Three Minute Review #4: Fist of Fury (1972)

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Fist of Fury is to date the only Bruce Lee film I’ve ever seen, and I was surprised by the actor’s range. For someone who hung their trade off their one inch punch martial arts skills, he turns in a fine young thug, comical phone repair man and romantic lead. Not what you would expect from a Kung Fu flick at all. The other actors fade into the background next to Lee, and the portrayal of the Japanese does come across as bitter (particularly in light of the current tensions between the countries), but in context the Chinese did have a lot to be angry about after their awful treatment at the hands of their oppressors. The version I watched was widescreen and in Cantonese: I can’t abide dubbed foreign film. A good entry point for those who don’t have a clue about martial arts. Or neck punching.

7/10

Three Minute Review #3: The Sentinel (1977)

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I was disappointed to find out this film was made by white-haired, deceased insurance salesman Michael Winner in the opening credits, and thus predictable boredom turned to irritation after a mere 15 minutes. The plot is absolute guff, special effects only as sophisticated as blue face-paint, and shocks completely absent for what I stupidly assumed was a horror film. I felt sorry for Cristina Reins’ involvement in this rip-off of the more popular religious horrors of the era. Worst of all is the climax, in which Winner’s vision of hell on earth is twenty people with various disabilities and deformities dragging their stumps up a staircase, groaning. Offensive on multiple levels, there’s more fun to be had standing in the rain being kicked in the groin by a tramp.

1/10

Three Minute Review #2: Breadcrumb Trail (2014)

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This superb documentary about the defunct (sort of) post-rock band Slint doesn’t attempt to address the mystique created following their dissolution; merely acknowledge it. Once the songs on Spiderland, the band’s second album, were released, it was up to listeners to absorb, filter and interpret; then share by word-of-mouth (the most effective endorsement even in the days of Twitter). By this time, the members had all moved onto other projects. You could take other things from this documentary, but it remains objective throughout, neither revealing too much about the personal lives of the creators nor their anxieties from the difficult birth process. In the end, it’s just a record. A really fucking great record.

10/10

Three Minute Review #1: The Last House On The Left (1972)

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From the black and white poster I was expecting something much more grim and uncomfortable, but instead ended up watching a cross between Deliverance and Home Alone, more comical than blood-curdling. The odd soundtrack, bumbling cops and cringe-inducing dialogue barely kept me viewing to the end. Rob Zombie ripped off the tone wholesale and the soundtrack, recorded by one of the stars of this gashfest, belongs in a bargain bin. After 85 minutes I wasn’t actually sure what the hell I’d just watched.

2/10

How Not To Run A Swimming Pool (I’m talking about you, Jesmond Pool in Newcastle Upon Tyne)

Did you ever see this before?

 

THE POOL documentary from The Day Today (1994)

 

Chris Morris and Armando Ianucci’s mockumentary about British swimming pools is as relevant today as it was in 1994. Because I’ve just been to a pool in Newcastle that is equally, or perhaps shitter, than the one they cleverly took the piss out of.

Jesmond Pool, or Jesmond Community Leisure Pool as it’s now known since it was rebranded by some charity or other in 1992, was where I learned to swim. I managed to scrape through a 10m swimming badge examination back in the Eighties, which remains one of my few sporting achievements. The pool itself hasn’t changed much since those weekly swimming sessions. In fact, I’d wager most of the elastoplasts that were floating like detritus in the lower depths were from my primary school classmates.

Today was my first visit since 1990, and I’d like to thank the people who’ve taken it over for making it a swimming experience that I’ll never forget. Or repeat.

The £4.20 price tag for an adult swim is, for a start, rather steep considering the lack of facilities. I was naively expecting it to be cheaper than the £5.10 I paid at the vastly superior Beckenham Spa, which I highly recommend despite the huge hole it puts in your pocket. The reasons will become apparent.

There’s disabled access for those who require it, though I doubt there are many clamouring for it. And considering how awful the pavements are for anyone who is disabled in ye olde streets of Jesmond, the copious amount of wankers in Audi A4’s and students tweeting frantically about their latest dose of STD’s are likely to keep these poor sods well away. Acorn Road is a hotbed of pricks, students, wankers, and arsehole students. People who use “like” every two words in each sentence. Middle-aged men who are pissed at four in the afternoon screaming about woodwork outside Greggs. Spoiled teens complaining about being unable to find a place with en suite bathroom for less than £700 pcm. There are four coffee shops on a short road packed with boring people boring others about “relationships” (whatever they are) and nothing else. Jesus, had he existed, died for this shit.

The lobby area was completely different from the old days, and has bugger all else apart from a vending machine and a counter with four layabout staff watching the match. Having only a fiver note and a 50p piece, I asked if I could get change for the lockers. It being a Saturday, I might as well have asked for him to translate Ulysses into Korean from the blank stare I got. “We don’t have any change.” That was the extent of his response. No “I’ll see if I can find some for you” or “I’m awfully sorry, we don’t have any change at the moment but…”. I’m sorry for interrupting the football during your working hours.

Eventually, one of the staff who was in her sixties volunteered to look in the vending machine, and found a single 20p piece. This still caused problems for the barely-pubic front of house brat who was unable to add up a pile of 5p pieces to make up 50p. Then when I went to pay for the swim, they wanted to add another 30p onto the transaction for using a card. No thanks. With this faff over and done with, I went into the changing room.

Changed it most certainly had. There are only 2 cubicles, and neither of these are private as they lack doors (compared with the 30+ at Beckenham, though it is a mixed changing area for both men, women and children). The lockers take your 20p but don’t return them, which means if you want to take a shower you have to leave your shower stuff out to be nicked (this is Newcastle, after all) or open your locker after swimming and take the chance of having your gear robbed in one go. The keys don’t have an elasticated wrist band, so I ended up having to leave the key on the floor by the pool because I don’t have the same trunks from the 80s with the little pocket.

The floor was completely awash with water, and no staff came through with a mop to clean it up during the hour I was there. Kids were running around so I’m surprised none of them didn’t brain themselves after a bad slip. Not to mention the floor was dirty, with weird bits of string, empty shower gel bottles and filth dotted around. I was grossed out at the thought of putting my feet on the floor and this is not something that bothers me as my feet are vile at the best of times.

If you don’t like toilet stories, avoid this paragraph. I had to use the bog, and helpfully, there was no toilet paper in there. At all. The previous user had caked half of his dump on the back of the porcelain like a Rothko, so in disgust I had to take a brush to it. The floor in here was piss-soaked. I was enjoying myself not one jot.

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Finally, I went into the main pool area. It was exactly the same as it was 25 years ago, except some of it had been annexed by a sauna and gym area. One member of staff was on duty and there was perhaps seven swimmers in the pool at 2:30pm. The water itself was warm and the act of swimming was performed until I was too knackered to do any more. Apart from a couple of hairy sods who tried to have a free sauna and got caught and bollocked, it was uneventful.

Back in the changing room, I unloaded all my gear into one of the individual changing rooms and then realised I’d done something utterly moronic. I’d forgotten to bring a towel. Well done. Drip drying looked like my only option, so I hopped in the shower then got dressed slowly. The coup de grace was the hair drier, which was a hand drier above head height with the nozzle pointed downwards. I shit you not. Cold air blasting from above, which didn’t do very much to dry my mop. It was almost worthy of appearing on FAIL BLOG. But that’s funny.

As the Great White once said: “Money well spent.”

tl;dr: Jesmond Pool is RUBBISH and OVERPRICED.

New Lifetime feature about moidas and idiots

http://www.lifetimetv.co.uk/features/bonnie-clyde-is-doomed-love-all-its-cracked-up-to-be

Fred West was in there at one point, but NO. And if you are wondering, women aren’t to blame: men need to stop showing off by nicking cars and doing bad killings.

Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’: Forgiveness on a global scale

I’ve been listening to every Bowie album I own back-to-back in the closed sound booth that is my car. There’s an 80s-shaped gap in the discography with the exception of Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. 90s? No Tin Machine, Earthling or the drab Heathen and Hours. Check out Last.fm kids: listeners steer well clear of these albums like they’ve been sprayed with hot excrement.

When the Beeb aired the nearly-excellent documentary Five Years a few months back, it was rather telling that they didn’t bother to cover anything after the release of the Niles Rodger’s produced Let’s Dance album. Five years in a period of ten, basically. There’s been no critical reappraisal of his Nine Inch Nails-inspired industrial concept album 1. Outside, nor did follow up 2. Contamination see release likely because Mr. Jones feared a further critical mauling. I have a soft spot for Outside because it coincided with my own discovery of the Duke and the Rez, but it is ten tracks too long. There’s a great album trapped in filler. For an artist that has always been tight when it comes to extras and never released a double LP, Outside is unusually flabby and suffers from a lack of self-editing. Now we’ve got playlists, so the Segue dross can be happily excised.

Five Years was knackered for me by the inclusion of total gobshite and public masturbator John Harris, hilariously credited as ‘journalist and author’. Bowie doesn’t give interviews and loathed giving them during his prolific periods, so it’s incredible that the documentary makers included this utter bellend who has no credentials other than ownership of a Best Of from the HMV Christmas sale. “It’s magical – he’s seen the cosmos in the bus stop” spurts forth the strangled cock on ‘Life On Mars’. “To be on Dick Cavett meant you had arrived.” How do you know, Harris? You’re British, for fucks sake. You weren’t even born or in the right country when this interview aired. Nor did any Brits know who the hell Dick Cavett was, or is. Thank you for wasting valuable screen time when we could have been watching the Dame strut around in a feather boa or hanging out in a Berlin drag club. Excellent writer and ex-NME columnist Charles Shaar Murray is permitted three brief voxpops, and Cameron Crowe disappointingly absent. Both of these journalists are important to contextualise Bowie having met and interviewed the man in person during the period the doc covers. I’m wondering if the running time was an issue and they ended up using footage from Dicksplash Harris simply because they were stuffed for material. Then again, I imagine that the current Bowie management were involved and didn’t want to include too much material that could taint his legacy or focus on all the powder he put up his beak.

 

That brings us to the latest album, The Next Day. Allegedly EMI didn’t realise a new album was due until a week before the release date, which is a little unbelievable. However, you’re not exactly going to balk when one of your biggest stars and money-spinners decides to drop a new record for the first time in nearly 10 years. And while there are some great songs on there, over repeated listens I’ve become more jaded with what now comes across as a pastiche of his previous self. The appalling album sleeve, which quite rightly has been slated from Beckenham to New Brunswick, is completely baffling. If the implication is that everything Derek has released post-Heroes is shit, then he could have at least used another photograph by Sukita Masayoshi (an exhibition of whose work I sadly missed in Osaka recently).

There are great tracks like ‘The Stars Are Out Tonight’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’ which I’d play over and over. Then there’s stuff like ‘I’d Rather Be High’ and ‘Dirty Boys’ which cause me to grimace at the thought of a pensioner snorting blow off teenage girls, or worse. No overanalysis of the lyrics are required. This is the problem for the aging musician. Is he drawing in new fans or appealing to the old guard? The latter, I’m sure is the case. The album is as a whole a more enjoyable listening experience than the previous two, yet the positive reviews that emerged after the media scrum were all positive. SPIN gave it 5/10, and Mark Fisher called The Next Day an album of “quotidian mediocrity”, saying it was entirely undeserving of its wide acclaim and that the “wave of hyperbole it generated point to a wider malaise in contemporary music” because it proved that anything of low artistic merit could achieve success via “artfully timed PR”. That previous sentence was lifted from Wiki entirely because I couldn’t find a link online. THAT’LL DO.

Yawningly, The Independent, The Telegraph and Q gave it 5 stars and The Guardian 4 stars (and whose pre- and post-release coverage was daily and mind-numbing). Publications that all appeal to the dull demographic I belong to: white, male, 18-34. Though I doubt many 18 year olds were buying either the record or reading about it.

Yet I haven’t eradicated The Next Day from my iPod. I didn’t go so far as to buy the vinyl or the double CD set, which I’m thankful as I recently purged my entire CD collection. Perhaps it’s still too new to appreciate. It took me five years (bumtish) to understand what the hell Tool were doing with Aenima. It’s bland, it’s inoffensive and oft unmoving. But it’s Bowie, and we have to be thankful that he could be arsed to give it one more push before he heads off to the great big cloud in the sky for multi-millionaires. We aren’t invited.

RetroView: Resident Evil (Biohazard) 4 (PS2) [2005]

PS2_Resi4_Sleeve I’ll admit to you now that I’m getting rather long in the tooth these days. I was an early adopter of the PS1 and bought the first Resident Evil when it was released in 1996. Whatever possessed me to buy it in the first place eludes me now, though I suspect it was because I was a teenager and they were marketed as “adult” games before we took that for granted.

Even then, I was appalled at how cheesy the live-action intro was, and I’m glad that it bit the dust and wasn’t included in the remake. It was a Necessary Evil bearing in mind the capabilities of the hardware at the time (sorry for that pun, I’m lazy).

A few years back a friend let me borrow the GameCube version  of Resi 4 but it went neglected in favour of PC gaming. I found the changes to the basic control system difficult to get to grips with and the 360 degree over-the-shoulder camera view threw me totally. The old timer was having a tough time growing up with the game.

Spin on to 2013 and for some inexplicable reason I became compelled to give the PS2 version of Resi 4 a go. And after playing it for the last fortnight, I’ve experienced suffering on an almost unprecedented scale. Died 60-plus times. Reloaded the game hundreds of times. Even did the unthinkable and resorted to all-out cheating. Even in normal, it’s a very challenging game the first time around. But did I enjoy it? Yes, yes, yes.

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Once the issues with the controls were ironed out (which took a few hours), I found myself engrossed with the setpieces, more-so than the mansion or the police station. While the earlier chapters set in the village and the countryside were a departure in both tone and shocking content (the body of the burning policeman was a particularly gruesome visual that had me thinking of The Hills Have Eyes), I had to accept that the series had to move away from the static camera angles, slow-witted groaning zombies and unintentionally dated visuals of the previous instalments. Fighting my way round a village or shooting gems from a rope-bridge to make a few quid was not the Resident Evil I knew anyway. After I battled my way through the graveyard and met the first of the Los Illuminados, I started to feel like I was in more familiar territory: creepy gothic visuals, unsettling noises, surprises from all angles…

Ultimately, the biggest thing to get used to was the fact that this game didn’t feel survival horror any more, but more evolved. There are few scares in Resi 4, unlike Silent Hill 2 which still has the power to frighten the hell out of me, simply because there is no time to be scared. Limited ammo and console processing power meant that you were rarely fighting more than a handful of zombs back in the PS1 days, but when you’re faced with six-plus bloodthirsty villagers with raised scythes and a stack of ammo in your back pocket, you get trigger happy. There’s a definite shift from the empty corridor with a clock puzzle to both barrels blazing at a bunch of cultists. The corpses soon turn to sticky bubbles and you need to keep buying bigger briefcases for all the ammo they drop (as an aside, this is corrected somewhat in Resi 5 where you are limited to 9 active items that makes things a lot harder – I’ll cover that game in a later feature). It also makes you wonder why people infected with Las Plagas are walking around with undigested live ammunition in their stomachs.

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What are the irks? The only one I can think of right now: Ashley. Yes, she may be the reason why you’re playing the game in the first place, but her character is dashed by nailsdownblackboard voice-acting and Super Ham dialogue. Overtime. OVERTIME?!? Kill me now. I wasn’t sure exactly why I needed to switch to her character from time to time as it didn’t feel to me like it was moving the narrative forward. I did like the Harry Potter knights that come swinging at you with huge axes though.

Oh shi-That said, the move away from the zombies and tyrants that we’re all familiar with is a breath of fresh air. The Marilyn Manson-like creepy cultists are high on my list of favourites, the El Gigantes were intimidating and tough to bring down, but my personal fave was the Iron Maiden, not just because they’re named after the first band I ever saw live, but because I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of the room as they slunk towards me. Brown trousers time for the gamer because of its awesome defence mechanism (and the hentai heavy breathing). Lining up those shots with the thermal sight was a real challenge, and it was also the first time in the game where I ran out of ammo and had to bolt out of the room and miss out on the pickups.

Where I found myself struggling most was during the quick-on-the-button ‘dodge the croc’ moments which had me hitting continue so much the bloody controller was smoking. Perhaps old age has made me slow on the draw. I was always a fraction of a second off and so met a grisly demise. This possibly explains why I’ve never played Guitar Hero or Parapa the Rapper. Perhaps I should.

The HD version of Resi 4 is now available on the PS3, along with ports to iOS and mobile devices. For a game that nearly brought an end to the franchise and had four false starts, it was instrumental in giving the series a kick up the arse and introducing mechanics we take for granted in third-person shooters these days. Perhaps not revolutionary, but certainly a great example of evolution in a series.

Next up: Resident Evil 5 (or Biohazard 5 Alternative Edition, as I’m playing the Japanese version!)

The Making of ‘A Hero Of Our Time’ (Or: Why Does It Take 5 Years For Amy Blue To Record An Album?)

Yesterday, I uploaded the new Amy Blue album, A Hero Of Our Time. For most people, that’s not particularly interesting. For the band, who are not world famous or signed to a major label, it ended up becoming the difficult second album. Yet, I’m sitting here now wondering why did take so long.

Some of the songs were written as far back as 2008 but were never considered for our (shorter) first album, The Fortress & The Fatalist. That was our first trip into the studio and was of course an eye-opening experience. But having been in the studio and seeing what it takes to record, I think we all realised that there were other ways of getting the songs done without having to spend so much money and go through the stress and misery of having to plan for a full day out with cars loaded up with gear, grub and grumpy bandmates. We felt the pressure of the clock and at the time were frustrated with our bassist who failed to make any of the sessions. Simon and I recorded the bass parts ourselves, though I have never been confident of my own bass playing. Totally different discipline and I end up playing it like a six string. So inevitably, the parts weren’t complex or particularly interesting.

When we booked our studio time to record AHOOT, we didn’t have an album title in mind nor a real direction – just a bunch of songs that we’d been collecting since Trev joined the band as the new bassist. He’d brought with him a positive attitude and a sense of humour, and slotted into our dynamic well. We loaded up a couple of cars with gear, grub and tired bandmates (we weren’t grumpy at the time) and headed to Random Colours in North London to record with Rich Johnston, who’d produced our first record. This time, we’d decided with Rich to try a different approach to the recording – to capture our live sound by playing together in the open studio space. It didn’t turn out how we’d hoped.

The night before, I was pretty wound up from driving through London past lunatics and from the anticipation of recording. I didn’t sleep a wink. Recording is one of my favourite things to do, and I was looking forward to the sessions. We got to the studio early, set up, had a cup of tea, then cracked on. It was January, and the studio was freezing cold. We had fan heaters blasting and I must have drank about 10 cups of tea before lunch. We cut ‘The Language of Ghosts’ first, a song that Simon and I recorded as a two-piece for our first EP back in 2006 but as a four-piece. This version was heavier and more intense than our electro/demo version and we’d been playing it around London as a full band for a couple of years. I do generally believe that you shouldn’t go back and rerecord a song as there’s always something new to be working on, but I was particularly fond of ‘Ghosts’ and felt we could transform it into something more intense (and shoegazey, which was the original intention).

 

We recorded as quickly as possible, but by the end of the day the strain was beginning to take its toll, and I nearly collapsed during ‘Scissors’, the longest song we had. The band continued working without me while I took some time to lie down in the studio next door in the dark. I was worn out, overtired, stressed out. At the time, I wasn’t in a very good way. Lex drove me home later where I crashed out and slept like the dead. The next day we were back at the studio to continue the sessions.

After hearing the mixes, I think we all agreed that the performances were shit.

Lex was right in saying that we worked best in our rehearsal space, close together and without other parties looking over our shoulders. We needed the pressure off to do our best performances. Even though there was a bit of ‘Urgh, we have to do it all AGAIN’, we… did it again. This time, we kept things simple – recording the drums and bass and a lead guitar track. No vocals, no extra guitars to muddy the basic take. After this, we sifted through these recordings and ditched the duffers – false starts, missed beats, etc. Then comes the overdubbing, which to you recording n00bs means recording more parts on top of the basic take. Simon and I like this stage – we’re often still writing new sections or melodies up until this point, plus it gives you opportunity to experiment in your own time. Finally, the vocals go on the top and the thing gets mixed, mastered, then released.

This time, there were some decisions made that resulted in Trev leaving the band. Simon was unhappy with his part on one of the songs and ‘did a B0lly’ (as we call it) where he took the executive decision to rerecord the part himself. With all of us working, and most of our rehearsals taken up with working on a vast set of new songs that had been written in the months following the January sessions, there never seemed to be the time. I don’t think either Simon or I felt that Trev wanted to put in the extra time to redo his parts either, or that he may get upset that it was decided what he’d done wasn’t good enough. It’s very hard to talk about this sort of thing, particularly when none of us are very confrontational people. You could argue that ‘doing it yourself’ is not the way to handle this sort of situation, but of course, you aren’t in our band or know the personalities involved. In retrospect, I feel it’s a great shame that Trev decided to walk out over a pride issue, as it’s something that we should have talked about, but I don’t think he ever wanted to. He came to the mixing sessions for at least half of the songs and gave his feedback and I think he was pleased with how things were going.

We mixed for around six months. Rerecorded guitar parts. Redid vocals. Our friend Tom came in later on to help with the mixing and I think improved what we’d done a great deal. By the end of 2012, the record was pretty much done with the exception of the artwork. At this point, I sat on it, listening to it over and over and agonising over various things that irked me. I sent it to friends around the world and asked what they thought. The thing got sidelined for a bit while I was playing in A Thousand Knives, and for my short attention span had become a bit stale after 18 months of new songs and jamming that Amy Blue had done before Lex and Simon took a break during last year. We reconvened before I headed out to Japan for an all day recording session, with Tom on bass, and got about 15 tracks on tape. Look for that in 2018!

I’m glad AHOOT is finally out there. It was a slog, but I doubt you’ll hear any of that in a 3 minute pop-punk song. Simon really carried the weight on this one – the artwork (I’d also like the thank AJ for helping out with the cover design), the title, the extensive recordings. It is very much his baby and we’re both proud of it.