Arnold’s back in ‘The Last Stand’

 

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 22 2013

By Elliot Chan, Contributor

3/5

If you want a night full of cerebral challenges and dynamic character development, just ignore Arnold Schwarzenegger’s major comeback to cinema last week. But if you fancy gunshots, car chases, fist fights, and explosions, then The Last Stand will be for you.

The Last Stand offers exactly what you expect it to, including Schwarzenegger’s bang-on impression of himself playing an American sheriff. Yes, there was a novelty to his return, but in the end it leaves the same empty feeling most get when a once popular film star attempts to repeat their all too timely success. Fans will ultimately be disappointed in the efforts of the aging Austrian action hero; he is no longer Mr. Universe.

For the price of admission, The Last Stand offers quick cuts, fast-paced action sequences, and cringe-worthy comedy. The film’s Korean director, Kim Ji-woon, beloved overseas, is clearly taking tepid steps toward the very different world of American cinema. But at the very least, his vision is clear and concise, which makes his collaboration with Schwarzenegger worth checking out.

‘The Hobbit’: an unexpected trilogy

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 8 2013

Better than the book!
By Elliot Chan, Contributor

4/5

Like most, I was skeptical when I heard that The Hobbit was being stretched from a 300-page children’s novel into three movies. But as the credits interrupted the story I was so engulfed in, I realized that I could have sat for six more hours. The rumour of Peter Jackson making The Hobbit into a trilogy to milk money out of loyal fans had been vanquished, for Jackson told the story the way it should have been told.

J. R. R. Tolkien can be referred to as many things: academic scholar, linguistic genius, an imaginative author, yet nobody reading his novels can ever say that he was a compelling storyteller. The Hobbit, though immensely popular, always read like a second draft awaiting Tolkien to fill in some key information. Since discovering Middle Earth at the ripe age of 11, I revisited the novel twice, each with a declining appreciation. But don’t get me wrong, I love Tolkien, and I am forever thankful that he created his fantastical world, only so that Jackson could make it one that generations to come can enjoy.

However, the new technology caused the film to lose some authenticity. Some may argue that combining 3D with the new 48FPS made for better image, but during dialogue scenes and sequences with little to no action the film felt jarred and sped up. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, where Jackson relied mainly on stunt actors for battle scenes, the over usage of CGI in The Hobbit cannot be ignored. Many of the generated characters were unimpressive, and caused the film to actually look dated.

Still, the flaws were few and far between—and most of them were caused by Tolkien’s eclectic storyline. The 13 dwarves were the most problematic, but Jackson coped by centering the plot on Thorin Oakensheild (played by Richard Armitage). Like Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom, Jackson has a knack for finding talented heroes. After two decades in the film and television industry, the dues have finally been paid. At moments pitiful and others despicable, Armitage shows off his range as a brooding dwarf king determined to reclaim his home from a dragon named Smaug.

Another gem of the film is Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo Baggins. The long time British television star famous for playing alongside Ricky Gervais in The Officeand Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock, has the charm and sense of comedic timing that gives classical gags an organic feel.

From dwarven tomfoolery to tension-building riddles, the first installment of The Hobbit has raised the bar for the second and third. But with its cliffhanger ending, one can only imagine that the worst part of the up-coming movies would be the waiting, and not the walking.

Guitar’s golden girl ‘Glows’

Arts_Glow

Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 10 2012

Kaki King’s new album
By Elliot Chan, Contributor

4/5

Considered by many as one of the best guitarists in the world, Kaki King confirms it with her sixth full-length album, Glow. Katherine Elizabeth King, a.k.a. Kaki King, returns to her roots with an instrumental collection that will be available on October 9. Displaying all her imaginative musical talent, Glow has the potency to transport listeners to other parts of the world, proving that even without lyrics, music remains a universal language.

With assistance from ETHEL, a string quartet based out of New York, Kaki King achieves a dynamic range, where one song can have a distinct feel of the Orient (“Bowen Island”) and another have a rich Irish sound (“King Pizel”). Some songs soundtrack the cacophonies of urban hustle and grind, while others evoke a tranquil imagery of somewhere far, far away. Very few artists are able to create settings the way King does.

In contrast to her 2010 album JuniorGlow lacks King’s vividly haunting vocals. Although her classical acoustic ability remains stunning, it is a shame that she did not contribute some of her poetic styling into her new works.

That is not to say she’s simplified her music though; on the contrary. Glow’s content is far more complex than any verse-and-chorus song around. But I am a sucker for lyrics; the added dimension of words is usually what makes a song memorable. Nevertheless, the album is King in her element; there is nothing she can’t do with six strings.

If busy students need a reason to explore new music, consider Glow to be a studying companion.

Kaki King will also be performing at the Rio Theatre next Tuesday, October 16. Tickets are only $20 at the door!

‘Lightning’ strikes, but it’s not ‘Grand’

ARTS_Lightning

Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 2 2012

By Elliot Chan, Contributor

3/5

If the fleeting moments of summer could be captured on an album, then Matt & Kim have done the job. The indie-pop duo’s fourth album, Lightning, came out on October 2—just in time to help you cope with the looming monotonous seasons ahead.

Those familiar with Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino’s earlier works will know their music arouses the body, forcing you onto your feet, and percolating the senses to dance. You could resist it, but sitting still through a whole song is like holding in a sneeze, something they’ve managed to accomplish yet again on this album.

…their music arouses the body, forcing you onto your feet, and percolating the senses to dance.

In fact, Matt & Kim bring all the elements we love back into their new album. That said, their lack of risk-taking can’t be ignored. There is something about Lightningthat just didn’t spark me the same way their last album Sidewalks (2010) did. I feel like I am arriving at the same party, with all the same people, and talking about all the same things.

Regardless of the party’s familiarity, if you let loose, then you’ll have a good time. But the songs are not all fun and games; most of the lyrics derive from nostalgia. Their eighth track, “I Wonder” contains such savory lines as, “Maybe (maybe) I’ll learn all I need to know from bottles and their broken glass/ Maybe (maybe) these streets were my teachers and I sat in back of class.” Then there is their harmonized finale, “Ten Dollars I Found,” which has a melancholy overtone as they begin fading out: “I’ll buy the next round, with 10 dollars I found.”

Like the memories of summer, Lightning is short and sweet, containing 10 songs and, as usual, just surpassing 30 minutes.