Thursday, 24 November 2016

9 Great Cover Songs

I wanted to do something different, so today I wanna talk about cover songs. Cover songs come in all shapes and flavors, often crossing, blurring, and outright stepping over lines of genre and style. Like any other type of song, they also run the gamut from excellent to atrocious. We’re going to do the former this time around, and save the latter for another time. I’ve actually been really lucky to hear so many good covers, but I want to talk here about the best of the best, the ones that really stand out. To make this list, they had to be at least on par or better than the originals. I’m also limiting to one per band, as some artists do enough covers that they could make a list to themselves. So without further ado, let’s get to it!

  1. Careless Whisper- Seether (original: George Michael)

This song makes the list because it did something unexpected: it worked. How they made this song, as well-known as it already was, into a respectable rock ballad was something I never quite expected. It’s crunchier, but still somehow has a lot of the feel of the original. The pleading tone of the song is every bit as impassioned with guitars backing it as with a saxophone. What can I say, I really like this one.

  1. Planet Caravan- Pantera (original: Black Sabbath)

As a metal fan, I truly enjoy and certainly appreciate Black Sabbath. But this song I have a hard time with. I can’t hear it. Ozzy’s vocals are so quiet and distorted I can’t really make any of it out. Even listening to a high quality version, the instrumental part is much clearer, but I still can’t understand any of the lyrics (odd complaint for a metalhead, I know). Pantera’s version isn’t sped up, or made any harder, louder, or crunchier, but I can hear the words. They also aren’t distorted so severely either, and almost seems to work better for a song that’s as dreamy and calm as it is.

  1. Stripped- Rammstein (original: Depeche Mode)

This is a pretty dark and moody song to begin with, and with a few tweaks and their signature sound, Rammstein really make this one their own. Omitting the second half of the chorus line is an interesting choice as well, increasing the menacing feel and making the line more open to interpretation. Both versions are very good, but very much in their own ways.

  1. Rock On- Def Leppard (original: David Essex)

I can admit a bit of bias on this one: the first time I heard this cover was in concert. And it was freaking awesome. But more than that, it’s a really great cover from an album of really great covers. That bass intro is just so funky, but they do throw in a few bits of guitar too that the original doesn’t. I really like how for the big finale of the song they all plug in and it really starts rocking. Rather than go out on that same riff, this version goes out with a bang in true Def Leppard style, and you won’t find me complain about that.

  1. Stormbringer- Van Canto (original: Deep Purple)

I went back and forth on this entry a couple of times. Mostly because Van Canto have so many good covers to choose from. But I went with this Deep Purple song for its sheer energy. There’s such a fire in this version. In the original, the vocals are almost muted in comparison. I know David Coverdale more for Whitesnake than Deep Purple, and he sounds so dull here compared to something like Still of the Night or Here I Go Again. In comparison, the Van Canto version has a lot of passion behind it, and a lot more vitality.

  1. Phantom of the Opera- Jonathan Young ft. Malinda Kathleen Reese (original: Andrew Lloyd Webber)

I actually listened to several versions of this song for this entry, from the 1986 musical, to the 2004 movie, to the cover done by Nightwish. I listened to these four back-to-back, and Jonathan and Malinda’s take on the song was the only one to give me chills from start to finish. I love the contrast between their voices, in others I found the male voice was either too high or didn’t convey the darkness that a character like the Phantom should have. This contrast especially gives the end of the song a bigger impact, with Malinda’s final scream making every hair on my head stand on end. I also like the metal take on the music, but that it’s done in a way that doesn’t overpower the vocals. I found Nightwish’s version was too instrument-heavy and that they took over the end of the song and the vocals petered out, and the synth-organ from the musical to be really dated. I’m not even a fan of Phantom of the Opera, but this cover is incredible.

  1. Camouflage- Sabaton (original: Stan Ridgway)

This is the newest song on this list, only debuting this summer. It’s also not even necessarily my favorite cover they’ve done (I’m partial to their takes on Twilight of the Thunder God and For Whom the Bell Tolls) but I’ve chosen it as the best one. When I reviewed this album I said how much life and energy Sabaton infuses into this song, and that still stands. But what I found, after also listening to both the shorter and the full-length versions of the original, is that in leaving out certain verses and performing it in a very straightforward way, that the big twist at the end is more of a surprise. In listening to the verses that Sabaton omitted, you get suspicious about it before it happens, and it loses some of the impact. Sabaton also leaves you at that moment, still processing it, while the original gives an extra verse that is fine but not necessarily needed. This was another one I went back and forth on, but I stand by my choice.

  1. The Sound of Silence- Disturbed (original: Simon and Garfunkel)

What can I say about this song? I’m sure a lot of people were surprised that Disturbed would cover a Simon and Garfunkel song. Even I raised an eyebrow, if only to wonder how it would sound. I can sum up this cover in one word: powerful. Simon and Garfunkel’s original has a certain lightness to it, a certain bounciness, which I don’t think is a bad thing (I grew up on the stuff, after all, and my folks still listen to them). It makes sense for the time and compliments Art Garfunkel’s pure voice. But Disturbed brings an epic feel to the song, David Draiman alternating between soft and gentle and potent rawness. The song comes to life in an entirely new way and you feel the words right down into your soul. This is another song I’ve been lucky enough to see live, and it was an incredible experience.

  1. Hurt- Johnny Cash (original: Nine Inch Nails)

This had to be number one. This is a cover that blows the original so far out of the water that it’s currently somewhere in orbit. The way the music builds through the song behind the vocals, to drop and leave you at the end once again with only Johnny Cash’s deep, world-weary voice is immensely emotional. In the original, the vocals are half whispered and often hard to hear with a jarring, staticky blast of noise at the end that does nothing but make you cringe. Johnny Cash brings such a gravitas and solemnity to the song, elevating it to something truly special. There’s a reason you usually hear the cover version of this song in popular culture rather than the original: the Man in Black just plain did it better.

So that’s my list of cover songs. I’m sure there’s a lot of others I missed and I’m sure there are entries here that perhaps only I agree with, but I hoped you enjoyed it! If I missed your favorite cover, let me know down below!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Arrival Review

Hey everyone, back again with another movie review! This time we’re talking about the newly-opened Arrival, based on the short story ‘Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang. In this film, alien ships suddenly show up at different locations around the world and humanity is trying to figure out why and how to communicate with them. I own and knew the story going in, so I perhaps went into this differently than someone who hadn’t in that I was looking it at not just as a film, but as an adaptation as well. I’m going to keep this one spoiler-free. To be honest, even though I also write spoiler reviews, I don’t think I’m going to for this one because it’s a film you should see and experience without foreknowledge, other than perhaps the source material. So let’s get right into it.

Where to begin? This film is beautiful. There’s a shot early on, a wide aerial shot that lasts for a quite a long time, that is breathtakingly gorgeous. Inside the ship, especially the first time they enter, is fascinating. And the written language of the aliens (called Heptapods) is every bit as beautiful and how I thought it would look when I read they story, but with an almost ethereal quality as well I didn’t expect. The movie overall, outside of these few examples, has great cinematography that can be both realistic, down-to-earth when it needs to be, but can also be grandiose and huge as well. I don’t want to give anything away on the Heptapods themselves, but they also looked the way I thought they would, and the effects on them were very well done.  

so pretty.....

The characters in this movie were wonderfully realized by the cast. It was so nice to see Amy Adams in such a good movie after seeing her earlier this year in Batman vs. Superman. Her character in this film is the complete opposite of the useless, damsel-in-distress Lois Lane ended up being, as she tries to navigate this incredible occurrence in dealing with alien life, but also having to deal with the military and government and what their agendas are regarding the visitors. Not to spoil the book, but there wasn’t much of the impact of the Heptapod’s landing and how humanity was dealing with it in the story, and that was added to the film. To give it more realism, I would assume, and some added tension by showing how ‘well’ we would likely deal with such an event. Although there is one thing about the cast I really like, and it’s the same with the story. While there is plenty of military personnel (such as Forest Whitaker), our two main protagonists are a linguist and a physicist (Jeremy Renner). It’s always nice when an alien movie goes in that direction. 

As far as the story goes, as I said, I went into this as an adaptation. And let me tell you, this is one of the truest adaptations I’ve seen in a long time. There is very, very little changed, only one real detail I can think of, but it doesn’t change the story in any way. From the very first scene it not only tells the story but captures the tone of the story just perfectly. While there is some ‘other stuff’ put in to show the impact on the rest of the world, there is far less of it than the trailers make it appear. When I saw the trailer I was lamenting ‘they’re gonna put action-y stuff in here to make it more exciting, aren’t they?’. Without spoiling anything, if you go into this movie looking for the kind of action-type movie, you will be disappointed. This is a slow burn. And that’s what it needed to be. To have it turn into Independence Day or Pacific Rim would completely ruin the story, and would have put my score for this film at exactly zero. So I was infinitely glad this wasn’t the case. I was wondering how they would adapt this given how the structure of the story was framed, but they nailed it. So, awesome job. My only, and minutest of gripes with this film, would be some of the added stuff, if only because I wanted to stay with the two main characters and their interactions with the Heptapods and ignore the rest of the world for the most part. But that is probably more due to the fact of me knowing the story beforehand. It did add to the story, though, so I don’t want to say it was all bad, and any time they seemed to steer off into ‘familiar’ territory as far as alien movies go, it was quickly quashed and moved past and I really appreciated that. 

Sorry, alien movie tropes.

In conclusion, this is one of the best films I’ve seen all year. In fact, as of right now, I’d say this is my top film for 2016. Considering the films I usually go to see, that might sound strange, but I was really excited for this one and it paid off in spades. I highly, highly recommend this one, and the story it was based on (I have it in an anthology, which has other, equally awesome stories in it as well!). I used the word beautiful in this review a lot, but it really was, in a way I almost can’t describe. In short: GO SEE THIS MOVIE.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Doctor Strange Spoiler Review!

Hey everyone. If you want to read my non-spoiler thoughts on the movie, the review for that is HERE. This post is to talk about the specifics and particular things that happen in the movie, including the mid- and post-credits scene. You have been warned. 

                Well after that ominousness, let’s get started. This review isn’t going to be structured like the non-spoiler one or the way a regular review is. Because I already have one for that, I’m just going to talk about particularly spoilery things that happens that I wanted to talk about because they were awesome or, at the very least, worth noting. 

                As I said in the other review, Benedict Cumberbatch is nigh perfect in this role. This is Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark levels of casting here. And indeed there’s a lot of similarities between the characters, as anyone who sees the film will no doubt pick up on. The thing is, while Stark is an arrogant ass, he’s at least the charming, even fun kind. I didn’t think Strange had that nearly so much. He was a straight-up dick quite often in the movie. He was compelling, but not necessarily because you loved him. It made his transformation through the film more profound, as by the end as he continually sacrifices himself to try and save the world, you see that a real change has come over the guy. And I like that he did not immediately become Sorcerer Supreme at the end of the movie, because I wondered if they were going to. I think it was better that way, that the character remain as he is and then earn the title further down the line. 

                Christine Palmer, as portrayed by Rachel McAdams, also was a character that I really liked the way she was realized. They didn’t force a romance between the two. In fact, it seemed more like a former romance than anything else. And she remained a strong and autonomous character and took no shit from Strange in the film and I liked that. One thing I don’t like about the Thor movies (and I like the Thor movies) is how Jane kinda forgot she was a scientist when Thor showed up (unless the plot dictated that we needed to be reminded she actually did do something). And they didn’t get together in the end. Whether they do later on down the line, who knows, but it was better that way, rather than go right away into the whole ‘angst at having a double life and someone to be worried about the safety of’ thing, which in and of itself is pretty overwrought and overdone at this point. 

                I loved Wong, played by Benedict Wong. Especially his interactions with Strange. The scene where he calls Wong Beyonce, and then the next frame is Wong listening to Single Ladies was hilarious, with an almost Scooby-Doo-esque wackiness at all these mini portals opening as Strange nicks books from the library. And Wong was still a badass, he walks out to confront Kaecilius by himself, not about to back down even though outnumbered.  

                Unfortunately, the Stan Lee cameo was on the meh side. It was very brief and he didn’t really do anything. I guess it’s hard to top ‘Tony Stank’. 

                I guess I can call this a character, but I really like the Cloak of Levitation and how they made that work as being a (semi?) sentient object. If anything, it reminded me of Magic Carpet, from Aladdin. Given how much I love Aladdin, I wasn’t going to complain. It was a really neat way of doing it and both showed off more of the mystical aspects of the film and provided quite a bit of humor.

                As I said in the spoiler-free review, the pace for this movie is pretty hectic. I hope the next time we see him we get to spend a bit more time, go a little slower and really sink our teeth into the whole magic aspect now that it’s arrived in the MCU. You don’t even spend much time with Doctor Strange prior to his accident, which comes very early in the film. Even I was surprised as how early on it happened. Also more time at Kamar-Taj while he’s learning magic, it seemed so quick. His interactions with Wong, Mordo, and The Ancient One were so good that it would have been nice to see more. There was actually a lot more humor in The Ancient One than I was expecting, and the two actors played so well off each other. I’m also hoping to see more between Strange and Wong in later movies because I can’t wait to see how their relationship evolves. 

                I didn’t mind how Dormammu looked. I figure if he comes out of his dimension or takes on a form to interact with ‘lesser beings’ more directly, it wouldn’t surprise me if his look somehow changes or alters in some way. As it was, it was a bit meh, but it was trippy enough to work with the rest of the visuals.  

                As far as visuals go, one of the coolest fights is at the end where they fight Kaecilius as time moves backwards around them and the destruction Kaecilius has caused reverses itself. It was a really unique fight and the way the environment came into play as both as hazard and an asset was intriguing. When everyone was comparing this movie to Inception, we had no idea how much it would take that idea, drop a bunch of acid, and crank it up to eleven. Even the parts where the city is pulling apart and spinning and flipping and restructuring itself around them is more M.C Escher than Christopher Nolan. 

in the words of Neo, "Whoa."

                Back to plot specifically, there one thing I really, really liked about how the film resolved. The big meme now is of course:

                Because that resolution was an awesome surprise. I did not expect them to go all Groundhog’s Day and basically annoy Dormammu to defeat. But the best part was that it was so in-character for Strange. This is a guy who relies on his brains, who freaked out when he killed one of Kaecilius’ men in self-defense. I admire that they went there, and let him resolve it with strategy and brains rather than punching Dormammu with his new magic-powers. It’s nice to see a superhero use his intellect for the boss fight, with his powers complimenting that instead of overriding it. I also didn’t really consider what was going one of those whole hole-in-the-sky-with-a-beam-coming-out-of-it things either. First off, no beam, and second the dark dimension was just encroaching on our world like a black fog, or a like a bag torn open and its contents spilling out. It didn’t strike me the same way. 

                Lastly, I just want to touch on the mid- and post-credits scenes. The mid-credit conversation with Thor appears to be directly tied to the events of Thor: Ragnarok, and given Strange’s offer to help, makes me think that he will show up for at least a cameo in the movie, which would be cool to see how they play the Asgardian 'science-magic' against this 'mystical-magic'. The post-credit scene between Mordo and Pangborn is obviously a direct allusion to Mordo’s evolution into Baron Mordo, and setting him up to appear again in that capacity. Which will be very interesting to see how his feelings of betrayal propel him into these actions and how Strange will handle that information.

                So those are the spoiler-bits I wanted to touch on for Doctor Strange. As I said, I really enjoyed this movie and if I get a chance, I want to see it again in 3-D. Hopefully though, I will get to see Arrival soon and have a review up for that as well. Until then, don’t forget to take a moment tomorrow for Remembrance Day to honor those who have and do serve. And we’ll see you next time!