Royally impressed…

They’ve topped the charts, announced an Academy date and are resulting in a few more guitars going in the bin. From a couple of weeks back, this is my State.ie review. I called it first!

 

WHEN it emerged that it only took two people to be as loud as war – see Jack and Meg White, Death From Above 1979 and The Black Keys – the suspicion was that riff-happy duos would start popping up all over the landscape, but this has not been the case. It appears that while three-pieces require a cut above in terms of ability, duos must be of a different category of multitasking altogether to get the same rock results as more crowded outfits.

So with the above acts either disbanded, reformed or stuck in a holding pattern, the arrival of Royal Blood is timely. The Brighton combo of bassist/singer Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher here blast out a riff manifesto on their debut of the like not seen since long before Queens of the Stone Age began needing Elton John to make records.

Kerr dashes about the fret and pedal boards to make something as mundane as a guitar a superfluous idea. From the opening bars of ‘Out Of The Black’, the riffs, each elastic, bludgeoning and smart, hammer forth. Scuzzed-up, megaphone vocals hitch a ride on pulsating, buzzsaw basslines on slick single ‘Figure It Out’ before breaking into an outro rampage. ‘You Can Be So Cruel’ is a more glam cousin of Queens’ ‘Do It Again’, while ‘Blood Hands’ slows things to a hard, bluesy lurch. Only half of ‘Little Monster’’s title is accurate.

The playing is imperious. Overdubs aside, Kerr’s bass, like Jesse F Keeler before him, does the work of three men, and in Thatcher, a new granite-hard percussion talent is revealed. But a key ingredient is that vocal; like a battle-hardened Dan Auerbach or an Anglian Tim Vanhammel, Kerr – an admitted Jeff Buckley disciple – brings vital contrast to the sonic testosterone with wild, huffing yelps, melody and perk. There’s a fair whiff of adolescence about it all, but if Royal Blood stick around and their sound calcifies with age, you can imagine a whole generation pairing up and ditching six strings for four.

4/5

A moody movie ginger

There’s much to admire about JDIFF winner Love Eternal. I just wished it had taken itself a little less seriously…

IAN (Robert De Hoog) is a ‘non-functioning human being’, turning his back on life at the age of 16 and confining himself to his bedroom to mope online, obsess over death and go a bit ‘Howard Hughes’. His mother dies and he decides to take an indirect path towards checking out of life altogether. This involves a cold fascination with women who may not be long for this world themselves. When Ian starts making them dinner and bringing them for walks along the seaside, it’s but a guitar riff away from Tom Petty’s Mary Jane’s Last Dance.

Adapted from Kei Oishi’s novel In Love With The Dead, this macabre curio won the Dublin Film Critics Circle ‘Best Irish Feature’ at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival this year. De Hoog’s performance is a study in low-wattage control, leaving the female roles (Pollyanna McIntosh and Amanda Ryan) to breathe colour into the glacial mood, even while dead. 

It’s stylish work but cracks start to show after a while. De Hoog’s blank face and meandering psychopathy start to get tiresome as the central message of the film drifts from sight. Is writer/director Brendan Muldowney suggesting that psychos have feelings too? Or that it’s OK to be a deathly recluse who mummifies bodies and collects dead-animal carcasses? Such ideas would make for dark fun if Love Eternal had more humour in its DNA. Instead, it wants to be a cold-blooded mood piece that relies on Tom Comerford’s handsome cinematography and a kooky soundtrack to drum-up enigma. 

First published in the Sunday Independent

Swede as a nut

It may not roll off the tongue easily but The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is a delight to behold.

IF you took away the mawkish US cheese of Forrest Gump and scrubbed it with Scandinavian functionality and cleanliness, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out His Window and Disappeared might be the result. As laden with charm and wit as it is with syllables in its title, Felix Herngren’s adaptation of the Jonas Jonasson novel is a self-effacing cinema event as only the Swedish could muster. 

It’s hard to know at the start where things will go as we watch oldtimer Allan Karlsson (Swedish comedy star Robert Gustafsson) vengefully blowing up a fox who killed his beloved cat before being chucked in a nursing home. Fed up with things on his 100th birthday, he shuffles out the window and into a hot-potch adventure of vicious gangsters, new friends and tag-alongs, and a circus elephant.

Blissfully unaware of the seriousness of any situation he finds himself, Allan regularly looks back on his long and eventful life and how his interest in munitions brought him to key junctures in world history and seats at the dinner table with the likes of Oppenheimer, Franco and Stalin. 

These elaborate flashbacks – having a knees-up with Stalin, trying to escape a gulag with Einstein’s dim-witted twin brother – supply Herngren’s film with a high belly-laugh quotient, the dotty humour and Gustafsson’s shrugging tone proving irresistible. In the background, a soundtrack of bubbling brass and some lively cinematography keep the fires of mischief lit.

Daft and delightful.

First published in the Sunday Independent

Lukewarm In July

I thought Cold In July was a bit meh and far from the sum of its parts. Here’s what I said on Sunday…

OH DEAR. It turns out that meek middle-American suburbanites have the capacity to become gun-toting, steel-eyed angels of death if the mood takes them. This is the fate of Richard (a be-mulleted Michael C Hall) in Jim Mickle’s vaguely preposterous adaptation of Joe R Lansdale’s crime novel. 

Downing a burglar one night when he hears footsteps in the sitting room, Richard is soon being intimidated by the dead intruder’s tough-as-old-boot-leather father (a show-stealing Sam Shepard). Between police procedural jigs and conspiratorial reels, it emerges that the pair have been duped and the man shot by Richard is not actually who police say he is. Lo and behold, Southern caricature and private investigator Don Jonson turns up to help them get to the bottom of things and go baddie-hunting.

On paper, Cold In July looks like a nicely atmospheric mix of Prisoners-like dark moralising and Bronson-y hard justice. The cast also looks formidable – Hall is hot property following Dexter and Six Feet Under, while Jonson’s powers of self-parody have struck gold before. So why, after a fine opening half, does the whole thing deflate so steadily? 

It must be something to do with the characters, who, apart from Shepard’s grunting old-timer, are not given enough reasons to prance so readily into the bloody finale. Also, writers Mickle and Nick Damici have an annoying habit of killing the noir with comedic one-liners. Genre hopping is all well and good, provided the thread running between is unshakeable. Disappointing. 

First published in the Sunday Independent

Getting Arcade Fired Up…

IN December 2010, Arcade Fire waltzed into Dublin and tore the 02 a new you-know-what. That night, I popped my cherry on the much-lauded Canadian collective and have not been the same man since. I hereby re-post this review I did for state.ie to prove that while I may have been the only Dubliner absent on Sunday in Marlay Park (I have a very demanding cat), I was there, man…

 

THE reasons I never ‘got’ Arcade Fire remain unclear. It may have been that I grew sick of people ordering me to love them upon my arrival home from a couple of years away. Returning to Ireland in 2005, it was all Orcade Foyre this, Orcade Foyre that. Jump forward five years, and I’m exiting the O2 breathless and emotional and struggling to think of the last group that has made a real, tangible connection with their audience on such a level. Boringly, U2 is all I can muster.

It should also be noted that tonight probably wasn’t even their best Irish show ever. Opening with the chugging insistence of ‘Ready To Start’, they were greeted by a white noise of welcome but still had to get us out of bed, as it were. ‘Stand the fuck up!” barked Win Butler to the seated tiers before ‘Month of May’’s staccato drone tore off in their direction. This show was happening, even if the crowd had to be prodded once or twice. ‘Neighborhood #2 (Laika)’ sees another plea to stand and be counted, but the malaise is then well and truly bludgeoned by ‘No Cars Go’. Salutes and a ‘HEY!’ chant that could split the ice outside give it the semblance of a fascist political rally. Arcade Fire’s aural Red Bull has found the bloodstream.

The audience are as proud of muscular new LP The Suburbs as the band are, swishing along to the title track and its hushed Thomas Newman-style outro, but the bar did get a little busier during ‘Modern Man’. It’s like watching two old friends catch up. “We know it’s hard times… politicians are fucking you over,” sighs Butler, unselfconsciously, at one point. The building roars in agreement.

The octet are finished with foreplay though, and with the encore in sight, they decide it’s time to slip it in. Butler wonders aloud which of their O2 performances will be the best, and that in their experience it’s usually the second. The O2 jeers in response. ‘Well then show us what you’ve fucking got. 1, 2, 3,…’ he snarls before ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’ is detonated.

Watching the group stroll away, the audience realises they have limited time left with their old friends. When they return to more white noise for a final brace of songs, everybody – everybody – wants to make up for initial lethargy. ‘Wake Up’ unites each last living voice in the former Point Depot. The chorus is overwhelming, like a winning try against England in Croke Park. We file out into the cold along with 13,000 or so others, our buttons firmly pushed. Now I get it.

Getting down with Mrs Brown…

I’m nothing if not fair, as this review in yesterday’s Sunday Independent of Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie should prove. While Messrs O’Carroll and Duffy took potshots on the Marian Finucane Show yesterday at the film critics of Dublin for doing their job and having objective critical opinions about a film (gasp!), the cash has rolled in for the release’s opening weekend, begging the question – why bother guys? You’ve won. Be the bigger person. 

 

WITH one or two exceptions, TV show migrations to the big screen tend to be vanity projects rather than dignified creative augmentations. Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie is no different really, its remit to deliver a cinema-sized slice of the sitcom for its bafflingly vast legions of fans.

You certainly cannot begrudge creator/writer/star Brendan O’Carroll the success the show has had in the UK after his many years of slog but it remains unlikely that this typically crass-humoured, panto-ish outing will make many new converts.

O’Carroll and director Ben Kellett step out from the studio into Dublin’s inner city itself, dressing the capital in primary colours and a sunny sheen while peopling her with charmingly gruff fishwives and merry Moore Street stallholders. There’s a bit of a song-and-dance number before plot drama is installed by way of greedy South Side developers (“boo”) and Russian gangsters (“hiss”) who are out to disrupt the proud street trader tradition.

As everyone runs around flapping their arms to try and thwart them, the fourth wall is lowered here and there in bemusing style. O’Carroll winks knowingly at the camera and outtakes are left in the screenplay, leaving glimpses of the fun had on set and providing respite from the hair-dryer strength Mullarkey. Joe Duffy, Frank Kelly, ex-Ireland hooker Shane Byrne and (of course) June Rogers join the usual cast members made up of Carroll’s real-life family and friends.

It’s tempting to dismiss Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie as a €4million odd inflation of O’Carroll’s award-winning ego but the truth is that it is very much fit for purpose, romping with potty-mouthed abandon and doing what it says on the tin. That said, if you are not yet inured to his Mrs Bleedin’ Doubtfire shtick, then steer clear.

First published in the Sunday Independent

Film review: Benny & Jolene

Director: Jamie Adams
Exclusively at IFI 

PERHAPS the most odious thing about Benny & Jolene is the notions that it has about its own wit. Pegging itself as a gag-athon road-movie/mock-rockumentary in keeping with the finest comedic traditions of Ricky Gervais, it feels that it can bring a new breadth of hilarity to the peerless Spinal Tap mould. How dare it, quite frankly.

That it underperforms was never going to be a surprise, but there are offences happening at a few levels of Jamie Adams’s debut that turn an underwhelming film into an outright mistake on everyone’s part.

Craig Roberts (who lit up Richard Ayoade’s Submarine) and Charlotte Ritchie faff about for 88 minutes as the titular freak-folk duo who find themselves with a surprise hit on their hands before they can even really play. Off they go on a tour of Wales with their manager and PR girl (This Is England’s Rosamund Hanson). Every comic device is knackered; they’re given an old camper van instead of a tourbus; no one turns up to their record store signing; they read reviews of their music that are nearly as scathing as this one.

All along, Benny is holding a candle for Jolene leading to all sorts of inane flapping and overcooked interactions that, like the dire, lazy script, miss the runway altogether. It’s despairing to watch and a cautionary reminder that improv and underwriting are strictly for masters.