Sunday, 24 June 2018

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

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

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


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

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 22 June 2018

Girl With Green Eyes (1964)

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

See my full review at The Geek Show

Thursday, 21 June 2018

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

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

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

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

She voted against the introduction of foundation hospitals.

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

She voted against the smoking ban.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Sobering Thought Of Our Special Relationship

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

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

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

It's a sobering thought.