Category Archives: Films

The Sound of Music revisited.

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“This freaky clown is controlling my every move”

I am old. I grew up in a household with a telly with clunky push-button controls on the front – remote controls hadn’t been invented. It is beyond the comprehension of my ten year old that there were only three channels which didn’t even transmit all day – there were hours when the only thing you would see would be the girl, the balloon and a terrifying clown of the BBC trade test transmission  –  and it was long before it was possible to record programmes, let alone watch films when you wanted to on videos, DVD, streaming, downloading, iPlayer…

angelaWhat with that and fairly strict parenting, Christmas day involved going to church in the morning, no presents from under the tree until after the Queen’s speech at 3pm (and we all had to watch it). The only chance to watch decent telly (such as was programmed) was after that. And, according to my memory, this pretty much always meant The Sound of Music (with my father snorting rudely about the direness of singing nuns)  or Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Cang Bang followed by the excellent Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special, which would include something amazing such as strait-laced newsreader Angela Rippon causing a furore by dancing in a skirt that ripped off, flashing a fine pair of pins. Continue reading

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Lustbox: Tim Curry

You have to admire a man whose attractiveness and professionalism never falter when acting with muppets. And by that I mean those notorious up-stagers, Kermit, Miss Piggy et al rather than a bunch of generic fools. I think it’s a mark of a fine man (or woman) that they don’t take themselves too seriously, and Curry gets it spot on. Michael Caine is similarly wonderful playing Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol. But unlike Caine, Tim Curry can properly sing too.

He plays the charming and entirely untrustworthy ship’s cook, Long John Silver, in The Muppet Treasure Island. ‘When you’re a professional pirate’ is sadly his ‘one big number’, but it’s a cracking one. The thing about Tim Curry is that he makes wicked seem so attractive.

Most of us first knew him in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, playing the bad, but oh so good, Dr FrankNFurter. This role demonstrates an undisputed ability to look hot as hell in fishnet stockings and full on slap. I’ve mentioned before the curious allure of men in heels, and Tim Curry, like Eddie Izzard, can definitely pull it off. It came as no surprise to discover that he grew up as son of a Methodist Chaplain.

I don’t want to disrespect the man – he’s had a long and serious acting career too. But really, if there was anyone I’d like to accompany me to the dark side, it would be Tim Curry.

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Lustbox: Dominic Cooper

Who’s a pretty boy then? Dominic Cooper is to be sure in Tamara Drewe, Stephen Frear’s recent film. Set in a remote Dorset village and based on a Posy Simmonds cartoon, Cooper, in kohl, black leather and banana yellow Porsche, plays Ben, bad boy drummer in indie band Swipe. After being interviewed by journalist Tamara (Gemma Arterton), he seduces her with a dextrous display of skilful drumming using cooking implements. Always a winner, until you get tinnitus. They embark on an affair watched by jealous teenage Swipe fan Jody, lurking in the disused bus stop (service discontinued) with her mate, snapping anyone in the village snogging with their mobile phones and hurling eggs at passing cars because they are so bored.

The story of Tamara Drewe, based loosely on Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, is all played out very amusingly and includes excellent performances from Tamsin Greig and Roger Allam. But my favourite character by far is the badly behaved Ben, with his long-suffering boxer dog, floppy black hair and designer stubble. What impresses me about Dominic Cooper, other than the fact that he’s gorgeous and funny, is that he never seems to mind losing his dignity. His role as Dakin in The History Boys is probably my all-time favourite, but he was great in An Education too, and even managed to not look like a total knob as the bridegroom in the enjoyably preposterous Mamma Mia!

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Ten Things I Hate About ‘Chick Flicks’

Okay, I know it isn’t the norm to post about films on here but it was on television last night so it counts.

I always dread when my other half peruses the TV guide and comments ‘oh there’s a brilliant film on at 9’ It’s a phrase that inevitably awakens my usual rant that a film isn’t good just because it has an A-list celebrity in it or just because everything works out all right in the end and the geek gets the cheerleader.

You know the type of films I am talking about. Candyfloss, annorexic, overly American mid-twenty year olds posing as high school teenagers in a ‘hilarious debacle’ as they try to make it through graduation year. It’s nauseating stuff. Please consider this as you read: I have just spent the last week of term watching ‘Mean Girls’ with SIX different year 9 classes so my Chick Flick tolerance was already wearing thin by last night. Well  Our Lass In The North uttered the phrase that strikes terror into my heart and the ‘I promise you’ll REALLY like this one…it’s so different from the others’ film was Ten Things I Hate About You.

It epitomised everything I hate about the genre. Talk about cliche. Every actor was at least a decade past high school leaver age (except the ‘lead geek’ who looked about 12) Every character was split into a group (‘jock, nerd, cheerleader, goth…cowboy (!?) etc) and of course, the nerdy computer whizzes with the high pitched voices and the obvious constant reminders that they are GOOD ACADEMICALLY and OUT OF PLACE (these things need spelled out to the usual clientele of such films) inevitably fall for the airheaded but gorgeous (if you’re into idiots that hide behind thick layers of Barbie like make-up) ‘popular girls’

There’s your format. That’s what this, like hundreds of ‘hysterical rom-coms’ before it, film is based on. My night stretched so long. The ad breaks were a relief and far more entertaining. The ending was stomach churningly predictable (you guessed it, the gorgeous model realised that what matters is on the inside and snogged the weedy mathematics genius in front of the whole school, leaving her reputation in tatters) and the whole film was spattered with childish jokes such as  slapstick set ups of bespeckled computer whizzes with their trouser hem stroking their nipples being ritually humilated by big beefy jocks. The film was also swarmed with horrendous teen-rock music tracks which served only one purpose, to drown out the mindless drivel that was the film’s dialogue.

From now on, if I ever hear the phrase ‘oh there’s a really good film on tonight’ I’m going to trip the electricity. I mean it. Like OmiGod, you know,  totally seriously. Heck I think it’s rubbing off on me…

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Kick-ass women #3: Scarlett Johannson

I’m not a fan of Scarlett Johannson in general, but she is hugely enjoyable in Robert Downey Jnr’s most recent film, Iron Man 2. The casting of Johannson, as well as Mickey Rourke in energetic psychotic splendour mode playing a revenge-seeking Russian physicist, improve this daft sequel significantly.

We get a lot of macho nonsense in this film, which is mostly entertaining (as Robert Downey Jnr always is). The women don’t that get much of a look-in for a lot of it. Scarlett and Gywneth Paltrow are often seen teetering along in ultra tight dresses and preposterously high heels, and if you squashed them both together you’d barely make one normal sized woman. However, we soon realise that Johannson is no bimbo. We first see her kick-ass qualities when she’s invited by Downey into a sweaty, testosterone-filled boxing ring. She pounds the instructor to the floor without breaking a nail or laddering her tights. Not that I advocate violence you understand. Anyway, despite her pouty lips and ringletty red tresses, she is clearly not someone you’d mess with.

But she hits her stride in a later scene wearing what looks like a skin-tight denim cat suit, where she kick-boxes her way through swathes of huge, muscular baddies and leaves them in a heap, earning her kick-ass badge of honour. Marvellous.

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Kick ass women: Lisbeth Salander

Frankly this is not a woman you’d want to cross. Beautiful, whip-smart and operating with no social niceties, Lisbeth Salander is brilliant character. Part computer hacking genius, part messed-up psychotic, all created by Swedish journalist turned crime writer Stieg Larsson. Based on the first book from the best-selling Millennium Trilogy, published after his premature death, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or ‘Man som hatar kvinnor’ (Men Who Hate Women) in Swedish, has just come out as an excellent film directed by Niels Oplev.

Stieg Larsson was a dedicated anti-Nazi campaigner and man of sound sexual politics, and those views come across very powerfully in his novels. Less so in the film. But Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth is terrific example of a kick-ass woman if ever I saw one. Lisbeth Salander has had a rough life, seen her mother abused by her stepfather (whom she doused with petrol and set on fire at a tender age), put under the care of wards of court, including (as the action starts) a sadistic abuser who demands sexual favours before he will allow her access to her own money, and who then rapes and beats her viciously, threatening that he will have her sectioned if she doesn’t ‘obey his rules’.

But Salander is a woman who makes her own rules and she retaliates by tasering him, viciously abusing him right back with bells on, then tattooing ‘I am a rapist and a sexual pervert’ on his abdomen.

A physically slight woman who wears a lot of black, has many piercings and accessories of the spikey dog collar variety, she nonetheless looks a little like a harder, young, heavily tattooed female Keanu Reeves. She sleeps with men and women as she chooses, but is the only female character I’ve come across (Linda Fiorentino as the fabulous Bridget Greogory in The Last Seduction comes close) who takes her own sexual pleasure from men then walks off leaving them half cocked, as it were. She rides a motor bike, of course. And at the end of the first book we see her walking away scot-free after stealing millions from a nasty piece of work, wearing a blonde wig and killer heels.

All the better to kick you with of course.

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Lustbox: Colin Firth (with a bit of Nicholas Hoult on the side)

I texted a friend to say my husband was going to be away at the weekend and informing her that ‘I fancy seeing a single man’. Strangely she got the idea I was having an affair. Things like that can put bad thoughts in the head of good women let me tell you, especially where Colin Firth is concerned.

What I’d meant to say, but texting capital letters is beyond me, was that I wanted to see the new Tom Ford film, A Single Man. It’s based on the 1962 Christopher Isherwood novel set in L.A. depicting the last day in the life of a man (George, played by Firth) struggling to cope after the sudden death of his long term partner Jim (Matthew Goode).

I went along to see it with two single friends, one straight, one gay, and found it to be an utterly extraordinary film. It is so beautifully shot and styled it made me want to cry even before the tragedy unfolds. George and Jim had been lovers for seventeen years, and when news comes that Jim (and their beloved dogs) have been killed in a car accident in Denver, where he was visiting his family, George has the additional, and at that time all too common, horror to bear that he is not invited, or welcome, to see to body or attend the funeral, and their relationship is never going to be acknowledged by the family.

So it’s a sad, sorry, painful story brilliantly told. And I found it genuinely powerful and moving.


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Best Christmas film ever: Bad Santa

Christmas TV is rather like Christmas food: lovely at first, but then all that richness and sweetness starts getting a bit much. Your palate starts to crave something a bit sharp or salty. Film-wise, the perfect antidote for an overdose of It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street and anything with Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell in it is Bad Santa.

“He doesn’t care if you’re naughty or nice,” the tagline goes, but I think it’s a safe bet to say that this particular Santa (Willie) would prefer it if you’re naughty. He’s the sleaziest department store Santa you could imagine – he’s a con-man who smokes, drinks, swears (a lot), doesn’t smell very nice – and all while he’s working. And he hates kids.

In a normal Christmas movie, you’d get Willie’s immoral and unpleasant lifestyle completely turned around by the love of a good woman and the healing presence of an adorable little kid, and there’d be sleigh bells and much joy by the end. Well, Bad Santa does feature a lonely, abandoned little kid who takes a shine to Willie, but it’s fair to say that he’s a bit of a pain in the butt himself. The scenes between these two are a perfect balancing act of foul-mouthed irritability from Willie and a kind of knowing innocence from the kid.

Being Billy Bob Thornton, Willie can’t help being attractive in a louche sort of way, even when he’s lolling in his grotto blind drunk and stained with his own urine. And he does attract his fair share of female attention, including a bartender called Sue who has a little fetish for men in Santa suits. “It’s like some deep-seated childhood thing,” she tells him. “So is my thing for tits,” he replies. The old smoothy.

Bad Santa is gloriously politically incorrect, marvellously offensive and completely hilarious. There’s still a conventionally moral centre to it, but it never descends into sentimentality. For this, and for the brilliant Billy Bob Thornton, I love this film.


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Lustbox: Malcolm McDowell in If…

malcolm-mcdowell-3There’s a moment in If… when Mick Travis and his friends are going to be caned by the prefects of the school. His two friends have just taken a beating, and he knows that even more severe punishment is waiting for him, because he’s the ringleader, the cocky little sod who needs to be taught a lesson. So he throws open the double doors to the gym before his name is even called, his head held high. Stepping across the room like a dancer, he takes his time positioning himself across the balance beam where he’s required to lean, measuring exactly where to place his left and right hand. He’s not going to be hurried. And it drives the head prefect mad. Travis gets hit harder than anyone else, because they’re not just trying to punish him, they’re trying to defeat him, break him, bring him into line. And he will not cower to them, even when the thwacks of the cane are ringing right round the school, even when tears are stinging his eyes. The scene sets up the final act, where Travis and his friends machine gun the whole school, and it set up Malcolm McDowell as a screen icon.

malcolm-mcdowell-4Not blessed with a classically handsome face, Malcolm McDowell makes up for it with a huge amount of screen presence and natural charisma – he’s one of those actors you just can’t take your eyes off when he’s on screen. It’s partly his cheeky, beautiful, huge blue eyes – they have a sexy innocence that’s often at odds with the ways his characters behave. That’s particularly true in A Clockwork Orange, where his character, Alex, is about as immoral as you can get this side of American Psycho. But McDowell gives him humour, style and a sense of vulnerability (as well as a fondness for Beethoven’s 9th), so you find yourself on his side – but unlike in If…, this time the system wins.

There’s an absolutely mega-detailed fan site about him here, with interviews, quotes, trivia and all sorts of stuff.

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