Monday, 29 April 2013

Iron Man's Contractual Obligation Movie (Iron Man 3 Review)

Allow me to be the dissenting voice again.. (MINOR SPOILERS)

Iron Man 3 - In which Robert Downey Jnr and co finally reveal their  impatience with finding themselves in hero movie franchise (which always seemed a little unlikely) by leaving the stage in a much more predictable Hollywood explosion fest.

There are occasional flashes of brilliance in dialog and direction
and the players are as engaging as ever but, despite the hype this is
a tired going through the motions movie that feels more like a 80s 90s
action pic taken out of a freezer. It is hardly surprising mainstream
film critics are over-praising this movie, it looks more like a very
conventional sequel to Shane Black's Last Boy Scout and Long Kiss Good
Night (both classics IMHO BTW) than it does to one of those
embarrassing yet thematically innovative super hero movies.

Billed as the first movie of Marvel's Phase 2 it has only token
references to rest of the Marvel universe (now firmly established in
The Avengers) and bizarrely makes even no attempt to mention the Ten
Rings reference in that first classic Iron Man movie - the terrorist
group working with Jeff Bridges's villian is referred to as the Ten
Rings, then thought to be a clever reference to the Mandarin. This is
completely ignored in Iron Man 3, or at least the version I saw, which
is minus the extra 20 mins apparently film for the Chinese release.

Warren Ellis's brilliant Extremis storyline becomes a plot device to
provide superpowers in a pretty predictable script that could have
been kicking around for about a decade. It does for Extremis what Joel
Schumachers infantile Batman and Robin did for the Bane storyline
(since powerfully told Dark Knight Rises). It also irritatingly
hovers around the themes of enhancements and the next stage of human
evolution without mentioning super soldier serums or mutation. Maya
Hansen (the ridiculously young looking Rebecca Hall, who in the 15
year span of the movie events seems to be imortal and stands next to
Paltrow looking more like her daughter) is shot and crawls off
stage... presumably into the Chinese version of this movie?

Players are all good but mostly wasted, Paltrow and Cheadle look
peeved throughout and I don't blame them, both had better scenes in 2.
The much hyped Pepper Pots in a suit scene lasts seconds before it is
taken off her - Tony apparently can't spare one of his other hundreds
of suits for this purpose. Cheadle spends half the movie in his own
suit yet is allowed to do nothing in it again.

I found the technology in Iron Man 3 the biggest disappointment of
all. In the first movie we have a very smart script dealing with real
technical issues. The "plane without a pilot - what about the pilot
without a plane?" scene touches right on the current debate about
drones and modern aircraft. From that, almost Tom Clancy techno
thriller plot in the first film, this movie franchise this has now
descended to Harry Potter levels of stupidity, with wizardy suit
nonsense taking place that seems ridiculous even in a world containing
Thor (component suit parts fly across a room.... ok.... Fly from
Tennessee to Florida?)

Kid sidekick alert. Tony Stark can't be playboy enjoying himself (even
in a stable monogamous relationship) all the time so...

Ending on a positive note, as I like to.. Gwyneth Paltrow still has
the grace charm and intelligence that made her the hidden gem of the
Iron Man movies - and if offered a Pepper Pots movie (PEPPER STARK :
DIRECTOR OF S.H.I.E.L.D.?) I d watch it, where I'd pass on more of
Robert Downey Jnr's disinterested Tony Stark.

Perhaps that was the point of Iron Man 3.

A better movie

Thursday, 25 April 2013

All The Majesty Of A City Landscape..*

It might be the administrative hub of all the worlds tax havens and probably the major centre of all of the worlds financial ills but the City of London it quite an impressive place when you get a (short) contract there.

Tower 42, was the NatWest Tower, rebuilt, sold and renamed after the 1 tonne Bishopsgate truck bomb in 1993 which nearly destroyed it.

*more Bowie,
lyrics from Thru These Architect's Eyes, from Outside

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Origin story for Sex Pistols, Judge Dredd, Basil Fawlty and.. Margaret Thatcher

I've got a really populist scifi novel I'm reading at the moment and a
big history tome.. and it's the history tome I can't put down

Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979 by Dominic Sandbrook

Mentioned already, this is Britains dramatic late 1970s history brilliantly presented as a really gripping, but very funny tragedy that we all lived through once and weirdly in many ways we seem to be living through again (were we once had out of control Unions, we now have out of control Banks), illustrating the chaos of the Wilson - Callaghan years with contemporary excerpts from tv* and music of the time.

For over seas or younger readers.. this is is the story of how the worlds first industrial nation, undisputed world super power only a century before, crashes and burns in spectacular style without any serious outside pressure (in fact the ony foreign intervention is the IMF bailout), producing extreme characters like Basil Fawlty, The Sex Pistols, Judge Dredd - (because I don't mention him enough on this blog) and Margaret Thatcher : a collection of mostly fictional, mostly reprehensible and probably inevitable characters that probably could not have come from any other place and time.

Sandbrook is a bit of a Tory but generally is pretty fair handed
(though he hates Tony Benn he doesn't seem to idolise Thatcher). He
admits Callaghan - Healey stablised the country after near hyper
inflation and IMF bailout, set the UK up nicely for Thatcher, and were
then destroyed just before the 79 election by a new generation of
militant shop stewards that ignored their union leaders

I have just passed the moment were the (already well paid) tanker drivers union demand a 60% pay rise and kicks of the mass suicide of the unions in the Winter of Discontent.. Think the winter of 2012 but with virtually everyone on strike and the country in virtual shutdown for months.

I'm about to go out and get Sandbrooks previous, on the Heath years,
State of Emergency.. Apparently his White Heat (Wilson late sixities)
and Never Had It So Good (Macmillan, early sixties) go right back to
Suez Crisis but I guess they won't seem so horrifying and hilariously
familiar as this one

*Though the excerpts from classic tv like Rising Damp, Fawlty Towers and Dr Who are generally funnier this is my favourite : 

In the chapter talking about Europe Sandbrook mentions the obsession with WW2 in British 1970s sitcoms..

In Are You Being Served? Mrs Slocombe complains about the German Air Force during The War... 
that a bomb from a German plane blew her off her feet..
Mr Lucas responds ironically that all the other times she ended up on her back it was because of the US Air Force

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead - Thatcher Oz Irony

Posted to Conservative Home 3 days ago

I have had three conversations over the last year with otherwise politically neutral friends of mine who were spitting with rage having just seen the hagiography that was 'The Iron Lady' starring Meryl Streep. I would say that movie, the nauseating American reaction, the boxed set advertised on this page and the current gushing media coverage all contribute to a real feeling of resurgent emotion on this subject. People are seeing the history of the UK being re-written by supporters of Ronald Reagan and they will vent until their views are noticed. 


In an interesting wrinkle to the entire story, E.Y. Harburg, who wrote the lyrics to "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead," is best known for the songs "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," which became a theme of sorts for the downtrodden of the Great Depression in the 1930s and "Over the Rainbow" which many people consider one of the greatest popular songs ever written. Harburg himself was blacklisted in the 1950s for left wing political sympathies. Although he passed away in 1981, E.Y. Harburg most assuredly would have been an opponent of Margaret Thatcher's political policies. In a statement released to the New York Times, Ernie Harburg, the songwriter's son, also pointed out the role of humor in the overall controversy:

"Yip Harburg, lyricist of The Wizard of Oz film, would have been amused that 'Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead' rose to the top of the charts when Margaret Thatcher died. W. S. Gilbert and George Bernard Shaw taught Yip Harburg, democratic socialist, sworn challenger of all tyranny against the people, that 'humor is an act of courage and dissent.'"

BTW, Sam Raimi's OZ The Great and Powerful is a big disappointment but it does give me an excuse to end a grim story on a positive note and put up a pick of Mila Kunis ...who almost saves the movie
More on this subject

Monday, 8 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher - what can I say?

The recent series of Battlestar Galactica starts with a two part pilot
episode showing the nuclear destruction of the urban heart of
humanity at the hands of a heartless machine race. As the
survivors escape onto a few scattered spaceships one of the most
shocking details is the Education Secretary, attempting to
communicate with her government from Air Force One and discovering
she IS the government. One moment she is aspiring politician Laura Roslin
 (played brilliantly throughout the series by Mary McDonnell), the next she
stands stunned as she is sworn in as President.

There is a number of ways I could tie this into the Thatcher phenomenon,  not least of which would be the ambush of unsuspecting humanity by a heartless machine race etc etc etc but maybe the most amazing story is how Thatcher came to power in the first place. As  detailed in Seasons in the Sun: the Battle for Britain, 1974–1979 by Dominic Sandbrook (review will follow) the incredible rise through the ranks to win the Tory leadership election in 1975 must be one of the most momentous sequences of connected events in political history. It took her direct political mentor, Keith Joseph, to make a terrible gaff, another rival on the right, Edward Du Cann to suddenly retire (giving her campaign the brilliant leadership of Airey Neave) and the leader of the party Edward Heath to make a series of crazy mistakes for the Tories to suddenly wake up with a female leader in 1975. Had she been a serious candidate at the start of the campaign she would have been laughed out of the race, or crushed, but her slow emergence from the back to win really looks like it was always meant to happen.

Other things to note -

I will not speak ill of the dead. I admired her conviction and I am
glad she suffers no more. Others I am sure will feel differently.
Foreign readers needing an illustration of this may like to look into
the moment in Spice Girls history when Ginger Spice hailed cute old
Mrs T as "The First Spice Girl", and Sporty and Scary (from Liverpool and
Leeds respectively) nearly walked out on the group.The recent
movie, The Iron Lady, a historical biopic brought to you by the team
from Mama Mia, really provoked levels of anti-Thatcher loathing in
friends of mine that I thought had long gone. Will be interesting to
see if there is any backlash to the current media attention in a few

The first cheque for North Sea Oil revenues landed on the desk of the
PM the day Mrs Thatcher entered office. Without those oil revenues to
pay for police and two-three generations of benefit claimants (people
that used to work in the industries closed down by Thatcherism) the
UK would quite possibly be a failed state right now. Foreign readers
may like to refer to what I think will be the definitive record of
life in Britain, for the average Britain, during the Thatcher years,
Alan Bleasdale's magnificent BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF, which
was riveting viewing for me even when the only thing I would watch was
the escapism of scifi and fantasy.
Yosser Hughes - a monument to Thatcherism less well known to the rest of the world
A couple of years ago I got into a blazing row with an Iranian, a
Spaniard and a Slovakian (all pretty hot ladies BTW) about the
Falklands War in a London pub. (It says a lot about the multinational
nature of London that I had no help from the rest of the pub). My
argument was that the fate of three thousand people living on a rock
in the South Atlantic, or even the opinions of flag waving
Argentinians means little compared to the millions world wide now
living in poverty because of the industrial slash/burn and
deregulation started by Thatcher and then Reagan, which might not have
happened if a idiot Argentine general had not decided to rescue Thatchers
career by invading the Falklands (ranted at some length here). Mrs
Thatcher was in 1981 the most unpopular PM in British
history and heading toward electoral defeat.

Quite possibly Argentina would still be run by a brutal junta, and
Britain would still be run by a chaotic mess of self interested Union
barons, but I'm willing to bet the average person, in their possibly
shakey country, would be better off now without 30-40 years of
worldwide Thatcherism/Reaganomics.

I am a terrible leftie but am also very anti-union. One thing we must
be grateful for is that Thatcher was stubborn enough to stand up to
the 'power' of the British unions when every other politician was
bending over to accommodate them. That's 'power' in quotes by the way,
as we now know that power was totally illusory and the supposed Union
'leaders' had little control over the thousands of local tin pot
Hitlers regularly bringing the country to a standstill with wildcat
strikes. A great Channel 4 documentary about the Winter of Discontent
asked one of the ex-shop stewards what he thought of his eventual
legacy - decades of Thatcherism via the Tories and New Labour- and
even after 30 years on the dole he was still sickeningly pleased with

Seasons In The Sun is generally quite a Tory view of politics 1974-79
but the author is surprisingly even handed when talking about the
Unions at the time. In a fascinating aside in the book on British
industrial relations vs very successful German industrial relations,
Helmut Schmidt, the leader of then-booming Germany, visits Britain in
1975 and describes the behaviour of British unions as actually Right
Wing rather than Left Wing, as they perpetually looked to further
their own interests at the expense of the rest of society. Looked at
it like that the Unions and the supporters of Mrs Thatcher actually
had a great deal in common.

The opinion of film maker Ken Loach

"How should we honour her? Let’s privatise her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It’s what she would have wanted."

Monday, 1 April 2013

Happy Easter from the British Kaiju

more gems found on wikipedia, in anticipation of Guillermo del Toro's
Pacific Rim and the new Godzilla.

I present the wiki page for the forgotten British Kaiju movie - Gorgo

"Gorgo is a 1961 British Giant monster movie. It is generally accepted
as an honourary kaiju movie. Directed by Eugène Lourié, it tells the
story of an underwater monster's capture off the coast of Ireland. The
monster is taken to London to be featured as a circus attraction...."

"The film was originally set to take place in Japan; this was then
changed to France, and then finally changed to the UK. According to
Bill Warren's film book Keep Watching the Skies, Australia was also
considered for a locale, but the producers supposedly decided that
audiences "wouldn't care" if a monster attacked Australia; "