Wednesday, 26 March 2014

FILM REVIEW - "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"

Okay, this one was exciting to fans as soon as the title was released. Those who know the comics story of the Winter Soldier were no doubt salivating at the prospect of Ed Brubaker's first class story being committed to celluloid. Then again, we were led to believe that The Wolverine was based on Frank Miller and Chris Claremont's legendary Japan set book, but it really, really wasn't (although it WAS fun). What I'm saying is: Don't expect too much, fanboys.

In reality, the film borrows from the aforementioned Brubaker book pretty heftily as far as Cap's mystery protagonist is concerned, but it also borrows heavily from the 1989 story "Nick Fury Vs S.H.I.E.L.D". Squish the two together, add the ever sexy Black Widow plus regular comics partner The Falcon and you have what is a pretty damned good movie.

The second movie to headline the out of time hero sees the franchise dive straight into espionage territory, with Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D deciding to protect the world by wielding the sort of kill power that encourages Cap to comment "That's not protection, that's fear". Shit hits the fan pretty quickly with the introduction of the titular Winter Soldier, a masked assassin with a robotic arm who seems to be Cap's equal. Cue layer on layer of mystery, resulting in an almighty mess for Captain America, Nick Fury and the whole of S.H.I.E.L.D that certainly should change the direction of the operation's TV series when it comes to season 2.

It's hard to say too much without spoiling things, as is often the case with plot driven thrillers, so I won't. The fact that this even is a plot driven thriller has elevated it above the usual "Super guy gets bwah ha haaa bad guy" comics film that people are becoming used to. This shit is smart, no doubt about it. Many character names have been pulled from the 1989 book, but with personalities and roles changed, so no clues there. They even mention Steven Strange very briefly, which may point to the fact that a Doctor Strange movie is a hot bet for a future project.

So this is a very, very strong film, with excellent fight scenes, mad car chases and a surprising amount of actual plot. Much ass is kicked, many lives taken and saved. Definitely less comic booky than the first one, mirroring the direction crime specialist Ed Brubaker took the Captain in. Two things remain: Does Stan Lee appear? of course he does! Try keeping that cameo whore out of a Marvel movie! Second: Should I stay for the credits? Oh yes. Marvel have realized by now that the way to go is a short sequence, followed by a massive set up for the next movie, before the loooong boring credits, and trust me, true believers, this one is fucking awesome for those who like comics.

Official trailer:


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Album Review: STIFF LITTLE FINGERS – “No Going Back”

If you’ve never heard their stuff beyond a few old punk rock tracks, forget everything you thought you knew about Stiff Little Fingers. Firstly, they are not really a punk band, and secondly they have in their ranks one of the best lyricists in the business. Oh yeah… they also make fucking great music.

“No Going Back” is the 10th SLF album, and I was amazed to realize it’s been eleven years since their last one, the powerful “Guitar & Drum”. As with many bands these days they’ve been funded through Pledge Music, surely one of the best ideas in music history. Go Pledge!

The band first came to my attention with their 1997 “Tinderbox” album, and I was amazed at how melodic they were, not even remotely like a punk band in the traditional sense. Vocalist Jake Burns, who had an angry growl when they started out in the late 1970’s, has quite a unique sound to his voice, a voice that spits pure venom when politicians and bankers come into the lyrics. When he’s not shouting at the powerful, however, he has a real melodic pitch that has defined the band’s sound for over 30 years now. 

“No Going Back” has twelve tracks and is seriously as good as anything the band have ever done. It’s got some powerful, killer guitar tracks, but that’s true of any album by SLF. The rwal selling point if that it’s also stuffed with killer hooks, plenty of melody and choruses that have you singing along on your first listen. It opens with “Liars Club”, a track about politicians that the band have played previously on tour, and this powerful track sets the tone for the album. Jake Burns has always written about things that, basically, piss him off, and “No Going Back” doesn’t sway from serious topics, including Burns’ own depression in “My Dark Places”. Final track “When We Were Young” has a real retro SLF feel to it, not only in the riff and structure but also because it includes a snippet of their old single “At The Edge” if you listen closely. It has the great line “They said that it’s all over, I said like hell it is, They say it’s self delusion, I say it’s self belief”, and that encapsulates the sheer determination of this band and their indomitable frontman to keep on making great music and telling it like it is.

I know I’m banging on a bit, but this is so far the best album of the year, it’s such a pure release or raw energy and talent. There’s nods to the band’s history, there’s politics and personal life in the lyrics, there’s some superb songwriting in general, and there’s music that just kicks ass and gets you fired up from the first listen. The crowds at the gigs may only want to hear the old songs, but I hope Jake Burns and co play as many of these songs as possible on the upcoming tour, because they’ve never sounded fresher and more determined. Absolutely brilliant. 

"Liars Club" Live in Bristol  2010