Monday, 25 May 2015

The Railway Man (2013)

The Railway Man is the story of Eric Lomax, a signals engineer who was captured by the Japanese in WWII and forced to work on the infamous Thai-Burmese 'Death Railway'. It is a story I'm largely familiar with thanks to personal interest - I had an 'uncle' (technically I imagine a great or even great great uncle, our family tree is an incredibly gnarly, many rooted one) who worked on the railway called Tommy who I remember vaguely as being a loving and kind hero figure for the infant me - and to the various ways in which Lomax's tale has been told through the years; most specifically the book of the same name and the Everyman film for VJ Day 1995, Prisoners in Time, which starred John Hurt as Lomax, and which I taped for my uncle's wife, Nellie that year along with all the BBC commemorative programmes. 

The real Eric Lomax

This latest adaptation is from a screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson, and tackles Lomax's life from two time periods, his later years which sees Colin Firth wrestling silently with PTSD to the horror of his second wife Patti, played by Nicole Kidman, and during his brutal imprisonment itself, in which he is played by Jeremy Irvine who uncannily adopts the vocal inflections and physical appearance of a young Firth.

Firth himself delivers a brilliant and deeply affecting central performance that is all painful secret suffering, honour, courage and kind heartedness, and it's reassuring to see he hasn't totally slid into the rut many actors find themselves in after having bagged the Best Actor Oscar. When placed alongside a similarly impressive Hiroyuki Sanada, as Lomax's former captor and tormentor Takeshi Nagase in the crucial two hander scenes, the film really is at its emotive pinnacle.  

It's fair to say Nicole Kidman, however middle aged, dowdy and '1980' the costume and make up team wish to make her appearance, is a little out of place here but she has a quiet chemistry that is palpable with Firth. The only jarring note is left to that great Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård as Firth's fellow former POW Finlay. It's not clear what accent he's trying to do (nor is it clear what accent Sam Reid is doing as his younger self) but it's not English and it detracts from the importance of his character to the piece. An importance which is, I must stress, entirely fictitious; Finlay is based on a composite of fellow POWs Lomax knew, but there was no one character who committed suicide or spurred Lomax into seeking revenge against his former torturer. Lomax himself saw the article about Nagase and travelled to Burma for closure with the man, not for revenge - although he did admit to confessing to Patti that he would like to do him harm for his past actions. When you consider this role was specifically created for the film, it really does make one wonder just why they'd chose an actor whose accent was so jarring!

To take the railway metaphor, this is not a steady journey, in fact it's occasionally quite disruptive. The first 10/15 minutes would lull you into thinking you're about to watch a slightly 'grey pound' romance with it's talk of Brief Encounter and its unlikely romance developing across a British Rail journey from Crewe to Edinburgh, but it's a clever false sense of security that hits you with the true horrors of PTSD, and its effects on a home life, some time later. I can however concede that some may find this 'shunting' a little disjointing. But you'd have to be heartless not to be moved overall by this remarkable true life tale.

And there's not many films out there that extol the virtues of Warrington!

Specs Appeal

Alice Levine

Out On Blue Six : The Stone Roses

25 years ago this week.

End Transmission

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Sex

If you're looking for hot right now, you can't go far wrong than with Sky Atlantic's latest import from US TV, The Affair

Both British stars Dominic West and Ruth Wilson adopt American accents for their roles as two adulterers and simply ooze immense sex appeal that's threatens to melt my screen!

And there's British talent behind the camera too, director and exec producer Mark Mylod.

It's one to watch!

East of Ipswich (1987)

A charming coming of age film, East of Ipswich was originally part of BBC Two’s feature film strand Screen Two and the semi-autobiographical tale was written by former Python Michael Palin, drawing on his own memories of dreary holidays in provincial grey coastal towns during the late 1950s.

The film beautifully captures that aspect of English eccentricity inherent in our seaside towns and our holidaymaking practices, by centring on 17-year-old Richard Burrill (Edward Rawle-Hicks) who reluctantly finds himself spending the summer holiday with his parents played by John Nettleton and Pat Heywood in a sleepy Suffolk coastal resort and a less than welcoming B&B run by Joan Sanderson's authoritarian landlady Miss Wilbraham.

Naturally our teenage hero finds himself quickly constrained by his parents attitude to holidaying and bored with the tedium of a town where nothing ever happens, but he's way too polite and well brought up to truly rebel. The closest he gets to rebellion is to listen to his rapidly burgeoning hormones, and a friendship develops with another teenage boy Edwin (John Wagland) who seems more confident when it comes to women and allows Richard the benefit of his knowledge and wisdom. The pair meet the attractive Julia (Oona Kirsch), a fellow teenager on holiday with her own uptight parents and a disruptive Dutch exchange-student  Anna (Penny Hinchley). Despite a mutual attraction between Richard and Julia, the shy teenager ultimately finds himself chaperoning the troublesome Anna who is well versed with the common after midnight and the local biker boys. Finally, fate intervenes when Julia's parents seek Richard out as a good, reliable sort and ask him to accompany her to the church ‘sausage sizzle’, but it doesn’t go quite according to plan after the teenagers bunk off to a local jazz club.

As I say, much of this is drawn from Palin's own personal experience; he met his wife Helen on a family holiday to just such a coastal resort. But he draws on his own imagination when it came to Richard's own experiences, claiming “I was rewriting my past the way I wished it had been." He has described East of Ipswich as the happiest and least complicated creative project he has ever been involved in, and this easygoing vibe filters through to the screen itself making the film a truly enjoyable, light and charming experience with some lovely performances specifically from Rawle-Hicks, who has a touch of a young Palin about him, Nettleton and Heywood as his staid yet likeable parents and Oona Kirsch and Pippa Hinchley as the two very different girls. There's also Janine Duvitski, Graham Crowden and Allan Cuthbertson also in the impressive cast. 

East of Ipswich is a rarity in Screen One and Screen Two drama in that it is available to buy on DVD, no doubt released to appease the fans of Palin and Monty Python, of which of course there are many.  

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

Silent Sunday : Bank Holiday Weekend

Out On Blue Six : New Musik

Heard this one again on this week's Top of the Pops from 1980 over on BBC4 and I have to say I don't think I'd heard it since it featured on I Love 1980! Dated, yes. A tiny bit naff, yes. But it's still a very original sound; This World of Water

End Transmission

Saturday, 23 May 2015

RIP Terry Sue-Patt

Really sad news for anyone of my generation; Grange Hill star Terry Sue-Patt has been found dead at his home in Walthamstow, North London aged just 50. 

Sue-Patt played football mad pupil Benny Green in the hit BBC kids programme and was the first character seen in the very first episode, kicking his football against a wall and getting told off. 

He starred in the series from 1978 to 1982 and after leaving appeared in a range of programmes and films including Alan Clarke's The Firm, Cardiac Arrest, The Comic Strip Presents and Big Deal. I'd personally only watched him last weekend in the Screen One drama Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage

Neighbours had alerted police with their concerns leading to the discovery of his body. No cause of death has been released as yet but the police have said they are not treating it as suspicious.

Sad news.


Hanging On The Telephone

The Crew (2008)

The Crew is a 2008 Liverpool set gangster flick starring Scott Williams, Stephen Graham, Kenny Doughty and Rory McCann. Like Harrigan which I watched this week, this crime thriller has some good things about it, but also an awful lot of average about it too.

The film is an adaptation of Kevin Sampson's novel Outlaws. Sampson is a great author with a truly authentic voice whose work sadly hasn't transferred all that well to the big screen (the adaptation of his Tranmere Rovers football hooligan novel Awaydays, a cracking book, was a real disappointment for example) but it's fair to say that whilst this is far from perfect it is still a reasonably good attempt, and one which also deserves some credit for striking out from the usual glut of British gangster movies that have come in the wake of Guy Ritchie's Lock Stock. As I discussed last week in my review for the similarly Liverpool set Going Off Big Time, the Scouse setting immediately separates it from the stereotypical norm, and also in its favour is the fact that it steers clear of the cheeky lairy antics that the mockney clones since Ritchie's breakthrough have routinely and depressingly delivered. That's not to say that The Crew doesn't deal in action, and when it does, it does so with drama and with a fair bit of blood.

In focusing less on antics and more on the lifestyle of a professional criminal, the heart of the film is Ged played by Scott Williams, the head of a successful old school criminal gang who has ambitions to go legit, schmoozing with a middle class and classy couple whom his wife Deb (Cordelia Bugeja) has become friendly with, to place his nest egg into their property redevelopment scheme. Cue the cliche of  'One Last Job', which will be a heist on a truck containing a load of PlayStations. But of course things get complicated; Eastern Europeans start to muscle in on the action and Ged's kid brother Ratter (Kenny Doughty) begins to get dangerous ambitions of his own, and are the couple with their tantalising land deal quite what they seem?

The beauty of a good book means that a multi-stranded plot has the time to breathe and develop, whereas a good film tends to excel and thrive on tight pacing and less clutter. Writer and director Adrian Vitoria and co-writer Ian Brady are clearly trying to do justice to the book and as a result they become hampered and fail to produce the clear vision and simple enjoyment the film demands.

There's also an issue with casting and characterisation.  Whilst solid in the lead role, Scot Williams isn't especially sympathetic or charismatic which makes caring about his situation difficult. The real stars of the film are Stephen Graham as the head of a rival firm and Rory McCann as Ged's loyal but kinky sex crazed lieutenant who provides both the muscle and the film's rare laughs as witnessed in this scene;


Once watched, never forgotten!

Dramatically better than both Going Off Big Time andThe 51st State (its two Liverpool gangland contemporaries) The Crew is entertaining enough but its flaws means it is on no way a classic.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Out On Blue Six : Jessica Garlick

Tomorrow is the Eurovision Song Contest, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to share one our previous entries, the last entry that we had that ever came within a sniff of winning in fact; it's former Pop Idol contestant Jessica Garlick and Come Back which came third in the 2002 contest

Yup, the last time we ever had an entry we could be truly proud of was thirteen years ago.

End Transmission

The Hi-Jackers (1963)

The Hi-Jackers is a run of the mill 1963 British B movie that one imagines would often top and tail the bill at the old Roxy of ABC for your parent's generation. It's an Incredibly dated crime flick but isn't without its own charm. 

A young pre-Till Death Us Do Part Anthony Booth stars as an independent haulier who does his good turn and picks up hitcher Jacqueline Ellis on her way to London, only to find himself the victim of an accomplished gang of hi-jackers who steal both his truck and his load. Swearing revenge on the crew, the film is largely a back-and-forth game between both him and villains, whilst urbane detective Patrick Cargill investigates with an open mind towards the hi-jack being an inside job. 

The cast is populated by some pretty good and very familiar character including the aforementioned Cargill, Derek Francis, Glynn Edwards, Arthur English and Harold Goodwin - though the Yorkshireman is terribly miscast as a character called Scouse, failing abysmally with the Liverpool accent and shown up alongside the naturally Scouse Booth.


Booth delivers the best turn and is quite charismatic and world weary as an independent long distance lorry driver getting squeezed out of the game as the big firms began to rule the roads and the new motorway systems began to overtake the scenic and slow B-road Britain. It's always a joy to see how these small British supporting features tapped into the situation and changing face of the country at the time and writer/director Jim O'Connolly offers up an interesting depiction of the titular gang that seems to tap into the different consensus the public had towards the underworld at the time in the wake of the Great Train Robbery just four months earlier; no mere opportunists, this operation is run to an extremely practiced and professional standard by Derek Francis' intelligent and cultured middle class mastermind who seems to run an entire network specialising in haulage industry crime, using unemployed working class men with records and at a loose end to do the rough and tumble of the robbery itself. The gang also includes one black member played by Tommy Eytle (a calypso singer at the time but he would later find fame as a regular in EastEnders in the early '90s) whose race is refreshingly never mentioned. This at a time when characters were usually written specifically as black or white - indeed, that's still an issue in film and television to this day.

That said, the middle class crimelord isn't delivered at all believably and, whilst it likely did tap into the post-Train Robbery concerns, it still owes more to the penny dreadfuls that emulated Conan Doyle's Moriarty from the turn of the century. It's hard to view a crime film as seriously as it ought to be when the gang are shown to sit and have a lavish picnic in a lay-by delivered up by their gastronome gangland boss whilst waiting for their target! And, despite Booth's strong lead performance, the action does dip a little when the plot concerns itself with his burgeoning and obligatory romance with Ellis back at his flat.

The Hi-Jackers offers no real surprises, in fact you can see it's twists coming as easily as if they were signposted like the road signs Booth has to follow, but it's a charming low key distraction for a wet Friday afternoon.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Fighting Back : Petitions to Sign

The Daily Fail is at it again; in the light of Victorino Chua's sentencing for his killing spree at Stepping Hill Hospital, they've decided to publish a deeply inflammatory article that suggests all Filipino nurses are somehow as guilty as Chua himself. This petition and also this one ask for such dangerous negative generalisations to stop and for a public apology.

Pardon the Trident whistleblower A petition from Scottish CND in support of William McNeilly's actions in exposing the poor safety standards on Trident nuclear submarines. There's another petition here too.

Trident is also a concern for this petition which demands its abolition and removal from Scotland. Whilst we're on the subject, why not join CND? I did after watching Threads the utterly shittifying 1984 drama from Barry Hines.

Bahar Mustafa makes a mockery of the role of Diversity Officer. This Petition calls for her immediate removal.

Grassroots Labour supporters believe less than four months is not enough time to reflect on the difficulties currently facing the party and to elect a new leader. Harriet Now is a petition which requests Harriet Harman remain leader until 2016, giving the party more time to prepare for their future and more importantly the future of the UK.

Millifandom was a surprising but somewhat important and at least an amusing tool in this year's election. The proponent of this was Abby Tomlinson who proved that young people were actually interested in politics and who knows, maybe if they had the right to vote at 16 we wouldn't be in the mess we are in now? This petition requests that Ed Miliband meet her for lunch. It's a bit of fun! No bacon sarnies though eh Ed?

Dennis Skinner that last bastion of true Labour and the rebellious spirit is in danger of losing his prized seat on the rebels bench from SNP MP's who wish to claim his seat. This shouldn't be allowed!

Work Experience for MP's If we really are all in this together, why not make each and every MP experience a year of living on the equivalent of benefits to? Would they be so quick to cut welfare knowing just what such a life entails?

Alternatively, this petition asks for A Cap on MP Expenses

Lastly today, please support this Anti-Austerity movement.

And please do yourself a favour and watch Frankie Boyle's Election Autopsy Hilarious and with some great comment and opinion from rapper Akala; a very intelligent and thought provoking man.

Harrigan (2013)

The North East, January 1974. The three day week is in operation and harsh budgeting sees police resources cut back to the bone. Centralisation is the Force's new watchword, leading to local stations being closed down and boarded up. As a result, lawless urban decay is rife on the working class estates and no one seems willing to lift a finger to help the honest and scared residents.

Enter the one man who is -  Detective Sergeant Barry Harrigan, fresh from a bloody stint policing the mean streets of Hong Kong. Stephen Tompkinson plays the hard nosed, haunted, titular copper who plays by his own rule book as a cross between Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and Edward Woodward in The Equalizer. He's ridding the streets of scumbags with pure fanatical aggression one minute and showing true kindness and decent old fashioned chivalry the next by going above and beyond for the victims, most notably a terrorised single mother played by Amy Manson. 

Tompkinson's a good actor often typecast in quaint and fairly innocuous nice guy TV roles, but those with long memories shouldn't be too surprised by this more hard as nails persona as he has played a tough cop before in a rather overlooked undercover cop series from the '00s called In Deep. But despite his convincing tough guy act, he's let down an awful lot by the threadbare script from former copper Arthur Mckenzie (allegedly based on a true story) that struggles to depict him as an everyday bloke; scenes with colleagues played by Maurice Roeves and Gillian Kearney for example are often cringey and have a distinctly first take feel. Which brings us to the direction; debut director Vince Woods shows his inexperience easily and loosely strings together some pretty shallow scenes which are littered with McKenzie's quasi-meaningful dialogue that wouldn't look out of place in an episode of Police Squad. At best Woods is workmanlike and efficient, excelling much more in the action and scenes of high drama and menace, but the story on display here needed a more astute director to bring it all together and give it the cohesive dark energy that both its premise and its star deserves. Yes, I'm sorry to say anyone hoping for Red Riding here will be sorely disappointed. I know I was. 

To be fair to the director though, the production clearly had a terribly thin budget, and whilst other 70s set era films would go to town with extensive period detail and an expensive classic soundtrack from the rock and pop gods of the day, this is beyond the reach of Harrigan, which has to evoke its period setting through charity shop clobber, night shooting and Crazy Horses by The Osmonds. I also suspect some heavy and ill advised editing has made it lose a little of its focus. And it's a shame too that despite the specifics of the inflation hit, power saving, strike heavy early 70s there's actually little examination of the social or political context; with one vignette featuring a vilified scab driven to crime shockingly featuring much of his motivation explained off screen. 

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect however comes from the fact that the events of 1974 aren't all that different to the events occurring right here and now in the UK of 2015. Funding for the police is at an all time low and only yesterday a dispassionate Theresa May informed the police federation that they must stop 'crying wolf' and prepare for more cuts, citing the falling crime figures as reason enough to excuse these budgetary restrictions. In many ways Harrigan could have served as a warning from history if it wanted to aim higher and be more than a standard mildly enjoyable British B movie.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Out On Blue Six : Duran Duran

Slight guilty pleasure old Durumdurum (as Del Boy once called them) in that they seemed for much of the 80s preening Tory boys. Still, I can't deny they scored a couple of stone cold classic songs including this one from 1993 which I have always adored. 

End Transmission

Theme Time : Ronnie Hazlehurst & Paul Nicholas - Just Good Friends

BBC2's retro afternoons - a chance to show repeats of classic sitcoms and the odd drama - has treated us of late with a very welcome repeat for one of my favourite romcoms, the 1983-1986 comedy series Just Good Friends.

Written by John Sullivan (of Only Fools and Horses, Dear John and Citizen Smith fame) Just Good Friends told the story of former lovers, the charming wideboy Vince Pinner and the middle class nice girl Penny Warrender, who by chance meet in a pub five years after he jilted her at the altar and rekindle their flame.

Sullivan got the idea for the sitcom from a letter written to an agony aunt in his wife's magazine that detailed just that scenario and was motivated to write it by his former Citizen Smith actress Cheryl Hall who made him realise that he was incapable of writing comedy for women. Spurred by this criticism, Sullivan sought to remedy this and the character of Penny is utterly three dimensional and superbly brought to life by the beautiful Jan Francis, whilst Vince was played by theatre and musicals star Paul Nicholas.

Nicholas also sung the beautiful theme tune, arranged by the great Ronnie Hazlehurst from an original lyric by John Sullivan himself - who always wrote the theme tunes of his sitcoms.

A full length version of the song was released by Nicholas but it is - to my mind, at least - pretty inferior, replacing Hazlehursts' flugelhorn arrangement with an atrocious 80s keyboard.

Wordless Wednesday : Love Will Tear Us Apart

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Insurance Man (1986)

In the war torn Prague of 1945, Franz discusses with his doctor his X rays results which show a mass on/around his lungs. The doctor asks him to discuss his working life and Franz tells the tale of a time before the Great War, when he was a young dye worker dismissed from his job because of a suspicious scaly rash. Determined to find out the truth of his industrial injury and gain recompense, Franz subsequently found himself caught up in the nightmarish bureaucracy and double speak of an insurance company, one of whose employees was a young Jewish man called Franz Kafka.

Kafka had long been a favourite of Alan Bennett's and the Yorkshire playwright indulged in some suitably Kafka like paranoia in his otherwise Ealing style wartime comedy A Private Function in 1984, before turning his attention two year later to two pieces based on Kafka; his comic stage play Kafka's Dick and this Screen Two film, The Insurance Man.

But Franz Kafka isn't the central focus of The Insurance Man, that falls to his poor namesake Franz (played by Ronald Hines here in the flashbacks that form the majority of the action, whilst his older self in the scenes that top and tail the film is played by Trevor Peacock) who is trapped in an increasingly frustrating and labyrinthine Kafkaesque nightmare. Like Alice sent further and further down the rabbit hole, Franz the worker is sent back and forth, up and down endless corridors and eternal spiral staircases as he's passed from pillar to post by the abrupt and officious bureaucratic functionaries. He meets similar victims along the way, albeit ones now so advanced on their quest for justice and compensation that they are now lost souls in a sea of red tape. These  bureaucratic and 'civilian' characters are wonderfully brought to life by a plethora of incredible character actors including Jim Broadbent, Hugh Fraser, Sam Kelly, Vivien Pickles, Tony Haygarth, Rosemary Martin, Charlotte Coleman, Benjamin Whitrow and Geoffrey Palmer.

As Kafka himself is Daniel Day Lewis. Though he isn't really on screen all that much, the future star really leaves an impression and the character himself is of course integral, in a tragically ironic deeply Kafkaesque manner; sensitive to Franz's plight, he arranges for the young man to work at a relation's asbestos factory which is of course the reason behind the older Franz's ill health. 

The Insurance Man isn't the most successful of Bennett's plays - perhaps because it's a little too on the nose in terms of its anger when Bennett's archetypal work always seems to cushion its depth and its bite within cosy humdrum surroundings - but it is still a darkly enjoyable ride helped immeasurably by director Richard Eyre's fittingly theatrical and Expressionist style; the cinematography, the set design and lighting create a uniquely disturbing nightmarish world which brings to life the sense of unnerving paranoia in Bennett's script.

The Insurance Man is available on the DVD release Alan Bennett at the BBC, but it is also available to view on YouTube.

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here