Sunday, 29 October 2017

Out On Blue Six: Chaka Khan

There was a bit of a switch-around in the schedules last week with Friday's 1984 Top of the Pops repeat on BBC4 being moved from 7:30 to 8:30 to make way for BBC1's new live music show Sounds Like Friday Night in the half 7 slot. The hour was worth the wait though; a solid line-up took part for the 18th October 1984 edition (day before my 5th birthday) including Spandau Ballet ('poncing about in their mum's curtains' as Billy Bragg once said), Paul McCartney, Julian Lennon, John Waite, Meatloaf, Ultravox, and Wham. But best of all was the gorgeous Chaka Khan with the eternally feelgood I Feel For You, written by Prince, with a rap by Melle Mel and harmonica from Stevie Wonder.

As for Sounds Like Friday Night, the BBC's much anticipated reworking of Top of the Pops format? I didn't watch it!

End Transmission

Mosquito Squadron (1969)

If you're looking for one word to sum up Mosquito Squadron it would be 'derivative'.

This 1969 effort from Boris Sagal is hanging on to the coat tails of 633 Squadron (which itself was hanging on to the coat tails of The Dam Busters) to the extent that it even re-uses footage from that film along with a pre-titles sequence that is lifted from Operation Crossbow. Indeed, so closely and similarly does this film follow 633 Squadron that many mistakenly believe it to be an official sequel. It isn't a sequel, but there is a direct reference to 633 taking part in this raid when, in reality, no such squadron existed - so we are definitely occupying the same world here. The earlier film wasn't exactly the starriest of productions to begin with, but Sagal certainly assembles a lower division team of players to breathe life into this tale. David McCallum, fresh off the back of TV's The Man From UNCLE returns to the RAF uniform he last wore in The Great Escape to deliver a rather subdued and uninvolving lead, which is a bit of an issue as he is clearly also the film's biggest name, playing a Royal Canadian Air Force officer (bizarrely, given that he's English and doesn't even attempt the accent) who finds himself torn between duty - both to his country and his friend - and love.

Based in part on the 1944 RAF/Maquis operation that was codenamed Jericho - a still highly secretive raid on Amiens gaol that helped liberate the French prisoners contained within - the film tells the tale of an RAF squadron whose mission is to destroy the Chateau de Charlon in Northern France where the Nazis are currently developing new weapons based on the V-1 programme. Their mission to attack and destroy the Chateau and the missile installation with Barnes Wallis' bouncing bomb is thrown into jeopardy when the Nazis get wind of the RAF's intentions and transport RAF POW's to the Chateau in an attempt to deter them from the raid. One of those POW's just happens to be the previously presumed dead Squadron Leader David 'Scotty' Scott (David Buck), the lifelong friend of Squadron Leader Quint Monroe (David McCallum) whose comfort of Scotty's 'widow' Beth (Suzanne Neve), has seen a romance develop between the pair.

Rounding out the cast are Nicky Henson, Dinsdale Landen, Bryan Marshall, Vladek Sheybal and David Dundas (pictured above), before he found fame as a musician with his 1976 hit single 'Jeans On' and composed the score to Withnail and I. Dundas, the son of the 3rd Marquess of Zetland, is now Lord Dundas and made a fortune from his jingle 'Fourscore' which was the music over Channel 4's ident from its launch in 1982. It is said that he earned £3.50 from every play, raking in approximately £1000 per week for the ten years it was used. I doubt he misses acting all that much! Charles Gray also pops up for an elongated and mellifluous cameo as a genial Air Commodore with a steely, determined glint to his eye. 

Mosquito Squadron might be a bit cheap, it might be derivative, but it still has enough stirring drama to keep you mildly entertained whenever it pops up in the TV schedules as it did this weekend. Worth a watch, but by no means a classic of the genre. McCallum would go on to wear the RAF uniform more convincingly and with greater success in TV's Colditz just three years later.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

633 Squadron (1964)

People take note: Behind every great man (or at least every Hollywood A-lister) stands Wee Shughie McFee. The diminutive Crossroads chef, played by Angus Lennie, was first there in 1963 to peer over Steve McQueen's shoulder in The Great Escape, and he's here again in 633 Squadron made the following year.

Actually 633 Squadron has more in common with another WWII classic, The Dam Busters. Indeed Walter Grauman's film is determined to replicate the beats of that stirring, daring tale of RAF derring do, but to do them with the determined intention of being much, much bigger. As a result, it's a bombastic movie that lacks the tense subtlety and focus of Michael Anderson's superior film, and feels more like a series of action setpieces searching for a plot. Despite the utterly commendable decision to forego the stereotypical 'chocks away' depiction of a fighter-bomber squadron to feature instead commonwealth and volunteer fliers of American, Australian and Indian nationality, the characters are a little one dimensional, sacrificed at the alter of action to such a degree that you would be forgiven for thinking you're watching Thunderbirds puppets instead of real-live actors. Of course, it doesn't help that some of these performers are miscast and wooden anyway - hello George Chakiris, the Greek-American star of West Side Story, cast here as an unlikely Norwegian Resistance fighter thanks to his contract with Mirisch.

Still, Chakiris does give the film one of its most memorable moments; captured by the Nazis he is interrogated by a strangely alluring female SS officer (played by an uncredited, but unforgettable Anne Ridley) who ultimately supervises some extreme genital torture! It's a weird moment in a film that is already reaching some odd places. For the kids who queued up at the cinema simply to see the Boys Own style heroics, this scene must have conjured up some curious feelings within them and helped to beckon them towards adulthood.

The film was based on a 1956 novel by RAF veteran Frederick E. Smith (just one in a series of 633 novels the author published between then and 2007) which drew on many real life missions undertaken by the RAF, including 613 Squadron's successful 1944 attack on the Dutch Population Registry Building where Gestapo records were held, 617 Squadron's bombing of the German battleship Tirpitz in the Norwegian fjords, the 1942 Oslo Mosquito raid which attacked Gestapo HQ in the Norwegian capital and 139 Squadron's assault on the molybdenum mine in Knaben in southern Norway in 1943. The real highpoints of this adaptation are the splendid aerial battle scenes (which of course went on to heavily and unmistakably influence George Lucas for his 'trench run'  finale to the first Star Wars film) and Ron Goodwin's marvellous score. The filmmakers certainly knew they were onto a good thing with Goodwin and I have Al Murray to thank for this little, telling factoid: Eric Coates' memorable The Dam Busters March is used just three times in the 1955 movie, Goodwin's theme can be heard a staggering seventeen times throughout 633 Squadron, coming along once every six minutes.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Out On Blue Six: Fats Domino, RIP

News of another sad loss has come through today; the iconic Fats Domino has passed away at the age of 89. The man who outsold everyone in rock and roll in the 1950s, barring Elvis (who referred to Fat as 'The Real King of Rock and Roll') was a truly influential figure in music, a pioneer who inspired generations and seold 65 millions records, starting with the first, his debut single 'The Fat Man', which is often credited as the first ever rock and roll record.

Here's three tracks from Fats, the first one being a particular favourite of mine


End Transmission

RIP Rosemary Leach

The actress Rosemary Leach has died following a short illness at the age of 81.

A recognisable figure on British television for over fifty years, Leach was nominated for a TV BAFTA for Best Actress three times in the 1970s for her roles in The Roads to Freedom (1971), Cider with Rosie (1972) and Don Quixote (1974) and nominated as Best Supporting Actress in the BAFTA film awards, firstly for her role as David Essex's mother in 1974's That'll Be Day (earning her the double that year) and in Merchant Ivory's A Room With a View in 1987. In 1982 she won the Olivier award for her performance in 84 Charing Cross Road, having previously been nominated for one five years earlier. Notable TV appearances include her role as the mistress of Patrick Wymark's character in The Power Game, opposite Ronnie Corbett in the sitcoms No - That's Me Over Here! and The Prince of Denmark, with Bernard Hepton in Jack Rosenthal's sitcom Sadie, It's Cold Outside, and as Aunt Fenny in The Jewel In The Crown. Other appearances included parts in Disraeli, The Charmer, Growing Pains, The Tomorrow People, Summer's Lease, Across The Lake, An Ungentlemanly Act, The Hawk, Tender Loving Care, The Buccaneers, Down to Earth and My Family. In later life, Leach played Queen Elizabeth II three times; in 2002's Prince William, 2006's Tea With Betty and Margaret in 2009.


Monday, 23 October 2017

Theme Time: Robert Farnon - Colditz

Running for two series between 1972 and 1974, Colditz was an impeccable production and a jewel in the BBC's crown during that illustrious, prolific decade. Loosely based on former Oflag IV-C POW Major Pat Reid's 1952 memoir, The Colditz Story (which had been made into the film of the same name in 1955), the series - devised by Brian Degas and Gerard Glaister - Colditz told the story of the brave and plucky Allied POWs, including Captain Pat Grant (Edward Hardwicke, playing a thinly disguised Reid), Flight Lieutenant Phil Carrington (Robert Wagner), Flight Lieutenant Simon Carter (David McCallum), Lieutenant Dick Player (Christopher Neame) and the Senior British Officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Preston (Jack Hedley), who each pitted their wits against their German captors, the Kommandant (Bernard Hepton), Hauptmann Ulmann (Hans Meyer) and Major Mohn (Anthony Valentine) and dared to escape from the seemingly escape-proof Colditz Castle.

My own particular favourite from the cast was McCallum's Carter, a hot headed  RAF officer that was a world away from the usual 'chocks away' urbane charmer. Carter had a chip on his shoulder, and often found himself frustrated by the escape council and the formalities of captivity. As a result, this quick temper and a fervent passion to return home meant that he was more often than not found in solitary confinement or punished by the guards. As with many of the characters presented in the drama, Carter was based on a real person; Flight Lieutenant Dominic Bruce. Alongside the impressive regular cast the series boasted some fine guest performances from the likes of Patrick Troughton, Ian McCulloch, Jeremy Kemp, Geoffrey Palmer, and Willie Rushton. Most memorable of all however was Michael Bryant's BAFTA nominated turn as Wing Commander George Marsh who feigns insanity in a bid for freedom in the brilliant, unforgettable episode 'Tweedledum' by writer John Brason.

Unsurprisingly, Colditz was a huge hit for the BBC with a real cross generational appeal. Children were utterly transfixed by the brave exploits each week whilst their parents and grandparents, who experienced the war first hand, were equally as absorbed. The success led to numerous tie-in novelisations, an atmospheric effects album (Colditz Breakpoint) and even a popular board game, Escape from Colditz.

Robert Farnon's theme music was the perfect accompaniment to the series. Those bombastic doom laden and fear inducing opening chords immediately conjure to mind the perceived might of the Nazi foe and the confines of the imposing, legendary castle, before breaking into a more reassuring and familiar militaristic march that offers hope and the suggestion of escape and victory. 

Creators Degas and Glaister would go on to strike gold again at the BBC later that decade with Secret Army, their dramatisation of the experiences of the French Resistance that is just as highly regarded and shared many of the same cast.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Trespass Against Us (2016)

There's a rich vein of films being made in and regarding rural Britain these days, what with The Goob, The Levelling, God's Own Country, A Field in England, and Sightseers to name but a few, which is something that I am more than on board with because, frankly, our television seems to steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that anywhere other than Edinburgh, Manchester, Cardiff and London actually exists in the UK.

First time director Adam Smith's Gloucestershire-set Trespass Against Us falls into this category too, focusing on the rural criminal misadventures of the Cutler clan; a travelling community who live on the literal and figurative outskirts of town, venturing out in the dead of night to ramraid country houses and lead the local police a merry dance with cross-country high-speed car chases. At the heart of the film is a convincing and complicated bond between West Country father and son, Colby and Chad, played by Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender. Theirs is a familiar angst fuelled mix of love and hate; Fassbender has reached an age where he wants something more peaceful and law abiding for his family, his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) and their children, including the specific desire to give the kids the education that he never had. 

Gleeson, on the other hand, isn't at all willing to sever the patriarchal apron strings; he relies on Fassbender to commit the daring raids that provide the ramshackle dynasty an income and a reputation, and he rules his roost so effectively that he can sit around the community bonfire at night pontificating to his captive audience his various philosophies and staunch beliefs - including his view that the world is flat not round - without challenge or criticism. It's telling therefore that Colby's closest aide, his 'joey' (aka skivvy), is Sean Harris' dimwitted, semi-naked freak - the kind of character who wouldn't have looked out of place on the set of Deliverance

Trespass Against Us has a sensibility somewhat reminiscent of the 1970s, being somehow freewheeling and brooding, often at the same time. Indeed, harking back to the aforesaid Deliverance for a moment, there are actually moments here that feel not unlike a more typical Burt Reynolds 'good ole boys' production from that decade, updated and transported to rural England. Granted it makes for a tonally confusing piece, but as a film that affords us a seemingly authentic insight and a window into a lifestyle usually delivered in a patronising manner via the likes of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Trespass Against Us is still worth your time and Smith certainly looks set to mature as a filmmaker if he builds on this effort. If I have to advise any caution, it's that the thick carrot-crunching accents are sometimes hard to distinguish and the unique traveller slang made me feel like the DVD could have done with an accompanying glossary booklet.

Monday, 16 October 2017

RIP Sean Hughes

When someone dies it's become something of a cliche to say that the news of their passing came as a shock. As a word or phrase to sum up your reaction it may mean well, it may even be true to a degree, but it can be in danger of becoming meaningless. The death of Sean Hughes today however, aged just 51, truly is a shock. It is, as Richard Herring said on Twitter, 'a punch to the soul'. This was a talent and a man taken from us way too soon.

"Everyone grows out of their Morrissey phase...except Morrissey"

And Hughes had a lot of soul, he was an effortless-seeming comedian, poetic and charming in that way only true Irishmen can be, with an act that was mischievously-meta, glorious silly, deeply  intelligent and above all very funny. He was the youngest winner of Edinburgh's prestigious Perrier award and among the first of that eclectic and exciting new comedic talent to strike out on TV in the early 90s with his own show entitled, appropriately enough, Sean's Show. Later on in the decade he was part of the original line-up of BBC2's Never Mind The Buzzcocks before branching out acting with a regular role alongside Peter Davison in the ITV mystery drama The Last Detective, a recurring role on Coronation Street and performances in the West End with As You Like It and The Railway Children.

Hughes had tweeted to fans earlier this month that he was in hospital receiving treatment for cirrhosis of the liver. It was announced on twitter by his former management that he died this morning.


The Yakuza (1974)

'With an impressive noirish body of work already behind him, Mitchum is utterly believable in his role as our ageing ‘urban knight’ Harry Kilmer, cutting a truly iconic figure of the genre as he wanders, baggy-eyed and turtle-necked, through the bustling neon-lit, rainy streets of Japan'

See my full review at The Geek Show

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Theme Time: David Pomeranz/Jesse Frederick/Bennett Salvay - Perfect Strangers

How's this for an '80s nostalgia rush? Yes, it's the theme to Perfect Strangers

This was a US sitcom that ran from 1986 to 1993 and was quite a favourite in our house. It was shown over here fairly quickly, with screenings on Saturday evenings in early 1987 before settling down in the post Wogan 7:35 slot on Monday evenings. I also have memories of reruns in the early '90s on Friday mornings during the summer holidays, but as far as I'm aware it hasn't been repeated since and despite being popular, the series is not available on DVD here in the UK. 

The series starred Mark Linn-Baker (who starred opposite Peter O'Toole in the film My Favourite Year) and Bronson Pinchot (who had appeared as Serge in Beverly Hills Cop) as distant cousins, Wisconsin born Larry Appleton and Balki Bartokomous, a shepherd from the Mediterranean island of Mypos, who each attempt to strike out in Chicago. The series was created by Mork & Mindy creator Dale McRaven who was inspired by the renewed patriotism he felt in America after the 1984 Olympics and wanted to write something about a couple of people who dream they can make it in a big city. The show's theme, written by Jesse Frederick and Bennett Salvay and performed by David Pomeranz encapsulates that bright, optimistic, empowering American Dream vibe with effortless, catchy and utterly '80s ease... 

And if you don't like that, then you've no poetry in your soul!

A consistent hit across its eight seasons in America, much of the success of Perfect Strangers came down to the great chemistry between Linn-Baker and Pinchot, a chemistry that thankfully seems to exist in real life too (how refreshing is it to find actors from a favourite '80s show who genuinely get on with one another? Yes Moonlighting I am looking at you) The pair perhaps haven't reached the peaks of success they deserved once the show concluded, but they continue to work extensively to this day, with Linn-Baker even appearing as himself in the recent HBO series The Leftovers, which looks at the inexplicable disappearance of 2% of the world's population. In the show, it's revealed that the entire cast of Perfect Strangers where amongst those who 'departed', but Linn-Baker is actually revealed to have faked his disappearance. 

Perfect Strangers had its own spin-off in the sitcom Family Matters and was even remade for Russia television in 2006.

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today...

15th October, 1987

"Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way; well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't, but having said that, actually, the weather will become very windy, but most of the strong winds, incidentally, will be down over Spain and across into France"

Several hours later, hurricane force gusts of up to 100 knots (or 120 mph) attacked the UK, France and the Channel Islands, causing a number of fatalities, power outage and felled an estimated 15 million trees. The great storm is said to have cost the insurance industry £2billion and an internal inquiry at the Met Office following Michael Fish's gaffe.

Fish himself maintains his report was taken out of context, claiming that his comment was in relation to the news story preceding his bulletin which referred to an approaching storm in Florida, Hurricane Floyd. However, he has appeared to contradict himself down the years, claiming that the call was from a colleague's mother at one point, whilst at others suggesting no one phoned up at all. Either way, it secured his notoriety and a snippet of the bulletin was even included in Danny Boyle's 2012 Olympic opening ceremony. 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Rita, Sue and Bob Too @ Liverpool Playhouse, 11/10/17

Anyone who follows me on Letterboxd will know that I have a long and deeply held love for Alan Clarke's Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Based on the 1982 play written by Andrea Dunbar, it's an affection that I seem to share with much of the north in general, given that there are many productions staged in the region on a regular basis. However, as I have previously blogged about, you must approach some of these productions with extreme caution (the most recent production pf Rita, Sue and Bob Too staged here in St Helens starred none other than Darren Day for God's sake!) as many of them seem to exist as adult panto full of has-beens and never-have-beens, rather than the faithful, intelligent adaptation Dunbar's piece truly deserves.

There's no such concern with the latest revival from the theatre company Out of Joint which arrived, as part of its nationwide tour, at the Liverpool Playhouse this week. For a start, that's because the play's original director Max Stafford-Clark is directing once more, alongside Kate Wasserberg, following a December 2015 workshop at the National Theatre. This newly edited production makes a lively piece even livelier; for a start, to highlight the early '80s setting, the play skilfully uses popular hits of the day (the likes of Soft Cell's Tainted Love, Culture Club's Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, The Human League's Don't You Want Me Baby?, Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight and, naturally of course given Bob's seductive technique, Cars by Gary Numan) as a way of moving from scene to scene, allowing the cast to alter the set up of stage whilst dancing, miming or singing along.

And what a cast it is! Hats off to casting director Amy Ball who has cannily sourced some excellent young talent to bring Dunbar's characters to life. No prizes for guessing that the Kay Mellow BBC1 drama In The Club featured heavily in her casting process as the production secured the talents of two stars from there, Taj Atwal and Gemma Dobson, to play Rita and Sue respectively. Both girls are impressive and authentic; Dobson's Sue is blonde, bonny and blousy, characteristics that easily bring to mind Michelle Holmes' portrayal in Clarke's film, whilst still having enough individuality in the performance to separate it in your mind. Atwal however is the real star of the show, reflecting Dunbar's original naive hopefulness to ensure the part of Rita truly is her own.

Starring as Bob is James Atherton, whose TV credits include stints on both Hollyoaks and Coronation Street, as well as an appearance in the recent film adaptation of Macbeth and in the recent Dave sitcom Porters, alongside Rutger Hauer. Like Dobson, Atherton also reminds you of George Costigan's star turn in Clarke's film, thanks to a similar, twinkly bug-eyed physicality, but his Bob is more in keeping with Dunbar's original interpretation; seemingly younger, and more obviously working class (as opposed to the lower middle class of Clarke's film) in his choice of clothes. I was 'blessed' to have a dead centre front row seat for this performance, which meant that I became all too familiar with Mr Atherton's bare backside and his modesty-pouched ballsack during the sex scenes! The nudity certainly took some in the audience by surprise!

Samantha Robinson stars as Bob's wife Michelle, whilst Sally Bankes and David Walker appear as Sue's mother and father respectively, rounding out a very impressive cast indeed. The play concludes as Dunbar originally wrote it - anyone expecting to see the same mish-mash of Rita, Sue and Bob Too and Dunbar's other play The Arbor, as per Clarke's film - will be disappointed. The final scene once again features Michelle and Sue's mum lamenting the disappointments they have had to face in life thanks to the men they had chosen to live with. As someone who experienced the film long before the play, I have always felt this an odd way to end the story as it essentially gives the spotlight over to two secondary characters in a somewhat too little, too late fashion. However, watching it last night it finally clicked; these two women are essentially the futures Rita and Sue have to look forward too. It's easy to see that Sue will become her mother, and it's equally (though tragically) easy to consider that despite getting her man, Bob will once again wander and play away from Rita. 

This revival differs from the last staging by Out of Joint in 2000. That production saw the inclusion of Rita's brother Sam, meaning a longer scene three and the necessity to rejig some of the dialogue from there to occur later in the production in a very good scene that sees Rita and Sue on YTS, which just happens to be where Michelle works too. Michelle is doing some extra work on the side as an Avon rep and Rita orders some scent from her, which leads into a very good climax to a later scene when a suspicious Michelle plays her ace card and warns Bob off from playing around with Rita and Sue because "I know what that scent smells like" - cue In The Air Tonight in a very satisfying manner, with the lights flicking on and off in set designer Tim Shortall's two tower blocks in time with Collins' drumwork!

There are some scenes which you'd swear where changed to add a contemporary resonance too. On returning home I checked my script book of Dunbar's original to make sure that lines such as Bob's about the danger of London compared to the North "there's too many things happening down there that you don't see up here" wasn't added to reflect the naive mindset that existed before this year's tragic Manchester Arena bombing that believed anywhere north of Watford was unlikely be targeted by Islamic terrorists, but it wasn't; it was there all along. Likewise, Bob's comment of "that's what you get when you have a woman prime minister in parliament" was always a part of his Thatcher/unemployment grumble and was not specifically beefed up to imply Theresa May for today's audience. In short, the truth that Dunbar wrote in 1982 is just as relevant now. 

I really cannot praise Out of Joint's revival enough. It is not only one of the funniest plays, but it also has to be one of the best staged plays I have seen in some time and, at just one hour twenty minutes (and with no interval) it licks along most agreeably and with great energy, whilst never outstaying its welcome. Praise too for Jason Tyler's lighting and Tim Shortall's costume design, alongside his responsibilities for the sparse but excellent set; a series of chairs and a backdrop of Yorkshire between two monolithic tower blocks really does create a believable world and affords the audience a journey back in time too. 

Rita, Sue and Bob Too stays at the Playhouse until Saturday and, when I checked earlier, there are still seats for each of the remaining productions, including some front row ones (for anyone who wants an up close look of Atherton's arse!) From there it moves on across the country taking in Warwick, Oxford, Northampton, Doncaster, York, Derby, London, Huddersfield and lastly, Mold, at the start of February next year. It really is well worth catching, providing you're not someone easily offended by language or nudity that is.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

RIP Norma Sykes, aka Sabrina

Sad news reaches us today that Stockport's own Sabrina (real name Norma Sykes) passed away last November at the age of 80. There's a very good obituary/article in today's Manchester Evening News that details not only her passing, after years of living as a recluse in California, but also a potted history of her life and career. It's a shame to consider her final years were spent seemingly so unhappily and equally sad that it's took us almost a year to realise we have lost one of our own.

Despite being once described as someone who couldn't sing, couldn't act and couldn't even walk properly, Sabrina had star talent by the bucketload...or should that be cup load? Her prodigious 41" bust secured her celebrity from the '50s onwards, often as the glamorous stooge of Arthur Askey. It was certainly enough to warrant her the tag of Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield all rolled into one and, among the many impressive facts regarding her fandom, is the tales of how a 4,000 strong mob in Sheffield almost ripped the dress from her in an attempt to get near or the 10,000 Australian fans who flocked to Pert airport and almost caved the roof in!

I had previously blogged about Sabrina here


Monday, 9 October 2017

The Plot, Like His Hair, Thickens

We need to talk about Richard Osman.

I caught a tiny bit of Pointless Celebrities on BBC1 at the weekend and found Osman's hair positively offensive. It's ridiculously long these days - and curiously so - because...

Exhibit A

 Exhibit B

Ahem, all together now...


I never know where I stand with Osman: I used to like Pointless when it started, and I find so many things he has done admirable; including throwing a few digs Jeremy Clarkson's way on Have I Got News For You and apologising for (and refusing to shake the hand of) Kelvin Mackenzie appearing on an ep of Celebrity Pointless. But I found his shtick was becoming increasingly self satisfied, and his appearances on other TV shows started to dominate. He also seems to be labouring under the same misapprehension that did for Jonathan Ross all those years ago, namely the mistaken belief that he is a professional comedian rather than a TV celebrity. Watching him attempt to smugly spar with real comics like Frankie Boyle or Greg Davies on the former's Election Autopsy and the latter's Taskmaster started to get irritating. And this feeling of dislike is exacerbated by that bloody awful flagrant wig or weave!

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

I do love that poster.

Coming immediately after Blue Jasmine, Magic in the Moonlight was viewed as a great disappointment and another ho-hum entry in Woody Allen's remarkably prodigious output. But it's really not as bad as many have made out - in fact it's a rather nice, frothy romantic comedy with more than a nod to the likes of PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie.

Colin Firth is on fine curmudgeonly form as Stanley, a 1920s British professional magician who performs under the Oriental guise of Wei Ling Soo to great acclaim. In his spare time, the coldly rationalist and practical Stanley is a notorious debunker of phony psychics and mediums and it is this skill that takes him to the glorious south of France one summer to discredit Sophie Baker, a young American spiritualist played by Emma Stone, whose apparent gifts have impressed a clique of fashionable and wealthy Brits and Americans who are resorting on the Côte d’Azur. 

Stanley relishes the opportunity to take another fraud down and save her marks from parting with some of their fortunes but, as he witnesses at first hand Sophie's astonishing powers he finds his lifelong pessimism and general outlook rocked to their very foundations. 

Allen has long been fascinated with the notion of magic and it has played an integral role in many of his films, from the characters on the silver screen coming to life and entering the real world in The Purple Rose of Cairo, to Zelig's uncanny chameleon abilities. Ghosts and the notion of the afterlife have also previously appeared in his work, most recently in his London set movie Scoop. Here however, in the shape of Stanley, Allen takes a resolutely cynical point of view to such fantastical concerns whilst at the same time exploring what it takes to shape such a rational mind. In a scene that seems to hark back to Manhattan, Stanley and Sophie escape a sudden thunderstorm and take shelter in an observatory where Stanley reveals that when he first glimpsed the starry night sky as a child there, the thought of the universe beyond rather menaced him. It was just too big for him to consider and everything in Stanley's life from that point on could be argued as an attempt to couch the world and life in safe, easily comprehensible terms. 

Sophie on the other hand sees the starry sky and finds it romantic. They are complete opposites, Sophie believing that we should all embrace a level of delusion into our lives whilst Stanley seeks to understand and be able to explain everything, yet they start to fall for one another. It is only when Stanley begins to consider that Sophie may be the real deal that he starts to enjoy life, freed from his restrictive desire to have an answer for everything.

Both Firth and Stone are tremendously likeable and charismatic performers who are easy on the eye (especially in the beautiful vintage period costumes) and possess a lightness of touch that is just right for such fare, yet their chemistry is not as winning as it ought to be. The big problem here really is the age-gap (and the connotations of such an age-gap romance in Allen's own life are not lost on viewers) with their interplay more befitting of an acerbic uncle and a bright and carefree niece than potential lovers. The supporting cast, including Simon McBurney, Eileen Atkins, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver and Hamish Linklater, have relatively little to do (certainly Allen seems to forget Harden, McBurney and Weaver completely for long stretches of the narrative) but the whole thing is really rather lovely to look at - almost like a 1920s postcard of the French Riviera come to life - and it's best to let the whole thing wash over you.