Ice Age 4

Time to take the kids to the cinema for a change, and with the holidays here (or “coming soon” if you’re south of the border) we’ll shortly be inundated with choice. Right now the big release is:

Ice Age 4: Continental Drift

“Holy crab!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: as the earth starts to reshape itself, Manny and his crew become separated from the herd

See it if you like: the other films in the series

And the ongoing saga of the mammoth, sloth and sabre-tooth continues in this fourth instalment. After a disappointing and mawkish sequel, things perked up with the third film. So how does episode four match up?

The first point to note is that it held Little Mister’s attention for pretty much the entire duration. This is a Good Thing. Even around the hour mark when he informed me that he needed to go to the toilet, I had to walk him out backwards so that he could keep watching the screen until we got through the doors! Little Miss seemed to enjoy it, too.

Like more animations these days, the story and humour are on several levels and IA4 does manage to appeal across the board. The animation is bold and impressive. The geek in me is still impressed with realistic hair (Manny’s daughter Peaches is the great example of this) and the movement of the characters is a joy to watch.

Thankfully there’s only one song in the movie with the exception of the awful mess in the end credits, so the story doesn’t really slow down too much. Of course, being a kids’ film there’s a lot of focus on not being mean to people, family being important and all that. Getting past that, though, there’s enough other stuff going on to distract adults from the forced moral issues.

Star of the series, if course, is Scrat the squirrel-like creature in constant search of the perfect acorn. He doesn’t disappoint during his sequences here and – as ever – is by far and away the highlight.

Oh, as a bonus there’s a Maggie Simpson short before the main feature that is well worth catching. With no speech at all, it’s a bit of a novelty as far as Simpsons episodes go, but it’s cute and clever at the same time.

I’m sure Ice Age 4 will be decreed as “unsuitable” by the more extreme Christian web pages as it deals with evolution and continental separation. From the point of view of a non-idiot, it’s a fun film for kids with enough going on to keep their accompanying parent-folk happy.

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Storage 24

Sneaking in a quick late night showing after the kids went to be, we were limited to the one option – a new low-budget British horror:

Storage 24

“yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap…”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: escaped monster/alien goes on the loose in claustrophobic area with a handful of civilians left to fight it

See it if you like: low budget jumpy horrors with a twist of dark humour

I’ve seen this described as “Attack the Storage”, but it’s a very different film from the recent sci-fi comedy Attack the Block (which I was amazed to see was on TV the other night – so soon!). The cast is much smaller, there’s only one monster (no spoiler, you find that out in about the first 10 minutes) and it’s not got the same level of laugh-out-loud humour.

It’s written by and stars Noel Clarke who I think most will recognise from his stint on Doctor Who. Flicking through his bio, I notice that he’s actually appeared in most of the things he’s written (amongst them Fast Girls which is also currently on release, Kidulthood, Adulthood, 4.3.2.1 and an episode of Torchwood). The plot’s nothing deep and has plenty of influence from older “trapped in an enclosed area while the monster picks them off” films.

Obviously, the trick is to make things a bit different. There’s a decent amount of inter-character backstory that comes out once Charlie (Clarke) and his mate Chris (Colin O’Donoghue) bump into Charlie’s ex Shelley (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) and her mates in a storage lock-up as they divvy up the remainder of their relationship.

Shortly before their arrival, a plane crash has deposited a nasty creature in the area and is also affecting the electrics which drops all the shutters and locks them in. Stage set, let the stalking commence!

Credit to the director, Johannes Roberts, for keeping things tense while still allowing the characters to develop in such a short film. Also, the creature effects – for what is definitely a low-budget effort – are pretty damn good. Roberts ensures that the creature gets plenty of screen time without revealing any zips or strings.

Despite not having the laughter level of Attack the Block (sorry, but it is going to get compared a lot) there are some good guffaws in just the right places to relieve the tension.

Other than this, there isn’t much to tell. It’s short, sharp, enjoyable and has a brilliant twist in the last few seconds which absolutely made the film for me. Don’t go in expecting Hollywood-level effects and you won’t be disappointed. Possibly a cult classic in the making, somewhere along the lines of a more scary Doctor Who episode than an Alien-beater.

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Combichrist + support – The Arches, Glasgow

Combichrist
Combichrist (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

[More pics located in this Flickr set]

Not a band I’d heard of before a week or so ago, but after checking out some videos on YouTube and a handful of recommendations from friends I decided to take a chance. The Arches is a weirdly-shaped venue, and there were three support acts so I aimed to get there for the doors opening. However, there seemed to be some technical issues so the 7:30 advertised time ended up nearer the 8pm time printed on the ticket (which I’d not seen previously as I was collecting in on entry).

Xavia were due on at 8, but hit the stage maybe a quarter of an hour later. Definitely local judging by the lead singer’s voice (which sounded pretty much along the lines of “like us or I’ll knife you” in its Glaswegian-ness), they managed to get a small pocket of the crowd going with their electro-goth-metal fusion. Not a bad little band, frankly. If I had to pick out a band they reminded me of, I would go for the Sisters of Mercy, though fans of both bands would probably lynch me for saying such a thing.

Next in line were Surgyn –  pair of lads who looked like students dressed in white rubber aprons. The “music” consisted of a MacBook playing backing rhythm while they lampooned around shouting. Sorry, but completely not my thing. Full marks for the “look” and having the balls to get up on that stage, but otherwise they were no better than Boyzone. No musical instruments and lot of jumping about. Pants.

Jayce Lewis was main support, another act I’ve never heard of but judging by the amount of merchandise available I guess he’s more popular than I expected. Not a bad front man, but the music didn’t really hit any nerves for me. A fair bit of the crowd definitely knew his material and enjoyed it well enough. Good, but forgettable.

Combichrist
Combichrist (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

Finally, running pretty late and eventually over-running the “strict curfew” by a significant amount, Andy LePlegua (a.k.a. Combichrist) took to the stage for what was a pretty non-stop performance. Interaction with the crowd was fairly minimal, but this could have been down to trying to cram all the songs into a shortened set as a result of the delays. Don’t get me wrong, he was hardly charisma-less but there were just no rambling between-song speeches or delays.

From another point of view, it was simply 90 minutes or so of relentless “electronic body music“.

Combichrist’s music seems to vary slightly from material a little closer to Surgyn’s, through to something more akin to Rammstein. What makes the difference is the introduction of real instruments. After a couple of songs, the electronica was joined by a proper drummer on proper drums. Later on, a rather scary-looking guitarist (I shit you not – he could have passed for the masked guy from Scream) added another layer of depth to the sound.

Now, I can’t name a single song, but the one thing that really made the music interesting was that drum kit. I don’t care how great your laptop and synths and all that shite are, you simply cannot have a thumping soundtrack without proper drums. Bollocks to your “unf, unf” and “tsh, tsh”. They pale into insignificance when put up against a madman with two sticks, some stretched skin and a few metal frisbees to batter the ever-loving crap out of.

This is what separated Combichrist from the other bands of the evening. They were more brutal, harder, faster and overall just more metal. OK, so they’re definitely not a traditional metal act but there was enough in there to keep me interested. Not the sort of thing I’d normally listen to, but definitely a good live act.

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Rock of Ages

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAfter failing to get to see a film during the week (partially courtesy of Cineworld and their decision to only have one showing a day of the 2D versions of films), we managed to find the time at the weekend for a second attempt. Sadly, only the one film as Abe Lincoln is still only on at 13:30 at our local.

Rock of Ages

“I’m a stripper.”
I’m in a boy band.”
“… You win.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl bugger it up, boy and girl sort it out again at the end. With rock.

See it if you like: stage musicals, proper music, guilty pleasures

In honesty, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, other than “nothing like any musical you’ve ever seen before” or something, as declared by the trailer. Well, just for the record it is exactly like most musicals based around the music industry you’ve ever seen (one look at the “plot-in-a-nutshell” above will give that away). What it does have going for it is a kick-ass soundtrack, some of which I assume is taken from the stage play on which the film is based.

OK, so I’m biased. I like proper music and this is my primary reason for taking the chance and going to see it. There’s no doubting the supporting cast are strong enough – Tom Cruise as the flaky rock god, Catherine Zeta-Jones as the sexy wife of the mayor who is trying to rid the town of evil rock ‘n’ roll, Alec Baldwin as the club owner, Russell Brand as a prick (OK, not actually but he is).

Our leads are relatively new to the big movie game. Diego Boneta‘s history seems to be in dodgy Spanish-language soaps and a 90210 remake whereas Julianne Hough has worked her way through Disney-style musicals and the remake of Footloose. She also has an incredibly nasal voice which got on my wick from the first song.

Oh, yeah. Songs. This is a musical. Not just a film with some songs thrown in around the plot,  but the type of film where crowds of random people break into dance routines randomly. So more Showgirls (to which is has been compared in some reviews) than School of Rock.

That was jarring, I have to admit. Mentally, I expect that kind of thing on a stage rather than a cinema screen. But once I got over that little brain hurdle, I started to settle in and enjoy it more – mainly as the choice of songs was so good, even if the vocal performances were somewhat lacking at times.

As well as the aforementioned Hough, Cruise should stick to abseiling down stupidly tall buildings. Kudos to him for having a go at expanding his acting range, but he’s taken one step too far outside of his comfort zone here. He’s not awful but he’s not very good either. His performance is superb as Stacee Jaxx, washed-up drunk mentalist rock star – but it’s let down by his singing performance. A shame as that’s kind of key here.

Off to the side, Baldwin and Brand play very well off each other though their little twist in the story is telegraphed very far in advance. Anyone who didn’t see that coming really needs to get out more. I still can’t stand Brand, but he fits in well here as the comedy relief, and annoyingly gets many of the best lines. Oh, and Baldwin can’t sing but at least he had the sense to not even really try.

Is this a great musical? Probably on stage. I loved the couple of times where a pair of songs were intertwined – it worked incredibly well and I can just see this being so much fun in a theatre. That’s missing with a cinema setting, which is a shame. It’s an enjoyable film, but a live cast whooping it up in front of you would be hugely superior. Something like the grossly under-rated Bandslam is far better suited to the big screen.

Is it the best rock-n-roll-based film ever made? Nah. Off the top of my head Detroit Rock City and Airheads knock it for six, both for story and laughs.

Importantly, though, it doesn’t care. It’s not a film that remotely takes itself seriously and this is where it wins. It’s debauched, fun, silly and entertaining with some great songs – and you end up thinking “I could have been a rock star, dammit” by the time the credits roll.

Worth taking a chance on. There’s not much else out at the moment. At least not unless you mind being rail-roaded into paying extra for bloody 3D.

 

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Sacred Reich – King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow

Sacred Reich
Sacred Reich (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

[Full set of photos in this Flickr set]

Twenty five years since their first release and sixteen years since their last, Sacred Reich last played the UK when a good portion of this crowd were still half-collections of DNA in separate parents who quite possibly hadn’t even met. OK, maybe not quite that long but not far from it. The last time I saw them in the UK (and the last time I’m aware of them being in the UK) was in 1991, opening for Sepultura on the “Arise” tour.

Sacred Reich are one of those bands that “got away”. While the likes of Metallica and Megadeth were riding a huge thrashing wave, SR and many of their other peers didn’t quite shift the units required to take off on those big world tours. A shame, as Phil Rind and company produced some cracking songs a good selection of which battered the eardrums of the congregated this evening.

Their music is quite politically motivated, covering topics such as commercialism, suicide, warmongering, environmental policy and so forth. Oh, and vampires. They also manage to blend some huge, fast riffs and belting choruses with slow, crushing rhythms and opening chords you can bounce and chant “OI!” to.

Sacred Reich
Sacred Reich (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

I don’t think the band skipped a good song from their (small) catalogue during their 75-minute set.  Opening with “Independent” and moving swiftly on to “Love…Hate” before pausing to greet the crowd, Phil (or “Phul” as he’s referred to in Glaswegian) struggled to be heard over the songs and chants. Even with a microphone and a stack of amps, the small venue gave the crowd almost as much volume as the band between songs.

There were no tracks from 1996’s Heal, and “Free” was the only other track from the next most recent (1993) album, Independent. The remainder of the set was from the band’s earliest – and best – two-and-a-half albums.

“I Don’t Know”, “Death Squad”, “Administrative Decision”, and “Crimes Against Humanity” provided some variety, whilst classic thrash/acoustic mash-up “Who’s To Blame” raised the roof as soon as the intro was played.

The only cover of the night, a great version of Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, came towards the end of the set which was rounded off by “American Way” and the superb “Surf Nicaragua” that had the pit thrashing like a rather pissed-off tiger shark.

It’s great still being able to see bands I rocked to back in the 1990’s coming back, still playing the old favourites. Sacred Reich are fairly unusual in that they’re not supporting a new release. Exodus, Testament, Annihilator…  are managing to find a tour with a new release here or there. Sacred Reich aren’t. I have no idea how they’re funding this excursion but even if it barely leaves them beer money I’m incredibly grateful they had Glasgow on their itinerary.

A classic set from a classic band. Long may they rock!

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