Monday, 24 June 2019

Cold Pursuit (2019)



"...When Cold Pursuit was released earlier this year you could hear the critics snickering up their sleeves (well, you could if you drowned out the furore that surrounded certain comments made by its leading man, Liam Neeson, during an interview promoting the film) at what they perceived to be the film’s central premise;

“So this film has Liam Neeson playing a vengeful snowplough driver?” they chuckled into their skinny caramel macchiatos and rolled their eyes beneath their skinny designer frames, somewhat missing the point. I mean yes, this film does indeed see the Taken star plays a humble snowplough driver from the sleepy Rocky Mountains resort of Kehoe whose quiet and ordinary life of model citizenship takes an unexpected path towards brutal vigilantism when his son dies from an apparent heroin overdose.  Yes, that is where Neeson’s aging action hero career has arrived at now and, to be fair to the critics, it does sound silly. But, in making their obvious joke, they’ve neglected to explain that Cold Pursuit is in itself supposed to be a very tongue-in-cheek black comedy..."

Read my full review at The Geek Show

Sunday, 23 June 2019

England V Cameroon and the Liverpool Girl: In Tribute to Alex Greenwood

Wow, what a game there was today. England v Cameroon will go down as one of the most fractious, uncomfortable and downright bizarre games in the tournament with a stroppy Cameroon briefly refusing to play on when two VAR decisions went against them, and playing dirty when they did - one player even violently pushed the frankly ineffectual referee at one point!

Away from the hullabaloo, what's important to remember is that England beat them 3-0. The goal scorers were captain Steph Houghton, the marvel that is Ellen White and Liverpool born left-back Alex Greenwood. 


Alex's sweet sweet goal saw her redeem herself after a poor touch just moments earlier in the second half that very nearly cost England - understandable really, given how the poor behaviour of Cameroon was clearly rattling the Lionesses. I really rate Alex Greenwood and was glad to see her return to Phil Neville's line-up today after sitting out the game against Japan. I don't think she gets the praise she deserves, so here's a track going out just for her - former Icicle Works frontman Ian McNabb's 'Liverpool Girl' from 2004.



Wishing the Lionesses the very best of luck for their next challenge; playing Norway on Thursday evening. C'mon!

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Windrush Day: Out On Blue Six: Lord Kitchener

Today marks the 71st anniversary of the Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury docks. To commemorate this, here's Lord Kitchener with a song that became synonymous with Windrush 


Always remember that the Windrush generation, and the generations that followed, have done and will continue to do more for this country than any Tory government or right wing opportunist. Shame on them for what they have done to these valuable and valued citizens

End Transmission


Friday, 21 June 2019

Cunt

Mark Field - what a cunt.


The sheer hypocrisy of these people. It's a violent crime to throw a milkshake at inciters of hate like Nigel Farage and 'Tommy Robinson' but it's perfectly acceptable to assault a woman from Greenpeace who has interrupted your nosh to campaign about the very real concern of climate change. More, these 'respectable' politicians are the type who stand there spouting reverential platitudes about the suffragettes, their bravery and their actions of a hundred years ago, yet when faced with a politically outspoken woman in a sash their immediate course of action is to attack them. 

And shame on them for trying to use the murder of Jo Cox as justification for such an abhorrent act.

It's right that Mark Field is suspended. But it is more right that he should be sacked, removed from politics and charged with assault.

And people genuinely wonder why the Tories are called the nasty party!

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Change Perceptions, Not The Game

As regular readers will know, I'm a big fan of women's football. So I'm in my element right now as it's the World Cup in France. The BBC have really gone to town this year, broadcasting games on the prestigious BBC One as opposed to the usual out-of-the-way screenings on just BBC2 or BBC4. This, along with their slogan for their coverage 'Change the Game', suggests that they are heavily committed to giving both the incredible Lionesses representing our country and women's football itself the attention and recognition that both they and it deserves.


Unfortunately, I fear it's a case of changing perceptions that is really required, rather than changing the game. After all, the game is perfect - far better than the men's in fact - so, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. No, what irks me is the lazy stereotypical humour I've heard on the BBC since the tournament commenced. On Mock the Week last week, the panel wondered if, seeing as the England team are called Lionesses, they change the badge on their shirts to incorporate eyelashes. Really, we're still doing that kind of gag? Whilst Romesh Ranganathan on his show The Ranganation joked that no one was watching or indeed interested in the 'scrappy' performance of our ladies. Meanwhile social media is full of Neanderthal blokes 'joking' that these women should be at home making the tea rather than playing football. Even the BBC's main commentator, Jonathan Pearce, couldn't resist referencing England's last World Cup win in 1966 within the opening minute of the very first game.



It has taken the BBC years to wake up to the fact that there's been a steadily growing interest in the women's game. Such a shame that their 'talent' elsewhere haven't realised that fact yet. What's the betting that will change should England continue to do well in the tournament? 

Monday, 17 June 2019

Under Fire (1983)



"...It’s perhaps interesting to watch Under Fire in the week that British charity Comic Relief has announced its plan to cut back on celebrity appeals in the wake of what has become known as the ‘white saviour’ row, promising (rightfully in my view) to “give voices to people” who actually live and experience at first-hand the hardships of the third world instead. 2017 saw Ed Sheeran’s Comic Relief video appeal from Liberia  handed a ‘Rusty Radiator’ award the “most offensive and stereotypical fundraising video of the year”, whilst last year Stacey Dooley’s Instagram post featuring her cradling a Ugandan infant was criticised by Labour MP David Lammy as propagating “tired, harmful stereotypes”.

I mention this because the same kind of criticism could indeed be levelled at Hollywood’s long and disheartening practice of attempting to depict a very real story of conflict or struggle outside of America through the eyes of a white American character.  It’s as if they believe audiences cannot understand what is going on unless a white American A-lister is at any such film’s centre, and it’s not always confined to stories about the world outside of the US either; consider any number of films about the Afro-American experience that are inevitably told mainly from the perspective of the white community; The Help, Driving Miss Daisy, Green Book et-tedious-cetera.

Whilst it is fair to say that the Nicaragua-set Under Fire is yet another American movie that attempted to raise awareness or document the issues of a foreign country via Caucasian movie stars, it must get a free pass for the simple truth that it approached the story in a way that could only be told from the American perspective, because it is that perspective that finally brought about a change for the country...."

Read my full review at The Geek Show

Monday, 10 June 2019

Robin Hood (1991)




This will forever be known as the other Robin Hood film from 1991, ie not the successful one - Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It should also be known as the only Robin Hood film in which Friar Tuck kills the Sheriff of Nottingham - though admittedly the Sheriff here, commonly referred to by name as Miter and played by Barry Stanton, is very much a supporting, second division villain to Jürgen Prochnow's lead baddie, Sir Miles Folcanet, and Jeroen Krabbé as Baron Roger Daguerre.



This Robin Hood stars Patrick Bergin as the Earl of Huntingdon who, following a spat with the Norman establishment, becomes the legendary outlaw (it's quite ironic to see an Irishman play a Saxon, especially when Bergin has to deliver the line "Get orf my land" to Prochnow and his men at the start of the film, and you also have to factor in the fact that Will Scarlett here is played by another Celt, the Welsh actor Owen Teale) and, as he robs from the rich and gives to the poor, he falls for Uma Thurman's Maid Marian. 



You really have to feel for this film. Not only did it coincide with the far more acclaimed and enjoyable Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, it's approach to the story is remarkably similar too, culminating with Maid Marian being strong-armed into marrying the villain, Folcanet, and Robin and his Merrie Men attacking the castle to save her and end the Norman tyranny. Even the way Robin dispatches Folcanet is remarkably similar to the way Costner's outlaw kills Rickman's Sheriff in the blockbuster. 



Given that this adaptation was written by Sam Resnick and John McGrath, founder member of the socialist agit-prop, Scottish nationalist 7:84 theatre company, it's a given that its key strength is in its more detailed depiction of social injustice and the fundamental question of a ruler's right to rule. The screenplay attempts to give a far greater and more valid historical context of the traditionally swashbuckling good versus bad tale, and it's one that has parallels with contemporary living. Here, the Normans are rightly depicted as invaders who have robbed Saxon land and have forced the native poor into labouring upon those lands to provide them with their wealth. That these Normans, many of whom are the second generation descendants of piratical vikings, have no moral right to rule is evident and makes you question our own continuing class structure, specifically the class structure of Thatcher's Britain which this film was released around the close of. 



Directed by John Irvin and filmed in Cheshire (making great use of the Victorian Peckforton Castle) and North Wales in the autumn and winter of 1990, Robin Hood is a crisply atmospheric film that boasts a suitably shaggy-haired, oft-bearded looking band of outlaws against the clean-cut, near pudding bowl haired Normans led by Prochnow and Krabbé as Marian's uncle, Baron Roger Daguerre, collecting astronomical taxes from the poor for a cameoing Edward Fox as Prince John. Bergin is Sir Robert Hode, Earl of Huntingdon who, along with Teale's Will Scarlett, is banished to the wilderness and a life on the run. Meeting David Morrissey's Little John, the pair find a home in Sherwood Forest, living "like bats in the caves". It's a less cosy looking affair than some adaptations, and one that offers some charming B-roll/introductory footage of forest wildlife, but Irvin's depiction of Resnick and McGrath's screenplay is far from a revisionist take; this is still a jolly swashbuckler (though Irvin struggles with some of the action setpieces) and many of the performances chime with that vibe, particularly Bergin who, despite initially looking more down-to-earth and different than the traditional Robin Hood actor, does somewhat overplay the hearty laughs at times. Uma Thurman's Marian however is a surprising standout, the Hollywood actress may have taken this role very early in her career but she grabs it with both hands and leaves a lasting impression. She's not the best Marian, in the same way that Bergin is not the best Hood (those honours, in my view at least, fall to Judi Trott and Michael Praed in the definitive Robin of Sherwood on TV seven years earlier) but she stakes her claim by being a strong and feisty, and rather sexy, heroine. There's an exchange about taking a lashing as punishment between her and Robin that immediately takes on a sexual knowingness ("Have you ever been lashed before?", "I've never had someone make me beg them to stop", "Then you've never had a proper lashing") that frankly crackles upon the screen. In keeping with Elizabethan theatre, Thurman's Marian has to don a disguise and become a boy to join Robin's band and, in turn, get closer to her romantic interest, and the actress gives it her all here too.



The film does attempt to celebrate the rural pagan traditions that were commonplace during Robin Hood's day specifically towards the climax, which sees he outlaws use the cover of an All Fools' Day parade as a means to storm Daguerre's castle, prevent Folcanet's marriage to Marian and end this particular brand of Norman oppression once and for all, with Jeff Nuttall's fruity Friar Tuck adopting the role of the Lord of Misrule. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I couldn't help but feel comparisons to the kind of alternative, hippy events of Glastonbury, the Peace Convoy's Stonehenge Free Festival (aka 1985's the Battle of the Beanfield) or even the rave culture that the Tory government so disapproved of. But whilst this film certainly beats its rival Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in that respect, it lags way behind of Richard Carpenter's wonderfully folkloric and spiritual Robin of Sherwood



Ultimately, the film ends on an upbeat note in which evil is vanquished and Krabbé's Baron is made to realise that a greater social harmony between the Saxons and the Normans is required, understanding that the marriage of Robin and Marian may serve as the first step towards bridging the divide. As we know of course, this hopeful cohesion didn't really happen and the class structure where the rich stay rich and the poor remain poor continues to this very day. This fact clearly doesn't escape the left wing McGrath (and probably Resnick, though I must admit I don't know much about him to presume about his own politics - maybe it was McGrath alone who brought that to the table?) and maybe the intentions of the film was to serve as a plea for a more equal society in the wake of Thatcher's ruinous government. If that was the case, then we had to endure another six years of flaccid Tory rule before a Labour government was swept to power in 1997. Unfortunately, their government proved to be a subversion of the kind of socialism that McGrath and many others expected.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Return to Waterloo (1984)


Ray Davies one and only foray into filmmaking, Return To Waterloo is a dark cross between Julien Temple (whose film Absolute Beginners he would later appear in and provide some music for), a Tommy-era Ken Russell and Dennis Potter at his most disturbingly repressed and psycho-sexual. 


It is the story, told through song, of The Traveller (Ken Colley), an ambiguous commuter who boards the 8.52 from Guildford to Waterloo and who, as the train hurtles through the suburbs towards the capital, contemplates both his life and his fellow passengers, whilst audiences cannot ignore his uncanny resemblance to the police’s identikit profile of the 'Surrey rapist' plastered across the front page of that day's edition of The S*n newspaper. 


This similarity begins to take a great resonance within the action we witness as The Traveller seems preoccupied with every young woman he encounters whilst seemingly pining for a missing, and possibly dead, daughter. Coming not long after the arrest of The Yorkshire Ripper, this was clearly a topical theme and Davies seems fascinated by the notion of a seemingly Mr Ordinary capable of such a violent and evil double life. 


Broadcast just the once by Channel 4 one Sunday evening in November 1984, Return to Waterloo has become somewhat forgotten over time despite Davies producing a soundtrack album the following year. It's a film that needs rediscovering, as its disappointment in, and satire of, 1980s Britain strikes a similar chord in today's equally depressing social and political landscape. 


Atmospherically shot by Roger Deakins, Davies' songs cast their critical eye over everyone on board the train from the uncommunicative yet smug businessmen and gossipy old dears (a pre-EastEnders Gretchen Franklin appears as one) to the contemptuous young trio of punks led by no less a snarling Kubrickian figure as the young Tim Roth, as well as cameo appearances from 80s British cultural staples like Claire Rayner and Michael Fish. 


But the greatest analysis of all is somewhat diluted thanks to the cowardly backers of the film that Davies had to contend with. In the musician's mind, The Traveller really was the 'Surrey Rapist', a mild mannered looking yet dangerous individual who had killed his own daughter, but the money men of RCA Video seemingly pushed him to end on something more ambiguous and less downbeat, leading to the concluding scene in which The Traveller locks eyes with a busker on the tube (a cameo by Davies) and, in that moment at least, it seems that the fiction cannot hide the truth from its creator.


Whilst Return to Waterloo ought to stand comfortably alongside the shoulders of Davies' contemporaries forays into film like Pink Floyd's The Wall and the aforementioned Tommy and Quadrophenia by The Who, I do have some reservations based solely on the music. Davies' '80s output still contains some great lyrics and narratives but the production is inevitably dated in comparison to the timeless classics he gave us with The Kinks in the 1960s.

Wordless Wednesday: D Day


Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Trump's Brain Fart

"I don't know Michael" Donald Trump said today in reference to Michael Gove.


Um? You met him just two years ago *shakes head* 

What's more baffling is the fact that most TV news haven't picked up on this slip either.

The US President has also said that the NHS is on the table regarding trade negotiations, and then said that it would not be, and he has also claimed that Jeremy Corbyn asked to meet him during the state visit but that he turned him down. Really? Jeremy Corbyn, the man who deliberately boycotted the bun fight that had Trump as guest of honour last night and who led the demonstration against him today wanted to meet him? Well I know he said at the demo he wanted to negotiate a way forward from racism and misogyny but...

Trump also said that the demos were small and, wait for the old classics, 'fake news'

I know politicians lie, but bloody hell, Trump is in a world of his own. Either that, or he's just fucking stupid. Probably both to be fair.

Change UK: February 2019 - June 2019

After less then four months, Change UK has been consigned to the dustbin of history.


Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

Yes, Change UK, the comedic gift that keeps on giving has now collapsed under the weight of the self-centred, grubbing opportunist nature of its own members. In just over three months a group of MP's have jumped ship not once but twice and all because things didn't go their way. That ought to tell you everything about the principles of these people (or rather the lack of them). 

Six of its eleven MP's, including big names like leader Heidi Allen, Chuka Ummuna, Angela 'funny tinge' Smith and Luciana Berger, have walked. I hope they kept the bill for that inaugural Nando's dinner!

And what a day to bury such embarrassing news - whilst all of British politics is focused on Trump's state visit, Change UK hope to simply slip away unnoticed, rather like covering a fart up with a cough.  

The six will now stand as independents, and I for one am looking forward to the next GE when their political ambitions will finally be decimated. 

Monday, 3 June 2019

Theme Time: Gentleman Jack - O'Hooley and Tidow

I love it when the mainstream wakes up to the beauty of good folk music. And that's certainly what has happened to Yorkshire folk act O'Hooley and Tidow in the wake of Sally Wainwright's new BBC drama series, Gentleman Jack.


Back in 2012, Heidi Tidow and her wife Belinda O'Hooley released their second album The Fragile which featured on it a track called Gentleman Jack, recounting the life of 19th century Yorkshire gentlewoman, Ann Lister. Fast forward to 2019 and Wainwright has created a drama series about Lister, using O'Hooley and Tidow's song as its closing theme tune. The result? A surge in sales for a seven-year-old album that has seen it reach number 3 in the Amazon folk and songwriter charts, behind no less than Adele's 21 and George Ezra's Wanted on Voyage!



I've previously blogged about Anne Lister, or rather a previous adaptation of her life starring Maxine Peake, here, ahead of the opening episode of the new series. Whilst Sally Wainwright's take is very enjoyable and quite the rollicking, lusty romp, I must confess to preferring the earlier film. Peake created a more sympathetic heroine, whereas Suranne Jones can be a bit too haughty and frankly rather snobby. Then again, perhaps Miss Lister was somewhat unlikeable - after all her decision to leave one childhood lover sent the poor unfortunate to a lunatic asylum for the remainder of her life. Whatever, the exploits of Gentleman Jack are certainly brightening up these Sunday evenings and it's great news for O'Hooley and Tidow.


RIP Paul Darrow

Gutted to hear of the death of Paul Darrow today at the age of 78.


Darrow will forever be remembered for his truly iconic portrayal of anti-hero Avon in the 1970s' BBC TV series Blake's 7, one of the most complex and intriguing characters ever to appear in sci-fi, but, in a career stretching back to the 1960s, Darrow chalked up some 200 screen credits with roles in programmes as diverse as Emmerdale, Pie in the Sky, Doctor Who, The Saint, Emergency Ward 10, Hollyoaks and Little Britain. He also spent four seasons at the Bristol Old Vic and appeared several times on the West End stage. His last TV appearance was on Pointless Celebrities alongside fellow former Blake's 7 star, Micheal Keating, and, though frail (he had both legs amputated in 2014 following an aortic aneurysm), he appeared as charming as ever.

RIP

The NHS Is Not For Sale

Trump's state visit will see him sniffing around for a trade deal...and he has his eyes on the NHS.


Yesterday, the US ambassador admitted as much to the BBC. I don't care how you voted in the EU referendum - no one voted for the end of the NHS surely? And yet that's exactly what the hard right Brexit mob, the Farage's and Rees-Mogg's of this world want. And they'll bend over backwards to please Trump.

If our next PM, whoever that may be, gives Trump the trade deal he wants, they'll be signing away the NHS to US companies who will start running the pride of our country for profit.

Please sign this petition to tell Trump hands off the NHS.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Plus Size Bond Girls: June

June is where this Bond-themed BBW calendar starts to go a little erratic, because it references not a Bond film, but Tomb Raider instead.


I think what they meant to do was to homage the Bond film The World is Not Enough which memorably saw Denise Richards pull on a Lara Croft-style vest top and tight shorts to play nuclear physicist Christmas Jones (with about as much believability as Dave Lee Travis playing Macbeth)

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Out On Blue Six: Jem

So I was doing a bit of shopping in Wilkinsons earlier today as you do when this tune wafted down the aisles and stopped me in my tracks....




Let me explain. Back in 2005 I was going through a really rough patch with work and my mental health. My girlfriend at the time went out and bought me this single, telling me to pay attention to the lyrics.

Life, it's ever so strange
It's so full of change
Think that you've got it worked out
Then BANG
Right out of the blue
Something happens to you
To throw you of course
And then you
Breakdown
Yeah you breakdown
Well don't you breakdown
Listen to me
Because
It's just a ride, it's just a ride
No need to run, no need to hide
It'll take you round and round
Sometimes you're up
Sometimes you're down
It's just a ride, it's just a ride
Don't be scared, don't hide your eyes
It may feel so real inside
But don't forget it's just a ride

The implication of her kind, thoughtful deed was immediately clear. Just as clear as it was again for me today because, once again, this song came at the right moment for me. Truth is, I'm not in a great place right now. Something has crept up on me and circumstances have exacerbated the situation. I got quite emotional hearing this again, truth be told, right there in Wilkies! 

My girlfriend and I split up a few years later. The fact is, we weren't great for each other as we both had issues to contend with. But there's hardly a week that goes by where I do not find my thoughts wandering to her and I know she was arguably the love of my life. I hope that, wherever she is today and whatever she's doing, she's in a good place. And, if anyone else is struggling right now, take time out to listen to this - it may just strike a chord with you and help.

End Transmission


Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Cruel Summer by M.R. Mackenzie

Released today, Cruel Summer is the direct sequel to the critically acclaimed novel In the Silence and the second instalment in the prospective Kelvingrove Park trilogy from M.R. Mackenzie.


In the Silence was a fine addition to the Tartan Noir genre. In Cruel Summer Mackenzie turns up the heat, placing him ahead of the field.

Read my full review at The Geek Show.

Friday, 24 May 2019

The End of May


I guess you expected word from me about this before now eh?

The truth is, I'm not that jubilant. Whilst May's resignation has finally, thankfully come at last, I am concerned about what the future holds.

Nothing will improve if the only option is yet another Tory government. And if that government is led by current front runner contender Boris Johnson then the country will be in an even worse mess than the one it is now.

The only recourse, the only light at the end of the tunnel, is a general election that will bring Jeremy Corbyn to Number 10.

As it stands what I will say about May's resignation is this; she cried. But she didn't cry over the deaths that happened in Grenfell, in the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, or in the needless and estimated 120,000 deaths that have occurred because of her austerity measures.  

And that tells us all we need to know about Theresa May. No one should feel sorry for her because she never felt anything for any of us - just herself. A typical Tory then.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Out On Blue Six: Radiohead

....Or you'll never believe what this song's about


Sadly there's only live versions available of this track from Radiohead's second studio album The Bends from 1995, but it loses none of its power. 


I feel and that much of the song's compelling power (live or otherwise) lies in the fact that it is based on the Hungerford Massacre of 1987 and the psyche of its perpetrator, Michael Ryan and his relationship with his mother, just one of 16 fatal victims of that day.


End Transmission


Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Brexit: BBC News Continues to be Stupid, or Deliberately Wrong

Just sat watching the BBC's North West Tonight to hear their political correspondent Nina Warhurst claim that our region is a hit confused about the EU elections tomorrow because the two main parties have been pretty absent.

Now I know that the Tories don't seem to be putting much into their campaign (as I blogged at the weekend, they are the only party I haven't received any correspondence from) but Labour missing from our region? Erm, here's a picture of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking to an audience of hundreds in Bootle on Saturday...


Perhaps North West Tonight didn't get the memo?

Warhurst then went on to say that the region is further confused by Labour's vague stance regarding the EU and a second referendum. Again the BBC don't seem to want to acknowledge that Labour has whipped for a so-called 'people's vote' twice now, but there isn't a sufficient majority for it to pass in the House, which is why it isn't happening.

Let's be clear about the second referendum; Theresa May's latest deal (aka the same as it ever was: why is it we have to respect the result of the Brexit ref, yet she will not respect the result of her first, second or even third attempt at getting her deal through?) claims that parliament must have a vote on whether there will be a second ref, but they have to vote on her deal first. It's a ploy to push her deal through and a meaningless sop towards another vote as she knows damn well there isn't a majority for one. The only way we can get another vote is if the PM backs one. 

Meanwhile tonight, Theresa May is sitting behind the sofa of Number 10 with her fingers in her ear and the door barricaded. She is a PM that neither the country nor her own MPs want and, in typical Tory fashion, she's refusing to acknowledge reality. How very strong and stable.

And the European media? Tonight they're discussing the UN Report into UK poverty which estimates a staggering 40% of our children will be living in poverty by 2021 as a result of the Tories austerity policies. Are our media talking about this? Are they bollocks. We just get the same old Brexit chat and the same old lies. Ignore them. Get out and vote tomorrow - and vote Labour - because we need to send a clear message that we can no longer tolerate what this government has done to us and will continue to do unless there's a General Election and a Labour victory.

RIP Andrew Hall

Sad news coming through this afternoon on social media that the actor Andrew Hall passed away on Monday this week at the age of 65.


Hall will of course be best remembered for the role of Russell, the eldest son of Wendy Craig's Ria in Carla Lane's 1978-1983 BBC sitcom Butterflies - a role he reprised in 2000 for a Children in Need sketch that saw all of the surviving original cast reunite. As a kid in the late 80s and early 90s I would watch the repeats of Butterflies of an evening, shortly after seeing Hall play the role of diligent nurse Dave Spencer in kids ITV drama Children's Ward. Other credits include Coronation Street, in which he played the cross-dressing Marc Selby, Hollyoaks, Brookside, Dream Team, Doctors, Casualty, Holby City, 2point4 Children, Birds of a Feather, Come Fly With Me and, more recently, the American sci-fi series Blood Drive. He was a prestigious stage actor and director too.

RIP

Monday, 20 May 2019

Ratcatcher (1999)

"Little postcards from hell" that's how Peter Mullan recently described the semi-autobiographical films of Bill Douglas from the 1970s. It's an apt description for Ratcatcher too, the feature length debut of another Scottish filmmaker, Lynne Ramsey. 


Just like the work of Douglas, there's a tactile aesthetic to Ramsey's film, a kind of shimmering poetry and a sense of fragmentary memory to the everyday poverty of working class Glasgow which again, when seen through the eyes of a child, picks out the hazy minutiae of life in a manner that makes it all seems so curiously sublime; the pocket of shaving foam behind Da's ear, or the momentary escape a net curtain (of all the humdrum everyday things) can provide for the adolescent James, played superbly by William Eadie. 


Film critic Hannah McGill has discussed how Ken Loach influenced the new wave of social realist filmmakers at the turn of the last century, citing Shane Meadows, Mullan and Ramsey as examples. But Ratcatcher offers a stylistic expressionism to the harsh realities it depicts that is wholly in tune with the notion of Mullan's "little postcards from hell" phrase; after all, when you're living in hell you need a strong imagination, and it's this imagination that point's to Ramsey's influences from further afield, specifically American filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick. There's a perfect symbiotic relationship between imagery and music that Ramsey uses that suggests the former in the scene in which Da is violently attacked, cutting to a shot of blood-like raspberry sauce dripping down an ice cream cone as something as sweetly innocuous as The Chordettes' Lollipop plays, but it's in her referencing of Malick that Ratcatcher makes it's biggest point. 


The use of Carl Orff's Gassenhauer points unmistakably towards Badlands. It's telling that she uses the tune to depict the fate of Snowball, the pet mouse of James' friend Kenny (played by John Miller; another wonderful, unforced performance skillfully brought to the fore by Ramsey). It's a moment that should leave us with our hearts in our mouths, a heartbreakingly tragic instance of ignorant and unwitting cruelty, but Ramsey invests it with fantasy, a hopeful happy ending that resides in Kenny's innocent, sheltered mind. Telling because the Malick influence is crucially evident when depicting young James' newly built dream home and the Days of Heaven-esque golden wheat fields that lie beyond its windows. 


Initially framed by Ramsey to suggest a painting, James and his family return here at the close of the film, seemingly having been relocated by the council. On the surface it is a happy ending, but it's an ambiguous one.  Like his earlier leap through the window/painting, this suggests a better world that James can somehow escape into. A fantasy. In reality, James willingly drops to the bottom of the dirty canal that claimed his friend in the film's opening moments and that the film has repeatedly, portentously returned to several times across its narrative. Living on borrowed time, James had about as much chance of living in his dream home as Snowball had of reaching the moon.


Sunday, 19 May 2019

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010)


Tonight sees the long-anticipated debut of Gentleman Jack on BBC1, Sally Wainwright's take on the tale of Anne Lister, a 19th-century Yorkshirewoman and industrialist widely held to be the first modern lesbian. Starring Suranne Jones, Wainwright's eight-part serial looks set to be a rompy affair...but it's not the first time Lister's life has been adapted for the screen.


In 2010, the BBC broadcast Jane English's The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister. Starring Maxine Peake in the title role, it was a much more touching and tender depiction of Lister as a woman before her time and, as such, was a wonderful period drama in its own right. The period, region and society in which it was set played to the usual tropes of a Bronte or Austen adaptation but, by virtue of Lister herself, it was a deeply original story.


Anne Lister kept extensive diaries detailing her life and her forbidden love, written in an elaborate cipher. These diaries, which inspire much of this biopic, were only decoded 150 years after her death and prove that she was very much an individual born before her time. She held a desire to marry her girlfriend Mariana (Anna Madeley) or as her diary called her '-Zp4z-z', in a kind of proto-civil partnership that was simply unheard of at, and frankly scandalous for, that time. The shrewd Mariana however understood that the only match she could make in an oppressively patriarchal society was one with a man of prospects, and so she ultimately chose an older, wealthy landowner Mr Charles Lawton (Michael Culkin) as her husband, thereby breaking Anne's heart and shattering her naive illusions that they were ever true soul mates. Alone, Anne devoted her time to her studies becoming a canny businesswoman in the coal trade and ultimately finding love and companionship with her young business partner Ann Walker (Christine Bottomley).


In the lead role, Maxine Peake brings her curious mix of comedy, heartbreaking vulnerability and skilfull dramatic intensity that helps fully round the character beautifully. On paper I imagine Lister could easily come off a touch predatory or simply gloomy at the misfortunes that befall upon her because of who she is and what her sexual preference is, but with Peake's remarkable talent this is neatly avoided and the drama bends to her passionate playing and sheer will.


I found this a very moving and well made production which boasts an excellent supporting cast to accompany Peake including the aforementioned Madeley and Bottomley as her romantic interests, Alan David as her uncle and Gemma Jones as her aunt (a role the actress reprises in Gentleman Jack). Susan Lynch delivers a bittersweet turn as a Lister's friend Tib Norcliffe who chooses to live her life as open about her sexuality as possible, whilst Peake's former Shameless co-star Dean Lennox Kelly as a jealous business rival determined to spread malicious gossip about Lister's relationship with Miss Walker.


Will Gentleman Jack be as good as this? Given that Wainwright is behind it, I have high hopes. It certainly looks set to have lots of panache - a story played more positively towards the notion of Lister being some kind of trailblazer than this tale which captured the pain of someone whose love had to be hidden away from 'polite society'.

Return to Sender

It's time to return to the voting booths again this Thursday as the elections for European Parliament take place. Campaigning seems to have been taken up in earnest by most parties and many a letter or leaflet has dropped through the letterbox at the tail end of last week. So far, I've had stuff from Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP, Nigel Farage's Brexit Party and Independent candidate Stephen Yaxley Lennon (aka 'Tommy Robinson'). Nothing for the Tories though, who clearly know that they are doomed.

I know that it can be really irritating to receive missives from parties you vehemently disagree with. It fair turns my stomach to see something from far right parties personally addressed to me, so here's what I do...


Knowing that returning this mail back to their party HQ's actually costs the party money, I scribble a quick 'Unsolicited Mail - Return to Sender' note at the top of the envelope and pop it back in the postbox. A small victory maybe, but a satisfying one. 

However, before that I like to offer up some sort of reply. UKIP, the Brexit Party and 'Tommy Robinson' all had their leaflets suitably redecorated (nothing too original, just the odd Hitler moustache) and were left in no doubt as to what I feel about them. But it was the Lib Dems that I decided to point towards the truth.

Their leaflet was full of utter lies. This habitually opportunistic party are currently flying under the flag of being the only political force determined to stop Brexit. If that truly was the case then where were Vince Cable and Tim Farron last July on the night of a crucial Brexit legislation vote that could have kept back the hard Brexit mob? They weren't in the House that's for sure and so they did not vote. I can tell you were Farron, the former leader and the man who keeps banging on with 'Where are you Jeremy Corbyn?' at Remain protests, was; he was charging a fiver a head for a lecture in Sherbourne about his faith (or homophobia), but where was present leader Vince Cable? And do they really think we're so stupid that we'd fail to notice how they vote in the House or, more bluntly, when they don't even bother to vote?

The leaflet also goes on to say that Labour refuse to push for a second referendum. Again this is a lie and one that the MSM also seem keen to spread. The fact is that Labour have repeatedly whipped ahead of voting for a second ref or a 'people's vote' but there isn't enough of a majority in the House to push this over the line. 

Cable and the Lib Dems, perhaps more than any other party and politician, deserve our contempt. They sold their soul to share power in 2010 and enabled the austerity that we are still suffering under to this very day. They twist with the wind and are now pretending that they never had any association with the Tories and that they are the only ones with our best interests at heart. They're banking on a resurgence that I think will happen to a degree, but when you're already at rock bottom, there's only one place to go - up.


Saturday, 18 May 2019

The Crying Game (1992)

I mean, I suppose you could argue that The Crying Game is in some ways a close spiritual sister to Neil Jordan's previous film, Mona Lisa, but there's no denying that The Crying Game is one of a kind thanks to that twist.


Like the earlier Jordan film, I can't really put into words how much of an impact this film still makes on me with every watch. The reveal of the twist is no longer a surprise to anyone of course, but this is a film that is far from a one trick pony. The screenplay is so bloody good, that often events are foreshadowed or counterbalanced in the most deliciously ironic and satisfying of ways. Dil's belief that 'Jimmy' aka Fergus is Scottish in some way mirrors his own mistaken allusions regarding Dil, whilst the spectral image that continues to haunt Fergus of Jody in his cricket whites comes forth, complete with Forest Whitaker's incredible smile, to reveal that he had bowled him a very distinctive googly all along. 


The googly in question is of course Jaye Davidson; an incredible role and a brilliant performance. Davidson pitches it all at such a wonderfully underplayed level that it retains its utter mystique and, even now, you find yourself almost convinced. Indeed no performance is out of place here; Stephen Rea is at his most sympathetic and tragically, sweetly heroic, whilst Miranda Richardson and Adrian Dunbar prove an effectively dangerous and darkly alluring pair of screen villains. Meanwhile Ralph Brown plays a character that I once told him arguably sets the template for the tracksuited scorned lover type you would find in any edition of Jeremy Kyle that you could care to mention, which amused him. 


Like a lot of Jordan films, the foundations of The Crying Game are quite fondly nostalgic, yearning for a Noirish 1940s or '50s, and this is never more clear than in Jim Broadbent's sympathetic intermediary of a barman, Col, who comes from a long line of such characters stretching all the way back to Dooley Wilson's Sam in Casablanca. But the beautiful thing about Jordan during this period was that he so effectively infused old fashioned tropes with some distinctively modern storytelling. I still think that my favourite era and genre of filmmaking is Film Four in the 1980s and '90s.