Thursday, 31 October 2013

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween to all my readers! Hope you're enjoying Halloween/Beltane - personally, I'm full of a stinking cold, so my plans for the evening - which consisted of going to my local cinema to see 'The National Theatre Live' screening Danny Boyle's Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller - have been scuppered. Sneezing through the whole play would hardly endear me to the rest of the audience. Hope your evening is much better!

RIP Graham Stark and Nigel Davenport

Two more sad losses to the film and TV world as veteran actors Graham Stark and Nigel Davenport have both passed away this week aged 91 and 85 respectively.

Graham Stark died in London on Tuesday following a stroke. The Wallasey born made his professional debut aged just 13. He served in the RAF in World War Two where he began a long association and friendship with Peter Sellers, going on to star in many films opposite him, including the infamous 'Does Your Dog Bite?' scene in 1976's The Pink Panther Strikes Again. Other career highlights include Alfie, A Day On The Beach, The Sea Wolves, Casino Royale, Superman III and for Blake Edwards many of the Pink Panther films starting with A Shot In The Dark, Victor/Victoria and Blind Date. A keen photographer he exhibited his work internationally, directed two films Simon, Simon and The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins, wrote several books including a biography of Sellers and had his own TV show in the 1960s.

Davenport died on 25th October from pneumonia. An actor with a career as rich as his voice, Davenport originally started out in the theatre after studying English at Trinity, Oxford. He was a regular fixture on the big screen and small for 50 years, with roles in A Man For All Seasons, Play Dirty, No Blade Of Grass, Where The Spies Are, Chariots of Fire, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of The ApesNighthawks and Without A Clue as well as TV appearances in Howards' Way, Trainer, The Avengers, The Saint and South Riding. His son is Jack Davenport from his marriage to actress Maria Aitken. A keen horse racing enthusiast he was also Equity Union's President from 1986 to 1992.

RIP to them both.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Out On Blue Six : Bill LaBounty

This one's been in my head for the last week thanks to Hello Ladies, Stephen Merchant's new US sitcom currently on Sky Atlantic Wednesday nights. Great 80s vibe music wise to that show

The sad news TV wise this week is that Sky Atlantic concluded season 2 of The Newsroom with the brilliant finale airing on Monday, but they're showing Hello Ladies and Veep on Wednesday nights and Season 4 Boardwalk Empire on Saturdays, so it's all good!

End Transmission

Theme Time : The Stranglers - 'Floyd On...'

As part of their retro afternoons each weekday (which includes Are You Being Served, 'Allo 'Allo and Cagney and Lacey) BBC2 is currently running the back catalogue of legendary chef and bon vivant, the late great Keith Floyd's TV series. Starting with Floyd On Fish in 1985, Keith's cooking and drinking was a regular fixture in the BBC2 schedules for the best part of a decade. BBC2 are currently showing Floyd on Britain and Ireland, Keith's 1988 series.

The music for each series was provided by The Stranglers, their hits Waltzin Black and Peaches opening and closing each episode. The association came about because Hugh Cornwell, the band's guitarist and vocalist, used to play guitar as a student at Floyd's Bristol restaurant. 

I was a big fan of Keith Floyd, who sadly passed away in 2009. In this day and age of wall to wall cookery programmes on TV it is quite a relief to see these repeats, hosted by a real character, never far away from a glass of wine and not relying on being foul mouthed or obnoxious like most chefs appear to be these days. Apart from The Hairy Bikers, Nigella Lawson and Mary Berry, Keith Floyd still remains the only cook worth watching.

Out On Blue Six : Talking Heads

Superb performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test

End Transmission

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Girls With Guns

Kudos to the legend that is Keith Telly Topping for posting this image on his excellent blog

Theme Time : Jim Diamond - Boon

Boon was a popular ITV drama series that ran from 1986 to 1992 (with a one off in 1995) revolving around the life of a modern day Lone Ranger figure and ex firefighter Ken Boon played by Michael Elphick.

The series was devised by Jim Hill and Bill Stair as a modern day western set in the midlands of the UK with Ken Boon dispensing justice from his steel horse (a motorbike). The duo picked the character name of Boon in honour of the lead actor from the 1950s Western series Have Gone Will Travel, Richard Boone. Their series, which was originally to be called 'Anything Legal Considered' - Boon's original newspaper advert following him being invalided out of the fire brigade following the brave rescue of a small child read 'Ex fireman seeks interesting work. Anything legal considered' -  followed that classic series template of a troubleshooting cowboy answering distress calls from town to town. The title was subsequently changed to Boon to cash in on the trend of the main character's name being the title of the show (Bergerac, Shoestring etc) and over the course of seven successful series we saw Boon and his former firefighting colleague Harry Crawford (David Daker) operate a motornike courier/dispatch firm called 'Texas Rangers' and several security, private investigation and bodyguard companies.

The show's theme tune Hi Ho Silver was written and performed by Jim Diamond. It proved so popular that it was quickly released as a single and reached number 5 in the UK charts in 1986. Other music in the programme was provided by American songsmith Dean Friedman 

Monday, 28 October 2013

The National at 50

The National Theatre is celebrating it's 50th anniversary this year and the BBC have a range of programmes to celebrate it. Last week on BBC4 saw the first of a two part Arena special (it concludes on Thursday this week) looking at the history of the theatre, and on Saturday BBC2 will be showing a special programme featuring a host of actors enacting key scenes from some of the finest plays produced at The National.

Watching the Arena documentary I was struck by this rather lovely and candid photograph of Sir Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith taken during a smoke break/rehearsals for the 1960s production of Othello.

Smith said that she found it quite difficult to be as close and friendly towards Olivier as she'd have liked during the production and she wasn't altogether sure whether that was because he was deliberately closing himself off to keep in character or because he feared the make up would come off from too much touch/interaction. Olivier had to, of course, 'black up' to play Shakespeare's Moor, something which is of course deeply frowned upon now but was routine at the time. Many critics complained that Olivier's Othello looked and sounded like a Caribbean bus conductor (an apt criticism I guess given that Britain at the time was just post the Windrush immigration, with many West Indians gaining jobs on public transport) If it irked Olivier, he didn't show it. Michael Gambon - also in the cast - alleges that during performances he would sidle up to him and whisper 'Any more fares please?' in an attempt to make the cast 'corpse' with laughter!

Look Who It Is

Doctor Who legend Nicola Bryant (aka 5th and 6th Doctor companion and all round hottie Peri) appearing in the latest ad for Axa ...

Here she is as us Who fans know her best...


Wonder Woman pants! I like!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

RIP Lou Reed

News of another sad and shocking loss has just come my way; Lou Reed has died following complications from a liver transplant. The legendary rock star was 71.


The China Syndrome

Another fine example of Post Watergate film making (grey suited grey haired men manipulating events and people, hiding the truth to make a buck - check) The China Syndrome is a gripping drama concerning an unsafe nuclear plant in California and the news crew who try to break the story.

Jane Fonda may well be the leading lady, and delivers a central performance as the aspiring newscaster that holds the film together very well, but this film really belongs to Jack Lemmon who delivers another great straight performance in what was shaping up to be the second stage of his career. Lemmon's screen persona - be ti comedy or drama - was always the put upon or overlooked everyman with an honest well meaning core. He had a rare and brilliant ability to engage audience empathy and The China Syndrome was no exception.

In support is a likeable and somewhat muted Michael Douglas (who also produced the film) as Fonda's crusading cameraman, and the excellent American character actor Wilford Brimley as one of the plant workers, a veteran company man who doesn't realise until it's too late how right Lemmon's concerns are. Also, who knew George Costanza's boss at the Yankees, Mr Wilhelm, was secretly such a ruthless bad ass?!

The film has a chilling tense air throughout, helped by the bold and remarkable decision to not score it. But it's in the last 20-30 minutes that The China Syndrome really starts to bite with a palm sweatingly griping and shocking final reel.

12 days after the film's release a nuclear meltdown similar to the one depicted here occurred for real on America's Three Mile Island. Once again, 70s US cinema had asked pertinent questions about 'the greatest country in the modern world' and an answer came swiftly and with a huge impact that made audiences sit up and take note. It's a shame Hollywood can't offer anything as challenging and as occupied with the facts and the murky grey areas of modern life now.

RIP Antonia Bird

Very sad and surprising news today, the British film and television director Antonia Bird has passed away aged just 54. Bird, a devotee of Ken Loach and a socially aware film maker in her own right, carved a brilliant and striking career out for herself starting at the Royal Court, and into television as one of the original directors of BBC's Casualty and EastEnders. She moved into film, directing Jimmy McGovern's polemic Priest which would begin her long association with star and 4Way Films business partner Robert Carlyle (which she set up with him, Irvine Welsh and Mark Cousins). They would go on to work together in the gangster film with a political conscience Face (which I've previously blogged about) and the blackly comic horror Ravenous. She directed the Hollywood film Mad Love and several stand out, award winning one off TV dramas such as Safe, Care, Rehab and The Hamburg Cell. Most recently she directed the brilliant BBC series The Village which starred John Simm and Maxine Peake and was one of the finest dramas on TV this year.

She passed away peacefully in her sleep following a battle with a rare anaplastic thyroid cancer.


Smoking Hot

More Liv Tyler, this time with cigarettes....

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Out On Blue Six : The Korgis / Baby D

One beautiful song, two versions

End Transmission

Resistance (2011)

This somnolent saga of an alt reality in which D Day was a disaster and the German forces went on to invade Britain, focuses on a troop stationed in a remote Welsh valley and the rural womenfolk left behind - the men having taken to the caves and hills to serve as a covert resistance - each having to slowly rely on one another during a harsh winter.

It's a very dour, slow moving and ponderous film, based on the novel by Owen Sheers (I haven't read it) and the first feature of director Amit Gupta, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sheers. The two things that stand out the most from this effort are the sound production - mumbling dialogue is offset by much louder effects; howling winds, rainfall, wildlife noises, the roar of jeep engines and the occasional burst of gunfire in flashback scenes - and the film's leading lady, the inimitable Andrea Riseborough who I have been pegging as a future national treasure for some time now. Mark my words, I said the same about Olivia Colman. Riseborough's position is assured even in such a leaden well meaning effort as this.

Ultimately, Resistance is a bit of a somnambulant slog. There's nothing here that you wouldn't find better handled in the classic Went The Day Well or even in old episodes of the Channel Islands set historically accurate Nazi invasion drama Enemy at the Door.

Girls With Guns

The gorgeous Liv Tyler

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Eyes Have It

Or should that be The Ewes Have It?

The Silence Of The Lambs

Out On Blue Six : Buzzcocks

End Transmission

Specs Appeal

The gorgeous Olivia Munn, Sloan Sabbith in The Newsroom (season 2 finale airs on Sky Atlantic Monday, boo!)

And sans glasses...

And just for fun...

And what the hell, here's one of her choking the chicken.


Vertigo (1958)

I wish I could LOVE Vertigo.

I've tried, God knows I've tried. Today was another example. I cannot fault its clever storyline, its twists, its almost noirish setting, its beautiful faultless acting -  with Stewart and Novak two absolute gleaming, shining stars - the assured direction from the one and only Hitch, the tight script and that music score from Herrmann. Oh God that score.

And yet, still nothing. 

Everything about Vertigo is in place for greatness. But I still feel empty towards it and I can't put my finger on it. It makes the Sight and Sound claims that it is the greatest movie ever made all the more baffling and frustrating. And let's be clear, I've never gone into Vertigo with that expectation, I first watched it long before that albatross was placed around its neck - back when the only reference I could recall, apart from many a quote in books about cinema, was the fact that Bob Mortimer's Jeff Randall had a poster of it on his kitchen wall in Randall and Hopkirk Deceased.

I can't imagine what anyone who feels like I do about it would make of Sight and Sound if they sought Vertigo out solely because of their recommendation.

But anyway, back to me - 

Appreciation? Yes. 

Love? Not so much.

In fact I think its the music that really makes this one for me; possibly the finest of Herrmann's score, it is utterly exquisite and just right for the action on screen. That moment with Novak standing by the sea, the Golden Gate Bridge glimpsed beyond and Stewart watching, spying from the sidelines is the supreme example of a film composer lulling you into a false sense of security. It's the perfect match for cinema's most darkly mischievous director. They each pull the rug from under you, and I love it.

Smoking Hot

Catherine Deneuve