Thursday, 24 April 2014

Leap Into Freedom

An uplifting, inspirational moment, captured forever

On the 15th August, 1961 the 19 year old East German soldier Conrad Schumann was stationed at the corner of Ruppiner Strasse and Bernauer Strasse to guard the barbed wire fence of what was to become part of the Berlin Wall, then on its third day of construction.

From his post, Schumann heard the gathering West Germans encouraging him to defect with cries of 'come over!'

The photograph above, taken by Peter Leibing, was the iconic result. 

Schumann subsequently moved from West Berlin into West Germany, marrying and settling down in Bavaria.

Sadly plagued by depression in his later life, Schumann committed suicide in 1998, hanging himself in his orchard.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Out On Blue Six : Ralph McTell

One more to round off St George's Day...

End Transmission

Looking Up Old Friends

As BBC2 celebrates its 50th, I find myself watching once more one of the finest dramas the channel has ever put out. 

1996's Our Friends In The North was seminal appointment television. I was engrossed first time round and, having it watched it a couple of more times down the years and again now, I'm equally just as engrossed.

Out On Blue Six : Kirsty MacColl

Today is St George's Day so, with that in mind, here's a suitably English themed song

End Transmission

Monday, 21 April 2014

Margaret (2009)

Forget Meryl Streep's The Iron Lady, for me 2009's Margaret is is the best biographical drama concerning the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher.

Of course it helps that I really admire Lindsay Duncan as an actress. 

Admittedly she's too beautiful and in real life is mercifully way to the left of Thatcher's politics, but she's an extremely capable actress who manages to make Thatcher a believable and three dimensional person rather than a caricature or impersonation. In both her hectoring and her seductiveness of her cabinet she captures something of the countries most important PM since Churchill beautifully. There's also something of the psychotic in her portrayal, how she switches from killer lioness, chewing up and spitting out various members of her cabinet, to a figure approaching sympathy - though that said my sympathy largely remains for her family who she seems to largely ignore, except for the eternally errant Mark whom she clearly doted on. What is at its clearest though is that here was a woman who came along at just the right time to topple Heath's boys club regime (and in just this past week, when John Bercow admitted that some female MP's confided in him about their steering clear of PM Questions because of its raucous alpha male tendencies,  it feels like such a tide needs turning again) but who didn't appreciate when the time was right to bow out herself fifteen years later. 

Written by Richard Cottan and directed by James Kent, the play moves from Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech (well played by superb mimic and underrated actor John Sessions) to her ultimate defeat but, interwoven are flashbacks of her career commencing in her challenge for the leadership in 1975 with Ted Heath (a spot on cameo from semi-retired actor Nigel Le Vaillant who once set female pulses racing as a driven doctor in both Casualty and Dangerfield) and through to her victory in the 1979 general election.

Kent gathers together a perfect rogues gallery of a cast, some of whom had previously appeared in 2002's excellent The Falklands Party and at least two would go on to star in The Iron Lady (albeit in different roles in each of the three biopics) There's Iain McDiarmid is Denis, ever loyal, ever waiting and ever with a Scotch at hand, Kevin McNally makes for a wonderful Kenneth Clarke, Roy Marsden a suitably bullish Norman Tebbit, Michael Cochrane as a boisterous foul mouthed Alan Clarke, Philip Jackson a bluff Bernard Ingham, Robert Hardy as wily Willie Whitelaw, James Fox as the faithful Charles Powell, Oliver Cotton swaggers as Michael Heseltine whilst Michael Maloney makes for a calculating and duplicitous John Major.

Despite weighing in at almost two hours and with an outcome we all know from the off, Margaret remains a suspenseful and engrossing production. However, one can't help but wonder if it may have worked better as a mini series, one that fully explored all the years of her controversial reign.

Out On Blue Six : Al Green

I have always loved this song by Al Green...

Do you have a song that brings back such definitive memories of a place and a time? This has become one of mine, and now when I hear it, I am instantly transported back to The Queens pub in Huyton one evening in 2002 I think when, surrounded by workmates, we had several drinks for one of our number who was leaving - off to a job entertaining in Spain. Her name was Jane Colligan and I think it was her who put this on the jukebox and had us all singing along.

That's her there. 

It's funny but of that crowd I worked with and ran around with back then, I've only kept in touch with one person, and he's there in the back of that shot. My best mate John (and he and I don't meet up as often as we'd like) Funny how, with one thing or another - some wilfull, some accidental - times tide casts us all adrift on its waves...let's stay together? Hmm. Still, great memories.

End Transmission

Easter Bumday

The Tate Gallery

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Lone Ranger (2013)

The reason why it has taken me so long to get around to this is because I had grave reservations.

For one, I quickly grew tired of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after the second film. The third, At The World's End, was a film, so disappointing, so ill advised and so overlong that, in my nightmares, I sometimes think I'm still in the cinema watching it! The fact that this appeared to be the West hardly had me itching to see it.

In fact I'm just tired of Johnny Depp's schtick full stop. He's been playing the neo-Keaton complete with optional drunk or trippy swaggering ever since Benny and Joon. I'd like to think he's a great actor - he's certainly a strong screen presence - but the fact he never plays anything approaching a normal person does little to support that belief. Like Stuart Maconie once said, how can you say he's an actor of great variety and depth when all he plays are freaks and oddballs in cartoonish endeavours - when he plays a timid, lonely librarian from Leeds, then you can say he has range!

It's not really Depp's fault and it's perhaps unfair to say he only ever plays the one role. The truth is, he can play 'normal people' and he has done so in the rather lovely Finding Neverland and, most recently, in the unfairly maligned The Rum Diary. But these films mean little to the box office compared to his OTT turns in blockbusters and so he's back again, playing the loony for his Disney paymasters. 

But my major sticking point for me (or should that be schticking point?) is the fact that I seemed to be totally unaware of one massive change of opinion, namely when was it decided that it was OK for a white actor to black up again?

Why, when there simply must be talent and available Native American actors out there, was it deemed OK for Depp to don both the tan and the war paint and play 'injun' for our amusement? When did we revert back to this un-PC era? Because this isn't just a one off in Hollywood right now, it wasn't so long ago we had Snow White and the Huntsman which saw the opportunity for seven dwarf actors to find employment go for a burton too. Call me a PC softie if you like but I'm finding such decisions a little disturbing and unfair.

So yes, these were the main reasons I didn't watch this until now - those and the fact that the majority of reviews were terrible. Now I've watched it, were those reviews right?

Well, yes they were.

Let's face it, The Lone Ranger - like the POTC films - is a bloated mess that relies largely on Depp's charisma  to be book-ended by a couple of CGI'd big action set pieces. As such it's a film I believe was  sorely in need of another draft in terms of the uneven script, as well as a good editor to cut away some of the rambling excess of celluloid. Because NO film of this comic book styling needs to be 2 and a half hours long and several characters feel utterly redundant, languishing in the shade of The Johnny Depp Show. Even, dare I say it, Helena Bonham Carter.

In its favour, there's a pleasing buddy/buddy dynamic between the two leads and it does, on the whole, look pretty stunning. There's also a peculiarity of spirit, coupled with some decidedly mature themes that is both refreshingly odd and cheekily provocative for a family orientated Disney blockbuster. But then again, in being so it leaves us with the question; just who is this film for? I can't really see kids going mad for it, it's overlong and too dark for some whilst the older generation, who welcome a good Western, will find this playing fast and loose with their expectations and the legend of the 'masked man' and his 'trusty scout'

Which brings me to yet another issue that irked with me - for much of the action, The Lone Ranger lives up to the Mexican understanding of his nickname 'Kemosabe' ie 'he who knows nothing' or bluntly, 'idiot'.  Armie Hammer's bungling hapless greenhorn of a hero in the making may be skilled enough and may fit the requirement of the origin story, but it still feels quite sacrilegious on the whole to me.

But then there's that fabulous set piece near the end; a thing of beauty, slapstick, action and suspense and above all old fashioned Hollywood. All brilliantly timed to The William Tell Overture, it serves as the moment the man becomes the myth and the legend. It's wonderfully rousing, but why did we have to wade through all the rest of the film to get to this crowning glory? One great setpiece doesn't make a film! If the rest of the film could match up to that - and let's face it, that means a serious tighter edit - this could have been something quite special. As it is its a flawed mess.

Out On Blue Six : Dexy's Midnight Runners

I love that first incarnation of Dexy's, when - inspired by On The Waterfront - frontman Kevin Rowland deliberately had them all dressing like out of work New York dockers. It was such a distinctive, tough urban look

End Transmission

All In Good Time (2012)

All In Good Time has something of a long legacy which has been little publicised (save perhaps for the North West at least where it did get a nice piece paying tribute to its legacy on North West Tonight) So as well as reviewing the film, let's use this post as a bit of an explanation to its history

It first saw the light of day as a 1961 TV play entitled Honeymoon Postponed, before becoming All In Good Time, a stage play in 1963.  It was then remade as an excellent 1966 film The Family Way which starred that dream and dreamy partnership of Hywel Bennett and Hayley Mills, alongside Hayley's father John. 

In all these guises, it was written by Bill Naughton, the Bard of Bolton, who was responsible for such greats as Alfie and Spring and Port Wine both of which were made into movies in the 60s starring Michael Caine and James Mason respectively.

Bill Naughton with wife, Erna

In 2007 Ayub Khan-Din, star of Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and writer of East Is East remade Naughton's work as Rafta Rafta, a stage play substituting Naughton's original characters for a contemporary British Asian setting. Teaming up with Made In Dagenham director Nigel Cole, Khan-Din's version has now become the 2012 film All In Good Time, reverting back to Naughton's original title.

Not much has changed between Naughton piece and Khan-Din's piece. The setting is still Bolton and a poky terraced house in a tiny redbrick street full of prying neighbours and strong traditional values. Indeed much of the dialogue is almost word for word the same - including one infamous line that always guarantees a laugh both in the original from Liz Fraser's lips and in this uttered by Christine Bottomley. The plot still concerns the marriage of two young lovers, who are novices in the way of love and too broke to buy a house of their own. So, they move in to the family home and find themselves driven to distraction, unable to consummate their love for another.

In reworking the piece for a British Asian cast, Khan-din taps into the implicit similarities across the cultures. Naughton's original showed men at their most brash, loud mouthed and boastful whilst indicating that it was the women, the matriarchs, who truly ruled the roost. What was true of 1960s Lancashire is just as true for the Asian community seen here in the same region.

Harish Patel plays the new husband's father,
a role previously played by John Mills

The only real changes to the plot actually contribute to the success of this adaptation and its ability to still feel contemporary. It would be extremely fanciful to suggest that a Mills and Bennett for today, a young white couple in 2012, would reach the altar as virgins, yet that is a more acceptable and realistic representation for a more conservative community like the Hindu one shown here.

Shy newlyweds 1966 and 2012 style;
Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett
Reece Ritchie and Amara Karan

You really can't see the join. The acting is of a good standard with Reece Ritchie and Amara Karan especially engaging as the two newlyweds and Harish Patel providing a strong mix of comedy and pathos as the boy's father. Cole's direction is also as pleasing as ever and with this and the aforementioned Made In Dagenham he's fast becoming the go to man for any film that harks back to the charms of a different era and he so easily replicates the feeling of such classics.

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to all my readers!

Out On Blue Six : Ian Dury & The Blockheads

End Transmission

Saturday, 19 April 2014

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

A truly stunning and impressive adaptation by Lynne Ramsey of Lionel Shriver's seemingly unfilmable novel about a high school massacre orchestrated by an evil teenage boy.  

What made him do this atrocious act?

The film explores Kevin's fate through the eyes of the relationship between him and his mother Eva, played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton - a true masterclass in performing. The jigsaw like pieces of the tale are scattered, not necessarily in the right order, to dazzling effect with a wonderful vivid red being deployed throughout as the tone of the movie becomes increasingly close to that of The Omen or Rosemary's Baby.

But why did he do it?

Did Eva go wrong? She was suffering from extreme post natal depression and took to telling the infant Kevin outright that he had ruined both her life and her marriage. She even lashed out and caused him to break his arm in one scene. Or was it the choice of bedtime stories? Did Robin Hood encourage his unfortunate interest in archery? Did he just soak up her miasma of resentment and disenchantment with being a mother?

I'm not entirely sure. Now, that could be seen as a fault in the film and indeed in the full gamut of 5 stars to 1 stars reviews it is often brought up in the latter as a reason why the film didn't work for some people - that an accusation of arthouse pretentiousness that frankly bores me, is beyond consideration and is something of a masochistic insult towards the intelligence of some critics - but to be honest though, I don't really see a lack of substantial reasoning as to why Kevin behaves as he does as a fault myself. I've actually worked with high risk offenders myself in the past and it's actually very rare that one could single out one contributing factor for their crime. 

What's most interesting is the outcome of Kevin's massacre. Being underage he cannot face trial as an adult, so the film asks who will be blamed by society and naturally that misfortune falls to Eva, Kevin's mother. Here in the UK its an especially startling thing to witness as we are extremely lucky to not experience too many cases of 'Going Postal' to compare and contrast the fiction with.

Perhaps the blame Eva receives is not really about Kevin's actions, perhaps it is karma for her unwillingness to accept motherhood in the first place - the extreme result of the destruction of the individual motherhood ultimately brings about.

It's a technically brilliant film; harrowing, shocking and tragic but with the occasional flash of true jet black mordant wit. 

But did I enjoy it? Not really, it's the kind of subject one cannot truly be said to 'enjoy'. 

Before this, Ramsey hadn't made a film in 9 years. I hope we don't have to wait another 9 years for her next project.

Petitions Work : Victory for Cherry Groce's Family

Great news today, the petition on I shared recently has been victorious; the appeal made by the family of Cherry Groce received 133,000+ signatures and have been granted legal aid which will enable their participation in the forthcoming inquest

Cherry Groce was an innocent black woman shot by Metropolitan Police officers in her own home, an act which sparked the Brixtion Riots of 1985. Cherry spent the remainder of her life disabled and confined to a wheelchair. Her paralysis was a significant factor in her untimely death in 2011 and that's why it is important that this inquest occurs with the full participation of her family.

The painting above is Madonna Metropolitan by Kamathi Donkor and was part of the 2005 Fall/Uprising series to commemorate the urban unrest following Groce's shooting.