Car News: Brexit Fallout

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French owned Vauxhall provides Scotland with a muddled message

More anxieties, angst and woe – termed by Unionists of a lack of democratic rights as ‘grievances’ – over the disaster that is Brexit without a plan. Investors in the car industry, it’s life blood, are heading for the hills. An example of the rising panic is the value of Lookers’ Group car market halved since the vote. Hedge funds scent blood in the water and are avoiding investing tax evading cash in car dealers.

“All the Mercedes we sell come in from outside,” says Lookers CEO Andy Bruce, (meaning Europe) “as do the Volkswagens and Renaults. It would be a real problem if we had to go through an onerous import process. You can imagine what Dover and various ports in northern Europe would look like. We can’t prepare for that.”

The Brexit currency shock, which pushed up grocery prices also inflated car prices and a no-deal Brexit is likely to spell yet higher prices and delays for car dealers and their clients who typically wait 12 weeks for a new car. “You can imagine it would add a huge amount of complexity – and cost – to getting the cars to customers,” adds Bruce.

The worry for franchised car dealers is the vast costs they’ve incurred encouraged by their suppliers to build space age luxurious showrooms, comfy ‘brand experiences’ where you can get a hot breakfast at a bar served by a chatty female assistant in a suit and necktie designed by a male designer, best coffee or frothy cappuccinos, watch a wide screen television, read right-wing tabloid newspapers, a potted plant not often watered on your table, and use scrupulously clean toilets while you wait two hours to hear your car has failed its MOT because a tyre is worn. (As I did yesterday.) Those shrines to the automobile push up dealer’s liabilities and lower the discounts they can offer you. Now Brexit has thrown all their profit level certainties up in the air.

The one I attended yesterday, Mercedes, guardian of Smart cars, had me listen to an Aberdonian farmer point out which big flashy models in the showroom he owned,  emphasising the Smart he was waiting for was actually for his wife to drive. There’s nothing more amusingly provincial than an Aberdonian farmer telling you all about his success in life. “It’s yon SUV ower there, ye ken, no the wee yin, the big yin wi’ a’ the trimmin’s. Great cor, naithin’ like the Smert”

Like other retailers, car dealers have adapted to the designer label existence and are paying the price. are having to adapt to an internet age. Accountant KPMG forecasts that up to “half the UK’s 4,200 dealerships could close by 2025”. Vauxhall, in the advert illustrated above, a large swathe of their UK showrooms.

“People used to drive round dealerships, do test drives and haggle over part-exchange, but all that happens online now,” says Bruce. “The average number of visits per sale is down from four or five to 1.5.” By next year, Bruce plans for shoppers to buy a car from Lookers’ website and have it dropped to their door without setting foot in a showroom.

Bruce’s final words sound prophetic: “Dealerships will never become extinct. You can’t buy a car from Amazon. If one of the car manufacturers did decide to go through Amazon, they would be taking a huge risk.”

Aye, well, I’m sure travel agents, record shops, insurance brokers and banks used to think exactly that. And where are they now?

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

Lazy bastards

I’m beginning to get irked by two annoying driver habits. The first is the sons of bitches who turn off a main road into the one your waiting in to exit, and cut the corner at speed in one move, scraping past millimetres from your car’s nose. They refuse to slow down, or expect anybody to be waiting at the double hatched line. The other is those who drive on their brakes. You’re waiting in line at traffic lights and they zoom up your rear hitting the brakes a yard behind your car. They’re the same who inch forward when you inch forward in your desperate attempt to keep a safe distance from the sods.

VW Camper van & Beetle

Volkswagen, permanently in the doldrums after the Dieselgate scandal, fined billions of dollars so far, and still shell-shocked after a top executive was charged, are doing their best to keep VW fans distracted. After shutting down production on the Beetle they’re considering a new version that’s electric. Where they will manage to store enough battery power to give it a decent  mileage is another matter. VW also announced a new campervan so tall you can stand up in it. It will likely have a wet-room shower-bathroom, in addition to berths for two adults and two children. A small integrated kitchen incorporates a sink, gas hob and two fridges. A confession: when a poverty-stricken student looking for work in London I lived in one that sat at the back of a large public garage. Nobody knew I was there. I entered at midnight and left at 7am.

Range Rover goes electric

Engineers and designers of the high-end go anywhere in Chelsea Range Rover have a problem. The company has instructed them to create an all-electric version.  David Bache’s simple, original 1970 two-door, hose down interior Range Rover is now one of the world’s most expensive SUVs. (Early ones can also fetch tens of thousands.) But how to keep its status, structural rigidity, noise dampening qualities, and speed, plus ground clearance, is a serious challenge to engineers. Will its dimensions be even longer than today’s silly excess, or shorter without a thumping great transmission tunnel down its centre? Do I care? Not really. The current model is a long way away from its practical and lightweight original. I’d buy a second-hand Skoda Yeti, a vehicle just as good without the  costs or glares from pedestrians.

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An Auld Sang Still Sung

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Murray Foote former Daily Record editor – 3-times Newspaper of the Year

Truculence is a lovely word. I have other favourites such as somnambulant and wind – not the intestinal kind – and confluence, words that slide off the tongue. ‘Truculence’ is one, and it sums up the Scottish psyche faced by its bigger more powerful neighbour.

Bitter opposition

Since a few nobles, clergy and opportunistic lawyers signed the Treaty of Union, Scotland’s relationship with England has been one long bitter opposition against rule by another country. The day Westminster levied increased taxes on Scotland, automatically channelled south, was the day Scots woke up to the realisation all was not well with the much-vaunted Union that was promised to bring an economic miracle.

England hiked export taxes on everything, from candle making, paper making and the premier industry, linen. Westminster decided Scots paid too few taxes, we were a bunch of malingerers, a familiar cry to this day. When it comes to English black propaganda they are seriously unimaginative.

Garden of Eden – where?

Far from the fabricated claims of an SNP making promises of a post-independence Nirvana, it was the Unionist pamphleteers of 1706 who promised marble pavements to walk upon and gold plates to eat off. When you think about it, that’s exactly what the sons of bitches promise now so long as we stay locked into the madness that is a post-European England. I’d like to say we’re not so easily duped these days but for the knowledge half of Scotland think themselves too stupid to run their own affairs.

The feeling of being taken for a ride has repeated itself down the ages exemplified by one of the architects of the phony ‘Vow’. Murray Foote, a right-wing tabloid newspaper editor of no visible morality, got smacked in the gob by an epiphany and announced himself a Yes voter. He has seen the light. God is an Indy Supporter. Hallelujah!

Right before your eyes, numpty

There were any number of similar Westminster cons and muggings Foote and his henchmen could have found but chose to ignore had they troubled to check Scotland’s recent history. The editorial line held fast: Scotland must remain a colonial territory, people like me are vile dissidents. Then came a blow to Unionism. After leaving his newspaper Foote did a volte-face and is now lauded for it. So far, so good.

Foote spends his time spreading the Word to anybody who will listen. There is no greater zealot than a firebrand who persecuted those who disagreed with his view of the world. Saint Paul is their patron saint. Foote probably gets paid for his efforts and for television interviews and articles. I don’t. There’s equality for you.

We are expected to be gracious for this changed man turned propagandist for Yes, unctuously thankful one more individual supports liberty and freedom. I’m pleased that he has changed his soiled underpants at last, but I have scorn too: the courageous thing to have done was make his announcement that he got it all wrong on the front page when he was editor.

History repeats itself

Merely looking at the Scottish economy from the mid-1950’s was enough to tell anybody, let alone a slow-witted newspaper hack, that so long as Scotland remained at the mercy of England’s economic agenda, so long did its economy remain in the doldrums. Scotland’s democratic deficit has remained a crippling, suffocating weight on progress.

We did not have the political mechanisms to raise our game. Why would any business company want to locate in Scotland if it did not offer better conditions than London? Wasn’t that the whole purpose of the various Darien schemes? – to avoid English tariffs and trade blockades, give Scotland it’s very own trading routes free from interference. The ambition was sound though the solution was deeply flawed.

An own goal

Foote could have changed the course of Scotland’s progressive history for the better, instead the Scottish Daily Record stopped it in its tracks. His newspaper made thousands of people unhappy, fired salvos of brutality at effective individuals in the independence movement,  and consequently rendered Scotland’s legitimate right of self-governance weaker by delay, and economically poorer from the whiplash of Westminster vengeance.

Our evangelical editor contends it was Westminster’s denial of Scotland’s equal place at the Brexit negotiating table that altered his perception of SNP Bad to Scotland has a bloody good case. His dedication to the democratic principle has yet to manifest itself by joining the SNP, the one act that would cement his commitment to a fair society.

Taxed to Hell and back

Unlike the Irish, Scotland has used the ballot box not the bomb or bullet to make its feelings plain. It wasn’t always like that. We have picked up the odd rock and chucked it. In the face of an onslaught of authoritarian laws and harsh taxation, Scotland’s truculence boiled over into armed rebellion within a few years of the Union. Until then tax collection was a fairly good-natured, relaxed process. After 1707 almost 500 custom officials were sent to Scotland – placemen – to ensure we paid up. Tax collecting became a rough and rigorous occupation. Officials had armed protection.

There was the Malt Tax, the Salt Tax, the Window Tax, the Leather Tax, the Horse Tax, the Starch Tax, The Sugar Tax, the Soap Tax, – no wonder we were called unwashed – the Tree Planting Tax, the Roof Slate Tax, the Candles Tax, The Shoe Tax, the Silver Tax, the Roads Tax, the Arable Land Tax, the Good Teeth Tax – okay, I made that last one up, but you get the drift. We had become a servile nation. This was never the promise, the 1706 VOW, made to us by Unionists.

By 1709 England was at your door demanding a chunk of your hard earned groats and if wealthy, your sovereigns. If you refused they took your possessions. In retaliation – that hostile opposition again – tax officials got stoned. This in turn led Westminster MPs to say Scotland was becoming ungovernable. It wasn’t only the huddled masses who cried in pain, but also the rich who had enthusiastically sold off Scotland to line their pockets and now saw their pockets emptied again. They joined the defiant chorus.

Payback time

The earls of Scotland gathered together to demand the Union be dissolved right there and then. The Earl of Oxford, in good colonial tradition, commented that the whinging of the Scots “resembled a man with toothache who asks for his head to be cut off”. The term grievance monkey was pretty well coined back then by insufferable English MPs.

The earls did their best and failed, the motion presented by the Earl of Seafield lost by a few votes. Seafield a Scottish aristocrat, who like Murray Foote had commanded the very centre of the Union campaign, had used every opportunity his status gave him to denounce adherents of independence.

Seafield is infamous for the phrase spoken at the mothballing of the Scottish Parliament. As far as he was concerned Scotland could now “be seen as the end o’ a lang sang”.

Foote cannot claim any credit for the fact that the Union is as insecure now as it was in 1709 and remained so until the First World War. He has stepped into the fray when the going is relatively safe, his newspaper sliding into oblivion.

Foote is welcomed by me to the world of common sense and social justice. But for the democratic destruction reaped upon Scotland by his disreputable lying rag of a newspaper, for the ferocious lies he published, for his paper’s  repulsive racism, for the fact we might still be part of the EU had we secured self-governance again, Foote has a lot of explaining to do. And perhaps he should donate his speaking fees to a food bank.

Truculent? I’m goddam angry as hell. There is no mercy in my justice.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 5 Comments

Sicario 2 – a review

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Benecio del Toro returns to the Mexican border to create more mayhem

I chose the publicity still above because the image gives a good impression of the look to the follow-up of the superb Sicario of 2015. The cold evening light on a day’s desert heat silhouettes the dusty figure of a hired assassin, a man with a grudge to express, employed by the US government to fight its drug war using his commission as a cathartic exercise in revenge for the killing of his family.

There’s a relentless fascistic bleakness to Sicario: Day of the Soldado shot by a different director from the first one, Denis Villeneuve. Following three story strands it reads like a documentary. Soldado does what the writer intends, we get the message: the US government uses every dirty trick in the book to achieve its ends. We are living in an age of moral decay. Ethics and honour are jokes.

This Sicario may appear complex in plot and inter-relations only because that’s what the US drug war is like. Let’s be honest, the war against drugs is complex because people on both sides get rich out of it. It isn’t only ruthless Mexican cartels making millions. US officials and politicians have dirty hands too. There are forces that won’t ever allow the legalisation of drugs because they will lose their main income.

Considering the events of recent times when a US President sees children torn from their parent’s arms and held in cages and calls it an immigration policy, this film is spot on accurate about the American disease – making America crap again! The world’s worst terrorist nation shows how its done, how to trap desperate migrant families, how Hitler and his henchmen were so terribly inefficient.

Italian Stefano Sollima (Gomorrah) steps in to direct this latest screenplay by Taylor Sheridan author of the first, whose neo-westerns Hell or High Water I judged best film of its year, and Wind River made him the genre’s outstanding writer of political thrillers.

Missing from this film is Emily Blunt’s character, her role created to be the reluctant witness to the illegal carnage. Personally, I don’t miss her girning presence. We have the cockiness of James Brolin’s clandestine official Matt Graver, and the cold, deathly stare of the magnificent Benicio del Toro reprising his Alejandro Gillick avenger. Together they look and act like bounty hunters in a Peckinpah western but with machine guns and  Ray-Ban shades. Their roles fit them like a hand grenade.

There are moments the narrative takes on an uncanny resemblance to Trumpland formerly known as the USA, and there are moments it seems as if the writer’s political nous is overtaken by America’s belligerence as expressed by its current incumbent of the Whitehouse. We’re given a lesson in official terrorism. It differs from the usual sort in that it is never reported as instigated by our side. The existential ‘enemy’ is always the group outside the state wanting in, or already in and planning death by suicide bomb.

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All kitted up and ready to go, Brolin, Jeffrey Donovan and del Toro

The story this time has all the hallmarks of actuality, a real event transposed to drama. Graver (Brolin) hires Gillick (del Toro) to carryout Graver’s proposal to kidnap a drug cartel’s daughter, make it look like the work of another cartel, and then release her in the full glare of publicity as if rescued by the good guys, the US cavalry.

The intention is to set the two cartels at each other’s throat, sit back, and watch the body count mount up saving officialdom a lot of money and pain. Mount up its does, but most of the killing is done by Americano Soldado.

“Why not eliminate the drug boss?” asks one government official. “Shooting the king doen’t start a war. It ends a war”, answers Graver. Whipping up tribal conflict is not a new insurgency device, (see history of Scotland faced by British imperialism) only now accompanied by super-brutality and the death of innocents categorised as collateral damage in the cause of keeping the state safe.

There is a memorable scene easily missed that pretty well sums up the scenario of a government prepared to switch sides in an instant. Gillick removes his terrorist jacket to replace it with a ‘US Official’ jacket in one deft move, showing how easily and scarily our side can slip from bad guy to good guy (and back again) in the blink of an eye.

Those operations are always officially sanctioned. Always. The politician or agency head ensures his fingerprints are not on the paperwork, the government figure here represented by Mathew Modine as James Riley, US Secretary of Defence. As with all governments involved in dirty work there’s something written on paper somewhere that points to the culprit. Often it lies in the e-mails the culprits try to delete. Cleaning up is a waste of time. A clean-as-a-whistle record is sullied when criminality happens on your watch. Claiming your back was turned, or you trusted your lieutenants, or you were obeying orders is no defence.

Day of the Soldado has well-choreographed Hummer chases, brutal executions, and blood spattered walls and car windows. The humblest of characters gets a  backstory. That’s excellent writing, a writer unafraid to take the time to round  character and not leave it as an ‘extra’.

Also noteworthy is the excellent murky and moody photography by Dariusz Wolski, though for continuity I’d have preferred to see Roger Deakins back behind the lens. Music is from Hildur Guðnadóttira a composer new to me and this genre who makes a decent pastiche of the original growling score by the late Johann Johansson complete with menacing Apache drum beat.

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One lump or two? Del Toro is superb

Having penned this review I checked some right-wing newspapers in the USA to see how they regard an attack on US military integrity. To a hack they deride the film as implausible or a failure dramatically. Admittedly it doesn’t have the freshness of the original, with the exception of the second Godfather saga no film series does, but it still has a strong piece of work with lot to say about today’s incursions into foreign territory justified on the grounds of stopping the drug trade or defeating existential terrorism.

Playing the young girl, Isabel Reyes holds her own against the craggy confidence of the stars, and as you’d expect del Toro is the one you can’t keep your eyes off. His enigmatic acting technique has a surprise move when you least expect it. His pauses as masterly. You hold your breath, is he going to kill that guy or crack an evil smile?

As before, there are no heroes, blood hits the walls, cynicism tarnishes everything, and reasons for decisions are ambiguous lost in a haze of self-righteous piety. The cloudy, suffocating darkness is a kind of symbolism of the dense fabric woven by corrupt administrations to hide truth. I liked the Shakespearean ending. The film’s coda is a series of intense confrontations rather than cliché chases, shoot outs and explosions.

I entered the cinema hoping this was the last of the Sicario saga only to discover it’s a trilogy. But a wonderful screenplay and the sheer brooding presence of Del Toro have me impatience for the final drama.

This one begins with a brief Somalia pirate subplot presumably to show how far the US military strays from legality as well as connect the plot to people smuggling in Mexico. It doesn’t add much to the story. Later Taylor introduces an element of sentimentality between the kidnapped daughter and Alejandro that lightens the tension. For those two reasons it misses a five star rating and gets a four star laurel.

Sheridan modernises the drug-war thriller to match the violence of today’s cartels and official reprisals. We glimpse the power of US military might. We’re a long way away from Orson Wells and his great film noir Touch of Evil – probably the best noir I’ve seen – also set on the Mexican border in which a corrupt cop does the killing.

Soldado is another winner from the febrile conscience of Sheridan Taylor. I responded to the films political outlook in most respects, especially the line about “border towns always being trouble”. Aye, don’t I know it. I live in Scotland.

  • STAR RATING: Four stars
  • Cast: Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner
  • Director: Stefano Sollima
  • Writer: Taylor Sheridan
  • Cinematographer:  Dariusz Wolski
  • Composer: Hildur Guðnadóttir
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?
Posted in Film review | 2 Comments

Car News: “No Brexit Dividend”

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A few happy Mini workforce … liable to be made redundant thanks to Brexit

Another car giant complains Brexit will break it. BMW says it will be forced to close its production sites in the UK, putting 8,000 jobs at risk, if components for Mini and Rolls-Royce cars are caught up in customs delays and tariffs after the UK parliament throws away its French berry, Spanish sombrero, and Greek pom-pom shoes.

In its starkest warning so far Stephan Freismuth the customs manager of the German carmaker’s UK operations said its manufacturing base will not cope with obstructions to its supply chain. For ‘not be able to cope’ read, any impediment to production and profitability goals is over our dead body. This is fair enough. BMW are not a charity.

“We always said we can do our best and prepare everything, but if the supply chain will have a stop at the border, then we cannot produce our products in the UK.”

BMW employs over 8,000 people in the UK (as opposed to hamsters or chimps) including 4,500 at its flagship plant in Cowley, Oxford, where it produces the big as an SUV Mini. In a normal BMW saloon there are around 30,000 components from engine to nut and bolt. Around 2,000 components are made in the UK – a critical service industry to the UK’s economy. The rest are shipped in. To be frank, BMW will find it a lot simpler and convenient to move assembly to France than have disruption to 28,000 components per car. The company is powerful enough to make that decision if they have to keep an impediment-free movement of parts.

Whenever I hear of a company threatening to leave the UK, or actually packing its computers and iced water urn, I wonder how Scotland could have prospered from a short-distance transfer here had we won the first vote.

BMW’s anxieties are echoed by Michael Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). “There’s no Brexit dividend for our industry,”

Hawes wants May’s cabinet to get the finger out and stop playing silly buggers. (My extrapolation of his speech.) The car industry always expects special treatment. Hawes went on to state car firms including over and above  BMW such as Honda, Volvo, Ford and Nissan would have to move production elsewhere if the uncertainty around Brexit continued for much longer.

We’ve heard this all before but the clamour for certainty is getting ever-louder. As Ruthie Tank Commander would say, “We said No and we mean it”.

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

Women, know thy place!

Women are legally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia for the first time. It’s an important symbolic milestone despite some women who fought for the right are still in jail. The move to end the age-old female driving ban was announced last year and is widely attributed to the influence of Mohamed bin Salman, the street wise young crown prince, known as MBS. Salman has positioned himself as a moderniser and a champion of economic and social reform. To his instruction, cinemas have opened, the state has organised live music concerts, and women have been allowed into a secluded family section in a sports stadium. But before the British press scoff at how ‘backward’ is Saudi Arabia folk in comparison to Whitey in Blighty they should count how many male drivers pass them each day, wife, girlfriend or mistress in the passenger seat. A man’s gotta be master of his own domain.

Another Bond Aston Martin 

“A legendary Aston Martin driven by James Bond in Goldfinger could have been found more than twenty years after it was stolen from a Florida airport”, so goes mainstream headlines, ever-ready to publish another James Bond story. (I tip Tom Hardy to take over from Daniel Craig, somebody else next week.) However, the announcement is as close to fake news as you can get, more ‘truthiness’ than accurate. The Aston Martin stolen was a promotional vehicle touring the world, decked up the same as the one in the film. And it’s location is not in the least certain but rather stored “somewhere in the Middle East”, which as alert reader will know is a damnably vast area.  Snoresville.

Away with keys

Smartphones are cued to unlock and start cars, after a consortium of car makers and tech companies agreed a new set of standards for smartphone car keys. The Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) – which counts Volkswagen, BMW, Hyundai, Apple, LG and Samsung among its members – has announced ‘Digital Key Release 1.0’ specification, which sets out how “a robust ecosystem” will allow drivers to lock, unlock and start their cars from compatible smart devices. (Tesla owners can already use a dedicated app instead of a key.) Instead of dropping your keys down a street drain as you leave the car, you can drop your iPhone down the drain. Thieves will learn how to dial in your car’s code from their deckchair on the Marbella coast in double quick time, and if a drive itself car, steer it to their factory hideout before shipping it to Eastern Europe without risking a hopped up car thief aboard.

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Western – a review

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Western – a subtle exploration of the mind of the invader

Western – a title meant to be symbolic – reminds me in some ways of the Polish workers I have around me as I write this review, grouped to assist with the heavy construction work recreating a Roman garden. They chatter and laugh, swear and spit, but get the job done seemingly without a break that might signify indolence.

Each morning they arrive on site they shake hands, share a story from the evening before or an anecdote about the morning’s trip to work, and then begin their allotted tasks. They are a terrific bunch, work hard in all weather, but to my nation’s shame tell me they have been verbally abused by Scots who tell them to go home. They have lived in Scotland almost twenty years and have families.

Polish people have been here in large number since 1850. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s mother was Polish. We should all be taught in schools how the Poles helped us in the Second World War and what they have done for Scotland.

Western has a similar group of hard graft workers, all German. They are short-term migrant workers sent off to a remote area of the Bulgarian countryside close to the border with Greece. Unlike my construction of a Roman Garden on archaeological ground, a domestic construction, the German workers are there to help build a massive hydroelectric power plant in the middle of nowhere. With such a big project come big problems, delays and frustrations.

The first thing we see is how easily the Germans adopt a sense of superiority towards the locals. They post a German flag in their encampment as if conquering Roman centurions, spout the worst kind of  aggressive nationalism, harass local women, and begin jockeying for position among the local community. If you were to challenge any of the workers about their attitude they’d be shocked, and Lord Sugar-fashion claim they mean no harm by their racist remarks.

Watching their behaviour I had an uneasy feeling of seeing the English disease at work, the colonial mentality, a presumption Scots are backward, lazy, and that scurrilous insult of all insults, ‘subsidy junkies’.

Good films are supposed to be universal in application so I presume people of other nations as subservient as the Scots will see similar parallels with their own country.

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For many sequences subtitles are unnecessary, the acting by amateurs is so good

The various transgressions committed by the German workers, the mocking, and the ridicule, are seen by the locals as insulting or abuse, much to the bemusement of their ‘benign’ tormentors. It’s impossible not to see parallels with the sneers and jeers regularly thrown at Scots by Union zealots. They simply do not realise how aggressive or how prattish they appear.

Among the various Auf Wiedersehen types there’s one unusual worker. Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) keeps largely to himself and avoids the horseplay of the others. This annoys the hell out of the squad who show their dislike of individuality that doesn’t conform to their code, especially to the bombastic hot-headed Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek). Vincent enjoys harassing the local women who go skinny dipping.

One day, while off on his own, Meinhard comes across a white horse in a field and rides it into the nearby town, ostensibly to buy some cigarettes but presumably also to encounter the locals without having his fellow workers escalate tensions through their boorishness. Things get off to an uncomfortable unfriendly start when a woman in the store refuses to serve him because of his German heritage. She remembers the German occupation of the past and is understandably resentful to see Germans back in her village. But Meinhard assumes a laid-back demeanour and rolls with the punches.

He eventually befriends a number of the townspeople, chiefly Adrian (Syuleyman Alilov Letifov), the area’s powerful stone merchant and owner of the white horse, and his nephew, Walko. Adrian’s horse, used by Meinhard to ride into the village, becomes a key player, as does the symbolism of the horse.

As the plant construction drags on, Meinhard makes frequent journeys into the town presumably looking for some sort of camaraderie and an escape from his own past, (we learn he’s a former Legionnaire) away from his fellow workers.

The scenes between Meinhard, a man who might or might not have killed people in the line of regimental duty,  and the townspeople are full of gentle and rough moments, but above all a wish to be understood. They don’t share a common language but take the time to find a way to communicate with each other through simple phrases and gestures. There are lots of awkward staccato conversations, all of which begin to create well rounded human beings doing their best to get on with life as they find it. As friendships gel we get a sense that locals are helping the mysterious Meinhard to find a sense of community that has been absent from his life for too long.

In time Meinhard’s co-workers resent his  identification with the townspeople, his intense dislike of their boorishness. Gradually, almost imperceptibly a toxic mixture of  male masculinity, dulling conformity, and alienation coalesce into deadly confrontation. While there are lots of  similarities with the archetypical American western in structure and indeed cliché plotting, it also subverts the genre.

The film is a triumph of natural expression, a real joy to watch the nuances of  human interaction where tribes meet and clash. As one worker says to Meinhard, “You’re either with us or against us”.

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Cast and director Valeska Grisebach check the recording

The film is full of recognisable, genuine human encounters one with another. The pace is actual time which might not attract a huge audience, hence the art house release, but it is true to the material. What is more remarkable is the actors are all amateurs, a technique used by Peter Watkins in his wonderful Culloden, and Vittorio De Sica in Bicycle Thieves.

To top it all writer and director Valeska Grisebach has managed to mould a bunch of disparate amateurs into a first rate repertory company of thespians.

Grisebach cut her teeth as script consultant on the German comedy – yes, Germans do  jokes, Toni Erdmann, her previous films Longing (2006) and Be My Star (2001) gaining critical accolades if limited releases. In Western Grisebach avoids melodrama to build up tension by silences, looks, and body language, all achieved through the craft of improvisation. Using amateurs in this way can be disastrous in the wrongs hands, particularly if the actors can’t sustain character for a film lasting two hours. Under Grisebach’s direction they all excel.

This is a film about a clash of cultures, German versus Bulgarian, (Scots versus English) and it works on so many levels. Released in the UK in April it won’t be to everyone’s taste, especially the relaxed naturalistic pacing, but it’s a real work of cinematic art that avoids flashy camerawork and the boring three second edit cuts.

The excellent cast are given space to mature and show us well-drawn characters conveying the right amount of malice at the right moments. As the lead character Neumann is outstanding. If he wants an acting career he has the chops to secure one on the basis of his performance. Even when he stands back watching some action or other in silence he has a fine presence.

You never quite know where the narrative is going but you know it won’t be a happy ending. In look, the camerawork is reminiscent of lots of classic westerns but it has its own unique quality.

This is a story about people who value their humanity and community above all else pitted against the few who want some of us to be less equal than others.

  • STAR RATING: Four stars
  • Cast: Meinhard Nuemann, Reinhardt Wetrek, Syuleyman Alilov Letifov
  • Director: Valeska Grisebach
  • Writer: Valeska Grisebach
  • Cinematographer: Bernhard Keller
  • Composer: (Borrowed existing songs)
  • Running time: 2 hours 1 minute
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?

 

Posted in Film review | 4 Comments

Car News: Boss Arrested

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Rupert Stadler, the most senior VW executive to be arrested to date.

The chief executive of Audi has been arrested at his home, the most senior Volkswagen official to be taken into custody over the emissions cheating scandal. (VW owns Audi.)  Presumably he was arrested while using an all-electric lawn mower and not the emissions cheating variety.

Praise to the EU for a system that sees the legal process move into action. VW thinks less of it because at the time of writing he is still chief executive. When evidence emerged that Audi had played a major role in developing illegal emissions software on Herr Rupert Stadler’s watch, he and most other top executives kept their jobs.

Prosecutors in Munich said Stadler was being detained amid fears he might hinder its investigation into the scandal. This could plunge Volkswagen into a leadership crisis. News of Rupert Stadler’s arrest comes as the VW group chief executive, Herbert Diess, tries to introduce a new leadership structure, which still includes Stadler, and accelerate the group’s shift towards electric vehicles. The court has made clear Stadler is unreliable and intend to prevent him from obstructing or hindering the diesel investigation.

The whole VW emission scandal is a prime example of the disdain the automotive industry has for the car buyer, the pedestrian, and above all government rules and regulations.

For decades VW was led with an iron fist and an iron rod by an austere Austrian autocrat named Ferdinand Piëch, a former engineer, and CEO of VW. He retired in 2015, so he’s nicely clear of any backlash. But it was his ethos that permeated every aspect of VW empire building. He was the VW boss who rejected the Smart car, later bought by Mercedes, and gave the world his completely useless vanity project, the unprofitable Bugatti Vyron, a jelly mould sold for over £1 million pounds each.

The ersatz Bugatti is the supercar with a fire grate for a radiator, that can do over 250 miles per hour in a desert only, needs ten radiators to cope with the heat, cripplingly expensive tyres replaced every 2,000 miles, and is so heavy it defies the laws of physics.

No surprise that Piëch’s staff felt able to disregard the rules for keeping the environment safe, and went for maximum profits to please their boss and shareholders. You’ll rarely find mention of Piëch in UK car magazines connected to VW. The internal corruption of bribing union officials with hookers and money was invariably side-stepped in favour of obtaining the latest fast Audi or VW Gold GTi to test drive.

For readers unfamiliar with VW’s gigantic fraud, VW admitted in September 2015 to using illegal software to cheat US emissions tests on diesel engines, sparking the biggest crisis in the German carmaker’s history and triggering a regulatory crackdown in the auto industry. The US is fining VW to Hell and back, and demanding customer are given a new car of cash on their oil burner. We are left to the wolves in the UK. You bought a VW made diesel car? Tough.

We get these industry ‘crackdowns’ every ten years or less. Faulty brakes, cruise control  increasing speed, air bags bursting without warning, the disasters pile up and each time we think it an aberration. A previous one of epic proportions was tyre failure on SUVs. Tyre companies blamed car makers and vice versa.

The problem lies in so few legal institutions existing in the UK to protect car buyers and owners. The AA looks to sell insurance and holidays, the Consumer Association has so little cash it’s hamstrung. The dealer motoring associations complain but are likewise impotent. If you consult a lawyer it can cost more than the value of your vehicle. Whichever way you look, the car owner is duped and cheated.

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

Car crash roads

A study of the UK’s worst roads for crashes reveals the M6, which stretches 232 miles from Leicestershire to the Scottish borders, a main artery of the UK motorway network, and the 280-mile-long A8(M) in Scotland, have on average five car accidents each week – or put another way, one every weekday. The A30 in Devon (213 crashes), A35 in Dorset (173), and the A46 in Warwickshire (123) are next in the list of most dangerous roads. Reading that reminds me of the decades the east coast road England to Scotland is still not a motorway, while dear old Blighty talks of billions for fast trains to Leeds, and all that loose change jingling in is pockets after Brexit with no projects in Province Scotland on which to spend it.

Stone the crows

The Scottish Tories, a rare breed of straw man scarecrow, claim there are “over 400 no go areas” in Scotland where ambulance drivers won’t tread, but wait until they are accompanied by police officers. Ambulance drivers call it basic procedure. The BBC has dutifully repeated the Tory’s nefarious assertion. The notion a chibbed and bleeding  Union Jack zealot lying in a stairwell swimming in his own urine released from fear of dying is going to tell his mates to stone the ambulance is so bloody risible it’s enough to crack a rib. Perhaps Tories are twisting facts; ambulance men regard Tory constituent offices as no go areas for fear of punching the MSP’s lights out.

Paying too much for gas

UK motorists are paying on average 5p more per litre for fuel than they should because fuel stations are slow reducing prices in line with crude oil rates. A study by fuel price campaigner FairFuelUK reveals fuel stations made £500 million in “opportunistic profiteering” by not reducing prices of petrol and diesel accordingly in the past three months alone. Petrol conglomerates always respond with the same excuse, the petrol station retain tank reserves of the old priced petrol and so can’t reduce the price per gallon overnight. Or tomorrow night. Or the night after that. And they can’t get the staff. No wonder we witness drivers turning the pump hose this way and that to get every penny of value from it before they pay at the till.

 

 

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Hereditary – a review

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Low lighting, woman on the edge, a Gothic house in woods, must be a horror movie

Choosing a film depends a lot on one’s mood on the day. I glimpse at headlines as a kind of insurance that the choice of film I want to see will be half-decent at worst and I won’t feel cheated out of  a chunk of my life and money.

Going to the multiplex or the independent venue has always been my way of relaxing. Conned into seeing so many over-hyped pieces of junk you learn how to choose wisely. Hereditary, starring the inestimable Australian talent Toni Collette, has attracted rave reviews. It seemed a safe bet, and I felt a scary plot just what I needed to get the skin crawling again..

To Collette’s credit she’s teamed up with a first time director, always a risky venture for an established actor. It can pay off.  Bruce Willis in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense is proof a smart talent agency can create a winner by putting all the right ingredients together to give their most experienced clients the confidence to work with the new. Hereditary is given a 93% satisfaction rate by cinemagoers on the Rotten Tomatoes website; so, somebody’s happy.

Filmmaker Ari Astor got to show Hereditary at the Sundance Film Festival, a tribute to the quality of any independent production, and now it’s in the big cinemas, a sign that the distributor felt it has the power to put bums on seats.

As for his inspirations, Aster mentions “Don’t Look Now,” “In the Bedroom,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “The Ice Storm,” plus Peter Greenaway and Powell and Pressburger the distinguished British filmmakers. Well, he wouldn’t cite crap ones, would he? Odd he doesn’t mention king of the creepy psycho thrillers Shyamalan.

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A bad case of self-combustion

The film is tosh. Astor knows where to point a camera lens, and how to get his actors to sustain a silent scream or a look of horror, but the plot is bunkum from start to finish.

Granted, the images will entertain a young generation uninformed of past classics, though they giggled and laughed at the over-the-top ludicrous epilogue in the cinema I was in. There are no jolts to the viewer’s nerves, no hands coming from nowhere to grasp a shoulder from behind, just lots of psychological mayhem, screaming, running about or walking very slowly as if  dumped in one’s pants. None of the plotting stands up for a minute.

Over-wrought mother Annie (Toni Collette) of morbid daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and catatonic son Peter (Alex Wolff) first loses her mother, and then the body from the grave. (Continuity can’t get the date right: one minute April 2018, the next October 2017.) The death sends the whole family into a spin despite sterling support from stoical father of this rural group Steve, (Gabriel Byrne) who does his best to console everybody and blub in private. He’s not of retirement age but we are not told what he does for a living. His common sense protestations such as calling the police all go unheeded by the rest of the manic Graham family, and being no other house nearby, there’s nobody to run to for help. In the middle of a mountainous region mobile phone reception is excellent. A dinner at the table is always a nightmare of tension and resentment.

Later Annie loses her daughter in a freak road accident when Peter is driving. The moments leading up to that incident make no sense whatsoever, yet the filming is so good and the acting fully committed we refuse to step back and see the mess for what it is, completely contrived from start to finish. Now Annie hates her son. Or does she?

One day Annie is befriended by a woman called Joan (Ann Dowd) who says she lost a son in an accident but spiritualism helped her find him again. She looks mumsy but you know she’s a messenger from the Devil. Osculum inflame is everybody’s greeting.

From there on the plot gets sillier and sillier. Somewhere in all the mishmash there is a dog in the household which nobody walks, pats or feeds. It comes and goes depending on whether the dog wrangler turned up on the set during filming.

Annie spends her days making model dolls houses. She’s even got an art gallery ready to put on an exhibition. In her little workshop she creates miniature worlds that she is able to control. The big world where humans live defeats her completely.

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Ari Astor, Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff at Sundance

Now, I admit all horror films that involve demon worship are tosh, Carrie is one, but some such as The Wicker Man, are cleverly constructed to hide the blazing truth until the last minute while giving us all the evidence on the journey. At the end everything adds up. People who seemed  disconnected from the proceedings were in fact involved, unexplained deaths are explained, the villain was always obvious if only we had been paying attention.

Here is a snatch of dialogue from the demons sequence:

JOAN: You are Paimon. One of the eight Kings of Hell. We have looked to the northwest and called you in. We’ve corrected your first body and give you now this healthy male host. We reject the Trinity and pray devoutly to you, great Paimon: give us your knowledge of all secret things and all mysteries of the Earth; bring us honor, wealth and good familiars; and bind all men to our Will, as we have …

Hereditary does it best to emulate that genre but fails. The dialogue is often clunky. What it does do well is set up a conventional scene and then give it a twist you didn’t quite expect. For all its twists and turns it lacked surprise or tension. There are gruesome shots of dead bodies, thankfully none of the lifeless, humourless script.

I can see what it is saying about over-worked mothers, or too trusting fathers. What it says is trite. It has nothing to say about family life expect we all have the seeds of destruction in us. The gross death of Charlie, head out the car window, elicits no empathy because she’s such an unprepossessing person and the freak accident is too pat. Peter is so moronic you wonder if he’s a walking zombie.

And in spite of her giving her all to the role, Toni Collette can do nothing but look horror struck, perplexed, horror struck again, and finally frantic. The script doesn’t give her the chance for subtlety. In one particular corridor scene, Annie arguing with Steve, Collette looks uncomfortable, not in character, unable to believe in the words she’s speaking.

A horror of a horror film. I fear this review puts me in the minority. Go see it for yourself and tell me what you think. Rosemary’s Baby it ain’t.

  • Star Rating: Two stars
  • Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriell Byrne, Alex Wolff
  • Director: Ari Astor
  • Writer: Ari Astor
  • Cinematographer: Pawel Pogorzelski
  • Composer: Colin Stetson
  • Duration: 2 hours 7 minutes
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?
Posted in Film review | 8 Comments