27/06/2016

Dangerous Visions


Review by Oliver Wake
May and June saw the return of BBC Radio 4’s annual Dangerous Visions season of dystopian science fiction, featuring both adaptations and original stories and dramas.
Joseph Wilde’s Produce was an effective but emotive drama about ‘designer babies’ and the danger of children being viewed as consumer products, with their attendant manufacturer liabilities. Equally intriguing but less dramatic was Your Perfect Summer, On Sale Here, by Ed Harris, which posited a world of addictive immersive videogames drawn from the memories of human subjects. Sarah Woods dramatised and updated William Morris’ socialistic 1890 novel News from Nowhere to present a future London as a bucolic post-capitalist utopia.

24/06/2016

Be Careful What You Wish For



The UK’s EU referendum result is a reckless leap in the dark
In the early stages of the European Union referendum when everyone knew a lot less about the respective cases for staying or leaving, it was suggested that the choice essentially boiled down to a simple one. If you are risk averse vote to Remain. If you like taking risks vote to Leave.  There was also a feeling- and nothing more tangible than a feeling- that when it came down to the wire more people would end up voting Remain and not taking that risk. These sorts of things were dismissed by hard core campaigners (from both sides) who said we should and would vote on the real long term serious political and economic issues.  Trouble is nowadays with social media spreading ideas like wildfire most people don’t do that. Most people vote based either on one particular issue that it niggling them or else on little more than gut feelings. In that respect the result is no more than a reckless leap in the dark, an expression of an optimistic `grass is greener on the other side` view. I’m sure there were just as many Leave voters who had nervous stomachs on hearing the results this morning as those who voted Remain. As is already becoming apparent nobody actually knows what will happen now. The mechanism is clear enough- the soon to be ubiquitous Article 50- but the economic and social repercussions of operating that mechanism are not. 

17/06/2016

How the European Union saved Liverpool


I’d like to tell you my EU related tale regarding my home town Liverpool which was saved by the EU. Back in the Nineties, the city was in a tailspin following decades of national and local neglect and the situation was so bad that it qualified for what was known as Objective One status, basically identifying it as one of the poorest places in the EU. While the Conservative government of the time had contemplated allowing such places to slip into what they described as “managed decline” the EU targeted projects into which they donated a considerable amount of money. This was not a handout as such nor was it a magic wand that would cure the city’s ills. It was however a solid supporting mechanism the idea of which was to help the area recover and thus be able to support itself in the future and help create a platform upon which private business could then invest in. This in turn led last decade to the double win of the redevelopment of a large swathe of the city centre known as Liverpool One and the city’s winning the European Capital of Culture status for 2008. Ever since then Liverpool has thrived and grown and now that is spreading beyond the city centre outwards. Yet the seeds of this recovery lie in that EU money. When few UK politicians cared, the EU did,whatever other motives might have gone into the mix. There are no doubt several other places which have had similar about turns.


27/05/2016

X Men Apocalypse



Latest X Men film is bigger but not always better.
There’s a knowing gag made by a character during this film about third movies in series always being the worst and in a way it turns out be the case. The standard being high already means that X Men Apocalypse is still a very good film (we’re not talking X Men Last Stand or anything) yet it lacks something at its kernel. It may well be that we have just seen too many X Men movies now because some of the dilemmas and arguments are familiar beats. To try and overcome this the film also makes some rather untenable leaps notably during the visual standout Quicksilver sequence. This character’s keynote scene in Days of Future Past was both funny and clever. Here, the same admittedly impressive trick is shown again yet the whole thing is extended and becomes unlikely. However fast he can move, surely he could not achieve all he does in such a short time? Just as the kitchen scene in the last film symbolised how fleet of foot that movie was this one shows how comparatively sluggish this one is in danger of becoming.  That being said, it’s still a very cool thing to watch. 

20/05/2016

All Things Must Pass



The story of the US’s biggest record store is told in a talky but absorbing documentary.
A while back there was a TV series which showed new businesses starting up and how they coped with the initial launch. It was quite an eye opener seeing how much is involved to the point where you were left wondering how any business managed to get started. This documentary by Colin Hanks seems to suggest things were a lot easier back in the 1960s in the United States. It tells the story of Tower Records which became the largest music chain in the US and even had a branch in London which I remember well. Considering how huge Tower became the origins appear to have been a mixture of chance and opportunism. 

13/05/2016

Should we pay to use the iPlayer?



One of the things included in the government’s latest incursion into public service broadcasting is the idea of including the iPlayer in the BBC’s licence fee. Apparently an increasing amount of people- reckoned to be more than a half a million- are watching BBC programmes on the iPlayer without having paid the licence fee creating a potential loss of revenue for the Corporation. I’m not sure how they know this. Can the BBC actually know if someone watching the iPlayer on a phone for example belongs to a household that have not paid the fee? Aren’t they encouraging this anyway by increasing the amount of original programmes on the iPlayer? They’ve spent years trying to get more people to use it! Could they not forsee this when they first launched the thing? 

11/05/2016

Top of the Pops 14 May 1981



Shown on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby
"ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?" That depends who's asking. This enigmatic question rumbles out over the spinning Top of the Pops logo that stands in for a title sequence these days. This is followed by a close-up of the Eidophor screen and a mysterious caption "Special CUP FINAL Edition" Special eh? Is it going to be longer, or have more exciting guests, or will the number one slot be decided on penalties? If only someone could tell us.
Tommy Vance: "Hi everybody. Good evening and welcome to Top of the Pops! We have 19 minutes together tonight. It's gonna have to be as fast as a parachute jump. And we start off with Thin Lizzy. Are you ready?19 minutes? What happened? The Cup Final replay between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur happened. The two teams drew last Saturday. BBC1 had to tear up it's carefully composed schedule (17.55 Nationwide, 18.55 Tomorrow's World, 19.20 Top of the Pops, 20.00 Are You Being Served?, 20.30 Butterflies) and replace it with almost two and a half hours of football. Top of the Pops was squeezed into a truncated slot after Nationwide at 18.55. Also, it's four weeks after the last BBC4 edition. D*ve L** Tr*v*s presented the programme on 23/04/1981, J**** S***** on 30/04/1981, and the *e*e* *o*e** -sorry, that should be Peter Powell- edition on 07/05/1981 no longer exists in broadcast quality. Something to do with it being a live edition which was recorded wrong when some silly sausage pressed the wrong button (John - apologies for the tech talk here) and muted all Peter Powell's links. 

04/05/2016

Captain America Civil War



The best Marvel film yet?
Warning- Mildly spoilerific review follows. Well you know it’s got Avengers in and there’s a civil war right?
If The Winter Soldier was a rare example of the intellectual blockbuster, then its sequel embraces both the political and the personal. At a time when Western involvement in sundry conflicts around the world is under more scrutiny than ever, here we have the freedom with which the Avengers operate called into question to the point where they are all asked to sign an accord which means any missions have to be sanctioned by politicians. This sort of thing has been done before in the comics realm but rarely as well or thoroughly as it is here. To the credit of the scriptwriters we understand why each of the team takes the stance that they do and even more importantly the team themselves outline their arguments reasonably because really there is no right or wrong in this scenario. The result is that the film avoids becoming an exercise in super -powered glowering and melodramatic confrontations, it’s about different positions being taken based on beliefs. It is – in the best sense- both big and clever!