Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Greatest Showman (PG)

One look at the trailer and I knew I wasn't going to like this film - and I don't mean casual, can live without, ambivalent dislike.

I mean anger raging, steaming coming out of ears, hating myself for still sitting there when the credits rolled levels of dislike.

Did you see the bloody thing? Just two and a half minutes was enough to make me take a diabetes test, so sweet and saccharine was the singing and the dancing and the loving and the blah blah blah.

So, naturally, fully aware of my aversion to enforced jollity and general fun, The Good Lady Popcorn decided this was the only film we could possibly go and see....

And it's about bloody P. T. Barnum for crying out loud. The man who made it his life's work forcing people to enjoy themselves.

With singing.

Actual singing.

And dancing.

Singing and dancing.

With Hugh Jackman.

Basically a Les Mis and La La Land mash-up.

Why would you do it to yourself?

"No, you don't have to, you can go watch something else and I'll see you afterwards..."

Yeah, right, we all know the rules. No way that doesn't come back and bite me on the butt.

So there we are. Lights down, film rolling, generally wondering about our life choices and how it all came to this....

...then, 100 minutes later, we leave, still humming the songs and wondering if the soundtrack is available.

(It is).


Well, I'll tell you...

For a start, the songs are just damn good. They're infectious. Catchy. Foot-tapping. They grab you right in the feels.

Then there's the cast.

Jackman as Barnam is just brilliant - the sod can sing, dance, act, have fun and transmit the fun he's having right through the camera and off the screen.

Then there's Michelle Williams. Woefully underused, but still able to steal every scene she's in.

Then there's some young chancer called Zac Efron who manages to not be annoying, Rebecca Ferguson is simply stunning, Zendaya is understated - and the whole thing is just a big ball of fun.

The story is simple - man has mad idea, carries out mad idea, more mad stuff happens, big finale - but it's brought to life with such passion and enthusiasm you can't help but be swept along.

It also helps that the songs are both very modern in their stylings but also have half a foot in someone else's camp.

(The tune with Jackman and Efron is basically Panic! At The Disco, Ferguson gets to play Adele)

And this is just one of the many things that make it work.

It's well written, well filmed, well acted, and, well, a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Where La La Land fell down was it felt contrived, it was trying too hard.

Showman, however, has mastered the trick of acting like it doesn't care.

All those involved are having fun, and if you do as well - well that's just an added bonus.

But in a world of forced emotions, or harrowing tales, or superheroes, or Saw films, a movie that is just a pleasure to enjoy is a rare thing and one to be cherished.

It's not high drama or high art, but who cares when you find yourself singing the songs three days later.

(Yes, we've ordered the soundtrack)

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Albums Of The Year 2017

Over in our corner of the world, 2017's music can be pretty much broken down into two clear categories - the return of much loved bands and protest albums.

And feck, do we need protest albums right now.

There were some lovely deluxe re-issues kicking about, care of Marillion, Def Leppard and Whitesnake, while LA Guns, Vain, Warriour Soul, Alice Cooper, Mr Big (none of whom are hip or trendy) all returned with albums that stand proudly alongside the best of their respective back catalogues.

Also returning were Living Colour, with an album so strong it was a shame they ever wandered off.

Public Enemy also gave us a fantastic slab of vinyl (in old money), while Dua Lipa proved that she was able to live up to the hype.

Also returning after a long lay off were Life Of Agony, with an album that is as brutal as it is personal.

Then there was this little lot...

10) Deep Purple - inFinite

Purple have been around so long people seem to have almost forgotten they exist, but with inFinite they proved they can still hold their own. Blues-tinged rockers with infectious, catchy choruses caught us quite by surprise. We were even more surprised when we realised just how much we loved this album. Gillan has stopped screaming and sounds better than ever.

9) Roger Waters - Is This The Life We Really Want

The first of the protest albums to make the top 10, Waters is back to doing what he does best - making angry songs about the state of the world. Kicking out at the state of the Middle East and Trump among others, it's an album that recalls a certain band from his past - which given that they've now packed up, is no bad thing. Another that found itself on repeat...

8) Gun - Favourite Pleasure

When Glasgow's Gun first hit our ears, we were both a lot younger but jeez they were good. Their third album, Swagger, is still one of our all-time favourites. Sadly, they then went in a different direction and so did we. So it was with some reservations that we approached Favourite Pleasures. Reservations that disappeared within minutes of the opening track. An album full of the old swagger, giant choruses, lovely fuzzy guitars and a whole heap of joy and fun. It's simply a great rock album and needs to be played loud.

7) Maximo Park - Risk To Exist

While not obviously a protest album, the Maximo boys have clearly had enough of living in Theresa May's Britain. While the sound mixes the more recent electronic dalliances with their older style, lyrically the band are standing up for the little guy and highlighting just how shitty life is right now for those of us who don't have a spare house and buckets of wealth. While it doesn't smash you over the head it makes its point loud and clear.

6) Thunder - Rip It Up

While we can hear Father's eyes roll from here, Thunder are a bloody good band. They've had their ups and downs, sure, and other than the early 90s they've never been deemed trendy, but that hasn't stopped them and it shouldn't stop you. Having reasserted themselves with Wonder Days, Rip It Up sees them pushing things further and taking more risks, with tracks such as In Another Life crawling into your brain and staying there for days.

5) Body Count - Bloodlust

In case you've missed the memo, life for a lot of black people in America is pretty crap right now. Regular shootings, record numbers in jail, the rise of fascism - it's not really a shock that Ice-T is among those who's royally pissed at the state of things. Which in one way is a good thing, because we get albums like this. The venom pours from the speakers, the guitars rip your head off, the drums pound you into submission and over the top Ice-T snarls and rages about the injustices he sees every day. It's time we heard what he, and others, are saying. (Oh and watch out, the video has a few swears).

4) Therapy? - Communion: Live At Union Chapel

For those of a certain age, Therapy? were a great band who made a lot of noise on Top Of The Pops at a time when people thought Oasis were a rock band. And while the spotlight of fame may have moved on to lesser targets, Andy Cairns and the gang cared not a jot and carried on doing what they do - to great affect, too. Their last couple of albums have been among their best work, and now they've packed away the electric guitars and taken all those noisy songs you love and stripped them down to an acoustic set. What this shows is just how good their songs are, just how good Cairn's lyrics are (check out the opening line to Potato Junkie) and also just how frickin' funny a frontman he is. We've already got our tickets for next year's tour with The Stranglers.

3) Prophets Of Rage - Prophets Of Rage

Like Ice-T and Roger Waters, Tom Morello has had enough of what's happening in America right now. A clown is in the White House and it's time we all did something about it. Hence Prophets Of Rage. Taking three quarters of Rage Against The Machine and adding a hefty dose of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, prophets have produced a fantastic album of pounding rhythms and infectious chants to help us on our way to the barricades. And they're pulling no punches.

2) Linkin Park - One More Light

We'll be honest, despite all the great music that came out in 2017 it was a pretty shit year. First we lost Chris Cornell, and then we lost Chester Bennington. Even typing that now it still doesn't seem real. But if there's any silver lining to be found, it's in One More Light. An album that split the fans and saw LP branch off in yet another new direction, One More Light now stands as a testament to Chester's singing and songwriting. But this album isn't at number two out of any sense of tribute, it's here because it's up there with the best stuff LP have ever produced. It's deeply personal, highly infectious and after the third listen it's been on near permanent rotation ever since.

1) Public Service Broadcasting - Every Valley

As I may have mentioned before, Public Service Broadcasting are a band that really shouldn't work. They take public archive recordings and set them to music. Doesn't sound much, does it? And yet, with every album they take things to another level. Having dealt with space, their attention has now turned to the mining industry of Wales - once a thriving, vibrant centre of a warm, loving community until the Tories decided buying it in from abroad made more sense. Over the course of Every Valley we get the full story - from the PR telling people they had jobs for years to interviews with those left wondering where their world had gone. It's beautiful, it's majestic, but it's also anger-inducing. especially when you realise that the publicity videos were shot in the 1970s, mere years before the mines were closed. It's a quiet protest album, but it's also an album about humanity, about community, and about how those in charge really don't give a crap when the chips are down.

Til next year (assuming the world hasn't burnt or blown up by then)...

Films Of The Year 2017

Looking back on 2017 and the films there in, the first thing you realise is we actually got to see some REALLY good films last year.

We mean some absolute belters.

In fact, our top 10 is so strong there are some crackers that we had to leave out.

Films like Justice League, Thor, Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool, The Last Jedi and Mindhorn all entertained and impressed immensely - in at least two cases, far more than was expected.

Then there was Baywatch. Sure, never likely to be a top 10 contender, but who knew it was going to be that funny? or fun?

But, as ever, it wasn't all jam. There was some dross too.

How 47 Metres Down made it as far as the big screen will remain one of life's mysteries, while Kong: Skull Island and Atomic Blonde both managed to miss their mark by some distance.

Then there was Boss Baby. If you haven't seen it yet, don't.

So, if that's what missed out, what made it in?

Glad you asked...

10) Wind River

There are people who's opinion I value who really didn't take to this film, but for us it was breathtaking and captivating. A western in all but name, the way it allowed the murder mystery to unfold while also highlighting the plight of today's Native Americans was brilliant. And the scenery was amazing.

9) Baby Driver

Yes, we know this film has problems now we know what we know about Kevin Spacey, but one man's despicable actions shouldn't detract from what is a fantastic rollercoaster of a movie. The music is a character in it's own right, and Edgar Wright keeps the pace up and the energy pumping from the get-go. Oh, and Ansel Elgort steals the whole damn show.

8) Logan

Wolverine has never been a character who sat well in the sanitised Marvel cinematic universe - he's supposed to swear, he's supposed to be a bit nasty, he's supposed to be the dirt under everyone's nails. Now, thanks to Deadpool proving you could do swears and still make money we finally get a grown up Wolverine movie. Hugh Jackman is the titular star, delivering one of his finest performances, while Patrick Stewart is perfect as the ailing Prof X. It's brutal, it's bloody, it's sweary, and it packs serious emotional punch.

7) Moonlight

The year got off to an amazingly strong start, and one of the front runners for the awards (which it justifiably won) was Moonlight. Telling the story of a boy growing up, coming to terms with his sexuality, his mum's addiction and life as an outsider among his peers it captivates from the off and holds you close without ever getting mawkish.

6) Free Fire
What do you want us to say? This is a brutally violent film that pulls no punches and had us laughing our socks off throughout. A stellar cast, Ben Wheatley at the helm, bullets flying fast and free like early morning Trump Tweets - this is just a whole bunch of brilliant.

5) Goodbye Christopher Robin

Two of my childhood heroes were to appear on the big screen this year, kinda, and both are bears. I grew up with Pooh, and so the chance to see the story of his creator A.A. Milne was one that warmed the cockles even before we sat down. What we were expecting was a gentle stroll through Bear's history, but what we got was a tale of lost childhood, traumatised war veterans and an ending that made the screen go blurry.

4) Hidden Figures

Oscar films, you can spot 'em a mile off. Worthy story, well told etc etc, but somehow always feeling a bit forced, like they're trying too hard. well, not this baby. The story of the black women who helped get Nasa beat the Russians in to space needs telling now more than ever, and Hidden Figures does such a good job that when you aren't laughing out loud you're getting angry at how black people were treated under segregation. This needs to be seen by everyone.

3) Get Out

"Hey, have you seen that horror film yet" we got asked a while back by someone who couldn't remember the title. Turns out they meant Get Out, which while billed as a horror isn't one. It's so much more (as all good horror films should be). Again tackling the issue of race, Get Out eases you in gently before gripping you and refusing to let go in exactly the way 47 Metres Down didn't. Smart, witty, sharp - this could have been film of the year if it wasn't for...

2) Paddington 2

Now, we thought long and hard about this. Possibly more so than would seem necessary, but this is a list and lists matter. And this could have been number one. It's better than the first Paddington. It's funny, smart, soft, caring, has a desperately needed central message, and an ending that was greeting with universal sniffles in the cinema every time we saw it. It's nothing short of magic. It would have to take something special to keep marmalade sandwiches off top spot, wouldn't it?

1) T2 Trainspotting

If you've waited 20 years to put out a sequel, the obvious question is why bother? Who cares this far down the line? The people who worshipped at the alter of the original will have grown up and moved on, no? Well, that was always the point - so have the characters. And so have we. None of us are the person we were 20 years ago, and to be honest I'm not sure we came out of this screening the same person we went in. In the hands of Danny Boyle, a potential disaster is turned into an unmitigated triumph. You'll laugh, you'll cry (there's one track on the soundtrack that someone we know still can't listen to) and if you're anything like us you'll be unable to speak after the film ends for fear of just bawling your eyes out. It's a simply wonderful, masterful piece of storytelling that can stand proudly alongside the original. 

Right, onwards with 2018....

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Pitch Perfect 3 (12A)

Sequels, as any fan of the Police Academy films will tell you, are a tricky beast.

The initial idea will need a spruce, some new characters may be needed to jazz things up a tad, or worst of all you may need a new location.

If you're really struggling for inspiration, why not go for the whole lot?

Which brings us to Pitch Perfect 3....

Now, as an avowed fan of the first two, I was really looking forward to this. Anna Kendrick is a comic tour de force as Beca, and the rest of the gang aren't far behind.

Now, what made the first two films so much fun was the 'underdog' aspect. A bunch of unwanteds against the world, shunned by their peers and clawing their way back up.

Plus singing.

It was simple. And funny. And sharp. And hilarious.

And PP2 was more of the similar. Just with the vocals turned up to 11.

So why, oh why, oh why, did they have to try the Are You Being Served (or Sex In The City 2 as my other half observed) trick of taking the gang on holiday?

I can kind of understand the decision to pitch the Bellas up against actual musical instruments - I can even get on board with the underlying theme of daddy issues (although this would have made far more sense in the first one).

But do we gain anything by taking the girls to Europe? by having them play at various US bases?

No. Sadly we don't.

What we get as a result is a heartwarming first 40 minutes, with the people we know and love, a few good gags and a shark balloon being punched.

And then we get the lovely, feel-good ending we all wanted.

In between we have three different stories going on, none of them strong enough to survive on their own, and John Lithgow doing a terrible Australian accent.

It can't be stated enough that the central performances are all great.

That's not the problem.

The issue is within the script.

And, oddly, with the inclusion of Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins - the bitchy pundits from the first two films.

With there no being no contest this time around, Banks and Higgins are relegated to bit-parts as the pair try and create a documentary about the Bellas for no apparent reason.

It doesn't give the pair space to shine, for their one-liners to be of use and it just adds extra confusion to an already muddled narrative.

The songs are, as ever, great, but there are too many issues for PP3 to be put up there with the first two.

There is even talk of younger girls coming in so the franchise can flourish, but based on this you have to hope someone somewhere sees sense.

I wanted to love this film as much as the first two.

I at least wanted to laugh as much.

But, despite a strong start and great ending, I was just left with the shock realisation that Baywatch was actually a more entertaining movie.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (12A)

I'm old enough to remember a time when we had to wait a few years for a sequel we didn't even know we were getting.

Years, my friend. Years.

No Rogue One-style filler films to keep us ticking over, keep the franchise warm. Just three cold years to find out You Know Who was You Know What.

Then another three long years before the Ewoks arrived. As for the 16 years we had to wait to discover Ja Ja Binks existed...

I mention this because, in between going to watch The Last Jedi and finding a spare moment to actually commit thoughts to screen, a few angry fanboys have appeared on the ol' radar.

Fanboys angry that things happen to certain characters that they're not happy about. Angry that other stories in a completely different medium (books to you, squish) have been ignored in pursuit of the story that follows on from The Force Awakens.

Oh, and they weren't happy with The Force Awakens, either. Too derivative. Not original enough.

The Last Jedi, however, is too dark, not like TFA. Too different.

I realise the irony of saying this in an online review, but if you have nothing better to do with your life than moan about a film over which you have no control I suggest you get out more.

You see, and this is important so you might want to write this down, The Last Jedi is just a film.

Just frippery. Entertainment. You could never see it and your life wouldn't change one iota. Not a singular jot.

And this is, I think, something that a certain section of fans have forgotten.

You think Disney have mucked about with the franchise? You think the story has been warped, or not respected?

That ship sailed when George Lucas discovered he'd always meant to tell the first three films second and the second three films first.

Once you've watched all the previous films come and go, or watched how the sands of time have ebbed and flowed around Star Trek or Doctor Who, you realise that if you don't like something, you can walk away.

No one is making you sit there, hating your life because *cough* goes and *cough cough cough* while *cough* helps.

You see, if THAT bit of THIS film has upset you so much, you weren't paying enough attention to Empire Strikes Back.

It happened then too.

What also happened back then was the second film was a lot darker in tone than the first, there were complicated relationship issues and a somewhat cold planet.

In all honesty, The Last Jedi hasn't fallen very far from the tree.

And, much like The Force Awakens, this is not a bad thing.

Where Episode VII followed Episode IV (as it got called much later on), so VIII follows V.

It's more different (Christ that's bad English), but it's also a bit the same.

There are good things here, and there are bad.

The good includes some great one liners, amazing battle scenes that have you holding your breath and some genuine character development and depth for Kylo Ren.

On the downside, it's a smidge too long, and the different story strands are more thrown together than seamlessly entwined.

But - and this really is key here - it's fun.

It's dark, there are fatalities galore and there are Porgs.

The spirit of the franchise is maintained, the goodwill reclaimed by Force is extended and Finn, Ray and Poe all grow as characters, becoming more fully-rounded and great to spend time with.

I get that having a close emotional attachment to something can shape your view of things - and I say that as someone who saw Empire on the big screen first time around.

But with age should some a level of wisdom, and the realisation that these films are just entertainment. They're there to amuse for a couple of hours.

And despite the running time, entertain it does. You'll laugh, you'll well up, you'll hold your breath, you'll wonder how much a Lego Dreadnought would cost.*

All as long as you remember it's meant to be fun...

*OK, that last one might just be us.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

What to get the music-loving film fan who has almost everything (at the last minute)...

What's that? It's almost Christmas? And you have no idea what to get your other half, who loves the movies but also happens to have a penchant for rock music?

Well, why didn't you say...

You see, here at Popcorn Towers, we kind of fall into that category, and this year especially this seems to be a handy as there have been quite a few knocking about.

So lets us sort the wheat from the chaff, the bum notes from the slick licks if you will. Now get your skates on, you've only got a week's shopping left...

Now, this being Chrimbo time, you'll be wanting something a bit special no doubt - and while there are three that certainly fit the bill (musical tastes permitting, obviously), they do not come cheap.

First up is Def Leppard's Hysteria 30th Anniversary (yeah, I know, right?) deluxe edition, which will set you back an eye-watering £80 - but you do get a lot of bang for your buck.

Alongside the original album, there are two CDs worth of remixes and B-sides, two discs of a live recording from the '87 tour and not one but two DVDs.

All this on top of the four books and a poster (although frankly, the person who can afford this grew out of posters on their wall some time ago).

And the DVDs are almost worth the money. The first is simply the promo videos and Top of The Pops performances (for our overseas readers, Pops was a music programme which ran for many years but we've subsequently found out was presented by sex pests).

The second is a Classic Albums documentary, which sure you can catch on VH1 every now and then - but this comes with the stuff they took out, and here lie the gems.

Quips about Steve Clarke ("either a genius or an idiot" muses the bass player), chats about how things were written, record and mixed - these are all ticks on the geekie fan list, trust me.

Plus the whole thing comes in a lovely big box, so it looks fantastic on the shelf.

Can't argue with that, can you?

Well, you can if you're a Whitesnake fan I guess.

Slithering along the same lines, David Coverdale brings us his 30th Anniversary box set bonanza of 1987, the album that redefined his career.

Which would feel quite special if I didn't already own the 20th Anniversary double CD version...

So what do we get in this ickle, actually half the price of Leppard's one, box of tricks then?


Four CDs, a DVD, two books and a poster (again, WHY???), as you ask - and, on the whole, it's worth the money.

Glossing over Coverdale's endless urge to change the track listing of this album, the first CD is pretty much what you'd expect, while disc two is a 'bootleg' of a show from the 1987's tour as it passed through Japan.

I say 'bootleg', it's just slightly below par in the production department, but hey ho - it's fine enough.

The real gem here is disc three, '87 Evolutions, in which we are taken from rough demo to almost finished song through the course of each track - and to hear how songs such as Still Of The Night and Is This Love took shape is genuinely fascinating.

You can probably live without the remixes on disc four to be honest, which then brings us to the DVD. What should be the showpiece of the whole thing.

Sadly, this is where it kind of falls a bit flat.

Watching the famous, career-breaking videos back-to-back simply makes you realise that the only thing that seemed to change was the song. They all look pretty much the same.

The 'making of' documentary is interesting enough, if only because Coverdale's plummy English accent is just wonderful. It's like he's doing all he can to forget he's from the North East of England.

Finishing off with a couple of live bits and bobs, the DVD does seem to finish rather quickly and leave you looking at the box wondering if it was worth unwrapping.

Which is a shame, because after 30 years there must be far more to say about this album, given he went in to the studio not knowing if his voice would actually work, almost bankrupted himself, and sacked everyone the minute it was recorded.

Still, nice box.

A far nicer, and if I'm honest swankier and plusher, deluxe box set wotsit comes from the lovely guys in Marillion, who have been given the anniversary treatment by EMI two years late.

As with Hysteria and 1987, Misplaced Childhood was the album that put Marillion smack in the middle of the mainstream - not a place they necessarily wanted to be, but there you go.

Wrapped in a fantastic, textured hard-back book, which features photos, lyrics and the story of the album, we get a remixed version of the album, two discs live from Holland on the Childhood tour, plus a disc of B-sides and demos.

All of them worth your time and hard-earned £45.

To cap it all off is the BluRay (not DVD you'll note), which features 5.1 surround mixes of the album, the promo videos of the singles and a documentary where the original five guys get together to look back on their career landmark.

And it's this that is so worth the watch.

When the band split with frontman Fish there were quips, barbs and insults being hurled about in just about every interview any of them gave, so to see them sitting together, hatches buried, like old friends is a delight.

Some of us were quite upset when  they fell out you know...

The behinds the scenes look at an album the record company didn't actually want, and that sold millions against the odds, is a great way to recall just what these 10 songs mean.

And it has stood the test of time.

Now, we appreciate that the ones reviewed so far as a little hard on those on tighter budgets, but thankfully there are some nice little gems at the more affordable end of the market.

First up is Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare Special Edition.

At a mere £10 of your earth pounds, this DVD contains both the 1976 concert film Coop shot off the back of his smash hit album - his first fully solo, having got shot of the rest of the band.

And it's a fun old show.

Now. we no fans of just watching a concert at home - because what's the point? A live show should be just that, with someone standing too close, someone else obscuring your view and two other berks talking through the whole thing.

These are key parts of the performance experience that can't be replicated.

But it's different with Alice.

He has dancers, people in spider costumes (FYI, if you really hate spiders you'll struggle with this), new material (at the time), classic songs - it's a proper SHOW.

But the selling point here is The Nightmare, the 1975 TV special shot with Vincent Price where by Alice tells the story of the Nightmare with spooky effects, a new narrative, the songs in a different order, and a slightly spaced expression on his face.

It's probably fair to say his wasn't exactly sober when he shot this.

But that doesn't matter when we are treated to a camp, spooky spectacular with dancing skeletons, more spiders, Vincent Price looming large over the whole thing and a furry cyclops.

Nope, me neither, but it's there.

What both of these things capture is a man having fun. Sure, he's drunk, but he always was back then, but the man is a born vaudeville star. Sure he writes good songs, but he's all about the theatre.

And both of the performances capture him at his camp, spooky best.

Speaking of concert films, Black Sabbath bring us The End.

Not, as you might hope, the cinematic release which featured their farewell show in Birmingham intercut with interviews (which is great btw), but just the show.

Sure, you get the "extras" of four songs played in a rehearsal studio three days later, but, well, big woop.

You see, while frontman and former reality TV star Ozzy Osbourne is one hell of a character and great in interview, these days he's not the most dynamic of frontmen.

And given how little bassist Geezer Butler and guitarist Tony Iommi move about, this is an issue. What this means in real terms is the stage show has to do the legwork.

Granted this works a charm in the arena, outdoors (such as Download last year) and on your TV, it's barely an upgrade on putting a CD on.

And at least with the CDs you can pick the tracks you want to hear...

Thankfully, this is not an issue with our penultimate choice.

You may remember Mr Big from such hit as To Be With You. Or you may not. You might have been busy in 1992.

What precious few people seemed to be aware of was they had other songs and other albums.

What even fewer people are aware of is that they went away and are now back.

Packaged as a 'deluxe' edition, their new album Defying Gravity is available with a bonus DVD. Which is meant to help boost sales, but we're willing to bet this hasn't happened.

Not because it's not a good album - it's fantastic - but because it's unlikely even the most hardcore fan is that bothered about peaking behind the scenes.

There's a couple of videos already available on YouTube, there's a kind of 'making of' said videos, then there's the run through the album.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that sounds like it's just people talking their way through each track.

And you'd be right.

And while it's not without merit, you very quickly forget which song they were just talking about as they move on to the next. And unless you have the case with you, you can only trust it's in the right order.

What would have been good was to actually hear at least snippets of each song as we went on.

But hey.

What would have been even better, of course, while we delved behind the scenes, would be to explain why Pat Torpey is no longer behind the drum kit.

Diagnosed three years ago, Torpey has had to all but give up hitting things for a living thanks to Parkinsons Disease.

Now, this is huge. It's also a fantastic opportunity to talk about this and raise the profile of the condition.

Instead we get the new guy banging on.

Hey ho, no matter. Not like it's important or anything...

Finally, let us point you in the direction of Spike & Tyla's Hot Knives.

The occasional project of Quireboys frontman Spike and Dogs D'Amour founder Tyla, their album The Sinister Indecisions of Frankie Gray and Jimmy Pallas actually came out last year - 10 years on from their debut, Flagrantly Yours.

We said occasional, OK? We weren't kidding. And we only found out it existed in September. Hence why we're including it. So there.

Anyhoo, Sinister Indecisions features 11 new songs, darker in tone than the debut but no less loose and debauched.

Attached is a DVD featuring a live show from London's The Borderline, the promo video for Believe (from the first album) and a gig they did in Spain, including snippets of the flight, landing and getting to the gig.

Now, as mentioned, we're not fans of the 'concert at home' thing, but because it's shot in a small club, and because Spike can't stand still, and because it's loose and rough in keeping with the music - dang if it doesn't just work.

They're not edgy, they're not punk, they're not experimental - they're just two bloke who like getting pissed and playing songs.

And such a simple ideal is captured perfectly here - so all you have to do is pour a whisky, put your feet up and wish you'd been at The Borderline that night...

Friday, 8 December 2017

Justice League (12A)

Look, I'm not proud of myself OK? I caved.

Word had reached me from a trusted source that it wasn't terrible, so with nothing better to do I caved and subjected myself to the latest DC effort.

And expectations were low, I'll be honest.

Since Zak Snyder clambered aboard the DC film waggon (I can only presume the person hiring that day had never been to the cinema, ever) the Superman films have been nothing short of terrible.

Yes, there was a glimmer of hope with Wonder Woman, but even that didn't really live up to the hype.

Did you know it was directed by a woman, by the way? Something so rare it's all anyone seemed to talk about.

Anyhoo, I digress.

So the first mash-up was a mess. And dull. And boring. But at least the DC juggernaut was starting to head in the right direction.

The Avengers movies have shown what box office hauls artistic flair can be achieved by bringing together many of your favourite heroes, and DC have a few popular ones, so Justice League was really only a matter of time...

And sure, people weren't sure about Ben Affleck as Bats, but at least we had Wonder Woman.

And Flash was a TV hit, so they could just... No, wait, they hired a new guy for that part.

And Aquaman's been referenced in The Big Bang Theory, so that must mean he's popular, right?

Now can you see why expectations were low and we hadn't rushed to see this?

But then we heard word that Joss Whedon had been roped in to finish things off after Snyder was unable to continue.

Not good for Snyder, admittedly, but a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. As long as it wasn't a different oncoming train.



You're not going to like this...

I mean, really not going to like this...


You know all the reviews it's had saying how terrible it is?

They're actually wrong.

Somehow, despite all it's problems and what's gone before, Justice League is actually quite good.

Hell, I'll go further - it's thoroughly enjoyable.

There are jokes, the action scenes aren't a mess, the new characters (Ezra Miller of We Need To Talk About Kevin fame as The Flash, Ray Fisher as Cyborg and Game of Throne star Jason Momoa as Aquaman) are introduced and integrated well, and it's just a lot of fun.

There is even a moment when emotion was actually felt.

I know. Shocked me too.

And it doesn't even feel that long, largely because you're actually enjoying yourself for once.

That's not to say it's perfect.

Casting J. K Simmons as Jim Gordon is a tough sell given his prominence in Peter Parker's world, and it's screamingly obvious which scenes were added once Whedon got on board.

All that money and they couldn't get the lighting to match? Really?

But, even though such flaws were noticeable, so much fun was being had it didn't matter.

You're drawn in from the start, and it feels safe. Feels welcoming. Feels like people know what they're doing.

Someone should have spotted a rather large spoiler in the opening credits of course, but hey ho. You can't win 'em all.

What promised to be a mess has been saved. A dull disaster has been averted.

What we have now is the closest DC have come to Marvel's slick, polished, focused world.

There's still work to do, but finally we can have some faith that they might know what they've got to do...