Friday, April 18, 2014

A Pretty Good, Good Friday

Not being of a religious bent, I don't spend my Good Fridays watching Crapchester's 'Walk of Witness', where they re-enact Christ's last hours with some bloke with a beard carrying a huge wooden cross through the town centre.  I have no idea how realistic it is - whether someone else dressed as a Roman soldier whips him as he walks, or whether it culminates with him being nailed to the cross in the local park, just in front of the kiddies' swings - but, to be frank, I've seen the film and read the book, so I know how it all turns out. (Spoiler alert: even though it seems to end in tragedy, come the Easter Monday Bank Holiday, he rises from the tomb to give us an upbeat ending to the holiday).  Instead, as you can see from the picture, I decided to go and get stared at by a sheep.

To be fair, that wasn't actually my intent, it just happened - and it wasn't just the one sheep that stared at me: there were several who took it in turns.  I decided to enjoy the good weather by going out to my favourite Iron Age hill fort for a walk.  I forgot that during the Spring they let sheep graze there.  I also forgot that, as it was a Bank Holiday and wasn't raining, the place would be crawling with people.  Worse still, crawling with people with dogs and children.  It's amazing, bearing in mind the number of signs up telling people to keep their dogs on a lead there are on the site, how many of the bloody shitting machines, sorry, dogs, were running around free, annoying people.  The children weren't much better.  It really is about time they banned dogs and children from historical monuments.  Not to mention the bloody cyclists who treat bridleways as cycle paths and come careering down them at high speed, nearly colliding with walkers like myself.  However, despite these irritations, it was another pretty good day off of work.  And I stared those sheep out. 

I'll leave you with a picture of part of the vistas I enjoyed today:

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Testament According to Dave

What a difference a day off makes.  I find myself transformed from an exhausted and disaffected wreck into a relaxed and content human being after a day of doing very little other than lying in bed, watching an Italian war movie and getting my car's brakes and tyres replaced, (this last cost me a small fortune, but I'm so mellowed out that I don't care).  I'm so relaxed, in fact, that David Cameron's latest attempts to cast himself as some kind of spiritual leader didn't have me foaming at the mouth.  Instead, it just had me sadly shaking my head at this pathetic excuse for a human being's hubris in presuming to be able to lecture non-believers on the subject of Christian values.  As an atheist, I feel that I have a sounder grasp of the Christian faith Cameron claims he wants to  evangelise.  For one thing, I'm pretty sure Jesus said that the meek would inherit the earth, not smug privately educated bankers claiming huge bonuses and oozing privilege. Not to mention the fact that he threw the money lenders out of the temple rather than giving them the keys to it.

Then there's the matter of the government's treatment of the poor and disadvantaged, which seems completely add odds with the teachings of Jesus, as I understand them.  But that's the point, of course - the right's 'understanding' of Christianity has nothing to do with the original scriptures.  Rather, it is the organised religion built upon them which attracts the right-wingers as it seems to legitimise a strict hierarchical social system, where wealth can buy you a better pew, not to mention a better place in the hereafter.    All the pomp and ceremony, the robes and the stained glass windows appears to them to legitimise material values, even though, if they ever bothered to look into it, the original basis of the faith teaches the complete opposite.  But that shouldn't surprise us, as 'Jesus' Cameron seems to have everything back to front: Christ supposedly died for our sins, whereas Cameron and his cronies apparently want all of us plebs to die for their sins.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Running Down for Easter

I'm finding it extremely difficult to motivate myself to actually post anything today.  For one thing, whilst I'm sure I had some vague idea for today's post this morning, over the course of the day it has completely faded away.  On top of that, I only have one more working day to go before I take my Easter break.  Not surprisingly, my motivation generally has been pretty poor these past few days.  Work-wise, I've just been going through the motions, doing the bare minimum until I can go home.  My mind is entirely focused on my time off.  Not that I'm doing anything exciting, just resuming the work in the garden and the external paintwork that was interrupted by the Winter, but it isn't work.  Right now, I desperately need a break from that increasingly depressing treadmill.  But it isn't just me that seems to be running down in advance of the long Bank Holiday weekend: even the news seems to have run out of steam, now that the 'excitement' of Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, having finally resigned in the wake of her non-apology for fiddling her expenses.  (Of course, the departure of the chief cheerleader for Dave's war on internet porn does raise the question of whether these attempts to censor the web will end.  After all, her replacement looks like the sort of bloke - bald and middle aged - who might like a quick look at online bare boobs and bums now and again.  Not that I'm saying he does, obviously.  Just that he looks the type who might).

Indeed, last week there seemed to be a rush to 'tie up' loose plot lines in advance of the holiday getaway: Nigel Evans was found not guilty of sexually molesting young men, Miller resigned, Lord Myners resigned from the Co Op, the search for flight MH370 seems to have, for now, hit a brick wall and so on.  About the only on-going story line we have left is the growing tension between Russia and Ukraine.  Even that seems to be playing out in the news bulletins with a strange lack of urgency.  The two sides seem to be stumbling toward an armed conflict and yet nobody outside of the region really seems to care any more.  Certainly, all the bellicosity from the West which followed the Russian annexation of Crimea seems to have faded away as it becomes apparent that President Putin just doesn't care and that US simply isn't prepared to risk World War Three over the issue.  It's one thing using military force against third world states because they've supposedly got Weapons of Mass Destruction, invading their neighbours or are oppressing their own people, but it's a different story when the invading and oppressing is being done by a superpower that indisputably does have WMD.   On that note, I'll just go back to anticipating my time off.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Circus of Fear

I hadn't seen this film in at least fifteen years when it turned up on Movies4Men last week.  I remember the first time that I saw it was after I'd recorded it from Channel Four's late schedule, having confused it with 1960's Circus of Horrors.  However, instead of a warped horror movie involving a deranged plastic surgeon populating the travelling circus he uses as a front with facelifted criminals, I found myself watching this 1966 crime drama starring horror icons Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski.  I say 'starring', but both are effectively 'red herrings', neither being the main villain.  Moreover, Lee's lion tamer spends most of the film with his face hidden behind a mask, (allegedly to hide the horrendous disfigurement resulting from a past big cat mauling but, in reality, to disguise the fact that he's really the lion tamer's brother - also a lion tamer - an escaped murderer on the run).  Kinski, by contrast, gets more screen time, but spends most of it lurking in dark corners and looking menacing until suffering an untimely demise.

Any worries I had that I was going to miss out on some schlocky low budget fun by watching the wrong circus movie were quickly allayed by the opening titles informing me that the film was produced by none other than the prolific Harry Allan Towers, (not to mention written by him under his 'Peter Welbeck' pseudonym), whose personal life was allegedly as colourful as his films, (he had to flee the US in the mid-sixties after being accused of running a vice ring, for instance - the charges were eventually dropped in 1985).  The globe-trotting Towers put together low-budget international co-productions, often directed by the notorious Jesus Franco, (he also employed low-budget legend Lindsay Shonteff to direct at least one picture), featuring international casts and colourful foreign locations.  Subject matter didn't seem to bother him: his output in the sixties and early seventies included horror, thrillers, erotica and women in prison pics.  Perhaps his highest-profile films of the period were his five Fu Manchu films starring Christopher Lee in the lead role.

In the case of Circus of Fear, Towers was clearly trying to tap into the 'Krimi' genre - dark German-made crime films, usually with a London-setting and often based on Edgar Wallace stories (the DVD release of Circus of Fear actually claims that it was based on a Wallace novel; it wasn't)  - which was quite popular at the time.  Set in a stylised fog-wreathed London - usually looking like Victorian London, but with modern fashions and motor cars - and owing as much to Doctor Mabuse as they did to Wallace, most genuine German 'Krimi' films were shot, expressionistically, in black and white.  Circus of Fear, by contrast, is in garish colour and features location shooting on very real London locations.  That said, as directed by John Moxey, (who, as John Llewelyn Moxey, later became a successful director of TV episodes in the US), Circus of Fear is a well paced crime thriller, featuring a well-staged security van robbery on Tower Bridge, a car chase involving a Commer van and a couple of old Wolseley police cars and some knife-throwing murders.

It's undoubtedly a film of two halves, with the first section involving the robbery, a falling out amongst the gang and establishing the shadowy presence of an unseen 'Mr Big' behind it all who is somehow involved with the circus.  The second part is a more conventional 'whodunnit' as stoic Scotland Yard inspector Leo Genn tries to ascertain the identity of 'Mr Big' and investigates a series of murders at the circus (which is at its out-of-season base near Windsor, (the film was shot at a post-Hammer Bray Studios, possibly one of the first non-Hammer productions to utilise the facilities following the gothic horror outfit's departure in 1966).  Moxey makes good use of the bizarre circus background and Welbeck's script provides a plethora of suspects and sub-plots, (including Skip Martin's blackmailing dwarf clown, Lee's escaped convict, the jealous knife thrower and shifty ringmaster).  Essentially a B-movie, Circus of Fear is nonetheless an entertaining crime thriller, made at a time when Harry Allan Towers' productions seemed to have more money and production values lavished on them than in later years.  Sure, not all of the plotting makes sense, there's too much padding in the form of the sub-plots, it wastes its main star and the final reveal of the villain is somewhat perfunctory, but Circus of Fear remains highly watchable, full of fascinating incidental detail and performances and suffused with an air of understated madness.  I'm very glad I was able to watch it again.


Friday, April 11, 2014

False Claims (Part Three)

I really hoped that I wouldn't have to address this issue again, but, despite having lost their last attempt to claim some kind of rights over a piece of public domain music I used on a video posted on You Tube, 'The Orchard' are at it again.  This time it isn't one film they're making fake claims on, but two!  Clearly, their audacity knows no bounds as they are now claiming that two completely different pieces of public domain music are actually the same as a single track by one of their fictional artists.  Even more bizarrely, in both cases they claim that their made up client's non-existent track starts part way through a continuous piece of music.  The details of their fraudulent claims are the same as before: an artist that nobody has ever heard of with unreleased albums (all consisting of tracks with single word titles) on a non-existent label.  As before, there is no way of hearing the track they claim is being infringed to make a comparison for oneself. 

This time around I've dropped any pretence at politeness in my response to these claims as they are beyond contempt.  Quite apart from the quite obvious use of fake details, they have picked on two films which have been posted on You Tube for months (eighteen months in one case), begging the question of why wait until now to make this sort of claim?  But these people are utterly shameless, presenting themselves as the injured party as they opportunistically attempt to defraud innocent web-users.  I really don't want this to turn into some kind of long-running saga here, but I feel that it is important to try and highlight the activities of parasites like 'The Orchard' and name and shame them in the hope that maybe, eventually, Google, owners of You Tube, might actually do something to stop them trying to exploit users of the site.  As I've said before, they and their ilk are rapidly making it next to impossible to upload videos with background music to You Tube for fear of having to waste inordinate amounts of time dealing with these kinds of spurious claims.  If you even know about them, that is: Google never sees fit to e-mail or message you in any way.  Unless you regularly check your uploads page, you'll never see the claims.  So, come on Google, clean up your act and start protecting your users from sharks like 'The Orchard'.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cry of the Banshee

Notable only for being Vincent Price's last appearance in a costume Gothic horror movie, this overcooked collection of clichés used to be a late night TV favourite.  Clearly made to try and capitalise on the success of Price's appearance as Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General, this potboiler finds Price as a local squire in some indeterminate historical period, (the costumes suggest Elizabethan England, but it could be later), having trouble with the local witches, who seem to be a bunch of hippies.  However, as Price finds out to his cost, they're bloody dangerous hippies when pissed off, bringing down a curse on his family.  The curse takes the very literal form of Patrick Mower in a bad werewolf suit, who then rampages through the cast.

Whereas Witchfinder General was a relatively subtle film, beautifully shot on location, contrasting the natural beauty of the East Anglian landscapes with the violence of the witch hunts, Cry of the Banshee piles violent incident upon violent incident in a mixture of nondescript locations and studio sets.  Everyone overacts like crazy, especially Price who, instead of repeating his subtle characterisation of Matthew Hopkins, lays on the ham.  Disturbingly, most of the set-pieces seem devised merely as excuses to portray brutal violence against women.  Generally topless women - this is the 1970s, after all and bared breasts were now in (or out, to be accurate).   The evocation of Edgar Allan Poe's name in the trailer is mystifying as, beyond the fact that film stars Vincent Price and is produced by AIP (who, respectively, starred in and distributed most of Roger Corman's series of Poe adaptations).  But it made for good box office to try and link this film to the earlier highly profitable Poe movies, (not to mention making it easier to sell to TV as part of a 'Poe' package).  Crude and misogynistic, this isn't a patch on either Witchfinder General (also given a spurious Poe connection by AIP for its US release as Conquerer  Worm) or the Poe series.  That said, it's still a reasonably entertaining late night movie after a few pints...


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Unhappy Ending

Have you ever watched something which, quite unexpectedly, results in you feeling deeply disturbed and upset?  I had such an experience at the weekend and those feelings have haunted me ever since.  Going back to Saturday night, I thought I was settling down to watch just another Italian exploitation film I'd found on YouTube.  Sure, it was in Italian, which I don't speak, without any English subtitles but as it appeared to be some kind of 1970s sex comedy, I didn't think that would really matter.  Indeed, as To Be Twenty (as the title translates into English), unfolded it became obvious that this tale of two liberated young women hitch hiking through Italy wasn't too different from the kind of sex comedies and soft porn turned out in the UK during the seventies.  They regularly took their clothes off and had sex with various characters they met, (and each other, for that matter), every so often everything would stop as they danced to some pop tune or other.  A large part of the action seemed to be about their involvement with a commune, amongst whose members was none other seventies Italian exploitation idol Ray Lovelock, (his real name - his father was English apparently - rather than an Anglicised version of it). 

So far, so good.  It was all pretty much as I expected.  However, in the film's last ten to fifteen minutes, things take an unexpected and unpleasant turn.  The two girls find themselves in a dubious roadside café full of small town hicks and make the mistake of spurning the advances of what appears to be the local crime boss (unlike the other hicks, he wears a suit).  After leaving the café and hitting the road again, they quickly find themselves being pursued by the hicks from the café.  Chased into some woods, they are caught by the mob, gang-raped and brutally murdered.  Yes, that's right, what started as a light sex comedy and remained in that vein for most of its running time, culminates in our heroines being sexually assaulted and killed.  So unexpected was this development that it left me deeply shocked.  It was the equivalent of Confessions of a Window Cleaner culminating with Robin Askwith being dragged into a back alley by the husband or father of one of the women he'd bonked, bum raped relentlessly, beaten to death with a lump hammer, then having his body dumped in a skip as the end titles rolled with jaunty music playing over them. 

Clearly, it left a bad taste in the mouths of its original Italian audience, as the film didn't do too well at the domestic box office.  Not surprisingly, for its English language release, the film was severely re-edited, with the original beach opening cut, replaced with part of the closing sequence - the girls are seen being chased into the woods, before freeze-framing with the sounds of police sirens super-imposed, implying their rescue.  The film then picks up with them hitch-hiking (the second scene in the original cut) and ends with them similarly back on the road, hitching.  Quite what the intent of the film's makers was, with regard to the original cut, isn't clear.  I suspect they were trying to make a point about the continued patriarchal nature of Italian society, even in the supposedly liberated seventies, demonstrating that whilst young women might be able to get away with exercising their sexual liberation and freedom from outmoded social mores in the big city, the reality in more rural areas would be quite different.  There are those, of course, who will assume that the film is about women being put back in their 'proper' place for having the audacity to exercise their rights to freedom and equality, (judging by some of the comments I've seen online whilst researching the film, there are a disturbing number of such individuals out there).  But I don't think the point of the film was that they were 'asking for it'.  If it was, it failed miserably, as the appalling violence perpetrated against two innocent women at the end, just because they refused to acquiesce to male sexual domination, just left me sickened and disturbed.  I just wish I could get them out of my head.


Monday, April 07, 2014

B Movies For Men

So, here we are again.  I didn't think we would be, actually.  I've been in the process of changing Internet Service Provider (ISP), which resulted in my old ISP prematurely cutting off my broadband service yesterday.  As the new ISP's service wasn't scheduled to go live until tomorrow afternoon, I wasn't too happy.  However, a call to the new ISP this lunchtime sorted things out and I by the time I got home from work this evening, I once more had broadband.  Which means I can tell everyone about a truly magnificent development in terms of my personal entertainment.  On Friday I found that Movies4Men was finally available nationally on Freeview.  Why is this such momentous news?  Well, Movies4Men is one of several digital film channels which has its content provided by the Sony film library which, it seems includes some amazing low-budget fare, much of which forms the backbone of the Movies4Men schedule.  As the channel's title implies, it has a heavy emphasis on action-orientated movies - war films, westerns, thrillers, the odd science fiction film - most of which are either ancient and/or B-movies.

That, in itself, is great as far as I'm concerned but, even better, I've found that they also show the English-language versions of several Italian-made war movies from the late sixties.  I caught the last half hour of one on Saturday: it was magnificently bad!  Definitely my kind of entertainment!  These movies aren't always that easy to obtain so it's an Italian exploitation sub-genre I've never managed to get into.  Thanks to Movies4Men, I can now see at least three of them in a week!  But it isn't just these Italian war pictures which are exciting me - I've already set my digital recorder for Circus of Fear, a favourite barking mad sixties crime thriller I haven't seen in at least fifteen years.  I've also already had the pleasure of all three hours of the lurid early eighties French-US TV movie The Bunker, chronicling Hitler's last hundred days - apparently the upper echelons of the Third Reich consisted, primarily, of well-known British character actors, (including Anthony Hopkins as Hitler and, inevitably, Michael Sheard as Himmler).  Even Pat from EastEnders turns up in the kitchens of the eponymous bunker - was it any wonder Hitler went mad with her doing the cooking?  To be fair to Movies4Men, they also show some pretty decent movies of a more recent vintage: they had the 2002 Michael Caine boxing/crime thriller Shiner on last night, for instance.  Anyway, the arrival of Movies4Men has left me in seventh heaven, movie-wise!


Friday, April 04, 2014

A Bit Weird?

I know that the media in this country have a right-wing bias, skewing their reporting. opinion polls and editorial content to paint the right in as favourable a light as possible, but are they really so scared that Labour might actually win next year's general election that they have to resort to these latest pathetic attempts to discredit Ed Miliband?  What purpose can there be in opinion polls which ask respondents whether they think the Labour leader is 'a bit weird'?  Since when has there been an official scale of weirdness?  How do they define it?   Who gets to decide what constitutes 'weird' and what constitutes 'normal'.  It is purely subjective - I think it weird that anyone would vote Tory, for instance. This is such a crude attempt to manipulate public perceptions of the leader of the opposition in the run-up to an election it is barely believable.  The whole thing is clearly predicated on the 'fact' that Miliband looks like the Daily Mail's idea of what a 'geek' is and, hey, 'geeks' are weird, aren't they?  And being weird is bad.  So bad that weird people are obviously unfit to be a potential Prime Minister.

This poll might have had more credibility if it had asked respondents similar questions about the perceived characteristics of the other party leaders.  I mean, in the interest of balance, did the opinion poll ask potential voters 'do you think David Cameron is, well, a bit of a cunt?' (I think he'd score quite highly on that measure).  After all, that's surely just as relevant to the issue of who should govern Britain as how weird Ed Miliband allegedly is.  Obviously, as ever, this poll and how it 'proves' that voters think Miliband is weird has been gleefully (and uncritically) seized upon by the media and repeated ad nauseum.  Nowhere, of course, is the really importnant question asked: even if Miliband is weird, so what?  Do people actually care?  After all, we currently have a cabinet full of weird bastards - bonkers Gove, gross wobble-bottom Pickles to name but a few - yet the likes of the Daily Mail don't seem to think that they are unfit to govern.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

A Smoggy Day in Crapchester

How was the smog for you?  Did it reach level ten where you were? (It occurred to me that if it is, apparently, this easy for air pollution to reach the maximum of the scale used to measure it, perhaps it  is time to come up with a new scale?  Or at least revise the current one to go to level eleven).  I must admit that I was a trifle disappointed. When they announced that we were going to have these smog drifting across the country, I was expecting something like the London smog of the fifties - so thick that you wouldn't be able to see your hand in front of your face and other people reduced to vague shapes looming through the rolling vapours.  I think that I watched too many old films when I was a kid.  You know the sort I mean: those black and white melodramas, crime thrillers and horror flicks set in studio-bound versions of Victorian London or San Francisco, the streets smothered in artificial fog.  Anything could be lurking in that fog (and frequently was) - Jack the Ripper and other assorted murderers, bootleggers, body snatchers, even Egyptian mummys on murderous rampages. 

Consequently, the sight of thick fog has always given me a thrill.  Anything could happen when it descends.  Once familiar streets suddenly become dangerous thoroughfares full of mystery.  Sadly, all this latest smog brought was a hazy day, wheezing chests and stinging eyes.  Well, for some people.  Personally, I felt unaffected.  Indeed, I was so disappointed with the whole business that I did my best to worsen the smog - in the hope that it would thicken up and add some mystery to my boring day - by driving around aimlessly in my (diesel) car.  Sadly, it didn't work.  I could still drive around without my headlamps on and didn't find myself having to avoid Yeti or Sasquatches looming out of the fog into the middle of the road.  No mummys showed up, either.  So, next time they forecast smog, perhaps the authorities could do something to thicken it up, like getting those fossil-fuelled power stations to belch out some extra thick black smoke to add to the mix.  It would make my day.