Posts Tagged Pat Harrington

Under the Skin (2013)

Certificate: 15 Runtime: 1h48m

Click on image to buy the DVD!

Click on image to buy the DVD!

Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s blend of sci-fi and horror, has been described as both ‘erotic’ and ‘disturbing’. It is an adaption of Michel Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name. undertheskinvan
Scarlett Jhohannson is an extraterrestrial cruising Glasgow in a white van to pick up men. She always asks questions like ‘are you alone?’ and ‘Do you live alone?’. Clue: the smart answer is ‘No’.
In between picking up men she ( credited as “Laura”, a name never mentioned in the film!) drives around Glasgow where the ordinary folk are observed and weighed up. These scenes of Glasgow have a fascination of their own as ordinary people going about their daily lives are closely observed.
Although there is flesh on show I didn’t find it erotic although I did find it disturbing. There is a beach drowning scene where her alien, disconnected and unsympathetic nature is underscored. It is harrowing.
Johansson’s alien is gradually drawn into the world of humanity and loses control. This is triggered by meeting a man with neurofibromatosis. She seems depressed and becomes withdrawn and vulnerable. In this state she sees both the best and worst of human nature.
Under the Skin is an unusual, visually beautiful film but expect to leave with more questions than answers.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

There is a second Counter Culture review of Under the Skin by Alistair Martin here.

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Review: We will be Free! Tolpuddle Martyrs Story

tolpuddle-poster-square-6cmx6cm-with-writing-300x300Category     Theatre
Genres     drama, music
Group     Townsend Productions / The Assembly Rooms
Venue     The Assembly Rooms ​
Event Website
Date     10-25 August
Time     12:30
Duration     1 hour 10 minutes
Suitability     12+
Warnings     No latecomers. Under 14’s should be accompanied by an over 14yr old.
Country of Origin     England




The synopsis for this show says that it is ‘based around the true story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Set in 1834 and the extraordinary story of George and Betsy Loveless. He was a Methodist minister and the leader of the six Dorset farm labourers who were tried, convicted and condemned to harsh transportation by an oppressive Government for having the temerity to swear a secret oath and form a secret union to fight against a succession of wage cuts inflicted by the local landowner.’

This then is a show with a message and that’s made clear from the start with The Casterbridge Mummers
depicting Saint George fighting and slaying the wicked Dragon. There is no doubt who represents good and evil here, no ‘grey areas’.

In the 1840s the ‘dragons’ were those exploiting the poor and dispossessed. The six men arrested in Tolpuddle in 1837 were trying to gain a modest rise in their daily wage from a pitiful eight shillings. Before organising a  Union they had sought to reach agreement with the Farmers and Gentry but as the show depicts they reneged on an agreement to match wages in other  neighbouring areas.

The sentences for stepping out of line could be draconian. Hanging was common, Transportation for minor felonies was widely used. It was no small matter to oppose ‘the powers that be’ during this period and could lead to personal ruin. Only a burning desire for Justice and the fact that it was next to impossible to live on the wages paid led people to risk the penalties and fight for change.

Elizabeth Eves and Neil Gore (also the writer) portray Betsy Loveless and her labourer husband, George. Despite the serious subject there is much fun as they play the different characters, both good and evil. The  show tells the story of Tolpuddle with humour and in song. There is a pantomime aspect to the show with the audience invited to hiss and boo  the establishment figures. That is just one aspect of the show, however, as it is also a love story and it shows the difficulties and pressures caused by adverse, even bleak circumstances and the sorrow of being forcibly parted.

There is a small, sparse set with just a bit of back-projection but in truth it is the music and acting that you focus on when watching.

I found the show both educational and entertaining. Discovering that a point in favour of the Tolpuddle men was the swearing  of secret oaths by members of the Orange Order (including a relative of the King) fascinated me. The  succeeds in  setting the story into a social context making us aware of the effects of enclosure and the establishment fear of unrest and revolution.

The Chartist lyrics woven into some of the songs were great and the musical abilities of the actors (showing mastery of accordion, mandolin, violin and tabor) humbling . This show will be of interest to all those who care about Social Justice (and at times it is heart wrenching) but it is more than that – it is fun!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Good news!  We will be Free! is going on tour. Check here for dates and venues.

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Homeland Season One

Homeland Series 1 Cover Picture

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Reviewed by Pat Harrington

From the opening credits Homeland is unsettling. There are flashing images and voice-overs of presidents, including President Obama. The  images and sounds are disturbing in the way they are juxtaposed Jazz and recorded warnings of terrorist attacks. Baby pictures, people fleeing the collapse of the Twin Towers and surreal images of the characters in mazes assault the eyes in quick succession – almost like blipverts.

Homeland is loosely based on the Israeli television series Hatufim (English: Prisoners of War) created by Gideon Raff . The first season follows Carrie Mathison, a CIA operations officer who has come to believe that Nicholas Brody, an U.S. Marine Sergeant, who was held captive by al-Qaeda as a prisoner of war, was turned by the enemy and now poses a significant threat to national security.

Homeland deals with complex psychological, political and moral issues. At the heart of the programme is the question of loyalty and betrayal. What is going on in the mind of Nicholas Brody? Has he turned against his government and people and if so why? Is he a hero, or a traitor?

Homeland doesn’t whitewash the US government. An important part of the story shows a cover-up of the deaths of scores of Arab children as a result of a drone attack gone wrong. The mistaken killing of Muslim worshipers and attempts at an FBI cover-up is also depicted. Homeland forces us to question the motivations behind decisions and the truth of statements issued by the  US government. No one watching Homeland would draw the conclusion that the US government was to be trusted when propagandising about the ‘war on terror’.

It’s not entirely clear who the ‘good guys’ are in Homeland. Both sides use torture and psychological manipulation to advance their aims. In general, however, it is the CIA operatives, Carrie and Saul who we are invited to identify with. Homeland starts from an understanding of issues from a US viewpoint (however critical). It never escapes that mindset by really seeking to understand the conflict from an Arab or Muslim perspective.

Like the plot the characters are subtle and complex. The central characters of Brodiy and Carrie are damaged people. Carrie suffers from bipolar disorder and eats nothing but unflavoured yogurt and Chinese take-out. She engages in high-risk behaviour and seems to have no life outside of her job. Brody behaves erratically and seems unable to relate to his family and friends anymore after years imprisoned in a hole. It seems that they are drawn to one another. Their relationship is unpredictable and it always seems as if at any point they might become allies rather than enemies. This is just one of the many layers of tension that makes Homeland so gripping.

It’s small wonder that this season received almost universal acclaim, scoring a Metacritic rating of 91 out of 100 from 28 critics. The series won both the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series for this season. The finale episode of season one received 1.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched season finale of any first-year Showtime series.The series also performed well in the UK, where it aired on Channel 4, with the pilot episode drawing 3.10 million viewers, and the finale drawing 4.01 million viewers.
Homeland is watched in high circles too. President Obama lists it as one of his favourite shows. He invited British actor Damian Lewis, who plays Brody, to The White House. Lewis was polite to Obama, but in a Rolling Stone interview he said, “And by the way, for all the conventional wisdom that Bush was a warmonger and hawkish and that Obama is not, that he’s more dovish — you know, he has ordered more drone strikes in his first term than Bush did in his two terms. I think by a ratio of something like every one in four days, he orders a drone strike to Bush’s every one in 10 days when he was in office. It’s obviously his preferred method of attack, you know.”

This brings home the necessity of confronting the issues raised in Homeland. If we view Homeland as passive observers deriving only entertainment we miss an opportunity and continue to drift. Only by thinking deeply about the issues raised and using this and other representations in popular culture (for example Argo) as the starting point for discussion and debate can we hope to raise consciousness. If we don’t do this the conflict will become ever more bitter and we will be condemned to generations of fear and insecurity.

Main cast
•    Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a CIA operations officer
•    Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody, a U.S. Marine platoon sergeant held by al-Qaeda as a prisoner of war for eight years.
•    Morena Baccarin as Jessica Brody, Nicholas Brody’s wife.
•    David Harewood as David Estes, the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Diego Klattenhoff as Mike Faber, a U.S. Marine Captain.
•    Jackson Pace as Chris Brody, Nicholas Brody’s son.
•    Morgan Saylor as Dana Brody, Nicholas Brody’s daughter.
•    Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, the CIA’s Middle-East Division Chief. Plot

•  Actors: Damian Lewis, Claire Danes, Morena Baccarin, Mandy Patinkin, David Harewood
•  Format: Box set, Full Screen, PAL
•  Language: English
•  Subtitles: English
•  Dubbed: None
•  Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English
•  Audio Description: None
•  Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
•  Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1
•  Number of discs: 4
•  Classification: 15
•  Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
•  DVD Release Date: 10 Sep 2012
•  Run Time: 651 minutes

Episode List:
•    Pilot
•    Grace
•    Clean Skin
•    Semper I
•    Blind Spot
•    The Good Soldier
•    The Weekend
•    Achilles Heel
•    Crossfire
•    Representative Brody
•    The Vest
•    Marine One

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Documentary Review: War By Other Means

War By Other Means

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War By Other Means is a 1992 documentary film by John Pilger and David Munro. In this documentary Jon Pilger points out that in the year of Live Aid in 1985 Africa gave twice as much to us as we gave to them. On Red Nose Day the 12m raised by the public came back in interest payments on loans. Developing countries pay more interest on loans then they ever receive in international aid.

Pilger sees the debt system as a form of war:

“In many ways it’s like a colonial war. The difference is that these days people and their resources are controlled not by Viceroys and occupying armies but by other, more sophisticated means of which the principal weapon is debt.”

Pilger traces the international debt system back to Bretton Woods in 1944 where the IMF and World Bank were formed.

The documentary looks at the effects of this system on the Philipines. 44 per cent of the Philipines national budget goes to paying interest on foreign debt. The effects are shown with graphic scenes of poverty. People are filmed picking through rubbish on ‘Smokey Mountain’ to find a few things to sell and buy food. Debt is rightly described as a contemporary form of slavery.

The effect of Structural Adjustment Plans is to make sure that debt repayment takes priority over everything else. No environmental or humanitarian concern is given greater weight than that goal.

Despite optimistic comments in this documentary from a World Bank interviewee little has changed. The Phillipines economy is still geared toward paying back interest payment on debt. Although it once boasted one of the region’s best-performing economies, the Philippines is saddled with a large national debt and tens of millions of people live in poverty. In 2004, public debt as a percentage of GDP was estimated to be 74.2%; in 2008, 56.9%.Gross external debt has risen to $66.27 billion and the daily income for 45% of the population of the Philippines remains less than $2.

Pilger makes a passionate case for debt cancellation. He argues that the World Bank and IMF should be abolished and replaced with a real development agency based on the national interest of the countries concerned. Watch and learn how developing nations are enslaved by debt and how we could help them.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Documentary review: Supermarket Secrets 1

Supermarket Secrets 1
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The stranglehold of Supermarkets is changing the way we eat as well as the way we shop. This documentary ‘Dispatches. Supermarket  Secrets 1′ looks at the price we pay for cheap and convenient food.

Jane Moore compares now starts by looking back at the 1950s when Chicken was an extra special treat. Even in a more recent past we are eating four times as many chickens as thirty years ago. In 1970, 200 million a year but by 2004, 850 million a year.

Chickens are big business and are produced using factory farms. The talk is of ‘growing’ chickens. Chicken rearing is an industrial process. Ross 308 is  the favourite type as it  fattens quickly. It can grow in 42 days reaching maturity in half time of 50s chickens.

The programme shows that animal suffering is one price that to pay. The horrific undercover footage from a farm in Norfolk is distressing.  This factory farm supplies Grampian Country Food group which in turn supplies the big supermarkets.

Donald Broom, Professor of Animal Welfare Cambridge University, explains part of the  problem is  with the  legs of the chickens as weight is added too quickly and they are unable to support it.  This leads to trampling and falling into contact with their own urine.  Prof. Broom shows that hockburns caused by the ammonia in the urine are visible on many chickens bought from supermarkets. In an earlier scientific survey Prof. Broom found 82 per cent of chickens bought from the major supermarkets had  hockburn –  the tell-tale brown round mark found on the scaly part of the  leg.

Supermarket Secrets 1 also questions the quality of the meat produced. Traditional butcher John Chadwick looks at some of the meat bought from supermarkets. He identifies ASDA passing off cutlets as loin chops (loin chops should have a  t-bone) and the fact that  Tesco add preservatives to pork chops and fat from another animal to their topside rump. A jury of 12 people blind taste meat from a traditional butcher and from the more expensive supermarket ranges.  The results are conclusive. In every test the meat from the traditional butcher is rated more highly.

Top Chef Raymond Blanc takes us through an ‘autopsy’ of a supermarket chicken showing its abnormal growth and comparing it to a free-range chicken.

This documentary will make you think about the food supply chain and whether you are getting such a good bargain at your local supermarket. It shows that for a lower price you must accept animal suffering and poorer quality. Are you prepared to pay this price?

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Edinburgh Fringe: And Justice for All ★★★★★

And Justice For All!Bronxville High School Drama
Church Hill Theatre
Venue 137
33 Morningside Road

Friday, August 13, 1715
Saturday, August 14, 1315

Book tickets here

Two explosive One-Acts about American Democracy

Twelve Angry Jurors

I didn’t know what to expect from this. I was familiar with Twelve Angry Jurors only through the film Twelve Angry Men (the 1957 film starring Henry Fonda). I had never seen the play by Reginald Rose. It turned out to be just as dramatic and watchable as the film. Both revolve around the concept of reasonable doubt played out through a Jury tasked with deciding whether a boy is guilty of stabbing to death his Father. This excellent cast brought the script to life showing how individual prejudices filtered the perception of those involved not just in how they interpret the trial but also how they relate to one another. It’s also a great propaganda piece for the one person who sticks to their guns and doesn’t follow the crowd as one juror seeks to convince the rest that they are wrong and that they need to think again.

All 12 Jurors played their parts well. My only criticism is that due to the fact they were sitting around a table I could not see the facial expressions of some of the cast – just their backs! Perhaps they should have a mirror on stage or maybe they alternate who sits where! Fortunately there was a lot of pacing and standing up!

Waiting for Lefty

The second play is a far more boisterous and noisy show. Written in 1935 the playwright (Clifford Odets) took his inspiration from a New York cab strike. This play is about social protest. It tells the story of cabbies who are exploited by management and who have a Union run by the mob that will do anything to stifle grassroots militancy. With a few changes, here and there, it could be transposed to the present day and there are still lessons here that speak to workers. One unusual slant is that the workers aren’t shown in isolation – the forces driving them to strike are shown. In particular the economic pressure on their families is decisive in making a number support the strike. The young cast were enthusiastic and conveyed the desperation of the strikers and their feeling that the odds were being stacked against them well.

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DVD Review: Law Abiding Citizen

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The film opens with a very disturbing sequence. Engineer Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is enjoying a quiet evening at home with his wife and daughter when the commonplace domestic scene is interrupted by the sound of someone knocking. Thinking it’s a takeout delivery, Clyde  opens the door to two criminals and is hit over the head with a bat. The next thing he knows, he’s barely conscious, gagged, and bound, and is forced to watch as his wife is raped and killed. Then his young daughter is taken into another room for a similar treatment from Clarence Darby (Christian Stolte). 

The culprits are arrested by the police but the ambitious D.A. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) makes a deal with the assassin Darby who accuses and gives evidence against his partner. He pleads guilty to a reduced count of third degree murder. Shelton is not happy. Rice agrees that both men are guilty but argues that the case isn’t airtight without the testimony, and if they lose, both men walk free. 

Ten years later, Darby’s partner is executed by lethal injection. Clyde abducts Darby and tortures him before killing him. Clyde is arrested without evidences and Rice seeks his confession. Rice soon realises that Clyde is not only seeking vengeance against the perpetrators but against the justice system that he feels has failed him. Throughout the film invites us to feel sympathy for Clyde even as his actions become more and more immoral. 

F. Gary Gray’s thriller works on an emotional level as the guilty meet gory ends although in the later part of the film credulity is stretched as the plot becomes more fantastical. A  mixture of disturbing violence and  guilty pleasure similar in ways to the old Death Wish films. 

Reviewed by Pat Harrington
SA:R (certificate #45572) | Canada:13+ (Québec) | Canada:14A (British Columbia/Ontario) | Iceland:16 | Canada:18A (Alberta/Manitoba) | UK:18 | Ireland:18 (original rating) | Norway:15 | Finland:K-15 | Philippines:R-13 (MTRCB) | South Africa:16LV | Australia:MA | Brazil:16 | Ireland:16 (re-rating on appeal) | Malaysia:18PL | Hong Kong:IIB | Canada:18A (Ontario) (re-rating) | South Korea:15 | Germany:16 | Netherlands:16 | New Zealand:R18 | Singapore:NC-16 | Argentina:16 | Portugal:M/16 | Taiwan:R-18 | Denmark:15 | Austria:16 | Switzerland:16 (canton of Vaud) | Switzerland:16 (canton of Geneva) | South Korea:18 (DVD rating)

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Games: Avalon Code (Nintendo DS)

Buy this game!

This is an engaging but complicated game from Rising Star. The theme is that the world is bound for destruction, but it will be recreated. The Book of Prophecy provides the blueprint. The Player is tasked with finding everything to be recreated and recording them in the book. Various enemies are trying to obstruct you.

The book allows you to scan objects made up of different codes but it also lets you rearrange those codes. That’s the fun bit as it lets you play with reality within the game. You can make enemies weaker by playing with the codes and perform certain actions (like customising weapons) with them.

I found the manipulation of the codes challenging and wished for a guide at some points! Finding and organising your codes is not that easy. Younger players might lose patience.

Avalon code is different and innovative. It’s refreshing and new. It’s a clever puzzle which presents a challenge.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Film & DVD Review: Gabbeh

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Gabbeh DVD cover

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A Gabbeh is a type of Persian carpet. The pattern of the carpets are drawn from the experiences of the nomadic Gashgai tribe in southeast Iran who weave them. As Mohsen Makhmalbaf explains:–

Should they go across a desert, yellow will appear; should somebody be born a baby will appear and as for a love story, bright merry colours will be used.

The film uses the device of an image of a young girl who appears from the pattern of such a carpet. She tells her love story to the old woman washing the carpet. By her side her husband listens, and sometimes interjects.

Parallel to Gabbeh’s story is that of her uncle Sahayi who has returned to the countryside from the city where he worked as a schoolmaster. Back home he teaches the children of the tribe how to obtain from the flowers the wonderful colours which will help dye the wool of the gabbeh. This produces some of the most beautiful imagery in the film. When Sahayi points to the poppies in the field and draws back his hand it is a vivid red. When he points to the Sky, blue. The underlying ethos of the film is one of a people living in harmony with nature and drawing inspiration from it.

Reading the description of the film and noting the fact that it was in Persian I must confess I was a little daunted. But Gabbeh is not “arty” or boring, it is an unusual and thought-provoking film. Mohsen Makhmalbaf has tried to explain why Iranian films should draw audiences here in the West:–

These audiences are flooded with violent, tough films and are confronted with the same violence throughout their highly mechanical daily lives. That’s why the simplicity and the quietness one finds about these closely linked-with-nature Iranian films attract such audiences.

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Film & DVD Review: Trainspotting

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

Trainspotting DVD cover

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I didn’t get to see this when it was on the big screen. Now it’s out on DVD so I got a second chance to take a look. Generally, when the critics say how great a film is it turns out to be a disappointment. Not this time.

Some of my less well informed friends have asked why the film is called Trainspotting. I shall tell them, and you. In Leith there is now a Scotmid store and Waterworld where once there was an unused and decaying railway yard. Heroin addicts would use this yard to shoot-up and the local joke had it that they were “trainspotting”.

When you sit down to watch this film you can’t help but have questions about whether it glorifies drugtaking; there has been so much comment in the papers and magazines about it. The main characters are heroin addicts and some appear cool. But it’s not the drug taking that makes them cool or aspirational. Indeed the film doesn’t shirk from showing the seedy, nasty lifestyle which addiction helps to build. The neglect of a baby is one case in point. Tommy slowly dying of AIDS is another. Of course his poster of Iggy Pop still looked good as he wasted away.
For me, Trainspotting was a very moral film — it just wasn’t preachy.

Why many on the “right” missed this point is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps it was the honesty of the film. It showed that drugs had attractions too. Well, surprise, surprise would people take them otherwise? Or perhaps it was the fact that the soundtrack was so good. Even a bad life set to the likes of Sleeper’s ‘Atomic’, ‘Temptation’ and Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’, might seem great. There was some irony in that the use of ‘Perfect Day’ was over a scene of an overdose. Having the subtlety and sensibility of a pile of bricks, they might have missed it. The soundtrack fitted the film so well. We just know that heroin addicts at that time and place would have been into this music.

The locations in Edinburgh and Leith were chosen with care. My only disappointment was not to see the addicts hanging around by the statue of Queen Victoria at the foot of the walk. London was less well used as a location but hey, the guy who wrote it doesn’t come from there.

What a contrast to the standardised American crap based almost entirely on special effects we are usually bombarded with! It is interesting to note how the British establishment are unable to deal with people who do understand street culture and have honest, thoughtful insights to share. The writer and film-makers would have been listened to far more in other countries. The debate would have been far more intelligent. Will our establishment ever realise that condemning drugs alone is not a solution? It’s just a way of hiding the fact that you don’t have one….

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