Thursday, 31 December 2015

There Is Nothing Like A Dame

The New Years Honours List has been announced and it sees two veteran actresses accept a damehood; Barbara Windsor and Siân Phillips

Dame Siân Phillips is said to be 'overwhelmed' by the honour and the 82 year old former Mrs Peter O'Toole shows no signs of stopping; having appeared in the evergreen Radio 4 soap The Archers for their Calendar Girls production storyline this Christmas and touring The Importance of Being Earnest.

78 year old Dame Barbara Windsor, awarded for her services to entertainment and for her charity work, has sais she is 'proud and extremely humbled'

Also receiving awards are actors James Nesbitt and Idris Elba, who each receive the OBE, screenwriter Peter Morgan who gets a CBE, along with Falklands veteran Simon Weston, and England Lionesses Steph Houghton and Fara Williams gain an MBE.

In less good news, David Cameron (the cunt) has awarded all his Tory cronies and donors to the party gongs too. Almost 30 Tory party members or supporters are named, including a knighthood for the Australian political strategist Lynton Crosby - the man who masterminded the Tory election campaign, proving the old school tie is alive and well. These are awards not for what you do for the country, but for what you do to place your pals in privileged positions of power in the country. It stinks. 

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Out On Blue Six : The Specials, RIP John 'Brad' Bradbury

RIP, John Bradbury, Specials drummer.

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Out On Blue Six : Motörhead - RIP Lemmy

RIP Lemmy.

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And Then There Were None (2015)

"Hello Barbara Broccoli, Michael G Wilson. The name's Turner. Aidan Turner. I rather think you should be expecting me..."

Aside from being Mr Poldark's calling card for a screen test for the Bond franchise if/when Daniel Craig hangs up his holster, And Then There Were None also had a few pre-existing Bond connections in its star studded ensemble; Toby Stephens (BBC Radio's James Bond in a series of rather good adaptations, as well as the villain in the lamentable Die Another Day), Charles Dance (they really missed a trick not casting him in the '80s, but he did get to play Ian Fleming in the Goldeneye TV biopic) and Sam Neill (who screen tested for The Living Daylights). Miranda Richardson, Noah Taylor, Anna Maxwell Martin, Douglas Booth, Burn Gorman and Maeve Dermody round out the rest of an impeccable cast.

I recall reading And Then There Were None as a child. Then of course it was a second hand paperback from Earlstown market with the original, now unmentionable title. The classic novel by Agatha Christie has subsequently been adapted countless times, but quite satisfyingly, my grip on it was rather rusty when I settled down to watch this latest BBC adaptation over the past three nights. It really has been the jewel in the crown of the Christmas schedules - though it's worth pointing out the beeb has really overdone the murder mystery this Christmas what with this, Dickensian and Sherlock. And I'm sure some poor bugger will have been bumped off in EastEnders as per usual. 

Anyway, this was a sumptuous treat; Ghosted and The Liability director Craig Viveiros' adaptation was sexier, grittier and darker than I can recall, with a wonderful measured pace that allowed the scenario to breathe and the ensemble to shine. The beeb even ensured Turner went shirtless for much of the second episode in an attempt to recapture the Poldark factor, sending Twitter into meltdown as a result.

But for me, the real stars of the production - aside from some great, assured scene stealing from Charles Dance and Toby Stephens - were both Burn Gorman, a strong and sinister character actor capable of eliciting both repulsion and sympathy, and Maeve Dermody, an actress I hadn't been aware of until now.

The best thing on this Christmas, so far.

Monday, 28 December 2015

A Really Random Infatuation!

Can cartoons be sexy? 

Granted there's Jessica Rabbit and there's that notion in pub talk that Wilma Flinstone was particularly hot.

Maybe there's just something about red headed cartoon creations?

But a red headed hen?

This is Professor Squawkencluck from the revamped Dangermouse. And I find her rather enchanting.

She has the red hair. She has a Scottish accent. She has a feisty, suffer no fools attitude. She's super intelligent. And, as these two piccies show, she's got back!

She's voiced by actress Shauna Macdonald, pictured below with the cartoon character. Macdonald played the ill-fated Sonia Baker in 2003's State of Play, and has appeared in episodes of Spooks, Sea of Souls and - of course - Taggart. She's also appeared in the films Filth, The Descent, Late Night Shopping and The Debt Collector.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Romeo and Juliet (2013)

This most recent adaptation of Shakespeare's oft-told tale was the big Christmas Day matinee on BBC2. Watching it today, I'm wondering why they bothered. Was yet another version truly needed? Director Carlo Carlei and writer/producer Lord Snooty...I mean, Julian Fellowes, he of Downright Shabby...I mean, Downton Abbey, seem to think so. Opting not for a modern day retelling a'la Baz Luhrmann (which wouldn't really work nowadays; in the final reel, on hearing from Benvolio that Romeo is full of woe by his love's side, we would have to endure the Friar commenting "Wait; didn't he get my text?") they return the narrative to the correct time period and the very streets of Verona Shakespeare set his play upon. Fair enough, but the proceedings have more than air of 'why bother?' when Zeffirelli's already been there. 

Then again, maybe they're hoping to spare teenage English students everywhere who, like me, had to watch the 1968 classic alongside their teacher. It was embarrassing enough to see Olivia Hussey bare her breasts for the classroom, but it was downright strange (though perhaps understandable) to have the teacher than confide with us the fervent crush that scene brought about when he first saw it and how, just like Morrissey once sang, there's a light that never goes out.

Hailee Steinfeld is no Olivia Hussey. So promising in the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit, she's hopelessly adrift here. She seems to have learnt her script like a non-English speaker would - phonetically. As such, she delivers the text with a rushed delivery that suggests she holds a distinctly unsure grasp on much of what she is expected to say. Douglas Booth has a better stab at Romeo, but this is more like a case of miscast lovers, rather than starcrossed ones. It's perhaps fair to say that several of the young bucks of Verona are cast more for their glamour and attractiveness than their acting chops. Ed Westwick's Tibalt is especially risible, and very 21st century, whilst Christian Cooke - a perfectly good actor in many other productions - fails to invest any of the spark required for Mercutio and singularly fritters away any of the double meaning inherent in his final speech. Thankfully the older supporting cast, through experience, deliver greater promise; most notably Damien Lewis as Lord Capulet and Lesley Manville as the clucking nurse. Paul Giamatti also pleases as the Friar, and his stunned grief is especially affecting.

In summary, this looks good but is quite disposable. Maybe the schools curriculum will opt for this over Zeff's 1968 offering, but I can't imagine an improvement in pupils attention span, interest or grades if they do.

For Your Ears Only, Slight Return : Radiohead - Spectre

After posting this blog post Radiohead, who were for a long time mooted to be providing the official theme to Spectre, have released the song the Bond people turned down.

Writing on their website, Radiohead said "It didn't work out, but became something of our own, which we love very much. As the year closes we thought you might like to hear it"

Friday, 25 December 2015

Out On Blue Six : The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl

There couldn't have been another one to post today - It's the ultimate really isn't it? 

Merry Christmas to all my readers.

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Thursday, 24 December 2015

Out On Blue Six : Coldplay

And before the big day itself this is the last of those 'so you think they don't make good Christmas songs any more? Think again' examples that Out On Blue Six has been showcasing these past couple of weeks.

I'll be back again tomorrow with one more big festive hit to wish you all the very best for the season.

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Out On Blue Six : Greg Lake

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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

We're Doomed! The Dad's Army Story

We're Doomed! The Dad's Army Story tells the tale of the inception and making of the evergreen, classic sitcom and how the BBC were resolutely sceptical of the project, fearing a poor taste flop.

All I can say is if Dad's Army itself bore the same quality as this 'tribute' to its birth then the BBC would have been right in their thinking. Thankfully, Dad's Army was more or less a beautifully underplayed ensemble gem, pitched just right - something this drama, with its odd casting choices, mugging and broad brushstrokes was simply not.  

I'm an admirer of some of the actors on display here, Paul Ritter, Richard Dormer, John Sessions, Mark Heap, Keith Allen to name but a few, but never have I seen something that so conclusively failed to get the tone of the thing it was paying tribute to. It seemed to be labouring under the misapprehension that, as the subject was a comedy, it should be played big and for laughs at all times, unlike the more suitable origins dramas concerning dramas like Doctor Who (An Adventure In Time and Space) and Coronation Street (The Road To Coronation Street) Sessions occasionally did rather with his performance as Arthur Lowe though, strangely for a performer famed for his vocal mimicry in Stella Street, he failed to nail the man's wonderful brown tones. Julian Sands provided a typically mannered performance that seemed to confuse John Le Mesurier with Laurence Olivier - it was exactly the same tics and mannerisms he gave the knight in the BBC4 Kenneth Tynan biopic In Praise of Hardcore, Robert Bathurst was a much better Le Mes in another BBC4 biopic, Hattie - which looked at his strained marriage to Hattie Jacques. We were further treated to the bizarre casting choice of Shane Richie played Shane Richie, despite purporting to be Bill Pertwee, whilst Dormer and Ritter seemed intent on playing panto. It was Michael Cochrane as Arnold Ridley who seemed to be the only actor on display who actually did any research and study of his subject.

Disappointing, I'm afraid.

Out On Blue Six : David Essex

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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Out On Blue Six : Thea Gilmore

Another beautiful recent Christmas song, criminally overlooked. It's Thea Gilmore and That'll Be Christmas

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Monday, 21 December 2015

Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger (2012)

Oh dear. It was as bad as I imagined.

The first Nativity film was hardly a masterpiece; it barely gelled together and its story and characters were both ridiculously over the top, but it had a certain winning charm which makes it a minor festive treat for all the family every Christmas. Debbie Isitt's return to the manger loses all of that charm but ratchets up all of the flaws to beyond tolerance levels. But then the fact remains abundantly clear that its sequel isn't really aimed at adults at all, it is - unlike Nativity, which was for the whole family and delivered in that respect - solely for children in the audience and, to its credit, it is unpretentious and unapologetic in its delivery.  I can't say for certain if it entertains infants, but I can say it did not entertain me no matter how much disbelief I managed to suspend.

There's no nativity this year (surely trades descriptions should be informed of the misleading title?) so instead, the plot concerns itself with the Song for Christmas competition, which crazy teaching assistant, Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton) is hellbent on entering the kids for. There's also no Martin Freeman, which means we have to endure David Tennant as the nice guy teacher who finds himself beleaguered but ultimately won over by Poppy's childlike obsessional enthusiasm. I really feel for Tennant, away from Doctor Who (with the exception of Broadchurch) he's really struggled and his film career has been little more than embarrassing. First St Trinian's 2 and The Decoy Bride, now this? Even worse he's saddled with the most creaky film device, that of the evil twin. 

Back into the mix is the school's rival, the pretentious Mr Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) from the local independent school for poshos, though frankly what brought Watkins back I have no idea. He's better than this - though some of the dialogue he has to deliver would test the greatest of actors (witness the scene where he has to tell Tennant's kids to go on instead of his lot; terrible) Ditto Jessica Hynes who turns up as the competition's host, a Charlotte Church style, waning Welsh pop star who I'm presuming is there as comic relief for the older members, the mums and dads, of the audience but who resolutely falls flat. 

But the major problem with this film is Marc Wootton's ridiculous Mr Poppy, a man who would never pass a CRB check to be anywhere near these schools. The character was always a little weird and could conceivably veer towards sinister than the intended Dick and Dom style fun, but he really goes overboard here placing the children, whom he abducts, in great danger and yet he's perceived as being justified and OK for doing that, when in the real world he'd be the Most Hated figure in the country thanks to dozens of justifiably damning tabloid write ups. A CHILD NEARLY DIES FOR FUCK'S SAKE! You can almost hear the news report and the statements from Mountain Rescue and the police. It's just too big an ask to suspend your disbelief this time around and what could be one of the winning ingredients in the film actually works against it.

Like the first film, the child actors are given their usual cutesy moments, funny auditions and silly dialogue but it resolutely fails to uplift the film beyond being the ill advised, peculiar mess it was always going to be. It's proof that bigger is not better when it comes to sequels and it's not funny, it's not cute, it's not even particularly festive, and it's not humbug to say any of that.


Saturday, 19 December 2015

RIP Jimmy Hill

Football player, manager, sports presenter, pundit and innovator of his sport, Jimmy Hill has passed away at the age of 87, following a long battle with Alzheimer's.


For Your Ears Only: The Almost Bond Themes

ITV broadcast a special last night entitled The Nation's Favourite Bond Theme. A poll of the top 20 favourite Bond themes as voted for by the nation (Really? I didn't know about it!) It was a bizarre mix; Another Way To Die came in last at number 20, fair enough. But then you realise that other, worthy themes, didn't even make the list at all (such as Moonraker, and of course the oft-maligned but really rather harmless and sweet All Time High from Octopussy failed to chart too) and you have to wonder at the sanity in compiling this list. Especially when Madonna's Die Another Day beat Garbage's The World Is Not Enough

The final four, should anyone be interested, was Nobody Does It Better, Goldfinger, Live and Let Die and Skyfall - a case of the most recent (the poll was conducted before Sam Smith's Writing On The Wall was released) being at the fore of people's memory or of the Oscar winning theme getting the correct recognition? You decide.

Anyway, this rather fun but basic info'd, trivial 90 minutes entertainment reminded me of the Bond themes that could have been. Those near misses that established acts put forward for consideration but were ultimately rejected. Such as....

Thunderball by Johnny Cash. 

It ultimately went to Tom Jones, though John Barry had  unsuccessfully pushed for his Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang to be the film's main theme which can be heard here by Shirley Bassey and Dionne Warwick  

You Only Live Twice by Lorraine Chandler.

You Only Live Twice by Julie Rogers.

Both were ultimately passed over for Nancy Sinatra.

The Man With The Golden Gun by Alice Cooper.

Unfortunately they opted for Lulu, a dirge-like effort from the usually reliable John Barry and Don Black. Barry was very busy at the time with other projects, and I think it shows with the finished result.

For Your Eyes Only by Blondie.

Debbie Harry and Bond would have been a match made in heaven. I don't know why they didn't go with this, but Sheena Easton's theme is very strong, fitting the film like a glove. But this really is a missed opportunity.

This Must Be The Place I've Waited Years To Leave by The Pet Shop Boys.

This track was a reworking of the boys mooted offering for The Living Daylights. John Barry, who found working with a-ha difficult, seemed more keen on two by Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders - Where Has Everybody Gone which he used several times in the actual film, and If There Was A Man which plays over the closing credits. The former is blocked on YT in the UK for some reason but you can hear Barry's instrumental in the following clip

The Goldeneye by Ace of Base

I love this mooted GoldenEye theme. It's very 90s, fall of the Iron Curtain and has a sort of Nintendo soundtrack vibe. They went with Tina Turner, with lyrics by Bono and The Edge, whilst Ace of Base reworked this song to become The Juvenile.

Tomorrow Never Dies by Saint Etienne 

Tomorrow Never Lies by Pulp

Shadows of the Big Man by Chris Rea

Tomorrow Never Dies by Swan Lee

Surrender by KD Lang

The competition to be the official theme to Tomorrow Never Dies was hotly contested. All of the above were in the running but ultimately Sheryl Crow won the race, with KD Lang coming an honest and respectable second, having her effort played over the closing credits. Note that Pulp's offering uses the film's original working title, Tomorrow Never Lies. Dies was a misprint that the film makers eventually adopted and ran with because it sounded more Bondian.

The World Is Not Enough by Straw

Only Myself To Blame by Scott Walker.

Straw's offering is self explanatory, but Walker's I'm less sure of; some cite it as being for The World Is Not Enough, whilst others point to Die Another Day. Wait, they may have opted for Madonna over Scott Walker??

No Good About Goodbye by Shirley Bassey

And if you though snubbing Walker was bad, can you believe they turned down Shirley Bassey for the caterwauling Jack White and Alicia Keys??

Friday, 18 December 2015

End of an Era

A touching photo of tearful miners embracing as time is called on the last working pit in the UK; North Yorkshire's Kellingley Colliery.

As of today, this country will no longer produce its own coal supply and will continue to import cheaper coal stocks from overseas. The death knell that commenced after Margaret Thatcher's disgusting attack on the miners in 1984 has finally been sounded.

The 450 miners miners at Kellingley, aka 'The Big K', a pit that has been in service for 50 years, will receive statutory redundancy packages on an average of 12 weeks pay, just one full week before Christmas.

It may be better for the environment, but the termination of the coal industry here in the UK will rip the heart and prospects from communities, just as it has always done. Meanwhile the big question remains; what have we got to replace it?

Britain's coal industry, RIP.

Out On Blue Six : Tracey Thorn

Another brilliant yet overlooked recent Christmas song; Joy by Tracey Thorn from her excellent festive album Tinsel and Lights

The song features on the soundtrack for the 2013 film Almost Christmas aka All Is Bright starring Paul Giamatti, Paul Rudd and Sally Hawkins, which I watched again recently and found it more rewarding on a second watch.

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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Serge Sketch

Serge Gainsbourg, drawn in charcoals by moi

Out On Blue Six : George Michael

It's not that no one makes good Christmas songs any more, it's that the market has changed so much (thanks to stranglehold Cowell et al have upon it) that they barely register to the music buyer, as 2010's December Song by George Michael proves...

Now, isn't that beautiful? Why wasn't that number one? Because some karaoke star was probably number one again that year after a successful three month televised campaign to get him or her there.

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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Theme Time : Harvey Danger - Peep Show

After twelve years and nine excellent series, Channel 4's longest running and frankly best sitcom Peep Show comes to a close tonight.

I'm going to miss those 'El Dude Brothers' something terribly. I just hope the specials every few years - hinted at by both David Mitchell and Robert Webb as a possibility - do come off.

Wordless Wednesday : Christmas Post

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Out On Blue Six : The Spice Girls

I never really thought I'd be sharing music from The Spice Girls on here, but it is approaching Christmas and this track, 2 Become 1, was Christmas number 1 in 1996 selling 730,000 copies. Like most songs from the girls, it was rather embarrassing, notably here in the lyrics (seriously, alluding to putting a johnny on?) but I always felt the musical arrangement for this one suggested a polished and glossy air not always heard in their work. It sounded grown up, even if the lyrics were not. I didn't like their work back in the day, and I still don't now, but this one is the closest I get to enjoying their output.

This guilty pleasure was released 19 years ago now. Where did that go too?

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White Girl (2008)

Unlikely to appear on Donald Trump's watch list any time soon, Abi Morgan's BAFTA winning 2008 TV film White Girl is an intense, socially realistic drama concerning a young white working glass schoolgirl's conversion to Islam. 

Anna Maxwell Martin stars as Debbie, an illiterate mother of three from Leeds who escapes her abusive drug dealing husband (Daniel Mays) one day and relocates the family to Bradford where they find themselves in a racial minority. alone in am Islamic community that is totally alien to them. It's even harder for the children who are the only three white kids in the local single faith school. At first, eldest daughter Leah (Holly Kenny) rails against this perceived injustice, demanding a Christian assembly and crying racism if this is now allowed. But when Debbie, who is a very weak character prone to drink and loneliness, slips back into bad habits and allows Stevie back into their lives, Leah - who had previously been forced into ferrying Stevie's gear around the estate for him - despairs and begins to find refuge in the religious teaching she had previously  vehemently ignored. She begins to find herself a place in the community, making friends and gaining a much needed sense of safety and calming sanctuary and community when in prayer at the local mosque. The sight of Leah wearing the hijab and praying to mecca enrages Stevie who promptly disowns her, leaving their Muslim neighbours with no option but to take Leah in. However, thanks to Leah's determined clear faith and the realisation that Stevie is now using their youngest son for his dealing, Debbie begins to realise that there is a life away from Stevie and a better one at that, one in which she can and must be a good mother to her children. 

White Girl is a bleak but rewarding film which touches upon many social issues, including race, religion and life in general for the working class of 21st-century Britain. But it is also a film about a mother and a daughter who, though at opposing points for much of the drama, are clearly trying to reach out to one another and find a balance. Ultimately the message here, beautifully played out by Maxwell Martin and the talented beyond her years Kenny, is one of love, and the film has a good degree of optimism to counterbalance some of the more heartbreaking, harrowing moments that occur within it. 

I mentioned Trump at the start of the review because of his appalling  comments this week, but really it is easy to imagine any narrow minded, opinionated oaf's negative reaction to a film like White Girl - you can almost hear the imbecilic Daily Fail cries of BBC left wing propaganda that depicts white working class Christians with faults and flaws and Islam as the answer. It's a shame that such bigots would naturally take such a manipulative stance regarding their bete noire of the Muslim faith, because the exact nature of Leah's spiritual awakening is actually, surprisingly, quite immaterial.The real message here is that of a young white girl finding and being gifted some real solace for the first time in her life away from the trauma of her situation. It just so happens to be Islam that provides that for her.

I've put it up on YouTube.