not only that, but he actually finds it and it's surrounded by Nazis - and it's not even time for World War II yet. It's a strangely fun adventurous romp through classic treasure-hunting scenery, given the slightly sinister undertones that are hard to escape when your main villains are pre-war Nazis.

Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones, in the role that will probably define his career for a long, long time to come. And he's great, let's be honest. He's mild-mannered enough to be believable as an archaeology professor, but square-jawed enough to become an all-action hero with relative ease. The fact that he can switch effortlessly from one persona to the other - even halfway through a scene - is testament to the strength of the character, to Ford's acting credentials, and to the quality of the film as a whole.

Yuck - Yuck

You know Nirvana, right? You've heard Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth? You have a Teenage Fanclub album or two in your collection? You might even call yourself a Guided By Voices fan. Or maybe Jesus & Mary Chain?

Yes? Then you probably don't need Yuck's self-titled debut album at all. Because everything you'll find here has been done before, and better by those groups.

That said though, there are things to like about this London-based group, provided you're able to listen to the songs on their own merits, and not just hear them as echoes of some greater past.

Yuck - Yuck

Monday, 21 February 2011

80s Movies: Week 3

We've had another great week here on Popsiculture recalling some fond childhood memories, and rediscovering a few old classics for our 80s movies month. Here's the round up from week three, and again they are all available on DVD for under a fiver at Amazon.

80s Movies: Highlander (1986)

Highlander is a fine example of not just film-making, but legend-making. In a single movie it created a world that has become easily recognisable from a single image (Sean Connery atop a ruined castle; Christopher Lambert surrounded by lightning) or line ("There can be only one."). As a story, it spawned a franchise including the greatest number of straight-to-TV movies that I can easily bring to mind. There always seems to be a MacLeod running around decapitating immortals on one satellite channel or another.

Christopher Lambert is great in this movie. I think it's fair to call it a career-defining role for him. Sean Connery plays a pretty important part, given that his actual appearances throughout the film are relatively few in the grander scale of the storyline. The two of them easily dominate the film, in the best possible way, with the kind of friendship that only a shared burden - that of the immortals - and an off-screen camaraderie could produce.

In fact, friendship plays a recurring theme throughout the film - given the seemingly solitary nature of being immortal, MacLeod manages to befriend a number of his counterparts, which leaves me wondering how the plot might have unfolded if they were the only ones left (given that "there can be only one"...).

Sunday, 20 February 2011

80s Movies: Airplane! (1980)

It's possibly the single greatest compliment to Airplane! that I actually almost began writing about 1983's National Lampoon's Vacation, then realised there was a much better, much sillier movie to mention instead. Then again, depending on your opinion of Chevy Chase et al, you might not see that as much of a compliment at all.

In its own right, though, Airplane! is a pastiche of old disaster movies that has stood the test of time. The vast majority of its jokes are good proper silliness, rather than political or social commentaries tied too closely to the early 1980s, making it, if not 'fresh', then at least as enjoyable to watch now as it ever was.

Airplane! is probably the first place many people around my age saw Leslie Nielsen - and I think you can tell if that's the case. Older people will happily bring out that nugget of trivia that he used to be a 'straight' actor before he did the rubber-faced comedy, while younger film fans will probably know him more as Lieutenant Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Singles Round Up: Take That - Kidz

So after two weeks at number one, it looks like Jessie J's Price Tag will lose top spot to the unstoppable Lady Gaga this week. But coming up hot on their heels is Take That looking for the small matter of their 12th UK number one single. Read on to discover our selection of new singles released this week.

Take That - Kidz
Dan: Take That's second single from the all conquering Progress album, Kidz is a real up-tempo barnstorming pop tune, based on a mutated version of the Kinks classic Sunny Afternoon. Not quite a classic in itself, but one of the better cuts from the album, and nice lead vocals from Mark Owen. Won't do enough to depose Gaga.
» Take That - Kidz on iTunes

80s Movies: Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Today's 80s movie is genuinely one of my all-time favourites, despite the fact that I still don't think I fully understand what happens in it. Joey Cramer stars as 12-year-old David Scott Freeman in one of the most believable alien abduction storylines ever made. I mean, of course it doesn't have you thinking they actually hired some aliens to come make the film with them - but it's very easy to suspend disbelief and go along with this one, which makes for a smooth ride.

As for understanding Flight of the Navigator: it's set in 1978. But the first thing that happens is that David travels eight years into the future, to 1986 (which is actually the present, in terms of when the film was made). Only he hasn't travelled into the future really - he's just forgotten the eight years in between, which he lived through. But they wouldn't have seemed like eight years to him anyway; they'd have seemed like only a few minutes, perhaps, as he spent the time travelling faster than light speed to the planet of Phaelon and back.

For a kids' film, it's a pretty convoluted plotline involving aliens, time travel, relativity, genetics, astrometric starcharts, spacecraft with the morphing abilities of the T-1000, and Sarah Jessica Parker. It's not easy to grasp - and it's the 80s, so the military show up in force - but it's a lot of fun and the peril is low even on the zero-to-mild scale.

Friday, 18 February 2011

80s Movies: Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters was a real 80s franchise, originating in the mind of Dan Aykroyd around 1982 it spawned two live action films, an animated series, a number one single, numerous video games and all manner of other merchandise which bestrode the decade. I'm sure I had a Slimer lunchbox, which doesn't sound very sanitary or appetizing when you think about it. The franchise declined somewhat in the 90s but looks to be coming back soon with a third movie currently in pre-production.

We're looking at the 1984 original today though, the one that kicked it all off. Allied to the great concept (basically a supernatural 4th emergency service), the movie benefits from a brilliantly funny script from Akroyd and co-star Harold Ramis, and a stand-out performance by the always hilarious Bill Murray.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

80s Movies: Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989)

I won't lie - the end of the 80s was a tragic event in my life. I was 7, and just starting a bigger school, which was really the start of feeling like a social pariah. Harsh times for a little person. Luckily for me, I hadn't been shrunk to a microscopic size and hurled into the jungle of my own back yard, like the young cast of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.

Parents Rick Moranis and Marcia Strassman as Wayne and Diane Szalinski play a central role, holding things together in the big world, but the real action is with the little people in what is, at its core, a fairly epic adventure movie. Let's take a moment to appreciate the four child stars: Robert Oliveri (Nick Szalinski), Amy O'Neill (Amy Szalinski), Jared Rushton (Ron Thompson) and Thomas Wilson Brown (Russ Thompson).

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

80s Movies: D.A.R.Y.L. (1985)

Of all the 80s movies we've covered so far, I'm gonna guess this is the one you're most likely to have never heard of. D.A.R.Y.L. is one of those that somehow slips under the radar, but it fits into the pattern of other classics from the decade, by being basically about family relationships, but with the added bonus that one of the characters is a robot.

Apart from that slightly fantastical premise, it's another heartwarming family film and not an especially predictable storyline, so if you've never seen it - or even heard of it - it's worth looking out for.

Special mention goes to Mary Beth Hurt for being as adorable an 80s movie mum as you could ever hope to find - there was definitely a trend for slightly angular-featured, generally nice-seeming female co-stars back then (think Sarah Jessica Parker in Flight of the Navigator) and to be honest, it's a golden age I miss dearly.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Brit Awards 2011 - Popsiculture Live Blog

It's that time of year again, when the brightest young stars of the pop music world descend on London for a riotous night of glitz, glamour, drunken debauchery, and a bit of music. Oh, and a few awards too.

Unsurprisingly there's an urban theme to nominees this year, Tinie Tempah leads the field looking to clear up in four categories, while Plan B, Eminem, Cee Lo Green and Taio Cruz also have a look in. Mercury Prize winners The xx are doing their bit for the indie side of things with three nominations, and Mumford & Sons also get three well earned nominations. There's one guaranteed winner already too, with the Critic's Choice already awarded to the amazing Jessie J.

The big headline performances on the night will come from Rihanna, Take That, and Best International Group nominees Arcade Fire.

Stick with us here on Popsiculture throughout as we'll be updating on proceedings throughout the evening.

Outcasts (BBC1)

The first three episodes of BBC's new science-fiction drama have shown real promise, but left me with questions beyond those its makers were intending to pose.

Outcasts charts the progress of the inhabitants of Forthaven, the first pioneer settlement on the planet of Carpathia, following some as yet unnamed catastrophe that has rendered continued life on Earth untenable. These settlers have been chosen for their usefulness to society, which apparently means scientists, law enforcers, and soldiers. Not a banker in sight.

It's a real ensemble piece, there's no obvious main protagonist, and it's hard as yet to place who is the emotional centre of the series. President Richard Tate (Liam Cunningham) is the noble, but imperfect leader; Stella Isen (Hermione Norris) is Tate's head of Protection and Security (PAS), desperate to rebuilt a relationship with her daughter Lily who arrived on the latest transporter; Cass Cromwell (Daniel Mays) and Fleur Morgan (Amy Manson) are PAS officers tasked with upholding the values of the new society, and Jack Holt (Ashley Walters) is the hot-headed leader of the Forthaven's armed force, the Expeditionaries.

80s Movies: Dirty Dancing (1987)

For a movie built so strongly around the concept of "the time of your life", Dirty Dancing doesn't really make so much of either its holiday park setting, or any particularly enjoyable experiences for the cast. Jennifer Grey as Frances 'Baby' Houseman goes through the kind of adolescent traumas you might expect wherever you were - and at 17, there's a bit of a question mark hanging over the whole friendship with Patrick Swayze's character, dance teacher Johnny Castle.

That aside though, I think any of us could empathise with at least part of the movie - whether you're a girl (or boy) wishing for that swept-off-your-feet first romance, a concerned parent who actually sympathises with the adults in the film, or someone who can relate to the bit-parts and the seemingly futile nature of their existence, going through the motions of this holiday park hell.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Wye Oak - Civilian

Ever since featuring the title track from Wye Oak's upcoming album Civilian on the POPSICULTURE Advent Calendar, I've been itching to hear the full disc. I finally got my review copy a week ago but, apart from a quick listen through, I've been so busy with 80s movies that I haven't quite got around to reviewing it.

So, as it's Valentine's Day and I'm so booked up with romantic meals, I thought I'd put that to rights and let you all know what I think of Civilian - I can honestly say, for no reason I can quite put my finger on, I've been awaiting this one slightly more eagerly than usual.


80s Movies: Week 2

We're through Week 2 of our 80s movies series now, so here's the second of our round-ups, giving you a spinny, visual representation of some of the greatest movies ever made (in the 80s). Go on, give it a spin - you know you want to. It'll feel good, I promise.

80s Movies: Clue (1985)

If you haven't seen Clue, buy it now and watch it three times. You'll need to if you're hoping to catch up with the quick-talking, double-dealing and backwards logic of a film that lives entirely within the world of the board game of the same name (or, for us Brits, Cluedo).

The film apparently didn't do so well with the critics - but then, it is very silly, and critics tend to prefer the beautifully shot stuff over the well-written, finely acted humour. With a remake apparently in the works for 2013, it's obviously weathered the test of time well so far.

I only just found out why the game's called Cluedo in the UK - it's based on Ludo, which I probably should have realised - but the name was changed to Clue for the US release as Ludo's not so well known there (unlike the very similar game Parcheesi).

Sunday, 13 February 2011

80s Movies: The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator is yet another great 80s sci-fi movie - this time it's not aliens or computer-generated worlds, but psychotic androids from the future. The Terminator franchise has proved to be something of a roadmap for cutting-edge special effects since 1984, with the first movie making use of stop motion, 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day being all about the CGI morphing of Robert Patrick's T-1000, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) featuring 'digital actors' including a fully computer-generated Arnold Schwarzenegger, and finally the 2009 back-to-basics Terminator Salvation, which still found time to copy and paste a young Arnie from the 1984 film directly into a scene or two.

However, it is the earlier films in this franchise that remain easily the best - The Terminator does look a bit old in parts, I'll admit that, but it's really not doing so bad. While it seems like such an iconic storyline, I can't help but be amused at Wikipedia's suggestion that Kyle "come with me if you want to live" Reese was almost given a robotic dog as a companion. Maybe it's just me, but I can't help but think of K9 from Doctor Who. "Are we at the brink of the nuclear apocalypse?" "Affirmative, master."

Singles Round Up: Lady Gaga - Born This Way

We're a broad church here at Popsiculture, and no artist could be of broader appeal than the all conquering Gaga. Born This Way is, without question, our single of the week. That doesn't mean it's any good though; read on to find out about it, and the rest of the week's releases.

Lady Gaga - Born This Way
Bobble: Born This Way is much, much less annoying than most Lady Gaga songs, but it's not as good as everyone will say it is. For the same thing - but done better - get David Guetta's When Love Takes Over. Highlight is at 1:37 when I'm fairly sure Gaga sings "Give me some puddings, and Lovenkrands". Now that is genius.
>> Lady Gaga - Born This Way on iTunes

Saturday, 12 February 2011

80s Movies: TRON (1982)

TRON didn't really need a sequel - the first film was so iconic that it still stands the test of time. A blend of live action, CGI and Disney animation gives it a look all of its own and has helped to make sure that, although it looks very 1980s, TRON doesn't look dated - it just looks like that's when it was set.

Having mentioned the sequel, though, it's probably worth pointing out that TRON: Legacy has a fairly similar storyline, look, sound and feel to the original, yet that's just fine. Any Jeff Bridges is good, and any return to the TRON universe is welcome here. I just really hope some people who've never seen TRON are inspired to give it a go, having seen the 2010 version.

Friday, 11 February 2011

80s Movies: Back To The Future (1985)

Wonderful characters, endearing performances, super-cool technology, and a highly quotable script. A gripping storyline, nail-biting action sequences, a touch of romance, and some genuinely funny comic moments. Awesome soundtrack, good special effects, Libyan terrorists, and a dog called Einstein.

Okay, I ran out of stuff a bit at the end there, but Back To The Future has just about everything that you could want from a big Hollywood blockbuster. It isn't just one of the best movies of the 80s, it's one of the greatest movies ever made. I won't brook any argument on that fact.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

80s Movies: Short Circuit (1986)

"No disassemble, Stephanie!" - because to be disassembled is to be dead. That one premise pretty much sums up the plot of Short Circuit. Weirdly, the actual central theme of the movie is of outsiders - Ally Sheedy (WarGames, The Breakfast Club) is stuck in what seems like a dead-end relationship and a fairly unfulfilling career, while Fisher Stevens (Hackers, Super Mario Bros.) as Ben Jabituya is an ethnic stereotype that would be unlikely to make it past the first script meeting these days. Along with Number 5 (who also appears in Short Circuit 2) and Steve Guttenberg (Cocoon, Three Men and a Baby) as Newton Crosby, the main protagonists of this film are all either out of place or downright outcasts.

Despite that fact, they are never portrayed as anti-heroes - instead, we're with them from the very beginning, which in itself paints Number 5 as something of a coward when, newly enlivened by being struck by lightning, he runs away from the military training field and begins the wild goose chase that forms the storyline for the rest of the film.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

80s Movies: WarGames (1983)

The second in a Matthew Broderick (Godzilla, The Stepford Wives) double bill - but actually the first of the films to be released - WarGames is a very different kind of 80s movie from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's always strange writing about a film released in the year I was born. In fact, WarGames was in cinemas just two weeks before I arrived, which gives it a personal relevance as a snapshot of the world into which I was born.

What it portrays is the remnants of the Cold War, which was entering its final stages in the early 80s. Told through the eyes of Broderick's David Lightman, what seems like two hours of fairly disposable drama actually highlights some of the key aspects of the stalemate between the US and Russia in the post-war era - including the futility of nuclear war.

James Blake - James Blake

A lot has already been said and written about 23 year old producer James Blake. The buzz surrounding the release of the North Londoner's debut album this week has been overwhelming and, you'd have to say, probably over the top. Based on the evidence of three promising EPs in 2010, and a runners-up finish in the BBC Sound of 2011, Blake has been hailed as the new leading light of UK electronic music, and the man to take dubstep to a mainstream audience.

This self-titled album then provides the first real opportunity for many to hear for themselves what the fuss is all about, and to judge. The result of that judging has been mixed, some have proclaimed that the hype was justified, that a new star has been born, while others have call the album a disappointment, another false dawn. The truth, predictably, lies somewhere in between.

Jennifer Sawdon - Fighting the Fairytale

Fighting the Fairytale is a no-nonsense debut album from Jennifer Sawdon on her own label, Little Me Records. It's also a fairytale in its own right - Jennie, a wedding singer and vocal coach, has done things the proactive way in putting out this quite incredible collection of original music.

Sawdon keeps things sweet and simple throughout, with clean instrumentals, tinkling piano accompaniment and frankly impressive vocals that brought a tear to my eye on at least three separate occasions during my first listen-through of Fighting the Fairytale. Anyone thinking of putting their own music out there would be wise to take this as their roadmap - it's a lesson in how to do it right.

Fighting The Fairytale - Jennifer Sawdon

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

80s Movies: Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Ah Ferris Bueller's Day Off, now here's a classic 80s movie if ever there was one. The story of one man's struggle to take it easy, to quote the tagline on the posters, was a massive success in 1986, and has gone on to become a cultural touchstone for an entire generation of fun-loving, anti-authoritarian slackers everywhere.

Strangely I don't think I saw this movie until atleast 2003 when was at university, so I can't really blame it for my own lazy, work-shy approach to life, the seeds of which were certainly already in place by the age of 18 (don't you just hate when you can't pin all your personal shortcomings on popular culture). Anyway, when I did see it I had high expectations, and I was absolutely not disappointed.

Writer and director John Hughes made this movie coming off the back of successes with The Breakfast Club and Weird Science in 1985, and was already a hot property in Hollywood. He wrote Ferris Bueller as a tribute to his native Chicago, and with Matthew Broderick (Wargames) already in mind for the title character. Broderick was 23 at the time of filming, but had the young looks and innocent boyish smile to pull off the role of charming high-school truant with aplomb.

Monday, 7 February 2011

80s Movies: Week 1

If you've been enjoying reminiscencing with us for the past week, or if you've somehow missed out on any of these great films then here's an opportunity too good to miss. All of our picks from the first week of 80s Movies month are available on DVD for £5 or less from Amazon.

80s Movies: Flashdance (1983)

What a feeling! Flashdance pretty much carved a niche for "I wanna be a dancer" movies, with Jennifer Beals (The Book of Eli, The Search for One-Eye Jimmy) as exotic dancer and welder Alex Owens. Cue dance sequences and 80s anthems only really ever rivalled by Fame and perhaps Dirty Dancing, and you've got the recipe for a legendary movie.

Unlike some of the other films we've covered so far in our 80s movies series, Flashdance really hasn't aged well. I don't mean that it's no longer enjoyable - or that it's not still a great movie, in fact - but, unlike some of the others, it's totally tied into the time in which it was made.

A strong female lead, an industrial backdrop and very, very 1980s music make it as much a time capsule as it is a movie - watching it transports those who were there (well, I was born two months after its release, but I grew up in the 80s) back to a unique and changing time.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Norman Palm - Shore to Shore

Norman Palm's Shore to Shore is out on March 14th on City Slang Records, following the February 14th release of the single Sleeper. It's a dedicated study of laid back vocals and stripped-bare instrumental backing. Tracks where you can pick out each instrument used sit alongside epic layerings of all kinds of sound on a playlist that passes in turn through introspection, uplifting melodies, cyclical musical motifs and soothing choral performances.

It's all part of an identity that makes Norman Palm seem both experienced and compelling - from Johanna Ruebl's promotional photography (see below) to the overall sound of the album. You're likely to like at least some of what you hear, and may love the whole thing, but either way Norman Palm will have you intrigued and, if you're anything like me, keen to hear more.

80s Movies: Batman (1989)

Batman is my favourite superhero - along with Doctor Who and James Bond, he's one of my few real fictional role models in life. It's the fact that he doesn't have any actual special powers that I like - he's just a man, with a man's courage. OK, that's Flash Gordon, but what Batman does have is an arsenal of rich-boy toys that all seem to fit on to a single belt, and a very, very nice car.

It's also a sign of the times, for me at least, that 1989's Batman was so very, very good, with just the right balance of dark humour and pure darkness itself, while the sequels fell back into the ruinous camp style of the TV series. Compare the psychological thriller style of the first movie - albeit with superhero action scenes interspersed - with the comic-book Batman and Robin (1997) and it pretty much sums up what went wrong in the 1990s as far as big-screen entertainment was concerned.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Singles Round Up: Sunday Girl

Sunday Girl - Stop Hey
Dan: Stop Hey is the third single from Jade Williams, aka Sunday Girl, ahead of her debut album to be released later in the year. Powerful synths, and punchy drums drive this little pop gem, but Williams' charming jazz voice really makes the song. Great chorus.
>> Sunday Girl on iTunes

80s Movies: Big (1988)

Big is another genuinely iconic 80s movie - there are quite a few of those out there. It's perfect for kids and grown-ups alike, because to be honest, the young ones probably wish they had the money and the control of their lives that Josh Baskin (a breakthrough role for the young David Moscow) has as a grown-up, and the older ones probably wish they could revisit their childhood and bring back some of the innocence that Tom Hanks (Sleepless in Seattle, Cast Away) brings to the character.

Robert Loggia is a star as Baskin's boss MacMillan, Elizabeth Perkins is adorable as love interest Susan Lawrence, Mercedes Ruehl puts in an under-appreciated performance as Baskin's mum and, of course, Jared Rushton as best friend Billy Kopeke helps to make the whole thing believable and serves as a visual reminder that Hanks's character is, after all, only 13.

Cut Copy - Zonoscope

After finding success in 2008 with their second album In Ghost Colours, it might be considered a brave move for Cut Copy to have waited three years before following up with Zonoscope. Pop music is after all, a fast moving business. Would the moment have passed? Would their sound still be relevent?

Answer - bah, who cares when their brand of new-wave synthpop has hardly been relevant since 1983 anyway? The bottom line is there will still be a market for Zonoscope, just as there has been for their previous, unashamedly retro, releases.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts

The Go! Team are all about bringing the party, theirs is music to dance to. And I don't mean dance well, I mean dance like an epileptic Peter Crouch coked up to his eyeballs and standing under a strobe light. The Brighton sextet's latest effort, Rolling Blackouts is their third, and continues to bring together old-school New York hip-hop, live indie guitars, and brash 70s soul horns, with a childish sense of fun.

80s Movies: Innerspace (1987)

Right, I admit I don't have much of a first-hand recollection of the 1980s (I was 5 when the decade ended) but I do have a cetain fondness for the films of the era. What 80s movies really mean to me is my memories of watching the movies that would come on TV or that we owned on VHS in the 90s, and I can't have watched any more often than Innerspace.

Starring Dennis Quaid (The Right Stuff, Frequency), Martin Short (Three Amigos, Father of the Bride) and Meg Ryan (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle), this peculiar little sci-fi/comedy/action-adventure hybrid was a Christmas tradition in our house for years, always to be accompanied by mince pies and piles of chocolates. It's no wonder I remember it fondly.

It comes with bags of 80s cred too though, in the form of director Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Burbs) and executive producer Steven Spielberg (Indiana Jones Trilogy, ET: The Extra Terrestrial).

Thursday, 3 February 2011

80s Movies: Labyrinth (1986)

You remind me of the babe. What babe? The babe with the power... Labyrinth remains one of my absolute favourite movies - and not in a nostalgic way, either. I love it because... well, partly because it's a full-on 80s movie, but also for a million other reasons. Brilliant dialogue, superb puppetry, two of my favourite actors - David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, Zoolander) and Jennifer Connelly (Inventing the Abbotts, Dark City) - and a storyline that's genuinely unpredictable.

We're talking about a film that is forever in my recently watched DVDs pile - and when I'm not watching it, I'm often listening to Bowie's incredible soundtrack. Majestic, magical, and much-maligned, his compositions might not be totally timeless but they suit the film absolutely perfectly.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

80s Movies: The Secret of My Success (1987)

Let's be clear about this - I love The Secret of My Success. It's one of the truly great unsung heroes of the 80s. For a start, it stars not only Michael J Fox (Back to the Future, Doc Hollywood) but also Helen Slater (Ruthless People, Supergirl). For a committed child of the 80s, you don't get many better lead pairings than that.

On top of that, it's good clean fun. Not childish - not all vampires and wizards - but grown-up, clean humour with a smattering of smut. Notable in this respect is the scene with Yello's Oh Yeah as its backing track, in which Fox's Brantley Foster tries to extricate himself from a particularly delicate situation.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

80s Movies: Popeye (1980)

Popeye was released in December 1980 - before I was born, in fact. I didn't even know it existed until a childhood visit to Malta about ten years later, when we spent a day at the incredible Popeye Village set in Anchor Bay. Back in the UK, we invested in a VHS copy of the film and I caught up on Robin Williams' first starring role.

If you haven't seen it, you probably should - love or hate Robin Williams, he makes a great Popeye and the supporting cast, including Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl - not to mention one of the greatest sets ever constructed for a film - bring the cartoon world to life in a way we may never see the likes of again. While researching this piece, I was surprised to learn that Popeye was directed by Robert Altman - whose Short Cuts is as visionary a piece of film-making as I can recall seeing.