This week I ended my weekly volunteering slot on Saturday mornings at the Community Gardens. I sent them some chocolates and a very complimentary email thanking them for all their support over the years. It’s certainly made me climate change aware (I started out a sceptic) and given me a motivation and a confidence I haven’t had for a long time. And that motivation manifests itself in me beginning training for my NCTJ in London. I’m on the way to becoming a fully qualified journalist with an NCTJ qualification.
Volunteering at the gardens has been fantastic. Before coming here, I scoffed in the face of wishy washy liberals and tree huggers who vote Green. Not just because they have no chance of winning power, but I couldn’t stand the swayin’ in the wind politics of it all with their piercings and bandanas making a huge amount of noise about the environment, but empty vessels make the most noise.
Volunteering was the turning point in my climate change adventure. I breathed the fresh air, I felt the mud and the soil at my feet and tasted the lovely strawberries. None of this can be done from the insides of a bedroom/office which is where I spend most of my time as a freelance film journalist writing film reviews. I realised how ignorant I had been about the environment. I’ve never denied climate change is real, but I was very ignorant - always leaving lights on and lambasting my eco-warrior sister for being a “pain in the butt” for always harassing me about leaving the kitchen light on at night.
My real highlight of my gardens experience was contributing to last year’s Green Hustle. That was me being interviewed about the environmental concerns that the gardens address for an climate change section of the yearly Hockley Hustle that hits the Hockley area every summer Holidays. I was on camera being interviewed by a lovely, handsome mixed race man and fat as a house with a triple chin. I mumbled a load of rubbish, to be honest, about how the gardens are an inner-city green oasis (they are) and how good they are for the environment. I thought I was pretty bad and flunked it, but the staff thought I represented the gardens brilliantly. I guess it’s good to hear things from other ears.
I’ve made lots of friends here at the gardens both men and women. My highlights have been my many conversations with my friend about ‘Sex and the City’, her dislike of music questions and her encouragement to get me into a job. I feel like she gave me a motivation I haven’t had for a long time and now I’m ready to face the world of work in content writing and journalism.
The crops have been fantastic at the gardens. I didn’t buy the nuts, but I nearly bought strawberries as we did some strawberry picking. That was an appetising task as strawberries are my favourite fruit and, bringing politics in again, we don’t have a shortage of immigrant fruit pickers like the Remoaners say. We have 920,000 EU residents now residing in the UK since the Referendum who could easily be driving our trucks and picking our fruit. Man, I’d sign up to pick fruit. This idea that Brexit has been a disaster is so untrue. We have more EU citizens now in the UK than before the Referendum.
I used to love the social events at Christmas and in summer. At Christmas, the staff would cook up a full Christmas Dinner with Turkey and Mince Pies. It was fabulous - cosy and comforting and so very English. The volunteers were always in a hall doddering like old married couples about left wing politics, the downsides of Brexit on travel prices and films which is, of course, music to my ears as I’m a film critic and talking great films with anyone is nothing I love more. It felt like we were friends and mothers and sons with the staff being so supportive and lovely that they could be part-time parents.
Then there was the BBQ. It was at the height of summer - the sun was out and the volunteers descended on the gardens. There were kebabs and burgers and lovely music they had put on from a DJ. I loved it. I had been off for a couple of weeks and so it was great to catch up with my friend and listen to her torment me about why I’m not the target audience for ‘Sex and the City’ and why Leonardo DiCaprio is her idol and celebrity crush.
Volunteering at the gardens has been fantastic. It’s really opened my eyes to the environment and climate change and just the Great British Outdoors really. I’ve always said I’m a very indoors kind of person which partly comes from my job as a film journalist. I spend most of my time sipping cans of diet coke in the darkest rooms.
But gardening was different. I felt the mud and soil on my bones as became such a commodity volunteering every week in the mud. I love nature and I love the environment and I want to set up my own allotment to grow lots of carrots and leaks and potatoes. That’s my new ambition - gardening.
18, 111 Mins
It's the latest horror film from James Wan who did the 'SAW' films and is reassuringly shit. It's got lots of David Cronenberg gore, but watching it was what I imagined David Cronenberg feeling like when eating shit. In short. it's BAD...REALLY, REALLY BAD.
The basic plot centres around a young woman called Maddie who is haunted by visions of murder victims. She tries to track down the people in her visions and it all goes haywire when creatures whose back of heads open start hunting them. I'll give this film that the special effects are practical and gloopy and not excessively CGI which I always have a problem with in modern horror film.
The prosthetics appplied to the backs of the heads are parasitic and ooze with blood. It's as if James Wan wants to remind us he's the director of 'Saw' at every opportunity and spurts out blood from foreheads to prove it. There's chainsaws, there's knives and there's stabbings and it's all really boring.
This is a horror film for whinging, adolescent teenage girls who get scared at even a creak in the floorboards. It's not for macho horror fans brought up on the horrors of Cronenberg and Lynch where everything was physical and the distinction between reality and unreality was warped.
Watching 'Malignant' as a horror fan, I felt like I was eating shit like a f**kface. WHY THE FUCK AM I WATCHING THISE PILE OF GARBAGE? WHY AM I SEEING IT AT THE SAVOY WHEN IT WAS SHIT THE FIRST TIME? WHY ARE THE TWO GIRLS SITTING NEXT TO ME GIGGLING AT ME? IS IT COS THEY FANCY ME? I don't think so, but would love it if they did!
You shouldn't be thinking about that when you're watching a horror film. You should be rubbing the sweat off your palms, your heart palpatating and anxiety levels akimbo. Instead I was thinking how uncomfortable the seats are at this cinema and how you have to look right up to even see the screen. Basic point is - this movie is shit and if you like it, you are not the clown, you are the circus.
15, 107 Mins
The plot is set in the Nevada desert where the Rodriguez-esqye named Frank Grillo's wily con artist is hatching a plan to hide out from the assasin Bob Viddick (GERARD BUTLER (IN THINCK SCOTTISH VOWELLS). He gets arrested after punching a pretty officer played by the innuendo-named Alexis Louder and this lands him in small town jail. However jail can't protect Moretto for long as Viddick ends up in there too with a vendetta to have Moretto killed and take the girl police officer for himself and his pleasure.
The whole thing takes place in the insides of a police station. There's bits in the Nevada desert at the beginning and end which adds to the western aura, but not much. Most of the action is within railings and cell walls and there's lots of violence with blood splattering to make Tarantino happy. It's directed by Joe Carnahan who is a varying and very interesting filmmaker who broke onto the scene back in 2002 with the brilliant 'Narc' before making the frankly rather rubbish 'A-Team' remake and the actually surprisingly decent Liam Neeson vs. Wolf actioner 'The Grey'.
Gerard Butler is, as always, a fabulously grizzled presence with a tendency of mouthing off in Scottish. He's such a bad actor, but that's part of his appeal. He knows how to chew up the scenery with just his beard, his torso and h rugged face. He did this in '300', he did this in 'Olympus has Fallen' and he does this in 'Cop Shop'. He has sizzling chemistry with the sex symbol on the block Alexis Louder who has such a fabulous and sexual name. I was disappointed they didn't get a sex scene in a cell.
There's a lot of ecohes of 'Straw Dogs'. That idea of an inside under attack from the outside and the inside having to fight back. It also matches Sam Peckinpah's Cornish horror for violence which verges on the sexual sometimes and pushes the boundaries of 15s and 18s. There's no elongated rape scene, but there is groping and sexual harassment and men just being perverts with their oggle eyes. This is western America, man. Guys don't behave themselves.
I thought the movie was too long and overstays its welcome in the epilogue when the action shifts to the desert. But I enjoyed Butler doing the Sparta Ham and flirting with Alexis who is so fucking hot. This is a proper, macho lad's night out at the movies and, as a lad, I lapped it up.
Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has now been replaced by Nadhim Zahawi - a Muslim of Pakistani heritage. Liz Truss is Foreign Secretary - the first Tory female in the role and only the 2nd woman to hold that office after Margaret Beckett held the post for Labour during the Blair years. We have a black business secretary and the new cabinet is over a quarter female. And the current three high offices of state are filled by people of different religions - Javed is Muslim, Patel and Sunak Hindus.
No one can any longer claim the Tories are out of touch with modern Britain. This is the most diverse cabinet in years and, although it doesn’t match the 10 women currently sitting in Keir Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet, there are more people of ethnic minorities evident in Boris’ cabinet than Labour can count for.
Labour have always been desperate to portray their right wing rivals as being retrograde and unprogressive. With this cabinet reshuffle, Keir Starmer needs a slap around the face and be asked to reconsider. On the strength of this cabinet, the Tories are more progressive and diverse than Labour have ever been. I guess the Left just love to act as the embodiment of tolerance, but really just preach hate for anyone that doesn’t fit their warped idea of equality where any other opinions that are not left wing are filtered out.
The Tories have always been more progressive than Labour. They’ve had two female leaders, Labour have had none. They tick the gender equality box there with pride and the first Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is widely regarded to have changed the landscape of Britain and is seen as the most successful peacetime Prime Minister. She was a remarkable woman.
Currently the three most important positions in government are held by Asian politicians all of which are from different religions other than Christianity. Sajid Javed is Health Secretary, Rishi Sunak Chancellor and Priti Patel Home Secretary. What does this say? The Tories who traditionally favour the church and want it to play a bigger role in modern society are accepting and tolerant of other religions.
Let’s remember too that, in 2013, it was the Tories who legalized same sex marriage and resisted pushes to lower the abortion time limit. It wasn’t the righteous, morally superior Labour who did that, but the supposedly wicked, nasty Tories. They made marriage equal and made sure women will have easy access to abortions at 24 weeks.
On a political front, it’s also certainly the most right wing cabinet since the Thatcher years. Liz Truss is a rampant populist with hardline Tory ideologies and a real hunger for self-promotion and individualism which are very Tory traits. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has a string of politically incorrect remarks worse than that of the Prime Minister to her name and she’s branded the BBC ”a biased left wing organization” which made me very happy.
Perhaps this cabinet puts to shame the idea that the Tories have now become Blue Labour. This is a Thatcherite cabinet if there ever was on that includes Jacob Rees-Mogg who voted against same-sex marriage and is opposed to abortion in all circumstances (including rape). And Priti Patel who is a self-confessed Thatcherite and an anti-immigration hardliner.
I wonder whether the extraordinary right wing, but diverse bunch precipitates the next stage in Johnson’s economic recovery. Blue Labour cannot last forever - at some point difficult decisions and cuts need to be made and we are going to need a period of austerity. Boris needs all the help he can get from a band of rabid right wingers to push through with an austere agenda and return to the Thatcherite rhetoric of small state, free market economics and low taxes that created the most successful economic model in the world.
It has often been said by commentators that Johnson is the most right wing Prime Minister since Thatcher which isn’t entirely unapt. David Cameron and Theresa May were both moderate remainers, but Boris backed leave with a strong anti-immigration agenda. The idea that we now have a Eurosceptic as Prime Minister suggests how far to the right we as a country have swung in recent years. It’s because the Right are willing to make difficult decisions that won’t win them votes, but are best for the country. They have a much clearer grasp of black and white than Labour who are oh so wishy washy and just pander to the masses.
But, despite his status as Thatcher’s most right wing successor, Boris’ economic policy has been anything, but - raising taxes and spending billions. But, as I said, in my previous piece, we live in exceptional circumstances where “the pandemic was in no one’s manifesto”.
We need a period of austerity in the years to come. It was utterly idiotic of Theresa May back in 2018 to announce the end of austerity. Austerity is what’s been keeping the nation’s finances stable throughout the 2010s - it balanced out and levied Labour’s rampant overspending and excessive state intervention.
This new right wing cabinet is the best to push through with this austere agenda. We need politicians with clear ideas of black and white, right and wrong which Labour have consistently failed at time and time again. And they’ve failed again by failing to give us a female leader and an Asian Chancellor, Home Secretary and Health Secretary.
It’s not the Tories who are out of touch with modern Britain, it is Labour. They are the ones who claim to be the defenders of the poor, but there were 2 and a half million unemployed at the end of the last Labour government. Why? Because Labour created an obscene system where people were better off on benefits than in work! But who made the poorest poorer? Who left youth unemployment higher? Who made inequality greater? Not the horrible Tories, but Labour and they can shut up about lecturing us on poverty.
This cabinet bodes well for the next general election. I get the impression that the general public will swing right now that they’ve seen how diverse and BAME the Tories have become. They’re doing a better job at it than Labour ever have and that shouldn’t surprise you.
12A, 145 Mins
The point is it’s a formula that works. I liked ‘Rocketman’ 2 years ago, but I like ‘Respect’ a little bit more. It has songs from a soul legend, bits of boozing and scenes of domestic abuse. It tampers this with a history of racism, of what it meant to be a black woman in the 20th century. For that, I commend it.
This is the authorised movie version of Aretha Franklin’s life. It’s authorised in that it was made with collaboration from Franklin’s family following her untimely death in 2018. There’s even a title card at the end paying tribute to Ree and scenes of a performance at the White House that made Barack Obama cry.
You’d think this would be problematic and that it would mean leaving out the bits the family don’t want you to see. The fact that Aretha was abused by her orthodox father and even more orthodox husband, the fact she spent days and nights glugging down vodka and the fact that her mother died when she was a little girl.
But no. All these moments are in the movie. We see Aretha break down while blowing out the candles on her birthday cake at her 7th birthday party. The actress who plays the young Ree is a phenomenal talent - such a natural when it comes to perfecting child-like tears.
From the outset, it was clear Ree was special. There’s even a line where Forest Whittaker’s dad figure says “you’re special, Ree, you have a talent they call genius” and Ree really was a genius. A true child prodigy who had a gift for singing from a very young age.
“Singing is sacred, Ree, and you shouldn’t do it just cos somebody wants you to, what’s more important is that you are treated with dignity and respect” says a character early on in the movie. Unfortunately Ree was rarely treated with dignity and respect despite singing a song called ‘RESPECT’. She was slapped by her father and slapped even harder by her husband, but most of all she was disrespected because the world was against her because she was a black woman in segregation USA.
There’s much mention of Martin Luther King who appears in the movie and we see his assasination play out on screen. Without question, the world wasn’t on Aretha’s side simply because she had dark skin and people were prejudiced. This makes her road to fame even more inspiring and inspirational.
“Find the songs that move you, until you do that you’re going nowhere” and it was true. Aretha’s life was held back by the fact she was not treated equally because of her skin colour. You get the sense from this movie that each of her songs were a paean to her experiences as a black woman. ‘Respect’, for example, was about her desire to be treated with respect and like any other woman while ‘Natural Woman’ refers to her embracing her blackness and celebrating it with gusto.
On the performance front, I think Jennifer Hudson is a great Franklin. I wouldn’t call it a transformation - not quite like Renee Zellwegger in ‘Judy’ or Gary Oldman in ‘Darkest Hour’. I still got the sense I was watching beautiful Jennifer rather than Aretha, but that’s no fault of hers, it’s just a fault of her star power. I’m sure she’ll be getting Oscar attention next year, but her acting is blown out of the park by her younger co-star who makes us feel for Ree’s little girl ego.
Who really should be getting Academy Award attention is Forest Whittaker who froths with fury as father Clarence. I’ve always loved Forest Whittaker even with dodgy English accents in ‘The Crying Game’. He’s an avuncular presence and has the wisest voice in the world.
Whittaker also comes across like a very unassuming man. You would never expect him as a scary abusive father, but his kindly speactacles and doe eyes mask an iron-fisted slice of ham. It’s a terrific performance that cuts to the heart of why Aretha was so scared of men. He really was a s**t of epic proportions.
There’s lots of use of the n-word. Aretha’s husband even decks a guy after he gets called that. I guess it was just a common occurrence in the 60s where this movie was set - where racism was accepted in a way that it isn’t today and I can only hope we’ll reach a point where homophobia isn’t accepted in the same way.
There’s fantastic musical numbers too. I almost got the sense I was watching less a biopic than a musical. Each song paints a picture postcard or snapshot of Aretha’s life - like a portrait stashed in an attic or a vinyl on repeat. I loved, for example, when Aretha’s mother plays the piano and gets Aretha to sit next to her and sing “Aretha’s doing ALLRIIGHT!”. So lovely.
It all builds to the predictable performance finale. Aretha performs ‘Natural Woman’ to a crowd of hundreds. It’s inspiring and explosive and from the heart. You knew that finale was coming as you do with every beat in this film, but when a film is this good and entertaining that’s no bad thing.
This is the best version of Aretha’s life we could ever see on screen. It’s as much a paean to her hard work, determination and respect as it is a musical history of racism, booze and abuse. That’s a cocktail that packs a punch like no other.
It's a tribute to the undervalued work of care home workers at the beginning of the pandemic taking place in the recent history books of March-April 2020. Jodie Comer is the blonde care home worker and Stephen Graham her boozing, drunken patient who is man with early onset alzheimer's. Very soon the care home becomes overwhelmed with covid cases. There's masks and throwing up and sniffly noses and old ladies having to be taken away in stretchers. It all brings back a lot of memories of the first lockdown where even Boris Johnson was taken to ITU with the virus.
There's lots of scenes of Jodie cleaning bags of shit and cleaning arses. I found it hard to believe that a woman as beautiful as her could really be a care home worker cleaning arses, but that's more down to stereotypes and her supermodel image. She's a terrific actress - so brilliant in 'Thirteen' and from what I'm told as Villanelle in 'Killing Eve'. I pray she never stars in a movie like 'Free Guy' and never plays a manic pixie dream girl again. It doesn't suit her - she's too pretty and conventional and too Scouse. I liked her here with her scouse accent and tears. You can see her pain and her hopelessness at this crisis like when she quietly breaks down on the toilet.
Stephen Graham is one of our most underrated actoes. He was the star of 'This is England' and so fantastic in 'Line of Duty' and other bits here and there. He's brilliant here too whether getting into punch-ups outside co-op or confessing his alzheimer's angst to Jodie in the rurals of Merseyside. I beg they both get BAFTAs.
This is a very modern pandemic horror film. There's lots of shots of men in PPE that look straight out of men in 'Contagion or even ' A Quiet Place'. It plays on the idea that no world has been disrupted more by a global catastrophe than the pandemic since the war and that communities have to unite together to support each other in a time of crisis. David cameron would love the references to his Big Society, but I stress that individuals build society and you cant have a society without individuals.
This movie is also a tribute and a paean to care home workers whose work was so integral in protecting the clinically vulnerable. You'll finish watching with a tear for the NHS and clapping for carers. It's something we should all be doing to raise the nation's optimism as we come out of this crisis and Freedom Day will hopefully be a reality.
I thought this was a fantastic movie. It veers off into predictability at the end and a slight sense of melodrama when Jodie and Stephen get arrested. Some people I'm sure won't like the cliffhanger as it doesn't neatly wrap up the story in the way viewers might want it to. Viewers crave neat resolution and big wrap-ups, but this drama doesn't give us that. Instead it sets up a sequel - Help 2, anyone? Set when the pandemic is in its mid-stages with Jodie and Stephen scrabbling to survive again? Could this become a pandemic horror trilogy about the beginning, middle and end of the crisis? Who knows? All I know is this is a bloody brilliant film that deserves to set the BAFTAs alight.
12A, 117 Mins
The story is that Billy is a veteran comdy writer - in other words an old fart who comes out with retrografde comedy strokes about black people, Muslims and people of Chinese orgins. He gets dementia so is starting to lose his memory and his motivation for jokes. That's until he meets Emma Paige (played by Girl's Trip's Tiffany Haddish) who's a lounge singer and black so a target of Billy's jokes. She changes his life, they become best friends and she becomes a carer to his dementia.
It breaks me to say it, but I didn't like Billy Crystal here even with Alzhemer's. We were supposed to feel sorry for him cos he's losing mind, but we really didn't. He was just a grumpy old fart who offends everyone around him and finds it funny. He mocks black people, he mocks chinese people, he mocks young people which I took against. It's thst typical old age thing of seeing youths as criminal slobs who get involved with drugs and deviance. We're not all like that, mate, I'm certainly not like that.
There's a scene where Billy gets food in his beard as many Alzheimer sufferers do. That was quite funny. Seeing the spaghetti straggle out his scrabbly and scratchy and frankly terrible facial hair. I've had a beard, Have one currently and I can't tell you what a nightmare it is to get food out of. I find myself having to spend longer in the shower after eating a curry I can tell you. I'm sure many men with macho moustaches would relate to that too, but I'm not really a fan of moustaches (don't take it personally). I just think there a bit too old-fashioned and look too much like the Go Compare guy.
Billy's beard here is the worst facial hair I've ever seen. It's worse than my beard which makes me look like Osama Bin Laden. He looks almost as bad as Tcheky Karyo in 'Baptiste' when he was knocking on doors drunk as fuck. It makes him look like a really horrible person which Billy really isn't. I wanted nice Billy back and have he and young Meg have a kiss. Actually, no, I want that kiss with Meg Ryan in the diner where she had her fake orgasm. AWWWW!
You'd think this is a men's health column from the amount I've written about facial hair. But bad facial hair always bothers me. I generally think beards are pretty crap same with moustaches. They don't look macho, they don't look cool, they just look dirty and pathetic. And, boy, do they take a long time to wash and comb and sculpt so you can look like one of the boys from Calvin Klein.
But, anyway, back to the film. It's a thumbs down. Billy was too dislikeable, put bad facial hair aside. He just looks like a racist grandad with bitter and contempt in his heart and pain in his butt. He's like one of those old racist pensioners you see getting punched on the buses for calling a black guy the n-word. Or one of those catholic activists who claim homsexuality is an "aberration". This movie just stinks of outdated spam and it is spam. It would find a place in my spam inbox on Gmail. Utter garbage that needs to be deleted. And, so, I will delete it with this review...
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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