Friday, 15 January 2016

Long time no post - something of an update.

This morning, whilst searching in vain for an old asset register (rock and roll), I came across a blog I wrote in response to being asked by my boss at the then West and South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Commissioning Support Unit, or WSYBCSU as it was more commonly but hardly less easily pronounceably referred to.  The CSU was one of the many enormous changes implemented by the Tory-Liberal coalition government.  Spin on to the end if you want to know how that worked out.

Job Security is a Redundant Concept?


A bitter pill is still a pill

A Blog Pitch by Andrew Stimpson – Health & Justice Lead WSYBCSU

In 2011 I was made redundant from a post within the NHS.  It was a bewildering and disorientating experience, and the wound was not salved in any way by the earnest, but rather ineffectual consultations that punctuated the process.

The redundancy followed a three year spell working regionally on Offender Health issues, never the most glamorous of fields, but nevertheless extremely rewarding.  Prior to this I had spent six years of my life working in Her Majesty’s Prison Hull, a classic Victorian pile populated by shady reprobates, oddballs and misfits.  It also houses prisoners.  I could classify those six years in a number of different ways but essentially, they were the best six years of my working life.  Quite apart from the social life, which was admittedly fabulous, it afforded me an incredible opportunity after a number of years flirting with other careers and flitting from job to job.

It enabled me to effect real change.

Prison nursing at the time was generally operated ‘in-house’ by Her Majesty’s Prison Service (HMPS) and delivered by a combination of nurses and Health Care Officers (HCOs, some also trained nurses).  It was, in many ways, the nursing equivalent of the Wild West, complete with swaggering cowboys and brawling drunks.  There were also prisoners.

The case is well made today for the prevalence of complex conditions, multiple co-morbidities, mental health and substance misuse issues amongst offenders, and it astonishes me to this day how effectively many of these conditions were managed in an extremely restrictive and poorly equipped environment.  That said, many mistakes were made and many problems existed within the systems of care thanks to outmoded concepts and attitudes amongst the Healthcare Team.  The prison is a demanding, high pressure environment and emotional burnout was a common problem. A stubborn unwillingness to adapt to change in some quarters contributed to low morale and further poor practice,  leading many of the ‘old hands’ to leave the job once the NHS took charge of health provision within the prison and introduced new-fangled concepts like ‘clinical governance’ and ‘hand washing’.

Ironically (perhaps) the HCOs, some of whom had traded in nursing uniforms for prison officer garb, were the most skilled, compassionate and caring individuals in the team.  They were a far cry from the stick wielding ‘prison warder’ image, although they could certainly wield the stick when merited.  Recently NHS England, in response to Francis, unveiled The 6 Cs ( in an attempt to educate the nursing profession that it has some obligations to patients.  In my experience these prison officers were as caring, compassionate, competent, communicative, courageous and committed as any clinical practitioner I have ever worked with in my longish career.  They responded extremely well to new ideas and saw myself, and another colleague who arrived at the same time, as a breath of fresh air, which never goes amiss in an establishment that generally smells like a combination of ash trays, teenagers’ trainers and poorly maintained toilets.  Together we instigated a culture of care and recovery that, for a golden 18 months, saw real improvements in a number of areas.

I moved on from HMP Hull in 2008 and took a role with the Yorkshire and Humber Offender Health Team, broadening my experience base and working with police, courts and probation services on responding to the Bradley Consultation, and subsequently implementing the recommendations of the Bradley Report.

The Bradley Report was a useful tool.  It cemented a lot of things that, although we knew already,  gave real drive and impetus to a change movement that was sadly derailed by the wholesale changes instigated when the current government was elected.
Swings and roundabouts.

Following two and a half years in the wilderness I returned to offender health (courtesy of the CSU), now rebadged as Health & Justice (not to be mistaken with the 1969 All-British Wrestling Tag Team Champions).  Unsurprisingly the same issues remain...
  • High rates of mental ill-health in offenders
  • Variable standards of care in criminal justice settings
  • A lack of cohesion in commissioning services for offenders
  • Prisons still smell like old cabbages

On a positive note however I have been able to revisit my old stomping ground and conduct meaningful work around health care in prisons.  I have even been able to catch up with old colleagues and bear witness to the tremendous developments that have taken place in HMP Hull’s Healthcare Department in my absence.  Many of those old colleagues remain some of the most skilled and capable carers of people it has ever been my pleasure to witness.  The reasons why that should be the case could be debated at length but, thinking back to those 6Cs, in some ways it appalls me that we need to spell out in massive letters to nurses that they should be caring and compassionate.  In my mind, they are core tenets of the very vocation that prospective nurses seek to undertake, yet often seem more likely to be demonstrated by non-clinicians such as nursing assistants and HCOs, thanks to the relentless procedural and task orientated drift of nursing focus over the years (another debate there perhaps).

Of course there are other reasons why the 6Cs become threatened in practice.  In a prison for example, as in an A&E department on a Saturday night, repeated barrages of verbal abuse and the occasional physical assault tend to sap even the gentlest of spirits.  More broadly however we now occupy a space where nothing is a given and public sector jobs are no longer the sure deal they once were.  It isn’t only the prospect of impending cuts, redundancies and rationalisations that cause considerable anxiety to the work force, but the prospect of next year’s and the year after that and so on.  TUPE issues, relocations, management restructures, downgrading, re-profiling, applying for our own posts... all are possibilities. 

The CSU itself is, like all other providers, a reflection of its work force in macrocosm.  It will effectively be reapplying for its own job, only dozens of times per year, and those of us that occupy the spaces between the machinery are manning treadmills to keep it running. 

Being made redundant once, from a job that would have been described many years ago as ‘safe as a bank’ (pun very much intended), had the unforeseen benefit of making me somewhat philosophical about the prospect of undergoing the same process once again.  Last time my colleagues and I had no power to alter our destiny, and despite being a high performing team we were simply pushed over a cliff. 

This time is different. 

In joining the CSU we all went down the rabbit hole. 

We can choose one of two pills.

Choose wisely.

As it happens it didn't matter which pill we chose.  The CSU model was largely disastrous, with most falling by the wayside or being subsumed into even larger organisations.  In the case of WSYBCSU, it merged with NYHCSU to become YHCS.  None of that matters other than to say it never got any better and ultimately failed, despite the best efforts of us drones, because it was operated by morons.  Reading this back though I can relate to the sense of guarded optimism I felt when writing it, because I still feel that way three or so years on. Now we have a fully blue blooded Tory government, the NHS is collapsing in a mire of willfully created debt and doctors are going on strike, yet the bulk of the rank and file believe in their vocation and in the NHS as a concept.

That's somewhat encouraging I suppose.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

2013: The Year I Made Like Peanut Butter, Bacon and Jam*

*I just worked

The last third of 2012 was a proper shitter.  I had finally come to the sad conclusion that my experiment with work as a private consultant and member of CJS Partnership Ltd had largely failed.  As if that wasn't enough, my strike rate with job interviews had hit an all time low, the nadir of which was failing on two occasions to be short-listed for work as a bank nurse, the most basic of all possible roles for a qualified nurse with twenty plus years experience in health care.  Just in case I thought that the dough faced shit-bags in government couldn't vomit on my eiderdown yet again I also discovered that posts extremely similar to the one I was made redundant from in 2011, within my exact specialisation, were being advertised on the NHS jobs site but I, and my former colleagues, were not eligible to apply as we were not 'at-risk' staff within the NHS.  So, being one of the 9000 unfortunates in the NHS who were binned off by Cameron and chums even before they had passed the Health & Social Care bill, we were beyond risk because we'd already been thrown off the fucking cliff.

I hate you Wheatus bongo player
It wasn't only work and money issues that were pissing in my eye at this point in my forty-first year on the planet.  In September I ordered a fairly rare book from America.  It never arrived.  The seller very kindly refunded me several weeks later and I ordered another copy from another seller.  That never arrived either.  Said second seller was very understanding and sent a replacement which finally arrived just before Christmas.  This utter debacle succeeded in elevating postal services up my shit list to just below Daveorge Camosbourne and just above the bongo player from Wheatus.

Ia Ia Cthulhu Phtagn
Fortunately Christmas 2012 was a winner.  My parents and sister came to us for two days (the first time my parents had ever, in their married lifetimes, spent Christmas away from home) and many snowballs and ports and lemonade were consumed and much entertainment was derived from watching The Avengers, John Carter and particularly my sister and Mum getting the hump with my Dad on the afternoon of Christmas Day thanks to his insistence on making The Evil Dead the afternoon matinee.  To be fair they took it all fairly well at first but I suppose evil spirit tree-rapists (or should that be rapist trees) are not the best warm up for the Strictly Christmas Special.  Fortunately lunch was delicious and Doctor Who surprised everyone by being half decent, thereby guaranteeing that the Stimpson family Christmas was a huge success, despite the sad absence of other sister and bundle of joy nephew who spent it elsewhere.  I was sad to miss his second Christmas but, on a positive note, I did manage to initiate him into the cult of Cthulhu, thereby ensuring that, when He rises, the boy will be able to regard Him in all of His majesty and know the truth of our existence (before his sanity is shattered and body morphed to serve His needs).  Unfortunately my partner was back at work on the 27th so the festive season was cut short somewhat.

So 2013 arrived with barely a whimper, as Philippa and I rarely do anything these days for New Year's Eve (as she invariably has to work it).  Things looked up slightly as I had a little bit of work to do, luckily for Phil's bank balance. I met an old colleague from many years' past and discussed possible co-working strategies (and he paid for lunch, huzzah).  Even better I got offered an interview, which I performed well at. The same day I was offered two further interviews and, later in the day, was offered not the job I'd interviewed for, but another which the interviewing manager considered a better fit for my skills and experience.  The next day, 11th January 2013, that book, ordered on September 9th and shipped on the 12th, arrived.  It only took four months.

Swings and roundabouts.  Thank you 2013.

Tome of Salvation

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Are there 40 good zombie films?

As usual I have time on my hands so I've been playing the Amazon basket game with zombie movies.  At one point I had around 20 zombie films I've never seen in my basket before I pinched myself and realised that they would all be big piles of shit.  The zombie movie experienced a renaissance in the early 2000s and it shows no signs of slowing down, possibly because small scale film makers recognise, as did the Italians in the 70s and 80s, that script-wise there isn't much to it.  Creative special make up effects, enthusiastic zombie extras, a winning scenario (and what is better than the end of the world) and a digital camera or two can overcome any requirements for a talented screen writer, decent acting and/or a pure creative vision.  See a tepid British effort like The Zombie Diaries for details.  Of course even zombie genre veterans are not immune to churning out derivative crap in order to keep the flame sputtering along, as evidenced by George A Romero's Diary of the Dead, the even worse Survival of the Dead or original Romero collaborator John Russo's genuinely appalling Children of the Living Dead

Last week I had a brief online discussion with an old forum pal regarding zombie films and I posed the question, 'Are there even thirty good zombie films out there?' He, to his credit, rattled off a pretty convincing list of 30 and threw them in my dirty, cynical face. I had a couple of issues with his list but of course there is no accountig for taste in such things, therefore I decided to have a bash myself and, once I put my mind to it, I surprised myself.  In order to establish a list that I thought of as 'good' I just thought, 'Would I watch it again?'

So, just in case any of the three people who read this have a stroke and decide to play the amazon zombie film basket game here is a list of worthwhile zombie flicks that would not disgrace your basket, or indeed your shelf:

1. Dawn of the Dead 78
2. Day of the Dead 85
3. The Return of the Living Dead
4. Night of the Living Dead 68
5. Night of the Living Dead 90
6. Dawn of the Dead 04
7. Shaun of the Dead
8. Re-Animator
9. Zombieland
10. The Beyond

11. City of the Living Dead
12. Zombie AKA Zombi 2 AKA Zombie Flesh Eaters
13. Nightmare City
14. The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue
15. Bride of Re-Animator
16. Pontypool
17. Resident Evil: Extinction
18. Hell of the Living Dead
19. Feeding the Masses
20. The Stink of Flesh

21. Beyond Re-Animator
22. Cemetery Man
23. Fido
24. Return of the Blind Dead
25. Tomb of the Blind Dead
26. Return of the Living Dead 3
27. The Dead Next Door
28. Dead Alive
29. Biozombie
30. The Horde

31. REC
32. REC 2
33. Quarantine
34. Zombie Holocaust
35. Zombi 3
36. Dead Set
37. Siege of the Dead
38. Burial Ground: Nights of Terror
39. The Dead Outside
40. Zombie Honeymoon

To avoid (unlikely) debates about validity there are also a number of movies that are effectively (IMO) zombie films with a twist or with the serial numbers filed off that I also regard highly:

28 Weeks Later
The Crazies (original)
The Crazies (remake)
The Fog
The Evil Dead (all three)
Night of the Creeps
Planet Terror
Outpost: Black Sun
Dead and Buried
G.P. 506
Shock waves

And yes, I am a lonely (while she is at work at least) geek with too much time on my hands.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

From the Archives - I Can Smell Your Cult

Having just spent the morning watching Street Trash after writing a little bit about it for The Quietus I was put in mind of an old article I wrote for ZERO magazine back around 2006.  I can't remember if it was published but, as I haven't blogged much recently, I thought I'd slap it up here...

I Can Smell Your Cult...

The cult of Lebowski is now a grand ten years old and a cult it truly is, a phenomenon to the beauty of which Brother Doran has already testified on these very pages. Cult status is a state of being, yet it is not unusual when reading a movie review or DVD sleeve to come across the bold proclamation, “Destined to become a cult classic!” Usually this is the result of hackneyed reviewing, oracular PR, or both but it has become a lazy form of accolade.

Walton Street Market
Any online or magazine list of cult movies from the last thirty years will invariably feature the likes of Blade Runner and The Shawshank Redemption. Both are movies that, despite some critical acclaim, failed to make money on their theatrical runs but thanks to the home video market are now considered profitable and therefore successful. The problem with this ‘cult’ label is that by the early nineties all the largely illiterate gold sovereign knuckled mutants down your Dad’s street owned (and cherished) a copy of Blade Runner and Miramax produced so many copies of Shawshank that six months after its VHS release they were piled five deep on tables at Walton Street Market in between jumbo packets of broken biscuits and a 1973 Vauxhall Viva manual. It is also the film most commonly watched at three o’clock in the morning by fifty-something care assistants once they’ve finished wiping shit from old peoples’ arses.
Blade Runner stands as a perfect example of a film misunderstood on its release but thanks to the advent of home video, appreciated gradually and so lovingly by different folks with different strokes that it eventually went on to rule the world. It just took a long time. Years later we see the release of a brand new DVD version replete with special features, enhancements and a massive marketing campaign that cost almost as much as the movie’s original budget. There are many examples of the home video ‘slow burn’ phenomenon. The Big Lebowski, Withnail & I, This is Spinal Tap and the first extreme Asian action breakthrough films such as John Woo’s The Killer all benefited from ‘word of mouth’ promotion. The American film critic Danny Peary in his book Cult Movies wrote: "While word of mouth certainly plays a large part in the growth of cults for individual films, what is fascinating is that in the beginning pockets of people will embrace a film they have heard nothing about while clear across the country others independently will react identically to the same picture."

Before home video fringe cinema depended upon independent theatre owners and promoters for exposure, in particular those of the USA. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, Barbarella, Night of the Living Dead and the films of Dario Argento, Akira Kurosowa, Pier Paolo Pasolini and even Ed Wood all cemented their cult status through the American Grindhouse and drive-in circuits.

In 1970 New York’s foremost exhibitor of specialty and underground films Ben Barenholtz took a punt on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s monumentally unhinged El Topo, screening it at midnight without advertisement. Whether this was purely an artistic decision or one made in the light of riots in Mexico caused by Jodorowsky’s anti-catholic messages is unclear but word of mouth publicity rapidly made it (and midnight screenings) a wild fire success. An impressed (and probably thoroughly toasted) John Lennon convinced financier and former Beatles manager Allen Klein to buy the screening rights. So impressed was Klein with the buzz, or Lennon’s weed, he subsequently agreed to bankroll Jodorowsky’s 1973 follow-up Holy Mountain and El Topo was subsequently launched in a blaze of publicity in Times Square. It didn't last the week. After a major disagreement with Jodorowsky Klein would eventually withdraw both films from circulation and in so doing ensure their cult status. Their reputations as being subversive, masterful and utterly off their gourds continued to reverberate thanks to dodgy South American VHS tapes for 35 years until Klein and Jodorowsky finally overcame their differences and collaborated together on an official DVD release. Unlike Blade Runner however they are unlikely to go mainstream any time soon unless your average punter can come to accept crucified monkeys, excruciating violence and iguanas re-enacting Mexican history as things of beauty. Until that time El Topo and The Holy Mountain will stand as the true models of cult cinema!

Surely Michael Mann, Paramount and Tangerine Dream can resolve their issues and produce a pristine DVD copy of The Keep. Otherwise the widely distributed members of the WW2/Krautrock fusion cult will remain isolated and alone… but connected.



Thursday, 20 September 2012

Dredd 3D (please fuck off 3D)

Dredd finally arrived a couple of weeks ago and I suffered the terrible quandry of whether to sneak out of the house while my partner was at work and see it alone or wait until she had time (a day off) so we could go together. Of course I never discussed this, I just kept it deep inside.

As it happens I waited and we went t'other afternoon and Tony, it was amazing.

In preparation we had watched the Stallone version on blu ray and, to be fair, it wasn't as bad as I remember.  This is probably because the gaping wound it left in my gut back in the 90s has well and truly healed.  Danny Cannon's Judge Dredd had a certain style as a comic book movie but it entirely missed the point.  I have no problem with the Versace take on the uniform, could just about cope with Stallone's diction and rather enjoyed Armand Assante's take on Rico. Unfortunately the lip service superficiality of the Stephen E De Souza script and the utter lack of grasp of the subtleties of the source material were unforgiveable.  We must remember however that Robocop had already lifted numerous USPs from the comic, explaining why they had to give JD a brand new catch phrase ("I knew you'd say that").  "Your move creep!" had been successfully appropriated by Ed Neumeier for Robocop.

So why is all new Dredd any different?

Because it entirely understands the source material.

Screenwriter, director and star all grew up reading 2000AD.  It was an entirely British affair that felt no need to ingratiate the film with the wider, denser, spoon fed audience. They went for a hard edged, violent crime story and implemented an intentionally sly take on the humour of the comic rather than getting Rob Schneider in to crack some jokes.

Even better the vision of Mega City One was set against a backdrop of blazing sunshine. The exterior shots of the city blew me away instantly because, instead of yet another uninspired take on Blade Runner L.A. (see Priest) or a multicolour Metropolis (Judge Dredd '95) the visual aesthetic took cues from District 9. This is perhaps unsurprising since it was filmed in South Africa but what a different experience to the usual soulless CGI plates that provide the backdrop to these kinds of films.  I say these kinds of films but this film has manages to distance itself from most of them immediately.

A few months ago a writer on The Quietus bemoaned the fact that an early trailer looked like an episode of The Shield.  He was right to make that comparison because it does fit to a degree, but I don't see that as a flaw, more a massive and delicious boon to the property.  This Mega City One is like the L.A. of The Shield got high on meth and humped the ghettos of Johannesburg, giving birth to a sprawling shit-hole of spectacular proportions.  What kind of cop does this new metropolis need?

Karl Urban's Dredd may not match the modern airbrushed pictures that adorn the glossy pages of 2000AD and the Megazine but cast your eyes back to the early Ezquerra and McMahon strips of the 1970s and the likeness is uncanny.  Like everybody else I always pictured Dredd in the early days, and imagined him sounding like, Clint Eastwood and Urban uses the same skills that make his Bones take in Star Trek so bang on the money to make his Dredd literally sweat period Eastwood DNA.

Anderson was a big concern for me. In the early 80s Brian Bolland's Judge Anderson was just about the fittest piece of paper around.  My schoolfriends were all about Sam Fox and Maria Whittaker but I was in love with Anderson whenever the pages of the Dark Judges saga were open in front of me.  Sadly Brett Ewins spoiled everything by making her look like Toyah Wilcox through beer goggles.  My fears were needless though, Olivia Thirlby is hot yet vulnerable and, when she inevitably gets into hot water, she plays Anderson's toughness to a tee.  In fact it could be argued that Anderson out-hards Dredd in the end. 
The one massive flaw with my experience with Dredd was 3D.  It was well used on the occasions when the slo mo drug was in use but on the whole, as with Prometheus and John Carter, it is a blurry, detail obscuring distraction and I can't wait until:

  1. It fucks right off
  2. Cinemas realise that giving me a choice of watching it in 2D is more important than their profits
  3. Dredd comes out on blu ray
  4. Dredd makes a bundle at the box office in the USA and a sequel gets greenlit because Alex Garland wants to do the Dark Judges... Mmmmmm... Dark Judges...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Reid Baron - Evil Satan-blowing Fuck or just a Symptom of the Universe

Facebook can always be relied upon for some well informed debate regarding the state of the country. Today's tidbit to catch my eye revolves around the G4S Olympic debacle. In short large scale security company win enormous contract to run security at the London Olympics and, a few days out from D-Day, it is revealed that they are utterly incapable of fulfilling the contract and have failed to employ even half of the staff required and, of those they have employed, very few have any where near the level of training and competence to fulfill their roles. It's a right proper pig's ear.

Even better G4S were awarded the contract by the the department once headed by Labour government minister John Reid, who not only received honours from the Queen in recognition of his services to the public as an MP and minister but also was awarded an honrary degree by Stirling University for his contribution to public affairs. Reid, like many of his old school Labour contemporaries, comes from a working class background and in the past had at the very least deeply socialist beliefs (Reid in fact was a communist during his twenties). All very admirable, but he also just happens to be a director of G4S. It doesn't take much imagination to call stink on that one and, in addition, label Reid a self-serving pig who makes Squealer look like Itzhak Fucking Stern.

Today's facebook discussion, which began with an expression of righteous indignation at the quite transparently disgusting display of greed and self-interest, took the usual path when the original poster was gently challenged by a friend who offered:
"He's not on the board of directors, bloody conspiracy nuts ;-)"
The original poster retorted with:
"Well, according to the parliament register of interests he is Director of G4S regional management. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, uninformed citizens..."
So, with sources being quoted the next entry cited... Wikipedia.

The parliamentary register of interests is a legal document. Wikipedia is an ancient Klingon play about heart of targ. I know which one I believe.

The following is an extract from the G4S entry on the entertainingly partisan but evidence and research based Corporate Watch website:

"John Reid, Director, G4S Regional Management (UK & Ireland) Limited
John Reid, or Lord Reid of Cardowan, as he prefers to be known, joined G4S in 2009, having previously been Tony Blair's Home Secretary and Secretaries of State for Health and Defence. The £50,000 a year it is giving the New Labour hard man quickly paid off for G4S as it landed a multi-million pound, four-year contract to supply private security guards for around 200 Ministry of Defence and military sites across the UK just three months after it took him on.[14]i Since then he has been diligent in ensuring the hi-tech security used by his employers is a feature of parliamentary debates whenever possible.[15]"

The most amazing thing about all of this is that G4S's record in public contracts (for example prisons, prison health and police custody and healthcare) is absolutely shocking. Nevertheless they won the contract to run outsourcing services for Lincolnshire Police, worth over £200 million over ten years, and this Olympic debacle will not alter any of it. And John Reid will still rake it in. And the former British Ambassador to Lybia who now works for them will hoover up numerous security contracts for them over there. Between Serco and G4S we are about ten years away from seeing the merger of the 21st Century and the formation of OCP, and we all know what that means...

  1. That's right... ED-209s on every corner, which will be kinda cool, but make going to the shop for some Soylent Green very hazardous.
  2. Police forces comprising poorly paid, stupid fools with no fucking idea on Earth how to deal with the underlying cause of crime. It might be easy to suggest that the current police force pretty much matches that description but my previous professional experience indcates otherwise. Obviously there are emotionally stunted, socially inadequate morons in police services but they are in a significant minority. However, reduce their pay to below twenty grand (as is the tory plan) and only idiots, morons and possibly sociopaths will take on a job of such stupifying responsibility for such a comparitive pittance, and for anybody reading this who thinks that the job is easy and such a level of recompense is adequate then YOU are a fucking ill-informed moron. Or an evil Baron.
  3. Vast no-go areas centred upon current areas of poverty and crimespots. There may also be all-dwarf gangs roaming the sewers, living on rats and flushed away sweetcorn, but providing an essential underground railroad to Sanctuary for the escaping last fertile female on the planet.
  4. Fucking abject misery for all but the upper 5%.
I've worked in public services since 1991 and not only watched, but directly experienced their quite deliberate dismantling. Outsourcing has never worked. From the very outset the replacement of in-house catering and cleaning services in our hospitals with services provided by Initial and Sodexo was a disaster. After redundancies we saw a handful of the same staff transferred over to the new company on promises of Christmas bonuses and improved working conditions, but it was all a crock of shit. The food got worse, the hospitals got dirtier and the old staff retired, resigned or moved on to be replaced by minimum wage drones with no sense of belonging or pride in their working environment and consequently zero interest in responding to the needs of the service or even doing a half decent job, because when you're treated like shit you only give 20%. Since then I've seen the same thing occur with the delivery of care to entire patient groups, the delivery of healthcare to entire prisons and. most recently, the running of entire prisons and police custody services by private companies. They all have the same pattern in common as back at the old hospitals. Soon we will see entire hospitals operated by not only Serco (who run everything from catalogue call centres to prisons), but by the ever opportunistic Richard Branson brand VIRGIN!
There are but three ways to take all of this on board.
  1. Revolution
  2. Take some small comfort from the likelihood that when Reid's brain has turned to mush, although too powerful and influential to go to the assisted-suicide clinic, he will end up in a nursing home run by BAe Systems and be used to test ejector seat assemblies.
  3. Acknowledge the nihilistic insiginficance of your fate. Accept that the high and mighty will, no matter how well intentioned they appear, whore themselves out and greedily gobble Satan's cock in return for a slice of the pie the very moment they get a sniff of the green. Bolster yourself against the agonising cold and unfeeling apathy of the universe and wait for your inevitable death at the hands of a 13 year old female burglar high on space dust and moon pie, all within an igloo of Lucio Fulci films and bacon. 
I'm ashamed to say I'm still with the bacon but by golly my swingometer is trembling.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Getcho Ass to Maahs...Total Recall - Ultimate Rekall Edition Review

Yesterday I wrote for The Quietus about the pinnacle of Arnold Schwarzenegger's action film career and one of the best and most thoughtful adaptations of a Philip K Dick story ever committed to screen. All in one article. About the same film. I know right... who'd a thunk it? But it's true.

When Manish (The Films Man at TQ) asked me to write about Total Recall I was very happy, after all I spent the 80s watching cheesy action films starring the muscle-bound, wooden Arnie and his cheaper colleagues both on video and in cinemas. Total Recall was the pinnacle, not only of the Arnie train (which was derailed for me by the child friendly approach of Terminator 2 and his following output), but of the entire 80s action movement. Naturally I was very excited to get my hands on a review copy of the brand new UK blu-ray release courtesy of Studio Canal, unfortunately I only received the DVD so was unable to comment on the quality of the apparently new and director approved transfer. It wasn't the end of the world though, after all TQ is hardly the place where people expect to read technical critiques of digital media and, even if it were, I am probably not the best person to dispense them. Plus the fine folks at Studio Canal also sent me review discs of the super-funky Amicus Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations from the 1970s; The Land That Time Forgot and At The Earth's Core, as well as Warlords of Atlantis and They Came From Beyond Space. Pure, unadulterated joy was experienced.

Youtube wouldn't let me embed Total Recall the Musical so here is a Sean Connery musical instead.

Still, I remained curious about the new blu-ray edition of Total Recall so I asked and by golly I received and this morning I laid my hands on a review copy of the blu-ray disc.
The film is great, that's a given, but what about the transfer and extras and, most importantly, if you already own the previous Optimum release (as I do) is it worth parting with the extra cash to upgrade?

The extras are excellent and include previous material from the DVD and US blu-ray releases but have an additional brand new interview with director Paul Verhoeven and a featurette on the Academy Award winning SFX. The PV interview is terrific, highlighting both his idiosyncratic but fiercely driven approach to movie making and particularly the subject material but also his relaxed attitude to taking on the A-List behemoth that Schwarzenegger was becoming at the time. The SFX featurette is similarly informative but sadly lacks any input from the mighty Rob Bottin who appears to have vanished off the face of the planet. Bottin's last listed job on IMDB was as make-up artist on the Adam Sandler comedy Mr Deeds in 2002. It's a tragedy that CGI appears to have driven one of the most creative and talented practical effects geniuses the industry has seen out of the business.
The disc also includes the Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger commentary track from the DVD and, if you select the German menu on loading, their is an additional commentary track by the cinematographer Jost Vacano (in German but English subtitles are available). For French speakers there are also a couple of extra featurettes under the French menu (non-subtitled). So, on the whole, a great package for extras.
The film transfer on the other hand failed to display any significant improvement over the previous release on my set up (Sony Bravia KDL-40W5500 and Sony BDP-s350), in fact if I hadn't read the press release claiming a brand new restoration I would assume that they are one in the same. For those however who may have the US release then both UK versions are streets ahead in terms of quality.

So, is it worth the upgrade? If you already have the Optimum release then I would say definitely not, unless you're an extras freak in which case I would say wait until the inevitable price drop. But then of course if you're a steelbook freak then yes, it is. I should point out however that for half the price you can pick up the triple set of Total Recall/Red Heat/Raw Deal on blu-ray. Whilst Raw Deal and Red Heat aren't the greatest Arnie flicks, for the price I reckon that pack is way better value for those who have previously only owned Total Recall on DVD or seen it on the telly.