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He’s never bloody here

Off to Barcelona now til Sunday night. Get me etc. Stay tuned next week for my 80s cop show extravaganza.

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Mesrine: Killer Instinct

French gangster movies have, in the past, tended to be unpleasantly brutal, shouty affairs, populated by a rogue’s gallery of vicious hoods and sadistic,
bent cops that, more often than not, leave you wanting a thorough shower afterwards. So while it’s certainly not all roses, Mesrine: Killer Instinct is un plaisir particulier by comparison, coming across as a stylishly-shot period biopic
in the mould of Goodfellas or Scarface, and featuring a central turn from Vincent Cassel that’s both charismatic and callous in equal measures.

Until now, Jacques Mesrine would have been scarcely known outside of France and Canada, the countries where he forged his infamy, but throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s he cut a relentless, bloody swathe on both sides of the Atlantic until his death in 1979, gunned down by les flics. Although not perhaps as much of
a folk hero as some of his American counterparts, he was the closest thing Francophones have had to a Dillinger or Jesse James. And Jean-Francois Richet has deemed his story eventful enough to make not one, but two films about him.

Death Instinct is the first, and once we’re past a wonderfully suspenseful multi-camera opening sequence, it starts at the start, with Mesrine’s return home from national service in Algeria with the French Army. Unsurprisingly, the notion of a quiet life in the suburbs with his bossy mother and meek father doesn’t appeal to him, and he quickly hooks up with his old mate Paul (Gilles Lellouche), doing petty burglaries and spending his ill-gotten gains on gambling and women. His natural flair for criminality puts him on the radar of local kingpin Guido (Gerard Depardieu, bigger than ever) who brings him on board for
higher stakes work, and this early part of the film is pure Scorsese homage,
all sharp tailoring, nightclub entrances, roistering laddishness and back office showdowns, right down to the inadequate husband role he fulfils for the young family he’s sired with Spanish holiday fling Sofia (Elena Anaya).

Following a spell in French chokey and a short-lived go at the straight life, Mesrine debunks to Canada with his new squeeze Jeanne (Cecile De France), and pretty much picks up where he left off. No mere gangster’s moll, Jeanne’s as much into crime as Jacques is, and they’re soon back in trouble after a kidnapping attempt goes awry. Mesrine and a French-Canadian accomplice
(Roy Dupuis) then end up in a Canadian prison whose conditioning techniques – depicted in a fairly harrowing sequence of systematic brutality – make Oz look like a day spa. Mesrine, however, refuses to break, and after coming out the other side of his solitary confinement even colder and meaner than before, breaks out to commit a string of armed robberies – and worse – in Montreal.

Events reach a natural pause with the promise of Part Two – Public Enemy No. 1 – to follow. On the promise of Part One, it can’t come soon enough, and this is largely down to the wonderfully complex performance Cassel offers up.
He’s long since matured from the suburban wild child he essayed in La Haine, and while he still takes his share of hair-trigger nutjob roles, this portrayal of Mesrine is an altogether richer bouillabaisse, sucking in both his fellow characters and we, the audience, with a feral magnetism that can, without warning, turn on a centime into surly disobedience or behind-the-fingers acts
of violence. Yet Richet still feels at pains to show him as a caring father
(if not husband), and as a man as much failed by society as a menace to it.
It’s hard to tell how much of this is poetic licence, but in actual fact it doesn’t really need it: love him or loathe him, you just can’t take your eyes off Jacques Mesrine, and this reviewer for one will be coming back for more.

Yo, Joe, whaddaya know? It’s the latest toy-franchise-derived summer blockbuster rolling off the Hollywood assembly line, and like Transformers,
it’s steeped in nostalgia for anyone who grew up in the ‘80s. Back then,
of course, we knew G.I. Joe as Action Force; while our older brothers had
Action Man, with his realistic gripping hands and Eagle Eyes, we had an internationally rebranded range of figures and comics dealing with a multinational special ops taskforce fighting the Cobra terrorist organisation across the globe. It was a great way to learn about geography and semi-automatic weapons simultaneously, with the always welcome bonus of good and bad ninjas, and once the robots-in-disguise popcorn tallies came flooding in, the Joeniverse was an obvious choice for similar revival.

So, in light of Michael Bay’s two too-much-of-everything CGI x ADD depictions of Transformers, how does G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra measure up? Well, as with all these things nowadays, it has to incorporate the “opening chapter character establishment” longueurs deemed necessary to allow non-acolytes figure out who everyone is – and they’re always worse when you’re dealing with a team of characters rather than a single superhero. X-Men suffered from it, Transformers suffered from it and so, to an extent, does Joe, reducing most of the team to ciphers in order to squeeze as many of them in as possible. Channing Tatum’s Duke is a super soldier and super nice guy. Marlon Wayans’ Ripcord is the wisecracking Black Comic Relief Who Can Handle Himself When He Needs To. Dennis Quaid’s Hawk is the gruff, experienced father figure to his troops. An engaging TV actor of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s calibre is reduced to a cocky Cockney tough nut. As is often the case, the bad guys have more screen-time, but Christopher Eccleston – having previously shown his unsuitability for action movie villains in Gone In 60 Seconds – comes back for scenery-chewing seconds as a duplicitous Scottish arms dealer. Sienna Miller fares better as the heartless Baroness, seemingly having a tremendous time
as she struts round in a leather catsuit with her arrogant ninja accomplice Storm Shadow (a coolly aerobic Lee Byung-hun).

In much the same way, the whole plot acts as one big MacGuffin; G.I. Joe’s biggest scraps were always with Cobra, and as the subtitle implies, this deals with their inception – the big villains fans would expect from this world of characters only show their fangs very late in the game. So really, it’s all just one big franchise setup, keeping its fingers crossed for a second chapter green light. Perhaps mindful of this, the action rarely relents. There are plenty of flashy vehicles and weapons, lots of bright and shiny CGI firepower and explosions, and military jargon and evil scheming aplenty. Courtesy of the reliably rubber-limbed Ray Park’s good ninja Snake Eyes, there’s more mano a mano scrapping than you can shake a nunchuka at, and a solid grunts’n’goons body count (albeit a fairly bloodless 12A one) clocks up throughout. There’s the feeling of having seen it all before, with one plot twist blatantly nicked from X-Men,
yet it’s still a passable bit of popcorn action entertainment which hasn’t forgotten to pack its sense of humour, with one Parisian set-piece in particular proving to be worth the admission price alone. Anyone over 16 or not hopped up on caffeine may come out a bit dizzier than when they went in, but if it’s mindless wham-bam you’re after, you could do much worse.

It’s a little bit Wicker Man, a little bit Alice in Wonderland, and hey, don’t us kids just love it? For some reason the official Universal vid on Youtube (as you can see below) is a bit shonky in quality, better official version here.

Sorry for the lack of recent updates, I was in deepest Cavan for a while,
where the internet is dialup (remember that?!) and blogging is a technological impossibility. They don’t even have YouTube – how can they live?

Anyhoo, stay tuned for some new musings coming up nnnooooo… soon.

This isn’t an official music vid but it’s got the band’s props nonetheless,
and why not? For people of a certain age (ie me) it brings back wonderful Hughesian memories. That Molly Ringwald sure could move… *sigh*

Walking up the North Circular Road on Saturday evening, it was pretty apparent that, for the second night of three, love had come to town in droves. U2 gigs in Dublin’s fair city are always meant to be something else, the only shows on tour that fans will stream to from all over the world, vying for tickets with the homegrown masses whose pride for the Feckin’ Fab Four has never dwindled, and it would have been interesting to see what the home/away ratio was
in a packed-out Croke Park across the three nights. But when you’re on that perpetual job audition treadmill for best band in the world, it always stands to reason that a U2 Dublin show is both an international event and a homecoming celebration. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way I lost my party hat.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like U2. I do. I like them a lot. But, I don’t love them. Can’t say I ever have. And for a non-committed partner like me, Saturday night’s gig at Croke Park was a show that only a U2 lover – or maybe first-timer – could love: good in spots but an overall disappointment.

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Perhaps it’s the law of diminishing returns; this has been the 4th time I’ve seen them live, albeit over a period of 16 years, and I’ve gotta say that while
their massive “Claw” stage set is monstrously impressive, I just felt a lack of engagement throughout, both in sound and vision. Of course, that’s always
a risk when you’re sitting in the back end of the Davin Upper, but ever since
Zoo TV I’ve always come away from their shows sated by good showmanship,
good music, and a wonderful sideshow of visual spectacle to go with it all;
a dazzling, cutting-edge multimedia accompaniment to keep even those in
Row ZZZ enthralled. Occasional moments aside, the 360 Tour visuals didn’t really do it for me, and as for the band themselves? Well…

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No Line On The Horizon isn’t a bad album, but in the pantheon of U2’s output, it’s by no means a great one; I’d wager that only Moment Of Surrender and perhaps Magnificent will truly stand the test of time. To therefore open with four songs in a row from NLOTH (the forgettable duo of Breathe and the title track, the ludicrous Get On Your Boots and the aforementioned Magnificent) was therefore, as Bobby Womack once said, a helluva tester. For sure they were just warming up – and Bono’s vocals on Breathe were initially extremely muddy – but it certainly failed to rouse anyone outside the fabled Red Zone, and it was only Beautiful Day (a song forever ruined for me by its association with ITV’s woeful early-Noughties Premiership coverage) that really kicked things off.

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A decent Mysterious Ways kept the pot boiling, complete with a Dancing-In-
The-Dark-style fan grab from the front row for an equally self-conscious and delighted Chilean girl who managed the rare feat of rendering Bono temporarily tongue-tied with a request to come to his house. Then things picked up nicely with that stadium staple, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. By this stage, the signs were promising: Bono, The Edge and Adam all looked to be enjoying themselves, and Larry – finally starting to show some long-delayed signs of ageing – was keeping it all tight at the back.

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Then, somewhat of a lull: despite being generally well received, Angel Of Harlem came across as anodyne to me and was followed by the midtempo pairing of
In A Little While and Unknown Caller, another so-so NLOTH offering. When you feel the need to display the lyrics to a new song up on screen, karaoke-style,
it’s hardly the most ringing endorsement of your faith in its right to be on the setlist. It felt like the early momentum which had built so belatedly had dissipated and we were right back at square one. Thankfully, dusk had
given way to night by now, and the tapered cylindrical screen which loomed above the band, having so far only shown closeups of the guys on stage,
really started kicking into life, extending downwards and shimmering
with kaleidoscopic colours as the Edge teased out an extended intro to
The Unforgettable Fire. However, even this U2 classic seemed to ring flat, floating away on the air like gossamer.

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Things got back on track somewhat with a punchy City of Blinding Lights and Vertigo, and an entertaining video sequence of the band’s disembodied heads and hands clapping out an ‘avin it laaaaarge intro to I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (yet another newie). Its uptempo, tribal rhythm lifted it a notch above the blandness of its album incarnation and paved the way for the triple whammy of Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride and MLK – all admittedly brilliant.
Due to their heart-on-sleeve support of Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi during Walk On, it felt more like a statement than a song, and the bleedin’ literal gesture of getting 40 or so people to – yep – walk on stage holding masks of her face was somewhat undermined by the occasional goon grinning out at the crowd from behind theirs.

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The international incidents keep coming with a Desmond Tutu interlude,
which seems to hint at a neat segue to One, but instead the Edge suckerpunches the crowd with the choppy intro to a somewhat constricted Where The Streets Have No Name, before they do play One, rounding the set off in an 80,000-strong mass singalong.

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Encore time brought a quick wardrobe and mic change for Bono –
an LED-studded leather jacket and “steering wheel” mic on a pole suspended from the Claw which he took great delight from swinging and hanging out of – and they were both to the fore during Ultraviolet, heralded by a bizarre
robotic vocal intro. This was followed by another congregational hymnal of
With Or Without You, and the last song of the night – the beautiful, stately, heartrending Moment Of Surrender. A cracking song, and a cracking rendition, but perhaps a strangely downbeat note on which to finish.

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So on this evidence, are they still the biggest band in the world? Undoubtedly. It felt like a mass religious gathering at times, with zealous fans in regular states of rapture, and even if close scrutiny shows that Bono can’t belt out
the choruses anymore, he’s got plenty of people on hand to do it for him.
On previous visits to the temple I’ve been caught up myself, but on Saturday night I have to say I walked home agnostic.