Thursday, 12 July 2018

Crowhurst (2017)

When Crowhurst, in the depths of manic insanity, wraps himself up within a Union Jack flag like an anxious babbling infant with their precious security blanket, it says more about the nature of the man and his thwarted ambitions than the whole of The Mercy. This is not the Donald Crowhurst that Colin Firth could ever play...Justin Salinger makes this version uniquely his own; a small man totally out of his depth against the mighty, endless oceans. His Munch-like screaming direct to the camera is as powerfully compelling as that of any victim in a horror movie. In the end, Crowhurst is a horror movie – the monster is the mind.

Read my full review at The Geek Show

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

We Almost Made it...

Ah balls.

It was not the result we wanted. Football didn't come home.

But you know what? Yeah there's a lot to be sad and pissed off about, there's a lot to feel deflated and heartbroken for, but at the same time, there's a lot to celebrate too.

I never really bought into 'football's coming home'. I didn't dare hope and anyway, what's home about it? I'm not going to kid myself that we, as a nation, invented kicking a ball. But it's worth remembering that when Baddiel and Skinner joined forces with the Lightning Seeds and wrote those words back in 1996, they were writing about the 'thirty years of hurt' since our national team last played in a World Cup final.

Tonight, our national team broke another near 'thirty years of hurt' since we last played in a World Cup semi-final and that is a great achievement. That they did that when no one dared dream or predict it is even more of an achievement and we should feel proud, not defeated. Proud. We beat the odds to get here, and we've still the third place play off to win.

Out On Blue Six: Baddiel and Skinner and The Lightning Seeds

It wasn't going to be any other song today was it?

Because's coming home

End Transmission

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Out On Blue Six: The Housemartins

We're into the year 1986 in BBC4's repeats of Top of the Pops and it kicked off on Friday with the documentary Top of the Pops - The Story of 1986, which featured an interesting tidbit from the Housemartins' Paul Heaton, about their single Caravan of Love

Released in time for the coveted Christmas number one slot in '86, Heaton claims the band were right on course for achieving that accolade and were even told shortly before the charts were released for that week that they had made it. However, the number one that year proved to be Jackie Wilson's Reet Petit - a rank outsider that came out of nowhere.

So what happened?

Well, Heaton claims it's all to do with the band's politics and, specifically, a disparaging comment they made regarding Margaret and Dennis Thatcher, that ultimately nixed their chances.

Did the chart people and the BBC really do the dirty on the Housemartins in the same way they fixed it for Rod Stewart to be number one instead of the Sex Pistols during the Silver Jubilee week?

Who knows - but I don't see any reason why Heaton would lie, and it's public record the song was hotly tipped racing up the charts that week, ahead of all the competition. All I do know is that Caravan of Love is a cracking song and that it is perhaps for the best it didn't get the top spot over the festive period. It's far too good a song to have the 'Christmas song' albatross around its neck, with a message that is for all year round.

End Transmission

Yellow Submarine (1968)

"Liverpool can be a lonely place on a Saturday night, and this is only Thursday morning"

It could be argued that it’s a shame that the Beatles didn’t see the possibilities inherent in Yellow Submarine; animation did not have the same restraints that even Dick Lester found himself butting against to get the Beatles distinctive talents and imagination to the screen, and the film received  a kind of widespread critical acclaim that their other film ventures failed to reach. The casting of Lance Percival and Dick Emery, as Old Fred the sailor and Max/The Lord Mayor and Jeremy Hilary Boob respectively, showcase the Beatles affection for British comedy of the seaside postcard and music hall tradition, just as much as the charabanc nature of singalong tracks such as When I’m Sixty-Four, All Together Now and the eponymous Yellow Submarine do.

Read my full review at The Geek Show

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

Smith's choice was to win the race or to run it, and he couldn't do both. Running - with its obvious connotations of the freedom Smith otherwise lacks - asserts his independence and the self he has discovered from the sport and his innate talent. Racing, or winning the competition, is to conform and sacrifice his independence.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Hard Men (1996)

There ought to be a word for that feeling you have when you can't tell whether you have seen a movie or not. That's the feeling I have watching Hard Men. I certainly recall it coming out in '96 but I didn't think I'd actually seen it. After watching it tonight, so many scenes rang a bell, that I think I may be mistaken. It feels like the eighteen year old me might have seen it with a kebab and a bottle of White Lightning and, given the brain killing properties of 'Quite Frightening', is it any wonder I can't be sure?

Then again, maybe I could be forgiven for thinking I'd seen it before because Hard Men isn't exactly original. In this tale of three lethal, sharp suited cockney hoods out on the town, chatting shit about the etiquette of oral sex and the merits of Abba over Blur whilst plotting a betrayal against one of their number, it is clear that the French born, London based writer/director J.K. Amalou is heavily influenced by Tarantino. But, despite some pretty high praise from the likes of Loaded, Maxim and Marie Claire, his low budget film struggled to find an audience, which is sadly ironic when you consider he had the jump on Guy Ritchie who would do the exact same thing to incredible acclaim just two years later, opening the floodgates of the genre for several imitators to follow.

The film concerns a trio of hitmen and debt collectors; the sensible Tone (Vincent Regan), the professional Bear (Ross Boatman) and the hothead Speed (Lee Ross), who each work for gangland boss Pops Den (played by real-life South London gangster 'Mad' Frankie Fraser). When Tone's ex girlfriend reconnects to tell him he's father to a baby daughter, he decides it is time he should retire and takes his friends out for one last carousal to announce his plans. But Pops Den isn't the kind of person to condone such a resignation and suddenly Tone's last night with the lads is potentially his last night on earth, with Speed and Bear now charged with not only offing him but also with delivering his amputated hand to Pops Den by 9am the following morning.

Amalou has a very arresting and stylised eye for the seamy side of London and outlandish violence that makes Hard Men quite a visually strong addition to the British gangster film, with a cool colour palette combined with an interesting sound design, but he's ultimately weak on getting the audience to truly engage with his characters thanks to their overall unlikeability and some occasionally poor dialogue. It's a shame though to see that his subsequent career has of late consisted of a couple of straight-to-DVD Danny Dyer flicks. For someone who beat Ritchie to it, he deserves more than that.

As for the cast it's easy to see why Vincent Regan went on to become an actor who straddles both a variety of British TV productions and the odd Hollywood blockbuster like 300, as his potential stands out in the role of the sensitive and mature Tone. Ross Boatman, marking time between leaving London's Burning and becoming a rather handy professional poker player with his older brother Barny, is perhaps even better, quietly convincing as Bear in a way that makes me grateful that he's returned to acting in recent years with his great performance as the brother in the BBC2 sitcom Mum. Lee Ross is an actor I normally admire a lot, but here I think he gets a little carried away with the opportunity to overplay Speed's character's jittery coke-fuelled intensity and cockney swagger. Someone like Marc Warren would have perhaps been a more natural and convincing fit. The stunt casting of real-life villain 'Mad' Frankie Fraser as Pops Den is again - when you consider how Guy Ritchie went on to cast Lenny McLean in Lock Stock -  another example of Amalou predicting what was to come, but it is also a deeply contentious one; the showbiz glorification that began to occur in the '90s of once genuinely violent enforcers and murderers is one that has always sat uneasily with me, and I fail to see why the production saw it fit to try and enhance his natural menace with several obviously fake facial scars. There's also an appearance from Ken Campbell that is unforgiveably all too brief - what kind of idiot employs a one-off like Campbell for such a small and insignificant role? That alone should have sealed Hard Men's fate.

Perhaps the best thing about Hard Men is the strapline; You Call. They Deliver. It Ain't Pizzas, but even that doesn't bear much scrutiny, much like the film itself. I am now fairly sure I've seen it before, but I'll mark it as a first watch nonetheless. Perhaps this inability to pin down whether I have or haven't seen it says all there is to know about Hard Men. It's not truly atrocious, but it's nowhere near great either. It's just really rather forgettable. 

United Kingdom (1981)

United Kingdom - a deliciously ironic title if ever there  was one - was the last major work for television by the socialist playwright Jim Allen. Epic in scope, this is an expansive, two and a half hour tale influenced by the political events of the day and concerns a Labour run council in the North East of England's refusal to implement the harsh cuts of housing and social spending imposed upon them by Margaret Thatcher's newly elected Conservative government. Their unwillingness to comply leads to their barring from office and a commissioner from London is parachuted in under Home Office instruction to implement the policy. In retaliation, the Labour councillors become a council-in-exile, picketing the council offices, organising selective rent strikes on the derelict housing estate they reside at and hijacking the computer files relating to the commissioner's proposed budget. Determined not to lose face and reassert their authority, the Establishment subsequently employ the usual dirty tricks; surveillance and intimidation from Special Branch, arrests of councillors on the spurious charges of theft and incitement, smears in the media with the inevitable hoary old lie of Moscow funding the protest, and finally - when the residents of the estate barricade themselves in - the brutal deployment of the SPG. 

It should come as no surprise to you to learn that United Kingdom was broadcast only once and has never been made commercially available. It's only availability now lies in the form of occasional screenings among politically sympathetic groups or, as in the case of a couple of years ago, at Home in Manchester as part of a season celebrating the work of Allen as a son of the city. However, we should be grateful that United Kingdom was made at all. Delivering a talk to a workshop for Channel 4 about the possibilities of engaging working class audiences in the 1980s, Allen explained that the play was originally commissioned by Michael Grade at LWT (presumably for the 1980 series of plays that ultimately became a Dennis Potter series) to make the play in Manchester but, with just weeks to go before shooting commences, Grade cancelled the film. His reason was that it was too costly but, as Allen points out, £150,000 was already spent on the production and it is his belief that the powers-that-be in Manchester simply didn't want the film to be made there. Undeterred, Allen and his director Roland JoffĂ© returned to the BBC where they had previously made The Spongers in 1977, and relocated the storyline to the North East. 

Deeply critical of not only the Tory government but also a Labour party leadership who refuse to come out and pledge support to the exiled council and housing residents in their hour of need (and, as one character points out, it was a Labour government who initially began to implement cuts in social spending and housing anyway), United Kingdom is an epic story about the class struggle which seems to replicate the events such as the Kirkby rent strike (and indeed, the events depicted firsthand in Nick Broomfield's Behind the Rent Strike documentary film - there's even a moment in the film - one of its most blistering and best presented - that depicts two police officers interrogating an eleven year old boy for the names of his friends who have shoplifted that seems to owe a lot to Broomfield's subsequent Juvenile Liaison documentary too), the blacklisting of politically active workers, and the Brixton riots (much commented on throughout the play, most specifically in one scene which sees an honest copper appeal to his Chief Constable, played by Colin Welland, to rethink his plans to roll out the SPG; "It's not a race riot" he says, to which Welland replies "Isn't it? These people aren't the same race as me") as well as prophosising what was to come in its depiction of the harsher measures of policing - often from outside constabularies such as the Met - against the working class and political action, such as the miners' strike. It's not always subtle - the scenes of our heroes drinking and enjoying old fashioned barroom sing-a-longs behind the barricades are interspersed with scenes of Welland and his Masonic authority figures enjoying a grand Elizabethan banquet complete with a costumed host choir serenading them - but its authenticity is key and it boasts some damn fine performances from the likes of the aforementioned Welland, Ricky Tomlinson, Val McLane (Jimmy Nail's sister) Bill Paterson, Peter Kerrigan, Peter Copley and Rosemary Martin. United Kingdom is a play that deserves to stand alongside the likes of Boys from the Blackstuff as a searing indictment on Thatcher's Britain - a position it rightfully earns from anyone fortunate enough to see it.

Friday, 6 July 2018

The Reckoning (1970)

It's the end of the 1960s and an affluent and ruthless self made man leaves London to return to his roots in the industrial and impoverished north where he is compelled to exact revenge for the death of a close relation.  

To anyone who has watched Get Carter that must sound rather familiar. But the star here isn't the cobra-eyed Michael Caine, it is the ever compelling Nicol Williamson, the northern roots aren't Newcastle, it is  Liverpool, and the deceased is the father, rather than the brother. Lastly, the gangsterism on display here is the 100% legal, but no less corruptible and crooked; capitalism.

This is The Reckoning. Directed by Jack Gold and adapted by Birkenhead born John McGrath from a Patrick Hall novel entitled The Harp That Once, this is actually a film that feels like a cross between Room at the Top and the aforementioned Mike Hodges gangster classic. Williamson stars as Michael 'Mick' Marler, a product of the back streets of Liverpool's Catholic Irish community, now a rising young executive. 

It is the character study of a high achiever destined for even greater things and in Williamson's performance, I'm reminded  of another cinematic character apart from Joe Lampton or Jack Carter; his Marler is a 'blunt instrument' in the same vein as Ian Fleming's James Bond, a man imbued with a natural aggression and unafraid to get his hands dirty when doing the bidding of his bosses. Marler doesn't care who he has to trample on to get to the top, he's going to succeed despite of those with the silver spoon in their mouths, not because of them, and this characteristic ruthlessness is just as evident in the bedroom as it is the boardroom, as he beds his wife, his secretary and an older woman back home in Liverpool - in this last respect, it's nice to see Rachel Roberts was still turning the heads of angry young men some ten years after the height of the kitchen sink drama. 

Returning to Liverpool, Marler learns that his father was attacked by some young bikers for singing a rebel ballad in a pub and that the subsequent beating brought on a fatal heart attack. Investigating via his old haunts and his father's pals, Marler reconnects with a life and community that is just as hard and unsentimental as the business world he has left behind, but is altogether more honest, accepting and without hypocrisy. Initially he is against the traditional notion of vengeance that is expected of him, but it is perhaps this realisation that his two worlds aren't so far apart, that Marler begins to test just how much he can get away with in life and brings a little bit of Liverpool and Ireland back to stultified middle class London. 

It's a real shame that The Reckoning is so little regarded, but I guess it falls awkwardly in time and place between the two films it reminded me most off - Room at the Top and Get Carter - coming a little too late for the social mobility angst of the angry young men and ending up a little overshadowed by Hodges' ultimate '60s comedown. That said, with Marler's rediscovery of his proud Irish roots, the film is not without some topicality for 1970 as the Troubles began to brew in Northern Ireland and British troops were sent in. I have read that some believe its overlooked status may be down to Williamson's central performance, in that he was not an actor who seemed to engage cinema goers. 

There may be something in that suggestion, but I don't really like the implication that Williamson was somehow unsuccessful. Granted, he was a performer who embodied his characters so fully that he may not have left enough of himself to tip the audience the wink and encourage them to come with him, but to me this is a statement on his overall commitment to the role. His Marler is never less than the real deal; natural, authentic, utterly believable and a great anti-hero at the film's core.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Agitator (1945)

I came across this film some time ago when compiling a Letterboxd list of films about unions and militancy but, as it was considered 'lost', I didn't hold out much hope of seeing it. 

Thankfully Renown seem to have rediscovered it and Talking Pictures broadcast it on Saturday. The story of a militant socialist who finds himself, somewhat surprisingly, inheriting the very factory he works at struck me as an interesting one, but unfortunately it quickly becomes clear that neither the makers of this film nor W. Riley the author of the novel it is adapted from, have much sympathy for the cause of socialism. 

What unfolds is a sort of relatively serious Brewster's Millions story which sees our firebrand hero, Pettinger (played by William Hartnell, back in the days when he was known as Billy Hartnell and a good eighteen years away from playing the very first incarnation of Doctor Who) swept from the factory floor and planted not only behind the owner's desk but also in his palatial home with £40,000 in his bank account. This rare streak of fortune occurs because, prior to his death, the owner, Mark Overton (Frederick Leister) listened to Pettinger's claims against his father, Overton senior; Pettinger asserts that it was actually his father (who also worked at the factory) who invented a machine that increased the productivity of the business ten fold, thus achieving the personal wealth the factory owner now enjoys, whilst Pettinger's father was cheated by Overton senior, receiving nothing in return. Overton subsequently changed his will to bequeath the business to Pettinger who felt his family where poorly treated. When faced with such good fortune, Pettinger presses forward believing that a co-operative stake for all workers in the business is the way forward. However he is soon met by the cold shoulders of his fellow businessmen, suppliers, buyers and factory owners who refuse to have anything to do with this chippy upstart. Equally his own workforce - who once cheered his socialist stance - now believe him to be a traitor to their class. His equally political girlfriend (the great Mary Morris, rather ill served in a small role here, despite earning second billing) terminates their relationship too, whilst the belligerent foreman, Tetley (future Dad's Army star John Laurie), who always viewed Pettinger as a troublemaker, refuses to comply with his new methods and practices.

Put like that, it's easy to sympathise with Pettinger's plight isn't it? It's clear that it is snobbery from his new class and inverted snobbery from his old class that creates his problems. But the film refuses to see it like that. Instead, Pettinger is shown to be failing because he is out of his depth and not 'to the manor born'. His inability to secure orders is explained away as his fault; he's too aggressive because deep down he knows he doesn't belong and so he employs a hostile exterior. His plans for a co-operative in which every worker shares in the factory's fortune is barely explored, scuppered by Tetley and his fellow foremen who believe the business is bound to fail. The merits of such socialist practice is not acknowledged by the film, thereby nailing its own political colours to the mast. The fact that we're later supposed to side with the intractable, truculent Tetley whose attitudes clearly arise from the grudge he holds against a workmate he once oversaw and disapproved of is particularly galling. Worst of all, the big twist in the plot which ensures Pettinger more or less relinquishes his stake in the factory, is the revelation that not only was his own father not the victim of the unscrupulous Overton senior that he believed, but was in fact the real cheat. Moore Marriott of Will Hay films fame arrives as an elderly, near senile and down on his luck contemporary of Pettinger's father who explains that it was he who actually gave his father the idea about the machine and that, whilst his father was in fact paid an ex gratia payment of £100 for the idea, he refused to share it with Marriott. The fact that the misfortune of Marriott's character, now residing in penury with the Salvation Army, is laid at the door of this payment he was cheated out of is the glaring proof of the political bias at the heart of this film. What about the labour he was cheated out of? If he's destitute after working all his life at Overton's factory then surely the cause is the (clearly) poor wages he was paid! Pettinger's idea is to end all that, to give the employees a stake in the business they can all benefit from, but it's dismissed out of hand by both the film's characters and the clearly right wing capitalist-sympathetic filmmakers and writers.

Despite its conservative stance and the expectation that our sympathies should lie with the status quo, The Agitator is still quite an enjoyable film thanks to a bristling turn from Hartnell. It's an almost Cagney-like turn, which is fitting given that he was renowned for playing gangsters and tough guys at this stage in his career. In fact, you could easily imagine the storyline of The Agitator transported across the pond with Cagney in the lead role. The storytelling, the direction from John Harlow, and some of the playing all suggest a desire to be American rather than British, which makes both its philosophy and style all the more out of step with UK audiences when you consider the fact that, when the film was released in '45, the British public voted for a socialist government in Attlee's Labour.

PS; apropos of nothing, The Agitator is one of those rare films (along with several things Alan Bennett has written and the Dirk Bogarde Bond spoof, Hot Enough For June) that has a character who shares my surname, Cunliffe - albeit it it is spelt here in the credits with a 'Y' rather than an 'I'.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

Whilst Woodfall’s previous efforts Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer could lay claim to creating the genre we came to know as kitchen sink, it perhaps wasn’t until Saturday Night and Sunday Morning that this style of social realism really came into its own, thanks to its star, Albert Finney. Simply put, unlike Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier (the stars of those earlier Woodfall films) the Salford born Finney was unmistakably the real deal. Before Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the working classes were neither seen or represented in mainstream British cinema. The closest we had was perhaps John Mills or Richard Attenborough, dropping their aitches and stiffening their upper lips as heroic tommies or jolly jack tars in any number of war pictures. But now it was the start of the 1960s, the war was long over, and Woodfall were determined to do things differently. The time had finally come to use the big screen as a mirror on which to reflect the lives and attitudes, the preoccupations and concerns of its working class audiences.

Read my full review at The Geek Show

Wordless Wednesday: Robert Aickman at Sankey Viaduct

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Out On Blue Six: Squeeze

Phew, what a scorcher! I think now is as good a time as any to play this great Squeeze song from the 90s...

End Transmission

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Theresa May's Death Stare: Spinning a Weakness as a Strength

Much as been made this past week of something called the Theresa May death stare.

On The Andrew Marr Show last week, May claimed she was "not conscious" of shooting daggers at Jeremy Corbyn and other members of the opposition during PMQs. "Somebody else actually yesterday talked to me about this thing they call the sort of death stare" she said.  "I'm not really conscious that I'm doing it at the time"


This 'death stare' is nothing but a spin doctor's idea to save May's arse during the heated debate of PMQs. It has clearly originated from the fact that the PM simply does not have the same debating skills or quick witted flair that many other parliamentarians have, including the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, she often struggles to string a sentence together! Simply put, when Corbyn challenges her she often has no response to offer and so this 'death stare' has been manufactured and sold to sympathetic journalists in the media to then peddle as a strength rather than the weakness it so clearly is.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

The 1978 film version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a rare thing indeed; a worthwhile remake whose very format and approach actually freshens, enhances and matures the ideas and storyline addressed in the original Don Seigel B-movie classic whilst capturing the specific mood and preoccupations of the 1970s in the same way the original caught the mood of the 1950s.

What makes Invasion of the Body Snatchers such good timeless material (certainly enough to warrant four film versions now!) is the core storyline of an invasion of plant-like organisms from space whose aim is to duplicate and surreptitiously replace human life, albeit crucially losing the emotion and what it is that makes us human. Personality and individuality is lost and, as we’re a culture which paradoxically clings to the notion of individuality whilst valuing conformity, that is something that remains ripe for inspection and a certain kind of satire. It's why the original worked so well in the 50s in the wake of the McCarthy witch hunts and the fear of other political systems and why this remake works so well in the 70s and in using the setting of San Francisco, a city renowned for its individuality yet by the time this was made (a time which Tom Wolfe coined 'The Third Great Awakening') was resigning itself to the notion of a lost dream with the halcyon days of the previous decade all too noticeably receding as the cultural climate - which we can see in microcosm via San Fran but which was no doubt occurring universally - began to shift towards that of a pre-yuppie urbanity and a more mainstream yet self centred bland conformity all round.

Satirically or metaphorically at least, this adaptation delightfully skewers all the preconceptions of the time in which it was made. The mid to late 70s was an age of alternatives (be that in medicine, religion and/or thinking) with everything from cults, conspiracy theories, a growing interest in ecology and vegetation, ownership and business and new age pop psychology all coming under the microscope here. Perhaps taking its cue from what the original film tapped into, Philip Kaufman's film is totally aware that a shift in society and culture always brings about an anxiety and unease which is a perfect backdrop/metaphor for a claustrophobic sci fi/horror movie. There's an edginess and uncertainty that litters each frame, often just creeping along almost out of shot, in a manner makes the casual viewer wonder if they really just witnessed what they thought they saw. This is perhaps best exemplified in one of the film's very first scenes and an uncredited cameo from Robert Duvall. He's seen dressed in the black cassock and dog collar of a priest and somewhat at odds with such an appearance and the notion of respectability and maturity, is using a swing in a children's playground. Stony faced, he eyes Brooke Adams as she picks a flower (which will soon infect her home) in a mysterious and deeply unsettling manner. 

From thereon in, every shot seems to have something uneasy going on...the ever present garbage men, plants, people just staring or running to and fro. Whilst such depictions of almost imperceptible peculiarity would later be brilliantly homaged in Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead, it's worth recalling that Kaufman has his own homage here, casting Kevin McCarthy, the leading man of the original movie, noticeably older screaming in the middle of the road "They're here" - in much the same way he did in the original's closing moments - before becoming the victim of an RTC.  Some reviewers have taken this scene to mean that the film is not a direct remake, but a sequel to the original, with the man on the street being an older version of Bennell, still trying to get America to wake up to the threat it is facing.

For the remake, our hero is that erstwhile 70s man Donald Sutherland. Naturally, he's a very different beats from the square jawed side parted heroes of 50s B movies and possesses an air of vulnerability and everyman credentials (his Bennell is a somewhat despised department of health inspector, not a doctor) that is perhaps right for unexpected heroism in a post Watergate world. He's ably supported by a stellar cast including Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and, tipping the wink to the sci fi that made his name, Leonard Nimoy.

Beautifully directed by Kaufman and written by WD Richter to keep the pessimistic air the original was intended to close upon, one of the highlights of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the wonderful soundscape, both from composer Denny Zeitlin (it remains the only film score he composed) and the impressive sound innovations of Star Wars' Ben Burtt. Sound adds the edge to this piece, making a disturbing film all the more eerie.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Girl With Green Eyes (1964)

Director Desmond Davis captures plenty of shots of Rita Tushingham isolated and daydreaming that suggest her character’s more sensitive, poetic temperament (indeed there’s one of her in a headscarf standing in the pouring rain outside a Dublin bookshop that looks like a lost single cover for The Smiths and is arguably a moment that sums up my spirit animal) and it is this stillness that is often broken by Lynn Redgrave’s towering, giggling and gallomping intrusions.

See my full review at The Geek Show

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The Elephant in the Room of the BBC's NHS 70th Anniversary Season

My jaw dropped at a trailer on TV yesterday for BBC1's Life on the Ward, a two part documentary that sees a group of celebrities spend time in one of London's busiest hospitals and shadowing the staff there.

Quite apart from the pointlessness of shoving celebs in a hospital, my jaw made contact with the floor because of one specific 'celebrity', the elephant in the room of these anniversary commemorations - the former Tory MP and Shadow Health Secretary Ann Widdicombe.

Let's look at Widdicombe's attitude towards the NHS and health shall we by way of her voting record.

She voted against the introduction of foundation hospitals.

She voted against providing assistance to the terminally ill to end their lives.

She voted against the smoking ban.

She voted against all matters EU and migration which shows she has little regard for the NHS's mighty migrant workforce.

She has also said that the NHS was 'founded on all the wrong principles' and that effectively it is doomed to fail and needs replacing.

With all that in mind, it's utterly galling to see such a typically heartless, health privatisation-devotee Tory now attempt to sing the praises of the NHS in her retirement and make a buck or two for doing so as well, simply by watching some nurses perform a job she'd have happily taken from them when she was in government.

In fact the BBC's entire NHS at 70 season seems like an utter joke with well known Tory Nick Robinson hosting one special. It's funny how an allegedly oh so impartial public service broadcaster like the BBC can employ notable right wing figures to discuss a socialist issue as opposed to any notable left wing ones isn't it? The only decent programme that will commemorate the anniversary is on BBC Wales: To Provide All People is a star studded 'film poem' from the makers of 2016's Aberfan: The Green Hollow and 2014's Under Milk Wood.

Edit to add, 22/6/18: The BBC have changed the title Life on the Ward to the more generic Celebrities on the NHS Frontline. The first ep airs on BBC1 on Thursday at 9pm. BBC1 Wales however will not be showing it in that slot, opting instead for To Provide All People. I strongly advise you watch that instead.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The 'Brexit Dividend': The Curious Timing That Means We Should Beware Tories Bearing Gifts

We're hearing a lot from government this week about a so-called 'Brexit dividend' that will go to the NHS. 

What we're not hearing however is that this extra £20bn won't even begin to cover the cuts to the NHS that the Tories have overseen these last 8 years. That an increase of NHS spending to 3.4% is nothing like the 4%+ increase that the think tanks have calculated and have been campaigning for. 

We're also not hearing anything about the timing of Theresa May's pledge. If Brexit falls apart for this government, May will be forced to go to the country once more in the oft-rumoured snap election pencilled in for the autumn. With that in mind, this extra £20bn sounds increasingly like a sop to the electorate in the hope that they'll forget all the Tories failings and vote for them once more. Beware Greeks bearing gifts...or should that be Tories? Timing is everything, clearly.

So don't fall for their bribes and lies! It's all very well saying Brexit will allow us to spend more on the NHS (and we all know we've heard that before, or rather we've seen it before; a lie writ large on the side of a bus!) but if Brexit ensures that we can no longer employ the migrant workforce that keeps the NHS alive, how can the service ever truly improve?

The Sobering Thought Of Our Special Relationship

With the fascist President Donald Fart kidnapping migrant children and overseeing modern day concentration camps you'd think the UK would disassociate themselves from the US but no, we're still in the 'special relationship' and expecting him to visit next month.

Not surprising really. The rest of the world may look on aghast at what's happening to immigration policy in America but we're conveniently forgetting we separate and lock up migrant families for indefinite periods too. 

Fascism is popular again, Trump's leading the way and we meekly follow. Do you ever get the feeling that, if a war was to break out now, we'd be on the wrong side?

It's a sobering thought.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Look Back In Anger (1959)

The brooding Burton have accepted a significant drop in his fee to play the angry young man Jimmy Porter but it proved worth it, as the role quickly cemented his increasingly recognisable screen persona. Even today the image of him from this very film, dressed in check shirt and cardigan, holding a pint of bitter and staring with quiet defiance towards the camera, remains an iconic photo of the actor.

See my full review at The Geek Show