Saturday, 29 April 2017

Out On Blue Six: Belinda Kordic

BBC2 recently screened the 2013 horror film The Borderlands, a mash up of the modern affection for the found footage trope and the more traditional English folk horror end of the genre. It's quite an eerie little low budget film, but one of the most affecting things about it was the use of music, especially the end credits which featured a rendition of the traditional English folk ballad The Trooper Cut Down In His Prime, aka The Unfortunate Rake, hauntingly sung by one Belinda Kordic, a Swedish singer who has recorded as Killing Mood and as one half of the duo Se Delan...

Gives you chills eh?

Belinda Kordic

End Transmission

Thursday, 27 April 2017

RIP Leo Baxendale

Leo Baxendale, the comic artist who created Minnie the Minx, the Bash Street Kids, the Three Bears and Little Plum for The Beano, has died at the age of 86 following a long battle with cancer.

As a kid with a talent for drawing, I was a big fan of The Beano, buying the comic every week and the annual each year, and the adventures of Minnie the Mix was one of my absolute favourites to read. He gave me so much fun as a boy that I simply had to pay tribute to him on learning of his passing today.

Baxendale hailed from Preston and began on The Beano in the 1950s, first with Little Plum and later Minnie the Minx and The Bash Street Kids. His anarchic humour and the desire to champion the underdog has been said, by his comic illustrator son Martin, to stem from 'his strongly held left wing, progressive political views'He left The Beano in 1963 to create the comic Wham! but his famous Beano characters of course lived on and continue to live on to this day, with a statue of Minnie the Minx residing in Dundee, the home of The Beano


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

RIP Jonathan Demme

Jonathan Demme has lost his battle with oesophogeal cancer at the age of 73.

The acclaimed director was most famous for his Oscar winning adaptation of Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lector novel, The Silence of the Lambs, but he was also responsible for Philadelphia, Something Wild, the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, and the Talking Heads documentary film Stop Making Sense, to name but a few. I've always been an admirer of his work with New Order on their video for their 1985 single The Perfect Kiss, which depicted the band just playing the song from beginning to end in their practice room. Simple, but effective.

But it's perhaps The Silence of the Lambs that he'll be best remembered for, and that's no bad thing. Whatever your opinion on how Lector was depicted; it remains a great film, and an iconic one from the 1990s. I love these behind the scenes photos, showing Demme with his stars...


Blonde Fist (1991)

"What're you gonna do for a face when Jabba the Hut wants his arse back?"

Kirkby housewife Ronnie O'Dowd is the kind of woman who knows only one way to solve a problem; with her fists. However, when her problems mount up and the law catches up with her, it seems even she won't be able to fight her way out of this mess. Escaping Liverpool, she heads to New York in the hope of catching up with her estranged father, but soon finds a new set of problems to contend with. Can she use her fists to make ends meet in the land of the free?

Brother and sister team Frank and Margi Clarke scored a surprise hit in 1985 with Letter to Brezhnev which they respectively wrote and starred in. However lightning failed to strike twice for this 1991 follow up which marked brother Frank's directorial debut. Unfortunately, it's clear from this offering that he'd struggle to direct traffic and its unsurprising to learn it remains his only directing credit. The biggest issue is that when given the opportunity to film in New York, he makes his scenes there so nondescript, that they may as well have filmed it on the main street mock up at Granada Studios instead. The only flavour of America we get is from some B roll footage and the accompanying synthy, sub-Equalizer score from Dalek I Love You's Alan Gill. Given the lead role, Margi hardly fares any better with this opportunity either. Never the most subtle of performers she actually forgets to act here, opting to pose instead, so it's left to Hollywood legend Carroll Baker and solid character actor Ken Hutchison (Heathcliff in the BBC's 1970s version of Wuthering Heights, as well as Straw Dogs) to liven up the proceedings on the periphery as Margi's estranged drunk of a father and his plastic surgery-loving faded glamourpuss friend. There's also Frank and Margi's sister Angela providing amusing support as a rather dim but well meaning gaolbird.

Perhaps the key problems (aside from the limp direction and preening central performance) for Blonde Fist is the fact that the script and storyline is pretty weak and when the film attempts to tug at the heartstrings it doesn't sit easily with the broad comedy around it. It occasionally threatens to catch fire, but it inevitably disappoints, and takes far too long to offer up any boxing, which is surely a cardinal sin for any boxing movie. I recall watching this as a nipper back in the early '90s and although even then I knew it was a dud, I did think it might have stood the test of time better. I was wrong. It's just hard to care about anyone or anything and the 98 minutes go by at a very plodding pace.

Letter To Brezhnev (1985)

You can read my review at The Geek Show

Wordless Wednesday: Double Yellow Lines

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Separated at Birth

Tony Blair and He-Man's nemesis Skeletor, as seen on the Money Supermarket adverts.

Tony Blair...You're So Money Supermarket.

And by that I mean you're a war mongering, arrogant, Red Tory who should be in prison.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Fighting Back: Petition to Expel Blair from the Labour Party

Tony Blair is now in breach of the rules of Labour membership because he publically asked voters to support Conservative or Liberal Democrat candidates in the forthcoming election.

The rules clearly state that expulsion from the party will occur if a member is found to be 'supporting or endorsing a candidate or party standing against the Labour Party or one of its candidates' and that is exactly what this arrogant, stupid, war mongering Yesterday's Man of a Red Tory has done on his Brexit soapbox.

Please sign this petition to get him kicked out of the Party he ruined - the party he is continuing to destroy and undermine at every turn.

RIP Erin Moran

Happy Days star Erin Moran has sadly passed away at the age of 56.

Moran was a prolific child actress from the age of just five years old, but it was her role as Joanie Cunningham in the 50s set sitcom Happy Days, and its subsequent spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi, that secured her fame. Unfortunately, continuing fame eluded her once the spin-off came to an end and work offers began to dry up. Moran's personal life was subsequently troubled as a result, with rumours of drug and alcohol abuse dogging her down the years. She suffered from depression and money troubles, with her Californian home being foreclosed in 2010. Worryingly she also claimed she suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her Happy Days co-stars (though she later retracted this claim) and by her own family. 

Moran's died on the 22nd April. Early autopsy reports suggest she died of an undetermined form of stage 4 cancer.


Imperium (2016)

Based on the experiences of FBI agent Michael German, Imperium stars Daniel Radcliffe in another of his I-must-get-away-from-this-fucking-boy-wizard-tag roles. This time, he's Nate Foster, an intelligent and empathetic Ivy League FBI agent whose knack for interpersonal skills places him on the radar of the experienced and perpetually gum-chewing undercover handler Angela Zamparo, played by Toni Collette.  Recruiting him to infiltrate white supremacists who are likely to mastermind Timothy McVeigh-style, dirty bomb planting terrorist acts, Nate is soon shaven-headed and bomber-jacketed, mingling with the local Neo-Nazis who have caught her eye.

On the whole, Imperium does well to avoid the usual identity-crisis plot development that so often prefigures the undercover cop drama, but it does have Nate forging some kind of kinship (predictably) with one of the more intelligent and sophisticated targets he is set to take down, which puts the film on the usual path to cliche. This familiarity would be less of a problem where Imperium's overall style and elan in terms of production and storytelling better than it actually is, but there's an air of cheapness that is all too pervasive here that ultimately sinks this well-intentioned effort and leads me to consider that as several TV productions have explored this kind of narrative more successfully, TV might have been this production's more natural home. Where Imperium excels is in its frank depiction of what may be called the accessible face of fascism; polite, family friendly BBQ's serving as an uncomfortably domesticated and recognisable alternative to the usual KKK gatherings - though the film will resort to speeded up archive footage of Nazis and white supremacist groups to signpost in the most laboured fashion that, y'know, racism is bad. 

It's worth pointing out that Radcliffe does rather well in his central role. Arguably, his keen and somewhat greenhorn FBI agent is more convincing than his alter-ego of the committed fascist, but I think that's deliberate as the film is keen to tip the wink that this is a committed FBI agent who is somewhat out of his depth on occasion. It would be easy to place the blame for Imperium's disappointment at Radcliffe's door, but it would - to my mind at least - be unfair, and I speak as someone who has never seen a Harry Potter film and considers the viewing of them as a personal kind of hell. However the film has no defence whatsover for wasting the talents of the charismatic and talented Toni Collette, and it is too her credit that some of that natural charisma shines through even though little more than looking sassy in an FBI baseball cap, chewing gum and tossing How To Win Friends and Influence People at Radcliffe is all that is required of her.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

High Noon (1952)

The beauty of High Noon is that its themes are universal. On the surface it may be a western, but its themes of conscience, fearlessness and a sense of what is right and of duty, not just to the law, a cause, or even to others, but to yourself and how you wish to live and be perceived, transcends the trappings of the genre to connect with audiences who perhaps would never consider themselves as horse opera aficionados. That High Noon has been uprooted from its old west setting to be effectively been remade or paid homage to time and again in everything from sci-fi actioner Outland (1981) to a 2010 episode of the Jimmy McGovern Manchester-set drama The Street, starring Bob Hoskins, serves as a testimony to the strength and continuing relevance of the film's human story of a man who feels compelled to fight rather than run.

The film's screenwriter Carl Foreman intended High Noon to be an allegory of the McCarthy witch hunts that plagued Hollywood and destroyed the lives and careers of many involved in the business at that time. The House Un-American Activities Committee sought to investigate 'Communist propaganda and influence' in the film industry and declared Foreman, a former Communist Party member who declined to identify any of his colleagues and contemporaries of being fellow members, to be an 'unreliable witness'. He was subsequently blacklisted and moved to the UK. 

However, when you add Fred Zinnemann to the mix as the film director, you get a further resonance to the metaphorical aspect of High Noon and one that supports the theory that the film is a film that just so happens to be set in the west, rather than being a western. As Zinnemann said; "High Noon is not a Western, as far as I'm concerned; it just happens to be set in the Old West". His shooting style certainly supports this too - out goes the traditional landscapes and painterly panoramas of John Ford, in favour of tight close-ups and crisp newsreel style footage in keeping with the social realist approach the director worked in, which reaches its zenith here with the real time setting that makes the tense atmosphere really palpable. 

The critic Stephen Price believes that the Polish-born Zinnemann progressed the anti-McCarthy allegory by allying himself to the core values of Gary Cooper's character, seeing what he represented as being the physical embodiment of his greatest wish for all his films to be about "trying to preserve our civilisation". Price argues that it is easy to see the outlaws arriving to wreak terror and revenge upon the town as a threat to their way of life akin to the fascism of the Nazis who killed Zinnemann's parents in the Holocaust in the previous decade.

Such resonance has run throughout the intervening years and rightly continues to do so to this day, as Zinnemann himself said in his autobiography "In the end, he must meet his chosen fate all by himself, his town's doors and windows firmly locked against him. It is a story that still happens everywhere, every day" This was certainly proved in 1989 when the then 22-year-old Polish graphic designer Tomasz Sarnecki adapted the original Polish language poster for the film by Marian Stachurski as part of the campaign for Solidarity in the first partially free elections in Communist Poland. Referring to his very own High Noon on 4th June, 1989 Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa discussed the metaphor the film presents and its relevance to his politics; "Cowboys in Western clothes had become a powerful symbol for Poles. Cowboys fight for justice, fight against evil, and fight for freedom, both physical and spiritual" Call me an idealistic Corbynista (which I am) if you will, but Labour wouldn't go far wrong if they adopted it for their campaign now - like Gary Cooper, Corbyn seems to stand alone, shunned by a soft and self serving, blissfully and blithely ignorant society but compelled to do what is right for them nonetheless, as an encroaching dangerously fascistic menace appears over the horizon.

Rightly regarded as a classic film, not just a classic western, HUAC poster boy John Wayne hated it, calling it "the most un-American thing I've ever seen in my whole life" and went off to make Rio Bravo with Howard Hawks (who also detested High Noon, disparagingly believing that no good Marshall should "run around town like a chicken with his head cut off asking everyone to help", only to be saved by his 'Quaker wife' in the final reel) as a direct result. And if the likes of John Wayne hating High Noon and believing it to be unpatriotic doesn't immediately make High Noon a five star film then I don't know what does.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Coming to DVD: Stormy Monday (1988)

Arrow Films will release Stormy Monday, Mike Figgis' feature-length directorial debut from 1988, in July. Accompanying the DVD will be a booklet including a new critical essay on Figgis and the film, 'Mike Figgis: Renaissance Man' written by yours truly

Be sure to order your copy!

Girl on a Bike

Francoise Hardy

The Yellow Balloon (1953)

A moment of childish jealousy leads to tragedy when twelve-year-old Frankie steals the titular yellow balloon that he had his heart set on from his friend Ronnie. Determined to get his balloon back, Ronnie chases Frankie into a large, bombed-out house but slips and falls thirty feet to his death. Hiding in the shadows and seeing it all, is Len Turner, a criminal on the run and using the ruins as a hideout from the police. He convinces the stunned Frankie that the police will arrest him with murder if they stick around and persuades Frankie to go off with him. 

Len's plan is to manipulate the young boy to do his criminal bidding and act as a decoy in a robbery on a pub he is planning - a scheme which quickly goes awry when Len murders the pub landlord. Realising that Frankie is the only witness to the crime, Len pursues the traumatised child across London to the forgotten corners of the capital's Underground, but will the police and Frankie's parents manage to save the day?

The Yellow Balloon is a strong piece of post war social realist cinema from director J Lee Thompson. With its excellent location work around a London still ravaged by the Blitz, it superbly illustrates the hardships and the poverty of a nation who were, ironically, the winners. This victory came at a cost however, and The Yellow Balloon exemplifies that world of rationing and ongoing devastation, where hard-won civilisation remains a fragile object to work at, as a survival of the fittest subculture exists beneath the everyday conventionality of just getting by and doing the right thing. And who better to discover that dangerous duplicitous underworld than a wide eyed innocent child?

The thirteen-year-old Andrew Ray is brilliant as Frankie, whose mix of naivety and vulnerability ramps up the torturous journey he undertakes across the film as he learns the valuable lesson of how actions must have consequences. In delivering this message, Thompson's studying of Hitchcock clearly pays off, as he wrings out every ounce of tension and suspense available to him.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Corbyn's First Election Speech

And it's a winner...

Vote Labour.

Serious Charge (1959)

Serious Charge (also known as, amongst other things, A Touch of Hell) is a 1959 feature from director Terence Young that was shot in the new town of Stevenage, doubling as the fictional town of Bellington. The plot sees the residents of the town welcome its new vicar (Anthony Quayle) with open arms until a young delinquent (Andrew Ray, the little boy from The Yellow Balloon all grown up) spreads malicious gossip that turns everyone against him.

Serious Charge is perhaps best known for being the film that provided Cliff Richard with his cinematic debut. Britain's answer to Elvis Presley (as he was then known) takes a minor role as the kid brother of Ray's character, who is saved from a life of crime by Quayle's vicar, and gets to sing snatches of three numbers, including his future number 1 hit, Living Doll. Overall however, he's pretty superfluous to the film and simply serves to add teddy boy colour to the coffee bar scenes which also feature an uncredited Jess Conrad and Philip Lowrie, who would go on to play Dennis Tanner in Coronation Street the following year. 

The real meat of the film lies in the vendetta the dangerous and vindictive Ray has against Quayle. When the latter discovers that the boy had impregnated a young girl who later dies, he tries to get him to face the consequences and atone for his behaviour, however Ray pulls a cruel trick that sees him claim the vicar has tried to 'interfere' with him - a timely frame-up that relies on the staged aftermath being witnessed by Sarah Churchill's character Hester, who has previously had her romantic overtures towards Quayle gently rejected. As the old adage has it, 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned', and pretty soon the whole town is believing the established Hester's word against the previously popular new clergyman.

A film from several decades ago handling what is such a topical theme in today's terms is one that automatically makes you sit up and pay attention, but unfortunately Serious Charge takes a long time to actually get there and the first forty minutes are something of a chore, being a mix of polite drawing room conversation between the older members of the cast and painfully dated sequences featuring the 'hip' teenagers accompanied by Cliff's singing. When the plot does kick in though, the film delivers something that is quite watchable as Quayle's dignified man of the cloth has to turn the other cheek amidst the evil gossip surrounding him.

If I hadn't known this film was shot in Stevenage I doubt I'd have been able to guess, as the vast majority of the action takes place in the old town, giving the film much more of a village feel than a new town feel, despite the occasional reference to new towns and the growing urban patch that the church must attempt to reach within the script. Even the town's high street, which features heavily, is barely recognisable given the passage of time. It's a world away from the town as depicted in Boston Kickout some thirty five years later, which is more in keeping with my own experience of the place.

You can watch it here

Boston Kickout (1996)

"There's loads to do in Stevenage...if you like concrete"

"I fucking hate this town"

Stevenage. No offence to anyone who hails from there, but it really is a shithole. I can just about say this, as I used to go out with a girl from there and visited its grim concrete desolation row regularly. It's telling that the two most famous films made in Stevenage, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush and this, chart the decline from optimism to pessimism of these government sponsored urban landscapes that were built upon the rural and undeveloped areas of our land in the postwar period to help accommodate the 'overspill' from deprived inner city areas. In the earlier film the mood is bright and breezy for our young freewheeling protagonists, but by the time we reach the 1990s of Boston Kickout, the youth on display are emphatically disillusioned. The film, from writer/director Paul Hills, is a semi-autobiographical tale about his own experiences growing up in the town.

Phil (John Simm) moved from London to Stevenage as a child with his father (Derek Martin) in the 1980s shortly after witnessing his mother's suicide. Now it is 1991 and Phil and his friends, Ted (Andrew Lincoln), Matt (Nathan Valente) and Steve (Richard Hanson), have just left school and are caught in that limbo period of the 'final' summer; waiting for the exam results that will shape their adult lives. Ted, effortlessly cool, is keen to break out of the stifling atmosphere of his hometown and promptly disappears in dramatic fashion on that first night of freedom - perhaps because he knows that if you stick around any longer you'll end up like Steve's older brother, Robert (a scene-stealing Marc Warren), a wild skinhead who revels in his small town legend; "I've been thrown out of every club in Stevenage!" he gleefully proclaims after the bouncers chuck him into the street for glassing someone. "There's only two!" Phil points out, but it does little to deflate his sense of achievement.

Caught between these two extremes is Phil and Simm's performance of understated charm serves as the perfect balance. Feeling somewhat lost without the routine of school and with his best mate Ted AWOL, Phil drifts through a dead-end summer job at a bakery whilst indulging in his pastime of photography, not really knowing what he wants to do with his life, or what he wants from it. The developments of his friends - Matt gets engaged and Steve's behaviour becomes increasingly strange - provides him with some surprising distractions, but he only gets something of his own when his Shona, his outgoing Irish cousin (Emer McCourt) visits, leading to romance. This too however, proves to be a momentary distraction and, when his father attempts suicide, Phil must ultimately make a decision to either accept his lot and become absorbed by his peers and the culture around him, or break out and seek to achieve his potential. 

Boson Kickout is a sadly overlooked film, perhaps because it was quickly lost in the wave of more successful and better remembered films such as Trainspotting and Human Traffic, which also starred Simm, an effective poster boy for the Britpop 90s, and featured some of the same production team, including a producer credit Emer McCourt. It's a shame, because I think overall Boston Kickout is a more contemplative and mature offering than the enjoyably cartoonish antics of Human Traffic, with themes that are perhaps less dated, and is certainly better than the Trainspotting wannabes that followed in its wake. It's easy to see why Simm, Lincoln and Warren went on to bigger and better things, but sadly Valente and Hanson did not, and their somewhat anonymous performances perhaps tell that tale. 

I'd recommend the film for anyone who grew up or came of age in the 1990s, it's choice soundtrack (Oasis, The Stone Roses, Primal Scream etc) and the fashions (I was amused to see that Ted dressed exactly like I did in the '90s and the early '00s - I had exactly the same leather jacket and a fondness for obscure T-shirts, and given that I have short dark, wavy/curly hair just like Lincoln's, it was quite an out-of-body experience!) will certainly bring back memories, and if you lived in a new town or a dead end town, you'll appreciate that sense of being young and alive but being held back and a little scared of taking the leap. It's not perfect, but it is a funny and touching coming-of-age drama that I had a good time with.

Oh and the title? It refers to the game that Phil et al played as kids, jumping over the fences of neighbouring homes and trashing their gardens.