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.


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.