Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Bush or Blondie?

It's the age old question

For me, it's The Blessed Kate.

Who do you prefer?

Out On Blue Six : David Bowie

How great is it to say 'new from David Bowie' ?

Great vid, bit of acting and the wonderful Tilda Swinton!

End Transmission

Black Mirror : The Waldo Moment

So, last night saw the end of the second series of Charlie Brooker's excellent Black Mirror. Once again, I enjoyed every single film in the run. But last night's The Waldo Moment seems to have left most people largely unimpressed. And this surprises me.

Whilst I admit it wasn't the strongest of the three this time around, or indeed as strong as the first series of three, it is still an enjoyable piece with a strong message, well told.

Firstly, this is a story that goes back to the start. The world of The Waldo Moment is not too far from that of the first ever Black Mirror, The National Anthem, in that they're both closer to the here and now and ingrained in the present reality than most Black Mirror films. Its inception can also be traced to 2008 and a despairing column of Brooker's in The Grauniad, in which he posited the notion that Boris Johnson's bizarrely successful journey to office was something like a cartoon being elected purely off the back of it being cute and funny and ultimately the kiddies favourite. But before that it can be traced back even further, to 2004/5, when Brooker along with Chris Morris first came up with the notion of just such a thing for their brilliant sitcom Nathan Barley. It was a notion that was ultimately discarded, but proving no good ideas go to waste, Brooker resurrected it here.  Throw in some clear contempt for such depressing 'comedic' fayre as Bo Selecta (that bear that interviewed celebs and got a hard on) and the notion of voter apathy and celebrity culture and you have The Waldo Moment

Its these last ingredients were the film actually shines. Brooker pinpoints the lunacy of a society who can recognise and be won over by an animation on TV than a genuine professional and hard working MP.  Yes, Brooker depicts these MP's as nothing more than a smooth Tory in a suit and a young Labour woman who knows standing this time around will just be a stepping stone, but at heart these are people willing to do the job and listen to the voters. Apathy may be on the increase and the system may well be wrong but, as the Tory has it "It built these roads", at its core there are values that should not be forgotten or dismissed, you do so at your peril. By chucking them over purely in favour of something populist and created from little more than absurdity, spite and vulgarity, you have a change based on nothing, and a void allows cruelty and greed to step in as we see in the film's closing moments over the credits. 

Perhaps where The Waldo Moment failed to click is in presenting the audience with anything remotely solid and sympathetic to engage with. The lead role, the failed comic behind Waldo, is shown to be a depressed bitter and cynical mad who failed to achieve his potential. But he's also a callous and calculating man too, so there's little to pity even when he realises just how out of hand his creation cum monster has become.  A scene with him tearfully ringing an ex at the start simply isn't enough character background. His angry tirade that the current system is shit is one I cannot find argument with, but the fact that there's so blatantly little in place to compete with it, and the truth that his own fury is so utterly empty, is perhaps more telling and ultimately it leads to the film's bleak pay off. It's just a shame the inherently unsympathetic character set the wheels in motion before realising that, and that he didn't have an alternative.

But then Black Mirror isn't about providing an alternative is it? It's about being so utterly 'black', providing a pessimistic view of the world we live in now and the world we are about to live in.

Breaking Glass (1980)

They don't make 'em like this any more.

No seriously they don't. Whatever happened to the band film? The semi autobiographical movie of a pop/rock star roughly playing themselves? They just don't get made now.

Breaking Glass is the 1980 film that looks at the post punk/new wave scene in London at the time. Real life new wave artiste Hazel O'Connor (using her own hits as the soundtrack of the film) plays Kate, an aspiring young singer looking for a band, management and a record deal. She gets a band including a young Jonathan Pryce as an inoffensive, sensitive heard of hearing heroin using sax player, and The Bill's Mark Wingett on bass, a manager in the shape of small time hustler with big dreams, Phil Daniels (reuniting with fellow Quadrophenia star Wingett) and during the course of the film, she gets a record deal...but the highs are soon overtaken by the lows in a film that is essentially a post punk A Star Is Born

There's nothing new here, it takes a standard rags to riches to rags story and adds a different flavour reflecting the music taste of the time. Indeed where the film is truly interesting is in depicting that time; It's the winter of discontent, tired Callaghan's last gasp and the horror of Maggie's breaking dawn. The film takes great pains at pointing out just what a mess we were in, referencing short supplies and industrial action. Indeed, the whole country, virtually every industry seems to be/is shown as being on strike and we're shown that petrol is low (O'Connor's Kate is working at a station in one of the early scenes that is only serving regular customers because of the short supply) It's also a deeply racist period, with the rise of youth fascism on the fringes of the punk scene. This is conveyed (occasionally a little too earnestly it must be said, though it's a hard heart who holds that against the film) with scenes of pogoing seig heiling skinheads at the band's early pub gigs and later, when they play on the back of a truck at a Rock Against Racism type event which is swiftly overcome by the NF. It's here that she witnesses the stabbing (Altamount style) of a young skinhead played by Only Fools and Horses own Mickey Pearce, an event which sets her on course for a nervous breakdown and the dissolution of the band.

It's the film's attempts at highlighting the bleak times, with the use of real inner city urban locations and the nature of the racist element to the music scene and the industrial actions that puts me in mind of the later 24 Hour Party People's scenes which focused on Joy Division.

I last saw this film about 10 years ago (just a couple of years after seeing Hazel live on the Beyond Breaking Glass tour) and on this rewatch it's still an enjoyable experience. Perhaps because I saw it long after its release, there's an extra enjoyment in spotting familiar faces who went on to bigger things; as well as those already mentioned here you'll also see Peter Hugo Daly as the band's drummer, Janine Duvitski working alongside O'Connor at the petrol station, Richard Griffiths as a sound engineer, Mark Wing Davey as a DJ, Jim Broadbent as a striking railywayman, Derek Thompson (Casualty's Charlie) as an A+R man and the legendary Ken Campbell as a pub landlord. There's even a young Jonathan Ross in the crowd scenes at the anti racism concert!

As the film is a music piece, Hazel O'Connor is planted slap bang in the middle of it and it is her acting and her music that is essentially expected to carry it. It is of course the music aspect where she utterly shines, coming into her own with the straight singing performances, both in the more low key situations and also when the band hit it big (with one massive gig where she seems to be wearing what looks like a prototype Tron outfit!) The music, all O'Connor's work, is also rather good - though it's admittedly to my taste, and certainly was so ten years back when I first saw it - and produced by the legend that is Tony Visconti. But whilst it's fair to say that O'Connor was never going to win Oscars she is by no means a poor actor;  She has great chemistry with Phil Daniels as her manager and on/off boyfriend and later with suave Jon Finch who attempts to muscle in on Daniels interests in the band, and her character is convincing and likeable which is no surprise as she's essentially playing a version of herself.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Jack's Back!

As an event and a spectacle, I hate The Oscars with a passion, but where else can you see this? The 75 year old Jack Nicholson chatting up Jennifer Lawrence??

Protect and Survive

This one became quite famous when Patrick Allen's words of warning were sampled in this hit song...

Don't have nightmares

Girls With Guns

A gun toting Glynis Barber special.

First, swinging her lovely hips and taking aim in Blake's 7 and then, posing in Dempsey and Makepeace.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Great Moments in Doctor Who Part 9

That's got to be one of the best retorts ever right? Typically Douglas Adams, from his story - my favourite Who story - City Of Death. Perfectly played by Lalla Ward as Time Lady Romana and Tom Chadbon as Private Eye Duggan.


Pick a card, any card

(from Tarkus at Magic Mac)

Mia Mirror

In at the Deep End

Spotting another ode to Deep End one of my all time favourite films on a blog I enjoy dipping in and out of reminded me that I haven't posted some more pictures I've accumulated from the film. Starting with that poster, a genuine family planning poster from the late 60s/early 70s and a couple of lovely pics of Jane Asher at her loveliest.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

RIP Bob Godfrey

This has been a terrible month for losses in the entertainment field. I've just read that the great Oscar winning animator Bob Godfrey passed away this week aged 91, just days after Richard Briers, who was of course the voice of his cartoon Roobarb and Custard.

Godfrey's animations were a big part of my childhood, as I watched Roobarb and my favourite, Henry's Cat on TV. But the Australian didn't just concern himself with children's entertainment and, in the 70s, also made the bold foray into animated sexploitation with films like Henry Nine To Five and Karma Sutra Rides Again! which was selected to play alongside A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick himself.

1921 - 2013 RIP

You're In The Army Now

GI Monroe

Out On Blue Six : Ultravox

A veritable Protect and Survive pop promo from Midge and the boys

End Transmission

Southern Comfort (1981)

Spencer: "Why d'ya paint the cross on your chest?"
Coach: "It's part of the joke"
Spencer: "What joke?"
Coach: "It's a Corporal joke, Private"

BBC2 treated us last night/this morning to an all too rare screening of this classic, a survival film, which has always been overshadowed by the inferior Deliverance in my opinion.

The 70s really was a golden age of uncompromising film making from Hollywood, and Southern Comfort is perhaps that era's last gasp, before the style over substance aesthetic of the Simpson and Bruckheimer 80s. It's a simple premise on the surface; a deeply unsettling and murderous game of cat and mouse plays out between some indigenous Cajun settlers and a small unit of National Guard, who have foolishly taken their canoes to cross the Louisiana bayou whilst on maneuvers. Underneath the surface, I guess its a fairly plain allegory of Vietnam and the US foreign policy, a theme that is further exemplified by setting the action in 1973.

Walter Hill, Michael Kane and David Giler's script may occasionally feel a little heavy handed and clunky at times but it pretty much has to be when dealing with such heightened situations. Where the film truly excels is in Walter Hill's masterly direction. Hill, a natural protege of Peckinpah, builds tension and suspense so expertly that your eyes drift to the treelines in the background, just knowing that something awful lurks there and is likely to jump out and ambush our 'heroes' any second. Indeed, their are several jump out of your seat scenes and, as to be expected from his Peckinpah tradition, when the violence comes, it is bloody and matter of fact. That Hill keeps the unit's hunters largely hidden throughout - save for Blade Runner's Brion James as a one armed trapper they take captive - is further testament to his sure grasp of menace and tension. But perhaps the best testament to his ability, is the fact that you barely notice that the plot is essentially the same as the one from his previous film The Warriors, albeit with a US folk horror/American Gothic spin. Both films focus on a small band of 'warriors' must travel through unfamiliar and dangerous territory, avoiding attack from pursuers, to reach home. Literary scholars may find these themes originate from Greece's Anabasis of Xenophon, which told the story of the Greek mercenaries The Ten Thousand who, after fighting the battle of Cunaxa, were forced to cross the territories of modern day Iraq and Turkey facing attacks from the local tribes as they passed. Clearly, Hill knows his Greek mythology and history!

Southern Comfort has a great and utterly convincing ensemble cast of at the time relatively fresh faced American talent including Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward and Peter Coyote to name but a few. It also has a brilliantly atmospheric score from Ry Cooder and the final gripping scenes, played out to the accompanying Cajun folk song Parlez Nois à Boire amidst scenes of revelry and animal slaughter in the village, put me in mind of The Wicker Man in terms of its queasy mix of tradition, joviality and violence.

As I said, it's better than Deliverance and well worth catching. BBC2 appear to be spoiling us on Fri nights/the small hours as next week they'll be showing the excellent They Shoot Horses Don't They? Do not miss it!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Teach Your Children Well, RIP Mrs Gallimore

I don't often do properly personal blogs but I have to break tradition to mark the passing of Mrs Monica Gallimore. I've literally just picked up my local paper and seen that she passed away this week aged just 64. Mrs Gallimore was the headmistress of St Cuthberts but before that way back in 1991,  my first year at high school, she was my form tutor.

She was a wonderful woman, kind dedicated and totally devoted to giving kids the best possible start in life.

Like all my former head teachers, I haven't seen her since 1996 when I left, but I can remember her, that first year of school and how she looked after us all, as if it were yesterday.

Really sad news to her she has gone. In tribute to her, I think this song is quite apt - though to be honest the only song I ever really link with her is Tina Turner's Simply The Best, which I well recall her singing away in class one afternoon!

RIP Miss

The Hot Potato (2012)

Back in the mid/late 90s I saw Ray Winstone in a TV drama called Our Boy and was utterly blown away by the barely restrained emotion and fury he brought to his role as a bereaved father who lost his child in a hit and run. If this was acting, I thought, what the hell have I been watching before now? I was in awe.

Fast forward just 15 years say and through some genuine career highs like Sexy Beast and 44 Inch Chest, and Winstone is now an actor who simply phones it in time after time. Where did it all go wrong? Was it the adverts for bookmakers or was it when he started appearing as a Hollywood star's second fiddle (something he swore he'd never do and had no interest in) popping up just over the shoulder of the likes of Mel Gibson and Jack Nicholson?

Then again, what do we expect from a man so crippled by type casting? All he's ever expected to do is be 'The Daddy' of all Cockneys. Hardly an exciting prospect or enough material to get your teeth into is it? In The Hot Potato, Winstone's role is slightly less the cartoonish 'do what, strike a light, pack it in will yer, yer avin a larf' mockney and more ingrained in vague reality, and a reality set in the late 60s to boot, but it is nonetheless another cockney chancer role. Also, does he now have it in his contract that he has to be partnered with a much younger actress as his wife or love interest? It was the ridiculously unbelievable notion of the gorgeous Hayley Atwell in The Sweeney, and in this it is former pop star, model and footballer's wife Louise Redknapp making her big screen debut, but little impact. Again, it's very unconvincing that a younger attractive woman would be sexually attracted to a bloated whale like him.

Winstone is paired in this throwback/homage to the 60s caper with Boardwalk Empire's Jack Huston as his partner in crime, Danny, and his own daughter Lois Winstone as Danny's lively girlfriend Carole. Huston is nothing short of amazing in Boardwalk, but seems rather detached and uninspired in this, providing little more than a sketch of your typical likely lad cockney. Lois Winstone is quite capable in her role but one can't help but wonder if, nepotism aside, she'd have bagged it on her own merit. 

In detailing the crisscrossing around Europe to find a buyer for a lump of Uranium ('The Hot Potato' of the title) that has fallen into the pair's lap, the film strives hard to emulate the films it was clearly inspired by, and is complete with the occasional Mancini or Barry-esque score (think Pink Panther and Ipcress File - indeed some snatches are definitely Ipcress, note for note) and excellent vintage clothing and design, but fails to deliver anything more than a passable B picture vibe from that time. It's less The Bank Job (a surprisingly satisfying early 70s set feature from Jason Statham, which actually required him to be a little more than Jason Statham) and more Flawless, the 60s diamond caper starring Michael Caine and Demi Moore that will hardly feature highly on either of their CV's. Indeed, the films also shares an actor, namely Derren Nesbitt and it's pleasing enough to see him still pulling the same old Germanic schtick he was doing way back in the 60s and 70s before bad publicity of his private life tarnished his career. 

Ultimately The Hot Potato seems more interested in getting the look of the late 60s right (including characters referencing The Avengers and The Man From UNCLE) than it is in giving the material any sense of excitement, tension or reason for us  to engage with it, which makes for a rather hollow experience for the viewer. It's not a bad film, it's just not a very interesting one.

An Ace at Corners

Signed BBC card of late 80s Doctor Who actress Sophie Aldred, aka Ace, for the CBBC show Corners she was presenting at the same time.

Protect and Survive

What can you do in four minutes? It's no use boiling the perfect egg Delia, you need to save your family from annihilation! 

Dammit Delia!

Too late. Too bloody late.

Don't have nightmares