We now have the new Doctor, Companions, TARDIS and showrunner up and running. Therefore the new series of Doctor Who will sink or swim going forth based on the quality of the writing. Rosa written by acclaimed author Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall was an excellent episode which expertly combined socio-political, historical and science-fiction situations.
Malorie Blackman is an experienced writer with many books published; and has written for Doctor Who before, providing one of the stories to the enjoyable Twelve Doctors: Twelve Stories audiobook I listened to this year. Rosa finds the TARDIS bringing the Doctor and pals back or forward to 1955, Alabama. There they find a nefarious character determined to change the course of history by stopping Rosa Parks’ legendary protest against segregation.
Doctor Who has always used historical figures within their narratives including: Charles Dickens, Richard the Lionheart, Vincent Van Gogh, William Shakespeare to name a few. It harks back to the remit of the first Doctor’s era of desiring to educate and entertain; Rosa most certainly did that. It was also very moving as well as informative. Not only did it successfully give the audience a history lesson, it illustrated the vital importance of peaceful protest to achieve change. Moreover, it really pulled the companions, Ryan and Yasmin especially, into the emotion of the narrative as they suffer first hand racism from the ignorant people of Montgomery.
Overall, the episode zipped along and while the plotting had some wonky moments – mobile phones and Elvis, really!? – it contained some cracking gags; one zinger about artist Banksy was especially memorable. Also, Jodie Whittaker is finally settling into the role of the Doctor. She is a seriously good dramatic actor and I was pleased there were moments when the pace slowed to allow her work to breathe. In providing educational, historical and emotional resonance, Rosa, was an archetypal Doctor Who episode full of intelligent and poignant scenes. It also contained the scary idea that racism and prejudice are still present in the future! Thankfully though, the Doctor and her companions, are here to help legends such as Rosa Parks to thwart it.
Of late I have been theming or focussing my viewing in certain directions. The last few months I decided to watch more ITV dramas. Historically ITV have arguably suffered in comparison to BBC dramas, and most certainly the big budget HBO, FOX and SHOWTIME programmes from the United States.
So, I thought I would check a few out and see if they are still the safe and formulaic ITV dramas I have seen in the past. Well, I would say, while adhering to certain genre conventions, notably in regard to cop stories and “true story” biopics, the writing, direction and acting is of an excellent standard. Here are some bitesize reviews.
This terrific police procedural drama begins with the death of a young boy and the subsequent police investigation, plus the impact this has on his family and coastal community of Broadchurch. The first season is first and foremost a terrific “whodunit” as various members of the town are all plausible suspects. Moreover, the brilliant acting duo of Olivia Colman and David Tennant spark off each other throughout the investigation. Writer Chris Chibnall deals expertly with the emotions too as the family – including Jodie Whitaker as the mother of the tragic child – are put through the wringer by the crime. The second season is almost as gripping as the child killer faces trial and Tennant’s character obsessively investigates a historical crime which blotted his career. Overall, it is an excellent drama with many twists and a superb ensemble cast of British actors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
CHASING SHADOWS (2014) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
Reece Shearsmith is one of my favourite actors and I have loved his work ever since the grotesque comedy genius of The League of Gentlemen. Here he shows his range as a socially awkward but exceptionally determined Detective searching for long-lost missing people. Like Broadchurch it’s another Dr Who cast reunion as Noel Clarke and Alex Kingston also co-star in a decent by-the-numbers cop show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
CILLA (2014) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
While there is an element of tragedy in regard to uber-manager Brian Epstein’s tragic death, this biopic of the early life of Priscilla White and her rise to stardom is pretty tame and fluffy. Still, Sheridan Smith is brilliant as the young songbird who would hit the top of charts with a series of late sixties ballads. The evocation of working class Liverpool and bands such as The Beatles is well played and the songs are belted out with a passion by the very likeable Smith. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
IN PLAIN SIGHT (2016) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
This is a very compelling 1950s set drama which tells the story of heinous Scottish serial-killer Peter Manuel. It benefits from an exceptionally good performance from Martin Compston as the devious killer; and also by Douglas Henshall as the Detective trying to catch him. Overall, a good drama which had me gripped throughout. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
JEKYLL & HYDE (2015) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
I really enjoyed this updating of the old Robert Louis Stevenson monster classic. Created by Charlie Higson it was over-the-top and frankly loopy at times with some occasional bad acting thrown in. In going for a 1930s-period-Bond-meets-Dr-Who-meets-Hammer-horror-mash-up it wasn’t always successful but overall it was fun entertainment. The cast all seemed like they were having fun and Amelia Bullimore, Enzo Cilenti, Natasha O’Keeffe, Richard E Grant were standouts while Tom Bateman was okay in the lead monster/man dual role. It’s just a damned shame the show got cancelled on a bloody suspenseful cliff-hanger. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
LUCAN (2013) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
ITV love a “true” story or crime stories based on real events and at the forefront of many of those are the excellent writer Jeff Pope. As Head of Factual Drama at ITV he has written and produced many fine TV programmes and this biopic of the infamous “Lucky” Lord Lucan case is also very good. Rory Kinnear is an impressive brooding presence as Lucan and Catherine McCormack also excels as his abused wife. We may never know what happened to Lucan but this drama attempts to shed some light on the ill-fated events from 1970s British society. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MRS BIGGS (2012) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
Another narrative based on true events focusses on the 1960s Great Train Robbery and its aftermath from the perspective of Ronnie Biggs’ wife Charmian. Sheridan Smith is astounding as the long-suffering wife partner of Daniel Mays’ Ronnie. The acting all-round and writing are excellent as we find Charmian essentially falling big for the wrong guy. Her determination and commitment to Biggs was incredibly naïve yet admirable as she carried herself and her kids to Australia and Brazil in order to keep the family together. At no time does it glamorise the crimes as Smith and Mays prove an unlikely but testament to the power of love and the lengths one may go to because of it. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
SAFE HOUSE (2012) – Season 1 – NETFLIX
Christopher Eccleston, who is always reliable, stars as a retired cop who employs his Lake District property as a “safe house” for witness protection. The vistas are beautiful and the suspense is often palpable in this well written drama by Michael Crompton. Paterson Joseph provides excellent support as Eccleston’s former boss but the highlight of the show is under-rated British actor Peter Ferdinando, who portrays an obsessive criminal with sinister verve and pathos. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SHETLAND (2013) – Season 1 – NETFLIX
Another detective show starring the impressive Scottish actor Douglas Henshall. This one feels old-fashioned but the stark contemporary Scottish settings work in its favour and interestingly enough it is an ITV produced show FOR the BBC. The characters are believable and Henshall’s police team are down-to-earth and likeable. Overall, the writing is pretty good with some gripping storylines while the slower pace adds to the drama and atmosphere. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
THE WIDOWER (2014) – Season 1 – NETFLIX
Reece Shearsmith stars again but as a weird sociopathic wife-murderer based on a real-life case. His modus operandi was to finagle himself deceitfully into women’s lives and then use their wealth to clear his debts. Sheridan Smith pops up in the first episode but Shearsmith’s Malcolm Webster later moves abroad to New Zealand to prey on other victims. Webster is an everyday monster and his actions defy belief that there would be someone so heinous; and Shearsmith gives a chilling performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
‘CHANCE ENCOUNTER’ UPDATE: STAR TREK TRAILER REVEALED
Greetings. As you may or may not know I have been working on a Star Trek fan film with my movie-making partner Gary O’Brien. It’s a non-profit fan production which we have made on a shoestring. Having written an original screenplay and shot the brilliant script, we have now reached the post-production stage.
This is where Gary’s editing and F/X skills now take over and I am now proud to announce the release of a website – www.startrekshortfilm.com – plus the trailer below:
We have a lot of work to go but the shoot was an absolute blast and I thank the actors and crew for their brilliant work. Here are some stills of the production days where, amidst the hard graft, creativity and endeavour, a fantastic time was had by all.
This is our 9th short film to date – for all our productions do check out our website: www.fixfilms.com. Further updates to follow. Live long and prosper!
Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.
Six years ago I wrote some articles for a nifty little website called Obsessed with Film. The site was independent and would have some geeky and interesting articles on film and television. Years later the site became the click-bait-pop-ups-from-hell-advertising-led-but-still-not-too-bad: www.whatculture.com
Anyway, one of the articles was about some “forgotten” films or, as I shall refer to them, under-rated film classics. Basically, I listed films which I felt were deserving of further praise. The list included: Bad Santa (2003), Dog Soldiers (2002), Chopper (2000), Midnight Run (1988) and Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) among others. My rules were simple. An under-rated classic can be a film I love plus not be one of the following:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
So, with these criteria in mind I present a sequel to my previous article – some six years later – with another set of under-rated film classics. If you have any suggestions that fit the criteria please do let me know and I will include them on my next list.
3:10 TO YUMA (2007)
James Mangold’s directed Western is a rare beast: it’s a remake that’s as much a classic as the original. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale perform brilliantly as the charismatic outlaw and proud farmer who clash on the way to the eponymous prison locomotive. Ben Foster, Logan Lerman and Peter Fonda provide excellent support too in a fantastic character-led drama full of action.
ANOTHER YEAR (2010)
While Mike Leigh was NOMINATED for a best screenplay Oscar, this wonderful character piece is not always given the praise I think it deserves. Containing Leigh’s usual group of deftly observed human eccentrics, the story concentrates on a year in the life of middle-class couple – the Hepples. Superbly portrayed by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen this lovely couple are a familial magnet to various strays including the scatty and neurotic Mary (Lesley Manville) and depressed Ken (Peter Wright). It’s an affectionate and gentle dramedy with uniformly brilliant performances from Leigh’s wonderful cast.
Jonathan Glazer’s sophomore movie is often over-looked due to the coruscating power of his debut Sexy Beast (2000) and his most recent cinematic classic Under the Skin (2013). In this haunting drama a potentially disturbed ten-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) informs Nicole Kidman’s New Yorker Anna he is the reincarnated soul of her deceased husband. This fantastic curveball sends Anna’s life into an emotional spin as past and present events collide in a beautifully moving drama.
Let’s be honest there’s no way career criminal Michael Peterson deserves any real attention for his anti-social and violent behaviour, however, between them Tom Hardy and Nicolas Winding Refn have created an incredible character study of a genuine nutter. It’s brave, brutal, sick, theatrical, daring, Brechtian and an occasionally hilarious profile of one of Britain’s most notorious prisoners.
BUFFALO 66 (1998)
Vincent Gallo is either a genuine nut-job or a misunderstood genius maverick. His directorial effort The Brown Bunny (2003) was panned and on the main his acting career has remained patchy at best. However, he did write, direct and star in Buffalo 66 which is an absolutely blinding dark comedy about an ex-con who “kidnaps” Christina Ricci and forces her to be his wife so he can aspire to some sense of familial normality. It’s quirky and laugh-out-loud funny with Gallo weirdness throughout.
DARK CITY (1998)
This imaginative sci-fi noir had the misfortune of being released around the same time as The Matrix (1999). Yet while the Wachowski’s mind-bending-effects-heavy-actioner caught the eyes of the public, Alex Proyas’ more cerebral vision of the future kind of fell through the cracks of time and space. Rufus Sewell portrays an amnesiac that has no idea where he is before finding himself at the mercy of a group of people called The Strangers. It’s a brilliant melding of film noir and science fiction and remains a rarely seen gem from the 1990s.
GALAXY QUEST (1999)
While I enjoy the new Star Trek reboots as blockbusting if ephemeral popcorn entertainment, the best recent Trek adaptation/homage is the wonderful science-fiction comedy: Galaxy Quest. The inventive story delights with a cracking tale of former TV stars boldly propelled into space when proper aliens, Thermians – believing they are real space heroes – ask them to defeat their vicious nemesis. With a delightful ensemble cast including: Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen, Tony Shalhoub and irrepressible Sam Rockwell, this is a wonderfully funny and clever film which shines an affectionate light on the Trek canon and geek fan base.
So, the story is about a bloke on his phone driving up the motorway? Not a pitch that would grab Hollywood in-a-hurry, but a story that is delivered with such hypnotic power it feels epic despite the limited setting. Ivan Locke is portrayed as a confident and determined man whose life decisions, family and work-life have triangulated simultaneously to crisis point. Tom Hardy plays Locke with incredible restraint and brooding anxiety while Steven Knight’s script is crisply written and full of suspense.
I love this film. It’s a real B-movie guilty pleasure with seismic underground monsters attacking a small back water town ironically named Perfection. The action bolts along and it wears its Jaws-in-the-dirt influences hilariously. Most of all I love the characters, notably Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s handyman buddies trying desperately to escape their dead end jobs. It’s a fun script with loads of action and great one-liners with Bacon himself having loads of fun without hamming it up.
TROPIC THUNDER (2008)
Films about filmmaking aren’t always the most interesting yet Ben Stiller’s riotous satire on Hollywood and its over-inflated egos is an absolute joy. Vulgar, over-the-top, stupid, childish and loud it delivers some incredible belly laughs from: the hilarious trailer parodies, to Robert Downey Juniors method acting madness and unrecognizable Tom Cruise as a ludicrously crass studio boss. The daft plot about actors getting kidnapped by a ruthless Vietnamese drug gangs provides an excellent framework for all manner of stupidity, on-the-money punchlines and explosive action.
My ongoing series writing about cinema stuff I love, has gone from eulogizing actors to directors and now to genres; oh, how progressive am I? Seriously though, in this piece I choose FIVE time-travel films which are just brilliant examples of the (sub)genre.
I love time-travel films and the main reasons are:
They offer fantastic and paradoxical narratives and “what if” scenarios.
They really get your brain working overtime.
The concepts fit all manner of different genres from action to comedies and thrillers and even the Western.
The philosophical concepts at play often examine the nature of existence; especially where one tries to make sense of life or find meaning where there probably is none.
As evidence I present FIVE such time-travel films which meet all of the criteria and are representative of most genres. Please note I have concentrated solely on time-travel films released in the cinema so Doctor Who remains parked up for this particular piece.
**HERE BE MASSIVE SPOILERS**
BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
This is probably the most perfect Hollywood movie. It’s a high-concept-time-travelling-Oedipal-narrative-joy-fest which combines action, comedy, romance, sci-fi, and nostalgia genres while backed by a past and present pop music extravaganza! A young teenage innocent called Marty McFly is thrown back to the 1950s. In the 50s he unwittingly begins to undo his own future by accidentally beginning a romance with his own mother. Allied to that he must help his father (Crispin Glover) overcome his social weakness plus battles with horrible bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Following the basic temporal rule that one’s actions in the past will affect your future the tremendous script is jam-packed with so many wonderful gags, twists and chases; while the race-against-time narrative is a thrill-a-second. The rich iconography – notably the mad scientist’s DeLorean “time machine” – plus cracking performances from Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, render this one of the most exhilarating time-travel films ever.
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)
Bill Murray is obviously praised as a wonderfully funny man but he’s also a deviously good film actor. At times he doesn’t actually seem to be doing much but his mind is always working as he gives a sly look or a sarcastic smile or a silent sigh from his deadpan, hangdog face. In Groundhog Day he runs the gamut of ALL emotions from anger to desperation to insanity to bliss to apathy to suicide to pride and finally to LOVE! This is a wonderful film with a tremendous “what if” premise which offers the idea we can only move on in life if we’re prepared not only to accept change but also throw off cynicism and find romance. The exceptional script mines the Sisyphean narrative for so many brilliant sequences as Murray relives the same day over and over again. At the beginning this temporal immortality offers an array of gifts to his jaded weatherman Phil Connors; however, by the end his life becomes a dreaded nightmare and repetitive hell. Ultimately, time-travel has never been so funny, tragic and romantic!
I think most time-travel films are paradoxical by nature and holes can always be found in the logic but as a time-travel/thriller genre film Predestination worked really well while providing an intriguing gender-political angle too. The nature of the loner and finding love for others and oneself was also an interesting theme plus the inevitability of fate was there in the subtext too. There’s been a lot of big budget dross at the cinema recently but for the running time this gem offers far more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. Even though I enjoy seeing stuff blown up on screen I do love a brain-twister too and this film presents one hell of a challenging narrative. Starring Ethan Hawke and with a breakout performance from brilliant Sarah Snook this film from German/Australian directors has intelligence, thrills, heart and several mighty plot twists which bear up under successive viewings.
THE TERMINATOR (1984)
This is one of my favourite films ever. It propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron to mega-stardom in their respective fields and has often been parodied and imitated but rarely bettered. While story is simple: a killing machine has been sent back from the future to destroy Sarah Connor – the soon-to-be mother of uber-rebel leader John Connor; the journey is an absolute humdinger. Cameron’s lean, mean and muscular action screenplay combines brains, brawn, cracking one-liners and explosive set-pieces. Moreover, Linda Hamilton excels as the endangered young woman who turns from a flaky waitress to formidable matriarch over the course of the film. The sequel was brilliant too but the original will remain, despite being made for just $6.4 million dollars, the epitome of a tech-noir-futuristic-time-travel-action classic.
TIME CRIMES (2007)
This fascinating Spanish thriller has a narrative like a Russian doll as it is structured on an enigma within a conundrum within a paradox. It concerns an ordinary Spanish bloke, who having seen some weird behaviour going on in the woods near his house, ends up looping and pursuing multiple versions of himself throughout one very bizarre day. Similar to Triangle (2009) – an underrated time-paradox gem directed by Brit filmmaker Christopher Smith – the enjoyment derives from immersing yourself in the weird and unexplained reasons why Hector (Karra Elejalde) has begun a psycho-sexual, violent loop of death involving a number of temporal leaps. This is all paradoxical plot and wicked thrills and while there is little in the way of characterisation the filmmaker Nacho Vigolondo has created the closest equivalent to a movie version of an Escher painting.
June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:
SCREENWASH FILM AND TV REVIEWS – JUNE 2016
**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**
THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV
The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)
The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX
I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display. Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA
Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV
If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight. I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)
GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV
The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX
Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off. Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV
Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA
Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown(1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER
The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV
Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time. I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)
PRIMAL SCREAM: A RETRO-PERSPECTIVE Inc. PALLADIUM GIG REVIEW
“I was blind. Now I can see. You made a believer – out of me!” Primal Scream
My very first discovery of Bobby Gillespie was when I, as a teenage idiot working in a dead-end office job, saw a video by the fuzz-bombing, guitar anarchists Jesus and Mary Chain on the telly for their spectacular single Never Understand. I recall thinking who the hell is that twig-skinny-black-mop-haired-bastard-with-sunglasses smashing hell out of a snare drum? He’s cooler than fuck! Plus, THAT band is phenomenal too! As punk rock was just out of my age range here was loud, noisy and tuneful rock and roll I could really get into. In fact, the 1980s gave birth to so many great independent-minded-guitar-based bands that I was in my element! While the “indie” scene eventually got assimilated into the mainstream a main flagbearer of these halcyon times continues with much creative passion and – based on the gig I went to last Friday – Bobby Gillespie is still as relevant and cool as ever. He’s rock and roll’s Dorian Gray who shows no sign of aging OR dying! Gillespie is one of the great frontmen and true a rock and roll immortal!
Primal Scream are one of my favourite bands of all time! I have literally grown up watching them from virtual birth and any release of theirs is welcomed with heart-stopping brain joy. After Gillespie left the Jesus and Mary Chain to front them they released a series of jangle-pop records and Peel Sessions in the 1980s, notably the wonderful It Happens and Velocity Girl. Subsequently they released their debut album Sonic Flower Groove to a lukewarm critical reception and were swiftly dropped by their major record label. I LOVED their first album. It was a heady mix of jangle guitars, power-pop riffs, flowery lyrics and dreamy vocals from Gillespie. Listening to it today I still recall the beauty of those chiming twelve-strings reverberating around my Roehampton bedroom as Bobby Gillespie’s Scottish falsetto sang melodies such as: Sonic Sister Love, Imperial, May the Sun Shine Bright for You and other classics.
Alas the album flopped but Bobby’s comrade and compatriot Alan McGee signed them to his own label Creation and the band set about, not for the first time, changing their sound and look, for their second album. McGee deserves praise for championing passionate-alternative-young-musicians-with-attitude with a desire to see the underdogs challenging the ruling classes. His ardour and eye for talent meant McGee would be rewarded with chart success with Primal Scream and a little known Manchester band called Oasis; who are now the Guinness World record holders for the most successful band of the 1990s.
Second album Primal Scream was a ballsy-Stooges-inspired rock-out full of dirty guitar riffs and basslines to match. Arguably, Gillespie was still looking for a musical identity and worked further through the rock and roll menu with their sophomore release. While it suffered mixed reviews I love it! It has some right royally rocking tracks including one of my favourite songs of theirs: the mercurial I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have. This song and Primal Scream’s fusion with the acid and rave culture of the early 1990s would shoot the band into the mainstream. Loaded was a bastardized version of I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have and with Andrew Weatherall’s ingenious production and quotes from Peter Fonda and sparse vocals from Gillespie, the band had a massive hit record. Furthermore the wonderfully titled Screamadelica would be a global hit and win them the Mercury award for that year.
Further hit singles from Screamdelica would follow, notably the sublime Movin’ on Up, Come Together and Higher the Sun. The album was a triumphant fusion of dance, electronica and rock and critical acclaim followed the commercial success. Personally, I’m not a fan of Loaded as it lacks the heart of the original song it’s taken from, but the track and subsequent album had summer and zeitgeist stamped all over it. Primal Scream were suddenly riding the crest of a wave and much was expected of their next album Give Out but Don’t Give Up!
When the single Rocks soared to number seven in the charts in 1994 the band once again had a hit. However, this slice of bluesy, Stones-influenced rock wasn’t welcomed by all music critics; some even stating the Scream had sold out their dance roots. This though is a fucking ridiculous idea because first and foremost they are a rock and roll band and secondly they’ve never followed trends. In fact, one of the major reasons I love this band so much is they do what the hell they want. I loved their third album and despite its mildly derivative underbelly, songs like Jailbird and the beautifully written I’m Gonna Cry Myself Blind are bona fide classics which still sound fresh today. Overall, Give Out but Don’t Give Up is a funky party album which doesn’t take itself too seriously and will lift even the most sullen of moods. Yet, the party mood was soon to shift as Primal Scream were about to move into much darker territory.
Vanishing Point was Primal Scream finally finding, amidst the postmodern machinations of their rock and roll brain, a signature sound. The record is drenched in amphetamine and smacked-up tunes and with the introduction of Mani from Mancunian legends Stone Roses, the speed-freak awesomeness of the album was one to behold. Gillespie stated it was an alternative soundtrack to the 1970s counter-cultural-narco-road movie of the same name and dub-punk tracks such as: Burning Wheel, Kowalski, Medication plus the trance melody of Star proved him right. It’s a cracking album which sounds both original and dunked in the blood of Lemmy; there’s even a song called Motorhead on the damn thing! Vanishing Point’s brutal, poetic, cinematic, dirty, thudding basslines, drum loops, guitars and lyrics make it one of their most complete and fresh sounding releases.
If Vanishing Point was a classic then their next album XTRMNTR is, in my view, their masterpiece. It takes the speed-ball from its predecessor and jams it into the brain with a burning syringe; and you’re left in no doubt this is a group at the top of their game. I think the band’s drug use and abuse is well documented and of course narcotic addiction will rip a hole in the soul of one’s humanity; however, the mixture of hedonism, anger, guts, passion and despair you get from being on drugs can give us great art such as this. Because instant classics such as Kill All Hippies, Accelerator, Shoot Speed/Kill Light and the majestic industrial disco epic Swastika Eyes proved that Primal Scream had written and produced one of the finest albums of all time. It’s angry, political, personal, dark and desperate, but also amidst the vampires and shadows there’s some incredible rock tunes in there and it remains for me their finest sixty minutes and twenty-four seconds.
After XTRMNTR the band toured the world. I caught them at a particularly blurry gig at the Hammersmith Palais, which was one of those nights I’ll never forget; mainly because I can’t remember too much about it. I recall dancing and falling over joyous and drunk on: life, music and chemicals. It was a stunning culmination for me of a band and die-hard fan coming together in perfect ecstasy. But how do you follow not one but TWO classic smashed-up tour-de-force albums?
I think in all honesty Primal Scream’s creative purple-patched hearts dipped in the next few years. Evil Heat from 2002 and Riot City Blues (2006) were punctuated by the royal remixed release of “Best of” album called Dirty Hits. Having said that any Primal Scream album is better than no albums at all and songs including: Autobahn 66 from Evil Heat and Country Girl, Hell’s A Comin’ Down and the touching Sometimes I Feel So Lonely demonstrated the band’s continued ability to write a cracking tune. But overall these two albums were inconsistent and unfocussed compared to the manic genius of their predecessors. Having said that Country Girl was another chart hit and it was great seeing the Scream in the charts, appealing to the globby masses again.
Released in 2008 Beautiful Future was a marked improvement in terms of songwriting consistency. The powerful pop electronica of the first seven tracks suggested a classic-in-the-making; however, the quality dips slightly toward the end. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful poppy soufflé drenched in pathos with grandstanding tracks including: Uptown, Zombie Man, Can’t Go Back and Beautiful Summer. In fact Beautiful Future is indeed a bright temporal glimpse forward as the band’s current album Chaosmosis is an even sharper sonic pop album and brimming with startling positivity in songs like: Tripping on your Love and the exquisite When the Light Comes In.
Sandwiched in between these two albums is the experimental, jazzy offerings of More Light, which found Bobby Gillespie clean and sober for the first time forever. He opined when the album was released:
“We are trying to create transcendent, euphoric, ecstatic experiences. That’s always going to be part of our aesthetic. We like making druggy-sounding psychedelic music. It’s just that since we stopped taking drugs we got better at it.”Bobby Gillespie (2013)
Unlike the delectably titled Chaosmosis – which isn’t chaotic sounding at all – More Light is the blended process of Primal Scream shedding their rock and roll skin once again. The scales that scatter in the wind find the music all over the shop; psychedelic 2013 and bluesy-pop of Its Alright, I’m OK meld with punk bursts of Culturecide and Hit Void, and the moody ballad Walking with the Beast. What the album lacks in discipline it makes up with some cracking songs and a mass collection of musical personnel producing an artistically satisfying smorgasbord spikily overseen by uber-producer David Holmes.
To celebrate the release of the sparky power-pop classic Chaosmosis, the Scream booked themselves into the London Palladium for one night only. I was surprised by their choice of venue as the Palladium is historically a home for Royalty, middle-of-the-road entertainment and the bourgeoisie. Plus, it was April Fool’s Day so I wondered if perhaps it was some grand prank and the gig would be prove a sham. It was anything but as Bobby Gillespie and his crew of old stalwarts such as keyboardist Martin Duffy and Andrew Innes on guitar were ably backed up by young bassist Simone Butler and Hannah Marsden on support vocals. When you have almost thirty years of material to choose from then karmic chameleons such as the Scream are a banker to deliver the rock and roll goods. Every song was beautifully rendered as crisp light and video show melded pristinely with the soaring choir in the shadows; all the while sonic brother Gillespie begging the crowd to come together toward the light.
Movin’ On Up was an incredible opener and the hits just poured out from the stage and my personal favourites were Tripping’ On Your Love, Shoot Speed/Kill Light, Rocks, Swastika Eyes, Kill All Hippies and the rarely heard original Come Together replete with acid-dance remix of course. The whole night was a cascade of nostalgia and cracking showmanship and I felt at one with the world and a group of musicians who are part of my psyche and who I consider, culturally speaking, part of the family. I was blind. I can see. Primal Scream made a believer out of me. We’re MOVING ON UP!!
Dedicated to the memory of Robert Young (1965 – 2014)