Wednesday, 23 July 2014

RIP Dora Bryan


More sad news, the legend that was diminutive actress and comedienne Dora Bryan has died aged 91.

Southport born Bryan had a long and varied career both on television thanks to performances in Absolutely Fabulous, Last of the Summer Wine and a string of classic movies including The Blue Lamp, Carry on Sergeant, The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery, The Cockleshell Heroes and The Gift Horse. But perhaps most famously she appeared as the mother in the film adaptation of Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey


RIP

Out On Blue Six : Cocteau Twins


This is my first Cocteau Twins post? How?! I love their achingly beautiful sounds


End Transmission


Worldless Wednesday : Lovecats


Monday, 21 July 2014

Fanny and Elvis (1999)




How to conceive a hit movie.

Step 1, compile an impeccable cast of household names and favourites including Ray Winstone, Kerry Fox, Jennifer Saunders, Ben Daniels, David Morrissey, Colin Salmon and Gaynor Faye.

Step 2, Hire a scriptwriter with the Midas touch in the shape of Kay Mellor, the woman behind TV hits such as Band of Gold and Playing the Field

Get those together and you've got a surefire box office baby on your hands haven't you? Fanny and Elvis has to be a hit, right?

Wrong.




Fanny and Elvis is a largely forgotten romcom from the turn of the century, concerning a woman's desire to get pregnant in time for the new millennium. And it seems to be forgotten with good reason because Mellor's usually assured writing is flabby here, suggesting the script was hurried through to coincide with its Y2K release. Further issues arise from her joint role as director of the piece, which proves her talents only really (usually) lie in writing. She shows off the beauty of Hebden Bridge well enough, but this is a movie not a Yorkshire Tourist Board advert; it feels a bit trite, a bit like the film is screaming 'Our location is a USP!' in much the same way that the later Calendar Girls exploited the scenery for mystifying international success.



It starts off well enough, Kate (Kerry Fox) is a Hebden Bridge based aspiring romantic novelist who prangs into the beloved Jag of Dave (Ray Winstone) on the day that they both learn that their respective partners (David Morrissey and Gaynor Faye) are leaving them for one another. Dave moves into Kate's spare room in lieu of compensation for the repairs to his Jag, just as the ticking of Kate's biological clock becomes deafening. A love/hate relationship of the opposites attract variety immediately develops which Mellor clearly hopes will remind viewers of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy - and just in case we haven't spotted that similarity, Kate has several dream sequences set on the Moors in which she confuses the period romance she's writing with her own increasingly confused reality.



The performances are relatively good, though Fox is consistently short changed by the normally reliable feminist voice of Mellor with the role of Kate who is alternately shrill and hopeless and superior and smug. It's not the usual kind of film one expects to see Ray Winstone in, but in a way that's why I appreciate it more; Winstone has some skill at comedy (he had previously starred in the early 90s BBC sitcom Get Back, as well as having a guest role in the first series of Auf Wiedersehen Pet) and its refreshing to see him playing an ordinary and rather likeable guy rather than the usual menacing hood. The rest of the accomplished cast however must content themselves to play cyphers and stereotypes who exist solely as comic relief; specifically Daniels as Kate's gay best friend and Saunders giving an Edina-lite performance as her book agent. 



A better draft, one that allowed the project some time and nurturing rather than just being, as I suspect, a millennium cash in may have helped this movie immeasurably. Then again, maybe it should have just played out on the small screen as a series where its ups and downs may have played out more consistently and satisfyingly across a number of weeks. Sometimes, you just have to stick to what you know and what you do well Kay Mellor.

Bumday


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Trouble at The Mill

"It used to be our moral duty to take care of the poor and the vulnerable. That's what the carpenter's son from Nazareth preached. But our parliamentarians could teach that humble water walker a thing or two. Teaching that poverty is a crime and the criminals are the paupers. It's their idleness, insobriety and vice that causes poverty.

The English labourer did not cause the downturn. A banking crisis in America started it. So why should he suffer?

The 'wise' men in Westminster know that the solution to poverty is not to increase wages or end unemployment, no. The solution to poverty is to make the hungry hungrier. Inflict even more suffering and indignity upon the unfortunate so that sooner of later they will find employment or die. Either outcome reduces the financial burden on the ratepayer"

That impassioned, well reasoned diatribe against the government's stance on the working class is not in fact one that is levelled at the present Coalition of 2014, but rather one against the government of 1838 and spoken by John Doherty, the Irish born and Manchester based campaigner for workers rights, played by Aidan McArdle in John Fay's excellent factually based historical drama series The Mill, which returned tonight to Channel 4 for a second series. 

But I'm sure you'll agree, as you read it, that those very words accurately sum up the present too and the government's determination to blame all the world's ills on the poorest people in society to justify their desecration of the Welfare State. Let's not forget we live in an age of Atos and Esther McVey (the cunt) whose belief is that heartless Tory policy actually 'liberates' people from benefit. Hmm, yeah. Like the Nazis 'liberated' the Jews from existence.



The first series of The Mill was, when broadcast last year, Channel 4's biggest ratings winner. A beautifully bleak, stirring and politicised tale set and indeed filmed in Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire, it featured a stand out performance from young Liverpudlian actress Kerrie Hayes as bolshie Mill girl Esther Price (she's thankfully back for this second run) and helped restore my faith in television to see socialist politics appear on prime time once more. As the exchange from tonight's episode above proves the writer John Fay makes it his business to not only educate the viewer on what life was like in the 1800s, but also cleverly compares and contrasts the situation of the day with the one we find ourselves in now. The message is that very little has changed sadly, but in taking a platform to point that out one hopes that he may just help to bring awareness to a nation who, for these past few years, have become increasingly apolitical, to its own detriment. 

And kudos too to Fay for slipping one of the funniest tongue in cheek lines possible in this series two debut as Matthew McNulty's heroic honest man of toil Daniel (pictured above) was faced with the arrival to Quarry Bank of new economic migrants from the south, where work is scarce to non existent he sympathised by saying "I know it's grim down south" One in the eye for all those lazy London-centric critics who took one look at The Mill last year and churned out the stereotypical "Eee it's grim 'oop north' comments by way of a 'review'.

The Mill will air on Sunday nights, 8pm on Channel 4 for the next five weeks and is seriously recommended viewing.

Rigged

Happy birthday to Dame Diana Rigg, 76 today
















RIP James Garner

Another sad loss to the world of showbiz, one of the true and last Hollywood greats James Garner has passed away aged 86.


Born in 1928, Garner served in the Korean War receiving two Purple Hearts after being wounded twice, first to the hands and face following a mortar attack and secondly in the buttocks from US fighter jet friendly fire whilst diving into a foxhole (Garner would often joke to the press he was decorated for being 'shot in the ass') After the conflict, Garner sought his fame and achieved it swiftly and with great success appearing in countless movies including The Great Escape and Marlowe as well as achieving fame and worldwide recognition on TV with the lead roles in Maverick and The Rockford Files, the latter series was only cancelled at his own behest in 1981 due to the physical toll it was taking to his body, Garner having endured hospitalisation after aggravating a knee injury from Korea when performing his own stunts on the show. A lifelong democrat, Garner was a political animal and civil rights activist who, it has been reported, helped Martin Luther King organise his march to Washington. A true star, he will be much missed. RIP.

Silent Sunday : Alone



Saturday, 19 July 2014

Out On Blue Six : KLF



End Transmission



Monkeying Around


Cher in a Planet of The Apes sketch from The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

That Summer (1979)




That Summer is an enjoyable and overlooked entry in the coming of age genre starring a youthful Ray Winstone as the leading character Steve, newly released from borstal (shades of Scum) and landing a part time job in Torquay for the summer season. Whilst there, he finds love with the very attractive Julie Shipley, who is down from Leeds with her friend to work in the local hotel. 

Winstone gives a great naturalistic performance that is both beyond and before the cliched geezer stereotype he would become. Here he is not the hard man but instead a young and barely shaped rough diamond, with all the romanticism that the rites of passage love story requires to convince us. 

The film really captures the post punk/new wave era of the late 70s and early 80s with a really great and eclectic soundtrack that is often heard in snapshot via the wafting sounds of transistor radios across the sunkissed, over populated Torquay beach. I'm especially pleased to hear Eddie and the Hot Rods 'Do Anything You Wanna Do' because I've always felt that song was the closest this country had ever got to the anthemic qualities of a Springsteen crowd pleaser and, like any song from his cannon, it perfectly encapsulates the notion that there is a world beyond the inner cities that these kids have struggled to get by in. It's the kind of film you can't help but feel nostalgic for not only in regards to the music and the time it is set, but also in the realistic depiction and dramatic worth of being in your late teens and trying to make it on your own for the first time in your life.




Where the film fails however is the secondary sports related plot concerning Ray's character Steve and his recently discovered ability as a swimmer during his time at borstal. Eager to develop this on the south west coast he finds himself a rival, not only on the waves but for the girls affections too, in the unruly Glaswegian Jon Morrison and his surly gang. Morrison is an actor who, like Winstone, had previously impressed in more gritty BBC fare such as The Elephant's Graveyard and Just Another Saturday and, whilst their rivalry and dislike for one another is palpable, the sporting challenge Winstone must achieve in the film's climax feels rather tacked on and a bit too Hollywood for the film's previously realistic approach. Nevertheless, That Summer is still an enjoyable experience and one worth seeking out.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Theme Time : Ryan Starr - Lie To Me


And after discussing my love for Tim Roth, what better TV theme to explore in today's post than the one for his US TV series Lie To Me

I loved Lie To Me. The show ran for three seasons from 2009 to 2011, though admittedly it was only truly consistently good for the first two seasons. It was a police procedural/crime drama with a psychological twist; Roth's character Dr Cal Lightman headed up a group who used the science of studying microexpressions to prove whether a person was lying or telling the truth and contracted these services out for federal and local law enforcement.

The theme tune was entitled Brand New Day was was provided by Ryan Starr, a female singer and former contestant on the first season of American Idol - blimey, something good can come from Simon Cowell? - it's a great theme for a great series.

 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Great Scot


Charles Rennie Mackintosh

1868 - 1928

Coppers (1988)

I love Tim Roth. I especially love early Tim Roth, the stuff he did before ostensibly getting 'fame'. The stuff he did before moving to America and adopting a variety of American accents. The stuff he did before accepting the poisoned chalice that was Grace of Monaco.

Don't get me wrong by the way, this doesn't mean I don't like Roth's subsequent career or believe he will continue to prosper despite his appearance in the biggest stinker of his career. I really do, on both counts. But early Tim Roth, the stuff done here in the UK is an electrifying delight. Just think of them; Made in Britain, The Hit, Meantime, King of the Ghetto, Captives....

So it's especially exciting when you get to discover an overlooked and forgotten gem of his from this period.




Coppers is just such a thing. A 1988 one off drama of the Screen One mould it was written by Stephen Wakelam and stars Roth as Graham, a very dangerous dreamer.

"When you're at school and somebody says you're a dreamer. It's like you're a fool or you don't get anything done. I don't believe that. I think that dreamers are the most powerful people in the world, and I think it's because of dreamers that the world turns" such is Graham's opening words as we - and his friend Robert (Reece Dinsdale) are led into his make believe world.




Graham and Robert are two bored twenty somethings in Thatcher's Britain. This could easily turn into an ode to the disenfranchised working class youth but Wakelam's script offers something more unique; instead of travelling the loadsamoney path that contemporaries of the duo may well have undertaken to make something of themselves, Graham and Robert instead create their own existence from scratch, a make believe in the real world which sees them patrolling the London streets at night in their auction bought red Vauxhall Cavalier dressed as two Metropolitan police constables.  

"It always works, if you look official. If you're quiet and confident, people will always believe you...it's easy do you see? Deceiving people"  Graham says as he discusses his plan with the naive and easily led Robert. And soon enough, Graham's belief comes all too true as they manage to fool not just the members of the public they pull up for minor transgressions but also real police officers, including future Fast Show star Mark Williams as a beat bobby called 'Spud'  




Wakelam and director Ted Clisby develop an intriguing and quietly unnerving twilight atmosphere in which reality becomes satisfyingly blurred. One great scene sees Graham and Robert's patrol being joined by a large police van. Pulling up alongside them in the deserted road, the van's uniformed passenger seems to want them to pull over and Robert, driving, starts to silently panic, fearful of being caught out. When the officer in the van pulls a gun, the alarm is palpable...only for it to be revealed as a water pistol, squirting Robert in the face. Graham is nonplussed, even amused "Perhaps they're not real police either?" he suggests - a worrying thought indeed.

As the film continues, we discover Graham's past is full of imaginary passages. He claims to have served in the army for a time, but the truth is he was in hospitality for the TA. He's fascinated by authority, power and control and of course weaponry, which leads to him attempting to apply for the police inbetween his extra curricular activities with Robert. These scenes, with Tony Rohr, are vaguely reminiscent of Taxi Driver and show up the fragile and dangerous state of mind Graham has, underplayed beautifully by Roth. It's the subtle exploration of the life of a fantasist, coupled with an assured sense of the atmospheric that makes Coppers a far better example of the Mitty-ish than say, Paper Mask from 1990 which saw Paul McGann as a similarly dangerous dreamer, donning a white coat to fool all at a local hospital which became more of a disappointingly out and out thriller.




Coppers is available to watch on Youtube.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Common (2014) & the Joint Enterprise Law


Common was a one off drama, broadcast on BBC1 on the 6th July this year, and written by the great  Jimmy McGovern.

McGovern, the man who once said "why write drama that doesn't matter?" could certainly not be accused of doing so himself, and it's to the benefit of television and its audience as a whole.

OK, so this 90 minute feature about the controversial Joint Enterprise Law (the kind of law that has seen the likes of Jordan Cunliffe - no relation I hasten to add - languishing in prison for the murder of Warrington family man Gary Newlove, simply for being in the vicinity that fateful night) is not McGovern's finest work, and it's nothing necessarily new from him either -  feeling like a longer episode of his anthology series The Street or, more particularly given the legal issues at its heart, Accused - but by God, it still has something to say and it's good to hear such things in a society that is becoming more and more passive and accepting.

An excellent cast (including Nico Mirellegro, Susan Lynch, Daniel Mays, Jodhi May and Michael Gambon) help deliver the message and there was also a great soundtrack from Robert Wyatt.

So what exactly is the Joint Enterprise Law? Well, when I say that it's a 300 year old law that was originally put in place to discourage duelling you'll agree it has no place in modern society. When I tell you that it is currently actively being used to find people - often young working class people - guilty of crimes based on the proposition that, by being in the vicinity, they may feasibly have lent encouragement to the main perpetrator then I hope you'll be horrified and that you'll want to sign the following petitions

change.org

e-petitions

and visit the website for more info here

Innocent Bystanders (1973)




The cinematic spy boom of the 1960s was without doubt a prodigious affair yet also one that proved relatively short lived. What worked in the 1960s and continues to feel fresh and exciting upon rewatches today became stale and naff in the subsequent decade of the 1970s. What more proof do you need than to compare and contrast The Avengers with The New Avengers?

Innocent Bystanders was made in 1973 and follows the same rule. From the pen of James Mitchell, on paper it has much going for it; Mitchell had created the seemingly ruthless but increasingly weary assassin Callan for television in the 60s - a peerless production that cast a downbeat light on the spy boom and starred a superlative Edward Woodward. The film was given to director Peter Collinson, coming off the back of some very strong work such as Up The Junction, The Long Day's Dying and The Italian Job and he cast his net in the full and promising waters of actors often associated with the spy drama - there's Donald Pleasance (You Only Live Twice) as the coldfish British spymaster, Sue Lloyd (The Ipcress File and TV's The Baron) Derren Nesbitt (The Naked Runner and TV's Special Branch) Warren Mitchell (whose hapless KGB agent became something of a semi regular in The Avengers) Cec Linder (Goldfinger) and Vladek Sheybal (From Russia With Love and Billion Dollar Brain). There's even veteran US actor Dana Andrews whose brother Steve Forrest had played The Baron opposite Lloyd. In the lead role of John Craig, Collinson secured Stanley Baker. Again it must have felt full proof - I've often believed Sean Connery effectively stole the niche Stanley Baker had created in British cinema and as Craig is a spy in the Callan mould (psychologically damaged, bitter and weary) Innocent Bystanders looked set to offer us an alternative to the Bond franchise, with the man who could out Connery Connery at the helm.




But it's not to be. Primarily the main issue with Innocent Bystanders failings is it doesn't seem altogether sure what it wants to be; is it a more sober and bleak account of international espionage like Callan or even The Ipcress File? Or should it be a freewheeling caper that embraces all the tropes associated with the spy boom and Bond films in general? The torture scenes and hints at Craig's mental health suggest the former  but there's ill advised attempts at comic relief alongside the offensive chauvinistic bullshit suggestion that Geraldine Chaplin (as the primary 'innocent bystander' of the title) could happily drop her knickers for a stodgy looking Baker who, just moments previously, had pressed a double barrel shotgun into her head and promised to kill her in front of her guardian, that suggest the latter wholeheartedly. It makes for a tonally off piece, a failing that would continue to dog Collinson's 1970s work as his penchant for brutality became increasingly and uncompromisingly clear.




Baker may indeed seem to be picking the gauntlet up from Connery in his depiction of a haggard and somewhat past it hired killer (should they have had the nerve to age Bond and allow him to grieve after OHMSS instead of hitting the reset button) but the script and its presentation - essentially the stringing together of cliches accompanied by cheesy and intrusive '70s waka waka guitar by way of a plot - doesn't feel that different from the Moore Bond movies of the time. Well it does, it just feels grubbier and more low budget, not helped by a clearly middle aged Baker wearing his hair long, sporting a Zapata moustache and wearing a white suit and black shirt that makes him look like a negative. It's low rent and I don't think that's what they had in mind.

Occasionally there's a glimmer of things in the script and I must admit there's something quite promising about the Lloyd and Nesbitt double act - a kind of sophisticated yet sadistic golden couple, a twisted Hansel and Gretel eager to please their MI6 paymasters in a manner that is not that dissimilar from the character of Meres, 'the Old Etonian Al Capone' played by Anthony Valentine and representing the next generation of spooks that so disgusted the moral code Callan possessed in Mitchell's TV drama - but the material just isn't good enough to sustain them, or indeed any of them.




By the 1970s the spy boom was as washed up as the character of Craig is suggested to be here and after a few more tepid affairs was finally terminated. It's new home was of course television (barring the largely misfiring New Avengers of course) who showed us such stories could still be told albeit in a different and more mature manner thanks to the continued presence of Callan and the arrival of The Sandbaggers and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. These may have been more cerebral and realistic, but even The Professionals would show us the genre could still be done with a boyish elan that was missing from this production.