28 Weeks Later – 6/10


28 Days Later but for a dumbed down American audience…


Director Danny Boyle took zombie films to the next level with his seminal classic 28 Days Later, unfortunately 28 Weeks Later feels like two steps back. This is especially disappointing as it all starts off so well. The opening scene is a frenzied and harrowing introduction and a reminder of how terrifying the world has become in the wake of the rage virus. It is mostly downhill from there as England is now a military state in the hands of the American army which means Rose Byrne putting on an American accent and Jeremy Renner playing an unimaginative stock soldier character.

The scenes with British trio Robert Carlyle, Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton work best as this most brings to mind what made the original so good. Hails of bullets and massive explosions are a mile away from the isolation and claustrophobia of the first film. The behaviour of the infected has changed as well with them becoming a lot more ‘bitey’ to suit the common perception of zombies and there is even suggestion of retained memories and a survival extinct which is both unexplained and at odds with 28 Days Later.


Another disappointment is that key moments from the first film such as eye gouging and the unforgettable soundtrack are recycled here although the opening and the helicopter scene are powerful and wholly original which makes 28 Weeks Later a frustrating watch as it is evident the potential for a great piece of work was present.

There have been much worse horror sequels but 28 Days Later was so good it didn’t really need the story to be continued.

28 Days Later – 8.5/10


Even one girls horrific acting doesn’t make Danny Boyle’s bleakest work any less nightmarish…


Zombie films had gone seriously out of fashion during the 90’s but Danny Boyle brought the classic genre back with a bang in 2002 with 28 Days Later. Whilst the ‘infected’ in Boyle’s horror masterpiece are not technically zombies as they don’t die and come back to life, in every other sense they are the same as the army of the undead made so popular by George A. Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead franchise. What Danny Boyle did is move away from shuffling, groaning corpses to sprinting and screaming lunatics crashing through your front room window. It is such a simple idea to have the zombies running rather than stumbling but it reinvigorated the genre and paved the way for Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake as well as the Resident Evil franchise, World War Z, Zombieland and many others.

28 Days Later is more than just a zombie film though, taking in isolation and man’s inhumanity or ‘people killing people’ as it is described so succinctly by the always reliable Christopher Ecclestone, there is a haunting quality that lingers long after the final credits. It is Cillian Murphy in the main role who really impresses, seeing his character completely transformed in the third act whilst still maintaining a believable performance. In support Brendan Gleeson and Naomie Harris are both a little over the top and this grates at times but much worse is newcomer Megan Burns as Gleeson’s daughter Hannah. Almost every one of Burns’ lines is delivered so robotically it is hard to watch and it is no surprise she never acted again after 28 Days Later.


Megan Burns stinks the place out as Hannah.

In the opening ‘Hello’ sequence and the climactic ‘In a Heartbeat’ conclusion, Danny Boyle has crafted two of the most perfect scenes in the history of horror and it is these bookends that ensure that 28 Days Later will always be considered a horror classic.

Menace Beach @ The Harley Sheffield


The last band I went to see in Sheffield were The Dandy Warhols so it is quite fitting that their influence looms large in 90’s throwbacks Menace Beach. Occupying the space somewhere between The Dandy’s and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Leeds band Menace Beach strolled on stage at the Harley with little fanfare having set up the equipment themselves.

MenaceBeach 1

Liza Violet’s hushed vocals kicked things off with a low key rendition of Tennis Court. It took a few songs to get the sound right particularly on Ryan Needham’s vocals which is a shame because aside from that Elastics and particularly Drop Outs sounded flawless. Menace Beach are mostly indebted to 90’s alt-rock hero’s such as Pavement, Breeders and Pixies but listen hard enough and there is a hint of their English upbringing as they almost sound like Elastica or even the Boo Radleys at their poppiest moments.

By the time new song Super Transporterreum landed Menace Beach had found their range and the simple singalong chorus of that song made the crowd suitably rowdy for set highlight Taste Like Medicine.


The Harley itself is one of the most intimate venue’s in Sheffield and as well as always playing a key part in the annual Tramlines festival it has played host to such high quality acts as Courtney Barnett, Royal Blood, Drenge, Alt-J, Peace, Bastille, and of course the Arctic Monkeys in recent years. The 200 capacity venue is the perfect place for a DIY slacker band such as Menace Beach and the Yorkshire band seemed totally at home crammed in on the tiny stage.


Album opener Come On Give Up had the front rows dancing and the hook laden chorus would have had beer cans thrown across the venue were Menace Beach the kind of band to attract such a crowd. As it was they settled for some serious head nodding and feet tapping. An audience full of music geeks to watch a band who wear their alternative influence on their sleeves. You could almost smell the limited edition 7″ singles emanating from the crowd.

Set closer Lowtalkin’ works much better live than it does on the album but it still seemed an odd choice to close the evening off especially as the eponymous Ratworld remained unplayed. Ratworld is far and away Menace Beach’s best song and I was moved to confront guitarist Nick Chantler after the gig who broke the news to me that they have actually never played that song live. He took my unwanted intrusion into his life so well however that I immediately felt bad and decided to let this one go.

Like their peers Yuck, Menace Beach are probably always going to play similar sized venues to the Harley but when they fit so well in there does it really matter?

Ex Machina – 8/10.


Ex Machina shows once again that a robot can either pass the ‘Turing Test’ or it can follow Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics… never both.


Celebrated author and scriptwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later) turns director in this straight forward sci-fi fable. If anyone had any doubts about Garland making the transition from writer to director, Ex Machina has emphatically allayed those fears. Ex Machina looks beautiful throughout and Garland brings the best out of a talented cast.

Domhnall Gleeson follows his excellent performance in Frank with another assured turn as ‘rat in a maze’ Caleb. Gleeson played a robot himself in Black Mirror, in a story not too dissimilar to this one. In truth, the plot behind Ex Machina is a familiar one, drawing from such commonly used sources as Frankenstein, Kubrick and even Terminator. Garland’s twisting and unpredictable script and an excellent score keeps things fresh however as well as the performance from the cast.


Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson share a great chemistry

Alongside Gleeson is Oscar Isaac who is quickly becoming the next big thing and Isaac is masterful throughout Ex Machina. Gleeson and Isaac have a great chemistry, which bodes well for the upcoming Star Wars sequel in which they both star.

Rounding off the cast is Alicia Vikander as Ava – A heady mix of Hal: 9000 and Pris Stratton from Blade Runner. Vikander more than holds her own with Isaac and Gleeson with a vulnerable yet confident turn.


Alicia Vikander ensures Ava will live long in the memory

Ex Machina is hardly original and even all the biblical imagery and symbolism is par for the course but when executed so brilliantly it hardly matters.

For every good movie about AI there are ten bad ones. Ex Machina is one of the best.

Insidious: Chapter 3 – 6/10


Director Leigh Wannell plays to Insidious’ strengths with scare by numbers sequel…


It’s only been five years since Insidious picked up where Paranormal Activity left off in reviving the ghost story genre. Since then we have enjoyed and endured Sinister, Annabelle, The Conjuring, The Woman in Black and all the lacklustre sequels that have gone with them.

Insidious 2 was perhaps the worst of the bunch but with Insidious 3, first time director and long time mainstay of the horror scene Leigh Wannell has gone back to basics.


Obviously this kind of thing happens a lot.

The original Insidious was an instant horror classic as it took ghosts out of the witching hour and dropped them in your front room during daylight. It was only when reverting to horror movie type by casting the demons back in shadows in the latter part of the movie that things became a bit daft. Whilst Insidious: Chapter 3 falls into the same trap, it has to be said lessons have been learnt from the disastrous Insidious 2.


This actress is probably someone’s actual real life Grandma. Poor kid.

The second film in the Insidious franchise took itself far too seriously. If you go down that road in any genre it opens you up to increased scrutiny but particularly in horror. The reason people love franchises like The Evil Dead and the Elm Street movies is because they were under no illusions as to their audience or their artistic merit. Insidious: Chapter 3 casts series mainstay and all round wonderful actress Lin Shaye as a kind of belated scream queen and the film as a whole benefits from her po faced delivery of hilariously awful dialogue.

The result of this slightly more low brow attitude is that when the comic relief inevitably shows up it doesn’t clang as much as it did in Insidious 2. Shaye aside however the rest of the cast are uniformly terrible with Dermot Mulroney particularly cringe inducing as the wise cracking dad. Despite being a pretty experienced actress for her age, protagonist Stefanie Scott is vanilla in human form and the rest of the cast are similarly boring and forgettable. Luckily the main antagonist – ‘the man who cannot breath’ is actually the most memorable of this entire franchise and he contributes to some genuinely frightening moments. As always with these films though the scares are cheap and nothing here will leave a lasting impression.

Insidious will always be overshadowed by the far superior Sinister for me, but at least with Insidious: Chapter 3 the franchise is back on track.

Tramlines 2015


Tramlines has got bigger and bigger since it started in 2009 so this year the main stage has moved from Devonshire Green to the much bigger Ponderosa Park and the headliners reflect the upward trajectory of what is now considered one of the best smaller festivals in the country.


2015 saw The Charlatans and Basement Jaxx rubbing shoulders with Mobb Deep and De La Soul (the latter two replacing Wu Tang Clan who cancelled) as headliners, along with new indie bands such as Slaves, Ultimate Painting and Honeyblood. Also on the bill were Sheffield heroes The Crookes, Slow Club and Joe Carnell Jr (formally of Milburn), as well as genuine music legends such as the Sugarhill Gang and Martha Reeves.


The Charlatans were playing Tramlines for the first time.

After securing a Tramlines ticket from a random man I met on facebook with only 24 hours to go before the bands kicked off, I arrived in Sheffield in high spirits for the 2015 Tramlines festival and just in time to walk down to the new main stage at Ponderosa Park. ‘It’s about ten minutes away from Devonshire Green’ my friend Luke had cheerily informed me. A thirty minute rain soaked trudge later after using Google Maps and asking numerous amused looking locals I finally reached the Main Stage just as Slaves were starting.

The Kent band shrugged off recent criticism from fellow shouty ‘voice of the working class’ heroes Sleaford Mods to deliver a spirited and ferocious set that had Sheffield jumping and culminated in a crowd surfing Isaac Holman having his hat stolen by someone in the crowd. Being a conscientious lot in South Yorkshire the hat was eventually returned to the Slaves front man following a chant of ‘where’s my hat?’. Reports that #hatbantz was trending all over Twitter are yet to be confirmed.

Slaves love a bit of hat related tom foolery.

Following Slaves and headlining Friday night, were Britpop legends The Charlatans. Still going strong after 12 albums and numerous line up changes, Tim Burgess led the Northwich rockers through a strong set that was lapped up by the adoring Sheffield crowd. New songs such as ‘Let The Good Times Be Never Ending’ and ‘Come Home Baby’ slotted in nicely next to old favourites such as ‘How High’ and ‘North Country Boy’ and by the time it came to play regular set closer ‘Sproston Green’ it was clear that the Charlatans had done their job – everyone left with a smile as wide as Tim Burgess’ had been all evening. Shit haircut. Top frontman.


Tim Burgess – Old enough to know better

Saturday brought the promise of seeing quite a few bands I didn’t know much about starting with Seven Tors at Sheffield cathedral in the early afternoon. Whilst there is no denying that they are a talented bunch, their Mumford & Daughters style folk shtick wasn’t really for me but it was a nice introduction to what is an awe inspiring venue. Next up on the Devonshire Green was Doncaster’s own Bang Bang Romeo. I have been a relative late comer to BBR but after impressing me during their support slot for Sleaford Mods at the Priory Doncaster earlier this year they full on blew me away at Tramlines. Imposing and ridiculously talented front woman Anastasia Walker prowls round the stage daring anyone in the crowd not to clap along and the future looks bright for Doncaster’s most promising band. She does kind of scare the shit out of me though.


Bang Bang Romeo!

Following this I caught Sheffield band Best Friends raucous set also on the Devonshire Green stage but the sound quality lacked the punch of their studio recordings leaving the impression they may have been more suited to a smaller venue.

After this it was off to the Leadmill to watch Radio Sheffield DJ (and Doncaster resident) Christian Carlisle’s hot tips Dead English Gentlemen. I must admit that other than brilliant instrumental track ‘Alan Arthur’ they didn’t do much for me but it is still very early days for the Sheffield trio.

Back at the Devonshire Green stage Slow Club delighted the crowd with a career spanning set with easily enough quality and disparate material to justify their hour long running time. Then to the highlight of Saturday for me – Ultimate Painting at Sheffield Cathedral. The beautiful and awe inspiring cathedral was the perfect setting for Ultimate Painting’s atmospheric indie pop with ‘Riverside’ and ‘Central Park Blues’ sounding particularly strong and a big crowd nodded their approval. Even some men that can only be described as ‘pricks’ pushing in front of me and then just standing still thus obscuring my view for the second half of the show failed to dampen my enjoyment.

Ultimate Painting (James Hoare, left, and Jack Cooper)

Ultimate Painting were a good fit for Sheffield Cathedral

So onto Sunday and the Buzzcocks on the main stage who despite constant and pouring rain had the crowd dancing to hits such as ‘What Do I Get?’ and of course ‘Ever Fallen In Love’. Buzzcocks put a lot of the younger acts I saw at Tramlines to shame and despite looking like a band made up entirely of people’s uncles these days, they can still strike a rock pose as good as any young pretenders. So hungover, hungry and tired I started the long walk back to the Devonshire Green stage to catch the Crookes who, needless to say, did not disappoint. I consider The Crookes to be the most underrated band in the country at the moment and they played a blinding performance in front of a decent crowd with new song The World is Waiting more than holding its own alongside older set staples such as Backstreet Loves. The World is Waiting was a set highlight in actuality and I sincerely hope this is the song that breaks the Crookes and enables them to get the respect they so deserve.


The Crookes – Sheffield’s Finest.

Immediately following The Crookes was another Sheffield act Joe Carnall Jr who was surprisingly amazing, the highlight being his new material which sounds at least a match for anything his former band Milburn produced. Carnall Jr threw in a couple of Milburn songs for the crowd however, with Well, Well, Well receiving a particularly rousing reception from his hometown fans.


Joe Carnall Jr told me to fuck off at one point. A proud moment?

So after numerous bands, too many pints of cider and seemingly constant rain I arrived back in Doncaster wet, drunk and happy. Roll on Tramlines 2016!

The Signal – 7/10


The Twilight Zone meets X-Men


The Signal starts off as a relatively straight forward hacker road trip but then quickly takes a turn for the bizarre and never stops turning. A young cast featuring the decent Brenton Thwaites, the slightly better Olivia Cooke and the brilliant Beau Knapp is held together by veteran actor Laurence Fishburne who is suitably sinister as a mysterious scientist.

A common criticism of films of this ilk is that they can’t decide what they want to be. The Signal director William Eubank doesn’t seem to care much for choosing a genre as The Signal flits between Sci-Fi, Action, Romantic Drama and Found Footage horror. This seems to have been a deliberate choice on Eubank’s part to disorientate the viewer however, rather than a lack of ideas.

Eubank mixes some grandiose ideas and Terrence Malick-esque arty direction with over the top plot twists to create a baffling but compelling viewing experience. The Signal is not a film you will forget in a hurry but the pay off of the final twist at the end is offset by the fact that rest of the film is so weird which reduces any shock value.

I don’t know what genre The Signal is supposed to be, I don’t know what the message of The Signal is supposed to be, hell I don’t even know if it is any good or not. I do know that it left me wanting more though and that is always a good thing.