Annie Get Your Gun

Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 21.18.11I know I probably shouldn’t trouble my little head with this stuff, but a little thought has been bubbling away in my little brain and has reached boiling point. So I thought I’d lift the lid and share it with you all. Before I explode.

This thought I’d like to share has to do with films I’ve seen so far this year. Now, I’ve seen a lot, so I’m going to confine myself to those I’ve seen at the cinema, on the big screen, and paid good money for. And I’ll narrow the field further to talk only about mainstream, narrative, big new releases. Because, when I think about these films, I see a pattern emerging. Perhaps you’ll see it too?

First up was Life of Pi, all earnest and shiny and 3D and jumpy out of the screen. And I guess it was all right. If you like that sort of thing. I don’t much. And as it was adapted from a book there were externally imposed limitations, so there’s really no need to be irritated by the pretty, dancy girlfriend, or the mother/zebra whatever, or the wife whose role is to wander on set, once, weighed down by children, and do nothing. So I wasn’t.

But then I went to see Lincoln. Regular readers of this blog may already have formed a strong opinion of my strong opinion about this film. New readers, if you’re still with me by the end of this post, might want to check out Am I missing the point  of facebook? or Why Lincoln is crap. Maybe Spielberg was able to resurrect Freud and get him to do a bit of moonlighting as the script advisor. Mrs Lincoln emerges as a textbook hysteric. Thank God Abe is around to help her steer an even course. And then there’s the stoic freed slave who pops up from time to time observing the men do their politics, or accompanying the mad Mrs Lincoln somewhere, or whispering with Mr Lincoln, a symbol of just how very wise and decent he is. And reminding us, through her remarkable absence of presence, just how non-threatening good ole black folk can be. Especially black women. And then, as if to drive the point home, there’s the housekeeper. The one who mops the furrowed brow of Tommy Lee Jones and so much else besides. Who doesn’t get to be at all angry about the state of her world.

And then, the following week, I found myself up close and personal with Django Unchained. Which I loved. Except, it’s a bit long and goes a bit off course in the final stretch. But still, I thought it was great. Except, well, there’s Broomhilda. Who’s lovely ‘n’ all, and it’s great that Django wants to rescue her. But the thing is, she’s a runaway slave. A repeat offender runaway slave. And the film makes the barbarous treatment a recaptured runaway slave is likely to receive explicitly and uncomfortably clear. So I think we have to assume that Broomhilda has balls, colloquially speaking. Which makes her quivering lipped, fainting behaviour a little out of character. But, perhaps, defensible. What is not defensible, no really, Quentin, it’s not, is her sitting astride a bloody great horse in the final moments of the film, holding a bloody great double barreled shotgun, which we can assume is bloody well loaded, whilst waiting helplessly for Django to do his thing.

Next was Arbitrage. I don’t know what to say really. Other than that I’m very glad my local cinema has a bar, so that I had alcohol to help me get through the tedium. And so we have the wife. Who doesn’t work, of course. But that’s ok because she does lots of charity stuff. And she gets to take a bit of control at the end of the film. And the mistress. Who’s a painter. But not very good. But that’s ok because he bankrolls her. Thankfully she gets killed off in a car crash fairly early on. She doesn’t actually get to drive the car, of course. And the daughter. Who works for him. And works out that he’s a fraudulent swindler. Because she’s got a brain. But she doesn’t get to do anything about it. And then there’s the dead driver’s son’s wife. Who gets to be supportive.

And so to Side Effects. Again, regular readers will be aware of my response to this film. A previous post, Side Effects? Of what? Lesbian sex? pretty much sums it up. But, to give the film its due, at least all the women in it actually do stuff. And at least they can actually claim to be principal characters. And its much more fun watching evil lesbians going about their evil business than virtuous non-entities, well non-entitying. If you know what I mean.

And finally there was Stoker. It’s not a great film, but if you like a bit of gothic (which I do), and you find watching Nicole Kidman’s face not move strangely fascinating (which I do), and you have have a thing for intense, odd-ball actresses (which I do) then it might be up your street. But really, I liked it for its blackly comic ending. It’s a strange old world, though, when you find yourself jumping for joy in a darkened cinema as the eighteen year old protagonist (and there’s the key word) offs a cop. Jumping for joy just because she actually GETS TO DO SOMETHING.

 

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Imagine… if we really were all in this together

Ken Loach

Ken Loach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not about to go all John Lennon on you. Fan that I am, now isn’t the time to channel some self-indulgent, long-haired hippy in a white bed. But, to coin a phrase, Imagine… Imagine living in a country at near economic collapse. Imagine a chronic housing shortage. Sounds familiar, right? Now imagine, and please stick with me here readers, I know this is a leap of faith, but imagine a response which says something like: let’s build houses. No, not houses, homes. That way people will have somewhere to live. Somewhere to live well. Somewhere reasonable. Somewhere decent. Somewhere they can afford. And people can be employed to design and build these houses. Then more people will have jobs. And that will be good for the economy. And you know what, while we’re at it, let’s imagine a universal healthcare service, from the cradle to the grave. Free at the point of delivery. Because we’re all in this together. And because we’re all in this together, and we’re essentially social creatures, let’s imagine that we build libraries and cinemas and swimming pools… Just imagine.

And so Ken Loach gives us The Spirit of ’45. And it tells the story of a time when people imagined all this and more, and made it happen. Not perfectly, but with vision. Because we were all in this together. Go and see the film. It’s moving. And inspiring. And enraging. It ain’t subtle, but with the Bullingdon Club and their acolytes, aided and abetted by political technocrats of every hue, selling off the family silver, ours not theirs, now isn’t the time for subtlety.

Now is the time to say GET YOUR HANDS OFF OUR NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE. And give back those bits you’ve flogged off already. And while you’re at it, we’d like our railways back. And our energy, so some smart people can actually plan an energy policy that might have the slightest chance of success. And our postal service. And every other essential service that you and your predecessors have given away without so much as a by your leave. But you know what, we’re reasonable people here, we wouldn’t want you to leave empty handed. Tell you what, why don’t you take THAT INSANE BANKING SYSTEM and those HIGHER RATE TAX EVADERS, that you’re so bloody fond of, with you when you go?

http://www.thespiritof45.com/

Being Normal: the strange evolution of the TV monster

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Was anyone else delighted by the opening episode of the Beeb’s latest monster bash, In the Flesh? Feeling somewhat bereft following the ending of Being Human, it was a relief to have the void filled. I’d watched the show grow over the past five seasons, witnessed the complete annihilation of its original cast, and seen it rise up and walk away utterly unscathed. Tom and Hal, in particular, are beautifully written and beautifully performed and, really, they should be given an afterlife. I’ve got all sorts of good ideas brewing if anyone at BBC3 wants to give me a shout. Although series 5 got off to a shonky start, I was gripped by the final two episodes. And gutted at the end. Gutted that it was over. And, to be honest, kind of gutted at its manner of being over. Not that I think it was poorly done or anything, it’s just that really, honestly, who wants to be human? Other than Tom, Hal and Alex of course. The narrative tackles the discordant desires of characters and audience head on. The characters win. Which got me thinking about how Being Human shifted this genre slightly, nudged its perspective just a little, and how In the Flesh seems to have taken up this baton.

Previously, the monster was all about the big bad. Sometimes the big bad was the other, sometimes nearer to home, and yes, occasionally, it was even the self, but the self as taken over by the big bad, or constructed by the big bad. If you know what I mean. Sometimes the big bad existed amongst us, tricked us into thinking it was normal, for its nefarious plans. Sometimes the big bad had human qualities, was searching for love, redemption, peace. But these shows are radical in their quest for Normality. Ordinariness. Quiet Humanity. In these shows the big bad is kind of small and all right really, most of the time. Inner demons tend to be unleashed by the inhumanity of the world at large. Humans are as likely to be monstrous as the monsters; the monsters’ humanity exceeding that of the humans. Angel once had a storyline centered around a prophecy to return a vampire to a human state. But for these newer shows, this misses the point. Being human is a state of mind not of physicality. And being human is all about being ordinary. Ordinary jobs. Ordinary homes. Ordinary friendships. Ordinary decency. And, more importantly, being allowed to be ordinary.

And there’s something delightfully British in the construction of this ordinariness. Being Human was initially set in Bristol, on an ordinary street, which was ordinary enough, but the relocation to Honolulu Heights and Barry was inspired. And the symmetry of Hal’s backstory, holed up in Southend for fifty-five years, added to the humour. There’s an American version, I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard it’s quite good, which is set in Boston. Whatever they’ve done with the US version though, I can’t imagine it much resembling the British one beyond its having a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost. Boston is not Barry. The subtlety is lost. And with it the humour.

In the Flesh has taken up the ordinary with aplomb. Roarton, a kind of fictionalised Yorkshire town, is as ordinary as it gets. Right down to the railway station. And the accents. And the family that our hero, Kieren, who exudes innocence and vulnerability, returns to, post suicide, post zombie, in his newly medicated state. These shows refuse us closed narratives of good and evil, right and wrong. Boundaries blur, distinctions fade, our own humanity is put under the microscope. This is TV for the modern age. War and guilt, the demonisation of difference, and the tyranny of moral absolutes are already emerging as themes. I look forward to seeing how this tale pans out.

 

Update 04.04.2013: unfortunately the tale panned out poorly. The second episode was entirely plot driven and lacked depth, nuance or character development. Despite a strong central performance, and the final episode recovering a little, this was not enough to save what could have been a great show. What a shame. 

Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle… but maybe that’s the point

Ok, I can’t quite believe that I’m going to attempt this. Perhaps I should start with a disclaimer. I love Gothic fiction. I’m a big fan of the horror genre in film. I particularly love vampire flicks, and I like my vampires to have fangs. I’m interested in film. Interesting film. I’m interested in literature. Interesting literature. I consider myself a feminist. I say all this, and I could say so much more, as a kind of begging for forgiveness in advance. Because, what I’m about to do, and I can’t quite believe it myself, is offer a kind of apology for The Twilight Saga. No. More than that, offer a reason for its popularity. And more than that, suggest that, despite its deeply suspect ideology, it’s not so bad really. Bear with me, readers.

I ought to make it clear, I haven’t read a single word of a single one of the Twilight books. I don’t intend to. I probably wouldn’t like them. Which is fine. I’m fairly certain I’m not the target audience anyway. I have, however, over the past couple of weeks, watched all five of the films. I thought it was about time to have a look at just what it is, precisely, that has been preoccupying the kidz over the past few years. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself. My initial reaction was one of horror. The wrong kind of horror. I watched the films in the wrong order, starting with Breaking Dawn: part 1, which with its unflinching pro-life subtext (actually not so much of the ‘sub’) left me fearing for the ideological hearts, not to mention the psychological, and indeed physical, well-being of our teenagers. And then there’s the stalking, controlling, coercive boyfriend. And the mind games. And the ‘no sex before marriage’ clause. And the heroine seemingly free from any agency at all. And Wolfy (sorry, Jacob) imprinting on a new born babe – I’ve tried like mad to rationalise this one, but really, whichever way you look at it, it’s just creepy. And. And. And…

And what about adding to the body of Vampire mythology? Harmless ‘vegetarians’? Repeating high school ad infinitum? Driving around in Volvos and Mercedes? Living in (unaccountably affluent) peace in a Scandinavian style lodge? It’s not that this is all a bit off canon, so much as this is all a bit lame. And then there’s the sparkling. Sparkling, I tell you. Vampires don’t sparkle. They chow down on your neck with bloody great fangs. They exist as a metaphor for sex, repression, fear, desire. They offer a safe space for transgression. They explore the other. They explore the id. They DON’T BLOODY WELL SPARKLE.

But then maybe that’s the point. Maybe Edward, in all his toothless, sparkling glory is so non-threatening that the sinister undercurrents of his behaviour are rendered utterly meaningless. Maybe the adolescent and the pre-pubescent fans buy into the unreconstructed gender fantasy because it so clearly is fantasy, and requires so little exertion on their part. Maybe, surrounded as they are by a hyper-sexual, disposable culture, the innate conservatism of The Twilight Saga offers some breathing space. Maybe they just fancy Robert Pattinson. Or Kristen Stewart. Maybe they’re frightened of growing up, and they find something reassuring in Bella and Edward achieving a state of stasis while still teenagers. Or maybe they like waiting ’til the final film for Bella to actually get some muscles – a kind of delayed gratification.

Or maybe I should give up the ghost and direct you to this biting Buffy/Twilight mashup instead…

Thanks for the reminder that Real Slayers Stake Vampires. Especially if they sparkle.

Google ‘real vampires don’t sparkle’ and click on images. Go on, it’s fun.

Many thanks to Shannon for the lightbulb moment. Cheers.

Side Effects? Of what? Lesbian sex?

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Spolier alert. Evil lesbians’ evil plan foiled by super sleuth Law. Hetero-hegemony restored and all is well with the world. Phew!

Am I alone in being somewhat thrown by Soderberg’s latest? To be honest I thought I was about to see a pharma-thriller of some sort, perhaps an exploration of drug company corruption, or fraught examination of a descent into moral ambiguity, you know, that sort of thing. And to be honest, that’s kind of how the film started out. And then it seemed as if, at some point, someone did a nifty script exchange. And didn’t tell anyone. And no-one noticed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Soderberg fan. He knows how to entertain. And this schlocky thriller looks great, sounds great and is a tremendous amount of fun. A barrel of laughs you might say. So much so, that we were rolling round in the isles, pretty much paralytic with mirth, by the time the final credits rolled. Casting Channing Tatum was a master-stroke, although I have to confess I didn’t know who he was until this evening, and I’m not convinced I’ll be able to remember who he is tomorrow morning. And isn’t that a girl’s name anyway? Never before have I witnessed someone on screen so totally forgettable that Jude Law emerges from the void a charismatic scene-stealing dynamo. Catherine Zeta Jones and Rooney Mara are immensely watchable, and look great too, which evil lesbians really ought to if they possibly can. Amazingly though, given the fine acting capabilities of these two, as well as their unfair share of God-given good looks, their pseudo-sex scene that allows for the denouement of film is spectacularly unconvincing. What a shame.

I really can’t object to Catherine Zeta Jones being cast as a femme-fatale. She does the job admirably. And why not write her character as a lesbian? And why not have her character have a relationship with Rooney Mara’s character? And why not write these characters as cunning, amoral schemers who ultimately get their comeuppance? Except, well, wouldn’t it be nice if, you know, just occasionally, the hero happened to be a lesbian character. And could, just maybe, have sex with another lesbian character, not as part of an evil plan, but just coz they happen to, you know, feel like it. And maybe the sex could go unpunished. You know, just occasionally. Occasionally…

Come on Soderberg, don’t bow out of Hollywood just yet. Clearly you have more work to do.

Tomorrow the World

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A few years ago most of my tapes (remember C45s and C60s anybody?) a handful of my records (yes actual, precious, vinyl) and a couple of my CDs (now these I really don’t care that much about, and they were truly the crap ones anyway) were deposited in a charity shop. Or a skip. I’m not sure which. I didn’t do it. It was in the spirit of a clear out. I’m not quite over it.

As a consequence, years later I’m still in the business of re-amassing the missing music MP3 stylee. So it was that, a couple of days ago, I found myself in the iTunes store – virtually speaking you understand, there isn’t actually a place tucked away down the Old Kent Road or something that no-one’s told you about – purchasing a copy of Ramones, the Ramones’ debut album. I listened to this endlessly as a kid.

And I’ve pretty much had it on loop ever since I downloaded it. Do you know what the most perfectly brilliant thing about the Ramones is? Brevity. The longest track on the original album comes in at a whopping 2 minutes and 40 seconds. I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement if you were wondering.

Now Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets about love. Not to mention inflicting on us that Romeo geezer endlessly droning on the about the depths of his passion for Rosaline or Juliet or whoever. But I’m not sure that any of this conveys with such poignant simplicity the courageous emotion of I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend. And I’m not convinced that Salinger told us any more about youth and alienation in 200 or so pages than Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue does in 1 minute and 36 seconds.

When Ramones was first released I would’ve been 4 or 5 or something. It would be a few more years before I’d be listening to it over and over again on tape (a ragged patchwork of memories is telling me that Too Tough To Die was on the other side, but I might be making that up). It’s kind of sweet that there’s such a market for this stuff – I imagine crinkled Ramones fans lovingly loading it up on their grandkids’ iPods. Today MP3, Tomorrow the World. I finally saw the band at the Brixton Academy, many years too late, in 1991 I think. I really can’t remember that much about it. As it should be.

Bad Girl Warning

I was having a drink with a couple of pals the other night. Our train of thought meandered from the policies of the Israeli state to the resignation of Pope Benedict to baptising babies to Methodism to Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit to, yelled out in unified bingo-style abandon, MARMALADE ATKINS! Talk about 6 degrees of separation. Now to those of you who aren’t from the UK, this last one might be a bit niche. In fact to those of you who are from the UK, but aren’t of an age to have been watching kids TV in the early 80s, or whose parents thought ITV was a bad influence – you know who you are – this will also seem a bit niche. Nonetheless, I was struck by the profoundly powerful memory we all shared of this anarchic character from the dark and distant days of three TV channels. (OK you purists, I know she started out in book form but for a whole generation Marmalade Atkins was that girl from TV). And she was our hero.

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That got me thinking about other anarchic characters from my youth. Minnie the Minx. I loved her. She was my alter ego. What am I saying, there was no alter, she was my ego. She has a statue in Dundee, you know. I was an avid ‘70s Beano reader, a member of the Dennis the Menace and Gnasher fan club, had one of those badges with the wobbly eyes, but Minnie was where it was at.

In the late ’80’s Darlene, the younger daughter in Roseanne took up the banner for irreverent youth, saving those of us with no interest in Disney Princesses from a fate worse than death. And for those aspiring to more adult themes (alcoholism, sexual violence, bereavement, relationship trouble), hard-talking, gun-toting, gin-swilling Chris Cagney saw us right through the decade.

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By the time I left home in the very last year of the 1980’s, TV as we had known it – a scheduled event, galvanising a family, a nation, a subculture – had only a few years left to live. There were now four channels, satellites were springing up like extra-terrestrial beings clinging to the sides of grey houses (everything was grey in the 80s). Video recorders were in vogue. Soon there would be a fifth channel. And then cable. And then internet TV.

So let’s raise a toast to simpler times and remember when a few tough talking female characters scattered first through our comics, and then across our cathode ray tube TVs, offered a bit of feisty escapism for those of us who’d never much wanted to be one of Charlie’s Angels.