Saturday, 18 October 2014

Numpties

Sky Atlantic and Sky Living have engaged in some 'blue sky thinking' and decided to axe two very funny sitcoms; Mr Sloane and Trying Again after just one series each.




I really hate these kind of short sighted decisions. Granted you could argue Mr Sloane, the 60s set sitcom starring Nick Frost, Olivia Colman and Ophelia Lovibond, had something of a beginning a middle and an end in its solitary season to satisfy viewers, but Trying Again, written by and starring Chris Addison, alongside Jo Joyner, ended on something of a cliffhanger and featured characters I'd really liked to have seen again.

Mr Sloane's team, which included show creator and Curb Your Enthusiasm director Bob Weide, have taken to Facebook to confirm the cancellation and to express how they found the fate of the show ''baffling''. Make that you and me both. 

"Sky had been very supportive during the first series, and claims the show to have been a success for them by every measure" they said, adding "There is a new channel head at Sky who, it seems, has a new agenda for the channel that doesn't include our pal Sloaney. What that agenda is, we imagine, will become more evident in the coming year"

Sounds like there's an idiot in charge of Sky then and that the new agenda is for its channels to be a laugh free zone. 

Breaking news: Someone's started a petition to get Trying Again's cancellation reverted. Please sign it here

Friday, 17 October 2014

Out On Blue Six : Joe Jackson


Brilliant song, with one of the best single covers ever...it just sums up the song meaning beautifully in one very clever photo...


We've all been there, right?

End Transmission


Girls With Guns



Plus size pin up model Gia Genevieve

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Out On Blue Six : Ian Dury and the Blockheads



An interactive bench sponsored by Warner/Chappell Music in memorial for their artist Ian Dury has fallen into disrepair.  Despite having offers of repair work from fans of Ian's, the music corporation has yet to reply. They may have forgotten Ian Dury, but his fans have not. Please sign this petition here

End Transmission



Sack Lord Freud

Lord Freud was caught making prejudicial comments concerning his belief that disabled people weren't worth the minimum wage in employment and could be paid much less. 

This is the kind of comment that proves the real thinking of the Tory government, who have never wanted to help those most disadvantaged in our society.

Please sign this petition demanding he be sacked from his role as a government minister here

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Red Shift (1978)



God love the BFI. Another near forgotten treasure is released from the vaults this month; Red Shift is an adaptation of The Owl Service author Alan Garner's sci fi fantasy children's novel (and let's use the term children loosely) that appeared in the acclaimed Play For Today strand in 1978. It's a mark of the quality and distinction TV had at the time that the two plays that sandwiched Red Shift were David Hare's Licking Hitler and Jim Allen's The Spongers. Remember when the BBC gave a toss about intelligent drama and showcasing a variety of voices? This was then.



Time figures much in Red Shift. The story is set in South Cheshire and the slip roads leading to the M33 (the 'red shift' of the title; its triangular formation allegedly being something seen by the naked eye from space to have a red glow) and beyond, the hills of Mow Cop (the subject of today's Wordless Wednesday). But, whilst the setting may remain static, it literally shifts across three time periods; a heartfelt but strained romance in the 70s is our introduction and meat of the piece, before we flit back to a beleaguered militia coming into contact with a pagan goddess in Roman times and a bloodthirsty massacre during the English Civil War. 






In each segment the narrative focuses on a disturbed and troubled youth, Tom, Macy and Thomas, each linked by his location, the discovery of an axehead and 'visions' that appear like fits when words can no longer be summoned up. As you can see from such a description, it's a deeply elliptical and disturbing piece that neatly fits the burgeoning 70s preoccupation with folklore, the ancient characterisation of women having the ability to heal or hurt man, specifically when they are fated to hurt already, and paganism - an echo of which Garner appealingly suggests runs through the arteries of the modern day motorways that course through our ancient countryside. It commences like the standard fare one perhaps stereotypically expects from a Play For Today, depicting the 70s setting as little more than a tale of small town frustration featuring a verbose and intelligent yet clearly pained young man trapped by his overbearing yet well meaning parents as his modern thinking girlfriend looks set to move on thanks to a career opportunity in London. One can only imagine what the unexpecting viewers at the time thought with the sudden shift to a different timezone.

Directed beautifully by Long Good Friday director John Mackenzie and starring some truly excellent television actors including Lesley Dunlop, Bernard Gallagher, Ken Hutchison, James Hazeldine and Michael Elphick, BFI have restored the original print in crisp HD, present this beguiling headscratcher to a new generation.

Wordless Wednesday : Mow Cop


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

W. (2008)




I was pretty disappointed with W. on its initial release some six years ago. The third in what could be classed as Oliver Stone's president trilogy, having been preceded by JFK and Nixon, I found it somewhat premature, coming in too early in the fall of Bush's presidency to have any real comment on the legacy of his premiership. Where its predecessors excelled was in exorcising the ghosts of a nation, of the world even, whereas W. served as little more than a hasty obituary on a dying patient. 

Rewatching it today, I found that some distance has helped it but not enough to have it stand alongside JFK or Nixon. I still feel that if Stone had waited some years - maybe a couple more years time from even today - to commence this project it might have had more impact.

Of course part of the problem is the age we now live in. Much of what is depicted in W. was already public knowledge thanks to numerous press accounts and tell all books regarding Bush's life before politics, his relations with his family, his time in office, 9/11 and the Gulf Wars. Facts and theories that do not require reinterpretation in the manner that Stone's other presidential, or indeed generally political (as Platoon and Salvador with its views on US foreign policy and modern warfare equally fall into this example) did. As such the 'shock and awe' (to quote a post 9/11 Bush favoured phrase) one normally associates with Stone's films isn't really in evidence with W. and that too explains our disappointment. 



Stone had to take a different route with his character study and exploration of recent history and it came as some surprise perhaps that he seemed keen to show the humanity and likeability in a man who, for many citizens of the world, was a figure of fun at best and a figure of utter hate at worst. By using an episodic non linear narrative that flashes back and forwards from 'the present day' of Bush's time at the White House to his days at college and his inability to hold down a succession of jobs, Stone depicts a figure that the audience can have empathy with. We see how he never truly made his parents (James Cromwell as George Bush Snr and Ellen Burstyn as Barbara) proud and, thanks to his love of partying, reckless behaviour and ultimately his alcoholism, gave them cause to despair. Their favouring of their other son Jeb resulting in sibling rivalry between the brothers, is shown to explain Bush's character and its a universal theme for any family to comprehend and provoke sympathy. That Stone manages to do that with a President we believed to have an either/or opinion about, one who fraudulently went to war and helped bring about economic collapse, is pretty impressive. His narrative choice is clearly one of a man who blindly reached his esteemed position through luck, opportunity and accident. His Bush is just a good ole boy (and how those 60s and 70s scenes remind one of a Burt Reynolds movie or an episode of Dallas) who got in way over his head. Because this isn't a savage indictment, it's implicitly implied rather than outright stated that Bush is an incompetent president, conferring to the forthright opinions of some of his staff, specifically Dick Chaney (Richard Dreyfuss, stealing the film with a jaw droppingly convincing turn) Karl Rove (Toby Jones) and Donny Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), whilst exasperating others such as Condoleeza Rice (Thandie Newton performing like a Spitting Image puppet of Condy) and Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright - the embodiment of biting your lip) It's an interesting approach, suggesting that we really ought to have been looking at those closest to Bush, than Bush himself. As such, Stone never lets us get close to the Machiavellian powers behind the throne, nor to those who ultimately deferred to Bush's will which ultimately allowed him to sustain his families legacy, in all likelihood against their own predictions.

Besides my criticism that it came too soon, the film has other flaws. You're never quite sure what it is Stone wants to really say about Bush, other than he is just a man. But he's a man who believed it was God's will that he should become president. In a world where normal people who believe they have heard voices get sectioned, why is it just accepted that a president - the man with nuclear codes - heard a voice telling him to obtain office? There's also the issue of Brolin having to play Bush at each stage of the man's life. It's faintly ludicrous to see the 40 year old Brolin play a frat boy alongside actors of the right age, but its the necessity of the narrative that Stone selected.



It's an accomplished and polished looking film with a strong cast but I can't really shake the notion that it could have truly achieved greatness if approached further down the line. In the film's closing moments, Bush is stumped by the press who ask him what his role in history will be...maybe it is only history that will allow us that answer.

Smoking Hot



Anne Francis

Powder Room (2013)




Based on Rachel Hirons' hit stageplay When Women Wee, Powder Room the debut of female director MJ Delaney, is an authentic and fresh film about female status anxiety explored over the course of one chaotic and calamitous night for two groups of twentysomething girls at a Croyden nightclub, with much of the action taking place in the titular ladies loos.

A fine ensemble of young female talent including Sheridan Smith, Jaime Winstone, Oona Chaplin and singer Kate Nash invest much into the realistic earthy dialogue and funny scenarios that will chime with any female nightclub goer, and indeed clubbers in general.  We'll all know a shitty club like this, the kind of club that is the only option in a modern day British urban town if you want to have fun after a certain time of night, and we'll all recall nights like this in some small way.





The heart of the film is Smith's character, a woman whose night out finds herself torn between two groups; Winstone's more loutish, girls-just-wanna-have-fun mob whom she works with, and old friends Chaplin and Nash who, having found some success in new media circles, are perhaps more obnoxious - albeit for different, distinctly snobbish reasons. The crux of the film ultimately concerns the lies Sheridan's character spouts to keep her circle of friends apart and why she feels she has to present herself differently in the first place - a situation I expect we've all found ourselves in in one form or another.

Flashy direction from Delaney helps to open out the film from the trappings of its stage origins, but its just decoration (though admittedly a visually pleasing one at that) and the real meat is to be had in the dialogue. Granted, if we're to compare it to what has gone before, well it's not Andrea Dunbar quality writing, but it's a far better representation of a generation of working class girls than something that ITV2, BBC3 or E4  churn out with alarming regularity, and it is at least one that is singularly being told by that gender, which should be applauded not derided like some reviews have been keen to do. Receiving its TV premiere on Sky Movies this week alongside Matt Whitecross' delightful ode to Stone Roses fandom, Spike Island, it's somewhat promising to see such aspects of British youth culture being depicted with a degree of unique parochial identity, charm and panache (other recent films like Svengali also fit such a category)  and whilst its clear they'll never trouble BAFTA I don't think that spoils the overall enjoyment to be had from this fare. Who knows , Powder Room and its contemporaries may become something of a sleeper cult in a few years time.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Milk (2008)



Milk, The biopic of Harvey Milk - politician, activist and the first openly gay man to be elected to US public office, cruelly assassinated by a bitter colleague in 1978 -  was a long time coming. First slated as an Oliver Stone produced, Gus Van Sant directed feature, entitled 'The Mayor of Castro Street', in 1991 it was reported that comic actor Robin Williams would play Milk. Van Sant subsequently left the project in '93 after numerous other A listers were attached to star in the lead role including James Woods, Richard Gere, Al Pacino and Daniel Day Lewis.  Stuck in development hell, with Bryan Singer the last name to be attached in the mid 00s, Van Sant set out to make his own Milk biopic based on a new script by Dustin Lance Black which would eventually win a screenplay Oscar. By 2007, Sean Penn signed up to play Milk, a stunning performance that earned him the Oscar for Best Actor. The film was released in 2008 to coincide with the 2008 Californian referendum on gay marriage.





I'm not a big fan of Sean Penn in general, but I cannot deny his skill as an actor in certain roles. It's perhaps best not to dwell on his somewhat ignorant yet 'right on' personal politics that see him tie himself in knots to appease people. For example, whilst he rightly earned much respect and plaudits for his sensitive and committed performance here it's worth pointing out that Penn's respect in such quarters wasn't universal, with some citing his mutual support of the anti-gay rights Cuban government, who have a track record for placing homosexuals in latter day concentration camps, is hypocritical at worst and plain dumb at best.




There's a strong supporting cast including James Franco and, one of my favourite US actresses, Alison Pill who proves what a versatile actress she is which only further puzzles me that she hasn't been given a more prominent role beyond the excellent HBO series The Newsroom.

Much of what impresses me in Van Sant's film is the very naturalistic vibe it possesses, with scenes that don't necessarily feel like 'acting' and a subtle yet committed and authentic depiction of mid to late 70s San Francisco. The screenplay is an assuredly good one that benefits greatly from the research Black invested in it, making the viewer feel like we're really witnessing the experiences of the people depicted at that very time and place. It vibrantly captures a moment, an inspiring step forward, perfectly.



It is in the film's third act, that we perhaps see it struggle. With a strong depiction of Milk on the outside trying to get in, the film starts to wobble a little as it details his role in office towards its conclusion. Perhaps the flaw is that much of what has gone before sets the viewer up in terms of strong political narrative and a sense of an impending martyrdom that so many biopics of tragic public figures are often steeped in. However the demise of Harvey Milk doesn't easily fit such narrative tropes. He was assassinated, it seems, not for his campaigns or for his beliefs, but for a perceived slight from a bitter and humiliated colleague (Josh Brolin) who may or may not have been a closeted homosexual. There's almost too much emphasis or what if's trying to be placed on what was a most arbitrary and needless murder - not only of Harvey Milk but also of the San Franciscan Mayor George Moscone.

Bumday



Dirce Funari

Sunday, 12 October 2014

All Is Lost (2013)




It's perhaps a big ask of today's cinema goers to watch a film set entirely upon a small yacht on the Indian Ocean, with the bare minimum of dialogue and just one (veteran) actor, but that's the ask assured director JC Chandor (Margin Call) makes with All Is Lost and he does so with the eternally magnetic Robert Redford who makes it a compelling and deeply emotive and thought provoking movie.

Unfortunately, it proved to be an even bigger ask for the academy who snubbed the film in all bar one category (Sound Editing) and robbed the 77 year old Redford of a Best Actor nomination that he so richly deserved.



There's something sobering about seeing Redford, this once beautiful young Adonis of a man now cutting a solitary, craggy and mysterious swathe across the film's perilous action. As he calls upon his reserves of courage and inner strength and faces up to the his own mortality, so to do we, the audience, as we ponder just how we would fare in such a situation and how long ago Redford's golden heyday was now. He's still a first class actor and an absolute star; he still has the ability to attract the viewer and hold their attention and that's exactly what the technical requirements of Chandor's film needed to have, but this is unmistakably a personal acknowledgement from Redford regarding his senior years in a manner which his contemporaries would hesitate to admit or fail to deliver as effectively. Is this film really just an existential metaphor on human ageing and impending death? Do you know, it just might be.


Silent Sunday : Rain


Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)




There's no denying that Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street has proved to be a deeply divisive film, with some claiming that this is a bold and striking movie that swaggers with a brio not expected from a veteran director now in his 70s, whilst others have dismissed it as overlong, puerile, repetitive and displaying a certain adolescence one should not expect from a veteran director now in his 70s.

I can understand both arguments really; The Wolf of Wall Street isn't a perfect film, but it is one hell of a ride.

I think much of the problem with the film - based on the real life exploits of notorious stockbroker Jordan Belfort - stems from the fact that no character, least of all Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio with another stunning performance),  is actually likeable. Now there's nothing unusual in focusing on anti-heroes or the downright hateful in films; after all Filth, also from 2013, offered a similar lurid, larger than life tale with a loathsome individual at its heart. But to spend 3 hours with a man as smug and detestable as Belfort and more, to spend those 3 hours seemingly revelling in the man's lifestyle rather than making a judgement on his life choices, makes it something else. But this is Scorsese, a man whose made it his life's work to focus on the unsavoury characters within our modern society.



Orgiastic scenes of excess featuring wanton displays of female flesh, drug use, dwarf throwing and head shaving all in the name of the worshipping of filthy lucre flood our eyes and ears are however portrayed in a manner that suggests chauvinistic adolescence. As Mark Kermode pointed out in one review, why was it considered acceptable to show endless female full frontal nudity, yet the only time the script requires us to see male nudity of that type, Scorsese cheats and goes for the funny, offering us the sight of Jonah Hill gripping an obviously fake penis.




Speaking of masturbation, a Dallas Buyers Club frail Matthew McConaughey offers a vivid cameo as DiCaprio's Wall Street mentor, advising him of the benefits of knocking one off at least twice a day (a sort of Obi Wank Kenobi if you will) whilst Hill - as a buck toothed goofy WASP affecting cousin lover - proves once again a flair for the strong sidekick role alongside the traditional leading handsome man, in much the same way he did for Brad Pitt in Moneyball albeit here it is one that is naturally more heightened and comic. You really cannot fault much of the acting on display here, with Rob Reiner being a particular highlight as DiCaprio's temperamental father, a devout Equalizer fan, though former Neighbours actor Margot Robbie performs thanklessly as DiCaprio's wife offering audiences little other than titillation. Equally Joanna Lumley's cameo is one of wafer thin characterisation and a brief and lazy interlude. There's definitely a flaw in the film's female roles, depicting them as whores, trophies or victims to be peer pressurised and laughed at (such as the team player who gets her head shaved and promises to go under the knife to boost her bra size from C to a DD) but in the kind of bear pit that the film depicts, whose to say that isn't truthful? With that in mind you could argue that to quibble about it would perhaps be like complaining about the lack of black actors in a film set in pre-war Berlin. Ah but then there's the elusive character of fellow broker Kimmie Belzer played by Stephanie Kurtzuba. With just under an hour to go, this character appears almost from nowhere (she's briefly glimpsed in one multi character scene previously) in a manner which suggests either some deeply flawed editing or a too little too late attempt to inject some humanity into the character of Belfort. It's lazy and it's a big flaw in the normally assured storytelling we expect from Scorsese.



The best analogy I can think of is that The Wolf of Wall Street is like one of those long rambling pub anecdotes you find yourself a captive audience too. Whilst its formulaic and you may feel you've heard it before at times, there's definitely something in the telling and you can't help but admire the craftsmanship of how the tale is spun even though it threatens to sag and sink under its own weight  and excessive flow (of drinks) Ultimately and perhaps despite yourself you find it amusing, even if it's not one you'd go around telling everyone.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Out On Blue Six : Pink Floyd

Today has been World Mental Health Day, as I type we've ten minutes to go until that changes. It's been an exhausting yet deeply rewarding day in which I've performed on stage with the theatre group I belong to, Other Ways of Telling, and our play Wendy In Saneland. It was wonderfully received and, if you're in the St Helens area and you came by to see us, I'd like to say a big thanks to any and all of you lovely people who gave us such wonderful feedback. Right now though, I feel comfortably numb and that seems pretty apt... 



End Transmission


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Salvador (1986)


Fear and Loathing in Central America.

Between 1980 and 1992, El Salvador was ravaged by civil war, a war that pitted left wing guerrilla groups against a right wing military administration that was supported by Reagan's United States government. Reaganite policy was shaped by a fear of left wing prominence in territories like Salvador would mean a spread of communism into the US and so, with this paranoid thinking in mind, Regan sanctioned the repression of the people of El Salvador, and the use of state death squads who would assassinate, massacre and 'disappear' persons or people who proved to be a thorn in the side of their 'progress'. By the end of the war in 1992, more than 30,000 people were still unaccounted for, missing presumed dead.

Gonzo photojournalist Richard Boyle covered much of the emerging conflict and approached Oliver Stone with his unpublished memoirs in the mid 80s. Played on screen by James Woods, Boyle is a jaded and somewhat frazzled loose cannon; a glib veteran of Vietnam and the killing fields of Cambodia (he makes many references to being the last journalist out of the country, long after Sydney Shamberg) he's a wild and crazy guy, accompanied - as if 'on holiday by mistake' by loudmouth San Franciscan radio DJ Doctor Rock (Jim Belushi) -  who the audience slowly sees in a new light as he witnesses first hand the appalling horrors of Major Max's (in reality  Roberto D'Aubuisson) regime. Like the skin of an onion, various layers of Boyle's character are peeled back from wacko slimeball to experienced war correspondent and finally to the empathetic, passionate and caring individual we see at the end of the film.

Is it all true? Well, not really no. Seemingly taking John Ford's desire to 'print the legend', much of Stone's Salvador is a composite that blurs reality with fiction to produce an accurate character study and a vivid indictment on US foreign policy and the savagery of civil war. Scenes which place Boyle at the centre of pivotal points in the conflict are, to put it nicely, using 'poetic licence'. These include not only his eyewitness account of Archbishop Romero's assassination and the battle of Santa Anna, but the utterly fictional creation of John Savage's character Cassady, a photographer killed in action, and Boyle's attempt to sneak his girlfriend Maria into the US. It's a uniquely cartoonish excess which paints its characters colourfully and onto a broad canvas, but it's not the first film that embellishes its tale to get a very real message across and some scenes of utter horror, such as the rape and murder of aid working nuns and the mutilated bodies littering the towns and countryside, remain with the viewer long after and hopefully will force them to consider the actions taken in the name of the supposed free world.

Wordless Wednesday : Getaway