Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016: Page by Page


Well, here we are at New Year's Eve so here is a list/diary of all the books I have read in the last twelve months. 


January

1. Even Dogs In The Wild by Ian Rankin. Started 1/1/16 Finished 12/1/16
2. Rose by Martin Cruz Smith. Started 13/1/16 Finished 24/1/16
3. How Much Land Does A Man Need? By Leo Tolstoy. Started 20/1/16 Finished 20/1/16
4. HHhH by Laurent Binet. Started 25/1/16 Finished 2/2/16

February

5. The Actual One by Isy Suttie. Started 3/2/16 Finished 10/2/16
6. Heart of London by Monica Dickens. Started 11/2/16 Finished 16/2/16
7. The Obsession by GF Newman. Started 17/2/16 Finished 25/2/16
8. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Started 26/2/16 Finished 1/3/16

March

9. A Book For Her by Bridget Christie. Started 2/3/16 Finished 10/3/16
10. Murder On Ward 4: The Story of Beverly Allit. Started 12/3/16 Finished 29/3/16
11. The Tent, The Bucket And Me by Emma Kennedy. Started 23/3/16 Finished 10/4/16

April

12. Red Shift by Alan Garner. Started 11/4/16 Finished 16/4/16
13. Curious by Rebecca Front. Started 16/4/16 Finished 22/4/16
14. One Day by David Nicholls. Started 23/4/16 Finished 30/4/16

May

15. Thatcher Stole My Trousers by Alexei Sayle. Started 1/5/16 Finished 9/5/16
16. Northern ReSisters by Bernadette Hyland. Started 1/5/16 Finished 4/5/16
17. Life in Strangeways by Alan Lord. Started 9/5/16 Finished 12/5/16
18. Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe. Started 12/5/16 Finished 19/5/16
19. Looking For Eric by Paul Laverty. Started 18/5/16 Finished 19/5/16
20.The Grifters by Jim Thompson. Started 20/5/16 Finished 22/5/16
21.The Dead Hour by Denise Mina. Started 23/5/16 Finished 5/6/16

June

22. Felicia's Journey by William Trevor. Started 5/6/16 Finished 8/6/16
23. The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge. Started 9/6/16 Finished 11/6/16
24. Three Into Two Won't Go by Andrea Newman. Started 12/6/16 Finished 16/6/16
25. Young Adolf by Beryl Bainbridge. Started 17/6/16 Finished 18/6/16
26. Very Naughty Boys: The Amazing True Story of Handmade Films by Robert Sellers. 19/6/16 Finished 21/6/16 (re-read)
27. An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge. Started 21/6/16 Finished 22/6/16
28. Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge. Started 23/6/16 Finished 26/6/16
29. Island Madness by Tim Binding. Started 27/6/16 Finished 9/7/16

July

30. Bodies by Jed Mercurio. Started 11/7/16 Finished 19/7/16 (re-read)
31. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge. Started 20/7/16 Finished 24/7/16
32. The Pie At Night: What The North Does For Fun by Stuart Maconie. Started 25/7/16 Finished 7/8/16

August

33. Content Provider: Selected Short Prose Pieces 2011-2016 by Stewart Lee Started 11/8/16 Finished 18/8/16
34. Script Doctor: The Inside Story of Doctor Who 1986-'89 by Andrew Cartmel. Started 19/8/16 Finished 24/8/16 (re-read)
35. The Left Handed Hummingbird by Kate Orman. Started 25/8/16 Finished 3/9/16 (re-read)

September

36. Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe. Started 1/9/16 Finished 6/9/16
37. Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes. Started 4/9/16 Finished 8/9/16
38. Motherland by Jo McMillan. Started 9/9/16 Finished 17/9/16
39. Tony Hart: A Portrait Of My Dad by Carolyn Ross. Started 20/9/16 Finished 25/9/16
40. Cutting Edge by John Harvey. Started 27/9/16 Finished 4/10/16

October

41. Cold Light by John Harvey. Started 6/10/16 Finished 21/10/16
42. Animal by Sara Pascoe. Started 22/10/16 Finished 29/10/16
43. Fever Pitch: The Screenplay by Nick Hornby. Started 30/10/16 Finished 30/10/16
44. Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Music and Politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge by Daniel Rachel. Started 30/10/16 Finished 15/11/16

November

45. Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences by Dennis Skinner, MP. Started 15/11/16 Finished 21/11/16
46. It's All Going Wonderfully Well: Growing Up With Bob Hoskins by Rosa Hoskins. Started 22/11/16 Finished 24/11/16
47. Barcelona Plates by Alexei Sayle. Started 25/11/16 Finished 29/11/16

December

48. In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile by Dan Davies. Started 1/12/16 Finished  12/12/16
49. High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess by Charles Fleming. Started 13/12/16 Finished 19/12/16
50. The Beat Goes On by Ian Rankin. Started 19/12/16 Finished 23/12/16
51. Alan Partridge: Nomad by Alan Partridge (Audiobook) Started 27/12/16 Finished ??

Bob Monkhouse: The Last Stand



In a word, fascinating.

In the summer of 2003 Bob Monkhouse performed before a specially invited audience of young comedians at the Albany Comedy Club. A few months later and Monkhouse was dead. This  show proved to be his last and it has never been broadcast until now. It is a remarkable document in the history of British comedy.

The night started out as a masterclass in stand up comedy. Monkhouse delivered gag after gag with impeccable timing and with a spiky humour a world away from the super slick game show host persona he  freely admits he had become saddled with. As audience member and impressionist Jon Culshaw remarks in one of the many present day talking heads that recall their memories of that evening, his delivery was like 'the Rolls Royce of comedy', something that - in the last ten years say before his demise - Monkhouse had been given the opportunity to prove with stand up becoming key entertainment for '90s TV.

But the evening took an unexpected turn for the audience when Monkhouse dropped the gags and took a seat to recall his contemporaries in British comedy -  Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper, Peter Sellers and Dickie Henderson - revealing candid, highly personal insights into his relationships and experiences with them, specifically Hill and Sellers. The personal, insightful nature of the evening then continues when Bob discusses his health, and the cancer that would take him later that year - he makes a point of informing the audience that he's alright and that the drugs are working even though, as Junior Simpson remarks in a talking head, the audience had a sense he wouldn't be here this time next year, and it's fair to say that the disease had altered his physical appearance at this stage; his face is rounder and swollen and his midriff is considerably swollen - before inviting the reclusive impressionist Mike Yarwood to the stage for a chat. Yarwood was one of this countries most popular entertainers in the 1970s with his '77 Christmas special attracted 21.4 million viewers, a ratings record that remains (and is unlikely to ever be) unbeaten, but by the mid '80s he retreated from the limelight amidst tales of alcoholism. In reality, as we discover via this sympathetic chat between the veteran performers, there was much more at play that led to Yarwood's premature retirement; a crippling anxiety disorder that saw him unable to perform at the same level ever again. It's a measure of Monkhouse's kindness and generosity that, during his last moment in the limelight, he's happy enough to share it with an old friend.

The evening ends with Monkhouse showing a similar level of generosity, throwing open to the floor for any questions the audience might have, including the opportunity to pass on tips to the up and coming comics who have sat in awe throughout. Some of these performers (Kevin Day, Reece Shearsmith, Mark Steel, Junior Simpson and Fiona Allen) return to discuss their recollections, which are peppered throughout the hour long film, whilst others are glimpsed in the room; a pre-fame and vast irritation levels David Walliams, mouth breathing in the front row, the gregarious cockney bruiser Ricky Grover, Jewish 'comic' Adam Bloom piping up in the Q and A, Dominic Holland and Peter Baynham.
In a word, fascinating.

In the summer of 2003 Bob Monkhouse performed before a specially invited audience of young comedians at the Albany Comedy Club. A few months later and Monkhouse was dead. This  show proved to be his last and it has never been broadcast until now. It is a remarkable document in the history of British comedy.

The night started out as a masterclass in stand up comedy. Monkhouse delivered gag after gag with impeccable timing and with a spiky humour a world away from the super slick game show host persona he  freely admits he had become saddled with. As audience member and impressionist Jon Culshaw remarks in one of the many present day talking heads that recall their memories of that evening, his delivery was like 'the Rolls Royce of comedy', something that - in the last ten years say before his demise - Monkhouse had been given the opportunity to prove with stand up becoming key entertainment for '90s TV.

But the evening took an unexpected turn for the audience when Monkhouse dropped the gags and took a seat to recall his contemporaries in British comedy -  Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper, Peter Sellers and Dickie Henderson - revealing candid, highly personal insights into his relationships and experiences with them, specifically Hill and Sellers. The personal, insightful nature of the evening then continues when Bob discusses his health, and the cancer that would take him later that year - he makes a point of informing the audience that he's alright and that the drugs are working even though, as Junior Simpson remarks in a talking head, the audience had a sense he wouldn't be here this time next year, and it's fair to say that the disease had altered his physical appearance at this stage; his face is rounder and swollen and his midriff is considerably swollen - before inviting the reclusive impressionist Mike Yarwood to the stage for a chat. Yarwood was one of this countries most popular entertainers in the 1970s with his '77 Christmas special attracted 21.4 million viewers, a ratings record that remains (and is unlikely to ever be) unbeaten, but by the mid '80s he retreated from the limelight amidst tales of alcoholism. In reality, as we discover via this sympathetic chat between the veteran performers, there was much more at play that led to Yarwood's premature retirement; a crippling anxiety disorder that saw him unable to perform at the same level ever again. It's a measure of Monkhouse's kindness and generosity that, during his last moment in the limelight, he's happy enough to share it with an old friend.

The evening ends with Monkhouse showing a similar level of generosity, throwing open to the floor for any questions the audience might have, including the opportunity to pass on tips to the up and coming comics who have sat in awe throughout. Some of these performers (Kevin Day, Reece Shearsmith, Mark Steel, Junior Simpson and Fiona Allen) return to discuss their recollections, which are peppered throughout the hour long film, whilst others are glimpsed in the room; a pre-fame and vast irritation levels David Walliams, mouth breathing in the front row, the gregarious cockney bruiser Ricky Grover, Jewish 'comic' Adam Bloom piping up in the Q and A, Dominic Holland and Peter Baynham.

Bob Monkhouse: The Last Stand was tucked away in the schedules of BBC4 this Christmas like a treasured Secret Santa. It remains available on the iPlayer and I strongly recommend anyone with an interest in comedy to seek it out immediately. If you never considered Monkhouse as anything other than 'that gameshow host', then it's all the more reason for you to seek it out and have your opinion changed for the better.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Out On Blue Six: Christine & the Queens

The Top of the Pops special on Christmas Day has long been a tradition. Perhaps because of the fact that the show no longer exists in the weekly format (the BBC air just two episodes a year now; Christmas Day and New Year's Eve) or perhaps maybe it's just because I'm getting older, but watching it this year left me in a state of complete bemusement. I hadn't heard of the majority of the performers and found the music to be utter dross. And the less said of the presenting duo, Reggie Yates and the ever-irritating Ferne Cotton, the better. However, the real highlight of the show, the only song and performance I truly enjoyed, was this one from Christine and the Queens.... 


I've ordered her album from Amazon now as a direct result of this appearance.

End Transmission


RIP Debbie Reynolds

Just one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds has also passed away at the age of 84.


The star of Singin' In The Rain was with her son Todd Fisher discussing Carrie's funeral arrangements when she suffered a fatal stroke, her grief being too much to bear. It has been reported that she had said to her son that she wanted to be with Carrie and, on announcing her death to the press, Todd Fisher said "She's with Carrie now"

Truly heartbreaking.



RIP

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

RIP Carrie Fisher

And further sad news as the death of Carrie Fisher at the age of 60 has been announced.


Following her cardiac arrest last week I was hoping and praying she'd pull through, but alas it was not to be. The best thing I've read about her appeared on tumblr, which you can read here

RIP

RIP Richard Adams

And yet another death has been announced - Richard Adams, the author of Watership Dawn, has died at the age of 96, his daughter has confirmed.


The poignant and at times unsettling children's classic was originally a tale the civil servant told his daughters on long car journey before he was persuaded to put pen to paper, turning it into a bestselling novel in 1972 after a series of rejections from short-sighted publishers. It went on to sell tens of millions of copies worldwide, won him the Carnegie Medal for children's fiction and, in 1978, it was adapted for cinema. A new four part CGI mini-series adaptation is also set to air on Netflix next year. Adams' other works include Shardik, The Plague Dogs (which was also turned into a film) and The Girl In a Swing.


RIP

RIP Liz Smith

2016 robs us of another angel; Liz Smith passed away on Christmas Eve, aged 95.


Born Betty Gleadle in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire in 1921, Smith will be best remembered for her roles in the BBC sitcoms The Vicar of Dibley and The Royle Family.


It was 1970, while working at Hamleys demonstrating toys, that Mike Leigh gave Smith her big break at the age of 49 for his debut movie Bleak Moments. Three years later Leigh cast her again as the central, hapless character in Hard Labour, his first Play For Today. Subsequent roles came thick and fast, including appearances in Last of the Summer Wine, Crown Court, Village Hall and in adaptations of South Riding and David Copperfield. Then came her role as Mrs Brandon in three series of the sitcom I Didn't Know You Cared and film roles in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Britannia Hospital, The Curse of the Pink Panther, A Private Function, High Spirits, Bert Rigby, You're a Fool and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. 

She played the gran in 2point4 Children and continued to carve a place for herself as a sitcom legend by playing Letitia Cropley in The Vicar of Dibley, before playing another families grandmother in the role of 'Nana' in Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash's The Royal Family. Now in her 80s, the roles continued with films such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Keeping Mum and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. In 2008 she starred in the first series of the BBC costume drama Larkrise to Candleford.

Following a series of strokes in 2009, Liz Smith announced her retirement from acting at the age of 87. Her last role before this announcement was that of Olive Greenhalgh, playing opposite Peter Vaughan (who also sadly died this month) in The Antiques Rogue Show, the TV film concerning the true story of the Greengalgh family of Bolton, whose son Shaun fooled museums and auction houses with a series of forgeries who enlisted his aged parents to sell thereby giving his fakes credible provenance. Smith was also awarded the MBE that same year and allowed documentary makers to follow her on a cruise from Croatia to Venice in BBC4's Liz Smith's Summer Cruise. In 2010 she returned to the documentary genre, appearing in the BBC's The Young Ones which saw six celebrities in their 70s and 80s living together in a house pretending it was the 1970s in an attempt to hark back to their heydays and overcome some of the problems of ageing.  In 2013 Smith returned to acting with roles in Sky's Common Ground and in The Tunnel, the UK/France remake of the hit Nordic Noir series The Bridge.


RIP

Sunday, 25 December 2016

RIP George Michael

George Michael has died at the age of 53.



I am utterly dumbstruck. I just can't believe that we have lost another musical talent at such an early age again. What the hell has been going on this year? To lose him on today of all days - when Last Christmas has no doubt been played in households up and down the country - seems cruelly ironic. 

I really have no words, so I'll let the man's music speak instead.









RIP

A Merry Christmas To All My Readers









May you all have a wonderful day
xox

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Out On Blue Six: Status Quo, RIP Rick Parfitt

2016 continues to be the year for terrible losses as it has been announced that Rick Parfitt of Status Quo has died at the age of 68.


Parfitt had been admitted to hospital in Spain following complications from a shoulder injury. It's reported that he died from a severe infection as a result. Parfitt had suffered a heart attack in the summer (he had a quadruple heart bypass in 1997) which led to his retirement from Quo in October.

Here's my favourite Quo track in tribute,


RIP

End Transmission



Out On Blue Six: Joni Mitchell




End Transmission


Friday, 23 December 2016

RIP Deddie Davies

Welsh character actress Deddie Davies, whose face was perhaps more familiar to audiences than her name, has sadly died at the age of 78.



Davies enjoyed an extensive career in both film and television often playing meek spinsterish characters. Her most famous role is probably that of Nell Perks, the wife of Bernard Cribbins' Perks, in the beloved 1970 film adaptation of The Railway Children. Other films Davies appeared in included The Amazing Mr Blunden and, most recently, as a bingo-playing old lady in Pride. On television she appeared in several sitcoms including The Rag Trade, That's My Boy, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, AJ Wentworth BA, Time After Time, You Rang M'Lord? and Chance in a Million, as well as notable dramas like The Mayor Of Casterbridge, Upstairs Downstairs, The Adventures of Black Beauty, The Forsyte Saga, Whitechapel and Miss Marple: Murder at the Vicarage. Since 2012, Davies appeared in Sky One's Stella as eccentric neighbour Marj Brennig.

In later life, Davies also campaigned and became active in the issues and representation of the elderly. She went undercover at a rest home for the BBC's Watchdog programme, recording her experiences as one of minimal interaction and inactivity leading to 'a slow death', and was a member of pop group The Zimmers whose single, a cover of The Who's My Generation which highlighted the plight of the elderly, reached number 26 in the UK charts.



RIP

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Kate Williams : Good Elf

Ho-ho-ho! Or should that be Soho-ho! Because Professor Kate Williams was looking pretty damn sexy dressed as an elf in last night's Christmas special of comedy panel show Insert Name Here


Ding Dong Merrily on high!

Spooks: The Greater Good (2015)



"Do good or do well"

Ah Spooks. I loved Spooks. Or to be clear, I loved the first two seasons of Spooks. Three tops. Created by David Wolstencroft, and using such quality writers as the acclaimed left wing playwright Howard Brenton (though you'd have to look online or some such to find that out, as Spooks revelled in never having any opening or closing credits) Spooks was truly innovative British television...right up until its original stars Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes and David Oyelowo (whatever happened to him?) departed. The show - also known as MI5 for a US market that delights in the blindingly obvious - ran for ten seasons from 2002 to 2011 but, once the original central characters had gone, replaced by the likes of Rupert Penry-Ponce and Hermione Norris, I quickly lost interest. The only good thing to come out of those later episodes was the rising prominence of Peter Firth as spymaster Harry Pearce. Here was a character who had something like two scenes in the very first episode, but by the time the curtain fell on the TV series he was undoubtedly its star and the show's biggest draw. This stature is rightly carried across for this spin-off movie, Spooks: The Greater Good.


(It's worth mentioning there was another spin-off entitled Spooks: Code 9 on BBC3 in 2008. Aimed at the 16-24 year old market it was risible nonsense set sometime after 2012 when London, hosting the Olympic Games, was hit by a nuclear attack. The series was such a flop, Spooks quickly chose to disown and ignore it from its canon - as seen here.)


Now, because I'd bailed on the series I was initially a bit hesitant about watching Spooks: The Greater Good, but I needn't have worried. The film works perfectly well as a stand-alone and an introduction to the world of the series that preceded it for new audiences, whilst at the same time drawing on much that made the series great for its long-established fans - principally the return of some characters from the show, the aforementioned Pearce (Firth) the dependable former analyst Malcolm (Hugh Simon) the reptilian Oliver Mace played by Tim McInnerny, whose cold blooded and charismatic ambiguity makes for a very welcome reappearance here, and two others from the tenth series of the show who were new to me; Geoffrey Streatfeild as IT expert Calum Reed and Lara Pulver as Erin Watts.


I was also hesitant in case the storytelling style of the movie was essentially the same as the later episodes of the series, those that proved such a turn-off for me. Granted they maintain the same kind of riffs, with the intelligence that the likes of Howard Brenton brought in the early years being AWOL, but the film is nevertheless a very proficient spy thriller with some genuinely tense and well-shot moments from director Bharat Nalluri and cinematographer Hubert Taczanowski which make particularly good use of its London and Berlin locations. It's always refreshing to see a homegrown action movie I guess.


The cast is also excellent. Firth is once again truly impressive as Harry Pearce, the skinny latte generation's George Smiley. Providing much of the film's legwork and attracting a younger audience however is Game of Thrones star Kit Harington as Will Holloway, a former MI5 operative who feels betrayed by his former father figure Harry Pearce but who forms an uneasy alliance for the titular 'greater good'. Rounding out the cast are performances from the divine Tuppence Middleton and the foxy Eleanor Matsuura, Homeland's David Harewood and Pride and Prejudice's Jennifer Ehle. In the pivotal role of the villain of the piece, we have Elyes Gabel an actor who has carved a career out for himself in the US to my complete and utter bemusement. He was dead-eyed, drippy and wooden in a string of British TV programmes like Casualty before relocating and finding fame Stateside, and he continues to be the weakest link here too. The Wiki entry for the film describes his character as a 'charismatic terrorist leader' but there's no sign of any charisma as far as I'm concerned. Or indeed much threat.


The script by Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent is proficient enough though it can't escape a tendency for a cliched clunker, especially in the peculiar relationship between Pearce and Holloway which centres on the former being linked to the death of the latter's father when an op in Berlin went horribly wrong. Brackley and Vincent wrote several episodes of the original series which means the same kind of themes return here, including its fondness for shadow conspiracies. It's a real shame because the shadow conspiracy at the centre of their plot here is a treasonous plot to discredit MI5 from within so the Americans can absorb the service into their own CIA, a threat that doesn't really bear scrutiny and one whose perpetrator I predicted right from the off. Seriously, you don't have to be George Smiley to work this one out.


Despite the odd flaw or faltering element though, Spooks: The Greater Good remains a solidly watchable and fun experience for both newcomers and fans alike.

Out On Blue Six: The Pretenders/East 17

Two beautiful Christmas songs here; 1983's 2000 Miles by The Pretenders, and 1994's Stay Another Day by East 17. But there's something else that links them beyond the fact that they're both 'Christmas songs'. 

Do you know what it is?

The answer is death.


Many actually believe 2000 Miles is the long distance between two lovers, missing each other over the holidays, but it was actually written by Hynde in memory of the group's original guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott who had died of heart failure caused by cocaine intolerance the previous year aged just 25. His replacement in the band was his friend Robbie McIntosh who Chrissie believes played beautifully on the track, adding "anything to avoid listening to my voice and my stupid words"




Stay Another Day wasn't even intended as a Christmas song. Set for release at the end of 1994, East 17's record company elected to add the sound of bells and shoot a video featuring the band in white coats and snow for the Christmassy vibe that ultimately secured them that year's coveted Christmas number one. However, the song was written as therapy by band member Tony Mortimer, who was coming to terms with the recent suicide of his brother Ollie. Just this week Mortimer has revealed that, whilst the song may earn him an estimated £97,000 in royalties per year, the deeply personal meaning behind it is hard for him and his family to ignore and ultimately he avoids the song that arguably became his biggest hit. Like Hynde before him, his relationship with the song seems difficult.


It's kind of fitting in a way that these songs concern bereavement. After all, Christmas is a time to recall those who mean so much to us who are no longer around just as much as it is a time to enjoy those loved ones closest to us now.

End Transmission





Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Office Christmas Party (2016)


Office Christmas Party is a sporadically funny comedy that took its time to get going and seems hampered by its own feeble plot. It's little surprise then that it has received mostly negative reviews but I do think that the tone of some of them has done the film a disservice because, for all its faults, this isn't an embarrassingly bad movie, it's just a somewhat uneven one.  


Overall, the feeling I had throughout my viewing experience was goodwill - I wanted it to pick up, I wanted it to find its feet - and a lot of that was down to the excellent cast.


Now granted, Jason Bateman is essentially playing the same role he's played in virtually everything, but he still has - to me, at least - enough likeability to get a free pass, whilst Jennifer Aniston represents the film's Scrooge, and it's amusing to see Rachel be mean to a little girl and wipe the floor with some pimp's hulking heavies. 
 

As with Ghostbusters though, it is Kate McKinnon who steals the whole movie by seemingly working to a completely different script to everyone else around her. As Mary, the demented, workaholic HR lady who gradually reveals her wild eccentricities as the night progresses, she's on incredible form and I just had to see her wink at TJ Miller in one of the early boardroom scenes to be up for whatever came along and thankfully all of her stuff hits the spot and finds your funny bone. 


Also on fine form is the gorgeous Olivia Munn, trading off some of that half geek/half goddess characterisation she developed on TV's The Newsroom, but I was really pleased and surprised to see some good characterisation in the film's smaller, supporting roles, most notably in single mom and the glue that holds the office together Allison played by Vanessa Bayer. 


But overall, the script definitely needed one more draft to pull all these promising aspects together to produce the film this really ought to have been. But hey, it's Christmas, so here's a generous three out of five stars for effort.

Out On Blue Six: Matt Berry

Seeing as today is the Winter Solstice - the shortest day - I thought I'd share actor, comedian and singer/songwriter Matt Berry's 9+minute track Solstice from his 2013 album Kill the Wolf...




End Transmission


Wordless Wednesday: Christmas Shopping


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Antigang, aka The Sweeney Paris (2015)



2015 French cop thriller Antigang is known in the UK by the rather unwieldy title of The Sweeney Paris. This is because Antigang is a remake of Nick Love's 2012 film The Sweeney which was itself a remake of the classic 1970s TV series of the same name starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman. 

So what we have here is a remake of a remake. 


However whilst Love's film was a predictable disappointment which was unable to step out of the shadows of the original series, director Benjamin Rocher's remake prospers and thrives simply because its Gallic setting means it is utterly removed from Thaw and Waterman's Regan and Carter, whose boots Love's stars Ray Winstone and Ben Drew failed to fill. Here Jean Reno and Alban Lenoir don't suffer the same association and come into their own as our buddy buddy cops - Serge Buren, a grizzled veteran who plays by his own rules, and Niels Cartier, an enthusiastic and faithful Duracell bunny of a cop who refuses to give up. 


Antigang improves on Love's The Sweeney on other levels too; though it's a pretty faithful remake of that film, the script (by François Loubeyre and Tristan Schulmann) improves the narrative by editing some subplots and red herrings. It also takes itself far less seriously in places, and manages to both bring supporting characters to the fore, whilst dropping other characters completely. Overall this makes for a tighter, sharper and more cohesive film experience, even if some of the 2012 original's spectacle is lost (such as the climactic car chase) possibly due to budgetary constraints. 


Another thing I liked about this was the fact that Reno's Buren was much more likeable than Winstone's Regan. Unlike Love's creation, Buren is acutely aware of the fact that he is growing older day by day. There's a vulnerability and a doubt regarding his methods here that was totally missing from Winstone's swaggering, bully-boy interpretation of Jack Regan. Also, the romance storyline doesn't feel as sickening as it did in Love's film, despite the age difference actually being greater here (Reno and his co-star Caterina Murino had an almost thirty year age difference, whereas Winstone and Hayley Atwell had 25 years between them) Maybe it's because Reno isn't so much of a fat bastard? Or perhaps it's just because it's done far more subtly. 


Don't get me wrong, Antigang isn't anything other than a very dumb and generic action orientated cop thriller, but therein lies its triumph - because, unlike Love's film, it doesn't have that same baggage from a television series that is considered something of a landmark here in the UK and, if they'd have just called it Antigang here too, it would have had even less of an identifiable link.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Sisters (2015)



I'm actually quite surprised to see that Sisters garnered some mixed reviews, because I really enjoyed this and felt it to be an improvement on Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's previous offering, Baby Mama.

Fey and Poehler plays sisters Kate and Maura Ellis. Reaching middle age they have begun to feel anxious and insecure about their lives, a situation that is exacerbated when their parents (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) announce that they are selling the family home where they grew up, and moving to a retirement apartment to enjoy their retirement and an easier, more sedate lifestyle. Fearing they are about to lose their last real connection to their youth and a sense of independence and freedom that existed before the compromises of adult life which chipped away at their true spirit, the siblings are utterly horrified and immediately regress back to their petulant juvenile selves as a reaction to their parents plans. Forced to clean out the fabulous clutter of an '80s childhood in their shrine-like bedrooms, Kate and Maura resolve to throw one last big party for their high school clique, all of whom seem similarly adrift on life's choppy waters, in a bid to send off their previous lives with one last fitting hurrah.


On the surface Kate and Maura are complete opposites - the former is the party animal who drifts from job to job in the hair and beauty trade with disastrous consequences. She's also a single mom to teenage daughter Hayley (Madison Davenport) who is actually more mature than her mother. Maura meanwhile is a nurse and well intentioned do-gooder who sacrificed much of the wild teenage years her sister enjoyed to be the non-drinking, non-drug-taking 'designated mom' of the pair's infamous 'Ellis Island' parties. What's really interesting is that Fey and Poehler are playing the opposite of their roles in Baby Mama, with Fey playing the wild and reckless, ultra-confident Kate and Poehler taking the role of the straighter, community-minded Maura. It takes a moment to adjust to this casting-against-type, but actually as the film develops you realise the differences are only superficial and that each sister shares a common loneliness and fear of where the future may take them.


Written by SNL regular Paula Pell, who took inspiration from her own teenage diaries and also has a cameo in the film, Sisters is directed by Pitch Perfect's Jason Moore and, like that film, it is a crowd-pleasing comedy that isn't stingy with laughs or spectacle, even if not all of them find the target - a common failing of the needlessly profane gag-jenga these films consider their stock in trade. As the 'Ellis Island' party takes hold and a gaggle of middle aged people throw caution to the wind and grab a hold of the freewheeling innocent youth they once possessed, mass comic carnage ensues - ceilings cave in, paint is poured into the pool's filter system and someone, inevitably, paints a massive cock on the wall. The biggest laugh stems from a chintzy Für Elise playing, revolving ballerina music box - a staple of many a teenage girl's bedroom in the 1980s - and its unfortunate 'meeting' with Maura's romantic interest played by Ike Barinholtz, but there's a wealth of humour to be found in the identifiable nostalgia, the sibling rivalry and the old feuds between schoolmates.


All the while, Fey and Poehler deliver a comic masterclass, making something that was previously - and ludicrously - considered impossible (the female dynamic in mainstream Hollywood comedy) look utterly effortless. Their timing, and the sheer unabashed joy they clearly have for both the material and performing together is completely infectious...at least it is to me.

And it was great to see John Leguizamo play the hot high school bad boy who has gotten so bad down the years that he has now 'weathered...like underpass weathered'