Monday, 31 August 2015

DVD Review: Robot Overlords (12)

Robot Overlords is not so much unfamiliar territory for Sci-Fi fans of a certain age.

Following an earth invasion of epic proportions, robots now rule the streets and people are locked in their homes as the aliens commence their studies of humankind. Stepping outdoors risks being vaporised by a hulking Sentry or been picked off by a lethal Sniper. Through the ruins of Britain a group of four children, set out to join the resistance and locate their leader Sean Flynn’s (Callan McAuliffe) missing father. However, in hot pursuit of the group is their old teacher turned robot collaborator Mr Smythe (Ben Kingsley) who also holds Sean’s mother (Gillian Anderson) captive.

Jon Wright and Mark Stay’s screenplay set in a post apocalyptic British seaside town has shades of Terry Nation’s Survivors and John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids in places but maintains the modern look and feel of any current Doctor Who adventure. The drama itself is fast paced with some excellent scenes featuring impressive CGI robots in hot pursuit of the films young stars, Callan McAuliffe, Ella Hunt, Milo Parker and James Tarpay who all carry an edge of authenticity about them when thrown into otherwise adult situations  and responding in practical ways.

The film also features a strong support cast including X Files star Gillian Anderson, as well as Geraldine James, Steven Mackintosh, Tamer Hassan and Ben Kingsley who all have plenty to contribute to the ongoing action. The neatest guest star has to be the appearance of veteran comic Roy Hudd who takes on a very serious role and is just superb in his few moments opposite Ben Kingsley.

A must-see for all fans of traditional Sci-Fi stories and especially the long forgotten classic TV serial genre of which clearly seems to have inspired this exciting film.

  • Robot Overlords is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Signature Entertainment.
  • A version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on August 28, 2015

Friday, 21 August 2015

Meet The Band: Brother & Bones

Brother & Bones are five men that write songs with the artistry of Folk troubadours, the energy of punks and the self-belief of stadium headliners. Hailing from Cornwall, their acoustic-led, alternative rock sound tips its hat to the likes of Pearl Jam and John Martyn.

Not only have the band been followed across UK and Europe on their own headline shows, they have also opened for BRIT Award winners Ben Howard + Bastille.

The autumn season looks set to be big for the powerhouse rock band with an exciting schedule of live dates confirmed and release of their debut album on 28th August. Recorded at the prestigious East West Studios in Los Angeles, California, the début album is an eclectic sound clash of tribal drumming and crushing guitars, which comes highly anticipated by their multitude of loyal fans.

Alex from the band answers questions from Andy Howells.

Who are you and how did you come together?
Hi! We are Rich, Robin, Alex, James and Yiannis.. We all met at music collage essentially. Rich and Rob had known each other for years as they're both from Cornwall, where everyone seems to know each other! The rest of us all teamed up in the town of Guildford around 5 years ago.

Where are you from?
Well as mentioned Rich and Rob come from the St Ives area of Cornwall,  as such we spend a lot of time down there and it always feels like a bit of a homecoming when we play there. Me (Alex), I'm from Leeds up't North while James is from Kent and Yiannis South London.

How would you describe your music style?
We actually struggle to describe it and we've had some pretty out there descriptions over the years, these range from 'war folk' to 'Mumford and sons on acid'! Our influences vary from John Martyn & Bob Dylan to Led Zeppelin & Pearl Jam. Fundamentally we have two drummers giving us a really heavy backbone and bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and Rich's voice are left to compete for the leftover space! It's a very dynamic show too which goes from some very bare, delicate, folky moments to some pretty face melting rock out sections.

What’s been your best live experience?
We've had some pretty special moments on stage, one particular highlight was being invited out to Colorado 2 years running to play a festival 9000ft up in a small town in the mountains. You have this incredible view from the stage coupled with a really warm crowd meant that was pretty great.

You have your début album coming soon can you tell us more about that?
Yes we were fortunate enough to be able to record out in LA with a producer named Billy Bush who had worked with Garbage, Muse, Snow Patrol and a load of other people and we were in an amazing studio space where loads of Rock acts like Rage Against the Machine and the Chillis had recorded so it was hard not to be overawed by the situation! It's self titled, out on the 28th August and we're really happy with how it's turned out. It's quite raw and visceral. Sometimes it feels like acts and artists are either tasked with recreating the impression of a record in their live show or on the other side recreating the impression of a live show on their record. We're definitely in the latter camp!

You’re touring shortly are you looking forward to that?
We've cut our teeth on the road and feel very at home with that life so yes, we can't wait! It's been a while since we've gone out and done a headline tour and got the team together so I'm really looking forward to it. We spend a lot of time together already as a band but live we have a tour manager, photographer and often videographer who are all good mates and part of the team and often have other friends coming with us to help with merchandise and general morale so I can't wait to get the crew back together!

What can people expect from your forthcoming Bristol gig?
We expend a lot of energy into our shows and relish every moment we get to spend on stage so expect 5 very sweaty men by the end of it! The show goes from crushingly loud to very soft so it's quite a roller coaster. And if we get a spare minute after sound-check I'm sure we'll find ourselves squeezing in a couple of local ciders at the apple before the show to loosen up!

Where can people hear your music?
The Internet! Our website is where we sell CD's and vinyl and other bits and we're obviously on YouTube, iTunes, Spotify and you can always get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

  • Brother & Bones play Bristol Exchange on September 16.
  • A version of this Q&A with Brother & Bones by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on August 21, 2015

Thursday, 13 August 2015

On Stage: Barnum, Wales Millennium Centre

The UK Tour of  Cameron Macintosh and Chichester Festival Theatre's Barnum may be drawing to a close after a year but with less than a handful of performances to go at Wales Millennium Centre, the show is still bristling with energy, enthusiasm and magic.

Set in the mid 1800's, the musical follows the colourful career of America's first show business entrepreneur, Phineas T Barnum and his relationship with his wife Chairy.

From the offset, there are many colourful characters which pull the audience into the show, the ensemble cast are pivotal in setting up the musical's circus setting by interacting with the audience via a host of tricks and stunts ultimately setting the tone for things to come.

As the show gets underway, Brian Conley steps onto the stage, announcing with his trademark broad smile that he is PT Barnum. It might be what Barnum himself would term as "a humbug", but within seconds Conley fits into the role of the legendary showman like a glove. Barnum's a role Conley was born to play and he gives the role more than a 100% from start to finish, mixing comical improvisation with a dazzling array of song and dance routines topped off with a tight-rope walk and a fire eating stunt.

Linzi Hateley gives an equally strong portrayal as Barnum's hard headed, tough talking wife Chairy who frequently has to reign her  husband in from making wrong decisions but equally provides strong support for good ideas. Indeed as colourful a show as Barnum is, the chemistry between Conley and Hateley is essential to telling Mr and Mrs Barnum's love story. One does believe that they have a strong relationship, even if Barnum himself suffers a minor indiscretion partway through the plot.

The musical successfully recreates the feel and colour of traditional variety through the medium of choreography, a dazzling set and a strong soundtrack by Cy Coleman including Come Follow The Band, There's A Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute and The Colours Of My Life and is enthralling family entertainment throughout.

Fun for all the family, Barnum undoubtedly is a hot contender for The Greatest Show On Earth, don't miss it!

DVD Review: The Yellow Balloon

The Yellow Balloon is a prime example of the type of atmospheric British drama that thrilled cinema audiences in Great Britain before the advent of television captured everybody’s imaginations through The Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

The film follows 10 year old Frankie Palmer (Andrew Ray) who one day catches sight of a man selling balloons to passers by from the window of his home. In particular a yellow balloon captures Frankie's imagination and so procures the money from his father to purchase it. When Frankie sees his friend Ronnie has purchased the balloon, he playfully snatches it away and a wild chase follows up leading to a rickety skeleton of a blitzed building. The playful chase ends in a terrible accident, witnessed by the unscrupulous Len Turner who takes advantage by blackmailing young Frankie, convincing him he faces criminal charges. Too terrified to confide in his parents, Frankie becomes a pawn for Turner, coerced into a robbery that ends in murder.

Directed by J-Lee Thompson, The Yellow Balloon remains an enthralling piece of cinema featuring  a backdrop of post war  London whose bombed out streets are still visibly affected by the ravages of war and featuring a fabulous climax involving Frankie pursued through a disused London underground station by a murderous assailant.

In true classic British film fashion, The Yellow Balloon features some splendid support from the likes of Kenneth More, Sid James and Bernard Lee among others. The true stars are undoubtedly Andrew Ray who portrays a variety of emotions as young Frankie while William Sylvester delivers a chilling performance as the unscrupulous Len Turner.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Brian Conley Discusses His Dream Role In Barnum

Entertainer Brian Conley was thrilled two years ago when he got the call from Sir Cameron Macintosh to take on the role of a lifetime, that of show business entrepreneur and circus showman PT Barnum.

“Famously Barnum has to walk on a tightrope so learning to do that was a big moment in my life,” Brian tells Andy Howells, “ as was going to circus school, learning to walk on stilts, juggle, eat fire and do magic. There’s quite a lot of things you have to learn before playing him, He is without doubt one of the biggest roles in musical theatre anyone could take on.”

Following the imagination and dreams of Phineas T Barnum, America’s Greatest Showman, the musical was a smash-hit when it opened on Broadway in 1980. Then starring Glenn Close and Jim Dale, it went on to win three Tony Awards and a Drama Desk Award.

When Barnum later opened at the London Palladium in 1981, Michael Crawford took the lead, winning an Olivier Award for his performance. “Barnum was the very first production I ever saw in the West End at the Victoria Palace with Michael Crawford,” recalls Brian, “never in my widest dreams did I ever think I’d be playing it.”

The show which ends its current UK tour at Wales Millennium Centre next week has been updated by Cameron Macintosh and Mark Bramble. “It’s a lot more technical and far more of a spectacular these days,” says Brian, “its a big show, it has a lot more colour. What we’ve done is make the comedy work because it was very much stuck in the 70s.”

 “The circus is the glue that holds it together,” Brian continues, “When he died he was the richest man in America. It’s very much about this entrepreneur, his amazing dreams and his wife, Cherie (played by Linzi Hateley), who guides him, so it’s a love story as much as anything else.”

Brian who is now back on television screens with his new TV series The TV That Made Me will be sorry to part ways with his dream role of which he has played since last September when he plays Wales Millennium Centre next week.  “It’s been a wonderful journey, but I’m really looking forward to Cardiff as it’s a nice place to go out,” he says.

  • The national tour of Barnum ends its UK tour run at Wales Millennium Centre from August 11-15. Visit for ticket details.
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on August 7, 2015