Monthly Archives: April 2017

Ginger Wildheart – Clout EP

Ginger Wildheart - Clout EP coverA couple of years ago Ginger Wildheart released the four track Clout EP as a bonus for those pledging on his Songs & Words autobiography project. Now a physical, vinyl version has been released to mark the 10th Record Store Day on Saturday 22nd April 2017.

While I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy of the physical EP I have had the tracks floating around my iPod since their original release but not had a listen with my reviewing head on until now.

While he is, in an explicit sense, generally an apolitical songwriter, the four tracks of Clout present Ginger at his most political.

Opener Nelson is as eccentrically abrasive as your likely to hear from Ginger away from his Mutation project and is an intense and deep sonic assault throughout as it presents the conflict between the image of men & masculinity and the perception of heroes.

Benn then switches gears into something that sonically is loosely reminiscent of the second part of The Wildhearts’ All American Homeboy Crowd.

With the only ‘lyrics’ being samples of speeches from late long-standing Labour politician Tony Benn exploring the position of the workers in the capitalist system, this is the most overtly political I remember Ginger being, though, while its point is fairly obvious it is presented without comment which is refreshing given the constant binary side taking of most political discussion.

The second half of the EP goes into more scientific territory but, given the current direction of discussion, particularly that coming out of America, even this has a political angle given the subjects chosen.

Ginger Wildheart

Ginger Wildheart

The two tracks are loosely linked as Darwin, as you might expect, tackles evolution and humanity’s place in the grand scheme of the natural world while You explores the ‘common miracle’ of our individual existence.

Away from the intense opener the other three tracks are slightly more musically relaxed but still retain the wall of sound approach. This makes it reminiscent in many ways of Ginger’s early solo work, particularly moments of Valor Del Corazon and Market Harbour, but even then, sonically, Clout stands apart from the rest of his back catalogue with You being the closest to his classic pop-rock sound.

While each track has its own message and sonic experience Clout comes together as an ultimately uplifting whole, challenging and probing masculinity, politics, science and humanity in a way that makes it a complete work that presents a world view in a noisily expressive way that stands apart from Ginger Wildheart’s other work.

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Undaunted (selected poems 2014-2016) by Attila The Stockbroker

Attila The Stockbroker - UndauntedFor over thirty years Attila The Stockbroker has stood as one of the primary forces in the movement of ranting poetry. Grown from the same place as the second wave of punk in the early 1980s, the ranters were often found on the same stages as their noisier contemporaries, but, like the bands, over the years most have fallen by the wayside in one way or another.

Not so Attila. Following his fascinating and frank autobiography last year comes a new set of his poems, his eighth since 1985, suitably titled Undaunted.

Coming from the same scene that gave us the likes of Crass it’s not surprising that much of Attila’s reputation comes from his rabble rousing rebel ranting, and that is firmly in evidence here.

As up to the minute as it’s possible to be he takes on the targets you’d expect, Trump, Brexit, Farage and May in particular, in his own scathing, satirical and down to earth way.

While the titular poem, one of the books longest, is a more serious affair than many, elsewhere it is Attila’s streak of (appropriately) crass humour that makes this more than an ‘angry old leftie’ having a go with Rock ‘n’ Roll Brexit, Farageland, Theresa The Appeaser and Corbyn Supporters From Hell (a play on one of his earlier works) as highlights.

Attila The Stockbroker on stage with Barnstormer

Attila on stage with Barnstormer at Vale Earth Fair 2014

Along with these though we get another side to Attila, one that has always been there but seems more poignant as he moves on with life, poems that, in many ways, feel they really be credited to John. In these he takes a look a life, death and football in a way that is genuinely poignant.

It would be easy for his words on these subjects to become a bit cliché or over-processed like so much bad food, but his manner and style of writing and description just makes them feel real as in Candid Camera, Auntie Rose and the hugely effecting My Ninth Birthday.

Throughout all of these Attila’s politics still feature whether it’s championing the NHS or highlighting how past Conservative governments have caused tragedy for working class communities but in a less direct way, so it’s My Doctor Martens that pulls the two sides together and exists as a macrocosm of the rest of the collection.

Attila The Stockbroker

Accompanied by some excellent illustrations by Dan Woods (guitarist with Attila’s band, Barnstormer) and (I guess i should admit my involvement) a rather nice photo by yours truly taken at the Vale Earth Fair a few years back, Undaunted see Attila The Stockbroker continue to do just what he’s always done; speak his truth loud, proud and clear with an honesty, wit and humour many he ridicules could do with learning a thing or two about.

Much like his great inspiration John Cooper Clarke, Attila’s work may be best experienced read live and loud by its author but none-the-less the written versions remain hugely effective and effecting and it doesn’t seem there’s any slowing down this undaunted veteran yet.

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I Am Divine

I Am Divine posterContinuing my interest in cult movie documentaries, following the likes of Midnight Movies, Electric Boogaloo, Not Quite Hollywood and Jodorowsky’s Dune, I delved into Jeffrey Schwarz’s film about the ‘muse of John Waters’, Divine, aka Harris Glenn Milstead.

While my awareness of Divine was brief she was certainly a fascinating presence, known to me mostly for the early extreme films of John Waters but later finding a kind of mainstream-cult notoriety in Water’s Hairspray and a suitably surreal looking pop career.

I Am Divine then charts his/her life and career in some detail, not pulling too many punches but clearly coming from an affectionate viewpoint.

While I get the feeling this probably glosses over quite a lot of things, it does mean that many of Divine’s friends and colleagues are present as talking heads which adds a definite authenticity to the story.

Unsurprisingly Waters is a highlight among these whether in archive footage or interviews recorded for the film and it’s clear that the two shared a strange connection which gives much credence to the ‘muse’ notion.

Divine, out of costume

Divine, out of costume

That said there are a few moments where Waters, and others, come dangerously close to appearing to lead the rather naive and enthusiastic young Milstead into quite such a surreal position, particularly when it is revealed that Divine’s name and look were constructed by Waters and his crew of ‘Dreamlanders’, though for the most part it feels that Divine was fairly complicit in this too.

Generally the production of I Am Divine is fairly standard but given the less than standard story it tells this doesn’t really matter as the straight forward interviews reveal an honesty that is essential while the archive footage of Divine both in and out of character helps bring the stories to life.

Away from the Waters link particularly interesting are stories from Holly Woodlawn about Divine’s meeting with Andy Warhol, tales from the time Divine toured as a disco pop performer, including an appearance on Top Of The Pops where British tabloids typically declared the appearance as ‘worse than Boy George’.

Divine in Pink Flamingos

Divine in Pink Flamingos

As with the best of these kind of films it has encouraged me to look further into Waters’ and Divine’s films and gives those I have seen a somewhat new aspect based around the difference between Divine’s on and offstage demeanour.

While all of this is fascinating the thing that really makes I Am Divine something different from many similar profile documentaries is the family and personal story that is threaded through.

This is made all the stronger thanks to the participation of Divine’s own mother.

While this side of the story has its ups and downs it overall is one with as happy an ending as it can have given Divine’s ultimate fate.

In the end I Am Divine is a fascinating, surprisingly touching, film with a story that, while ultimately tragic in many ways, never fails to be uplifting and delivers much of the same message of pride espoused by much of the LGBT+ plus movement and, appropriately enough, the message of The Rocky Horror Show could easily be applied as a message to take from Divine’s life… ‘Don’t dream it, be it!’

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The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski posterWhere does one start with the Coen Brothers take on neo-noir, The Big Lebowski?

Since its release it has often been hailed as a classic (though I’m sure it has its share of naysayers) and has become one of the most quotable films in recent memory. I’ve seen it a good number of times and sat down to rewatch it again recently on something of a whim.

This whim was spawned by a fact that struck me, part way through, as being a bit odd – that despite the fact the plot deals with kidnap, murder and conspiracy it does so in a way that feels cosy, friendly and warm in something of a generic about face.

The story is a rambling one, reminiscent of many classic noir stories, where a young lady is kidnapped, a ransom demanded and a pay off set up that goes wrong as new aspects come to light and the mystery deepens. Where the Coens throw in their twist though is that rather than having a detached, cool, calm and collected private detective in the lead they have… The Dude (Jeff Bridges).

The Dude (“His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing”) is an ageing hippy type who enjoys the simple things in life like bowling, White Russians and Credence Clearwater Revival and it is his presence as the often befuddled core of all the goings on that I think creates the surprisingly homely feel.

The Dude (Jeff Bridges) - The Big Lebowski

The Dude (Jeff Bridges)

Added to this is the fact that, regardless of your social position, The Dude is almost universally relatable.

He is a guy that just wants to get on with his life and is wondering why someone has soiled his rug, someone wants to use him to conceive a child and someone else has roped him into being a go between in a ransom case – while his best friend (John Goodman’s excellent crazed Jewish convert Vietnam vet, Walter) is threatening people with a gun over bowling scores and confusing the mystery plot even further.

What really makes this is a performance from Bridges that is so spot on its hard to separate him from the role as he casually meanders his way through the movie.

Even though it does reach more of a neat conclusion than one might expect The Big Lebowski retains the feel of a rambling, shaggy dog story, that has a ring of truth within a sense of near surrealism.

Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman - The Big Lebowski

The Dude (Bridges), Donnie (Buscemi) and Walter (Goodman)

This is aided by a couple of dream sequences that perfectly fit The Dude’s demeanour and work as almost stand alone moments, the most impressive of which is the second that ties the whole film together in a suggestive musical number to the song Just Dropped In by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition.

The setting of the film also adds to the sense of surreal-realism as this is North Hollywood in the early 1990s.

North Hollywood itself, the less glamorous side to LA, is a location that lends itself to the uniquely odd mix of the real world rubbing shoulders with Hollywood just over the hills and the famed pornography industry of the San Fernando Valley as well as the high end residential area of Beverly Hills and so, in many ways, is a reflection of The Dude and his situation.

While the Dude is certainly our hero the film is rounded off by a very strong cast of supporting characters.

Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore

The Dude and Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) mid dream Sequence

From The Dude’s bowling buddies Walter and Donnie (Steve Buscemi), the titular Lebowski’s assistant, Brandt (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the eccentric artist Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), ‘The Jesus’ (John Turturro) to the excellent Sam Elliott as The Stranger, our narrator, while also being present in the world of the film (possibly).

All of these help create the world of The Dude, a world he and we are sucked into and spat out from across the film and, as is a Coen Brothers trait, they are an excellent ensemble cast of regular players.

While this all sounds a little confusing the Coens wrangle it expertly into a movie that becomes at once as good as one would expect it to be and somehow even better, all while twisting cinematic convention from noir to period in a way unlike anything to come before or since.

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Paper Girls: Volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls Volume 1Generally when I pick up a new comic I have a fair idea what to expect. If it’s Marvel or DC that’s generally the usual superhero fare, while more indie comics will usually be recommended by friends or because there’s a movie or TV show based on it. 

Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls then is something a little different as I took a punt on it based on a combination of the cover art and it being recommended in a few different comic book stores, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Telling the story of four young girls who, while out on their paper round, get embroiled in a mystery apparently spanning time and space the series, which was launched in late 2015, lands firmly in the same kind of zeitgeist as Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Set in the late 1980s the style evokes this excellently and it treads the line of nostalgia and truth brilliantly while its small town America setting just adds to the 80s movie vibe, a little like a more adult The Goonies or slightly more juvenile Back To The Future or The Lost Boys but laced through with the same sense of down to earth grit in the lead characters as all of those.

Paper Girls and objectI don’t want to spoil things in the story too much but, as it goes on, the design of the mysterious, somewhat alien, characters who appear contain the right level of grotesque and scary to again fit this style and, like the best of those 80s movies it doesn’t shy away from getting a bit more graphic than you might initially expect.

Artistically, Chiang’s style is a great mix of simplicity and detail so we get an idea of the settings quickly and easily but with everything we need to know where we are and who the characters are without things becoming over complicated.

It also treads the line between realism and cartoon excellently with some very nice design flourishes in the more fantastic elements. In my experience this is often a highlight of the more independent end of comic books and Chiang is clearly a fine exponent of it.

Erin - Paper Girls

Erin

As a whole then Paper Girls is something of a joy combining a healthy mix of nostalgia and creativity to produce a comic book with a unique feel that captures a current spirit but has everything it should need to be a highlight of the medium for a long time to come.

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Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt by John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke - Ten Years In An Open Necked ShirtWhile I generally don’t have too much bad to say about the education system I went through, there was one thing throughout my studying of English that they never quite managed to transmit – that poetry really is at its best when read aloud.

Certainly some poetry is a written medium with clever use of form, style and language to make its point, but, much like music, the stuff that really grips me is the performed sort… So enter ‘The Bard of Salford’, Dr. John Cooper Clarke.

First published in 1983, his debut printed collection Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt takes the cream of Clarke’s early work, from his days as a pioneering ‘punk poet’ and captures them in text.

While it’s clear throughout that this stuff was written to be read out loud and, even better, performed, if read with Clarke’s harsh, biting accent in mind it works just as well on the page as beat and bop meet punk and pop in a surreal satire of life in northern England in the 1960s and 70s that, in many ways, still rings true today.

Supporting punk bands in the late 1970s, as he came too early for the alternative comedy movement he no doubt helped inspire, gave Clarke’s writing a certain political position but, in reading it, it is vividly apolitical. In this it allows the reader to get an image in their mind and, at times, create a political context for it of their own, while at other times simply get lost in a flight of surreal fantasy that captures an aspect of the popular culture of the time.

John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke (circa 1982)

A couple of specific examples of this could be the triumphant Beezley Street which presents the feel of a hellish nightmare (but probably more realistic) version of (long running soap opera) Coronation Street and it’s sort of opposite Kung-Fu International, obviously capturing the early 70s kung-fu trend through Clarke’s harsh, street level filter.

Throughout things move from bleak to hilarious, often within a verse or stanza, let alone from poem to poem, but all come with a feeling of something that could only have emerged when it did – with The Goons and Spike Milligan clearly as much of an influence as Ginsberg or Kerouac, or Rotten, Vanian, et al.

Along with Clarke’s words the book features some great illustrations by Steve Maguire that work in a similar way to Ralph Steadman’s work with Hunter S. Thompson, though in a less brutally graphic way, but they too capture the mix of surrealism with intense social realism that is a hall-mark of the collection as a whole.

Unlike later punk poets (a trend that really took off in the 1980s) John Cooper Clarke is not a posturing and ranting presence, though he no doubt inspired those and they have their place in the form, but a remote observer. In reading his words you get the feeling he’s been there and done that but this is the view of it from the outside, through those ever-present dark glasses, and in that he timelessly captures life in a way any other media or style couldn’t quite manage.

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The Lego Batman Movie

The Lego Batman Movie posterWhile the initial idea of The Lego Movie was, at first, somewhat of an odd one, the final product was one of the highlights of recent family cinema so it wasn’t surprising when a sequel was announced fairly swiftly.

The fact that this sequel would be The Lego Batman Movie, focussing on the Lego version of the DC superhero, a highlight of The Lego Movie but ultimately a bit part, just added to the surprises around the franchise.

Opening with Batman foiling one of The Joker’s schemes to destroy Gotham, all the tropes of Batman are quickly established, but added to this is the knowing, post-modern humour that made this Batman such a highlight of the previous film.

The first chunk of the film relies heavily on this and, while the action, animation and characters are well done it’s the reference heavy humour that is its strong suit.

Lego Batman and Robin

Lego Batman and Robin

After this of course a plot is required to fill out the rest of the movie and really this is the film’s weakest element. It tries to balance a further nefarious plan from The Joker with a focus on Batman’s ever-present loneliness including the introduction of a new cinematic Robin, but all with a suitably lighthearted tone (this certainly isn’t Ben Affleck’s dark and brooding version of the character from Batman Vs Superman).

While it’s still fun the slightly forced plot causes the middle section to drag a bit and it is more predictable, both in terms of story and jokes, than it could have been.

The final act brings the same feel as the first back, closing things on a high point with nods to all the previous screen versions of Batman, including the often overlooked 1960s Adam West incarnation, along with guest appearances from pretty much every villainous character Lego have licence to use from Daleks to Voldemort and way beyond.

The Lego Joker

The Lego Joker

As a whole the voice cast are very good with Will Arnett’s Batman being an excellent standout. However, while Zach Galifianakis does a good turn as Joker, it’s hard to escape the fact he simply isn’t Mark Hamill who has been the most consistently effective versions of the character, vocally at least.

While it doesn’t quite live up to The Lego Movie, I’m not sure how it could as that film’s inventiveness is of course being replicated here to some degree, The Lego Batman Movie is none-the-less great fun with enough to appeal to all the family on various levels and with enough surprises to, mostly, keep it going along very well if not quite being the standout many had hoped for.

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Acoustic Night with Blue Mountains, Mick Le Huray, Richey Powers and Llewellyn Van Eeden – The Fermain Tavern – 08/04/17

Richey Powers

Richey Powers

After a jam night and an international Folk Americana night, Guernsey Gigs continued their run of shows at The Fermain Tavern by inviting four acoustic acts on to the stage. Spanning veterans of the scene to new performers the night featured a mix of sounds, once again in a relaxed ‘club’ style setting.

First up was Llewellyn Van Eeden. Having played open mic nights and a few smaller gigs including a set on the busking stage at last year’s Vale Earth Fair, this was only my second chance to catch him play and, for the most part, it was an enjoyable performance.

With a blues feel to the majority of his set, Van Eeden added a nice abrasive edge that didn’t feel forced to a fairly standard sound.

Llewellyn Van Eeden

Llewellyn Van Eeden

Adding a harmonica to a few songs rounded it off, albeit in still standard way, and, combined with a relatively easy-going nature on stage, made for a nice way to start the night.

Later in the set we were treated to a folkier song in Afrikaans before the set closed on a pair of what can only be described as ‘pirate folk’ that, while a little novelty, were good fun and went down very well with the audience.

While better known as frontman of psychedelic folk beast The Recks, Richey Powers had the opportunity to show a slightly different side of himself going solo. For the most part it was what you’d expect with folk sounds from various traditions rubbing shoulders with something of an American indie rock sensibility.

Richey Powers

Richey Powers

Much like with The Recks, Richey’s songs were often long, and in a solo setting a little over long on a couple of occasions, but generally were engrossing rides that drew the audience in.

The solo setting also gave us the chance to hear the more intricate side of Richey’s playing that often gets lost in the multilayered sound of The Recks.

With Frugal Heart providing a nice highlight the set then ended with a more intense stomping blues-y song that, if nothing else, proved a good pair of Cuban heels can work just as effectively as an amplified stomp box.

Mick Le Huray is a longstanding member of Guernsey’s music and folk scene and has been a fixture of the Sark Folk Festival since its inception and many events before. With his first solo album recorded and released in the last year he has found something of a new lease of life and that was evident here.

Mick Le Huray and Andrew Degnen

Mick Le Huray and Andrew Degnen

Accompanied by Andrew Degnen on fiddle, Mick played a set strong with the feel of the 1960s folk revival delivered with a real sense of feeling and humility. Andrew’s violin expanded the sound nicely but didn’t help the set dragging a little in the middle for me when it went a little too traditional folk for my tastes.

A song with Guernsey French lyrics and a more upbeat closer brought Mick’s set to an end on a high point though and made a nice contrast to the two younger solo performers that came before.

In trio mode tonight Blue Mountains delivered a set made up of many songs, but all continued their journey into a melancholy side of dark Americana.

Colleen Irven and Mike Bonsall of Blue Mountains

Colleen Irven and Mike Bonsall of Blue Mountains

With Andrew Degnen’s fiddle and a few tracks where Mike Bonsall swapped from guitar to banjo, Blue Mountains new songs expanded their range of sounds but it was the harmonies and style that remained at the heart of their songs.

A real highlight of the new songs came with Hummingbird, while We Come & Go shifted things into slightly more upbeat territory towards the end of the set, it was just a shame the audience had drifted away somewhat by this stage of the night.

Rounding the night off on a great vocal harmony moment to close their take on Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Girl, Blue Mountains concluded things on a high point and, as this gig was clearly promoted as the first in a series, I hope to see more music of this quality in this relaxed setting going forward.

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

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Oasis: Supersonic

Oasis Supersonic posterIn the mid-1990s there was something of a gap in the area of credible, popular music. Following the rave and ‘Madchester’ scenes in the UK and the influx of grunge from the US (halted somewhat overnight in the eyes of the mainstream with the death of Kurt Cobain) something different needed to emerge to fill that void, that something became known as Britpop.

Britpop was (as these things often are) a mishmash of sounds and styles all loosely stemming from British based guitar bands so there was Pulp (already veterans of the scene), Blur (less ‘kitchen sink’ in approach than many of their contemporaries) and, arguably, sat atop the pile, was Oasis.

If you grew up in the UK in the mid-1990s its very hard to believe you weren’t part of this movement on some level or other, either you were a fan of one of the bands (it seems you had to be on a certain ‘team’) or you hated all of it and, much like punk rock, even that added fuel to the movement.

Now, twenty years from its peak, Oasis: Supersonic looks back at the formation and rise of the band that came define the style.

The film tells this story using both new interviews and archive clips of the band and surrounding characters, but of course the protagonists are the Gallagher Brothers, Noel (songwriter and guitarist) and Liam (singer).

Oasis on stage

Oasis on stage

Stylistically the film does some interesting things. We don’t get standard, sit down, talking head clips of the leads, instead the audio of their interviews (often with subtitles, I’m assuming for the American market where their Mancunian accents may be more impenetrable) is overlaid on footage or photo montages of something roughly around what they are talking about.

In this we get some amazing sights, from the brothers childhood, which by all accounts was rough on all of them, but they both make it clear they don’t carry that any kind of device for gaining sympathy, to the early days of the band where, if everything here is accurate, they were followed around almost constantly by people with video or film cameras – something that today is commonplace but in the mid-90s is fairly astonishing.

In these moments is where the sense that this was somewhat a constructed reality started to creep in. Understandably the film is very much on side with the Gallaghers, they were both executive producers, but at the same time it doesn’t entirely shy away from their troubles, albeit in a slight tidied up manner.

Liam and Noel Gallagher

Liam and Noel Gallagher

Generally though, much like in the work of Julien Temple (who I can’t not refer to when looking at a music documentary), any ‘construction’ of the reality is done to help tell the story within the allotted running time.

As the story goes on and the band hit their stride, being signed by Alan McGee to Creation Records and then making their debut album and heading out on the road, it becomes a non-stop ride and captures the chaos of this excellently through its montage approach. Included in this are well placed cuts back to Manchester and their family and youth when it reflects moments of their adult life.

Particularly impressive here is the section dealing with the recording of their debut, Definitely, Maybe, which captures an aspect of the inexplicable alchemy that goes into a record going from a few good songs, to a classic product that has stood the test of time now more than two decades on.

The second act of the film treads many of the same paths as other music documentaries as the band teeters on the brink of self-destruction but the openness of the Gallagher’s interviews (particularly Noel’s) does add an interesting new insight into just how these things can happen. Of course, heading to America and discovering new drugs is a major contributing factor.

Oasis knebworth site

The crowd at Knebworth

The film is bookended by the band’s peak (and arguable final moment of relevance) playing sold out shows at Knebworth, dubbed the biggest rock ‘n’ roll shows in British history. The movie does a great job of capturing the atmosphere and place in history of this event, as the Gallaghers say, before music became taken over by talent shows and the internet.

While this view may be slightly overstating it, the film shows there is a certain element of truth to this and it is a nice point to end on as going too much further would have just been watching a band tailspin for a further half decade before finally entirely imploding.

As a whole Supersonic is a celebratory affair looking at a creative and revolutionary period, not just for Oasis but for British music as a whole, as elements of punk and the 60s ‘British invasion’ merged into something new and fresh and equally relevant to their time all held together by a mix of great stories and storytelling and some songs lodged in the heads of anyone who was discovering music at that time.

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Ghost In The Shell (2017)

Ghost In The Shell posterSince it’s release in 1995 the anime of Ghost In The Shell has become one of the touchstones of not only Japanese animated films breaking through into western culture (along with the likes of Akira and the Miyazaki films) but has become a heavy influence on science fiction cinema of many sorts from The Matrix to Dredd and beyond.

So now, some 22 years later, the long developing ‘Hollywood remake’ has hit the multiplexes with Scarlett Johansson leading an international cast, also including Juliet Binoche and ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano.

The story here concerns Johansson’s Major Mira Killian, a cyborg member of a kind of top-secret law enforcement agency, and her teams mission to take out a mysterious new threat who is killing off high level scientists from the company who created the Major’s robotic body. From there things head into a fairly predictable conspiracy plot.

While there’s nothing wrong with the plot per se, and it does use the conspiracy to explore a similar notion to the earlier animated version, it is hampered hugely by a near total lack of definition in the characters all of whom are at best two-dimensional renderings of fairly well-worn stereotypes – even Major who of all the roles has the most scope for something more.

Scarlett Johansson as Major Mira Killian - Ghost in the Shell

Johansson as Major

While this same criticism could be levelled at many of today’s blockbusters everything around the central group of characters just feels somewhat bland with a script that relies too much on spoken exposition to both move the story on and labour its point with visuals that, while technically impressive, never wow like it feels they should and display no sense of flair or originality.

Given the fact at least some of the cast are known talents it’s hard not to conclude that a major part of the problem lies with director Rupert Sanders, the man previously responsible for Snow White And The Huntsman which had many similar problems.

On top of this came the fact that there is a sense that Ghost In The Shell was produced somewhat ‘by committee’, trying to simultaneously target both the mainstream American (western) movie audience, the increasingly important Chinese market, the Japanese market and fans of the original.

Ghost in the Shell - Batou and team

The rest of Major’s team

While the original anime version of the film helped establish new tropes of future urban dystopia this version does little to build on that, strangely giving it a feeling that it is copying the very things the original influenced both visually and in terms of its story and characters.

This all comes together to leave a film that, while not technically bad, just feels flat and uninspired which, given the legacy of its progenitor, makes it a massive disappointment and a missed opportunity that probably arrived two decades too late, if it ever even needed to arrive at all.

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