Tuesday, 24 May 2016

RIP Burt Kwouk

Very very sad to hear that the legendary Burt Kwouk has died today aged 85

Kwouk will forever be remembered for his iconic role as the karate-practicing manservant Cato in the hilarious Pink Panther films starring alongside Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, but his career was very long and extremely varied thanks in no small part to being constantly in demand as an actor of Oriental appearance.

Though he was born in Warrington in 1930, Kwouk's family moved to Shanghai where the young Kwouk stayed until he was 17. He went to the US to study at Bowdoin College, graduating in 1953 and returning to his family in the UK the following year. He claimed he was nagged into acting by a girlfriend and made his big screen debut in 1957's Windom's Way, following up a year later with a crucial role in The Inn of Sixth Happiness.

The '60s followed and proved to be a highly productive time for Kwouk, who became a stalwart of ITC drama with roles in Danger Man, The Avengers, The Champions and The Saint and the like and three appearances in James Bond films; Goldfinger, Casino Royale and You Only Live Twice alongside his debut in the Pink Panther film A Shot In The Dark.

His partnership with Peter Sellers continued in the '70s, but the decade also saw him play a completely different kind of role, that of Major Yamuachi in WWII Japanese POW camp drama Tenko, alongside roles in films like Deep End and Rollerball, and TV shows such as It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Shoestring, The Tomorrow People, Monkey Magic and Minder. In the '80s and '90s, Kwouk became something of a cult favourite appearing in Doctor Who, Lovejoy, Carry On Columbus, I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle, Leon The Pig Farmer and The Harry Hill Show as well as Hollywood fare like Empire of the Sun and Air America. In most recent years Kwouk appeared as Entwistle, a regular lead character in the final incarnation of the BBC's long running gentle Yorkshire Dales set sitcom Last of the Summer Wine.


Out On Blue Six : Bad Manners

Given that we've had some lovely weather these past couple of days, I thought it only right to share this track today

Factoid: Buster Bloodvessel threw up in front of me in St Helens shortly before going on stage at the town's Chicago Rock!

End Transmission

Monday, 23 May 2016

Antonia Bird: From EastEnders To Hollywood

At last, three years after her premature demise from cancer at the age of just 62 and following on from a BFI retrospective earlier this month, Antonia Bird gets the tribute and recognition she deserves with this superb documentary, From EastEnders To Hollywood from Susan Kemp.

It's hard to work out why Antonia Bird is so overlooked; certainly the number of awards and plaudits her work gained would suggest she should be as fondly remembered as Alan Clarke and the like, but that is sadly not the case. Kemp's film places gender at the heart of Bird's story, suggesting that the lack of appreciation points the way to a much wider issue concerning gender inequality in film and television, a claim which is very much asserted by Bird's good friend, the actor and director Kate Hardie.

Kemp’s documentary - shown on BBC4 last night alongside a 1986 episode of EastEnders directed by Bird, and her 2000 film Care - is both extremely detailed regarding Bird's impressive and groundbreaking career, as well as being firmly in keeping with Bird's own beliefs and political stance. I love that the film chose not to follow the usual linear structure of early days to final days, to instead hit the ground running with an exploration of one of Bird's finest works, Safe; a 1993 BBC2 film concerning the plight of the homeless on the streets of London. In choosing this as her starting point, Kemp is not only paying tribute to one of Bird's most satisfying and important signature pieces, she is also addressing the inequality that remains at the heart of our society in the same manner that Bird did. Homelessness has risen once again since David Cameron entered Number 10 six years ago and is showing no sign of decreasing. This pressing problem is neatly paralleled here, especially with the inclusion of archive footage from parliament which shows present Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn haranguing the then PM Margaret Thatcher from the backbenches regarding this extreme poverty. It's meaning is clear; the problem continues and therefore the fight must do also. But worryingly, we do not have many filmmakers of Bird's calibre with a voice in primetime mainstream television any more. Much has been made recently of the desperate need to protect the BBC from Tory pressures, but the BBC lost its independent spirit a long time ago and is already gagged by government. It's telling that whilst it was commonplace to see such a polemical drama as Safe at 9pm on BBC2 in the early 90s, no such programme could be made now - or indeed, screened; BBC4's tribute to Bird last night neglected to show this film, after all.

Equally, it's worth pointing out that whilst the programmes Bird helped shape and create - EastEnders and Casualty - still exist some thirty years later, they do so in a very watered down, bland and acceptable state, devoid of the politics and anger that originally made them the success they were. Witness Casualty creator Paul Unwin discuss the 'Socialist, feminist, anti-racist, anti-Tory' roots of the medical drama and compare them to the vapid, kiss-among-the cubicles soap it is now and despair at how far down the road we've reached, and how a director like Bird would never even get a break today. 

The documentary, as the title implies, takes us through the entirety of Bird's career from her days at the Royal Court staging plays by Hanif Kureishi and Jim Cartwright, to '80s and early '90s TV and into feature films, including an unhappy, hampered stint in Hollywood with 1995's Mad Love, and back to TV again.  Kemp gains testaments from friends and colleagues such as Kate Hardie, Robert Carlyle, Mark Cousins, Irvine Welsh, Ruth Caleb, Paul Unwin and Ronan Bennett, with Hardie and Carlyle perhaps providing the most insightful comments, speaking with great fondness for their friend and frustration at the lack of widespread appreciation afforded her now and the many lost projects; most notably the Burke and Hare-inspired The Meat Trade, starring Carlyle with a screenplay by Welsh remains the most tantalising missed opportunity. Carlyle's appreciation of her talent is at its height when he discusses the film Ravenous, marvelling at how, when the original director left, Bird arrived (at his behest) to prep the film in just one week, commencing shooting almost instantly.

Overall, there is some suggestion that Bird's reputation as a political filmmaker may have seen her lose work as the industry became more toothless in the face of late New Labour and ConDem manipulation, whilst others address the difficulties facing female directors. Kemp herself raises the question that Bird's work was often uniquely masculine, and Carlyle confesses it has occurred to him but he is unable to provide an answer as to why, whilst Hardie believes she simply had to go where the work was, citing the projects that failed to get developed. 

If I had to make one criticism of this film it is that very little light is shed on Bird's private life, the focus is very much on the professional. However, there's no denying that the Antonia Bird Kemp presents us with is a truly admirable figure with an idealism and principles all too rare in the industry she found herself blazing a trail in.

She remains much missed.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

RIP Alan Young

English born Canadian/American actor Alan Young star of the hit '60s US sitcom Mr Ed has died at the grand age of 96.

Young died on Thursday at a film and TV retirement facility in LA and was buried at sea. He's probably most famous for Mr Ed, the sitcom that ran from 1960-'66 and whose central conceit a talking horse - writing that now, I realise how genuinely surreal that clearly is, but as a kid watching repeats on Channel 4 in the '80s you just accepted it!

Young featured quite a bit in my childhood as he was also the voice of Scrooge McDuck in Disney's Duck Tales and had starred in films like The Time Machine and Androcles and the Lion which captured my infant attention. In 1993 he starred as a Walt Disney like figure in the third and final disappointing entry in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise, Beverly Hills Cop III


Tonight's Tele Tip: BBC4's Antonia Bird Night

Following on from the BFI retrospective held earlier this month in tribute to the much missed director Antonia Bird, who passed away in 2013, BBC4 tonight will screen from 8:30pm onwards a series of programmes and films dedicated to her.

The night starts with a classic 1986 episode of EastEnders, a two-hander with Leslie Grantham and Anita Dobson as the warring couple of the Queen Vic, Den and Angie, on the brink of divorce until Angie delivers a devastating blow, followed by a new documentary, From EastEnders to Hollywood; Susan Kemp explores the life and work of Bird, from her trailblazing start at the radical hotbed that was the Royal Court in the 70s, through to the early groundbreaking days of EastEnders and Casualty in the 80s, and all the way to Hollywood in the 90s and back again. Then at 10pm there's an all too rare screening of her 2000 TV film Care starring Steven Mackintosh as a man struggling to piece together his life after a childhood of abuse in a children's care home.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Out On Blue Six : Bright Light Bright Light ft. Elton John

Ladies and gentlemen, it's Don Johnson and Jabba The Hut...

Nah in all seriousness though, that's one hell of a bright, catchy song! And just like Bright Light Bright Light's wardrobe there, very 80s! It's Miami Vice meets Miami Sound Machine!

This was the live performance on last night's Graham Norton Show

End Transmission

Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

Nigel Farage's favourite film!

I joke, of course.

Dirty Pretty Things is a 2002 thriller from Stephen Frears is set in the secret underbelly of London; a twilight nether-world inhabited by immigrants - both legal and illegal - in flight from their various homelands, for a variety of reasons, to lead invisible and unfulfilled lives in the UK. Bringing these anonymous characters together is The Baltic, a London hotel where they work in roles many British-born citizens believe to be beneath them; desk clerks, doormen, gophers and cleaners, all without union representation or the safety nets we take for granted.

The central figure is Chiwetel Ejiofor's Okwe, a man with two dead-end jobs. By night he is the desk clerk at The Baltic and by day he is a mini-cab driver. In the opening moments we see that he is expected to inspect his employer's genitalia at the cab office, and we soon learn that this onerous task is expected of him because, back home in Nigeria, he had another job - he was a doctor. Under the grey leaden skies of London however, he is an illegal immigrant having been forced to flee Lagos under an assumed name. Now he's trying to keep a hold of his moral compass, helping people where he can (like his clap-riddled boss) and in particular looking out for Senay (Audrey Tautou) whose couch he sleeps on. She's a naive asylum seeker from Turkey, working illegally as a cleaner at the hotel and gaining the attention of a pair of vindictive immigration officers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are the only British people who actually seem to pay any kind of attention to our central refugee characters throughout the whole film. Says a lot doesn't it?

One evening at the hotel Okwe is called to unblock a toilet and makes a particularly gruesome discovery - no, not a floater of Presley proportions - a human heart. This sinister mystery leads him to the hotel's sleazy and menacing night manager, a Spaniard named 'Sneaky' played by Sergi López, who, it is revealed, exploits the predicaments of fellow refugees by working in the illegal trafficking of body parts - a spare kidney for those with serious conditions, serious money and a lack of scruples.

This is a really strong film from Frears who captures the same kind of social realism as his contemporaries like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, but employs a far more successful thriller narrative than either director could manage. He's helped by a script from Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight which takes some rather stereotypical characters (Tatou's naive waif, Benedict Wong's amiable and wise Chinese, Zlatko Buric's garrulous Russian and Sophie Okonedo's tart with a heart) yet makes them believably three dimensional, a truly accomplished cast, and some great cinematography from Chris Menges which really captures those aforementioned leaden skies to depict a London that is both a very big place, but also a very cold one too. An unromantic London where it is all too be anonymous and ignored, as this excellent piece of dialogue towards the end of the film has it;

"How come I've never seen you people before?"

"Because we are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs, and clean your rooms, and suck your cocks"

The Day New Romanticism Died

Much is written about the fact that, when The Sex Pistols became household names, punk had died. I'm not convinced by that argument, largely because I think punk had a greater and continued history and meaning beyond the King's Road and out into the urban areas especially up here in the north.

But not a lot is said regarding the demise of the next big music and fashion craze; New Romanticism. 

Well, I think I can put a date on that particular phase's death. It's sometime in September 1981. Adam Ant's Prince Charming may well have been Number 1 that month but, if you'd been a regular at the Blitz Club for a couple of years up until that point, you must have realised it was all over the day David Van Day and Thereza Bazaar rocked up on Top of the Pops to sing their track Handheld in Black and White dressed like buccaneers... 

Never ahead of the trend this cheesy pop duo had clearly seen what Adam Ant, Spandua Ballet and Duran Duran had started to wear and decided to get in on the act - and just what is the drummer wearing?! It's all so half-hearted as to be genuinely hilarious. It was screened again on BBC4 this week.

Still, the song is a dreadfully catchy earworm thanks to the Trevor Horn production and that bass line. Proof that you can indeed polish a turd!

But yes, definitely the day that New Romanticism died.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Mute Witness (1994)

I love a good Euro-pudding, and Mute Witness is even more of a mish-mash than most; German-financed, British-Lebanese director, filmed in Moscow, made for American distribution, starring American, British and Russian actors and with a distinctive Italian Giallo flavour, the film was pretty much in development for ten years before it finally saw the light of day. 

Writer/director Anthony Waller was a UK-based director of award winning adverts when he wrote his first full length screenplay in the mid '80s; a film set in 1930s Chicago dealing with civil authority corruption and the rise of gang law. Between that point and 1993 when Mute Witness commenced filming, Waller had totally rewritten his script to set it in Yeltsin's Moscow, a city whose sociopolitical situation was, to his mind, not too dissimilar to Prohibition-era Chicago. In the bag already was an effective cameo from Sir Alec Guinness whom Waller had convinced to appear in his film way back in 1986 and whose scenes as an underworld kingpin known as The Reaper ("see his face, and die") were shot in Germany over the course of just one morning in that year, before subsequently being edited into the final version eight years later. It was to be, technically, the legendary thespian's last feature film. Hey, it doesn't matter that he's clearly dressed as a 1930s gangland Godfather, does it?

Waller's film concerns a mute American special effects coordinator, Billy Hughes (played by acclaimed and beautiful Russian actress Marina Zudina, with the language barrier being deftly handled by her character's inability to speak), who working on a low-budget slasher horror movie in Moscow alongside her sister Karen (British actress Fay Ripley) and Andy, her sister's boyfriend (Evan Richards) who is the director of the flick. There's a case of art imitating life when Andy reveals he's filming in Russia for its cheap labour costs, which is exactly the reason why Waller based himself there too.

When Billy accidentally gets locked in at the set after the production has wrapped for for the evening, she observes the local Russian crew doing some decidedly unofficial overtime, filming what she initially believes to be a cheap porno. But when the male actor pulls a knife and proceeds to brutally murder his female co-star, Billy quickly realises she's stumbled upon a snuff movie operation. 

What immediately follows is a very long, extremely effective and utterly nail biting 'stalk and chase' sequence that would be critically acclaimed to the hilt if this were a better known feature. Narrowly fleeing the scene with her life, Billy then proceeds in her attempt to convince the Russian authorities - along with Andy the director -  that the crew are a part of a crazed killer pornography ring but, as with the best Hitchcockian traditions, the bad guys are clever enough to convince everyone that a 'hysterical' Billy only saw a fictional murder as part of Andy's shoot.

Unfortunately, Waller doesn't just stick with this perfectly serviceable plot and overeggs his Euro pudding somewhat with the introduction, in the film's latter stages, of what is presumably a left over from the original 30s Chicago draft; corruption at the highest levels and an international conspiracy thriller element, complete with a stolen floppy disk and Oleg Yankovsky's undercover detective. Coming after that impressive opening 40 minutes, it is a little frustrating.

But there's much more in the film's favour overall than it's failings. Like Hitchcock, Waller isn't afraid of injecting some wonderfully quirky,  laugh out loud black comedy into the proceedings. When faced with a murderer intent on taking out their only witness for the second time, how does a young mute girl attract the attention of her neighbour across the street - why, flash at him of course! And, whilst the murderer takes apart the flat to get at her, the neighbour downstairs is thumping at his ceiling to protest at the noise that is keeping him awake! There's also the great comic support provided by Evan Richards and Fay Ripley as Andy and Karen who run around always a step behind Billy like a wisecracking and bickering sitcom/screwball couple who have just wandered in from a Woody Allen film (Manhattan Murder Mystery perhaps?). Waller clearly has fun sending up would-be auteurs of the Gen X age with Andy, whilst Ripley is both considerably tougher than her weedy boyfriend and believably supportive of her disabled sister Billy. It's just a shame Waller insisted on his siblings being American, as Ripley's accent often slips. Why they couldn't have been British I do not know. Shortly after this, Ripley would become a household name thanks to her role as Jenny Gifford in 1990s hit comedy drama Cold Feet employing the same strengths she shows here. And I always found her to be very easy on the eye and a really charismatic screen presence, so that helps too.

Ultimately though, the film's strongest character is of course it's leading lady who is not only mute, but is also further handicapped in being an American in a foreign land; she's unable to speak and unable to understand what her enemies are saying as well. Marina Zudina is great in the central role, conveying so much with her eyes and genuinely making us care for her character. You can trace the lineage of Billy Hughes right through all the populist scream queen figures  and particular homage is due to Audrey Hepburn's role as the blind heroine of Wait Until Dark, meaning that Waller's Euro pudding like all the best Euro puddings offers a convincing and affectionately postmodern critique on Hollywood and especially so considering much of the fun is had at exploring the nature of a film within a film. 

I hadn't seen this one in ages, so glad I decided to reacquaint myself with it once more last night.

Tonight's Tele Tip: Love, Nina (and Rapid Review)

Really looking forward to Love, Nina on BBC1 tonight at 9:30pm starring Faye Marsay and Helena Bonham Carter.

This is a 5 part adaptation by Nick Hornby of Nina Stibbe's bestselling memoirs of the same name detailing her time as a nanny in the 1980s to Sam and Will Frears, the children of single parent Mary Kay Wilmers (deputy editor of London Review of Books and ex-wife of director Stephen Frears)  I finished reading Stibbe's book earlier this week and it's a great read. 

Love, Nina detail the then 20 year old Nina's move from Leicester to the fashionable, literary and media world of London's Gloucester Crescent, where Mary Kay's friends and neighbours included the likes of Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, Michael Frayn and Claire Tomalin. As the '80s was an age before mobile phones, the net and skype, Nina kept in touch with her sister Victoria (known as Vic) at home via a series of letters which shape the book, and I presume, this forthcoming television adaptation.

I really enjoyed the book, which is a warm, nostalgic and very funny trip back to the '80s in which the family Nina is employed by come across, though her letters home, as eccentric, unflappable and without pretension. Their set-up, treating the two children Sam and Will (10 and 9 respectively when Nina starts to live and work there) as adults with a free rein of language including swearing, and with Alan Bennett as a nightly supper guest, is a delight to read and I can't wait to see that translated to the screen - though for television the character Malcolm Tanner played by Jason Watkins will be a thinly disguised Bennett.

And anything that gives Marsay a starring role can only be a good thing.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Fighting Back : Petitions to Sign/Demo to Attend: NHS Bursary or Bust

While we wait to see how the BMA's 'uphill struggle' to sell the new deal to junior doctors goes, it's worth remembering and acting upon the fact that the government intend to shit on the NHS in other ways.

This petition was set up by nurse Danielle Tiplady to challenge the government's decision to axe the NHS bursary for its students next year. Without that lifeline, syudent nurses, midwives, physios etc will be expected to be lumbered with debts of up to £50,000-£60,000 for their training. The kind of debt that will frankly make it impossible for many to take up their dream careers in the NHS.

The petition currently has over 54,000 signatures. Please, add your name to that list and show your support for the NHS.

You can also show your support by joining the demo outside St Thomas' Hospital which will march to the Dept of Health on the 4th June at 1pm. Y'know, the kind of demo that our completely non-biased BBC news team are bound to cover, right?* Further details of the march can be found on the Bursary or Bust Facebook page

*And yes, that is irony. Of course they won't fucking report on it. If the whole of the country came out in support and brought London to a standstill, the BBC would still ignore it to keep on Cameron's side and Whittingdale at bay.

Specs Appeal

Relieved to see it's not just me who finds Judge Rinder's court clerk Michelle Hassan adorable - there's quite a big fan base for her online

All rise!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Gig Review: Isy Suttie @ Liverpool Philharmonic's Music Room, 15/5/16

Ever the cultural hub, Liverpool is currently even more cultural than normal with lots going on across the city thanks to the WowFest (Writing on the Wall) which celebrates writing in all forms and has attracted talks and performances from a wide range of people including Alexei Sayle, Jerry Dammers, Francesca Martinez, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Lord Puttnam, Phil Redmond, Dirk Maggs and Isy Suttie.

Isy is of course the reason I'm posting today, having bagged a ticket for a unique daytime gig, taking place today (Sunday) from 2pm. I must say this is the first time I've ever been to proper stand up during the day, and it suited Isy's homely, friendly style beautifully.

This show is essentially a live version of Isy's debut book, The Actual One (which I've previously reviewed here) Wisely Isy doesn't fall into the trap of simply regurgitating huge reams of text, like some comics with book to sell, and instead offers a precis which appeals to both those who have already read The Actual One and those who would wish to purchase the book after the show from the foyer (sold via News From Nowhere - Liverpool's best independent bookstore; a feminist co-operative that has been running since the '70s) whilst at the same time providing new material, largely in the shape of her amusing and melodic songs; one of which taps into the same themes of the book, exploring her concern regarding all her friends 'growing up' and moving to the countryside ("twattyside" as she sings at one point) and another which instructs us all to wait for our real love before playing them the music of Tom Waits.  I also liked her anecdote about sharing a train carriage on the way home from a gig in Manchester with two drunken teenage girls playing a variant of 'Truth or Dare'; "Would you ever drink your own blood?", "Ugh no, I'd get AIDS!"

After the show we were treated to a Q&A from the stage chaired by a lady involved with Wowfest, where Isy revealed that she is currently working on a second book and was pleasingly open about her life and her career - including the glut of new comics who are imitating the greats as they attempt to find their way. At one point she mentioned how every young male comic now seems to have adopted the same vocal mannerisms of Stewart Lee, and I was amused to hear two girls behind me whisper to one another "Who's that?"  
After the Q&A we had the chance to meet Isy and have our books signed. 

As you can probably tell by the photo at the top of this review, I neglected to bring my book along to the gig (the Q&A and signing wasn't advertised, which was a minor irritation) but thankfully Isy was happy to sign my ticket and seemed as genuinely lovely as she does on TV. I'd long since hoped to catch Isy live, having seen her stand up on shows like The Alternative Comedy Experience and Dave's One Night Stand, and she really did not disappoint. It was, in short, a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon - I hope there'll be more stand ups who will consider the daytime slots at festivals from now on.

A quick word about The Music Room; this was the first time I'd ever attended the venue. I've been to the Philharmonic more times than I'd care to recall, but this more intimate setting, approached at the rear of the building on Sugnall Street, was a new experience for me. I really enjoyed it too - it's intimate and informal, spotlessly clean and modern and the layout is chairs and little round tables giving the room an almost cafe like feel. As long as you've got a ticket, you can sit where you like, so I managed to get myself a front seat which was great. 

I'm hoping to catch a few more events at the Wowfest throughout this month.

Silent Sunday : Fjords

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Out On Blue Six Eurovision Special : Precious

Being Eurovision night, Pointless has just had a celebrity Eurovision-themed special pitching former Eurovision entrants from the UK and Ireland against one another for the quiz. 

Pointless Celebrities Eurovision Special 2016, 
From l to r; Cheryl Baker and Jay Aston, Johnny Logan, Sophie McDonnell, Linda Martin, 
Natalie Power and Russ Spencer, and Jenny Frost, 
with hosts Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman front and centre

One team was Sophie McDonnell and Atomic Kitten star Jenny Frost who in 1999 represented the UK with Say It Again

A real blast from the past, huh?

It's strange to feel nostalgic about the rather generic sound of a late 90s and early 00s girl band but, though I wasn't in to that kind of music at the time, I did rather like Say It Again, because it was our Eurovision entry and I was still relatively young enough to be bang into Eurovision at the time. I also rather fancied Sophie - and it was good to see her again on Pointless tonight having largely disappeared from our screens since her secondary career as a CBBC presenter seems to have come to an end.

Unfortunately, Precious didn't fare very well on the night itself, bagging a rather paltry 38 points and coming twelfth. They fared better in the UK charts reaching number 6 (along with number 36 and 34 in the Belgian and Swedish charts respectively) The group, comprising of Sophie and Jenny who established it in 1998, and Anya Lahiri, Kalli Clark-Sternberg and lead vocalist Louise Rose, went on to release their debut self titled album in November 2000 and a further three singles from there in the run up to that release; Rewind (number 11 in March 2000) It's Gonna Be My Way (number 27 in June of that year) and lastly New Beginning (which failed to chart beyond number 50 that autumn)  

Dropped from their label following disappointing album sales and diminishing singles performances, the group split to go their separate ways; Sophie into children's TV and radio, Anya into modelling with lads mag FHM, Louise into acting, Kalli into session singing and most famously of all, Jenny Frost who replaced Kerry Katona for bigger pop success with Atomic Kitten before a career fronting the likes of Snog Marry Avoid on BBC3. 

Let's hope the UK perform more successfully in the contest tonight - though I wouldn't get my hopes up!

Out On Blue Six : The Stone Roses

The arrival of the lemon posters across Manchester this week could only mean one thing; The Stone Roses were back, and the arrival of some much rumoured, hotly anticipated new material touched down on Thursday night at 8pm in the shape of their new single All For One

I've stayed my hand when it came to posting thoughts until now because I wanted to hear it a few times. For me, it's a pleasing enough terrace anthem that's sure to go down well at the forthcoming live gigs but is perhaps a bit too safe, suggesting this is simply a tentative toe in the water for a band who hadn't produced any new material since the mid '90s. It lacks much of the shimmer we accept as the Roses sonic signature and the psychedelia and dancefloor shuffle is definitely absent for this 2016 incarnation, but overall this is still something to celebrate and the vocalisation of the rather generic, simple and repetitive lyrics find Brown in fine fettle.

Some of the mixed reviews are a bit unfair really, granted the single doesn't sound as unique as you may expect from The Roses, but the fact that it sounds like Oasis or a dozen other indie bands you could care to name shows just how important the band actually where in shaping that genre of music. I must admit though I did chuckle at the Radcliffe and Maconie show yesterday which saw one listener say its title lyric reminded them of the same lyric in the theme from Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds!

End Transmission

Friday, 13 May 2016

The Bride (1985)

I love an eclectic cast me, but you perhaps know 1985's The Bride has taken things too far in its opening ten minutes which features Barry the radish off Auf Wiedersehen Pet, The Kurgan from Highlander, the girl from Flashdance, The Naked Civil Servant himself and Sting! The Bride is just one of those kind of films, littered with so much stunt casting that even the third peasant on the left is portrayed by that bloke off Metal Mickey.

For his third big screen directorial effort, Franc Roddam chose to tackle something more epic yet also more traditional than Quadrophenia, the debut he is perhaps most famous for (although he's probably most famous for devising Masterchef now thanks to TV's utter fascination with the cookery show format) with this take on Mary Shelley's Prometheus myth, which he updates for the modern day audience with a quasi-feminist slant. 

Unfortunately, the female empowerment angle is rather scuppered by the fact that he entrusts these scenes to Jennifer Beals as the titular Bride, Eva, and possibly The Worst (and certainly most arrogant) Actor In The World, Sting as her creator, Baron Frankenstein. Seriously, whoever told Sting he could act wants shooting; along with whoever told him he should have a career in music, and whoever suggested he was handsome. He's far too weak an actor to convincingly portray the mad man of science, Frankenstein, and tackles the film in the same way he'd tackle a music video - preening and posing throughout. 

Beals earned a Razzie nomination for her performance here, but that's not strictly fair. Granted she's a little more out of her depth here than she was pretending to be a welder-by-day, exotic-dancer-by-night in Flashdance, but she brings a certain naivety to the role and a blankness that actually befits a character who has no clear understanding of how she came to be in this world, and her wide haunted eyes suggest this where, all too often, the script fails her. It's unfortunate then that her storyline, which you'd presume, going off the title and both her and Sting's star billing, was the main thrust of the film is actually its weakest element; the pair wander rather mournfully and stiltedly around scenes set inside Castle Frankenstein and Bavarian high society (watched over by a countess played by 60s supermodel and Blow Up star Veruschka) with the feminist themes being clumsily handled and conveyed, beyond Anthony Higgins as Sting's mate suggesting that a more compliant female companion ought to have been the ideal. The transformation within Frankenstein from creator of Eva to abusive pursuer of her unwilling affection is poorly developed and seems to spring entirely from the fact that Beals' Eva was catching the eye of young cavalry officer Cary Elwes, alerting Sting to his inner neanderthal 'My woman, my property' attitude.

Thankfully, the other major plot in the film is much better. In the opening ten minutes, on the night of Eva's creation, Castle Frankenstein is partly destroyed by lightning which causes a fire (unfortunately killing off Timothy Spall's Paulus, an Igor-like assistant, and Quentin Crisp's Dr Zalhus - this is a real shame, Spall deserves more screen time, and indeed some actual lines, whereas Crisp could easily have been retained to take up Higgins' role whose character is barely developed beyond being a sounding board for Sting's pompous scientific and philosophical babble) from which Frankenstein's original creation, The Monster (Clancy Brown) flees from and is presumed dead. Taking to the road, he meets David Rappaport's circus dwarf, Rinaldo, who convinces him to accompany him to Budapest to join a circus run by Alexei Sayle and Phil Daniels (more eclectic casting!) and along the way he shows The Monster, whom he christens Viktor (his creator, the Baron, is called Charles in this film to avoid any confusion) kindness and compassion, as well as  a sense of self worth. 

This storyline really flies despite it perhaps being a bit sugary and diverting us from the things we normally expect from a Frankenstein film. It is helped immeasurably by Rappaport who pitches his performance just right to effectively engage our audience sympathies both for him and the previously unloved, unnamed and tormented Monster. It also helps that the circus setting is a naturally vivid and eccentric one and, shot in the sunkissed South of France, it seems Roddam is naturally in his element here, capturing the rogues gallery beautifully with Sayle, Daniels, that other Quadrophenia (and Metal Mickey!) star Gary Shail and a woman with the biggest pair of boobs I have ever seen! Each time the action moves from this plot back to Sting I must confess my interest dipped enormously. Even when we must sadly say goodbye to Rappaport's kindly dwarf, Viktor's plotline still holds some interest, with a rather lovely scene between Brown and Ken Campbell as a forest dwelling trader of baubles, bangles and beads. Eventually, the plotlines converge by way of a psychic link between both Viktor and Eva (which has sadly only been half-heartedly developed throughout the film) and a contrived, too coincidental chance meeting between the pair which ultimately leads to their reunion, and the union the Baron originally promised for them, once they've got rid of Sting that is.

There, a plot spoiler - Sting carks it. But let's face it, that's got to be good news in anyone's books, right?