How to win an Oscar

Chris Hallam's World View

Are you a film actor? Would you like to win, or at least be nominated for, an Academy Award? Well, you’re probably cutting it a bit fine for this time round.  But if you want to be considered in the future, perhaps try one of the following:

Play a real person.

The Oscars always like this. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone instantly recognisable (the Queen, Margaret Thatcher, George VI, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Edith Piaf, Truman Capote, Ray Charles) or not (Erin Brockovich, John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, Harvey Milk, Ron Kovic) playing a real person living or dead definitely gives you an edge.

Do an accent.

Meryl Streep isn’t the only one to have benefitted for doing accents other than her own. This often goes hand in hand with playing real people (see above). It need not be an overseas accent either: even Colin Firth did a bit…

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President Evil? Fictional US presidents on screen

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Frank Underwood  (Kevin Spacey) is back, this time as US president in the third season of hit US TV drama House Of Cards. Scheming and manipulative, Underwood is definitely a bad sort. But which other fictional presidents, candidates and politicians both good and evil have graced our screens in the last fifty years or so? Here are some of the most memorable ones…

Senator John Iselin (James Gregory) in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

A buffoonish take on the malevolent Senator Joe McCarthy, Iselin is a drunken idiot leading an anti-communist witch hunt effectively inspired by his scheming wife (Angela Lansbury).

 William Russell (Henry Fonda) in The Best Man (1964)

Gore Vidal’s screenplay essentially replays the 1960 Kennedy vs.  Nixon contest. There are a few odd twists, however.  Unlike the Democrat JFK and the Republican Nixon, both candidates are competing within the same party for the nomination. And here it is Cliff Robertson’s Nixon type who has the glamorous wife not Henry Fonda’s JFK.

President Jordan Lyman (Frederic March) in Seven Days In May (1964)

Lyman’s liberal president is ahead of his time by about a decade in seeking détente but unfortunately provokes an attempted right wing military coup by Burt Lancaster’s General Scott in the process. Can Kirk Douglas save the day?

President Merkin Muffley in Dr Strangelove (1964)

“You can’t fight in here: this is the War Room!” One of three characters played by Peter Sellers in the film, resembles twice defeated 1950s Democrat presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson.

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Unnamed President (Henry Fonda) in Fail Safe (1964)

Oops. After the US blows up a Soviet city by mistake, the US agrees to sacrifice New York to appease the Russians. Henry Fonda plays the president (Richard Dreyfuss reprised the role in the 2000 live TV version) and soon finds his decision will take on a tragic personal dimension.

Bill McKay (Robert Redford) in The Candidate (1972)

Robert Redford’s candidate sacrifices so much in his campaign for the Senate that he doesn’t know what to do once he’s won.  Quite a tame film by modern standards.

Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris) in Taxi Driver (1976)

Bland presidential candidate who narrowly escapes assassination by Travis Bickle. This unfortunately probably partly inspired the real life assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981.

President Richard Monckton (Jason Robards) in Washington: Behind Closed Doors (TV: 1977)

Basically it’s Richard Nixon, although Robards stops short of actually impersonating him.

President Barbara Adams (Loretta Swit) Whoops Apocalypse (1988)

The first woman president tries and fails to prevent Peter Cook’s mad British Prime Minister from starting World War III in this largely unfunny British satire.

Bob Roberts (Tim Robbins) (1992)

Director/star Tim Robbins plays the country western singer turned right wing 1990 Senate candidate in this winning mockumentary. His defeated liberal opponent is played by Gore Vidal.

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Dave Kovic/Bill Mitchell (Kevin Kline) in Dave (1995)

A professional presidential lookalike Dave stands in for the nasty US president temporarily. When the president has a stroke during a sex act, however, the job becomes more permanent.

President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in The American President (1995)

One of many Nineties “like Clinton but a bit better” liberal dream presidents, Shepherd is a widower leaving him free to woo lobbyist (played by Annette Bening) much to nasty Republican opponent Richard Dreyfuss’s glee.

President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman in Independence Day (1996)

Hurrah! Bill Pullman’s heroic US president saves the world from alien invasion.

President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) in Mars Attacks! (1996)

Hurrah! Jack Nicholson’s over the top US president fails to save the world from alien invasion.

President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) Air Force One (1997)

There have been two presidents Harrison and one Ford, so why not President Harrison Ford? In a slightly bizarre premise, the president ends up machine gunning lots of terrorists who have invaded his plane while female Veep Glenn Close rules the roost on the ground. A spoof called Vatican One in which an ex-martial arts champion becomes Pope was sadly never made.

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President Beck (Morgan Freeman) in Deep Impact (1998)

It may be the end of the world as we know it but President Beck feels fine.

Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta) in Primary Colors (1998)

You remember Bill Clinton? Basically, it’s supposed to be him.

Senator Jay Billington Bulworth (Warren Beatty) in Bulworth (1998)

Beatty’s Senator basically has a crisis and arranges his own assassination. After snogging Halle Berry, however, he soon regrets this decision.

President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) in The West Wing (TV: 1999-2006)

Perhaps the most fully realised fictional US president, Bartlet is a hugely intellectual New England academic who serves two terms as president in the long running series, surviving MS, scandal, government shutdowns, assassination attempts, the kidnapping of his daughter and numerous political reversals along the way. Sheen had played JFK in a memorable mini -series nearly twenty years before and is no less brilliant in this.

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President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) in The Contender (2000)

Perhaps the most laidback president ever, there’s more than a hint of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski about Bridges’ Democratic incumbent in this West Wingy style drama. He even likes bowling.

President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) 24 (TV: 2001-2007)

Before there was “No Drama” Obama there was “Even Calmer” David Palmer. A black US president, Palmer’s presence on the series ended before Obama’s first presidential campaign got going.

President Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) in Commander In Chief (TV 2005)

Taller than Bartlet, Geena Davis is easily the best thing in this short lived drama about the first woman president. Like most fictional women presidents, Allen comes to power as a result of her predecessor’s death, rather than being elected herself.

Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) in The Ides of March (2011)

Anti-big business, anti-car, handsome and charismatic Morris seems to be the perfect presidential candidate for the Democrats in this drama. But lo and behold: campaign aide Ryan Gosling soon uncovers skeletons in his closet.

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Book review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling

Chris Hallam's World View

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Question: How do you follow something like the Harry Potter Saga?

Answer:  You don’t. It’s impossible.

Arthur Conan Doyle scored a huge success with his most famous creation Sherlock Holmes but was continuously frustrated when his other achievements were largely ignored. Enid Blyton’s adult fiction never achieved the widespread success and popularity of her books for children. Douglas Adams was constantly dogged by the question “when are you going to write another Hitchhiker book?” Helen fielding has yet to escape the shadow of Bridget Jones.

And J.K. Rowling will always be best known for Harry Potter. But with her first post-Potter novel, she certainly does an admirable job of making a name for herself in the field of adult non-fantasy fiction.

The Casual Vacancy centres on Pagford, a town awash with secrets which are all brought to the surface by a particularly ugly parish council election precipitated by the untimely…

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Alternative movie names

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What’s in a name? Everything. Imagine how much better these films would be with these names instead of the stupid ones they were given. If you own any of them or if you see any for sale in a shop, feel free to deface the DVD cover by rewriting these names on the front in black marker pen. Have fun!

The Theory Of Everything

Look Who’s Hawking

The Imitation Game

The Lady’s Not For Turing

Selma

The Man Who Would Be King

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

1. What Became of the Monkeys?
2. The Apes of Wrath.
3. Caesar Goes Bananas.
4. Hang on! Where’s James Franco gone? Wasn’t he in this? He didn’t die in the first one did he? I can’t remember.
5. Ooh ooh ooh. They want to be like you ooh ooh.
6. Close. But No Banana.
7. Monkey See. Monkey Do.
8. This Time They Didn’t Drink PG Tips.
9. Softly softly. Catchy Monkeys.
10. Go Ape.
11. Definitely Not the Shit Mark Wahlberg One.
12. Guaranteed: Contains one of the finest simian mass cremation scenes of any movie this summer!
13. Bloody hell! Andy Serkis really has got this motion capture stuff sewn up hasn’t he?
14. Serious. Monkey. Business.

Spiderman 2

Spiderman 5

The Queen

Windsor Change 

The Hobbit 3

Back in the Hobbit

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Changes

Finally, some bad film names which urgently need changing…

Good Will Hunting

A great film, don’t get me wrong. But the title is bollocks. Is it about someone hunting for good will? No. It is about someone who is called Will Hunting. He is “good”. Rubbish!

Grosse Point Blank

Another great film, also, like Good Will Hunting, starring Minnie Driver (In itself an odd name). On paper, this is clever. Hitman Martin Blank returns to his hometown of Grosse Point. Thus Grosse Point Blank! Clever eh? The problem is that if you don;t know the story, it sounds like a parody of the film Point Blank. And this version is “gross”. I’m sure the silly name partly explains why the film flopped.

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Lucky Number Slevin

Sometimes called “The Wrong Man”. Unoriginal but better!

“Interesting” movie names

Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia

Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?

Hell Comes To Frogtown (Sam Hell is the main character!)

Comics of the Eighties No 1: Whizzer and Chips

Chris Hallam's World View

Peter Gray's paintings 357

Whizzer and Chips was an unusual comic in many ways. For one thing, it had a strange dual status. Whereas Whoopee! and Wow!, another comic of the Eighties, was the result of two comics merging together, neither Whizzer and Chips had ever existed as separate entities. Although there was, in fact, a very old comic called Chips but this was wholly unrelated. Whizzer And Chips was always Whizzer and Chips from the moment it started in 1969 until right until the point it finally merged into the slightly more enduring Buster in 1990.

“Two in one: two times the fun!” was the slogan. Although no longer in total than any other comic, Whizzer was on the outside while Chips, in theory, a separate comic with its own title page, began about a third of the way in. Whizzer would begin again (with no real fanfare) at some point towards the…

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Why Blair was better than Thatcher

Chris Hallam's World View

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Winston Churchill received a State Funeral in January 1965 while Lady Thatcher received a Ceremonial one last month. With these precedents in mind, surely Tony Blair, on his death, should be considered for a Ceremonial Funeral himself?

It may seem a little premature to speculate about Tony Blair’s funeral arrangements in the month of his sixtieth birthday. But it certainly isn’t unreasonable. No, Blair cannot claim to have been Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. But in most respects, he was a more successful Prime Minister than Lady Thatcher was. Consider:

  1. Popularity when in power: Blair and Thatcher both won three election victories each. Thatcher’s majorities were 43, 144 and 100. Blair’s were: 179, 167 and 66. Both leaders saw their share of the vote decline in each election but it is clear Blair’s majorities were larger on average. Blair was also notably more popular than Thatcher while in power if…

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General Election memories 5: 1997

tony_blair_1997-cherieAberystwyth, May 1st 1997

“Bliss it was that dawn to be alive. And to be young was very heaven.”

William Wordsworth on the French Revoution.

Why was the 1997 election so great?

Was it simply because I was young? It was not only the first time I was able to vote in a General Election (I was twenty) but the first election where Labour had won in Peterborough or nationwide in my entire life. Indeed, it was the biggest Labour victory ever and still the biggest victory achieved by any party since the Second World War. But just as everyone tends to like the music that was popular when they were young, is my own memory of the election blighted by similar nostalgia?

Perhaps. But, if so, I am certainly not the only one. Many people, some much older than me, seem to have fond memories of it too. Ultimately, it may be the best election many of us ever experience in our entire lives.

It is easy now to forget just how hated the Tories were by 1997. Blair never came close to being anywhere near as unpopular, nor has David Cameron (yet). Gordon Brown and Margaret Thatcher did come close, Thatcher particularly towards the Poll Tax lunacy of her final year in office. But neither were as widely disliked as the Major Government in 1997. The proof is in the results: Labour won a majority of 179, bigger than any other party since 1945 (including any victory by Attlee, or Thatcher). Their margin of victory in terms of share of the vote was also the second greatest since the war (nearly 13% over the Tories).

The problem with the Tories wasn’t so much John Major himself, an amiable figure, despite being a very weak leader. It was the fact that the Tories had been in power for eighteen years and had given everyone a reason to dislike them.

True, if you hated their poor treatment of the NHS, schools and public services, you would probably have already been against the Tories before 1997. Many more were converted to Labour after 1992 by the total catastrophe that was rail privatisation. Nobody wanted it, it was clearly a stupid idea. The Tories did it anyway. The Major government even sold off the railways at knockdown prices. It was a disaster. One we are still living with today.

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Even traditionally Tory groups had cause to hate the Tories. If you had been in the services, you resented the defence cuts and the shoddy treatment of those with Gulf War Syndrome. If you were a farmer, you were furious over the government’s disastrous handling of the Mad Cow crisis. If you were in the business community, you were grateful the economy was doing so well. But after the economic incompetence of Black Wednesday in 1992, many felt our economic recovery had occurred in spite of the Tories not because of them.

If these things hadn’t put you off the Tories, the sleaze, the hypocrisy of the Back to Basics campaign and the government’s total paralysis as the Tories waged a bitter civil war with itself over Europe would have done. The Major Government was a worthless, hateful  shower of mediocrities and richly deserved the fate which befell it.

British Prime Minister John Major (L) and his de

Some deduce from this that Labour thus barely needed to lift a finger to win in 1997. This isn’t true. Contrary to popular legend, governments do not lose elections, oppositions win them. Nobody elects an alternative government without being sure that as the great political philosopher Kylie Minogue put it they are better than “the devil you know”. And Tony Blair and New Labour didn’t put a foot wrong in the three years leading up to 1997.

This is what made the General Election night in 1997 so glorious. The odious Hamiltons: gone, in one of the strongest Tory seats in the country. Sleazemaster David Mellor: gone. Norman Lamont: gone. Thatcher’s old seat Finchley: gone to the Lib Dems. Peterborough gone to Labour.My future home of Exeter fell to Labour’s Ben Bradshaw after a bitterly homophobic campaign by his Tory opponent Adrian Rogers backfired. The Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind gone.

And best of all,  the most likely next Tory successor Michael Portillo was gone! Today he is an amiable TV presenter who wears odd pink clothes. Readers of this blog have indeed proven fascinated by his sexuality making my earlier post https://chrishallamworldview.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/the-rise-and-fall-of-michael-denzil-xavier-portillo/ The Rise and Fall of Michael Portillo (which barely mentions his personal life) consistently the most read piece on this blog.

But in 1997, Michael Portillo was a power-hungry Thatcherite yob. Trust me: we had a narrow escape there.

Major had left the Tories with fewer than half of the number of seats he had inherited in 1990. Justice had been done. New Labour had been elected. A new era had begun. “Bliss it was that dawn to be alive” indeed!

But what about me? I was twenty and as youthful and energetic as ever. I was finishing my first year at the University of Aberystwyth, a seat which actually fell to Plaid Cymru not Labour in that year. And, yes, I was as apathetic as ever.

On the one hand, I met the Labour candidate Robert “Hag” Harris. He seemed decent and looked a bit like Lenin, which at the time I took to be a good sign. I was sorry to tell him I was registered to vote in Peterborough and so could not vote for him. I am disappointed to see now that he has never become an MP in the years since.

new-Labour-because-Britain-deserves-better-1997

I also wrote letters to friends and family about the election: yes letters! Remember them? My brother even got a pager for his 16th birthday that year! I would not send many more letters, however. I sent my first email the following year.

I saw the New Labour battle bus while travelling between Peterborough and Aberystwyth, presumably with many of our nation’s future leaders on board.

I studied History and in 1997 switched to International Politics. I know I argued with lots of people about politics during that period and who knows, may have even convinced a few instead of pushing them in the other direction.

But officially, yes. I was lazy. I spent the last and one of the most important UK General Election nights of the 20th century, drunk in either the Student Union building or watching the results in one of the hall TV rooms (I am not confused, I was in both of these places).

And yes. I did vote Labour but I was registered to vote in Peterborough not Aberystwyth. There, Labour’s Helen Brinton replaced Tory Party Chairman Brian Mawhinney who, in a huge show of confidence for the party whose national election campaign he was officially running, had fled the seat he had represented for eighteen years for a neighbouring safer Tory seat. It was known as “the chicken run”. So he remained as an MP even though Peterborough was won by Labour.

And even in this, I was lazy. I had arranged for my father to vote on my behalf by proxy. He cast my first fateful vote, not me.

More election memories…

https://chrishallamworldview.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/general-election-memories-8-2010/

https://chrishallamworldview.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/general-election-memories-7-2005/

https://chrishallamworldview.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/general-election-memories-6-2001/

https://chrishallamworldview.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/general-election-memories-5-1997/

https://chrishallamworldview.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/general-election-memories-4-1992/

https://chrishallamworldview.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/general-election-memories-3-1987/

https://chrishallamworldview.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/general-election-memories-2-1983/

https://chrishallamworldview.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/general-election-memories-1-1979/

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Book review: Jeremy Thorpe by Michael Bloch

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Since the Second World War, two third party leaders have been in a position to determine the balance of power in a Hung Parliament. Five years ago, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg secured his party a position in government but failed to achieve a proper cabinet position for himself or any of his party’s aims in office.

Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe in February/March 1974 antagonised his Liberal colleagues (notably Chief Whip David Steel) by negotiating with Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath without consulting them first. Thorpe ultimately rejected the trappings of office and emerged with his reputation enhanced.. We may well see another display of coalition-building if there is another Hung Parliament after the election in three months’ time.

Few politicians would wish to emulate Jeremy Thorpe today, however, as Michael Bloch’s excellent biography reminds us. Indeed one wonders if the real reason Jeremy Ashdown changed his name to Paddy was to avoid comparisons with the earlier Liberal? Today Thorpe, who died last December, is chiefly remembered for scandal and for being accused and found not guilty in a notorious murder plot. It was one of the biggest political stories of the Seventies and totally destroyed Thorpe’s career. Although only fifty in 1979, he was practIcally invisible for the last thirty five years of his life which were also made worse by Parkinson’s disease.

The contrast with Thorpe’s earlier days when he was a dazzling figure who seems to have charmed almost everyone he met could not be more striking. Born in 1929, he joined the Liberals at the time of their great post-war crisis when they came close to extinction around 1950. Thorpe nevertheless determined to one day be Prime Minister used his boundless energy to secure a seat in parliament in 1959 and obtained the party leadership while still in his thirties in 1967. As leader, he was always popular with the public (seeing the party through blows the 1970 election which coincided with the death of his first wife Caroline in a car accident)and highs (almost getting into government in 1974).

Ultimately, it was Thorpe’s compulsive risk-taking and his numerous homosexual liaisons which proved his downfall.

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Jeremy Thorpe

Michael Bloch

Published by: Little Brown