Monday, 31 December 2018

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018)

At last someone has made a festive Festen (to quote Peep Show's Mark Corrigan) and thankfully it was Ben Wheatley. Though I'm immature enough to feel that it's a shame that the original title Colin, You Anus wasn't actually used.

The Dogme 95 classic Festen, with its pent up angst and trauma coming to the boil over a family's grand reunion, has always felt right for the festive season because that's arguably a time when familial friction often takes place. Here, Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump return to their mutual fascination with the Alan Ayckbourn and Mike Leigh style domestic disharmony that was previously glimpsed in earlier outings like Down Terrace and Kill List to deliver a very unique film in their oeuvre that foregoes the shock and gore they're perhaps commonly associated with. 

In my Letterboxd review of Wheatley's previous film Free Fire, I stated that his protagonists, for better or worse, seem to exist solely for the duration of the movies they appear in (which makes him the perfect auteur to approach a remake of The Wages of Fear, mooted for release in the next year or so). But in Happy New Year, Colin Burstead they create an ensemble of characters who, perhaps unique to the protagonists in their previous films, genuinely feel like they exist outside of the 95 minutes we spend with them. They have a believable backstory, lives and a future and, as a result, this is a Ben Wheatley film with a surprising degree of warmth and heart, which is arguably a first let's face it. 

The premise is a simple one, Colin Burstead (Wheatley regular Neil Maskell, always better than the generic cockney stereotype he seems to be saddled with in everything else) has decided to rent a country house owned by mild mannered and broke Lord Cumberland (Richard Glover) to throw a big New Year's party for his extended family and various friends. Society tells us that the Christmas and New Year season is a time for family and goodwill, but reality tells us that such sanitized Christmas card perfection is a myth and this ugly truth is ably depicted here. Colin's father, Gordon (Bill Paterson) is, despite his respectable demeanor, a financial liability, his mother Sandy (Doon Mackichan) is a drama queen who seemingly deliberately injures herself within moments of arriving, and his younger sister Gini (I, Daniel Blake's Hayley Squires) has, unbeknownst to everyone, invited the black sheep of the family, their brother Dave (Sam Riley), a man who has seemingly broken the hearts of many in attendance and loaned his father even more money than Colin. From there, a toxic mixture of resentment and rivalry develops that turns Colin rather believably from hero to anti-hero in that way that no domestic squabble is ever truly black and white.

Throw into this mix the likes of Charles Dance as the cross-dressing Uncle Bertie (a man whose proclivities are refreshingly not really discussed, he's simply accepted), Peter Ferdinando and Joe Cole as a father and son, Asim Chaudry as a family friend and then there's Sarah Baxendale, Sinead Matthews (who Wheatley had worked with on the excellent BBC3 sitcom Ideal) and Sura Dohnke as Colin's wife, who will all prove to have previous romantic entanglements with some of those assembled, and you have much to attract your attention. There's even Mark Monero, formerly of EastEnders and previously briefly seen in Free Fire; and thank God Wheatley has rediscovered him.

Apparently, Wheatley was inspired to make this film after seeing Tom Hiddleston, his High-Rise star, in Coriolanus. Having found Shakespeare's play complex, he decided to look at the plot and reduce it to its core components and translate it to a modern day setting, this becoming the end result - and the reason why it was originally called Colin, You Anus, meaning I'm perhaps not so immature after all eh? Clint Mansell's medieval score suggests such an inspiration but this is undoubtedly a twenty-first century piece, and a uniquely British modern day piece to boot. There are a couple of Brexit references within Jump's screenplay that suggest a political reading but, even if it hadn't had them, I think this would still one day be mentioned as a Brexit movie in the same breath as Hope Dickson Leach's The Levelling.

I have a feeling that Happy New Year, Colin Burstead will, like most Wheatley films for me, be a grower. I've come a long way with Wheatley; from hating everything he did until Sightseers and then deciding that my love of that must be down to Alice Lowe and Steve Oram's screenplay. But no, I was then blindsided by A Field In England and everything since has been truly exceptional. I feel I need to revisit the likes of Down Terrace now, but a rewatch of this is probably more likely in the very near future.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Swimming With Men (2018)

Swimming With Men is a film based on the true story of a group of Swedish men who, feeling weighed down by 'the meaningless of life' as only a Scandinavian can, decided to form a synchronised swimming team to give them a new sense of purpose. Ultimately these underdogs competed in a world championship representing their country.

It's the latest comedy film from Oliver Parker, a director who had previously given us ropey sequels like Johnny English: Reborn and cack-handed remakes like St Trinian's and Dad's Army.  Here, Parker's clear intention is to emulate the feelgood factor of The Full Monty but as a comedy director he seems incapable of actually shooting anything that is actually funny - why has no one told him this yet? Please, someone seriously needs too. But on this occasion it's not actually all bad. It just feels more like one of those gentle comedies whereby you don't really laugh that much, but you don't feel you've had a majorly disappointing time of it either. It's not really a film film though, it's natural home really ought to have been television. 

I guess what keeps Swimming With Men afloat is it's endearing ensemble cast of male swimmers, consisting of Rob Brydon, Jim Carter, Rupert Graves, Daniel Mays, Adeel Akhtar, Thomas Turgoose and, in the role of their coach, Charlotte Riley. There's also an amusing little gag that sees two of the eight-man team have little or no dialogue or any real character beyond being known as 'Silent Bob' because he doesn't say much, and 'New Guy' who has actually been in the team for a year.

The only thing that stuck in my craw was the pervading air of 'poor me' surrounding the men, specifically Rob Brydon's central character. The comparisons to The Full Monty are inevitable (especially as they're pretty flagrantly demanded for by the film itself) but where that earlier film succeeded was in its depiction of men who were genuine lost souls because, in the working class post-industrial north, they no longer had employment that offered them the traditional role of breadwinner. These were men you could easily identify and sympathise with, whereas the characters in Swimming With Men are not, because times and gender politics have changed and the reason these particular male characters feel lost is completely different. I saw Rob Brydon discuss the movie on TV when it came out as a film about how uncertain it feels to be a man in 2018 and that immediately got my back up. If there are men who feel uncertain in 2018 it's probably because they're reaping what they sowed after years of objectifying women and/or using the patriarchy to their own selfish advantage. I feel no real sympathy with Brydon's character's personal crisis as depicted in the film, because it seems to stem from the fact that his wife (Jane Horrocks, rather wasted here) has decided to no longer just be a housewife and mother and has got herself elected to the local council to do some good for the community, like fighting the austerity drive of government cuts. This - combined with the fact that her boss in the council is, in Brydon's eyes at least, handsome and therefore a threat (though he isn't - having no designs on Horrocks at all) is a move that sees Brydon immediately wallow in self pity. He childishly stomps out of the family home (leaving not just his wife, but also his teenage son - a teenager, not like they need you at that age is it? *sighs*) to go and live in a budget hotel and he enters the synchronised swimming team, having found a kinship with the fellow lost souls who established the activity in the first place as 'a protest against the end of dreams' and of 'who we've become'. 

I suggested earlier that the ennui of the real-life team this film is based on is distinctly Scandinavian and it really is because, depicted here, our heroes seem like selfish mardarses. It's frankly a bizarre move on the part of Parker and his screenwriter, Aschlin Ditta, to believe these characters require much sympathy based on the issues they present with here - Brydon's character is bad enough, but consider Graves' character too, who reveals that he left his family to have an affair with a much younger woman that ultimately didn't last the distance; and what's his reward here? He gets to find romance with Charlotte Riley by the close of the film! I just think that, in the current climate of #Me Too and workplace inequality, depicting soppy, self absorbed manchilds trying to reclaim their position as alpha-males with a synchronised swimming routine to 'This is a Man's World' is a pretty hideous misreading of the real issue here.

RIP June Whitfield

Sad to hear that June Whitfield passed away yesterday morning at the age of 93.

Whitfield had been a constant in British comedy since the late 1940s, creating an impressive through-line from Jimmy Edwards to Jennifer Saunders, with Terry Scott inbetween. As a result, this feels very much like the end of an era.

Born in Streatham in 1925, Whitfield made her stage debut at the age of just three years old, as part of Robinson's Dance Studio. She graduated from RADA in 1944 and began to appear on radio alongside the likes of Wilfred Pickles in the immediate post-war period. In 1951, she was part of the London cast of South Pacific and scored her big break two years later in Edwards' radio show Take It From Here, playing Eth, the fiancee to Ron Glum. This would become so beloved by the nation that they would later have their own spin-off entitled The Glums.

Throughout the 1950s and '60s Whitfield worked alongside the likes of Frankie Howard, Arthur Askey, Benny Hill and, memorably, Tony Hancock in the iconic episode, The Blood Donor. But it was her partnership with Terry Scott that many will remember her for. The pair first worked together in the 1960s sketch series Scott On..., this led to a sitcom Happy Ever After, which in turn led to their most famous collaboration Terry & June which ran for 65 episodes.

The rise of alternative comedy in the 1980s seemed to sweep away much of the twee middle class suburban values of the previous decade's comedy, but June Whitfield emerged not only unscathed but somewhat cherished. A guest appearance in French and Saunders in 1988 led to Jennifer Saunders asking her to play her mother in the sitcom Absolutely Fabulous which made its debut in 1992 and has continued, in one form or another, until the big-screen film version just two years ago. The sitcom introduced Whitfield to a new generation of fans who rightfully regarded her as a comedic national treasure. Her most recent TV work was in the 2014-2016 BBC1 sitcom Boomers and several guest appearances as a nun in EastEnders.

Radio continued to be a favourite medium of Whitfield's even when she was at the height of her TV fame. She was a regular performer on Radio 2's The News Huddlines with Roy Hudd from 1984 to 2001 and portrayed Miss Marple in a series of 12 radio play adaptations from 1993 to 2001. She also starred in four Carry On films and was made a Dame in 2017.


Saturday, 29 December 2018

A Tale of Two Poirots Part 2: The ABC Murders (2018)

Another Christmas, another Sarah Phelps adaptation of an Agatha Christie story. This time around it was The ABC Murders and yup, it seems like it's another Marmite affair for audiences.

Phelps has adapted four Christie novels for the BBC now - And Then There Were None in 2015, Witness for the Prosecution a year later, and Ordeal By Innocence, the latter due at Christmas '17 but rescheduled for 2018 following Christian Cooke replacing original actor Ed Westwick when the latter was fighting allegations of sexual assault - and each of them have moved away from the source material, depicting much darker mysteries filled with sex, violence and swearing. It's for that very reason that many Christie fans are up in arms with Phelps, but I personally prefer to keep an open mind. For example, I remain a big fan of her adaptation of And Then There Were None because I actually think it was much more faithful to Christie's novel than almost any of the other film adaptations that preceded it because they were all guilty of changing the resolution for a much happier ending. However, I can't say I was that impressed with Witness for the Prosecution or Ordeal by Innocence and so, The ABC Murders (which sees Phelps dare to tackle one of Christie's most enduring and much-adapted creations, Hercule Poirot) was going to prove to be the clincher. Casting an A-lister like John Malkovich as the Belgian was an impressive coup that made me sit up, but a Poirot with a goatee rather than 'the finest moustache in England'? Hmm. I braced myself for disappointment.

I needn't have worried. I can totally understand why The ABC Murders will have got people's backs up (specifically killing off Inspector Japp and adding subplots involving a re-imagining of Poirot's backstory and growing racial unrest in England, the latter feeling particularly topical alas) but, if Christie depicted the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, rightfully sanitized for her readership, Phelps places the stories in the real world of John Christie, John Haigh and Patrick Mahon, a world of urbane predators, seedy boarding houses, drunken bottom of the bill entertainers, travelling salesmen with psychological baggage, and prick-teasing tearoom waitresses with more front than the pier outside.   

John Malkovich's tall and rangy physique is a world away from the diminutive, waddling Poirot of Christie's novels and countless adaptations but he's an incredible actor who brings something that is both original compelling to the role. Kenneth Branagh's recent adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express hinted at some emotional pain in his past but Phelps' interpretation is a character beset by quiet suffering and emotional trauma rather than the pernickity foibles Branagh and his predecessors employed. He's still a vain man, but his vanity stems from his old age (he dyes his beard until an unfortunate and embarrassing mishap forces him to dispense with the facade) and the sad realisation that he is now yesterday's man, forced to play the role of detective at country house parties and shunned from Scotland Yard, whose officers view him with hostility and contempt (and how refreshing it is to see this frustration with an amateur sleuth finally take centre stage for once!). There's a weariness to his Poirot that raises the stakes for the central mystery, especially when it becomes clear that someone is killing specifically to gain his attention. Add into the mix the rise of Mosley's fascist blackshirts and Poirot is compelled to reexamine his own life at a time when the past is already weighing heavily on his stooped shoulders.

As ever with the BBC this is a grim yet stylish adaptation with a plethora of familiar faces including Tara Fitzgerald, Shirley Henderson, Jack Farthing, Kevin McNally, Andrew Buchan and, something of a revelation to me as a non Harry Potter watcher, Rupert Grint as Inspector Crome who must form an uneasy alliance with Poirot to solve the case.

Is it Christie? Well I guess it's up to the individual. I will say it's Christie for our time, much like Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple was Christie for the 1950s.

A Tale of Two Poirots Part 1: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

"I can only see the world as it should be. And when it is not, the imperfection stands out like the nose in the middle of a face. It makes most of life unbearable. But, it is useful in the detection of crime."

I'd put off watching this for some time before settling down to it on Boxing Day. Not because of my renowned hatred of remakes, I might add, because this version of Murder on the Orient Express is in no way a remake of Sidney Lumet's classic, it is instead an adaptation of Agatha Christie's original novel, just as the 1974 film was. Crucial difference you see - I mean, no one complains that one Oliver Twist is a remake of another really do they? No, I put off watching this because I wondered if Kenneth Branagh's adaptation had anything really to add to what is a very established and well known story.

Let's assess the good stuff shall we? It's beautiful to look at; shot on 65mm just like Branagh's Hamlet in 1996, and with a snowcapped landscape that is suitably seasonal for a Boxing Day viewing. As a director, Branagh certainly knows how to frame a shot (there's one delightful homage to The Last Supper) and he makes extensive use of what could easily be the rather claustrophobic and samey interior conditions, by shooting from above or from outside the carriage. 

Branagh as an actor, is someone I feel you're always in safe hands with. He certainly looks the part of Poirot, possessing the most magnificent moustache that ought to please his creator Agatha Christie as, though she confessed to Lumet's film being only one of two adaptations she actually cared for (the other being Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution) she did express disappointment regarding Albert Finney's less than stand-out facial hair; " I wrote that he had the finest moustache in England — and he didn't in the film. I thought that a pity — why shouldn't he?" I agree, why shouldn't he indeed! Branagh does not make that mistake here, I could scarcely take my eyes off the impressive sculptured spectacle that adorned his top lip.

As for the performance itself, it's clear he's having fun in the role though, whilst he delivers a strong characterisation, I fear that he doesn't truly capture Poirot. He's not in the same league as Finney, my own personal favourite, and this presents something a problem given that Finney's one and only shot at the role  was in this very same story, making comparisons unavoidable. The fun he brings to Poirot means that he's less po-faced method than David Suchet was at least, and he's more respectful of the source than Peter Ustinov, whose entertainment level this offering is perhaps ultimately operating on. Nevertheless, I feel he could nail the character and hopefully he'll do so in the forthcoming adaptation of Death on the Nile.

As for his co-stars, well it's true to say that Branagh has assembled a strong cast featuring the likes of old friends Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi, alongside Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Olivia Colman and Johnny Depp (and oh how ironic to see Depp play a character effectively ostracised and held in contempt by his fellow thespians!) but even these star names pall in comparison to those that Lumet gathered together in '74. I wasn't particularly happy with some of the changes either, such as Leslie Odom Jr.'s Arbuthnot, now a doctor rather than a colonel; a conglomerate of both Arbuthnot and Dr Constantine, but quite enjoyed the rather happy-go-lucky, rakish characterisation Tom Bateman brought to Bouc, now the nephew of the director of the line, rather than the director himself.

There are some melodramatic moments and clunky lines of dialogue within Michael Green's screenplay and they beef it up a little in the action stakes, all of which did make me roll my eyes a little, but this is perfectly serviceable enough. Does it really have anything to add? Well probably not (I mean, even Poirot's philosophy, referenced in the quote at the start of the review, is one that is ultimately somewhat eroded as a direct result of this narrative, predictably enough) but it's a welcome continuation of the Poirot legacy. Which brings me to my next post....

Friday, 28 December 2018

King Gary? 'king Awful! and The Unfunny List

Bit of a quiet night on the tele last night (besides part two of The ABC Murders that is) so I decided to catch up a little on some of the things my TV planner has been recording for me over the festive period. One such offering was King Gary, a one-off half hour sitcom from BBC1 that is presumably hoping to get a commission for a full series at some stage in the future. Well, having now witnessed it, I for one say that I hope the BBC have second thoughts, because it was diabolical.

Billed as a 'larger than life working class sitcom with a big heart', King Gary is written by Murder in Successville's Tom Davis (who also stars as the titular Gary King) and James de Frond, who also directs. It tells the story of Essex geezer Gary King and his wife and childhood sweetheart Terri (Laura Checkley) as they plan their neighbourhood's first official BBQ of the summer. Gary's something of a drama queen, eager to please his father 'Big Gary' (Simon Day) and be socially accepted in suburbia, but his plans are thrown into disarray when new neighbour Stuart (Romesh Ranganathan) plans a BBQ for the same day.

King Gary was lauded in many circles, with the Christmas Radio Times in particular singling it out for praise, so I thought I'd give it a go. Alarm bells should have rung though when RT referred to it in the same breath as Gavin and Stacey, but I still thought I'd try it. I have to say I wish I hadn't. I didn't laugh once. It was crude, brash, nonsense that bore no relation to my own working class experience and was populated by large caricatures whose world seems to exist of minor cosmetic surgery and anal sex.

If my alarm bells should have alerted me about the Gavin and Stacey comparison, they really should have rang off at Tom Davis. I have never found anything this man to be responsible for to be remotely funny. Don't get me wrong, he's appeared in some good stuff, but when he's written it I usually find it about as funny as toothache. Murder in Successville may be a BAFTA winner but I find it embarrassing and Action Team was just as excruciating from the one episode I saw of it. The end credits of King Gary announced that some additional material was provided by professional gammon, Geoff Norcott. Now, I understand that an openly Conservative, Brexiteer comedian is bound to be someone I won't exactly find amusing, but this man is seriously, utterly unfunny. A recent appearance on Mock the Week saw his 'jokes' met with silence and, in the final 'scenes we'd like to see' round, he was clearly reading material off the back of his hand before heading to the mic!

The result of this woefully unfunny, irritating and offensive half hour led me to consider comedians I do not find in the least bit funny or even feel outright hostility towards. As we're approaching the end of the year and compiling lists becomes de rigueur, here's a list of those comedians I will switch off if I see on TV;

Tom Davis (if it's his own material)
Geoff Norcott
David Baddiel
David Walliams
John Robbins
Russell Howard
James Corden
Michael McIntyre
John Bishop
Jimmy Carr
Alan Carr
Rufus Hound
Chris Addison
Alan Davies
Ben Elton
John Culshaw
Jan Ravens
Debra Stephenson
Rory Bremner
Matt Forde
Brendan O'Carroll aka Mrs Brown
Keith Lemon
Paddy McGuinness
Adam Hills 
Patrick Kielty

The More You Ignore Me (2018)

Adapted by Jo Brand from her 2009 novel, The More You Ignore Me tells the story of Alice (Ella Hunt), a teenager in 1980s rural northern England struggling to step out from the shadow of her mother Gina (Sheridan Smith) who is cruelly renowned across the county for her mental illness; an extreme case of postpartum psychosis that, now controlled by daily injection by well-meaning but hopeless GP (Sally Phillips), has left her little more than a vegetable. Stumbling upon The Smiths performing 'This Charming Man' on Top of the Pops may be her route out but, despite her supportive father Keith (Mark Addy) and her besotted neighbour Mark (Alexander Morris), she finds that even her own personal infatuation with Morrissey is doomed at the hands of her dysfunctional family; a journey to Leicester to see the band live is calamitously scuppered by her decrepit grandmother (Sheila Hancock) as chaperone, and later, when Gina finally relinquishes the chemical cosh, she hyperactively hijacks her daughter's one true love and becomes Mozza's biggest fan herself, feeling the village to track down her Mancunian saviour with the help of friendly truck driver Dunk (Clive Mantle). 

I really had high hopes for this one and was rather disappointed to not catch it during its all-too-brief stay in cinemas. Unfortunately, The More You Ignore Me is something of a near miss. Like many low budget indie affairs centring around music, it falls down by lack of copyright and an insufficient access to the back catalogue of The Smiths here (just 'This Charming Man' and 'What Difference Does It Make' feature on the soundtrack)  makes it hard to convince us of Alice and Gina's mutual obsession, thereby robbing the film of a crucial, emotional aspect, that Guy Garvey, Pete Jobson and Paul Saunderson's original score (featuring Smith on vocals) fails to hide. 

Where The More You Ignore Me does succeed is in both its starry cast and Jo Brand's understanding approach to mental illness and its impact upon families, borne of course from her previous career as a psychiatric nurse. The latter feels not unlike a mishmash of Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence and any film you'd care to name from Shane Meadows, whilst the former, those responsible for actually bringing such elements to life in an engaging and affecting manner, consist not just of those actors I've listed above, but a host of familiar faces including Ricky Tomlinson, Tony Way, Tom Davis and Jo Brand herself, in an extended cameo as local shopkeeper and former psychiatric nurse, Sandra (or as Gina calls her 'that big fat ginger slapper'). 

It's fair to say however that much of the success of the More You Ignore Me actually rests upon the shoulders of Sheridan Smith, who arguably has the most difficult role. As Gina, Smith must convince as both the free-spirited and beautiful Gina in flashbacks leading up to her breakdown as well as the zombiefied housebound patient and the hyper, off-her-meds Morrissey fan. This is even harder when you consider that, in respect of those two latter stages, she must still show glimpses of the woman she once was. It's a bold performance, one that sheds much of her previous cheery, cheeky glamour to depict essentially an adult with the manners of an unruly toddler, devouring sausage rolls in a non-too-pretty fashion and farting loudly, whilst a scene requiring her to brave the frozen Blackpool night air and a large audience dressed only in her bra and jeans is another example of her bravery, especially given the cruelties of the press and social media regarding her appearance of late. When Smith isn't shouldering the brunt of the narrative, it falls to Ella Hunt to take centre stage and Brand's screenplay doesn't spare her from the heavy drama either, in fact it gives her some of the most heaviest scenes imaginable. Hunt, who has previously had a small ensemble role in Les Misérables and played one of the daughters in TV's Cold Feet, steps up to the plate here well enough and may prove to be one to watch in the future. Mark Addy is, it perhaps goes without saying, his usual excellent and reliable self whilst Tomlinson, in a small cameo as the grandfather, is surprisingly bereft of what has become his stereotypical screen person to deliver something with real heart in one key scene.

It's just a shame that first-time director Keith English struggles to draw the screenplay together and stumbles through an often uneasy tone. There are glimpses of the film this could have been and it's really rewarding, but overall this doesn't quite achieve. It may have been better served on the small screen as a TV adaptation rather than in the less forgiving cinematic environment. Nevertheless, The More You Ignore is a touching and occasionally funny example of British indie film whose poster for general release - the one at the top of this post featuring Sheridan Smith on a space hopper - criminally misrepresents. This one is much more indicative of what the film is like.

Interestingly Roger Morlidge, who plays Mark's father and member of the local fox hunt here, also appeared in last year's Morrissey, the early years biopic England is Mine as an equally disapproving and unimpressed adult.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Out On Blue Sixmas: Slade and Wizzard

So here it is, Merry Christmas as Sir Nodward of Holder once sang. Once? He does again here - my way of wishing you all a very happy Christmas. 

And why stop at Slade? Let's have Wizzard too, also from 1973. Christmas hits that year were really something weren't it?

Merry Christmas comrades xx

End Transmission

Friday, 21 December 2018

Out On Blue Sixmas: Paul McCartney and Wings

Twas John this morning, so it stands to reason it's Paul tonight (with, I believe, my mate Caroline's favourite Christmas tune)

End Transmission

Jeremy Corbyn | Something I Didn't Say

Possibly the real reason the government got their gun dogs in the press to obsess over something Corbyn DID NOT say...

A homeless man had died on the very steps of Parliament that very day.

The Daily Mail called the day a 'shameful day for Labour' but it's clear where the real shame lies. 

Disgraceful behaviour.

Out On Blue Sixmas: John Lennon

End Transmission

Thursday, 20 December 2018

RIP Penny Marshall

Penny Marshall, the star of US sitcom Laverne and Shirley and the director of feature films such as Big, has died at the age of 75.

Marshall found fame in the late 1970s and early '80s in the role of Laverne DeFazio in Happy Days spin-off Laverne and Shirley, alongside co-star Cindy Williams. The '50s set sitcom about two women in Milwaukee was a huge success and won numerous awards. On a personal note, it was one of my mum's favourites and I remember watching when the BBC used to screen it on a morning in the summer holidays of the late '80s and early '90s. I've previously blogged about it here.

Following the end of the show in 1983, Marshall stepped behind the camera to work as a producer and director on feature films. Her first film was the 1986 Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Jumpin' Jack Flash, but her most successful was the 1988 Tom Hanks movie Big, which saw Marshall become the first woman director to helm a film that made more than $100m at the US box office. A trailblazer in film, making commercial studio pictures at a time when the industry was dominated by men, Marshall went on to direct A League of Their Own and Awakenings.

She died as a result of complications from diabetes on Monday.


Out On Blue Sixmas: Greg Lake

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Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Woman or People?

Yup, that's apparently the big news today. Did Jeremy Corbyn say 'Stupid woman' during PMQs in relation to Theresa May, or did he say 'Stupid people' as he claims.

Right now the government's flagship propaganda daily sneer, Newsnight, sees a gloating Emily Maitlis discuss this 'important' news item, asking what people think he said. The real question of course, is why is this actually news? What is this faux outrage from the notoriously misogynistic Conservative government (they readmitted sex pest Andrew Griffiths and alleged rapist Charlie Elphicke back to the party just last week, they kowtow to Saudi Arabia and they had no concerns with the filibustering of Christopher Chope and Philip Davies when they nixed the upskirting bill and domestic violence legislation respectively) deflecting attention away from? Right now, the Tories are so up to their necks in Brexit they're happy to seize upon any muck to sling Labour's way. The anti-semitism angle seems to be coming back into play on Twitter but, as an extra insurance it seems, they're hoping to run with Labour are women-haters too.

It's all exceedingly tiresome and I nearly didn't blog about this non-story because I don't believe it deserves anyone's attention. For the record though, it looks like 'people' to me, and it does to a deaf lip reading teacher on twitter who has written a very interesting thread explaining why she believes this is all 'fake news'. The one thing to take from it is, as this lady says, a greater understanding of the issues faced by the deaf and hard of hearing in society. It won't be taken though, the media are too happy spreading shit at the beck and call of their Tory masters. 

And lastly, even if he did say 'stupid woman' so what? It's what we're all thinking about Theresa May anyway, as she is a woman who is acting very very stupid. 

Out On Blue Sixmas: The Pretenders

End Transmission

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Out On Blue Sixmas: The Waitresses

With just seven days until Christmas, I thought it was time to share a few festive songs. I have to say that, because things have been a bit tough and worrying on the home front of late, the spirit of the season isn't really upon me at the moment. This might explain why I've decided to kick off with this particular track...

End Transmission

Monday, 17 December 2018

The Stranger (1946)

I saw this earlier this month on Netflix and surprisingly it was my first watch of this perhaps overlooked entry in Welles' directorial canon. The Stranger was his third film in the director's chair, made four years after The Magnificent Ambersons. Determined to prove that he could be relied upon to turn in a picture that was both under budget and on time, Welles accepted a rather unfavourable contract from International Pictures that stipulated that he would not only defer to the studio at all times but that he would owe them any wages he may incur above $50,000 per year should he renege on the deal. He was paid $2,000 per week to both act and helm the picture.

The Stranger is a noirish melodrama that sees Welles star as Franz Kindler, a Nazi-in-hiding in the sleepy, autumnal New England town of Harper. Determined to appear as a pillar of the community, Kindler adopts the guise of Charles Rankin, a prep school teacher engaged to marry Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) the daughter of a supreme court justice official played by Philip Merivale. Arriving in Harper is Nazi hunter Mr Wilson, Edward G. Robinson, who has his suspicions about the seemingly innocuous Rankin.

Ostensibly a genre picture, The Stranger does nevertheless have many Wellesian touches that mark it out as something subtly special. Welles insisted on long takes to blindside editor Ernest J. Nims. This approach allowed him to sneak through a four minute-long take between Kindler and his hapless fellow Nazi fugitive Meinike (Konstantin Shayne) in the woods. It passes by almost unnoticed - and it clearly did for 'supercutter' Nims too - which is surprising when you consider that it's longer than A Touch Of Evil's much vaunted opening sequence. Welles also deploys his usual flourishes of shadows and angles, whilst the decision to include genuine documentary footage of the Holocaust marked it out not only as a distinctive first for Hollywood, but also yet another of Welles' preoccupations; the notion of a film within a film. Welles personally fought to keep this footage in, arguing that it was their duty to inform the world what had truly happened in Nazi Germany.

One other thing marks The Stranger out as a Welles production and that's his decision to use Citizen Kane's production designer, Perry Ferguson. The sets he created are nothing short of brilliant, including a complete town square that can be overlooked from the drug store owned by the checkers enthusiast - and the film's comic relief - Mr Potter (Billy House). At a time when genre pictures looked studiobound and cheap, Ferguson's work gives an authenticity and depth that sets it apart from its contemporaries and again, Welles' use of long takes, ensures that he gets the most from what Ferguson created.

Of course that's not to say Welles got everything his own way. A whole sequence from the front of the film, set in Latin America and focusing on Meinike's flight, was excised, along with the meeting between Kindler/Rankin and Mary, damaging the sense of foreboding Welles had hoped to infuse the film with. He also didn't get his first choice for the role of the protagonist Wilson, who was eventually played by Edward G. Robinson. Tantalisingly, Welles actually wanted the character to be a spinster woman and had hoped Agnes Moorehead would play the role! Don't get me wrong, Robinson is great in the role but I kind of wish Welles had got his way because then The Stranger would have been quite progressive and wryly humourous too. That humour does remain though, in both the aforementioned character of Potter and in one scene that sees Welles absently doodling a swastika whilst on the phone - hardly hiding your real identity there mate!

On the whole The Stranger is a satisfying mix of genre and auteur that is reminiscent of Hitchcock, and I'm glad I finally got around to seeing it.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Out On Blue Six: The Beautiful South

Broadcast last week, the excellent Paul Heaton documentary From Hull to Heatongrad revealed much about the genius songwriter, including how disappointed he is by one particular track from the 1992 album 0898.

36D was a track written about tabloid Page 3 girls (such as Samantha Fox, pictured above), Heaton's intention was to attack the glamour industry that belittles and sexualises women, reducing the appeal of the opposite sex to their vital statistics ("36D, So what is that all that you've got?") Unfortunately, the intention was rather mixed in the song's lyrics which presented the models themselves as the primary object of Heaton's scorn. 

"We all agree that we should have targeted the media as sexist instead of blaming the girls for taking off their tops. It was a case of rushing headlong into the recording of the song" Dave Hemingway, whose vocals feature on the song, explained in 1997 to the Chicago Sun Times. But one of the band's vocalists, Briana Corrigan, was conspicuous by her absence on the track: she disliked Heaton's sexist lyric and it's decision to lay the blame at the models themselves. When Corrigan decided to leave the band for a solo career, the direction some of Heaton's songs (including Mini-Correct and Worthless Lie which would both appear on 1994's Miaow, performed by new vocalist Jacqui Abbott instead) followed seemed to be one of the deciding factors; "My reservation about some of the lyrics became like a trigger to spur me on" adding that she felt "As a woman in this business you're always in a much stronger position if you perform your own stuff", something that was not really an option in a band dominated by Heaton and songwriting partner, Dave Rotheray.

"If you're gonna offend a feminist like Briana it's always worth looking at your lyrics and looking at yourself again," Heaton said in last week's documentary."And looking back, I was right about Mini-Correct and she was right about 36D. It sort of blames the industry but to lay any blame at the Page 3 model, that's blaming the workforce. And she's right to say that wrong as a song. I've not played it since"

Heaton and Corrigan in happier times

Now, I totally agree that the sentiment behind 36D is a deeply flawed one, but I still like the song itself. That said, it wasn't as popular as some hits from the band, reaching number 46 in the UK charts in the autumn of 1992, spending two weeks overall in the Top 75, with many suggesting that the sexual connotations within the song itself led to its poor performance overall.

End Transmission