Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Tallest Tree

Just when you thought that I'd forgotten - May's 'monthly movie'.  I can't deny that this one was done in a hurry - it was the last week of May and I realised that I hadn't actually filmed anything, the weather outside was foul and I was up to my neck in DIY jobs at home.  So, I went out to one of my favourite locations and hoped for inspiration.  (I had been planning something more ambitious for this month, but I just didn't have the time to even start it).  Luckily, I remembered that I had never filmed the children's play area.  I call it a children's play area, but I've never actually ever seen any children playing there.  In fact, I can't recall ever seeing any children visiting those woods with their parents.  Clearly, there must be some, or they wouldn't have built and maintained the area...

The wooden tree/castle is very nicely built and of some interest, but the bulk of the film is taken up with me 'walking the height of the world's tallest tree', a display which, apart from the tree/castle, is the play area's only attraction.  Not especially interesting, I know, but it is educational: by the end of this video you should have some idea of just how tall the world's tallest tree was.  Hopefully, we'll have better weather next month and I'll be able to get out to some more interesting locations for Jume's movie.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

War Games

Saving Private Ryan has a lot to answer for - don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the film when it was first released, appreciating its attempts at authenticity with regard to things like tanks compared to earlier war movies, where post-war US built M47s and M48s pretended, unconvincingly, to be Tiger tanks.  No, my problem with Spielberg's film is that seems to have encouraged a whole wave of low-budget war movies focusing on small unit actions, which seem to have been made primarily by World War Two re-enactment societies.  In many ways this was an inevitable development: digital technology was bringing high quality video within the reach of amateur and semi-professional film makers, commercial computer video editing and graphics packages were making postproduction, including special effects, affordable and possible to achieve in your living room on a laptop, whilst re-enactment groups were getting bigger and acquiring lots of more authentic equipment.  Indeed, I have little doubt that the popularity of Saving Private Ryan boosted the re-enactment movement, (it also showed them it was possible to build relatively realistic looking German tanks on the chassis of obsolete ex-Soviet tanks which were now available cheaply from the former Soviet bloc).  So, if you were a budding film maker with an interest in World War Two, it was only logical that you hooked up with one of these groups - they could provide not just the right vehicles and weapons, but also lots of extras with authentic-looking uniforms.

Unfortunately, most of the films produced this way are pretty dire.  They also all seem to end up on Movies4Men.  So, over the past few weeks, I've seen quite a few.  Some are incredibly ambitious.  Red Rose of Normandy, for instance, attempts to recreate the D-Day landings, (from the German perspective), in what looks like California.  The problem is that it has no budget: the invasion fleet seems to consist of two ships and two landing craft, for instance. Moreover, no mater how big the re-enactment groups involved are, there are never going to be enough of them to make it look like either the US or German armies are clashing.  A lack of budget also means a lack of professional actors.  (I may be doing those involved in these films a disservice, they could be professional actors, but I can only judge them by their performances here, which are, at best, wooden).   It also didn't help that the Normandy landings were simply used as the background for a hackneyed romance plot.  Steel Tempest, most of which I saw today, was somewhat more modest in its scope, focusing on the doomed attempts of an SS unit to hold a bridge in late 1944.  It suffered from the same problems of dreadful dialogue, clichéd characters and indifferent acting.  Unlike Red Rose of Normandy, it was shot in the UK, so its setting at least looked European.  That said, the Belgian 'town' being fought over looked more like a contemporary half-finished housing estate in Basingstoke.  Funnily enough, when I checked, parts of the film had been shot in Hampshire.

But, like many of these films, the problem with Steel Tempest was that the combat sequences looked like a re-enactment.  This wasn't helped by the use of CGI effects, instead of pyrotechnics, to produce explosions, muzzle flashes and the like.  Whilst undoubtedly cheaper than using blank rounds and pyrotechnics, this method ultimately looks unconvincing.  Worse still, it quickly becomes obvious that none of the weapons being 'fired' are ejecting spent shell casings - a prominent feature of combat weapons.  Also surprising are the number of organisational inaccuracies: light tanks and medium tanks would rarely operate as part of the same formation and US tank destroyers certainly wouldn't be seen operating with tanks - they were organised separately as part of the US's armoured doctrine in World War Two.  It was also highly unlikely that you'd see British troops supporting American GIs - differing supply chains dictated that western allied units of different nationalities  generally operated separately from each other.  But enough of my nit-picking.  Ultimately, these films demonstrate that accuracy in terms of having the right tanks and guns isn't enough to make an entertaining war move.  Believe me, they aren't half as much fun as the average, wildly inaccurate, 'Macaroni War' picture.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Italian Job: Crime Busters (1976)

We all of us have guilty pleasures - for the likes of Max Clifford and Stuart Hall it is sexually abusing young women.  Mine are more modest, one of them is watching Terence Hill and Bud Spencer films.  Never heard of them?  Where were you in the seventies?  Despite their anglicised names, Hill and Spencer are Italian actors with careers stretching back to the early sixties.  They were first paired in a trilogy of straight spaghetti westerns in the late sixties, but found international fame when they appeared in the comedy spaghetti western Trinity is My Name and its sequel, Trinity is Still My Name.  Further pairings followed, all following the template established by the Trinity films, but increasingly using contemporary settings and international venues.  They always played more or less the same characters: Hill is a smart-arsed hustler, never as clever as he thinks, with an acrobatic fighting style, whose schemes inevitably drag him and his reluctant co-conspirator Spencer into conflict with crooks, big game hunters the police, secret agents and the like.  Spencer is always the big man of few words, with the fighting style of a bulldozer, who sports a beard and a bad temper and is usually proven to be somewhat smarter than Hill in the end, just less ambitious.

I must admit that I hadn't seen one of their films in a good many years, until I stumbled across the English-language version of Crime Busters on YouTube.  Shot in Florida, this 1976 entry in their canon is pretty typical of their output.  This time around Hill and Spencer are, respectively, an unemployed sailor and longshoreman, who can't get work thanks to the local mob's stranglehold on the docks, so turn to petty crime and, through a series of unlikely events, end up joining the local police force.  As ever, the first twenty minutes or so are taken up with the two meeting, falling foul of the mobsters, both individually, then together, trashing several cars and beating up numerous hoodlums in the process.  Naturally, as cops, in between trying to get sacked in order to avoid their notice period if they resign, they once again get involved with the mobsters and, through luck more than judgement, end up breaking up their drug running ring.  Whilst they are clearly incompetent, the running joke is that their boss is even more incompetent and consequently thinks that Hill is a genius.  As with all Hill and Spencer films, the plot, such as it is, exists purely as a device for manoeuvring them into a series of increasingly violent and chaotic brawls with various bad guys.  These are always played for laughs and are extremely well choreographed.  Crime Busters features three set piece brawls, all of increasing scale, one against a gang of youths in a café, another against a street gang in a football stadium and climaxes with the big brawl at the bowling alley and pool hall used by the villains as their base.

Italian made, with extensive location filming in Florida, Crime Busters only features one actual American actor - David Huddlestone as the police Captain - with the rest of the cast being dubbed Italians.  Also featured, in a sympathetic role and the closest thing to romantic interest you'll see in these movies, is Italian sexploitation favourite Laura Gemser.  She keeps her clothes on this time.  Oh, and writer/director E B Clucher is actually Enzo Barboni.  As I say, this is pretty typical of their output - an undemanding knockabout action comedy (but with an exceedingly irritating musical score) probably aimed at twelve year old boys. and the twelve year old in me still enjoys it on a mindless level. In their day Hill and Spencer were massive international stars, both together and individually.  At the height of their popularity in the seventies they even had imitators, in the form of 'Michael Colby' and Paul Smith, who were first paired in the spaghetti western Carambola and then went on to make their own series of films playing essentially the same characters as Hill and Spencer: smart arsed hustler and bad tempered big man with a beard.  Both Hill and Spencer are still around and still active, mainly on Italian TV.  Sadly their films don't seem to turn up on TV here in the UK much, although, as some were distributed by Columbia, now part of Sony,  I live in hope that some could turn up on Movies4Men, whose content is drawn from Sony's film and TV library.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Italian Job: Overrun! (1970)

World War Two movies have always posed a problem for the Italian exploitation film industry: they were on the wrong side for most of the war.  Whilst this isn't necessarily a problem with regard to films designed primarily for domestic consumption - 2002's El Alamein: Bond of Honour, for instance, which tells of the harrowing experiences of the Italian troops on the receiving end of the UK's great desert victory - but for the wider international market, troops fighting for the fascists against the UK and US as heroes was a non-starter.  So, back in the late sixties and early seventies, keen to cash in on the war movie boom of the era, (blockbusters like Dirty Dozen, Patton, Battle of the Bulge, Tobruk, Kelly's Heroes and many, many others were hitting big screens at this time), the Italians fell back on the old expediency of anglicising the cast's names and putting them into British or American uniforms.  Despite the desert war being a popular locale for these so called 'Macaroni War' genre, the Italian army was never in sight, with the Germans always cast as a bunch of Nazi bastards.

Whilst my experience of the genre is fairly limited, I have to admit that I've developed a soft spot for the 1970 release Overrun! which ticks most of the boxes for this type of movie: the desert setting, Italian actors pretending to be British, lots of explosions, anachronistic and often just plain wrong military equipment and dreadful dialogue.  It also seems to be a compendium of scenes inspired by just about every desert-set war movie the makers had ever seen: the vehicle bogged down in sand and having to be pushed free from Ice Cold in Alex, for instance, the sand storm from Bitter Victory, the relentless pursuit by the Afrika Korps from Sea of Sand, Brits disguised as Germans to get through enemy lines as in Tobruk, even the Arab cavalry riding to the rescue from Lawrence of Arabia!  But in other ways it is atypical of the genre.  Most 'Macaroni War' pictures I've seen have involved the protagonists involved in carrying out some kind of perilous mission behind enemy lines.  In Overrun! there is no mission.  Our heroes are merely trying to find their way back to the British lines in the wake of the defeat at Tobruk. Consequently, they find themselves engaged in a series of meandering adventures and encounters which encompass virtually all of the tropes of the genre: strafing by enemy planes, taking a German soldier prisoner, helping perform a life-saving operation on a local Arab chief's son and so on. 

It is also atypical in featuring three leading female characters, (although they only appear at the half-way mark, they become instrumental in the film's subsequent plot developments), in the form of a military doctor, a secretary and an entertainer from the USO (dubbed with an American accent).  Two of whom have red hair - an apparent obsession amongst Italian film makers when portraying 'Anglo Saxon' women.  Whilst the plot meanders, a consistent theme quickly develops, with top-billed Ivan Rassimov's Lt. Crossland, a by-the-book military man obsessed with discipline and orders, increasingly coming into conflict with Al Landy's ex-university lecturer turned supply officer Captain Leighton as how best to achieve their aims.  Although outranking Crossland, Leighton at first defers to the junior officer's greater combat experience, but grows increasingly unhappy at his apparent belief that it is their duty as soldiers to continue fighting some kind of guerrilla action against the enemy, rather than simply finding their own lines.  This develops into a dialectic between the two men as to the point of war, notions of 'duty' and honour.  Crossland's tactics culminate in a desperate last-stand against one of those German armoured columns which just seem to randomly roam the desert, at an abandoned fort, resulting in the deaths of most of the party before the intervention of the Arabs.  The film ends with Leighton and the other survivors contemplating the futility of war as they watch Crossland receiving a medal.

Not exactly profound, but at least a change from the usual gung ho heroics of this kind of film.  Unlike many 'Macaroni War' films, Overrun! doesn't feature any imported British or American 'stars'.  However, many of the cast are recognisable from other Italian exploitation films, particularly Rassimov and 'Kirk Morris' who was usually to be found impersonating Maciste and other muscle men in Peplums.  The desert sequences were filmed on location in Egypt and are quite impressive, as is the scale of the Afrika Korps operations - half the Egyptian army seems to be doubling for them.  As ever, most of the vehicles are anachronistic or incorrect.  Most entertainingly, the same Sherman tanks (some with the AMX-13 turret) and Archer tank destroyers fight on both sides - for most of the film they are in German colours, but in the final scene you can see them in British colours and insignia, lined up behind Crossland as he receives his medal.  But hey, that's all part of the fun of watching these movies!


Monday, May 26, 2014


This is a movie with an unenviably bad reputation.  However, although it is many, many years since I've seen it, I've always thought that it wasn't that bad.  Sadly, as it seems to have vanished completely from public view, it is impossible for me to verify my assessment of twenty odd years ago (probably more, if I'm to be honest).  This trailer does little to dispel the bad rep the film still gets in some quarters (poor sound quality doesn't help, to be fair), giving the impression that it is little more than a typical early seventies Burt Reynolds vehicle.  Perhaps if the film had simply been that, then it might have been better received.  The problem is that Fuzz can't seem to make up its mind what it wants to be and this indecision is reflected in the script, performances and direction.

On the one hand it seems to want to be a MASH-style satire of US policing, with the cops portrayed as institutionally inefficient and often incompetent, completely unable to deal with Yul Brynner's slick extortionist. On the other hand it also seems to want to be a gritty portrayal of the reality of big-city policing, (with sub-plots including a serial rapist and a series of arson attacks on sleeping vagrants).  Add to that a desire to be a 'zany' comedy in places and the requirement to function as a Burt Reynolds action film and the end result is uneven, to say the least. 

The film is even more problematic when viewed as a literary adaptation, being based, of course, on one of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, (the adaptation is by Evan Hunter who was also Ed McBain and several other pseudonyms), which, whilst often mildly humourous and satirical, certainly weren't 'zany' comedies.  Moreover, they didn't portray the police as incompetent.   Quite the opposite.  The radical change of tone in the film adaptation means that most of the main characters don't really resemble their literary equivalents either physically, or in terms of personality.  I'm not sure any reader of the series would have envisaged the main detective character Steve Carella as looking like Burt Reynolds, for instance, (although, to be fair, physically, he isn't that bad casting, it's just the characterisation as a cigar-chomping moustacioed action man which is at odds with the printed page), whilst Jack Weston is a highly unlikely Detective Meyer Meyer.   Another oddity is the film's setting: Boston.  Whilst the books never specify the city they are set in, it is obviously a thinly fictionalised New York, with the organisation of its police force reflecting that of the NYPD.  Whilst the NYPD is organised into boroughs and numbered precincts, (although the NYPD doesn't have an 87th Precinct, if it existed, it would, under their numbering scheme, be in the Brooklyn North borough), the Boston PD is organised into districts with numbers like D-14 or B-2, yet the film version of Fuzz clearly identifies its setting as the '87th Precinct'.  Nitpicking, I know, but, for me, it highlights a fundamental problem with the adaptation - whilst the book series prides itself on an adherence to established police procedures, the film (scripted by the same author), plays fast and loose with such things.

When all's said and done, if you simply ignore the film's literary origins and accept it on its own merits as a black comedy parodying police procedurals, then it is, as I recall, pretty entertaining,  It's also an above average Burt Reynolds vehicle.  


Friday, May 23, 2014

Reading the Runes

You know, judging by the post local election reporting, you'd think that UKIP had emerged a clear winner, despite the fact that, in reality, the fourth placed party had come fourth, in terms of council seats won, in a four horse race.  Sure, the outcome represents a considerable advance in terms of council seats, but the reality is that UKIP still don't actually control any councils, leaving them, even at the local level, with little real political influence.  Now, I fully expect UKIP itself to big up these results and claim that, somehow, they represent 'progress' and a platform for a breakthrough at parliamentary level.  What has astounded me is the way the media have run with this story with, sad to say, the BBC being the worst culprits.  I had to give up on their TV election coverage last night, so sick did I become of the constant talking up of UKIP's 'success'.  Moreover, trying to extrapolate the outcomes of the next three general elections on the basis of the half a dozen local election results you have is not just bizarre, but down right perverse.  Yet that's what their pundits were seemingly trying to do.

It is this aspect of TV election coverage - the 'projections' by pundits - which I find most exasperating.  Despite what they will try and convince you, this sort of thing is not a science.  It's more like reading the runes.  There are no immutable natural laws at work here: the results of an opinion poll held today ultimately tells you nothing about the possible outcome of an election in twelve months time.  Likewise, the results of local elections - which are not being held universally throughout the UK and which traditionally have a lower turnout and different voting patterns to elections at national level - are not a reliable guide as to who will form the next government.  I remember that, before becoming lickspittles to the Tories and enabling the most right-wing government in living memory, the Lib Dems traditionally always did well in local elections held mid-term in a parliament.  Yet these gains were never repeated nationally come general elections.  Not even the eccentricities of our 'first-past-the-post' electoral system can explain this disparity.  The reality was that the Lib Dems were the beneficiaries of the 'protest vote' - a safe dumping ground, at local level, for the votes of those wanting to register their dissatisfaction with the main parties.  Now that they are part of the establishment, they are no longer  seen in such a light - but UKIP are: they're never likely to get into power so it is safe to use them for a protest vote, is what many people will think.

Now, I might be completely wrong about all of this, (I usually am), but I really think the news media, especially the BBC, need to get a grip on their reporting of the local elections and look at the possibility that the UKIP vote might be a protest.  As it is, their reporting is seriously skewed:  despite increasing seats held and gaining control of at least five councils, you'd think that Labour had suffered a disastrous election.  The problem is that the media have invested in a narrative - the rise of UKIP as a force to break the mould of UK politics - and are now determined to 'make' it happen, even if that means having to distort what actually happened on election night.  Ah well, we've still got the results of the European elections to come - I suspect that even if UKIP lose all of their MEPs, the media will still trumpet the outcome as a glorious victory for Nigel Farage.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Vote, Vote, Vote

Well, I've performed my democratic duty and cast my votes in the local and Euro elections.  Shockingly, for the first time I can recall, there were voters other than myself in the polling station when I went to vote.  Could it be that that Crapchester has finally decided that it might actually be interested the elections which affect its future?  Hopefully, it is a sign that voter apathy might have been halted, or at lest slowed, and that people haven't heeded all those calls to 'register their dissatisfaction with the political process' by not voting.  Because simply not voting is just about the worst thing you can do if you don't like the current political situation,  Far from 'registering a protest', it doesn't register anything, anywhere.  Non-votes aren't counted.  You'd be better off spoiling your ballot paper if you want to make some kind of statement.  At least spoiled ballots are counted.  Most importantly, by not voting, all you are doing is disenfranchising yourself.

The problem with not voting is that the political process doesn't stop just because you choose to boycott the ballot box.  Elections will take place regardless.  Sure, you can argue that if sufficient numbers of people don't vote, the legitimacy of the outcome can be called into question.  But that doesn't change the fact that there is a result and councils and parliaments have been elected as a result.  Moreover, as you can guarantee that the extremists and nutters will vote, the outcome is increasingly skewed toward the extremes.  So get out and vote, (there's just under half an hour until the polls close as I type this).  Don't try telling me there's no point because all the parties are the same.  That's bollocks.  I know there's still too much consensus on the need for 'austerity' amongst the main parties, but the cracks are beginning to show.  Besides, if you really believe that, you always have the option of joining a party and trying to influence it from within.  Or you could always stand for election yourself, on your own platform. 

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Back Passages of History

"We all like to think of our Victorian ancestors as sexually repressed prudes, who even covered up the legs of pianos, for fear that the sight of them would result in widespread sexual abandon,” claims top TV historian Professor Simon Smutt, famed for his TV series such as the Back Passages of History and Great Queens of England. "However, the newly discovered secret sex diaries of Queen Victoria reveals a very different picture!"  According to Smutt, not only do the diaries - allegedly discovered down the back of a radiator during renovations at Queen Victoria's summer residence, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight - reveal that Her Majesty, far from being 'not amused' by sex was actually a seething hot bed of erotic passions, but that the entire country was simultaneously in the throes of a sexual revolution. Indeed, for a few brief years sexuality was openly celebrated in Britain, with people regularly copulating in public and pornography becoming respectable, the historian claims. 

Smutt alleges that Queen Victoria’s secret diaries reveal that she became besotted with notorious explorer Major James Cunnikin (who was credited with introducing no less than fifty three hitherto unknown sexual positions to the UK, including doggy-style), and succumbed to his advances in the grounds of Balmoral Castle in early 1863. “With a cry of ‘Madam, touch my vitals, before I die!’, he revealed his tumescent manhood!” She chronicled. “I replied, ‘Turn your passions upon me! I lie in wait, my avenue too fair, too open to be miss'd!.’ My very being dissolved into waves of pleasure and liquid pearls as he thrust into me. ‘Sir, redouble the active energy of your thrusts, lest I die from my own inflamed appetites’’ I cried, before declaring, ‘It is too much, I cannot bear it!’, as our passion climaxed. Oh delicious deliriums! I lay pleasure-drench'd and spent. ‘I am stir'd beyond bearing with your furious agitation's within me, gorged and cramm'd, even to surfeit!’ I told him. ‘Your lascivious touches have lighted up a new fire that wanton'd through all my veins!’” However, with the diaries scheduled for serialisation in next week's Daily Mail, rival historian Dr David Starkers has come forward to claim that they are an obvious fake, written in biro in a school exercise book and probably dating back no further than the early 1970s.  Undeterred, Smutt has already announced his next project – the Queen Mother’s career as an undercover MI6 operative, including her seduction of Josef Stalin, Chairman Mao and Fidel Castro, based on a bundle of letters recently found in a hedgerow near Windsor Castle.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Bi in the Sky

I really must listen more carefully whilst half-watching the TV.  I'm guessing that I'm like many other web users out there who frequently sit on the sofa with a laptop or tablet, surfing the web, with the TV on in the background, half-listening and watching it, only glancing up and giving it our full attention when something really leaps out and grabs your attention.  Well, I was doing this during the news the other day, when I was sure that I heard the newsreader say that the UK was going to send a biplane to Nigeria to assist the government in the hunt for the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haran, (who are apparently a terrorist group, not a progressive rock group). I immediately had visions of a Tiger Moth biplane flying over Africa, with the guy in the observer's seat leaning over the edge of the fuselage and anxiously scanning the ground below with a large pair of binoculars.  At which point I realised that the newsreader had said spy plane, not biplane.

Mind you, the idea of us sending a spy plane seemed equally bizarre, didn't the current Tory government gleefully scrap a whole load of nearly completed and very expensive new Nimrod surveillance aircraft on the grounds that it would somehow save money?  I was under the impression that this was yet another defence capability the Tories say we don't need as the next war will be entirely virtual and fought online, (they've seen Goldeneye, they know the threat posed by Russian hackers).  So maybe the spy plane really is a biplane.  I mean, the RAF used to swear by them - well into the 1930s most of their fighter squadrons were equipped with open cockpit biplanes, as they RAF was still dubious as to the advantages of modern monoplanes.  They had a point - biplanes were good enough to shoot that giant ape off of the Empire State building in 1933, after all, so it seemed logical that they'd be good enough to take on the Luftwaffe and its new-fangled monoplanes.  Likewise, a biplane would probably be more effective, and no less tokenistic, than a sophisticate spy plane in Nigeria.  But it wouldn't look as impressive.  Which is what matters to Dave.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Domes of Doom

I glimpsed something  yesterday which has got me worried.  It's raised the suspicion that Crapchester could be at the epicentre of an alien invasion.  As I was driving down a country lane on the outskirts of the town, I looked to my right and saw, between the trees and the contours of the fields, what can best be described as an installation.  Painted grey, I saw it for only a second or two, but the presence of two dome-like structures was obvious.  My mind raced, trying to recall where I'd previously seen such a thing.  Then, a few hundred yards up the road, I remembered - it was in Quatermass II, (both the TV serial and the film version).   There, they were to be found in a remote oil refinery-like complex and were eventually revealed to be holding a writhing mass of alien protoplasm, keeping it safe from Earth's hostile atmosphere until parts of the protoplasm, (a gestalt organism whose components could act individually as part of the group intelligence), could be inserted into human hosts.  The installation I saw is also relatively remote, not to mention fairly new.  It can only be approached via a farm track running alongside a field, entrance to which is barred by a locked gate, and seems to have been built on the site of a previous mysterious set of buildings.

This previous installation was, I recall, largely hidden from the entrance to the farm track (on a minor country lane), situated in a hollow, with only a tall aerial visible from the road.  If you waited around near the gate, you could watch mysterious four-by-fours come and go. There were no signs on the gate or anywhere else to indicate what the installation was or who it belonged to - I can only surmise that it was some sort of secret project dedicated to contacting alien life, hence the aerial.  The latest developments - the domes - seem to indicate they were successful.  The aliens obviously homed in on their signals and took the place over to form a beach head.  Sadly, I have no photographic evidence as, mysteriously, each time I have driven past - I went back today - I find that I have 'forgotten' my camera!  Obviously a result of the aliens' evil mind bending powers!  Also, you can't find the installation on Google Maps - the satellite view still shows the old installation with no domes.  Trust me, there's something very sinister going on here - either that, or I've seen too many fifties science fiction movies.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Turkish Delight

An aide to the Turkish Prime Minister is photographed kicking a protester at the scene of the recent mine disaster and we all 'tut tut' and harrumph at these foreigners.  The press tells us how this incident encapsulates ordinary Turks' complaints of their ruling classes sense of entitlement and utter contempt for ordinary people.  'Thank God that sort of thing couldn't happen here," is the implied thought behind all the reports and commentary on the situation in Turkey.  Yet isn't that exactly the situation we have here in the UK?  Cameron and Osborne might not go around physically assaulting the poor, but their policies - clearly designed to 'punish' people for being poor, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged - do much the same job.  But people here just stand by whilst our over-privileged leaders systematically dismantle the welfare state, handing over 'service delivery' to dodgy private firms run by their friends who are interested only in pocketing tax-payers' money rather than providing services.  Services intended to provide for the public good have been transformed into vehicles for maximising private profits.

There's another aspect of Turkish politics which is mirrored here in the UK: the establishment's characterisation of any form of dissent or protest as somehow unpatriotic, or even treasonous.  Just look at the reactions of both the political establishment and the right-wing press to The Guardian's publication of the Edward Snowden revelations if you don't believe me. To be fair, this isn't unique to the current crop of Tory bastards - it started in earnest under New Labour, when anyone questioning the legitimacy of the 'War on Terror' was instantly vilified.  Just look at the treatment the BBC received for exposing the 'dodgy dossier' for what it was: lies.  Then there's the issue of censorship in Turkey.  Remember how we all gasped in horror when the Turkish government started blocking Twitter because they didn't like ordinary citizens using it to criticise them?  Well, Cameron's obsession with blocking internet pornography from Britain's homes isn't a million miles from the same sort of thing.  We criticise China for its 'Great Firewall of China', but want to implement the same thing here, (using, ironically, the self same Chinese firms involved in setting up the original).  So, next time we start wringing our hands in despair at the despotic goings-on in what we'd like to categorise as an 'inferior' country with a shaky grasp of freedom and democracy, we really need to take a long hard look at ourselves.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Full English Fruit Cakes

UKIP keep putting election leaflets through my letterbox.  I keep putting them in the bin.  In the interests of fairness and balance, I did briefly glance at the one that was sneaked through my door today before disposing of it.  This one concerned the local elections and was introducing my local UKIP candidate.  Apparently she used to work in mental health.  There's an obvious punchline there, but I'm not going to rise to the bait - it could end up with UKIP sending the police round to try and intimidate me.  So, let's look at a couple of other right-wing nut job political parties which have recently forced themselves into my line of vision.  Over the past couple of days I've had the misfortune to see bits of party election broadcasts by the English Democrats and the BNP.  The doctor has prescribed a long lie down and tranquilisers.  Ignoring medical advice, I'm going to rant about these abominations.  I found the English Democrats broadcast very perplexing.  From what I saw of it, the thing seemed to consist of bovine-looking individuals bellowing 'Not British!  Not European!  English!" intercut with scenes from World War Two and a Spitfire flying past.  Which, if you are extolling the cause of English nationalism, is a poor choice of symbols.  If there was ever a war which encapsulated the whole concept of the triumph of multiculturalism and supra-national structures over rampant nationalism, it was the Second World War.

I mean, the Spitfire alone was a poor choice - they were often flown by Poles, Czechs, Free French, Indians, Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians, to name but a few of the nationalities involved in defeating fascism.  And you know what?  I'm pretty sure that it was a British army, including large numbers of Scots, Welsh and Irish soldiers, rather than just an English army, which fought the Nazis.  Not to mention all those Commonwealth troops, Free French, Poles, etc.  I really don't get what the likes of the English Democrats are complaining about - just because the Scots have a parliament and the Welsh and Northern Irish have assemblies with legislative powers, it doesn't mean that we in England are somehow suffering a 'democratic deficit' - we've always been the dominant power in the Westminster parliament, which ultimately holds all the power in the UK.  Also, there's the vexed question of what actually constitutes 'Englishness', (something they seemed reluctant to address)?  Being a pedant, I always like to point out that the concept of 'England' as a single country is relatively recent (dating back only a thousand years, or so, to the reign of King Athelstan) and was only really set in stone after the Norman conquest.  The very name 'England' is derived from the name given to the area by Anglo Saxon colonists: 'New Angle Land'.  So, essentially, to be 'English' is to be 'Anglish' and the Angles were a German tribe...

The BNP broadcast was even more bizarre, with actors pretending to be ex-servicemen, ignorant pillocks and, most extraordinarily, a vicar, warning us about the evils of Islam and how we should 'remember Lee Rigby'.  Apparently we should vote BNP to ensure the return of the death penalty for Rigby's killers, (although I always thought the extreme right's position was that 'hanging's too good for the likes of them').  It was the fake vicar that perplexed me the most - calling for a ban on the burka amongst other reactionary and decidedly un-Christian policies - he was wearing what looked a bit like a dog collar, but had a green shirt on rather than the traditional black and was stood in front of what looked vaguely like a Church door.  Clearly, the BNP is worried that the C of E or Roman Catholics might accuse them of misrepresentation, so their 'vicar' was as vaguely drawn as possible.  A bit like the BNP's manifesto... 


Monday, May 12, 2014

Celebrity Suicide Pacts

How my spirits soared at today's headlines that Richard and Judy had entered into a suicide pact.  At last, I thought, these minor league celebrities and daytime TV detritus are finally accepting that they no longer have any useful role to perform, so self annihilation is the only option.  Now, I know that we shouldn't rejoice or feel happy at the possible demise of another human being, but in the case of z-listers, I feel we might be allowed to make an exception, particularly if their demise is to be at their own hands and of their own choice.  It has long bothered me that, with all these reality TV shows and talent shows, we're creating new 'celebrities' so fast that the market is in danger of being saturated: there just aren't enough gossip columns, tabloid articles or digital TV panel shows to accommodate them all.  On top of that, we have all the pre-existing minor celebrities refusing to loosen their grip on their 'fame' and desperately trying to stay in the limelight.  Clearly, something has to be done.  I've often suspected that some kind of cull would be required - like they do with deer or badgers to keep their numbers down.

However, I've always baulked at the idea of having snipers in hides on the streets of London, taking potshots at passing former Britain's Got Talent contestants scurrying on their way to another ITV2 audition or Power Tools Monthly photo-shoot, or, worse still, former reality TV stars being lured into a fake Big Brother house and gassed.  Far too cruel and inhumane.  But if they are to engineer their own demise, well, that's surely the perfect solution all round?  Moreover, if Richard and Judy (the King and Queen of daytime dreck) want to take the lead and set an example, the all the better. 
Sadly, as it turned out, they hadn't agreed to do each other in immediately, but had simply entered into a mutual agreement to assist the other in committing euthanasia in the event of terminal illness.  But perhaps all is not lost.  Maybe we can persuade all these surplus to requirements micro celebrities that euthanasia is the way to go.  After all, it would give them a last blaze of publicity.  Clearly, we need to persuade the Swiss to set up special euthanasia clinics dedicated to ending the torment of unfulfilled minor celebrities...


Friday, May 09, 2014

Trains of Thought

OK, I'm tired of ranting about UKIP's unspeakable foreign cheerleaders and financiers.  However, before leaving the subject of UKIP for the time being, I'd just like to congratulate whoever it was who vandalised that big UKIP election poster here in Crapchester the other day.  One word of advice, though - in future try using black  spray paint, as it would make the 'racist bastards' bit easier to read than the red paint you actually used.  Anyway, let's leave the subject of extreme right-wing politics for now.  After all, ranting about the threat posed by these lunatics isn't the only thing that occupies my time. Lately, for instance, I've been giving some more thought to resurrecting my model railway. The railway has been in limbo (mainly stored in boxes) for some considerable time now.  It was only meant to be temporary hiatus, whilst I repaired the plasterwork in one corner of the spare room that houses the railway, (the cracked plaster was a legacy of the days when I dried clothes in there).  But other things intervened and, despite devising a new layout plan, I never got around to restarting the railway.  Then there were the storms last Winter and the damage to the roof, which further diverted my attention.

Finally, over the past few days, I've been giving some serious thought to starting a new layout.  I've been surveying the aftermath of the storm damage - despite the damage to the roof not being over the spare room, the water that seeped in seems to found its way to that room's ceiling.  There's no real damage to the plaster - just some light staining which, now everything is dried out and the roof repaired, can simply be painted over.  Of slightly greater concern is the evidence of some leakage around the chimney breast, suggesting that the external flashing might be loose, (it could also be the result of displaced ridge tiles, which were reset when the roof was repaired).  As the chimneys are a shared structure with next door, which is a rented property, any repair work will have to be done in co-operation with their landlord.  I've already spoken to my neighbours on the subject and they are going to speak to their landlord (apparently they have other outstanding repairs they need done).   Nevertheless, I'm reasonably confident that if I start rebuilding the railway, no serious water damage will be done if the flashing hasn't yet been repaired.  The most pressing problem is that of how best to rearrange the furniture in the room so as to accommodate the maximum of railway whilst retaining its functionality as a spare bedroom.  Once I've figured that out, I can come up with a layout plan to best use the available space.  There, that made a change from my political ranting, didn't it?  


Thursday, May 08, 2014

Sinister Foreigners

For a political party that claims to hate the EU and rails against immigration, UKIP seems to have a strange liking for foreigners and their money.  I don't just mean all that money its MEPs get from the EU for not actually representing their constituents in the European Parliament, (despite being elected to do so), or the fact that UKIP leader Nigel Farage is not only facilitating immigration, but giving British jobs to foreigners by marrying a German woman and paying her to be his PA.  No, I'm talking about those foreigners who happily bang the drum for UKIP and even help finance this loathsome band of bigots.  Step forward Greek businessman Demetri Marchessini, a major UKIP donor.  OK, he's US educated and London-based these days, but Hell, he was born in Greece and has a Greek name, so he's a foreigner. Sorry, did that sound a bit bigoted?  Well, I'm just following the UKIP line.  And the Marchessini line, for that matter.  This delightful 'gentleman' is the individual who is happy to publicly declare that there is no such thing as marital rape and that women shouldn't be allowed to wear trousers.  He's written a whole book on the latter subject, apparently his aversion to women in trousers has something to do with it being unflattering to their 'big bottoms'.  Some of us appreciate the broader behind, of course, whereas this lunatic clearly doesn't like women at all.  Remember, he's helping to fund UKIP.

But it isn't just foreign donors like Marchessini who should give us all cause for concern.  Even if they aren't giving money, there are plenty more of these foreign nutters out there cheer leading for them.  Take, for instance, one Alexander Nekrassov, prolific tweeter and frequent media whore, (you can find him airing his views on a variety of TV and radio outlets at any one time), who describes himself as a former Russian government and presidential advisor.  Believe me, once you've sampled his crackpot rantings you will no longer have any doubts as to why Russia is in such a shitty state.  I first encountered him as the owner of an alleged satire site called 'Stirring Trouble Internationally', which, in common with most right-wing 'satire' sites, simply purveyed the usual bile and reactionary garbage you'd hear at the average UKIP meeting.  Despite his attempts to convince everyone that the site was a 'big player', it was eventually forced to try and become subscription only, before vanishing completely.  Presumably because nobody was reading it.  Anyway, reading his Twitter feed, you'll find that all that crazy crap on his now defunct site wasn't satire - he really believes it.  Nekrassov is, without doubt, one of the most ignorant people I have ever had the misfortune to encounter.  According to him, the reason for the decline of the UK is because we're in thrall to atheistic, politically correct socialists with no sense of humour.  Oh, and Darwin was wrong so they should stop teaching evolution in schools.  You see, if only we believed in God, everything would be OK.   Oh, and he bangs the drum for UKIP a lot.

His every utterance reveals that he is even more ignorant than you at first feared.  Personally, I find it terrifying that such an ignorant person was ever employed as an advisor to any government and that the BBC (an organisation he regularly denigrates) allows him to put forth his uninformed views on Question Time, BBC News 24 and Radio Five Live (just a few of his recent appearances).   But the wider question is one of why we allow these expatriates to come here and try to influence our political process?  Isn't that the sort of thing that UKIP, for instance, is meant to be against?  After all, if you don't want the EU 'dictating' to the UK, then surely having wealthy Greek and Russian reactionaries trying to influence voters is just as bad?  I mean, if they don't like it here, they can always bugger off back to where they came from, can't they?  Or is it only poor Muslims, Poles and black people that we want sent back to 'bongo bongo land'? 

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Mummy's Shroud

The last Hammer film to be shot at Bray studios, The Mummy's Shroud holds a special place in my affections.  It used to be a late night favourite for the BBC in the 1990s, often showing up on a Friday, after the news and chat shows.  Consequently, it was a film I seemed to frequently find myself watching with little recollection of how I had ended up on my sofa in front of the TV at that hour of the night.  The film definitely represents Hammer firmly in B movie mode - the second string cast and presence of director John Gilling ,(who came somewhere after Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis and Don Sharpe in the Hammer directorial pecking order for their Gothic horrors) - are evidence of this.  As are the less than stellar production values, (you can clearly see shadows being cast on the 'sky' in one supposedly outdoor scene, for instance).  Nevertheless, it's a fun film to watch, with some enjoyable performances and, in places, is surprisingly atmospheric: the mummy's initial appearance, for instance, are shown in reflection - reflected in myopic Michael Ripper's glasses, or the photographer's developing fluid, for example.

Gilling had previously shot The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies back-to-back for Hammer (utilising the same sets, slightly redressed, which had already seen service in Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Rasputin, the Mad Monk), but the script, setting and subject matter of The Mummy's Shroud  ultimately conspired to prevent him from producing a similarly demented minor classic in the mould of the two earlier films.  The studio-bound Cairo setting of much of the action is too well lit and dry to allow for the creation of the dank, claustrophobic atmosphere of the Cornish-village set Reptile and Plague.  But, as I said, it's still highly entertaining,  Besides, who could resist a film whose  trailer includes the phrase: 'Beware the beat of those cloth wrapped feet'?  Speaking of which - the cloth wrapped feet, that is - when I first saw the film I thought the mummy itself looked a bit naff, certainly not as convincing as Christopher Lee's bandages and make-up in Hammer's original The Mummy back in 1959.  Some time later I was visiting the British Museum and was startled to come across a real Egyptian mummy in a display case that looked exactly like the one in The Mummy's Shroud! I subsequently learned that the film's costume designers had modelled their mummy on one they had seen in the British Museum.  Funnily enough though, I've never seen that mummy in the museum since...


Monday, May 05, 2014

A Brief Bank Holiday Update

Don't you just love a Bank Holiday?  After spending the better part of a week off from work ill and last week back at work facing all manner of problems, this Bank Holiday weekend couldn't have come at a better time.  I did have all sorts of plans for this weekend, (including putting together a post reviewing the first of those Italian war movies I watched over Easter for today), but in the end I just couldn't be arsed.  Apart from a bit of weeding in the garden, (which is in danger of being overrun by them again after the Winter storms destroyed much of the work I did last Summer), I've spent the long weekend doing little more than watching spaghetti westerns (and pirate films), catching up with stuff I've recorded from the TV, re-reading 87th Precinct novels and drinking beer.  Which is a very relaxing way to spend a few days.  I can't begin to explain how wonderful it felt yesterday to go to bed in the knowledge that I didn't have to get up for work today, even though it was a Monday.  We really should have more of these Bank Holiday weekends. 

In fact, according to the EU, we don't have enough public holidays in the UK, we should have at least a couple more.  Which, I'd say, is another good reason for not voting for UKIP.  If Nigel Farage and his band of misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, homophobic and anti-Islamic nutters get their way and we pull out of the EU, then not only will the prospect of those additional public holidays evaporate, but they'll also undoubtedly reduce the number we have now, on the grounds that they were imposed by those European bastards.  So, before you commit your 'X' to those loons in the European elections later this month, just think on that for a minute.  I, for one, enjoy my Bank Holidays and would like a few more, not have them snatched away by some small-minded ignorant bigots looking to boost their own egos.  I'm already looking forward to our next Bank Holiday at the end of this month (when I'll also make an attempt to take a week off again and see if I can stay healthy this time).  Anyway, I'm going back to my beer now.


Friday, May 02, 2014

Roman Holiday

Have you ever noticed the way that the Romans generally get a bad press in movies?  They're always the villains, decadent invaders oppressing the local barbarians.  This despite the fact that they brought what we'd now call civilisation wherever they went - roads, aqueducts, a system of law and order, villas instead of hovels, underfloor heating, religious tolerance and much, much more - and the fact that our modern western culture derives many of its core concepts from the Romans (and through them, the Greeks).  I put  it down to the bloody Christians, who have never forgiven the Romans for allegedly oppressing them.  The fact is that if the Christians hadn't spent so much time proclaiming their god as the only true god and denouncing the Roman gods, then they probably wouldn't have encountered such hostility.  Besides, they've never got over the fact that Rome was at its greatest when it was a pagan empire - the decline only set in after Constantine converted to Christianity.

Anyway, bearing all this in mind, it was with some interest that I saw Caesar the Conqueror in the Movies4Men schedules the other day.  A 'peplum' from the sixties, I was curious to see whether Italian film makers would treat their ancestors any more sympathetically.  The film purports to depict Julius Caesar's campaign in Gaul, although its historical accuracy is highly questionable.  Whoever choreographed the battle scenes had clearly no idea of how Roman legions fought - they didn't just all charge at the enemy and pile in!  Indeed, one of the main reasons for the Romans' military successes against various barbarian tribes was its use of strictly regimented formations, with the legionaries using their shields as a defensive wall, behind which they slowly advanced and through which attacks couldn't penetrate.  Nevertheless, to get back to the point, the Romans in this one definitely seemed to be the more sympathetically portrayed of the two sides, with Vercingetorix, the Gaulish leader, portrayed as a cruel and bloodthirsty megalomaniac, in contrast to a thoughtful and measured (not mention overaged) Caesar.  That said, Vercingetorix did get to wear a pretty magnificent winged helmet at times, (although he didn't sport the traditional Gaulish handlebar moustache he's usually depicted with).  Several of the Gauls sported such headgear, whilst others seemed to be dressed more like Mongol warriors, (I can only assume that a film about Genghis Khan had recently been shot at the same studio).  Perhaps the most significant thing I learned from Caesar the Conqueror was that, in ancient times, everyone was badly dubbed and spoke out of synch...


Thursday, May 01, 2014

Another Week, Another Rant

Another week of disruption.  Surely, at some point soon, I'll be allowed to have a normal week, where everything goes to schedule, nothing goes wrong and there are no unexpected events.  After spending most of my week off last week battling a series of illnesses and warning lights suddenly showing in my car, I was hoping that this week was going to be that trouble free week.  Sadly, it wasn't to be.  Not only did the car problems extend into this week, with the garage dicking me around no end and taking days to fix a relatively straightforward problem, (why is it that some people can't grasp the concept that as my vehicle is essential for work, it is essential they keep to their promise it will be ready by lunchtime Monday at the latest and instead take an additional twenty four hours to do the job, causing me massive disruption to my work?).  Financially, the shenanigans with the car couldn't have come at a worse time, as this is also the week I was paying off the builders for the work on the roof.  I know that most of the latter money will be repaid to me by the insurance company, but it is still painful to part with that much money in one week.

If I'd hoped that things would get better in the latter half of the week, I was to be proven sadly mistaken.  Today came a 'double whammy'.  Firstly, I was forced to waste a large chunk of my lunch hour buying a single stamp.  That's right, a single first class stamp.  Have you been to your local main post office branch lately? I hadn't, as I don't send many letters or parcels and do things like tax discs online.  So I was perplexed to find that, instead of having the option to go to the post office shop counter and purchase a single stamp from a human assistant, I was now forced to deal with something akin to those self service checkouts at supermarkets.  They seemed to be designed primarily for people to weigh parcels, calculate the postage then buy the requisite stamps.  For simply buying a stamp it is gross overkill and highly confusing.  If, by replacing the counter with these monstrosities, they hope to save on the cost of the staff manning the counter, it's a false economy as they still have to have a member of staff on hand to explain to us customers how to use the bloody things.  Why can't we just have a straightforward, old-style stamp machine?

Anyway, the second part of the 'double whammy' was suffering another power outage when I finally got home for my lunch.  I really thought we'd put this nonsense behind us and the power company had finally pulled its finger out and devoted some small part of its obscene profits to sorting out the problems with the local electricity sub-station.  Today's outage was particularly irksome as it meant my attempts to record The Day Time Ended from Movies4Men was in vain - and there's no sign of it reappearing in the schedules any time soon.  Scottish and Southern Electricity really are a pack of arseholes!