Film

From the Archives: From Russia with Hate

In 2013, Russia enacted a vindictive “gay propaganda law” which demonised and imperilled its queer citizens. Now in an ironic twist, Vladmir Putin faces a potential schism with one of his most ardent supporters, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, over allegations of a campaign of violence against the Russian republic’s gay men.

In April of this year, Novaya Gazeta, a Moscow newspaper, made international headlines with an investigative piece claiming that gay men in Chechnya were being rounded up and send to camps where they were being beaten, tortured and even murdered.

As of the end of May, the total of number of murdered gay men stands at 26, according to latest reports by Novaya Gazeta. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that several of those targeted are still being held in detention.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov dismissed the accusations, saying there were “no gay men in Chechnya,” adding that any gay man in the republic was simply pretending to be Chechen in order to “get to the West”.

Writing on Instagram, press and information minister Jambulat Umarov, said that Novaya Gazeta should “apologise” for the “filthy provocation” of suggesting gay people existed in Chechnya.

Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for the leader later told reporters: “If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”

Later media reports also indicated the involvement of several high ranking Chechen officials in the alleged torture. In Chechnya it seems, the taboo of homosexuality is as pronounced as ever and given its recent history, this is no surprise.

Chechyna’s Chequered History

Chechnya is a conservative, Muslim-dominated semi autonomous republic in the heart of the Caucasus Mountains. Historically, it has been viewed by Russia as a key strategic location, acting as a buffer between Iranian and Turkish influences.

The republic was engulfed in war for much of the 19th century as attempts were made to create a ‘safe space’ between Orthodox Russian and Muslim empires. Since this time, the region has mostly remained under Russian control.

In 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chechnya declared independence from Russia, along with the 15 other member states of the union. However, Russia didn’t accept this, claiming that as a province and not a recognised nation Chechnya had no right to secede.

This resulted in the First Chechen War, which lasted from 1994 to ’96 and claimed 100,000 Chechen lives – almost one tenth of the population. Fourteen thousand Russian soldiers were also killed in the conflict.

In this case, David beat Goliath; the two sides came together in 1996 and came to an agreement that Chechnya would govern itself, free of Russian interference until 2001, when formal negotiations for a longterm solution would commence. Russia’s defeat was a humiliating blow to its reputation as a formidable military power on the world stage.

After this point, Chechnya was infiltrated by al-Qaida linked terrorists preaching Wahhabisim, a puritanical form of Islam which ran counter to the region’s widely held Sufi traditions.

This invasion of religious fundamentalism and the attempted enforcement of Sharia law, led to widespread human rights violations and a split between Chechen nationalists who resisted the religious influence of the foreign “invaders”, and the Wahhabists seeking to create a Chechen Caliphate. Once more, Chechnya was at war, this time with itself.

The top Mufti of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, initially renounced the Wahhabis as a threat to the separatist movement, before changing alliances and siding with once-sworn enemies, the Russians in 1998.

Putin wearing a blood soaked cape bearing Ramzan Kadyrov's face

Image by Jesse Campbell Brown, GCN 2017

The Only Man Who Can Guarantee Peace In Chechnya

In August 1999 Vladimir Putin became Russia’s Prime Minister. He embarked upon a military offensive against the Chechen Wahhabis and after attacks in Moscow, which were blamed on the rebels, killed more than 300 citizens, the Russian military began the Second Chechen War.

Aided by Kadyrov and other Chechen clans loyal to the Kremlin, the Russian military quickly returned most of Chechnya to Moscow’s control. Putin’s approval ratings skyrocketed and in 2003, Kadyrov was elected Chechen president. When Akhmad Kadyrov was killed in a terrorist bomb attack, his son, then 27 year-old Ramzan, became the region’s de facto leader.

An ursine figure (whom The Guardian describes as a “Kremlin-back strongman”), Kadyrov fought alongside his father against Russia in the First Chechen War before changing sides, and now reportedly enjoys Putin’s confidence as the only man who can guarantee peace in Chechnya.

“For years, Vladimir Putin saw the pacification of Chechnya as his main achievement,” Stanislav Belkovsky, a Moscow-based political analyst told Al Jazeera in 2014. “In that respect, Putin has a colossal psychological dependency on Chechnya and Ramzan Kadyrov, who ensured the pacification.”

Over the past ten years, Kadyrov has built Chechnya into a pious, patriarchal state with strict social rules and a deeply entrenched sense of hyper-masculinity. During that time he has also been implicated in a number of human rights abuses. However, Kremlin gossip abounds that Putin is tired of the luxury-loving Kadyrov running the region as his own private fiefdom and is unhappy with the unfavourable international coverage surrounding the recent anti-gay purge.

“Kadyrov has very long arms. If he wants to find someone, he’ll find them.”

This news is more than a little ironic, given Putin and his government’s well-documented antipathy towards homosexuality. In June 2013, the Duma unanimously passed a law banning the promotion and “propaganda” of “non-traditional” relationships.

“Propaganda” was defined as “the purposeful and uncontrolled distribution of information that can harm the spiritual or physical health of a minor, including forming the erroneous impression of the social equality of traditional and non-traditional marital relations.”

The law, which effectively criminalised Russia’s LGBT citizens (as well as media outlets and foreign organisations favourable towards LGBT equality), was seen my many as an attempt to enshrine conservative “traditional values” – Putin’s favourite platform – into law.

Claiming that the Russian people supported the legislation, Putin also offered some weak borscht about the anti-propaganda law being necessary to combat Russia’s dwindling birth rate. Activists claimed that the law was part of a larger move to stigmatise non-governmental organisations as “foreign agents” of the West, out to destabilise and weaken Mother Russia. In essence the legislation was a solidification of an “us” (Russian, morally upstanding, strong) versus “them” (Western, deviant, morally weak) mentality.

Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov

Russia Was Not Always Homophobic

Interestingly, Russia wasn’t always so vociferously homophobic. In 1917, the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (the Bolsheviks) abolished Tsarist anti-gay laws and replaced them with the Soviet Criminal Code of 1922 (updated 1926), which did not include homosexuality as an offence. Sexual ‘deviation’ was viewed as matter of biology, as opposed to an indication of a person’s moral failing.

“Kremlin gossip abounds that Putin is unhappy with the unfavourable international coverage surrounding the recent anti-gay purge.”

However, for myriad reasons – famines, war, Stalin, a gradual drift towards bureaucracy, etc. – homosexuality became synonymous with pederasty and paedophilia, and gays were vilified. But, for a brief period from 1917-1933 Russia’s queer comrades enjoyed (legislatively, at least) a level of freedom unrivalled to this day.

But the persecution of gay men in Chechnya has been going on for many years, Rachel Denver, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch told Salon last month. Chechnya is an extremely conservative Muslim society. The stigma of having a gay family member can cause a “stain” on a family’s honour.

Police officers frequently blackmail gay men, forcing them to confess on tape. This strategy is sometimes deployed against heterosexual political opponents too. It is as effective a strategy as it is brutal; taped confessions are sent to a victim’s family and the message is clear: Your son is gay. You know what to do. Send them “where they could never return” by way of an honour killing. Such is the stigma of being LGBT in Chechnya.

Worryingly, according to Denver, even leaving the region doesn’t guarantee someone’s safety. Family members and even the police have been known to follow fleeing gays into neighbouring territories. “Kadyrov has very long arms. If he wants to find someone, he’ll find them.”

Now comes news that Russian officials are actively investigating the claims of a gay purge, following widespread international pressure. Elena Milashina, the Novaya Gazeta reporter who broke the story, told The Guardian in May that Putin had been briefed on the details of the purge by Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s human rights ombudsman, and there was “evidence” that the Russian investigators were attempting to get to the bottom of the allegations.

However, activists have expressed concerns that Chechen officials – some of whom were allegedly present during torture – may interfere with the federal investigation.

Either way, Putin met with Kadyrov in Moscow shortly after the story broke and is believed to have warned Kadyrov that threats against journalists (like the one issued by press and information minister Jambulat Umarov who warned Novaya Gazeta on Instagram that people “who are more annoyed by your newspaper than we are” would “take care” of the publication’s journalists) are unacceptable.

For his part, Kadyrov denied the reports, telling Putin that the rumours of a gay purge were a slanderous “provocation” by Western agents eager to undermine Chechnya.

Given Putin’s own antipathy towards homosexuality and his positioning of himself as a “defender of traditional values”, protecting Chechnya’s gay men isn’t likely to be high on his list of priorities. Another important factor to consider is Putin’s dwindling control over Kadyrov, who has no problem flaunting Russian federal laws when they clash with perceived “traditional” Chechen values. The last thing Putin needs is further instability in the region, which would invariably occur if Kadyrov was deposed. Then there is the matter of who to replace him with. Political pundits suggest that Putin is stuck with Kadyrov for the foreseeable future.

“Defender of traditional values” Vladimir Putin

Meanwhile, any investigation into the gay purge is surely doomed to failure. Not holding out hope for a legislative resolution to the issue, LGBT rights groups from around the world have reached out to help victims by protesting, fundraising (and crucially, awareness-raising), lobbying governments and evacuating gay men from Chechnya.

A Moscow-based NGO called Russian LGBT Network has removed and relocated around 40 gay Chechens so far, the group’s communications manager anonymously told NPR last month. However, sometimes even that is not enough to ensure safety. “Well, the first thing for us to do is to evacuate them from Chechnya to other parts of Russia, but we are also working to relocate them out of Russia because for most of them it’s just deadly dangerous to stay because some of them are already hunted by their relatives outside of Chechnya. “Homosexuality in Chechnya is considered to be a stain on the whole family. And it is believed that the only way to kind of wash away this stain is to kill this person.”

Will Vladimir Putin, ever eager to protect the image of himself as a Russia’s iron leader and conscious of the impact Kadyrov’s repeated insubordination, embark on a third Chechen War, ostensibly to protect gay Chechens?

Time will tell.

Report by Ciara McGrattan. Illustration by Jesse Campbell Brown. First appeared in GCN, July 2017  

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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 King’s Speech and Jon Lithgow in The Crown 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 wealthy 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 Jerrys 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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Film

Raw/ The Handmaiden/ Handsome Devil

This month sees the release of French horror Raw (April 7). Be warned: paramedics were called after some Toronto film goers fainted during a screening of the movie. Cinemas in LA even provided audiences members with sick bags on the way in film. So, you know, maybe don’t fill up on steak tartare and foie gras before you go.

Raw follows the life of Justine, a precocious vegetarian veterinarian student who turns from plant-eater to ravenous cannibal after being forced to eat a raw rabbit liver during a vet school initiation.

After going full-Hannibal on the bunny liver, Justine’s appetite for organs and offal escalates point where only the rarest (pun definitely intended) meat of all will do: human. As director Julia Ducournau has been quick to clarify, Raw is no generic gore-fest; though it maybe gruesome it is also a nuanced coming-of-age story which deserves more than to be classed as garden-variety ‘body horror’.

Mid month sees the release of the The Handmaiden (April 14), based on Sarah Water’s 2005 lesbian classic novel Fingersmith. However, director Park Chan-wook (Lady Vengeance, Oldboy) has transplanted the action from Victorian-era Britain to 1930s Korea, during the Japanese occupation.

Anyway, the action centres on Tamako, a poor villager hired by well-to-do Japanese heiress Lady Hideko to be her handmaiden. So, Tamako packs her bags and heads off for a life off domestic servitude in a Lady Hideko’s plush country pile. But – dun, dun, dun! – there is a twist! Tamako is actually a con-woman named Sook-hee working a partner, Count Fujiwara, to cheat Lady H out of her riches. This is easier said then done, however, especially when Sook-hee begins to develop feelings for Lady H.

Also this month, another coming-of-age movie (sans entrails this time, thankfully), Irish-made Handsome Devil (April 21). Set in a rugby-mad boys boarding school it follows two opposites, nerdy, musical Ned and rugger alpha male Conor, who become unlikely allies after being forced to bunk together.

Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is sent to boarding school by his disinterested father (Ardal O’Hanlon) and wicked stepmother (Amy Huberman), despite hating rugby, and the regular bullying that inevitably comes with hating rugby in a sports-obsessed school. When handsome rugby legend Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) is assigned to his room Ned immediately assumes the worst and erects a ‘Berlin Wall’ to keep himself safe.

But Conor isn’t simply one-dimensional meat-head worthy of only Ned’s contempt – he is a man of hidden depths, as Ned eventually discovers. Written and directed by novelist John Butler and featuring an amazing cast (which includes Sherlock’s Andrew Scott AND Game of Thrones‘ villainous Michael McElhatton), Handsome Devil is a solid Irish movie, and a worthy addition to the pantheon of excellent recent Irish movie releases (A Date for Mad Mary, Young Offenders, Sing Street).

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Film

Certain Women/ Beauty and the Beast/ The Lost City of Z

The top of the month sees the return of the admittedly attractive, but utterly expressionless, charms of Kristen Stewart in Certain Women (March 3).

Directed by Night Moves’ Kelly Reichardt, Certain Women follows three separate, but tangentially related, women’s lives in a sleepy Montana town.

The first is lawyer Laura (Laura Dern) and her dealings with increasingly deranged client who overlooks her legal advice because she is a women; the second story follows a couple (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros) building their own home and enjoying regular arguments about their daughter and with their curmudgeonly, not to mention sexist, neighbour whose sandstone they hope to purchase; and the final story follows lonely ranch-hand Jamie who finds herself attending anight school law class, taught by a cardigan-sporting K-Stew.

Laden with low key indie charm and preponderance on the endless unspoken burdens of being a woman in a man’s universe, Certain Women is a quiet feminist gem.

Was ever there a casting as perfect as Harry Potter hottie Hermione, aka Emma Watson, as Belle in the live-action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (March 17)? Unless Donald Trump secretly been cast in Cheetos: The Movie, I think not.

In the unlikely event that some people are unfamiliar with the story, here it is: Belle who likes books and singing dish-ware, is taken prisoner by the brooding Beast in exchange for the freedom of her rose-stealing father (is there Sharia law or something in this part of the Disney-verse?)

She soon becomes enamoured of the Beast’s enchanted staff (comprised of talking baroque furniture and cutlery) and eventually, Beast. It’s not really a spoiler since the original story was published in 1740 – it is a tale as old as time. Can Watson actually sing? And is Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) able to convey beastly emotion through all the CGI and prosthetics? There’s only one way to find out!

And now for something completely different, in the form of rip-roaring, testosterone-y, The Lost City of Z (March 24), starring Queer as Folk‘s Charlie Hunnam (and former beard of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson). Pattinson, usually the most handsome guy in any given movie, literally looks like boiled crap next to the swoonsome charms of the beefy (but terrible-at-accents) Hunnam.

But I digress. The Lost City of Z is the true story of British explorer Col. Percy Fawcett (Hunnam) who in the early 1900s discovered evidence of previously unknown advanced civilisation during an Amazonian exploration. Fawcett’s findings were widely ridiculed by the scientific establishment who refused to believe indigenous peoples were anything other than ignorant ‘savages’.

New Spiderman Tom Holland puts in an appearance as Fawcett’s son, as does Sienna Miller as Fawcett’s devoted wife Nina. And of course, Pattinson as Fawcett’s trusty aide-de-camp, Henry, the one man in the entire world who actually looks worse with a beard. Seriously.

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Film

A Date For Mad Mary/ Young Offenders/ Sausage Party

Kicking off the month in fine style is Irish movie A Date for Mad Mary (September 2), winner of the Audience Award at this year’s GAZE festival.

The story follows the eponymous Mary upon her completion of a six-month prison stretch for a vicious assault. Returning to her home town of sunny Drogheda, Mary sets about rekindling her friendship with soon-to-be married ex-bessie Charlene. However, Charlene has outgrown Mary, as evidenced by her increasingly distant demeanor and her refusal give Mary a plus one to the wedding.

Unable to face her friend’s rejection, and desperate to prove her worth, Mad Mary sets about find a date for the wedding. After a parade of laughable losers she encounters lovely chanteuse Jess and a ray of hope penetrates her wounded warrior ways. Prepare for the feels, viewers.

And there’s another Irish film on offer this month (yay!), Young Offenders (September 16), this one inspired by Ireland’s largest cocaine seizure off the Cork coast in 2007.

The action centres on inner-city ne’er do wells Jock and Connor, typical Garda-baiting, bum fluff-sporting rascally teens.

When a boat carrying 61 bales of cocaine capsizes off the coast, the lads, hearing that one bale – worth €7 million– is missing, head to West Cork to find the missing coke.

But things are very seldom straight-forward when there’s a massive brick of cocaine involved and soon the lads and their supporting cast (featuring Naked Camera’s PJ Gallagher and Republic of Telly’s Hilary Rose) find themselves in some deep water. The gowls! Go see it and support Irish film.

Ostensibly a parody of emotionally-manipulative Disney Pixar flicks, Seth Rogan’s Sausage Party (September 20) gets a long-awaited release this month.

Rude, crude and full of epicurean entendres, Sausage Party centres on the anthropomorphic foodstuffs (voiced by Seth Rogan, Kristen Wiig and a host of others) in a supermarket as they alternate between longing to be picked up by a shopper and carried off to the Great Beyond, and longing to have sex with each other. This is a sexually charged supermarket – sort of like the Spar on Parliament Street after pub closing time.

Anyway, after learning the truth about what really happens to them once they’re carted off (geddit) by the shoppers – peeled, sliced, roasted and consumed – outraged Frankfurter Frank (Rogan) sets off on a quest for answers. Definitely one for fans of silly stoner fare.

This piece first appeared in GCN, September 2016

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Film, TV

Celebrity Big Brother Launch Highlights

It seems as if every season of Celebrity Big Brother kicks off with the audience saying ‘Wasn’t this just on?’

 

Well, ‘yes, sort of’ is the answer to that: the last Celeb season wrapped up in January with toothsome geordie Scotty T crowned winner, and the normal people (I use this phrase loosely) Big Bro wrapped just 2 days ago, which seems like hardly enough time to de-scumify the house after a dozen party-loving, chore-hating reprobates living there for 8 weeks.

Anyway, on to the show, in which eternally elegant Emma Willis wheels out a collection of semi-recognisable rejects from Geordie Shore, Ex on the Beach, porn, youtube, the ’80s and er, Storage Hunters.

First in was eternally upbeat panto Dame and bona fide reality TV veteran, Christopher Biggens. Biggens has done it all: Panto, Porridge, more Panto, and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

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“A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man”

Most Likely To Say: Some obscure Bette Davis quote
Least Likely To Say: “The level of intellectual discourse in this house is stimulating” followed immediately by “OH, NO IT ISN’T!”

Next in was the obligatory Loose Woman, Saira Khan, who is a bit of an Annie McNoFace to be honest.

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Sair-a later, snoozezilla

These Loose ladies always make the mistake of trying to interview everyone constantly, but most CBB contestants have the emotional range of a basketball and so do not make good interview fodder. Anyway, she was in The Apprentice, describes herself as “gobby” and immediately got Arianna Grande’s name wrong so I sort of like her a bit.

Most Likely To Say: “Let’s have an in-depth chat about Brexit ?”
Least Likely To Say: “I just want to sit in a state of silent contemplation now”

Next in, Frankie Grande ‘Youtuber’ (yes, this is a valid career now apparently) and brother of infamous donut-licker, Arianna Grande, who EXPLODED on to the stage in a cloud of glitter and fierce posing.

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Literally, he moves around too much to get a good screen shot

I want to be snarky, but his entrance was so ebullient that it was fabulous. High energy housemates are annoying to live with and this makes them TV gold. PLUS as an American (who has already appeared in the US BB) he is more aware of the game-playing needed to win.

Most Likely To Say: “Sissy that walk! Purse first!” before cartwheeling around the house
Least Likely to Say: “No thanks, I have enough glitter on already.”

Next in was Ricky Norwood, aka Fat Boy from EastEnders, who was booted from the show after being caught doing something sexy while smoking a spliff on Skype (I don’t want to Google the exact details, thanks).

Big Brother’s Bit on the Side aficionados will recognise frequent panelist Ricky, as he is a legit BB super fan who’s been angling for a spot on the show FOREVER. This could work against him though: the more familiar a contestant is with the show, the more likely they are to be undone by hubris. Yeah, I said it. Remember John Partridge?

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Fat Boy: a potential winner

Most Likely To Say: “I’m just here for the experience”
Least Likely To Say: “Add me on Skype”

Next, another total blank: Renee Graziano, who apparently appears in a show called Mob Wives.

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Look at this ass!

If I remember my Sopranos correctly, the mob operate under a similar system to Fight Club, with rule number one (apart from ‘snitches get stitches sleep with fishes’) being never, ever admit to the existence of the mafia.

So why hasn’t anyone put a hit out on her and her gravity-defying derriere?

Most Likely To Say: “Pass the gabagool”
Least Likely To Say: ‘No’, to more ass implants.

Next in was generic Geordie Shorer Marnie Simpson. Blah.

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Oh, a finger in the mouth! How sexy.

She’s a bisexual, she “speaks her mind” (like, haven’t they realised yet that the people who keep their mouth shut last the longest?) and has the “best looking vagina in Britain”. She was surprisingly modest outside of the VT though, so maybe she won’t be so terrible?

Most Likely To Say: “Does my vagina look big in this?”
Least Likely To Say: “No, thanks – I’ve had enough to drink.”

Next in was this season’s obligatory troll, DJ James Whale (sample quote: “men and woman can never be equal.”)

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Literally, a dick-head

Is only in the house because first-choice Nigel Farage (Whale’s bestie) wanted a whopping £750,000 to appear. That’s five times more than Biggens, this year’s highest-paid star (£150,000).

Most Likely To Say: “I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic BUT…”
Least Likely To Say: “Three cheers for intersectionality!”

Next in was Aubrey O’Day, who you might remember from such things as 2004’s Making the Band (she ended up in P Diddy-managed girl band Dannity Kane).

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This is where a degree in Political Science gets you. Don’t stay in school, kids

She has a degree in political science (!), she’s 32 (“so I get Botox”) and hates Donald Trump, so I guess she’s not all bad? American housemates are always the best, and they usually stick together so let’s hope for a Grande-O’Day-Mafia wife alliance!

Most Likely To Say: “One more procedure and I qualify for a free nose job!”
Least Likely To Say: “I recognise almost everyone in this house.”

Next in was visibly coked-up energetic Ex On the Beach bum, Steve Bear.

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*ape-like snort*

In his VT he was confident and flirty, but when he came out on stage he was so PUMPED UP that he looked like he might throw Emma over his shoulder and climb to the top of the house while fighting off by-planes. And he said he thinks the earth is flat (seriously), all while wearing sunglasses at night. Terrible.

Most likely To Say: “Seriously, the earth is flat. Seriously.”
Least Likely To Say: “Sunglass at night make me look like a twat, right?”

Next in was ex-X Factorer Katie Waissal. Remember? She was the one who was always forgetting her words and breaking down on stage? Her granny was a prostitute who accused her of ruining her career by drawing too much attention to the family? Anyway, she came across as nervous which is always a bit endearing.

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She doesn’t want to talk about nana’s knocking shop, thanks

Most Likely To Say: “I don’t want to talk about the X Factor…”
Least Likely To Say: “Check out my nana’s sexy PoF pics”

Next in was Lewis Bloor, another chiselled but rather generic TOWIE-r. Yes, he’s handsome and he likes the ladies, but so does literally everyone else on these shows.

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Ain’t I ‘andsome, though?

What else is there to say? Apart from the fact that he went into the house in Patrick Bateman cosplay, which I guess is sort of unique?

Most Likely To Say: “Hand me my filofax”
Least Likely To Say: “No thanks, I’ve seen enough boobs for one night”

Next was Grant Bovey, formerly Mr Anthea Turner. I recognised him because I’m over 30, but I’m betting at least 98% of the other viewers didn’t.

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*caption not found*

The best thing about Grant’s entrance was that, like Darren Day, he went in saying he just wanted to correct “public perception” about him being a love rat, etc, but unlike Darren Day, no-one had a clue who he was, so it was totally pointless. And hilarious.

Most Likely To Say: “I was Anthea Turner’s husband? Remember?”
Least Likely To Say: “I’m the poor-man’s Darren Day.”

This next housemate in was Farrah Abraham-alike Chloe Mafia, who you might remember from her brief stint on X Factor. She was the one who, post-X Factor, made the transition from £160 prostitute to founder of a million-pound webcam business. Good for her.

Next was a guy called Heavy D, who apparently is from Storage Wars. Or Storage Hunters. Something storage-y.

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B(l)oooooom(ing annoying)

Heavy makes his own clothes (and needs to go back to tailoring school since the crotch on his bespoke Ice cream suit was sagging). He’s a “geezer”, the “king of banter” and loves to roar his catchphrase “BOOOOM”.

He sounds like a Tom Hardy character, looks like Jack Black and is very, very loud.

Most Likely To Say: “BOOOOOOOOOOOOM!”
Least Likely To Say: “Give me a pie before I glass you in the boat-race, geezer”

Finally, after what seemed like an unending parade of semi-recognisable faces came a final recognisable face: ’80s siren Samantha Fox, who was no doubt eager to give TV clip-shows a new clip to replace the one of her as a belligerent pissed Dracula on ITV’s short-lived The Club. She seemed nervous, which is always sensible.

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What does the Fox say?

Most Likely To Say: “Touch me! Touch me! I wanna feel your body!”
Least Likely To Say: “Pass me the proscecco and fake Dracula fangs.”

Phew! So many housemates! It’s not a great bunch (and where the hell was Mrs Dog the Bounty Hunter?) but who cares, as long as they fight!

On a semi-serious note: there’s been a real shift in the Celebrity BB vibe since Channel 5 has taken over the franchise.

Whereas once all the contestants were washed-up has-beens desperate for another bite of the fame cherry, enduring the humiliation of BB was a sort of penance necessary for winning back public favour. Appearing in it meant that you had reach your career nadir and knew it.

Now there’s an air of legitimacy to the proceedings: it’s seen as just another reality TV show with no more or less stigma attached to it than to Geordie Shore, Ex on the Beach, TOWIE or the I’m a Celebrity (Just Kidding I Slept With A Footballer) – Get Me Out of Here.

I must admit, this unironic verve does reduce the schaudenfreude somewhat. But it also means that the contestants are seasoned reality TV stars: they know that the public like sexy shenanigans, beaucoup bitching and fights that get so intense viewers start wondering if they should call the cops.

Viva la Big Brother!

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Film

Suicide Squad/ Mike and Dave Need Dates/ David Brent: Life on the Road

Kicking off the cinematic shenanigans this month is Suicide Squad (August 5). Given that this is a hot contender for ‘Most Hyped Movie Of The Year’, I’ll dispense with the laundry list of A-listers appearing (Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie etc) and get down to the plot.

Super secret government agency A.R.G.U.S, led by Amanda Waller (The Help’s Viola Davis), compiles a all-star squad comprised of incarcerated super villains. Their mission? To undertake various shady black-ops missions in an effort to chisel time off their respective sentences. Sounds legit.

But will Suicide Squad be fitting apology for the disappointment of Batman VS Superman: Dawn of Justice? And will Jared Leto ever be able to scrub off those henna tatts? There’s only one way to find out!

Released mid-month is Mike and Dave Need Dates (August 10) starring Zac Effron.

I already know what you’re thinking; this is obviously going to be some sort of crude, semen-scented dude comedy, but please observe the casting of the females leads. Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick are not super sexy vixens (though they are attractive, of course) but are well regarded for their comedy chops, more so then their sex appeal.

The story is simple: hard-partying brothers Mike (Modern Family’s Adam DeVine) and Dave (Efron) are instructed by their sister to find appropriate dates for her upcoming Hawaiian wedding, in order to prevent them from ruining the big day with their excessive joie de vivre.

So, they appear on a TV show appealing for dates, which puts them into contact with slovenly hucksters Tatiana (Plaza) and Alice (Kendrick) who set out to trick the guys into believe they are respectable, Charlotte from SATC types, perfect for a family wedding. And they succeed, but the guys soon learn the truth about the girls after spotting them smoking weed from a hollowed out apple on the beach. Comedy ensues.

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It’s called an apple bong, if you’re wondering

After Bad Neighbours, I began to come around to Zac Effron. He’s not terrible at comedy you guys, even if his attempts at dramatic pathos are so terrible they make Joey from Friend’s ‘Smell the Fart’ acting style look like Laurence Olivier.

Nonetheless, this has got something for everyone: brainless laughs, Audrey Plaza and Zac Effron for the (sorta) sex appeal, and a capable, familiar cast.

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 15 years since the world’s cringiest mockumentary boss awkwardly danced his way onto our TV screens and into our hearts. It has been, though, and somehow the world has managed to continue spinning after the end of The Office in 2003 (and the end of the show’s surprisingly good American remake in 2013).

With such international turmoil and global instability, the world needs the return of David Brent now more than ever. And luckily, there’s beaucoup Brent in the form of David Brent: Life of the Road (August 15).

The finale of the show’s brief run (which lasted only two seasons and a two-part Christmas special) saw Brent fired from the titular office before capitalising on the z-list fame generated by the mockumentary by engaging in a series of humiliating public appearances at Slough’s nightclubs.

David Brent: Life on the Road picks up the action 15 years after the events of The Office. Brent, now a nomadic office supplies sales rep selling paperclips and tampons, embarks on a tour with his band Foregone Conclusion. Deluded as ever, Brent believes the filming of the tour (which he is funding out of his pension) will be a Scorcese-esque portrait of a genius on the road, when in fact it is a ‘where are they now’ follow-up on the ludicrous (deludicrous?) Brent.

There’s clearly a bit of wish fulfilment going on here; although it’s all very tongue-in-cheek Gervais, whose ’80s new-wave band Seona Dancing scored a hit single in the Philippines, is clearly enjoying the chance to play a (albeit clueless) strutting rock star, singing songs co-written by Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

But will it be any good? Too early to say: for every ‘The Office’ Gervais creates there’s a ‘Life’s Too Short’, but the chance to hear him wheel out cringy classics like ‘Free Love Freeway’ and Paris Nights is almost too much to resist.

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Film

Legend of Tarzan/ Maggie’s Plan/ Summertime

Opening the month in muscular style is Legend of Tarzan (July 8) starring the delightful Alexander Skarsgård and a menagerie of CGI creatures.

For those unfamiliar with the story (perhaps you were raised by tree-dwelling mammals?), it centres on the titular Tarzan, (played by True Blood’s viking vampire, Skarsgård) who is raised by gorillas and other a number of other wild beasts after his mother and father perish.

In an new twist on the much-filmed tale, the film begins with Tarzan, now going by John Clayton III/ Lord Greystoke living the gentile life of an English aristocrat. Instead of showing the hackneyed ‘taming of the beast’ story arc, the opening focuses on a very tame Lord Greystoke strutting around London with his spiffing wife Jane (played by Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie), ten years after leaving the jungle.

After being appointed trade emissary to the Congo by the British Parliament, Lord Tarzan is pitched back into the jungly life he left behind, without realising that he is a pawn in the evil schemes of dastardly villain Captain Rom (played by the always-excellent Christoph Waltz). Can the very ripped Tarzan save Jane, foil Rom’s evil machinations and still have time for Leg Day? Hop the nearest vine down to your local cinema to find out.

Out on the same day is Maggie’s Plan (July 8), which begins as a generic rom-com but turns into a comedic caper.

The story is thus: meticulous teacher Maggie (Greta Gerwig), ever the practical soul, decides that she cannot depend on Mr Right showing up and impregnating her, so she turns to artisanal pickle entrepreneur Guy to help her. Then, as is wont to happen, life throws her a curve ball in the form of hunky, but married John (Ethan Hawke, who only gets cast in rom-coms these days).

Soon enough John leaves his crazy, but brilliant, wife Georgette (Julianne Moore, with a comical Danish accent) for a life with Maggie, and the live happily ever after. Just kidding! After a few years of marriage to John she discovers that he is in fact, a bit of a dick. In a quirky, if not unexpected turn of events, Maggie decides that the best way to unburden herself of John is by foisting him back on his ex-Georgette. Luckily, Georgette is on-board and so, comedic capers ensue. Will she succeed? And will Ethan Hawke ever get cast in a non-rom-com again? Only time will tell!

At the tail end of the month is French indie flick Summertime (La Belle Saison) (July 15). After doing the festival rounds for a while now this quirky coming of age tale is final being granted a cinematic release (though probably not beyond the IFI).

Set in the 1970s, Summertime follows country girl Delphine who leaves her rural home for the bright lights of gay Paris. Once there, she promptly replaces her farmer’s dungarees and piece of chewing straw with a leather jacket and a Gauloises, before joining a radical feminist group.

Before long, Delphine finds herself irresistibly drawn to the group’s charismatic leader Carole, and when it becomes clear that the attraction is mutual, the two connect.

However, when Delphine’s father falls ill (quelle Domage!), a difficult choice presents itself: should she stay in Paris or follow her family’s wishes to remain on the farm and marry the boy next door?

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