Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

A surprise trip out to catch the film on the night of release. Carefully avoiding the crappy 3D version, and not being able to afford the IMAX we settled on the tiny-old-cinema-screen-with-dodgy-sound experience.

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

“I have a plan: attack!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Superheroes team up and fight bad guys. Well, dur.

See it if you like: Low-brow superhero flicks with too many characters.

There’s no denying the huge hype machine for this 142 minute effects-fest. With four films supplying the lead-in as far as story goes (more if you include the two Hulk movies) it has a lot to live up to. But does it manage it?

Well, as far as scale goes it’s pretty good. There’s a nice central bad guy and a nice huge threat towards the end to make it all larger than life. However, I found it somewhat messy with a couple of the characters virtually sidelined. Don’t expect the same level of cover for Black Widow and Hawkeye (Chris Evans) as for the other Avengers. In a way, it’s a good thing as they’re definitely weaker characters, certainly in this script. Scarlett Johanssen, for instance, just doesn’t convince me at all in her role, especially as the films plods on. She looks positively weak trying to wield two handguns.

On the flip side, there’s a great dynamic between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and the banter between characters overall is pretty good. Snappy one-liners and a good dose of humour lift the film in just the right places. In fact there’s one very brief sequence – it involves Hulk and that’s as much as I’ll say – which had the audience roaring with laughter.

I wasn’t a fan of the Thor movie, but he’s much better in this. He’s just two dull to be the focus of a whole movie, but works well as part of the ensemble. I still don’t get how he’s a Norse god, but speaks with a posh English accent though.

The effects are predictably top-notch, with a good blend of live action and CGI. It looks like the effects masters are finally getting this right. The explosions are suitably meaty, and there’s plenty of destruction to keep even the most child-like of minds happy.

There’s not a huge amount in the way of plot – bad guy wants to take over earth, superheroes stop him (sorry if that spoils it for you) – and it does go very slowly in places. I confess to being a little tired on the evening we went, but I still didn’t expect to catch myself almost falling asleep. I did. Twice. One it got past this (around the hour mark), thankfully things picked up pace and I began to enjoy it more.

Overall, the two Iron Man films still stand out as the best recent offerings from this particular canon. The third in that series is coming up soon, and there’s also a teaser in the end credits of this film for more forthcoming action. Whether it’s a hint for Iron Man 3 or a second Avengers film, though, I don’t know.

Good, but not brilliant.

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Paradise Lost / Insomnium – King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow

Insomnium

[For more pics of both bands, check out the Flickr sets: Insomnium / Paradise Lost]

You know sometimes you get to a gig, hear the support and think “I should have got here a little earlier”? Well, that happened tonight.

King Tut’s always have a late doors-opening time, around 8:30 when most venues are nearer 7:00. As such, I never know when to get there and by the time I should be leaving the house I’m actually starting to wind down for the night and thinking about getting a cuppa. Yes, I’m getting old. I’m dealing with it, so you have to as well.

I got to the venue around 10:00, picked up my Sacred Reich ticket from the bar (No booking fee! Fuck you, TicketMaster!) and walked upstairs with a pint of the eponymous lager. The place was packed as Finnish deathers Insomnium played melodically towards the end of their set. There were plenty of appreciative cheers from the crowd for the two songs I heard and rightly so. Definitely a band I’ll be checking out soon.

I’ve been following Paradise Lost for some time now – since my uni days in Bradford, in fact, around the time that Shades of God and Icon came out. The first time I saw them was at the Queen’s Hall, if I remember correctly, where I got in free as I was with the university radio station. The next time I saw them, or at least Aaron Aedy, was when I was glass-collecting at Rios and he wished me happy new year.

Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

That, for me, sums the guys up. You meet them once as a studenty fanboy, and they remember you enough to say “hello” several months later when they’re shitfaced at a new year party. Hell, I saw him a year later when I was working in PC World (dark days indeed) and I think I sold him a computer. The next time they played Bradford I was sat next to Aaron’s mum up in the gods at the St George’s Hall. The downside of guest lists is you often don’t know where they’ll put you!

Anyway, as the years went on (pretty much post-Draconian Times), I kind of lost track of Paradise Lost. I rediscovered them a few months ago and was pleased to see they were still doing well though mainly abroad. This was emphasised by the fact that they were playing a venue as small as King Tut’s on their tour. Great place, but it is tiny.

So on to the gig. With a little over an hour to fill, they managed quite a variety. Of course, I know the old stuff best but there’s nothing wrong with the newer material as I discovered. I think there were only two tracks off the newest release, Tragic Idol, which came out… erm… today! Along with those were a handful of others I didn’t really recognise, but quite a few I did.

“Widow”, “One Second”, “As I Die”… all great songs and as with many artists, these older numbers were the ones the fans cheered the loudest for. Nick introduced each track with his typical style of humour mixed with a dash of “miserable bastard”. Let’s just say that Jack Dee has some competition.

It is great to see a band play when the core has been together for so long. The only member currently with them not to have been there since 1988 is drummer Adrian Erlandsson. The other four are founder members and have never left the band, even temporarily as far as I can tell. To work and tour for so long with the same guys says a lot about them, and they’re very good live as a result.

Aaron is constantly banging his head a-la Scott Ian, Greg (still with long hair, the bastard) poses as he plays the high notes, Steve keeps the rhythm going on bass and Nick leads from the front. Having seen them at Download some years back, they’re as confident in front of a festival crowd as a couple of hundred drunk Glaswegians and it’s good to have had the chance to see them in front of such a small crowd.

Definitely worth taking my slippers off for, and I’ll be hunting for the new album in the morning.

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Lockout

Sneaking in a quick film before the end of the weekend, we took our chances with something unknown:

Lockout

“Here’s an apple. And a gun. Don’t talk to strangers – shoot them.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: improperly (or was he?) convicted secret agent person must single-handedly save the President’s daughter from a prison. Which floats in space.

See if it you like: the idea of Die Hard meets Escape From New York meets Fortress

Based on an idea from Luc Besson, Lockout starts with a bang (actually, lots of them) and just doesn’t let up. It’s fast-paced, funny, utterly daft and thoroughly entertaining as a result. There are threads from many genres mixed up in the plot and the characters and dialogue are as over-the-top as you could hope for.

Guy Pearce plays our lead, be-muscled secret agent Snow caught for (allegedly) turning traitor and killing another agent, then disposing of the secrets he was supposedly stealing. As luck would have it, prisoners break out on board the floating space-prison to which he’s just been sentenced and he’s given a chance to earn his freedom in exchange for rescuing the President’s daughter (Maggie Grace) who conveniently happens to be up there.

This is a relatively low-budget film and comes out opposite the titanic Battleship (see what I did there?) against which it’s surely going to look like a tugboat. However, despite being a much “smaller” film in all respects, it holds its own in the entertainment stakes and most definitely deserves your time. The plot is more focussed than in the larger film with everything following our two main protagonists, and the sharp dialogue – mainly from Snow – is wonderfully dry. James Bond wishes he had this line in humour.

There’s nothing to complain about regarding the quality of the special effects either, although a couple of the speedier sequences are hard to follow as they pan and flip from angle to angle far too fast for these old eyes to follow.

Every action film needs a decent antagonist, and Lockout has two particularly nasty ones in the forms of mastermind Alex (Vincent Regan) and utter nutjob Hydell (Joseph Gilgun). They play off each other and offer two sides of the overblown lunatic that one central bad guy would have entailed.

While there aren’t any real surprises in the storyline, there’s nothing to stop the viewer going along for the ride and thoroughly enjoying the antics of anti-hero Snow. He’s a great character and I’d not mind seeing him in some kind of follow-up.

Incidentally, random link between this and Battleship? Grace played Neeson’s daughter in the awesome Taken (co-written by Besson), a sequel to which is due out later this year. Both actors are due to reprise their roles.

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Sponsor me!

The steep south face of Ben Nevis from Sgurr a...
The steep south face of Ben Nevis from Sgurr a' Mhà im (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not often I’ll ask for cash, but I’m doing a sponsored walk up Ben Nevis on May 6th and I need to raise £90 before then. If anyone would be kind enough to sponsor me a few quid, please let me know and we’ll work out how to get the dosh to me.

Obviously, if you’re local then I can just get the cash. Anyone else can probably get it to me via bank transfer or *spit* PayPal. If you’re a UK taxpayer, make sure I get your postcode and house number as well so we can claw more back off the government!

Oh, the cause – it’s St Andrew’s Hospice. Not one I’ve been associated with in the past, but one that the school I currently work at raises a fair bit of money for.

Thanks in advance, folks.

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Andrew W.K. / Hawk Eyes, Glasgow Garage

Andrew W.K.
Andrew W.K. (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

[For full Flickr sets, see here: Andrew W.K … and Hawk Eyes]

Another gig for three sneaking in with two tickets – although I think most promoters (except perhaps TicketBastard) would think it pushing things a little too far to try and charge a foetus for entry. Tonight’s headliner is a party master and he brought with him a new band from down south somewhere:

Hawk Eyes

I have memories of M*A*S*H when I see that name and I’d rather have been watching DVDs to be honest. They’re not bad and a couple of the songs got the foot tapping, but there was nothing memorable about them at all. Decent musicians, nice lads, some promise and a few cheers from the crowd… but overall just a filler before the main act.

Actually, according to the Wikipedia article (linked above), they supported Ginger Wildheart on his tour in December. I knew the name was familiar. Whether it’s the same band or not, I don’t know, but it could well be them. If it is, then they’ve definitely got better.

For the record, though, little SkullKrusher hid near mummy’s spine for their set. She wasn’t impressed.

Andrew W.K.

Andrew W.K. sells himself as a party animal. A man with an ethos that’s summed up by the statement ” Every day you’re alive – you don’t need any other reason to party.” His Twitter feed is full of party tips, reasons to party, people he’s partied with… He exists purely to make sure that everyone else has a good time. And to keep white t-shirt and jeans manufacturers in business.

Imagine, if you will, a party hooter horn thing in human form and made of 100% pure awesome. This is Andrew W.K. If you’re not bouncing by the time the first chords of the first song are struck, then there’s a mortician outside who wants to know how you got out of the nice cold room they were keeping you in.

You may notice that the Flickr set has fewer photos than I normally take at gigs. This is partly due to AWK’s white clothing making him very hard to photograph without glowing, but mainly as I just had to ditch my camera with Gillian, get into the middle of the crowd and go fucking mental.

Touring on his first (and best) album I Get Wet, the whole thing was going to get an airing, and it did. You know how the crowd sings along to the intro to Iron Maiden’sFear of the Dark“? They did that through the entire set. It’s not often you’ll see a crowd enjoying a set as much as this one, bouncing around and singing along – not as much of the crowd as tonight. Barring the handful on the balcony and a few round the sides (including certain pregnant ones), I swear everyone was was going crazy.

Andrew W.K.
Andrew W.K. (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

This included SkullKrusher who very quickly moved to the front of mummy’s belly and started thrashing like a mad one. Our kid has taste already!

AWK himself is quite the musician, covering keyboards, vocals, guitar and drums (the last two briefly) during the set. He was joined by a motley crew who were as much into the fun as he was. I don’t think you could pick six musicians who looked any more different. Yes – six. Quite a crowded stage!

Drums, bass and three guitars were ably covered. In addition there was a remarkably hot woman in a leotard on backing vocals. Unlike the pretty young thing helping out at the Ginger gig back in December, this woman didn’t look out of place for a second. Giving it her all, singing well and very much a part of the act rather than being purely eye candy.

I did get a nice picture of her bum, though. Sorry.

The set lasted a solid ninety minutes with minimal “crowd chanting for the band to come back on stage” time. A couple of slower numbers did get the crowd to calm down a bit, but not for long. Towards the end we were treated to a new song, simply called “Head Bang”. Oh, yes. We did. An epic new number, much in the style of the first album and definitely a highlight of the set.

I once heard AWK’s music described – by someone criticising it – as a series of 2 minute long beer commercials. They’re right. It is. Short, sweet, hits you hard and leaves you laughing and wanting more. “Head Bang” continues that tradition and long may that tradition continue.

Checking his Wikipedia article, I was staggered to read that he’s only 32. That means he was only 22 when I saw him destroy Leeds Festival back when he toured supporting the album the first time. Now, I’ll be honest – I’m not a fan of his other material. It simply doesn’t match up to I Get Wet with the odd exception. However, with a live show this good, who cares?

A great night’s entertainment and all three of us headed home smiling. Well, I know two of us did – I’m pretty certain the third would have if she knew how.

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