Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For-teaser-posterThe best part of a decade ago Robert Rodriquez and Frank Miller joined forces to bring Miller’s comic-noir vision, Sin City, to life. They did so using, then groundbreaking, special effect techniques and a huge cast of A-listers which made for something fresh and exciting.

Nine years later they reunited to bring another set of Miller’s stories to the big screen with a similar set of special effects and a similar cast, but unfortunately something seems to be missing.

While Sin City is a noir fever dream of almost-superheroes and almost-supervillians set in the hyper-stylised Basin City, A Dame To Kill For feels, for the most part, like they’ve taken that dream and turned it into some hellish nightmare version of the same source.

While the violence and general dubious gender politics exist in both films there is much more in the second that feels genuinely nasty. While in the first, the evil Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) was a shadowy background figure, here he is the overarching villain for two of the three threads and is one of the most charismatic characters in the movie.

Powers Boothe as Senator Roark

Powers Boothe as Senator Roark

This sets the balance between the good guys and bad guys on the wrong side from the start and isn’t helped by the fact that the new good guys don’t really have the necessary motive they did in the first film to really make us root for them.

The titular story is the most coherent with Eva Green standing out as Ava Lord, chewing through the virtually scenery and clearly having a lot of fun hamming up her extreme femme fatale in fine style.

In contrast her beau, Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin), a chronologically earlier incarnation of the character played by Clive Owen in the first film, is unfortunately bland, much like McCarthy was compared to Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) in the first movie and he isn’t enough of a hero to carry the plot.

Eva Green as Ava Lord

Eva Green as Ava Lord

That said, neither are Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s underdeveloped Johnny or Jessica Alba’s damaged Nancy.

Crucially, what seems to be missing is a sense of experimental innocence and a joie de vivre that made the first movie barrel along but now feels like Rodriquez going through the motions of this being the sort of thing he does, particularly following the hyper-silliness of the Machete movies. While he has become very slick at this, Rodriquez’s style has lost something that made the original, and much of his earlier work, much more enjoyable.

On top of this it seems Frank Miller is trying to rekindle what it was that made the original run of the comics such great stories. He too though seems to have lost this view of Sin City, making the new stories feel like pastiches of his past work that try too hard to be brutal noir and just end up a bit too bland and a bit too nasty.

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Chaos goes from light to dark – The Fermain Tavern – 06/12/14

Demise of Sanity

Demise of Sanity

For their Christmas show this year the organisers of the annual Chaos festival put on a show spanning genres and representing a taste of what is on offer at the summer event.

There was folk-rock from Clameur De Haro, folk-hop from Buffalo Huddleston, dance-rock from BLAKALASKA and, of course, a good dose of heavy metal from Jersey visitors Demise Of Sanity all at The Fermain Tavern.

My review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 13th December 2014 and you can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

Chaos light to dark review scan - 13:12:14

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Pride

Pride - movie posterIn the late 90s I remember going to the cinema to watch a film I found very funny and told a heart-warming story set against a backdrop of industrial and social strife – that film was The Full Monty and went on to huge international success.

Well now, following in its footsteps comes a film that combines many of the same elements with a streak of what certainly feels like more truth and honesty, Matthew Warchus’ Pride.

Set in the mid-1980s around the backdrop of ‘Thatcher’s Britain’, where social and industrial strife was rife, Pride starts out following Joe, aka Bromley (George MacKay), a young gay man coming to terms with his sexuality and attending his first pride parade. From there he becomes involved with the formation of a rights and fundraising group called Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners, a group from London raising money for the striking miners of South Wales with whom they see themselves sharing a common enemy and many common problems.

George MacKay and Faye Marsay - Pride

George MacKay and Faye Marsay

From there the movie looks at the attitudes the miners had to one of their most successful fundraising associations and takes a look into the turbulent world of gay life in the mid-80s and the lives of the striking miners, all in the form of a largely upbeat comedy-drama.

What sets this apart from many other similar movies is two things. First is the script that, despite having some totally fictional characters (Joe included) and clearly fictionalised situations, does a great job of getting to the heart and a sense of honesty about the situations portrayed.

Bill Nighy - Pride

Bill Nighy

Across the 120 minutes run time it doesn’t shy away from any of the issues surrounding any of the characters, so we see the violence and abuse directed at the gay characters and we hear about AIDS and see some of its responses and ramifications, while at the same time we see the situation the striking miners were in, portrayed more clearly than in any documentary I have seen, literally starving and freezing in their villages in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

While this might sound all a bit serious Pride tackles all these issues with a remarkable good humour that is never disrespectful but does lead to some of the funniest human moments I’ve seen in a cinema in a long time and sums up, it seems to me, something of the attitude of the people involved.

Imelda Staunton and Dominic West - Pride

Imelda Staunton and Dominic West

This also sets off the more tragic moments brilliantly and there is one moment at the film’s conclusion that really hits home hard, despite the path being well signposted.

The second aspect that made the movie was the performances. Packed to the gills with well-known British ‘character actors’, people who you know you’ve seen on-screen a hundred times before and brand new faces everyone seems to be on top form. Bill Nighy is in fabulously understated mode as one of the elders of the Welsh village, Imelda Staunton in a similar position but in more boisterous form, the aforementioned MacKay astonishing as our guide into the story and Dominic West as one of the most real characters in the whole thing, Jonathan Blake.

PrideWest is entirely believable in the role, despite being a familiar face, and draws a range of emotions from the audience with seeming ease. A particular high point of this being an excellent dance routine that is counter pointed by some later, more introspective moments that I can only assume reflect the real Blake’s life and situation.

With awards already piling up it seems Pride is destined to be a critical success and, if there is any justice, it will be a commercial one too, though I have a feeling the issues it tackles might not be too palatable to some, particularly in the more conservative parts of America.

PrideThis is a shame as it’s probably exactly the sort of film they should be exposed to as it is never preachy or overbearing but deals with issues while also being, above all, hugely entertaining.

I don’t remember both laughing and crying at the same time so much in a movie in a long time if ever, and all without feeling over emotionally manipulated like many movies are wont to do, which sets Pride as a high watermark in its genre and possibly broader cinema in general.

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Thee Jenerators and Ramblin’ Nick Mann – The White Hart – 22/11/14

Thee Jenerators

Thee Jenerators

Despite having had the small staged removed and there being a pillar placed right in front of the stage area (somewhat reminiscent of Chandlers in its heyday) The White Hart has become a regular venue for quite a varied selection of bands in recent years and this night was no exception.

The audience was still small, but beginning to grow as Guernsey’s one man hobo-blues machine Ramblin’ Nick Mann took to the stage armed with a homemade three string guitar that appeared to have a body made from a biscuit tin, though sadly tonight his beer can mic had been relegated by a more convention model.

His brand of one man slide guitar blues based around life in the islands may be something a bit too different for a pub on a Saturday night but, with those who wanted to listen, he went down well.

Ramblin' Nick Mann

Ramblin’ Nick Mann

Mann’s music comes with something of a knowing nod and a wink, both in the subjects covered and the style, but it is clear Mann has a genuine affection for the genre and the sound is a welcome addition to the ‘quirky’ end of Guernsey’s raft of solo performers, most of whom come armed with a simple six-string acoustic.

After a short break garage rock five-piece Thee Jenerators launched into their set as the pub filled up nicely with a crowd who’d clearly come along to watch the band.

Over the course of the set it was clear the band were much more relaxed on stage than I have often seen them and, while this led to a slightly less musically-tight set than some they have delivered, they seemed to be having a lot of fun.

Thee Jenerators - Jo Reeve and Mark Le Gallez

Jo Reeve and Mark Le Gallez

Frontman Mark Le Gallez was, as ever, as all over the room as his mic cable would allow and he was given a run for his money in those stakes by bass player Jo Reeve who spent as much time climbing on tables and chairs trying to connect with the audience and his band leader.

Throughout the set the audience seemed content to hang back behind the aforementioned pillar, which gave things a bit of an odd dynamic as Thee Jenerators undeniably work best when the crowd are moving with them, and there were points where the energy on stage seemed to sag in the face of this.

The band picked it up time and again though with ‘old classics’ like Mystery Man and French Disco and new numbers Daddy Bones and Bela Lugosi providing highlights based around Andy Sauvage’s fuzzy Telecaster, along with a brand new number that had some Jerry Lee Lewis aping piano from Garrick Jones thrown in.

Thee Jenerators

Thee Jenerators

As the set went on things became even looser and more chaotic, and possibly a bit too unfocused but, thanks to the bands infectious energy, it all remained enjoyable. While this was far from Thee Jenerators slickest performance it was good fun and showed that their new songs are fitting in right alongside old favourites and, more than a decade in, Thee Jenerators still have plenty left to offer.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: November 2014 – Lifejacket and Raptor Shack

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

Listen to the November 2014 edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey here (available until 27/12/14).

I returned to the airwaves for BBC Introducing Guernsey on Saturday 29th November with two bands releasing their debuts, Lifejacket and Raptor Shack.

Both bands have put out their debut recordings in the last month and told us about making the records along with some background to the bands.

Read my review of Lifejacket’s  Let’s Get This Out Of Our System And Move On here.

Read my review of Raptor Shack’s The Wild EP here.

The show also featured the first play for the debut single from Robert J. Hunter and we had a listen to an interview by Radio 2’s Jo Wiley with MURA MASA as he releases his debut album, Soundtrack To A Death.

You can listen to the show until 27th December through the BBC iPlayer here.

Tracklist

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The Toxic Avenger Part II

The Toxic Avenger Part II Blu RayThe second in Troma’s flagship franchise, and the follow-up to the film that made their name, ups the stakes in pretty much every regard as the worlds first toxic superhero returns for The Toxic Avenger Part II.

The story, which is as convoluted as you might expect, concerns Toxie once again saving Tromaville from a big evil corporation, in this case Apocalypse Inc who hint at being genuinely diabolical, while also seeking out his father who abandoned him at birth following a suggestion from his “Freudian psychiatrist” and heading to Japan to do so.

Its clear from the start that The Toxic Avenger Part II has a much bigger budget than the first film as the initial opening action sequence actually feels at least partially choreographed and seems to use actual stunt performers, while the explosive destruction of the Tromaville home for the blind is actually quite impressive.

Claire and Toxie

Toxie and his blind girlfriend Claire

This continues throughout the movie from more elaborate car chases to the more convincing gore to the whole middle sequence being shot on location in Tokyo.

Here things shift between the Troma staples of action and comedy to some oddly travelogue like moments with a rock band and dancers in a park where Toxie seems to be doing his best Michael Palin – although this being Troma they still manage to make it all look exceptionally scuzzy and pile on the stereotypes with a bath house and sumo scene and Yakuza-ish bad guys.

All this sets things at odds a bit as, despite the bigger production values (and believe me this is still low-budget, just not as low as the first), it still feels like a student film where every idea that might even slightly work is thrown at the screen to see what sticks. In the first this worked as the running time was somewhat shorter and the restricted budget worked in its favour as to what was possible, here though it does drag in sections and the genuine laughs are fewer.

toxic-avenger-part-ii-05In the end Toxie 2 continues in the footsteps of its predecessor but in an even less controlled way that leaves it not quite as enjoyable as some of the innocence of the extremely lo-fi and scuzzy original is lost, but that said, it left things on a generally good point and contained enough fun stuff to just about balance out the rest if the divisive style of Troma is your thing.

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Lifejacket – Let’s Get This Out Of Our System And Move On

Lifejacket - Let's Get This Out Of Our System And Move OnLifejacket formed in 2011 playing their first gig at that summer’s Chaos festival and stacking up plenty of gigs since – for the last year though the band have remained rather quiet as they headed into their own studio to hone and record their debut album, the excellently (if longwindedly) titled, Let’s Get This Out Of Our System And Move On, and rarely has a title summed up the sound of a record better.

What the “post-rock” three-piece (guitarist/vocalist Andy Sauvage, bassist John McCarthy and drummer Claire Mockett) have created is a set of eight cathartic indie rock songs heaped with disaffected passion, throbbing bass, thundering drums, angular spiky guitars and brilliantly off beat lyrics.

Starting off with No Show it’s all systems go from the opening blast as the band exhibit a greater control than they do in the live environment which allows a different side of them to cut through. While there’s still a vicious, bitter and cynical mood (in the best of cathartic ways) it is with a more recognisable indie-rock sound, topped with layers of work that could only come out in the studio.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

With these extra sounds, coming in the form synths, layered guitars and more backing vocals, Lifejacket have used the studio in the most effective of ways to embellish the songs so, while the essence of what makes them work live is still there, there is an extra level on show as well – along with a few ‘Easter eggs’ which reward repeat listens nicely.

As the album goes on Sauvage’s lyrics particularly struck me as he displays a sense of wit often missing in pop in all its many forms. This is most on show in Lifejacket’s two track’s decrying celebrity culture, Meanwhile In Hollywood and What Does That Mean, while in Merrick the same style is used to investigate what seem to be thoughts around human nature towards animals, showing there is a range of issues in the head the writer, all inspiring a fascinating and unique sense of articulation.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

Strangely the one track that doesn’t really fit in with the rest on the record is the first the band recorded and released, and a perennial live favourite, Brains. It’s horror punk style is somewhat at odds with what surrounds it, but it does act as a slight change of pace half way through and is still a great song packed with some excellent references for zombie fans.

With sonic references across the album to the likes of Nirvana and The Holy Bible-era Manic Street Preachers, Let’s Get This Out Of Our System And Move On would sound great in any situation, but, in the context of having been entirely self-produced it is astounding and shows another facet of the band’s talents.

Rounding off with the distortion drenched Yacht Shoes that heads in the direction of The Wildheart’s Endless, Nameless (though nothing is that distorted), Lifejacket round of the efficient and effective Let’s Get This Out Of Our System And Move On with the same sense of a short, sharp, shock it begins on what is certainly one of Guernsey’s top rock records of 2014.

Stream or download the album via Bandcamp.

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Raptor Shack – The Wild

Raptor Shack - The WildWith a little over a year together Raptor Shack have spent most of that time writing and then recording.

Thanks to their varied locations they’ve yet to make a live mark, but debut EP The Wild is their fist step to staking their claim on the Guernsey music scene with their mix of rock, punk, emo, blues and electronica.

My review of The Wild was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 22nd November 2014 and the album is available via Raptor Shack’s Bandcamp page.

Raptor Shack - The Wild review scan - 22:11:14

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The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game posterMuch like its subject, mathematician, cryptologist and engineer Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is something of an Enigma – pun intended.

While its far from the impenetrable thing that was the Nazi wartime code it combination of being very obvious, totally guileless and somewhat over sentimental sounds like it should be all but unwatchable, but somehow, here, it works to create something that is both informative and entertaining.

The roughly film tells the life story of the aforementioned Alan Turing, largely in flashback from the early 1950s when a break in at his home in Manchester led to a series of events that would ultimately lead to tragedy.

Knighley, Strong and Cumberbatch

Knightley, Strong and Cumberbatch

So we see Turing in his final years, here portrayed as a still obsessive genius working on the forerunners to modern computers, we see him in his youth (played very well by Alex Lawther) and, for the bulk of the film, we see him in the years between 1939 and 1945 when he was working at Bletchley Park on a top-secret project that would only come to light decades after his death and led to the shortening of the Second World War by an estimated two years.

While phrases like “Based on a true story” are always problematic, the use of a framing conceit instantly makes it clear that this isn’t entirely fact, so some of the moments are a bit convenient and the drama of the clash between Turing, his contemporaries and his commanding officers does play out as somewhat melodramatic but it all works in context to tell the story in a gripping way that gets across what it was Turing and co achieved and the forces at work around them.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

Particularly enlightening in this is the inclusion of MI6, embodied by Mark Strong as Major General Stewart Menzies, and the level of secrecy and espionage the whole Enigma project was subject too. So well delivered are these sequences that there are points where I ended up questioning the allegiances and motives of even Turing himself, despite knowing the actual history, which helps make the film all the more entertaining.

The other thing that helps with the entertainment level is the amount of humour. For a film that deals with some very serious subjects across its 114 minutes, there are very few scenes that don’t, in one way or another, raise a smile. This makes the moments then that are serious all the more impactful and the humour is very cleverly used to always be on Turing’s side despite the fact that, for most comedy, Turing’s “odd duck” personality would be the far easier target and in less skilled hands this could happen unintentionally.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira KnightleyA major part of the film surrounds Turing’s sexuality and this is where things feel a little guileless, but, potentially historically accurate. This is most notable in the use of the word “normal” which, if the film were set today, would feel very un-PC, but in the period setting does feel right and, cleverly, perceived “normality” and its opposite are only used with a negative feeling by more antagonistic characters, so the guileless, period, tone is actually somewhat refreshing.

The centerpiece of The Imitation Game is, of course, Cumberbatch’s performance as Turing and, while it is another outsider genius role (to go along side his Sherlock Holmes and, to a lesser extent, Kahn in Star Trek Into Darkness) he plays it with a different tone that is just what good actors should do with a role. His physicality changes, his vocal stammer is astoundingly well delivered and he is entirely believable as the troubled genius in every stage of his adult life from his awkward introductions to his tragic final years.

The Imitation GameThis is backed up by Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke who, despite a frustratingly clipped accent, puts in the best performance I’ve ever seen from her and certainly puts the nonsense of Pirates of the Caribbean to rest.

So, while The Imitation Game is clearly made for a mainstream market and all but shouts “nominate this for an Oscar” at every available opportunity, it also manages to tell a genuinely fascinating, gripping, humorous and tragic story with some real historical weight and issue based significance behind it, all centered around a fantastic lead performance while telling a real story that really needs to be told.

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Monty Python Live (Mostly) – One Down Five To Go

Monty Python Live (mostly) - One Down Five To GoWith a career dating back to the early 1960s the six men who made up Monty Python have been largely living on nostalgia since their second proper movie (and arguable highlight) Life of Brian. So, when they announced a ‘one-off’ series of reunion live shows last year I was far from the super excited fan I might once have been.

That said, while their track record is scrappy at best with at least as many misses as hits across their TV shows and movies, there is certainly enough there to make for an entertaining two and a half hour show.

It is largely these that the show draws on but, unfortunately, many of even these fall flat as they are presented in a way that may once have been ironic for a sketch troupe, but now just feels contrived and stayed.

The production is huge, as you’d expect for a live arena show, but this sucks the life out of what the troupe did best – tightly scripted and performed sketch comedy. This is particularly well demonstrated in the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ sketch in which Eric Idle over plays his part, Terry Jones looks a bit confused and it ends segueing into a song and dance number using a mash-up of lines from the sketch that is at best tiresome.

Eric Idle

Eric Idle

Eric Idle over playing is a problem across the whole show as he seems to take a lion’s share of the stage time and use it for his many songs which, originally were funny, but are now left as overblown pastiches of what once made them work – and it really doesn’t help that his voice hasn’t held up as well as he seems to think it has.

The best moments of the show are where it reverts back to sketch format and particularly those involving Michael Palin, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam. Palin and Gilliam look like they are genuinely having fun that really helps their moments come to life and Cleese, when on stage with Palin, has a similar presence.

Gilliam, Palin and Jones

Gilliam, Palin and Jones

Thankfully this means that some of my favourite sketches, The Lumberjack Song, the vocational guidance counselor, the dead parrot, the Spanish Inquisition and the cheese shop all work very well and at points where they fluff moments they run with it in the way that shows the comedic talent these guys once had.

With a string of pointless celebrity guests spots, quite why Eddie Izzard and Mike Myers were even there is beyond me, and more over elaborate dance numbers, Monty Python Live (Mostly) is at best a mixed bag and at worst a near failure that really is only for the diehards or those masochists who want to see what was once vibrant and anarchic become so much the establishment it is, at times, painful.

It’s telling that the biggest cheers are saved for the late Graham Chapman who appears in old clips peppered throughout and who, therefore, has not become a borderline irrelevant pastiche of what Python once was.

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