Monthly Archives: February 2014

Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World posterHave Marvel Studios jumped the shark?

Unfortunately, despite the general success (both commercially and in terms of enjoyment) of their so-called Phase One films, if Thor: The Dark World (aka Thor 2) is anything to go by, then they might just have.

Where their previous films had been entertaining romps with good stand alone stories all with enough moments to link together into the superhero mash-up The Avengers (which admittedly hasn’t stood up well to repeat viewings), Iron Man 3 even started their post Avengers series in fine style, but unfortunately Thor seems to have taken a step away from fun and lost almost everything that made the past films what they were.

The plot, what there is of it, involves the return of dark elf Malakith (a pointlessly underused Christopher Eccleston) attempting to take his revenge on Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and Asgard and get his hands on a super weapon while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) wrestles with loyalty to his life in Asgard and his love of Midgard (Earth) and, more specifically, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) all while Loki (Tom Hiddleston) acts like a petulant teenager, but seems to have most of the fun.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

The main problem the film seems to have is trying to, at once, cater to fans who’ve been through the whole Marvel Universe saga to date, as well as more casual viewers who will be coming to this as a stand alone story and this gives the whole thing an oddly unbalanced feeling.

That is combined with a story that feels simply meaningless as Malekith never really seems to be as bad as Odin tries to make out (though I was left with impression Hopkins didn’t really even understand most of his dialogue) so there isn’t really any point where there is a real, effective, antagonist as the best in the series so far, Loki, spends most of the film locked in a box brooding.

Hiddleston and Hemsworth

Hiddleston and Hemsworth

That said, Tom Hiddleston’s performance stands head and shoulders above the rest as he genuinely seems to be actually acting, rather than just turning up making the actions and saying the words, and you get a sense of the mischief that is the very nature of Loki. While the rest of the film features some fine actors, particularly Portman, Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgard, none show their worth as, for the most part, their roles are simply underdeveloped stereotypes (even more so than in past) and, more so, none really seem to care about being there.

As ever with a big budget blockbuster the special effects do generally look impressive but, in the battle scenes, there are points where the nearest comparisons I could make were Michael Bay’s Transformers and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel as the characters become totally lost in a pointless, nonsensical, spectacle that loses what little emotional momentum the movie might have had.

With Marvel Phase Two rolling on with Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier in the near future I hope Thor: The Dark World is merely a blip in an otherwise largely admirable series, but it has knocked my previous confidence and excitement in the studio.

Ben Kingsley

Ben Kingsley

The Blu-ray release of Thor: The Dark World does feature one major saving grace in the form of the ‘One Shot’ short film All Hail The King featuring the return of Ben Kingsley in his role from Iron Man 3, this has wit, charm, fun and adventure far surpassing that of the main feature, despite all being set two or three rooms in a prison, and hints at some interesting developments to come for the Marvel Universe – I just hope this is more representative of what is to come from the studio than the over blown, underplayed turkey on the front of the box.

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Labyrinth

Labyrinth PosterFor many of us who grew up in the 1980’s Jim Henson’s Labyrinth is something of a touchstone movie, but, though I have a very hazy recollection of seeing it ‘back in the day’, it isn’t one that imprinted itself on my mind like it seems to have on many others – though the image of David Bowie as Jareth The Goblin King is pretty indelible, especially in those trousers – so I came to it again now, somewhat fresher than many.

At first it seems like so much mid-80s kids’ movie nonsense, the girl is a fairly stereotypical teenager, feeling put upon by parents she clearly thinks don’t really love her and caring more for her younger sibling, but, as things go on this really develops into something else.

That said the movie isn’t really about the story as that is cobbled together by Monty Python’s Terry Jones into something very episodic, but still enjoyable, that largely acts as a vehicle for director Jim Henson’s team of world-famous puppeteers (or should that be Muppeteers as they are Henson).

labyrinth

Didymus, Hoggle and Ludo

This is where the film really shines as every scene features a host of amazing detailed puppets that push the boundaries of the technology available at the time to create a fairly deeply constructed world. From the tiny worm in the wall to the massive Ludo, each puppet displays an attention to detail that can easily be overlooked in ‘kids’ movies’ creating here something akin to a movie full of Yoda’s.

This pupeteering combines with a fairly charming, but not boundary pushing, performance from Jennifer Connely that has one astounding factor due to her age at the time, to create a movie that was, even for someone of 31 years old, generally amusing and entertaining and certainly technically impressive – particularly the character of Hoggle who took four puppeteers and one actress all working in unison on set to bring to life.

Connelly and Bowie

Connelly and Bowie

The only real missteps came when David Bowie, who is otherwise suitably otherworldly and odd and Jareth, was allowed to squeeze in what felt like very out-of-place, almost music video like, musical numbers, that certainly fall way below his best musical output and, it is hard to take him seriously here, though that maybe due to the many parodies that have come since (for some of the best see the general work of Adam Buxton).

So, in the end, Labyrinth is a film that still holds it place as a charming fantasy movie that, while not as epic or grand as the likes of Lord Of The Rings, knows this and actually ends with quite a good message for people as they grow up. While it may be time to put away childish things sometimes, don’t ever forget them, because they can be just as important as they make up a big part of the person you become.

And cus, well, how could I not, here’s some Bowie/Buxton action:

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Independence Day

Independence Day posterRoland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s Independence Day may be one of the movies guilty of leading to the state of the big ‘sci-fi’ effects blockbusters we have today, but looking back on it now, it remains something of a joy of striking a balance between the incredibly cheesy, painfully jingoistic and the downright entertaining like few other films manage.

Due to my age, and the involvement of Jeff Goldblum, it stands, in my mind, alongside Jurassic Park as a movie that has left a major mark on cinema that can be clearly seen in movies like Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean and many other sub-par effects blockbusters.

But, where ID:4 (as it was oddly abbreviated to at the time) and Jurassic Park stand above these others is the sense of genuine fun and the odd sensation that, despite all we know of cinema, we might not make it through this one.

Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum

Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum

There is, of course, much to ridicule here. The American’s are portrayed as the only country with the ability to organise a worldwide counter strike, the other nationalities are stereotyped to such a degree that it seems everyone else is still living in the 1940s and the dialogue is so cliché ridden that it sounds like a ‘best of’ of blockbuster cinema.

Also there are moments where a sense that this is some kind of huge propaganda piece for ‘Imperial America’ comes across, but, somewhere in this mire, some kind of magic happens.

Independence Day (1996) - The White House White HouseThis maybe a generational thing as this is one of the first big budget movies I remember being genuinely excited about seeing in the cinema, in the way that I still get, so despite all the cheesiness, I was, and still am, pulled along by the goings on in the way genuinely good movies should.

The thing that still stands out as in this film are the special effects. While there are certainly moments of relatively early CGI that jar it is clear many of the big moments are, at least partially, practical. This gives the whole thing a sense of weight and ‘reality’ often missing from wholly computer generated effects sequences, so the moment when LA, Washington and New York go bang are centrepieced by models of The Empire State Building, The White House, and that big skyscraper in LA really going bang which is a hugely impressive sight.

Bill Pullman

Bill Pullman

With Bill Pullman’s president delivering a pep talk to end all pep talks and Randy Quaid’s suddenly reformed alcoholic saluting thin air as the film hits its climax Independence Day should be seen as a high point in a kind of cinema that has taken over multiplexes but rarely been bettered – and of course it should all be taken with a great big dollop of fun.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: February 2014 – Brunt and The Get Down

Brunt in The Peace Tent

Brunt in The Peace Tent

For the February 2014 edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey we took a look at local stoner rock and hip-hop as I spoke to Brunt and DJ Oneofakind from The Get Down.

Stoner rock three-piece Brunt released their debut album via Bandcamp on the same day as the show as well as playing a launch gig as part of the Dazfest event at The Fermain Tavern. On the show they told me about their time so far as a band and about the album.

DJ Oneofakind

DJ Oneofakind

Meanwhile, DJ Oneofakind was in to talk to me about the upcoming show from The Get Down, a group dedicated to providing nights focussing on hip-hop and funk with a mixture of DJs and live acts, which looks likely to be one of their biggest yet as UK act The Mouse Outfit will be appearing alongside ‘the usual suspects’ which include Asylum Seekas and a host of local DJs – you can find out more about that event here.

You can listen to the show through the BBC Radio Player and iPlayer until the evening of Saturday 1st March by clicking here.

Tracklist

  • RentOClean – Bean Jar
  • Burg – Stop My Ways
  • Ukuladeez – Heat Magazine
  • Speakeasy – Trouble
  • Anik Hubert – Good Guys Come Last (demo)
  • Elliott Crossan – Whip It!
  • Daniel Guilbert – Heave Away
  • Brunt – The Rabbit of Cannaborg
  • Asylum Seekas – One For Sez
  • Last of the Light Brigade – Can’t Go On You Go On
  • Stan Smith – Children of the Inferno
  • Mura Masa – Bones
  • Brunt – The Tale Of The Hideous Tricorn
  • Brunt – Concise Cosmic History Of The Swob Monster Pt 1 (The Birth of Fuzz)
  • Asylum Seekas – From The Cold
  • Francisco – Infatuation (live)
  • Francisco – We Are The Night (live)
  • The Cryptics – Black Lucy

There were a few tracks I ran out of time for on the show, one of which was from a new album I’ve been listening to a lot so, once you’ve listened to the show, here is a track from Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, this is FUCKMYLIFE666:

And it came in too late for this month’s show but here is the new single from Guernsey production duo H A R T E B E E S T, Drums:

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Ministry – From Beer To Eternity

Ministry From Beer To Eternity - coverMinistry rounded off their career in September 2013 with the release of From Beer To Eternity following the death of guitarist Mike Scaccia late in 2012. The band had recorded most of the album, with Scaccia, and it was completed by bandleader Al Jourgensen and Sammy D’Ambruoso from these sessions.

Unfortunately, while it is clearly a noble attempt to utilise the band’s final studio sessions, and pay tribute to the guitarist, the result is, at best, a mixed bag of the kind of sounds Ministry have made since their switch from electronica to more industrial material in the late 1980s.

From Beer To Eternity starts out with some more electronic tracks than their recent output before the riffing metallic guitars come back to the fore, all with a good dose of samples and Al’s distinctive vocals laid over the top.

Ministry - Al JourgensenUnfortunately, this all makes for something of a turgid retread of the past and, while the lyrics are still dealing with issues, from war to climate change to Fox News, they lack the frantic precision of everything from NWO to Double Tap and it has the feeling of issues dealt with by rote rather than with real originality.

A hint at Al’s darkly comic side does come through on Fairly Unbalanced, but without the biting urgency of the past.

Then comes Side F/X Including Mikey’s Middle Finger (TV 4). It is here that we get a sense of why this album is, maybe, not as conceptually tight as it might be as it sounds like the sonic evocation of grief, through the Ministry filter, as it seems to deal, in a way at least, with the passing of Mike Scaccia.

Mike Scaccia and Al Jourgensen

Mike Scaccia and Al Jourgensen

Following this we go back into usual Ministry territory with Thanx But No Thanx that is something of a State of the Union address, Jourgensen style, but, like much of the rest of the record, rather than feeling like it wants to make a change it seems more content to tell us the state of things and is too tired to really do anything about it anymore.

With Enjoy The Quiet, a solid wall of industrial noise, Jourgensen leaves us in typically uncompromising style and, while the album as a whole is maybe not a success it is certainly an uncompromising vision and, I was left with the impression, that this is the record Jourgensen wanted to make which leaves Ministry with a real sense of legitimacy and integrity, if not a particularly good record.

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O’Hooley & Tidow – The Hum

O'Hooley & Tidow - The HumOver the last few years, Yorkshire based duo, Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow have received many awards for their first two albums and their live performances and, having seen them at several Sark Folk Festival events, they have been well deserved, but this meant coming to their new album, The Hum, there was certainly a lot of expectation.

As the album kicks off with the title track its clear that O’Hooley & Tidow have further evolved since their last record, The Fragile, but that growth is all for the good. This album opener drops us right into the heart of what it is that folk music does best as it provides a voice for real people, which, in a world dominated by corporate media giants and the inanity of social media, is a refreshing and crucial thing to hear.

Sark Folk Festival 2013

Sark Folk Festival 2013

The growth element present across the record comes, largely, in the form of extra instrumentation. While both their previous releases had relied largely on the piano (and occasional accordion and guitar) along with the duo’s vocals, The Hum features a much broader musical palette with what sounds like a large number of traditionally folk instruments rubbing shoulders to create a real depth of sound – though this never outdoes what has made O’Hooley & Tidow what they are in the past but builds on it brilliantly.

Across the album the duo present a view of the breadth of human experience, from the link between motherhood and childhood to the need for a good ale, in a way that is hugely honest. While some musicians come across as trying too hard to reflect ‘real life’ here we see the world through the eyes of O’Hooley & Tidow in a way that certainly feels entirely genuine and, as a fan of punk rock, shows me the strong links between that genre and folk which is a greatly appealing factor (though the two are, obviously, sonically rather different).

o'hooley & tidowSome of the duo’s songs also reference events from history but, unlike some other folk acts I’ve encountered, this never falls into the traps of nostalgia or pastiche but is used to reflect ideas and concepts that feel totally up to date, as the album proves that folk doesn’t have to be something stuck in the past but can be relevant and vibrant to modern life.

The Hum is a step forward for O’Hooley & Tidow and captures a very honest take on the world as seen from their perspective and has a feeling that is simply genuine and honest, backed up with a further developed sense of musicality which I’m sure was always there, but makes its presence felt more here.

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Grant Sharkey and Burg – Fermain Tavern – 07/02/14

Grant Sharkey

Grant Sharkey

On Friday 7th February 2014 Grant Sharkey made the somewhat rough journey from Southampton to Guernsey to play a show at The Fermain Tavern. Support came from Burg and Stalk The Lantern, but as I’m part of that band I won’t be reviewing them.

The night started out with the surprise return of Burg to the Guernsey stage, fresh from a session in the studio recording his debut album, which I for one am rather excited to hear.

Burg, aka Steven Lynch, combines country and blues, with a knowing wink to the fact that he’s a Guernseyman with a put on American accent, to make a sound that, while clearly familiar and well trodden, can still sound fresh in the right hands, and in Burg fresh is certainly what this sound was.

Burg

Burg

Across several band’s Lynchy has always proved himself to be a talented guitarist but it is when he stripped right back to acoustic that this really stands out and one moment tonight, where he re-tuned while nonchalantly chatting to the audience, highlighted this tonight – though maybe that’s the envious guitarist in me speaking.

Otherwise, it was the set of original songs that do something new with a well established sound that really make Burg such a fine prospect and tonight the crowd seemed to be lapping it up both right at the front and those hanging back.

While it may be some time before we see him on a Guernsey stage again I’d urge you to check Burg out if you happen to come across him gigging while he’s on his travels.

Grant Sharkey has been a regular visitor to Guernsey for many years both as a solo act and with bass and drum three-piece Toupe, but it’s always a treat to see him come back. Tonight he was backed up by Barney on drums and, while Barney has more recently made a name for himself behind an electronic kit with Bright_Lights, he was on blistering form behind an acoustic kit.

Grant Sharkey

Grant Sharkey

But back to Grant and, armed with his double-bass, he was on his usual form of combining songs of a political bent with great funky sounds and a good dash of humour and fun to top it all off.

From the start a dedicated few were moving (and its hard not to once Grant gets going) and singing along or calling back as well and more joined them across the course of the set as Grant was also joined on stage by Vix Hobbs for a few songs too.

As ever Grant left the audience calling for more and treated them a couple of encores before calling it a night and rounding off this varied night of music in fine style.

You can see a full gallery of photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

My review of Grant’s performance was also published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 15th February, alongside Shaun Shackleton’s review of Stalk The Lantern and Burg, here’s a scan of my bit:

Grant Sharkey scan - 15:02:14

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The Vale Earth Fair Gets Down – Fermain Tavern – 01/02/14

Buffalo Huddleston

Buffalo Huddleston

February kicked off with a bang musically in Guernsey as The Vale Earth Fair joined forces with The Get Down to present a mix of live bands and DJs at The Fermain Tavern.

Live sounds came from Rentoclean (who have just made their debut EP available via Bandcamp) and Buffalo Huddleston while it was Double XL and Limey Banton who took to the decks.

You can see my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 8th February and you can read it below:

Vale Earth Fair Get Down scan - 07:02:14

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Guernsey Song Project Launch

Weird Tea

Weird Tea

On Monday 27th January 2014 the Guernsey Language Commission launched a new project to help promote the island’s native language.

The project involves local musicians and songwriters coming together with speakers of Guernsey French to create songs using the, now little spoken, language.

The event also featured performances from a some of Guernsey’s acoustic music acts and you can see my photos of the event on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

If you want to find out more about the project click here, or read the article below then click.

Guernsey Song Project launch scan - 01:02:14

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