Friday, November 30, 2012

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As close to a Murakami memoir as we're likely to receive for quite some time.

I'm not making any secret of it, I am two weeks shy of my 30th birthday (original text written previously, obviously because I just wrote my brithday blogpost) and my health and fitness levels have been at all time lows in the past twelve months. I think back to when I was a younger man and wonder about the transition from athletic boy to lazy teen to lethargic man and I hardly recognise myself. This was something I couldn't stand the thought of, egged on by the distinct possibility of groaning from exertion whenever I lifted a book in the future I have been steadily working on my fitness for the past month with the aid of the C25K (couch to 5km) running program.

One of my least favourite things about exercise is the clothes that people wear, lycra seems far too popular and offensive to my eyes and don't get me started on those shoes they sell these days. It's virtually impossible to get an ordinary white pair of runners these days. Everything comes in neon with padding here, cushioning there, auto corrective-this and anti-that to the point that you may as well not run because the shoe is doing all of the work. I decided that if I was going to exercise I was going to do it on my own terms and be myself not another neon lycra clad automaton and so I came up with a simple outfit that reflects my semi-hipster nature and got in to some serious shoe research on the internet.
My Nike Pre Montreal Racers: No gimmicks, just running

Hands up who knows about Steve Prefontaine? I didn't, beyond the fact that Hollywood made TWO biopics of him in quick succession (played by Jared Leto and Billy Crudup) and that he was supposed to be good at running. Turns out Prefontaine is credited with some sort of boom in running back in the 70s and Nike designed a shoe for his Montreal Olympics run (SPOILER ALERT which he never made it to because he died in a car accident at the age of 24,) he also sported a mean moustache which despite my best hipster intentions I could never match.

My thoughts; if they were good enough for a running legend like Prefontaine back before technology became so prevalent then dammit they are good enough for me. I must say I love them, if they weren't so blue I'd probably try to find a way to wear them everywhere I go.

The idea behind learning to run without all the advanced technology is for my body to be able to cope with the physical act in any circumstances, what use is it getting fit if you have to run for the bus in your work shoes or worse than that, need to outrun some sort of mugger on a murder death kill rampage and can't because you can only run in super cushioned air bubble shoes? It's going well so far, but remember people it's not about the shoes, it's a state of mind.
Day 1: One is not enthused

Haruki Murakami is one of those authors who has managed to capture my imagination with his prose from the very first time I opened one of his novels. Dance Dance Dance is a benchmark for the kind of literature I wish I could write and I dream of somehow capturing the ennui of 21st century life that he seems to describe with ease in every script I ever conceive. This book, originally bought to encourage Leah in her running pursuits, seemed like the perfect match for where I currently am in my life. I wasn't disappointed.

He discusses the way he approaches his runs, why he does it, the way they make him feel and the comparison to writing novels. He doesn't offer tips, this isn't a training log, it's just a document of his thoughts on his career as a running writer and dealing with getting older. Having gotten to the stage of running 5km without too much pain in my out of practice limbs I am starting to feel good about it, with the gently encouraging and optimistic words of Mr Murakami I am feeling even more positive. He makes me want to keep running, to increase my distances, to run marathons. Hell, even being 10 days in to NaNoWriMo without having written a word I even feel positive about my writing abilities. He writes about the ordinary and everyday things with an eye and a voice that is unmatched in contemporary literature and this is reflected in his outlook on his own life.

Whilst this slight collection of writings will primarily appeal to runners, to a lesser extent writers, there is a beauty in his approach to life that will fascinate the casual reader of non-fiction work.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mixtapery: Like What? (2011)

In preparation for my end of year review posts I have discovered that my previous means of uploading my mixtapes/playlists have become a little outmoded. Three years of not sharing digitally will have that effect I suppose. So this first mixtape post is both an experiment and a preview of what's to come if all goes well.

I have a penchant for making mixtapes for my friends that dates back to actual cassette tapes, I'm sure my evolution to cd's and mp3 playlists is similar to a lot of people so I'm not making a massive hipster deal out of this fact. In general I made 3 or 4 a year at my peak and finished with an end of year "best of" for Christmas presents. Like What? was the most recent instalment of this practice, finished back in December 2011 and actually represents the last time I could be bothered to put something together. I was so lazy I didn't even make a real piece of artwork for it. Instead I provide you with this:

Looking at what I have started to put together for the 2012 edition and comparing it to this one, the similarities stand out as quite an indictment of how lazy in finding new music I have become in the past 12 months.

So what new things have I tried with this digital experiment? I have uploaded a complete zip folder of all 16 tracks if you feel like getting your hands on 95mb of music. I signed up to f**eb**k with a fake account so I could access Spotify and created a playlist too. It should be embedded below if things have gone smoothly and underneath is a link to the playlist within Spotify if you prefer. I have noticed however that one track is not available through Spotify, blame the label/band for being shortsighted.

I'd love some feedback on the modes of sharing as well as the mixtape itself, suggestions for other methods of sharing that might work for future mixtapes and of course feel free to share your own mixtapes with me, plus anything else that comes to mind too.

Full tracklisting:
1. Burying Davy by The Decemberists
2. Home Is A Fire by Death Cab For Cutie
3. Septemberism by Man Overboard
4. Santiago by The Kabeedies
5. Our Perfect Disease by The Wombats
6. Violence by Pegasus Bridge
7. Freud Links The Teeth And The Heart by Tellison
8. Songs About Your Girlfriend by Los Campesinos!
9. Simple Math by Manchester Orchestra
10. I'm Not Made Of Eyes by General Fiasco
11. Do You Want Me (Dead?) by All Time Low
12. It Doesn't Feel A Thing Like Falling by Taking Back Sunday
13. 200x by Johnny Foreigner
14. Since You've Been Gone (My Heart Swells) by Elephants
15. Let's Kill Tonight by Panic! At The Disco
16. I Can Show You by Tim & Jean

Like What? (2011) at Spotify

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review: Piercing by Ryu Murakami (1994)

Piercing by Ryū Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb: In Piercing, Murakami, in his own unique style, explores themes of child abuse and what happens to the voiceless among us, weaving a disturbing, spare tale of two people who find each other and then are forced into hurting each other deeply because of the haunting specter of their own abuse as children. Piercing is set in Tokyo and follows Kawashima Masayuki trying to come to terms with his overwhelming desire to stab his infant child with an Ice Pick. He resolves to divert the impulse into an unsuspecting prostitute. However as he begins to execute his meticulous crime everything, including his past, begins to unravel.

Thoughts: This was a seriously dark read. I'm not sure if you can really call Piercing an enjoyable read in the traditional sense but as with my previous Ryu Murakami experience this trip in to the world of two damaged little fuckers was incredibly satisfying.
"Ten nights ago. He was in the bathtub with the baby, having just finished washing her. He handed her over to Yoko, who was waiting with a fluffy bath towel, and then he leaned back in the tub, leaving the pebbled-glass shower door partially open. Yoko was murmuring to the baby as she dried her, and he was aware of himself smiling at them. And then, with no prelude or warning, a thought came percolating up into his brain and he felt the muscles of his cheeks twitch and freeze.

'I wouldn’t ever stab that baby with an ice pick, would I?'
The content is at times quite disturbing in it's descriptions of physical torture but possibly even more disturbing is the empathy and compassion you find yourself feeling for these two people who are clearly not entirely sane. Whilst this literary descent in to a nightmare world has the potential to be gore-filled the prose is actually restrained, using it's language sparingly to convey maximum effect and grim imagery. This is horror but not as we ordinarily consider it.

The writing of The Other Murakami is something wonderful to immerse yourself in and so very impressive for that very reason. Any moment I had to stop reading I found myself constantly thinking about the characters and the situation they were in, almost desperate to go back to it and find out what would happen.
“In heated rooms, he often felt the outlines of his body, the border between him and the external world, grow disturbingly fuzzy.”
It's a nerve shredding, adrenaline rush of a novel that leaves you turning the page in eager anticipation and whilst I cannot recommend this for everyone because of the hard to swallow content I feel it is something that deserves to be read by anyone not easily offended.

World cinema fans will know what it is like to experience the dark imagination of Ryu Murakami already; he is the author of Audition, the novel that Takashi Miike adapted for his shocking and disturbing movie of the same name, and whilst Piercing is not at that same level it still packs a real punch on multiple levels. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to explore their literary boundaries and suggest following it up with the even more impressive In The Miso Soup.

Further Viewing Suggestions:
American Psycho
Lost Highway

Additional Reading:
In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
Out by Natsuo Kirino
Requiem For A Dream by Hubert Selby Jr.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Birthday Double Feature Movie Review: Looper (2012) & Lawless (2012)

As mentioned yesterday, it was my 30th birthday and for an extra special treat we went to see two of the movies from 2012 that I actually wanted to see as a double feature. Hopes were high and by now some of you have already been made aware of my disappointment, but for those who aren't here's my brief reviews.

Looper by Rian Johnson
3.5 out of 5 stars

Blurb: In the futuristic action thriller Looper, time travel will be invented - but it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they will send their target 30 years into the past, where a "looper" - a hired gun, like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) - is waiting to mop up. Joe is getting rich and life is good... until the day the mob decides to "close the loop," sending back Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) for assassination.

Thoughts: Unnecessary is the word that comes to mind the most when thinking about this film. So much of it feels stupid and lazy and that's without even considering the pathetic and generic tropey Emily Blunt.

But then when you consider this is probably Bruce Willis's best performance in at least ten years, JGL superb playing Bruce Willis (despite how creepy he looks), a scene with two of the finest young actors in Hollywood opposite each other (watching JGL and Paul Dano face off was easily my highlight,) Jeff Daniels who just gets better with age (if he doesn't win an Oscar before he retires it will be a crying shame and for a lack of decent scripts) AND a kid who makes Jodelle Ferland look normal, things kind of even out.

Emily Blunt needs to stop appearing in films. I desperately wanted somebody to shoot her in the face in one of the action scenes but SPOILER ALERT it doesn't happen. END SPOILER ALERT There are so many talented young actresses out there I'm sure so it is beyond me as to why this talentless woman still gets roles. It didn't help that her entire storyline seemed completely UNNECESSARY.

My man Simon had this to say: "Could have been two really good and different films. Instead it was a Frankenstein's monster that they forgot to fix legs on before animating," which seems quite perfect to me. That Total Film put their name to the "this decades The Matrix" quote says a lot about the kind of hyperbole expected of film magazines at the moment and I suggest everyone takes a deep breath before writing such untruthful nonsense in future.

I'm not saying this is a bad movie, it's just not as good as it thinks it is and the (surely) paid for reviews led us to believe. Rian Johnson has some great ideas, the sci-fi noir thriller angle he starts with would have been enough to make this a very good movie on its own for example and his imagining of a near future filled with near poverty and renewable energy sources retro fitted to current petrol burning cars was quite perfect but it loses its way in trying to be more complex than needed.

Lawless by John Hillcoat
3 out of 5 stars

Blurb: The mostly true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers: bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Virginia. In this epic gangster tale, inspired by true-life tales of author Matt Bondurant’s family in his novel "The Wettest County In The World", the loyalty of three brothers is put to the test against the backdrop of the nation’s most notorious crime wave.

Thoughts: With the team of Cave and Hillcoat it is inevitable that comparisons are made to The Proposition, their earlier Australian "western" which featured fantastic performances and beautiful direction, this is clearly detrimental to your enjoyment as Lawless fails to live up to their previous high standard despite some great performances.

Nick Cave writes by the numbers stories, sure he embellishes a little and adds a little poetry but in this case it's still predictable and filled with cliche. I think that despite it being his adaptation he shouldn't take all of the blame for the plot failures, the historical fiction novel it is adapted from was written by somebody who used his own family history and placed it in the patented prohibition gangster plot generator to give us many obvious plot points and a quite possibly unrealistically heroic portrait of the Bondurant Brothers.

John Hillcoat directs just fine and dandy, he makes his movies look beautiful with the help of his more than capable DoP but still when push comes to shove the film loses appeal because it's all so predictable from the opening scene.

Gary Oldman could have used a couple of minutes/hours more screen time and Tom Hardy was his usual high quality but the acting highlight naturally came from Guy "Shotgun Ed" Pearce. It's Pearce vs McConnaughey for actor of the year and I think Bongos will win for Killer Joe alone but Pearce really does push him close thanks to his performance as the effeminate yet psychotic US Marshall (or whatever he is) Charlie Rakes.

I've already been told I have issues from crazed Looper fans but feel free to jump on the bandwagon criticising me for my own personal opinions and tastes on movies in the comments below.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Something Something Something Darkside of 30

Hey guys! It's my birthday! Today I turned 30. It seems really old to me so I won't be talking about it much. Apologies to those of you already past this "landmark" year. Needless to say, I don't feel old so that's a bonus.

Things to share with you, I have written an essay slash overview of the Hard-boiled and Noir genres of fiction for Literary Exploration. Michael over there runs a great book club and fiction blog, he is always reading something different that you might not ordinarily have picked up yourself and if you're interested in that sort of thing you can't go wrong. My essay is divided in to four parts and part one is available to read now so just click on through.

My birthday movie is an exciting one this year. Luna Palace cinemas in Perth run a brilliant Monday Night Double Feature program and it just so happens that two of the movies I've been most looking forward to in the past few months are playing together tonight. Looper and Lawless, back to back! So excited, and I'll be around reading your reviews tomorrow no doubt, comparing our experiences.

I recently started a new job and it's been a little on the exhausting and time consuming side of things, so I am probably going to be entering another of my legendary spells of relative inactivity on the blog, before (hopefully) hitting it hard with the excellent Summer season of outdoor cinemas here in Perth. You haven't experienced a great movie until you've seen it outside.

Eat cake and merry my friends, I plan to.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Expendables UK Week - Top Fives: Ray Winstone Movies

Expendables UK week comes to a close with a close up on some true Brit Grit; the leader of the pack, the man the next generation of expendables aim to emulate, Ray Winstone is a lot more than just a nasty bastard.

Here's the blahblahblahgay pick of his top five movies.

1. Nil By Mouth (1997)

Loosely based on Gary Oldman's childhood experiences Nil By Mouth features Winstone as an abusive husband to Kathy Burke. This film uses the word cunt 82 times (apparently more than any other movie in cinema history) and is noted for using the word fuck over 400 times.

2. The War Zone (1999)

Previously mentioned in my Top 5 Tilda Swinton movies post, this was the directorial debut of Tim Roth and owes a lot of its power over the viewer to the performance of Ray Winstone as the head of the family.

3. The Proposition (2005)

 A superb Australian movie that more than deserves its place in the Blahblahblahgay Family DVD Guide Western chapter. Winstone plays Captain Stanley, a law officer intent on civilising Australia no matter the cost to himself or those he comes in contact with.

4. Sexy Beast (2000)

Playing opposite the Oscar nominated Ben Kingsley, Ray Winstone is Dove; a softly spoken retired safe-cracker cajoled in to one last job. Almost playing against type he is a ball of repressed emotions.

5. Scum (1979)

I'm the daddy now! The movie that started Ray Winstone on his path to become a legend amongst men. He plays Carlin, a young criminal who learns the only way to survive in young offenders institute is through violence.

OK that's me done for the week, got any favourite Ray Winstone movies you want to share? Do you dream of being Ray Winstone? How many times have you called somebody a fucking slag? Leave it all in the comments.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Expendables UK Week - British Gangster Fiction

Expendables UK week continues with a look at some of the great fiction that highlights the behaviour of the British underworld and their internal conflict between good and bad.

Two-Way SplitTwo-Way Split by Allan Guthrie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was beyond pleasantly surprised at just how bloody good this modern British noir was.

And I do mean bloody in multiple senses, Allan Guthrie pulls no punches in his incredible debut that owes as much to Derek Raymond as he does to James Ellroy. I was hooked from the start by his triple threaded narrative, centred around two days in the life of a convicted murderer working as a debt collector, three crazy armed robbers and the two (basically) amateur PI's that get involved in their lives, as a holdup of a post office goes wrong; reading at a furious pace as I tried to keep up with the full throttle, no time to breathe, narration. I spent the entire day at work itching to get home and finish it too.

The grim and dirty description of the working classes of Edinburgh was highly reminiscent of the depressing state of the London found in Raymond's He Died with His Eyes Open; the events depicted in this novel are not common place yet the scene is set so well that you unquestionably accept their reality in the world of Robin, Eddie & Pearce.

Much like the America portrayed in the work of Ellroy the characters feel like real people; conflicted, selfish, greedy, angry, liable to take unexpected actions in the face of danger and violence. I think there was only one truly good person in this book and they were killed right at the beginning. If you're not already anticipating a dark, unhappy piece of noir storytelling that fact should clinch it for you. Aside from not being a particularly nice bunch you're hard pressed to find a real protagonist too, in the sense of hero or anti-hero at least; there's no good guy, no black hat there's just Pearce a man who spent weeks sharpening a screwdriver to kill someone and Robin, an ex-mental patient who tried to rob a petrol station with a water pistol and thinks nothing of killing people. In the middle is thirty thousand pounds in a duffle bag.

Guthrie tips his head to the classics of the genre, his amateur PI Kennedy referencing his admiration for Hammett and Chandler et al several times throughout as his raison d'etre. One of only a few brief light moments in the text.

The conflict between Don and Robin (which I can't go in to without major spoilers) really detracted from the overall enjoyment for me and was the only real weak point that stopped me from awarding 5 stars. Whilst it was interesting and unexpected and quite an unusual twist (I felt like there was something similar in a classic noir novel but can't put my finger on which one I'm thinking of - another example of Guthries Golden Period schooling in the genre?) it didn't actually feel necessary and slowed the action down a little. Small thing to complain about overall from an otherwise massively enjoyable new discovery.

I'm going to put Guthrie alongside my other new favourite noir author Don Winslow (very high praise indeed) and desperately hope that his other work lives up to this superb debut.

Get CarterGet Carter by Ted Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tell him. Tell him, I'm f*cking coming!

Originally titled Jack's Return Home this 1970 novel from Ted Lewis is the story of Jack Carter and his return to Doncaster from London after the death of his estranged older brother. Jack is certain that it was murder and will have his vengeance in this life or the next.

Taking place between Thursday Night and Sunday morning there's no time to blink let alone breath as Carter tackles his problems at an unrelenting pace. Having as much in common with kitchen sink dramas such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning as violent revenge thrillers like The Hunter the bodies still manage to pile up by the final page thanks to Carter's no holds barred attitude.

Lewis really captured the time and place with his prose, the description of working class lifestyles in Britain in the 70s painted in true grim light and the attitudes are guaranteed to shock in this age of cotton wool and insane politcal correctness. Not that I'm advocating violence towards women, rape, murder and mayhem, underage pornography, bent cops, paki bashing or anything else that takes place during these three days but I think ignoring the fact that it actually used to happen and still does happen is even more absurd than those who perpetrate such things; there's no revelling in the gruesome details, this is the true bleak reality of it and Lewis makes it clear that it's not a glamourous life.

Carter is a fascinating mix of hard case hitman, hard boiled hero, cocky geezer, frightened boy; regret filled and growing old, a little bit of Alfie, a major influence on The Limey and if Guy Ritchie hadn't read it he at least saw the movie before making Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.

Incredibly this novel was the basis for three movie adaptations but I think it's fair to say that none of them captured the true essence of the book. Michael Caine may have come closest in 1971 but having seen it a couple of times I know for a fact it was toned down and several aspects changed despite my having forgotten the entire plot by the time it came to reading the book. Of the two American versions I would recommend the blaxploitation version Hit Man over the Stallone abomination every time.

Ted Lewis died at the horribly young age of 42 but wrote several more novels after this one, I think after the brilliant promise shown in this novel I will have to check out more of his work.

Brighton RockBrighton Rock by Graham Greene

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Greene's most famous work is a game of two halves

I think it might be fair to say that this one is only as famous as it is because of the excellent film noir starring the old man from Jurassic Park. That was a shocker for me I can tell you, Father Christmas as a stone cold killer. It's a fine book, an early entertainment with an obvious study of the effect of the Catholic church on man. But I was at the midway point when I realised that it was suddeny becoming less enjoyable to read. Greene starts to get bogged down in his dissection of dogme and loses his way. As Leah says, for an early work it's brilliant but he just hadn't developed his skills as far as needed to tell this story AND get his message across in an entertaining way.

Fred Hale, enemy of teen gangster Pinkie is in Brighton and scared for his life. Ida Arnold, brassy middle aged woman is out for a good time. The two meet and share a connection but before anything can come of it Pinkie and his gang have loosed Fred off this mortal coil. A decision of natural death is arrived at and Ida won't take this for an answer. An entertaining game of cat and mouse ensues as Ida starts to unravel the murder whilst Pinkie and his gang set out to remove the loose ends.

The opening half is a pure joy to read, I felt certain this was heading for a 5 star review. Ida Arnold gets a lot more game time in the novel than in the movie and she's a brilliant character despite her obvious nature as a caricature of the British working class woman. Her affection for all things esoteric plays off against the Roman Catholic position of Pinkie who firmly believes in the fire and brimstone of Hell but isn't sure somewhere as wonderful as Heaven exists. In some ways it's a tale of good vs evil and right vs wrong but thanks to Greene's skill (and most likely his own doubts about his Catholic faith) the lines blur, positions alter and nothing (as in the real world) is that clear cut.

The young girl Rose, who is a witness that Pinkie must take care of, is perhaps the most complex of all the characters floating around the dirty underbelly of gentile Brighton. Despite the repeated assertions of everyone else involved that she is an innocent simpleton she is a conflicted young girl who questions everything and yet sticks to her passions and decisions despite knowing she's wrong.

The shift point occurs as Ida is less involved in the story and Greene focuses more on Pinkie, it no longer works as a tale of wits, a mystery, a noir investgation but a study of morality and Pinkie's mind is not one you really want to see in to. He's one of those guys with one thought and one thought only.

I'm glad I've finally read this but it's not one I'll go back to. Although now I have read it I can happily criticise the abomination that was the recent movie adaptation with even greater confidence. What a complete waste of the great source material and the wonderful original movie. Shame on you Helen Mirren.

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Anyone read any really good books about British gangsters? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Expendables UK Week - Movie Review: The Sweeney (2012) Dir. Nick Love

Get your trousers on - you're nicked!

The Sweeney by Nick Love
3.5 out of 5 stars

Blurb: The Sweeney is an action-packed British police thriller from the director of Football Factory. Jack Regan (Ray Winstone), a hardened cop who doesn’t play by the rules, is confronted with a criminal from his past. With sidekick George Carter (Ben Drew aka Plan B) they are put on the case of a jewellery store heist that ends in a killing. But is that killing really an execution in disguise? With pressure from his boss and the fact that Regan is having an affair with that boss’s wife, it’s not going to be easy for him to stay out of trouble.

Thoughts: I don't think there is anyone as surprised as I am to discover that this is actually a pretty decent movie with some innovative direction from Nick Love.

First a little disclaimer if you will: The Sweeney is Ray Winstone playing his typical role but this time he's nine tenths good guy. Go in to this movie expecting people to be called "slags" at every opportunity, "cunts" every now and then and a fair amount of physical violence and you're on the right track. If this doesn't float your boat then really you may as well not bother.

I think I've seen a fair few of these movies over the years, enough to be able to spot a steaming pile of excrement or one of those really dull generic films that most recently have "starred" Tamar Hassan and I sort of expected the same from this remake of a classic British cop show from the 70s. Nick Love isn't exactly known for setting the world on fire with his attempts to expand his film making repertoire.

The Sweeney is essentially the British version of the Michael Chiklis run strike team in The Shield, a police force that bends the law and occasionally breaks it. Ray Winstone is a total badass in this role despite his age, and every time he calls someone a slag I was in movie heaven.

One thing that isn't mentioned is why they are called The Sweeney, the answer is cockney rhyming slang and requires you to know that they are The Flying Squad (confusingly they don't have planes, or even wings), that Sweeney Todd is the first generation slang for it and the derivation of The Sweeney will naturally follow in a pattern of speech designed to make things take longer to say but spoken by lazy people.

The film is a fast paced, adreneline ride as Winstone and his team investigate a bank robbery/murder and it is directed with some skill by Nick Love. He avoids the usual American cliches, even at times drawing attention to the fact that they are stupid - witness a car chase that involves one car trying to ram another and failing miserably - and he shoots London in a way that you rarely see in film. His London isn't dirty, cramped or full of cockney geezers. He shoots from the air, showing London in the same way as New York, beautiful and romantic. It was a real pleasure to see. Even his police station is bright and airy. Very cool.

This was very close to getting a much higher rating but sadly there were a few issues for me. The plot wasn't exactly innovative, the music was overdone and there's a shootout in Trafalgar Square that whilst cool to begin with (idiot criminals unable to shoot Uzis aside) it goes on for far too long and I stopped paying attention. It's a strange complaint to make I know, but the action sequences slowed down this "action" movie.

For what this movie is, it's pretty much everything you could want. It's not going to win awards but it's bloody great entertainment.

Ever been called a slag? Fan of the original show and dissatisfied with the lack of Inspector Morse in this? Leave some blah below.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Expendables UK Week - The British Gangster Movie in 10 Films

The British gangster movie has always been living in the shadows of American peers and recently you could even make a case for bigger, better movies coming from China and Japan but this hasn't stopped them. They're often more subtle in their approach towards underworld figures in Britain, they're not the type of people to laud Tony Montana or glorify the protection rackets of Triads, this is a Kingdom that appreciates the "honour amongst thieves" mantra, and didn't think that Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs should have had to serve time in prison when his loot ran out and healthy failed whilst exiled in Brazil after all. These guys are violent but their proud of their working class roots, they love their mums and they honour their Queen.

What I've tried to do is create a list of 10 key films (and several notables) from this genre in chronological order to track the development of British cinemas approach towards crime.

Brighton Rock (1947)

The most prominent example of early English crooks depicted in cinema, prior to this the Classification Board were very much against the portrayal of vice on screen. Richard Attenborough in his breakthrough role as teenaged gangster Pinkie, in this adaptation of the famous Graham Greene novel, is supremely menacing as he attempts to take control of criminal operations in Brighton.

Other notable films from this relatively fallow period include the Trevor Howard starring noir They Made Me A Fugitive (1947), the classic Jules Dassin noir Night and the City (1950) and the cautionary tale for young girls Good-Time Girl (1948).

Never Let Go (1960)

One of Peter Sellers finest roles; a part taken in direct opposition to his famed comedy performances of the time here he is a vicious and petty gang boss in what amounts to an extension of the social realism of the late 50s in literature, theatre and cinema - see Look Back in Anger, Life At The Top, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Other notable films from this period include two Stanley Baker movies Hell is a City (1960) which was based on the Martin Procter novel and the stark and uncompromising The Criminal (1960).

Get Carter (1971)

Based on the Ted Lewis novel and starring Michael Caine this was the first British film to offer a more realistic and gritty view of violence and criminal behaviour. Shot on location and drawing on real events for its visual style this is also notable for Carter showing no remorse for his actions.

Incredibly a Richard Burton film with similar style and themes, Villain (1971) was released at the same time and hasn't received as much fame but is well worth a look even if it's just for Burton's sadistic homosexual gangster.

The Long Good Friday (1979)

The 70s closed with a bang thanks to this classic of the genre. Taking note of the political atmosphere of the time Bob Hoskins stars as a London kingpin trying to legitimise his business but finds himself at war with a previously unknown enemy. It's bleak and uncompromising and violent but it is the performance of Bob Hoskins that makes this stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Did you know Mick Jagger was in movies? I haven't seen any of them but his 1970 film Performance is apparently worth watching and not just from a crime cinema point of view either.

The Hit (1984)

I only saw this film recently but it left a very large impression on me. Working almost as a response to the traditional view of the honest British crook this is the story of a supergrass and the retaliation by those he crossed. Directed by Stephen Frears and featuring a quite wonderful performance from Terence Stamp this is a pleasure to watch from start to finish.

Mona Lisa (1986)

Neil Jordan directs Bob Hoskins, Michael Caine and Robbie Coltrane. You need more? There's a romance between a released criminal and a prostitute that leads to some violent consequences. It's a standard story but told well and with some great performances.

The debut feature from Mike Figgis, Stormy Monday (1988), revisits the locale of Get Carter but with a turf war between local gangster and a pushy American in Tommy Lee Jones.

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

Revived and reinvigorated the genre for a couple of years before the entire thing collapsed under its own weight of mockney nonsense, mirroring the career of Guy Ritchie. Nevertheless the original is still the best and without this film Hollywood wouldn't have Jason Statham.

This film could stand in for Snatch (2000), Layer Cake (2004)Love Honour and Obey (2000), Gangster No. 1 (2000) and many more films you might have thought sounded good but actually were unimaginative rehashes of the same thing.

Sexy Beast (2000)

This is one of the greats of recent times because it takes its cues from the past, enhances them and then deviates in multiple interesting new ways. Featuring brilliant performances all round but notably from Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley this is the story of a retired gangster cajoled in to doing one last job but things are not that straight forward. To tell you more would be to spoil the fun but it's not what you expect.

Other interesting examples that didn't make the main ten include Face (1997) which was lost in the hype surrounding Lock, Stock and the wonderful yet painful London to Brighton (2006).

Bronson (2008)

Chosen as a great example of how how the Brits turn their criminals in to celebrities, this Nicholas Winding Refn directed biopic features a superb performance from Tom Hardy as the most famous British criminal since Ronnie Kray.

Down Terrace (2009)

Ben Wheatley just might be the future of the genre and even British cinema. This was his debut feature and it's quite simply superb. A cinema verite style gangster film that is both insanely funny and incredibly violent, it moves at a very fast pace and surprises you throughout. Very intelligent movie making about the internal politics of a crime family. Reviewed here in 2011.

So that's your lot, how many have you seen? Have I missed anything important? Enjoying Expendables UK Week so far? Comment comment comment!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Expendables UK Announced

The week on blahblahblahgay gets kicked off in style with the greatest idea I ever had. Expendables UK. For the rest of the week we're taking a look at the stars of Expendables UK and the history of the genre but first let me introduce you to the movie event of 2014.

I'm pretty sick of American action movies. Generally they're awful. Occasionally they're good fun. Mostly they're all about the stars and stripes and being the greatest country on Earth and blah blah blah. American cinema loves to paint the Yanks as the saviours of the world in the name of their  God. My team are going to do it for The Queen.

The Expendables UK is the greatest idea in the history of the world. It takes Stallone's bunch of meatheads saving the planet idea and adds some genuine tough as old boots, hard as nails, built like a brick shithouse, nobody throws bloody spears at me, British steel at it. Honestly, who wouldn't want to watch this movie? I'd be front of the queue and I doubt I'd be alone at midnight waiting for that first screening.

Some of you may have some doubts, afterall it seems to be common knowledge that The Poms, The Limeys, The Brits, Les Ros Boeuf needed saving in the last two world wars, have bad teeth and don't really like a fight when all is said and done. But I'd like to intrduce you to their secret weapon: Raymond Andrew Winstone.

As the leader of this ragtag group of proud British men he likes nothing more than to call someone a slag before kicking the shit out of them. None of this poncing around in tight slightly darker black t-shirts for him, no automatic weapons, he'll take some batteries in a sock in to battle and still win. The man that Jason Statham wishes he was, he takes no prisoners.
Notable appearances as a guy who'll happily knock you out as soon as look at you: The Sweeney, Scum.

Where would Stallone be without Jason Statham to do all the running? Picard without Riker? Peas without carrots? Ray Winstone also has the need for a chief lieutenant, a number two, someone to calm him down when he's maimed too many slags in one scene. And that man is Terence Henry Stamp

The old campaigner, he's been there, seen it, nicked half a dozen t-shirts and spent some time inside. His experience is the key to the group, knowing when to hold off and when to go in full bricks blazing. Not afraid to get stuck in himself, he's been known to go on a personal mission to hunt down those that have wronged him. Again his major weapon is his hands but equally deadly with a pistol.
Notable appearances as a take no prisoners hardman with a brain: The Limey, The Hit.

The Americans needed to outsource their hand to hand combat expert to China but Ray Winstone's boys wouldn't need to look beyond the Emerald Isle for their man, one William John Neeson.

Overshadowed by others for quite some time he has emerged in recent times to be known for his name taking abilities, making Jason Bourne look like a complete pansy he'll lay the smackdown on the massed ranks of villains then come back and do it all again without a new script.
Notable occasions when found to defeat multiple bad guys with his little finger: Taken, Darkman.

Every lockup that houses illicit meetings of dangerous villains will need their bloody doors blown off and whilst Randy Couture essentially takes up space on the plane the Brits have a man of few words but a head tougher than a Soviet-era Russian tank, Mr Vincent Peter Jones.

He'd rather beat your senseless with a big dildo than exchange pleasantries but when it comes blowing holes in shit Vinnie is your man, even going so far as to use his head on occasion.
Notable hole making appearances: X-Men 3, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels

Combat stress brought Lundgren to his knees via alcohol and drug abuse, on his day he'll stumble over all kinds of words with a strong accent but he sure knows how to kill someone but compared to who The Limey mercenaries have on their team he's a bit of a lightweight. Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis is the next member of the team.

Incredibly handsome, insanely talented, wearer of some of the greatest facial hair ever to be committed to the screen; he works sparingly, only going out on the really important missions but when he does the bad guys had better watch out as there's nobody quite so impressive and nobody as violent. Give him a brick, give him a bowling pin, give him one fist tied behind his back and still you better have all of the luck in the world to escape your fate.
Notable moments destroying faces: Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood

Mickey Rourke is a scary looking arms dealer and tattoo parlour owner but I think you'll agree that even the meek and retiring Brits can provide weapons to their troops with the best of them. Please meet Ian McShane.

Violent yet charismatic and very twisted he's a big man who won't take any shit and can even obtain a fair few girls to pass the time with in between missions.
Notable shopkeeper who won't tolerate sticky fingers roles: Deadwood, 44 Inch Chest

Every good movie needs the token black guy right Terry Crews? The English are open minded on the subject but still they have Idris Elba on their team.

Intelligent yet powerful, charismatic yet violent he's also the only black guy in the bar.
Notable appearances where "race isn't an issue": RocknRolla, The Losers

I know you can't compete with the sheer colossus that is Arnie and so do The Poms, instead they have their own semi-retired mercenary ready to save the day at a moments notice, Maurice Joseph Micklewhite.

Suave, sophisticated, a real ladies man and unafraid of a tight situation, he's regularly found mentoring the younger members of Team Winstone. In his day he could take a beating and keep on coming but now it's harder to get up in the mornings.
Just a handful of notable appearances: Get Carter, Ipcress File, Harry Brown

Bruce Willis probably has the best catchphrase of the entire Expendable team, as the official government liaison with the unofficial mercenary team he's not afraid to get his hands dirty. Neither is my distant relative Leonard Gary Oldman.

Less reliant on catchphrases he's known for being a tough sonofabitch and playing both sides of the fence simultaneously and leaving you never knowing quite what side of sane he is on.
Notable moments of ruthless violence and immaculate organisation: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,  Leon

They'd all be dead if it wasn't for him, the lone wolf himself, Chuck Norris. Incomparable. But then so is Commander James Bond 00 Agent. Both legends, both immortal.

Obviously this is just the cast for the first movie. Danny Dyer is chomping at the bit for his part as "The Next Generation of Expendable" for example. And I stopped short of forming a team of villains, I thought you slags out there reading might wanna make some suggestions. Who do you think would be man enough to take on this group of manly men? My money is on Christian Bale.