Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017: Page by Page

It's New Year's Eve so here is the now traditional round up of just what I've been reading these past twelve months. Overall, it's been a disappointing year books wise. I haven't managed to organise my life/pastime balance as well as I'd like and I found it hard to invest and immerse in what I was reading. Compare 2016's total of 51 books to this year's 33 and you can see how much of a struggle it was. It took ages to finish a good deal of them too, and I often resorted to re-reads of old favourites and familiars.


1. Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin. Started 2/1/17 Finished 11/1/17
2. Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran. Started 12/1/17 Finished 19/1/17
3. Shoes for Anthony by Emma Kennedy. Started 20/1/17 Finished 29/1/17
4. Status Quo and the Kangaroo, and Other Rock Apocryphals by Jon Holmes. Started 29/1/17 Finished 2/2/17 (Re-read)


5. South of the Border by Barbara Machin. Started 3/2/17 Finished 11/2/17
6. The Last Breath by Denise Mina. Started 12/2/17 Finished 26/2/17
7. Seven Miles Out by Carol Morley. Started 27/2/17 Finished 5/3/17


8. Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction by Sue Townsend. Started 6/3/17 Finished 17/3/17
9. List of the Lost by Morrissey. Started 13/3/17 Finished 13/3/17
10. Our Bettie: Scenes from My Life by Liz Smith. Started 14/3/17 Finished 17/3/17
11. Caedmon's Song by Peter Robinson. Started 17/3/17 Finished 24/3/17
12. Strip Jack by Ian Rankin. Started 25/3/17 Finished 3/4/17


13. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Started 4/4/17 Finished 8/4/17
14. Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness by Ben Watt. Started 7/4/17 Finished 11/5/17 (Audiobook)
15. Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew by Bernard Hare. Started 10/4/17 Finished 19/4/17
16. Liberty, Equality, Virginity by Ed Jones. Started 22/4/17 Finished 7/5/17


17. The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners by Seumas Milne. Started 8/5/17 Finished 25/5/17
18. One Day a Lemming Will Fly by Liz Holliday. Started 26/517 Finished 3/6/17


19. Rita Sue and Bob Too/A State Affair by Andrea Dunbar and Robin Soans. Started 4/6/17 Finished 7/6/17
20. A Year in the Life of a Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen. Started 10/6/17 Finished 15/6/17
21. Things Can Only Get Better by John O'Farrell. Started 16/6/17 Finished 19/6/17 (Re-read)
22. The Hanging Club by Tony Parsons. Started 26/6/17 Finished 13/7/17


23. Ken Campbell: The Great Caper by Michael Coveney. Started 30/7/17 Finished 10/8/17


24. Pride by Tim Tate, with LGSM. Started 11/8/17 Finished 18/8/17
25. Daisy Miller by Henry James. Started 13/8/17 Finished 13/8/17 (Re-read)
26. The Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie. Started 20/8/17 Finished 20/9/17


27. How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb. Started 20/9/17 Finished 5/10/17


28. Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton. Started 7/10/17 Finished 22/10/17
29. Lonely Courage by Rick Stroud. Started 23/10/17 Finished 11/11/17


30. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Started 11/11/17 Finished 17/11/17
31. Man Overboard by Tim Binding. Started 18/11/17 Finished 27/11/17
32. You are Nothing by Robert Wringham. Started 28/11/17 Finished 3/12/17


33. How Not To Grow Up by Richard Herring. Started 5/12/17 Finished 30/12/17 (Re-read)

Best Books: The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners by Seumas Milne, The Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie, Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton.

Worst Books: List of the Lost by Morrissey, Caedmon's Song by Peter Robinson.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Eric, Ernie and Me (2017)

BBC4's bijou biopics of beloved British talent from yesteryear was once a regular fixture on the channel, but budgetary restrictions saw them bring their original drama output to something of a close after 2013's Burton and Taylor. This means that anything approaching such a format is now done with some irregularity, saved for special occasions such as Christmas, so it's only fitting that their attempt to tackle the story of Eddie Braben now: the unsung gag writer of Morecambe and Wise, the comedy double act who dominated the Christmas schedules of days gone by. 

When I first heard that BBC4 were making Eric, Ernie and Me, I was impressed by the casting of Stephen Tompkinson as Braben, but confused and apprehensive by the casting of Mark Bonnar and Neil Maskell as Eric and Ernie. Tompkinson is one of our most versatile actors, adapt at both serious drama and broad comedy, capable of many a dialect and bearing a passing physical resemblance to the man himself. I knew then that he'd have no trouble portraying the scouse market trader who went on to write gags for everyone from Charlie Chester to Ken Dodd, and whose 2004 autobiography The Book What I Wrote shed light on time writing for Eric and Ernie and arguably formed the basis of this drama. Mark Bonnar is an actor I'm rather keen on thanks to his deadpan turn in the sitcom Catastrophe, but the thought of this thin, prematurely silver haired Scottish actor  portraying the bespectacled jester, Eric Morecambe was a bit of a stretch for my imagination, and ditto Neil Maskell as Ernie, an actor best known for playing a variety of laddish hard men culminating in his best known role, that of Jay in Kill List. I began to wonder why they didn't just cast Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel whose stage act is to recreate Eric and Ernie and appeared on our screens as such just last Christmas in the Eric Idle (less than) spectacular The Entire Universe.

But now I've seen this I know why they opted for Bonnar and Maskell. What I perhaps didn't expect from this drama was the fact that the story was just as much about Morecambe and Wise as it was about Braben. There's a key scene when, at the behest of Braben who is reeling from nervous exhaustion due to the gruelling schedule set by the boys, the BBC suggest that the Christmas show should accommodate a more variety feel, including musical numbers that recall the days of old Hollywood. Ernie is immediately in agreement, but Eric rules it out flatly, demanding they stick only to the familiar routine of gags and sketches which would mean the same workload for Braben. Aware that a long held ambition is about to be snatched away from him by his partner, Maskell's Ernie asks for a private word with Eric and, in what follows, I instantly realised that the film required some proper actors in the role rather than - and no offence meant to Stephens and Ashpitel, who are obviously actors in their own right - a pair of highly skilled imitators. Bonnar and Maskell would never convince as the much loved Morecambe and Wise, but there were times when they most assuredly were Eric and Ernie. Bonnar in particular taps into the drive that was required for a performer who was so 'on' all of the time; and the demands that kind of behaviour made on those around him, as well as the reasons why he was so determined (he intrinsically knew, following his first heart attack with which the film opens on, that he was living on borrowed time and needed to make his mark) are not  pussyfooted around in this biopic as Tompkinson's Braben goes from being an outgoing genial family guy to an utter shell of a man as the constant shuttling from Liverpool to London, the endless rewrites, and the necessity for perfection expected from him by the BBC and the boys take their toll. 

It's a shame though that some roles are less well cast. I used to quite like Alex Macqueen (pictured above on the left) from his days in The Thick of It, but it became apparent long ago that he approaches each role he takes in the same manner and with the same plummy accent and over enunciated delivery. He cannot play anything other than Alex Macqueen (seriously, if you haven't seen him trying to play it straight as a dubious MP in the third season of Peaky Blinders then drop everything and do so now, he stinks the place out trying to act tough yet perform in exactly the same manner) and that's fine, plenty of actors just play versions of themselves, but when you're hired to play someone who once walked this earth and did so in recent memory, it really won't do. To see him playing Bill Cotton here, exactly like every other role he takes, is laughable to anyone who actually recalls the real Bill Cotton. When you have actors really trying to recreate something of these figures, not just Eric, Ernie and Eddie Braben, but also some fleeting imitations of Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson and Andre Previn, it really does let the side down.

At just an hour, Eric, Ernie and Me doesn't outstay its welcome and gives you a flavour of the men who made Christmas throughout the '70s; finally allowing Braben's contribution the fitting tribute that both he and it deserves. It serves as a fitting companion piece to Victoria Wood's earlier biopic Eric and Ernie which looked at the double act's formative years.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Out On Blue Six Christmas: Saint Etienne

Let's rewind the clock to Christmas twenty-four years (how can it be that long ago already?) and St Etienne's musical gift to all - Xmas 93

Released on 6th December, 1993, Xmas 93 was a festive themed single from the band which featured a collaboration with Tim Burgess from The Charlatans on the lead single, the memorable I Was Born On Christmas Day, which reached number 37 in the UK charts and was a nod towards the band's keyboard player Bob Stanley who was indeed born on December 25th. Also included on the single were three other tracks; a cover of Billy Fury's 1959 song, My Christmas Prayer, and two original incidental tracks, Snowplough and Peterloo. All are here for your pleasure

End Transmission

Arselick Robinson

Take a look at this nugget of wisdom from your wonderful, impartial bastion of free speech, the BBC

Nick Robinson there still buying the spoonfed line of warm diarrhea that is 'Strong and Stable' and turning yet another scandal for the Tory government into a positive for its weak and ineffectual leader whose days are almost certainly numbered. 

If she truly was as strong as this Goebbels-like act of propaganda implies then she'd have sacked Damian Green's sad arse for having a crafty wank at work and believing he's somehow above the rules and laws that everyone else has to comply with, and for trying to discredit the very officers of said law who were onto him.  

But no, sacking him would mean he'd loss everything: his standard duties, his privileges, and most importantly his big fat pension. So let's just allow him to resign instead, like Priti Patel and Michael Fallon before him. Yeah, really strong move that.

Nick Robinson? More like Arselick Robinson.

Of course, Brexit minister David Davis has backtracked spectacularly on where he stood regarding Green. Having previously threatened to resign if Green went, he's now staying comfortably put, once again proving that he's a born liar*

*other lies you may like from Davis is the claim he made that his grandfather was among the Jarrow marchers at Aldermaston (um, the march didn't go anywhere near Aldermaston) and everything he's ever said about Brexit.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Out On Blue Six Christmas: Coldplay

End Transmission

A Wonderful Christmas Time (2014)

Sara Pascoe ought to recreate the role of Laura, the daffy heart surgeon that she plays here as a regular for Holby City. J'adore Sara Pascoe ❤ 

Having watched Black Mountain Poets earlier this year I seem to be watching writer/director Jamie Adams' semi-improvised, loose trilogy of Welsh romcoms in reverse order. A Wonderful Christmas Time (available to purchase on Amazon video) seemed like an apt film to watch in the run up to the festivities and it concerns unlucky in love Noel (the Freewheelin' Dylan Edwards - seriously, he looks like a young version of his namesake - who most recently played the adorable Roisin Conaty's addict brother in her splendid sitcom Game Face) whose long term girlfriend (played by an all too briefly seen Holli Dempsey) has just left him for another man. Faced with the prospect of a solitary Christmas in sleepy Porthcawl, Noel enters therapy to mend his broken heart, but a chance encounter with disillusioned actress Cherie (Laura Haddock of The Inbetweeners Movie fame) seems like a surer bet for happiness. There's just one slight hitch: Cherie has also just come out of a long term relationship with soap star Gary (Rob Wilfort from Gavin and Stacey) and, as neither of them want to be anyone's rebound, she comes up with the plan of arranging a series of dates for Noel to undertake first in the run up to Christmas, with the implication that she will be waiting for him come the big day.

As ideas for films go, this isn't a bad one. I imagine Adams really wanted to make 'The Twelve Dates of Christmas', with Noel having to take out twelve women in the days before Christmas, but the shoestring budget really wouldn't stretch to that and so instead he has to endure just three disastrous dates (and the return of Gary, star of 'The Boroughs', an EastEnders style soap) before getting together with Cherie. That's OK, the film could still work, except the central conceit really isn't very believable. Following his initial encounter with Cherie, Noel and his feckless friend Steve (Ian Smith) just happen to see her and her friend Mandi (Mandeep Dhillon) walking down the quiet, residential street that Noel lives on the next morning and invite the girls in to spend the day there, which obviously turns into them spending the whole of Christmas there. I didn't really buy such a convenience, but when you add the fact that Noel's useless therapist Simon (Oliver Maltman) also becomes a housemate when he's evicted from his flat, then you're really into corny, far-fetched sitcom territory -  and that's before Sara Pascoe's Laura, one of Noel's dates, arrives only to immediately fall in love with Simon instead and takes up residence there too!

I also had an issue with the whole dating thing. Adams establishes his romantic leads rather well with their shared love of music and '80s movies like The Karate Kid and Weird Science but, with Cherie not only arranging but also appearing on Noel's subsequent dates, something is lost in their likeability and this viewer's sympathy: the implication is immediately that they perceive themselves to be better than the unfortunate date (after all, these dates are supposed to be epic failures just to mark time until they get together) and it leaves a sour taste in the mouth as we watch these two unabashed hipsters snigger and run out on each successive girl. Granted Noel's middle date is comedically successful and suitably cringeworthy (she takes him to a performance poetry/feminist lecture in which Noel is essentially chastised via a loudhailer for possessing a penis in an audience full of vaginas) but his first girl's only crime seems to be that she's way too eager, somewhat vain, and that her decision to go on a bike ride for their date was a bad choice, whilst his third and final date with Laura feels the most unfair: he immediately invites her back to his place only for everyone to gatecrash when the poor deluded girl's trying her best (and somewhat eccentrically) to seduce him. Quite how these dates are arranged is never adequately explained either - if Cherie doesn't already know these girls (which she doesn't seem to) then how does she know they are so wildly inappropriate for Dylan, a man she has literally only just met herself? Again, it's not very believable. It's about as believable as any of the protagonists actually hailing from Porthcawl, though they are meant to. 

Not wholly unsuccessful, A Wonderful Christmas Time just about gets by on both the rom and the com front (Mandeep Dhillon gets some good moments as our heroine's best mate, a would be traveller from Kingston-Upon-Thames who reveals that this trip to Wales is the furthest she's been thus far and that she wants to try Scotland and Ireland next) and the festivities are only ever used as the flimsiest of backdrops, like a piece of well worn, frayed tinsel hanging from your tree. It's just a shame that the on-the-hoof semi-improvised status of the production is so obviously apparent in the story itself, making it barely credible and feel somewhat lazy. Still, I was always going to be more or less on board with a film that has so many pretty young actresses in. The guys are lookers too I guess, so it's a film that's very easy on the eye, but not an awful lot more.

Wordless Wednesday: Liverpool's Christmas Past

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Out On Blue Christmas: Wham and George Michael

A perennial Christmas fave for the '80s, Wham's Last Christmas has a tinge of poignancy this year knowing that George Michael passed away on Christmas Day 2016 

And there's also this solo effort from George, December Song - in my opinion one of the best festive tunes of the last decade.

End Transmission

Escape to Athena (1979)

Escape to Athena sounds less like a war movie and more like a travelogue, which is in itself quite apt given that the stars of this were clearly having a lovely holiday in Rhodes! And what a star studded cast Lew Grade assembled for this picture; Roger Moore, Telly Savalas, David Niven, Elliot Gould, Stefanie Powers, Richard Roundtree, Sonny Bono and Claudia Cardinale. As Powers herself said:

"The names had been needed to raise the money. Think about it. I was there to catch the TV audiences and younger men; Richard Roundtree to bring in the black movie-goers; Niv for the older generation; Rog 'cos he's handsome, and a very, very big star; Claudia was there to catch the older roving eyes; Elliot because, as he said, he was under contract; Sonny already owned most of Las Vegas but still desperately wanted to be an actor; and Telly - well, nobody quite knew why he was there except that the film was set in Greece"

So there you have it! As well as those names, there's also Anthony Valentine somewhat resurrecting his role of the ruthless Nazi from TV's Colditz, and Michael Sheard, who was already carving out a name for himself playing Nazis, this time portraying a comically randy sergeant! There's even some choreography from Hot Gossip and Strictly Come Dancing star Arlene Phillips and a closing disco track 'Keep Tomorrow For Me' from Heatwave, which accompanies the modern day (well, 1979) touristy conclusion!

Don't expect much of a balanced review for this one from me, I've loved it since I was a kid when it seemed to routinely crop up on TV at Christmas. It cropped up again on BBC2 on Saturday evening just after a lovely tribute to Roger Moore in Talking Pictures, making it feel like a traditional Christmas. And yes, I can see it's not really a good film, but it is a lot of fun, and sometimes that's all you really want for a couple of hours. I'd probably go so far as to say that this ranks as one of the best, if not the best, effort to break into cinema from Grade as well as one of the most fun pictures from journeyman director George Pan Cosmatos. Perhaps he should have made movies in and about his native Greece more often?

The plot concerns a POW camp on the fictional Greek island of Athena. The prisoners held within are a rag-tag bunch of people hand picked by the Austrian camp commandant Otto Hecht (Roger Moore) for their skills and talents. It is Hecht's duty to unearth and loot the treasures of occupied countries such as Greece for the Reich. So we have David Niven's previously interned archaeology professor, which makes a lot of sense, along with Richard Roundtree's circus performer (which doesn't) and Sonny Bono's Italian cook. But, as he's quick to point out; "I'm not really a cook. I'm actually a racing car driver. And sometimes I sing..." Whatever the reasoning, it seems to work out pretty well; Niven's wily Professor Blake keeps the dig going by reburying the treasures found on previous days, whilst Moore's Hecht squirrels away the most valuable finds for his own private pension.

Joining the camp are two USO performers who were shot down over the Aegean on their way to a show; Elliot Gould's vaudevillian Charlie and Stefanie Powers' Busby Berkeley-style showgirl Dottie Del Mar, who immediately catches the eye of Roger Moore. Meanwhile, the local Greek resistance, led by Telly Savalas' Zeno and his brothel madam squeeze Eleana (Cardinale) are incensed by SS Major Volkman (Valentine) whose sadism is seeing many innocent villagers shot for the slightest of reasons. They're also eagerly preparing for the Allied invasion and know that they must take over the U-boat fuel dump and liberate the incarcerated monks from the mountain top monastery which is said to hold great wealth. To do this, they decide to join forces with the camp mates and pave the way for victory. Needless to say, many of the camp's occupants - including the by now sympathetic Hecht - are eager to get their hands on these riches.

What - you didn't really expect Moore to play a Nazi did you?

Of course there's more going on at the monastery than Savalas' resistance leader has told them; the site is actually the nerve centre and launch pad for a terrifying looking, vast chemical missile which is wheeled out by troops dressed in black and wearing mirrored-glass helmets - the kind of figures that could only have come from Hitler's wet dream fantasies! - and must be stopped to ensure the invasion is a success. 

There's lots of really good things in Escape to Athena; for a start there's the wonderful cinematography of Gil Taylor, whose opening aerial sequence easily captures our attention and who provides a well-shot motorcycle chase between Anthony Valentine's SS officer and, weirdly, Elliot Gould, that places the camera beside the wheel and upon the handlebars. There's also Lalo Schifrin's beautiful toe-tapping Greek infused score and some thumpingly good recreations of hits from the bygone age such as 'When the Saints Go Marching In', and Stefanie Powers' striptease - which ensures the camp is taken over by the goodies and sees Michael Sheard's sergeant positively fit to burst! - is a particularly memorable moment too. Indeed Powers is really good here, and very eye-catching too, with her Betty Grable hairstyle, the tied off shirt and those teeny tiny shorts. 

Of the rest of the cast, Gould does his usual brash and eternally quipping shtick, before tapping into his latent heroism with the aforementioned motorbike chase (though why Savalas instructs a previously unproven Bob Hope style comic to chase and assassinate a cold blooded murderer rather than just do it himself is anyone's guess!) and a moment of Treasure of Sierra Madre style greed at the film's critical climax. Meanwhile David Niven, Roger Moore and Telly Savalas are...well, playing David Niven, Roger Moore and Telly Savalas, and there's nothing wrong with that! Moore gets to remind us that he's still James Bond by having a good fist fight with some Nazi frogmen before rescuing Powers who has sued her underwater skills to neutralise the U-boat fuel dump, whilst Niven is charm personified and his presence in the proceedings helps to remind the audience of the equally Greek-based The Guns of Navarone. It's also the better of the two films Niv and Moore appeared in together: The Sea Wolves has a better pedigree on paper, but it's ultimately an uneven and disappointing affair. Savalas gets to play the action man, of course, but he also gets to do a Greek folk dance (choreographed by the aforementioned Phillips) with Cardinale at the end which is rather sweet. His macho demeanour throughout the picture is also less heavy and imposing than some of his other films from this era, which makes for a more likeable presence. Sadly, Richard Roundtree and Sonny Bono get less to do, their appearance feeling at times like little more than extended cameos, which does little to remove the smell of stunt casting around Bono. The poor guy doesn't even get to sing at the camp show - he mimes to a record being all too noticeably played by Gould off stage. Which I guess pulls the rug from under the audience and is quite funny, but even so.

Speaking of cameos and funnies - look out for the in-joke when Gould spots none other than William Holden smoking a cigar and mooching round the camp; "Are you still here?" an astonished Gould asks, conjuring to mind Holden's performance in POW film Stalag 17. "Why not? It's not a bad life" he shrugs. This uncredited appearance was made possible when Holden decided to visit his lover Stefanie Powers on set and it's a lovely tongue-in-cheek film reference that sets the film's comedic, light-hearted stall out early. Because this really is a comic action adventure - granted, the film may show the assassinations of Greek villagers and partisans at the hands of a brutal SS, it may even ever so briefly allude in a rather unsettling manner to the Nazis intolerance of Gould's Jewishness, but this is far from some hardbitten WWII men on a mission adventure - it's a film where the good guys topple their Nazi captors with the aid of Stefanie Powers' tacky and ramshackle striptease and a dose of herbal laxatives! That said, some of the gags are a little overbearing; I could have done without Gould's remark about how "Twenty years from now, when the Germans are selling Volkswagens to the world..." because it just lifts us completely out of the film in a way that the Holden cameo risked doing but had enough goodwill behind it to be a funny passing delight. Of the negatives I'd say that the film is a little too flabby and overlong and that it's sometimes hard to get a true handle on the plot, but when you're in such good company it's sometimes easy to overlook these vagaries and the chance of it outstaying its welcome too much.

Escape to Athena is a film very much of its time, both in terms of tone and casting as well as production. It's endemic of how the experiences of war had, by that stage in cinema, become so filtered through to entertainment at its purest that it starts to resemble a starry, action packed pantomime - the end point of which would become 1981's Escape to Victory. It's the kind of film where Nazis are routinely shot from their positions atop rooftops, bell towers and sentry towers just to allow the stuntman to perform a swan dive and give the action sequences a bit of frisson. And a film where kids learn that not all German soldiers were Nazis, because even James Bond could be a German officer as long as he helps Kojak save the day and wins the affections of The Girl From UNCLE. In short, it's a lot of fun for those of us of a certain age.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Out On Blue Six Christmas: The Waitresses

I was out Christmas shopping today and this one in particular seemed to be playing in every store I went into

End Transmission

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Table 19 (2017)

Bought in Tesco for a fiver completely on a whim and based solely on the cast, I'd heard bugger all about Table 19 - and you really think that ought to have told me something. A quick look online after watching it tonight tells me of a production that no one seemed to have much faith in. Basically, it's been in development hell since 2009, with a 2011 rewrite from director Jeffrey Blitz pushing it slightly forward. Fast forward to 2105 and the film is made...only to sit on the shelf until this year, with a January release turning into a March one.

I can see why this has been messed around so much. Truth is, I don't think anyone knew what to make of it, or to do with it. The film will  get some flak for this (and indeed it has, receiving some really harsh, negative reviews), but I don't think it's really the film's fault - I think it's more of a case that today's film industry really can't cope with films it struggles to pigeonhole. It's like the execs and the marketing men have sat around and gone 'OK, it's not got superheroes in so it ain't the summer blockbuster, so what is it? Wait, it's got funny people in it and it's set at a wedding, so it's a comedy like Bridesmaids right? So, where are the laughs? What's that? It's a comedy drama? What the hell are we supposed to do with a film that can't make it's mind up what it wants to be?'

Table 19's not a great film, but the film industry is worse.

There's a good and very relatable idea at the heart of Table 19; we've all been to weddings and we've all found ourselves in that situation where we are guests, but we're not actually that close to the wedding party itself. We're the misfits, basically: the singletons, and the old schoolfriends, work colleagues or friends of the family. We're the 'randoms', invited solely because of some social obligation and, if we do decide to RSVP (and oh how many weddings I've not has the nerve to attend now!), then the only place to put us is together on a table far away from the main action. Right near the bogs. 

Table 19's randoms include Stephen Merchant as an embarrassing cousin, June Squibb as the bride's childhood nanny, Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson as business associates of the bride's father, and Tony Revolori as a socially awkward teenager who is desperate to lose his virginity there. Then there's our heroine, who really shouldn't be at Table 19 in the first place; Anna Kendrick stars as the bride's oldest friend whose place at the top table is lost the moment she dumps the best man/the bride's brother, played by Wyatt Russell.

A cast like this really deserved better than the obviously much revised but still rather first-drafty play that Table 19 actually is. I got the feeling that the writers (Blitz, or Jay and Mark Duplass) wanted to make a grown up version of The Breakfast Club (the wedding band playing '80s hits is the giveaway) but the characterisation is just too weak and the comedy is often missplaced. I had particular problems with Revolori's character, whose attempts at finding a girlfriend crosses the line into uncomfortable territory as we're left to wonder whether he's genuinely creepy or whether his social awkwardness is down to him being somewhere on the spectrum. Likewise Merchant's character, a black sheep who stole from the family business and is now living in a halfway house, is played with a similar gauche naivety that remains unsatisfactorily explored or explained. Given such slim pickings, Merchant delivers his usual bug-eyed mugging and foot-in-mouth comments but Blitz really fails to make the humour land. The film needed to lose one of them I think.

Table 19 is on much surer ground with the drama. After a perplexing start the film shifts into the bittersweet as the characters inner heartaches are revealed and the bonding process begins. It's not totally convincing and for an 80 minute film, you're left with the feeling that it's taken too long to right itself to actually succeed, but the cast are likeable and competent enough to just about sell it (especially Kendrick and Squibb who find themselves at two distinctive crossroads, and Kudrow and Robinson whose marriage has started to show signs of fracturing) but I didn't come away with the same affection I had for the gang at Table 19 as I have for The Breakfast Club. What I did come away with however, was the feeling that Wyatt Russell of all people may have just quietly stolen the film.

Silent Sunday: (Very) Frosty The Snowman

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Black Christmas (1974)

I'm not really a big fan of slasher movies but that's actually because nine out of ten are derivative pap with Hollywood churning them out in a manner somewhat akin to wringing out an old dishcloth. But when they're done properly, such as here in and the first Halloween (the latter often considered the daddy of the slasher genre though this film actually predates it by four years), they're really rather enjoyable. 

Now granted, Black Christmas is utterly predictable right from the off, but what makes this surprisingly shoestring budgeted Canadian chiller so effective are some truly striking cinematic sequences and the overall atmosphere of the piece. Writer A. Roy Moore and director Bob Clark take the much-repeated (and subsequently adapted) urban legend of 'the babysitter and the man upstairs' and plant it firmly in the festive season, capturing that unnerving, sinister essence that has often gone hand in hand with Christmas (and used to great effect with the traditional ghost stories of the season) yet hidden beneath the tinsel, baubles and the notion of goodwill to all men. 

Olivia Hussey's Jess is bathed in a red glow from the wreath on the sorority house door as she watches the carol singers and its an image and a colour that is redolent of both the warmth and kitsch of Christmas and the bloodbath of the horror itself. The subversion of the festive themes make Black Christmas the perfect candidate for an alternative festive movie, not only in the notion of the horror being set at Christmas but also in the mischievous disregard it has for the season: Margot Kidder's Barb plies a child with drink at a party, and house mother Mrs Mac (Marian Waldman) is hardly ever seen without a bottle of booze - they both know the true 'spirit' of Christmas! And where does our infantalized killer hide out? Why in the attic naturally, the space for abandoned and forgotten toys. 

Also in the film's favour is the fact that the script never once treats its female characters like idiots. Yes they can be a little obnoxious (hello Margot Kidder) but they are astute and convincing as intelligent young college students, who are allowed to discuss and joke about sex, drink and smoke and be independent enough to not only know that they have such rights but to actively insist upon them too, as evinced by Hussey's decision to have an abortion and her refusal to consign her own career and ambitions to the scrapheap because her selfish and highly strung boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) has failed in his own. These are female characters who are far from the dumb, highly sexualised objects of lust that often populate such examples of the genre. There's no denying that Hussey in particular is a very striking, attractive young woman, but these characters possess an everyday, natural beauty that no longer exists in such a genre these days as the women simply look like they're in a film. 

With its emphasis on suspense from a telephone landline, it would be easy to write off Black Christmas as rather dated now. However nothing could be further from the truth. The basic ingredient of an unknown monster lurking in the shadows, harassing, stalking and terrorising young women continues to be topical and all too relatable  when you consider the online misogyny of trolls. And sadly, just like anyone who has had to fight to get their harassment acknowledged online, it takes our heroines a hell of a long time to be taken seriously by the police or indeed the community at large.

Out On Blue Six Christmas: Thea Gilmore

End Transmission

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Wanker of the Week: David Morris

Wanker of the week this week goes to the Conservative MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, David Morris

My local news programme Granada Reports has been showing several reports for the past few weeks about child poverty in the area. Doctors are reporting an increase in rickets, working parents say they can't make ends meet, schools reveal that children are coming in of a morning having had no breakfast and in clothes that require washing in the school washing machine. Viewers have donated clothes, food, toys in their droves but Childrens Minister Robert Goodwill (what an ironic name) refuses to come onto the programme to discuss it, even when Granada Reports viewers took to twitter to demand Goodwill appear to defend his position.

Enter David Morris who took the bullet for Goodwill last night and went online and rubbished the reports as false, before appearing on Granada Reports tonight to claim that their reports were 'politically motivated', arguing that they must be false as he's never once been made aware of any poverty issues, and stating that he believes the headmasters and teachers of these schools are members of the Labour party and Momentum out to discredit the Tory government. By doing this, he actually introduced the idea that this was a political gambit and then went on to claim that he had the right to dodge the issue because he wasn't interested in making it a 'political jamboree'!

Thank goodness his insulting comments have been met with the criticism and derision they deserve, both by Granada Reports presenter Lucy Meacock and by those who replied to his tweet - all of whom point out that he deletes comments regarding austerity from his FB page and then blocks that user. He's clearly unrepentant and unwilling to accept that his party's austerity measures (which he has a record of voting unanimously in favour of) are having a detrimental effect on people, anyone who says otherwise is just a left wing propagandist. For the record Mr Morris, I am both a member of the Labour Party and Momentum, but that has nothing to do with it: I think anyone, irrespective of their politics, would be rightly appalled and angry, demanding action, when faced with such extreme examples of poverty and neglect. Shame on you, and all your Tory cronies.

What a wanker.

Out On Blue Six Christmas: Chris Rea

Another Christmas classic. Hope Chris gets well soon

End Transmission

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Rita, Sue and Bob Too Is Too Controversial For London

Just a couple of months ago I had the great pleasure and privilege of seeing the revival of Andrea Dunbar's play Rita, Sue and Bob Too at the Liverpool Everyman.

Today it has been announced that the Out of Joint Theatre Company production will no longer end its national tour at London's Royal Court in light of the company director Max Stafford-Clark's resignation following allegations of sexual harassment. A joint statement from Out of Joint and the Royal Court has been released; 

"The departure of Max Stafford-Clark from Out of Joint and the recent allegations in the media have coincided with Royal Court's response to the spotlight on our industry and the rigorous interrogation of our own practices. On our stage we recently heard 150 stories of sexual harassment and abuse therefore the staging of this work,with its themes of grooming and abuses of power on young women, on that same stage now feels highly conflictual"

I have to say I am deeply disappointed by this decision. It may come from a very sympathetic and well meaning place but it doesn't mean it is the right thing to do. Plays are there to make people think and removing a contentious play from the season at a time when he subject matter is at its most relevant is, to my mind, a very simple and somewhat appeasing solution to a situation that demands attention and discussion. This decision feels like a rejection of the authentic voice of a truly great and original playwright who dared to write about real life issues that she personally experienced. To censor those who shine a light on the truth is not how anyone should deal with those who instigate abuse or treat young women in an exploitative manner. 

But most of all I feel it is a terrible decision for the extremely talented cast and production team who have done nothing but entertain audiences and bring plays to the people, yet they are being punished for the actions of their former company director. I think it is a great pity that their hard work and commitment has been treated in such a manner and I think it a real shame that there are audiences out there who will not have the opportunity to see a truly remarkable revival of an '80s classic that really deserved attention and acclaim. 

A theatre is not meant to be a safe space. The stage is not an area where concerns and issues are to be shied away from, it ought to be the home of unpalatable truths and a place to provoke thought, reaction and comment. Entertainment doesn't have to be disposable fluff, and the Royal Court need to realise that.  

Pulp (1972)

My actual review of this underappreciated quirky gem that reunited Michael Caine with Mike Hodges, the writer/director of Get Carter and its producer Michael Klinger, can be found at The Geek Show. So I'll just fill the space here with the fan letter JG Ballard sent to Hodges about the film:

“Pulp is a special favourite of mine – I must have watched my tape a dozen times, or more – a wonderfully witty script, and the brilliant attention to detail, as in Get Carter – so many superb performances, like the typing pool manager, or Caine himself, Lionel Stander and Al Lettieri. Lizabeth Scott was never better, and of course best of all was the great Mickey Rooney, totally unappreciated by film critics – you drew a fantastic performance out of him, which can’t have been easy – I love the scene of his dressing, moving layers of flattering mirrors past himself – I take my hat off – “A tip – don’t stand too close to him” – a great film.”

Monday, 11 December 2017

RIP Keith Chegwin

Another day, and the announcement of yet another truly shocking and surprising celebrity death - Keith Chegwin, gone at 60. 

Now obviously you don't expect people to live forever, but there's something almost unbelievable about hearing the news that the endlessly upbeat scouser known affectionately as 'Cheggers' has died. Like Richard Herring said about Terry Wogan, it's hard to imagine a world in which such mainstays are no longer a pop-cultural cornerstone, flickering away on the box in the corner of the room. But the awful truth is that Cheggers has died, at the age of 60 from a long battle with the progressively degenerative lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. In a way, a part of childhood has died with him too.

Because, with shows like Swap Shop, Saturday Superstore and Cheggers Plays Pop, Keith Chegwin was your childhood. And perhaps more than any other entertainer, Cheggers adapted with the times and reflected your life as you grew older. He had of course started out as a child actor, appearing in productions from the Children's Film Foundation, as Fleance in Roman Polanski's acclaimed Macbeth, opposite Peter Sellers in The Optimist of Nine Elms and in TV series such as Open All Hours, Village Hall, The Liver Birds, Z Cars and The Whackers. But it was the move into presenting around the mid 1970s, that Cheggers made his name. He was there for you every Saturday morning when you were a kid both in the gaudy glow of the 1970s and in the sparkle and shine of the 1980s, performing outside broadcasts up and down the land, helping children to swap their toys and games. And then, as you found yourself headed into your teen years and your twenties in the '90s, he rode the wave of the ironic tide and successfully reinvented himself without even moving away from his self appointed kingdom of morning TV. As you roused yourself from slumber for lessons and lectures, there he was surprising one and all in The Big Breakfast's 'Down Your Doorstep' segment, and later even presenting the show alongside Gaby Roslin and Zoe Ball, a surprise promotion when '90s zeitgeist wunderkid Chris Evans resigned.

When time was called on The Big Breakfast and the show ended, he simply took the format and moved seamlessly across to ITV to do it all over again for GMTV, his perpetually chirpy demeanour whisking you off to work. What's surprising about this ever-reliable, ever-reimagining fixture of our lives is that Chegwin achieved it all after overcoming alcoholism in the late '80s and early '90s.

In later years, Chegwin fully embraced the role of cheesy celebrity and the boost social media like Twitter afforded him. Having hosted Channel 5's revival of It's a Knockout and even appearing naked for the channel's nudist gameshow The Naked Jungle, he began to take part in several reality TV competitions such as Celebrity Big Brother (finishing fourth) Dancing on Ice and Celebrity Masterchef, as well as quizzes like The Chase and Pointless Celebrities. His ability to poke fun at himself and embrace the irony led to him starring as himself in a series of productions from the comedy slasher film Kill Keith to Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant series Extras and Life's Too Short, the latter of which he formed an unusual comedic trio with Les Dennis and Shaun Williamson. 

A true entertainer, he'll be much missed. 


Sunday, 10 December 2017

Out On Blue Six Christmas: The Pretenders/KT Tunstall/The Unthanks

It's that time of year again! It's time to start the festive countdown with some Christmas hits, starting with one of my favourite Christmas songs - one that means more to me with each passing year I think because, the older I get, the more Christmas reminds me of the people who made the Christmases of our past who sadly can't be around for each new one. As I've said previously, what surprises many about 2000 Miles is it's actually more about death than the festivities.

And here's two cover versions; one from KT Tunstall and one from The Unthanks

End Transmission