The Flower of Gloster – DVD Review

DVD review The Flower of Gloster

Certificate U

Released Jan 23, 2017
It’s a curious oddity The Flower of Gloster – a mix of drama and documentary, or edutainment that shoehorns chunks of historic factoids into a loose narrative; scenes occasionaly stitched together with urgent narration. 

The tale of a 72-foot converted canal barge en route from Wales to London Bridge with her young crew is simple but weirdly compelling. 

At times it feels like that terrific documentary from a few years ago, The Boat That Guy Built, in which Guy Martin renovates a narrow boat, stopping off for informative adventures along the way. 

In the first few minutes, TFOG also reminds me of doom-laden public information films from the 1970s, warning of climbing electric pylons or playing on areas with still water. 

Made in an era when health and safety was a lot more laid back in kids’ TV shows, it seems perfectly normal when one of the young protagonists accidentally cycles into a canal. Or Liz, the young dinghy-rowing heroine, almost drowns after being capsized by the eponymous vessel. These days the health and safety brigade would have a collective coronary. 

The script leaves a lot to be desired and the likes of Richard O’Callahan and Elizabeth Doherty do their best with the dialogue, but though obviously shot on a budget and at speed, there’s an unusual charm to the show. It’s a floating flashback to an era when kids actually played outdoors instead of in virtual worlds. As someone who used to help open and close canal locks in the Midlands with my brother, it touches a chord, especially when the heroes pass through the same area. (The run-in with a gang of stone-throwing tykes is surreal). 

I become nostalgic for a seemingly timeless era of long summers, though the chats with a badger boffin and a passing expert en route to Birmingham are gloriously awkward. 

I save checking the year of origin until the end of episode one, guessing it’s a mid-1970s show. The fact it’s from 1967 is astonishing. 

The picture quality is pretty good (though it does feel like a bad home movie in places), and the fact you’re unlikely to see this popping up on ITV4 or other channels specialising in vintage telly means the double disc set offers either 315 minutes of floating nostalgic nirvana or a strange 220-mile trip into a world when things seemed a lot simpler. 

The fact it’s now 50 years old is remarkable, possibly down to it being the first Granada series filmed in colour, though initially broadcast in black and white. 

There many moments of charm: a blond tyke interviewing an eloquent repairman (cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth – the repairman’s, not the kid’s), about how long it will take to repair the narrow boat he’s working on is one. Another chat with a seasoned old canal veteran is gloriously awkward, his eager interrogator asking him question after question as they walk along a river bank. 

The incidental music occasionally suggests hi-jinks that never really happen. (I wouldn’t mind a standalone CD with the often engaging soundtrack). 

As with other vintage shows, it proves strangely compelling once you get past that first episode. It takes a while for my middle-aged brain to recalibrate to the sedate era, but once I’m hooked, I’m watching into the early hours. 

Produced by TV legend Bill Grundy, the tale of Michael, 10, sister Elizabeth, 12, and elder brother Dick is a trip well well worth taking. Even if Dick does spend most of the trip shouting at his fellow passengers. 

In a perfect world it would be remade, preferably with Guy Martin at the helm. 


La La Land Review

Directed by Damien Chazelle

Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend

When I get an email telling me the new film from Damien Chazelle is being screened a few days before release, I book two tickets on the spot for La La Land. 

His last movie was the breathtaking Whiplash a couple of years ago, the best film about drumming ever made. That project landed JK Simmons a well deserved Oscar, and featured a knockout turn from Miles Teller. 

Such acclaim meant getting this follow-up off the ground was a lot easier. Yes, Chazelle gets Simmons back in a minor but memorable role, but the key reason I’m so excited is Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Their chemistry in Crazy, Stupid, Love a few years ago was terrific. And the thought of them singing and dancing their way through a colour-saturated love letter to classic musicals was too good to resist. 

Some critics have compared it to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but never having seen it, I just call it an old fashioned, feelgood, bittersweet joy from start to finish. 

The open number set in a traffic jam sets things up beautifully. Like classic Buffy episode Once More With Feeling, people burst into song and start hoofing at the drop of a hat. It never feels forced, just natural, like singing along to your favourite song while doing the washing up. 

I will confess I am in love with Ms Stone, the actress who stole my heart in Easy A, while few actors are as cool as Gosling. They are essentially fire and ice, her flame-haired actress Mia trying to melt the heart of his glacially charming jazz-loving pianist, Sebastian. 

They are not the best singers or dancers in the world but that naturalism is half the joy. 

Every time the couple are on screen, I’m willing them to get together and live happily ever after. 

The movie is also reminiscent of that knockout scene in (500) Days of Summer, the chronologically challenged romantic comedy with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in which he dances down the high street with an army of delighted followers, having fallen in love. 

Good support comes from John Legend as Sebastian’s associate, while an audition scene in which Mia sings a story will leave you slack of jaw. 

A special nod must also go the photography, which is a feast for the eyes. All primary colours, and retina-searing beauty, while the editing is often a breathless joy. 

I don’t realise that while watching the preview, LLL is about to grab a record breaking arm-full of Golden Globes across the Pond. All I know is it makes my heart soar on a bleak January evening and I can’t wait to see it again. Or buy the soundtrack. 

With any luck it will also do well at the Oscars and Baftas, but to me and my equally besotted wife, it will always be that bittersweet little film that decided to do something a bit different, and stole our hearts in the process. 

Yes it will look great on Blu-ray in a few months, but do yourself a favour and see it on the biggest screen possible with the best sound system. You’ll be so glad you did. 


Assassin’s Creed – the movie review

Assassin’s CreedDirected by Justin Kurzel

Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons
My eyelids feel droopy. I can’t believe this is happening again. A couple of weeks after almost nodding off during Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I’m almost asleep again. 

This never used to happen. Is it an age thing? Have I reached that point where a dark cinema has turned me into a narcoleptic? 

The answer is no. The reason is Assassin’s Creed, the big screen version of a video game I used to play back in the day. 

I enjoyed it for a time; the running and jumping; climbing ancient towers; diving into haystacks; stealthily pinching stuff and tackling assailants. I tended to skip the cut scenes as they were so earnest and a little dull. 

The movie version is one long cut scene, and a very tiresome one at that. 

The pedigree is pretty good. A ripped Michael Fassbender and aloof Marion Cotillard re-team with Justin Kurzel, the director of Macbeth for the tale of Callum Lynch, a Death Row inmate saved from an early demise because he’s the ancestor of someone who knows where the Apple of Eden is, an object which will bring an end to wars, and be generally bad for the league of assassins at the heart of the drama. 

As our hero runs around and fights bad guys in a 15th-century virtual reality world, we cut between then and now via a series of hazy tinted vistas. The whole movie looks like it’s been doctored using an Instagram filter, one that makes everything look underdeveloped and oversaturated at the same time. It’s one of those rare times the 3D version looks more interesting without the glasses. 

The booming, intrusive Jed Kurzel score bombards the eardrums with deafening moments of what should be epic grandeur but have little to do with what’s going on. 

Then there’s Jeremy Irons, who spends most of the movie watching other people do things. I get the feeling a mannequin with an Irons face mask would have been as effective. (The mannequin in the Irons mask if you like). 

Film versions of games rarely ever work because the medium is about problem solving and interacting with things. Watching someone else have all the fun is no fun for the audience, even when the protagonists are as good as the cast being wasted here. 

Assassin’s Creed the movie might attempt to scale dizzy heights, but because it’s so earnest and humourless, it winds up crashing back to earth early in the runtime and fails to recover.  

It’s a one-note epic which boasts some okay fight scenes, but tests the patience with its stunning lack of depth. I don’t care about the poorly sketched characters because like the game avatars, they are so under realised. 

Trust me: avoid at all costs.