Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Citadels - Galt Aureus

In 2006, a California-based indie rock band showed up on the scene with their debut album Heralds To The Sun. After three years of waiting, Galt Aureus is back with Citadels.

01. Overture Of Legion - 'Overture Of Legion' is a short, intro track reminiscent of Heralds To The Sun, but it foreshadows something completely new and exciting.

02. The Cavalcade - This is the first taste listeners get of Saher and Susan's voices complimenting each other on this album.  The piano magnificently contrasts with the heavy guitars. If you've seen any of their Youtube videos, you'll recognize that the style of 'The Cavalcade' is similar to their song 'Haunted Mind.'  The blend of Saher's screaming, and the silence at the end show the musical adeptness of Galt Aureus.

03. At Dawn - This track is one of my favorites.  Saher really paints the imagery of an early morning duel, and the confidence that each party required in themselves to partake, and win a duel.  With the layering of the different instrumentation beneath the guitars, as well as the harpsichord phrases, combined with lyrics like, "No need for words at all," this track is incredibly powerful.

04. Our Own Versailles - Saher's voice on this track is just amazing. The percussion is featured a bit more than in their other songs. 'Our Own Versailles' features interplay between the strings and percussion with Saher's voice soaring above.  This is an incredibly romantic and uplifting track.

05. Citadels - 'Citadels' opens with a melodic, almost melancholy piano. A waterfall-start follows; piano, voice, percussion. This song is a roller coaster of dynamics and instrumentation, very moving and depressing at the same time, especially with the lyrics, "The sky presses down."  'Citadels' features a triumphantly epic instrumental break, followed by a gorgeous ending.

06. The Armada - This track started out as one of the first videos Galt Aureus posted online.  It's interesting to hear the differences between the first version and the final version.  The guitars brilliantly underscore Saher's voice, with the piano singing through underneath.  'The Armada' contains an especially mournful, "You took everything..." section.  The ending is upbeat with great piano and guitar work.

07. Spiral Stile - This song is excellent and is almost lost among the other fantastic tracks on the album.  The opening of 'Spiral Stile' is excellent. There is a delightful faint techno feel beneath Susan's vocals.  The harmonies are amazing as always. Like all the tracks, there is a great blend of instrumentation throughout. The lyrics for 'Spiral Stile' are terrific, as is Susan's voice fading out to end the track.

08. Eight - The standout track of the album features a laid back feel, melodic intro, and great, subtle vocals. This song sounds like something hear in a private or intimate setting.  'Eight' is very personal; you can tell Saher put a lot of himself into it.  The result is a mix of happy memories, internal angst, and bitter regret at things long gone.

09. Before The Fall - The horn crescendo is an awesome start, followed by the drastic shift to Susan softly singing. Saher's voice sounds like a blanket I'd pull around myself on a cold winter day. I like the whispering, soft singing, and falsetto from Saher.  Susan shows off an impressive range and voice as well.  This is the most I've heard her sing; she has a gorgeous voice. This song is similar to the style/feel of their Youtube songs, 'Is There Anyone Left' and 'Beautiful Longing Words.'

10. Conquerors - What a contrast from the previous song.  "I will wipe you off this earth."  'Conquerors' is incredibly powerful and gritty.  The piano starts out with a theme, and the guitar picks it up and finishes.

11. Nocturne Carceris - Ambient noises give way to the piano, strong and true, elegant and wise. After the musical ecstasy I just heard, it's hard to believe the album is over, and then I accept that it is, and start over with track 1.

I don't remember ever being as excited for any album as I was for Citadels.  Not only did Galt Aureus meet all my hopes and expectations, but they far far overshot them.  Heralds to the Sun is a great album, Citadels is even better. Their sound has matured beyond belief.  I can hear the amount of thought, effort and skill that went into this album.  The fact that Saher and Susan did every aspect of creating this album, recording, performing, mastering, etc, is a real testament to human achievement.  Citadels is life-affirming.

Album rating: 10/10

For more information on Galt Aureus, check out their website:
Or follow them on Twitter: @GaltMusic

© 2010 Nate Phillipps

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) PG-13

Christopher Nolan’s latest film lives up to the expectations of his previous films. Inception is in the same vein as Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006). While all three of these films have action sequences, the majority of the action takes place in your mind. Christopher Nolan takes us deep into the world of dreams with Inception.
A team of thieves, who steal information locked in the darkest recesses of the mind, are offered the job of a lifetime, with a reward to match. Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island), is the mastermind of the dream world.  Cobb is trying desperately to get back home to his children, and is offered the chance with a new job, inception. Instead of stealing ideas from unsuspecting dreamers, his team will plant an idea.

Joining Leonardo DiCaprio; Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer) as Arthur, Ellen Page (Whip It) as Ariadne, and Cillian Murphey (The Dark Knight) as Robert Fischer, the mark. The acting in this film is top-notch. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as the tortured hero, and Ellen Page shows she can do something Michael Cera can’t, which is play somebody older than a high schooler. Ellen Page does a terrific job balancing out Leonardo DiCaprio’s character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is his usual role, the logical and somewhat uptight, straight man. It was nice to see Cillian Murphey as something other than the villain.

The lush visuals of Inception fit perfectly with the elaborate plot. Not only has Christopher Nolan created an alternate world, but he has created such depth that it is easy to go for a swim. It is easy to accept the premise that other people can join in on your dream, but when they start adding dreams within dreams everything starts getting complicated. Luckily, unlike most films, you never feel that this film is trying too hard to be something it’s not. Inception is complicated, but in a way that can be followed. The editing of Inception really illustrates how important a fraction of a second is. If the last scene was cut one second earlier or one second later, it would lose its meaning. If you like a film that spells everything out for you, skip this one. If you like a film that lets you make up your own mind, you will love Inception.

Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grown Ups (Dennis Dugan, 2010) PG-13

No stranger to working with Adam Sandler (Funny People), Dennis Dugan directs this ensemble comedy about five friends who reconnect after the death of their basketball coach. Dennis Dugan’s directing is nothing special, nor does it really make itself prominent. This film is more about five comedians being comedians.

Joining Adam Sandler are Kevin James (The King of Queens), Chris Rock (Everybody Hates Chris), David Spade (The Benchwarmers), and Rob Schneider (Deuce Bigalow). Each one of these characters is joined by a supporting female character, whether it is a wife, girlfriend, or attractive daughters. Adam Sandler plays Lenny, whose wife is Roxanne, played by Selma Hayek (Bandidas). What is unfortunate is that the female characters do not really factor into the plot in a meaningful way. They affect some minor things, but really they are just there as a vehicle for the comedians, which takes away from the depth of this film.

The opening of the film is almost painfully cheesy. Thinking back on the film, the only thing I remember about the plot is that their old elementary school coach died, they all attend the funeral, after having been separated for years, and then spend the weekend at the old cabin they used to spend time at as kids. There are some minor relationship/family issues thrown in that need to be resolved, but they are incredibly minor and are treated very lightly. Grown Ups contains several good jokes, a lot more decent jokes, and a few bad jokes. The main problem with the humor is that all the characters laugh after every joke. They laugh for 10-20 seconds each time somebody tells a joke. The choice to show the characters’ laughter only distracts from the plot and messes up the pacing of the film.

All the actors turn in a decent performance, but the lack of a substantial plot, or a well-defined antagonist, makes Grown Ups a decent distraction, but prevents it from being something absolutely hilarious.
Rating: 6/10

© Nate Phillipps 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Does the follow up to Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005) live up to the hype and expectations? It has more action, more bad guys, and runs twelve minutes longer. However, these attributes do not necessarily mean it is better than Batman Begins.
As alluded to in the previous film, the Joker is plaguing Gotham. Batman has to work with Gordon and a lawyer, Harvey Dent to put a stop to the Joker’s humorous, yet destructive antics. The scope of this film is far wider than Batman Begins. The Dark Knight focuses more on the interplay between heroes and villains, heroes and society, and villains and society than on the personal struggles of Bruce Wayne.

Christian Bale (Public Enemies) reprises his role and Batman, and does an excellent job. He is outshined by Heath Ledger (The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus) as the Joker. Ledger’s performance is truly amazing. He captures the hatred, cynicism, mania, and generally unbalanced emotions of the Joker. Unfortunately for this film, Katie Holmes (Batman Begins) did not portray Rachel Dawes. Dawes was instead played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (Stranger Than Fiction). For some reason, the makeup department decided against doing anything to Maggie Gyllenhaal and as a result, she looked like a moose would if you shaved its face. Aaron Eckhart’s (Meet Bill) Harvey Dent was good, but nothing to write home about. Michael Cain (The Prestige) and Morgan Freeman (The Bucket List) were great in their roles.
The Dark Knight offers up many positives, but there are some serious flaws that drag the movie down. This film suffers from having an ensemble cast trying to make a lone hero film. For the way this script was written, there are too many major characters. There were quite a few villains in Batman Begins, but they were all part of the same organization. In The Dark Knight, there are two distinct main villains, which diminishes the Joker’s screen presence. There are also four or more good guys that are explored.
Besides the rampant use of characters and the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal not being pretty enough to be Batman’s girlfriend, The Dark Knight is an enjoyable film and continues the Batman series with vigor. I just hope that this franchise does not suffer from the X-Men Syndrome of having too many big stars for any studio to be able to fund.

Rating: 8/10

© Nate Phillipps 2008

The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan, 2008)

M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t made a decent film in awhile, and it looks like it will be a while longer. His latest film foray finds Mark Wahlberg (Max Payne, The Lovely Bones) and Zooey Deschanel (Yes Man, 500 Days of Summer) teaming up against a natural disaster that is systematically wiping out the country’s population.

When masses of people start committing suicide, those unaffected must try to figure out the cause, and how to stop it. This film was written, directed, and produced by M. Night Shyamalan, and as a result, it seems a bit stale. The only ideas in this film came from M. Night, and this film desperately needed some new ideas. There are some interesting sequences, like the handgun sequence, but it is taken too far which lessens its meaning.

Mark Wahlberg plays Elliot Moore, a high school science teacher. He is clearly too much of a ‘strong-type’ to fit within the confines of this role. Zooey Deschanel plays Elliot’s wife, Alma. Both Wahlberg and Deschanel turn in good performances, but these performances do not fit with the movie, the actors and director appear to be out of sync with one another.

The plot is not at all believable, and it is obvious that M. Night is trying too hard to get his beliefs across that the movie suffers. This film has a lot of room for improvement. One area M. Night Shyamalan needs no improvement in is advertising his films. His trailers generally manage to inspire people to watch his movies; he just needs to learn how to follow through. A self-proclaimed master of twists, M. Night Shyamalan’s twist in this film is this: there is absolutely nothing happening.

Rating: 4/10

© Nate Phillipps 2008

Max Payne (John Moore, 2008)

Based on the 2001 videogame of the same name, Max Payne (John Moore, 2008) stars Mark Wahlberg (The Happening, The Departed) as Max Payne, and Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, That ‘70s Show) as Mona Sax. Max is a DEA agent trying to find the murderer of his family, and Mona is an assassin wanting revenge on those who killed her sister, team up against a common enemy while avoiding the police and the mob.

Being the stereotypical action movie, there are not many comments to be made about the acting, as it was fairly straightforward. It was refreshing to see Mila Kunis in something other than a comedy. She does a mean assassin and looked stunning doing it. Mark Wahlberg’s performance seemed a little flat. Perhaps he wasn’t really into the role. Beau Bridges and Ludacris help round out the cast.

The film had some decent special effects, but none that really fit the film. John Moore appears to have created a hodgepodge of cliché action-film shots, like bullet time and overt CGI. These effects did very little to further the plot, and appeared to be executed with slightly less care than required by other films. I have not played the video game, and maybe I’d appreciate the film more if I had, but regardless, the film should be able to stand on its own, and this one barely manages.

The plot is disjointed and at times it is downright contradictory. There is one ‘twist’ and it is not as a big a twist as John Moore probably intended. All in all it is a mildly entertaining action film, and is good for a night out at the movies, or to watch on DVD with the family, but it has very little substance. Unfortunately, while this movie is decent, it isn’t decent enough to warrant the sequel proposed at the close of the film.

Rating: 5/10

© Nate Phillipps 2008

The X-Files: I Want To Believe (Chris Carter, 2008)

Mulder and Scully’s latest quest for the truth is tailored to the devoted fans of the series. People who occasionally watched the show will probably also enjoy it, but if you’ve only seen a few episodes, you may want to pass. The X-Files: I Want To Believe is full of subtle references to the series, important and trivial, which will reward fans, but leave others feeling the movie is slow and poorly written.

The plot of the film is fairly standard for an X-Files venue. Mulder and Scully are asked to come back to the FBI to help with a case of a missing girl. The cinematography is excellent; the snowy settings mirror the characters inner turmoil. Including the current politics, Chris Carter pays homage to the two people who gave the FBI the most power: J. Edgar Hoover and George W. Bush.

David Duchovny (The X-Files, Californication) and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) are joined onscreen by Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints). Duchovny is excellent in his portrayal of Fox Mulder, a man desperate to find the truth in the darkness. Gillian Anderson equals Duchovny’s performance as Dana Scully, a woman who wants to be as far away from the darkness as possible. Amanda Peet is a little hard to believe as an FBI agent, but she tries hard and I think manages to pull it off. Billy Connolly nails his performance as a pedophile priest by managing to be creepy, yet sympathetic.

If you are a fan of the series, whether casual or die-hard, this is a movie for you. If you’ve only seen a few episodes of the X-Files, you may find it boring and slow. Regardless, Unkle’s variation on Mark Snow’s X-Files Theme is alone worth watching the movie for.

Rating: 8/10

© Nate Phillipps 2008

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fusion VS Proglide

Gillette Fusion VS Gillette Fusion Proglide

When I started shaving, I used a Gillette Mach 3.  When Shick came out with their Quattro I tried that.  Much to my dismay, the Shick Quattro had way too much blade resistance, and it made for a very uncomfortable shave, full of tugging and swearing.

My opinion was that anything with more than three blades created too much resistance for the shave to be comfortable.  However, after receiving a free Gillette Fusion in the mail, I decided to give it a try.  To my amazement, it was a perfectly smooth shave, and impossibly close.  So when I was told about the latest incarnation of the Gillette Fusion, the Gillette Fusion Proglide, I was skeptical.

Proglide Design:
Blades - The packaging said the blades were thinner than the regular Fusion's.  I looked and it was difficult to see, comparing the Fusion blades to the Proglide's.  I could tell there was more space between the blades when looking head-on to the blades, but looking from the top down on the shaving cartridge, there was no visible difference.  Also, the trimmer blade area has been redesigned to feature some 'hair guides.'  They also made some changes to the strips on the cartridge.  The moisturizing strip is slightly larger on the Proglide, and the lead strip on the Proglide is smaller than the Fusion.
Handle - The handle is almost the same size as the Fusion's handle.  The major difference is that the Proglide handle is slightly bulkier, with a lot more texture to it.  This means that it is far easier to grip and control, especially when wet.
Color - The black and blue is more appealing to me than the orange of blue of the Fusion.  But that's simply a personal preference.
Case - The case that it comes in is the same case as the Fusion, only with a different insert which says, "Gillette Fusion Proglide."

Proglide Performance:
The first thing I noticed with the Proglide was how little resistance there was.  I thought the Fusion was a smooth shave, but the Proglide really does just glide across your face.  It doesn't catch on any hairs or tug on any hairs.  The second thing I noticed was how much control I had over the handle, and how secure it felt in my hand.  The third thing I noticed was how well the trimmer blade works.  With the Fusion, I tried the trimmer blade a few times and always ended up with an uneven cut and then the hair would get stuck in the trimmer blade.  The redesigned trimmer blade has grooves to guide the hair, which makes a nice, clean cut, and it is opened up a bit so that running water will clean all the hair out of it.  I was duly impressed with the Proglide's shave.

If you look strictly at the end result, both razors will give you a close, comfortable shave.  If you look beyond that, the Proglide offers a better handle, better blade design, and a much smoother shave.  The good thing is that if you love your Fusion handle, you can use Proglide blades on it, or if you love your Fusion blades but want the Proglide handle, the Fusion blades will fit on that too.  Ultimately, the Proglide isn't worth the extra money if you're happy with the razor you have.  However, if you have the extra dollar to spend on razorblades, the Proglide is by far the best manual razor money can buy.

© Nate Phillipps 2010