Thursday, 19 April 2018

RIP Dale Winton

Really sad to hear down the pub last night that Dale Winton had passed away at the age of 62. Being a teen in the '90s ostensibly revising for GCSE's and occasionally bunking off from school, his morning game show Supermarket Sweep became cult viewing so much so that he even appeared in the supermarket-set video for Sleeper's Inbetweener 

It's important to remember just how much of a well known and well loved figure Winton was in the '90s, fronting many entertainment shows and quizzes on TV. In later years he wasn't on TV as much (seemingly he preferred the radio, hosting Pick of the Pops on Radio 2 for a number of years - though changing tastes may also have had something to do with it) but when he was, such as hosting the National Lottery quiz In It To Win It for example, you were instantly reminded just how much of a safe pair of hands he was. His talent and likeable screen presence will be much missed.


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Out On Blue Six: Oasis

I love this song and I love this video - mixing Oasis with Lowry was genius...and the animator nailed Liam's Simian stroll!

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Monday, 16 April 2018

Esther McVey - Heartless Twunt.

The odious Esther McVey proved once again what a heartless sociopath she is today appearing before Scottish parliament.

She showed how immune she is to the human effects of the Tory's brutal welfare cuts and claimed that the notorious rape clause was a good thing because it helped women to open up about their ordeal.

Take a look here and here. Is it any wonder that the public gallery became so incensed by the noxious shit she was spouting that it had to be cleared twice by officials? 

How this woman was ever allowed back into parliament is beyond me. Oh no wait, they parachuted into her into Tatton, an extremely safe Tory seat vacated by George 'Pencils' Osborne. Good luck trying to get this heartless twunt out now.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Out On Blue Six: Lisa Loeb

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Jess Phillips Uses Anti-Semitism As a Means to Stab Corbyn In the Front

Jess Phillips, the Blairite Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley who once vowed she'd stab Corbyn in the front not the back, has been at it again. Taking to Twitter, she deliberately misconstrued the argument Ken Loach made at a Bristol rally for de-selecting MP's who routinely disagree with their leader as an example of Loach being anti-Semitic. 

On the 11th April, Jess tweeted; "Dear Ken, this month I've helped 30+ people have disability benefit reinstated because I have a specialist surgery to help tribunals. I save Daniel Blake's, but yeah because I hate racism I'm the problem. Get rid of me if you want, like some entitled dude who makes demands"

Here's the truth though;

1. Loach wasn't saying that protesting anti-Semitism was wrong. He was saying that using it to attack a leader you have never agreed with is wrong. But this was not adequately reported by the right wing press. Loach subsequently took to Twitter to clarify his position; "re-selecting an MP should not be based on individual incidents but reflect the MP's principles, actions and behaviour over a long period. Being an MP is not a job for life. Candidates should be selected for every election and party members should be able to make a democratic choice"   

2. Loach is being unfairly labelled an anti-Semite when again, like so many this argument is pointing towards, he is actually anti-Israel. I find it laughable that the row surrounding Perdition, the Jim Allen play he was meant to be directing for the Royal Court back in the 80s, has reared its ugly head again. Again, to be anti-Israel does not mean you are anti-Semitic.

3. If politicians like Jess actually got behind their leader perhaps they wouldn't now be having to save these 30+ Daniel Blakes in the first place. If you want the Tories out and the chance to create a better society, stop the in-fighting.

4. Jess Phillips voted for the Tory Welfare Bill that has created these Daniel Blakes in the first place.

5. The protest itself was in breach of party rules and was organised by the opposition ie the Tories. It's worth mentioning though that Corbyn graciously conceded the members right to protest as he rightfully acknowledged anti-Semitism to be abhorrent. 

6. Using this row to score points against the leader devalues the issue, presumes that Corbyn himself is racist or anti-Semitic (when even the protest acknowledged that wasn't the case), and is simply a Trojan horse to try and topple him from power. I'd have more respect for you if I suspected you really did give a toss about racism. Equally, I notice that she couldn't resist the dig about Loach being 'some entitled dude'; Phillips devaluing the gender issue there too. Men who disagree with you aren't chauvinist examples of the patriarchy. They're just people with a different opinion to your own.

7. Jess has taken to twitter to essentially say she's done her job! A true Blairite there, spinning to make herself sound as if she's going the extra mile when she's simply doing what she's paid to do - to serve her constituency. Now, of only she'd do the other stuff she's paid to do, like support the leader and fight for greater equality all round.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Ghost Stories (2017)

Warning: This Post Contains...

I had a kind of unfinished business with Ghost Stories. Back in 2010, when I was dating a girl down south she suggested we go and see the stage play which she had already seen and was enthusing about like mad, claiming she'd never be able to look at a child in a bed in the same way again. What with one thing and another, we didn't go. So I was intrigued and pleased to see that Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman had adapted their play for the big screen.

Does it stand up?

Sadly no, not really.

Dyson and Nyman recreate the portmanteau horrors of old rather well (look out for a tin of pet food bearing the legend 'Tigon') but watching it, I couldn't help but feel a recreation of such a genre was rather redundant. When the original thing is out there,created by such greats as MR James, why bother with something like this - with its added jump scares to appeal to younger audiences? Oh God, there are so many jump scares in this. I imagine they worked really well in the theatre, but in the cinema it just makes it feel like any other hoary old American teen horror. Crucially, Ghost Stories isn't particularly original or particularly scary (though it did impress me by leaving quite a bit to the imagination - the old Nigel Kneale trick) and - given Dyson and Nyman's comedic background - it isn't particularly funny either.

The film also suffered from having a twist that I spotted immediately thanks to a very recognisable actor being unable to immerse himself beneath the latex mask or hide his voice behind a couple of accents accurately enough. Once I'd got that, I started looking out for the clues Dyson and Nyman were laying throughout the film and found them all really easy to spot each time they popped up. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but I just felt the audience was being signposted a bit too clearly, rather than this being an example of filmmakers confident enough in their audience to allow them to find things for themselves.

On the positive side, this is a really fine cast. Andy Nyman is a sympathetic lead investigating the inexplicable events of that have terrorised his co-stars; Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther and Martin Freeman. With his role in the excellent The Death of Stalin and now this, it's really nice to see Whitehouse finally breaking out into the movies and proving what Johnny Depp perhaps said all along, that he's a genuinely good actor. Meanwhile Lawther once again proves that he's a young talent to watch with a very affecting turn, and yes there's  Freeman to bring the audiences in - the film's valuable big name for the US market. It's just a shame the vignettes they're involves in are not on a par with their talents.

There's a great sight gag regarding some classic puppets that will be familiar to anyone in the UK, especially those of us of a certain age. I think that may have been one of the highpoints actually in  this otherwise rather unoriginal ho hum affair that promises far more than it actually delivers.

Hanging on the Telephone

Annette Andre as Jeannie Hopkirk in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)

RIP Miloš Forman

Very sad to hear that Miloš Forman died yesterday at the age of 86 following a short illness.

For many, the Czech filmmaker will be rightly remembered as a great purely for the classic 1975 movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest or for 1984's lavish Amadeus, both films which won him an Oscar for Best Director. But I personally also really loved his early works in his native Czechoslovakia, Loves of a Blonde and The Fireman's Ball, or his incredibly ambitious near-miss Ragtime from 1981, or the inventive Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon from 1999.

He really was a true great of cinema.


Friday, 13 April 2018

Spice World (1997)

If you ever want to see Geri Halliwell and Emma Bunton do their best Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies impression to a bemused Claire Rushbrook, then stick around for the end credits of Spice World. It genuinely happens.

I really miss the '90s and, though I'm aware that in saying that what I may actually mean is I miss my youth (midlife crisis on the horizon and I'm going to crash into that like a motherfucker haha), I do still maintain that there was something special about the '90s. I genuinely don't think a phenomenon (there is no other word) like the Spice Girls could exist now: a group that transcends their target audience to become part of the zeitgeist. Even your granny knew who the Spice Girls were, thanks to Top of the Pops and tabloids. I can't really imagine anyone's granny knowing who Little Mix are. The '90s was the last time that sort of pan appeal could occur and so, with such cultural cache and multi-platform merchandising potential, it was only right that the girl (power) group got their own movie in 1997.

Except calling Spice World a movie is an act of kindness. Taking A Hard Day's Night as it's cue, but without its charm or inventiveness, Spice World is a series of sketches really and they all more or less fall flat on their face. In fact there's only one I laughed at and it was the one that saw a teenage boy come round from his coma at the prospect of Geri getting her tits out. In contrast, the absolute worst is seeing Michael Barrymore (ask your mum and dad) stealing Victor Spinetti's Sergeant Major routine from The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour to zero comedy effect. Which reminds me, watching this a staggering twenty-one years later, it's surprising just how many people involved ended up in scandal: Barrymore, the Spice Girls rendition of Leader of the Gang (I Am) by oft-convicted paedophile Gary Glitter, and Andy Coulson, then a music writer with The S*n, who has since done time for his part in News International's disgusting phone hacking practices.  

Now I'm not about to fall into the usual trap of many a misanthropic bloke and say that the Spice Girls were crap and I didn't see their appeal. Their music wasn't for me, but I could tell a good polished tune when I heard one (2 Become 1 has some great classy production on it, and Too Much which opens the film is another one I'm partial too) and could see why they were a success: they were fresh and eye-catching, they were good at what they did and the deliberate individual characteristics they presented meant that they each appealed to someone in their audience - and no doubt these characters and looks appealed on another level to some of the many blokes who weren't necessarily fans of the music*.  

But the fact remains that Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger and Posh were singers, not actors and it shows.  Sure they could get by doing a bit of chat and having a laugh on kids TV or steal the limelight in front of the press at some function or other, but a film is a stretch for them and it appears that the filmmakers were wholly aware of this fact. Latching onto the aforementioned sense of character appeal, the script plays safe by adhering to the very same stereotypes it goes on to complain about in a rather meta way, so Victoria is a fashion obsessed pain in the arse, Mel C can only talk about football, Emma is childish, Geri is a boring know-all and Mel B is...well, Mel B. This ensures that the girls are never stretched beyond their limited capabilities, and leaves the real work of pushing the story along to Richard E Grant, who sports some magnificent sideburns as their harassed manager Clifton, and the aforementioned Rushbrook as their PA. Naoko Mori pops up as their old friend and mum-to-be Nicola to suggest that there was some life for our heroines before the demands of the big time and, along the same lines, there's even a sweet flashback sequence involving Bill Patterson, but strangely it goes absolutely nowhere in the context of the movie. Also helping to spin this gossamer thread out is the glut of blink and you'll miss 'em cameos that bouy things genially along. Some are great (Elvis Costello, Cathy 'Duffy off Casualty' Shipton as a nurse, Jennifer Saunders playing a slightly milder version of Edina Monsoon, Stephen Fry) and some aren't, but let's thank our stars that Frank Bruno was axed from the role of Dennis the bus driver and the casting coup of the century occurred: Mr Loaf himself, Meat to his mates. But best of all perhaps is the chance to watch Roger Moore bop along to Spice Up Your Life in the film's finale!  

Not a great film by any means and quite cringeworthy at times, but it's harmless inoffensive fun that achieves everything it no doubt set out to do and entertained fans, so in that regard it's surely a success. Besides, cringeworthy, harmless, inoffensive and fun are words that could sum the Spice Girls up, and watching Spice World now is almost like travelling back in time to the '90s - and who wouldn't want to do that?

*if anyone's wondering, I personally saw the appeal of Ginger Spice the most at the time. I know, I know.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

RIP Alex Beckett

Very shocked and saddened to hear that the actor Alex Beckett, Perfect Curve's hopeless hipster Barney in Twenty Twelve and W1A, has died suddenly at the age of 35.


Tonight's Tele Tip: Law & Order (1978) BBC4, 10pm

Do yourself a favour tonight and tune into BBC4 at 10pm for one of the most groundbreaking and controversial TV dramas ever to appear on British television. Law & Order, written by G.F. Newman, produced by Tony Garnett and directed by Les Blair, makes The Sweeney look like Play Away.

Groundbreaking is a word that often gets bandied about when discussing film or TV, but when discussing the 1978 quartet of BBC films entitled Law & Order (not to be confused with the later US show, and its UK based ITV spin-off) there can be no question of using that word in a cliched or lazy way. 

Law & Order truly was groundbreaking; a radical, polemical and shockingly brutal, warts and all depiction of institutionalised corruption within every corner of the UK's law enforcement, judicial and penal system. It's broadcast in 1978 shocked and appalled thenation, causing an uproar which led to questions in the House, an unofficial but clearly obvious embargo on repeating or broadcasting the production in any shape or form for 31 years, and a suggestion that its writer G.F. Newman be charged for crimes against the state. But equally it created a much needed and radical reform of an institution riddled with malpractice and better safeguarding of those in society who come under police suspicion.

The story spans four films each told from the perspective of the police (Derek Martin as the bent DI Fred Pyle) the brief (Ken Campbell as Alex Gladwell) and the criminal, and ultimately, the prisoner (Peter Dean as Jack Lynn) It's a compelling all encompassing approach that hasn't dated; indeed the BBC cribbed it again for their 2013 dramatisation of The Great Train Robbery, splitting the film into two parts to show the villains and the police's viewpoint. 

The trio of writer G.F. Newman, director Les Blair and producer Tony Garnett successfully commented on what was wrong in this aspect society in a gloriously authentic, quasi-documentary style, casting actors who were both unknown or had relatively little experience. And it really works; I defy anyone not to be utterly transfixed by each film's careful pacing, tight naturalistic script and pared down realism. It's often bleak, cynical and despondent viewing, but there's more than a ring of truth to it that makes it vitally important. Even Michael Mann is a big fan and the rumour is he would routinely screen it in the Miami Vice studios in the 1980s as he tried to get his own remake off the ground, but to no avail.

Out On Blue Six: Sleeper

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Molly Ringwald, the Breakfast Club and #MeToo

Last week, Molly Ringwald wrote a really thought provoking article in The New Yorker about John Hughes and her experiences of not only making the films The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink with him, but of revisiting them today as a parent. This article manages to remind us how Hughes really spoke for the teen generation when popular culture refused to acknowledge them as three dimensional characters, but at the same time it points out an alarming blind spot Hughes had about the characters he was so adept at presenting - a blind spot that is all the more visible in the present day.

It reminded me of a previous story that had come to light about the making of The Breakfast Club, and I guess the thing we should take from it is that Hughes was open to others poitning out when he'd overstepped the mark. It's a fascinating opinion piece by Ringwald and you can read it here

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Out On Blue Six: Tori Amos

....Or you'll never believe what this song's about #3

Even now, so many people presume Cornflake Girl is just about the divisions and betrayals in friendship that many teenage girls may feel in their school days or something like that. So it's often a surprise for such people to learn that Amos wrote the song about FGM (female genital mutilation). The song is still about betrayal, but it is the betrayal victims of FGM feel when they realise it is a close female family member who has put them through such an ordeal. Here's Amos herself discussing the song's meaning and inspiration...

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Girls With Guns

Linda Marlowe in Big Zapper

Thursday, 5 April 2018

H3 (2001)

The 2001 film H3 is a moving and effective dramatic account of the 1981 hunger strike within the notorious H blocks at the Maze prison. We see these events ostensibly through the eyes of a handful of inmates from the titular block, most notably Sean Scullion (Brendan Mackey) a fictional IRA officer commanding whose job it was to find volunteers for the strike, and his young cellmate, 19 year old Declan (Aidan Campbell). 

Directed by Les Blair, the film focuses primarily on the solidarity and protest of its fictional inmates, as opposed to any political agitprop. The aim here seems to be to get audiences to empathise with the demands of the characters to be seen as political prisoners, rather than to sympathise with the actions of the IRA. The script is from two former Maze prisoners, Brian Campbell and surviving hunger striker Leslie McKeown, who managed a staggering 70 days on the strike, and so although it is only natural that it is told completely from the prisoners perspective,  you don't feel like you're ever being rallied to any particular cause or beaten over the head with the political context.

Although Bobby Sands does appear (played by Mark O'Holloran) his appearances are kept to a minimum, making him a peripheral yet essential player. The real stars here are the aforementioned Mackey, and Campbell who, as a newcomer, becomes the audience's guide to this punishing world and its incredibly resilient spirit. There's also a very good role for British actor Dean Lennox Kelly as Ciarán, Seamus' friend and a vulnerable inmate, handling the Irish accent rather well.

Blair's direction imbues his film with the necessary claustrophobia and misery and doesn't spare audiences from the unpalatable truths of the dirty protest. But I have to say we are spared some of the more graphic realities of this and the prisoners day to day lives. Anyone who has watched the Bobby Sands documentary 66 Days will agree that it iss fair to say that these cells are quite hygienic compared to the excreta smeared walls that truly existed. These walls were more or less clean even though the film shows us Declan smearing the wall at one point! What the film does do is remind us that the 1981 hunger strike wasn't just about Sands or indeed the other 9 who gave their lives. There were over 100 volunteers for the strike and there was of course the writer McKeown himself.

Ultimately, H3 was overshadowed by Steve McQueen's film Hunger as evinced by the fact that over on Letterboxd, there are just nine people who have marked it as watched. It's a shame really as this is a good film in its own right and one which deserves a wider audience.

Monday, 2 April 2018

RIP Steven Bochco

Utterly gutted to hear that the man responsible for some of my favourite TV, Steven Bochco, has died at the age of 74 following a long battle with leukaemia.

I really haven't much to say about this sad news, beyond...


Saturday, 31 March 2018

Theme Time: Amanda Palmer - Drifters

Sometimes, I have to admit I get things wrong.

In 2013, I watched the first two episodes of the E4 sitcom Drifters and hated it so much I posted a scathing review on here.

However, a friend whose opinion I value, recommended I give it another try and I'm currently halfway through the second series and I'm struggling to see why I found it so objectionable after all. Certainly the first two episodes - indeed much of series one overall - aren't exceptionally good, but I do feel that Drifters slowly finds its feet and it is quite endearing and funny thanks to the performances of the central trio Jessica Knappett (who created and wrote the series), Lydia Rose Bewley and Lauren O'Rourke.

So this post is by way of an apology for my earlier criticism and a chance to share the theme tune, the ramshackle glory of Amanda Palmer's Leeds United

Out On Blue Six: Robert Wyatt

Robert Wyatt with one of the best covers of all time. Knocks spots of the original by The Monkees, let's face it.

Just last month I read the very excellent David Cavanagh book Good Night and Good Riddance, which looks at how thirty five years of John Peel at Radio 1 helped shape modern life as we know it. Writing about Peel's Sounds of the Seventies show from 10th October 1974 - which featured Wyatt in session - Cavanagh relates a story I'd never heard before and which left me quite shocked. It concerns Wyatt's performance of this on Top of the Pops. On seeing Wyatt arrive in his wheelchair ahead of the performance, the show's producer, Robin Nash asked him if he could possibly sit in an ordinary chair when singing as Top of the Pops is 'a family show' (!) When that request was refused, Nash -according to Wyatt's guitarist Fred Frith - asked if they would 'cover the wheelchair completely' because he thought it 'was in bad taste and might upset viewers' (!!) 

Robin 'Mr Equality' Nash

Wyatt stuck to his guns and refused, earning a 'you'll never work in this town again' style comment from Nash (a ban from the show was effectively lifted by the time Wyatt troubled the charts again with Shipbuilding almost a decade later). The performance went out, but Nash ensured the camera operators kept wide shots to a minimum. 

Cavanagh concludes this chapter remarking that Britain was clearly and thankfully a very different place in 1974 than it is now, but adding that "It's a curious thing that a disabled singer was frowned upon and a spinal injury taboo, but it was perfectly acceptable to feign psychopathy as long as you looked like Hitler" as in the case of Sparks' Ron Mael. I'd also add that it was perfectly acceptable for Top of the Pops presenters to grope young girls live on air and for cameramen to get as many upskirt shots of said girls as possible too.

Strange days indeed. It goes without saying that Cavanagh's book is heartily, emphatically recommended. 

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