MEDiA: Saxondale

Watching this terrific little series again. What fun! as Miranda’s mum liked to say. Saxondale really tickles my funny-bone. And laughter is great medicine when you’re wrestling with a St. Bernard’s sized black-eyed dog.

The ageing quite clever and quite articulate ex-roadie turned pest controller is a great creation. Struggling with anger issues, and having to deal with the excruciating Vicky (Morwena Banks) to get jobs.

He encounters a Top Gear presenter, his ex-roadie pal Deggsy, animal rights protestors who object to his pest control methods, and a plethora of other characters, from the occasional appearances of hapless shopping centre-salesmen (Tim Key), to regulars, like Vicky, Raymond, his girlfriend, Magz, and his anger management counsellor, Alistair (James Bachman).

Vicky, Raymond, and Tommy.

In a similar yet different way to Coogan’s sublime Alan Partridge, the whole attention to detail thing with Saxondale’s music-obsessed character is a real pleasure for those who, like me, share similar interests.

And, again, as with Partridge, we love him as much for his myriad foibles and failings, as for his ‘good qualities’ – be they his ‘Stang, ready wit, or ‘classic rock’ schtick – all the while squirming in embarrassment when he goes off on another misplaced tanned-genital rant.

The scenes with his daughter and her beau are great, as Saxondale battles with his responses – whether natural or conditioned – and piles mistaken assumptions on top of angry prejudices. And all the while Focus or Tull, and similar ‘70s sounds, pump up the irony of the disparity between an ageing rocker’s dreams and visions of himself, and the humdrum reality.

Vicky, perma-tanned denizen of a Stevenage industrial estate.

The rapport with Vicky, via whom he gets his pest control jobs, is truly and deeply and excruciatingly excellent. Indeed, all the relationships are really well observed, teetering between very broad humour, and finely nuanced observation.

There are just so many moments that resonate: the comfy old slippers, the lines of coke with Deggsy whilst lamenting the follies of the world, the inadvertent self-harm at the gym (and the hilarious drive home after), and the struggles with ageing.

These latter range from Saxondale’s quirky facial tics and odd snuffling noises, to his inability to hoist himself into a loft (as his young assistant Raymond does), the glasses scene with hooker, the need for Viagra, and limitations on sexual positions due to a body that’s gradually wearing out.

Another dimension to all this, besides the 70s rock thread, is the general cultural milieu, with Tommy quoting Zulu, and frequently harping on about everything from Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Barnes Wallis. A set of … eugh! tropes (spits and washes mouth out) that fit a certain demographic, to which I belong, like Cinders’ glass slippers.

It’s humour that cuts pretty close to the bone, for some of us viewers. And, I think, is all the funnier for it.

Tommy smoking a dolphin bong. Brilliant!
A fab scene from Tommy’s anger management group.
Several fab scenes from Tommy’s anger management group.

I love the scenes at the anger management group that Tommy attends, at the local library. His humour and sarcasm are tragicomic, and, as with much comedy (also very much so with Partridge) he says out loud what many might think, but either then think better of, or at least choose not to say out loud.

Teresa isn’t so keen. ‘It’s a boy’s thing’, she says. And maybe she’s right? Still, I love it!

FiLM REViEW: Little Shop of Horrors, 1986

I’m not a big fan of musicals. But this one is bonkers. Based on a film made by Roger Corman, which in turn was made into a musical, and directed by Muppeteer Frank Oz, it’s truly gonzo.

Audrey II is an amazing piece of work (requiring a team of twenty-two puppeteers!), voiced wonderfully by head honcho of The Four Tops, Levi Stubbs.

Levi Stubbs, bottom left.
Audrey II menaces his namesake, Audrey.

And not only is Audrey II a mighty (pre-CGI) achievement, so too is the entire Skid Row set, which was constructed as an indoor studio environment, at Pinewood Studios, in England.

There are some terrific cameos. My favourites being Steve Martin’s sadistic rockabilly biker dentist, Orin Scrivello (DDS!), addicted to laughing gas, and his Planes Trains & Automobiles co-star, John Candy, as manic DJ ‘Weird’ Wink Wilkinson.

Steve Martin as Orin Scrivello, DDS.

The movie was produced by music mogul David Geffen, subject of Joni Mitchell’s terrific song Free Man Paris.

A bonkers thing, and one of the few musicals I can bear – though enduring the ‘numbers’ is an issue – to watch all the way through.

FiLM REViEW: Planes, Trains & Automobiles, 1987

Of course I’ve seen this movie before. It’s one of those they put on every Xmas. But you can really see why. It’s a lovely film. Schmaltzy? Hell, yes!

The moment the odd couple first meet.

Steve Martin is city slicker ad exec Neal Page, who winds up sharing an adventurous road trip with larger than life curtain-ring salesman Del Griffith, played by John Candy. Director John Hughes is very good at this sort of thing. And Martin and Candy are perfect in their roles.

Travelling by bus…

Themes that it touches upon are friendship, family, and coping with adversity. What relation it has to any form of reality, who knows? But it’s a pitch-perfect Holiday Season movie, a Hollywood dream-machine confection par excellence.

Funny, moving, it’s a real pleasure to watch.

MEDiA: The Titfield Thunderbolt, 1953

What a strange film! More by modern standards than those of the day. Filmed in glorious Technicolor – it was the first Ealing comedy filmed in the new format – it’s a picture postcard fantasy of a certain time in and idea of England.

In essence it’s s comedy about the beginnings of ‘heritage’ railways; as the state withdrew from steam locomotion, the public stepped in. Apparently it’s even based on a real Welsh example, which was allegedly the very first such heritage line. It’s noteworthy that this is a whole decade before the infamous Beeching axe would fall.

Stanley Holloway as Walter Valentine.

Visually it’s beautiful, a celluloid time-capsule. And it’s also quite sweet in how it portrays the era. There’s a just post-WWII ‘Blitz spirit’, as when the passengers of the train all pitch in to get water, after the dastardly bus crew get Harry Hawkins (Sid James) to sabotage the water supply.

There are some thumping great ironies in there, as well, as witness, for example, when there’s a joke about how, if the railway makes too much profit, they’ll be nationalised! Modern history has demonstrated, over and over again, especially under Toryism, that losses are usually passed on to the public purse, whilst profit is privatised.

The Vicar and the drunk, crewing the train.

And then there also all sorts of moments, for example at the public meeting, when Squire Chesterford (John Gregson) makes the case for the railway, as opposed to bus/road developments, on the basis of how it’ll change the nature of Titfield. He mentions old country lanes getting tarmac’ed and houses being numbered, not named.

Of course the trains themselves were at one time the harbingers of modern doom. But now they are – and evidently even back in ‘53 they were – the stuff of ‘olde England’! And there are many other little interesting insights into certain visions of how life was then (the squire and the poacher!), progress, and what makes for the ideal life.

Lovely old Bedford bus.

One of the things I like most about this film is the saturated slightly gaudy colour, AKA Technicolor. It’s very like the intense colouring of some design and illustration of that era. And so many things, from clothes, to furniture to cars, trucks, etc, are so much more aesthetically pleasing than so much modern mass-produced tat.

For example, the old Bedford OG bus, of the villainous rivals of the loco’ lovers, Pearce & Crump, is gorgeous. And I absolutely adore the upholstery fabric inside the bus:

Dig that old fabric!

It has to be admitted I was only half watching the film, whilst Teresa and I played our Sunday afternoon Scrabble game, in between World Cup match viewing. I really ought to watch it again and give it my full attention.

But it seems to me good solid old-fashioned period ‘50s fun. I’d definitely recommend it.

MEDiA: Hallowe’en – Taste The Blood of Dracula, 1969

It is All Hallow’s Eve. Teresa decreed that we have pumpkin soup, followed by pasta and a Hammer movie, and rounded off wi’ pumpkin pie. Fab! So it is we settled down to a rich repast, and Taste The Blood Of Dracula!

Three and a half stars is actually quite a high Hammy House of Horrors score, from me. Whilst there’s definitely something I love about the whole über-kitsch vibe of their films, they are at the same time pretty trashy and low budget. But I guess these ‘faults’ are also part of their charms?

The settings are sometimes quite good, and this is such a one, with some decently spooky, or even just plain atmospheric, locations. The combo’ of ye aulde togs (clashing with the late ‘60s barnets!), period paraphernalia – from gas lamps to pony and trap – and a decidedly autumnal vibe (wood’s carpeted with golden brown leaves), all conspire to give the film aesthetic heft.

The acting is very mixed, ranging from the high camp overblown melodrama of Ralph Bates, in the role of Lord Courtley (and not forgetting some lesser but similarly sliced ham from Roy Kinnear, at the films’ outset), to surprisingly decent turns from Anthony Higgins (billed as Anthony Corlan) and Linda Hayden, as the vamp’-crossed lovers, Paul Paxton and Alice Hargood. Christopher Lee has, perhaps surprisingly, a fairly minor part as the titular Dracula; his antics had Teresa chortling merrily several times!

Courtley and his acolytes summon Satan!

The daft plot finds a trio of hypocritical Victorian gents in search of illicit thrills. Their chief is the appallingly odious William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), abetted by the moustachioed Jonathon Secker (John Carson), and the hapless hanger on Samuel Paxton (Peter ‘Cleggy/Wallace’ Sallis).

A chance encounter in an East End brothel leads them to take up with the arrogant rake, Lord Courtley. A Hellfire Club type chap, who persuades them to sell their souls to the Devil, but then loses them at the very moment that gives the film its catchy title. It’s quite deliciously rifikvukits… erm… ridiculous!

Inevitably there must be hot babe interest. And this is supplied by the ‘kids’ of these hypocritical Victorian Pater Famili-asses, who are involved with each others families’ siblings. Linda Hayden n particular really is enchantingly gorgeous, in a softly and plumply innocent way!

A true Hammer babe!

Like most Hammer movies, the plot really isn’t worthy of the energy required to synopsise it. It is a quintessential ’McGuffin’, a term Hitchcock created to describe an irrelevant plot-driving conceit. All that’s required are the ingredients for a devilish bouillabaisse: antique settings, some darkly supernatural baloney, earnest heroes, evil villains, and buxom wenches, and some ketchup or jam, in vivid but not very blood-like red.

It proved to be perfect viewing for the evening. Mildly diverting, with just the right atmos’, and even providing the occasional chuckle.

Must check out Vampire Lovers!

All the cleavage and heaving bosoms got my thinking about the Hammer Glamour book, and similar titles dedicated to the groovily painted posters. Some ideas for stuff to decorate the home with, perchance!?

MEDiA: Hong Kong Phooey, 1974

A sudden wave of nostalgia swept over me, recently, in the guise of the theme song from Hanna Barbera’s Hong Kong Phooey theme song.

Recently, well, today, to be precise, we watched almost all of the episodes whilst child-minding for my sister. I actually dozed off for a considerable portion. And then I had to help cook the evening meal. So I didn’t actually see as much as I’d hoped to.

Now, back home, I’m watching from the start again. And it’s really silly! Not amazing, but just kind of fun, especially as a dose of nostalgia.

Scatman Crothers.-

Scatman Crothers’ voice is perfect for Phooey, somehow approximating in vibe to his half-closed eyes when in Penry mode: mellow, relaxed, and winningly self-confident, despite his hopeless incompetence. Blissfully unaware that his triumphs are all accidental, or brought about by Spot, the cat, or other helpful characters.

Penry and Spot.
The hapless Sgt Flint, centre.

Sgt Flint is endearing, as a gruff, dim and bear-like flat footed-copper. And Rosemary? I loved Rosemary way back when. And I find I still love her now! ‘Your lovable lady fuzz’!? Delicious!

Switchboard sweetheart, Rosemary.

The stories are ridiculous. Never was a ‘McGuffin’ less relevant to the enjoyment of a show! It’s all just an excuse to have Phooey (and frequently Spot) goofing about in crazy situations. The charmingly doofus Phooey, with his correspondence course book of Kung Fu up his sleeve, is undoubtedly where the charm lays.

For a cartoon with such a short run, it seemed to hit some kind of nerve, such that it’s remained on screens ever since it was made, way back in ‘74. And I find, that whilst I’m now far older, I still have a soft-spot for this mild mannered janitor/superhero, and his sidekicks, Spot, Flint, and very definitely, Rosemary!

FiLM REViEW: Coalminer’s Daughter, 1980 / Loretta Lynn, RIP.

I found out, via a pal’s FB post, that Loretta Lynn died today. I’m not a big country music fan, but I did enjoy the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter. And Loretta’s sister, Crystal Gale, recorded One From The Heart, with Tom Waits, which is a sublime album.

So, in memory of Loretta, here’s my review of Coal Miner’s Daughter (originally posted to Amazon UK, some years ago):

Exactly how near the true facts of the Loretta Lynn story this is, I don’t know. For all that some difficult moments are depicted, I suspect it’s still a somewhat sanitised version. But, gol’darn’ it, it makes for a very entertaining and moving viewing experience.

Sissy Spacek is excellent in the lead role – both she and Beverly D’Angelo, who plays Patsy Cline, sing their songs (an album was released alongside the film) – and Tommy Lee Jones, despite shockingly dyed red hair, acquits himself well as her man, known variously as ‘Mooney’ (from a stint running ‘moonshine’), and ‘Doo’, short for Doolittle. Recently deceased drummer for The Band, Levon Helm, plays Lynn’s titular coal-mining father. ‘Ted’.

The real Loretta, plus ‘Doo’ and kids.

Director Michael Apted handles the whole film very well, evoking an America that one suspects is nearly vanished. At one point in the film they receive several telephone message by the means of a neighbour, who has a ‘phone, hollerin’ the news at them from his nearby property. How real all the hillbilly shacks, honky-tonks, pie-auctions, dungarees and dancing, the “coalminin’, moonshinin’ or movin’ on down the line” really are, is hard for me to estimate. But it paints a very evocative and charming picture.

I got to this via Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle, Gayle being Lynn’s sister (the Waits/Gayle collaboration for Coppola’s One From The Heart being an instance of a pretty duff movie paired with a beyond-words-brilliant OST), and the Levon Helm connection.

Even after watching this and loving it, I’m not sure I’ll be getting into Lynn’s music too deeply. But that just shows that this Country & Western star biopic has an appeal beyond Lynn’s fan base. As told here, hers is both an interesting and at times very moving story.

FiLM REViEW: Danger Close, The Battle of Long Tan, 2019

Wow! I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed this Australian ‘Nam movie. They say ‘war is Hell’, and it sure is in this particular story.

Based on real events, of 18 August, 1966, during which an Australian force comes under heavy attack from a much North Vietnamese contingent. Rather like certain British military events, such as Dunkirk and The Charge of the Light Brigade, and albeit on a smaller scale, it seeks to wring victory and heroism from botched or incompetent actions (so it’s also akin, in that respect, to We Were Soldiers).

American films about ‘the ‘Nam’ are both very plentiful and very familiar to us, here in the UK. Australian films on the same war? Much much less so. To the degree that this might be the only one that I’m aware of (Attack Force Z, what was that all about?*).

11 Platoon, pinned down in the woods.

It being Australian, I didn’t recognise many of the cast. I think a couple of faces were recognisable from Hacksaw Ridge? But even the ‘big name star’, Travis Fimmel, was not familiar to me. That’s actually kind of refreshing. One isn’t sidetracked by the ‘star factor’.

But, truth be told, that this is an Aussie take on the Viet Nam war was just about the only surprising thing about it. In most other respects it ticked a lot of the genre boxes:

The commander, Brigadier David Jackson (Richard Roxburgh), at the top of the chain, struggles to assert his authority, and is a bit disconnected from his grunts on the ground. Major Harry Smith (Fimmel) is a hard-ass, who eventually earns his men’s love and respect. There are slo-mo explosions and blood splatters aplenty, and last minute relief arrives just as the seemingly never ending tides of the enemy are about to engulf ‘our heroes’.

Fimmel as Major Harry Smith.

And there are lots more clichés from the Big Book of How To Shoot Viet Nam War Movies, 101. But I don’t mind that in the least. I found it engaging enough, and believable enough. Despite it belonging, ultimately, to a lineage that goes back to the ol’ Cowboys vs Injuns formulae of Hollywood.

After the barrage of Royal Funeral TV propaganda we were subjected to today, a chest-thumping, grim and bloody war movie was exactly what I needed!


Whilst looking for images from the film I found this rather interesting piece by an ANZAC veteran who says he fought and was wounded in Viet Nam. He rates the movie highly, for depicting the ANZAC role in Viet Nam at all, but laments what he views as historical inaccuracies.

Director Kriv Stenders, Fimmel, and crew, on set during filming.

NB – The above photo comes from a series taken by veteran photographer Tim Page, who covered the actual conflict, and shot some very compelling black and white images of the film production on the very same 1965 Leica M2 he used to photograph the real war!

* I checked, Z is a WWII movie. But, what with links to Hacksaw Ridge, We Were Soldiers and, even if mistakenly, Attack Force Z, Mel Gibson’s shadow hangs over this post!


Watched this during another insomniac wee small hours spell. A spoof documentary, or, as they call ‘em now, a mockumentary, FUBAR follows a film-maker, Farrel Mitchner (Gordon Skilling) who is himself following two white-trash stoner headbangers, Terry and Dean.

Set in suburban Alberta, Canada, it takes a while to get used to, and was filmed on a Canon XL1, giving it a very lo-fi verité flavour. With a core cast and no script, the movie was largely improvised, some scenes involving ‘John Q Public’, unaware it was actually a work of fiction. Apparently the fist-fighters, for example, were genuine.

Terry (Dave Lawrence, who made the film) and Dean (Paul Spence) are two young long-haired rocker slobs. Continually shotgunning beers, smoking (fags or weed), and living on diets of appalling junk food. They’re dumb, foul-mouthed and pretty nihilistic.

At first I found myself thinking, what’s the point of this wallowing in the kind of hippy dream turned sour that has created zombie hordes across the US, and – this is set in Canada – North (and no doubt also South) America?

Dean and Terry.

It was horrifyingly salutory to see how large a part of the MAGA/Trumpite crowds of Jan 6th were longhaired losers looking very like the two chief protagonists of this film. But there’s also everyone else; the lads’ families, partners, friends, co-workers/employers, etc. And Farrel and his documentary crew.

All these others, inc Troy/Tron, a former party animal gone ‘square’, are the ‘straight’ world. Dean’s mom [sic!] recites a poem, ‘Woman Is A Danger Cat’, by her son, whilst he plays his sensitive acoustic ballad ‘Rock & Roll Is My Guitar’. Terry’s employer (or is it Dean’s? I forget!) corrects his delusional embellishments on his professional responsibilities. And Troy’s partner tells it like it is, regarding women and their effects on slacker slobs!

In some ways this film, as awful as it is in many ways, has a resonance for me, in that I lived for a while a life a little bit like theirs. The ubiquity of ‘cuss-words’, the aimless boozing and smoking, and the ‘us against the straight world’, were all part of my early twenties hippy-dream-gone-sour interlude.

But whilst we were naive, we were never so moronically dumb, nor so grotesquely ignorant and hypocritical. These dolts love to trash stuff, leaving a trail of litter in their wake (‘the park ranger’s’ll clear it up’). This particular brand of white trash rocker types seem peculiarly American (or Canadian; I have Canadian ancestry*) in their boorishness. From their ‘hockey mullet’ hairdos (very obviously wigs!) to their mix of heavy metal and ‘sportswear’ clobber.

* My grandfather and one of my uncles were Canadians. I still have relatives over there.

Hangin’ out on the stoop…

But, not unexpectedly, several threads are introduced to being a bit more depth. First we learn Dean has testicular cancer. And is kind of in denial. And second, the interactions between Farrel and his crew and their subjects lead to… well, we’ll get to that.

The whole cancer thread is, kind of ironically and paradoxically, the saviour of this movie, which otherwise might’ve been a pointless exercise in Ali-G’esque social satire. In the end it’s awkwardly straight Farrel whose reaction to Dean’s medical emergency catalyses the catatonic headbanger into taking appropriate action, with some chiding from his ex, Trixie.

Farrel starts out mostly off camera, but gradually becomes a more and more key character, until… blam! He’s gone. I won’t say more, not wanting to spoil it too much for those who haven’t seen this. But everything around this crucial episode is very well done, and, like the revelation re Dean’s monster nut, it elevates an otherwise mundane movie, bringing pathos and a degree of subtler human observation that’s actually both well observed and quite moving.

The film was a success at Sundance, and has spawned a sequel, Fubar II, a TV series, and some sort of online offshoots. So it’s done well for a super low budget indie affair (financed by a maxed out credit card and a parental re-mortgage; phew… that could’ve ended very badly!).

Dude’s got style…

It’s very sad to say this, but the film’s low key trashiness, and the imbecilic Everyman types it portrays, make it perfect for the efflorescence of serf-culture that’s been so assiduously cultivated by the evil machinations of recent populist governments – Trump in the US, BoJo in the UK – in the so called developed Western world.

I genuinely didn’t know which way it’d go at the end. And it was nice the way it did turn out. But maybe that’ll be the aspect that makes it so very much a work of fiction? And perhaps the rise of the kind of cultures it documents in the real world won’t turn out to have such a happy ending?

Far from essential or classic, nonetheless, not too shabby. And, whilst I’m not sure I’d say ‘worth watching’, it wasn’t a total waste of time.

Like, wig city, man!