Thursday, 30 June 2016

He's BoJo, He's No Bozo

Boris Johnson. He might look and act like a monumental buffoon, but that's exactly what it is; an act.

The news that Boris Johnson won't be seeking election as the next leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister of the country comes as no surprise to me. Since the EU referendum result last week it became increasingly clear that no one in the Leave campaign that Boris was the figurehead of, actually envisaged being the winning team. How else can you explain the lack of any clear plan ready to be put in place?

Equally, it's become clear that Boris didn't even want the country to leave the EU in the first place. His whole motivation here was to flex his muscles against his old Bullingdon Club mate David Cameron to show the party that he had what it took to be the next PM. His plan of action seemed to be to lead the Leave campaign and then, when the campaign failed (as he presumed it would) to rely on the sour feelings of the Tory MP's around Cameron to stage a coup in much the same way Labour are now doing against Jeremy Corbyn. The result - Cameron out, Boris in and the whole of the UK (a country still aligned to the EU) at his disposal.

Boris is a canny political player. Like George Osborne, who has also ruled himself out of the race, BoJo knows that to become the PM now of a deeply divided country in the midst of a constitutional crisis that can only get worse is nothing more than a poisoned chalice. After all, who in their right mind would want to be the PM responsible for the break up of the United Kingdom? Who on earth would be so arrogant and stupid enough to actually want their legacy to be the loss of Scotland, Northern Ireland, hell even Gibraltar?

Oh yeah, Michael Gove and Theresa May. That's who.

Heaven help us.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

How a Safety Pin Can Say No To Racism

The humble safety pin is making a BIG statement of support for immigrants in the UK who have had to bear some terrible incidents of racist abuse since the vote to leave the EU last week. 

And whilst yeah it's true what the critics in the article above says, how we shouldn't have to show we are not racist and how we should always show our solidarity with people by speaking up for them, I really do think that this will in its own way make a difference for anyone in these dark days facing abuse or is simply scared of the world we now find ourselves in. In all likelihood, to see someone wearing this, pledging support, could lead to conversation and friendships or bonds being formed. Anyway, anything that Piers Morgan calls 'absurd' is alright by me. 

So I'm wearing one. Who's with me?

Which Side Are You On?

Faced with the question of whether the Labour Party will split should Jeremy Corbyn call for another leadership election and win the ballot once more, Margaret Beckett, speaking on today's Daily Politics, decried that that should not happen and that he should resign now.

This is as blatant a statement on how those against Jeremy Corbyn refuse to listen to the Labour Party membership that their lives and job roles depend on as I can see.

Surely they are here to serve their members interests, not their own?

How can they argue that Jeremy Corbyn did not connect with the traditional Labour voters at last week's referendum if they are now so wholeheartedly committed to ignoring them themselves should Jeremy Corbyn go to a vote?

Once again, the Blairites in the party have shown that their only interest is their own. They want to keep their jobs and their security and they don't feel they can do that for Corbyn as their leader.

Yes it would be tragic if an unprecedented split in the party occurs should Corbyn succeed once again as the Labour leader at an election. But surely the issue here is that these MP's against him should listen to what the majority of the membership has to say. If the members want Jeremy Corbyn as their leader then they must serve their memberships interests, and not their own.

This is like the mid '90s all over again when New Labour usurped 'Old' Labour; the party is changing and those MP's who feel out of place in the new political style (a traditional left wing political style once more) need to realise that they have to either go with the change or move out of the way. These people have to listen to what the members want and behave accordingly.

Wordless Wednesday : Bring Me The Head Of Adolf Hitler

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

RIP Bud Spencer

News of another sad passing now, Italian movie star Bud Spencer has died aged 86.

As a kid growing up in the '80s, our family would regularly enjoy Bud Spencer and Terence Hill movies rented from the local video shop. Their enduring screen partnership was even named as an influence on the Russell Crowe/Ryan Gosling partnership in The Nice Guys 

Born Carlo Pedersoli in Naples, 1929 he was originally an Olympic swimmer and, in 1950, swam 100m in under one minute becoming the first Italian to do so. He competed in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki and in Mebourne in 1956 and was also a renowned player of water polo.

But he gave up his sporting career and spent some time in the music industry first; composing neopolitan folk and pop for RCA before moving into acting, selecting the name 'Bud Spencer' in homage to his favourite beer (Budweiser) and his favourite actor (Spencer Tracy) Specialising in action comedies and spaghetti westerns, he enjoyed a successful career from the '50s through to the '80s and starred opposite Terence Hunt in 16 films that were delightfully tongue-in-cheek and perfect buddy-buddy entertainment. 


Fighting Back : EU Special

There are lots of petitions that have sprung up in the wake of the result of the EU referendum last week; indeed, Change has a whole page devoted to them which you can view here (though be warned, Change doesn't discriminate between those disappointed by the result, and those who are happy with it) There are some really good ones here, such as the one calling for 16/17 year olds to have the right to vote should a second referendum be held..

Which brings me to the biggest petition at the moment, the one calling for a repeat referendum over on the parliament petitions site. Already, over 3 million have signed it. Please add your name here

Monday, 27 June 2016

Out On Blue Six : Billy Bragg

Brexit said they'd take back our country. If you ask me, Brexit delivered my country into the wrong hands - the hands of racist idiots. The stories of more than 100 incidents of flagrant racism and hate crime across the country since Friday is utterly horrifying. A petition has started on Change demanding the Home Office to condemn the rise and state explicitly what they are doing to tackle it. The country is rudderless and in limbo, at the mercy of a cruel and ignorant minority.

I'm reminded of this track from Billy Bragg's Don't Try This At Home

Sunday, 26 June 2016

#Blame Corbyn

So we're in the middle of a constitutional crisis and a time of great chaos since Thursday's shock victory for Brexit and what do the right wingers and 'red tories' within the Labour party want to do? They want to add to the confusion and crisis by ousting their leader, Jeremy Corbyn.


Because the Blairites in the party want to save their own hides. They wanted to move against Corbyn after the local elections, but he proved them wrong by being a success - not that the BBC actually made that overall success at the polls all that well known. So now they've leapt upon Brexit. They argue Corbyn didn't speak to the heartlands, that he simply didn't do enough to convince them to vote Remain. But guess what? Neither did the past Labour PM's who all spoke up for Remain. Miliband didn't, Brown didn't and neither did that man who the 'red tories' still claim spoke to the nation and had his finger on the pulse; Tony Blair! 


Because when New Labour and Tony Blair became a thing in the mid '90s it refused to take the ravaged post-Thatcherite industrial heartlands with them. They reshaped the party to no longer include them as their primary concern, indeed they never once considered their concerns, and they refused to open up lines of communication re immigration to allay their fears. In short they refused to represent them, and those concerns and fears found an outlet in UKIP and even the BNP. The rise of UKIP and its popular jingoistic appeal among many pockets of the working classes is all down to the mistakes of New Labour who concentrated solely on the metropolitan areas which did at least keep 'on message' by voting Remain.

That those very same New Labourites are now blaming Corbyn for their mistake speaks volumes. A week's a long time in politics they say, but the mistakes of the past twenty years are even longer and they hope that we can forget them and only concentrate enough on the past year of Corbyn. It's all about them, keeping their positions of power and keeping the blame squarely away from their door now that Chilcot is in the air and Corbyn's proposed denouncement of and apology for the war in Iraq (as Craig Murray's blog points out here)


Because Hilary Benn, Margaret Hodge, Ann Coffey and many others still loyal to Blair do not want to be tarred with the brush of war crimes, and that's why they want to move against Corbyn now.

My own thoughts on Corbyn's Remain campaign are that yes, he could have done a lot more, but I do find it refreshing he was honest enough to admit throughout that the EU is in no way perfect. Unfortunately, that got people's backs up; people who believe campaigning has to be black and white these days, people who would rather he promised us all rainbows in the bottom of our gardens if we stayed in, and the bogeyman on every street corner if we left. Once again, it was refreshing to see a leader who actually remained more or less on message with comments he had made in the past regarding a subject, as opposed to performing a complete 360 and opting for the politician's mainstays - lies, hypocrisy and short term memory.

You can blame Labour to a certain extent for the Leave vote, but you can't just blame the current incumbent.  

Saturday, 25 June 2016

RIP Anton Yelchin

A belated obituary post for Anton Yelchin, the 27 year old Hollywood actor who died last Sunday in a tragic and horrific car accident.

The actor was struck by his own car rolling down the driveway of his home in LA and pinning him between a pillar and security fence.

Yelchin starred in a host of acclaimed and popular movies including Fright Night, the remake of the classic 80s tongue in cheek horror, Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, Green Room, Terminator: Salvation and the beautifully bittersweet romantic drama Like Crazy, but he's best remembered for his role as Pavel Chekhov in three of JJ Abrams Star Trek reboots, the latest one set for release later this year. 

Friday, 24 June 2016


Whoop-de-fucking-doo; A victory for fear and intolerance. 

This isn't my England.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Be Back Soon

Yes, it's that time of year again. Time for me to take a week's break away from the internet and recharge my batteries. 

I'll be back here in a week's time. 'Til then comrades, take care and stay wonderful.

Friday, 17 June 2016

The Raggedy Rawney (1988)

I've fallen in love with this.

I first heard about The Raggedy Rawney in 1996, in an interview Bob Hoskins and Ian Dury did for Gaby Roslin's short lived, ill-fated Saturday night chat show. It's taken me twenty years to see it - not helped by the fact that it has never been shown on TV - but I finally got round to it last night.

The film was shot in Czechoslovakia and marked the directorial debut of Bob Hoskins, and he also co-wrote the screenplay with Nicole De Wilde. A deeply personal project, the film was inspired by tales told to him as a child by his gypsy grandmother. You really get a sense of Hoskins the man in this film, away from the screen tough roles he was famous for; here he displays his bohemian and eccentric spirit (it's easy to forget that he was once part of the great Ken Campbell's Roadshow, alongside fellow co-stars here such as Dave Hill and Jane Wood) and the film has a clear pacifist, all-embracing message, casting several actors with disabilities (chief amongst them the aforementioned Dury and Timmy Lang, a young actor with Downs Syndrome) with the action and the backdrop of war resolutely being set in both an unspecified time and place - though it feels largely Eastern European and at any point between the 1900s and the 1940s.  It wasn't any one nation that we should perceive as an enemy, Hoskins felt, but the notion of conflict itself.

The story concerns Tom, played by Dexter Fletcher, a drafted boy soldier who, in his first brush with battle, freezes. Threatened with death by Gawn Grainger's Officer, Tom strikes him, blinding him in one eye, and escapes into the countryside. He's discovered in a barn one morning by a young girl playing with make-up and allows her to paint his face and dress him in woman's clothing before she shows him to her family. In one of the film's most hard-hitting, poignant scenes it is revealed that the girl's family have all been killed for collaborators and displayed around the farm as a warning to others, something the girl seems oblivious to. Fleeing the scene, Tom stumbles across a passing band of  gypsies, led Darky (Hoskins) who mistake Fletcher not just for a female, but also for a rawney - a traveller's word meaning a woman possessed with magical, seer-like powers - and, believing 'her' to bring good fortune, he takes Tom into their company. 

The film focuses on the lives of the wandering travellers who simply want to pass through the land, going about their business as they always have. The war means little to them, though they must hide the young men in their band from roaming troops, led by the vindictive Grainger, who would press-gang them into service. At its best, The Raggedy Rawney is full of beautifully shot set pieces (Frank Tidy's photography is particularly nice and Hoskins shows a real eye for cinema) such as a jubilant traditional gypsy wedding and fertility rite, and an eccentric odd assortment of characters, with actors from Ireland, Scotland, the north of England and 'cockneys' making up our travelling family - portrayed by many familiar faces who had, by and large, all worked with Hoskins previously in other productions. But the tale gradually darkens towards a grim and somewhat less successful second half as Tom embarks on a secretive romance with Darky's daughter Jessie (Zoƫ Nathenson) which lead to devastating consequences that force Darky to consider if his 'rawney' is actually more of a curse than a blessing.

Like with many directorial debuts, the film suffers a little from this somewhat disconcerting shift in tone and a less than assured hand on the crux of the plot when it eventually arrives. There's a tendency to throw a little bit too much at the piece to make up for its more languid, character-driven and largely innocent first half which many new filmmakers ultimately fall prey to. But to his credit Hoskins commits greatly to his theme and overall it is delivered with huge sympathy that helps overcome these issues. In Robert Sellers book about Handmade Films, Very Naughty Boys, he cites several less than favourable reviews from the critics of the time, including this one from The Observer; "The whole affair resembles a version of Brecht's Mother Courage commissioned by UNICEF from the authors of EastEnders" Its intentions are clearly to damn, but actually, I find that a fair and favourable appraisal. Overall, Hoskins delivers a solid statement of survival and how the horrors and tragedies of war are made up mostly of the sufferings of the innocent and ordinary, little people - 'civilians'.

Thursday, 16 June 2016


I am stunned by this utterly senseless homicidal attack on Jo Cox, the 41 year old Labour MP and mother of two who has been shot and stabbed to death in her constituency in West Yorkshire. A local man was arrested at the scene.

This is absolutely devastating news, RIP

Stars Of The Roller State Disco (1984)

"I'm Jim. Let's look at bricks, shall we? Can we think of a brick as summink socially useful? 'Course there are types who like to throw bricks...we know what they're called don't we? Others talk about bricks in well-know phrases, such as 'Cor blimey, he's a brick"

This quirky, quasi-futuristic satire of Thatcher's Britain is a seldom seen curio of Alan Clarke's that I've been wanting to see for ages. I first heard of it back in '99/'00 when I was working in a dole office. One older guy that worked there would very often regale me with tales of his younger days in the '70s and '80s. These included the time when he worked at a benefit office alongside the then largely unknown Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, whose day job was a disability advisor (he told me about how he would wear a donkey jacket with the legend HATE painted in thick letters on the PVC patch on the back, which was later so perfectly recreated in the film Control) and his memories of a long-forgotten TV play that he really got a kick out of, called Stars of the Roller State Disco; "It's got all these kids out of work with nowhere to go, just going round and round all day on fookin' skates, waiting for the latest job vacancy to come in. I really thought it might've gone like that at one time" It's no surprise he recalled this fondly - this eccentric polemical piece is the kind of thing I imagine shaped much of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror fiction and outlook on life too. 

Of course, what he failed to tell me at the time, but I discovered later was that this was an Alan Clarke film, and it gave the tubby bespectacled cockney Perry Benson his one and only shot at a romantic leading role. Those omissions aside, he gave a fair account of Stars of The Roller State Disco, which genuinely depicts the mundane and bleak cycle of mass youth unemployment in the Thatcher regime via the visual metaphor of them circling round and round a giant youth club-roller-disco-holding-pen. Out of work, parents unable to support you any further or living on the street? The the Roller State Disco is the place for you; a concrete sealed-off bunker, covered in graffiti, where our forlorn and literally abandoned youth receive endless patronising YTS style instruction videos and little hope from the DHSS clerks stationed there, or the 'Big Mother' figure Voicespeak (Christine Greatrex) whose vaguely Germanic tones boom down from large screens in the wall.

Perry Benson stars as Carly, an apprentice carpenter with a knowledge of and love for Chippendale. He remains utterly certain that his skills of craftsmanship will one day return him to the outside world even though the jobs are clearly few and far between. Arriving one morning is his girlfriend Paulette (Cathy Murphy) who tries to convince Carly to take the next available job and open his eyes up to how institutionalised he has seemingly become (his parents want him back, but he refuses to leave til the dream job he's qualified for appears) but to no avail. Its ending is grim, but remarkably pointed in getting its message across, depicting an acutely desperate, pessimistic act during conflicting messages of optimism. 

Shot entirely on videotape and completely in the studio (a specially designed, cavernous set at BBC Television Centre brings writer Michael Hastings' vision to life and is exactly right in its part bleakly Ballard-like monolith/part early '80s Top of the Pops 'enforced fun' atmosphere) Stars of the Roller State Disco would share some DNA with Clarkey's later film Billy The Kid and The Green Baize Vampire in the way he accurately depicts a very real universe against - or perhaps precisely because of - its stagey limitations. The kinetic visual of circulating disenchanted youths ideally fits his directorial style too. Hastings' script may be a little too right-on and earnest for some, but there are some achingly poignant characters here, played by many Sylvia Young/Anna Scher types such as the aforementioned Benson and Murphy, Kate Hardie as a poor young mum whose baby has been taken away from her leaving her with a rolled up blanket as a substitute whilst at the mercy of the emotion controlling drugs doled out by shady doctor-on-call David Sibley, Gary Hailes as a kid besotted with Voicespeak, talking fondly to her on the monitor, kissing the screen, Gary Beadle who dreams of palm trees, and Nula Conwell and Gillian Taylforth as DHSS and kiosk staff.

Just one of the many treasures on the brand new, long awaited Alan Clarke at the BBC DVD boxset, released this week. To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these plays, please sign the petition I started here

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today...

Two moments of triumph and tragedy that occurred on this day twenty years ago, 15th June, 1996.

Paul Gascoigne's beautiful goal against Scotland in the Euro 96 tournament. England won 2-0 and Gazza celebrated in style, recreating the infamous 'Dentist Chair' 

The IRA bomb in Manchester was a 3,300 pound truck bomb; the biggest bomb ever used in their terrorist campaign on the mainland. It destroyed much of the city centre and led to 200 casualties but thankfully, no fatalities.

Wordless Wednesday : England, 1968 by Richard Long

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Out On Blue Six : Wings, RIP Henry McCullough

Northern Irish guitarist Henry McCullough has died at the age of 72. The Wings bandmate was is rightly revered for his guitar solo on US Number 1 hit My Love, something he made up on the spot during recording. And, in tribute, it's the track I share now...

In a long and illustrious career, McCullough performed with many great stars including Van Morrison, and Joe Cocker at Woodstock. He also produced several solo albums.


End Transmission

The Hamburg Cell (2004)

A good thriller should absorb like a sponge in water and, just like The Day of the Jackal (the spongiest of all thrillers I guess you could say) Antonia Bird's The Hamburg Cell totally immerses you in the action despite us all knowing the ending from the outset. 

It is the story of the 9/11 hijackers and the meticulous five-year long genesis of that fateful day told in an a gripping yet understated documentarian, procedural style by Bird and screenwriters Ronan Bennett (Face) and Alice Pearman. Karim Saleh and Kamel star as Ziad Jarrah and Mohamed Atta. They are our focus and we observe them throughout, from their beginnings as part of group of young Middle Eastern students in 1990s Germany to them boarding the planes, American 11 (which flew into the World Trade Centre) and United 93, which was intended for the White House.  Both actors are incredibly at conveying these monsters into recognisable three dimensional characters. Saleh is impressive as the initially agnostic Jarrah, the good-looking son of wealthy and equally non-religious Lebanese parents who, one suspects could have gone either way - jihad or a conventional western existence. He even had a lover, Aysel Senguen, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, who he is at first glance a model European boyfriend to - he cooks for her, they drink together, they seem to love one another. But as Jarrah gravitates to the local mosque in the grey looking Germany, he becomes more and more radicalised and his relationship becomes more and more fraught, as Aysel eventually loses her lover to the influence of his jihadist friends. Kamel's outstanding performance of Atta shows a character who couldn't be more different; here is a cold, priggish fanatic who is much harder to get a sense of as a person beyond his all-encompassing faith. One suggestion the film explores is that his strict personality perhaps stems from his father, who we see during a scene in Atta's native Cairo to be an equally stubborn, immovable coldfish who curtly instructs his son to continue with his studies in Europe. Ultimately, our two central protagonists are so different to one another that it proves the theory that any effort to get a handle on a supposedly typical terrorist profile is utterly redundant. There is no standard profile, and the realisation that we cannot label these people, that they are just as distinctive and complex and different from each other as the average joe, the honest peacekeeping citizens - and that's perhaps the scariest notion of all.

Bird's engrossing, thoughtful and intelligent film was showcased at the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival but did not receive a cinematic release. Even now, it's not even available on DVD in the UK - I bought a German DVD release for just a couple of quid of Amazon - and, including myself, only 18 people have logged it as watched on here. Its Channel 4 funding granted it a TV broadcast, but it really is a shame that people seemed so scared of its contentious, taboo nature and its lack of 'good guys' that it did not get to play to wider audience. It's even more of a shame that, having helmed such a startlingly good production, Bird didn't go on to have her pick of projects. The more I watch and revisit Bird's work, the more frustrated I become that such a genuinely good filmmaker was denied the career she was so clearly capable of and the career she deserved. She achieved great things in her career and she left us with some truly great films, but the potential beyond even that is such a tantalising thought.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Object of Beauty (1991)

"I began by thinking about a rich couple who have everything, but whose lives start to unravel because of their fear about not having money." ~ Michael Lindsay-Hogg, writer/director 

The Object of Beauty is a seductive, classy comedy drama from BBC Films that was broadcast in 1992 as part of the Screen Two season and - like Truly Madly Deeply - received a cinema release in the US and other parts of the world.

It stars John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell as Jake and Tina, a stylish and transient American couple currently living on their wits and reputation in a luxurious hotel suite in London. However, as we see in the film's opening scene, they are clearly cash-poor as Jake's American Express is declined at the restaurant they wine and dine their influential friends and contacts at. Jake is a man who knows that money is made with money, but right now there isn't a dollar to be had; an industrial dispute in Sierra Leone has seen the cocoa deal he ploughed his money into delayed, as the product lies at the bottom of the ocean. He owes the hotel thousands of pounds in unpaid bills and has to resort to hiding from the management, taking the stairs rather than the lift because he hasn't the slightest prospect of being able to pay.

The one thing Jake and Tina have, besides their sparkling repartee and great sexual chemistry, is an exclusive small bronze head sculpture by Henry Moore that is estimated to fetch around £20,000+. It was a gift from Tina's estranged husband Larry (Peter Riegert) an American also based in London. Jake wants to sell it, but Tina is adamant she wants to keep it. In the midst of their disagreement, Tina hatches a plan; if they hide the sculpture away and report it as stolen they'd be able to claim the insurance and resolve their money woes in one fell swoop without having to lose the statue.

Working as a maid in the hotel is Jenny (Rudi Davies - flame haired daughter of Beryl Bainbridge and Alan Sharp, and wife of actor Mick Ford), a deaf mute whose life couldn't be more different than the glamourous Jake and Tina. She resides in a drab, dingy basement flat with her loutish and nefarious younger brother (Ricci Harnett) and, upon seeing the Moore figure in their suite, instantly falls in love with it because, as she later explains in writing 'it spoke, and I heard it' Having such communication for the first time in her life, Jenny impulsively pockets it, thus scuppering Jake and Tina's plans and opening the rift in their relationship - their inability to trust one another completely.

The Object of Beauty is an intelligent, sophisticated and sexy offering from Michael Lindsay-Hogg which boasts a fine cast. Malkovich and MacDowell bounce wonderfully off one another with the aforementioned great chemistry - and MacDowell really is beautiful here. Rudi Davies' striking and somewhat unusual features make a great impact in a character who hasn't the ability to speak and Lindsay-Hogg captures so much in her facial expressions that is both easy to grasp and utterly beguiling. There's also Lolita Davidovich as Tina's friend Joan and Bill Paterson as a delightfully unctuous hotel security chief, whilst familiar faces like Joss Ackland, Roger Lloyd Pack, Rosemary Martin, Jack Shepherd and Jeremy Sinden round out the rest of the supporting cast.

Ultimately, the plot reaches a climax that works out to everyone's satisfaction, but the plot isn't really that important here and the financial difficulties and the satire on living a life bound by economic liquidity is actually secondary to the film's real theme of love and trust as Jake and Tina (and even Jenny and her brother) have to confront who they really are and how they really feel about one another. 

Oh, and I have to laugh at the scene which sees Jake moan about yet another remake of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde on TV - given that Malkovich would be back in the UK five years later to star in the Stephen Frears flop Mary Reilly, a revisionist take on the Robert Louis Stevenson tale.

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these plays still languishing in the bowels of the corporation please sign the petition I started here

Friday, 10 June 2016

Mad Love (1995)

Well now this was a pleasant surprise.

Despite technically being the right age for Mad Love when it was released in 1995 (I was 15) and having a little teenage crush on Drew Barymore at the time, the film completely passed me by. I only became aware of it later in life when my appreciation for Antonia Bird grew and grew and, even then, I only knew it as the Hollywood film that she got her fingers burnt on - which was further reiterated in the Susan Kemp documentary on BBC4 recently. With that in mind, I settled down expecting the worst; a fear that was exacerbated when, to my surprise, I saw that Paula Milne (Angels, The Politician's Wife, Chandler & Co, White Heat to name but a few) was responsible for the script - had Hollywood really took not one but two creative British female talents and zapped their project of all its heart and substance as Mad Love's mediocre reputation suggests?

Actually no, not really.

Granted Mad Love is not perfect, you just know there's a final cut or an original draft in here somewhere that just never made its way to the screen, but it would be really unfair to say this isn't a good and effective little movie despite Touchstone Pictures presumably watering it down. Just as you perhaps know that this kind of film could only have been told by Brits abroad, because it delivers a far more authentic depiction of mental health and problems facing young adults than the average American teen movie has ever done before or since.

In a nutshell, Mad Love is a somewhat traditional story of star-crossed love. Two ridiculously pretty teenagers fall in love against their archetypal parents wishes. Determined to be together, they hit the road in search of their dreams and their destiny to be together. 

Chris O'Donnell stars as Matt Leland, a straight A student in Seattle who also holds down a lot of familial responsibility too looking after his 9 yr old brother and sister (twins - just one example of a recurring motif in the film to suggest duality) whilst their father immerses himself in work, their mother having walked out long ago. In his spare time, Matt likes to stargaze and has particular focus on the twin stars (see?) Castor and Pollux. However, that fondness is overshadowed one night when, looking out onto the lake his house resides alongside, he spies new neighbour Casey Roberts (Drew Barrymore) for the first time and he instantly falls for her dark rimmed eyes, those bee sting lips and her kooky persona. He contrives a meeting at a grunge gig and, before long, they fall in love.

However, Casey's father - a stern authoritarian - doesn't seem keen on this development. He doesn't seem to think that she's ready for a relationship, and his reason - which we incrementally become aware of - makes a certain amount of sense: Casey is bipolar and is in need of treatment.

But because most of the time Casey is fine (and presumably taking her meds to ensure this stability; her dual personality - again twin motif - coming into play) Matt doesn't know or even suspect that she is ill at all. He just presumes she's something of a livewire, prone to sudden and impulsive, often volatile acts. Matt's first understanding that all is not well is when, following a row with her parents about him, Casey is admitted into the local psychiatric hospital. Believing this to be a huge overreaction, Matt conspires to break her out and they take to the road heading south west towards Mexico.

What I found really refreshing about Mad Love was that, from the moment the road trip commences, every expectation we have and the cliches we normally get from this kind of film is neatly sidestepped by Bird and Milne. Most Hollywood movies seem to be of the belief that psychiatric treatment is bad, and that the only cure for mental illness is true love, adventures and experiences, and camping out in picturesque woods under the stars. Mad Love skirts with these tropes, but commits itself to authenticity by showing a steady deterioration in Casey's behaviour as she goes on the run and as the film progresses. To that end, the film is also highly original for a Hollywood production in that it actually seems to understand mental illness - even though they are a little coy to label Casey's condition as bipolar or, as it was predominantly known at the time, manic depression. There's also the inevitable trope of some kind of crime spree rearing its head in most 'young lovers on the run' movies and, although the film presents us with a young Liev Schreiber as a sleazy travelling salesman with wandering hands and a gun in the glovebox who gives them both a lift, again Bird and Milne mostly steer clear of our expectations.

The film may be called Mad Love and ostensibly be about Casey's mental illness but there's an argument to be made that it is actually more about Matt's growing maturity. Since his mother walked out he's had to be a surrogate parent for his two younger siblings and now, finding himself moving from town to town with a deeply vulnerable and irrational young woman who he loves deeply, he realises he has another responsibility upon his shoulders and seeks to address the situation before it gets any further out of hand. At each step, the problems feel genuine and not at all like the plot contrivances of problems specific only to the fictional, cinematic world.

It's a film that boasts fine performances from its two stars, with O'Donnell believable as he faces the crossroads between romantic feelings for Casey and the concerned feelings for her wellbeing, which he selflessly must put first. Barrymore naturally gets the showier role and delivers it perfectly, perhaps drawing on her own experiences of mental illness, as she walks the fine line between reckless confidence and a troubling vulnerability that is easy to emphathise with. Both stars were in their ascent in the mid '90s and they are the perfect poster girl and boy to attract the teen cinemagoer of that decade into the multiplexes for such a big and touching, summer picture - with an indie, grungey soundtrack to match which concludes with the UK's very own Kirsty MacColl (RIP) So it's a real shame the reviews perhaps kept the audience at bay.

On the whole, Mad Love manages to avoid both the cliches and mawkish sentimentality for much of the time, but occasionally it does stumble; the ending goes all out for the dewy eyed crowd, complete with hazy flashbacks. Casey's father is a particularly one-note character, and even Veep's Kevin Dunn starring here as Matt's dad has little to work with. But I guess it's the kind of film where adult characters are essentially disapproving, misunderstood ciphers until the final reel, when Matt sees how ill Casey is and finds an ally in her mother who accepts him, advises him to return her daughter home, and finally silences her dour disapproving husband by stepping up to the plate. However, I did like a certain motif that Bird continually played with which was to show adults forever on the periphery of scenes, always looking in on our young lovers and attempting to intervene, or at least considering it. We see a teacher following the pair early on, considering reprimanding them before something else catches his attention. Occasionally you hear lines spoken by them a little louder than expected in the dub, a recurring theme that only made sense when it became clear that such chatter formed a constant intrusive soundtrack for Casey's troubled mind.

Despite it's faults, it's unfair that Mad Love, a Hollywood film that takes a level-headed credible look at mental illness, has seemingly been consigned to the forgotten ranks of cinema history and that the same contrived mistakes can be repeated again and again by far dumber, less aware Oscar-bait movies which people happily seem to fall hook, line and sinker for (yes, I'm looking at you Silver Linings Playbook) It's equally a shame that Bird did not get the recognition she deserved in the US industry for turning in such a thought provoking movie that actually works to the extent that it does in spite of studio interference.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Reg (2016)

Tony Blair is a lying, cheating cunt of a war criminal with blood on his hands.

I marched against the Iraq War and I left the Labour Party because of it. Like Hillsborough and Orgreave, I have hoped and prayed that one day the families of those soldiers who gave their lives during that unjust and illegal war receive the justice they deserve. Next month sees the findings of the Chilcot Report (with the families of the deceased expected to shell out £767 for a copy of their report - words literally fail me here) but, given that it took the Hillsborough campaigners 27 years to receive the justice they fought so hard for and that the miners at Orgreave are still fighting 32 years on, I must admit to having misgivings at the notion that a 7 year-long report will truly get to the bottom of things.

But, as we wait for its findings to be published, Jimmy McGovern gave us this hard-hitting timely reminder of Blair's true colours. Reg tells the true story of Reg Keys, a former paramedic and ambulance driver, whose son Tom was one of six severely under equipped military policemen killed by a heavily armed mob at an Iraqi police station in 2003. Wracked with a grief that ultimately turns to anger when he learns that Blair took the country to war on the WMD lie, Reg decides to fight the PM at his own game, and stand against him in his own constituency of Sedgefield in the general election.

This was an effortless and understated film from McGovern. It may be fuelled by rage and anger at injustice, but he avoided the polemical to instead simply present the facts to the viewer in a clear, reasoned and skillful manner. At its heart lay an honest and strong central performance from Tim Roth as Reg Keys, nailing the man's unassuming nature, impeccable manners and quiet dignity to give us the essence of a genuine person, rather than a TV character; an ordinary man who happens to be capable of the extraordinary, thanks to his principles. Granted a single purpose - the dogged pursuit of the truth - Reg becomes David to Blair's Goliath and, in turn, an old fashioned, idealistic hero who immediately gains our empathy and support. He's ably matched by Anna Maxwell Martin as his wife Sally whose decline following her bereavement is deeply affecting and as quietly brilliant as we have come to expect from her.

Reg Keys has his say and a squirming Tony Blair faces the music

Reg is full of excellent scenes, from the heartbreaking and unflinching moment that Reg views his son's body in the coffin, examining the fatal wounds with unnerving flashbacks that show them being inflicted, the vignettes of Reg and Ralph Brown as his campaign manager canvassing Sedgefield (these scenes were filmed in Prescot, just up the road from me) illicit both for and against views on the situation (the one where an elderly woman announces that she feels responsible for all the deaths in Iraq because she voted for Blair is especially striking) but perhaps best of all is the finale scene which splices Roth into the real life footage from the Sedgefield counting office once the results have been given. The real reactions of Tony Blair as he had to stand there and listen to Reg, the man he had until then avoided at every turn, shows how much Reg Keys had him on the ropes and as a viewer there's great satisfaction in seeing the great discomfort on the then PM's face.

The real Reg Keys posing with Tim Roth
 in a Prescot pub I used to drink in!

Reg reminds us once more what an actor Blair was, it's really telling that they chose to introduce him with footage of him speaking to the Washington senate, one of the most hokiest, fawning and ingratiating pieces of acting Blair ever did. Blair wasn't a politician, he was a performer, and the ultimate leader for the style over substance generation. He spun lies that tarnished our nation and led to deaths and grieving families and even now, as he prepares his defence ahead of the report next month, he continues to spin his lies and pull the media's strings, claiming the present democratically elected Labour leader, the man I voted for and rejoined the party for, is 'a dangerous experiment' to be discredited at every turn.

Out On Blue Six : Rod Stewart

Rod's cover of Tim Hardin's classic,

End Transmission