Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Out On Blue Six : Billy Bragg

The hauntingly beautiful ode to American photographer, Cindy Sherman, from Billy's 1991 album Don't Try This At Home, superbly produced by ex The Smiths guitarist genius Johnny Marr.

End Transmission

To Rome With Love (2012)

I think I'm probably the only person on the planet, and certainly the only Woody fan, who didn't really get the appeal of Midnight In Paris, so with that in mind, I wasn't especially bothered by the reviews that To Rome With Love faced.

Roberto Benigni in the film's most inventive and funny vignette

I can understand the criticism, the four vignettes have no cohesive link with one another which whilst frustrating for some viewers is nonetheless understandable as Allen clearly didn't want them to link. Some of them are amusing enough and seem to have some kind of tract on opinion - Woody's opera director has the opinion that his new find is a superb singer which no one can see until the man sings the only way he can, in the shower, Roberto Benigni's ordinary man bores everyone with his opinions which no one wants to hear until he's turned suddenly into a celebrity and everyone wants to court his opinion on everything, and Alec Baldwin seems to be some kind of mentor/Jiminy Cricket/older version of Jesse Eisenberg, advising him through life and offering opinion, but this coda is absent in Alessandro Tiberi's story (which I believe is a play on a Fellini film, The White Sheik)

As per usual in Woody movies the exposition heavy dialogue/lexicon really crashes around your ears and it's even worse seeing it writ large on the screen in subtitles but after about 20 mins with the plot(s) in motion this becomes less of an issue.

Penelope Cruz in that dress, looking hot

Ellen Page, perfect Woody woman

The diverse cast equip themselves well though, notably Eisenberg playing an obvious Allen type) Benigni and Penelope Cruz having a ball as a sultry hooker. But it's Ellen Page who really takes the honours. I really hope Woody uses her again in another (better) movie as she took to his style like a duck to water. Though it is fair to say she's playing the same young attractive pseudo intellectual woman mould Woody has been using for donkeys years now, she nevertheless does it brilliantly. Ignore any review that says she's miscast - they're idiots.

l to r Judy Davis, Woody and Allison Pill

It's nice to see Judy Davis back in a Woody film, and indeed even nicer to see Woody himself in front of the cameras for the first time since 2006. Allison Pill - playing their daughter - also returns to Woody's world after her debut in Midnight In Paris. I'm a  big fan of her in The Newroom so it's a shame that once again her potential is wasted here in a role that promises more but ultimately is quite slight. Indeed that vignette is amusing enough but very one note. But Alec Baldwin, whilst perfectly serviceable it must be said, looks like shit these days - skin like putty, eyes like pissholes in the snow, deeply overweight and far too preoccupied with his hair...much like all the Baldwins I guess, making it now even harder to differentiate between them!

Alec Baldwin looking like shit
 Jesse Eisenberg doing a Woody impressions

Not as bad as some would have it and if you failed to see the appeal of Midnight In Paris but still like Woody (like me) you'll find this another so-so movie from him. Watch it specifically for the Eisenberg/Ellen and Benigni vignettes - the former is classic Allen, the latter is almost like early days Allen, surreal and funny. I just wish the money people would have allowed Woody his original title 'Nero Fiddles'. So much better.

A Tribute To Mel Smith

Just a word to say the BBC will be paying tribute to the late Mel Smith in a special programme entitled A Tribute To Mel Smith on BBC2 Saturday night at 10:10pm

This will then be followed by a repeat of the most recent Not The Nine O'Clock News documentary Not Again. All told there should be a collection of fine moments to the man who gave us so many laughs

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Permissive Society (1975)

The Permissive Society is one of the slighter offerings on the Mike Leigh at the BBC boxset, running at just 30 minutes. But he crams a lot to enjoy within that duration.

I remember watching this on a repeat on BBC2 as a teen, when the channel raided their archives to showcase Play For Today, The Wednesday Play and Second City Firsts - which is where this Mike Leigh play comes from - to a new generation. 

I wish BBC4 would do that now. It's certainly a way to include drama on the channel giving their budget in that field has recently been slashed.

This is a very tight studio shot three hander, as a result it feels more like a play than many of Leigh's works, including those he adapted from the stage. 

It would be easy to dismiss this piece as not very substantial given its staginess and the aforementioned modest running time. Indeed a lot of it just seems to be boyfriend (Bob Mason) girlfriend (Veronica Roberts) and the sister of the boy (Rachel Davies) chatting in the front room. But to do so would be to ignore much depth; for a start, the chat feels totally real. Leigh - a native of Salford - captures the rhythm of speech and dry wit of the north west beautifully and he's helped in no small part by that great northern actor the much missed Bob Mason. Also, there's a shadow looming over the whole piece and that is sex. It isn't ever explicit, and is only really discussed in the last 10 minutes (and even then in a surprising way) but it is there and again, there realistically, because nothing much is made of it.  It's a tension yes, but it is never melodramatic. 

As ever with Leigh, The Permissive Society deals with his perennial subjects; an inability to communicate or emote in the standard way, people's perceptions of one another, the feeling of being stifled or at odds with the world and relationships in general. It's especially remarkable that in just 30 minutes Leigh tackles and succeeds in another of his favourite devices, changing the audience's perception of a character. From the off we're given to understand that Bob Mason's character is a bit of a feckless oaf, well meaning but essentially slobbish. By the end of this precise vignette we realise just how wrong we were initially. It's a rare trick, all the rarer to be pulled off here.


Here is a photo of a twat

Is there anyone more noxious than Esther McVey, failed TV presenter cum Tory MP for Wirral West and Minister for Disabled People?

Today the High Court have ruled that the ConDem's Bedroom Tax policy does not breach the human rights of disabled tenants - absolutely ridiculous!

It's another Establishment stitch up from start to finish. No one is protecting the disadvantaged in our society. These people are having to cut back on food and heating, and this cowbag says she's 'pleased' with the High Court's decision...pleased because they haven't made her and her cronies culpable.

She's also gone on to say that we need to consider the disabled on the housing waiting list, being kept away from a suitable home because other disabled people are living in houses with spare rooms. She claims we need to get things right. Here's an idea luv, build houses! Convert the derelict ones! Don't just kick people out and force them into penury!!

For more info on this complete and utter twunt read HERE

Theme Time : Quincy Jones - Ironside

Ironside was a detective series that ran on NBC in America from 1967 to 1975. Starring Raymond Burr (who was also TV's Perry Mason) in the title role, it told the tale of San Francisco police chief Robert T Ironside, who was forced to retire in the pilot when a sniper's bullet left him paralysed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. With some guile and strength of character however, Ironside makes himself indispensable and secures a position with the police department as a consultant, thereby continuing the fight against crime.

Equally popular here in the UK on BBC1 (even being broadcast on afternoons as recently as the last ten years), the show was originally retitled to A Man Called Ironside, perhaps to differentiate that this was the character's name and not as many believed a nickname based on his wheelchair status!

The theme tune, a distinctly rocking, jazzy affair from the legendary Quincy Jones takes its place in TV's hall of fame as being the first synthesiser based theme song.

It was also later used as a brief excerpt in Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 1 

Proving much of American entertainment is now creatively bankrupt comes the news this week that Ironside is to be remade for NBC staring former LA Law star Blair Underwood as the wheelchair bound lawman, updated and this time relocated to New York (but filmed in LA).

 "All new characters, a new city, new texture, new storytelling, new audience" the excited star told the LA TV Critics Association. 

Which begs the question, why couldn't they have come up with a new show?!

I can't help but think of that old Lenny Henry gag (yup back when he was remotely funny...well, tolerable at least) about how US TV in the 1960s was revolutionary enough to employ a black man...but only to push Ironside's wheelchair around. Well, now we've got the black man in the wheelchair, that's progress I guess, but it still feels lame to me.

This will probably flop like Ving Rhames ill advised remake of Kojak from a few years ago.

Happy Birthday To The Blessed Kate

Happy 55th birthday to the most beautiful talented woman, The Blessed Kate Bush



Monday, 29 July 2013

The Mill

Channel 4 is on a roll in terms of drama of late. Fresh from the satisfyingly good Dates and Run, last night saw the first episode of The Mill, a four part series written by John Fay set during the 1830s and based on real accounts about Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire.

Right from the off I was gripped. Way back when I was at school the Industrial Revolution and the fight to push reforms through was always my favourite topic in history class. Stories of unpaid child labour at up to and over 12 hours per day, cruelty and the risks and dangers of the factory or mill environment leading often inevitably to tragedy, both fascinated and appalled me. The Mill captures exactly how I imagined it from those old school text books; grim and uncompromising it was bleakly beautifully lit, well written with no scrimping on the crude language in the mouths of the young actors (times were hard, and there wasn't time for euphemisms) all of whom played their parts brilliantly but special praise must go to Liverpudlian actress Kerrie Hayes (the one on the right in the photo above) as the militant Esther Price, a young girl leading the charge against the cruelty and injustice. The 'adult' cast are no less impressive, including such weighty names as Matthew McNulty, Jamie Draven, Donald Sumpter, Barbara Marten, Kevin R McNally and a great skin crawling turn from a leering Craig Parkinson as the mill's overlooker,  more interested in looking over the young girls than he is observing the work and ensuring safety.

Somewhat ridiculously, reviews in the snoozepapers today have bemoaned that The Mill was 'too grim' It was, I'm sorry to break it to the namby critics, real life. Life was grim and hard! The Mill doesn't shy away from that at all and it should be applauded for doing so. In the current climate of young adults crying about infringements to their human rights (innit) if so much as a teacher gives them detention, it's vital that we show what real suffering their 1800s counterparts had to endure, and hopefully they'll realise that they have it easy nowadays and that indeed, their damn lucky they've got school to go too.   

I also don't feel the accusation the press made was correct either as towards the end of this opening episode I had a grin as broad as the Cheshire Cat's watching Esther get one over the overlookers and mill owners. Perhaps these professional tele reviewers expect all historical period drama on a Sunday night to be Downton Abbey. I'm certainly glad they're not, as the recent BBC1 drama The Village proved, there's room for realism on TV.

The Mill continues next Sunday at 8pm and is well worth catching, if you missed it, on 40D. Also next week immediately after The Mill is Southcliffe another star studded drama on 4. They're really spoiling us.

Learn Guitar With David Brent Part Six

Out On Blue Six : Morrissey

Wrong Century by Tomas Kucerovsky

End Transmission

Bumday and Poll Results

Before I get round to posting our usual Monday treat, I thought I'd share with you all the results of the poll I'd asked you to participate in during this past week and say thanks to all of you who took the time to vote. Much appreciated.

So without further ado....

Coming out on top are the big three - Film reviews , Bumday and General Retro each scoring 66% of the vote. I'm especially pleased to see that my film reviews are enjoyed by the readers as its one of the things I am always comfortable in writing. It's equally nice to know I'm not the only one who appreciates a nice bum!

In second place with 58% of the vote were TV reviews, Out On Blue Six and Smoking Hot. It's nice to see Out On Blue Six here, as this showcase for music is one of the most consistent post series I have and was always going to feature on the blog back when I first started it. It's a surprise I must admit that one of the most recent serial posts, namely Smoking Hot, has captured attention so. I thought it was just a mildly amusing play on words and a chance to find a through line for a lot of photos I've come across but I've since discovered there's quite a market, a specialist market shall we say *ahem* for photos of women smoking! Can't see it myself but there you go, whatever floats your boat.

Scoring 50% of the vote were Girls With Guns, another perennial, and Theme Time. When I decided to explore my enjoyment for theme tunes of TV shows, many of them obscure (and to nick the title of Bob Dylan's old radio show to showcase them) I had thought it might have been it's nice to be proved wrong!

Book reviews came in with 41%. I'm an avid reader but I never feel that comfortable reviewing a book, not in the same way I am reviewing a film or TV show. I'm aware there are many specific blogs out there that deal solely in literate and book reviews and indeed I could happily point readers to some of them for better analysis. I'm definitely not going to be able to match those reviews, but I feel the more I write the more I'm growing in confidence and this vote has helped boost that confidence more.

Scoring 33% of the overall vote were Politics, Personal and Story Time I don't actually write a lot of personal stuff because I like to think of the blog as a Myspace model rather than a Facebook or Twitter one (and you all know my thoughts on those last two social network platforms) Myspace seemed to be all about signalling what you were into, what you were passionate about whereas the latest forms of social media seem to be about discussing your life in depth, albeit with only a small number of characters. When I first started the blog and I was a bit sketchy about what it was about/for I would on occasion post some personal stuff but I've more or less dropped that habit. I guess I'm always more interested in other people or culture than I am about myself. The majority of personal posts now are either photos of Boozy my dog or news of sadness in my life. Now, I don't want to be posting the latter (I've had enough bad news!) but I'm grateful for the platform to write out what's bothering me, almost like therapy when the need arises, and I'm touched that some of you seem to want to hear more about me, the person. 
I guess in some ways this equally leads into the political, as that forms a very big part of me too. I'm always aware that perhaps I'll alienate some readers when I post my political views but again, using the Myspace model, it's something I'm passionate about and want to highlight. It also helps good causes and may get across to readers issues they weren't aware of and may, just may spark some passion in someone else. Just as a digression, in case anyone has missed any politics based posts and is wondering what kind of political animal I am, I took a 20 minute test online last night to show me where I came out left wing. No shit Sherlock.
Lastly story time, big thanks to who voted there. It's not as big a part of the blog as I perhaps intended it to be way back when I commenced blogging, but writing is one of my greatest loves and I am grateful to any audience who appreciate it.

Trailing behind with 25% of the vote, is Art For Art's Sake I'm not surprised in the slightest by this low score as showcasing the drawings or paintings I have done is becoming increasingly rare...largely because I just haven't done any for ages! To those of you who voted, I will try and rectify this, even if it's just posting some old examples of my work.

Once again, a big thank you to everyone who voted. And now....


Theme Time : Roddy Frame - Early Doors

Craig Cash is one half of a writing partnership, with Caroline Aherne, responsible for the sitcom The Royle Family. It's a programme whose popularity continues to be inexplicable for me, I cannot understand how a handful of jokes have managed to keep the show going for its initial two series run between 1998-2000, let alone the revival from 2006 to present day thanks to a string of Christmas specials.

However, following a fall out with Aherne in the early 00s, Cash got together with his long time friend and newcomer to TV, Phil Mealey and created what I believe to be a genuinely great sitcom - Early Doors, which ran for two series on BBC2 between 2003-2004.

Like The Royle Family, this sitcom was also set in Manchester and concentrated on one setting; The Grapes pub, which is run by Ken (the brilliant John Henshaw) Each episode focuses on the everyday, nothing in particular activities of the various locals who walk through the door for a pint and a catch up. An impressive cast including Cash and Mealey themselves, Christine Bottomley, a pre Hollywood James McAvoy, Maxine Peake, Mark Benton, Lee Ingleby and Mike Leigh regular Peter Wight to name but a few bring these characters to life voicing the dry northern wit that colours each script.

The theme tune was by former Aztec Camera frontman Roddy Frame. Both Cash and Mealey were fans of Frame and were listening to his 2002 album Surf when they heard the track Small World and requested it for the show, Frame happily agreed and the rest is sitcom history

For me it's a shame that The Royle Family gets all the plaudits when Early Doors was consistently funnier. It's tenure alone means it is somewhat overlooked compared to its older longer running sibling. But Early Doors remained small and perfectly formed.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Piss Poor Popcorn

This weekend saw me tackle two bloated big budget and downright boring blockbusters, Wrath of The Titans (2012) and X Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), care of Sky Movies Premiere and Channel 4 respectively.

Both films reminded me that (adopts shaky old man voice now) popcorn epics were much better in my day.

I'm not alone as this article on the original Superman and the decline of modern day superhero films from my blog friend Ken proves. It seems these films now are all simply style over substance and poor excuses for merchandising masquerading as movies.

So let's start with Wrath of the Titans (2012) which arrived to Sky on Friday. This yawn fest is an everyday story of Greek God folk, billed as a sequel to the tepid 2010 Clash Of The Titans (which had previously been filmed way back in 1981, and was a favourite of mine as a child)

A sequel? Yeah right, a further bastardisation of Greek mythology more like.

So, let's look at the main faults; Sam Worthington returning as Perseus albeit now with his native Aussie accent still cannot act, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson don't even try as Zeus and Hades respectively, and Bill Nighy over-acts to the hilt in his brief cameo as Hephaestes, the smithing God, complete with stereotypical northern accent ('Ay oop lad, appen I'm a reet fallen God so I am') all he was missing was the whippet! Instead they gave him Bubo the owl (a tiresome injoke that was only briefly amusing in the previous film)

Then on top of that you've utterly blank as to make you wonder if they're actually there performances from the likes of Danny Huston an actor I've never cared for, as Poseidon, Edgar Ramirez as Ares (the anagram is rather apt here) and Rosamund Pike as Andromeda. Whilst Toby Kebbell is lumbered with the dreaded 'comic relief' role (yeah no pressure, mate) and tries - and fails - to inject some charisma within the now bog standard soulless snark that litters these big budget follies.

Families eh?

This sequel managed to follow the same folly as the previous Clash, which hardly set the world alight. It begs the question why did they do it? Let's face it, they're never going to top Jason and the Argonauts are they? But Hollywood continue to try, injecting dollars where charm should be. And whilst children may still find much to enjoy in this, a Greek mythology film that relies on CGI instead of Ray Harryhausen is always going to be on a loser to me. Harryhausen's stop motion animation was genuinely unsettling, and a thing of real wonder. CGI is just totally unengaging. Much like the film itself.

Throughout this film I found that my attention was on the locations and scenery far more...that is when I could see it between all the dirt flinging and explosions that littered the screen.

An utter snooze fest, devoid of likeability and talent (barring Nighy's take the money and run cameo) Give me the oldies over this any day, or indeed give me that overlooked 2007 film The Last Legion which may be no classic by any means but it managed to be a return to form for these kind of stories.

* * *

X Men Origins : Wolverine (2009) received a broadcast on Channel 4 last night. As I've said before I'm not a huge fan of the X Men but I have somehow managed to see *I think* all the films so far and can appreciate they're largely well made and with some merit.

Not this one.

I'm not sure exactly where this went wrong. It's not as godawful as many have claimed but its not in the same class as well, First Class (a film which utterly took me by surprise as being very enjoyable and was, I presume, a real shot in the arm for the franchise) and after a solid enough start it quickly descends into nonsense and a very weak climax.

Attempting to pilfer so many elements from the source instead of concentrating on the original Weapon X story certainly helped muddy the waters, and what we're ultimately left with is a good looking by the numbers, hop skip and jump through characters and story, generic super hero flick (and really, who needs another one of those?) There are some what I would call Richard Donner touches which are either flattering and paying tribute to the Superman director in accordance to his role as exec producer or crowbarred and downright lame, depending on what you're POV is.

Hugh Jackman is as reliable in the role he's most famous for as always, though his one liners are sorely missed here. Danny Huston, an actor I've never cared for (deja vu much?) gives another smarmy void of a performance here, proving he's no Brian Cox, whilst the rest of the supporting cast are equally underpowered and/or just have moments too brief to really work with (Max Cullen and Julia Blake as Clark Kent's Ma and Pa....I mean of course, Wolverine's brief maternal and paternal sanctuary, Dominic Monaghan, Ryan Reynolds and yes, even, there I said it - though I do appreciate his prolific nature does alienate some, especially Charlie Brooker, who would rather he changed his name to the more apt will.u.leave) Much is made of Liev Schreiber here, but frankly I wasn't that impressed. He looked like he smelled of bad meat pies and BO all the way through.

Serviceable enough but a somewhat redundant issue to a franchise that had I believe suffered with the previous film too. The world wouldn't have lost out on much if this had never been made. Thank heavens, First Class was just around the corner. It remains to be seen if Wolverine, currently on cinematic release now, can improve upon this one.

Oh and lastly, who needs a CGI'd Patrick Stewart so awful that it looks like he's overdone the botox??

BBC1 however are currently showing all the Indiana Jones movies every Saturday night. And again, I can't help but think kids today are being short changed compared to how much quality family entertainment blockbusters were around when I was a kid in the 1980s.

Then again, maybe the generation before me where equally sniffy of SupermanStar Wars, Indy and indeed anything Spielberg rustled up - maybe they were lamenting the fact that the kids of the 1970s and 1980s weren't treated to Buster Crabbe or George Reeves?

No, somehow I don't think so.

Judge Minty (2013)

Judge William Minty has spent his entire adult life policing the violent streets of Mega City One - and now he's slowing down. When a lapse of judgement almost ends his life, he knows that it's time to quit. He can choose to teach in the Academy, or he can leave the city and walk alone out into the anarchy of the Cursed Earth, taking law to the lawless.

A commendable not for profit fan film and love letter to the world of Mega City One and 2000AD. Coming hot on the heels of the big budget and brilliant Dredd, Judge Minty's minimalistic budget may be a tad obvious (and understandable) at times but it also plays to the stories strength too, depicting an almost Mad Max style Cursed Earth in which Minty patrols - in reality various quarries in the UK. Doctor Who style!

I especially enjoyed the opening credits complete with police radio soundtrack. It put me in mind of Tony Garnett's excellent BBC series The Cops and, perhaps most iconically, Hill Street Blues.

A simple story well told, an evocative and elegiac study of a man reconsidering his life's work, with a solid performance from actor Edmund Dehn in the titular role, Judge Minty is a great inclusion into the Dredd world.

Watch it here

And for more information Official Judge Minty Website

Isles Of Wonder : One Year On

Isles Of Wonder was repeated on BBC3 last night to celebrate the one year anniversary of the opening of the 2012 Games. Purporting to be Danny Boyle's director's cut, I'm still in awe of what he achieved - it was a superb celebration of our culture and a truly defining spectacle for our generation.

However, watching again one year on (and you compare this review with my original one HERE) it's time perhaps to look at what didn't work, many issues of which can't really be laid at Boyle's door and which still remain despite this 'cut'

1) The inane wittering from the BBC commentators. The trio can be summed up thus; Trevor Nelson - pointless, Hazel Irvine - embarrassingly unfunny and irritating comments referencing all sorts of bizarre obscure points of absolutely no interest,  Huw Edwards - unable to shake off his austere newsreader schtick, Huw seemed to take a positively perverse interest in the poverty and terror that pervades some of the countries that were competing.

2) The celebration of music. Boyle has long had a special affinity for music and soundtrack in all of his films and has expressed on many occasions a desire to direct a musical. So why did this, by his own admission, not really work? A great shame. That said the confetti of clips was quite remarkable.

3) The Mr Bean/Chariots of Fire bit. One felt that, because of the Atkinson character overseas, this was included far more for the worldwide audience's benefit than for ours. Nothing wrong with that I guess, and it was nice to see comedy be represented, but I'm still at a loss at his Zelig like inclusion in the famous opening from the film and especially at Stephen Campbell Moore's inclusion by his side. Why? Did they think any old (or rather young) posho actor will do? Surely it'd be more apt to have asked original stars Nigel Havers or Ben Cross to put in an appearance?

4) And this one really can't be blamed on Boyle and is perhaps more of a personal irritant to me, but Redgrave with the torch - it should have been Daley Thompson!

5) Paul McCartney and his croaky spent goose farting in the fog voice.

Despite this however, we still have the amazing history of England complete with Branagh's Brunel, the wonderfully proggy celebration of the NHS, children and children's literature with a soundtrack by Mike Oldfield and of course that meeting between James Bond and Her Majesty The Queen after 50 years of him being OHMSS. And its' those moments that are worth the celebration even now right?