Monday, 15 October 2018

The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

The Comfort of Strangers plays out rather like an art-house version of the then-popular mainstream Hollywood (erotic) thriller sub-genre of the yuppies-in-peril, except it isn’t altogether clear to audiences just what peril our yuppie couple are facing, so abstract and shadowy is its approach. We know that Robert is a wrong ‘un (of course he is, he’s played by Christopher Freakin’ Walken!) and we know that he possesses an unsettling interest in Colin and Mary long before they do, as Schrader allows us to glimpse him in the distance surreptitiously following them down the cloistered shadowy backstreets of Venice. That Schrader chooses to set the film in Venice (McEwan’s novel hints at this setting but doesn’t ever stipulate) means we have echoes here of Don’t Look Now, and the half-glimpsed figure of the menacing Walken is as elusive and distinctive in his white suit as the dwarf in her bright red coat. Shot beautifully by Dante Spinotti, the strange and feverish, dreamlike Gothic atmosphere of the city and Pinter’s screenplay makes The Comfort of Strangers the ideal companion piece to Roeg’s earlier film.

Read my full review at The Geek Show.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Batman (1989)

Is there a greater pain for a kid to be too young to see a film at the cinema?That was the predicament for me in the summer of 1989 when, at ten years old, I was too young to go to the cinema to see the 15 rated Batman. So, until it was released on VHS rental, I had to experience the film vicariously instead. Thankfully because Batman was the summer blockbuster that year, I had plenty of opportunity to do just that; thanks to toys, comic books and sticker/trading cards. My mum worked at the local shop/off licence at the time and me and my friends would forever be going back and forth there, buying the crappy Batman bubblegum just to get a hold of those stickers/cards. I learnt what the word 'sabotage' meant from them - it accompanied a photo of the Batmobile racing through The Joker's lair leaving explosions in its wake. Whenever I come across the word now, I still think of that. 

Now, Tim Burton films aren't really my bag but Batman is the exception that proves the rule. Burton wasn't/isn't actually a superhero comic book nerd but despite, or perhaps because of that, he creates arguably the finest Batman movie. His  sensibilities perfectly match and compliment Bob Kane's creation; the skewed Gothic landscape of Gotham City, those jutting architectural monstrosities that pierce the sky whilst garbage (both in litter and human form) line the streets below is reminiscent of Ivan Reitman's equally Gothic depiction of New York  in 1984's Ghostbusters, shaping my view of that city. Even better, Burton understands Batman because he is an auteur who is all about the lonely outsider figure - and you can't get much lonelier than Bruce Wayne or much more of an outsider than his alter ago, Batman.

It's a popular held belief that mainstream movies from Hollywood in the 1980s were aspirational, selling the capitalist dream, but I don't think that's strictly true. Not every movie from this period was a glossy, America Fuck Yeah(!) recruitment advert for the US military (Top Gun) or misappropriated by the very people they were attacking (Wall Street). The more 80s movies I've revisited in this project the more I see how preoccupied they were with class, something America as a society claims they have no issue with, and the failings of the American Dream. John Hughes in particular was renowned for addressing how distinctly less green the grass actually was on the other side of the fence, with just as many dissatisfied and sensitive kids from the right side of the tracks struggling with the family they were born into (Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) as those on the wrong side (Bender in The Breakfast Club). As a character, the billionaire Bruce Wayne, a man who can buy anything he desires ("Where does he get those wonderful toys?") and resides in a mansion so large some rooms are unknown to him ("You know, to tell you the truth, I don't think I've ever been in this room before") could come off as twattish as any of Hughes' yuppie villains (James Spader's sleazy Steff in Pretty in Pink or Craig Sheffer's equally obnoxious Hardy in Some Kind of Wonderful) but Burton and his star Michael Keaton manage to avoid this pitfall in a way that is not too dissimilar to how Hughes conveyed Ferris Bueller - they make him charming. This is a Bruce Wayne who is such an outsider that he is capable of attending his own party without being recognised. Compare this to Christopher Nolan's subsequent approach to the character where the party is only a party when a seemingly drunken Bruce Wayne deigns to show up, accompanied by leggy models on each arm. Nolan's Wayne may only be playacting to distance himself from his crime-fighting alter ego  (much like the aristocrat Sir Percy Blakeney would play the fop to distract attention from his heroic alias, The Scarlet Pimpernel) but his behaviour is obnoxious as anything Hughes could come up with, enabling the belief that you can behave however you please providing you have enough money and pull. In contrast, Burton understands that money cannot buy Wayne's happiness and certainly not when you consider his fortune came with a price he didn't ever want to pay - the murder of his parents. Bruce Wayne may have reached the top of the capitalist society and achieved the American Dream, but all he wants to use his wealth for is to fight injustice, not just for the parents he could not save, but to make Gotham a better place for those less privileged than him too. In short, Burton's Bruce Wayne is eccentric, reclusive, grieving and totally at odds with the outside world. Sound familiar? He's Edward Scissorhands. This is why Batman is such a perfect Tim Burton character, it's also why Burton totally understands that the only Batman story worth telling is why Bruce Wayne is Batman. Anything else is ultimately just a generic superhero adventure. 

It's perhaps why Burton identified that generic failing that his follow up, Batman Returns faltered and why he subsequently left the franchise to Joel Schumacher who ultimately made it as camp and cartoonish as the Adam West series had been. As a response, Nolan's later films took great pains to convince us that they weren't just 'generic superhero adventures'. Seemingly embarrassed by the immaturity inherent in such a genre, Nolan created instead parables on how America have dealt and continue to deal with the war on terror. They became political, gritty and 'real' which, ironically, only served to highlight the silliness Nolan wished to avoid - just how gritty and real and serious can your movie be when your character is running around in tights and a mask? Burton manages to walk the line in a far more satisfying manner, acknowledging the goofy premise but ratcheting up the chills by creating a stylised world for his characters. In the wake of the box office success Nolan's films achieved, superhero movies have become darker and more action-packed and totally missing the nuance that Burton hit upon almost thirty years ago. Hollywood may now be flooded with tentpole movies featuring every single Marvel character you can think of but really, is there anything they offered that has been more singularly and knowingly enjoyable and original than Jack Nicholson's Joker throwing shapes to Prince whilst 'improving the paintings' in The Flugelheim Museum?

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Death Wish II (1982)

Michael fucking Winner. A repulsive tyrant of a man who couldn't direct traffic, he reached his nadir (or found his level, depending on which way you look at it) with the Death Wish movies - films that allowed his tacky impulses and base crude desires to run wild.

The original 1974 movie Death Wish was based on the novel of the same name written by Brian Garfield some two years earlier. Garfield's inspiration came from his own brushes with crime; his wife's purse being stolen and his car vandalised. On each occasion, Garfield's immediate response was a desire to kill those responsible, but he quickly brushed such thoughts aside as the primitive impulses they clearly were and decided to write instead about a man who not only succumbs to those initial thoughts and impulses but who finds he's unable to escape them once he's exacted his revenge. The novel was released to favourable reviews but was not a bestseller. Despite this, film producers Hal Landers and Bobby Roberts showed an interest and purchased the rights for a big screen adaptation. Their original plan was for Sidney Lumet to direct and Jack Lemmon to star as the vigilante, with Henry Fonda co-starring as the detective on his trail. 

Let's just pause for a moment to think how brilliant that would have been. 

But it was not to be. Lumet chose to direct Serpico instead and the project went to Winner, who immediately cast Charles Bronson. The veteran tough guy thought he was miscast, suggesting instead a "weaker kind of man...(like) Dustin Hoffman" (presumably he must have just seen Straw Dogs?), but was drawn to the premise of the film because he too admitted to a secret desire for vigilantism. It proved to be a massive boost to his career and, thanks to the sequels, kept him in work for much of the 1980s despite really being, in the words of 80s hero Roger Murtagh, 'too old for this shit'.

Garfield himself was appalled by Winner's take on his story, arguing that it advocated violence rather than condemned it. "They made a hero out of him. I thought I'd shown that he'd become a very sick man" he said, immediately penning a follow-up novel entitled Death Sentence to repent for the sins of the film adaptation. A loose adaptation of that novel would eventually see the light of day in 2007 with Kevin Bacon in the lead. But it was in 1982 that Death Wish got its first official sequel, thanks to the persistence of Hollywood's most outspoken outsiders, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of Cannon Films, who were hungry to capitalise on the market potential of a movie franchise.

The story is pretty much a retread of the original film. Now residing in LA, architect Paul Kersey decides to dole out his own brand of hard justice once again following the rape and murder of both his housekeeper and his daughter, the latter of whom was still catatonic from the rape she endured in the first film. So we get a wide-eyed, mute Robin Sherwood staring directly to the voyeuristic camera whilst she is gang-raped in unflinching detail. Cheery stuff hmm?

Winner, who sickeningly proclaimed "rape doesn't date!" when promoting the production, immediately fell foul of the British Board of Film Classification thanks to the unsettling voyeuristic and salacious male fantasy tone he brought to the the two rape scenes. The BBFC censor edited James Firman described the film as being "about as irresponsible a filmmaker could be about the treatment of rape for purely commercial ends. This director is simply trying to stir up as much controversy as possible because he's in desperate need of a hit". Four minutes were subsequently edited from the film for its release in the UK and this edited version is still the only one available in the UK (though the previously censored rape of the daughter is shown in the Cannon Films documentary Electric Boogaloo to highlight the film's trouble with the BBFC. It is, as you would expect, sickening; the film's original screenwriter and Cannon scribe David Engelbach described, in the same documentary, Winner's directorial choices when approaching rape as simply there to "to get his rocks off. The script did not need it" Needless to say Winner had heavily revised Engelbach's screenplay prior to the commencement of shooting). It's interesting to compare how censorship differs in the US and the UK; here censors are more mindful of violence whereas in the US, the MPAA get the scissors out for sex. However, in regards to this film, they clearly found sexual violence less of a problem than they might have done with consensual sex. I find that quite disturbing really.

Repugnant, exploitative, sleazy and grubby, Death Wish II no doubt achieved everything Cannon and Winner wanted. After all, neither producers or director ever seemed to aim for greatness, preferring instead publicity, notoriety and money.  The offensiveness doesn't just stop at the premise and the action on display either; the screenplay never once gives any attention, insight or motivation to Bronson's character, which means there's a huge void at the core of the film. This lifelessness carries over into Bronson's lethargic acting style and Winner's sleepwalking direction, which only ever comes alive when some poor actress is made to strip before the camera ahead of being brutalised. Perhaps tellingly, Winner never once shoots his leading lady, Jill Ireland, in the nude - why? Because Ireland was Mrs Charles Bronson and he'd have clearly done some violence for real if Winner ever suggested she disrobe in such a distasteful, disturbing scenario.

Oh and let's add something else to the litany of unsavoury things Winner was - lazy. Isaac Hayes was recommended for the score to this film but Winner chose instead Led Zep legend Jimmy Page. Why? Because Page lived next door to Winner. Page's score was subsequently nominated for a Razzie, but let's face it the whole stinking film deserved to be put in the incinerator.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Malicious (1995)

Malicious is story of a college student whose long term girlfriend won't put out in the public library. Annoyed, he decides to fuck the next woman he talks to (in her open top convertible, in a rainstorm, on a baseball field - don't you love the 90s?) A little while later (and another fuck later, this time on a boat - 90s!) the girlfriend decides she should put out in the library after all, and the guy realises what a mistake he made fucking the other girl. Unfortunately, the other girl isn't the type to accept she was just a piece of disposable ass to him (what is she, one of those feminists or something?) and decides to get revenge in your standard bunny boiler way of killing a household pet, attempting to murder his mother, framing him for assault, to name just a few. And to think, none of it would have happened if his gf would have just put out in the first place. Tsk, wimmin huh?

I guess the moral of the story is in two parts; the first is there are two types of women in life, the frigid sweetheart and the hot psycho, and the second is it's so hard being a man and having a cock and stuff. Boo hoo hoo.

By rights I really should hate this kind of offensively sexist Fatal Attraction knock off  but I enjoyed every cheap and tacky 1990s TV movie moment of it, thanks in no small part to the genius casting of former John Hughes princess Molly Ringwald as the woman scorned. 

Ringwald is clearly relishing the opportunity to play a role that is hot temptress one minute and deranged villainess the next. You can see why she signed on for it, affording her the chance to step away from the teen movies that made her name - a move that is best exemplified by her decision to go topless in one of the film's sex scenes (a gorgeous sight to behold I might add) - but the sad truth is that she outshines everyone else on screen, barring perhaps John Vernon in a very small (though nonetheless second billed) role. The weak goatee'd Patrick McGaw is the weak willed man and is so dreadfully wooden, he makes Keanu Reeves look like Olivier, whilst Sarah Lassez has the thankless role of his virginal girlfriend.

It's not just the poor acting and the sexist nature of the storyline that stick in my craw about Malicious, there's also the way in which it uses child abuse as the reason why Ringwald's character is the way she is. Despite the revelation that her father abused her, the film refuses to offer a shred of sympathy for her character, because sympathy is of course solely reserved for the man who thinks with his prick and treats women like shit.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell To Earth

I'll keep it brief, I loved it! 

"Swiss Army with added Sheffield Steel!"

Jodie is wonderful in the role (of course) there's great chemistry between her and her 'gang', and there's no weak links to be found. It was a funny and dramatic, deeply atmospheric story with great heart (much more so than the cringeworthy attempts at mature emotion that RTD or the Moff could often give us) and a gruesome bad guy. But best of all, there were clear line deliveries, crisp sound design and beautiful, subtle music - great reworking of the theme tune too!

RIP Ray Galton

Very sad to hear that legendary comic scriptwriter Ray Galton has died at the age of 88.

Surrey born Galton was working as a clerk for the TGWU when, at sixteen, he knew something was seriously wrong with him. He was 6ft 4in but weighed only nine stone and suffered from a bad cough, sweats and little energy. Diagnosed with TB, he was packed off to a sanatorium in Milford, near Godalming where his future in comedy was set thanks to a chance meeting with fellow patient, Alan Simpson (who sadly also passed away last year at the age of 87). 

Working together, the pair's first great success was writing for Tony Hancock; between 1954 and 1961 they wrote some 150 scripts for the comedian and secured his status as the nation's favourite comedian. When Hancock decided he wanted to go it alone, Galton and Simpson devised a one-off Comedy Playhouse about a warring father and son rag and bone team. Their script, entitled The Offer, went on to become Steptoe and Son, a long-running BBC series that stands to this day as one of the finest sitcoms.

Away from Simpson, Galton worked with Johnny Speight on the police comedy Spooner's Patch, and with John Antrobus on Room at the Bottom and Get Well Soon, the latter a sanatorium-set sitcom inspired by Galton and Simpson's initial encounter.


Saturday, 6 October 2018

Out On Blue Six: Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé

Sad to hear of the death of Montserrat Caballé today. This was a barnstormer of my youth, prepare to have your hairs stand up on end...


End Transmission

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Fame (1980)

Fame is a bit like Saturday Night Fever in that the collective consciousness seems to be labouring under a misapprehension as to what kind of film it is. Like Travolta's disco classic, Fame is wrongly considered to be a glitzy piece of music and dance - cinematic fluff from the tail end of the 20th century. Mention Fame to most people and they'll probably explain it via Irene Cara's hit of the same name which features the euphoric, we-can-do-anything lyric "I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly - high!". To these people, Fame is a musical; precocious students with impromptu dances during their lunch hour. All jazz hands, sweat bands and lycra. 

But whilst Fame certainly is that (and the subsequent TV spin-off series was almost exclusively that), as a film it is also something a whole lot more. Something darker, more downbeat and ultimately more real. Abortion, poverty, racial inequality, homosexuality, suicide, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic strife and a harrowing '#MeToo' moment (for the aforementioned Cara's character)  all feature in Fame. When you take all that into consideration, it's not exactly High School Musical is it? 

It is this contradiction of grit and glamour that is there for all to see in the film's tagline; "Fame is the glamour of the Great White Way of Broadway and the squalor of 42nd Street" and, Directed by Alan Parker, Fame captures the oft unspoken truth of the pursuit of a career in the performing arts. The central message of Cara's theme song, which features such an exuberant outdoor dance sequence that literally stops traffic, may be about living forever through their success, but the film's actual narrative does little to suggest that such immortality and adulation is waiting in the wings for any of them. The old adage that school is the best years of your life seems to be incredibly apt for our youthful protagonists as the innocence of their dreams are resolutely lost by the time the credits roll. As talented as they may be, the chances are they'll most likely be waiting tables once they graduate, as evinced by the fate of the former school golden boy Michael (Boyd Gaines). 'Remember my name' the lyric may well implore, but the truth is, they'll be lucky if they remember to tip. In keeping with its surprisingly gritty flavour, it offers no consolations or solutions for any of its characters. All they have, as the film pointedly and poignantly ends with them performing together on stage for one last time, is their shared experience and their bond.

Fame is an episodic and occasionally frenetic, Altmanesque snapshot of life for the students at the school, from nervous auditions through to their senior year and graduation. It boasts some excellent performances that show a real change occurring within each character (specifically Maureen Teefy's Doris and Ralph played by Fever's Barry Miller who seem to grow before our very eyes) and a unique perspective on American culture from Englishman in New York, Parker. Whilst it's arguably a little overlong at two hours ten minutes, its place in popular culture is assured, if a little mistaken by audiences.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Out On Blue Six: Charles Aznavour, RIP

I'm also sorry to hear today that the legendary Gallic singer Charles Aznavour has died at the age of 94.

The French Sinatra was the son of Armenian immigrants and grew up in poverty. Nevertheless he went on to use his incredible talent to break out of such deprivation and sell more than 180 million records and star in over 60 movies.

My father has always been a bit of a fan, this - arguably Aznavour's most famous hit - being a personal favourite


End Transmission

RIP Geoffrey Hayes

September was a pretty bad time for celebrity deaths and I'm sorry to report that October has started in much the same manner with the news that Geoffrey Hayes has passed away at the age of 76.

It's somehow always that little bit sadder and more affecting when the celebrity death is a part of your childhood. I guess it's like a reminder that your own childhood is now so very long ago.

Geoffrey Hayes was known to millions as 'Geoffrey from Rainbow' having presented the childrens favourite for eighteen years from 1974 to 1992, sharing his house with Zippy, Bungle and George and playing host to musical trio Rod, Jane and Freddy. 

What isn't perhaps widely known however is that prior to Rainbow, the Stockport born Hayes was a serious actor, playing DC Scatliff in long-running BBC police drama Z Cars. When Rainbow was axed after a 1,000 episodes, Hayes admitted he found work hard to come by as, "directors could only think of me as Rainbow's Geoffrey". Indeed I recall him saying that when the show that made him a household name and a favourite uncle for children everywhere came to a close he immediately sought work on The Bill, because other than Rainbow, he'd played a detective in Z Cars and that was what he knew. The thought that he could appear in The Bill was a naive one, but it perhaps sums up the man really; a sweet innocent who couldn't comprehend how TV had moved on whilst he was doing a wonderful job entertaining children. Work was hard to come by and he became a supermarket shelf stacker and minicab driver. What entertainment work he did find included public appearances, panto, and guest appearances on game shows like Never Mind the Buzzcocks in 2002 (opposite Coolio!) and most recently, in 2015, Pointless Celebrities

He died in hospital and leaves a wife and son. 


Sunday, 30 September 2018

Out On Blue Six: Tears For Fears

This blast from the past has been in my head a lot this past fortnight thanks to it appearing in an episode of the BBC's rather good newspaper drama Press starring Ben Chaplin and Charlotte Riley, which is managing to plug the gap I've been feeling ever since The Newsroom ended. It's Tears For Fears... 

End Transmission

Thursday, 27 September 2018

RIP John Cunliffe

Very sad to hear that the children's author John Cunliffe has passed away at the age of 85.

Cunliffe (no relation to me I hasten to add - at least, not that I'm aware of!) was born in Colne, but it was his six years residence in Kendal that inspired him to create his most famous and evergreen creation, Postman Pat, basing his fictional Greendale on Longsleddale. His other well-known creation was Rosie & Jim, which he created for television in the 1990s, and appeared in as himself navigating the waterways on the puppets canal boat, before branching out into books.


Book Review: In the Silence by M.R. Mackenzie

In the Silence is the debut novel of of Glaswegian author M.R. Mackenzie and is another fine addition to the Tartan Noir genre.

The story concerns former Glasgow girl now Rome-based academic Dr Anna Scavolini who returns home in the run up to Christmas 2009 for the birthday of her best friend from school, redheaded party girl Zoe. Within hours of touching down, Anna not only meets up with her school crush but she goes on to find his dead body in snowy Kelvingrove Park! With the police alternating in treating her as a suspect and an irritant, Anna feels she has no option but to investigate the murder herself but, as the bodies start to stack up and it becomes clear a serial killer is in their midst, Anna may come to regret her impulsive decisions.

This was a real page turner of a book. I know its somewhat cliched to say such a thing but I genuinely haven't read a crime novel that has kept me both gripped and guessing such as this in a long, long time. Mackenzie's flair for a gripping storyline is apparent in his central mystery densely populated by red herrings, and it is matched only by his knack for both setting and dialogue. Just like the very best in Tartan Noir, Mackenzie's novel is set in a recognisable and atmospheric Scottish city, in this case Glasgow, and boasts an ear for the dialect and wit of that area. He gives his best lines to the character of Zoe, who provides some much needed light relief in what becomes a strong, bloody tale of revenge and redemption. With themes including gender inequality, the inherent failings of the justice system, rape, domestic abuse and mental illness, In the Silence is (like the very best work of Denise Mina - in particular her Garnethill trilogy), is a novel which possesses a strong social conscience and it does not shy away from the big issues, often in powerful, uncompromising detail. With that in mind, it  therefore needs a character like Zoe to balance out the drama and remind us that ordinary life is continuing in parallel to the dark underbelly of the city.

But what of Dr Scavolini herself? Well, I've seen some reviews on Amazon say she's a little unlikeable (albeit with good reason as it soon becomes clear) but personally I don't see that criticism all that much. Perhaps she comes across a little aloof precisely because she's effectively a stranger in her hometown and so clearly the chalk to Zoe's more down to earth cheese. But  I actually found it very easy to sympathise with Anna right from the off, especially when she arrives in frozen Glasgow for Zoe's party and is all but ignored by the party girl and left to her own devices on the corner of the dancefloor for the whole night! Bit off, Zoe! The revelation that Anna has her own problems, namely bipolar disorder and is rather foolishly foregoing her pills, is sensitively and intelligently handled and adds a texture to some of her subsequent actions and social interactions that feels authentic. If I had one criticism regarding this side of her character it's that I'd actually liked a little more time focused on the implications and some greater clarity on her initial decision making, but I guess the central mystery has to come first.

All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable debut novel that has much promise for the future. I personally hope that we return to Glasgow and Anna and Zoe but I've a feeling whatever M.R. Mackenzie chooses to do next will be worth your attention. If you like Denise Mina and Tartan Noir then do yourself a favour, head over to Amazon and buy this book, you'll love it. The long winter nights are just around the corner and this will be perfect for them. Just don't have nightmares!

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Out On Blue Six: Timbuk 3

I rewatched the old early 90s film Kuffs with Christian Slater on Netflix the other day. It's still crap mind you, but it does kick off with this stone cold feelgood classic...

End Transmission

Saturday, 22 September 2018

RIP Chas Hodges

And there's been yet another sad loss announced today; Chas Hodges, one half of legendary musical duo Chas & Dave, has died following a battle with esophageal cancer at the age of 74.

Despite his well earned fame with Chas & Dave, it's only a fraction of the music legacy Chas Hodges has left us. As a young session musician in the late '50s, Hodges worked for the legendary producer Joe Meek, backing such rock and roll superstars as Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent (pictured below) and performing in The Outlaws with Ritchie Blackmore and Mike Berry.

In the early 1970s, Hodges played bass guitar and gave vocals in country rock band Heads Hands & Feet and performed tracks on The Old Grey Whistle Test

His bandmate with Head Hands & Feet was Albert Lee and the pair went on to play in the band Black Claw alongside Dave Peacock, a former session player for Joe Meek who would go on to become Chas' long running partner in Chas & Dave. However, in 1975, the pair played on Labi Siffre's Remember My Song album, including the track I Got The, which their guitar and bass riff was later lifted as a sample for Eminem's hit My Name Is

By the close of the decade Chas had joined with Dave Peacock to develop a musical style that merged rock music and the cockney singalong that they termed 'rockney'. Chas & Dave was thus born, with their breakthrough single Gertcha peaking at number 20 off the back of an advert for Courage Bitter. It proved to be the first of eight top 40 singles, nine charting albums, four FA Cup singles for their band Tottenham Hotspurs and a host of TV specials. They opened for Led Zeppelin at 1979's Knebworth Festival, played Glastonbury in 2005 and counted Tori Amos and The Libertines as some of their famous fans. 


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Petitions to Labour NEC

Momentum believe it is important that the Labour Party have an open selection process and no MP veto. Please sign the following petitions to ensure this happens because the NEC may block them come Saturday. It's time to put an end to the divisions within the Labour Party and make it a more democratic place that has MP's who want to work for the will of the people, rather than feather their own nest.

No MP Veto Petition

Open Selection Petition

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

RIP Denis Norden

Another sad loss announced today is the death of Denis Norden, the comedy writer and host of the one-time ITV staple It'll Be Alright on the Night, at the age of 96.

Norden had apparently been ill for some time, residing for a number of weeks at London's Royal Free Hospital where he died earlier today.

Born in Hackney in 1922, Norden was a contemporary of Kingsley Amis at the City of London School and at the age of sixteen was accepted by the Daily Express to accompany their foreign correspondent in Spain to report on the civil war - it was only his parents putting their foot down that nixed his plans. Unperturbed, Norden left school to become the countries youngest cinema manager at just 18, before joining the RAF on the commencement of WWII. There he met Eric Sykes and the pair soon branched out into entertaining the troops with ENSA. It was with Sykes and a fellow comedian Ron Rich that Norden came across the recently liberated camp Belsen, appalled by the inhumanity and the starvation they witnessed among the inmates who had yet to be repatriated, the trio immediately hurried back to base to collect as much food as they could, handing out rations to men, women and children on the brink of death.

After demob, Norden teamed up with fellow comic Frank Muir and the pair began writing scripts for radio. Theirs was to become one of the most successful and enduring partnerships in the history of British comedy and together they wrote three hundred episode of Take it From Here which ran for eleven years, launched the career of June Whitfield and placed phrases like 'trouble at t'mill' and 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' into common parlance. The pair would go on to work in TV appearing both in front of the camera as well as creating the school master sitcom Whacko with Take it From Here star Jimmy Edwards and legal comedy Brothers in Law with a young Richard Briers and writing for The Frost Report and Marty. In film they gifted Carry On movies such classic lines as 'Infamy, infamy, they're all got it infamy' as memorably cried by Kenneth Williams in Carry on Cleo. Norden also co-wrote the screenplay for Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell starring Gina Lollabrigida for which he received an Oscar nomination. He also penned the screenplays for films such as The Best House in London and Every Home Should Have One.

It was the famous Blue Peter clip of the elephant making a mess of the studio that led to Norden's twenty-nine year run as the clipboard wielding presenter of ITV's blooper clips show It'll Be Alright on the Night. He had been reminiscing about that moment with producer Paul Smith one lunchtime in 1977 and wondered if there was any mileage in an outtakes show.They soon get their answer: a commission was made by LWT within half an hour. Despite Norden's reservations over the title, the show was a huge success for ITV in a time when the internet wasn't even a gleam in the eye, let alone YouTube, and Norden became a household name as a presenter, something the writer never expected - indeed his famous clipboard was said to be something he used just to preoccupy his hands. Failing eyesight as a result of a haemorrhage in the back of his eye meant he had to retire in 2006 when he could no longer view the clips. His successor was the rather faithful Griff Rhys Jones but the show's heyday was over, unable to compete with the aforementioned YouTube and the many imitations it had spawned. It has recently had an attempted relaunch as David Walliams Presents It'll Be Alright on the Night, an even worse title than Norden considered original to be, by virtue of its association with the irritating Walliams who has replaced Jones. 


Monday, 17 September 2018

Last Year In Marienbad (1961)

What did I make of Last Year In Marienbad and can I put it into words without sounding pretentious? Hmm. 

Find out by reading my review at The Geek Show

Entebbe (2018)

José Padilha, the director of Narcos (I believe it's a popular drama series on Netflix, m'lud) delivers yet another dramatised account of the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two German members of the Baader-Mienhof Gang and the subsequent successful Israeli commando rescue mission entitled Operation Thunderbolt, in his film Entebbe (I refuse to call it 7 Days in Entebbe, deal with it)

It has always surprised me how cinema seems fascinated by these events because it offers relatively little in cinematic terms. Operation Thunderbolt was swift (it lasted just over 50 minutes) and devastatingly accurate, making any recreation relatively straightforward and, crucially, very short. As a result, any film purporting to depict the events accurately must concern itself wholly with ratcheting up the tension leading to this military action, focusing on the uneasy, fractious relationships both in Israel's political arena and on the ground in Entebbe itself between the hostages and their captors. Thus is the direction of Padilha's film, but any hope that this would be a more even-handed study is quickly lost when you realise that not only is there little in the way of a voice for Palestine in the proceedings, there's crucially nothing for France either ('not their problem' dismisses Tel Aviv, and subsequently the film itself), and very little for the hostages themselves who are extremely faceless in terms of the proceedings as a whole. The latter is an especially odd move when you consider the main aim of the film is to address the threat these people faced and how important it was to secure their safety. Instead, Padilha and his screenwriter Gregory Burke solely concern themselves with the two German revolutionaries, Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike), and with the Israeli PM, Yitzhak Rabin, and his Minister of Defence, Shimon Peres (Lior Ashkenazi and Eddie Marsan).

Can we talk about Eddie Marsan - crucially what has happened to him recently? I don't mean his increasingly ugly and belligerent tweets that seek to condemn anyone on the left, spin the idea that Corbyn hates all Jews, and demand that we 'Make Britain Great Again (though all that in itself is concerning enough), I mean his sudden inability when it comes to acting. Seriously Marsan was once one of my favourite character actors but he's delivered some stinking performances of late (Their Finest, The Limehouse Golem, Atomic Blonde) and his depiction of Peres as a malevolent toad, ominously croaking  in favour of violent retaliation in Rabin's ear doesn't reverse this trend. Every time he appears with his strange make-up, delivering even the most innocent of lines with heavy portent and an 'Allo, 'Allo style foreign accent, I was left to wonder just what he was thinking. It's tonally very off-putting with the rest of the film and is in stark contrast with Ashkenazi's performance and indeed everyone else he shares screen time with.

The acting honours here must go to Pike and Brühl. The latter may be typecast to play the German villain in any Hollywood movie these days but the characterisation of Böse is that of the film's conscience. He may be viewed by the world as a terrorist, but he possesses both an idealism and a desire to challenge injustice that has brought him to this moment and he stays true to his beliefs by refusing to play the Nazi. He gets some good scenes to address this alongside French actor Denis Ménochet as the Air France captain. Alongside Brühl's sympathetic turn, Pike also refuses to play the part of Kuhlmann as the mad, unfeminine (and therefore somehow more threatening, more reviled) terrorist that other dramas have a habit of depicting her, and delivers the kind of eye catching and satisfying performance that she has become renowned for. There's one key scene that shows the humane side of her that I shan't give away and may have been corny in a lesser performer's hands. It's just a shame that their Palestinian comrades are not given the same kind of privilege of three dimensional characterisation too. For a film about the Israel and Palestine conflict its galling that the POV of the latter is routinely expressed via two white people.

The imposing figure of the monstrous Idi Amin of course loomed large over Entebbe and it does so here too, played by the statuesque Nonso Anozie. It's all too easy for an actor to go big and chew the scenery when given the opportunity to play someone like Amin, but Anozie chooses instead to underplay. It's a restrained performance that  further highlights the ball-dropping nature of Marsan's approach. 

I suppose the major hurdle facing Padilha is to offer something different from the films that have gone before him and he does this not only via some of the choices the script and the performers make that I have mentioned here, but also in the depiction of some key events. The death of Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu is one that is always considered a great act of heroism but is instead depicted her as one of a spectacular error of judgement. The experienced assault force commander chose to give up the element of surprise by killing the Ugandan sentries and was shortly killed by a sniper whilst standing outside of the terminal building. There are many theories as to why Netanyahu made such a mistake (in his book Yoni: Hero of Entebbe, Max Hastings suggests he was simply burnt out) but the overriding theory Padilha wants us to appreciate here is that Yoni's death led to his brother commencing a career in politics - his brother of course being Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Israeli PM who is unlikely to ever seek peace with Palestine. 

Perhaps Padilha's own personal stamp on the story is most clearly felt in his decision to incorporate the rather artistic flourish of a series of modernist dance performances by Israel's Batsheva Dance Company during the raid itself. This arises from his decision to depict one of the commandos (Pride star Ben Schnetzer) as being in a relationship with a dancer. It's a divisive decision; a distracting turn-off for some or an intriguing parallel of skilled choreography for others. Personally, I didn't mind it but I can see why others would complain that it pulled them out of the crucial events. 

On the whole, Entebbe has been considered a bit of a flop but I found it a solid enough reconstruction with strong production design that is heavily redolent of the 1970s and a glossy sheen. It's only the refusal of the film to acknowledge that both the Palestinians and the hostages have a story that ought to have been addressed here much more comprehensively than it was that has ultimately left me feeling somewhat cheated.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

RIP Zienia Merton

The Burmese born actor Zienia Merton who played Space:1999's Sandra Benes has died at the age of 72.

Merton became an actress as a teenager in the 1960s playing the Chinese girl Ping-Cho in the 1964 Doctor Who serial Marco Polo. Her other credits included the Beatles film Help!, Jason King, Strange Report, Return of the Saint, Dennis Potter's Casanova, The History Man, Angels, Tenko, Grange Hill, Bergerac, Dempsey and Makepeace, The Lakes, Casualty, The Bill, EastEnders, Coronation Street, Doctors, Wire in the Blood, Law and Order: UK, and The Sarah Jane Adventures.


RIP Dudley Sutton

I am utterly gutted to hear that the great Dudley Sutton has passed away at the age of 85.

Sutton will be best known for his role as Tinker Dill, the eccentric 'barker' in the 1980s/'90s Sunday night favourite Lovejoy, but his impressive career dates all the way back to the 1950s and the groundbreaking work he did at Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop. In the early '60s he worked with director Sidney J. Furie on two controversial movies; The Boys (1962), about a group of teddy boys facing the death penalty for murder, and 1964's The Leather Boys, in which he played a gay biker at the time when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. 

Possessed with a magnetic and often eccentric screen presence that could alternate between loveable and comic and edgy and menacing, Sutton overcame a notorious period of hellraising in the 1960s and went on to become a familiar face on our screens for over fifty years. His TV credits included roles in The Saint, The Baron,The Avengers, Dixon of Dock Green, Softly Softly, Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Porridge, The Sweeney, Shine On Harvey Moon, Widows, Smiley's People, The Beiderbecke Affair, Bergerac, The Comic Strip Presents, Casualty, Holby City, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, EastEnders, Doctors, Skins, and Wallander.

On film, he appeared in several Ken Russell productions, most notable as the sinister interrogator Baron De Laubardemont in The Devils, the spaghetti western A Town Called Bastard, Fellini's Casanova, Derek Jarman's Edward II, Sally Potter's Orlando, The Walking Stick, The Tichborne Claimant, Tomorrow La Scala, Dean Spanley, Cockneys Vs Zombies and The Football Factory. As well as some very ropey 1970s productions like the Mary Millington sexploitation flick Playbirds, the James Bond rip-off Number 1 of the Secret Service, the dismal Michael Winner remake of The Big Sleep and the Michael Caine turkey The Island.


Thursday, 13 September 2018

Salvador (1986)

Fear and Loathing in Central America

Salvador is a typical Oliver Stone film in that the filmmaker paints his characters with vivid colour and strong brushstrokes onto a broad canvas. Unlike some of his later work, however, Salvador is a more rough and ready guerrilla experience as befits the reality of filming on the hoof in Mexico for seven weeks with a whole lot of passion.  It’s also a film that curiously sees Stone pull his punches at a crucial moment; with Boyle condemning both sides to be just as bad as one another after the battle at Santa Ana. It’s a strange choice for a film that starts with the very best of committed intentions to highlight the realities of Reaganite policy to feel the need to suddenly find a fence to sit on, and it’s not one Stone would make now.

Read the full review from me at The Geek Show

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

RIP Fenella Fielding

It's a bit of a bad time to be a Carry On fan; first the sad news that Liz Fraser passed away, and now the announcement that Fenella Fielding died yesterday following a stroke at the age of 90.

One of the great eccentrics of England, Fielding will forever be known for her performance as the camp vamp Valeria in 1966's Carry On Screaming, the second of her two Carry On appearances (the first having been Carry On Regardless five years earlier. But whilst her appearance was iconic, it's only a fraction of the grand lady's work, as The Independent put it in a 2007 article;

"One of the mysteries of British life that Fenella Fielding, whose wit and distinctive stage presence captivated figures such as Kenneth Tynan, Noël Coward and Federico Fellini, should have drifted into obscurity rather than being celebrated"

Her illustrious and wide-ranging career included notable stage roles in productions of Ibsen (her Hedda Gabler was considered a performance of a lifetime) Shakespeare, Wilde and Chekhov, a starring role in Peter Cook's debut comedy revue Pieces of Eight, and TV roles in the 1990s CBBC series Uncle Jack as the villainess The Vixen, Hancock's Half Hour, The Morecambe and Wise Show, Danger Man, The Avengers and The Prisoner, in which she lent her husky vocals to the role of the unseen Village announcer. Indeed, Fielding's lush tones were so identifiable and used to great effect in the big screen spin-off of The Magic Roundabout, Dougal and the Blue Cat in 1970, as the eponymous Madam Blue. Further film credits included two Doctor films (Doctor in Distress and Doctor in Clover), Sapphire, No Love for Johnnie, The Old Dark House and Guest House Paradiso.


Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Out On Blue Six: Morcheeba

OK, hang on to your tits people, but this track from Morcheeba is now twenty years old


Just HOW?? 

I loved this back in the day...which I had until this point presumed was only, like, yesterday!

End Transmission

Atomic Blonde (2017)

I finally did it. I finally played GTA: Berlin '89.

No sorry, I mean I finally did it. I finally read The Spy Who Came In From The Cold whilst listening to Now That's What I Call The Best Of The '80s.

No sorry, sorry, I mean I finally did it. I finally watched Atomic Blonde....but you can see why I might be confused.

Despite some favourable reviews, I found this just too gimmicky. I got that David Leitch watched the rather good German TV series Deutschland '83 and has decided to culturally appropriate it within the first 20 odd minutes when he chose to use three tracks - Blue Monday, 99 Red Balloons and Major Tom (Coming Home) - that series had previously used, but far too much of this feels like one of those music videos that accompanied the Bond films in the 1980s as opposed to an actual good spy film in itself. 

I find it really interesting that this has scored highly in the wake of #MeToo whilst Red Sparrow has fallen foul. I really fail to see why Atomic Blonde with its male-centric gaze towards lesbian sex and the death of Sofia Boutella's character, whilst conveniently dressed in skimpy underwear, gets the thumbs up? To me, Leitch's film is superficially empowering but ultimately depicts the same kind of wanky fantasies that Red Sparrow has been criticised for. Overall, I think I actually preferred Red Sparrow because that at least was a relatively mature movie whereas this was just too loud, too all over the shop and too plain silly. Oh and the CIA are of course the best - is this a comedy? Whilst MI6 give a much sought after list of agents the 'code name' The List - seriously is this supposed to be a comedy?

In its favour, Charlize Theron really knows how to pick projects. Coming after her brilliant showcase in the excellent Mad Max: Fury Road this is the perfect follow up to establish her action movie heroine credentials and she produces - for much of the movie at least - the most bad-ass British secret agent since Mrs Peel (which makes me wonder why cinema is more concerned with Marvel's Avengers than ABC's The Avengers because there's clearly a market for a revival that is bound to be better than the turkey from the '90s). However the only sequence I truly engaged in was the one where her attempts to transport Eddie Marsan to the West went pear-shaped. It's telling that the only action sequence in the movie that plays it all totally straight, rather than a kid on Ritalin watching a Bourne film alongside the weekly TOTP 80s repeats on BBC4, is the most effective.