Wednesday, 24 August 2016

GANDALF'S FIST - "The Clockwork Fabel" Album Review

I have an odd relationship with prog music, as it seems to either bore me to death or excite me enormously. I love It Bites, Flying Colours, Frost and the like, and as a younger man enjoyed IQ and Pallas, as well as Fish era Marillion. I’m telling you all this so you can see I like prog that has a bit of rock in it, not just meandering 15 minute yawn-fests that are atmospheric rather than fun. Much has been said about this, the 6th Gandalf’s Fist album, and I just had to have a listen for myself. That was a month ago, and I’m finally able to give it a proper review.

The reason it’s taken so long is that “The Clockwork Fable” is a three disc concept album that really has to be listened to as a whole to appreciate what the band have done, and finding a spare three hours these days is a tricky thing! Mind you, it’s well worth rearranging your schedule for this little beauty. Telling the story of a future civilisation forced to live underground after the sun fizzles out, this is a tale of good, evil, daftness and badgers. It’s all tied to a realization that the sun has returned and the desperation of those in power to make sure no one is able to leave the city and clarify this.

The meat of the story is contained in full cast excerpts, generally between each musical track. All kudos must be thrown at the band here, as not only have they got decent actors in, but they’ve also written a compelling narrative with a script that never sounds clunky. Background noise and music add a tremendous atmosphere to these parts, and an intrinsic sense of humour staves off any potential boredom as you catch all sorts of gems hidden in the conversations. Elsewhere, of course, is the music, and this takes the challenge set by the story parts and runs with it. If you want to imagine ELP, Marillion, Jon Mitchell and Iron Maiden getting together to write an opera you wouldn’t be far out. Guest artists like Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) and Blaze Bayley make a definite impression, and relative unknown Melissa Hollick fills out the sung parts of Eve (the main female character) beautifully. Bayley himself is in fine voice here, shining through the twelve minute “The Sign Of The Aperture” like a metal beacon.

So why has the UK concept album got full marks? To be honest, it’s probably second only to Jeff Wayne’s “War Of The Worlds” in terms of carefully plotted, musically diverse storytelling. This makes Rush’s “Clockwork Angels” look like a child’s poem scrawled on a post-it note. Masterful in every way and a real joy to experience, this is simply the best prog album that has ever been released, raising the bar for every concept album that will follow. When it rocks, it rocks hard, and when it progs it progs with passion, Just remember - beware of the badgers…

Band Site

Friday, 5 August 2016


The folks at Warner/DC must know that there's a lot riding on this one. After the critical mauling that greeted “Batman V Superman” they need a film that comic fans can get behind. The success of “Deadpool” showed that audiences can handle heroes that aren't exactly heroes, so what better than a whole screen full of murderers and fruit loops? “Suicide Squad” was always going to be a film that needed a firm hand to balance the outlandish characters and even make the audience like them, despite their crimes. That hand has been provided by David Ayer, the man behind such gems as “Training Day”, “Fury” and, um, “S.W.A.T”. 

There has been some criticism about the plot, which is your usual 'big bad nasty thing wants to kill everyone' kind of thing, although with what I felt was a quite neat set up. This doesn't really bother me as what I'm really interested in is the members of the titular squad. The main characters are all introduced at the beginning of the movie, as government cold hearted bitch Amanda Waller lays down her plans for an expendable task force. It's a simple way of getting people up to speed, and it works. When shit hits the fan very soon afterwards, it's time to go to work. 

So it's time to look at who we've got, and it's certainly a mixed bag. Bottom on the pile is Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang, who doesn't have much to do just comes across as a nob. This is the only character, however, who should have been written out before filming. Top of the pile, unsurprisingly, is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Another alumni of the “Neighbours” hot actress machine, she absolutely nails the character, helped by a spot on script. Harley is the heart and soul of the film, the tornado of insanity that draws everyone in. A close second is Will Smith as Deadshot, perhaps the most well rounded character and the one given the most opportunities for an actual personality. Smith does his usual job of playing Will Smith, but he suits the movie so what the heck.

Another side of the coin is Jay Hernandez as a heavily tattooed Diablo. The script makes the pyrotrechnic genuinely remoreseful for his crimes, and gives the character a real depth. Elsewhere, Adewale Akinnuove-Agbaje is buried under make up as Killer Croc, and doesn't really get to show much of what he can do, whilst Joel Kinnaman does his best with soldier hero Rick Flag, a decidedly two dimensional character. Much more interesting is Karen Fukuhara's Katana, given just enough back story to elevate her from “Slashy ninja” status. Jarde Leto's Joker has, naturally, got the lion's share of publicity, which is odd because he isn't in the film that much. When he is he seems to be trying too hard, and the Joker is more of a cheap 1930's gangster than a powerful insane crime boss.

So I'm not going to spoil anything here, suffice to say that “Suicide Squad” overcomes a basic plot structure to emerge victorious, thanks to some spot on characterisation, decent acting and a script that actually has plenty of laughs in it as well as violence and baseball bats. Margot Robbie will set a fair few teenage loins throbbing, and I really hope her and Leto are allowed to turn things up a notch for the next Batman movie. There are quite a few sly nods to the source material that fans will delight in (The John Ostrander building, anyone?), and by the end you'll be rooting for a bunch of murdering thugs. Well, except Captain Boomerang, anyway.



Monday, 25 July 2016

THE KILLING JOKE - Animated Film Review

It has long been held that Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's 1988 graphic novel “The Killing Joke” is one of the best Batman standalone tales ever told. A gritty script, coupled with sumptuous art, means it stays in the mind long after it's 64 pages have been devoured. Moore, in typical grumpy style, as said that he 'never really liked it', and found it 'far too violent and sexualized'. Odd quotes from a man who had the final say in the script, but let's be honest he's always been an odd bugger. You won't find Moore's name anywhere in the credits to this brand new animated version, simply because that's what he wanted, happy to see all monies go to artist Brian Bolland.

After thoroughly enjoying the 'comic to screen' animated version of Frank Miller's “Dark Knight Returns”, I was still sceptical about this one, mainly because it was never going to look like the comic. Bolland is and was one of the best, most detailed comic artists about, and no way was anyone going to be able to do him justice. As expected, this is in DC's house style, farmed out to the far east presumably to cut costs. It looks as okay as the company's other output, with slightly jerky animation due to a lack of frames and some nice touches throughout. 

Comics stalwart Brian Azarello handles the script, and because the source material is only good for about 40 minutes he gives us a pointless extended prologue involving Batgirl, Batman and a villain who has no involvement or relevance to the main story. Batgirl fans should probably skip this, as it really doesn't do her any favours. Once it gets to the actual source material, Azarello lifts dialogue wholesale, even down to the Joker's “I Go Loony” song. This is not, however, a bad thing, as Moore's dialogue is always a pleasure to read or hear, and for the most part doesn't suffer from the shift to animation.

So this is really a mixed bag, with the first half coming across like a separate episode from the TV series that's been bolted on, and the second half doing a good job of living up to the title. After watching it I felt like I wanted to read the comic again, as it's so much better, something I didn't feel so much after “The dark Knight Returns”. Whatever Moore thinks, it's a superbly good read, and will always get recommended over this version. “The Killing Joke” animated is simply an adaptation that wasn't needed, and succeeds mostly in watering down a great piece of literature. There have been a few moans about it's 'adult' themes, but there really is nothing too graphic, although the script does add in a needless extra scene to let you know that the Joker gets horny when he escapes. File under 'watch once then forget'.


Monday, 11 July 2016


Are you afraid of ghosts? I suppose most people would be, but lately it seems that people are much more afraid of reboots, less like reboots and more like big hobnailed boots stomping over beloved memories. 'Ghostbusters' main mistake was a rather unfunny first trailer that suggested that Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy's team up magic had finally spluttered out. The second trailer was much better, but once the naysayers had grabbed on to the first they were NOT letting go, no siree!

So the good news for Feig fans is that 'Ghostbusters' in 2016 is almost as enjoyable as the original. A definite reboot and not a sequel, it nonetheless acknowledges the original with some nice touches and a few well placed cameos that serve to pass the baton. Everyone was well aware that they had some pretty huge shows to fill, and obviously put a lot of work in, with the end result a well acted, well written and technically impressive whole.

Our four Ghostbusters are equipped with the scariest things known to misogynist muppets – female genitalia! They also come equipped with four actual personalities that are very well realized by the actresses concerned. Standout is Kate McKinnon, who seems to be channelling Tank Girl (wait for THAT to be offered very soon) as a very quirky genius, her marvellous face lighting up the screen as the characters weirdness is allowed to play around on it. Melissa McCarthy is quite restrained compared to her other roles with Feig but does her usual stand up job, with Kristen Wiig the sensible one who seems to have been possessed by Jennifer Aniston. Leslie Jones plays the only non scientist in the crew, but comes armed with a prodigious knowledge of New York and a bagful of sass. The icing on top is Chris Hemsworth, who plays their thick as a donut receptionist, showing a nice talent for comedy whilst he does it. 

The special effects are what you'd expect from a big budget film today, and the ghosts all look terrific. There's a return for a couple of non human characters that will delight some, and may even bring smiles from the grumpy gits. Children will certainly have a few scares (as in the original), and the script allows for jumps and laughs equally well. Much like the original it has an action finale that by necessity ramps down the humour but even so gives you plenty to cheer for and chuckle at.

So 'Ghostbusters' is a really good film. There: I said it. I'm happy to slate a film if I don't like it (I walked out of the godawful new Ice Age film last week) but for most of this I had a goofy smile on my face and gave a few decent belly laughs. The female switch doesn't matter one jot, it only allows you to see four awesome actresses rather than actors. It's wonderful that once again bustin' makes me feel goooood.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Hello, My Name Is Doris - Film Review

This isn't the normal type of film I tend to review here, as there's no spaceships or superheroes in sight, and the only horror is Sally Field without her make up. No. Scratch that, as Sally Field is what makes this move worth reviewing and indeed watching, and the gal looks great for a woman of nearly seventy.

Field plays the eponymous Doris, a woman who has lived all her life with her mother, and when her mother dies she feels understandably lost. She fixates on a handsome young guy at work, John (Max Greenfield), increasingly convinced that there could be something between them, despite that fact she is about 35 years older than him. So she basically stalks him, including using a fake Facebook profile to find out what he likes. Unexpectedly, this gives Doris a new lase of life as she gets out and about and comes out of her shell for the first time in her life. She's weird, but as John says it's "a good weird".

If looked at cynically, 'Hello, My Name Is Doris' is a film about a creepy old lady stalking a young guy, and it could easily have been just that. The thing is, the writing and acting make it a sweet, funny film about a woman coming to terms with a new chapter opening in her life. Sally Field is wonderful, imbuing Doris with genuine character, whilst many of the supporting cast (including Tyne Daley) themselves do a bang up job in fleshing out a relatively simple story.

'Hello, My Name Is Doris' (taken from her name badge at a self help seminar) is a film that will likely bypass most people, but I hope that some of you read this review and maybe check it out when it pops up on Netflix or whatever. Genuinely funny at times, quite charming and deeper than you'd think, this is a film that can be enjoyed on many levels.

Friday, 29 April 2016


Unlike a certain other superhero film recently released, 'Captain America: Civil War' is unlikely to polarize opinion. It's a Marvel film, you see, and despite being the relative newcomers to the 'film your own characters' school, they're rapidly risen to top of the class, knocking out hit after hit by simply understanding what their fans want. Civil War is no exception, and is unsurprisingly much more than a 'who would win in a fight between...' punch fest.

Although Cap gets title billing here, Civil War is basically Avengers 3, following directly on from Age Of Ultron. We open with The Avengers kicking are as usual, but again as usual it's impossible to avoid civilian casualties when there's guns and bombs all over the place. One explosion later and the team are basically ordered to become an official task force, answerable to that most despicable of things: a committee. Tony Stark sees the sense in this, whilst Cap doesn't trust people to not have self interest and also to allow them to react quick enough. There's only one way to settle this...

So the scene is set, as The Avengers split into pro and anti factions. To actually get fists flying, however, you need a reason. Enter The Winter Soldier, last seen disappearing after saving Cap in The Winter Soldier movie. With Bucky seemingly to blame for a terrible international incident, Cap decides to grab him before the officials can, setting him squarely against Iron Man, now firmly doing what he's told. Cue stand off...

As I said earlier, this is much more than a simple series of hero on hero scraps, although the main one is a doozy. Not only do we get our usual Marvel suspects, but there's also the introduction of The Black Panther and a certain kid in a red and blue onesie. Both are handled exceptionally well, and you will be gagging for the Black Panther movie by the end, not to mention 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' in 2017. Add to this a nice return to the screen for Paul Rudd's Ant Man and the two and a half hours (yes, really) will fly by.

Much like the last Captain America film, Civil War gives a damn about plot, and a decent amount of time is spent actually having one and talking about it. The Winter Soldier is once again the device that gives the plot momentum, and poor old Bucky looks like he'll never escape his Hydra brainwashing. Whilst it's a Captain America film, Tony Stark and Iron Man are given plenty of screen time as Stark's demons are fully explored, pushing him towards an inevitable showdown. Again, it's a pretty serious film, but unlike a certain other film it finds time to make you smile as well. I mean, who'd make a two and a half hour superhero film without any light moments at all? Oh yeah....

Bold, bright, brash and brilliant, 'Captain America: Civil War' stand up alongside Marvel's other movies, and whilst some have said it's the best yet, I'd say it depends on what you're looking for. The joy of the Marvel movies is that they each tend to have something different, and to compare this to, say, 'Guardians Of The Galaxy' is pretty daft. Suffice to say it's faults are few and far between, it maintains a large cast without short changing anyone, and it's not full of plot holes. Chris Evans remains as perhaps the best piece of casting in the superhero genre, with new Spidey Tom Holland and Black Panther Chad Boseman each owning the screen as nervy kid and moody warrior respectively. Once again, when asked what kind of comic based films work best, the answer is 'make Mine Marvel'. Excelsior!

Wednesday, 27 April 2016


Ya know, this wasn’t supposed to be that good. Okay, so the kid looks the part, sure, and there’s so much beautiful CGI that calling it “live action” is kinda misleading, but how good can the actual film be? Six, maybe seven out of ten if we’re lucky? Well, if you were of a similar mindset you may be surprised and delighted by Disney’s retelling of their classic animated adventure, as it’s bold, surprising and red in tooth and claw.

You all know the story by now, concerning young Mowgli who is abandoned/orphaned in the jungle and raised by the animals, who all talk and often sing jolly songs. He has to be taken to the humans village before nasty tiger Shere Khan eats him, because Shere Khan is like that. This basic story is kept to, and we also get Mowgli’s main buddies Baloo the bear and Bagheera the Panther, as well as Christopher Walken’s unsettling King Louie, now a gigantic Orang-utan whose rendition of ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ is anything but jolly.

The selling point of this new version is the CGI, and it looks fantastic. From the vibrant jungle to the animals within it, it never looks anything less than real. The whole movie is a feast for the eyes, with many small touches that add character to the smallest animal. Stuck in the middle of all this is Neel Sethi, who in all honesty does an excellent job of acting against green screen for one so young. He looks perfect, and if he’s only ever remembered for this one performance it will be a fine legacy to leave. The vocal performances, too, are almost universally excellent, with Bill Murray’s Baloo and Idris Elba’s Shere Khan standing out, Elba’s charming menace working beautifully with by far the best CGI character in the movie.

The only mistake, for me, is Christopher Walken’s King Louie, as he just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film. Making the character a giant also seemed like a step too far, as oddly it takes you out of the realism. The inclusion of the song was also a mistake, as it has zero charm and 100% creepy menace, unlike ‘Bare Necessities‘, which is slotted in naturally. Aside from this, though, I have no other criticism.

The Jungle Book is a wonderful film. It doesn’t shy away from the violence of the jungle, all of which is down to Shere Khan, a more evil, brutal figure than ever before. The supporting characters, notably the wolf pack that raised Mowgli, are always given their own traits and quirks, and you never get the feeling they are anything less than real. Ultimately this is an exciting, funny and charming film for all, although Shere Khan may terrify young children. Bad kitty!