Wednesday 23 November 2016


Out now in cinemas and on VOD is Jim Jarmusch's documentary about rock and roll pioneers, The Stooges.
Gimme Danger starts in typically unconventional fashion, showing the band perform after they've recorded all their albums and are on a path of immediate self-destruction, explaining that "The Stooges are one of the most influential groups in the history of rock and roll, but in 1973 they were dirt".

Flashing back to the band's formation, our narrator throughout this journey is the band's frontman and rock icon, Jim Osterberg, aka Iggy Pop. Iggy is one of those rock and roll figures, like Keith Richards, where it's hard to explain how he's still alive. Yet alive he is, a survivor of all the sex, drugs and rock and roll, and able to (impressively) recall so much about the history of the band, his influences and how he ended up where he is today. Starting out as a drummer for various bands in the late '60s, he moved to the front when he "got tired of looking at someones butt all the time".

Billed as the story of The Stooges, this documentary is honest enough about knowing the audience desire to focus on Iggy's time in the band, and is a better film for it. That's not to say that the other members of the band are ignored or even short changed, but when dealing with a force of nature like Pop, it's best to stand aside and allow him to take centre stage once more. Hey, even the band acknowledged this in their lifetime by often being billed as Iggy and the Stooges, and this film does a lot to show that Mike Watt, James Williamson, the Asheton brothers and so on, were more than just his backing band.

I'll be honest that apart from some rudimentary knowledge of the band's greatest hits, I was not aware of the history of The Stooges; their move from Michigan to New York, hanging out with Andy Warhol and Nico, Iggy inventing the stage dive and knocking his front teeth out in the process, and their under-acknowledged position as the fore-fathers of the punk movement. Iggy has been one of the most iconic frontmen of the last 40 years, and I would have to question director Jim Jarmusch's choice to place him centre frame and then under explore the solo career that followed, including his work with Lou Reed and David Bowie and growth into a godfather of rock and roll excess. It would have been a very different film, but it may have been a more rewarding one. Jarmusch has worked with Pop in his films before (Dead Man and Coffee and Cigarettes) and clearly has a good relationship with him, and perhaps felt that this chapter of his life was the most defining one.

Jarmusch is clearly a fan of the band (in his opinion "the greatest rock and roll band ever"), and Gimme Danger is successful at showcasing The Stooges as a vital live act who never achieved the recognition they deserved at the time. As this documentary comically states about the time the band drove their equipment truck into a bridge "they were victims of the lack of their own professionalism", but more than anything this documentary is able to express the band's desire to keep the show on the road, showing their rebirth into a modern music festival highlight.

Like the archive footage we see of the band's performances, Gimme Danger has a raw quality to it, but Iggy shines through and was born to entertain.



Money may not be able to buy you love, but it can buy you this lovely new exploration of the Beatles's touring years to watch at home, as loud as you can get it. Out now on DVD and blu-ray, Ron Howard's latest documentary follows the Fab Four during their formative years on the road and on their way to mega stardom, allowing you to be part of the mania.

If you're of a certain age like me, you'll not have been able to experience the Beatles in their heyday, only experiencing them through short clips on television that are used to celebrate their cultural importance. Part of the joy of this documentary is the chance to go long with their performances, soaking in all the atmosphere of their concerts and almost as entertainingly, their interviews with journalists, completely sideswiped by these cocky young men from Liverpool. Showing what brilliant musicians they were, playing to a packed crowd at Shea Stadium (through the crackly PA system, not that you could hear the band over the screams of fans anyway), they remain ever the showmen carrying on through the din, and in sync.

This is not a documentary about life in the Beatles as a whole, plagued with infighting, musical differences and, gulp, wives and girlfriends. This is a very specific snapshot about a very specific period in the bands existence in the 1960s when they were bigger than... well, you know who. As one of the most important and documented bands of the 20th Century, it's surprising to see how much new footage is presented here, making this a nostalgia binge for lifelong Beatles fans and an eye opener for people who under-estimate how much of a worldwide phenomenon they were.

It does place the band in the wider context of what was going on in the world, for example, the band's refusal to play to segregated audiences in America was a bold move that the band haven't been given enough credit for. Among the people able to offer some fascinating insights is Whoopi Goldberg, expressing her heartfelt reasons for loving The Beatles and what they stood for and stood up against.

Being on the road for such an extended period of time of course had a huge impact on their personal lives, but it's only their musical experimentation that's explored here. There's no John and Yoko, no Paul and Linda. Just John, Paul, George and Ringo and the connection and camaraderie between them has never been more clear. Yes, they make fun of each other, but it's out of brotherhood borne out of their rarest of situations. This documentary shows them becoming grown ups on the world stage, the band (in particular John) learning the hard way that there were scores of people waiting for them to put a foot wrong, ready to admonish them.

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years may be cumbersomely titled and quite US-centric, but there's absolutely no contest that this is Ron Howard's best film of the year. The choice to limit its scope to these years pays dividends, although a follow up chapter would be most welcome. A lovingly crafted documentary that, although it may not be able to offer too many revelations, is still a must see for any Beatles fans. It's fantastic and infectious; in short, it's fab.

Extra Features

Available in a few different formats, the 2 disc Collector's Edition features a whole disc of extras including a 64 page booklet with photos from The Beatles' private archive and an essay from music writer Jon Savage; a short documentary about the band's approach to songwriting with new interviews with Paul and Ringo; another short doc looking at the band's pre-fame existence in Liverpool; and the jewel of the extras is The Beatles in Concert, with live performances of some of their most iconic hits at one of the loudest locations you'll ever see.

Sunday 6 November 2016


Celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 sees a group of cops and criminals held up in an abandoned police station as they face off against a group of bad guys out for revenge against one of their inhabitants. All that stands between them and the gang knocking at their door is their wits and a couple of shotguns.

Carpenter is currently riding a wave of popularity for his instantly recognisable scores, touring his music to fans young and old. Assault on Precinct 13 has one of those scores, his rich electronic tones a welcome addition to any cinematic experienceThere's a real possibility that this newly re-released package will be seen by an audience more familiar with the films that have drawn inspiration from it like Shaun of the Dead, From Dusk til Dawn or even the 2006 remake, but the original stands up on its own. I say original, for as Carpenter freely admits, this is for all intents and purposes a reworking of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo with its depiction of 1970s lawlessness harking back to the savagery of the old west. Likewise, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead can be seen as strong influence, with the film's black protagonist and the largely faceless horde eager to gain access to the station. There is no one true leader, just an angry, violent and ignored element of society.

Personally I've always worried that, barring a couple of exceptions, Carpenter's films are better in idea than in execution, but I would happily class Assault on Precinct 13 as one of those exceptions. Perhaps it's worth noting that this is "Assault on Precinct 13, a film by John Carpenter" rather than "John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13", made at an earlier point in his varied career when he wasn't (to draw on his recent tour for a metaphor) playing to an audience who knew all of his greatest hits. His second theatrical release (two years after Dark Star but two years before Halloween), there's still that raw quality to his filmmaking that has been understandably honed across the course of his career.

One thing that instantly stands out on this new blu-ray is how surprisingly good this 40 year old film looks. The film is much more than just the siege scenes, and a lot more scenes take place during the day than I remembered, taking its time in establishing the tone and characters before thoroughly pulling the rug out from underneath its heroes (and anti-heroes). Precinct 13 has some scenes that have grown in infamy over the last 40 years (I'm looking at you, Ice Cream Truck scene) and it's to the film's credit that they're still able to pack a real punch, even by today's standards of gratuitous and un-signposted violence.

Anchored by some solid performances by Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston as the excellently named Ethan Bishop and Napoleon Wilson, if this is your first experience or you are a Carpenter fanatic, this new package has a wealth of extra features that make it worth a look. Assault on Precinct 13 is Carpenter at his stripped down, action heavy best.

Extras include:

- Commentaries from John Carpenter and Tommy Lee Wallace
- Interview with star Austin Stoker
- Interview with Carpenter's right hand man Tommy Lee Wallace
- Interview with executive producer Joseph Kaufman
- Trailer
- The Limited edition box also includes art cards and a copy of Carpenter's electronic score