Friday, January 31, 2014

Shock of the New

OK, today we inaugurate a new feature on this blog: the monthly movie.  Basically, I'm going to try and make and present a short film every month during 2014.  I'm not going to go so far as to try and ensure each film has a theme appropriate to its month.  The films could just be experimental video projects I've been working on that I can't incorporate into other films, for instance.  The long and the short of it is that, for some time, I've felt that I'm simply not doing enough with my camera - hence this project.

Anyway, for January, I have decided to follow an appropriate theme of sorts.  As January ushers in a new year, I thought I'd take a look at some of the new building which has been going on around Crapchester.  Combining footage filmed on two local housing developments, 'Shock of the New' tries to capture the sense of isolation and, frankly, loneliness which seems to encapsulate these new developments.  Full of identikit houses, which are built to standard designs which try to suggest historical styles such as Georgian town houses, or Victorian cottages, arranged on streets which seem perpetually devoid of a human presence, they fail completely to create actual communities.  lacking shops, pubs or any other facilities, they remain simply collections of houses.  Sterile and soulless, it could be argued that they are a perfect symbol of modern British society. 

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Keeping the Lights Burning

I'm sure that I had something I planned to post here today, but a day struggling through freezing cold fog in order to carry out utterly meaningless work-related activities has left my brain too numb to think clearly.  It doesn't help that I've pulled something in my back so, as well as being freezing cold, I'm also in pain.  At least January finally judders to a halt tomorrow.  This year, despite coming back to work later than usual, January seems to have dragged on interminably.  Which is strange, because, apart from the rain and gales, the weather this January hasn't been as bad as usual.  I mean, generally speaking we spend January struggling through snow drifts.  But this year, up until this week, at least, the temperatures have remained reasonably mild.  So, all things considered, January 2014 should have been less depressing than usual and just breezed past.  But it hasn't felt that way.

One measure of how depressing this January has ben are the number of Christmas decorations, most specifically external lights and trees, which are still up and illuminated in defiance of the 'rule' that it's bad luck to keep them up beyond twelfth night.  Of course, the twelfth night thing is bollocks any way, something cooked up by the Victorians who, having restored Christmas as a seasonal celebration, realised they needed some way to force people back to work when it ended.  What better way than to take down those cheery decorations and emphasise how dreary midwinter really is?  Apparently, in some parts of Scandinavia they keep some of their decorations up until February in an attempt to inject some cheer into this otherwise bleak time of year.  I must admit, having been cheered by the sight of the odd still lit up Christmas tree over the past few weeks, I think they have a point.  So, next year, let's all ignore the twelfth night business and keep the lights burning a little longer - maybe then January won't drag so much.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Offending the Offenders

The Pope's doves being attacked by a seagull and a crow and a mini-tornado in Chobham hurling feral cats into the air - what does it all mean?  Probably nothing, but the news early this week seemed to be full of such bizarre animal stories.  Perhaps the media think we need this kind of distraction from the relentlessly depressing catalogues of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of various 1970s TV celebrities emerging from our courts, (actually, on a side note, when I saw that Bernard Cribbins was a guest on the One Show tonight, I found myself thinking 'They're taking a bit of risk aren't they - he was on children's telly in the seventies, he could be accused of being a nonce at any moment').   Amidst all these sordid court cases, with their accusations of grubby back room gropings, secret buggerings and illicit knee-tremblers, I'm left pondering that there must surely be a better way to deal with this issue.  Maybe we could introduce some kind of uber-sex offender who preys on other sex offenders?  It would save us millions if deployed as an alternative to criminal prosecution.

I can see that you are confused. Allow me to elaborate.  I'm proposing that the state employs a professional sex offender who, whenever someone is accused of sexual offences and there's a reasonable case against them, goes round and does to the offender what they are alleged to have done to their victims.  Let's take Dave Lee Travis as an example.  Now, if it was true that he has been going around groping women's breasts and bottoms for the last forty years or so, (which, obviously hasn't been proven, meaning that he is innocent, but this is just a hypothetical thought experiment), instead of prosecuting him, the uber-sex offender could stroll into DLT's radio studio, hurl him across the sound desk, pull his pants down and violently squeeze his arse cheeks with both hands.  Possibly kneading them together with a grip so hard that it leaves livid red finger marks on his arse and administering a good hard testicle tugging.  But obviously, this wouldn't happen as DLT hasn't been proven of gratuitous sexual manhandlings.  To give another example - when Jimmy Savile was first accused of kiddie fiddling while he was alive, instead of prosecuting him, (which the police couldn't be bothered to do in reality), the authorities could have sent the uber-offender round to give him a good hard buggering.  I'm pretty sure that if he had been bum raped until his third eye bled, Sir Jimmy would have thought twice about sex offending again.  So, there you have it - a simple idea to ensure justice is done whilst saving the taxpayer money.  I'm sending it off to the Justice Ministry now...

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Licensed to Love and Kill

Another random movie trailer and another Lindsay Shonteff film.  To be precise, this is the trailer for Licensed to Love and Kill, the 1978 sequel to 1977's No 1 of the Secret Service, whose trailer I featured last week.  Basically, it's the same mix as before, except with Gareth Hunt from the New Avengers replacing Nicky Henson as Charles Bind.  (Henson had received a better offer from the Royal Shakespeare Company).  Unlike No 1, where the most exotic location featured was a cross channel ferry, Licensed to Love and Kill featured US locations.  Except that they were filmed in the UK, most probably Surrey, by the look of them, (Shonteff also lived in that neck of the woods).  It also featured an international star in the form of Australian Nick Tate, of Space 1999 fame.

You might be wondering, by now, why I'm so fascinated by these kind of micro-budget seventies British exploitation movies.  Well, they are a reminder of a time when it was possible to knock out a movie cashing in on a current hit for a few hundred thousand pounds and actually get it into cinemas and make a profit.  Remember, these were the days before home video and DVDS - you either found a distributor or your movie didn't get seen.  One man bands like Shonteff were, incredibly, able to make a living doing this, although, as the seventies progressed, it became more and more difficult to get these films into cinemas.  Interestingly, we now seem to be back in a situation where UK film makers like Ben Wheatley are once more prepared to make movies on tint budgets in order to retain creative control and take advantage of new distribution methods such as the web.  The difference is that these days the films get critical acclaim rather than the disdain Shonteff faced. Frankly, he deserved better - he was at least a commercial director who actually managed to make movies in Britain during the seventies and even secured foreign distribution for his films.

That said, Licensed to Love and Kill wasn't quite as financially successful as its predecessor and Charles Bind, Agent Number One, wouldn't return to the screen until 1990...


Friday, January 24, 2014

Turning Up the Heat

Have you noticed the creeping campaign against central heating of late?  I first encountered it earlier this week in an apparently innocuous segment of a local magazine programme on TV, ostensibly focusing on a couple who have reduced their energy bills to only three pounds a month.  All the usual energy saving measures were shown - woodburners, insulation, solar energy and all the other usual suspects - before they dropped the bombshell: to really save energy costs you have to switch off your central heating.  Which seems obvious, except that you'll freeze during the Winter.  Unless you restrict yourself to one heated room, according to these energy saving gurus.  Yes, that's right, for the winter months (which seem to get longer and longer in the UK) we should live primarily in a specially insulated room heated by a wood burning stove, venturing only to the arctic climes of the rest of the house when absolutely necessary and swaddled in ten layers of warm clothing.

Central heating, you see, is an evil that crept into our houses during the sixties and seventies - before then people, well, the lower classes, were a hardier, (not to mention shorter lived and less healthy), breed, who didn't mind freezing during the cold months.  We've all gone soft thanks to evil central heating and need to give up our addiction, with that saving on energy bills being the incentive.  Now, I grew up in a sixties built house that sort of had central heating from new.  I say sort of, basically it had two radiators downstairs, one in the hall, one in the living/dining room and one upstairs in the bathroom.  During the winter it always felt as if we spent months imprisoned in the living room - making dashes upstairs to use the bathroom only when absolutely necessary.  It really wasn't much fun and things got worse when my parents had an unheated extension built which was then used as a dining room.  Shivering your way through meals is a real appetite killer.  I really don't think it unreasonable to have the whole of your house heated so that, regardless of the time of year, the entire family don't have to huddle in a single room and the whole property can be utilised.

Anyway, a few days after seeing this programme what should I see on the BBC News site but a story claiming that central heating makes us fat!  (Possibly because, as I've already noted, trying to eat your meals in an unheated room kills your appetite).  Clearly, some kind of right wing government conspiracy was at work.  But just why do the bastards want us to abandon our central heating?  Maybe they think that huddling together in a single room for months on end will rekindle some of those family values they like to bang on about.  Then again, they might just want the old and poor to freeze to death, thereby cutting expenditure on pensions and benefits.  Whatever the reason, there definitely seems to be a media campaign to discredit central heating.  That said, the campaign could already be backfiring: that energy saving couple were hardly the best advert for switching off your central heating.  Their entire lives seem to consist of trying to stay warm and  foraging for wood for their bloody stove.  Frankly, they strike me as an even better reason for turning up your heating than avoiding hypothermia.  


Thursday, January 23, 2014

It's Criminal

Chancellor 'Gorgeous' George Osborne is claiming the recently announced drop in recorded crime as another triumph for his economic policy of austerity.  "We've known for years that the police have been inflating the crime statistics for years by committing fake crimes so as to justify their existence and inflated pay packets," he told a meeting of Young Conservatives in Streatham.  "Thanks to my policy of cutting government spending across the board, police forces up and down the country have been forced to reduce the number of officers the employ.  Not surprisingly, with fewer Bobbies on the beat, crime rates have fallen dramatically!"  He later qualified his comments, following criticism from several Chief Constables, stating that he didn't believe that police officers were necessarily committing major crimes to inflate their statistics, just minor offences.  "Obviously, I'm not saying that they are out there committing murders - except in Tottenham, perhaps - and sex offences," he said in a statement issued by the Treasury.  "But everyone knows that they're always out there stealing people's phones and iPods - especially from black people under the guise of 'stop and search' - not to mention a fair bit of vandalism and housebreaking." 

Not everyone is convinced of Osborne's claims.  "This is clearly a case of our criminals underperforming," declares his Labour counterpart, Ed Balls.  "Like so many of our industries, crime is suffering from a lack of investment, affecting opportunities for new criminal activity, thanks to this government's disastrous economic policies."  However, the government has responded to these allegations by claiming that it is already addressing the problem of underperforming criminals, which it believes is an entirely separate issue. "Unlike the last Labour government - of which Mr Balls was a member - our response isn't to import huge numbers of foreign criminals from Eastern Europe," a spokesperson told the press.  "Instead, the coalition government is working on introducing whole new kinds of criminality - the real problem here is that criminals haven't kept up with changes in modern crime and remain stuck in the essentially Victorian criminal mindset of 'old' crimes like robbery, murder and larceny.  We need to completely modernise our crime!"  To this end, the spokesperson pointed out, Welfare and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith was busy creating whole new areas of criminal activity.  "Being poor, claiming benefits, even just having a spare room - these are just some of the innovative new forms of criminality  he's already introduced," the spokesperson enthused.  "Those are just the start - believe me, he's got many more up his sleeve!"   

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Number One of the Secret Service

It's our first random movie trailer of the year, so I thought I'd plumb the depths of British low budget film-making in the form of a trailer for a Lindsay Shonteff film.   Actually, it is undoubtedly unfair to imply that Shonteff's films are low budget crud.  The late Lindsay Shonteff was a professional film maker who had worked for various producers on films with reasonable budgets and large scale releases before he decided to go his own way and produce his own pictures, free of interference from producers and studios.  Which meant financing the films himself which, in turn, meant making films on extremely low-budgets. 

Despite the lack of budgets, Shonteff's films, unlike many other poverty row exploitation movies, generally look professionally made, featuring recognisable actors, proper editing and cinematography and even some special effects.  Amongst the hard boiled crime thrillers like Clegg and The Fast Kill, sexploitation pieces like Permissive and  sub-Avengers capers like Big Zapper and Zapper's Blade of Vengeance, Shonteff developed a predilection for James Bond spoofs.  Starting with Licensed to Kill in 1965, these proved to be his most popular productions.  Interestingly, No 1 of the Secret Service, from 1977, was made because Shonteff needed to recoup his losses from his surprisingly faithful adaptation of Len Deighton's Spy Story the previous year.  Featuring Nicky Henson as Charles Bind, it proved a considerable success, particularly in international markets.  Successful enough, in fact, to spawn a couple of sequels with different actors as Bind.   Now largely forgotten, No 1 of the Secret Service is sadly just about impossible to see nowadays, unless you can obtain a bootleg DVD.  That said, I've heard that many of Shonteff's films are set for a Blu Ray release later this year.  In the meantime, just enjoy the cheesiness of the trailer. 


Monday, January 20, 2014

Dead Right

Dare we say it?  Will I be the first to take advantage of the UK's libel laws which say that you can't libel the dead?  Hell, here goes:  Lord McAlpine was a nonce and all those people he sued for saying that he was should demand their money back.  That's right, now that McAlpine is safely dead, we can say that he buggered his way through that Welsh boys home like crap goes through a goose.  That's right - I'm saying the BBC was right and the now deceased top Tory was a kiddie fiddler.  In fact, I don't know why BBC newsreaders didn't describe his as former Tory treasurer and peado when announcing his death, adding 'we told you so'.  If I was one of those people who had been sued or forced into some kind of out-of-court settlement and humiliating apology after tweeting that McAlpine was a peado, as soon as I heard of his death, I would have been on Twitter repeating the allegations ad nauseum.

Not that I have any facts to back this up (other than the BBC investigation which named McAlpine), but let us just take a look at the situation here:  Sir Jimmy Saville was a sex offender and paedophile who offended on an industrial scale, (apparently every unsolved sex crime committed between 1960 and 2010 in the UK is now attributed to him), Jimmy Saville knew Mrs Thatcher, Mrs Thatcher was leader of the Tories, Lord McAlpine was a member of the Tory Party and must have known Thatcher.  Clearly, he was part of the high-level paedophile ring protected by Thatcher when she was Prime Minister.  It's bloody obvious!  So, all together now: Lord McAlpine was a nonce!  


Friday, January 17, 2014

Man Spanks Monkey

The monkey abuser I was talking about on Monday is back on the front page of the Crapchester Chronicle, in fact, he's even made onto the local BBC teletext news service.  I despair.  I really do.  Is that what local news has become?  Instead of investigations into dodgy local political decisions, or murky business deals, or even local crime, we have stories about men mistreating pet monkeys.  It wouldn't be so bad if they'd even used a faintly amusing headline like 'Man Spanks Monkey'. But no, they couldn't even manage that.  But to get to the point, it's somewhat ironic that this story ended up on the BBC's local teletext, as only this week I heard more braying about how the BBC's local news coverage was putting the local press out of business.  I assume the argument is that why should people bother buying a local pater when they can get all their local(ish) news for free from the BBC? 

Which, of course, is absolute nonsense.  The reality is that BBC regional news programmes, (and 'regional' is the key word here), are far from being 'local'.  My regional programme, for instance, covers six entire counties and parts of at least two others, encompassing at least half a dozen cities and dozens of large towns.  Consequently, the news stories it offers are nothing like as localised as local newspapers can cover.  Moreover, there  is an inevitable bias in the BBC coverage toward the larger population centres, also, they can never cover individual stories in anything like the depth that a local newspaper should be able to.  Which is the real problem, obviously: whilst local papers should be able to cover local news in depth, they don't. In my, admittedly limited, experience, nowadays they seem to expect the stories to come to them.  The closest they get to actually going out and getting a story is to attend the local magistrates court and find out that a guy has been prosecuted for spanking his monkey.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Romanians Aren't Coming, The Romanians Aren't Coming....

So, that flood of Romanians and Bulgarians, coming here to take our women, sorry, jobs and benefits, hasn't materialised.  Much to the disappointment of the right.  I'm waiting for 'Call Me Dave' Cameron to take credit for the failure of this tidal wave of immigration to actually occur.  After all, their reluctance to come here is clearly a result of his government's advertising campaigns in Romania which tried to make the UK look as unwelcoming as possible.  It's a trick which has worked for the intelligence and security services for years: they justify their increasingly intrusive surveillance on the grounds that it is necessary to fight terrorism, when anyone points out the lack of successful terrorist operations they just turn round and declare that just shows how effective their surveillance is...

To get back to the original pint, the best reason - aside from plain old racism - that the right can give us for opposing these notional hordes of unwashed East Europeans entering the country is that they are really coming here to claim our over-generous welfare benefits.  Leaving aside the highly questionable notion that welfare benefits in the UK are over-generous, the problem I have with the whole notion of so-called 'benefits tourism' is that I have yet to see any evidence that it actually exists.  Sure, the right-wing press love to bandy the term around, but never actually gives us any statistics.  How many documented cases have there actually been?  How many successful prosecutions have there been?  I suspect the answer to both questions is: none.  But Hell, why let the facts - or lack of them - get in the way of a good bit of right-wing scaremongering.  You know, I'd have more respect for these anti-immigration reactionaries if they were to say that they didn't want the Romanians here because they are a bunch of fascists who willingly supported Hitler in the last war.  But I suspect they think that's the one thing in the Romanians' favour... 


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Last Film of Summer

So, here we are, the last of my holiday films to finally see the light of day.  Although it wasn't filmed on the literal last day of Summer, it was the last day of my holidays that I was able to get out and about, (a foot injury kept me confined to Crapchester for the last day of my holiday).  It was shot on a beautiful day at a place known as Pig's Bush (or was it Hog's Bush), which seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but the Waterloo to Bournemouth mainline runs through it - you can hear the trains in the distance long before one is actually seen.  The music is from Kevin McLeod's excellent and very useful FreePD site and this particular tune is by Mr Mcleod himself.  

That's it for this - or rather last - year's holiday films.  However, I am working on a new video-based project which, hopefully, will show results before the month is out - if I remember to charge up my camera and take it with me when I leave the house, that is.


Monday, January 13, 2014

News Free Zone?

I'm beginning to think that I live in a news oasis, that nothing of significance ever happens here in Crapchester.  I know that a lot of people in the provinces probably feel that way - the London bias of the national media frequently gives the impression that even major population centres like Birmingham or Manchester are mere rural backwaters in terms of newsworthy events.  Obviously, you'd expect local press outlets to balance this sort of media misrepresentation.  The Crapchester Chronicle, our local newspaper, however, seems determined to reinforce the idea that nothing at all ever happens here.  Now, I have to be honest here, I'm making my judgements based not upon a reading of the physical newspaper, but rather its website.  That said, you'd expect a local paper's website to feature, at the very least, the highlights of the print edition, so as to encourage people to buy it.  In which case, Crapchester is even crapper than I feared.  Before Christmas, for instance, the best story it could come up with was one of monkey abuse.  That's right, monkey abuse.  Apparently, a local resident had been up in court for being cruel to his pet monkey.  He'd kept in a cage too small for it and had forced to walk, on a lead, to his local pub.

Now, my regular reader(s) will know my attitude toward monkeys and won't be surprised that my initial attitude to the story was that the monkey had undoubtedly got its just desserts.  The little bastard.  But beyond that, I was amazed that this was a headline story - it even featured on those posters local papers have in the windows of newsagents, showing their current top headline.  The other thing which occurred to me was that anyone in the pub in question had thought the sight of a monkey on a leash in the lounge bar was at all unusual - if all the stories about the amount of crack that gets smoked there.  Getting back to the paper, post-Christmas, things haven't improved.  Highlights have included, two women seen fighting outside a local school, on a Sunday, so it wasn't even witnessed by the children, and a car gets stuck in flood under a railway bridge - complete with a photo!  Right now the top story concerns plans to restore a BMX track being put on hold.  Surely there must be more than this going on locally?  Whilst I'd like to believe that it is only the Crapchester Chronicle which is so bereft of news, a quick look at the website of my hometown's local paper (owned by the same media group, incidentally) revealed the same kind of trivia passing for local news.  Is it any wonder that local newspaper circulations are in decline?  

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Normal Service Resumed

Normal service has been resumed and 2014 has picked up where 2013 left off: the government are being horrible right-wing bastards, the police are apparently fitting people up and getting away with murder and the press are doing their best to spread panic and despair, (the Daily Express's obsession with the idea that we're all going to freeze to death in blizzards continues unabated, despite the change of year).  Why do we keep trying to kid ourselves that the advent of a new year represents some kind of clean break with the past, despite all the evidence to the contrary?  Once we've gotten over the hangovers, everything carries on just as before.  Work certainly does.  Although, I have to say, after all the stress I had over Christmas, (roof update: still not repaired, looking for new roofer), it was something of a relief to get back to the mundane predictability of the workplace. 

At least this new year we seemed to avoid all the usual bollocks in the media about new year's resolutions and how we should all turn over a new leaf, drink less, eat more healthily and take more exercise.  Or maybe I just didn't see those TV programmes this time around, (which is possible as I've been spending a lot of time catching up with old movies of dubious quality on You Tube).  Anyway, as ever, I have no intention of making any resolutions, but I do have some tentative plans for online projects over the next few months.  I've been mulling over a new video-based series for this blog, (I've also finally edited together the last of my holiday films from last Summer and once I've sorted out a soundtrack, I'll be posting it here).  It would also be nice to finally get my own podcasts back on track, (although I've abandoned The Sleazecast since the Summer, I have been contributing to other people's podcasts).  Apart from all that, I have, of course, got a whole slate of new stories planned for The Sleaze.  So, it's business as usual in 2014.

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Loons Led by Dunces

Is there no end to bonkers Education Secretary Michael Gove's buffoonery?  Is it possible for him to sink lower than his latest antics, which see him embroiled in an argument with Baldrick, a character from the long defunct Blackadder sitcom?  It wouldn't be so bad if the argument wasn't the result of the Education Secretary seemingly being remarkably ill informed with regard to twentieth century history.  Apparently, he's labouring under the misapprehension that anything that depicts the trench warfare of World War One's western front as being an utterly horrific and pointless slaughter, is left-wing propaganda.  Worse than that, it is left-wing propaganda designed to denigrate the memories of those who fought and died  in the trenches and obscure the glorious British victory which the Great War represented.  Clearly, Gove has never studied the inter-war period, or he would know that the perception of the First World War as a cataclysmic waste of human life was hardly a late twentieth century concept, dreamed up by the writers of TV comedies.  It was people who actually fought in the Great War who dubbed it the 'War to End All Wars' in the hope that the memory of its horrors would deter future conflicts on this scale.

As for the idea that this view of World War One somehow denigrates those who served in it, Gove is once again demonstrating his ignorance - this time of the very works he seeks to criticise.  The whole point of things like Oh What a Lovely War! and Blackadder, is surely that the ordinary soldier in the trenches frequently were heroic and self-sacrificing, unfortunately it was in service of a less than noble cause and frequently incompetent leaders.  Lions led by donkeys, to coin a phrase.  Coined, actually, by Alan Clark, a Tory MP and historian.  Most disturbing is Gove's belief that 1918 represented some kind of victory for Britain and its allies, that a conflict which cost over fifteen million lives and ultimately resolved very little, (by 1939 round two was kicking off), is something to be celebrated.  Let's not forget that 'victory' was achieved, in no small part, through the threat of revolution in Germany and the last-minute arrival of large numbers of fresh troops from the US.  Actually, I've changed my mind - the most disturbing aspect of this whole business is that someone like Gove is in charge of our children's education.

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Outrage Fatigue

Since the New Year arrived I seem to have been preoccupied with pop culture ephemera in my posts here.  Never fear, this isn't turning into a pop culture blog and I haven't lost sight of all the antics of the Tory bastards.  That said, I'm finding it difficult to rack up my outrage levels at George Osborne's declaration of intent to pour more misery on the poor with a promise of more cuts in the welfare budget - some of us have been ranting warnings about this right-wing shit for years now.  Likewise, the continued pandering to UKIP (the BNP for middle class bigots) with regard to immigration by Cameron and his cronies - it is no less than we expect from the snivelling public school shit.  Face it - he'd undoubtedly sell his own grandmother into white slavery if he thought that it would help him cling to power.  I suspect that this is going to be the big problem I face in 2014 - this government has established itself as being so evil and corrupt that now nothing it does can outrage me any more.

Perhaps that's all part of their plan: to so bombard us with political atrocities that we become so used to their extremism that our 'outrage threshold' is raised impossibly high.  If we can no longer become outraged, they probably figure, then we'll stop protesting.  But it isn't just government policy which we're all in danger of becoming numbed to.  Looking back on 2013, with Edward Snowden and the Prism revelations, it's difficult to see what this year can throw up which will be even more outrageous.  Let's face it, if the general reaction to the final unravelling of the lies behind the 'War on Terror' which played out last year are anything to go by, people already don't seem to care about the systematic destruction of our civil liberties this century has seen.  What hope is there that anything can stir them into action this year?  Damn it, we've learned that our governments routinely spy on us without cause, that we condone illegal drone strikes against alleged terrorists half way around the world, (with some remote operator acting as judge, jury and executioner), whilst at home we have record numbers of people reliant on food banks to survive, yet the general public still seem complacent!  Come on, get off your arses and onto those streets in 2014!

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Monday, January 06, 2014

OK Connery!

That's right, Sean Connery has a younger brother, Neil, who is a top plastic surgeon, hypnotist, world class archer and martial arts expert.  Well, actually he was a builder, but in the context of this legendary Eurospy movie. we have to accept the former account of his activities.  The film's US title, Operation Kid Brother, sums up this Bond knock-off's unique approach to trying to cash in on the sixties Bond-craze.  Released in 1967, the same year as what was supposed to be Sean Connery's last Bond outing, You Only Live Twice, this Italian production posits the idea that, when top British spies are unavailable, intelligence chiefs instead turn to their multi-talented younger brothers.  Which actually results in a slightly confusing scenario: Neil Connery plays Dr Neil Connery, whose older brother is the UK's top secret agent.  Which implies, of course, that Sean Connery, rather than James Bond is our top man.  All very post-modern.  Anyway, getting back to the film itself, it tries to be as close to being a Bond movie in terms of scenario, plot, style and even cast, as it is possible to get without infringing Eon Productions' copyright. 

Featuring not only Sean Connery's brother, but also Bernard Lee, (definitely not playing M, instead he's British intelligence chief Commander Cunningham), Lois Maxwell, (playing Cunningham's assistant, who isn't Miss Moneypenny, she's actually called Miss Maxwell),  Adolfo Celi, (he might be the main villain and Number Two, sorry, Beta, in an evil criminal organisation, but he isn't Emile Largo from Thunderball),  Anthony Dawson, (Alpha in the criminal organisation, who is in no way like Blofeld, whose hands he had provided in From Russia With Love), and Daniela Bianchi, (who might be Connery's love interest, but definitely isn't Tatiana in From Russia With Love).  The aforementioned secret organisation - THANATOS - is most definitely not SPECTRE, even though its aims seem to be similar and it holds regular meetings of its top operatives where the price of failure is summary execution.  Whilst often described as a spoof of the Bond series, OK Connery comes over more as a loving homage, replicating the formula faithfully.

Whilst this is one of those films that smart arses like to watch 'ironically' and mock for its entirely derivative nature, having finally seen it myself, (thanks to Google's slack enforcement of other people's copyright on You Tube), I have to say that it is actually a pretty entertaining and engaging piece of film-making in its own right.  Sure, it's a deliberate and blatant cash in on the Bond series, but unlike most other Eurospy-type knock offs, OK Connery seems to have actually had a budget - whilst not quite as globe-trotting as a genuine Bond movie, it does boast location shooting in Monaco, Spain and Morocco, (I suspect the 'Swiss' locations are actually in Spain).  The production values are easily on a par with some of the earlier Bonds, with imaginative art direction and Beta's all female-crewed yacht being particularly impressive.  The action sequences are well staged and most of the performances are above average for this sort of film.  It also boasts a magnificent score by Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai - including a theme song blasted out in Shirley Bassey mode by 'Krista'.

In some respects, I'd argue, it actually improves upon the usual Bond formula.  Lee and Maxwell's characters, for instance, are far more involved in the action than the equivalent characters they played in the official Bond series.  The film also adds an interesting twist to the proceedings with a power struggle within THANATOS, as Beta plots to usurp Alpha, planning to replace him with a compliant double, which he tries to force plastic surgeon Connery to create from one of his henchmen.  Which isn't to say that the film doesn't have its problems - Beta's underground lab at the end is a bit disappointing and the villains' plot is barely comprehensible, (I still don't know what an 'atomic nucleus' is or why it would be transported across Spain in an ordinary army truck, or, indeed, why it was vital to Beta's scheme), and at some points, rather like some genuine Bond films, you have to keep reminding yourself as to where Connery is now and what he's doing there, as it isn't always obvious.  Moreover, Connery's hypnotic powers are used by the writers as a lazy plot device to conveniently get him out of tricky situations a bit too often, (he only has to look at someone in a particular way to mesmerise them and bend them to his will). Of course, that could simply be parodying the way 007's gadgets (something absent from this film), are used in a similar way.  Likewise the hypnotic powers could be an attempt to spoof Bond's habit of bedding every woman he meets with no effort whatsoever, (it is notable that in OK Connery the hero doesn't actually bed any of the women). 

It all builds to a satisfying conclusion involving the Scottish archery team, (of which Connery is a key member), turning up at Beta's castle lair to help our hero take on Beta and his THANATOs thugs in a climactic battle in some caves.  Actually, I have to be a bit pedantic here.  The reason the archers are vital is because the THANATOS secret weapon uses some kind of electromagnetic field to render all machinery inoperative, including firearms!  Which ignores the fact that firearms don't rely on any kind of electromagnetic energy themselves to operate - things like revolvers and bolt-action rifles rely on the muscular power of the user to operate their mechanisms, whilst automatic weapons simply use the exhaust gases from the round they've just fired.  Sorry, I can't help it - I happen to know about firearms and this is a major plot hole!  Not that genuine Bond films aren't susceptible to such scientific inaccuracies.  Still, that aside, OK Connery is, if taken at face value, a highly entertaining piece of pop culture ephemera.  Sure, as an actor Neil Connery made a great plasterer - his cause not helped by being dubbed with an American accent despite people constantly referring to him as being Scottish, but he looks good in the part and, to be brutally honest, it's probably a better film than many of those camp mid-period Bonds they put out in the seventies.  Its certainly more entertaining than Man With The Golden Gun and more credible than Moonraker!


Friday, January 03, 2014

More Pop Culture Past...

Back to my early pop culture memories.  (Although a brief roof update is probably in order: I heard from the roofer again today and he reckons the damage is worse than I thought, so we're back to wrangling with the insurance).  Way back in 1970, as a child, I saw an early BBC colour production which was to have a profound influence on me.  Ever since I've had vivid memories of what I later knew to be a repeated episode of the 1968 series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, starring Peter Cushing.  To be specific, it was a dramatization of The Sign of Four.  It was the bizarre plot elements such as the man with a wooden leg and his poison dart firing pygmy accomplice which stuck in my young mind, along with the climactic boat chase along the Thames.   These memories sparked a lifelong interest in the Great Detective and the works of Arthur Conan Doyle.  A few years later, by chance, I found a copy of the Conan Doyle novel The Sign of Four and, upon reading it, realised that my fragmented TV Holmes memories were of an adaptation of the novel, recognising various scenes from the TV episode as I read it.  Since then I've seen many adaptations of that particular Holmes story, some better than others, but frustratingly, I've never been able to see the Peter Cushing version again.  Until now.

This Christmas I received as a present a box set of the only six surviving episodes of the BBC colour Sherlock Holmes series.  Fortuitously, amongst the six is The Sign of Four.  It was fascinating to watch this episode again for the first time in more than forty years.  Whilst the limitations of early colour TV recording are all too clear, not to mention budgetary restrictions, I still found the whole style of the production fascinating and quite exhilarating.  Of course, condensing the novel into fifty minute episode means that it moves at breakneck pace, without many of the long, static dialogue scenes which characterise many UK TV productions from this period.  Fascinatingly, it eschews the usual fades and dissolves of the era in favour of fast cuts or simple fades to black.  Another notable feature was the use of 'point of view' shots and an entire exterior sequence which is not only 'point of view' but also apparently shot with some kind of hand held camera, as Holmes and Watson employ a tracker dog to trail a suspect's scent.  The exterior shooting, whilst limited (for the aforementioned budgetary reasons) has an agreeably gritty look and feel to it - the locations look like real locations, not like dressed exterior sets.

Obviously, as was common at the time, the switch between film for exterior scenes and videotape for studio shots can be jarring, due to the clear difference in quality and lighting, but this is to be expected from a 1968 production.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised - all too often when you finally get to see something that impressed you in childhood many years ago, it turns out to be a disappointment, but this was still entertaining and enchanting.  Of course, I thought, it could just be that The Sign of Four is an aberration in terms of style and pacing, but upon watching the other five episodes, I found this not to be the case.  Whilst most are slightly slower paced, they all employ the same fast edits and point of view camera sequence which had impressed me, (The Boscombe Valley Mystery is particularly innovative in its use of a brief animated sequence to illustrate a character's past misdeeds).  Interestingly, The Blue Carbuncle, made as a cheap Christmas episode, although mainly set bound, is one of the most dramatically satisfying episodes, with especially fine performances from Cushing as Holmes, Nigel Stock as Watson and guest star James Beck (best remembered as Private Walker in Dad's Army).

Indeed, it is the performances of the leads, particularly Cushing, which really distinguish these episodes.  Cushing apparently had real reservations about his performance, feeling it had been adversely affected by the budgetary problems and hurried shooting schedules which had beset the series, (shooting the first two episodes, the two part Hound of the Baskervilles which is included in the box set, put the series over budget and behind schedule, with fourteen more episodes still to shoot).  On the evidence of these episodes, he was doing himself a disservice, delivering a masterful performance as Sherlock Holmes incisive and aloof, despairing at Watson's wooing of Mary Morstan in The Sign of Four, at times passionate in his pursuit of justice and even mischievously humourous at times.  His interactions with Stock's Watson are also well played - never as patronising as Rathbone's Holmes was to Nigel Bruce's Watson and more often than not suggesting a genuine warmth between the two characters.  All in all, these six episodes left me yearning for the missing ten, (under the original agreement with the Conan Doyle estate, the BBC was only permitted to repeat the series once - they retransmitted twelve episodes on BBC2 in 1970, when I encountered them - so there obviously seemed little point in keeping them, so the tapes of the missing ten were wiped for re-use), perhaps, like old Dr Who episodes, some will turn up one day in Nigeria....


Thursday, January 02, 2014

Falling Down

No reviews of the year past or predictions for the year just started here.  In keeping with my Christmas policy, (and is still Christmas until twelfth night), of ignoring tradition, I thought we'd just hit the ground running and launch straight back into the swing of things.  That was until I got up this morning to see dire warnings from the government about yet more bad weather due to engulf the UK over the next few days.  With the damage to my roof still not repaired from the last lot of storms to hit us, (bad weather prevented repairs earlier in the week and, since the New Year, the roofer seems to have vanished completely), I'm dreading the coming days.  Further damage seems inevitable.  Indeed, already this evening there have been ominous sounds of (possibly) more slates coming down, although it is too dark outside to assess what, if any, further damage has been incurred already.  But it isn't just the roof - I'm rapidly convincing myself that the whole house is falling apart.  Thanks to having seen too many editions of Homes Under the Hammer, I'm convinced that every crack means subsidence.

My paranoia regarding the imminent collapse of my house has got to the stage where I'm considering just abandoning the property.  I keep thinking how easy it would be just to walk out and book into a hotel.  I mean, people do that, don't they, live in hotels?  I keep imagining how much simpler it would be - no worries about repairs, maintenance or energy bills.  No cleaning or changing of bedclothes.  Send all my clothes out to a cleaning and ironing service - my life would be considerably simplified.  The appeal of living in an hotel grows by the minute.  It needn't be an expensive hotel, or a lavish room.  I know it would mean having to abandon or put into storage most of my accumulated 'stuff', but, in truth, what proportion of our belongings do we ever use at any one time?  Mind you, if I wasn't paying a mortgage, house insurance and household bills every month, I could probably afford a pretty decent room at a reasonable hotel.  See, it just gets better.  Still, if the weather keeps knocking bits off of my house and the repairs aren't carried out soon, I might have no choice but to move into that hotel.