Monthly Archives: May 2015

BBC Introducing Guernsey: May 2015 – The Recks in session and Blakalaska

The Recks at BBC Guernsey 2

The Recks in session

Click here to listen to the show

After making their triumphant return to the stage following a nine month absence on Liberation Day I caught up with Sark based five-piece The Recks to find out what they’ve been and to record a special acoustic session with them debuting four brand new songs for the May 2015 edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey.

As well as The Recks I spoke to BLAKALASKA about their upcoming debut EP and they gave me a preview of the three tracks.

As well as that I took a look at the acts playing the first BBC Introducing Guernsey live stage that is coming up on Arts Sunday and some of the bands playing next month’s Chaos festival.

You can listen to the show for the next 30 days on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here.

Tracklist

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Eureka Machines and Honest Crooks – The Fermain Tavern – 24/05/15

Eureka Machines

Eureka Machines

On the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May 2015 Leeds pop-rockers Eureka Machines brought their UK tour to The Fermain Tavern in Guernsey.

Having built quite a reputation for their high energy, upbeat shows over the last few years their was a strong Guernsey contingent of fans on hand, along with some from Jersey and even some who’d made the trip from the UK for the show that also featured Guernsey’s ska-punks Honest Crooks and (in DJ mode) The Phantom Cosmonaut.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here, and my review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 30th May 2015 and is below.

Eureka Machines review scan 1 - 30:05:15

Eureka Machines review scan 2 - 30:05:15

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Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV

Citizen Toxie posterAs always when I comes to Troma there are two ways of looking at their movies; the first is the way in which you approach any other film, but this would just lead to a review that entirely missed the point of the production, the other is, of course to go with it and get lost (as best as possible) in the ensuing exploitation mayhem.

Positioning itself as a direct sequel to the first Toxic Avenger a debate could be had about what this means to the overall story, but again that would be largely pointless as the film barely manages to hold a plot together.

What plot there is though is a new twist on the previous Toxie tales as, in a Star Trek like fashion, our hero is transported to an alternate, evil, dimension and his counterpart ends up back in Tromaville and all hell breaks loose.

This all follows a protracted opening sequence that sees the Tromaville School For The Very Special attacked by a marauding gang of the ‘Diaper Mafia’ which sets the bar high for schlock and sick jokes.

Citizen Toxie

Toxie does some disemboweling

In some ‘classic’ Troma moments we see a man’s finger sharpened before being stabbed through his own head, a fairly full on disembowelment and ‘re-embowelment’ and a man with his head, literally, up his arse before being decapitated.

While this is going on we get various bodily excretion moments which push the joke to and beyond breaking point while one of the gang and one of the school’s pupils fondle each other in the background.

This sets the tone for the whole hour and fifty minutes which makes this something of a perfect storm of both Troma and exploitation cinema in general.

Ron Jeremy in Citizen Toxie

Ron Jeremy as Tromaville’s mayor

Crammed in, seemingly wherever they may fall, is abundant gore, sex (of pretty much all kinds you can get away in an 18 rated film that isn’t all out porn), hugely politically incorrect humour (it seems the main target here is the mentally disabled), Nazis, the KKK and many cameos spanning the pop culture spectrum from Stan Lee to Lemmy Kilmister to Ron Jeremy.

Unsurprisingly, even when viewed in context, this scatter shot approach comes with varying levels of success spanning a great little spoof on The Phantom Menace and Toxie as Noxie (his evil counterpart) square off to a scene where one of the aforementioned school’s students tries to sell another for drugs.

This non-stop schlock approach also leads to the film becoming exceptionally tiring, as there is never a chance to breath and take stock before something else is happening and, unfortunately, the hit rate isn’t as high as it might be and a lot of the charm of the earlier movies is lost as Citizen Toxie looks surprisingly high budget posing as something much cheaper (though its far from a high budget movie).

Toxie and Sarah

Toxie and Sarah

Something I really missed here that was a highlight of the other two sequels (Toxic Avenger Part II and The Last Temptation of Toxie) was the performance of Toxie’s wife Sarah which added a big chunk of the genuinely surreal when played by Phoebe Legere, here though that is missing and, while the appearance of Sgt Kabukiman NYPD does try to bring back a bit of the surreal tone it is ultimately missing.

In the end Citizen Toxie is, in many ways, the ultimate Troma experience condensed into one film but, for me, it was missing something of the surreal charm of their better output replaced by further pushing the sleazier end of their work.

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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

“Through the darkness of future past

The magican longs to see

One chance out between two worlds:

Fire walk with me”

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me posterBefore even embarking on Twin Peaks I had been warned that, despite it being a prequel (of sorts), Fire Walk With Me was best left until the end, and, before I go any further I would suggest the same to anyone else who hasn’t yet seen the full TV series.

Well, now I’ve watched it all, I can entirely see why as, without a knowledge of the ins and outs of at least the basic ‘who killed Laura Palmer’ thread this would be entirely nonsense – and even with that knowledge it teeters perilously close to this anyway.

Over the years though I have often learnt that this is something that director and co-creator David Lynch does and, most of the time, he seems to hold things together just enough.

Plot wise the film starts of with FBI Regional Chief Gordon Cole (Lynch) getting the call that a body has been found that matches an ongoing investigation so he calls in Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) to investigate. This turns out to be a precursor to the Laura Palmer case and is instantly drenched in the paranormal goings on that gradually built across the TV show.

David Lynch as Gordon Cole

David Lynch as Gordon Cole

Here we encounter the first problem of the film. The slow build of the TV series, in a recognisable generic context, served to draw the viewer along as their expectation was confounded time and again, but in stages. Here no real convention is set as from the off this is clearly not the campy soap/Americana setting of the show, but there isn’t time to establish anything else before we are plunged back into the Red Room.

Thrown into the midst of this is a nearly unexplained cameo from David Bowie that, while it’s always nice to see Bowie, just serves to further escalate the weird and ends up seemingly over clarifying the essential mystery of the show. Though this being David Lynch things are never actually fully explained (thankfully).

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer

The second part of the film takes us to Twin Peaks itself and charts the final days of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) that lead into the TV series, with the odd reflection or interjection from Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in the Red Room.

Unfortunately, what made the TV series work so well, once again the generic conventions of a murder mystery and soap, are missing and the feel is much more that of a teenage horror, but it never quite coalesces entirely to riff on that satisfactorily. Though the denouement heads for Suspirialike levels of Grand Guignol surrealism.

The other issue is that, of course, if you’ve seen the TV series, you already know what’s going to happen.

Where Fire Walk With Me becomes most successful is in its further deepening the creepiness of Killer BOB (and his alter ego) as he becomes a primal and feral presence as we see him both in the Red Room and ‘real world’ contexts.

In the end Fire Walk With Me feels like a piece of fan-fiction filling in gaps that didn’t need filling in, and reading Lynch’s own comments on why he made the film (since I watched it) I’m not surprised I felt this way.

Sheryl Lee and Kyle MacLachlan

Sheryl Lee and Kyle MacLachlan

While the filling in of the gaps is entirely unessential it is interesting to see Lynch’s own view of this, but there were points where I couldn’t help wondering whether this even counts as canon to the TV series or whether it is purely a flight of speculative fancy.

While an engaging two hours, with some genuinely horrific and disturbing scenes, Fire Walk With Me can’t help but feel like an add-on to something that didn’t really need adding too or further explaining. Though it leaves much unanswered and does ask a few more questions that, if we’re lucky, might be explored in the upcoming new TV series.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five ArmiesAfter six films and 15 years I have finally reached the end of Peter Jackson’s ‘Middle Earth Saga’ with the third of his movies based on JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit; The Battle of the Five Armies.

Certain things are to be expected by this stage in a series and, on many counts, this doesn’t disappoint. For two hours and twenty minutes we are treated to a visual feast mixing live action with photo-real computer generated animations and, as has become the series’ trademark, indistinguishable performance capture.

From the start The Battle of the Five Armies doesn’t let up dropping us into the heart of Smaug’s attack on Laketown, where the previous film ended. As it goes on we see a range of conflict from the personal and small-scale (Thorin’s inner battle and conflict with his loyal band) to the genuinely epic (the titular climactic clash, that goes on for around half the film).

While this makes for an amazing spectacle, there are points where I found it hard to engage with what was going on. This was especially noticeable in the opening sequence where, unless you’d just watched the previous movie, there was no chance to really re-acquaint yourself with the many characters.

Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen

Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen

As the film goes on reconnection does occur and a few of the hints of the character work that made the previous films, particularly the Lord of the Rings series, so engaging return.

This is particularly evident when the real top-level actors in the cast are given their time away from the near non-stop action, with Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman doing a great job of taking dialogue that could be painfully ridiculous and delivering with real scenery chewing conviction, but also a sense of fun.

Cameos from Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett also have this quality, though they are brief and, unfortunately, there are many points where no one is given much chance to actually act as action takes centre stage.

Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman

Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman

The main issue the film has is that throughout, it feels like a third act so, while an attempt is made to make it work in its own terms, this is never successful. This means that watching The Battle of the Five Armies in isolation is a strange experience that is, ultimately, less than satisfying.

In its climactic moments though the film does manage to pull back something of the grandeur that marked Lord of the Rings, and even the previous Hobbit films as Thorin’s story (which really is what a lot of this series has been about) reaches its climax and the wheels are set in motion that lead into Frodo and company’s adventures.

Though once again the entire saga’s Deus Ex Machina, the giant eagles, strike again.

The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five ArmiesWhile The Battle of the Five Armies may not be the epic conclusion that I can’t help but feel such a vast saga should have, it is certainly a spectacular and enjoyable visual feast. That said I can’t help but feel it will work much better when viewed closely alongside the other films in the series.

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JT Rocks on Liberation Day – North Beach, St Peter Port – 09/05/15

The Recks on Liberation Day 2015

The Recks

Saturday 9th May in Guernsey saw the island celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Occupation during the Second World War. Along with the traditional cavalcade along the seafront and all sorts of other things the evening was given over to live music on the JT Rocks stage organised by Centre Stage.

The first half of the evening was dedicated to original music from the islands with Asylum Seekas, Buffalo Huddleston, The Recks and Static Alice, before the fireworks and two of Guernsey’s most celebrated tribute style acts Fade2Grey and King Rat & The Soul Cats.

You can see my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review, which was printed in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 16th May, is below:

Liberation Day 2015 review scan - 16:05:15

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Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks bluray coverIn the 25 years since its first broadcast Twin Peaks has become a genuinely cult television series with aficionados debating seemingly every second of the show to explore its hidden (or not so hidden) meanings and in that it has become hugely influential on a lot of TV (and general pop culture) that was to follow.

Particular to this was the mid-1990s trend for supernatural themed TV that peaked with The X-Files and almost certainly led to the likes of Lost having a home on international TV. But, for a newcomer, what charms would David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks have two and a half decades on?

Going into my first watch of Twin Peaks I knew very little, simply that it was set in a remote town on the US/Canada border and that the general theme was a murder mystery with the body of a local girl called Laura Palmer being the catalyst for everything that was to follow.

For the first, shorter, season of the two, my expectations weren’t far wrong as I was plunged into an almost soap opera like setting with a host of characters; from our maguffin chasing lead, FBI Agent Dale Cooper (the always convincing, Kyle MacLachlan) down to seemingly bit part players of the various, eccentric, townsfolk.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

As the series goes on a more esoteric thread is gradually introduced through Agent Cooper and his various visions that seem at odds to the almost heightened, soapy, feel of the rest of the show. All this builds to create at atmosphere that could only come from the mind of David Lynch.

Given the extra scope of a TV series, compared to a movie, this off kilter feel is explored with great success and gradually builds in such a way that it becomes simply part of the nature of life in this town.

While some of this leads to some funny moments, that always feel intentional, the main arc of Laura’s murder and Agent Cooper’s investigation always has a serious feeling to it and the series actually deals with some pretty serious themes as the bodies pile up and drug running and prostitution get added to the mystery.

The Log Lady

The Log Lady

Ending on a great cliffhanger Season One of Twin Peaks is a tight, undeniably weird, murder mystery with hints of Lynch’s ever present theme of exploring behind the veneer of, so-called ‘normal’, small town American life.

While season one seemed content to merely hint and suggest at a paranormal aspect from the start of its second season Twin Peaks escalated this and never let up. As intrigue and mystery piled on top of one another the plot does waver at times as it develops from a relative simple murder mystery into something much more.

To the show runners’ credit despite this escalation in scale it never really loses sense of its underlying feeling of peeling back the skin of Americana as everything is heightened and cranked up further and further.

Twin Peaks - The Red Room

The Red Room

Again there is some great comedy, particular coming in Lynch’s cameo as deaf FBI chief Gordon Cole and this is very welcome as other threads becoming increasingly disturbing – particularly those surrounding the mysterious BOB and Agent Cooper’s former FBI agent partner.

The most impressive thing as the series continues is how the various, often separate storylines, are intertwined and all join together as we head towards the dénouement.

Even 25 years later it seems wrong to spoil the ending of Twin Peaks, but its safe to say that the concluding few episodes capitalise on all that’s come before to create something the likes of which I’ve never seen in a supposedly mainstream TV show.

Twin Peaks opening titles

The original opening titles

Across both series the soundtrack and score, from Angelo Badalamenti, is a permanent fixture, often leading the action and emotion of the action or counterpointing it with reverb drenched twangy guitar and bass tones that hint at Lynch’s love of 50s rock ‘n’ roll and, in this, suit the off-centre Americana of the series.

With a movie (Fire Walk With Me) following soon after and a new series in the pipeline as I write, its clear that Twin Peaks had a strong, lasting effect on pop culture and, while I know there’s a lot more to it than one watch could ever give, it more than stands up 25 years down the road as both a landmark series and genuinely fascinating and enjoyable experience that I would describe as essential viewing for any fan of modern television.

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Cobain: Montage of Heck

Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck posterThe number of words written about the life (and more specifically the death) of Kurt Cobain are innumerable. Equally several documentaries have tried to explore both the young man from Aberdeen, Washington and the band he fronted (Nirvana, as if you didn’t know) in the years since 1994, but few have been in any way satisfactory.

In Montage of Heck, director Brett Morgen takes a slightly different angle on things. Gone is any speculation and largely gone is the view of Kurt as a rock ‘n’ roll mega-star (though in some of the interviews, particularly with his mother and wife this does sneak in) leaving us with the story of Cobain’s life as if he was any other person.

It just happens this person’s life involves being dubbed ‘the voice of a disaffected generation’, headlining Reading Festival and releasing one of the defining albums of the 1990s.

If you’ve read Charles R. Cross’ biography, Heavier Than Heaven, or any of the other writings about Cobain, the general story won’t be that surprising, but what Morgen manages to do is bring this to life in a way I’ve not seen before.

Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain

Using a mix of archive video (a lot shot by Kurt and his companions), animation (often based on Kurt’s own artwork), archive interviews with Kurt and newly recorded interviews with his friends and relations, Morgen paints a vivid picture of a troubled, ultimately tragic, life in a way that doesn’t paint Cobain as anything but a man.

This delivery is, for the two-hour and twelve-minute running time, intense and raw, particularly in the early scenes that are the least obviously documented aspects of Cobain’s life – his time growing up in Aberdeen.

With archive footage of the snowy town and some great animations Cobain’s early years are painted as troubled and, for want of a better word, ‘dark’.

Montage of Heck animationThis view is backed up by his own voice telling stories of jumping from house to house as he stayed with different relatives, petty crime, bullying and drug use.

On top of this we get candid interviews with his mother, father and stepmother that really don’t hold back – with his stepmother coming across as the most analytical and his father still seeming as distant as he is described by Kurt.

As the film continues things get loud and don’t rarely let up, save for a few sequences following the birth of Kurt and Courtney Love’s daughter Frances that actually have some genuinely cute and touching moments, before the inevitable ending. Though, in once again doing something a bit different, Morgen doesn’t dwell on Cobain’s already well-documented death.

Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love

Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love

While there are some great snippets of live footage and input from Krist Novoselic, if you’re looking for a complete look at Nirvana this isn’t the film for you.

As a documentary Montage of Heck came as close as any to evoking something of the style of Julien Temple, while also having something of Morgen’s own, particularly in the soundtrack, that sheds new light on a well covered story and really brings to life the story of Kurt Donald Cobain in a genuinely intense way without ever succumbing to the standard telling that makes him into some kind of martyr for a generation.

and, just because, one of my favourite (from a list of many) Nirvana moments:

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Witchfinder General

Witchfinder General posterOn paper almost everything about Michael Reeve’s 1968 horror masterpiece, Witchfinder General, suggests a film that shouldn’t really work.

Taking the style of Hammer, melding it with the incoming violence of ‘The New Hollywood’, casting an American as a notorious British historical icon and filming on location in East Anglia smacks of a production gone awry before the camera even rolls, but somehow Reeves took this and constructed something that has entered the lexicon of popular culture.

The film recounts a fictionalised version of the exploits of Matthew Hopkins, a man seemingly self-described as England’s Witchfinder General, as he wrought a wave of terror across East Anglia at the height of the English civil war.

In this version he encounters and condemns a priest whose niece is betrothed to one of Cromwell’s soldiers, vowing revenge the soldier hunts down Hopkins to the film increasingly brutal dénouement.

Vincent Price in Witchfinder General

Vincent Price

The 1960s, Hammer like, style in which the film is shot, for the most part, makes the countryside look genuinely stricken and barren with very few people, and those encountered clearly terrified of either the war or the witchfinder. This combined with the opening where we see a woman being taken to the gallows and hanged sets the scene for what is to come.

The script and much of the acting is, at best, workman-like but the film centres on the charismatic presence of Vincent Price as Hopkins and, as ever, he dominates.

Even speaking with his distinctive American twang and his wryly ‘knowing’ manner he becomes a threatening figure with simply a well-placed look (much like his work in The Abominable Dr Phibes).

Ian Ogilvy and Hilary Dwyer in Witchfinder General

Ian Ogilvy and Hilary Dwyer

This is particularly noticeable during the judging and torture of the aforementioned priest where he and two more accused witches are dangled (for want of a better word) into a river. Throughout the scene Price’s Hopkins stands separate to the almost Python-esque mob and we see him observing through varying levels of close up which builds tension in a phenomenal way that never lets up for the rest of the movie.

The film became notorious for its violence and, while it’s not as graphic as some more modern fare, the particular style of violence is still amazingly effective. Often perpetrated to accused women and with much screaming and harsh sound effects, on top of lashings of ‘Kensington Gore’, it all adds to the view of the true brutality of Hopkins work.

Vincent Price and Robert Russell in Witchfinder General

Price and Robert Russell

Added to this the knowledge that, somewhere along the line, there is a hint of fact in all this, serves to heighten it even further making it clear why the film is still considered horrific enough to receive an 18 rating from the BBFC.

The final masterstroke that elevates the film comes in that it both opens and closes with a harsh, scream and a horrific scene and, while some things come to resolution, it is left open-ended in such a way as to merely hint at the horrors perpetrated by Hopkins in the name of God and the horrors of war and acts in the name of God to follow.

On top of all of this the film never lets up, across its 87 minutes it is packed with chases, action and horror in the way of the best of exploitation cinema. All of this combines to create a movie that with very good reason is still highly regarded along with the likes of The Wicker Man as something that marks a high point of British horror cinema.

and, as a bonus, because its a song a like a lot, here’s Hopkins (Witchfinder General) by Cathedral:

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Thee Jenerators – Jenerator X

Thee Jenerators - Jenerator XHaving recently picked up a copy of Mystery Man, the lead single from Thee Jenerators debut LP, I thought I’d take a look back at the album but found my original review was no longer available on the BBC Guernsey website. So here is a slightly updated and revised version of that review (originally published in August 2006).

Jenerator X

The debut full length release by Thee Jenerators, released through Twist Records in 2003, does many things, but the most important one that manages to capture something of the band’s formidable live energy on disc.

As soon as I put Jenerator X into my stereo I knew I was in for something a bit different, looking at the case it says there are 10 tracks, but the display said it was only 18 minutes long, ‘surely this couldn’t be right?’ I thought.

Having now listened to the album I know it was right and 18 minutes was the perfect length for this set of songs.

Steve and Mark in 2007

Steve and Mark in 2007

Blasting through 10 tracks in a way I didn’t think possible Thee Jenerators prove that speed of sound does not always mean thrashing through half-formed ideas like some lesser punk bands would, as here they present fully formed tunes in spaces no longer than 2 and half minutes. And they seem to prove that less speed can equal more pace.

Starting out with a minute of storming mod-ish rock ‘n’ roll in Dirty Water the four-piece continue in a similar vein throughout, defying any specific genre definition by constantly modulating through eras and genres with ease. At times they sound like they fell out of the 1960s while at other times flirting with mid 90’s guitar acts (and falling into any number of styles in between).

The band’s sound is constantly underpinned by a fuzzy, rumbling, bass line from Steve Lynch (now of The Electric Shakes) that holds down every track on the album.

Thee Jenerators - Mystery Man

Mystery Man single cover, featuring the original line up

This is augmented by the powerhouse drums of Stuart ‘Ozzy’ Austin, the over driven guitar of Matt Stephen and the howling vocals of Mark Le Gallez to produce a sound that doesn’t come from the world of solos and posing but from the down and dirty garage rock scene providing a united sound of a truly together band who know what they’re doing and why.

After listening to the record all I wanted to do was dance that leads me to believe that this disc captures the bands live energy, as its rare that feeling truly over takes listening to a CD through headphones.

Highlights on the album come in the form of singles Fight The Power and Mystery Man (featuring a familiar sounding voice credited to ‘Blind Jack Lazarus’) along with guaranteed dancefloor filler Shakin’ Shake. These three songs also serve to highlight the diversity of themes in Le Gallez’s songwriting which ranges from the political to the personal to celebratory but all in his own inimitable style.

As a debut ‘full-length’ release, or any release, this is an excellent example of quality song writing, musicianship and most importantly heart and soul, and looking back on it now set up exactly what was to come as the band expanded and evolved onwards.

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