Sunday, 24 March 2013

Comedown Machine Review

Review by Nick Devin

                The Strokes have been labelled with the title of one of the pioneering bands to make the indie music craze so popular.  They did it with one single album, 2001’s ‘Is This It?’ All of the songs on that album had replay value that still holds strong today. Mesmerising riffs, catchy choruses, and solos that would make any guitarist jealous are common characteristics of Strokes albums.  Comedown Machine is their new album, and although it has some stellar tracks, I can’t help but feel that maybe the Strokes are running out of ideas. 

The album begins with ‘Tap Out’ a song with familiar sound and a vibe which the Strokes have perfected.   The soft jumping riffs that are played on the guitar give interesting depth to the song, and a good way to begin the album.  As soon as it is played, you can instantly recognise the sound of the Strokes.  Whether this is a good thing, staying to what they know, or a bad thing in which they are repeating the same sound, all came down to the rest of the album. 

The next song, ‘All the Time’ once again has a similar sound to every other Strokes song ever made.  It takes me back to songs from ‘Is This It?’ having a déjà vu moment.  This is what the Strokes do best: adding a memorable sing a long chorus with a solo that reaches heights and this song captures that at its best within the album.

‘One Way Trigger’ follows the outline for their songs as well, with Casablancas reaching the top of his vocal range which is different to hear.  Usually he only sings high when he is punching out the lyrics to the chorus.
The more I listen to the album, the more I begin to like ‘Welcome to Japan’, the fourth track.  I dare anyone to listen to the start of the song, and tell me it doesn’t sound very similar to Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall.’   Whether this was intentional or not, I’m glad that when that part is repeated, it is sung at a higher octave breaking apart the similarities to Pink Floyd.  The song has a darker feel to it, with a chord rhythm that sounds as if it belongs in a funk song.  Unfortunately, this is where the best of the songs within the album come to a halt.

‘80’s Comedown Machine’ must be their song that they believe is their standout as it is named after the album.  It must be of some importance to the band.  But this is where the established vibe of the album is lost.  They adopt a punk rock riff, that although it sounds good, does not suit the band.  It could just be me, but the distorted effect that Casablacas uses on his vocal line is becoming a bit old as it has been used in a majority of his songs on every album.  I would rather hear his voice without the effect, and that would have made this song much better. 

The rest of the songs on the album become pretty generic and boring, as they all start to meld into another and hard to decipher which songs are which.  Thankfully the album ends on what might be one of the smartest songs written by the Strokes.  An ode to old love songs past, a simple soft guitar plucks notes high on the fret board creating a dream like sound.  This leads into a soaring chorus where Casablacas sings in falsetto which is perfect for this song. 

The Strokes haven’t done anything new with this album, which is a shame because some of the songs feel as if they should belong on their first album, which is a good thing.  The Strokes might have met their match finally and have run out of ideas on how to create a new sound.  They will still stay the pioneers they always were, but won’t be pioneering anything new with Comedown Machine. 

3.5 out of 5


  • Tap Out
  • All the Time
  • Call it Fate Call it Karma


  •           Slow Animals
  •           Partners in Crime
  •           Chances

Monday, 18 March 2013

Following Footsteps - Short Story

Following Footsteps
Nick Devin
Pa got me up before the rooster had awoken and crowed his cries of a winter morning.  He told me it was time to get ready.  My bed was warm, and by the looks of it my teddy was still enjoying his sleep.  I looked around our house and saw that everyone was still asleep.  Mary-Sue and William were sharing their bed, and Ma was in bed with baby Jack.  The fire that kept us warm all night had died down to little dancing sparks.  I rolled out of my small bed and fought against the bitter chill that shocked my bones.  I decided to put more logs on the fire so that Ma had plenty of heat to cook my brothers and sister breakfast.  Even though I am the second youngest, I like to think that I am just as old as William and more grown up.  I found my winter coat and put that over me and pushed my feet into my boots.  I whispered bye to my bear before I opened the door; I didn’t want to keep Pa waiting.  The cold sent another shock through me as I stepped outside.  Pa was already calling me to hurry along. 
            Our footsteps crunched the snow as we set off into the trees.  Pa was carrying his pack with his rifle over his shoulder.  I could see a small line of yellow and orange blur across the sky.  It was too far away for me to feel any warmth, so I wrapped my arms around my chest as I followed the footsteps Pa had already created.  I was walking much easier in the tracks that were already made for me, so I could worry more about keeping myself warm.  I didn’t know how long we’d be out today, but I was glad to be away from the house.  Ma said that I had to study my words today, which is never exciting, but instead Pa had taken me out.  Even though the cold is making my bones shiver, it’s better than learning my words. 
As we walked along the mountain side, Pa continued to power on with no rest.  My legs were beginning to become stiff and sore and I needed to sit down.  I asked if we could stop and rest, but Pa said no and continued on.  He didn’t look back.  He only looked into the distance where we were heading.  I looked up at the sky as I shrugged it off, noticing the thin yellow and orange line had grown bigger and brighter and had now almost filled the sky.  Clouds began to form and the moon had almost turned invisible.  The sunlight on my face scared away the shivers from my bones.  As I let go of my breath, I watched the misty air float up and become a part of the sky. 
            I still followed Pa’s footsteps through the snow, hearing the crackle of his boots meeting the earth in front of me.  Even though the sunlight had warmed me up, a small chill was still in the air and it made my ears throb.  I had no way of protecting them from the cold air so I cupped my hands over them as I walked.  I looked at how Pa walked in front of me, wondering if he too felt as cold as I was.  He walked at the same speed as when we first started, ploughing through the snow and the cold air.  I knew Pa was strong, but as I watched him walk with his heavy pack and his rifle along his shoulder, and his legs stretching across the snow, I wondered how I could become like that.  I decided to break away from his path he had created and started to step through the deep snow.  It was harder than I had thought, and my legs were aching with each long step I took.  My boot had become stuck in the snow, and I had fallen back onto my tracks.  As I tried to push my frozen foot into my boot, I felt a large hand pick me up from my back and put me on my feet.  Pa didn’t look too happy and he let go of my coat.  He told me to stick behind him and not to fall behind as we headed deep into the tree line. 
            The forest was always scary to me.  My brother and sister told me it was where the monsters make their home. Along the forest floor the shadows of the tree top created horrifying images in my mind.  Large teeth of the creature with its claws, almost as sharp as the knife Ma uses on the hens, patterned the floor.   I noticed scratch marks along the trees and I wondered what beast could do this?  Strange noises bounced off of the bark and echoed in my ears as I looked around into the distance.  The leaves began to move and shake, frightening me more, so I ran to catch up to Pa.  The sky couldn’t break through the tops of the trees so the air become colder again.  Pa didn’t seem to worry about the shadows or the scratches or the noises, he just kept walking through the snow.  He began to watch his step as he knew that we were coming close to our prey. 
            Our pace had slowed down and Pa told me to watch where I stepped.  I noticed tiny hoof prints in the snow alongside where I was placing my boots, realising that we were following them.  We were following the trail just like following the breadcrumbs in the stories Ma reads to me.  Pa whispered to be quiet as we tip toed through the woods.  I could hear movement behind the bushes as we moved closer.  My frozen feet began to hurt the slower I walked on them.  We crept down beside a bush.  Pa pulled aside the leaves to show a large deer grazing at the tall grass that broke through the snow.  He gently lowered himself onto his knee and told me to do the same.  He didn’t look away from the deer at all.  I knew what Pa was about to ask me, but I didn’t want to hear it at this time.  I had never been so close to a deer before in my life.  His soft brown fur had traces of snowflakes brushed across it and its antlers stretched further than my reach.  I knew what I was being asked to do; I knew from the moment Pa woke me up this morning.  Pa had taught me how to shoot before.  I had shot at foxes around the paddock, but I had never shot anything as big as a deer before.  I didn’t want to miss the shot and I didn’t want to know what Pa would think of me if I missed.  I wanted to be strong like him and not let the noises and shapes in the forest frighten me.  I wanted to be able to walk by myself and not fall over in the snow.  I wanted to be like Pa.  My eyes began to fill up with tiny tears, becoming cold as they fell down my cheek.  I quickly wiped them away with my sleeve.   Pa hadn’t noticed me crying.  He was still watching the deer. 
The only time Pa looked away from the deer was to hand me his rifle.  He whispered for me to breathe carefully as I aimed and reminded me not to miss.  Silence had fallen over the forest and was broken only for a second as the click of the hammer was pulled back into position.  I pulled the gun up against my shoulder just as Pa showed me.  I began to breathe slowly so I could watch the deer.  For a moment, the cold air became invisible to me and all my feelings had gone numb.  I pulled the gun back tighter into my shoulder and wondered what Pa was thinking.  Another thought of upsetting Pa entered my mind as I focused on the deer.  My knees began to shake and my arms had lost all their strength and began to wobble.  This is exactly what I didn’t want to happen; I won’t be like Pa at all.  As I tried to straighten up, a hand gently patted my shoulder and Pa whispered, “You can do it son.”  A smile stretched across my face as I tightened my grip on the rifle.  The loud bang of the gun bounced between the trees followed by the soft thud of the fallen deer.  My heart felt as if it would break through my throat as I looked up at Pa with my smile even bigger now.  He looked down at me with the same smile on his face and patted me on the back.  I knew I was responsible for the smile on his face. 
            I helped Pa wrap up the deer so it was easier for him to drag back home.  My heart was still racing in my chest with excitement and joy.  “Hey son, how about you lead the way back home, and I will follow your footsteps this time?”  Another smile reached across my face as I began to set off into the snow.  

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Not-So Incredible Burt Wonderstone

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Review by Nick Devin

A movie with a headliner cast of comedic greats such as Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey would be music to the ears of comedy lovers right?  Add in crazy magic tricks and it would sound even better?  Well it all looks good on paper, but for the Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a few laughs here and there doesn't suffice for the talent that is on the screen. 

The movie follows the life of Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and his best friend Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) who headline with their magic show in a top class casino in Las Vegas.  We first meet the two magicians as kids where Burt has a sad life where he is constantly bullied by the older kids at school.  His life at home isn't great either with a neglecting mother who isn't there on his birthday.  When Burt receives a ‘Rance Holloway Magic Kit’ for his birthday, he is instantly attached to magic and befriends another bullied kid; Anton.  Through their skills in magic, they were able to fight off the bullies as well as find the friendship they needed in their life.  This is essentially the theme to the movie that occurs throughout the film, it is a story about friendship. 

The story jumps to when the two magicians are adults and performing each night in an extravagant theatre named after them in a Las Vegas casino.  Burt’s ego has gotten the better of him and doesn't do it for the magic anymore.  It has become more about the money and the women, and the friendship between Burt and Anton has faded due his ego.  The magic tricks that are performed within the movie are well shot, and at times very over the top and stretched to their extremes.  It is here that the comedy is at its best for the due.  The jokes that Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi have scripted for them are rarely funny, and if it wasn't for their actions, very few laughs would be heard. 

Jim Carrey enters the movie as a street performing, Steve Grey, who ultimately becomes Burt and Anton’s competition as his stunts are even more over the top and are hardly considered magic.  You can see what the movie is trying to achieve by putting a character like Steve Grey in the film.  The art of magic has been lost and what is seen around the world in famous magicians lately is more about a test of their brute strength or their pain capacity, and less about the illusion of magic itself.  This is the director’s stab on society with a Siegfried and Roy vs. Chris Angel juxtaposition.

The friendship between Burt and Anton ends after a dramatic stunt to get their fame back and the two magicians go their separate ways.  Burt struggles the most through this time as he battles his ego when he is exposed to the real world.  It is here where the movie picks up and the story starts to flow.  With having nowhere to go, Burt attempts to befriend his ex- stage assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde).  Jane has a real passion for magic and had the goal to become a magician herself.  The relationship between Burt and the minor characters within the movie is much more interesting to watch and has more laughs than his relationship with the major characters. 

With Burt out of work, he hits a new low when he starts to perform for the elderly in a nursing home.  While entertaining in the nursing home, he meets his magician idol Rance Holloway played by Alan Arkin.  Rance has been out of the business for a long time and doesn't want anything to do with magic anymore, until Burt inspires him to practice tricks again.  It is here that Burt realises how he got his passion for magic, and his ego begins to subside.  Alan Arkin is by far the best actor on the screen and his character is by far the funniest.  Whatever Alan Arkin appears in, the movie instantly becomes better as he brings a certain charm and humour to the screen. 

With Burt’s ego gone and his passion for magic stronger than ever, he reunites with Anton and battles Steve Grey in a magic competition to win an entertaining spot in a new casino opening in Vegas.  The theme of friendship comes back again in the movie as Burt and Anton work together.   

The plot of the story is very predictable, and Jim Carey’s over the top performance doesn’t add anything to the movie.  If it wasn't for the relationship built through with the minor characters, and without the appearance of Alan Arkin, the movie would have been much worse. 

Out of the main characters, Steve Caroll would have to be the funniest on screen as the others don’t really deliver much humour.  It is hard to see Steve Buscemi as a comedian again after watching him play a serious character in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.  I think his comedy days are over and he should focus on his drama more.  His performance was disappointing within the movie, and isn't at the same standard as the newer comedians of this generation. 

Although there are flaws within the movie, it is noticeable that there are good intentions with the film.  The theme of friendship is relatable for the audience which makes the characters more grounded.  With only a handful of good jokes, and a plot that takes too long to actually unravel, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone will not be listed as one of the best comedies for 2013. 

2.5 out of 5
+ A few laughs and relatable theme
+ Alan Arkin
-Waste of good talent
-Plot takes too long to develop

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

When a Sex Addiction is serious...

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

Reviewed by Nick Devin

When people hear the name Chuck Palahniuk the mind races to his first novel Fight Club, the modern classic.  In a way it will be hard for him to ever shake that motion.  With his novel Choke, Palahniuk explores similar ideologies but through different characters and outrages scenarios.  The main character Vincent, a sex addict and a medical school dropout, is trying to overcome his addiction and keep a stable life.  The book follows his journey to find himself as he delves into extreme sexual situations.  Due to having a bad relationship with his mother as a child, Victor can’t communicate well with women and only notices faults.  When Vincent visits a strip club, all he can notice is a mole on the dancer and then decides to give a quick diagnosis.  As well as his addiction, Vincent has to try and take care of his mother who has gone insane and lost her memory in a nursing home.  He can’t afford the bills and has become a scam artist by pretending to choke at expensive restaurants and waiting for someone to save him, resulting in a cheque for a lump sum of money. 

The novel almost feels like reading Fight Club with the characterisation of Vincent so similar to that of main character in his first book.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it is still entertaining, and Choke is riddled with humorous moments, but it isn’t anything new to Palahniuk’s collection.  

Smart and Suspenseful Thriller

Side Effects

Review by Nick Devin

Extra Large Movie Poster Image for Side EffectsSpoiler alert

Today’s age can be arguably the biggest era for advancements in human life.  Not only are new technological advancements made each year, but medical advancements becoming more prominent.  Drugs can be prescribed for almost any condition now, creating an age of addicts and drug abusers, and at what cost does a doctor prescribe a new trial drug?  All a doctor has to do now is write a script, and depression can be reduced with Zoloft, ADHD can be contained with Ritalin and Schizophrenia can be treated with Clozaril.  It is this idea that is explored within Steven Soderbergh’s new movie: Side Effects. 

Soderbergh has a number of highly regarded films under his belt stretching from one genre to the next whether it is his first big hit ‘Traffic’ or to his highly successful ‘Ocean’ series or his two bio-pics following the adult life of Che Guevara.  With Soderbergh announcing his retirement from film recently, it is fitting to see a send-off worth remembering and his latest film ‘Side Effects’ comes very close to the mark.  Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta -Jones and Channing Tatum star in the psychological thriller.  Surprisingly enough George Clooney does not make an appearance in the movie, as he stars in many of Soderbergh’s films.  The cast of the film do a good job in creating a suspenseful and engaging plot which easily has one of the best concepts in a long time for a modern thriller.  The technical level of concept for designing the plot is a breath of fresh air for the genre coming from Scott Z. Burns who often works with Soderbergh. 

The movie opens with a slow panning shot of a blood trailed floor in a high class apartment leaving the audience to wonder what led to this and who has been hurt in the process.  Already the movie has caught my attention, as it gives off almost a Hitchcock reminiscence.  Following this scene the story jumps backwards three months to Emily (Mara) who is visiting her husband Martin (Tatum) in jail who was sentenced for four years due to insider trading on Wall Street.  It is the end of his sentence so it wasn’t long until Martin is out of jail and trying to start his life up again with his wife.  Martin is giving it his all but for Emily it is a struggle as she is clinically depressed and attempts to commit suicide in the garage of her work.  At the hospital she comes under the care of Dr Jonathan Banks (Law), a physician.  Under an agreement that Emily is to visit him each week, he allows her to discharge herself from the hospital.  As many of her prescribed drugs aren’t working for her, Jonathan then prescribes a new drug, which he is marketing in his practice for a large sum of money from a pharmaceutical company.  It almost seems as if all their lives are powered by drugs with the patients as well as the doctors taking uppers or downers or anything to keep them moving through their busy days.  Things seem to be getting better until a sudden turn of events leaves the audience with the answer of whose blood was on the floor at the beginning of the film.  Although shocking within the movie, this sudden twist was predictable but made very effective through the smart use of music.  Eerie chimes play a childish melody whenever Emily is under the effect of her prescribed medicine, which gives an uncomfortable feeling when watching.

With the police now involved, Jonathan’s world soon comes crashing down as his integrity is on the line.  Under immense pressure and looking for help, Jonathan asks for the aid of Emily’s previous psychiatrist Dr Siebert (Jones).  It was realised then that Emily was in a similar state when her husband was sentenced to jail.  The movie then turns into a mystery as Jonathan turns from doctor to semi-detective as he tries to piece together why his career and his life were destroyed.   As the movie progresses, the characters delve deep into each other’s history and at the same time, question their own morals as to whether they leave chaos at bay or try to get what they desire. 

Jonathan’s transformation from the respected clean shaven doctor into a gritty ordinary man with rough stubble adds another dimension to the plot and further develops the need for Jonathan to turn into a detective of sorts.  Jude Law pulls off both these rolls well and you can’t help but think at times that maybe his character should be on the meds as well. 

The inclusion of Rooney Mara as the almost psychotic Emily Taylor was cast as she brings back many of the same mannerisms she used when playing Lisbeth Salander in the English remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  She uses the blank expressions to her advantage with this character and alongside with the eerie chimes that play in the background you can’t help but feel uneasy. 

The other characters within the movie are a bit hit and miss.  Channing Tatum seems to be cast in almost anything these days, and does act well, but compared to the other characters he feels quite bland.  It is hard to see him as a Wall Street broker within the movie after seeing him as other roles in the past.  Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character, although adds something to the plot with her sex appeal, does not meet the standards that the Law and Mara set within the movie. 

The cinematography is often quite captivating within Soderbergh’s films, which is highlighted in the stunning two part Che Guevara movies, and in Side Effects it doesn’t disappoint.  The director uses smart camera angles to evoke certain moods and feelings within the movie.  In one scene, the camera changes from one angle to the next in quick succession almost as if the viewer is taking the pill. 

More could be said about this pharmaceutical psych-thriller, but that would be cruel to spoil the further twists laid out within the story.  This is a true thriller and leaves behind many clichés that are often seen today in this genre.  If this is Soderbergh’s last true film, then it is listed with one of his greats.             

4 out of 5 stars

+Well written
+Jude Law and Rooney Mara
-Channing Tatum