Crown the Empire – Rebel Toronto – February 5, 2018

Crown the Empire is an American rock band formed in 2010 in Dallas, Texas. They have released one EP and three full-length albums.

Crown the Empire was formed in July 2010 by Andrew Velasquez, Austin Duncan, Hayden Tree, and Brandon Hoover during their time together at Colleyville Heritage High School. The band was formed when “Brandon and Austin decided to start jamming together.”[2] The band’s ultimate goal was to “be heavier than most bands in their area,” while “bringing huge, poppy choruses to a genre that can become pretty stale.” Originally, drummer Alex Massey filled the drumming position in the band, but he was soon replaced by their current drummer, Brent Taddie in May 2011. During 2011, the members of Crown the Empire also held an extensive search for another guitarist to join their band. One person to audition was Austin Post, now known as the rapper Post Malone, who had allegedly broke a string during the audition and was not hired on. They soon welcomed Bennett Vogelman (Benn Suede) to the band as the new lead guitarist.

 

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Movie Review

mad max

After a few deceptively fluffy and kid-friendly outings, George Miller returns to the Mad Max universe, 30 years after Mel Gibson turned in the keys to the tune of Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero”. The question on everyone’s mind before the first trailer unleashed an internet frenzy was, in this age of needless reboots, has Miller sold out or has he used this opportunity to finally realize his full vision for the famous saga?

By now you will know that the latter is true, but you might not appreciate to what extent, and how little this implies that you are guaranteed to actually like the result. Miller hasn’t just provided an update of Mad Max, or even a reboot. In fact this plays like just another episode in the wild life of his antihero, relegating back- story or origins to one or two short opening lines and brief flashes of past violence. It’s also much more than a modernized take: it is early 21st century filmmaking taken to its furthest possible extreme.

Since most blockbusters today are at least partially bathed in Michael Bay’s patented orange/teal palette, Fury Road pushes that beyond its aesthetic limits, to quasi-fluorescent territory, creating the impression of a very violent Tex Avery cartoon, or at least one viewed while doing some serious drugs. Plot-wise, it doesn’t get any more streamlined than this, or economical, and what you’re left with is a hellish landscape populated by astonishingly inventive grotesques, conflicted heroes (our protagonist Max is arguably not THE hero of his own film) and a sustained action sequence.

If this sounds like something you wouldn’t enjoy, don’t waste your time. If the trailer had you hyperventilating though, what awaits is pure nirvana. The action – most of it the result of practical effects and stunts – sets an unprecedented standard, as does the level of perverse originality in the baddies’ physical and moral decrepitude: even in the hallowed company of other Mad Max entries, these are some weird freaks. Finally, the lead duo is pitch-perfect. Most of the attention has fallen on Charlize Theron’s fearless Furiosa, but special mention should go to a very subdued Hardy, who beautifully anchors the film and gives it an almost calm, simmering center. Whether grumbling at sights of his stolen gear or fighting for his life in one of the meanest brawls in cinematic history, he makes us believe in this twisted universe, and feel the pain.

This is a journey through hell, Dante’s inferno without the sanctimoniousness: distilled to its essence and spiked with cocaine. A wilder ride you will not find this year, perhaps even this decade.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Rebel – Toronto – February 5, 2018

Aiming to set a new industry standard for nightlife and entertainment in Toronto, REBEL merges 45,000 square feet of striking design and unexpected wonder along with powerful sound, immersive light, sensual forms and tactile details to delight and astound at every turn. Transporting guests to an innovative, multimedia universe, REBEL features theatrical lighting, video production, experiential storytelling and interactive performances, all choreographed to evolve throughout the night. With breathtaking views of the city skyline, waterfront and the dramatic 65-foot stage, wherever you are is right where you want to be.

This night I saw:

Crown the Empire

Asking Alexandria

Black Veiled Brides

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Son of Batman (2014) – Movie Review

son of batman

Even though I generally like the work from writer Grant Morrison, I have to admit I wasn’t left very satisfied by the graphic novel Son of Batman, and that’s why I started watching the eponymous animated film with low expectations. However, to my surprise, Joe R. Lansdales’s screenplay tuned the narrative, softened the characters a bit (for example, Damian isn’t an insufferable brat in here) and made the family dynamic between Batman, Damian and Alfred realistic and likable, without losing the dysfunction. The plot is simplified a bit in the movie, but, let’s accept it: the point of the film is seeing Batman facing the difficult paternal role for the first time. And in that aspect, Son of Batman works perfectly. Batman assumes the responsibility of having a son who was trained from the cradle to inherit the criminal empire from his grandfather Ra’s al Ghul. That’s a complicated situation, because the kid has a killer instinct which goes against Batman’s strict code, and his impulsive decisions constantly put his mother Talia (not to mention Batman himself) in danger. Alfred participates in funny moments when he’s trying to grapple with the new resident of the Wayne Mansion; and Nightwing (alias Dick Grayson, the first Robin) fulfills the function of an older brother, tolerant but disposed to give the capricious child a good lesson when it must be done. And well, in order not to reveal every small detail, I will say that the film keeps an excellent balance between the action and the mentioned family dynamic, without losing the suspense and danger sensation brought by the unpredictable Damian. As for the voice work, Jason O’Mara and Stuart Allan make a perfect work as Batman and Damian, respectively, but the rest of the cast feels rigid and artificial. It’s strange the fact that a solid actor, such as Xander Berkeley (for example), sounds incredibly false, ca-re-fu-lly e-nun-cia-ting every syllable, like a rookie broadcaster. Nevertheless, O’Mara’s and Allan’s voice work, the solid screenplay and Ethan Spaulding’s agile direction made me enjoy this film very much despite that complaint. And I found the animation of a better quality than the one from other DC Comics movies; the choreography of the action scenes is clear and fluid, and the design of the characters keeps a good equilibrium between realism and stylization. So, Son of Batman ended up being a very pleasant surprise, taking into consideration the fact that I didn’t like the original comic very much; it doesn’t have the epic scale from Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths or Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, but in this case, I think it was a good decision to keep everything on a more real level, because that puts the emphasis on the chemistry between the characters and the transformation of roles which implies Damian’s arrival. Speaking of which, Son of Batman isn’t part of “The New 52” continuity, like the previous film of the animated universe (Justice League: War) was. Apparently, Warner Animation is altering continuities, something which might confuse the casual spectators who were expecting more consistency between movie and movie. But, considering the fact that the main audience are comic readers, I suppose that that won’t be a major problem. And besides, it means that there’s still the chance of adapting some of the best Batman stories which don’t fit into the current continuity, such as The Long Halloween and Knightfall.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Lee’s Palace Toronto – Hembree 2017

Hembree’s path to success is proving to be as nostalgia-inducing as it is powerful: labor away at home and in fly-by-night studios creating music you love; send your song to the local DJ (yes, on the actual radio) and have him love it so much he plays it immediately; tour and tour and tour and tour and tour; and begin to hear that song on radio stations across the country, acting as early beacons to the larger world taking notice.

Hembree are from Kansas, a state best known for not much worth talking about in a band bio, but also a beautiful place with cracks in its highly conservative foundation where creativity and ambition flourish. This is the Kansas Hembree are from. They come from families of musicians and music-shop owners, people who find the divisive politics of the state just as foreign, if more immediate, as their Coastal peers. And in the grand rock’n roll tradition Hembree are also family: Isaac Flynn (lead vocals, guitar) and Eric Davis (keyboards, synths) are brothers-in-law and high school buddies. Sadly, Garrett Childers (vocals, guitar) has to be content with the role of life-long friend and general bon vivant.

Their new EP, Had It All, arrives on the heels of Hembree’s second single “Holy Water” and its slow, simmering success. That song, released in November 2016, made it onto the Billboard Alt Radio chart (virtually unheard of for a band without a machine behind them), garnered close to one million streams, and opened the door for Hembree to perform with artists as varied as Cold War Kids and Elvis Costello. Their sound – smart, tightly constructed rock songs with stick-in-your-head hooks and soaring vocals – makes them great companions to the current crop of Alt-chart-dominating bands – like Portugal. The Man, Alt-J, Lord Huron and Royal Blood – Hembree are quickly taking their place next to.

Had It All features 4 new songs plus a re-released “Holy Water” – yes it’s that good, just listen – and showcases a sonic ambition and clarity of purpose that’s formidable. Over the last year and half the EP was recorded in Kansas City, in Isaac’s bedroom and various home studios. Working with friends that the band love and respect, in places they live and work everyday, the convivial environment shines through on these recordings: you can hear their lives in these songs. The band continued their fruitful partnership with producer Eric Hillman and the Grammy-winning mixer Joe Visciano (The Kills, Jamie XX, and Beck), with the end result being some of the best sounding guitar music being produced anywhere in the world.

 

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) – Movie Review

mission

It is very rare for a film series to actually get better with each subsequent installment, but that is exactly how the Mission: Impossible series rolls. Rogue Nation is the fifth installment in the film series that started all the way back in 1996 (that film in itself based off of the Sixties TV series), but Rogue Nation is really the first Mission: Impossible film to bring together every element that worked in the previous films to make the most complete Mission: Impossible to date.

Tom Cruise once again is the face of the IMF as agent Ethan Hunt, tracking down a clandestine shadow organization known as the Syndicate, who is always just one step ahead of Hunt. Making Hunt’s mission even more impossible is the fact that the US government has shuttered the IMF after their cowboy actions in Ghost Protocol that nearly saw San Francisco obliterated by a nuke because Hunt willingly gave a terrorist nuclear launch codes in order to try and catch him. Of course, Hunt has gone rogue in every single Mission: Impossible movie that has ever been made, so it’s no surprise that he continues to evade the CIA (led by Alec Baldwin) while trying to bring down the Syndicate. However, like Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation has a greater attention to the team element than most of the previous Mission films with Simon Pegg back as funny gadget guy Benji, Jeremy Renner back as analyst Brandt, and Ving Rhames back as hacker Luther. Then there is the new addition of Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious, butt- kicking Ilsa Faust, who is either a double agent helping Ethan bring down the Syndicate from within, or is actually in the Syndicate and is playing Ethan and his team.

While it may seem like there is a lot going on in this film, it all feels organic and the story clips along at a very brisk pace, always making sense (which was a problem I had with Ghost Protocol). Then there is the stronger villain presence in this film than in Ghost Protocol, with Sean Harris portraying the cold-blooded head of the Syndicate who is always outsmarting Ethan at every turn (though Philip Seymour Hoffman in M:I:III is still the series best bad guy). While I have to concede that Ghost Protocol had better gags, Rogue Nation utilizes Simon Pegg better than he has been utilized in any of his previous two Mission films and that in itself leads to some good comedic beats featuring Benji. Another thing that Rogue Nation really does better than most of its predecessors is action aiding the story. All of the action scenes are exquisitely orchestrated and are some of the franchise’s best. Of course, the thing that makes Rogue Nation the best Mission film is it really plays off of the relationships established between these characters in a way that no other Mission film has done.

Having gotten to know Simon Pegg’s Benji for three films now, we actually get to see more of a friendship between Benji and Hunt than ever before, and that idea of friendship is echoed in the characters of Brandt and Luther. Most of the Mission: Impossible films never really brought back the previous teammates, but with the past two films they have made a concentrated effort at creating this team and it finally pays off here with some nice emotional moments between all of them. There is arguing between them, but there is also a level of trust and a willingness to do anything to save one another’s lives that was never there in any of the previous films, which makes you care more. Then there is the new friendship forged between Ethan and Ilsa that is very engaging because it is so different from any of Ethan’s previous relationships with women in these movies. It also doesn’t hurt that Rebecca Ferguson is insanely awesome in this movie.

When all is said and done, you really feel like you have gone on a ride in Rogue Nation. The plot is full of twists and turns, something one should expect with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie having written The Usual Suspects, and the action is thrilling and intense, with McQuarrie really flexing his directorial muscles with only his third film as a director. You will have fun with Rogue Nation like you have with every previous Mission: Impossible, but you will also be treated to a smart story that you have think about with some emotional consequences at the core that McQuarrie really milks in one beautiful sequence near the end where all sound drops out of the film and we go into slo-mo. It’s a smart choice in a film full of smart choices.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Lee’s Palace Toronto – King Buffalo 2017

“King Buffalo is a psychedelic trio in the classic format of bass, drums, and guitar, whose expansive and thunderous music is anything but easily definable.

Formed by three long-standing members of the blooming Rochester, NY rock scene, King Buffalo gathered in September of 2013 to start working on a new musical collaboration in a heavy rock vein. Their efforts spawned a demo release and several splits and one-offs which, coupled with their impressive live show, quickly gained them an international audience.

Nearly exactly three years after their formation, written during and out of jam sessions, (King Buffalo released Orion)… nine tracks that are texturally rich and oozing with psychedelic goodness, yet honed and driving in the next blink of an eye. Lush, shimmering melodies á la Dead Meadow and free-flowing grooves… with the full force of fuzzed-out stoner rock riffs, all coinciding organically. Impressively, King Buffalo’s focus extends beyond composition and into the technical realm; Orion was recorded entirely by the band in the very same rehearsal room that played host to the songs’ creation.” – Sludgelord

“The question of how… heavy psych upstart trio King Buffalo will follow-up their debut full-length, Orion, is answered in the form of the three-track Repeater EP. In the year-plus since the album’s first, (self-)release in 2016, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson signed to Stickman Records and oversaw an official issue of the record and have toured Stateside with All Them Witches and in Europe alongside labelmates Elder, and the EP brings three new cuts that represent the first new music they’ve produced following this productive time.

It is 24 minutes of material, and more than 13 of that resides within the opening title-track (also the longest of the set; immediate points), but in terms of flow and conveying a sense of how their progression is unfolding, Repeater feels like the first chapter in a larger story more than a standalone offering. That is to say, the vibe is more mini-album than single-song showcase for throwaways or “extras” from a recording session.

Part of that may of course owe to the fluidity in King Buffalo‘s approach overall, which was certainly a factor on Orion and just as certainly hasn’t at all been diminished by the stretches of time they’ve spent on the road, but there’s a perceptible resounding in the molten aspects of “Repeater,” “Too Little too Late” and “Centurion” that underlines the purposefulness with which King Buffalo engage such an open feel in what they do. Jamming is a crucial part of it at their foundation, but as far out as they go, their chemistry is put to use in servicing a song, even in something as vast as “Repeater” itself, which is their longest single track to-date.

I don’t know and won’t try to speculate where King Buffalo might go with their sophomore full-length when the time comes for it, how they might continue to grow, what they might push toward in terms of arrangements or execution or general sound, but Repeater finds them brimming with confidence both as individuals and as a unit, and their songwriting here hits a new level of craftsmanship that only raises one’s hopes even after such an impressive debut long-player. The question isn’t so much whether King Buffalo are prepared for their next step as it is whether their audience is ready to realize the special moment playing out in front of them.” – The Obelisk

 

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