Thursday, 21 May 2015

Fighting Back : Petitions to Sign

The Daily Fail is at it again; in the light of Victorino Chua's sentencing for his killing spree at Stepping Hill Hospital, they've decided to publish a deeply inflammatory article that suggests all Filipino nurses are somehow as guilty as Chua himself. This petition and also this one ask for such dangerous negative generalisations to stop and for a public apology.

Pardon the Trident whistleblower A petition from Scottish CND in support of William McNeilly's actions in exposing the poor safety standards on Trident nuclear submarines. There's another petition here too.

Trident is also a concern for this petition which demands its abolition and removal from Scotland. Whilst we're on the subject, why not join CND? I did after watching Threads the utterly shittifying 1984 drama from Barry Hines.

Bahar Mustafa makes a mockery of the role of Diversity Officer. This Petition calls for her immediate removal.

Grassroots Labour supporters believe less than four months is not enough time to reflect on the difficulties currently facing the party and to elect a new leader. Harriet Now is a petition which requests Harriet Harman remain leader until 2016, giving the party more time to prepare for their future and more importantly the future of the UK.

Millifandom was a surprising but somewhat important and at least an amusing tool in this year's election. The proponent of this was Abby Tomlinson who proved that young people were actually interested in politics and who knows, maybe if they had the right to vote at 16 we wouldn't be in the mess we are in now? This petition requests that Ed Miliband meet her for lunch. It's a bit of fun! No bacon sarnies though eh Ed?

Dennis Skinner that last bastion of true Labour and the rebellious spirit is in danger of losing his prized seat on the rebels bench from SNP MP's who wish to claim his seat. This shouldn't be allowed!

Work Experience for MP's If we really are all in this together, why not make each and every MP experience a year of living on the equivalent of benefits to? Would they be so quick to cut welfare knowing just what such a life entails?

Alternatively, this petition asks for A Cap on MP Expenses

Lastly today, please support this Anti-Austerity movement.

And please do yourself a favour and watch Frankie Boyle's Election Autopsy Hilarious and with some great comment and opinion from rapper Akala; a very intelligent and thought provoking man.

Harrigan (2013)

The North East, January 1974. The three day week is in operation and harsh budgeting sees police resources cut back to the bone. Centralisation is the Force's new watchword, leading to local stations being closed down and boarded up. As a result, lawless urban decay is rife on the working class estates and no one seems willing to lift a finger to help the honest and scared residents.

Enter the one man who is -  Detective Sergeant Barry Harrigan, fresh from a bloody stint policing the mean streets of Hong Kong. Stephen Tompkinson plays the hard nosed, haunted, titular copper who plays by his own rule book as a cross between Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and Edward Woodward in The Equalizer. He's ridding the streets of scumbags with pure fanatical aggression one minute and showing true kindness and decent old fashioned chivalry the next by going above and beyond for the victims, most notably a terrorised single mother played by Amy Manson. 

Tompkinson's a good actor often typecast in quaint and fairly innocuous nice guy TV roles, but those with long memories shouldn't be too surprised by this more hard as nails persona as he has played a tough cop before in a rather overlooked undercover cop series from the '00s called In Deep. But despite his convincing tough guy act, he's let down an awful lot by the threadbare script from former copper Arthur Mckenzie (allegedly based on a true story) that struggles to depict him as an everyday bloke; scenes with colleagues played by Maurice Roeves and Gillian Kearney for example are often cringey and have a distinctly first take feel. Which brings us to the direction; debut director Vince Woods shows his inexperience easily and loosely strings together some pretty shallow scenes which are littered with McKenzie's quasi-meaningful dialogue that wouldn't look out of place in an episode of Police Squad. At best Woods is workmanlike and efficient, excelling much more in the action and scenes of high drama and menace, but the story on display here needed a more astute director to bring it all together and give it the cohesive dark energy that both its premise and its star deserves. Yes, I'm sorry to say anyone hoping for Red Riding here will be sorely disappointed. I know I was. 

To be fair to the director though, the production clearly had a terribly thin budget, and whilst other 70s set era films would go to town with extensive period detail and an expensive classic soundtrack from the rock and pop gods of the day, this is beyond the reach of Harrigan, which has to evoke its period setting through charity shop clobber, night shooting and Crazy Horses by The Osmonds. I also suspect some heavy and ill advised editing has made it lose a little of its focus. And it's a shame too that despite the specifics of the inflation hit, power saving, strike heavy early 70s there's actually little examination of the social or political context; with one vignette featuring a vilified scab driven to crime shockingly featuring much of his motivation explained off screen. 

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect however comes from the fact that the events of 1974 aren't all that different to the events occurring right here and now in the UK of 2015. Funding for the police is at an all time low and only yesterday a dispassionate Theresa May informed the police federation that they must stop 'crying wolf' and prepare for more cuts, citing the falling crime figures as reason enough to excuse these budgetary restrictions. In many ways Harrigan could have served as a warning from history if it wanted to aim higher and be more than a standard mildly enjoyable British B movie.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Out On Blue Six : Duran Duran

Slight guilty pleasure old Durumdurum (as Del Boy once called them) in that they seemed for much of the 80s preening Tory boys. Still, I can't deny they scored a couple of stone cold classic songs including this one from 1993 which I have always adored. 

End Transmission

Theme Time : Ronnie Hazlehurst & Paul Nicholas - Just Good Friends

BBC2's retro afternoons - a chance to show repeats of classic sitcoms and the odd drama - has treated us of late with a very welcome repeat for one of my favourite romcoms, the 1983-1986 comedy series Just Good Friends.

Written by John Sullivan (of Only Fools and Horses, Dear John and Citizen Smith fame) Just Good Friends told the story of former lovers, the charming wideboy Vince Pinner and the middle class nice girl Penny Warrender, who by chance meet in a pub five years after he jilted her at the altar and rekindle their flame.

Sullivan got the idea for the sitcom from a letter written to an agony aunt in his wife's magazine that detailed just that scenario and was motivated to write it by his former Citizen Smith actress Cheryl Hall who made him realise that he was incapable of writing comedy for women. Spurred by this criticism, Sullivan sought to remedy this and the character of Penny is utterly three dimensional and superbly brought to life by the beautiful Jan Francis, whilst Vince was played by theatre and musicals star Paul Nicholas.

Nicholas also sung the beautiful theme tune, arranged by the great Ronnie Hazlehurst from an original lyric by John Sullivan himself - who always wrote the theme tunes of his sitcoms.

A full length version of the song was released by Nicholas but it is - to my mind, at least - pretty inferior, replacing Hazlehursts' flugelhorn arrangement with an atrocious 80s keyboard.

Wordless Wednesday : Love Will Tear Us Apart

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Insurance Man (1986)

In the war torn Prague of 1945, Franz discusses with his doctor his X rays results which show a mass on/around his lungs. The doctor asks him to discuss his working life and Franz tells the tale of a time before the Great War, when he was a young dye worker dismissed from his job because of a suspicious scaly rash. Determined to find out the truth of his industrial injury and gain recompense, Franz subsequently found himself caught up in the nightmarish bureaucracy and double speak of an insurance company, one of whose employees was a young Jewish man called Franz Kafka.

Kafka had long been a favourite of Alan Bennett's and the Yorkshire playwright indulged in some suitably Kafka like paranoia in his otherwise Ealing style wartime comedy A Private Function in 1984, before turning his attention two year later to two pieces based on Kafka; his comic stage play Kafka's Dick and this Screen Two film, The Insurance Man.

But Franz Kafka isn't the central focus of The Insurance Man, that falls to his poor namesake Franz (played by Ronald Hines here in the flashbacks that form the majority of the action, whilst his older self in the scenes that top and tail the film is played by Trevor Peacock) who is trapped in an increasingly frustrating and labyrinthine Kafkaesque nightmare. Like Alice sent further and further down the rabbit hole, Franz the worker is sent back and forth, up and down endless corridors and eternal spiral staircases as he's passed from pillar to post by the abrupt and officious bureaucratic functionaries. He meets similar victims along the way, albeit ones now so advanced on their quest for justice and compensation that they are now lost souls in a sea of red tape. These  bureaucratic and 'civilian' characters are wonderfully brought to life by a plethora of incredible character actors including Jim Broadbent, Hugh Fraser, Sam Kelly, Vivien Pickles, Tony Haygarth, Rosemary Martin, Charlotte Coleman, Benjamin Whitrow and Geoffrey Palmer.

As Kafka himself is Daniel Day Lewis. Though he isn't really on screen all that much, the future star really leaves an impression and the character himself is of course integral, in a tragically ironic deeply Kafkaesque manner; sensitive to Franz's plight, he arranges for the young man to work at a relation's asbestos factory which is of course the reason behind the older Franz's ill health. 

The Insurance Man isn't the most successful of Bennett's plays - perhaps because it's a little too on the nose in terms of its anger when Bennett's archetypal work always seems to cushion its depth and its bite within cosy humdrum surroundings - but it is still a darkly enjoyable ride helped immeasurably by director Richard Eyre's fittingly theatrical and Expressionist style; the cinematography, the set design and lighting create a uniquely disturbing nightmarish world which brings to life the sense of unnerving paranoia in Bennett's script.

The Insurance Man is available on the DVD release Alan Bennett at the BBC, but it is also available to view on YouTube.

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

Out On Blue Six : Sinead O'Connor

Still beautiful.

End Transmission

Monday, 18 May 2015

Specs Appeal

Diana Dors at Cannes, 1956

Out On Blue Six : The Rolling Stones

Directed by Peter Whitehead this innovative pop promo for the Stones single We Love You is based on the trial of Oscar Wilde and came in the wake of Jagger and Richards own trial for possession of drugs, the infamous 'Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?' moment of the 1960s. It remains one of my favourite Stones songs

End Transmission


Sunday, 17 May 2015

You've Gotta Give The People What They Want

I've noticed this week that a lot of people have come across my blog having typed in one name onto search engines.

Christina Trevanion.

Yes the bubbly and fun antiques expert from the BBC shows Bargain Hunt, Antiques Road Trip, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is and Flog It.

Well I'm as much of a fan of hers as the next person, so I've decided to give the people what they want.

She can place her estimation on my nick nacks any day!

The Homesman (2014)

A bit of a belated blog post/review for The Homesman, a film I watched last month. Having watched it, I now want to see Tommy Lee Jones in one of these T-Shirts

The Homesman is an adaptation of a novel by Glendon Swarthout, directed by, co-written by and starring Tommy Lee Jones himself. It is a revisionist western, and hailed by some as a feminist western - hence my desire to see Jones clad in that attire. But whilst its heart is certainly in the right place in both respects it does occasionally slip away from those earnest and admirable feminist intentions. 

When three women are decreed to have lost their mind as a result of sever trauma in the desolate Nebraska territory of 1850s, it falls to Hilary Swank's plain and capable spinster Mary Bee Cuddy to escort them to back East to civilised and secure Iowa. Whilst Cuddy has flinty determination and spirit by the bucketload she is acutely aware that she needs an experienced man to aid her in the journey so, when she encounters a grizzled wretch by the name of George Briggs (Jones), she duly enlists him in her task.

There are two types of western; the traditional and the revisionist and my heart belongs primarily to the latter. As a result I lapped up the bleak, strange tale Jones offers up, marvelling at its equally harrowing and amusing parts. Beautifully sombrely shot by Rodrigo Prieto, this is a chilly look at the old west which doesn't seek to paint a pretty picture, preferring instead to focus on the very real hardships and dangers faced for the frontiers people of the 19th-century.

But Jones isn't averse to paying a debt to the more traditional trappings of the western genre either and, in its central opposites attract partnership of his roguish but essentially decent Briggs and Swank's brilliantly portrayed Cuddy, he has a dynamic that harks back to the classics like The African Queen, True Grit and Rooster Cogburn. It's just a shame that the tale's shocking and surprising turn has to occur because, from that moment on, the previously strong mould breaking intentions fall away. The spirit remains but its a startling omission which makes the film lose out in the long run for me personally. 

Nevertheless, as Jones proved with The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, he is an interesting and strong filmmaker not too different from that other great western star who took his place both in front of and behind the camera; Clint Eastwood. He gets the best out of his accomplished cast which includes Meryl Streep's daughter and former star of The Newsroom Grace Gummer in a key role as one of the 'madwomen' and Streep herself in a small cameo near the end. Look out too for the Coen brother's True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld in all too brief role. Like that suitably grubby, authentic remake, The Homesman is one of the best of the modern westerns.

Fighting Back : Petitions to Sign

Abolish the House of Lords £300+ a day, and for what? Taking a kip at work! Sign this petition to agree with Nicola Sturgeon's remarks that the Lords has no place in modern society.

And speaking of the SNP, this petition asks them to vote on the fox hunting ban

Justin Tomlinson MP voted for the bedroom tax, and for a reduction in spending on welfare amongst other things that impact on the most vulnerable in society and yet David Cameron thinks he's the right man for the job as Minister for Disabled. This petition calls for that position to be revoked.

Child Abuse This petition calls for an investigation into all parliamentary suspects.

This petition calls for positive changes to the mental health system for young adults.

Harlow Council stop making people homeless

The Thatcher Centre This is just jaw dropping! They actually want to build a museum to honour Margaret Thatcher - now, when they're cutting everything to the bone! Disgraceful.

TTIP A demand for a European Referendum on TTIP.

A petition to scrap the Snoopers Charter

The BBC Calls to preserve the nation's premier TV corporation.

A basic wage for MP's We're all in this together, right?

Silent Sunday : Bathing Beauties

Saturday, 16 May 2015

A Day Out (1972)

A Day Out is a beautifully bittersweet play which was Alan Bennett's debut play for television in 1972. Set on a summer Sunday in 1911, it depicts the members of a Halifax cycling club, following them from the town to the ruins of Fountains Abbey. It's an idyllic vision of an England long past but hanging over it, like a black storm cloud just out of sight on the horizon, is the impending war which broke out three years later in 1914. It's addressed in a ruefully ironic manner when the keen socialist Boothroyd (Brian Glover) explains his theory that there will never be another war, and that people will look back on this generation as the dawn of a new age. Of course, we know this was not to be and The Great War cut its swathe through that generation and tragically through many of the club's members as well, as the 1919 coda suggests.

But for now, the day out provides a temporary freedom from the dull and stifling routine and grind of the mill, offering them at the very least a chance to air thoughts and feeling to sympathetic ears and likeminded souls, regardless of class and position in society, and a chance to breathe the fresh, clean country air. 

To capture the period feel, the director Stephen Frears shot A Day Out in black and white, and the hazy, cinematography equally captures the lyrical quality of Bennett's script as well as the artistic evocation of Edwardian life.

A great cast of professionals and locals give A Day Out an authentic north country flavour and many of the 'new faces' here such as Paul Shane,  Brian Glover, Bernard Wrigley and Dave Hill would become firm favourites for this kind of genre in the years to come. Oh and I defy you not to think of Arthur Conan Doyle when David Waller's bewhiskered Mr Shuttleworth appears on screen, ever the recipient of James Cossins' toadying Mr Shorter - both make for a fine middle class double act.

A Day Out is available on the DVD Alan Bennett At The BBC and in instalments to view for free on YouTube. 

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

Tea Up!

Francoise Hardy

Going Off Big Time (2000)

The improbable success of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels both critically and commercially (it's still a success and appeal which escapes me) meant that a lot of what followed from the British film industry was  nothing but second-rate mockney gangster movies.  It's something I've discussed previously with my review for Circus a prime copycat that came hot on the heels of Ritchie's breakthrough movie.

But it would be unfair to lump all the gangland films that followed together as, on some occasions, they did try to do something different.

Going Off Big Time is just one of those movies that boasts a modicum of distinction and originality and has over the years become something of a cult favourite round these neck of the woods. That's because it's set in Liverpool and not, like all the other copycats, London, and is steeped in authentic Scouse criminality - indeed, writer and star Neil Fitzmaurice gathered together a wealth of real anecdotes he had heard around the pubs of the city to form the backbone of his script. 

Another bonus to Fitzmaurice's writing is that he swerves the Ritchie formula and depicts a crime film that owes more of a debt to the golden era of 1930s hardboiled Hollywood crime and a Runyonesque charm. As is to be expected from a performer who has become a mainstay of TV comedy (Phoenix Nights, Peep Show and Mount Pleasant to name but a few) Fitzmaurice's writing focuses primarily on humour rather than gritty, violent drama and there's a suitably reflective, almost melancholic air from director Jim Doyle that fits the central character's memories.

Unfortunately, Fitzmaurice does perhaps paint himself into a corner with his narrative which, relying so firmly on both the flashbacks and those real life anecdotes he is dramatising, becomes a touch too episodic to be truly satisfying as a feature - and of course some vignettes work better than others. Bernard Hill is a real touch of class as the wise old lag Murray who takes Fitzmaurice's Mark under his wing during his first prison stretch (and look out for Peter Kay in these scenes as the stuttering con Flipper) but when the action moves away from within those prison walls the film misses Hill's presence greatly, especially as some of the characters who eventually inhabit the screen are lightly sketched or variably formed. Still, they're wise enough to stagger the bigger names through the duration - perhaps hoping to distract audiences from those less than capable or convincing around them - with old school stand up comedian Stan Boardman arriving after Hill's exit to play a gangster who was ''more Stringfella than Goodfella'' and the great Del Henney of Straw Dogs fame further down the line as the city's dangerous criminal kingpin.

Ultimately whilst the episodic format, the mix of chucklesome capers  and gangland drama don't truly satisfy, Going Off Big Time is surprisingly enjoyable enough and it's not difficult to see why it has become a minor cult fave locally.

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Last Stand (2013)

Following the success of The Expendables franchise, it was clearly only a matter of time before the old guard of '80s action movies returned to star in a clutch of new movies, older but not necessarily wiser.

Hot on the heels of the 2012 Walter Hill movie Bullet to the Head which saw Stallone back at the fore, came 2013's The Last Stand

Directed by South Korea's Kim Jee-Woon, director of The Good, The Bad and The Weird making his English language debut here, this pulpy action packed modern day western saw the return of the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Unlike some of those other musclebound cinematic heroes of my childhood, Arnie always seemed to be an unusually subversive figure in the popcorn action drama genre. It was as if the film makers intrinsically knew the guy was just too big, too dumb and too conspicuously a film star to even attempt any realism. Thankfully, Jee-Woon follows this deeply tongue in cheek, just go with it, approach right from the off; just look at the name of Arnie's character, Ray Owens, a name  which shows nothing of the actor's Austrian roots and everything about the film's first choice Liam Neeson, but this being an immensely silly film it refuses to change the character to incorporate Arnie, offering up no explanation whatsoever! Jee-Woon scores especially highly with this style during  the film's final stages which culminate in a huge gunfight in the titular last stand; a sleepy hick town in Arizona that Arnie's Sheriff presides over, which is in turn both excitingly tense, bloody and utterly hilarious.

The plot riffs off the old classic westerns like High Noon and Rio Bravo. It seems set to be another sleepy weekend in Summerton, Arizona but when Eduardo Noriega's drug-cartel kingpin escapes from FBI custody to head for the Mexican border via Summerton, the only people who can stop him are Arnie and his ragtag team of officers, Luis Guzmán, Zach Gilford and Jaimie Alexander - because clearly even a one horse town requires a hottie in a uniform - and whoever else he can deputise into action including washed up former Marine Rodrigo Santoro and local wacko and weapons enthusiast Johnny Knoxville. 

But the film can't stay on the straight path and Jee-Woon and scriptwriter Andrew Knauer throw a host of ridiculous additions to the plot, not least of all the small fact that when Noriega isn't running an international drug syndicate he's actually a part time racing car driver, which means his getaway is supplied by a modified Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1. As you do. 

Also lending themselves to the proceedings are Forest Whitaker as the federal agent hot on Noriega's trail and who underestimates Arnie's ''piss-ant country sheriff'', and Peter Stormare as Noriega's inside man on the ground in Summerton. I used to actually like Stormare when he first started out, but I've grown extremely tired of his cheesy pantomime villainy being wheeled out year in year out for this kind of hokum and I don't know what the fuck he thought he was doing with that accent. There's also a very small cameo from the legend that is Harry Dean Stanton, but it's totally undeserving of his presence and rather distasteful.

As with all great comic book fun, The Last Stand is at its best when revelling in the action or the inherent silliness (look out for a homicidal granny and the couldn't care less cafe dwellers who barely raise an eyebrow at the carnage going off around them) but suffers badly when the script solely requires dialogue and plot exposition, a focus on its thinly sketched characters and on the forced romance between Alexander and Santoro. But, leave your brain at the door, and you'll enjoy.