Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Out On Blue Six: Manic Street Preachers

Picture the scene: It's earlier today and I'm in a pub in Liverpool. I've put a few song son the jukebox, the most recent of which are Kevin Carter and Design for Life.

A young guy suddenly calls out "Is that you putting this stuff on the jukebox? Who are they? The last two were really good" 

I told them him that they are the Manic Street Preachers and the tracks are Kevin Carter and A Design For Life

"The Mannie Steve Peaches?" he replied. "I've never heard of 'em, but they're great. Are they old?"

How am I now in a world where people don't know the Manics?!?

Still at least he loved them and he went off with my recommendations of songs that were around before he was even born!

So this Out On Blue Six is dedicated to you, youngster...




I rewatched the 1995 film Judge Dredd - the film that this Manics track was provisionally written and recorded for -  at the weekend. I remember watching it at Warrington UCI back on its release in 1995 and finding it to be complete and utter bin juice and an insult to 2000AD....the rewatch hasn't changed my opinion either.

End Transmission


Brakes (2016)



Mercedes Grower’s film has been attracting a lot of PR-friendly comparisons with Love Actually in that rather hoary vein of ‘It’s like Love Actually…on acid’ (in reality, Love Actually on just such substances would amount to little more than Hugh Grant staring at his open palms for two hours rather than Martine McCutcheon’s pleasingly plump rear end, whilst Alan Rickman would chunner on forever to a dead-eyed Emma Thompson about just why he felt the need to be unfaithful to her with Heike Makatsch because ‘we’re all like…connected, y’know?’) when in actual fact what Brakes actually is is something much more honest, more ragged and punky, as befits its micro-budget aesthetic.

See my full review at The Geek Show

Tonight's Tele Tip: Mum

Mum, Stefan Golaszewski's Mike Leigh-esque sitcom, returns for a second series tonight on BBC2 at 10pm.


Following the channel's repeat of series one in the last fortnight, my blog has spiked in views for my previous post about it, as people want to find out what the theme tune is!

I'm really looking forward to tonight's episode and very happy to hear that the BBC have commissioned a third series before this second one has even aired.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Do The Tories Think We Have Short Memories, Or Do They Just Think We're Stupid?


Theresa May took to the comfy sofa of Philip and Holly's This Morning today (and people say she's afraid of tough interviewers?) to express her concern at student tuition fees and to assure us that her government will do something about it. What they plan to do is look into it for a year. Hmm... 

But what really irks me about this whole thing is that Theresa May clearly thinks we either have very short memories or we are completely stupid. She's counting on us forgetting that one of her first acts as PM was to abolish the maintenance grants for the poorest of students. She's hoping we're stupid enough not to realise that in 2009 she voted in favour of the of tripling tuition fees to the £9,000 per annum figure she now expresses concern over, along with her vote to approve the rip off inflation measure of +3% on any subsequent debt incurred. 

Don't be fooled. This Tory 12 month review into tuition fees is nothing but a sop in the face of the forthcoming local elections and an attempt to try and wrestle a popular manifesto pledge from Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party.

Sacred Cow: Frances McDormand

Might be something of a sacred cow to attack this, but Frances McDormand irritated the hell out of me at Bafta last night.


Now ordinarily, up there on the big screen, I think McDormand is a great talent. But take a look at this video and cringe...



I sincerely hope that her performance in Three Billboards is better than the embarrassing ham she's displaying as she strides up to the podium to accept her award! You really don't need to 'perform' at BAFTA, this isn't the Oscars and here in the UK we can see through that crap at a thousand yards. 

She really irritated me all the way through the night actually; sitting there like everyone's most fearful 'wacky' maiden aunt at a wedding, taking all the praise as if 'of course it's due' and then coming out to say 'I don't do compliance' in relation to her not wearing black for the Time's Up movement. To me that just read as 'I can't be arsed because though I'm gonna say I stand in solidarity with you, I'm actually all about standing out and at the front'

Yeah. Sally should have won.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

It's P-P-P-P-P-P-P-P-Pancake Day!

I hate 'em myself, but for those who do p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-partake, happy p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-pancake day, from Maid Marian and her Merry Men!

Monday, 12 February 2018

Out On Blue Six: Gwenno

Once a Pipette (I fucking loved The Pipettes), Gwenno has come along way from those gorgeous bubblegum days. The Welsh songstress has a forthcoming second album entitled Le Kov which is sung entirely in Cornish and this divinely dreamy track, Tir Ha Mor, is the first single from it



End Transmission


Saturday, 10 February 2018

RIP Reg E. Cathey

Reg E. Cathey, who played political agent Norman Wilson in The Wire, has died from lung cancer at the age of 59.



Born to an US Army Colonel father and a DOD Worker mother, Cathay mainly grew up in West Germany before returning to the USA as a teenager. He caught the acting bug following a high school production of To Kill a Mockingbird. He had previously appeared in two other prestigious David Simon TV dramas - Homicide: Life on the Street and The Corner - before taking the role of congressman Tommy Carcetti's savvy advisor in the fourth and fifth season of The Wire. In a career that stretched back to the early '80s and a role on children's TV series Square One, Cathay appeared in numerous TV programmes included Star Trek: The Next Generation, Law and Order and its numerous spin offs, ER, Oz and, most recently a three-time Emmy award nominated turn in House of Cards, for which he won the coveted prize in 2015. His film appearances included Born on the Fourth of July, Clear and Present Danger, The Mask, Tank Girl, Se7enAmerican Psycho, The Machinist and Fantastic Four.

One of my favourite pieces of trivia about Cathey was that, despite such an incredible career in Hollywood, he had long expressed an interest in appearing in the RTE Ireland soap opera Fair City! In 2009, he was starring in a production of The Shawshank Redemption at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre when he became hooked on the soap and the city itself.

RIP

Friday, 9 February 2018

Maze (2017)


The problem with being interested in that period of recent history known as the Troubles is that you're sometimes left disappointed by the films that set out to depict or dramatise the events. Often through no real fault of their own, they're dwarfed by other productions who have trod a similar path in telling more or less the same story. That's the case with writer/director Stephen Burke's recent offering, Maze, which fails to step out from the shadows of Steve McQueen's Hunger in its dramatisation  of the mass breakout from H Block 7 of HMP Maze  in September, 1983, just two years after Bobby Sands and nine other inmates died from hunger strike.


Opened in 1971 on the site of the former Royal Air Force station Long Kesh, HMP Maze was considered the most impregnable prison in Europe; a literal labyrinth of H-shaped buildings designed to disorientate inmates, it was surrounded by 15ft-high fences and concrete walls. However despite such seemingly impossible odds, 38 Republicans managed to break out, with 19 caught within two days and a further 19 going on to successfully evade capture. The escape went down in history as the biggest Europe had seen since the POW camps of WWII and served as a massive morale boost for the IRA who had been left reeling from the deaths of ten hunger strikers in the summer of 1981. 


The plot of Burke's film sees the escape-planners determined to succeed in memory of those very inmates who gave their lives two years earlier. As such, comparisons are easily drawn to Hunger and not found in Maze's favour. McQueen's film had an intense yet poetic Alan Clarke-like feel, but Burke fails to invest his material with much flourish at all; visually it's a derivative damp and bland affair which, whilst it impresses from a period recreation point of view, fails to rise above the limits of TV drama. Burke also disappoints as a screenwriter, with too much of the film set at a plodding pace, with some particularly noticeable hackeyed dialogue. One scene has Tom Vaughan-Lawlor's Larry Marley, the mastermind of the escape, accuse Warder Gordon Close (Barry Ward) of being just as much a prisoner as he is -  seemingly there's a screenwriting guide somewhere that states this stereotypical exchange must be included in every prison based movie!


Ultimately the plot depends on Marley efforts to befriend Gordon to achieve his bid for freedom and whilst both actors are capable enough to tell this story, they're let down by Burke's inability to convey any real, deep sense of character for either of them. A particular subplot concerning Marley's disappointment at seeing his son following in his footsteps on the outside goes nowhere too and feels tacked on. The suggestion that there are no winners in a violent and damaging political situation that is forced to repeat itself over and over again is a credit to the film I guess, but perhaps by its very nature, Maze is told primarily and somewhat sympathetically from the Republican POV, a stance which may serve to infuriate those on the other side of this divide even to this day.


In the end, Maze is an unshowy more or less competent dramatisation of events that perhaps deserved a better telling than it gains here. It fails to hold its head up high alongside the likes of Hunger and ought to be filed alongside the somewhat forgettable Troubles set films such as Shadow Dancer instead. It could be worse though, it could have joined the offensive stinkers like The Devil's Own.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

9 Songs (2004)


In which Gruey grew up to be a rather unconvincing glaciologist and is shown shooting his muck on screen. Yes I know, not exactly something we were crying out for, but Michael Winterbottom thought we were and so he gave the world 9 Songs in 2004; a film that tells the story of a modern day romance across nine live band performances, and one of the misses in his surprisingly frustrating hit and miss career.


It's a popular misconception to claim that 9 Songs is the first British film outside of pornography to feature genuine sexual intercourse. Patrice Chéreau's 2001 film Intimacy, based on Hanif Kureishi's 1989 novel, featured Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox getting it on for their art. Aside from this inconvenient truth, 9 Songs bagged the controversy but, having finally watched it, I'm left thinking why? It was one of the most tediously dull films to sit through. It offers absolutely nothing other than a series of vanilla sex scenes and extremely mild bondage interspersed with scenes at the Brixton Academy where our lovers watch various indie bands including Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, and Elbow.  Well, there are enough bare arses on screen, we may as well see an elbow eh?


I wouldn't mind if the relationship between the aforementioned Gruey (does anyone else other than me remember that?) Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stilley, was an interesting one, but it's not. There's no fireworks here, this isn't Betty Blue, despite the occasional insistence that Stilley's character has 'Issues©', what we have is just two seemingly compatible young people meeting, fucking and ultimately splitting up on good terms. 


It's all quite elegiac and downbeat, which only adds to the nondescript, uneventful nature. Perhaps that's the point - perhaps Winterbottom just wanted to depict an authentic everyday relationship on the big screen. If that's the case I have to hand it to him, he succeeds to a certain extent, but after 66 minutes (mercifully brief) I knew absolutely nothing about the characters. The authenticity is definitely there in the headline grabbing sex scenes, which are shot with a conventional, unselfconcious and straightforward air. It's actually quite interesting to watch real sex on screen as, for all the Mary Whitehouse style cries of 'this is porn!', nothing could be further from the artificial, emotionless, antiseptic world of pornography if it tried. The sex here is tentative, sweaty, and yes, hairy. In short, it is sex you can relate to.


But who does a line of charlie before going to see Michael Nyman's 60th birthday concert? Feck off back to your Franz Ferdinand, you philistines!

Monday, 5 February 2018

A Walk in the Woods (2015)


What an odd film. The standard trope of this kind of story is that our characters go on a dual journey; the journey they're actually making in the literal sense and the journey of self discovery and contentment they make in the figurative sense. Not so with A Walk in the Woods, a very loose adaptation of a Bill Bryson memoir. 


Right from the start, the movie version of Bryson (Robert Redford) is depicted as -  though frustratingly never called out for being - a privileged blowhard of a man who, not only feels it's an injustice that he has to go on talk shows and answer questions in his professional life, but feels a similar sense of injustice in his personal life, most notably at the prospect of having to socialise with a grieving widow and others at a friend's wake. 


Convincing himself that he must undertake one last adventure (perhaps to get away from the stiffs who have the misfortune to not be him) he decides on walking the Appalachian Mountain Trail with his decrepit old friend Katz (Nick Nolte), but he's clearly not given this much proper thought because that's a prospect which will naturally see him coming across various people along the way. Given this opportunity of interaction is on the cards, as an audience we expect his curmudgeonly demeanour to dissipate, but no - instead the film goes out of its way to depict everyone to be the kind of twatwaffle Bryson has long suspected other people to be, and all the journey does is strengthen his bond with the likeminded Katz. That these other 'Non Bryson, Not Katz' unfortunates are all considerably younger (well c'mon, they're hardly gonna meet anyone older than them are they? Not unless those fossils come to life!) and are also in the vast majority female, gives the film a worryingly misogynistic and bitter air that really doesn't cut it today.


Basically if I'd wanted to watch a couple of leather faced old baby boomers trying to prove they can still get it up as they sneer at the energy, optimism and enthusiasm of the youth of today, I'd have revisited those depressing TV debates between students in the Remain camp and elderly Brexit voters in the run up to the EU referendum.


That said, I watched it with my mum who chuckled quite a bit throughout it, and a couple of Redford and Nolte's Last of the Summer Wine style antics did occasionally raise a wan smile from me, but overall this is one trek I'd pass on.

A Walk in the Woods? More like A Wank in the Woods.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Why Rees Mogg's Hair Getting a Teensy Bit Ruffled Is a Step Towards a Fascist State


The BBC was all over one incident  yesterday: the sight of Tory backbencher Jacob Rees Mogg getting caught up between squabbling students following a speech at Bristol University.

As this blog article points out there's something very fishy going on regarding the attention this little scuffle attracted. For a start, the BBC - showing their complicity with the government - refused to report on the mass demonstration in London that occurred yesterday against cuts in the NHS, but now it seems that the whole Rees Mogg incident was not just a convenient decoy but a handy PR exercise on many counts too. It was actually Rees Mogg supporter who started the squabble and the whole event was captured by Ben Kew, a reporter at the right wing Trump friendly Breitbart news who was conveniently in attendance. It ought to come as no surprise that Breitbart would want to capture someone as ultra right wing and odious as Rees Mogg in a (staged) positive light. His politics are right up their street and this incident can only further his strange appeal amongst the extreme conservatives and those who think he's a 'character'. 

But the media, including the BBC, have spun this in a completely different manner. They've chosen to ignore the fact that the instigator was a supporter of the Tory MP's and once again the cry has gone up about the threat of supposedly violent far left Corbynistas and Momentum members out to destroy our democracy. That this White Elephant continues to exist in the wake of both one right wing lunatic committing a political assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox, and another attempting to target Jeremy Corbyn himself with his attack on Finsbury Park is nothing short of astounding. The reality of where the threat truly is is right before our eyes and yet the media and government continue to deflect it and point their accusing fingers at the very people who are most in danger. 

Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that Rees Mogg's little fracas, which did nothing more than ruffle his hair a little bit, coincides with Theresa May's plan to announce a new law next week making it an offence to intimidate those in public life

Now on the surface, this proposal sounds like a good idea. Surely it would help protect targeted MP's such as Diane Abbott and Cat Smith, two female Labour MP's who are routinely subjected to threats of violence and a stream of abuse online. But let's look at this more closely: May's law would allow the police powers to arrest anyone protesting against the actions of a public figure. In other words, if Breitbart pin up Donald Trump were to visit the UK and be met with a mass demonstration against himself and his policies, Theresa May will have allowed the police powers to quell this democratic right by rounding up the most vocal protesters and imprisoning them. In short, Rees Mogg's little stunt has set us on the way to becoming a fascist state where dissent is outlawed. Once again, the real threat to democracy comes from our own government. It comes from the right not the left.

And don't even start me on how disgustingly opportunistic May is being raising this crackdown on the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote. That May will push her desire to create a fascist state whilst paying tribute to the suffragettes - as if there's some common link - is nothing short of offensive, hypocritical politicising. If Theresa May truly thinks she can be considered in the same breath as the suffragettes, if she truly believes she is a feminist, then why has she spent her political career shutting down Sure Start centres, women's refuges and rape crisis centres and making brutal cuts to any service that provides a service and security to women?

Don't be fooled. This is pure political puppeteering and it's time we severed the marionette's strings.

Silent Sunday: Room For a Little One?


Saturday, 3 February 2018

Out On Blue Six: New Order

Amused by the wall-to-wall poodle haired rock and movie tie-in videos that swamped MTV at the time, New Order's manager Rob Gretton hit upon the idea of their next video seeing them adopt a glam metal persona in a performance intercut with footage from a fictional movie - the resulting outcome allowed them to step out from the unfair and inaccurate dour, cold perception many had about the band since the days of Joy Division to reveal instead their natural sense of fun. 

The video was directed by Kathryn Bigelow who at the time had just a couple of movies under her belt, including Loveless and Near Dark. She brought along one of the stars from the latter, Bill Paxton, to appear alongside The Living Daylights Bond girl Femi Gardiner for scenes of the spoof movie. The footage of Paxton running across Battersea Bridge at night in pursuit of Gardiner at the wheel of her car, forcing her to crash before smashing the windscreen to climb in and commence some passionate kissing is certainly an atmospheric if peculiar and quite disturbing love sequence (and especially from a female director, with the outcome being a ban on the video from the lucrative Saturday morning TV market here in the UK) but it adds to the parodic nature of the piece.

The band scenes are nothing short of hilarious; dressed in outlandish Europe style wigs, leather, studs and chains, leaping slo-mo onto the stage as the sparks started flying, Barney catching a guitar to play a solo before tossing it back, and pointing at a keytar playing Gillian (on the precipice of pissing herself laughing throughout) as he utters the line "I have never looked at you in a sexual way before" (speak for yourself Barney!) all shows a band that - at this stage at least - didn't take itself or the industry too seriously. The upshot of it was of course that the American market did take the video seriously: the video was a hit on MTV and New Order's 1988 US tour saw several punters turn up expecting a Motley Crue style band, only to demand their money back when they learned the truth. That's the trouble with jokes I guess, they don't always translate well and some people just won't be able to get them.





End Transmission



Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Out On Blue Six: Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards



End Transmission


The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick - Die Angst Des Tormanns Beim Elfmeter (1972)


After being sent off for angrily contesting a goal as offside, goalkeeper Josef Bloch (Arthur Brauss) wanders aimlessly through a strange town, visiting the local cinema and picking up Gloria (Erika Pluhar), an attractive blonde cinema cashier. Following their night of passion, Bloch arbitrarily strangles her to death, before boarding a coach to visit old flame Hertha (Kai Fischer) in a quiet village on the East/West border. 



The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is a somewhat overlooked 1972 film from Wim Wenders that has been taken off the shelf, dusted off, restored and given a cinema release. Based on a novel by Peter Handke, it's an existential delight that owes much to Albert Camus' classic 1942 novel L’Étranger and to Camus' own previous occupation as a goalkeeper with Racing Universitaire d'Alger. Our protagonist has the same emotional detachment as Meursault, the man who felt nothing at his mother's death and who goes on to kill a man in the novel by Camus. Just like him, we're given no explanation for Bloch's homicidal behaviour or why he neither feels nothing at the sight of the body of a missing schoolboy, nor reports his findings to the police. 



Equally, the indifference he shows to his future goes without explanation too. The closest we get to it is in the film's final moments, when the meaning of the title becomes clear. In this scene, Bloch is watching a football match and strikes up a conversation with another spectator, a travelling salesman who, like him, is just passing through the town. Bloch tries to explain what he feels about football from the goalie's perspective, specifically the dilemma he is presented with regarding which way to go each time he faces a penalty. This dilemma is one that the village's policeman shares with Bloch in a late night conversation regarding having to second guess which way an offender is going to run. For Wenders, the moment between the goalie and the opposing player is a psychological confrontation and it serves as a parallel to Bloch's current situation: he hasn't gone on the run, isn't sure or indeed seemingly all that concerned about the possibility that the police may be on his trail, he is just existing from day to day in plain sight, feeling nothing once again. It's easy to see why Wenders would go on to so successfully adapt Ripley's Game as The American Friend in 1977, as Bloch is very much cut from the same cloth as Patricia Highsmith's literary anti-hero.



It's not all heavy existential ennui though; there's a fine streak of bone-dry humour playing out across the film that allows Brauss' otherwise murderous impassive demeanour the opportunity to afford this comic relief with a winning deadpan reaction. However, I could have done without the excessive use of Jürgen Knieper's monotonous score as it really rather began to grate, though I think that perhaps added to the stifling nature of the slow, introspective narrative.


Monday, 29 January 2018

RIP Howard Lew Lewis

Sad to hear that comic character actor Howard Lew Lewis passed away last week at the age of 76.



He was a regular  fixture on our screens in the '80s and '90s and a particular favourite for kids like me; playing rather dopey, slobby characters like Rabies in Tony Robinson's classic children's sitcom Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, Blag in Chelmsford 123 and, perhaps most memorably of all, Elmo Putney in Brush Strokes (pictured below with co-star Erika Hoffman)  



He also effectively reprised his role as a merry man for Hollywood popcorn epic Robin Hood: Price of Thieves alongside Kevin Costner, and provided the voice of Obelix alongside Craig Charles' Asterix in 1994's Asterix in America. Prior to taking up acting, Lewis was a computer operator in the RAF and continued a career in telecommunications at management level.

Unfortunately, Lewis was suffering from ill health such as diabetes and dementia in recent years and had been confined to a community hospital in Edinburgh, sadly against his wishes, when he passed away. It was reported at the weekend that his daughter, Debbie Milazzo had lodged a complaint regarding her father's treatment and the circumstances surrounding his death which Police Scotland have confirmed they will investigate. Ms Milazzo claims that Lewis had been placed on a regime of high-dose sedatives and maximum-strength opiate painkillers that would normally be prescribed for the terminal phases of a particularly malignant disease. She claims that, as her father was not in such a phase, this was an unnecessary treatment plan and the decision to place him on it is suspicious. 

It's a sad end for a man who brought so many laughter. 

RIP.