Friday, August 23, 2019

Trump Island

Has 'President' Trump unwittingly given us the solution for how Britain is to survive post-Brexit?  Having been rebuffed in his attempts to buy Greenland, would it be possible to persuade the ambulatory tub of lard to buy Britain?  I know that we don't have the mineral resources of Greenland, just some exhausted coal mines and a knackered steel industry, but we are well placed in strategic terms.  The British Isles could provide the fat boy with the ideal front-line in his trade wars with the EU - and when he withdraws US military forces from NATO, it will give him somewhere convenient to park all those planes, soldiers and ships.  Then there's all that prime real estate he'll be able to redevelop into golf courses, giant towers, hotels, casinos and the like.  After all, if he owns the place then he won't have all that trouble he had in Scotland when he built that golf course - no pesky local councils to deal with and any uppity local residents can be summarily evicted.  Speaking of which, there's an entire indigenous population to be exploited.  Out would go the NHS, in would come 'Trump Health Insurance', along with 'Trump Food Banks', (subsistence-level provisions for a modest fee), 'Trump Unemployment Insurance' and the like.  Not to mention an overhaul of the education system, with 'Trump Universities' and schools sponsored by various non-tax paying US commercial giants, with special curriculums geared to preparing students for employment on zero hours contracts and fast food joints, coffee shops and mail order warehouses.

That's if the population aren't just shipped off to other parts of the Trump 'empire' in order to provide cheap labour.  They could probably provide an acceptable alternative to all those Hispanics and East Europeans who clean his properties and resorts in the US.  They'd be far less offensive to his clients - they speak a form of English and don't have those horrible accents.  So there you are, selling the UK to Trump would solve all of our post-Brexit problems: new financing for education, health and social security, provision of jobs and even defence, with all those surplus planes and ships stationed here.  From his point of view - no need to try passing tricky new UK-US trade deals through Congress: if he owns the UK, it will all come down to private business arrangements.  I'm sure that the pro-Brexit population of the UK would welcome such an outcome.  After all, it would eliminate completely our entire political class, whom they supposedly hate, as Parliament would, overnight, become an anachronism.  They'd at last have that 'strong governance' from a 'strong leader'.  Not to mention all that money that will come into the UK as a result of the sale price.  Except that I don't see that being shared out amongst us all.  I'm pretty sure that the likes of Boris Johnson and his cronies would succeed in trousering that.  But it would represent a decisive break from Europe, not to mention civilisation and that, apparently, if we are to believe our leaders, is all that matters.

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Holiday Ramblings

So, I've been on my holidays all week, which makes for lean pickings here, as I've been too busy enjoying myself to give too much thought to possible postings.  But I can tell you, being on holiday can be even more exhausting than being at work.  On Tuesday, for instance, I met up with The Overnightscape Underground's  Frank Nora and his wife Denice, while they were were passing through London on their way to the continent.  It left me exhausted.  Don't get me wrong - I had a great time wandering around central London with them, visiting a pub along the way, but by the time I got home that evening, I was aching from head to foot.  In part, this was down to having fallen out of the practice of spending the better part of a day walking in exclusively hard surfaces, (I've had similar experiences before, after visiting London and walking everywhere).  When I worked there, about twenty years ago, I got used to it, walking to and from Waterloo, traipsing around the streets every lunchtime and sometimes after work.  But since then, I've fallen out of the habit - believe me, walking miles on country paths, as I did today, is entirely different, and takes less of a toll on the knees and back.  It's the same walking around Crapchester - there's far more variety of surfaces, many quite resilient. 

Nonetheless, I can't help but feel that my physical exhaustion was also down to the knock on effects of my illness last year - I'm still not fully fit.  The length of my recovery time has, and remains, frustrating.  I just don't have the stamina I once had.  It's better than it was when I was ill, but I'm still not right.  I know that this is, in part, down to the effects of some of the medication I take, but it is still frustrating.  Anyway, I was so knackered by the London trip, that I ended up having to spend most of Wednesday recovering, (although, because I'd been spending too much time enjoying myself frivolously, I was running out of food supplies and was therefore forced to go shopping), partly in bed, partly on the sofa.  I felt much better today, spending part of the day wandering around the New Forest, as I am wont to do when off work.  I'll probably stay closer to home tomorrow, I generally do on Fridays in order to avoid the start of the weekend traffic, which will be worse tomorrow as we're going into a bank holiday weekend.  August Bank Holiday, to be precise, most people's last chance of a long weekend before Christmas and, traditionally, the high point of the Summer - it's all downhill from there.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Mysterious Magician (1964)

Just time for a quick 'Random Movie Trailer' today.  The Mysterious Magician was an English-language version of a German 'Krimi' originally titled Der Hexer.  Like many of the 'Krimi' movies released in Germany during the sixties, it is derived from an Edgar Wallace story, in this case 'The Ringer', UK versions of which had also been filmed under its original title more than once.  Rialto, who produced the film, were specialists in this genre, not only turning out dozens of Edgar Wallace adaptations during the sixties, but also a similar series  of Dr Mabuse films.  All, of course, in glorious black and white, the monochrome being an essential ingredient of the murky and pulp-like atmosphere of these films - they come over as something akin to Universal's mid forties b-movies, which usually dressed up crime and thriller plots with horror trappings.

Although often using genuine British (usually London) locations,  'Krimi' films present a curious view of the UK, with many aspects seemingly time warped back to the 1930s, despite the ostensibly contemporary (sixties) settings.  Again, their version of London is reminiscent of that presented in another Universal film series: their Sherlock Holmes movies, where London is all fog, 'Cor blimey guv'nor' coppers, menacing docklands and East End dives stalked by bizarre murderers.  The German Edgar Wallace adaptations make an interesting contrast with the contemporaneous series of 'Edgar Wallace Mysteries' being produced by the UK's Merton Park Studios.  These were rather more sedate affairs, focusing on the crime mystery aspects of the source material rather than the more outre elements celebrated by their German equivalents.  Many come over like episodes of TV police procedurals and are set against the background of a far more realistic depiction of London suburbia.  All in all, the German Wallace films are generally more fun, but more difficult to see in English language versions these days.


Monday, August 19, 2019

No Holiday From the Politics

I might be on holiday, but the politics just keep on coming.  I've mentioned before that I'm not really an Owen Jones fan-boy - I like some of what he's written but disagree with other stuff of his.  I particularly take issue with his devotion to Corbyn as the saviour of the left.  Nonetheless, I've never understood the sheer level of vitriol levelled at him, not just from the right, but also from many so called 'liberals', (or 'Tory lickspittles' as I prefer to call them).  I'm particularly appalled, albeit hardly surprised, that it hasn't abated in the wake of the physical attack he suffered, apparently at the hands of right wing thugs, over the weekend.  The thrust of much of this latest bile focuses on the idea that he somehow 'deserves' being attacked, or that it is 'poetic justice', because of his refusal to condemn 'attacks' on prominent right-wingers.  Except, of course, that there is no equivalence here - the 'attacks' on right-wingers Jones refused to condemn involved milk shakes being thrown at them - hardly the same thing as being beaten up by a gang of thugs. 

But its all part of the pattern these days, whereby it is always the left who are accused of intimidation nd violence, despite the fact being that it is supporters of the extreme right who have been responsible for actually killing people - shooting an MP here, or driving a car into a crowd of anti-fascist protestors in the US, for instance.  As I've noted before, historically, it is the right who have form for using violence to suppress its critics and achieve its ends.  The left is traditionally too wedded to these ideas of peaceful protest and non-violent action, (like throwing milk shakes at neo-fascists).  But hey, why let the facts get in the way of the fascist propaganda which seems to be sweeping the media these days?  To get back to the attack on Owen Jones, most notable in their silence are those 'liberals' who like to attack him.  With their apparent aversion to violent protests and milk shake throwing and their avowed devotion to 'free speech', you'd think that they'd be queuing up to condemn a journalist getting beaten up by fascist thugs.  But strangely, I haven't heard a peep from the hypocritical little shits.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

A Golden Age?

People talk about how we are in a 'Golden Age' of TV, as if everything that went before was rubbish and unworthy of viewing.  I'd beg to differ.  For one thing, most of the supposedly wonderful programming on offer nowadays is either inaccessible to me (I don't have streaming subscriptions) and, in the main, simply doesn't appeal to me.  Much of what I have seen falls into the category of middle class wank - it looks good and thinks it is terrible original, witty and clever but is, in fact, derivative and empty.  The problem is that the people who think such stuff is brilliant and original have never bothered to watch TV from previous eras.  Indeed, the people who make them probably haven't seen TV of any vintage.  Anyway, of late I have been watching quite a bit of TV programming from the sixties, seventies and eighties and have been struck by just how good a lot of it is.  To be sure, in terms of production values, much of it is very much of its era: wonky sets made to look even more artificial by the use of videotape for recording and the too bright lighting this technique required.  The TV camera equipment of time also results in some awkward looking transitions and shaky cutting between characters during dialogue scenes.  But when it comes to acting and scripting, a lot of these programmes are second to none.  Public Eye, (1965  - 1975), for instance, which I've written about before not only features an outstanding central performance from Alfred Burke, but is probably also one of the most realistic portrayals of the business of a British enquiry agent seen on TV.  Its real triumph lies in the way in which it transforms the utterly ordinary and mundane into compelling drama.

Likewise Callan, from the same era remains an incredibly gritty espionage series featuring levels of cynicism rarely seen on UK TV up to that time, not to mention some brutal violence.  Again, the acting and the scripts are the thing, with Edward Woodward's titular character being a true anti-hero: a ruthlessly efficient, cynical assassin with a conscience, who is constantly conflicted by his work.  Distrustful of his masters, always questioning the necessity of his missions, not to mention their morality and constantly yearning for a 'cleaner' profession, he remains painfully aware that being a state sanctioned killer is all that he is qualified to do.  The series remains streets ahead of much current output in terms of script and acting quality.  A series which surprised me by its quality when I rewatched it was The Gentle Touch from the 1980s.  I always vaguely temembered it as a stodgy cop drama whose only outstanding feature was in having a female lead.  Seeing it again, I was struck, not only by Jill Gascoigne's superb performance in the lead, but also the strength of the scripts, which tackled issues like racism, sexism and extremism on a weekly basis.  It also featured good dialogue delivered by a great supporting cast, with William Marlowe (a hugely underrated actor) outstanding as Gascoigne's boss). 

Then there are the sitcoms of the era.  While quite a lot of these now seem unwatchable, not only because of some of the contemporary attitudes they display, but also because of their terrible scripts, some remain surprisingly entertaining.  Father, Dear, Father, for instance, presents a fascinating portrayal of the late sixties and early seventies, with Patrick Cargill's titular father bemoaning his daughters' sexual attitudes and the permissive society n general, while himself taking advantage of the mores of the time to get his own end away.  Lately, I've been watching the first three series of Shelley, with Hywel Bennett. I'd forgotten just how much I'd enjoyed the various adventures of the self-styled 'freelance layabout'.  Frankly, I can't think of any recent sitcom which has featured dialogue as witty as that in Shelley, let alone the level of political and social commentary that featured prominently in the scripts.  Moreover, I doubt anybody nowadays would dare commission a sitcom which featured as its hero an habitual benefits claimant, proud of the fact that, despite his education and intelligence, he has succeeded in avoiding paid employment for four years at the start of the series.  He is utterly unrepentant that he is, in his own words, 'incredibly lazy'.   (I feel great empathy with Shelley, being bone idle and hating work myself).  The irony, of course, being that when he does work, he is generally good at whatever he does.  He just gets no satisfaction from it.  The background of its era - the Thatcher government's economic policies and the resultant mass employment - present a fascinating time capsule.  (The relative ease with which you could claim unemployment and supplementary benefits back then seems unbelievable now).  So, there you are - in my opinion we've already had a 'Golden Age' of TV, back in an era that today's critics like to dismiss as 'kitsch' and 'naff'.  Perhaps they should actually watch some of these programmes.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Hooray, Hooray for the Holidays!

Well, that's it - I finally finished with work for the rest of Summer. The next few weeks are entirely mine.  Now, I could go off onto another of my diatribes about the awfulness of my job, but I'm just too tired.  Both literally and figuratively.  I haven't been sleeping well this week, which has left me feeling exhausted and falling asleep on the sofa in the evenings.  I'm also tired of the constant fight that work has become.  Plus, it has been a particularly horrendous working week.  But hey, all that is behind me, for the time being at last, and I'm now looking forward to my time off.  Of course, in the past I always used to tell people that I was going to spend my late Summer break performing at the Edinburgh Fringe.  Every year I'd come up with some fake title for my mythical one man show and an equally fake venue.  The deception became quite elaborate, but eventually the fun went out of it and now, well, I just don't tell anybody at work where I'm going or what I'm doing.  Not because I'm being secretive, but because this is my time, exclusively for me.  Just minimising human contacts for a few weeks is a relief, I can tell you.

Which is a very good reason why I don't actually go to the Edinburgh Festival for real - far too many people.   With a fair proportion of them probably bring knob ends.  It's the sort of event which inevitably attracts a certain proportion of those utterly pretentious pseudo-intellectual types.  Both as acts and in the audience.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not knocking the Festival or the Fringe, they are undoubtedly a lot of fun, but it also all looks potentially wearying if you are there for the long haul.  Just too much to try and take in.  Like I said, I'm looking to spend my time off more quietly.  I just want a few weeks of tranquility in my life.  Which means lots of country walks and sitting on beaches watching the ships go by.  That never fails to relax me.  Above all, I really must sort out my sleep patterns which, for the past few months, have been variously disrupted by the hot weather, medication related stomach upsets and a recurrence of tinnitus in my left ear, (this, thankfully, has now faded away again, as it always does).  Once I'm sleeping properly again, I'll be able to think clearly again and, hopefully, stat moving forwards again.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

I remember some years ago I recall a one of those amateur movie review videos turning up in my You Tube 'recommended' column, which promised to 'Drop the pipe bomb on horror classic I Drink Your Blood'.  I didn't bother watching it in its entirety, but I got the distinct impression that the rabid would be critic who made it really didn't like this film and seemed to feel aggrieved that it apparently had 'classic' status.  Except that it hasn't.  I don't think that anyone, anywhere would mistake I Drink Your Blood for a genre classic.  It is a crudely and cheaply made shocker originally put out on a double bill with an equally crudely made B-movie called I Eat Your Skin, (which is why that phrase is used over and over in the above trailer).  The film's significance lies in its historical context.  It represented an early attempt to try and imitate the success of Night of the Living Dead by presenting audiences with gory spectacle, a contemporary setting, no name cast and backwoods setting.  Previously, the predominant forms taken by Anglo-American horror films were either Gothic supernatural melodramas with elaborately recreated historical settings, or cheaply made youth orientated shockers featuring teenagers, hot rods, rock music and monsters (usually, but not always, from space).

As the seventies dawned, a new horror paradigm emerged: lots of blood and dismembered limbs.  While the effects used to achieve these were crude, it was still far more graphic than the sort of stuff you'd see in the average Dracula movie.  In effect, it was the dawn of 'body horror'.  The elaborate plots, carefully built up atmosphere and suspense used by earlier horror films to enhance their scares were now abandoned in favour of outright shocks.  The monsters were no longer the product of supernatural forces or stitched together in laboratories by mad scientists, but instead they were now us - ordinary people either raised from the dead as ravenous cannibals by radiation, or, in this case, bikers turned into slavering beasts after eating meat pies infected with rabies.  It really shouldn't be surprising that the monsters and their Gothic trappings were losing their appeal - television news was increasingly bringing the real-life horrors of things like the Vietnam war into people's' living rooms and fictional horror had to outdo these scenes if it was to have any impact.  Like the pictures on the news, it had to appear more 'real', more 'immediate', its horrors unfolding in recognisable settings.  All of which I Drink Your Blood delivers on, although that still doesn't make it any good.


Monday, August 12, 2019

Winding Down

I'm winding down this week.  Or at least trying to.  As of the end of play on Thursday, I'll be taking my long late Summer break from work.  So, as you can imagine, in the run up to this, I'm doing my best to keep as low a profile as possible - the last thing I want is stress and/or complications before I head into three weeks away from the office. (Or, to be accurate, three consecutive runs of four days off of work as only do Monday to Thursday these days).  All too often I've found my last week before taking leave overly fraught, with work doing its best to pile more and more 'urgent' stuff on me that just has to be done before I finish.  These days, of course, I'm under medical orders to avoid such stressful situations.  Anyway, as part of my winding down process I decided that, having enjoyed my Friday on the sofa watching a film, I'd repeat the process on Saturday.  Continuing the Western theme, the film this time was Tarantino's Django Unchained.  Now, I've had this film on the hard drive of my digital TV recorder for a couple of years, at least.  In fact, it was one of the first films I recorded from TV using my current Humax recorder.  Yet I had never actually watched it.  The main reason for this was that I really hadn't enjoyed either of Tarantino's previous films, Inglorious Basterds and Death Proof.  I felt them both to be far too slow moving and unengaging.  Consequently, despite having recorded Django Unchained, I just couldn't summon sufficient enthusiasm to actually watch it, fearing another near three hours of boredom.

Yet I didn't deleted it.  For some reason I kept it there, taking up valuable disc space.  Perhaps it was some residual affection for Tarantino's earlier films that made me reluctant to erase it, so there it stayed.  My interest in it was reawakened by a season of sixties films on Sony Movie Channel, which were selected and introduced by Tarantino.  These included some real eccentricities, some which hadn't seen the light of days in years.  Obviously, this season was part of the run up to the UK release of the director's latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Having seen the promotional trailers for this, I have to say that I was struck by how well Tarantino had captured the look and feel of late sixties Hollywood movies.  All of this left me feeling that, if I was to watch his latest effort, I really should 'limber up' for it by re-familiarising myself with Tarantino by watching the only one of his films I had readily available:  Django Unchained.  I have, to say, I was pleasantly surprised, it was far more enjoyable than his previous two pictures.  Although overlong, as most of his films are, it didn't drag in the way that I felt Inglorious Basterds and Death Proof had - it was far better paced, with the long dialogue scenes better balanced by action sequences.  Most crucially, the characters were far more engaging - I actually cared what happened to them.  Christoph Waltz, in particular, gave an excellent performance, to the point that it threatened to unbalance the film by overshadowing Jamie Foxx's titular character.  Indeed, the film lost a lot of its impetus, not to mention heart, after Waltz's character was killed.  The remaining half hour felt flatter that anything that had preceded it.  What was notable was the fact that, for once, Tarantino chose to follow a relatively straightforward, linear narrative, devoid of his usual tricks and tine-shifted sequences, resulting in a far more approachable film for the casual viewer.  It has left me feeling enthusiastic for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.


Friday, August 09, 2019

Friday Afternoon on the Sofa

I was going to go to the cinema this afternoon - the weather was lousy, I was feeling lazy and I just wanted to watch something mindless for a couple of hours. So I decided to go and watch Hobbs and Shaw - how demanding can an action film starring The Rock and Jason Statham be?  I decided to pay the extra 75p and book my ticket online.  I foolishly thought that doing so an hour in advance of the screening would be sufficient.  It wasn't.  It turned out to be fully booked already.  So I reluctantly turned to the next performance, only to find that this was nearly fully booked, with only the lousiest seats let available.  All of which defeated the object of going to a daytime screening - they are usually mainly empty, so you don't have to put up with people sitting too close to you, noisily eating their popcorn or incessantly checking their phone.  I should have remembered that it was school holidays,not to mention a wet and windy day, meaning that the early performances would all be packed out with sullen teenagers.  So, I decided that I really didn't want to fork out nearly twelve quid for the privilege of putting up with other people's kids and opted to stay on my sofa and watch a DVD instead.

Which turned out to be a mellow experience.  About half an hour or so into Once Upon a Time in the West, I thought to myself  'I bet Hobbs and Shaw doesn't have cinematography, let alone a musical score, like this'.  It has been quite a while since I'd seen Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western masterpiece and it didn't disappoint - it looked even more beautiful than I remembered.  Spending Friday afternoons watching old films was actually the way I'd planned things when I went down to a four day working week at the start of the year.  Incredibly, though, it has taken until today for it to happen.  As ever, too many other things have got in the way.  But I took the opportunity to continue my lazy Friday afternoon by taking in a couple of episodes of Father, Dear, Father, which Forces TV has started reshowing.  These were black and white episodes from the first series in 1968 and they were very 1968: the fashions, the characterisations, the attitudes, the gags all screamed 'late sixties'.  They featured a curious mix of a slight 'swinging London' feel with the usual conventional middle class scenario that sitcoms of the era usually featured.  The most bizarre thing about them was that they were asking us to accept that Patrick Cargill was a straight man with two teenaged daughters.  Quite extraordinary.

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Thursday, August 08, 2019

Deadline Day

So, transfer deadline day has come and gone again.  Far too early, in my opinion.  It never ceases to amaze me how the FA likes to disadvantage English clubs with its insistence that the end of the summer transfer window should coincide with the start of the Premiership season.  It forces them into an unholy rush to complete deals, with selling clubs on the continent knowing that they can rack up the prices as, if English clubs don't buy by early August, they can still sell to other European clubs whose transfer windows typically remain open into September.  It also means that English clubs remain under threat from predatory approaches for their players by European clubs even after our own transfer window closes.  Conceivably, a player could be unsettled this way and the club forced to sell even when they won't be able to bring in a replacement until the January window opens.  Another disadvantage for English clubs is that they can do nothing to rectify weaknesses exposed in theearly games of the season until January.  But hey, the FA thinks it a good idea because, as I recall, the press told them it was, purporting to represent the entirely uninformed opinions of the public, sports journalist after sports pundit after retired manager declared in print that closing the window early would somehow improve the game.  The FA seems prone to basing its policy on press campaigns of this kind - they appointed Sam Allardyce England manager on the basis of such a press 'consensus' that he was the popular choice.  That worked out well, didn't it?

Still, I remember the good old days, before transfer windows, when players could be signed at any time, whether the season was in full swing or not. It's how long-term injuries to key players was dealt with: poach a replacement from your rivals.  Which, obviously, had the added benefit of weakening them.  Poor runs of form were dealt with the same way - just bring in a load of new players.  Back then, there weren't all the rules restricting approaches to players - managers could and would 'tap up' players at other clubs, or their agents, without the knowledge of the player's club.  It was all part of the game.  That said, it meant that we didn't have the excitement of deadline day, as you waited on tenterhooks to see if your club managed to get any late deals over the line.  But even that has been diluted by this pathetic five o'clock deadline in early August.  Today was decidedly unexciting, not even Daniel Levy could inject much tension with his usual late deals for Spurs, (OK, the Dybala deal didn't come off but, frankly, I never expected it to, but Sessegnon and Lo Celso were pretty much givens).  Bring back those midnight deadlines.  Bring back those surprise deals announced after it has passed - like when Levy unexpectedly signed Van der Vaart.  They were great - they also used to full during my holidays back when the deadline was in September, so I could sit up half the night following developments.  Come to think of it, isn't the beginning of August too soon to be starting the season, anyway?  I'm pretty sure that 'when I was a lad', it didn't start until September, (I'm probably wrong, but that's the nature of memories).  So there you go FA, if you want to make English football better, scrap the transfer window altogether and don't start the season until September - it's no dafter than any of the other ideas you've been talked into by the press.