Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Mrs Wagner's Beaver


I don't think this slice of late seventies local TV really requires much in the way of comment.  It's the 'Complaints Box' segment - a sort of consumer advice section - of a 1979 edition of Southern Television's daily news magazine Day by Day.  It's all so po faced and middle class that it could be a comedy sketch.  It's a reflection of the time and the place (the affluent south of England) that someone misplacing a fur coat could be considered as a typical example of a consumer affairs problem.  It's the background details which fascinate: a beaver fur coat, a private dinner dance at an hotel, - all so seventies and middle class.

It all reminds me of why I preferred the BBC South equivalent to Day by Day - South Today.  It always felt far more businesslike.  That said, even though South Today is still going, while Day by Day has been succeeded first by TVS' Coast to Coast and then Meridian Tonight, I haven't watched in years, having long ago become tired of the parochialism and triviality of local TV news programmes.  Thanks to the advertising revenues it could draw by virtues of covering such an affluent area of the UK, Southern Television was pretty well funded, yet most of its programming had a slightly cheap and amateurish feel to it, as most of those reenues seemed to be paid out in dividends to the shareholders.  Despite that, Southern Television still holds an important place in my childhood memories, having been my local ITV franchise for many years, until being replaced by TVS.

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Monday, March 30, 2020

Out With the Cold

Well, I finally seem to have gotten the better of that cold which has been plaguing me for the past few weeks.  Which means that I can finally give up the diet of Lemsip and Strepsils which, for the last week, has helped me turn the tide against this cold.  The difficulty I have had in shaking off this cold has been a salutary lesson for me as to just how much my immune system has been weakened by having diabetes.  A couple of years ago,  I would have been able to take a cold like this in my stride, rather than having it linger for three weeks, (mind you, a couple of years ago, I would have been able to take larger doses of cold and flu medication to suppress the symptoms, but with all the stuff I now take for my blood pressure, I have to be careful).   Ultimately, it just emphasises the fact that I really need to avoid catching Covid-19 if at all possible - if my immune system has such trouble dealing with a milder coronavirus like a common cold, what chance would it stand against the real thing?

Anyway, with the cold out of the way, I'm hoping to be a bit more productive here and finally get around to writing about some of the schlock movies I've been watching of late.  I'm assuming I'll have more time - we're on lockdown, after all, and work still haven't got back to me to tell me what I'm supposed to be doing: all they've said is not to go into the office and that we've been pulled from the streets.  Which leaves me, for the time being, observing the government's directive to stay at home.  As with last week, I can see that I'm going to have to chase down my managers to try and get some kind of directive from them - otherwise, I know what the bastards will do: accuse me of being AWOL and use that to try and sack me.  Trust me, the fact that we're in a middle of a pandemic won't worry them - they have no consciences.  But enough of those bastards, let's have a quick look at something more constructive that I've been spending some time on - remember that battered Hornby Dublo West Country body I bought cheaply a while ago?  Well, it has now been united with an early Wrenn chassis:


The tender is borrowed from another West Country which is still being restored (note the slightly different shade of green, temporary lining and lack of BR totems, which are yet to be applied).  As I've mentioned before, tenders for these locos go for ridiculous prices on eBay (which, thanks to the coronavirus lockdown, is currently the only second hand market I have access to).  So, I'm looking to convert a Triang Hornby Battle of Britain tender into a representation of the 5500 gallon type of tender that the majority of rebuilt Bulleid pacifics were paired with, (Hornby Dublo and Wrenn always modeled the much rarer 5250 gallon rebuilt type of tender).  If I still have time on my hands, I might be able to get this bit of the project moving in the near future.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Juggernaut (1974)



I experienced one of those incidences of synchronicity you sometimes get, in that this afternoon I sat down on the sofa, (having completed my combined exercise and shopping - I walked to the supermarket and back), and started flicking through the channels for something to watch with my cup of tea.  Within a couple of clicks I was pleasantly surprised to find, just starting on Film Four, a film which, for some reason, I'd been thinking about earlier in the week: Juggernaut (1974).  Quite why this film had come back into my head of late, I really don't know.  Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that cruise ships and liners have been in the news a bit of late, with most of them forced back to port by the coronavirus pandemic.  Or maybe my recurring dreams about being at sea, most specifically being on the bridge of a ship (although never a passenger liner) had something to do with it.  Who knows.  But whatever the cause of my sudden remembrance of the film - there it was on TV this afternoon.  Unlike many other films I've seen again after a gap of many years, Juggernaut didn't disappoint - if anything, this tale of an Atlantic liner being held to ransom with a bomb threat has improved with age.  It captures early seventies Britain, with its exhausted, cynical and run down feeling perfectly.  The cast list, moreover, is a veritable who's who of the British acting profession at the time, headed by Richard Harris, Anthony Hopkins and David Hemmings, ably supported by the likes of Ian Holm, Julian Glover, Freddie Jones, Kenneth Colley, John Stride, Kenneth Cope, Roshan Seth and Roy Kinnear, amongst many others.  Oh, and Omar Sharif is the ship's super-smoothy captain.

I recall that there was a lot of publicity surrounding the film was it was made and released.  Quite apart from the all-star cast, it was inspired by a real incident a couple of years earlier, when a military bomb disposal team had been parachuted aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 in response to a bomb treat. (It turned out to be a hoax).  It was also a big budgeted British made film, something that was becoming increasingly rare, as the UK film industry began to crumble during the seventies.  Juggernaut was something of an unusual project for director Richard Lester, generally associated with somewhat lighter, often satirical, fare.  Indeed, he joined the production, quite literally, at the last minute, after two previous directors had left the film, having just completed The Three Musketeers in Spain.  Juggernaut is a far darker film than the Musketeers, or, indeed, any of Lester's previous projects.  It is actually, quite literally, darker - all muted winter colours and dimly lit ship interiors, in stark contrast to the bright, summery exteriors of The Three Musketeers.  The film is far darker in tome, too, with none of the dashing heroism and witty dialogue of his previous film - although Richard Harris' bomb disposal man brings a rich vein of very black humour to the film.  Another notable aspect of Juggernaut is that it was shot mainly on location - principally aboard a real liner chartered by the film company and sailed in circles around the North Sea, in the worst weather they could find, (it is a key plot point that the seas are too heavy for the captain to launch the life boats).  The run down liner, (in reality the TS Hamburg, which had just been sold to a Soviet shipping line and was to be renamed Maxim Gorky), which is still having renovations carried out, even as she sails, provides a suitably gloomy and miserable backdrop for much of the action.

There can be no doubt that the fictional Britannic (as the ship is called in the narrative) must be the least glamourous ocean liner ever depicted on film.  The movie perfectly captures the misery of a winter Atlantic crossing - all heavy seas, gale force winds and torrentisl rain - made worse by the fact that the ship's supposedly new stabilisers are failing.  Roy Kinnear gives a notable performance as the ship's entertainment officer, desperately trying to distract  nauseous passengers from, first, heavy seas, then later a bomb threat - trying to carry on as normal with tennis tournaments in howling gales and fancy dress contests even as Harris and his men are trying to defuse the bombs.  Interestingly, Juggernaut wasn't a big hit on its release.  Richard Lester always thought that the fault lay with the marketing, which tried to sell it as a disaster movie, (movies of this genre, like Earthquake, Towering Inferno and Poseidon Adventure had all been big hits during this period), when it really wasn't, (spoiler: the ship doesn't sink).  But this hints at the film's real problem: that it doesn't really fit into any clear cut genre.  Sure, it does has some elements of the disaster movie, with a large number of people in a confined setting under threat, but it keeps cutting away from the action on the ship for a police procedural in London, as cops Anthony Hopkins and Kenneth Colley try to track down the bomber.  There are also political interludes, as Ian Holm's shipping company executive clashes with John Stride's government representative over whether or not to pay the ransom.  Then there are the various sub-plots unfolding aboard the ship, ranging from the captain's affair with a lady passenger to rivalries between his officers.  The result of this fractured, patchwork storytelling is to take much of the tension and sense of urgency from the film.  It also makes it difficult for the audience to really get know and empathise with any individual characters.

Seen at this distance in time, however, Juggernaut is still a highly enjoyable slice of the seventies.  Lester's direction moves it along surprisingly smoothly, despite the constant shifts in narrative and the gloomy photography is excellent: the shots of the liner plying its way through heavy seas are particularly evocative, its stoic progress despite its obviously run down condition seemingly presenting the audience with an analogy for seventies Britain.  The whole bomb disposal aspect, as Harris and Hemmings attempt to work out how the explosive devices work so as to disarm them are both intriguing and tense.  The performances are generally excellent, with Holm's cynical shipping executive finding reserves of compassion and Sharif's philandering captain showing his mettle, providing an oasis of calm in the face of adversity are especially memorable, although Harris' mordant and hard drinking bomb disposal man is undoubtedly the star turn.  Special mention should also be made of Freddie Jones who, of course, turns out to be the extortionist behind the bombs, giving a subtly deranged performance.  While Juggernaut might not have been a hit in 1974, nearly fifty years later it can be seen as a hugely entertaining and professional piece of film making.

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Argoman, The Fantastic Superman (1967)


Argoman, The Fantastic Superman was a relatively early entry in Italy's cycle of fumetti-inspired superhero films.  While several, like Danger Diabolik, Kriminal or Satanik were derived from specific fumettis, others, like Argoman or The Three Fantastic Supermen, were original creations, drawing upon the tropes and style of the comic strips.  Argoman faces the same problem as many of the other Italian superhero films in that its resources simply don't match its ambitions.  Which isn't to say that it isn't stylish or entertaining.  It is just that it never really rises above being an upmarket B-movie.  Owing as much to the Eurospy films, which were beginning to run out steam, as it does to superhero comics, Argoman features the sort of convoluted caper plot, involving a super-villain trying to steal the Crown Jewels, (although this turns out to be part of a bigger plot to obtain a perfect jewel which can be used to create clones of world leaders), you might expect to find in a James Bons film.

Indeed, Argoman himself turns out to be the superhero alter ego of British knight of the realm Sir Reginald Hooper.  Hooper/Argoman seems to be some kind of freelance super trouble shooter, starting the film working for the Soviets to destroy a Chinese bomb, (but almost being double crossed by the Soviets when he tries to get paid).  In contrast to the likes of the Three Supermen, who derive their powers from their suits, Argoman does possess some actual superpowers, (apart from being very athletic), being able to remotely influence physical objects via telekinesis and possessing X-ray vision.  He also has a unique weakness - he loses his powers for six hours after having sex with a woman.  Needless to say, the film's main villain is female.  Argoman/Sir Reginald is portrayed by Roger Browne, one of the less well remembered American and British actors who made careers in European films during the sixties and seventies.  While not as well remembered as, say, Steve Reeves, Reg Park or Gordon Mitchell, who also started in peplum pictures, Browne's voice can be heard extensively in Italian exploitation films, as he eventually became one of the most prolific voice artists for their English language versions.  (He was president of the English Language Dubbers Association for a while). 

Ultimately, as the trailer indicates, Argoman is really a slicker, more stylish version of the cinema serials turned out by the likes of Republic during the thirties and forties.  It even features a rickety looking robot of the type that frequently menaced women in such productions - women strapped to tables in psychedelically decorated secret labs.  For the record, director 'Terence Hathaway' was actually veteran exploitation director Sergio Grieco.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Life in Lockdown

The thing is that, right now, there isn't much to write about other than coronavirus.  I mean, it is all that is happening right now. Plus, as we're currently all confined to our houses, there is little else to experience other than the endless news feeds constantly updating us on the crisis.  Sure, I've got schlocky films backed up to write about, but I just don't feel motivated to do that yet.  Personally, I'm in an odd situation - as a diabetic I'm classified as 'vulnerable' and I've been advised to keep my social contacts down to a minimum, (which I've been doing since Thursday evening, the rest of the UK have finally caught up with me), but the nature of my job (which isn't office centered) doesn't allow home working, (although management has some crazy notions that it can).  Anyway, I've been told not to go near the office and we've already been pulled from the street, but our employer still  seems reluctant to exercise the option they've been given of putting us on special paid leave until it is deemed safe to resume working on the street.  Which leaves me in limbo - right now I'm officially on sick leave, recovering from this cold that has plaguing me (I'm finally beginning to turn the tide on it).  Where we go after that, I don't know.  Management seem reluctant to discuss the issue, which is why I gave them a temporary 'out' by going sick.  Someone is meant to be contacting me again next week, so we'll see what develops - I've been ordered off the streets, told not to come into the office and we're all on lock down anyway, so I really don't know what I'm supposed to do.

Still, being at home all day means that the TV is on as background most of the time and what has struck me is how out of phase the TV commercials now seem.  They are uniformly showing us a world we no longer have access to - a world where we can walk freely outside, socialise with friends and family and shop in supermarkets full of goods.  It is those supermarket ads which seem the most disconnected, with the likes of Morrisons telling us how they are cutting prices across their range - except that we know that in reality their shelves are empty of many of their main ranges thanks to panic buyers.  Moreover, the picture they paint of smiling staff welcoming you into the supermarket and helpfully showing where everything is, contrasts starkly with the current reality of dour and worried staff, wearing masks and gloves, avoiding contact and customers having to maintain a two metre distance between each other as they queue at the tills. (God, I've just seen a Burger King still running extolling the virtues of its flame frilled Whoppers - why?  All their branches are closed, you can't buy a Whopper any more). It is the same with the soap operas, in which so much of the action revolves around pubs - something else we've lost.  Could any soap opera realistically depict the current situation?  With everyone confined to their own houses, the potential for conflict (which all their plots are built around) is greatly reduced.  Phil Mitchell can't just go and kick in Ian Beale's door and try to beat him up - I guess in future he'll have to wait until they are both in the supermarket and have a ruck in the toiletries aisle, instead.  But perhaps this is what the powers that be think people want to see - maybe it is reassuring to be reminded of what normal life is like.  Personally, I just find it frustrating.

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Monday, March 23, 2020

Welcome to Lockdown

Well, that all got pretty serious pretty quickly, didn't it?  Welcome to lockdown.  Actually, the people we ned to be thinking about right now are the gossip columnists.  With everyone, including celebrities of every grade, now confined to quarters and with all the restaurants, theatres and bars shut, how are they going to fill their columns?  Are they covered by any of those government schemes to prevent people losing their livelihood during the coronaviris crisis?  Will we, as taxpayers, have to pay 80% of their wages?  Perhaps they could keep their columns going by staging what ;might' have happened at nightclubs if they weren't locked down, using Barbie and Ken dolls to represent the various celebrities.  After all they've got huge experience in making this shit up - plus, as they are dolls they are using, they can get really raunchy photos of the 'celebs' going at it, hammer and tongs.  Of course, we could extend this idea to other forms of entertainment.  In their attempts to keep Match of the Day going, despite the suspension of the domestic football season, the BBC really have missed a trick by not recreating the postponed matches via Subuteo.  The various pundits could play on behalf of their former teams: Gary Lineker could br Spurs, Everton and Leicester, Ian Wright Arsenal and West Ham, Alan Shearer Newcastle, Blackburn and Southampton, while Danny Murphy has Liverpool, Fulham and even Spurs covered.

I'm hoping these new restrictions on leaving one' house might do something to curb the activities of those bands of brigands who have been targeting supermarkets, descending on the en masse and stripping the shelves bare, so that nobody else can buy even the most basic of foodstuffs.  My Aunt, who is in her eighties, lives in a remote Devon village, with next to no bus services, so most of the residents are reliant upon the local shop which has, so far, remained relatively well stocked.  She reports, however, that as the panic buying mania has tightened its grip, increasing numbers of complete strangers have been turning up at the shop, clearly seeking new targets for their brigandry.  I've told her that she and the other villagers need to hire a West Country version of the Magnificent Seven to protect the village shop from these bandits.  They'd doubtless be led, not by Yul Brynner, but by some fat bald bloke with a rusty shotgun, while 'Steve McQueen' would be a gap toothed yokel wielding a pitchfork and riding a sit-on lawn mower.  But they'd only have to pay then twenty dollars apiece for the whole job (and as most of them will die, they'll doubtless save some money that way).  But really, this panic buying nonsense is getting so out of hand that I fear we will all have to be hiring teams of elite mercenaries to act as shopping vigilantes - making sure that those most in need can get to the shelves and the panic buyers run off.  Perhaps the A-Tean are available?  (Although, thanks to social distancing measures, all four of them couldn't be in that van at the same time).

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Instant Justice (1987)

Well, I was going to write something about an Italian action film I've recently watched, but I'm afraid that a week battling with the cold which has reduced my voice to a croak, has left me exhausted.  That and all the depressing news about the coronavirus and the UK government's apparently inability to mount an effective response, which is now really getting me down.  I've already written too much about Covid-19 and it is everywhere in the media, so I'll confine myself to noting that there are a lot of people out there spouting all manner of opinions on this pandemic, how long it is going to last, how our lives are going to be changed forever - it is all speculation.  The only guide as to how this might pan out, if our governments have the will and observe the facts - lies in what is happening in places like China, South Korea and Singapore, where, the evidence suggests, they have managed to turn the tide and are beginning to return to some semblance of normality.  All achieved in a matter of months.  Still, if nothing else, my employer has finally heeded to pressure and withdrawn myself and my colleagues from the streets - it took them until lunchtime yesterday, though.  My current status is unclear - I'm classified as 'vulnerable' to the virus due to my diabetes and am being advised by the government to spend the next twelve weeks at home, avoiding social contact.  Now, other government departments have put their 'vulnerable' employees on 'special leave', on full pay.  Mine is still obsessed with the idea that I can work from home - which, due to the nature of my job, is actually pretty much impossible.  There might be some movement on the issue next week, as my union is pushing for a consistent policy across departments.  We'll see.

But enough doom and gloom.  As I'm not going to talk about that Italian film, (not today, anyway), I thought that I'd instead give you the trailer from one of those direct-to-video action films which turn up on B-Movie TV, this one's Instant Justice (aka Marine Issue), from 1987:




It is actually pretty slickly made, far superior to many contemporary direct-to-video productions.  For one thing it actually looks as if it was shot on film and it is shot on location, mainly in and around Barcelona.  It stars Micheal Pare, who comes from the Sylvester Stallone school of acting, in that he delivers all of his lines as if having recently suffered a head trauma and Tawny Kitaen (just before she was briefly married to Deep Purple and Whitesnake front man David Coverdale).  While not exactly acting heavyweights, they are more than adequate for their roles here, backed up by B-movie veteran Charles Napier.  The film's biggest plus lies with the action sequences which, for this sort of film, are extremely well choreographed.  It is actually worth a look if you can get to see it, providing an undemanding but smoothly put together hundred minutes or so of entertainment.

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Invisible Enemy

As the Queen wishes us all well in dealing with coronavirus, having barricaded herself safely into Windsor Castle, Ive been left pondering the nature of coincidence.  Twice in the past couple of days I've heard the pandemic referred to as 'The Invisible Enemy' - once by Trump, then again tonight by Johnson, during his latest Covid-19 briefing.  Coincidentally, I've lately found myself thinking a lot about that seventies Doctor Who serial, 'The Invisible Enemy', particularly with regard to the current health crisis.  You remember - it was the one where the Doctor (played back then  by Sir Tom of Baker) finds himself infected by a virulent and sentient virus.  In fact, he finds himself invaded by the virus swarm's nucleus, which plans to use him as part of its plans to dominate the galaxy.  So what do you do under such circumstances: take a couple of aspirin and self-isolate for a week?  Not if you are Tom Baker, obviously.  He creates miniaturised clones of himself and his companion, the lovely Leela, which are injected into his body to, quite literally, fight the virus.  It sort of works, in that the nucleus is, indeed, forced to leave the Doctor's body - but grows to 'macro' size and heads off to breed a new, full-size, version of the virus swarm.  (Don't worry, the Doctor goes in hotpursuit and puts paid to its plans).

I found myself pondering whether this idea, of deploying miniature human clones, might be a viable strategy for combating the current coronavirus outbreak.  I mean, it fits in with the war-like rhetoric currently favoured by political leaders when it comes to Civid-19: lots of talk of 'fighting' the virus, or being in a 'war' with it.  All of which, of course, are nonsense - you can't fight a virus in any literal sense, it isn't really alive even, it doesn't know anyone is 'fighting' it.  It doesn't even know what we are, we're just a convenient vector for its transmission.  All this invocation of the 'Blitz Spirit' is entirely inappropriate: the virus isn't the Luftwaffe, you can't send a squadron of Spitfires out to shoot it down as it attacks London.  (Although, to be fair, there was a lot of crime during the Blitz, as looters took advantage of the chaos to rob bomb damaged homes and shops - much as the 'panic buyers' are doubtless taking advantage of the current situation to stockpile goods they will try to sell at inflated prices when things get really bad and we're all in lock down).  But to get back to 'The Invisible Enemy', not only does it provide a way of literally fighting the virus, but it makes it a more tangible foe by giving it sentience and malign purpose.  Someone has to sell this idea to Trump or Johnson - both seem to be clutching at straws and willing to latch onto just about any 'miracle cure' for the virus - I'd just love to hear one of them start prattling on to the media as to how they are going to clone themselves, miniaturise those clones, then inject them into a Covid-19 victim in order to defeat the virus in a stand up fist fight.  It's the kind of absurd diversion from this mess we desperately need.

But perhaps there are other pop culture 'cures' we can sell to our leaders: the deployment of voodoo witch doctors, perhaps?  Or Star Trek type transporters which dematerialise you and, when rematerialising you, filter out the virus?  How about virus-eating alien parasites?  Or a few child sacrifices to the Devil?  Or maybe it could be revealed that Atlantis has risen from the ocean and that the Atlanteans have released this virus to wipe us out and reclaim the planet for themselves?  Consequently, a team of Vietnam vet soldiers of fortune have been sent to deal with them and defeat the virus.  The possibilities are endless.  But don't worry, according to Boris, in twelve weeks time we'll have turned the corner - probably to find ourselves facing an oncoming bus.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Sense of Unreality

A sense of unreality currently reigns.  The football season has been suspended until who knows when, yet the sports pages are full of transfer speculation - trying to predict who will sign what player 'during the summer'.  Yet the season is still likely to be being played 'during the summer'.  If it resumes at all.  With no actual football to write about, the media have started making up their transfer fantasies early, creating this strange feeling of disconnectedness, giving the impression that different parts of reality are moving at different speeds.  Or even that part of it has come adrift completely.  But this disconnect merely reflects the disjuncture between what our leaders keep saying is happening with regard to coronavirus and what is actually happening.  Frustratingly, we see a seemingly endless parade of world leaders addressing their nations with decisive proclamations, clearly outlining what will happen and how people will be protected financially, how order will be maintained etc.  All very impressive.  Yet here, all we get is the government suggesting and urging people to do or not do things, but not backing it up, leaving those of us on the receiving end with no real guidance, let alone any prospect of help.  Employers seem to interpret these utterings in ways which most benefit them, rather than their workers.  The hospitality industry is left in financial limbo as people are urged to avoid pubs and restaurants, rather than the government simply closing them, so that they could claim on their insurance.

Even when the government does finally come up with financial packages to support people and businesses during this crisis, they seem incomplete and we are left with the feeling that the authorities have had to be pushed, reluctantly, into taking such action.  Everything they do feels disjointed.  As if they are making it up as they go along.  Which, on the evidence of the last week, with the jolting shift from the complacency of the 'herd immunity' approach, to the current 'suppression' model.  (The former always looked dangerous, risking potentially huge fatality figures as simply allowing as many people as possible to catch Covid-19 in the hope that it would create a mass immunity in the population would inevitably completely overwhelm the NHS).  But even now it seems somewhat half arsed, with no apparent capacity to test all front line health workers for Covd-19, let alone any other suspected cases.  And testing suspected cases, isolating them and tracing their contacts if they test positive for the virus, is a vital part of the suppression strategy.  Well, in other countries it is. Countries which, mysteriously, do seem to have the capacity to carry out this volume of testing.  (It could clog up labs, according to one expert witness in front of a parliamentary committee today).   Nothing seems to make any sense.

But to move from the general to the personal, we are now being told that, from this coming weekend, those of us in 'higher risk' groups - over seventies, diabetics, high blood pressure sufferers etc - should withdraw from all non-essential social contacts.  Basically stay at home.  For up to twelve weeks.  Now, I qualify on two counts - diabetes and blood pressure - yet my employer (a government department) has so far offered no guidance as what I am meant to do.  Should I just stop turning up to work?  (which is what the government's Chief Scientist, Chief Medical Officer and Prime Minister seem to be literally saying (but only 'asking' of course).  In which case will I still be paid?  Will they sack me?  Will I have to sue them?  My employer's stance on coronavirus vis a vis its employees, as of today, is that it expects us to keep working.  The most I've been offered is an opportunity to work in the office (which isn't my job) rather than in the field.  But this isn't in line with the government's own advice - I would still be exposing myself to non-essential social contacts on a daily basis.  So what am I meant to do?  Right now I'm being asked to make choice between my income and my health.  Which isn't right.  And I'm not alone in this, but the government's reluctance to be precise is putting us into this situation.  But don't worry - we have a 'war government'.  Which presumably means that they are going to engage in a series of failed small scale military campaigns before sending the RAF to bomb Berlin. 

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Monday, March 16, 2020

Thud and Blunder

In celebration of Chuck Norris' eightieth birthday - for the redneck action star did, indeed, become an octogenarian last week - I decided to watch Invasion USA (1985), one of his biggest grossing pictures.  Now, to say that Norris is an actor of limited range, or that Joseph Zito is a director of limited ability would hardly be controversial, but I was surprised at just how poor the film seems now.  It isn't just the relentless one note jingoism of the script - basically, 'Those Godless commie bastards, is there no depravity they won't stoop to?' - I mean, you expect that from an eighties Chuck Norris movie, nor the production values, which are surprisingly good for a Cannon produced film.  Rather, it is the sheer incompetence of it, the lack of any discernible style or proper pacing.  Sure, it has lots of spectacular action sequences - which even include the destruction of real buildings (they were due to be demolished as part of an airport extension) - but they are slapped together almost arbitrarily.  There is no sense of any plot development (let alone character development), it all feels like a series of loosely connected set pieces, with no linking narrative to either explain or put in context what we are seeing.  Significantly, in the documentary, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films, it was claimed that Cannon's owners, the notorious Golan and Globus, were so impressed by the rushes of the action scenes they were seeing that they insisted that more such material be filmed, at the expense of the rest of the narrative.

If true, this would explain why a large part of Invasion USA's running time consists of Chuck magically appearing at the scene of the bad guys' next planned atrocity just in the nick of time to blow them all away.  There's no explanation of how he knows their plans - OK, I know that he beats some information out of one of their guys in a hotel room, but we don't see or hear him give Chuck that detail of information.  Really, it is like he's psychic or something.  Subsequently, there's no sense of momentum.let alone peril - you just know that indestructible Chuck will always be there to save the day and blow away those two-dimensional cardboard commies who are trying to undermine the American dream by making people think that the police are racists and the military commit war crime-style atrocities.  Outrageous.   On a certain level it was quite entertaining - I hesitate to say a cartoonish level, as it would be a very badly drawn cartoon.  What really struck me, while watching Invasion USA, was just how inferior it was to some of the contemporary Italian action films I've seen of late.  I have no doubt, for instance, that Invasion USA had a far bigger budget than, say, The Atlantis Interceptors (which I intend looking at in more detail at a later date), which I also recently watched, yet the Italian film was superior in every department.  Even with the handicap of dubbing for the English-language version, the performances in Atlantis Interceptors are far more credible, for instance.  It also has a much more inventive script, better pacing and slickly efficient direction from Ruggero Deodato.  Most of all, it was fun.  Barking mad, bur fun.  Whereas Invasion USA was barking mad, but ultimately not much fun.  Perhaps Chuck Norris should have gone to Italy to make direct-to-video action films rather than have signed a contract with Cannon - his films might have weathered better when seen again today.

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