Monday, 27 June 2011

The Karamel Music Club


To those uninitiated, which up until very recently included myself, allow me to let you in on a secret. It seems there is an underground collective of brilliant songwriters and musicians who have formed a professional and friendship alliance.

Members of this alliance find themselves on collaborative writing retreats pulled together by the magnificent Chris Difford (of Squeeze fame) where they conjure up the hits of the future. People like you and I can only guess at what happens on these retreats…but at the Karamel Music Club we are given the chance to hear the kind of talent that makes up the alliance and sample some of the results! 

The Karamel Music Club is the brainchild of Wood Green’s Chocolate Factory and the ridiculously talented Chris Sheehan. This is a free night every few weeks where people can socialise and eat and bask in some brilliant music.

On the menu on Wednesday night I had the pleasure of hearing Angie Pollock, Geoff Martyn and Athena. If these names don’t sound instantly familiar then worry not, I too had only heard whisperings of their work prior to this eye-opening night of marvel.

Angie Pollock took to the stage first and I’m still in awe. Playing largely solo just herself and a piano, she has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve experienced live. Her songs have that incredible charm of being both obscenely catchy and delightfully meaningful. Somehow it was her solo debut – she has played keys for a fine range of acts including Goldfrapp and The Lightning Seeds. She will be on the scene from now on, or else she is letting us all down. A gem of a way to start.

Geoff Martyn was up next having come all the way down from Glasgow to play for free. Chris, who introduced him on stage, had already warned us to be ready for some blistering vocals. What I wasn’t prepared for was such meaning translated through song. A fantastic set where he excelled on keys and guitar with such strong hooks coming through his music, but what moved me most was the emotion behind his voice. It is talent like this that can’t be taught, and highlights the naffness of singing competitions that dominate TV schedules across the globe. Singing isn’t just about holding a tune, it’s about putting emotion into the words. Geoff wouldn’t just win one of these competitions, he’d break the speakers of your TV if he were let loose on a weepy number.

The headline act was the stunning Athena, who took to the stage with a full band and set out to delight us with numbers from her new album Peeling Apples. Athena has that hypnotic quality about her that makes it extremely difficult to notice anything else in the room. She has a very sexy stage presence and her songs are dynamic, melodic and catchy. As she took to the stage a little late I had determined to only see her opening number. Seven songs later and I had to wrench myself away or be stuck in a strange part of town until the morning. Those seven songs were enough to show me that Athena’s star is on the rise and it won’t surprise me at all if she goes household in the coming months. One song in particular made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as she sang about the regret of meeting someone new and special, but not being able to follow through with her feelings due to an existing love that she’d put years of work into. Moving, gripping stuff that puts so many modern love-songs to shame. Fantastic.

These three acts have shown me what classy brilliant songwriting and performing we have out there and I am so excited to have found this venue. I am told that this was indeed a great night, but not untypical of these events.

I’m not the gushy sort, but this one night of outstanding music really touched me. The venue is magical; the people just brilliant, the host – Chris, a total legend, and the music will inspire you. Awesome. 



This is the retelling of the real story of a sister who puts herself through law school so she can represent her brother who has been wrongly imprisoned for murder.

Hillary Swank, Sam Rockwell and Minnie Driver take the lead roles in this gritty and sometime compelling movie.

Parts of this film are very well done. There is plenty of backstory and masses and masses ‘one woman struggling against the system’ moments. However, if it wasn’t for the ‘true story’ disclaimer at the start of the film I certainly wouldn’t have seen it through to the end.

Rockwell and Swank are fantastic as always, but this does have the feel of a TV drama rather than movie at times.


The Losers


Idris Elba and Jeffery Dean Morgan star in an A-Team meets Airwolf meets MacGyver-esque movie that is essentially tongue in cheek action.

This is a harmless, easy to watch movie that doesn’t take any risks. You know what you are going to get with The Losers – it actually reminded me of Tango and Cash but without the charm.

Not a great flick, but watchable on a hungover Sunday afternoon…provided it is raining outside and you really can’t be bothered to move from the sofa!




I can be really brief here…what a shame!

I have been a huge fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for many years, but I’m afraid this one was just a let down for me. The concept is cute enough, but within the first few minutes I couldn’t really watch Pegg’s bizarre over-acting, coupled with the fact that they both just feel way too old to be playing these roles.

The set up is that a couple of comic book nerds on a road trip find themselves joined by a ‘real’ alien, who happens to have been on Earth for over 60 years, and have a filthy mouth.

There are a handful of amusing moments, but this is not Spaced territory, or Shawn Of The Dead, or Hot Fuzz…it is not Pegg and Frost on form. Pity.


Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Fighter


Boxing, drugs, the ugly sisters, and one messed up family.

I really enjoyed this film!  

The facts speak for themselves here – both supporting actor and actress, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo won Oscars and it was nominated for a further five Oscars including best picture and best directing/screenplay/editing.

Make no mistake, this is not a boxing film in the Rocky mould, it is a film about a boxer, his family, and their struggles. The actual fight scenes are powerful, dramatic and gripping, but the backdrop that is presented through the entire movie is just excellent.

Perhaps what makes this even more of a great watch is the fact that it is a true story. This is highlighted by one of the characters, Mickey O’Keefe, the police sergeant and trainer, actually playing himself in the movie.

I’ve heard it said that Mark Wahlberg was the driving force behind getting this one made and people felt he was the unsung hero of the film. He wasn’t Oscar nominated, and this is a surprise. His performance provides the platform for Bale and Leo to be so eye catching. Frankly this is a movie where everyone has played their A-game. When great actors work with a great director, fantastic cinematographer, classy editor, and outstanding script, good things happen.


Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Next Three Days


Russell Crowe! Phew. I actually enjoyed his performance! I have been seriously put off Russell Crowe lately, possibly all down to the woeful, horrible, and frankly utter shite that was Robin Hood…I think he has just earned himself another chance!

The Next Three Days is a proper old-school edge of your seat race against time thriller. This reminded me how I felt watching some of the classics from the 80s and 90s where a bomb needed finding and dismantling, or a bus had to keep going otherwise it would blow up, or a maverick businessman would ignore the demands of people who had captured his family and save the day himself. It’s one of those!

I’m not going to hold back here – sometimes I just love these big budget, pack out the seats and give them a thrill movies and I don’t care what anyone else makes of it. Sometimes this is what film is for, pure escapism of the ask-no-questions variety. I loved Taken. I loved Minority Report, Die Hard, Mission Impossible, Con Air, Face Off, The Client…The Next Three Days is one of those.

I’ll be honest. This is not a stunningly good movie. It is one I could sit down and pull apart with some ease. But why should I? It was a fun watch. I was excited in the places it wanted me to be, I was nervous in the right moments, and I knew whose side I was on at all times.

So, well done to Crash director Paul Haggis, you entertained me. The Next Three Days won’t win any awards and it is unlikely to be a massive selling Christmas DVD, but it is great reminder of fun, exciting, escapist filmmaking. And Russell Crowe doesn’t suck in it; he’s actually pretty decent.

Oh yea, the plot…sorry, almost forgot! Crowe is a teacher whose wife is convicted of murder leaving him to care for their young son. Convinced of her innocence and with the judicial system failing them, he decides the only way for them to move on with their lives is to break his wife - the ever-beautiful Elizabeth Banks - out of jail and escape as a family. Seeking advice from a former escapee (Liam Neeson) he spends the first two thirds of the film plotting the escape…leading to a nail-biting conclusion.


Morning Glory


Rachel McAdams is the TV producer who finds herself charged with saving the ailing breakfast show before its 40-year life comes to an end. Can she beat her doubters, the critics of the show, and the grizzly and reluctant news anchor Harrison Ford? Well what do you think!?

Actually, this is quite a cute little film. It is harmless and rather charming and if you find yourself looking for a couple of trouble free unchallenging hours you could do a lot worse than Morning Glory.

McAdams, it must be said, carries the lead rather well. She is fast become the new Sandra Bullock taking easy to watch movies and approaching them in a carefree manner. Unfortunately she has lost all her sex appeal for me – not once did I find myself distracted by this beauty on screen, somehow she has become the girl next door who you don’t even flirt with, something of a shame really (although I doubt she’ll mind, it is a long time since she wanted to be my facebook friend!).

It is quite surreal seeing Harrison Ford in this movie. Here is a man who I’ve watched pilot the Millennium Falcon, be chased by massive boulders as Indiana, and generally bark louder than the loudest alpha dog in the pack. So what the hell is he doing in a middle of the road puff piece of a film? Well, he’s playing the grumpy old man who McAdams has to win over, and he isn’t too shabby. Thinking about it makes me want to cringe, but somehow watching it didn’t feel too shameful.

I think I can best sum it up this way... on paper this should be a load of crap. In reality it is actually quite a relaxing way to switch off. Don’t plan your night around this one, watch it on a hungover Sunday or if you have had a shitty day at work and just want to unwind. It may make you smile, a little.


Monday, 6 June 2011



What a film to get your head around. Astonishing. Edgy. Brilliant. Twisted. Ghastly. Compelling.

Confessions is set in the classroom of a middle school in Japan. As it opens the form teacher is explaining to the class that she is leaving. As she begins to set out her reason, the core undertone of the film is explained in a frank and brilliant deadpan delivery. Explaining that her four year old daughter had been murdered, the teacher goes on to say that she has worked out who the killers were. Horribly it transpires that the killers were two pupils, sitting in that very classroom. She then delivers the first of the many stunning and powerful twists that follow…she has injected HIV infected blood into the milk that has just been drunk by the two students who killed her daughter.

We then follow the class. The two murderous students. And the retired teacher who is watching the events unfold from a safe distance. We are challenged throughout this film as our moral compass is invited to swerve in all directions as more detail is layered with each scene.

If Cameron Diaz is having a return to form as Bad Teacher in the latest Hollywood blockbuster, maybe anyone watching this one will consider that title to be somewhat lacking! This teacher makes Diaz look saintly.

This is a stunningly good movie. It is shocking. It is horrible. But it is also impossible to tear yourself away from the drama.

Takako Matsu plays the teacher in the most calm and understated fashion. She is superb. She allows the gravity of her words and the situation to do the acting for her as she plays it freakishly calm and poised.

Director Tetsuya Nakashima also deserves mention here as there are some visually delightful sequences (plenty with reverse explosions, blood streams, and charming colouring). There is a very well chosen and complimentary soundtrack and, despite the absurd and extreme nature of the story, a backdrop of believability.

Confessions is Oldboy meets Battle Royale meets Blood The Last Vampire. It is a twisted anti-Dead Poets Society film, and, although it is horrible viewing, it is also excellent and I recommend it!


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Second Coming by John Niven


Last month I bombed through Niven’s first, Kill Your Friends (see earlier post for review) so I thought I’d give his latest offering a go.


Like the first book this is an instant one hit read, it is engaging, outrageous, funny, clever and has some extremely well considered views buried deep in the plot.

Essentially Jesus is sent back to Earth as God is pissed about what we humans have become. Some key points are made clear from the word go - God hates Christians (actually, this is compellingly argued), loves the gay community, and enjoys smoking weed in vast quantities with the angels.

Jesus has to return to Earth to preach the simple and only commandment that matters: BE NICE. In order to reach the biggest audience he winds up on TV show American Pop Star, and it is here where we re-meet the star for the first book the brilliant and vile Steven Stelfox.

I should say that this is not a book for the easily offended; on any level…here is just a tiny sample to give you the gist:

‘Stoned? Wrecked? Blitzed? Totalled? Wasted? Trashed?
Jesus is cunted.’

You see what I mean. Perfect for me, but perhaps you’ll want to steer your parents or children away from this one.

So, Be Nice, and enjoy, but don’t take offence.

The Hangover 2


They are back, and they are in a shitload more trouble!

Anyone reading this is going to know all about the first movie, and just to clarify – I LOVED number one, 8.5/10 was my score at the time, which is very high from me.

So how about the new one? Same guys, same idea, different location. I’m not planning on spoiling anything for you so I’ll keep it simple. The problem is we know the punch line. We know their characters, we know the set up, and we know how it will all unfold. For many people this is going to spoil the enjoyment of this movie, not for me.

This took the first one to the next level and delivered plenty of laughs throughout this extremely enjoyable follow up. It is ruder, more outrageous, and predictably more grotesque. Where the first one had surprise and charm, this one is unashamedly in your face and ready to shock.

I should at this stage point out that I saw it on opening night in Miami for the late night showing. Beers had been consumed by myself and everyone in the massive cinema audience – essentially this was the ultimate viewing environment to enjoy this film. Even being in America was a bonus as the crowd had a different reaction to us Brits to several of the gags. I enjoyed the crowd almost as much as the film itself.

You are going to see broadsheet newspapers and highbrow reviewers taking cheap shots at this movie due to the copycat nature of the first. Don’t let them put you off. This is a terrific film that will have you laughing out loud…just don’t wait until it’s on DVD, you need the big screen, and big audience experience to get the best out of Hangover 2.

It isn’t as good as the first, but it is still a very entertaining movie that is gonna have you laughing at the big screen.


Barney’s Version


A terrific little film about the life and death of a hopeless romantic.

Paul Giamatti has a real skill at often being the finest thing on screen and he delivers a stellar performance in the leading role.

I would probably best describe this movie as a great 3rd date flick. It isn’t heaped in action; it is quiet, intelligent, charming, emotional and bitter sweet.


Breaking Bad, Seasons 1&2

TV Show

Fantastic television that I am chuffed to bits to have discovered.

Brian Cranston, the dad from Malcolm In The Middle, plays a genius chemistry teacher called Walter whose younger wife is pregnant and they already have a disabled teenage son.

By the middle of the first episode Walter is diagnosed with lung cancer and told his chances of survival are not good. His family is riddled with debt and there is no way they can afford his medical care and pay their household bills.

To cut a long story short (and not spoil anything for you), Walter decides to use his chemical genius to start cooking crystal meth and buddies up with a former drop-out student of his to get the product out on the street.

Needless to say the meth is the best around, and Walter goes through vast changes is personality as the various adventures and horrors unfold around him.

I highly recommend this show. I am currently doing all I can to find Season 3 as I believe Season 4 is going to air later this year…and my next fix can’t come soon enough!

The Green Hornet


I watched this one on a flight and found myself glad that I hadn’t invested my time and money on the cinema experience.

It is actually an ok movie as you’d hope with Michel Gondry’s hand on the tiller. It has some pretty cool action sequences, it is reasonably well performed, there are some nifty gadgets and a handful of witty lines…but really it is nothing more than an expensive kids (well, maybe that should be teenagers) film.

The problem with this is that this is all so tame and bland. Seth Rogan, a man who has made me roar with laughter in the past, is not on form at all. He seems so keen to be the leading man that he has lost almost all of his sense of comedy. And as for it being directed by Michel Gondry, there is only really a peppering of Gondry in here, essentially two massively underused talents= disappointing!

Easy viewing, slightly entertaining, and not offensive in the slightest. But also not great, on any level.


Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas


Scarlett Thomas is one of my absolute favourite writers. The End Of Mr Y, one of her earlier books, sits up there in my top 10 reads list.

Our Tragic Universe is her latest offering and, true to Thomas, is not a simple read! It is so much more than a ‘story’ with Thomas who is probably one of the deepest thinking, most well read ladies on the planet challenging the reader like never before.

Not content with just throwing us into a story and letting us get on with it, Thomas forces our brains into action by dealing with big issues such as the relativity of time, the meaning of the universe, advanced science and its real world applications, tarot cards, riddles, new-age thinking versus age-old concepts, literature and reality, life, death, and the after-life, knitting patterns, and truth versus illusion. To name just a few. Struth!

This is not a plot-free book, but the story is more causal than most would like. There is so much dialogue that skews off into deep thinking tangents that returning to the plot often becomes a mere distraction. Buried deep in amongst the quirky characters and advanced thinking is a simple love story about a young writer and her dog.

If you are looking for some enjoyable, gripping, good old-fashioned escapism then this one is absolutely not for you. At times, in truth, Our Tragic Universe is something of an ordeal. When you set out to conquer a mountain it is all so exciting, but there comes a point where it stops being fun and just gets difficult, this came about half way through this book for me!

Did I enjoy reading it? Sometimes, but largely not really. It had none of the excitement of her earlier work and I do like to get myself caught up in the action or lost in a story. This one has so little to get lost in, but so much to think about, it just seemed a little too much like hard work at times! Oh well, I can always summon up Mr Y again.