Monthly Archives: January 2015

Mura Masa: Cutting Edge Sounds – Guernsey Press – 31/01/15

Mura MasaYoung, Guernsey born, musician and producer Mura Masa has been making waves with his music, first in the international electronic production community, and more recently in more mainstream circles over the past couple of years.

I spoke to him for BBC Introducing Guernsey and the Guernsey Press in January 2015 and he told me how he went from producing songs in his bedroom at home to getting a record release through Jakarta records and airplay on BBC Radio 1 and 2 and his plans for his first live shows.

Mura Masa’s debut record, Soundtrack To A Death is available now via the Jakarta Records Bandcamp page and you can hear my interview on the January 2015 edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey.

My article on Mura Masa was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 31st January 2015:

Mura Masa interview feature scan - 31:01:15

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The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie

The Toxic Avenger 3 posterSo, this is the third of Troma’s Toxic Avenger series and the third I’ve reviewed and what more is there to say? Well, while the first was all out, over the top, lo-fi schlock and the second was Toxie’s epic adventure movie, what then is his Last Temptation?

In terms of the plot Toxie is tempted to the dark side by the returning Apocalypse Inc with an offer of hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for eye surgery for his blind finance, Claire. This comes after an extensive, soul-searching first act of the film where the gory schlock of the previous movies is replaced with a surprisingly existential crisis – alongside the expected off colour humour.

While the first, and some of the second, Toxie movies hadn’t quite hit home with this humour this one has a lot more charm so, while it certainly could be viewed as offensive to pretty well everyone, the jokes seem far more good-natured and step over a barrier into such surreal territory as to clearly be something of fantasy.

Phoebe Legere

Phoebe Legere with her accordion

Key to this is the performance of Phoebe Legere as Claire. The impression I got is that, other than the scenes where she is blind, this isn’t really someone acting but is a massively eccentric performance artist just doing what she does (be it dancing, singing or inexplicably, plot-wise, playing the accordion), while Toxie moves the plot along around her.

The other aspect that seems to work better here is the satire. While it remains hugely heavy-handed it actually does seem to be making a point.

The opening sequence sees Apocalypse Inc’s henchmen taking over a video rental shop and replacing all the indie, and specifically Troma, films with the top 20 from the big studios – then Toxie turns up and disembowels the bad guys in classic Troma style. Like I say, it’s not subtle but it gets its point across and has fun with it, also setting up an ongoing series of hyper-meta references to Troma’s own movies, and the fact that The Toxic Avenger is a movie too.

The Devil

The Devil

The satire against big business continues as Toxie becomes a Toxic Yuppie in the thrall of Apocalypse Inc, before we step back into the realms of absurd fantasy when The Devil turns up for the (comparatively) big action climax.

Much like the previous movie where the expanded budget was spent on going to Japan, Toxie 3 uses its budget to destroy some things, mostly school busses, so, while its scope isn’t quite as broad as its predecessor it does have some fairly impressive (by Troma standards) action moments as Toxie is put through his paces and, inevitable, sets the world to rights and becomes a true all American hero – like a kind of deformed mutant Hulk Hogan in a tutu.

Of course, movies like this are always going to be an acquired taste and, while this is the least gory of the Toxie movies so far, it is probably the most well executed and generally entertaining making far more watchable, if not entirely absorbing.

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Royal Rumble 2015

Royal Rumble 2015 posterSo, here’s my second attempt at reviewing a current WWE show following last year’s NXT Takeover: Fatal4Way – this is the first step on the so-called ‘Road To WrestleMania’ and has already proved to be WWE’s most controversial show in a good while, at the very least since last year’s edition, this is the 2015 Royal Rumble!

Coming from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a town renowned for its rowdy wrestling crowds, the controversy was to come much later, so the majority of the undercard were, largely, celebrated for their efforts.

The first match pitted newcomers The Ascension against old hands, returning for (hopefully) a one-off, The New Age Outlaws. From the start the crowd were into the Outlaws shtick, which is always nice to hear again for nostalgia’s sake, and, along with Viktor and Konnor put on a reasonable show for their five minutes in the ring. Billy Gunn once again demonstrated that he can still go pretty well, while Road Dogg didn’t really do a great deal, but carried his end.

My main interest though was in the newcomers who, for the past few weeks, have been lumbered with a story of insulting great tag teams of the past in some cringe-worthy segments, while destroying unknowns. Here though a glimmer of their time in NXT came through, despite the best efforts of JBL burying them on commentary, and they soon hit their impressive finisher, The Fall Of Man, to pin Billy Gunn.

The Ascension

The Ascension

While the match was a bit sloppy the end should have given The Ascension a boost heading out of this angle, hopefully setting up a feud with a possible returning team hinted at later in the show, but some messy commentary from Michael Cole left it feeling a bit flat – I just hope Konnor and Viktor get the chance to be the monster heels they’ve already proved they can be now they’re on this bigger stage.

Next up came the first championship match of the show with the World Tag Team Championship up for grabs. While the match in the ring saw The Usos defending against The Miz and Damien ‘Mizdow’ the whole 10 minutes was really about the interaction between Mizdow and the crowd.

While we were treated to all the spots we’ve come to expect for this quartet as they have faced off time and again in recent months, the former ‘Intellectual Saviour of the Masses’ and his relationship with the crowd was the highlight as he aped The Miz’s actions in the ring while his partner didn’t let him in, much to the audience’s chagrin (to use an old wrestling cliché).

Uso Crazy!

Uso Crazy!

The match ended on a decent little tag spot from the Usos but they once again didn’t really do anything new or engaging that we haven’t been watching for the last five years and I can only hope this feud is coming to an end and Miz and ‘Mizdow’ can go on to singles feud that escalates the clearly talented, and over, Damien Sandow, to at least solid mid-card status.

Along with the pre-show this was the third tag team match of the night, which, to me, seems like an odd way of putting a big show together. Ok, it means none of the wrestlers have to put in as much work, before appearing again later in the Royal Rumble (in the case of those who did) but it also suggests that, despite having a lot of good hands in their roster, WWE doesn’t really have a lot going on with them and away from the main event scene the stories seem to be somewhat lacking in any sense of depth.

Natalya Neidhart and Nikki Bella

Natalya Neidhart and Nikki Bella

Another tag team match followed, this time featuring the ‘divas’, specifically The Bella Twins against the new pairing of Natalya Neidhart and Paige. The majority of the match was geared around stories from WWE’s reality show Total Divas and if you bothered listening to the commentary it felt more like and advert for that than anything else.

As ever, with Natalya involved it was at least solid as she was linchpin of proceedings making for a decent match though I’m not sure it actually went anywhere in the end as Diva’s champ Nikki Bella pinned Natalya after a decent looking forearm smash and some good selling from the current generation of the legendary Hart family.

With the undercard out the way it was time for the matches that actually felt like they had some purpose as World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar defended against John Cena and Seth Rollins.

Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar and John Cena

Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar and John Cena

From the start the triple threat was non-stop action with Cena doing his usual, Brock throwing everyone in sight and Rollins really proving why his elevation to top, full-time, heel is a good move. As the match went on it rarely had the feel that most triple threats do of a rotating series of one of one segments as the three men used the entirety of the ringside area to its full extent.

Of course Lesnar was booked as the monster, taking multiple finishers and still coming back. In the end it seemed to be boiling down to Cena and Rollins squaring off after some great spots that saw Lesnar put through stairs, barricades and the dreaded Spanish announce table.

After back and forth finishers and a spectacular phoenix splash from Rollins, Lesnar returned from nowhere for some more German suplexes and an F5 leaving Brock as champ and therefore making up half of the main event at April’s WrestleMania.

Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins

Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins

Following a generally lackluster opening few matches the triple threat very much turned the tide and is a standout match in all senses and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still being talked about come the end of the year. It also, hopefully, cemented Rollins as a top-level player so once Lesnar leaves WWE will at least have someone to try to fill the void he creates.

And so, onto the Royal Rumble match itself, don’t worry for the sake of everyone’s sanity I won’t go through this blow-by-blow, but pick out the crucial moments and highlights.

It started off pretty so-so before the shock return of Bubba Ray Dudley, most recently seen as Bully Ray in TNA, who looked better than ever and went through the Dudley Boys’ classic spots with R-Truth in place of an injured D-Von to a chorus of ‘ECW’ chants from the Philly crowd who were reveling in celebrating one of the their hardcore heroes.

Bubba Ray Dudley

Bubba Ray Dudley

We then got a nice spot with the former Wyatt family members squaring off which sadly wasted Luke Harper’s time in the ring as he was ousted by Bray with an assist of sorts from Erick Rowan (who wasn’t officially part of the match). This did though set up one of the Rumble’s stand out performances from Bray Wyatt who came across as a super strong character, like he hasn’t in a while, and I hope this will lead somewhere as Wyatt looks like he could be one of the best all rounders the company has at present.

Across the match we got our usual guest spot characters as Diamond Dallas Page arrived to show Randy Orton what an effective Diamond Cutter ‘out of nowhere’ really is and The Boogeyman had a fun sequence with Wyatt.

Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt

Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt

The story of the middle of the match though was that of the recently returned hyper-underdog Daniel Bryan who the crowd were behind 100% like no one else on the night. While he put in a good performance (as always) his elimination changed the mood in the arena in an instant and, to be honest, I felt sorry for pretty much everyone who came out after.

This reached its peak when Roman Reigns, long predicted to win this one, came out and went on to spend the next half hour actually doing very little of any real importance while the others in the ring did their best to put on a good match that had suddenly become painfully predictable.

Diamond Dallas Page and Bray Wyatt

Diamond Dallas Page and Bray Wyatt

One thing that was certainly missing from the Rumble was much in the way of new angles being developed, aside from Wyatt’s performance and a hint at something between Intercontinental Champion Bad News Barrett and Dean Ambrose everything else was just so much pointless brawling – even Kofi Kingston didn’t really get his now standard athletic surviving elimination spot, instead being ‘rescued’ by the Rosebuds in a pointless twist on his usual routine.

As the match neared its end the crowd clearly became increasingly incensed as veteran monsters Kane and Big Show demolished anyone else who the crowd was cheering for and, while this may on paper have looked like something that would build heat for The Authority, all it seemed to do was further antagonise the audience.

Big Show & Kane and Ambrose and Reigns

Big Show & Kane and Ambrose and Reigns

A brief respite from this was the pop The Rock received for his shock appearance but, once it became clear he was there to help Reigns, even The Great One couldn’t salvage things and the Rumble boiled down to heel Rusev getting cheered while face Reigns was booed and heckled as he won his spot against Lesnar at WrestleMania 31.

For the second year in a row it seemed WWE had misjudged the crowd at the Royal Rumble as what should be the beginning of an epic feud between their top good guy and top bad guy has started out with a chorus of boos (and worse) for the good guy and at least appreciation for the bad guy. Added to this is the fact that with Reigns needing help to win here and Lesnar surviving a truly epic beatdown, Reigns looks, less than ever, like a convincing challenge to the champion.

Whether this situation is turned round remains to be seen, and I’m not going to go into a tirade about what WWE may or may not ‘owe’ their fans, it just seems that in their current state they are like a runaway train with no real sense as where their actions today might lead tomorrow, let alone in two months time.

Roman Reigns and The Rock

Roman Reigns and The Rock

In the end the 2015 Royal Rumble was a mixed bag highlighted by the must see World Championship Triple Threat Match, but while the Rumble match itself had some good spots, it’s mostly recommended as a talking point more than an actual good match and it left the Road To WrestleMania looking like a very rocky one indeed, both on and off-screen.

Photos from WWE.com

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Tadhg Daly and The Secret Smiles – The Fermain Tavern – 24/01/15

Tadhg Daly at The Fermain Tavern

Tadhg Daly and his band

As often is the case the first few weeks of the New Year have been somewhat quieter as everyone recovers from the festive onslaught and does their best to stick to whatever resolutions they have set themselves. By the third week of January though, with resolutions slipping and the so-called ‘Blue Monday’ having passed, original live music returned to The Fermain Tavern with the return to the island of Jersey’s Tadhg Daly, along with local Brit-style indie band The Secret Smiles.

While the crowd was only small (and wouldn’t get a lot bigger) as Matt Ward and his troupe took to the stage they launched into their set with gusto and, while they self-consciously admitted it was the same set they played last time, it seemed to come with a much wider sense of dynamic ranging from melancholy moments to upbeat bouncy, jangling indie rock.

The Secret Smiles

The Secret Smiles

In fact their sound took me back to when I first discovered coverage of Glastonbury on TV and many of the bands that graced its stages in the mid-90s.

While that may give the impression they have a dated sound the energy and conviction with which Matt performs means that it manages to transcend this and successfully brought a surprisingly summery feeling to the Tav for a cold January night.

Even though there seemed to be some problems with guitar leads across the set the band didn’t let this slow them down and they went down well with the small audience, particularly those visiting from Jersey. Closing on a cover of New Order’s Blue Monday brought things to an end on a high and hinted that The Secret Smiles could be a band to keep an eye on once summer festival season rolls around.

Tadhg Daly and Jack Townsend

Tadhg Daly and Jack Townsend

Having visited the island a couple of times last year Tadhg Daly has proved himself to be a worthy addition to the Stoked Music stable, that also includes Jersey’s Lloyd Yates and Sark’s The Recks, Daly and his band continued that trend tonight, albeit with a slightly new sound.

Their set started out in familiar style with folk-ish indie rock being order of the day as a few more came in from the cold and, though the audience remained disappointingly small, most of them spent the majority of the set on the dancefloor.

Halfway through the set Daly swapped his acoustic guitar for a Telecaster and, after a rough and ready but effective take on American folk number Where Did You Sleep Last Night aka In The Pines (based on Nirvana’s version of the song), the four-piece launched into a much rockier set of songs than they’d previously played.

Tadhg Daly

Tadhg Daly

This new style had a much grungier edge to it, but it still suited the band with Daly’s voice coming into its own and reminding somewhat of Robert J. Hunter’s, though with slightly less of the overwrought bluesy howl to it – and I wasn’t the only one who expressed a similar comparison.

Across the set a real highlight came in the form of Jack Townsend’s drumming. With a huge sound out front, Townsend’s playing really demonstrated a wide dynamic range and power that successfully remained understated enough not to overtake the main focus of the music.

After the rockier numbers, many of which had a surprisingly danceable quality to them, Daly returned to his acoustic to close the set on debut single Learn To Live that rounded off the set nicely and brought to a close a highly enjoyable night of music that certainly managed to kick any winter blues.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

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Robert J Hunter and Chloe Le Page – The Vault – 23/01/15

Robert J Hunter at The Vault

Robert J Hunter at The Vault

The Vault in St Peter Port is Guernsey’s newest place to catch live music and has become known for featuring cover bands and the poppier end of the island’s original music performers, as well as a weekly open mic night and, as this was, the occasional acoustic night too.

Chloe Le Page first appeared on the scene a couple of years ago as second guitarist in Static Alice but soon was heading out on her own in the guise of an acoustic performer and has been gigging regularly ever since.

This regularity of performance showed here in her relaxed nature on stage as, while she spent a lot of time seemingly reading the words and music of a tablet, Chloe’s performance was smooth and slick, with something of the air of restaurant background music, if she weren’t covering the likes of AC/DC and Guns ‘N’ Roses alongside her originals.

Chloe Le Page

Chloe Le Page

While the original songs were certainly the most engaging part of her set for me, her delivery was very good throughout and its clear why she has become as popular as she has. Using a chorus pedal on her vocals to give a slightly broader sound was a good idea too and, while it often seems hard to get the settings on such devices right, Chloe had it spot on.

Being joined for a couple of songs by former Deadwing guitarist Jacques Evans on backing vocals added a looser and more relaxed element to the set and, with the inclusion of a cover of Kings of Leon’s Molly’s Chambers, Chloe put in a satisfying set that was nice to hear.

Two weeks ahead of the launch show for his debut album at Nambucca in London, Robert J. Hunter was making a flying visit back to Guernsey and, as always, it was good to catch the young bluesman live as, if all goes to plan, this will likely become an increasingly rare event for us.

Playing purely solo and acoustic took me back to when Rob was first setting out on his current path and it was very evident how far he has come as his playing was deft and confident and, particularly later in the set, his voice took on a more developed aspect that added a much more soulful feel to the performance.

Robert J Hunter

Robert J Hunter

With an audience including many who knew some of Rob’s songs a lot of them were greeted very fondly and debut single Demons and set closer, and constant highlight, Hurricane, both invoked enthusiastic singalongs.

While those in the bar seemed split between those there to listen to the music and those more intent on having a drink and a chat, Rob confidently owned the space and won over many of the more casual observers as the set went on.

By the end it was clear why Rob has achieved the success he has so far and his performance had the feel of someone approaching their next watershed moment as his rocked up blues received a rapturous response from the small but appreciative audience.

That watershed moment, all being well, will coincide with the release of Songs For The Weary next month and, even if we don’t get to see him play so often, we can be safe in the knowledge that Rob certainly has a talent deserving of the kind of exposure he is, hopefully, heading for.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes posterWhile the sort of reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise in 2011 had been an enjoyable watch, it isn’t a film that has left a major on mark with me since. While it is, of course, to early to tell if the follow-up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, will have a lasting impact, it certainly seems to do pretty much everything a sci-fi blockbuster is supposed to do.

In doing this it is very much a film, and story, of two sides, one that appears on the face of things, and one that is very much, appropriately, behind its eyes.

On the surface Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a big slick blockbuster designed to wow audiences with special effects and action while connecting with our emotional side with some easily relatable characters.

These characters are very much what you’d expect and don’t stray too far from what you’ll find in hundreds of other films, there’s the thoughtful hero and his band of followers who, in one way or another, are analogous of a family and have in their midst a potentially well-meaning, but volatile character.

Malcolm and Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Malcolm and Caesar

What makes things slightly different here is that there are two groups who could be described in this way, one human and one ape and, for the most part, it is the apes who are the more interesting bunch. On a basic visual level the apes, led by Andy Serkis’ Caesar, are astonishing as, despite being almost entirely motion captured, they are entirely convincing.

Along with this comes an emotional level that is equally believable, a particular highlight of the film comes in the opening 15 minutes as we are introduced to the ape society that has built up in the forests north of San Francisco since the near holocaust of humanity that has happened since the end of the previous movie. This sequence quickly and easily shows us how their society works and how the different social levels work together until humanity, who they seem to think has been all but wiped out, reappears and the plot is kick started in earnest.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - San FranciscoAs the film goes on the humans and apes interact in pretty much every scene and I soon forgot they were anything but alive.

The visual spectacle culminates in a terrific battle on the streets of San Francisco that remains entirely logical and, unlike a lot of special effects blockbusters, is very easy to follow and features an amazing shot of the ape Koba on the turret of a tank which looked like it could have come from any war movie of recent years, just with an ape instead of a man.

The technical achievement of the apes is breathtaking, especially on the occasions where Serkis comes through entirely in Caesar and it is somewhat confounding how you are watching a CG ape but at the same time the actor who has portrayed Ian Dury, amongst others.

Andy Serkis as Caesar

Andy Serkis as Caesar

The other side of the film, that which makes it a ‘proper’ piece of sci-fi and continue the legacy started by the 1968 original, is that it does turn a mirror onto real life.

The subject it deals with is one that has been exceptionally pertinent over the last decade, making this a true ‘war on terror’ film as the notion of ambiguity on either side in a war and the reasoning behind this is the crux.

In this we get our human hero Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Caesar as those trying to find a peaceful link between the two groups while, to a greater or lesser extent, their respective compatriots, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and particularly Koba (Toby Kebbell) look at things from the other side.

Koba - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Toby Kebbell as Koba

Between them are a range of characters designed to explore various aspects of the central issue with the most effective being, on the human side Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and on the apes side his counterpart Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston, and a sort of reference to Charlton Heston’s character in the original film) and Maurice (Karin Konoval), who also shares traits with Dreyfus.

This combination of spectacle and philosophical, issue based, drama is what sets Dawn of the Planet of the Apes apart from most popcorn fodder and, while it doesn’t quite the levels of rip-roaring enjoyability of the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, it does leave one feeling somehow more nourished for it.

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Lord Vapour EP

Lord Vapour EP coverIn December 2014 a new band emerged in Guernsey via a post on Facebook announcing the release of a three track EP via Bandcamp – that band was Lord Vapour.

Mixing psychedelia with heavy metal the three piece-features the drummer of instrumental doom band Brunt, Squirrel, and the bass player from thrashers Distant Shores, Le Dread, along with a new comer on guitar, H-Bomb, giving them something of a pedigree within the younger end of the Channel Islands’ metal scene.

My review of the band;s EP was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 17th January 2015:

Lord Vapour review scan - 17:01:15

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Future Talks – All Night Long

Future TalksFormed in mid 2014, following a serendipitous meeting at The Reading Festival the previous summer, Guildford/London-based four-piece Future Talks have left their first mark, via Soundcloud, in the form of single All Night Long.

The title may be so derivative I had to double-check I had got it right, but the song itself is a chunky dose of laid back pop-rock, with some angst ridden lyrics laid over the top to boot and all delivered in a manner clearly designed to get people bouncing.

The first touchstones I could hear in Future Talks sound come from across the Atlantic, with Jimmy Eat World, Blink 182 and a bit of Foo Fighters all clearly having had an influence of these four young men. But, there is something else in there too stemming from Britpop making for a more rounded package that is more the simple pop-punk it could have been.

Future Talks - band shot

Future Talks

Certainly it steers pretty close to frontman Charlie Sinclair’s previous work in Guernsey with Francisco, but that’s no bad thing and it continues on the musical momentum he built with that earlier band, as the other three members all hold their own respectively as well.

While All Night Long definitely sounds like a first single it is packed with potential and teenage angst wrapped in a shiny pop package that never seems to go out of date. Combine that with the big sound on offer and Future Talks could certainly speak to a wide audience as they gain more exposure on the live circuit they are currently pursuing.

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Nosferatu – Eine Symphonie Des Grauens

Nosferatu blu-ray coverIt’s very hard to come to a film like F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu – Eine Symphonie Des Grauens (A Symphony of Horror) in any way fresh; not only is it nearly 100 years old and tells the same story as many other films (as well as books, TV shows and more) but pretty much every scene has been restaged in one way or another (be it in Werner Herzog’s remake or in countless parodies and tributes).

Somehow though Murnau’s 1922 masterpiece remains gripping and impressive.

The story is, very obviously, that of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, just reworked slightly (initially in an attempt to avoid copyright) so its set predominantly in a small German town, rather than London, and various characters are reworked, but the general gist is the same.

We start out meeting Ellen and Thomas Hutter (Murnau’s versions of Mina and Jonathan Harker) and Hutter is soon packed off to Transylvania to sell a house to the mysterious Count Orlok (played in exceptional fashion by Max Schreck).

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu

Max Schreck as Count Orlok

After a genuine musical overture and opening credits its clear from the start we are in a similar territory of German Expressionism to that of Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari with slightly heightened sets using some otherworldly angles.

This though is visually far less fantastical than Caligari and the main visual treat of most of the film comes in the location shooting with some impressive vistas, considering the equipment being used, with Orlok’s castle and house in Wisborg, both filled with ominous shadows, really work to build the sense of mystery and tension surrounding the titular vampire.

The visual that most feels part of expressionism comes with the vampire himself with a performance centred on a brilliantly developed mime and some make up that, even now, has a creepy edge that seems to almost entirely hide the actor, but in a genuinely effective way.

Greta Schröder as Ellen Hutter in Nosferatu

Greta Schröder as Ellen Hutter

It is when the plot shifts from the mountains of Transylvania and back to Wisborg that the film changes slightly from its source material as the vampire comes to represents a pestilence more than the almost lust driven Dracula and we get a tension building set piece of a town besieged by a perceived plague tat follows the vampire.

The dénouement contrasts a mob chase across the town with the more personal side of the story of Ellen, Hutter and Orlok. So, while the townsfolk chase Knock (this stories answer to Renfield) who they think is responsible for the trouble out of the town, Ellen is left to realise that she is the key to ridding the town of plague, and the world of Orlok.

FW Murnau

F.W. Murnau

This leads to Nosferatu’s key scene as the spindle fingered, shadowy vampire makes his way into the heroines bedroom and, despite knowing the outcome and having seen it done elsewhere so many times, the tension builds to breaking point before the cock crows and the sun rises.

Films from the silent era can often be near incomprehensible beasts as the visual and stylistic language they use is so different from what we see in cinema today.

Here though Murnau uses embryonic versions of a lot of that language to tell a story that rolls along at a fair speed but with enough pacing to build tension and, at times, creeping horror, while also experimenting with what were, at the time, new innovations in location shooting and some basic but well executed special effects.

NosferatuThis makes for a film that, nearly a century on, is not only an historic masterpiece but still an enjoyable and engrossing way to spend 95 minutes.

This new edition, from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema line, also helps as the HD presentation is as crisp as possble and a new recording of the original score really brings the film to life in a way previous DVD and video releases hadn’t quite managed.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel posterOver the last few months I have heard so many good things about Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel that I felt it wise to leave some space between such comments and actually watching the movie.

My main reason for this is that, in the past, I have more often than not found Anderson’s movies at best infuriating – with the notable exception of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – and this, with its cast of familiar faces and otherworldly not quite period setting looked to be another entry in his frustrating canon.

I couldn’t have been much more wrong.

The film starts off with several framing flashbacks, which I have to admit worried me might get a bit gimmicky, particularly with the use of different aspect ratios for the different time periods, but this wasn’t the case as they weren’t over used and, in the case of the framing, fitted perfectly.

'Academy Ratio' in the 1930s set part of the movie

‘Academy Ratio’ in the 1930s set part of the movie

This is part of something that Anderson certainly has always done, in that his films always look very deliberate and, while this can be a frustrating thing, here it suits perfectly.

In fact, I was left with the impression that, much like with Kubrick, everything is exactly as chosen and selected, from a gliding camera move through a wall in the titular hotel’s baths, to a stray letter falling from the stack of correspondence dumped on a table by attorney Vilmos Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum).

This visual style extends to the odd mix of real sets with subtly animated moments that gives the whole thing an otherworldly feel, something this certainly shared in common with The Life Aquatic, which merges with a similar heightened feeling to costumes and props that genuinely drew me in and transported me away to this distant land for 96 minutes or so.

Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave

Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave

Amongst the vast ensemble cast, again all perfectly poised, dressed and positioned, one stands head and shoulders above the rest – Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave, concierge of the hotel, around whom the plot of inheritance, art theft and the outbreak of war revolves.

His performance is extremely mannered but in this context that is perfectly suited, and he is certainly funnier here than I have ever seen him, usually being a serious actor (despite departures into Harry Potter). His performance is delivered with such a brilliant deadpan that M. Gustave remains entirely believable throughout – from his wooing of aged lady hotel guests to one of the most enjoyably fun prison breakout scenes I’ve ever seen.

Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson

It is this sense of fun and a constant movement that I think really carries the film, there is never a moment where something fun (in one way or another) isn’t happening. Whether it’s a simple, yet hugely effective ski and sledge chase or two people in a room having a conversation, something engaging is always going on.

While this really should be the case in all films, it rarely is and makes it really stand out as a highlight here – Anderson even succeeds in making Jude Law a tolerable presence, something I find rarely happens.

The Grand Budapest Hotel was genuinely enthralling and enchanting and, with its slightly bittersweet ending, made sure it never stepped over into becoming a pure confection but remained, like Mendl’s pastries seem to be, a true delight.

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