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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Static Alice – The Ghost of Common Sense

Static Alice

Static Alice

November 2014 saw the release of the debut album from Guernsey based pop-rockers Static Alice.

They launched the record with a show at the De La Rue supported by Jawbone on Saturday 15th November and on the same day my review of the album was published in the Guernsey Press.

You can download the album via Static Alice’s Bandcamp page and physical copies are available direct from the band, and here’s my review: Static Alice - The Ghost of Common Sense review scan - 15:11:14

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Interstellar

Interstellar posterI’m going to make this clear from the start, I’m writing this just over half an hour after stepping out of a screening of Christopher Nolan’s latest offering, Interstellar, so these are very much first impressions and I’m pretty sure there is a lot more in there than one screening can entirely grasp.

The story, what I can reveal of it here anyway, concerns an expedition from a dying Earth to find a new world on which to settle humanity. Matthew McConaughey is our guide on this journey, as pilot turned farmer, Cooper, who is chosen to pilot the expedition and we see the effect it has on him, his co-explorers and his family as the film goes on. To say more would almost certainly reveal too much.

Once again Interstellar marks Nolan’s claim to be the next blockbuster-auteur, and possibly the most coherent one since Hitchcock at least, as it not only takes in the epic sweep possible with big stars, big studios and big special effects, but attempts to deal with big questions and human issues, while continuing to fit in with Nolan’s oeuvre. Particularly it continues in the vein of Inception, but, for me, strikes a more successful balance.

What is most striking is how Nolan mixes big budget sci-fi movie making with bigger concepts while injecting some genuinely gripping emotional content as well. It is this emotional side that is really the linchpin of everything that happens and how the film deals with all the issues raised.

Interstellar - Mackenzie Foy and Matthew McConaughey

Mackenzie Foy and Matthew McConaughey

The emotions are certainly helped along by having a fantastic cast. McConaughey, along with Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain and youngster Mackenzie Foy, do a great job of making you forget they are big stars and become genuine characters, while Foy is a revelation as Cooper’s daughter Murph.

This leads to some of the most emotionally engaging moments I’ve experienced in a film in a long time as there are tears, laughs and tension all to be had simply through the actors delivery of the script. While the robot characters are the best I’ve seen on screen since the droids of Star Wars and are voiced excellently by Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart.

Of course, this being big budget sci-fi there is also marvel and wonder, as well as threat and tension, to be found in the special effects and more action based sequences. This makes for a film that, despite a near three-hour running time, never drags as we are constantly seeing something happen, whether it’s the initial exposition or the later emotion, exploration or tension, things never stop developing.

Interstellar - GargantuaI would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Interstellar doesn’t always feel entirely original – there is a lot here that draws on past sci-fi fare, with a particular touchstone being 2001: A Space Odyssey, but there are also nods to many other films, including, as one of those who watched with me pointed out, Contact (though having not seen it I can’t personally be sure) and there is certainly something of the blockbuster spectacle ambition of Star Wars in here too and a sprinkling of Moon and Silent Running too.

But, where Interstellar differs from 2001 in particular is the sense of emotion it injects into proceedings. So while we marvel as Dave Bowman goes through the ‘stargate’ and, possibly, sees the evolution of humanity, as Cooper’s exploration develops we feel a real connection to him and his place within it, along with the same sense of wonder, which makes for something that is definitely more instantly satisfying – though whether it continues to grip like Kubrick and Clarke’s classic remains to be seen.

Interstellar - Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway

What makes Interstellar work quite so well is how it combines many of the elements seen in the best past sci-fi films and uses them all to great effect, I’d say the only downside is that the plot, at times, becomes more predictable than I think Nolan would have liked and some of the scientific concepts take quite a lot of explaining, but this really does feel like a minor quibble as the film is never less than gripping and, what could be a problematic ending is, in Nolan’s hands, still successful and his status as a true blockbuster-auteur continues to grow.

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Nightmare Movies by Kim Newman

Nightmare Movies by Kim NewmanI first discovered Kim Newman through his excellent Video Dungeon columns in Empire magazine, which, along with his more mainstream reviews for the magazine, demonstrated a man with a great knowledge for the fringes of cinema. So, when I saw his 1989 work, Nightmare Movies, had been reversioned and rereleased I picked it up as soon as I could.

It is an initially daunting tome, clocking in at 500 pages it is undeniably an in-depth look at horror cinema since (roughly) 1960. The first half is the original book reprinted with extra footnotes and it lives up to all the good I’d heard about it taking us through the 30 years after Psycho in fairly extreme detail.

Each chapter takes on, loosely speaking, a different sub-genre by focusing on a few of the well-known classics and referencing their connections to lesser known films while both critically exploring what, in Newman’s view, motivates and drives both the individual films and the styles as a whole.

Added in to this first half of the book are new explanations and footnotes that generally are asides to the main text but are none-the-less fascinating – this is one of few books where the footnotes are essential to read as you go, rather than ignoring or reading later.

While Newman’s style has evolved since the late 1980s this original section of the book is still very readable and you can hear the same tone in it as in his Empire columns that makes it very easy to read despite the sometimes graphic descriptions and fairly heavy ideas being offered up.

Kim Newman

Kim Newman

The second half of the book goes through much of the same territory, bringing us up to date, to roughly 2010, and also taking in the new genres that have arisen and those that have fallen away. So, while the first half includes gialli and the like the second delves into the murky waters of torture porn, but all the time Newman joins the dots as to how the sub-genres interlink and what it is in the real world that is driving these changes in style and attitude.

As with the first half the tone is generally like that of a the best lecturer you ever had so, while it is authoritative, it is also friendly and entertaining and really shows off Newman’s famously ridiculous knowledge of obscure cinema.

My only real issue with the book is that there are points where it becomes a list of movies its likely few other than Newman have heard of, but even these have their purpose at times as they demonstrate quite the phenomenal breadth of horror cinema – I find it hard to believe there could be quite such an extensive number of movies in the various sub-genres of other aspects of film.

If you’re a fan of horror cinema and some of the thought behind it, this never quite hits the level of full on academic but treads the line between that and entertainment expertly, then Nightmare Movies is indispensable and, unless you are extremely dedicated to the field, will leave you with new must watch list and a greater appreciation for the form.

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Filmed in Supermarionation

Filmed In Supermarionation posterTelling the story AP Films (APF) and, later, Century 21 Productions, Filmed In Supermarionation offers the chance to step back to the 1960s with the people behind the likes of Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.

While there seems to be an interesting story to tell here, this film never quite manages to find it. We start off with Parker and Lady Penelope introducing us to the story, which they are oddly reading from a book (surely watching the movie would make more sense) and, for the first half of the film at least, we cut back to them and Brains, from time to time, to move things on.

This device disappears part way through the movie though leaving what could have been quite a nice quirky aspect of the filming feeling poorly thought out, which is a thought that continually occurred across the following 120 minutes.

The general arc takes us from through the early puppet TV shows produced by Gerry Anderson and into the more famous sci-fi series that followed up to the odd live action/puppet mixed that sealed their fate. The bulk of the film consists of a mix of talking head interviews, archive interviews and what could have been some interesting segments where Anderson’s son takes some of the original puppeteers back to where the studios used to be.

Parker and Lady Penelope

Parker and Lady Penelope

Unfortunately, and not wishing to sound cruel, a lot of these segments have more of the air of an outing from an old folks home than an insightful documentary and, while all involved are charming, there is little genuine insight to be had here.

It doesn’t help that neither studio really exists anymore (one is clearly now a mechanics workshop) so its left with what often feels like people stood chatting in a car park next to a model.

The talking heads sequences aren’t much better and, aside from the rather dry Gerry Anderson talking about his dealing with TV impresario Lew Grade and Sylvia Anderson telling the bulk of the behind the scenes story, it left me feeling like I’d spent some time with a parade of old English eccentrics, more than anything else. The chap who voiced Parker, however is something of a highlight.

Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson

What Filmed In Supermarionation is most successful at is reminding me how much I used to love the likes of Stingray and Captain Scarlet, when they were revived in my youth in the late 80s and early 90s, and quite how impressive some of the work they did was considering when they were made. Stingray in particular looks a good decade ahead of its time here in terms of production quality and Captain Scarlet has some surprisingly dark and brutal touches I hadn’t previously considered.

I think the biggest problem with Filmed In Supermarionation comes with the fact that it was conceived as a feature documentary but can’t escape the TV feel, so, rather than the cinema and Blu-ray release it has had, I think it would be much more suited to a cut down run on BBC Four (or the like) as its first hour drags as we work through the earlier, less well-remembered, shows.

Filmed in Supermarionation

One of the recreated sets

As expected the segment on Thunderbirds is the most in-depth and seems to be where most of the talking heads come to life most as well, possibly hinting at why this was the most successful of the shows, but again not much is revealed that hasn’t been well discussed in the past.

In an odd move, it leaves things on something of a down beat note as we find out that once Century 21 folded, most of the models were simply smashed and thrown in skips in front of the people who’d spent years working on them. This kills the warm nostalgic feeling that had been built and left me not too keen to watch the bonus disc of classic episodes of the TV shows, which is surely something of a crime.

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Buffalo Huddleston – Sunrise

Buffalo Huddleston - SunriseA few weeks ago acoustic-folk-hop six-piece, Buffalo Huddleston, launched their debut full length album, Sunrise with a spectacular gig at The Fermain Tavern.

Well once the dust had settled from that it came time to listen to the album itself.

My review of it was published in The Guernsey Press on Thursday 6th November 2014, and, if you like the sound of it, you can get hold of the album on Buffalo Huddleston’s Bandcamp page.

Buffalo Huddleston - Sunrise review scan - 06:11:14

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Dr. Phibes Rises Again

Dr Phibes Rises AgainWhile The Abominable Dr. Phibes certainly has its flaws and inconsistencies it is, for the most part, a highly enjoyable and thrilling horror with a reasonable dose of silly comedy. It’s 1972 sequel, Dr Phibes Rises Again, while using many of the same motifs, is less successful and feels like it entirely missed the point of what made the first so much fun.

While the first is a fairly straightforward revenge tale with an evil, deformed boogeyman killing his way through those who he believed caused the death of his wife, Dr. Phibes Rises Again takes the not-so-good doctor on the road, once we’ve had a fairly lengthy recap of the first movie.

Retconning things a bit, Phibes revives and reveals that all along he was planning on heading to Egypt to resurrect his wife and gain immortality in an unknown buried temple. It turns out he’s not the only one heading to the mysterious temple as a team of archaeologists are also on the way and, for good measure, a couple of the policemen from the first movie are back on the case and go along for the jaunt too.

Dr Phibes Rises Again - Vincent Price and Valli Kemp

Vincent Price and Valli Kemp

Once again the setting is a bit all over the place as the early 70s collides with the late 1920s and Phibes seems to have found the only ancient Egyptian tomb with working electricity and a fully functioning pipe organ. In the first film this all comes across as some kind of desperately kitsch fever dream, here it just feels strange and unbalanced.

Where the film loses any real sense of menace or threat is that, despite continuing his series of gruesome and (even more) convoluted murders, Phibes is no longer painted as a real villain but almost as a hero – at least as much as anyone in the movie is.

This leads to the story feeling very imbalanced as we can’t really get behind this potentially undead creature as he traps a mans arms on spikes and covers him in scorpions, but at the same time we can’t get behind the archaeologist or the police either as there is no real reason to as they are respectively too obnoxious and merely ineffectual comic relief.

Dr Phibes Rises Again - Vincent PriceThe film ends with yet another repeated motif in the form of another of Phibes diabolical final challenges, but again staged less effectively than that of the first movie, and the ending essentially has the feeling of Phibes being triumphant.

The only thing that really carried the film through was Vincent Price who is endlessly charismatic, despite the make up and vocal issues presented by the character, but he is still was a diabolical presence it was weirdly nice to spend 90 minutes with.

That though wasn’t quite enough and without the sense of odd humour of the first film and a much less disciplined and consistent plot, Dr. Phibes Rises Again is at best an interesting novelty, and at worst entirely pointless entry in the canon of horror cinema.

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