Film

Churchill/ Gifted/ Hampstead Heath

Mid month sees the release of Churchill (June 16). There have been some wonderful on-screen representation of Churchy in recent times (Timothy Spall in the Kings Speech and Jon Lithgow spring to mind), and this month Brian Cox becomes the latest to pick up the bowler hat and cigar.

Here is a little-known fun fact about Churchill: he was extremely bad with money. Like, Greek-government-circa-2010 bad with money. By 1938, his taste for fine cigars, race horses and “silk undergarments” had all but bankrupted him, but by the time he left office in 1945 he was a wealth man.

You see, Winston Churchill was as fine a hustler as he was a statesman, and had no qualms about using his personal brand to make it rain. Imagine the ruthless drive of a lavish Kardashian wrapped up in the body of a chain-smoking bulldog: that’s Churchy.

But I digress. Churchill is set in June 1944, just as the Allied Forces are on the verge of the D Day landings. A nervous Churchill fears that the disastrous events of Gallipoli will be repeated if the invasion fails, taking his career and the lives of countless soldiers with it.

But can Churchill put down the Harrods catalogue long enough to keep the Gerrys at bay? The fact that you’re reading this in English, not German, might be a bit of a spoiler but what better way to mark the 73rd anniversary of the D Day landings that watching the original Hannibal Lector (Cox) pretend to be Winston Churchill for a few hours?

In other news: who’s your favourite movie actor called Chris? Pine? Pratt? It’s Hemsworth isn’t it? Mine is Captain America himself, Chris Evans, even though he loses points for having the same name as the UK’s Chris Evans (ew). Anyway, Evans tries on a gentler persona this month in Gifted (June 16), where the only enemies to be battled are the ones that come from raising your prematurely deceased sister’s intellectually gifted child (uncertainty, interference from social services, not knowing how to tie a pony tail, etc.)

The story follows simple, but inconspicuously handsome, boat mechanic Frank (Evans) who’s been raising precocious Mary, a six year-old mathematics prodigy. When Frank realises he is just too darn simple and handsome to home-school the mini Carol Vorderman, he ships he off to the local school to learn how to do more maths and probably, some cyber bullying.

But Mary’s gift draws the attention of school administrators (and her estranged grandmother) who all want to push her to greater heights. Soon, there’s a custody battle and Frank is forced to make some difficult decisions about what the best thing is for his beloved niece. Boo! You should probably bring tissues to this one.

Finally this month, Hampstead Heath (June 23), in which an American (Diane Keaton) falls in love with a quirky and dishevelled park-dweller (Brendan Gleeson).

Keaton plays a widow who must have been married to a Russian oligarch, since she can afford property in Hampstead. Anyway, one day she espies beardy Brendan exiting the pond next to the shack he lives in like an Aldi Mr Darcy, and is instantly smitten. (Interesting aside: Gleeson also played Churchill, in 2009’s Into The Storm.)

So, when wicked property developers try buy the land so they can knock up some luxury apartments, Keaton’s character enlists the help of all her endearingly rich mates who pool their money, buy out the property developers and drown Gleeson in the pond as soon as possible before knocking up their own prestige living spaces.

Just kidding! Or maybe I’m not. There’s only one way to find out!

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Film, History, TV

Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines

Let’s play a game. It’s called ‘Name a Superhero’. Anyone will do, just think of one.

Okay… Go. Got one?

Chances are it’s got a ‘man’ suffix, right? Spiderman, Superman, Batman – in the arena of superheroes there’s no doubt that it’s a (Super)man’s world.

But what about the women, asks filmmaker Kristy Guevara Flanagan in Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines (2012). Specifically, what about Wonder Woman, feminist icon and one of the longest-running comic characters of all time?

With the long-promised Wonder Woman movie almost upon us, what better time to dive into the original Nazi-puncher’s origin story…

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Flanagan’s film charts the evolution and impact of Wonder Woman, while exploring the empowerment of women over the past eight decades.

Wonder Woman was created by psychologist and inventor William Moulton Marston (inventor of the systolic blood pressure test, a central component of today’s lie detector), a man with no writing credentials who fast-talked his way into a comic writing position after pitching the idea of a female superhero, describing his creation as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world”.

When Wonder Woman (Diana, an Amazonian warrior princess) burst onto the pages of DC comics in 1941, it was right in the middle of WW2. All over America, women had left their kitchens and stepped into the workforce in order to keep the wheels of industry turning while all the able-bodied men were off giving Hitler and the Axis what for. By 1945 more than 2.2 million women were working in the war industries, along with countless non-war-based industries.

From flying planes to playing baseball, in the early 1940s much of the essential and non-essential work was carried out by US women and the wheels of industry continued to turn, without the world spinning off its axis (pun intended). It was in this new world of female dynamism that the Wonder Woman comics at first flourished.

When the war ended the men returned home and resumed their former careers, while the women who had been driving the engine of industry returned to the kitchen sink. Gradually a collective sense of amnesia set in, until the important role of played by woman in wartime was all but forgotten.

This was reflected in the pages of Wonder Woman, and from the late 1940s until the ’60s, Princess Diana’s stories became increasingly lacklustre. (This was not helped by the advent of the Comics Code Authority (CCA), a self-regulatory body formed in the 1950s as a response to public concern over the link between “objectionable” comic book content and juvenile delinquency.) A post-war sexism had set in, and by the ‘60s the once proud female scourge of countless villains and Nazis could be found power-less (having surrendered her powers in order to remain in ‘Man’s World’) and running a clothing boutique.

At this point in time, the Woman’s liberation movement was gaining momentum. Feminists like Gloria Steinham, angry at the lack of female heroes and incensed at Wonder Woman’s enfeebled state, insisted that the character be returned to her former glory as “a symbol of female power”. Terrified at the prospect of further attacks by Steinham and co, DC comics capitulated and even threw in a black female sidekick called Nubia. Score two for equality!

Next in the evolution of Wonder Woman was her incarnation on the ‘new media’ of the 1970s – television. The live action Wonder Woman (played by the beautiful Lynda Carter) was genuinely groundbreaking – to have a female lead on a TV show in the ’70s was unheard of (and sadly remains a difficult sell for network execs to this day), and it opened the door for a host of female-led shows like The Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels.

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The most compelling message of Wonder Woman, the television series was clear and impactful: woman can be, and often are, heroic too. This live-action portrayal of a powerful, intelligent and fearsome female warrior provided inspiration to a generation of girls growing up in the 1970s. In Flanagan’s film, the testimonial given by Linda Carter about grown up Wonder Woman fans telling her how much the show inspired them to succeed as woman in male-dominated professions – as astronauts, NASA scientists etc – is heartwarming.

Still, amid all the empowering talk one depressing fact surfaces. Buffy and Wonder Woman, Ripley, Captain Janeway and Agent Dana Scully are all female heroines created by men.

Why are there so few female-created superheroines? One answer could lie in good old-fashioned gender imbalance; since the vast majority (97%, according to the recent statistics from Women’s Media Centre in America) of decision-making media positions are held by men, the roles and input of woman are limited.

Women still live in a world bombarded with over-sexualised versions of femininity, a world where they still earn less than their male counterparts and have less decision-making power over how they are portrayed in the media. And in this depressing context, Flanagan’s film is essential viewing.

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Film

Mindhorn/ King Arthur: Legend of the Sword/

First up this month is Mindhorn (May 5), absurd British comedy from The Mighty Boosh‘s Julian Barratt. Barratt plays Richard Thorncroft, washed-up former star of cheesy ’80s detective series Mindhorn, in which he played the titular character, a detective with a bionic eyepatch that can literally “see the truth”.

But Mindhorn has not aged well and neither has its star who has become a flabby, impoverished has-been whose former co-stars (including Steve ‘I am more than Alan Partridge’ Coogan) have all gone on to enjoy greater success than he has.

But fate, it seems, has a third act planned for Mindhorn when a deranged killer on the run contacts police and insists that he will only negotiate with the former TV detective. The killer, Melly, (played by Russell Tovey) clearly has a tenous grasp on reality, but so does Mindhorn, so the police deem him the most appropriate person to negotiate with the unhinged Melly. But will he succeed? Well, either buy a bionic eye-patch or get down to your local multi-plex this week to find out.

Which leads us to our next cinematic offering, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (May 12) starring Queer As Folk’s Charlie Hunnam. It was really only a matter of time before some movie executives trundled out the old Excaliber legend for a spot of cinematic reanimation. This is just as well really, seeing as audiences don’t seem want new stories: they just want remakes of old ones with increasingly hotter casts. And on that at least, King Arthur: LotS seems to deliver.

The story follows Arthur on his journey from street urchin to sexy sword-wield monarch by way of some enthusiastic fight scenes and pensieve beard stroking. When Arthur’s father (Eric Bana) is murdered, and his crown seized by his evil uncle Vortigern (Jude Law), little Artie is forced into hiding.

Robbed of his birthright and, over time the knowledge of his true lineage, Arthur lives the life of a petty street hoodlum (with a heart as golden as his beard, of course). But when Arthur manages the impossible and pulls Excaliber from its stone, he is suddenly forced to confront the truth of his identity while kicking a lot of bad guy ass.

Lastly this month, a wee nip of warming Scottish humour in the form of Whisky Galore (May 19) a remake of the 1949 Ealing classic of the same name. The movie recounts a real-life event, namely the scuttling of the SS Politician, a 8000-ton cargo ship sailing for Kingston, Jamaica and New Orleans with a cargo including 28,000 cases of malt whisky, which aground off the coast of Eriskay Island in the Outer Hebrides in 1941.

The story is thus: the inhabitants of a Scottish island whose supply of whisky has been curtailed due to war-time rationing think their prayers to St Johnny Walker have been answered when a cargo ship carring 50,000 cases of whisky runs aground on their coast.

Naturally, they sail out and shanghai as many bottles as they can carry before the ship capsizes. But punctilious Home Guard officer Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard) is determined to confiscate every stolen bottle and enters into a cat-and-mouse game with the locals, who have even less time for jumped-up Englishmen than they have for sobriety. Gentle, light-hearted comedy fare.

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