Monthly Archives: March 2012

Red State

Kevin Smith delivers an intriguing but flawed look the state of American (and western) society in his latest picture.

Since I first saw Dogma, what must have been 12 or so years ago, I have been an avid follower of the work of Kevin Smith.

From the genius of Clerks, and the other ‘Askewniverse’ films, to the near career suicide of Cop Out, I have been at least interested to see what Smith has put together (with the exception of Jersey Girl which I’ve still not brought myself to watch), so it was with great interest that I came to Red State.

I’d heard that this was something of a departure compared to the previous indie-fare, over sentimental rom-coms and ill-advised buddy cop pictures, into more grown up and certainly more extreme territory, and in one of these I was certainly not disappointed.

In many ways Red State starts like many of Smith’s films with a close-knit group of late teens talking about sex, a pre-occupation throughout the former Silent Bob’s canon, but rather than leading to the mall and a series of fantastic events, here it leads to an extreme right-wing church, torture, murder and a Waco style shootout – all including the aforementioned extreme (for Kevin Smith) gore and violence.

Throughout Smith’s work he has been accused variously of both sexism and homophobia, but, up until now, it has been clear that actually this is not the case as it is never the characters we are meant to sympathise with who express these opinions – except maybe Jay, but then he is really only half a character balanced out by his “hetero life mate” Silent Bob.

Michael Parks as Paster Abin Cooper

Here however, as the ‘sermon’ from Michael Parks’ Pastor Abin Cooper (a clear Fred Phelps cypher) goes on, at great length, I did begin to wonder about the homophobia issue.

While once again it is the ‘bad guys’ who express the negative opinions, at no point are they really counteracted, with the only potentially gay character in the rest of the film being the closeted sheriff who is driven to drink and contemplates suicide because of his situation (though again influenced by the ‘church’).

This is where Smith’s seeming attempt at making a grown up statement in Red State begins to crumble, and this is not resolved as the film goes on.

Sure, he makes a clear point that extremist religion, and groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, are not a good thing, that gun laws in the US are open to abuse and that government agencies are not always the most trustworthy and public-spirited bunch, but none of this is delivered in a way that makes any more of a statement than the rants one finds in the comment sections of news websites and leaves the film feeling ultimately empty.

John Goodman as the closest thing Red State has to a hero

Also, plot wise, the ending of the film (which I won’t spoil) feels like something of a cop out (pun intended), but by this point the film is in such a mess I’m not sure any ending would have been satisfactory to make it make the sense it seems to want to make.

All that said, there were a few laughs in the film, but as a whole it was a very messy and unbalanced film that fails in its attempt to deal with more ‘grown up’ issues than Smith’s past work.

It definitely seems Smith has moved well beyond the days of Dante and Randall and Jay and Silent Bob (for better or worse), but if Red State is anything to go by, he’s not yet found what comes next, though 10 out of 10 for trying, and this is far from an uninteresting film.

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El Scar – Drowning In Information, Starved For Knowledge

Prolific solo instrumentalist El Scar broadens his horizons with acoustic ambient metal on new ‘double A side’.

Over the last couple of years Brighton based and Guernsey born musician Marc Le Cras has been putting out self-produced albums and EPs of his own music on a relatively regular basis under the name of El Scar.

Largely instrumental, save for a few guest vocal spots from Jack Fletcher on The Human Instrumentality Project album, his work falls into a strange place of instrumental, atmospheric metal.

All grown from and inspired by El Scar’s evident love of both ‘djent’ style progressive metal and anime (and specifically Neon Genesis Evangelion), the albums and EPs he has put out so far have been a surprisingly rich and varied batch of sound (though all still clearly rooted in their genre).

For his latest, the two track Drowning in Information, Starved for Knowledge, El Scar has put down the electric guitar and picked up the acoustic, along with the usual programmed drums and other backing instrumentation.

What this has done has expand El Scar’s palate of sounds in a way that I think was needed at this stage, while still keeping a similar style and sound to the production and composition.

Even more so than on his earlier work these two tracks have the feel of a soundtrack to a hyper-futuristic sci-fi or, appropriately, anime movie.

The one thing that really struck me, though, was how short the two tracks are, on both I was left wanting more.

Both tracks begin slow and quiet before building with additional instruments to add depth to the sound. However, just as they are really getting going, at around the three to four minute mark, they end, in both cases, it seemed to me, somewhat abruptly.

While three to four minutes is a fine length for a pop song or regular piece of music for casual listening, it felt like these two pieces both had further to go and more to do and really could have become deeply engrossing pieces if they had time to expand.

It’s not often I think songs need to be longer (as a Metallica fan, recent years have often had me wishing their songs would be shorter) but in the case of Drowning in Information, Starved for Knowledge, I wanted more!

You can get hold of all of El Scar’s singles, EPs and albums via his BandCamp page.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: March 2012

I was back on the radio tonight with another BBC Introducing Guernsey show featuring two hours of Unsigned, Undiscovered and Under The Radar music from around the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

This month we featured a live session and interview from young musician Jack Heywood and we chatted to Mark Guillou about the Rock of Ages events he organises every winter in Guernsey.

The show is available until Wednesday 4th April on the iPlayer.

Tracklist:

  1. Thee Jenerators — I Feel Alright Now

  2. Asylum Seekas — Walking With Beasts

  3. Gemma Honey — Faceless

  4. Lifejacket — Merrick

  5. Listen To Luna — The Saga Must Go On

  6. Jull-Z and Mike Meinke — Sexy Lady

  7. Never Means Maybe — Ziva Killed Houdini

  8. Evarane — The Fear

  9. The Doomsday Project — Tyler’s Song

  10. Jack Heywood — No Need To Worry [live]

  11. Jack Heywood — I Can’t Make You Love Me [live]

  12. Jack Heywood — I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous [live]

  13. Jack Heywood — Say Anything [live]

  14. Jack Heywood — 18 [live]

  15. Jack Heywood — PS Of Course I Meant It [live]

  16. Speakeasy — Love and Understanding

  17. Peter Mitchell — What You’re Doing To Me

  18. Teaspoonriverneck — Crow In The Road

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Alien: 2003 Directors Cut (video review)

While its status as a true ‘directors cut’ is debateable, this tweaked version of the 1979 original is just as atmospheric and effecting.

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The Future Shock presents: Never Means Maybe, Teaspoonriverneck, Re-Discovering Pluto and Skid Rue

Teaspoonriverneck - Photo by Tom Girard, courtesy BBC Guernsey

On Saturday 24th March 2012 Guernsey based promoters The Future Shock teamed up with Rock of Ages (who stage all ages gigs on the island) to put on Chelmsford band Never Means Maybe alongside three Guernsey bands, Teaspoonriverneck, Re-Discovering Pluto and Skid Rue at the Carlton Plaza.

As well as getting some photos for BBC Introducing Guernsey which you can see here and reviewing the show for the Guernsey Press I got some videos of the bands.

BBC Introducing Guernsey photo gallery

You can read my review from the Guernsey Press on Saturday 31st March 2012 online here or there is a scan of it below:

Skid Rue:

Re-Discovering Pluto:

Teaspoonriverneck:

Never Means Maybe:

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Frank Turner – Sleep Is For The Week

The debut album from the now world-renowned folk-punk troubadour hints at what was to come while being a satisfying collection in its own right.

This week I was very excited when an LP shaped package bearing an Xtra Mile Recordings sticker found its way through my letterbox, and that was because I knew it contained my signed copy of Frank Turner’s debut record, Sleep Is For The Week, on vinyl, and personally signed by the man himself.

This special edition of the record came about through Xtra Mile’s Pledgmusic.com campaign to re-press some of the stock lost to a warehouse fire during the London riots in summer 2011, through which I also received the Reuben collection, We Should Have Gone To College.

So I thought, why not, I’ll take a look back at Frank’s debut and see how it stands up five years after its first release.

It’s clear from the start that while Frank’s sound has developed over the years his main preoccupations and themes have stayed remarkably true to where they set out with life on the road, cultural identity and his personal life all featuring, albeit in slightly different ways to the material on his latest album England Keep My Bones.

Much like his more recent offerings, the songs here range from solo acoustic guitar and vocal numbers to tracks featuring a prototype version of the band now known as The Sleeping Souls, though here bass, guitar and an extensive range of other guitar-like string instruments are all played by Frank himself.

The songs here also feature a wide variety of tempos with some roaring along at break neck punk pace (Back In The Day), while others take a slower more mellow (The Ladies of London Town) or, at times, melancholy (A Decent Cup Of Tea), approach, but this gives the record a real depth rarely found on debut recordings and hints at the history in music Frank Turner already had, being former front man of post-hardcore band Million Dead.

The recording of the album is also a bit of a mixed bag with some of the tracks sounding like full on professional recordings and others having a hint of the DIY about them.

While on some albums this might be a problem here I find it gives a real sense of the man behind the music – some of these songs are designed as big full band pieces while others (the aforementioned A Decent Cup Of Tea, for example) are so personal anything but a seemingly crude recording of one man and his acoustic guitar would give the song the same power it has here.

Another stand out track on the album for me is the other particularly differently recorded one, The Ballad Of Me And My Friends, which is a live recording from the Barfly in Camden in 2006 and features a brilliant guest spot from the audience and serves to show why then, and now, Frank Turner is true to that punk ethos that really, it’s about the connection with the crowd, more than anything else.

When I first heard Frank Turner (though his Poetry of the Deed album) I remarked that he sounded, to me, like real soul music, and looking back on Sleep Is For The Week, I still have the feeling, this is a great record that speaks to the punk and folk spirits within me and is a clear starting point for the now arena level act Frank Turner has become.

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Game of Thrones – Season One: Blu-Ray Box Set

One of the best TV series of recent years comes to Blu-Ray with a packed set of extras.

I will be the first to admit that I was about as late to the dance as it was possible to be when it came to Game Of Thrones. Before I heard of the TV series I had never heard of the books, A Song of Ice and Fire, and I didn’t discover the TV show until late summer 2011, once its original run had concluded.

That said I soon made up for it, watching the TV and series reading the first book within a month (and I’m not the world’s fastest reader), so I got my hands on the Blu-Ray box set of the series as soon as I could and devoured that within the week as well.

As a series, even on the third watch, Game of Thrones is an astounding achievement. Looking as lush and lavish as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and featuring superior special effects even than that, these 10 episodes contain such depth that even on the third watch I was finding new things, and I’m sure there is even more in there that I’ve yet to find.

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark

Along with the big budget movie-like quality of design and production the cast also stands up alongside this. The obvious major players like Sean Bean (perfectly cast as Lord Eddard Stark), Charles Dance and Lena Heady share the screen with a large and varied mix of performers.

Standouts for me are all of the young actors, but especially Maisie Williams as Arya Stark who mixes of rebellious youth with hints at what may be to come, alongside the appropriate vulnerability of a young girl.

The other highlight in the cast for me was Peter Dinklage as “The Imp”, Tyrion Lannister. When small actors appear on TV it is often as minor characters or comic foils, but here Dinklage proves he is much more than that and is one of the best actors I’ve seen in a long time – I understand he played Richard III recently and I can see exactly how that would have worked based on his performance here.

Bonus Features

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister

Away from the show its self the Blu-Ray box set contains a wealth of extras from the usual commentaries (which are all fascinating and entertaining in themselves) and featurettes on the production to a whole extra section exploring the history and mythology of Westeros and its grand houses.

These features are that rare thing, a balance between all out geekery (which I admit with this series I have enjoyed), and something for the more casual fan. I don’t think I would have felt ripped off had I not wanted any of the extras, and if I just wanted a quick look into the behind the scenes world of the show the half hour Making Of… is excellent.

However if I wanted to go deeper, as I did, the Complete Guide to Westeros, is a great way of discovering more of the back story hinted at in the series and the features on the opening sequence, Dothraki language and music all build up to create a comprehensive look at what has been for me, one of the two most enjoyable series on TV in recent years, alongside The Walking Dead.

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Punk for St Patrick’s Day – Songs in the Key of G, The Black Vote and Lifejacket

The Black Vote - Picture by Tom Girard, courtesy of BBC Guernsey.

On St Patrick’s Day 2012 there was a night of live punk and indie at the Thomas De La Rue pub in St Peter Port, Guernsey.

The show was organised by Andy of The Black Vote to both celebrate St Patrick’s Day and raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Also playing alongside The Black Vote were post-rock three piece Lifejacket and acoustic punk act Songs In The Key of G.

Here’s my review from the Guernsey Press dated 24/03/12:

And you can check out the photos I took for BBC Introducing Guernsey.

I also got some videos as well which are here.

Songs in the Key of G:

The Black Vote:

Lifejacket – Brains

Lifejacket – Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues (Mclusky cover)

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WWE – The Best of King of the Ring

WWE present a flawed but still fascinating look back at their King of the Ring tournaments and pay-per-view shows on this new DVD collection.

Reviewing anything to do the ‘sport’ of professional wrestling is always a challenge due to the very nature of the product itself, but that said I’m going to have a go with the new Best of King of the Ring DVD set and I promise I’ll try not to be too much of a ‘smart mark’ about it.

The King of the Ring is a championship title in WWE (formerly the WWF) that has been awarded on and off for the best part of 30 years on a semi-occasional basis following a “single elimination tournament” traditionally held all at the same event.

This DVD set mentions but glosses over the first run of the events as these went largely un-televised and this is the first disappointing thing about the collection. Some of the early winners include bone fide pro-wrestling legends like Harley Race, Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase and the chance to relive some of their matches would certainly have been welcome.

The DVD starts with the first pay-per-view version of the event in 1993 with the tournament final featuring another true legend, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, going up against Bam Bam Bigelow in a reasonable match which plays with the psychology of the 3 matches in one night well and really sets up the title of King of the Ring as being something that genuinely matter (within the world of the WWF).

Also from the 1993 event we get the WWF Championship match which sees champion Hulk Hogan take on Yokozuna in what was to be Hogan’s last WWF match before he went to WCW.

As such it’s a bit of a mixed affair that ends in a way that puts neither man over and makes neither look like a loser.

This format of tournament final and notable other match from the PPVs continues across the three discs and includes some great matches and some of the most notoriously brutal moments in WWF/E history.

Particular highlights Owen Hart winning the tournament, the now legendary “Austin 3:16” speech, Undertaker destroying Mankind in Hell In A Cell and Shane McMahon displaying ridiculous levels of dedication to his father’s company in a brutal ‘street fight’ with Kurt Angle.

While these highlights are great and most of the other matches included are at least worth watching (though the more recent one’s taken from Raw rather than the dedicated PPV seems a little quick when compared to the earlier ones), there are some bizarre omissions.

While their matches and WWF/E careers may not have been as stellar as the likes of Triple H, Steve Austin or the Hitman, it seems strange that Mabel and Billy Gunn’s tournament winning efforts are not included when Ken Shamrock’s is.

Also unfortunate is the lack of context around the finals. Sometimes the commentary tells us who the finalists went up against earlier but other times this is barely mentioned and a brief highlights package from the tournament before the finals would really have added that extra something to make this an excellent package (possibly on a par with the Rise and Fall of ECW which remains the best WWE DVD set to date).

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Sarnia Shorts and The Goonies in The Guernsey Press

Last week I went along to Sarnia Shorts‘ screening of classic kids film The Goonies at Guernsey’s Princess Royal Centre for the Performing Arts.

The screening also featured some short silent films made by the young pupils at Sark School and the winner of last year’s young filmamakers award from Guernsey Filmmakers, Somethin’ Fishy by Kit Gillson (which you can watch below).

I wrote a review of the evening for the Guernsey Press, which you can read here:

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