Talking Movies

October 17, 2014

Northern Soul

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Acclaimed photographer Elaine Constantine makes an assured cinematic debut with a tale of two teenagers in the Northern Soul scene.

John (Elliot James Langridge) is a shy teenager in a dismal Lancashire town in economically depressed and culturally depressing 1974. He’s happy writing poetry, and spending time with his beloved Grandad (Ricky Tomlinson), but his mother (Lisa Stansfield!) is insistent that he should get out more. Dad (Christian McKay) doesn’t really want to get drawn into any strife… John unwillingly goes to the local youth club, only to be dazzled by the dance moves that Matt (Josh Whitehouse) performs to the unusual soundtrack of Edwin Starr’s Time. Impulsively saving Matt from a beating John pretends he knows what Northern Soul is to spend more time with this charismatic outsider. Pretty soon John knows Northern Soul inside out, is going to amphetamine-fuelled Wigan Casino dances, and plotting a trip to America with Matt to ransack obscure vinyl for their DJ gigs.

Northern Soul is a familiar type of story told against an unusual backdrop. Matt is the dazzlingly charismatic hero who brings the diffident observer John out of his shell to the point that he stands up to abrasive teacher Mr Banks (Steve Coogan), winks at his crush Angela (Antonia Thomas) on the bus instead of pining away, and thinks nothing of popping the endless supply of pills that cockney Sean (Jack Gordon) thinks necessary for their Wigan nights. But the backdrop is something we’ve not seen before. Ray Henderson (James Lance) the Wigan DJ has enormous street-cred for his ‘cover-up’; a stonking tune that he refuses to reveal the identity of to his listeners; and the quest to unmask the cover-up fuels the rise of John as a DJ. Indeed he’s obviously a better DJ than the foul-mouthed graceless Matt.

Writer/director Elaine Constantine makes Northern Soul look fantastic for its budget, especially the long sweep over the dancers when we see the Wigan Casino bacchanalia for the first time. She also makes excellent use of a limited amount of classic Northern Soul music by playing out the songs in full over lengthy montages. At the same time she draws excellent performances from the actors. Gordon is on fire as the rambunctious Sean, Whitehouse is instantly attractive as rebellious Matt, and Langridge makes John’s transformation completely believable. Ultimately Northern Soul becomes a bromance, as Angela isn’t nearly as important, or worth a grand rom-com gesture, as Matt. Henderson pushes John away from Matt by insisting that Matt holds him back as a DJ, and Sean blames Matt’s big mouth for unwanted narc attention, leading to some unexpected suspense before the finale.

The story is just a bit familiar, but it’s told with such avowed sincerity that Northern Soul might just be a very belated Quadrophenia for the Northern Soul set.

3.5/5

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October 30, 2013

Suggesting Several Screen Siblings

I’ve noticed a few actors who I think would make damn good pairings as siblings, so here’re some suggestions for their team-ups and the movies.

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Tom Hiddleston & Rooney Mara

Who can stand against the combined powers of Loki and Lisbeth Salander? Not many… The Avengers star Tom Hiddleston and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara are con artist siblings specialising in long-cons. They’re within months of pulling off the single greatest job of their career, shaking down a despotic Arabic dictator for a massive investment in a ‘revolutionary fuel research firm’, when Hiddleston falls head over heels in love with the despot’s new American liaison. Mara, however, truly despises Hiddleston’s charming new girlfriend and sets out to sabotage the romance in any way she can. Can Mara succeed in dynamiting her brother’s happiness while keeping him in the dark that she’s doing it? Can Hiddleston keep his focus long enough for the completion of the con? And is the liaison’s arrival as a massive distraction just a bit too perfectly timed to be coincidental? All will be revealed in this sophisticated Hitchcockian comedy-thriller.

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Kristen Wiig & Sarah Paulson

Studio 60 and American Horror Story star Sarah Paulson is a successful but cold marketing executive. Her fabulously wealthy grand-aunt always liked Paulson’s warm-hearted slacker sister better. The slacker sister is, of course, Bridesmaids’ Kristen Wiig. The great-aunt dies, leaving behind a video message for the reading of her bizarre will. Paulson and Wiig will both inherit 700 million dollars in twenty-four months, but … Paulson will only receive her share of the inheritance if she can successfully launch her sister into an independently sustainable career of Wiig’s choice (i.e. not marketing with Paulson’s firm) within twelve months. If Paulson can’t pull it off, her share goes to Wiig; making a whopping 1.4 billion dollars for Wiig and a round 0 for Paulson. Paulson can’t tell Wiig why she’s helping her, and will be trailed by a hunky male P.I. to ensure she doesn’t. It’s an all-female Brewster’s Millions meets My Fair Lady, hilarity ensues.

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Werner Herzog & Pete Townshend

Jack Reacher villain Werner Herzog buried his brother in East Germany in 1964. So it’s a shock when his daughter, trawling thru declassified archives, discovers that an empty coffin was buried. Herzog’s brother, Tommy performer Pete Townshend, was actually recruited by the Stasi, who faked his death, and, after extensive training, sent him to England as a sleeper agent. He’s been there ever since, stranded by the fall of the wall… The recently widowed Herzog travels to London with his daughter to meet Townshend’s retired but still consulting Foreign Office official. Townshend is afraid of being rumbled at the very end of his career; even as a spy without a spymaster. Gradually, however, the ice thaws as the widowed Townshend unlearns the English accented German he had perfected and prepares to tell his daughter his true identity. But has she already guessed the truth from witnessing the strange transference of identity between Townshend and Herzog?

November 1, 2011

Any Other Business: Part II

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a second portmanteau post on television of course!

Burning Down the House
I’m waiting with bated breath for the resumption of Hawaii Five-O after Lenkov’s amazing season one finale. If Moffat seemed to burn the house down with the end of his penultimate episode to season 5 of Doctor Who; which he sardonically described as the Doctor imprisoned in the most secure vault in the universe, Amy dead, Rory made of plastic and all the Whovian villains united – no problem; then Peter M Lenkov took off and nuked his O’ahu abode from orbit. Lenkov in his wisdom killed the Governor who was able to sweep all of the team’s legal transgressions under the pardon rug, framed McGarrett for her murder at the hands of the Yakuza supremo, arrested Kono for stealing millions from lock-up, returned Chin to the police force to work against McGarret, and possibly torpedoed Danny’s resurrected marriage by having him rally round McGarrett. No problem?…

Cockney Voices, Still Dialogue
I was unsurprised to learn that Saffron Burrows had been ditched from Finders after a disastrous try out of its team during a truly terrible Bones episode. To term Finders a Bones spin-off is laughable, it’s merely Hart Hanson using his existing show to try and sell a second show by demonstrating to the network how much people love his all-new adorably quirky characters. And my God were they quirky… Hanson granted each of his trio distinctive modes of speech, Michael Clarke Duncan was Dr Gonzo proffering legal advice, the ‘hero’ was verbose and savanty, and Saffron Burrows was….well, not adorable was the short verdict of the American viewing public and so she had to go. The nature of the problem became clear when shortly afterwards I saw Sienna Guillory appear in a season 11 episode of CSI: LV. Guillory spoke in her normal English accent, and everything was fine, because she was just handed regular CSI: LV dialogue and told to use her natural voice. Hanson wrote dialogue that aimed to be ‘Cockney’ in its Artful Dodger choice of words and rhyming slang, and thus London girl Burrows ended up incredibly unconvincing as a Cockney!

RTE’s feeling for insomniacs
What is wrong with RTE? More specifically what is wrong with their schedulers? Why do they insist on buying major American shows, with big budgets and numerous awards, and then burying them in the graveyard shift? Mad Men barely creeps in before midnight, Hawaii Five-O comes on just before midnight, Castle comes in at around half past midnight, Medium anytime after midnight, Mercy around 1am and No Ordinary Family at 2:20am… TV3 have complained that RTE are being a wealthy dog in the manger and simply preventing other networks having these shows. Assuming that’s not true, there’s still something disgraceful about Castle, one of the very best shows around at the moment for charismatic acting, wonderful gags, and unpredictable mysteries, getting no viewers in this country because no one has the cop-on to shove it on TV at say 10:10pm on Tuesday rather than at 12:35am.

Dirty Horatio
I’ve been watching CSI: Miami and noticing with alarm and bemusement that the writers appear to have mixed up David Caruso’s Horatio Caine character with Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Callahan somewhere between seasons 8 and 9. The first time we ever saw Caine in action, in an episode of CSI: LV, he was going off the beaten track during a search and found and comforted a missing child. That is Horatio Caine: great with children and dogged in his pursuit of justice. He takes his sun-glasses on and off a lot, smiles at villains, and delivers ‘cool’ lines to a screaming ‘YEEAAHHH!!!’ soundtrack by The Who. He doesn’t throw perps thru windows for the craic, and continually threaten criminals at gunpoint while snarling menacing dialogue at them. Perhaps Caruso felt that Horatio was disappearing into the background and wanted to stand out from the ensemble again, or maybe the change-over of writers has left few people with the memory of the original creation of Caine around to guide the character on a consistent arc. Either way I want more of the Horatio who tells an armadillo-hunting suspect that discovers his gun is missing, “Maybe the armadillos took it…”

Grissom’s Theory of Everything
I’ve written at great length twice about the Morpheus Problem faced by CSI: LV in trying to replace William Petersen’s Gil Grissom with Laurence Fishburne’s Ray Langston as the leader of the heroic criminalists of the Vegas crime lab. But with the hoopla surrounding the desperate quest to replace Fishburne, who’s gone back to Hollywood to resume his rightful role as a figure of authority by being Clark Kent’s editor among other gigs, a new thought sprung to mind. Instead of begging John Lithgow to join the show and then settling for Ted Danson, and announcing a comedic direction because of his arrival, why not just not replace Grissom? Grissom is irreplaceable. His cameo in season 11 only reminded us of that. So why not just trust the ensemble to carry on without him? Catherine, Nick, Sara, Greg, Hodges, Henry, Archie, Mandy, Dr Robbins and David can carry an episode just fine by themselves. Grissom was sometimes tangential to episodes and they worked just fine. Can we not trust that if the writers simply stopped trying to replace Grissom, and just enjoyed his team in motion around a now absent star, then the audience would too?

August 2, 2011

Roger Daltrey @ the Park

Roger Daltrey was always bound to be highlight of the @thePark series of concerts this summer and so it proved last Tuesday.

The recession appears to be biting hard as Marlay Park remained open during the concert; which was restricted to half the size of previous events, and under canvass in a marquee tent rather than in the open air in front of Marlay House. Daltrey is back on the road as a solo artist owing to Pete Townshend’s increasing hearing difficulties, and, back-dropped by original animations from London art-school students, he’s playing all of The Who’s seminal 1969 rock-opera Tommy. Daltrey started at the staggeringly early time of 8:17pm, catching most of the crowd off-guard, leading to a stampede into the tent. This intimate venue easily allowed me to get the closest to the stage I’ve been since seeing Frank Black in the Temple Bar Music Centre in 2003.

Daltrey stated he needed to warm up his voice after getting frozen at an open-air gig in Norfolk the day before and so belted out Who classics ‘I Can See For Miles’, ‘Pictures of Lilly’ and ‘Tattoo’, as well as his collaboration with The Chieftains, before the main event. Daltrey’s onstage introduction dismissed previous attempts by The Who to perform Tommy as ‘circus versions’ – played too fast, lacking the proper instruments, and ignoring the play of various voices. Here then was Tommy as it was meant to be performed, with guitarist Simon Townshend taking over vocal duties on a number of songs to flesh out the fictional universe. Daltrey meanwhile brought out the different characters in his array of songs, with his wonderfully sinister vocals when assuming the role of Uncle Ernie a highlight; especially his chilling delivery of the one word ‘Welcome…’ at the end of ‘Tommy’s Holiday Camp’. A huge cheer greeted the album’s sing-along track, ‘Pinball Wizard’, but the whole rendition was a triumph. The semi-abstract visuals banished all memory of Ken Russell’s filmic vision, while the amazing variety, and play of light and dark, in Townshend’s music and lyrics has never been more dazzlingly displayed. The clear anticipations of Led Zeppelin and Bowie hits to be heard in some songs demonstrated the influence of this work.

After Tommy Daltrey’s band launched into some playful interpretations of the obligatory Who classics including ‘Who Are You?’ ‘My Generation’, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, and ‘The Kids Are Alright’. A highlight was a thrilling ‘Baba O’Riley’ ending with Daltrey himself playing the run-away violin finale part on harmonica. They continued with an affectionate Johnny Cash medley, and some extended blues jams, and the theme song ‘Without Your Love’ from Daltrey’s film McVicar, before appropriately ending with just Daltrey playing the Who rarity ‘Red, Blue and Grey’ on the ukulele. Tommy is a dark album but this was a luminous performance… Daltrey left the stage at 10:53pm, having played for a whopping 2 hours 36 minutes.

Not bad for a 67 year old. And he still swings a mean microphone too…

4/5

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