Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War posterThirteen films in to the series, how much more is there really to be said about Marvel’s ongoing output?

Well, looking at Captain America: Civil War (the third Captain America film, thirteenth MCU film and arguably, third Avengers movie) there are two sides to this; one is that its very much more of the same, the other that it’s a genuine attempt to put a twist on the now fairly well-worn formula. In honesty the final result lies somewhere between.

The story is two-fold as well, being the next in the direct Captain America series (after The First Avenger and Winter Soldier) it continues the story of The Winter Soldier and Hydra that was left off at the end of the preceding film.

The other side deals with the aftermath of the Avengers films, in particular the collateral damage caused in Manhattan and Sokovia.

All of this considered it certainly seems that Marvel have almost entirely given up on the idea that people would come to these films cold as there is a lot going on relating back to previous films – while this was fine for me, it certainly could be a problematic way of making movies going forward.

Winter Solider, Iron Man and Captain America

Winter Solider, Iron Man and Captain America

With all of this combined and the arrival of at least two brand new superheroes (Black Panther and Spider-Man) there is a lot going on, which explains the films two and a half hour running time.

While certainly on the long side at no point did I find Captain America: Civil War drag with a good balance between fairly earnest talky scenes and the kind of big action set pieces that are Marvel’s stock in trade.

With Joss Whedon having moved on from Marvel it seems this is, in a way, Anthony and Joe Russo’s dry run for the next Avengers films they will be directing and, if I’m honest I preferred their take on the relationships between the main characters.

Whedon’s banter-like dialogue was lightly amusing but generally ultimately empty, while here Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) felt more natural… well as natural as comic book movie dialogue is ever going to be.

Team Cap

‘Team Cap’

On top of this the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) provided the film’s light relief in a genuinely satisfying way and in the manner the comic book version of the character is known for that has previously never quite been demonstrated on-screen.

The highlight of the film comes in the middle with the ‘Civil War’ set piece of Cap’s group of heroes facing off with Iron Man’s. While it’s certainly a lot CGI characters hitting each other, it contains some inventive new twists on the old formula.

After this we are very much more in Hydra/Winter Solider territory again and really the two stories rarely properly join together, but as a ride it all slots together enough to make it watchable as long as you don’t think too hard.

The marketing for the film hinted that the Civil War side of the story might deal with some political ideas to some degree but this isn’t really the case with it all apparently boiling down to personal issues between the characters.

Iron Man's team

Iron Man’s team

This being a US election year though it could be argued that, in general terms, Tony Stark represents the Democrat view of gun control, while Steve Rogers is on the Republican end, but this would probably give too much credence to the film’s political ambitions.

In the end Captain America: Civil War was more entertaining that I had anticipated, while still being essentially more of the same from the MCU and, while all painted in very broad strokes, it seems Anthony and Joe Russo have at least found a tone that works; somewhere between flippant and melodramatic with just enough weight to make the story worth investing in (even if you do know who’s going to come out on top even before the lights go down).

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: April 2016 – Honest Crooks and Nessi Gomes

Honest Crooks and Nessi Gomes

Honest Crooks and Nessi Gomes

Click here to listen to the show

On the April 2016 edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey I had some live semi-acoustic ska-punk and a preview of the new album from a Guernsey based singer-songwriter who is in the midst of a hugely successful crowd funding campaign.

This month’s live session came from Honest Crooks who have spent the last year gaining an impressive reputation for their live shows that mix their own songs with their version of well-known ska-punk tracks from the last 20 years.

They played four original songs for us ahead of appearing on the BBC Introducing Guernsey stage at the Guernsey Arts Commission‘s Arts Sunday event on June 5th.

I also spoke to Nessi Gomes who has recently recorded her debut album, following a crowd funding campaign that raised almost $50,000!

You can listen to the show through the BBC iPlayer website by clicking here or with the BBC iPlayer Radio App.

Tracklist

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High Rise

high rise kaleidoscope posterBefore watching this adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel High Rise, all I knew of director Ben Wheatley was, by way of reputation, that he is the kind of filmmaker to not flinch away from things either visually or conceptually. After watching High Rise, I can certainly confirm that holds true.

Set in a near-future mid-1970s the film follows Laing (Tom Hiddleston) upon his arrival in a newly built, state of the art, high-rise apartment block through to an arguably abstract conclusion that is hinted at in the film’s opening scene. In this scene we see a blood stained Hiddleston stalking the corridors of the flat-block and apparently relaxing on his balcony despite the suggested chaos surrounding him.

While I’m not familiar with the book I am, again, aware of Ballard by reputation and his science fiction based explorations of the extremes of human nature and generally negative changes in ongoing human society. Wheatley’s High Rise fits this perfectly and Hiddleston is the eye of this particular storm.

While the film does tell a story it is at times fairly lose with jumps in events occurring with seemingly no rhyme or reason but serving to develop what is its main aspect, an atmosphere of sheer unease that pervades everything.

Tom Hiddleston

Tom Hiddleston

At first things seem relatively naturalistic as we meet Laing and various of his neighbours from the upper-middle class Charlotte (Sienna Miller), to the more working class Wilder (Luke Evans) and his family to the tower’s architect, Royal, (Jeremy Irons) who suitably lives in the penthouse with his distant wife and a horse.

This class divide is something that runs through the whole film and, while it clearly comes from a place reflecting its original 1970s setting, it still rings true now, especially as it looks at how the supposed upper classes use those ‘beneath’ them to distract from what they are doing and how decadent and corrupt they are. That is to simplify things a bit, but Wheatley paints a condensed picture of this real world dynamic excellently.

The way the uneasy atmosphere develops pulls in all aspects of the film from the script and performance to music, design and editing reminding me in many ways of how Stanley Kubrick would use the film as a whole giving the sense that everything that we experience is intentionally there and not left to chance.

Luke Evans

Luke Evans

Particularly impressive here is the soundtrack that switches from various covers of ABBA (including an amazing version of SOS from Portishead) to deep soundscapes that do a great job of unsettling the viewer as the film escalates.

Along with Hiddleston’s Laing, Evan’s Wilder is a cornerstone of the film and gives a performance that starts out like something from a 70s cop show and grows into something brutally visceral, acting as something of a counterpoint to Laing.

Aside from the bigger names High Rise features a host of recognizable performers some of whom stand out by being almost a part of the unsettling atmosphere as much as they are characters in their own right. In particular Reece Shearsmith’s sadistic dentist Steele (like Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors but with a serious bureaucratic coldness) and Louis Suc as Charlotte’s son Toby who appears to have more of an idea of what’s going on than anyone else.

High Rise

The High Rise

As its goes on it becomes clear that High Rise is speaking in abstract terms as well as naturalistic ones and led to me questioning the source of the mania developing amongst the tower block’s inhabitants.

Like all the best unsettling films this is never wholly explained but various things are hinted at that left me wondering not just what the source would be but what that means in a wider sense away from the movie.

In the end High Rise is a lesson in just how to deliver an uncompromising vision in film in the most complete way I’ve seen in quite some time. It is at once brutal, visceral, disturbing and thought-provoking and has proved to me what everyone else seems to already know, that Wheatley (and his filmmaking partner Amy Jump) are possibly the best all round filmmakers working in Britain today.

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Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir by Terry Gilliam

Gilliamesque book coverOf all the men who made up Monty Python the one who certainly most struck me as most interesting was Terry Gilliam. Known for his work on the animations that linked their sketches (along with often being ‘the other one’ in the sketches) he has gone on to be a revered filmmaker in his own right, including making one of my all time favourites, Brazil, but he is one of the few people in the public eye and in his 70s of whom you hear little beyond his work.

Well after reading Gilliamesque, his autobiography, it’s clear why as he remains, in his own way, a very down to earth soul.

The main gist of the book is exactly what you’d expect, charting Gilliam’s life from his youth in Minnesota and California through formative experiences at university (surprisingly on a religious scholarship) and onto his work for various publications before achieving wider notoriety with the Pythons and beyond.

As with the best memoirs it is very easy to fall into reading this in Gilliam’s own voice and it sheds a lot of light on his life while never straying into any kind of sensationalism or slagging that, given his relationship with Hollywood over the years, one imagines could precipitate.

Terry GilliamDivided loosely into the stages of his life revolving around his career it offers insights on all sides of thing while leaving enough mystery to maintain one of the things that makes Gilliam’s work so appealing – quite how all of this fantastic imagery and spirit is contained within one person.

So we get nice stories about the interplay of the Pythons, what it was like meeting and working with Hunter S. Thompson and how it feels having a film literally washed away from you on the set of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and figuratively on The Brothers Grimm and we get glimpses into his personal life and astonishingly active mental condition.

While Gilliam’s story is fascinating and engaging what makes this book quite so special is its presentation. At a ‘coffee table’ kind of size it is itself a Gilliamesque work of art, from the almost Joker like repeated ‘Me Me Me…’ around the sides to the new and archive artwork on nearly every page this is as much a visual story as a written one.

Along with the words this charts his life from early drawings and sketches to the airbrush work for magazines that led into the cut and paste animation style of Monty Python and on into the exquisite, eccentric, design work of his films from Jabberwocky and Time Bandits up to The Zero Theorem.

Terry Gilliam

Gilliam in 1970

While most of the subjects only have short parts (there’s a lot to fit in) it means the book flies along but is none the less engaging and interesting and in combination with the artwork makes it a must for any fan of Gilliam’s work or, really, anyone with an interest in his artistic style. The fact it also charts a life that could only have happened in the second half of the twentieth century just adds an extra layer and, at times, gives it a tone a kin to the work of the Beat writers of the 1950s.

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NXT Greatest Matches: Volume 1

NXT Greatest Matches blu-rayOver the last four years NXT, WWE’s ‘super-indie’ (to quote Jim Smallman of Progress Wrestling and the Tuesday Night Jaw podcast), has gone from being a training ground for stars of the future to one of the most respected and interesting wrestling brands or promotions in its own right.

Taking a lot of the conventions of the independent wrestling scene and marrying it to WWE’s big budget look and highly formatted approach has created something different to both, that now not only allows new WWE performers to learn their craft but is providing a new route for already established indie stars to transition to the somewhat different ‘WWE style’ of wrestling and (whisper it) sports entertainment.

With all that in mind WWE have put out a DVD/Blu-ray collection of highlight matches charting NXT’s development from the crowning of their first champion in August 2012 to their Takeover: Respect event in October 2015. Most sets like this WWE release would be described as a mixed bag, but here is a solid collection of more than 8 hours at least good and predominantly pretty great matches, as has become NXT’s stock in trade.

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

The first disc charts the brands evolution from internet based show watched by a handful through the arrival of the WWE Network and up beginnings of NXT’s evolution into its own entity.

So we see a few matches from Seth Rollins that show just why he was to become the star he now he is. His championship match with Big E Langston may be the better of the two here but the tournament final for the first championship with Jinder Mahal is, of course, the more historically significant.

With this we also see Bray Wyatt, before he made it to the ‘main roster’, in a match with Chris Jericho that is again interesting. Notable in these early matches is the commentary team led by ‘JR’ Jim Ross and often featuring William Regal, that is exceptional and really serves to elevate and highlight all the performers strong points – if only the commentary on Monday Night Raw and the monthly WWE specials would do the same!

One of the most talked about early NXT matches, that set the reputation not only for the brand but for one its stars who came in from the indies is included, as Sami Zayn (who some say previously performed under a mask as El Generico) goes to war with Antonio Cesaro in a 2-out-of-3 falls match that is fantastic.

Sami Zayn and Antonio Cesaro

Zayn with the Koji Clutch on Cesaro

Zayn is the performer who’s path most tracks alongside NXT’s so we see him develop with his journey to the NXT championship in a classic against Adrian Neville and the renewal of his storied feud with Kevin Owens in a brutal show stealer. As I write this Zayn’s time in NXT has recently culminated with a match destined for Volume 2 of this collection (should it happen) as he tore the house down in Dallas against a debuting Shinsuke Nakamura.

Alongside the story of Sami Zayn we get potentially the even more influential story of NXT, its Women’s Division. While WWE was still mostly focusing on models ‘wrestling’ under the banner Divas, NXT was breaking this mold with some of the best female wrestlers in the world, including one as their lead trainer, leading to the revolution of the form that has come to the main shows at with the return of the WWE Women’s Championship at Wrestlemania 32.

Here we get the beginnings of this with Paige and Emma clashing for the NXT Women’s Championship followed by the emergence of the ‘Four Horsewomen of NXT’ Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley (the last of which is essentially a female Sami Zayn within NXT).

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

Disc one features classics pitting Charlotte against Natalya Neidhart and the Horsewomen squaring off in a Fatal-4-Way match for the championship, before on the second disc we see the Sasha Banks and Bayley feud highlighted with their show stealing performance from Takeover: Brooklyn that even eclipsed that night’s main event between indie heroes Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.

Disc 2 of the Blu-ray set sees NXT grow into an internationally touring brand as we see the Florida based show move out to the Arnold Classic sports expo, Wrestlemania 31 in San Jose, Beast in the East in Tokyo and Takeover: Brooklyn.

With this the third generation of stars come to the fore with Owens and Balor squaring off in a Japanese classic, Hideo Itami showing his credentials in San Jose and the aforementioned face off between Sasha Banks and Bayley in Brooklyn.

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

As well as the string of great matches we get an insight into the show from not only the wrestlers but the man leading the show, former WWE World Heavyweight Champion and heir apparent to the WWE as a whole, Triple H, aka Paul Levesque.

These are an interesting set of largely out of character talking heads that shed a light on the organic approach taken to NXT’s development and the apparent surprise and genuine appreciation for its growing popularity.

Notable here as well is the respect shown to the late Dusty Rhodes who seemed to steer the NXT ship in its early days and lay a lot of the groundwork for what it is now. As a parting gift from The American Dream, they don’t come much better or more suitable given his long-held hard-working, common man character.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Owens and Zayn continue their epic feud

The Blu-ray comes with five bonus matches which, while more curios than essentials, are all at least very good and its nice to see CM Punk and Kassius Ohno (aka Chris Hero) featured given their less than great relationships with WWE today and the chance to see Corey Graves in the ring before his concussion issues is also appreciated.

While many of the matches contained here are available on the WWE Network, what this collection does, and does well, is present a potted history of NXT and its best moments in one easy to find place. Along with that are the early matches not currently available elsewhere which make this a real must own for fans of the brand, and especially fans of British wrestler William Regal as his last televised match (a stormer with Antonio Cesaro) is also included.

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Robert J. Hunter, Tadhg Daly and Gregory Harrison – The Fermain Tavern – 16/04/16

The Robert J. Hunter Band

The Robert J. Hunter Band

Following The Recks’ mini-tour of the Channel Islands last summer, Stoked Music once again organised a series of events last weekend to help Jersey’s Tadhg Daly promote the release of his and his bands debut EP, Taghazout, and give Robert J. Hunter and his band a chance to make their Jersey debut and play an (almost) hometown show.

After packing out the Havanna in Jersey on Friday with support from Kilig & Fernweh, Robert and Tadhg’s bands made their way over to The Fermain Tavern in Guernsey on Saturday with Gregory Harrison opening the show.

Throughout his performance Harrison seemed more relaxed than I have previously seen which made for a much more engaging performance of his already great songs. While still not a gregarious stage presence he engaged most in the small audience who had turned out early purely through his music which built more and more as the set went on.

Gregory Harrison

Gregory Harrison

Demons, the lead track from his recently released EP, rounded off the set and was, if anything, even more impressive than in the past with its mix of dark, enthralling lyrics delivered in Greg’s signature rich tone, and some astonishing acoustic guitar playing.

Reversing the line up from the previous night Tadhg Daly and his band were up next and started out with a few of the more alternative-acoustic songs that first made their mark on local audiences. Highlight amongst these was the comparatively sprawling single, Learn To Live, that is an impressive piece of work, particularly live.

The rest of the set drew on newer material that has a more indie blues vibe with hints of 70s rock thrown in. Highlights of this include lead track from the Taghazout EP, Control Yourself, and the set closer that saw the band let loose somewhat and play with a real passion and conviction.

Tadhg Daly

Tadhg Daly

Elsewhere, though the songs and playing was certainly all good, a combination of distant delivery, repeated pleas for the growing audience to dance and lengthy breaks between tracks, sapped the set of the energy it really needed.

As the Robert J. Hunter band took to the stage, the now reasonable (if not huge) audience came forward and it was clear who they’d come to see, and thankfully the band didn’t disappoint.

From the off they played with a real power and vitality that has, if anything, grown even more since I last saw them combining great playing and some cracking songs with a real sense of performance and some snappy outfits.

The Robert J. Hunter Band

The Robert J. Hunter Band

While James Le Huray and Greg Sheffield (on bass and drums respectively) certainly play and perform well, Hunter himself has really come into his own as a frontman, aping the likes of Wilko Johnson with his moves, while his voice is better than ever and his playing is just flat-out impressive.

Across the set the band’s songs had a real dynamic so there were rhythm and blues stompers, ballads, funk and some really deep and dark stuff on offer that kept the crowd interested and involved throughout and packed to the front by the end.

Rounding off the set with a storming encore and with the crowd still calling for more if this turns out to be the band’s only performance in the islands this year (as they suggested it might) it was certainly one worth seeing and demonstrated their continued growth that surely is going to be hard to ignore as they continue to spread their wings.

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Robyn Sherwell – Self-titled

Robyn Sherwell album coverAfter five years work Robyn Sherwell released her debut album as the culmination of a UK tour in late March 2016.

In 2015 Sherwell gained mainstream recognition following the release of her Islander EP, including sessions with Jo Wiley on BBC Radio 2, an appearance on the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury and her take on Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide being used on the trailer to the movie Suffragette.

My review of the album was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 16th April 2016:

Robyn Sherwell review scan - 16:04:16

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The Electric Shakes – Stereotypical Girls

The Electric Shakes - Stereotypical GirlsThere are some bands for whom the expression ‘more of the same’ would be a bad thing, then there are bands like Motorhead, AC/DC and, you can add to that list, The Electric Shakes as they release the follow-up to their self-titled debut album, three track single, Stereotypical Girls.

Ok, so it’s not entirely true that it’s exactly more of the same but, much like the other bands mentioned above, The Electric Shakes deliver straight forward rock ‘n’ roll with their own spin, in this case a 60s garage vibe tinged with a 70s punk spirit.

Lead track Stereotypical Girls takes a knowing look at the sort of young ladies you see out on the town of a weekend and rings remarkably true. Really though, like all three tracks, what really makes the song is the driving garage rock that is full of groove and beat and I would defy anyone to not, at the very least, nod their head as it plays.

All three tracks are staples of the band’s live set but on record They Won’t Believe Us and Turn It Over Now do feel strongly like B-sides, though they keep the head nodding action going strong even if they are slightly less engaging than the opener.

The Electric Shakes

The Electric Shakes

Recorded by Ed Deegan at Gizzard Studios, his classic vintage style suits the band’s sound and manages to evoke the same styles as their music while capturing a hint of their live energy.

While Stereotypical Girls isn’t quite as strong a release as their debut it shows The Electric Shakes doing what they do best and if you even get a vague idea that this might be for you after a listen, I’d recommend catching the band live as that is where they really excel and you can hear these songs as they were meant to be.

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Various Artists – Jonah Beats

Jonah Beats album coverA few weeks ago I published my review of the Jonah Beats mini-festival that happened on the first weekend of March at the Vale Castle, along with the launch of the compilation album that was put together to coincide with it all raising money for the Helping Jonah – Helping Others charity.

Well, here now is my review of that album featuring a host of Guernsey and Guernsey related artists spanning genres from folk to doom metal and pretty much everything in between.

You can get the album physically at The Golden Lion or Kendall Guitars in Guernsey or listen and download through Bandcamp.

The review was first published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 9th April 2016.

Jonah Beats CD review scan 09:04:16

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Tadhg Daly – Taghazout

Tadhg Daly - TaghazoutOver the last few years I’ve followed singer-songwriter Tadhg Daly and his band (originally called The Five Mile Road, in reference to their home island’s famous surf spot) from their origins in Jersey as a grunge and alt-folk tinged indie band through the release of their debut single Learn To Live in 2014 and now onto the release of their first EP, Taghazout.

The EP has two rather distinct sides to it with the first and third tracks and the second and fourth sharing a similar feeling.

Lower The Sound opens the record in brooding fashion, building both structurally and emotionally from groovy organ sounds to acoustic and electric guitars and finally the full band with a reverb heavy electric guitar solo soaring over it all. Third track, Don’t Tell Me, shares many similarities to this showing the darker, more introspective, side of Tadhg’s style.

Control Yourself and Without You I’m Alone, meanwhile, add a bluesy feel to the sound, stemming from the band’s past grungy tones. On these Daly seems to be channeling another Channel Islands’ export to the UK, Alderney’s Robert J. Hunter, in his vocal tones – albeit with his own, slightly more subtle, less all out anguished, twist.

Tadhg Daly

Tadhg Daly

All four tracks feel produced and polished to perfection and, in some ways, this is one of the downfalls of the EP. With this production style on songs of this nature, it feels they’ve lost something of the heart that I can hear in the lyrics or just below the surface within Daly’s performance.

On top of this the overlaying of backing vocals on each track, while at times well used, feels a little overdone, often overriding Daly’s own performance in a way that makes me wonder if there was a lack of confidence in the accessibility of his voice (something I can’t see at all).

As a whole Taghazout has something of the feel of a soundtrack to a hangover, or at least a Sunday morning feeling. With a slow building start leading to a mellow but brooding nature with deep thoughts overlaid on modern blues music that feels on the verge of emotionally breaking down though never quite stepping over that boundary. While it may not be perfect, as a first EP it showcases Tadhg Daly in a way that is at once accessible and hints at a deeper, darker, side to both his songwriting and performance.

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