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!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016


Over the last three albums, British act Vega have been carefully carving themselves out a niche in the AOR world by simply keeping their faces out there and providing quality releases. Last album ‘Stereo Messiah’ was hailed by many as their best yet, but it seems that it may not hold that accolade much longer when ‘Who We Are’ comes your way on 13th May.

The album starts with a literal bang, as ‘Explode’ does just that in a flurry of guitars  and drums, a track that belts along and lays Vega’s cards on the table with a raised middle finger to anyone who thought they might have emptied the creative well by now. Fast, frantic and with a superb little solo from Marcus Thurston, it’s the start fans will be wanting. They don’t let up with the next two tracks either, with ‘We Got It All’ a fist pumping audience pleaser and ‘Every Little Monster’ a catchy singalong that is the archetypal Vega track (you can find it on YouTube).

The band slow down for the ballad ’Nothing Is Forever’, and whilst I often get a bit bored by ballads they hit the nail well on the head here with a powerful, emotional piece that makes sure to include a great solo in the middle. ’White Flag’, ‘For Your Sins’ and ’;Generation Now’ take us back to the tried and tested Vega formula that sits comfortably between Journey and Def Leppard, tracks that you just enjoy for the quality AOR that they are. ‘Ignite’ is a slower track that feels a little ploddy, for me the weakest track on the album, but it’s followed by the best: ‘Saving Grace’ stands out with a horribly infectious chorus that demands sterling pitch control from vocalist Nick Workman. This Vega’s 2016 ‘summer’ song, and almost certainly the one that’s going to stick around the live set for a good while.

The album closes with the high energy ‘If Not You’ and the anthemic ‘Hurt So Bad’, another track that I feel will slot well into any live set. As an album, ‘Who We Are’ is a rush of adrenaline, a melodic kick in the nuts that will have you coming back for more. It sounds great, and the band are tight as ever. It’s no surprise that Nick Workman sings his heart out as he never gives anything less than his best. The man has a perfect voice for this kind of upbeat melodic rock, with Tom and James Martin helping him to write songs that fit his vocals to a tee. My only complaint is that I’d have liked to hear more guitar heroics from Marcus Thurston, whose contributions are short but incredibly sweet. Come on guys, give the man a 30 second solo at some point!

In conclusion, ‘Who We Are’ is definitely as good as ‘Stereo Messiah’, and to be honest it’s difficult for any album of this type to be better. Vega still sound fresh and hungry and I’m looking forward to seeing them with Magnum and at the Steelhouse Festival. If ‘Stereo Messiah’ pushed Vega to the top of the UK rock scene, ‘Who We Are’ cements that position.


Official Website

Tuesday, 12 April 2016


I suppose I should say that I’ve long been a fan and admirer of Francis Dunnery. He made some incredible albums with It Bites, and went on to a solo career that has produced some brilliant work. For me, he hasn’t done anything of real interest since ‘The Gully Flats Boys’ over ten years ago, with more recent releases showcasing a man who really doesn’t seem to sure what he wants to do anymore, revisiting his past and wibbling on about astrology and not actually writing any new music. Surely, I hoped, an album named after one of It Bites more aggressive tunes might be different?

Well, the simple answer is ‘no’, as ‘Vampires’ is a double dig pack CD that contains 14 reworkings of It Bites songs. Okay, you may be thinking, maybe this is a chance for Frank to give us interesting new versions of some classics that can sit proudly next to the originals. Again, it’s a big ‘no’ there, as almost all of these add absolutely nothing to the originals. ‘Underneath Your Pillow’ does change the ending so it’s like the old live version but that’s it. There is always the excuse of getting a better production on the songs, but to be honest the originals were pretty damn well produced, and these in general don’t sound as good, although if you were completely new to the songs you would find little to complain about. Indeed, ‘Screaming On The Beaches’ lacks the youthful energy of the original and just sounds hollow, whilst the title track burns up when exposed to the sunlight of the original.

Another bugbear is the price we fans are paying for what is in effect nothing new. $25 for a download? $30 for a CD? Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Dunnery? I understand yours is a cottage industry, but only the most dedicated fans will want to fork out their hard earned for an album they might as well already have. As a ‘Best Of It Bites’ this is a cracker, but as a fan I feel completely ripped off. Ironically, for an album called ‘Vampires’ this is utterly toothless.