Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Avengers Age of Ultron posterJust a short time after watching a bona fide sci-fi classic focused on artificial intelligence in Blade Runner, my next cinema trip was to see another, somewhat different, sci-fi movie including artificial intelligence, Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

Continuing the story of what has become know as the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Age of Ultron throws us right into the heart of the action as the titular super team are attacking the Hydra compound of Baron Von Strucker and it rarely lets up from there.

When it does let up the film does have some nice character moments, in a comic book style, with the relationship between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansen) forming the back bone of this, along with the bickering between the team members that formed a lot of the first movie’s down time.

There are, within the Banner/Romanov scenes, some really good acting performances that actually manage to convey a sense of emotion within the melodrama of the rest, while the rest of the team do what they do, and continue to do it well and in entertaining fashion.

Banner and Romanoff

Banner and Romanoff

What makes this work better than in the first Avengers movie is that it seems a lot less frivolous and is more about people trying to find levity in the heart of a serious situation.

On top of the characters who we’ve come to know across the series thus far, a few new ones come into the fray while others are further expanded upon. So Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) becomes more central and helps the film along and new Avenger, The Vision (Paul Bettany), is genuinely very well executed and interesting (to say more would be a bit too much of a spoiler).

On top of this we get Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) Maximoff who were also a breath of fresh air and genuinely interesting new characters.

Wanda works her 'magic'

Wanda works her ‘magic’

While this adds even more characters to the mix and risked making the movie a mess of superpowers, I found that the balance remained between them so it never really felt too overcrowded and they were all used as well as could be expected.

As is only appropriate for ‘The World’s Mightiest Heroes’ the situation they find themselves in is one that threatens the safety of the entire world and this is where we get one of the main issues with the movie. This comes due to the fact that we already know there is at least another Captain America film and two more Avengers films to come, so the world isn’t going to end here and certain characters can’t be killed off. This does somewhat lose some of the tension.

That said, the movie’s big bad, Ultron is, for the first chunk of proceedings an impressive piece of work. On a technical level the wholly CG character is hugely impressive and we now seem to have reached a point where a conversation between such a character and a live action one can take place without it seeming at all strange and Ultron fits in perfectly into every such scene.

Ultron, Mk 1

Ultron, Mk 1

Unfortunately, in the third act we revert to what seems to be an MCU staple of a horde of robots in a big action scene – though it is again well executed, just has a feeling of deja vu.

Of course what this movie really is, is the culmination of Marvel’s second phase so, really, it is like a two-hour long third act of spectacle and in that it really delivers as we get a greatest hits of Avengers style set pieces with each having its own inventive twist.

Particularly impressive is Iron Man’s ‘Hulkbuster’ making its long-awaited debut in a genuinely inventive battle scene, the interplay between Thor and Captain America with hammer and shield combos and the final stand-off between the whole team and Ultron which could easily be a comic book splash page.

Hulk and the Hulkbuster

Hulk and the Hulkbuster

This spectacle is all very impressive and, on first watch, it seems the movie has struck a balance to make it an enjoyable stand-alone film in itself. My only concern here is that I thought the same of the first Avengers and it has failed to stand up to repeat viewing in spectacular fashion.

In the end I can’t help but shake the feeling that what Joss Whedon has delivered here is a marvelous spectacle (pun intended), but the films from the MCU I will go back to won’t be the Avengers team ups but more the likes of the ‘quirky’ Guaridans of the Galaxy or the more thriller based Winter Solider.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: April 2015 – Chloe Le Page in session and Robert J. Hunter music video

Chloe Le Page on BBC Introducing Guernsey

Chloe Le Page

Click here to listen to the show

For the April 2015 edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey I was joined in the studio by young singer-sonwriter Chloe Le Page for an interview and a live session.

The show also featured a look behind the scenes of Robert J. Hunter‘s debut music video for his single Demons which he filmed recently in Guernsey with local filmmaker Jack De La Mare.

On top of that I looked at the bands so far announced for this year’s Chaos and Vale Earth Fair festivals.

You can listen to the show for 30 days by clicking here.

Tracklist

Here’s a video of Chloe from last year’s Search For A Star event to give you an idea of what she does:

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Blade Runner – The Final Cut

Blade Runner posterRidley Scott’s Blade Runner has long been regarded a masterpiece of science fiction that, along with Alien, cemented his reputation as a major director and helped establish the more thoughtful brand of sci-fi that Star Wars had done its best to knock off the mainstream radar in the late 1970s.

For me though the 1982 ‘sci-fi noir’ has always been something of an enigma – raved about by seemingly one and all but never quite clicking with me – so, on getting the chance the to see the movie in a good quality cinema (the BFI at the NFT) I was excited to see if I could finally break through all the talk and get to the actual film underneath.

I’m please to say that not only did that happen, but that I discovered the excellent movie everyone else was going on about too.

Telling the story of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the Blade Runner of the title, as he investigates and hunts down an escaped group of android ‘replicants’, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) the plot, as in much ‘grown up’ sci-fi is used as a framework on which to hang ideas and, in the case here in particular, some very impressive visuals.

Harrison Ford as Deckard - Blade Runner

Deckard

That’s not to discredit the story that is engaging and drives along at a great pace without over egging anything, which a story like this might, and certainly is part of why Blade Runner is referred to as ‘sci-fi noir’ and is quite so enjoyable.

The noir aspect though is certainly most visible in the film’s production design, by Syd Mead and Lawrence G. Paull, that evokes a ‘near future’ mega-city style Los Angeles with oil fields giving way to enormous, 1984-like, pyramids and narrow, busy, rain drenched streets populated by people of all kinds in which our hard-boiled ‘hero’ is found.

The design has become something so replicated in later movies I thought it might lose something, but it still holds its impressive place and it is clear that little that has come since has bettered (or even approached it) as it combines aspects of many styles into a great whole with a balance that other movies have tried but, generally, not succeeded.

blade runner batty Rutger Hauer

Batty

Into this world comes a the group of escaped replicants, who have returned to Earth from their off-world postings to seek out their creator and, essentially, try to answer many of the ‘big questions’ humans have always asked. As with a lot of great sci-fi this is clearly a prism through which we may seek answers (or more questions) based around the themes.

Over the years many themes and discussions have been found in Blade Runner but the one that struck me most is, it would seem, the one that the original source (Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep) deals with, and that is notions of existence and personal identity, along with the big question of the meaning and purpose of our existence.

Los Angeles - Blade Runner

Los Angeles

This is all summed up beautifully and comes to a head as Deckard’s hunt climaxes when he confronts Batty face to face on the roof of a dilapidated building in driving rain in what has become known as the ‘Tears In Rain’ monologue. As well as being an impressive piece of performance from Hauer it brings the whole story round on its head by actually making the de facto ‘bad guys’ into genuinely empathic and relatable characters that again builds on the movie’s themes.

Along with a supreme piece of projection work thanks to the BFI Blade Runner has certainly leapt into the list of some of the most impressive and enjoyable films I‘ve seen as it pulls together all aspects of its production (with the music by Vangelis being another highly impressive factor) into something astonishing.

Origami unicornAnd its all capped off by an enigmatic final scene that leaves some questions intentionally unanswered while posing even more, without feeling like sequel bait or making the rest of the movie feel like its been undermined.

A sequel is now of course in the works, but how that deals with these questions will be a big factor in its success of failure it would seem…

And here’s the Tears In Rain scene (probably best not watched if you haven’t seen the rest of the movie):

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WWE Raw – O2 Arena, London – 13/04/15

WWE Raw at the O2 - April 201521 years to the month since I last saw WWE (then WWF) live I returned to London to see them once more. While last time was a ‘house show’ (non-televised event) at the Royal Albert Hall headlined by Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon as they feuded over the Intercontinental Championship this was a TV taping for that night’s episode of Monday Night Raw emanating from the O2 Arena.

This being my first event since I was 11 years old I got to take in much more of the atmosphere and even as I arrived at the arena there was the real sense of ‘tribe’ amongst the fans. So the whole of the O2 genuinely felt like the ‘WWE Universe’ had taken over and I have since actually come to recognise that though the phrase is horrible, when what is represents is us fans we should really own it.

WWE fansParticular highlights of the pre-show time in the arena were random discussions about the CM Punk/AJ Lee situation with fellow fans and clapping for the group of guys with a ‘Clap if Cena sucks’ sign (they had a constant round of applause all afternoon).

As it came time to head into the arena I realised my seat was somewhat higher up than I anticipated but once I was in and sat down the vertigo soon subsided so I could enjoy the show and it wasn’t long before things started with a highlight videos on the screen of WrestleMania that started getting the crowd warmed up.

Before the matches the Superstars commentators were announced and both Michael Cole and Byron Saxton came out to Cole’s music and a chorus of boos – it seems a severe neck injury only kept Cole out of action for a week, I know he’s not a wrestler but it makes Lesnar recent attack seem a bit weak…

Superstars

Zack Ryder makes an entrance

Zack Ryder makes an entrance

Onto the matches and first out to a huge pop for the warm up matches that will air on WWE Superstars was Long Islands Iced Z himself, Zack Ryder. I have to admit to marking out a bit at this point as I hadn’t expected to see Ryder who is much underrated by the powers that be.

His opponent was Heath Slater who also got a very warm reception almost giving this match a face vs face dynamic, despite Slater’s cocky heel antics, which got a few laughs.

The match itself was a good fun one with a decent pace that included a nice Rough Ryder counter into a powerbomb, the crowd getting really into the “Woo! Woo! Woo!” for the Broski Boot and Ryder eventually winning with another Rough Ryder that got another big reaction.

Next up we got R-Truth working the crowd with his “What’s Up” call excellently and being the first of tonight’s performers to really come across much better than live on TV as everyone got involved.

Zack Ryder and Heath Slater

Zack Ryder and Heath Slater

His opponent was Curtis Axel, in full #AxelMania mode that was over massively and seems to be a great gimmick for the son of Mr. Perfect who has been somewhat in wilderness for a while – a highlight of this was the Hogan-esque shirt rip and Axel’s comment that it took 20 men to eliminate him from the Battle Royal at WrestleMania.

Their match itself was a decent of mix of things and we got to see a couple of Truth’s big spots while the crowd were super in Axel throughout with big ‘AxelMania’ chants. It eventually ended with a surprise Little Jimmy from Truth which was shame considering how much potential Axel could have, but made sense following Truth’s recent run in the IC title picture around WrestleMania.

Monday Night Raw

John Cena

John Cena

Following the arrival of the rest of the Raw commentary team, JBL and Booker T, both of whom got a big positive reaction the opening tape to Raw ran on the big screen followed by John Cena’s entrance music and huge negative reaction for the United States Champion.

The crowd for most of the night was exactly what you’d expect from a UK crowd, hugely into pretty much everything with their own contrary moments that are generally what make for some of the best shows.

Cena played up to this excellently and was the second to win me over with, at least, his excellent promo work that did get the crowd cheering when he said WrestleMania should come to London – though the cheers were in the form of the Daniel Bryan ‘Yes!’ chant.

Order was soon restored though as the UK’s own Wade ‘Bad News’ Barrett came out to answer Cena’s open challenged and played up to his hugely positive reaction pretty well – though he’s no master crowd worker like Cena.

Barret and Cena

Barret and Cena

Their match was a good one, despite the outcome being obvious from the start there were moments where they got me wondering. Again we got to see each man’s big spots, all of Cena’s got boos all of Barrett’s got huge cheers. A highlight of the match for me was a ‘punch-out’ that with appropriate boos and cheers.

The end of the match saw some nice near falls and both men hitting all their finishers (including a huge pop when Barrett survived Cena’s AA), but in the end Cena hit his weird and awkward looking ‘springboard stunner’ followed by an AA for the win, but it was still a good way to start and made Barrett look super strong for his ‘hometown’(ish) crowd.

Cena couldn’t celebrate for long though as Lana came out on the stage to a huge pop and ‘Lana’ chants and distracted Cena for Rusev to attack him from behind with a chain setting up their ‘Russian Chain’ match at Extreme Rules.

Rusev and Cena

Rusev and Cena

Interestingly the reaction for Rusev was mixed, despite his knocking out Cena, it seems at least some of the UK crowd really must hate Rusev! (For the record I quite like him, but get the dislike for the character as he is a Putin supporter, which is never a good thing – sorry to get political for a moment).

After that the Bella’s came out to not much reaction to do commentary, followed by the Divas ready for the battle royal. ‘Hometown’ girl Paige got to do her full entrance and got a huge reaction, but the match itself was all but nothing, though thankfully short as most competing aren’t the best wrestlers – sadly one of the best, Natalya, was eliminated very early.

Paige celebrates

Paige celebrates

In the end it was Paige who was left standing to become the number one contender for the Diva’s Championship which got another big reaction that lasted long enough for what I can only assume would be a commercial break moment on US TV.

This was followed by an interview spot in the ring with Paige before Naomi interrupted attacking and injuring Paige and setting her up as a new heel diva, which at least gives her a bit more character, and got the desired negative reaction from the London crowd.

One of the highlights of the show for me was next as Bray Wyatt’s noise and video sting hit and the lights went out for an on-screen Wyatt promo.

Bray Wyatt's fireflies

Bray Wyatt’s fireflies

While the actual segment didn’t make much sense and we still don’t know who he’s talking to, having the crowd waving their phone torches and singing ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ was a sight and sound to behold and showed a sign of what Wyatt can still do even when he’s not being used very well in terms of his story.

The Ascension were out next (seemingly during an ad break moment on TV) and got a very negative reaction, I think I was probably the only person in the arena happy to see them – I still can’t explain it but I like their look, style, entrance and gimmick, it’s just a shame WWE doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.

Their opponents were the Lucha Dragons so we got the ‘Lucha!’ singalong which was fun and a reasonable ‘NXT’ chant. The match itself was a squash for the Dragons thought it didn’t feel like they really got to show off their real high spots, though Kallisto hit most of his main sequences it didn’t have the spark I’d have expected. The match ended with a contrived SDS/Swanton combo and the crowd sang along to the theme tune again.

The Ascension

The Ascension

After another break, these breaks were only really short and often saw trailers on-screen while ring crew did various things to the set and ring and rarely felt like major breaks in the show like I worried they might, it was time Roman Reigns to come and deliver a promo – not something I was looking forward to.

The segment was helped by having Booker T working with Reigns in the ring before Big Show appeared on-screen, but none the less the segment was overlong and, like the whole Reigns/Show feud, boring, and the crowd responded loudly and appropriately.

Big Show chokeslams Reigns

Big Show chokeslams Reigns

Things got a little better when Show attacked Reigns on the ramp slamming him into the taxi repeatedly finishing a chokeslam on the roof, but Show’s slow delivery and the lack of any investment from the crowd made it hard work and Show got some very uncomplimentary chants.

Randy Orton got a big positive reception next, which I still can’t really understand (he’s technically amazing, but something about him doesn’t click for me, especially when he’s meant to be a good guy) while Cesaro was greeted by not a lot, which is a shame as he is hugely talented.

Their match was soon interrupted by Tyson Kidd prompting Kane’s first appearance of the night as he represented the Authority (Trips and Steph are clearly too busy to come to the UK) and he made it a 2 on 1 handicap match.

Orton catches Kidd for the RKO

Orton catches Kidd for the RKO

This all fell a bit flat as, while there were a few nice spots including and RKO ‘out of nowhere’, Kidd seemed to be having an off night and there didn’t seem to be much point to the match beyond making the Tag Team Champions look bad as they lost to Randy Orton. Though I may be biased as I love Kidd, Cesaro and Natalya and, as I said, don’t really get Orton’s appeal.

On screen we got a back stage segment that was hard to follow in the arena so didn’t totally grab my attention but the gist of Rollins being the cowardly heel still came across well.

Next we got a few almost pointless bits, which is a shame considering at least one person who was involved, Dean Ambrose.

Suicide Dive from Ambrose

Suicide Dive from Ambrose

Ambrose came out to a good reaction following Adam Rose. Rose got virtually no reaction beyond the crowd singing along to his theme tune and the match was over almost before it started as Ambrose destroyed Rose – though we did get to see a suicide dive which is an impressive move in the flesh.

This was followed by another on-screen bit between Kane and Big Show that again was hard to follow and, thanks to who was involved, a bit dull and then we got another quick match between Fandango and Stardust. Though chanting ‘Cody’ at Stardust was mildly diverting I remember very little else of the match itself and I think I was flagging a bit at this stage.

Fandango

Fandango

Thankfully Fandango gave us a little promo after the match and ditched his valet Rosa Mendes in order to bring the dance back to the crowd and we all got to Fandango along. I would imagine I wouldn’t have enjoyed this on TV but in the arena it was great fun!

Daniel Bryan and Kane had a backstage segment next that was a bit more engaging as it addressed Kane’s former ‘Demon’ role and Team Hell No before Seth Rollins made his way to the ring to a mixed but more positively sided reaction.

He was followed by Kane and they worked the match/segment well with Kane really showing why he’s been a mainstay for so long as his work is exceptional, really putting across his internal conflict between his corporate and demon sides well. While the story is something we’ve seen before it was well done and Rollins made Kane’s chokeslam look killer.

Kane chokeslams Rollins

Kane chokeslams Rollins

The outcome of the segment of Kane ‘lying down’ for Rollins was a bit uncomfortable following its reflection of old WCW, but it worked here as part of the story of Rollins being the cowardly, manipulative heel and actually gave Kane something a bit more interesting to do than stand behind the Authority looking not as tough as he used to (though a guy in his mid 40s he still looks exceptional and is pretty damn huge).

The Miz and Damien Mizdow continued their feud next with some great playing to the audience and an average match that saw Mizdow get sneaky roll up win, but unfortunately what could have been part of angle designed to elevate Mizdow and help re-elevate The Miz was part of something that seems ill thought out and not as engaging as I’d hoped it would be and could be.

Mizdow and Summer Rae celebrate

Mizdow and Summer Rae celebrate

Prime Time Players appeared on-screen next and cut another good promo ridiculing another heel tag team, this week it was Los Matadores.

The promo was good fun and put PTP over well, the highlight for me was Darren Young saying rainbows were his favourite colour, WWE actually acknowledging and openly gay wrestler (even in this minor and obvious way) is amazing considering some of their depiction of gay characters in the past.

Luke Harper and Ryback were out next for another pointlessly short match that saw Harper get himself disqualified before Ambrose ran in to try to attack him, though even that felt a bit flat.

Ryback powerbombs Harper

Ryback powerbombs Harper

Much like the Miz/Mizdow feud the Ambrose/Harper one seems a bit directionless and the crowd weren’t hugely into anyone here, as fatigue was setting in – though I was pleased to see Harper.

Backstage Naomi explains here attack on Paige earlier in the night, cementing her new heel character before the nearest to a main event match the TV show got begins.

Dolph Ziggler came to the ring and the crowd were right back into it again after the rather flat previous segments and he worked the crowd excellently before issuing an open challenge that was taken up by another ‘hometown’ (super)hero – Adrian Neville.

Adrian Neville

Adrian Neville

The reaction for Neville was huge and it was a full on face vs face match as the two men put on a great show. Neville took a sick looking DDT bump early in the match that looked like it might actually have injured him (seemingly he was fine though, great work Neville) and the two went back and forth.

Neville brought the big highlights to the match with a top rope Asai moonsault and astonishing 450 splash of the guard rail that was the highlight move of the night for me.

In the end the back and forth ended with Ziggler getting the win with a nice Zig Zag after taking a sick sounding enziguri and avoiding a Red Arrow (that again showed of Neville’s amazing athleticism).

Neville going for an Asai moonsault

Neville going for an Asai moonsault

This whole match was the highlight of the night and hopefully will show Neville can perform at this level (like anyone who watches NXT knows) and we will see him back up with the likes of Ziggler soon.

The show was rounded off with an in ring promo setting up the main event for Extreme Rules between Seth Rollins and Randy Orton. Ending a show on a promo rarely works for me but, thankfully, Seth was on great form and his comedy work with just a lazy boy and J&J Security to play with was exceptional and continued to build his heel status.

The show ended up, after a few good, genuine, laughs, with Randy Orton hitting the RKO on J&J while Seth did his scaredy cat run to the back with the Championship belt and Randy posed for the crowd.

After show

Orton and Rollins face off

Orton and Rollins face off

With the TV portion of the show ending on that in the arena we got treated to a bonus match of Bryan, Ziggler and Ambrose taking on Show, Sheamus and Harper.

Bryan got a big reaction and it was good to the ‘Yes!’ chants along with him but for the most part the match belonged to Big Show and the crowd who played back and forth off each other brilliantly and I gained a new respect for what Show is capable of – even if he never gets to show it on TV.

The match was mostly Ziggler getting worked over before getting hot tag to Bryan who ran through his ‘moves of doom’ before winning with the Yes Lock – at the time I was disappointed we didn’t get to see more of Bryan but with news breaking of the potential recurrence of his neck injury his work in the match makes more sense and I just hope he is ok.

In the end my first experience of a WWE TV show was a very good one with the show featuring a nice mix of action and some good promo work and surprisingly good comedy/entertainment spots. Being part of a very lively crowd was also good fun just like it is at the best gigs.

In future though I know to try to get seats lower down the arena but that was a small niggle in a great night that showed how WWE tread the line of pro-wrestling and entertainment. I’m still not sure how it all came across on TV but in the arena it was great fun, though I still think the three-hour format of Raw is a bit too long to keep real momentum going.

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The Blockheads, Rentoclean and Isabelle Sheil – The Fermain Tavern – 10/04/15

The Blockheads

The Blockheads

As The Fermain Tavern began to fill with its sold out crowd there was a real sense that the first visit to the island by the legendary Blockheads would be a night to remember even before the first act took to the stage.

That first act was Isabelle Sheil. Following on from last weekend’s impressive performance this was more of the same as her delicate guitar playing and soulful vocals really were a treat for those who were listening.

Again Issie had trouble cutting through the general hubbub in the busy bar but her mix of covers and original songs, including a haunting rendition of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, was great to hear and I couldn’t help but think she would be exceptional in a genuinely intimate, low-key, setting.

Isabelle Sheil

Isabelle Sheil

The energy jumped up as Rentoclean took to the their stage with their reggae-gypsy-punk. Recently the band have veered in a generally more ‘pop’ direction with their sound, but tonight, coming on the heels of recent shows in the UK and time in the studio, saw the four-piece in a more free-form jamming mood within their established songs which didn’t make for their most accessible performance.

As the set went on they dropped a few full on skank along bangers into the mix that did a few moving a little and throughout the set was loose and fun in the best of ways, while the music was exceptionally tightly performed.

Rentoclean are a band who seem on a truly constant developmental path with every gig building what they do to greater heights and this was no exception, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they won over some new fans from the packed Tavern crowd.

Rentoclean

Rentoclean

The crowd steadily began to fill the dancefloor as the final preparations were made to the stage for the headliners and as The Blockheads walked onto stage there was a further noticeable surge forward that had those of us at the front all but falling onto the stage.

The seven-piece band started out in high gear and never slowed for more than an hour and a half of tunes, mostly from the classic era, but with a few newer ones thrown in that kept the funky rhythms and semi-poetic lyrics flowing.

It being predominantly a ‘greatest hits’ set meant that almost every track was greeted rapturously and it wasn’t long before the whole floor was grooving along and ‘singing’ back to the band as well.

Chaz Jankel and John Turnbull of The Blockheads

Chaz Jankel and John Turnbull

The band as a whole were an amazingly energetic force, particularly given the length of their career so far with Chaz Jankel switching between piano, organ and guitar flawlessly and seemingly loving every minute.

Meanwhile Norman Watt-Roy continued his impressive run of gigs in Guernsey and amazed everyone with his evidently intimate connection with his instrument that really gives off the feeling that he and his ‘Faith and Grace’ are one.

The rest of the band weren’t far behind and between Norman and vocalist Derek ‘The Draw’ Hussey they managed to evoke something of the famed spirit of the late great Ian Dury while adding their own touch too. Hussey was especially impressive gaining a real charismatic connection with the audience despite spending the entire set hidden behind dark glasses.

Norman Watt-Roy of The Blockheads

Norman Watt-Roy

Highlights came in the form of a semi-impromptu rendition of Billericay Dickie that seemed to have the whole Tavern shouting the ‘nudge-nudge-wink-wink’ lyrics back at the band and Sweet Gene Vincent dedicated to local favourite (and former Blockhead) Wilko Johnson that brought a real classic rock ‘n’ roll flavour to proceedings.

Other highlights came in the form of classics like Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, Wake Up And Make Love To Me, Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3 and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick amongst others.

After they left the stage the band were genuinely called back for more and they delivered in form of their own anthem, Blockheads, before leaving the cheering crowd with a Lullaby for Francies rounding off a truly exceptional night of live music that had gig goers from across generations and ‘scenes’ joining together to celebrate live music and great songs.

(Oh, and happy birthday Chris, without you having a birthday, we wouldn’t have had this excellent gig!)

You can see a complete gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here.

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Last of the Light Brigade, Lifejacket, To The Woods and Isabelle Sheil – The Fermain Tavern – 05/04/15

Last of the Light Brigade

Last of the Light Brigade

On Easter Sunday 2015, The Fermain Tavern hosted a gig that seemed to come with something of an extra spark of vitality for Guernsey’s music scene, while also raising money for the Guernsey Mind charity.

The show was headlined by Last of the Light Brigade, back to confirmed full force and with their original set back up to muster with new bassist Kyle Torode firmly in place, post-rockers Lifejacket who continue to go from strength to strength following a recent feature on BBC Radio 1, To The Woods who are maturing in a force to be reckoned with and acoustic singer-songwriter, Isabelle Sheil.

My review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 11th April (you can read it below) and you can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here.

Last of the Light Brigade, Lifejacket, To The Woods, Isabelle Sheil review scan - 11:04:15

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John Wick

John Wick posterSince the mid-1980s when the action movie really cemented itself in the place previously held by disaster movies by combining elements of those with adventure and thriller (and sometimes a bit of horror) it’s had its ups and downs – for every Die Hard there has a been a Killswitch or Speed 2 – but in John Wick it seems a new generation of action cinema has reached a fairly spectacular peak.

Following in the footsteps of the ‘revenge’ style movies that had been previously highlighted in the mainstream by Taken it is a sub-genre that has been kicking about, predominantly in direct to video fare, since at least the mid-1990s and it is a brand of movie Steven Seagal once stood at the (not especially lofty) pinnacle of.

Generally the plot of these films sees the hero wronged, usually by the abduction of a loved one, and go on a one-man mission to destroy the private army of whoever the bad guy happens to be. An early version of this can be seen in Commando which, like many of the movies of this ilk, also has a few other subplots thrown in usually something romantic and something vaguely political, but always disastrously underdeveloped.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick

Keanu Reeves as John Wick

In John Wick writer Derek Kolstad entirely does away with any of these extras, and barely develops the revenge angle, to present a story of action cinema in its purest form that is expertly handled by former stuntmen-turned-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch and their star Keanu Reeves.

The plot, loose as it is, sees our titular anti-hero, John Wick – a retired hitman of great skill and renown – seeking revenge against his former employer after his son kills Wick’s dog and steals his car. This flimsy framework is the set up a series of action sequences that are, even in the often-jaded world of modern action cinema, spectacular.

The sequences are largely based around what has been dubbed ‘gun-fu’, highly influenced by The Matrix (unsurprising considering the directors and star all worked on that film) and in various locations show an astonishing combination of close quarters combat and gun play.

John Wick fight sceneWhat makes them particularly well executed is that we see comparatively extended shots of the action rather than the hyper fast cutting of some action cinema. This makes the whole thing more convincing and does the rare thing of at least appearing to show us the big name A-lister taking part in the stunt work – and based on Reeves’ history a fair chunk of this is likely the man himself performing.

Alongside the action a kind of parallel world of underground organised crime is created where assassins frequent a hotel where it seems a truce is, supposedly, obeyed, while the real world plays no part in proceedings – even the police aware of the situation and just letting it happen. This reminded me of the underground assassin culture attempted in the movie version of Wanted, but here it is far more successful in its simplicity as Ian McShane (always Lovejoy to me I’m afraid) has some kind of unexplained ruling power over it.

John WickWhile the film did reach a point of too much of a good thing being a bit overwhelming for me, it is undeniable that John Wick could certainly become touchstone moment of action cinema much like Die Hard, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Matrix and others have before it.

But, in a world of some truly awful action cinema, its real triumph comes in telling a story through a lot of excellently executed set piece scenes that, unlike many others in recent years, actually make sense and progress the film without resorting to crude visual effects or crude cinematic shortcuts in general.

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Stalk The Lantern and open mic night – The Vault – 02/04/15

I recently had the chance to catch Stalk The Lantern playing their first gig of the year at The Vault.

I won’t be doing a full review of the show but I did get a gallery of photos which you can see on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here, or on the image below.

Before Stalk The Lantern took to the stage there was an acoustic open mic session led by Chloe Le Page that I got a few shots of as well.

Stalk The Lantern at The Vault

Stalk The Lantern (l-r, Guppy, Mox, Zoe, G)

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To The Woods, Static Alice, Jawbone and Honest Crooks – The Fermain Tavern – 27/03/15

To The Woods

To The Woods

On Friday 27th March 2015 a new band made their debut at The Fermain Tavern bringing a new selection of punk covers to Guernsey’s music scene, Honest Crooks.

They supported To The Woods, Static Alice and Jawbone in a night of varied pop-rock, punk rock and grunge including some great original material and some fun covers of classics as well.

My review of the show was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 4th April, and you can read that below, and you can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here.

To The Woods, Static Alice, Jawbone, Honest Crooks review scan - 04:04:15

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Naked Lunch – the book and the movie

Naked Lunch book coverHaving recently finished reading William S. Burroughs’ seminal ‘novel’, Naked Lunch, I thought it a good opportunity to have a look at David Cronenberg’s film of the same and see how the two stack up.

The book is undeniably an astonishing piece of work, at once impregnable and enthralling it is a series of episodes loosely written by the same fictional protagonist, though throughout it is clearly at least partially autobiographical and the link between Burroughs and his avatar becomes at best muddied.

The book seems generally set in the real world, just a version of the real world twisted by the extensive use of drugs – primarily ‘junk’ but also a range of others all described with both regular and seemingly entirely fictitious, euphemistic, names – and various kinds of graphically depicted sex that was groundbreaking for the time it was written and saw the book prosecuted for obscenity.

Naked Lunch sees its protagonist move from the subways of New York to Mexico City and onto Interzone, aka Tangiers, and tell stories of his experiences that have a loose narrative thread, but, by the very nature of how the book was compiled, it is a narrative thread that is entirely in the mind of the reader – something like many concept albums.

William S Burroughs

William S Burroughs

Being a product of the beat movement the very text is clearly far from literal and often veers off in stream of consciousness fashion taking the reader on journeys away from what the main subjects may be, but at the same time keeping a general feeling and sense of being, and that seems to be Burroughs’ purpose – if indeed he had a purpose – in the writing of these chapters, or ‘routines’ to use his phrasing.

This all makes for a heady ‘trip’ (for want of a clichéd better word) of a book that is at once a thing to be marveled at but is in places almost unreadable while it transports the reader to the fringes of the world Burroughs seemed to inhabit for most of the 1950s.

When it comes to the movie, Cronenberg made a very wise choice in not trying to film a literal version of the novel.

Naked Lunch DVD coverInstead he takes its basic character and journey and turns them into a paranoid thriller narrative of insectoid monsters, talking cockroach typewriters and further merging of Burroughs’ own life story with that of the protagonist, going so far as to introduce very obvious avatars for Ginsberg and Kerouac into the mix.

This does a surprisingly good job of getting the tone and mood of the novel right, with a strong seam of sci-fi esque conspiracy laced through it. The more coherent story sees William Lee (our ‘hero’) possibly investigating the work of Interzone Inc. while receiving orders from talking typewriters that morph into cockroach like creatures with explicitly sexual parts.

Along with this we see the Kerouac and Ginsberg avatars trying to convince him to get his reports or ‘routines’ completed to publish as the book Naked Lunch, which breaks down all walls between worlds further, but in doing so it gets the feel of the source spot on.

Peter Weller and William Lee (with a Mugwump)

Peter Weller and William Lee (with a Mugwump)

Production wise the film looks amazing with some excellent puppet work and prosthetics on the typewriters and Mugwumps while something about the shooting style makes it feel like something otherworldly despite the mundane costumes and set design (for the majority of the film).

While it could be easy to dismiss both versions as utter nonsense, its clear that the novel has earned its place in the literary canon and the film, while not a stone cold classic, does as  good a job as I think anything could have, turning something as twisted as the original manuscript of Naked Lunch into something digestible on-screen. As Cronenberg has said, if you made a literal film of the book it could never be released, while the book is capable of transcending conventional brain space and transporting the reader into an alternative world just a side step away from our own.

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