Monday, 27 April 2015

Summer (2008)

Summer sees two veterans of Ken Loach films, Robert Carlyle and Steve Evets team up to play lifelong friends Shaun and Daz in a deeply heartfelt, sombre drama set in Nottingham.

Once the town bad boys, we witness their friendship through three time periods; their innocent childhood riding around on bikes and getting into scrapes - some minor some major, their adolescence when love and alcohol enter into the mix and Shaun's turmoil at school with seemingly undiagnosed dyslexia and uncaring teachers is alleviated by his feelings for local lass Katy (as a teen played by Joanna Tulaj, and as an adult, Racheal Blake) and lastly their approaching middle age which sees Shaun serve as carer to the now wheelchair bound and alcoholic Daz, whose days are numbered due to terminal cirrhosis. 

Director Kenny Glanaan, working from a screenplay by Hugh Ellis, delivers a tale of regret and empty lives thanks to missed or completely, purposefully ignored opportunities in a simple yet utterly authentic and honest way. It's a great study in friendship and loyalty, guilt and responsibility that is thankfully subtly done rather than depicted in such a way as to beat the viewer of the head with. The key to the story is of course threaded through the three timelines, which appear on occasion almost like ghosts to the middle aged and suitably haunted looking Shaun. These interwoven strands come together hazily and lazily like the summer itself in an especially effective manner which explores the reason for the strong bond that unites the central pair, and just why Shaun is so devoted to his friend - a  reason that remains compellingly hidden to the audience until the very end. This is a bold and leisurely move that benefits the narrative and the structure of the piece extremely well, allowing us to explore first and foremost the relationships between the characters, helping us get to know them - which is important, and drawing out their three dimensional nature as a result.

Summer explores the gritty side of life and benefits from the extremely naturalistic performances of its cast (including an extremely good performance from Carlyle which he himself claims he is very proud, and rightly so) acting just as one would expect such characters to do in the real world. This is especially true in how the film depicts 'the sins of the father' trope; Evets' son, played by Michael Socha, is clearly going off the rails just as he had once done thanks to the booze yet the film refuses to use this opportunity to serve as propaganda or show him through the narrative the error of his ways. Mistakes are made in reality and Summer is clearly intent to simply record reality as close as possible. As a result there's no pandering to the sentimental or the schmaltzy, no sweet cinematic reconciliation or Hollywood style manipulative tugs at the heart strings. Yes this is a film which features disability and alcoholism, but it does so in an authentic matter of fact manner in keeping with film makers like the aforementioned Ken Loach or Shane Meadows, who as a native Midlander is of course no stranger to setting films in this part of the world.

If I have any minor gripes about Summer it is that the actors playing the young Shaun and Daz (Sean Kelly and Joe Doherty) great though they are, are too dissimilar to Carlyle and Evets and that on occasion there are some sloppy moments that take you out of the action; for example, we see one scene play out in real time which has Carlyle ask a receptionist if he can see Katy, who is now a successful solicitor. The receptionist goes off to check and seems to have Carlyle's full name and reason for attending that day, despite never having asked him. But these are minor gripes in what is an otherwise interesting low budget film, the kind that I'd like to see Carlyle do more of nowadays because its the best I've seen him for some time and clearly where his heart really lies.


Robin Askwith on the set of Confessions From A Holiday Camp, 1977

Factoid: I have this photo, signed by Askwith!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Hansel & Gretel : Witch Hunters (2013)

Tommy Wirkola is a prime example of a non mainstream quirky and original talent 'emigrating' to the US and getting totally lost in the Hollywood machine.

In his native Norway he created the deeply trashy but rather fun horror B-movie, Dead Snow, whose strapline 'Undead Nazi Bastards' is still one I enjoy as being a prime example of calling a spade a spade. However something got terribly lost in translation for his first US film, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, though it is baffling to think just how it managed to go so disastrously wrong.

The film has a great cast; the divine Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Renner, Famke Janssen and Peter Stormare, a bigger budget than Wirkola had previously experienced, and a release date which meant it was riding high on the wave of the latest penchant for steampunk and revisionist fairy tales, which with the tantalising possibility of such fare being handled by a Norwegian whose childhood was no doubt steeped in such stories and myths, surely meant we were in for an enjoyable ride?

But this was a back firing non starter of a knackered old jalopy.

So why was it so crappy?

Wirkola’s film takes the classic Grimm fairytale of a young brother and sister lost in the woods who arrive at a gingerbread house and are immediately in danger for their lives thanks to an evil cannibal witch. His spin is that thanks to this admittedly traumatising experiences the siblings grew up to become ruthless and merciless witch hunters, determined to rid the Medieval European villages of witches. Now, whether you buy into this rather bombastic development and premise depends on what your gauge is for silly when it comes to entertainment but I for one was fully prepared and hoping for something not unlike the classic kitsch 70s Hammer Horror Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. But sadly what we get is actually a rather empty, loud whizz bang affair that struggles to keep its feet in two camps; the quirky Euro sensibility Wirkola naturally has and the desire to please the American popcorn market, with a liberal dash of emo.

This is especially prominent in the fact that British actress Arterton has to deliver her lines in a rather poor and restless US accent to fit alongside Renner as her sibling, as opposed to Renner adopting some RP English like her Prince Of Persia co-star Jake Gyllenhaal had done. This wouldn't be too bad if both stars had a little chemistry in their ass kicking partnership but they do not - though they seemed to have more off screen when appearing on The Graham Norton Show -  and, though they equip themselves very well in the action stakes (I especially enjoyed Arterton headbutting Stormare) at times it feels like they're performing in different films. Somewhere the story - such as it is - gets lost too and there's little for an audience to invest in at all beyond the next CGI heavy set piece and glib one liner.

Maybe if this was produced in his native country for a fraction of the budget with complete unknowns it could have been another cult favourite, but in the big spotlight of Hollywood its just a flimsy, barely considered mess.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that Wirkola's next venture after this flop was a sequel to Dead Snow.

Silent Sunday : Heart

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Double Bill : Don't Worry About Me / Forget Me Not

Two low budget Indie British films under discussion today that could be argued to be influenced (or at least similar in style to) by Richard Linklater's 1995 romantic drama Before Sunrise, Don't Worry About Me from 2009 and Forget Me Not from 2011, both detailing as they do a love affair that lasts 24 hours in a British city.

Don't Worry About Me is actor David Morrissey's directorial debut for the big screen (he had previously helmed the TV film Passer By) It is a bittersweet love letter to his native Liverpool masquerading as a romantic drama about two sad lost souls.

Based on a stage play entitled The Pool, Don't Worry About Me stars the play's writers James Brough and Helen Elizabeth as David and Tina. When he finds himself unexpectedly stranded and penniless in Liverpool, she takes pity on him and helps him win back his coachfare to his native London at the bookie's she works at. Being a seemingly decent sort, he then treats her to coffee by way of a thank you and slowly, a connection forms between these perfect strangers and they find themselves spending the day together, seeing the sights of Liverpool and dreaming of a life beyond their reach. 

In taking the central roles Brough and Elizabeth, hardly well known names or familiar faces, equip themselves very well with her just edging him in the empathy and likability stakes. But the real star of the film is perhaps the city of Liverpool and its surrounding areas, then basking in its Capital of Culture status. It's a shame then that Morrissey lends its evocation a somewhat flat, TV movie quality, but this is perhaps understandable given the limited budget.

A genuinely nice film, Don't Worry About Me will perhaps go down in history as telling the world - or at least the rest of Britain - about Queen Victoria's cock, something scousers have long known about!

Forget Me Not is a film I only got round to watching a couple of months ago. It received its premiere on BBC1 one late evening last March and came around again in Feb this year, when I finally settled down to watch it.

Like Morrissey's film, Forget Me Not is an equally bittersweet romantic British indie movie about unexpected love wending its way across 24 hours. It tells the story of musician Will (Toby Menzies, an actor I've liked ever since he played Max's doomed druggie son in Casualty several years ago) who, for some reason we're not immediately privy to, is contemplating suicide one night. By chance he takes a look outside his window and spies Eve (Genevieve O'Reilly, from The Honourable Woman - which also starred Menzies) the barmaid of the pub he had previously played in fending off a drunken and aggressive punter. He immediately comes to her rescue and then, out of duty and some little attraction, he escorts her across a nocturnal London to a party she is attending before continuing their slowly burgeoning relationship through 'til dawn and the following day. 

A movie that is so singularly middle class London as opposed to the more down to earth Liverpool on this themed double bill, Forget Me Not teeters the tightrope of  the romantically quirky and the downright pretentious in its depiction of the distinctly middle class metropolis (the all night iPod party, which sees revellers dancing in seeming silence, looks like it could fall either way really) but just about wins me over because I have a thing for these city at night tales and because there is some credible chemistry on display between the two leads. 

The final reel moves away from the quirky to address the unspoken issue with Will and ultimately get heavy whilst imparting its message. How you feel about that may depend on what you want to get from a romantic movie, but for me it perhaps felt a bit too tearjerky and actually distracted a little from its previous charm. But it had to get there I guess, I'm just not sure I totally bought it.

Put together, you would instantly see the similarities. They make for good bedfellows, but for me Don't Worry About Me edges it in terms of overall enjoyment and quality.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Out On Blue Six : The Regents

The Regents, that wonderful post punk/new wave group I'm ashamed to say I only discovered earlier this year, were brought back - from beyond the grave - for the London Olympics in 2012 thanks to this video from stop motion animation artist Black Spot for their song London London (It's So City)

Read more about it here

Quite an apt song for St George's Day, no?

The rear cover art for the 7" single See You Later/Oh Terry - which I've recently bought

End Transmission

No One Is Beach Body Ready!

Yet another unrealistic body image is being forced down our throats by ad men to make people feel inferior 

Now don't get me wrong; I admire and enjoy the female frame as much as anyone (as you can probably see with some of this blog's content) but I draw the line at it being used to suggest one is superior to another, because that is just plain body fascism. In using this poster campaign, Protein World is directly targeting individuals with the aim to make them feel inferior when compared to the unrealistic body image of the bronzed model chosen to front the ads, and all in order to sell their product from 'the weight loss collection'

This is just another way of making impressionable people, specifically young teenage girls, feel awkward, inferior and ugly. And I do not agree with that at all.

Like Caitlin Moran says, not enough is being done to tell these kids that no one really looks like that. We need to start a conversation that reminds the young in our society to look around and ask themselves, do they really know anyone who looks like that, to keep them happy and confident in how they look themselves.

Stopping this kind of advertisement is a start. So please sign this petition here

What the fuck is 'beach body ready' anyway??

Happy St George's Day

The Best of British To You All!

God, remember when posting something like this didn't make you feel like a UKIP supporter? Let's go back to those times please and reclaim our country for what it is and always has been - a strong and proud, multi-cultural and open minded land that values diversity.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Riot Club (2014)

The Riot Club is Laura Wade's big screen adaptation of her original play Posh. Clearly inspired by the Bullingdon Club, the notoriously ill behaved student dining society for the Oxford elite which counts the likes of Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson as its former members,  Wade's Riot Club establishes itself from the off as a centuries old society for the brightest and best to dine until sick on what life, lived to the full, has to offer.

Max Irons and Sam Claflin star as Miles and Alistair, two new students arriving at Oxford, who quickly catch the eye of the club as potential new members. Miles is clearly painted from the off as being a liberal, good egg; he graciously steps aside and allows Alistair to take the grand cloistered room he had been earmarked for, because Alistair's family had previously lived in it. He also defends the welfare state in a tutorial against Alistair's more traditional Conservative argument and, more specifically, he sets his cap on Holliday Grainger's Lauren, a hard working, working class girl from Yorkshire who has been allowed into the dreaming spires thanks to good grades, determination and a scholarship. With all these things in his favour its rather surprising he has such a perverse longing to join the club which includes in its number Douglas Booth, Poldark's Jack Farthing and Pride's Ben Schnetzer and Freddie Fox.

Alistair on the other hand is the complete opposite. A bad apple he is cold and ruthless and clearly languishing in the shade of his illustrious familial predecessors who had run wild through Oxford and the club. In wanting to cut his own swathe, he will resort to extreme measures - measures that could land them all in hot water.   

This occurs quite a way into the film and is essentially the main crux of what made the original play; a debauched dinner that spins wildly out of control within the private room of a rural pub called, tongue in cheek, The Bull's Head. I must admit (with my liking for films based on stage plays or those which could be described as stagy - a criticism for some, but not for me) it was these scenes that had the most frisson to them, which was certainly helped by the fact that it was the moment in the film when they seemed to break away from glamourising the juvenile behaviour of these toffs and depicting them with the ugly honesty they deserve.  

Director Lone Scherfig places a beautiful airy polish upon the proceedings in much the same way she did to her previous films One Day and An Education, but I do feel this does hamper the necessary bite and condemnation Wade's original play had especially when casting such a beautiful and familiar ensemble to play such disgraceful shits - there's always a risk that the beauty will blind people to the characterisation and have the audience root for them or be amused/enthralled by them. This is especially an issue with the film's 17th century set prologue which explains the hedonistic club's origins by depicting the the murder of its founding member the libertine Lord Ryot at the hands of a furious cuckolded husband. In kicking off the piece with such light hearted cheekiness it aims for our sympathy or getting us on side when in actual fact it should be abundantly clear that what we will see in the present day section of the film is par for the course and not an isolated spectacular bout of reckless boorish violence.

The 2010 debut of Wade's play Posh failed to keep the Tories out of government. Here's hoping this big screen version does enough to keep them out next month.

Out On Blue Six : The Enemy

End Transmission

Smoking Hot

Soledad Miranda

Monday, 20 April 2015

Rapid Reviews : The Bird and The Beeb by Liz Kershaw

Although classed as an autobiography, the real purpose of veteran radio DJ Liz Kershaw's book The Bird and The Beeb is perhaps flagged up by its subtitle - The Facts of Life at the BBC. Kershaw presents us with a very candid memoir regarding her experience of working in the BBC for the last three decades and it is a very enlightening and interesting read which sees the Rochdale lass hold court with her opinions.

I must admit some of these opinions took me by surprise and were not opinions I shared;

(On her friend Billy Bragg) "He hit a rich seam with the miners strike. Oh well. We were all having a great time and doing rather well under the Thatcher government"

Um, that the Royal we Liz? Not the kind of comment I'd expected from someone whose mother was a Labour councillor and who counted Bragg among her friends. Nor did I expect her use and praise of the public school system for her eldest son or private health care (though in fairness her personal experiences with the NHS do sound horrific and sadly all too familiar in parts, even though there's more than a whiff of contempt for newly qualified doctors - they have to start somewhere Liz!)

(On being against abortion after 12 weeks) "If you don't know you're pregnant or can't get your act together in three months, tough" 

But despite these disagreements it remained refreshing to read someone's actual opinions on the page. All too often autobiographies are too nice and scared to offend or reveal too much. And I did agree with her more and more as her opinions rolled on

(On the lack of women in radio) "The last time I checked there was only one woman let loose on her own at peak times in the mornings on the BBC's 50 odd stations" 

Because in a way that's what people like or are interested in Liz Kershaw for; she's a rarity. Along with Janice Long and Annie Nightingale, Liz was for many years one of only three prominent female broadcasters on BBC radio. That's changing now, but it's not changing fast enough and there's still a huge stranglehold at Radio 2 where a female voice is only heard at dawn or dusk as the male 'talent' dominate the daytime line up. 

The book reveals how, for decades, BBC employees were silenced by a gagging clause in their contracts. Post Savile, this has been lifted meaning Liz can finally disclose her experiences in full, warts and all. She discusses how she was made a scapegoat for the endemic practice of prerecording broadcasts as 'live' and staging contests (did you know BBC radio presenters are freelance, that they do not get paid for holidays or sickness and if they're expected to cover for other stations they find themselves simply have to prerecord their existing shows that would go out roughly at the same time?) the duplicitous backstabbing nature of radio execs and BBC management is shockingly revealed too, as is how she was routinely groped by the old school Savile era Radio 1 DJ's in the 80s (though she doesn't name her assailant) and how the station was run like a rugby club. Speaking of Savile, it was Kershaw who first said on the day of his death that there had been "queer things" going on at the BBC in his day which would one day come out. Ironically, just 18 months after she helped blow the whistle regarding that long hidden predatory peadophile, her mother was interviewed in a documentary about her old colleague Cyril Smith MP to similar effect.

All in all, a very interesting read.

Edwige Fenech's Nice Puppies


What kind of photo were you expecting it to be??

Tsk, dirty minds.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Friday, 17 April 2015

What If...?

If you're in St Helens town centre tomorrow there'll be no escaping Other Ways of Telling, the performance theatre group I am involved with, as we'll be performing our new free to view street theatre piece What If...? in Church Street at 12 noon, 1:30pm and 3pm

Ahead of the election next month we'll be imagining a world where democracy is being dead and buried thanks to the Rev Have-it-all and Big Business (played by me), where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and we'll be asking 'are you happy' with that?

Wish us luck! We've really worked hard at this rather last minute show, with 4 hour rehearsals on Wednesday and Thursday and a stonking 6 hour rehearsal period today. I am truly knackered!

If you can't make tomorrow, we'll also be performing it at Liverpool's Unity Theatre on the evening of 5th May - see the theatre box office for details.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Out On Blue Six : Lisa Loeb

End Transmission

It Just Doesn't Add Up, Part 2

OK, let's break down the Tory pledges shall we?

And this is the party they tell us the electorate most trust on matters of the economy and fixing the deficit??

They've got their own deficit in their promises!

Let's face it, this is one massive I.O.U that will never be fulfilled. The funding will be thrown at the new Trident and the bankers whilst they all turn a blind eye to the tax loopholes their mates are skipping through.

Check out the Labour manifesto. Say what you will about them, but everything is effectively costed and there for all to see.