Friday, 14 August 2009

Cinema In 2009 Just Got Real

Blogs have many uses, and some of those uses might actually benefit humanity. Compared to Ben Goldacre's Bad Science, or the very wonderful Daily Hate Myself, this blog often feels like it does little more than allow me to list my likes and dislikes at painful length, when not harping on about Rock Band. Last week, I whined about Stephen Sommers movies. This week, I will be rather boring about Michael Mann.

Though I don't want to do a Harry Knowles and spend the next fifteen paragraphs talking about how I'm the biggest Michael Mann fan ever so there, there's no way I can talk about Public Enemies and not admit that I am, as Canyon called me yesterday, a Mann apologist. I liked Miami Vice. I forgave Collateral its flaws. The Keep is a misunderstood and flawed classic that deserves to be seen in its full glory. Heat is the best crime film of the last twenty years. Yes, I like it more than Goodfellas, though not by much. Tracking the practically incremental alterations in his style is as fascinating to me as assessing Spielberg's late-period career reinventions, or Zemeckis' technological experiments, or Scorsese's slow descent into what would be termed irrelevance in any other filmmaker.

And yet Public Enemies didn't excite me that much. Middling reviews and a boring trailer did little to increase my enthusiasm, though part of it was disappointment with the film year so far. Only a couple of films have really impressed me: In The Loop, Kathryn Bigelow's haunting Iraq movie The Hurt Locker, the few minutes of Up I could concentrate on between disturbances by the kids behind me. Public Enemies was on my must-see list just because of Mann and Depp, but the played-out subject matter and my annoying ennui conspired against it. Case in point: it was released weeks ago, and I only saw it yesterday. This is not my usual behaviour.

For the first hour, I struggled to commit to it. Much comment has been made about Mann's decision to use the same digital processes he used in Collateral and Miami Vice (That piece being one of the most interesting articles about it), with criticism aimed at it for being muddy and ugly. Personally, I love the look of Mann's digital movies, but am aware that debate about his use of this technology in his previous films has sometimes come down to a matter of personal taste. In Public Enemies, the argument has altered slightly. It's no longer a debate about whether it looks nice or not. It's more about why Mann would use what some see as alienating and anachronistic digital photography in a period piece.

If anachronism is meant to be avoided, then surely it should be filmed in black and white on analogue film, but I do get the point. This technology is modern enough that only a few filmmakers are committing to it, and the novelty of seeing this startling and textured imagery has not yet disappeared. Shots of Depp and Cotillard (playing Dillinger's lover Billie Frechette) together in bed are dizzying, with cinematographer Dante Spinotti getting the camera in so close you can see every pore on their faces, lighting the scene with one stark light mimicking the brightness of the moon. The look of the movie is a world away from even John Milius' Dillinger, let alone the monochrome of William Wellman and Raoul Walsh.

So why do it? Partially because Mann is attempting to create a continuum between now and then. The movie already explores contemporary issues, such as the use of torture and technology to fight a threat to the nation, the march of progress leaving behind those who are unwilling to adapt, the cult of celebrity, and the narcissism of those who become addicted to the limelight. Instead of cracking out old film, Mann is saying that was then and then was now. We've barely moved on from those times, a point that is especially affecting considering that we're watching a film set during the Great Depression while teetering on the brink of our own economic collapse. The timing of this film's release couldn't have been better.

If you're going to use a historical crime setting to highlight failings in our own modern culture, why not use a visual template that is utterly modern? Plus, it is one of many aspects of the movie that connects with Mann's other movies. The visuals remind one of Mann's last two projects. The look of Billie's cell in the final scene, the reliance on technology to pursue lawbreakers, and the beautifully shot night-time raid scene are all reminiscent of Manhunter. The portrayal of a man who ended up shaping the world around him comes from Ali. Elliot Goldenthal's stirring soundtrack is occasionally reminiscent of the more grandiose moments of Last of the Mohicans. And then, of course, there are the myriad similarities with Heat.

A friend of the blog has already made an arch comment to me about how Mann has been making the same movie for the past twenty years, which is harsh but obviously not far from the truth. The parallels between Public Enemies and Heat are many, with Mann showing two "professionals" engaged in a battle against each other from opposite sides of the law. As with Heat, they have similarities. Hanna and McCauley are both perfectionists, surrounding themselves with similar professionals, whose personal lives are affected by their determination to do what they do as well as they can do it.

Dillinger and Purvis (Christian Bale's ambitious and ultimately deluded crime fighter) have a similar attitude to their work, and surround themselves with a tight group of compatriots, but they are also forced to work with people who cannot match up to their standards. Though McCauley is brought low by the failings of his team, Dillinger distances himself from the losers in his crew, and is eventually undone by events outside his influence. More surprisingly, while Hanna is never compromised by his team, Purvis is forced to watch as his team becomes ever more desperate and foolish. Billie is tortured, innocent civilians are gunned down (he is directly responsible for at least two grisly deaths), and it is late in the movie before he realises how low he is willing to sink in order to get his man.

Heat also shows the toll this life takes on a man. The most memorable scene is the beautifully played meeting between Hanna and McCauley, a scene so powerful that not even the wretched Righteous Kill could not retroactively fuck it up. (Note that Pacino and De Niro share the frame, wearing similar grey suits, though with different coloured shirts).

Their realisation that they are so similar is enough to create a bond between them. At the end, Hanna guns down McCauley, and the final shot has them sharing the frame again, Hanna comforting McCauley as he dies (and yes, I cry every time I see it). From the beginning of Heat to the end, the two characters converge. Public Enemies is different enough that the criticism that it is a remake of Heat can be dismissed, though I appreciate there is enough similarity there to raise eyebrows. While McCauley and Hanna become closer in spirit, Purvis and Dillinger start off similar and become more different, and never reach that moment of reconciliation.

In the first half of the film Dillinger is a shallow popinjay who thrives on public approval, and Purvis, who is more buttoned-down, is more than happy to milk the attention he gets after shooting Pretty Boy Floyd by attaching himself to J. Edgar Hoover, quickly adapting to his role as Eliot-Ness-style G-Man hero. At film's end, Dillinger has lost the love of his life, but has achieved a kind of immortality. He infiltrates (with no effort at all) the Dillinger Squad office in the Chicago Police Department building, and sees first-hand the efforts made to capture him. He walks through the room in what looks like a state of rapture, delighted by his importance and his ability to dodge capture even at the heart of the web. Following that, the superb finale shows him watching Clark Gable playing a Dillinger-esque gangster in Manhattan Melodrama, a smug grin spreading across his face.

Purvis, on the other hand, has seen the law compromised and broken, his own morality dented, and his partner murdered. He too is alone, but doesn't even have someone who would sacrifice their own freedom for him, and though his team is responsible for catching Dillinger, it is Charles Winstead who fires the killing shot, and he is forced to watch as this event unfolds in front of him. The look of misery on Bale's face is ambiguous. Is he sad to see Dillinger die, as Hanna is to see McCauley die? Is he jealous that he didn't get to kill his nemesis? Or is he selfishly thinking about how he has lost everything, and all he has to show for it is the tawdry sight of a corpse on a high street, a brokenhearted but noble woman left loveless by his actions, and a career that forces him to be the stooge of a boss who doesn't believe in him?

Unlike Heat, criminal and cop do not share the screen in the final moments. Whereas Mann used colour to show play up the similarities between Hanna and McCauley, in Public Enemies he uses it to show the contrast. Bale's scenes are almost exclusively rendered in gun-metal grey, filmed in impersonal concrete buildings filled with drab, unglamorous furniture. Depp's scenes are mostly brown, occasionally rich and warm, but mostly muted, as if the glamour and lushness has been drained from the screen. One short scene at a racetrack is almost sepia tone, evoking memories of the past as Bale, surrounded by metal, machinery, and flashing lights, references the inevitable future.

Nevertheless, Dillinger is aware that by maintaining the public image of a dashing outlaw he will become a legend, and Depp plays up to that subtly, walking with a confident swagger and adding an Elvis-like twinkle to his speech. In one of the film's highlights, we see how thrilled he is, after being captured by Purvis' men midway through the film, to be transported from a flare-lit airport along a gauntlet of adoring bystanders, lauded by the public as a man of the people fighting against the monolithic banks. That confident mask only ever slips when members of his gang screw up (Mann's protagonists are perfectionists, as ever), or when he loses Billie and cannot get her back without jeopardising himself. Tragically, he never finds out that she protects him from capture at the risk of her own life.

These little glimpses of the scared boy inside the man leak out more as the film progresses, just as we see Bale's frustration and confusion manifest in expressions of despair and panic. Even as his quarry lies dead on the floor, Bale's face shows no relief, merely pain, lit by another flare as Dillinger's notoriety generates one last media frenzy, the same kind of berserker rage from a public who never cared if Dillinger was alive or dead, just that the outlaw tale was being told right in front of them.

As I mentioned earlier, it took me a while to settle. Parsing Mann's choices distracted me so much I foolishly lost track of the plot and performances. After an hour the movie began to grip, but even so, I didn't expect what happened next. Good movies can make me forget my troubles, but great movies transport you out of your body. Closer to the end of the film, Mann's visuals become ever more abstract, and his lighting more and more stark. The third act begins with a motel raid that ranks with the bank raid and subsequent street battle in Heat, or the nightclub shootout from Collateral. Its impact is visceral and terrifying, battering the audience with beautifully edited sound: one gunshot was so loud and clear that it rattled my chair and drew a shriek of terror from someone sitting behind me. During this scene we see Purvis crack. Losing his partner sends him momentarily over the edge, and he abandons his search for Dillinger to go after the truly awful Baby Face Nelson. Their showdown is breathtaking.

By that point, my previous qualms were forgotten. As Dillinger and Purvis approach their destiny outside the Biograph theatre, all of the careful set-up that I had mistaken for distraction pays off with astonishing cumulative power. As the final scene unravels, with Goldenthal's beautiful soundtrack rising over Marion Cotillard's moment of heartbroken revelation, I succumbed to awestruck tears. Mann did it to me again, that talented bastard.

Yesterday I thought I was all alone in this. Critical opinion seemed to range from dismissive to strongly negative, with some blogs picking it apart for not being The Roaring Twenties. The AV Club had one of the first reviews I read, and it made my heart sink.

In a parallel with my experience during the film, opinion might be swinging back in its favour. This brilliantly perceptive second look is far more in step with my own experience (and contains way more insight than this blogpost, so do yourself a favour and check it out), and these reviews by Nigel Andrews and Manohla Dargis make me wonder whether it will be reappraised by the end of the year.

I hope so. In a year that has provided so little of interest, and some thoroughly contentious toy-movies, this is one of a very small group of films that has generated passion in me. More than that, Public Enemies actually overwhelmed me in a way nothing else has since I saw Rachel Getting Married earlier this year. If things go right, by the end of 2009 critics will have had a chance to mull over this intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging work of art, and will shower garlands and rose petals over Depp, Cotillard, and Bale, co-stars Jason Clarke and Branka Katic, writers Ronan Bennett and Anne Biderman, and especially Mann, who just made his best film since Heat. My head is still ringing like a bell 28 hours later. Goddamn, I love cinema.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Some Thoughts On G.I. Joseph, AKA The Cobra Also Rises

Today I saw Stephen Sommers' first film since Van Helsing threatened to kill his career in a flurry of poorly CGI'd werewolf hair. As G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra bombarded my eyeballs with a seemingly endless parade of gloomily-lit bases, bland outfits, and incompetently filmed carnage, several thoughts flitted through my brain. I suspect these thoughts were my brain's self-defence program, to prevent my sanity from tumbling, unhindered by rational thought, into a swirling vortex of suicide-inducing ennui.

Things I liked about G.I. Tract: Cobrasonic:

  • The tech is often a lot of fun. There's a lot of force-gun action that's great for throwing people and jeeps around the screen, and for at least the first hour there isn't a single scene that doesn't have some peculiar technological madness kicking off in the frame. For a while, this was enough to make me think I would love the movie on some gut level.

  • It's mostly set in underground or underwater bases, and the antagonists are gleefully supervillainous. It's so unapologetically broad that it wins you over at first.

  • Sienna Miller has never been used well in a popular movie until now. She's oddly endearing as the tortured villain The Baroness.

  • Actually, the cast is very impressive, for the most part. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Ecclestone, Jonathan Pryce, Dennis Quaid, Saïd Taghmaoui, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (yes, Cesar and Mr. Eko finally meet beyond the grave!)... Some of them are actually good, as well. (Taghmaoui wins out.)

Things I did not like about G.I. Bill: The Rose of Cairo:

Unfortunately, those great actors are not only forced to play second fiddle to Channing Tatum -- who appears to be an especially inexpressive golem of some kind -- and Marlon Wayons¹, but also to gabble the most flat and silly dialogue at a speed that must have required some kind of fourth-dimensional voice-coaching. Every scene featuring dialogue is packed so full of exposition that there is no room for nuance, inflection, or emotion. It's just a long scream of "DUKE WE NEED TO LOCATE THE BASE AND FIND THE KILLSWITCH FOR THE NANOMITES I'M ON IT SIR WE HAVE TO GET TO PARIS BEFORE THEY WEAPONISE THOSE WARHEADS YOU GOT IT DUKE SUIT UP SOLDIER!" The action scenes should be a respite from the hectic shouting, but they're nothing but a tumult of shattering planet. By the time the credits rolled, I was draped across my seat, utterly defeated by the barrage of aggressive nonsense. Imagine being verbally assaulted by a gamma-irradiated Jerky Boy. That's G.I. Joe.

Why do that? Partially because Stephen Sommers, while having some expertise at handling the technical aspects of his movies, has absolutely no idea how to modulate scenes. As with everything else he's made, every scene is played like a big finish, with everyone operating at full tilt. This is, of course, a lot like Michael Bay's modus operandi, but even though Bay's movies are poorly paced, they are at least paced in some form. As I've said on here before, Sommers just does FASTslowFASTslowFASTslow, with the only variation being the length of the FAST scenes. In G.I. Joe, the first action scene is about eight minutes long. The second is thirteen minutes long. The Paris sequence feels like it lasts an hour. The big finish in the underwater base might still be going on. I left the cinema ten hours ago but the room was still shaking. THE JOES HAD TO FIND THE KILLSWITCH TO DEACTIVATE THE NANOMITES BEFORE THEY DESTROYED WARSHINGTON! I hope they did. Regrettably, I needed to put my head down somewhere.

That's why the dialogue gets rattled out like minigun rounds. Sommers is presented with a script containing 108 pages. That's 108 minutes. The action scenes probably account for 40 pages, which is not enough action for Sommers, who is like a little boy playing with toys, contriving ever more silly ways to keep his playtime going². So, those 68 pages of dialogue are squished down to 48 by making everyone talk like they're on fast forward, and the action is dragged out for 20 extra pages. There is approximately an hour of things blowing up. That shit even tires me out, and I usually thrive on this stuff.

Of course, Sommers also cannot film action properly. The camera is way too close, the explosions are shot in such a way as to obstruct what is happening, and the fighting is poorly choreographed. The swordfights between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are too short, set in spaces too small, and keep stopping and starting. No flow, no thrill.

There is also a poor use of environment, with every setting being used the same way (jeep flips over ten times, man flies through air, other man crashes through wall, another jeep flips through the air, thing explodes as jeep hits it, man flips through air and hits jeep, jeep hits man in mid-air, etc.). The main action scenes are in a forest, the G.I. Joe base, Paris, and the Cobra base, but they're all completely interchangeable. There are only one or two elements that differentiate them (a train in Paris, water in the Cobra base), but otherwise it's the same clanging bullshit. Plus, he underlights everything. I say this with all honesty: Bay the action director pisses all over Sommers the action director. It's not saying much, but I stand by that.

The effects are all over the place. Digital Domain are doing a lot of heavy lifting this year, now that Michael Bay runs the show. Their effects are generally very very good, and have a very distinctive textured feel, but they over-reach at times here. The Accelerator suits looked so cool in previews, but onscreen they're boring to look at (those glum colours are shown up by Iron Man's red and gold), and move really haphazardly. I know they're like mad exo-skeletons and make their wearers more agile and whatever, but in the Paris scene they just seem like ragdolls. There's no sense of weight or power. It's just circus flipping and stuff. The effects on Snake Eyes are marginally better, as he is not meant to be augmented like the other "Joes"³, but even then he's on a truck that doesn't even seem to be a part of the scene. None of them do. It's like Sommers got hold of some holiday footage in Paris and clumsily stuck some exploding ragdolls in the middle of it.

Plus, stop hurting Paris, you dick. Seeing some of the very streets we recently walked along get treated like a warzone made me surprisingly angry. When the Eiffel tower got wrecked, I felt the red rage. Leave the beautiful city alone, you crass douchebag.

Going back to the script problems for a moment, the majority of the important character beats are revealed through flashbacks, with the modern settings used primarily to display explosions of various size. That's not very sleek storytelling, but I wouldn't really have a problem with it, were those flashbacks not ushered in with the relevant character breaking off from yelling about NANOMITE TECHNOLOGY to stare into the middle distance. All it needs is the wobbly dissolve to be one step below Falcon Crest. Maybe Lost has ruined this old flashback cliche, but whatever it is, most of the laughs I got from this was from the use of this hoary old trick. If I were more generous, I'd say Sommers is having a laugh, but as the movie is devoid of intentional humour (don't forget, Marlon Wayans is in it), I strongly doubt that.

Anyone who has seen Ray Park act, as Toad in X-Men or Gurning Cockney Wanker in the Bertolucci-homage Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever, knows that you're best off hiring him for his prodigious martial arts skills, and for anything else you hire Peter Serafinowicz to voice him, or figure out a way to shut him up. This movie casts him as a silent ninja-type in a full body suit and weird visor, which is fine for me, but why oh why did they ruin the effect of the mask with a weird rubber mouth?

Those full rubber lips, perpetually in a half-open pose of surprise, make him look like a half-ninja/half yokel cyborg man. Remember the bit in The Man With Two Brains where Dr. Hfuhruhurr puts wax lips on Anne Uumellmahaye's brain jar so he has something to kiss? It looks like someone did that to Snake Eyes.

As for the rest of the costumes, the only ones that make an impression are the skintight leather catsuits on Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols. Not because I'm a big horndog, but because the rest of the outfits are either bland Accelerator suits or generic camo gear. Sadly, Miller and Nichols appear to have the same sexytailor, but then Sommers apparently doesn't see a reason to differentiate (their hair is different colours, after all).

It's the same with the vehicles. The big underwater finale features a battle between Joeboats and Cobrasubs, with both kinds of vehicle looking almost identical. At the start of the battle they're on either side of the screen, so you know one is bad, the other is good. Two seconds later and it's just pixels swimming about. This is not a joke: I honestly longed for the Star Wars prequels. At least there the vehicles are distinct, and eccentric too (Naboo ships are just so pretty.)

So yeah, Nichols and Miller show much cleavage during the scenes where they are running around shouting "WE HAVE TO GET TO THE BASE BEFORE THE TERRORISTS FIRE THE ROCKETS!" or "WE HAVE TO FIRE THE ROCKETS BEFORE THE JOES GET TO THE BASE!", so I can imagine they will be popular with the millions of pubescent boys in the audience, but even though this is the usual shit, G.I. Joe is far less objectionable than Transformers 2. The leatherclad ladies of Joe are at least given personalities of a sort, and do stuff to further the plot, unlike Megan Fox in Bay's movie. Plus, there aren't two robots called Step and Fetchit or whatever they were called. So Joe has that on it's side, and I'm sort of grateful for it. This belongs in the "Good Things" list, FYI.

Things I wasn't sure about in Sloppy Joe: That's So Cobra!:

  • Midway through the movie, in Snake Eyes' flashback -- which, if I recall correctly, starts with the same "looking into the distance" thing even though Snake Eyes' eyes are hidden behind a bulbous visor -- we're treated to the sight of two twelve-year olds kicking the shit out of each other, kung fu style. I really don't know whether that was sick genius or deeply fucked up.

  • I was thrilled to see two of the most respected actors of their respective generations clad in silly masks or poorly animated metal heads walking around their submarine base and intoning dread words of purest evil. It was even better when they got captured two seconds after reaching their pinnacle of superevil, and then hastily shoved away in a hi-tech prison the end. Even with the SHOCK CODA that is utterly unshocking, it felt like Sommers just got bored of his toys and put them down to go and play Dropzone on his Commodore 64. By then, I knew how he felt. That it is left open for a sequel with shameless desperation just ruined my day. Probably because I know I'll see the damnable thing as well.

Luckily for Sommers, this has probably been my worst ever week for movies, what with Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li giving X-Men Origins: Wolverine a run for its money as worst film of the year. As a result I think better of G.I. Joe than I usually would, but it's still shit, because Stephen Sommers is a terrible filmmaker, and even if you get Stuart "Collateral" Beattie to script it, Sommers will still do his best to wreck it in the name of improvement.

I've said this before elsewhere, but it sums up why I don't like his movies, so I have to repeat it. When I was a kid, I hated when action movies would feature talking and boring stuff when they should surely just have wall-to-wall action. Now that I'm older I look back on those movies and feel deeply ashamed for doubting the wisdom of the directors. For example, I'm currently rewatching and loving a lot of Walter Hill movies, and those long, action-free passages are more thrilling than most action movies made in the last ten years because Hill's approach, imbuing his films with unapologetic machismo, raises tension levels through the roof. Sommers, on the other hand, has only one setting: GO JOES GO! It's too much and not enough, simultaneously.

¹ Sadly operating in Dungeons-and-Dragons mode, not Requiem-For-A-Dream mode.

² "I've finally killed you, Cobra Commander, after an epic two-hour battle!"
"Ah hah! Your bullet was deflected by my armour again. Now we shall fight to the death once more!" Etc.

³ The use of the term "Joes" to describe the soldiers causes much unintentional laughter, though it's an uncomfortable laugh when it's Dennis Quaid forced to talk about how "WE'RE GONNA GET ALL OUR JOES BACK!" I was hoping that, if he got some bad news from Ripcord or Duke, he'd growl, "SAY IT AIN'T SO, JOES!"

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Rock Band Wish List #4: I Am PWNed by Activision

Like Orly Taitz in the grip of another craziness-burp on national TV, I've gone on about Rock Band with off-putting regularity over recent months, which makes me feel bad after Canyon was kind enough to buy me Guitar Hero World Tour for Christmas. For the record, I think Neversoft have done a terrific job of taking over the Guitar Hero brand from Harmonix, though their note-placements on some tracks are kinda weird, especially on Guitar Hero III. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it can ruin a song. That said, I think their Medium level is more of a challenge, which is nice for me at my current skill level (bored by Rock Band Medium, taxed almost too much by Rock Band Hard), and there are some innovations on Guitar Hero World Tour that Harmonix should seriously consider adopting. Having a five-second pause after you restart a level is a brilliant move (how many times have I had to pause a Rock Band level and then missed six notes when I pressed Resume?), and I found their noteless Beginners level very useful for getting used to the drums. Also, the Music Studio is a superb addition, and though I've not had enough time to really give it a workout, even just a cursory attempt shows how much depth it has. My kudos to all involved. I'm sure they will all appreciate my fragrant and robust kudos.

Still, Rock Band is my religion music game of choice. The interface is cleaner, the flow of the note-placements is far smoother, and the songs available for download are incredible. At least one guest to our house has been converted to the Rock Band cause after seeing the awe-inspiring selection. Guitar Hero's selection is deeply disappointing, apart from the odd highlight: Born to Run and My Lucky Day by The Boss, an Eagles of Death Metal pack containing Cherry Cola, lots of Jimi. That's fine, but some of their selections are utterly overshadowed by Rock Band. Example: You can get Debaser and Monkey Gone To Heaven, but with Rock Band you can get all of Doolittle. Rock Band FTW. Even so, I know I'll be getting Guitar Hero 5, because the song selection is genuinely surprising, and has given the franchise a shot in the arm. The final list was released last week, and some inspired choices have made me very excited.

  • 3 Doors Down - "Kryptonite"
  • A Perfect Circle - "Judith"
  • AFI - "Medicate"
  • Arctic Monkeys - "Brianstorm"
  • Attack! Attack! UK - "You And Me"
  • Band Of Horses - "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands"
  • Beastie Boys - "Gratitude"
  • Beck - "Gamma Ray"
  • Billy Idol - "Dancing With Myself"
  • Billy Squier - "Lonely Is The Night"
  • Blink-182 - "The Rock Show"
  • Blur - "Song 2"
  • Bob Dylan - "All Along The Watchtower"
  • Bon Jovi - "You Give Love A Bad Name"
  • Brand New - "Sowing Season (Yeah)"
  • The Bronx - "Six Days A Week"
  • Bush - "Comedown"
  • Children Of Bodom - "Done With Everything, Die For Nothing"
  • Coldplay - "In My Place"
  • Darker My Love - "Blue Day"
  • Darkest Hour - "Demon(s)"
  • David Bowie - "Fame"
  • Deep Purple - "Woman From Tokyo ('99 Remix)"
  • The Derek Trucks Band - "Younk Funk"
  • Dire Straits - "Sultans Of Swing"
  • The Duke Spirit - "Send A Little Love Token"
  • Duran Duran - "Hungry Like The Wolf"
  • Eagles Of Death Metal - "Wannabe In L.A."
  • Elliott Smith - "L.A."
  • Elton John - "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)"
  • Face To Face - "Disconnected"
  • Garbage - "Only Happy When It Rains"
  • Gorillaz - "Feel Good Inc."
  • Gov't Mule - "Streamline Woman"
  • Grand Funk Railroad - "We're An American Band"
  • Iggy Pop - "Lust For Life (Live)"
  • Iron Maiden - "2 Minutes To Midnight"
  • Jeff Beck - "Scatterbrain (Live)"
  • Jimmy Eat World - "Bleed American"
  • John Mellencamp - "Hurts So Good"
  • Johnny Cash - "Ring Of Fire"
  • Kaiser Chiefs - "Never Miss A Beat"
  • King Crimson - "21st Century Schizoid Man"
  • Kings Of Leon - "Sex On Fire"
  • Kiss - "Shout It Out Loud"
  • Love and Rockets - "Mirror People"
  • Megadeth - "Sweating Bullets"
  • Motley Crue - "Looks That Kill"
  • Muse - "Plug In Baby"
  • My Morning Jacket - "One Big Holiday"
  • Nirvana - "Lithium (Live)"
  • Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
  • No Doubt - "Ex-Girlfriend"
  • Peter Frampton - "Do You Feel Like We Do? (Live)"
  • The Police - "So Lonely"
  • Public Enemy Featuring Zakk Wylde - "Bring the Noise 20XX"
  • Queen & David Bowie - "Under Pressure"
  • Queens Of The Stone Age - "Make It Wit Chu"
  • Rammstein - "Du Hast"
  • The Rolling Stones - "Sympathy For The Devil"
  • Rose Hill Drive - "Sneak Out"
  • Rush - "The Spirit Of Radio (Live)"
  • Santana - "No One To Depend On (Live)"
  • Scars On Broadway - "They Say"
  • Screaming Trees - "Nearly Lost You"
  • Smashing Pumpkins - "Bullet With Butterfly Wings"
  • Sonic Youth - "Incinerate"
  • Spacehog - "In The Meantime"
  • Stevie Wonder - "Superstition"
  • Sublime - "What I Got"
  • Sunny Day Real Estate - "Seven"
  • T. Rex - "20th Century Boy"
  • The Killers - "All The Pretty Faces"
  • The Raconteurs - "Steady As She Goes"
  • The Sword - "Maiden, Mother & Crone"
  • Thin Lizzy - "Jailbreak"
  • Thrice - "Deadbolt"
  • Tom Petty - "Runnin' Down A Dream"
  • Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - "American Girl"
  • TV On The Radio - "Wolf Like Me"
  • Vampire Weekend - "A-Punk"
  • Weezer - "Why Bother?"
  • The White Stripes - "Blue Orchid"
  • Wild Cherry - "Play That Funky Music"
  • Wolfmother - "Back Round"

Of course, while that's a tasty list, Rock Band has already stolen some of the thunder by releasing some of those songs as download content. Over the last year, we have downloaded Nearly Lost You by Screaming Trees, Wolf Like Me by TV On The Radio and Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon, and The Rock Show by Blink-182 came out last week (how long until we get all of Dude Ranch or Enema of the State, sans stupid "comedy" tracks?). Many more of these songs will become available soon, I'm sure. Still, hats off to Activision for making Guitar Hero more inclusive than it has been in the past. As I've always maintained, these games can do more than rock out. They can bring different genres of popular music into the fold, and Guitar Hero 5 is definitely doing that.

I cannot even begin to express my joy at seeing Stevie Wonder represented in a game so often determined to plough a very boring pure rock format. It makes me wonder if there's any way to get all of Talking Book into the game or, even better, all of Innervisions (my favourite Stevie album). Indie nerds everywhere must be psyched at the appearances by Band of Horses -- with a track from their incredibly moving sophomore album -- and Elliott Smith. Actually, someone questioned the inclusion of the latter on the AV Club, worrying that Smith's family have become lax in holding onto the rights of his songs. To be honest, while that commenter has a point, I'd hope his family gets a chance to profit from his songwriting genius in a way he never really got a chance to. It's not because I'm eager to "play" one of his songs. Honest.

Other highly anticipated tracks in that list (for me, at least) include Bullet With Butterfly Wings by the Pumpkins¹ and Incinerate by Sonic Youth (the highlight of their last Geffen album Rather Ripped), but the songs that inspired the title of this Wish List post are Plug In Baby by Muse, Blue Orchid by The White Stripes, and A-Punk by Vampire Weekend. Muse are a band with a sound that usually makes me want to remove my skin and stamp on it, I hate it that much. Nevertheless, Plug In Baby is a madness-inspiring rock anthem I am unable to resist, even if I were to use protective enchantments from ancient Cimmeria, and had planned a Wish List entry about it. I'd even found the video out and everything. Here it is. It's a monster song.

I'm not sure I would have picked those songs by The Stripes and The Weekend - I'd plump for Seven Nation Army and Oxford Comma - but I'm thrilled anyway, especially by Blue Orchid. So far the only Jack White songs available are his Bond theme with Alicia Keys (and it's great fun to play), some Raconteurs stuff, and three songs from the Dead Weather album Horehound. Treat You Like A Mother is like Bohemian Rhapsody re-written and performed by a sleazy old tramp who has broken into your house and hides under the stairs with his collection of doll hair, and thus is one of the greatest songs of our time. The other two are excessively boring. That's why we need primo Jack White music in our music games, thank you. Preferably White Stripes stuff. What with The White Stripes being the best band in the world, and all. Just sayin'.

So, where next for the Wish List? As a lazy way to maintain the blog while I work on other stuff (by which I do not mean using Twitter to bitch about bad movies), I intend to keep going, especially because -- in these days where laziness and stress battle it out for dominion of my soul -- the game that once was just a pastime has now become a passion, so much so that I will almost certainly be buying DJ Hero even though dance music doesn't excite me as much as a well-gamified bit of Silversun Pickups². More than that, I see further scope for expansion of the songs available for download, branching out into unexpected genres. More on this as the year progresses.

¹ This song was included because eleven out of ten rock fans polled expressed a wish to whine the lyric "Despite all my rage I'm still just a rat in a cage" in a voice that sounds just like an angry rat in a cage. A bald angry rat in a cage. A bald angry rat in a cage wearing an ELO t-shirt and being chased around said cage by Courtney Love.

² That said, DJ Shadow worked on the mixes, the song list includes Herbie Hancock's Rockit (!!!!), and you can play the game as Grandmaster Flash or DJ Jazzy Jeff. If that doesn't make you want to play the game, well, fair enough. But it should make you want to play the game.