Tuesday, 20 November 2012

JEFF WAYNES MUSICAL VERSION OF THE WAR OF THE WORLDS - THE NEW GENERATION



No one would have believed, that in 1978 a musical version of H.G Wells’ classic sci-fi novel ‘War Of The Worlds’ would actually be a critical and commercial success. A million to one, they said, but it was a success anyway. Beautiful, dazzling and emotional, it has endured for over 30 years now, but who would ever think that a new version was needed, let alone wanted?

The release of this new version is a bit of a head scratcher for purists. Sure, this ‘The New Generation’ and all that guff, but can you improve on perfection? The short answer is ‘no’, because this isn’t better than the original, but the long answer is ‘no, but it’s brilliant anyway, because it’s War Of The Worlds’.


So first we have the personnel changes. Top of the list is Liam Neeson, whose deep, passionate voice is an able replacement for the departed Richard Burton, and if you see the new live show his hologram will wander about and interact, by all accounts. David Essex’s Artilleryman is now brought to life surprisingly effectively by Kaiser Chief’s frontman Ricky Wilson, who puts in a very Essex-like performance that he will replicate for the tour. There’s also great casting in Joss Stone as Beth, with Maverick Sabre as her husband, the Parson, Nathaniel. Good stuff, all of them, and they keep the drama alive with passion to spare.

The only downside to this new version is Gary Barlow, who cannot hold a candle to Justin Hayward on the deeply emotional ‘Forever Autumn’. He just hasn’t got the vocal chops to carry such a song, and although competent is not good enough for this project. Aside from him, however, it is genuinely hard to find fault with the new performers.




Musically, there isn’t a great deal of difference, other than a more modern production that works very well in headphones when you whack the volume up. There’s a touch too much with some new keyboard layers at times, but it’s a small niggle.

The question of which is best is rather a moot one. If it wasn’t for Barlow’s vocals then it would probably be a dead heat, and I can see the new star names bringing this superb musical dramatisation to a new generation of fans, which is never a bad thing. If you have never hear this before, I would say stick to the original, with it’s fantastic presentation and Justin Hayward vocals, as well as David Essex and Phil Lynott. That said, the new version still has the power to move anyone who hears it, and as long as you get one of them, you’ll enjoy the hell out of it.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Wreck It Ralph - Film Review




Okay, so this is a nice surprise from the non Pixar arm of the House Of Mouse, a computer generated animated movie that is aimed at video game players and pretty much no one else. Luckily, there’s a hell of a lot of video gameers out there, old and young, and the good news is that Wreck It Ralph can be appreciated by all of them, whether you’re an old school die hard who remembers when Space Invaders first came out (me), or a member of the Mario kart and Halo brigade, wondering how anyone ever had fun before Hi-Def graphics.



The story revolves around, unsurprisingly, Wreck It Ralph, the bad guy in a 30 year old arcade game called Fix-It-Felix-Jr, sort of a mix of Rampage and Donkey Kong, and he’s a little fed up of being the villain, and even goes to a support group that is filled with iconic evil doers all bemoaning their fate. This leads to him going to other games in the arcade, because when it’s closed all the characters can mingle, although if they don’t get back to their own games come the morning there is a danger they will be turned off as faulty - the worst fate imaginable.





First off, there’s a real sense that this was made by people who have a genuine affection for all sorts of video games, with older characters moving more jerkily than the new, high resolution ones, with a special mention for poor Q*Bert, who is homeless after having his cabinet turned off. The original characters have been created perfectly, with real personalities showing through the generic facades. Vocally, everything works well, too, with Ralph brought nicely to life by John C Reilly, and the hero of his game, do gooder Fix It Felix Jr, a spot on performance from 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer.



Wreck It Ralph will certainly confuse non gamers, although the story has a heart and humour that may still keep non gamer parents amused if bemused. Although some of the classic game references will go over kids heads, the bulk of the story revolves around more modern game ideas, with the retro touches there to amuse the old folks like me. Hopefully this won’t be tarnished with a rushed, rubbish actual game tie in, because Wreck It Ralph is a class IP all by itself. Funny, cute and original, this is another modern animated movie that hits all the right spots. Game on…





Trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87E6N7ToCxs

IMDB:
http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt1772341/




Wednesday, 24 October 2012

COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES - Film Review





Okay, so this might reek of cheap cash in, yet another zombie film to follow all the other zombie films that have been shat out by zombie film makers to the point where you really don’t give a toss about zombie films any more. Well, you should, because this one is a real diamond (geezer) in the rough.



To compare this to Shaun Of The Dead would be… well, pretty fair, really. It’s another wholly British take on the genre, with the evil undead poppng up to ruin some cheeky Cockney’s bank robbery, which they are pulling to save their Granddad’s retirement home from demolition. That’s basically the plot, and as in most zombie films the rest is all about survival. 

 

There’s two sides to the movie. On one, you have the bank robbers, headed by the charismatic Harry Treadaway as Andy, with Rasmus hardicker as his brother and the always lovely Michelle Ryan as their cousin Katy. They’re hindered by the inclusion of Mental Mickey,  deranged hardcase with a LOT of guns, and general idiot Tuppence, played by Jack Doolan (who you right remember playing a general idiot in Cemetary Junction. )



On the other side of the coin is the boys# Granddad Ray, who is brought to snarling life by Alan Ford, known primarily for his star turn as self confessed “Orrible cunt” Brick Top in Snatch.  Here he is only slightly more sympathetic, but as usual steals every scene he is in. With him in the zombie besieged retirement home are such luminaries as Richard Briers, Dudley Sutton, Tony Selby and none other than Honour Blackman. Naturally they provide some priceless moments, such as Briers trying to escape a zombie on his walking frame, the two of them moving at about the same speed (these being the classic shuffling zombies).



As the boys fight to get to the home, and the pensioners try to stay alive, hilarity definitely ensues. Even though it’s got plenty of gore and violence, not to mention copious swearing, Cockneys V Zombies is a laugh out loud comedy piece. In terms of laughs it overtakes Shaun Of The Dead with ease, although the characters aren’t quite as strong. TV scripter James Moran (Doctor Who, Torchwood, Primeval and all that) has managed to get the whole pitch just right, with the laughs taking priority over anything too meaningful or horrible. The squeamish or easily offended will find nothing they like, but if you find the idea of a mash up of Shaun Of The Dead and Snatch an intriguing one, then this wonderful film is a must see. Oh… and it ends with a song about Zombies by Chas & Dave that will stick in your head for days.

Here's the song, and don't say I didn't warn you!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Hotel Transylvania - Film Review


Okay, so I have to say I wasn’t expecting much from this one. Even though I quite like Adam Sandler, it’s easy to become tired of his shtick, and the thought of him hamming it up as Dracula wasn’t an enticing one. Then again, Sony Pictures animation division has turned out some marvellously quirky gems in the past, such as “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs” and “Arthur Christmas”, although one mustn’t forget (or forgive) “The Smurfs” and the inevitable upcoming sequel.


The first thing to note is that Sandler is almost unrecognisable as Dracula, giving a standard “I vant to bite you, bwah ha ha haaa” performance that is just what is needed, although he handles the more tender moments with aplomb when needed. The rest of the cast is filled out with the likes of Steve Buscemi,  Jon Lovitz and Sandler regularsAndy Samberg (Sandlers recent co star from “That’s My Boy” and the should-have-been-a-hit “Hot Rod”), David Spade and Kevin James. It’s arre to find any serious miscasting in animated featires these days, and Hotel Transylvania is no exception, as it’s all about what’s on screen rather than who you can spot doing a voice.

So what IS on screen? For a start, shitloads of sight gags and references to old monster movies that will delight older fans. The script, by the people who brought you Arthur Christmas (and Borat) is sharp as one of Dracula’s fangs, and I genuinely found myself laughing out load several times, and once had to even wipe away a tear (you’ll know the bit when you see it). It’s one of those gems of animation that has as much for adults as it does for kids, and as such truly merit’s the label of Family Film.


If you want the plot, then Dracula has built his Hotel Transylvania so that monsters (who are a lovely bunch really) can come for a break away from all the nasty humans, and no human has ever set foot there until na├»ve backpacker Johnny blunders in. It just happens to be Drac’s beloved daughter’s 118th birthday party, and when the two ids hit it off he has to try and persuade everyone that Johnny is not a human (he has to protect the hotel’s human-free rep) but a cousin of Franenstein (well, his arm, anyway). That’s all you really need to know, except for the fact that this is one of the funniest CGI toons I’ve seen, and after the relative disappointment of Madagascar 3 it will stick the smile right back on the faced of you and any kids you can drag along.


Monday, 17 September 2012

"Clockwork Angels" - Kevin J Anderson - Book Review




If you are a Rush fan, then there’s a pretty good chance you’ve fallen in love with their superb album “Clockwork Angels”, released this year to extremely positive reviews that were well deserved. Drummer Neil Peart (which I’ve only just learned is pronounced ‘pee-yert’ - who knew!) wanted to do a concept album and put a lot of work into the lyrics, telling a story of an oppressive society where one boy rebels. Okay, so it’s all a little “2112”, but as that is the GREATEST TRACK EVER it’s okay.




What was special about this story was that whilst Peart sketched it roughly with the lyrics, it was left to acclaimed SF novelist Kevin J Anderson to fill in the gaps with this, the companion novel of the same name. Whereas Peart gave us an unnamed hero and a future/alternative steampunk world, Anderson (with plenty of input from Peart, naturally) has made it into a real place, with real people and a real hero in the shape of Owen Hardy, assistant orchard manager. Okay, so it’s not a glamorous job, but Owen is content and happy, as is everyone in the land of Albion. Albion, you see, is run by The Watchmaker, who resides in the central city and makes sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible, from the weather down to who marries who. Whilst it sounds oppressive, everyone is happy to know their place, and with choice taken away from them they are content. Well, all but one, as The Anarchist has made it his mission to throw The Watchmaker’s world into chaos, to free people even if he has to kill them to do it. Yes, a bit of politics.




Owen Hardy, they realize, is a potential loose cannon, and both factions pull strings unbeknownst to him, pushing him towards one side or the other, convinced he can be an asset. Owen, meanwhile, finds himself veering from his planned path of marriage and apple orchard management, instead going to new lands and cities, witnessing the awe inspiring Clockwork Angels and searching for the legendary Seven Cities Of Gold. It’s never plain sailing, of course, but it is always entertaining. Add to this, if you will, several beautiful illustrations from long time Rush collaborator Hugh Syme and you have a book that will lose much of it's attraction if you get in on ebook.



“Clockwork Angels” is best enjoyed whilst listening to the album (no hardship there), and there’s bonus fun to be had for fans as they spot subtle references to Rush’s back catalogue inserted painlessly into the text. Anderson’s prose is as good as ever, once again proving he is the go to guy if you want an intellectual property expanded on with style and panache. As a story it’s not exactly rocket science, dealing as it does with a pretty standard story structure, but there’s enough imagination in Peart’s vision to allow Anderson to shovel in a good dose of originality in the characters and settings. Basically, if you own the album you really should make an effort to pick up the book, as they make a wonderful set. Even if you hate rock music it’s a good standalone SF novel. If you hate Rush and science fiction, however, then I don’t want to know you and you can just sod off.


Friday, 7 September 2012

DREDD 3D - Film Review





The basic aim of Dredd is simple – it needs to be bold, true to the source material and full of juicy violence, enough to wipe out the memories of the notoriously half assed Stallone attempt of 1995 that threw plenty of money at the screen without bothering to work on anything resembling a decent script.

The character of Judge Dredd, now entering his 35th year in UK comic 2000AD (they know it’s 2012 - don’t ask), isn’t a complicated one. He is, as he is fond of stating, the law. The time is the future, and amidst the wasteland that is America there is a single, massive city with 800 million inhabitants, appropriately called Mega City One. It’s quite the shithole, and the only thing that stands between it and total chaos are the Judges, trained for years to be the ultimate in law enforcement, yet so outnumbered they can only handle 6% of the crimes committed. This, people, is as thin as the blue line gets.



The film is written by long time fan Alex Garland (28 Days later, Sunshine), and has had plenty of input from Dredd’s creator (and still main writer even now) John Wagner. Filmed in South Africa on what passes for a tight budget these days (especially for Sci-Fi), it could be compared to District 9 in terms of the sheer effort put into it, with a result that is similarly impressive although aesthetically miles apart. Director Pete Travis (Endgame) does an excellent job, and between them they have turned in a film that will stand the test of time as a superior, adult action movie.



The premise is reasonably simple, something that works well as an introduction to what is, in the comics at least, a sprawling future world. Dredd is accompanied on patrol by rookie Judge Anderson, very well played by Olivia Thirlby, who is on the verge of failing her final assessment but is being given a second chance because of her powerful, and rare, psi abilities. A routine triple homicide (it’s that sort of city) turns into a siege when they are trapped in a massive tower block by criminal nutjob Ma Ma (Lena Headey) and forced to fight their way out and stop her manufacturing the addictive new drug, Slo Mo. Obviously there’s a bit more to it than that, but this is the basic set up and it works very well indeed, allowing for plenty of violence, some character development and no few explosions.



I can’t write this review without focussing on Karl Urban, who has previously stood out for his excellent turn as Dr McCoy in the Star Trek revival. Not afraid to go through an entire movie with a helmet on, he is spot on as Dredd. He gives us an emotionless machine, a man who cares for nothing but the law, but a man you want to get behind and cheer on as he splats bad guys left right and centre. The humanity comes from Anderson, and it helps that Thirlby doesn’t have to wear a helmet herself, with the handy excuse that it interferes with her psi abilities. Between them they give us the tired old wardog and the 21 year old rookie on the streets for the first time, and you sympathise with the life of a Mega City Judge.



Some people have criticized the apparent similarities between Dredd and the recent film The Raid: Redemption, in which Indonesian cops storm a tower block and much chop sockey ensues. To be honest, I was a little worried myself, but having seen both films I can happily confirm that they are nothing alike. Whilst The Raid is a pretty intense martial arts film which is rather dull between fights (although the fights are awesome), Dredd is a tight film all the way through, with the plot more than an excuse to go from fight to fight.



In conclusion, I can heartily recommend this film, in case you hadn’t guessed. It’s sort of like a cross between Robocop and Die Hard, all moderned up and with better music. It’s no coincidence that those are two of the most kick ass action films ever, and Dredd borrows from the best, although as Robocop stole from Dredd in the first place it’s more like recovering pinched property. The 3D is actually worth shelling out for, and there are some beautiful sequences where it comes into it’s own, whilst the film itself is gritty and dirty, although not without a few lighter moments amidst the carnage. The humour in Dredd’s comic strips comes from the city around him rather than his own actions, and here’s hoping we’ll see Alex Garland penning a sequel that allows us to wander through Dredd’s world. Quite simply a superior action film, and whilst it’s no masterpiece (then again, it’s not supposed to be) it’s as good as fans could ever have hoped. Here’s to the sequels…

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

LEE CHILD - A WANTED MAN - Book Review





Jack Reacher is about to become big business. He’s already one of the most popular action heroes in literature, and rightly so, but soon we will get to see the 6 foot 7, battle scarred brick shithouse of an ex Military Policeman played on screen by none other than… Tom Cruise. No, I don’t know either… perhaps he’ll stand on a box all the way through, so good luck with that, fella.



Anyway, regardless of insane Hollywood casting, it’s good to know that the real Reacher, the one in your head, is going strong in this, his 17th outing. For those not in the know, Jack Reacher is one of the good guys. An intriguing man with the brawn and macho appeal of John Wayne mixed with the intellect and general smarts of Sherlock Holmes, Reacher left the army, his home for so many years, and decided to see America. He does that by basically being a drifter, carrying only a toothbrush and a cash card as he wanders from place to place and getting into trouble. He doesn’t start the trouble, mind, but you can be sure he will finish it. A man with a deep sense of justice regardless of the law, he lives by the maxim “I don’t want to put the world to rights, I just don’t like people to put it to wrongs.”



So in this latest book, it’s no surprise that shit happens, and as usual Reacher is right in the middle of it. He hitches a ride from two men and a woman, and soon enough it’s very clear that these people are not what they pretend to be, and it’s just possible that Reacher may have made himself the focus of a manhunt just by being seen with them. Oops! The man just can’t stay away from this sort of thing, and even when he has the chance to walk away, he just has to stick around and make things right, which often involves punching or shooting bad guys and being generally a big old Mr Grumpypants.



“A Wanted Man” will not disappoint Lee Child fans. The central mystery is intriguing and well structured, never straightforward and very hard to second guess (I got close a few times but never hit it on the head). As usual, it shoots along, throwing in plenty of detailed description and odd trivia, with Child’s research and experience with the character making you believe that Reacher is really writing this with Child his nom de plume. As ever, the worst thing about it is that it’s too easy to read, and very soon you’ve raced through the 400+ pages and have to start the long wait for another one. Simply put, in the Jack Reacher books Lee Child has created one of the best literary heroes in popular modern fiction, and everyone should try his books at least once.

Friday, 24 August 2012

NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. 2 - 3DS GAME REVIEW






Everyone loves Mario, don’t they? How could you not love an Italian plumber thought up by the Japanese with a propensity for grabbing as much money as he can whilst shooting fireballs from his hands? Seriously, they should make a movie! What? Oh, yeah… my mind had blanked that out. In all seriousness, Mario has been around for a bloody long time now, with each Nintendo platform ramming him down our throats like the newspapers with pictures of Prince Harry’s bottom. As with his Royal Gingerness, it has often been a case that, despite all the new clothes, the Emperor often seems to be running about in the nuddy. With his cock hanging out…



Super Mario Brothers 2 could have been great. Mario’s recent 3D game was pretty innovative, if shorter than Tom Cruise, and the console has the power to handle all sorts of magical trickery. That said, the game was not developed by the normal Mario guys, and it really shows. The best thing you can say about it is that it’s a Mario Game, and as such it’s not a bad one. Mario jumps about in the usual scenarios, forever trying to get his girlfriend back and jumping on many heads. The stages are ball achingly familiar, as is the gameplay, and in the end it’s nothing more that Mario’s Greatest Hits. The graphics are suitably clear and as details as Mario games are ever likely to get without a fully digitized Bob Hoskins being introduced, and the 3D is utter shit. Yep, they’ve gone and made a Mario game specially for the 3DS and it hasn’t actually got any 3D to speak of.


In an attempt to give it a lifespan beyond the normal levels, you can play co op with a friend, but not unless they are in the same room, and you can revisit levels to see how many coins you can get. Whoopee! Etc etc. Super Mario Brothers 2 is all about the coinage, by the way, with Nintendo challenging players to get (deep breath) one MILLION coins, a see through attempt to keep fanboys playing until they reach this magical number and valiantly hide their disappointment when they see the ‘reward’.

As with the recent Sonic revival attempt, Super Mario Brothers 2 does nothing new. If you absolutely love Mario then I’m sure you will already have this, and will be telling everyone how awesome it is and how you absolutely love the 1 million coins reward (see top picture if you don’t want to actually do it yourself - that’s fecking IT - a title screen!).  There is the usual replay value in getting the hard to reach bonus coins, and a few branching levels and even a mushroom world, but it’s no more than previous games have done. In the end, it’s Another Mario Game that is fun to play but ultimately a little boring, as you have seen it all before.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 - FILM REVIEW





CONTAINS A FEW SPOILERS

It’s pretty much a given that if you liked The Expendables then you’re gonna have a lot of fun with the sequel. It’s also pretty much of a given that if you thought the first film was a steaming pile of poo then this one isn’t going to change your mind. It doesn’t want to change your mind, because as far as it’s concerned if you didn’t like the first film it doesn’t want to know you, and nor do I.




After the coming together of so many hard asses of the movie world in The Expendables, it’s only natural that a few more famous faces (and fists) have been added to the mix. What we get here is bigger roles for Bruce Willis and The Governator (well, ex-Governator now), plus the bonus of Chuck Norris (who is cool as cool can be) and Jean Claude Van Damme (that wrinkly guy from the beer adverts) as a dastardly villain who goes by the name of (and I really can’t believe they did this) - Villain. Look, if you say it with a French accent it doesn’t sound the same, so they get away with it, but only just. Also in the mix is Liam “Brother Of Thor” Hemsworth, who may as well be beaming down to a strange planet on Star Trek with a red shirt and a “Shoot Me” sign taped to his back, so obvious is his impending doom.




The film benefits from a straightforward, linear plot that doesn’t make the audience think too hard as they watch the fists and bullets flying (quite graphically, too). Barney Rubble, I mean Ross, and his Expendables (so THAT’S why they called it that!) start the film off with a big action bit, then Bruce Willis gets them to go off and get a briefcase from plane that’s crashed somewhere off in Eastern Europe. Piece of piss, they think, but Van Damme is lurking, setting in motion events that mean the lads have to kill lots and lots of people who despite being mercenaries would fail the marksmanship tests at the Stormtrooper school on Tatooine. Seriously, these guys would have trouble fending off an attack by barn doors.




The thing is, it really doesn’t matter, as we don’t want our good guys dead, we want them to spray bullets and kill every single motherfucker in the room!  We want them to spout a few terrible quips that we will smile at regardless of how corny they are! We want them to unsubtly refer to their previous action movie careers! We want to see Rocky against Van Damme, and by all that is unholy we get all of these things plus big explosions to boot.


The Expendables 2 isn’t for the faint hearted. The fights are brutal, and the bullets go through people with plenty of blood splatter. Behind all this, you are always aware that this is a tongue in cheek, video game of a movie, and all the bad guys are just asking for it, the little tinkers. It’s a deliberate homage to bullet laden action movies where one man could kick an army’s ass, but pieced together with the modern film makers art and skill (and budget). All I know is I spent most of it sitting there with a big shit-eating grin on my chops, and that’s good enough for me. If The Rock isn’t in number 3 I’m going to sulk.

IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1764651/

Monday, 13 August 2012

SPARKO (Karl Stephan) - Graphic Novel Review






Sparko is quite a thing, coming across as the weird, unappreciated love child of Jamie Hewlett, Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton. No, I don’t know how three men can have a love child, but maybe that was why it was unappreciated. Fuck, I’m just rambling here, and if you want a paternity test go see Jeremy Kyle. Oh, actually, whilst I think about it, the mother could have been Lenore, the little dead girl, but that would just be weird, right?




Anyway. On to Sparko, the creation of Karl Stephan, a person who might just be the creator you’ve been looking for. When he contacted me and asked if I would review his graphic novel, I certainly wasn’t expecting 170+ pages of creativity, more like a few dozen pages of poo that I could smarmily make fun of. I have only seen the online version, but rest assured if you like your comics bound (with gags), it’s available by clicking on the magic Amazon link at the bottom of the page.

The first thing that hits you about Sparko is the art style, which really does bring Jamie Hewlett to mind, crossed with Roman Dirge (Lenore). Although black and white, it’s incredibly sharp with nice detail and the occasional background gag. It suit’s the story perfectly, though, and that’s just fine and dandy (or Beano, if you must) with me.




The story itself is sometimes a bit convoluted but always fun. On the surface we have forgotten rock star Norman, who has been moping around for years after the accidental death of his girlfriend, swapping sex drugs and rock and roll for, well, drugs. He gets embroiled in a takeover bid in the  hidden under-world of London that’s sort of like Gaiman’s Neverwhere, where London’s history lives on, never forgotten but mostly misremembered. His lot is thrown in with that of a spunk filled (not like that, dirty boy!) tearaway called Belle, who was in our London to steal a relic so that the Queen’s son, who has been kidnapped….. Oh, bugger this. If I go on it will just spoil all the mental surprises, so I’ll just say it’s twisty, turny, topsy, turvy and very tight.



The sense of humour is pitched just right, with cultural references sneaking in but not getting in the way, plus tons of snappy, funny dialogue. In amongst all the daftness and high adventure, there’s still time to tell Norman’s sad story as he tries to get over the girl he once lost. Although I was a bit daunted by the length at first (it was rather near bed time), I read this in one sitting because I just had to know what would happen, and also it was fun. This is the sort of thing that could be serialized in the Judge Dredd Megazine and make a lot of fans, but until that happens it is something that you really should check out, because some gems are not meant to stay hidden.


Amazon UK Link:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sparko-Karl-Stephan/dp/1593622201/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1344873217&sr=8-1

Publisher Link:
http://www.slgcomic.com/Sparko-Graphic-Novel_p_1845.html

Sparkonaut.com:
 http://www.sparkonaut.com/