Friday, 27 February 2009

Top 5 Car Chases

Car chases can be a bit like drum solo's. They're easy enough to do but not so easy to get right and too often you're left feeling you've seen it all before. These are five car chases that either defined the style or took it on to new levels.

1. Bullitt (1968)
The film that made every boy in my generation want to own an American muscle car. Steve McQueen has a ball doing his own driving stunts as Bullitt (in a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 CID Fastback) chases two hit-men (in a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum) through the streets of San Francisco. Lalo Schifrin provides the jazzy score that perfectly complements the action.

2. The French Connection (1971)
A breathtaking chase through Brooklyn as Gene Hackman attempts to keep pace with a subway train on an elevated section of track. Much of the impetus of the footage is due to legendary stunt driver Bill Hickman driving (a 1971 Pontiac Le Mans) at high speed through uncontrolled traffic and red lights. Director Friedkin had obtained no prior permission for the stunt and several accidental collisions occurred during the action that remained in the final film.

3. The Italian Job (1969)
A glorious celebration of British eccentricity as Micheal Cane executes the most ridiculous gold heist in the history of cinema. The three Mini Cooper Ss steal the show as they wend their way out of a gridlocked Turin, through the shopping arcades of Via Roma, up the roof of
Torino Palavela, around the Fiat rooftop test track, and through a set of sewer pipes to escape the pursuing Italian police. The perfect advert for the Cooper S and a major contribution to making the Mini a cultural icon.

4. The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Blues Brothers was once, and may well still be, the film in which more cars were destroyed during production than any other. Car chases make up a great deal of the film, as Jake and Elwood wend their way across country, occasionally interrupted by bursts of classic Stax Soul, in an attempt to complete their "mission from God". The indoor car chase through a shopping mall and the climatic ending off an incomplete elevated highway stand out in my mind but really this is just a vote for the prolonged destruction of cars throughout.

5. Death Proof (2008)
Not one of Tarantino's best but Quentin does manage to create the greatest cinematic car chase for over twenty years. The final chase, in which Stuntman Mike first terrifies and is then terrified by three cute chicks in a 1970 Dodge Challenger, is a truly edge of the seat sequence. The "Ship's Mast" stunt suggests that Zoƫ Bell has balls of steel hidden beneath her feminine charms. Spectacular stuff.


Friday, 20 February 2009

Top 5 Songs of 2008

Completing my round up of all that was fab in 2008 here's my favourite songs of the year. Always a bit tricky to pin down as the songs that stick in my mind aren't necessarily ones that end up on the albums that I buy but I like having the opportunity to talk about songs I probably wouldn't do otherwise.

1. Jim Jones Revue "Rock n Roll Psychosis" - The JJR really rocked my world in 2008. As I've probably already said, they're loud and raucous and impossible to ignore. This was the lead single of the album and as good a start point as any for someone wanting to know what they sound like.

2. Adele "Hometown Glory" - I'm not sure what history will say about Adele, but there's no doubt she can sing. There's a mass of female singers with major label backing around at the moment and it can be hard to pick out the genuinely decent artists from the ones with a half decent voice and expensive production. "Hometown Glory" is the song that made me think Adele is the genuine article.

3. The Ting Tings "That's Not My Name" - This is a bit trashy and almost certainly the only thing of value The Ting Tings will ever release. It's damn catchy though and almost impossible not to sing along with in the car (or on the bus for that matter!).

4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" - Mr Cave took his Grinderman influence back to the Bad Seeds for the album of the same name and this track stood out as the best of the set.

5. Vampire Weekend "A-Punk" - Quite a lot of Indie rock bands to waste my time on. MGMT, Okkervil River and Death Cab for Cutie all competed for my attention. Deep down I know this is exactly the sort of music I'll love for 2 months and hate in a year but I can't help myself. I blame my parent's record collection and my formative years being shaped by a combination of The Beatles, The Carpenters, Abba and The New Seekers. I've come to accept a predilection to enjoying bright and breezy poppy rock bands ... however briefly it lasts.


Friday, 13 February 2009

Top 5 Gigs of 2008

Managed fourteen gigs last year, all good nights. Near misses included The Godfathers & The Jim Jones Revue at Islington Academy, Youthmovies at Kingston Fighting Cocks, The (legendary) Sonics at The Forum and the Black Lips at the 100 Club.

1. The Dirtbombs (University of London Union) - OK, so I was a fairly sozzled by the time they reached the stage. An afternoon in the pub followed by a few at the venue had me in a very good mood and ensured I spent most of the time pogoing like a maniac. The Dirtbombs would make my top five current live acts and I'd recommend seeing them at every opportunity.

2. A Silver Mt. Zion (Scala) - Post rock live isn't always the most enthralling of prospects but ASMZ continue to amaze me with every tour. This was the best show I've seen them do and the last few have all been excellent as well.

3. British Sea Power (Koko) - A packed out Koko and BSP at the height of their powers, built to a magnificent conclusion with the guitarist Noble climbing the walls.

4. Les Savy Fav (Astoria) - First time I'd seen them live and they lived up to their reputation. It's all about front man Tim Harrington who really steals the show spending as much time in the audience as he does on stage. An icon for fat bald blokes everywhere.

5. Johnny Foreigner/Dananananaykroyd/William (Madame Jo Jo's) - A triple bill of new Indie bands which provided another, slightly alcohol fuelled, great night out. William and Jo Fo were decent enough but it was Dananananaykroyd who stole the show. Another sweaty night for me including being right in the middle of the "wall of cuddles". Top time.


Friday, 6 February 2009

Top 5 Books I read in 2008

I hadn't particularly realised until now but I clearly spent quite a bit of 2008 reading classic literature. Catching up with books I felt I should have read for some time. I did manage a fair bit of contemporary fiction which I also enjoyed, just not quite as much as the older stuff.

1. George Orwell "Down and Out in Paris and London" - Orwell is fast becoming my favourite author. Picked this up second hand from someone at work along with a couple of others. Read this first on his recommendation and was stunned. A fascinating account of Orwell's time spent living on the poverty line, working as a kitchen hand in Paris and mixing with the down and outs in London. A wonderfully written account that is a much better read than I am able to properly describe.

2. Robert Louis Stevenson "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" - A very familiar story of course, but reading the original text shows just why it has remained so popular and why so many television and film creators choose to revisit the premise. I'm in the middle of "Treasure Island" now and wouldn't be surprised to see that make my list for next year.

3. Woody Guthrie "Bound For Glory" - Brilliant autobiography of the American folk singer that reads more like a work of fiction. Guthrie brilliantly describes his upbringing as a child in detail that I can only marvel at and tells the story of America during the dust bowl years in a vivid and heart felt manner.

4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle "The Sign of Four" - The second of the Sherlock Holmes stories which I'm working through in chronological order. Possibly not quite as gripping as the first but a fine piece of detective fiction none the less.

5. David Mitchell "Cloud Atlas" - Just to bring the list a little more up-to-date this was nominated for the Man Booker prize in 2004. Interesting concept that consists of six stories, each written in a different style, nested within each other like a Russian doll. There could be an element of style over substance, I certainly struggled to get into it initially, but in the end I think it's a novel with a well crafted story that does something a bit different.