Sunday, 31 May 2015

Live It Up! aka Sing and Swing (1963)

I have my friend Sharon to thank for introducing me to Talking Pictures TV, the channel for obscure and long forgotten films from yesteryear on Sky channel 343. Thanks to that tip off I watched the 1963 film Live It Up! (also known as Sing and Swing) earlier today, a British teen movie showcasing the music of one of my heroes, the great Joe Meek, and his many performers.

As with a lot of these quickies capitalising on the music of the day, the plot plays second fiddle to the pop star turns. A young David Hemmings stars as Dave Martin is a GPO despatch rider with a dream to make it big in the pop world with some of his mates down at the depot, including Meek star signing Heinz Burt and future Small Faces star Steve Marriott. 

Since the excellent film Telstar, much has been made about Heinz's perceived lack of talent and why Meek placed so much faith in, and emphasis on, him; I can't say I'm sure that I totally agree or believe with all of that, but I can certainly say he's no actor. Marriott on the other hand is perhaps unsurprisingly the quintessential Artful Dodger type, with a natural charisma and presence on screen and a flair for dialogue. 

Heinz on a bike!

Steve in a car!

Primarily though, the film's main aim is to deliver up the tunes of the day and does so with the likes of The Outlaws (featuring a young Ritchie Blackmore later of Deep Purple and Chas Hodges later of Chas and Dave) The Saints, Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen and American rock legend Gene Vincent who at the time was enjoying a last gasp of fame here in the UK thanks to several Meek tours around the country with the likes of The Outlaws, The Echoes, Sounds Incorporated and, of course, Eddie Cochran.

There's also Coronation Street star and Wigan's own Jennifer Moss, taking the opportunity of an Equity strike on the cobbles to branch out onto the big screen and a sideline in singing for Meek with the rather sweet 'Please Let It Happen To Me'. 

Unfortunately, her pop career failed to take off and drink and drugs would see her sacked from the nation's number one soap ten years later, something it could be argued she never truly recovered from until her death aged just 61 in 2006. Look out too for such vintage stars as Aussie actor and star of Skippy Ed Devereaux as Hemmings' seemingly disapproving and square father, Crackerjack's Peter Glaze as a talent scout and BBC continuity announcer Peter Haigh as himself.

Live It Up! is of course cheesy and naff and I would hazard a guess it was seen as such even back in '63, but if you're looking for nostalgia and a sense of life in the early stages of the swinging decade then Live It Up! serves as an interesting social and historical document and a great opportunity to see these acts perform on screen.

You can see it again on TV this week or on full on YouTube if you don't have access to Sky. 

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

As much as I love John Le Carre I have to declare that his 2008 novel A Most Wanted Man is one which I actually gave up reading. I was determined not to let the big screen adaptation suffer the same fate, though Anton Corbijn didn't make it easy with his decision to film the action on what looks like videotape, lending the proceedings the less than flattering air of a 1990s US TV movie. Nevertheless, he has managed to create a perfect slowburn of a movie, infused with a particular kind of disquiet that is quintessentially Le Carre.

Post 9/11 Hamburg - the city where the attacks were planned - is our scene; a world of spies desperate to ensure such an atrocity never occurs again, of intelligence agencies who compete with one another and believe they alone have the power and skillset to keep people safe. But the pervading air of cynicism shows us that this is all a bit too late - the stable door is being shut long after the horse has bolted and what we're witness to here is the blind fury of operatives busying themselves to justify their own past mistakes and lack of foresight. 

In his final leading role Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Le Carre's crumpled, weary German spymaster Günther Bachmann whose team have located an illegal Chechen immigrant and suspected terrorist named Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) who has arrived by circuitous route to Hamburg armed with a letter of introduction to Thomas Brue, a private banker played by Willem Dafoe and a desire to empty a numbered account at his bank and seek asylum. He is helped in this introduction by Rachel McAdams' idealistic young German civil rights lawyer,  Annabel Richter, who finds herself becoming a person of interest for Bachmann and his team as a result. Meanwhile Bachmann snarls at and fends off his rivals, content to play the long game by hanging back on picking up Karpov because he suspects he will lead them to someone higher up the food chain. But is he right - can he effectively supervise the situation or will it blow up in his face?

The beauty of Le Carre as an author is his finger has consistently remained on the world's pulse ever since his breakthrough novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold in 1963. The Cold War may have long since been won, the USSR may have broken up and the Berlin Wall may have come down, but spying, ostensibly the true oldest profession remains the same and Le Carre's voice remains one that demands your attention regarding all of the world's hotspots and crises. In writing A Most Wanted Man, Le Carre posits the notion that the West took its eye off the ball after 9/11 to tackle the war on terror, little concerning themselves with Russia's wars in Chechnya (which they felt at the time was a much needed attack on Islamic insurgency) and their ambitions to expand into their territories. Like many a figure in previous Le Carre novels, whatever Karpov is and what he means, what form of threat he is to the West is, ironically, of the West's own making.

It's a suitably cold and distant film that ought to have some warmth, some level of connection in the central relationship between Karpov and Annabel, but Corbijn muffs it repeatedly and there's little for Dobrygin and McAdams to effectively work with. In the end they are overshadowed by Hoffman's performance and the tragic reality that his premature death lends it. Nevertheless it is a fitting end to the work of one of the best actors to emerge in recent years.

Silent Sunday : Constitutional

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Rapid Reviews : Long Way Home by Eva Dolan

Long Way Home is a rather good debut novel from Eva Dolan which introduces us to the detective duo Zigic and Ferreira who work the Hate Crime Unit in Peterborough.

The police are called out when a man's body is found, having been burnt alive in a shed. There are no witnesses to the crime but a positive ID of the victim informs the detectives that he was an immigrant sleeping rough in someone's garden. Investigating the crime, the thoughtful DI Zigic and his sparky loose cannon sidekick DS Ferreira are met with silence in a Fenland community ruled by slum racketeers, people-traffickers, gangmasters and fear. Tensions rise, the clock is ticking, but no one wants to talk.  

Dolan is a very talented writer who excels at description. Much of the book reads like a very contemporary expose not only of the rising racial tensions within the UK but of Peterborough's seedy underbelly in particular. I have to admit to knowing very little of this part of the world and that is actually part of the novel's appeal; it's refreshing to read a crime thriller set somewhere other than Manchester, London or Glasgow etc, and Dolan depicts a very unwelcoming, tense, corrupt and racist community that deals in the exploitation of immigrants who have come to this country believing that England is their dream ticket, when in actuality it becomes their nightmare. This topicality adds an extra dimension to the appeal and enjoyment within the novel.

Unfortunately, there is the usual problems and disappointments many debut novels suffer from in Long Way Home and Dolan does seem to both cram a little too much in as well as offer up a somewhat rather saggy middle and meandering climax, but I can only imagine her going from strength to strength with further books and Tell No Tales, it's sequel, was published in January of this year. There's certainly mileage to be had in the central characters of Zigic and Ferreira, a male DI of Serbian heritage and his female DS who left her native Portugal at the age of 7. It's also refreshing to read the female DS as being the wild one, as opposed to the more traditional character trope of being the cautious by-the-book junior partner, but I do wish Zigic had a touch more oomph to his character because occasionally he's so laidback as to be overshadowed by her. I certainly felt she was the stronger character, despite her often unlikeable traits, because I could easily envisage someone like Madrid born Oona Chaplin in the role when reading her, whereas I drew a complete blank for Zigic.

DS Ferreira?

Jake D'Arcy, RIP

News of another sad passing has broken; veteran Scottish comedy actor Jake D'Arcy has died, calling time on a career that stretched back to the early 1970s.

D'Arcy starred as the PE teacher Phil Menzies in Gregory's Girl, one of my favourite films (pictured above with Dee Hepburn in the film) and appeared in several Scottish television gems such as Still Game, Tutti Frutti, Hamish Macbeth, Psychos and Takin' Over The Asylum as well as roles in Minder, Lovejoy, Outnumbered and most recently the film What We Did On Our Holiday from Outnumbered writers Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton. He also starred in several celebrated Play For Today's and single dramas and I had just watched him again only this week in the 2000 dark comedy Beautiful Creatures.


Out On Blue Six : Jimmy Cliff

End Transmission

Friday, 29 May 2015

Fighting Back : Petitions to Sign

End cruel drug funding policies within the NHS and save 12 year old Abi Morgan's life! Sign here and here

Lord Janner is considered too ill with dementia to face prosecution for child sex offences. This petition asks that that decision be overturned, allowing his alleged victims some justice.

Protect Whistleblowers in coming forward in cases of historic child sex abuse.

This petition seeks Free Prescriptions to be available for the mentally ill on the NHS.

Support The Miners Yes 30 years after the Miners Strike they're still being shafted. This petition calls for their pension surplus to be given to them.

The French have passed a law ensuring excess unsold supermarket food is not thrown out but is given to the homeless. Sign here and here to pass that law here in the UK.

Alexandra Court Nursing Home in Wigan has received countless claims of bad care. Let's step up our care for the elderly and demand an investigation.

Demand more funding for Dementia in the NHS.

Cares Allowance No more cuts!

Protect Frontline Ambulance Services Support Unison proposals.

The Left To Unite A demand for Harriet Harman to consider a progressive alliance to ensure a stronger Left in 2020.

Syria Refuges are dying. Let's demand this stops now.

Katie Hopkins. Need I say more? Here and here

Britain's Hardest Grafter is a new BBC show that will pit the unemployed and low paid workers in a series of tasks to find out who works the hardest and receive a cash prize. This is nothing but pure exploitation and poverty porn and it has utterly appalled me and several users on who have immediately started petitions to get this production shut down. Please sign them herehereherehere and here This is not The Hunger Games!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Out On Blue Six : The Boomtown Rats

"I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day", so said 16 year old Brenda Spencer after firing at children in a school playground killing two adults, injuring eight children and one police officer at Grover Cleveland Elementary School, San Diego on 29th January, 1979. 

Bommtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof was giving an interview at WRAS, a campus radio station at Georgia State University when the news of her attack reached the telex machine by the DJ's side, inspiring him to write the song.

End Transmission

Manchester Passion (2006)

Passion plays, the staged reconstructions of Christ's last hours, have been a ritual tradition of drama and song performed in Christian countries during Easter for centuries. In Gouda on Good Friday, 2011 a Dutch adaptation of The Passion, featuring well known Dutch language songs was broadcast on TV and has proved so successful that it has become an annual event ever since...but it all started, of course, in Manchester in 2006 with BBC3's Manchester Passion.

It's easy to dismiss something like Manchester Passion. With society at its most secular any attempt to celebrate traditional Christian values or approach the stories we have been told since childhood anew from an intelligent, contemporary stance has often been met with derision. It's a great shame really because, whilst I am not religious (I consider myself either agnostic or atheist depending on what mood you catch me in) the practice of faith and the stories told therein fascinates me. Manchester Passion sought to tell the story of Christ's betrayal and crucifixation live in the heart of the North West city on the evening of Good Friday April 14th via the songs that originated in that city; Morrissey, The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division, The Stone Roses, Oasis, James, M People and Robbie Williams provided the soundtrack to the key moments in Christ's final hours sung by an eclectic cast including Darren Morfitt as Christ, Keith Allen as the host and as Pilate and James frontman Tim Booth as Judas Iscariot.  

In between these dramatisations, cameras followed the procession of a giant specially made illuminated cross as it made its way from one end of the city to the other, with then North West Tonight anchor and reporter Ranvir Singh (now known nationally after ITV poached her for Daybreak and latterly Good Morning Britain) interviewing those accompanying it.

It's a great spectacle and, as a live event, was pretty flawless. Yes it's a teensy bit naff in places but that's perhaps to be expected. Through strong performances and those songs that set Manchester apart you can actually reconsider the stories that bored you during RE at school in a similar thought provoking yet entertaining manner as in Stewart Lee's excellent show What Would Judas Do? I defy anyone not to feel their spirit soar a little upon seeing Morfitt standing at the Town Hall clock tower singing 'I Am The Resurrection' to the wrapped audience down below in Albert Square.

Look out for Tony Wilson hovering by the burger van and Shameless star Chris Bisson as the ''Shameless criminal Barabbas'' Bez from the Happy Mondays was set to appear as a criminal in the van on the way to Pilate but bottled out at the last moment (he appears in the trails I believe) to be replaced by a Liam-alike. The whole thing is available to watch on YouTube.

At Christmas 2007, a Capital of Culture awarded Liverpool sought to tell the story of Christ's birth along similar lines with The Liverpool Nativity but that was shite and had more to do with Liverpool and its winning bid than it did with religion and so it has rightly been forgotten and consigned to the vaults. Unfortunately it's failure has meant that, unlike Holland, no such revivals of The Passion has occurred since - though Michael Sheen performed a 72 hour Passion in his hometown of Port Talbot, highlights of which appeared on BBC Wales and was similarly effective.

Still Life (2013)

Anyone who was rightly moved by Carol Morley's beautiful 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life about Joyce Vincent, a woman whose body lay undetected in her flat for three years, will be equally moved by Still Life, a fictional tale about such overlooked bereavements and the one man whose precise and methodical nature means he is dedicated to giving them the fitting send off they deserve. Be warned though, you better have some tissues at the ready because this one is heartbreaking.

There's more than a touch of Mike Leigh to the proceedings too, most notably in the hangdog, forlorn features of Eddie Marsan, a long time Leigh leading man and an equally long time favourite of mine, in the central role of John May, the civil servant whose job it is to try and locate the friends and relatives of life's flotsam and jetsam now recently deceased. It's May's personal investment and dedication to his thankless role that immediately endears him to the audience, especially when we see his superiors and colleagues who view these literal lost souls as a chore to sign off on as soon as possible. When we see that May lives the same kind of lonely existence as those who cares for in their demise, living a solitary, pernickity existence eating tuna and toast at home, our hearts go out to him and, when  those superiors decide to make May redundant we are angry and saddened for him, this precise funny little man of almost Chaplinesque status who refuses to let his last case - a neighbour from the same block of flats - go without his usual exemplary commitment.

Made in 2013 but only released to the cinema and DVD market earlier this year, Still Life is a wonderfully subdued melancholic film which writer/director Uberto Pasolini invests with several equally subdued and subtle sight gags, tipping the wink to an audience who has given this story of lives lost and lives half lived its undivided attention. It’s a deeply touching experience with a sublime and plaintive score from Rachel Portman that, like Marsan, could easily have come from a Mike Leigh film too.  

As May's last case takes him (and us) on an odyssey to find people who cared about his deceased neighbour enough to attend the funeral he so painstakingly and lovingly arranges, he finds the man's estranged daughter Joanna Froggatt and, for a time, it seems like the film is about to tie itself up in a beautiful, sentimental, albeit cliched bow...but for all its subtlety this is a subversive little film and I was unprepared for where it took us come those final moments, which left me deeply moved and rather heartbroken.

Extremely recommended.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Theme Time : John McCabe - Sam

A bit of a rarity for Theme Time here in that it is the theme to Sam, which strangely isn't a series I can really claim to have watched (and, judging by the prices for the DVD boxset on Amazon right now - £100! - I can't say I'll be rectifying this omission any time soon) But I do remember very well listening to it in my youth when it appeared on a compilation LP of TV themes alongside more familiar examples such as Van Der Valk and The Persuaders! And the show was a favourite of my mum's

Sam was a series for Granada Television created by the man behind Family at War John Finch. It ran for three series from 1973 to 1975 and starred future Taggart star Mark McManus in the title role.

Spanning the decades from the 1930s to the 1960s, Sam followed the life of a young boy growing up in a Yorkshire mining village (though several exterior scenes where actually filmed in Lancashire and Greater Manchester and the interiors at Granada Studios in Manchester) It focused not only on one man's life but also on the qualities and textures of the time, weaving and exploring the fabric of a nation from the Great Depression through the Second World War and into the 1960s. We first meet Sam Wilson in 1934 aged ten years old. His mother has left his father and arrives in Skellerton, the village where she herself grew up. Her father, Jack, had been unemployed for more than eight years and her family had little money to support themselves. Can they manage with another two mouths to feed and how will Sam's childhood change? Some stories can take a lifetime, and some lifetimes can tell a story. What followed across the ever changing industrial landscape of Britain was Sam's story.

The evocative theme was composed by John McCabe, a talented and much respected musical polymath who hailed from Huyton and who had previously scored the Play For Today Leeds United who sadly died in February this year. This blog post is dedicated to him.


Wordless Wednesday : The Big Pink Eye, Warrington

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Out On Blue Six : Twinkle, RIP

It was from reading Michael's blog that I learnt the news today that Twinkle, the swinging 60s pop starlet (real name Lynne Ripley, her stage name was a term of affection her father used for her) has passed away from cancer at the age of 66.

With her long blonde hair, a John Lennon leather peaked cap, kinky boots and Breton striped top she was the height of 60s dollybird fashion as she sung her biggest hit Terry, a song about a biker's tragic, fatal road crash and the girl he left behind, with its plaintive wail "Please wait at the gates of heaven for me Terry" 

Twinkle had written the song aged just 14 when a pack of rockers overtook her father's Rolls Royce. Twinkle was in reality a posh girl you see, daughter of Surrey County Council's Conservative chairman and owner of a printworks and grew up in a 20 room family home on Kingston Hill. It was Des Cluskey of The Bachelors who talent spotted the 18 year old Twinkle and encouraged his manager to sign her and record Terry, with help from session guitarist Jimmy Page.

Terry sold 250,000 copies and reached Number 4 in the charts. A firm favourite on Radio Caroline, Twinkle was the only female artiste allowed to stay on board the Mi Amigo overnight but this proved to be her single biggest hit - a follow up Golden Lights written about a visit to Blackpool, where she saw The Bachelors in concert, reached Number 21 whilst four more singles - including a cover of the Serge Gainsbourg penned France Gall 1965 Eurovision winning hit A Lonely Singing Doll (better known as Poupee de cire, Poupee de son) failed to chart. Romantically, she was liked with Mick Jagger and was the Stones support act on tour in 1965, before she married Graham Rogers an actor who played the 'Milk Tray Man' in the famous series of adverts for the Cadbury's product. They had two children, Michael and Amber and her niece is the actress Fay Ripley.

She tried a few comebacks but all too no avail, most peculiar of all was 1975's Smoochie, sung with her father under the name Bill and Coo! An ardent animal rights supporter, the similarly minded Morrissey was a huge fan and The Smiths recorded Golden Lights in 1986, whilst Joanne Whalley had covered Terry in 1983 with her short lived band Cindy and the Saffrons before finding fame as an actress.


End Transmission

Smoking Hot

Veruschka, 1967

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