I’m the best rapper, definitely top five.
If these other rappers think they’re better, they’re f*cking not alive.
I cut their head off, that’s every rapper living.
That’s Kendrick. That’s Drake. That’s ScHoolboy. That’s everyone.
I don’t give a f*ck, I’ll kill n*ggas.

This n*gga think he Drake. Nah, I ain’t Drake.
I sing better, I do better, my sh*t wetter.

At a recent gig in Sydney, Donald “Childish “Troy Barnes” Gambino” Glover staked his claim for contemporary rap greatness. As much as we love Gambino, this ain’t exactly "Control" in terms of statements of intent.

The first How To Train Your Dragon is an animation classic. No one can dispute that. Adapted from a relatively obscure series of children’s novels, it was released in 2010 to near universal acclaim from audiences, garnering two Oscar nominations and becoming Dreamworks’ highest regarded film in a decade (stripping Chicken Run of the title), as well as the great honour of being one of the few films to ever make me cry (joining the illustrious company of My Dog Skip, The Road and The Elephant Man). Basically it’s bloody great and has a permanent place in my cinematic heart… but alas this fervent fandom probably set How To Train Your Dragon 2 up to fail.

That’s not to say it doesn’t retain some of the magic and wonder of its predecessor. The Viking/Dragon world is still as breathtakingly realised as last time, the score is once again excellent, the character design of the dragon hordes is some of the most imaginative you’re likely to see in a major studio picture, Toothless remains the most adorable creature ever committed to film, and the friendship between him and Hiccup is the most potent and reliable heartstring-puller around (there’s some extra emotional beats thrown in which prove incredibly effective - that blind dragon had me feeling things). But away from these already established elements, it feels quite a bit undercooked, with the plot jumping from point to point as if it’s not quite sure which one to commit to. You get all the important character beats built up from the first film as the sponge of this cake, but the story the script and the new characters are a pallid, unappetising icing on top, which barely covers the whole thing.

By now, everyone knows the big reveal, and if you don’t, you’re best looking away… Hiccup finds his long-lost mother Volka, presumed dead for his entire life, to be living on an isolated utopia as a Viking hippie, a Jane Goodall for dragons in the mist. The scene that serves as the introduction of Volka in her masked splendour is superb, and had it not been ruined by its constant use in trailers and TV spots, it would perhaps be one of my favourite scenes of the year. But her big reveal being spoiled is not the only disservice done to Volka. She unfortunately follows the increasing trend of strong female characters being used to further the male hero’s journey before being cast to the wayside. It’s happened so often recently, from The Lego Movie, to The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, to Star Trek Into Darkness, Oblivion and Edge Of Tomorrow; fascinating female characters are built up, given agency and their own arcs, only to become love interests, sex objects or existing solely to serve the male hero’s development and motivation; in this case, Volka exists to give Hiccup a few rote motivational speeches at key points, and that’s it. She even steps aside from a fight with the villain to let her estranged husband take him on, despite the film informing us she’s more than adequately handled various assaults over two decades on her own. It feels like a betrayal of what we’d expect and a complete waste of Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-winning talents on a disappointing character. You’d like to think if the filmmakers had followed their original plan of using Volka as a conflicted antagonist, she may have gotten a better shrift, but then you see how underdeveloped Drago Bludvist (a nominee for worst villain name of the year) turned out to be and you wonder if the grass would really be greener. 

Speaking of Drago, it’s a little off-putting that the first and only major character of colour seen in the franchise happens to be an unreasonable, maniacal, murderous, dragon-abusing warlord. Full credit to Djimon Honsou giving a good showing in the recording booth, but it’s just uncomfortable seeing an ambiguously brown antagonist (with a potentially interesting backstory unfortunately ignored) being fought off by a whiter-than-white-bread cast of good guys. Good guys like the now seemingly typecast Kit Harrington, who proves himself to be as dull and wooden an animated character as he does a flesh & blood one, although at least his Eret, Son Of Eret provides some laughs via his bulging biceps.

I’ll be honest, despite being the main character and central to the whole franchise, Jay Baruchel really detracts from How 2. His nasally voice works in live-action, when he’s playing a slimy corporate PR as in Robocop, or a amiable stoned slacker, as in most other things; hell, even in the first film, this helped reinforce Hiccup’s youth, naiveté and inexperience. But now, the character is a “dragon master”, a swashbuckling adventurer and future chief of his clan, as well as being Neville Longbottom’d into a handsome young man, yet he still sounds like he’s on the receiving end of a dozen wedgies a day, and one scare away from wetting his riding britches. It’s frustrating that Baruchel’s range doesn’t extend to the more mature plot elements that the film broaches, albeit very clumsily in passing.

However, for these disappointing misses, there’s still a wave of hits and some of that original charm left over to keep the franchise afloat for the third instalment in two years time. And no doubt, that one will keep up the tradition and make me cry too.

Listen: Nai Harvest - Buttercups: The Sheffield lads just keep getting better. With a busy year of dropping the Hold Open My Head EP, and re-issuing their 2013 debut album Whatever, Nai Harvest have unveiled “Buttercups”, a new single taken from their upcoming Flower split EP with Playlounge (available from Dog Knights Productions). It’s yet another step away from the spindly emo which shaped their early stuff, moving towards a gloriously melodic and fuzzy alt-rock sound. It’s the kind of song to make you nostalgic for idyllic summer days on the beach with friends, which never really happened. A whole album of this would probably be the best rock record to come out of the UK in a long while, and the duo are certainly capable of it.

The UK has a tonne of pop-punk, post-hardcore and “real emo” bands to fill small venues with kids sing-shouting the lyrics. Seriously, it’s kind of “our thing”. Do you like Neck Deep, dude? Do you like my Honour Over Glory beanie? Its rad, mandude. Yeah, you get the picture.

Still, even though there is an entire wave of almost identical bands, every plaid-clad boy and girl shed a little tear when Basement broke up. Why, you ask? It probably had something to do with the heartfelt lyrics, which reflected a menagerie of problems associated with “growing up” (whatever that is; as emotionless review writing software programmed into Tumblr, I have experienced no such thing). The indie loving music snobs could dig ‘em, too, due to their fucking sweet guitar sound that seemed to take more from early alternative rock than any of their contemporaries, and the song-writing was a lot more subtle than many of the bands that they played with.  They, along with Title Fight, represented something I like to call “respectable pop-punk”. You know, stuff that ticks all of the pop-punk boxes, but is ok to like because The Needle Drop said it was cool. That kind of thing.

Of course, after being gone for only just under 2 years, the world rejoiced when they came back to life, announcing a tour, and this here EP. While it’s fair to mock the histrionics that surrounded their short departure and almost immediate return, it has to be said – it’s good to have them back.

They pick up almost immediately where they left off with their last album, Colourmeinkindness. The EP kicks off with a typically mid-paced track in “Summer’s Colour”. The song kicks off with fuzzed out Dinosaur Jr-ish guitars, before pleasant, chilled out vocals take control of the rest of the track. Overall, there’s nothing to be wowed about, and it’s a bit of a wonder why they chose this to be the opener, and the single that they released prior to this EP. Still, the familiarity in the sound gives you enough sentimentality to forgive them for the track’s averageness.

Things finally kick into gear with the slightly more upbeat “Jet”. The track bounces along on choppy guitars and cryptic and typically wistful lyrics, before pausing briefly to employ “oohs” taken directly from Brian Wilson’s songbook. It’s a track that certainly lives up to anything from their full-lengths, and serves as a reminder as why their song-writing stood out in a scene that was too happy to replicate the straight forward verse-chorus-verse format.

The final track is a cover of Suede’s “Animal Nitrate”, which is fairly disappointing given that we’ve just gone through a drought of Basement material, and even just one new jam would have been greatly appreciated. Luckily, the band tackle it with aplomb. They don’t change much from the original, but it still seems to fit seamlessly into the catalogue, thanks to the swirling melodies on the fuzzed out guitars and the unlucky-in-love lyrics.

Ultimately, while it’s always good to have the sound of new Basement in your life, with this three track EP containing on track that sounds like an average album cut, and another that is a cover of a Britpop song, it proves to be something of a disappointment. Hopefully this is just a stopgap before they release a full-length.

Sunday Song of the Day

Family of the Year are one of the loveliest bands around and that’s not up for debate. This track’s their new single (in the UK, it’s been out in the US for about 11 months) and it shows their more tender, human side.
Go on, sit out in the sun and listen to this when you feel relaxed. 

Video: Game Of Thrones’ new cast members: Thanks to ComicCon currently whipping up a frenzy in San Diego, we’re getting a wealth of news and material from the biggest shows and film franchises around, and even though it’s barely been ten minutes since the fourth season of Game Of Thrones ended, but already the hype machine trundles on for the next eagerly-awaited instalment. HBO have given us a look at the new additions to the world of Westeros, with most having real names which seem like they could very well come from the mind of George R.R. Martin. The new cast members include:

  • Alexander Sellig (who looks remarkably like Community’s Danny Pudi in ten or twenty years) playing the Prince Of Dorne Doran Martell.
  • Toby Sebastian (clearly the show’s new aggravatingly handsome heartthrob) playing Trystane Martell.
  • Nell Tiger Free playing the oft-recast role of Cersei’s daughter Myrcella Baratheon.
  • DeObia Oparei playing Areo Hotah, a guard of Doran’s who married his axe. Yes, really.
  • Enzo Cilenti playing Yezzan, the richest man in Yunkai.
  • Jessica Henwick plays Nymeria Sand, one of Oberyn Martells’s bastard daughters and one of the infamous Sand Snakes.
  • Rosabell Laurenti Sellers plays Tyene Sand, another of Oberyn’s bastard daughters and a Sand Snake.
  • Keisha Castle-Hughes plays Obara Sand, another of Oberyn’s bastard daughters and Sand Snake (fun fact: Castle-Hughes was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003 for Whale Rider).
  • Jonathan Pryce plays The High Sparrow, who, if fan theories are found to come true, will be a very important player indeed.

In slightly disappointing news, it’s also been revealed that none of the major directors to work on Game Of Thrones over the past four seasons - Tim Van Patten, Neil Marshall, Michelle McClaren, Alex Graves, Alan Taylor - will be returning to helm these new episodes. The fifth season of Game Of Thrones is set to start airing in spring 2015

With the Cornetto Trilogy over and done with, it remains to be seen what will become of Nick Frost. Simon Pegg is firmly entrenched as an alternative leading man, Hollywood blockbuster support, and voice of various animated critters, whilst Edgar Wright is always going to be able to direct what he wants, as long as he steers clear of Marvel Studios, but Frost is in a less surefooted position. Sure, he’ll be able to coast along thanks to goodwill, but when picking projects as weak and limp as Cuban Fury, that goodwill could find itself fading fast.

Cuban Fury centres around Bruce, a former child salsa champion, who quit due to bullying and grew up to be an underconfident, overweight office drone. When his company hires a new American supervisor (Rashida Jones, clearly grabbing the first script that came through after leaving Parks & Rec), it’s love at first day of work for Bruce, despite the fact he considering Julia to be out of his league. The situation is only made worse by the presence of the office asshole and alpha male Drew (Chris O’Dowd, essentially pulling a “Jon Hamm in Bridesmaids”) having Julia in his sights too. Fortunately for Bruce, Julia is an amateur dancer, and in order to win her affections, he has to get his groove back.

Despite a good cast - Frost, Jones, O’Dowd, along with Ian McShane, Olivia Colman, Alexandra Roach, Kayvan Novak and Rory Kinnear - such a premise coupled with a lame duck script leaves the film as welcome as a turd on the dancefloor. There’s no originality or innovation, and no attempt at improving on the millions and millions of films to come before it. Everything about this is such a rote set-up for a romcom; just substitute salsa dancing for any other hobby, and boom, you’ve got a good 50% of the genre covered at least. It’s telling that the best scene relies on the physical comedy gifts of Frost and O’Dowd without so much as a word between them, and even then, the show is stolen by a cameo from a certain someone.

So many characters are underwritten - Jones’ Julia might as well not even have a name, McShane’s grizzled mentor is dead behind the eyes and Novak is on camp autopilot - and very few gags land anywhere near their target that it’s amazing Cuban Fury manages to drag itself to a third act, let alone across the finish line. Frost is a sound enough screen presence and fantastic cog to have in comedic machines, but after this, he seems unlikely to match the success of his Cornetto compatriots.

Track of the Day:
Fast proving that she’s one of the most talented singers to keep a watch on for the remainder of 2014 and onwards, Kimberly Anne’s new single “Liar” is an utterly grand song.

Poster: Ant-Man: Edgar Wright may be gone, and so is his initial replacement Adam McKay, but Marvel’s Ant-Man continues to trundle on with this first one-sheet. We have to wait twelve months to see if it’ll be another feather in the studio’s cap, or their first true failure.

Poster: Ant-Man: Edgar Wright may be gone, and so is his initial replacement Adam McKay, but Marvel’s Ant-Man continues to trundle on with this first one-sheet. We have to wait twelve months to see if it’ll be another feather in the studio’s cap, or their first true failure.

Song of the Day:

Found by Jay Z and used by Dr.Dre in the US of A; London crooner Jamie N Commons’ collaboration with X Ambassadors has proved to be a hit overseas and it’s now available in the UK too.
I’m dangerously close to sounding the certified hit klaxon here.