Scotland: A British Colony

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Speakers Corner outside the Royal Scottish Academy, the Mound, Edinburgh, 1960s

The Great Debate on freedom of choice was a tremendously liberating experience. It was the first time in anybody’s memory we had open speech, not merely narrow ‘free’ speech.

It must have come as a surprise to many Scots and English too that Scotland had been an independent nation for centuries, and is a wealthy country now despite the lies of its tormentors. And boy, did the enemies of liberty react badly. They’ve taken to calling a time of mass camaraderie, optimism and hope ‘divisive’.  Somebody was putting ideas of freedom into the heads of the natives. So speaks the colonial.

It caused me to think about my state school education in the city that likes to call itself international, but votes for English hegemony. Looking back on what I was taught that had any relevance to the world outside Britain disinters what was kept from sight.

We got steeped in Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelly, and Byron, Dickens too, more Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. The absence of Scots poets was shocking: Hugh MacDiarmid, Edwin Morgan, Norman McCaig, Sorley MacLean. Burns was evident. You could hardly hide a man the world quoted regularly. I remember readings of Tam O’Shanter presented as a ghost story. Nobody told me about Burn’s politics. Burns was presented in acceptable unionist form, a formulaic evening of bagpipes and haggis, toasts to the lassies, and then forgetting what he stood for the rest of the year.

I was from a poor home, like thousands of other underprivileged kids singled out for woodwork and metalwork, or maybe sorting parcels in the post office, or polishing boots in the army. I liked poetry and art and could read books without illustrations. I was marked down as ‘creative’, an occupation considered of little value to society. “The boy has imagination that should be curbed” ran a comment on my school report.

I can’t remember any classes discussing RL Stevenson’s novels. Like Jules Verne I’m sure familiarity of them issued from films, but I was taught about the works of the second-rate Thomas Hardy as if idealised English rural life was a dream shared by Scots. Later his novellas were dramatised for television, thatched cottages, woven baskets full of handpicked herbs, and white picket fences sold as an idyllic British life, but not hard grafting gardeners having a steamy affair with the lady of the manor.

The scathing critical satire of flawed Victorian heroes was never mentioned, no essays of Lytton Strachey taking apart Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale, and yet the Bloomsbury set was waved in our faces as a confluence of outstanding talents only the English could compose. Discussing the work of contemporary Scots poets meeting in a spit and sawdust pub was unthinkable. This, I should point out, from a school system that lined us in in twos in the playground each morning, and then marched to our first class to the stirring stiff upper lip theme from ‘The Dambusters’.

There was not a sausage about any of the great Irish writers, or any European author. The riches of Proust, Zola, Victor Hugo, and Sartre were yet to be discovered. I discovered them in bookshops, acquainted with American authors by adaptations of their novels for films. Wole Soyinka had no place in my school learning, nor the struggles of other African writers. I came to know the powerful anti-apartheid message of Athol Fugard by his plays.

Sassoon and Owen the war poets were chief among the standard bearers for England’s sacrifices. I read of the meeting between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon in Edinburgh; two poets whose lives momentarily entwined in 1917 in Craiglockhart’s military hospital, there to convalesce. Both were celebrated this anniversary year in a series of special events in Edinburgh organised by none other than the Scottish Poetry Library, there being no Scots poets to include of any status of that vintage … apparently.

In my school days we didn’t read Blake, we sang Jerusalem in Friday service. Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner was an annual event almost as much as Burns night, but no one told me he was zonked on laudanum and probably opium when he wrote that narrative ballad.

What I learned of the outside world beyond the Saxon shores of street tea party England I got from television through the prism of the BBC. There was a British Commonwealth out there, happy carefree Jamaicans, and an Australia open to economic migrants.

No matter what was happening in the world it took second place to each and every Royal event commentated upon in reverential tones by Sir Richard Dimbleby, progenitor of a broadcasting dynasty. And in the cinema you were expected to remain standing when God Save the Queen was played and not make a bolt for the exit. It took a lot of courage to push your way out while others stood to attention.

What attention to the traditions of England’s literature does is remove resistance to British rule. George Orwell states in a letter how easy it is to suppress free thought in his England. He wrote that although England is “relatively free”, unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. “English education instills that there are certain things it simply wouldn’t do to speak about.”

Control of our educational syllabus is only one method of containment and influence. Control of the media is another. Advertising slogans and images – Union Jacks replacing Saltires on Scottish produce – flashed at us over 3,000 times a day is a third. We must not only do as colonials do, we must think like them too.

The cry of  protest when the SNP asked for greater teaching of Scottish history and literature in schools was a warning from a unionist mind set not to meddle in the source of their power. For those who know an independent country is a confident country knowledge of your own land and people severs ties to your oppressor. Shuttered windows to the world are opened wide.

Scotland’s quest for relevance isn’t a call for English-style isolationism but rather the recognition national liberation is the very core of internationalism. Continuation of the neo-colonial state is the negation of progress.

A free Scotland liberates our national wealth, resources, and the entire productive forces of Scotland; it takes us into the 21st century, the modern world, whereas the British establishment want us to remain locked in the 19th century, paralysed, an immobility that keeps Scotland at the service of the British state. This attitude is exemplified in the number of empire loyal MPs now appearing in a venue near you, popping out of the Gothic architecture yapping with pride of times past, and exploiting English xenophobia.

Whatever I was taught was taught in the name of British patriotism. I accept there existed exceptions to this intellectual imperialism, state schools of a higher standard, as I am sure readers taught in them will attest. But to my mind it’s important to be constantly alert to class ideological assumptions of what is good and what is bad behind choices and evaluations. Here we are in the 21st century and what do we have to look forward to that can be classed as Scottish-international? A rugby result? A football score?

The answer is two politicians, one a unionist in search of a personality, the other a nationalist with an abundance of personality. Labour’s former Scottish branch leader romps around in a television show called ‘I’m a Celebrity’ and true to form, the unionist cabal scream at ‘The Alex Salmond Show’ for daring to lift Scotland’s gaze from its navel.

The critics of free choice don’t have a problem with Kezia Dugdale, but they do with Salmond, the politician fighting for liberation. For the life of me I can’t think what has altered down these last decades. There are things we really shouldn’t speak of.

 

 

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Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 24 Comments

Car Predictions

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New-style dash from Toyota – only now realising the petrol engine is a dinosaur

An interesting prediction from the head of Toyota’s Research and Development, Seigo Kuzamaki: he thinks the internal combustion engine dead by 2050, and will power only about 10% of cars as small units part of hybrid systems, from 2040 onwards.

He’s taking into account that car makers are expecting regulations on global emissions to tighten drastically over the next five years, and electric car development to accelerate at a pace that will end the sale of combustion engined cars globally by that point.

“We expect that by 2050 we will have reduced CO2 emissions from vehicles by 90% compared to the figure in 2010,” said Kuzumaki. “To achieve that from 2040 simple internal combustion engined cars will not be made, but they may be the basis of some hybrid or plug-in hybrid cars.”

Kuzumaki’s comments are based, I think, on the announcement from geeky Michael Gove, UK Environment Secretary, and general Aunt Sally, that sales of new combustion-engined cars are to be banned by 2040 – subsequently clarified the same day to state that new hybrid cars would be allowable – although going by the one step forward, two back of Tory Party policy, I wouldn’t count on the policy being fulfilled.

It assumes Tories still in power in 2040 claiming credit for cleaning our air, yet right-wing political parties here and in the USA are solely instrumental in slowing down progress aimed at rolling back positive environmental improvements.

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Toyota’s experimental single seat electric city car – why buy a bicycle?

At present, Toyota sells around 43% of all electrified vehicles globally, with the Prius – the choice of environmentally concerned movie stars –  still the best selling electrified vehicle in the world, with more than 11 million sales to date. (The best-selling full electric vehicle is the Nissan Leaf. It currently sells around 50,000 units annually.) Toyota plans the first of a family of electric vehicles from 2020. Early models are expected to use lithium ion batteries and fall in line with the industry-standard of around 300 miles of range, the expectation they will switch to solid state batteries by the early 2020s.

Mimicking Tesla’s future – the 600 mile battery pack – Toyota thinks the arrival of solid state batteries a breakthrough in electric car technology; they’re smaller, safer than current batteries, offering substantially greater performance than today’s units.

“We hold more patents on solid state batteries than any other company. We are getting close to developing cars using the technology, and we believe that we will be ahead of our rivals in achieving that.”

All this sound rather fine and dandy but as the British economy tanks, the result of giving the nation’s wealth to bankrupt banks to squander, pulling out of Europe, and many of us lumped with a crap diesel car knowing councils are about to outlaw diesel vehicles, people are not buying new in the kind of numbers the industry needs to keep production at past levels.

Those who dislike so many cars on the road will rejoice, but fewer sales mean lower profits for research and innovation. Toyota boasts it spend $1 million USD every hour on development though you’d never guess it from the funereal, bland interiors it has been churning out of late.

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No, not a Toyota, but the dash now on modern Mercedes

UK car production took a hit for the fifth month in a row in last September. Domestic demand fell by 14.2% to 31,421 units. So much for Tory protestations that when out of Europe “we will continue to buy European brands”. Well, Germany might well be delighted, high tariffs and all, to continue selling their cars to us, but we are not buying them with the same enthusiasm as before, reluctance, sound sense, and plain poverty, a situation no politician considered in their haste to sell Brexit to the gullible.

The UK is among the worst hit by drivers reluctance to waste money on outmoded petrol cars when affordable electric driven vehicles are just around the corner, so to speak. Only Ireland, Denmark and Latvia saw bigger falls. More significant was Germany, Europe’s biggest market ahead of the UK, where registrations are down by almost 4%. The sting in all this is, the UK, (England – there’s no car industry in Scotland) makes more petrol and diesel engines than any other car part. Until Brexit the UK car industry  was crowing about new record sales month by month.

The Society of British Motors Manufacturers isn’t happy about the situation.

“With UK car manufacturing falling for a fifth month this year, it’s clear that declining consumer and business confidence is affecting domestic demand and hence production volumes. Uncertainty regarding the national air quality plans also didn’t help the domestic market for diesel cars, despite the fact that these new vehicles will face no extra charges or restrictions across the UK.

Brexit is the greatest challenge of our times and yet we still don’t have any clarity on what our future relationship with our biggest trading partner will look like, nor detail of the transitional deal being sought.”

 

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A recent Toyota ready to go hatchback – yet we are still given the conventional

The only models holding their own are a couple of SUV’s, the Nissan Qashqai – it sounds like an exotic fruit, and the Volkswagen Tiguan – it sounds like a cocktail.

Stuck on a philosophy of bigger, faster, more powerful gas guzzling engines stuck into dazzling supercars costing a Saudi’s bank balance, a trend that dominated the last quarter of last century into this century, car manufacturers are discovering they’re way behind matching technological advances in other industries.

Finally, in a contradictory announcement that encourages the use of the combustion engines, the Department of Transport announced that classic cars more than 40 years old will be exempt from MOT testing. Owners can elect to get an MOT if they think their old car needs one. (Laughs up sleeve.) The new rules will exempt a further 293,000 cars from MOTs spitting out noxious gases. The thinking behind the decision is those cars are usually maintained in good condition and used on few occasions.

Mind you, the great leap forward I await are seats that you can clean under easily!

Posted in Transportation | 4 Comments

Paging BBC Scotland!

An open letter to Donalda MacKinnon, Director of BBC Scotland on the first anniversary of her tenure

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Donalda MacKinnon, from teacher to Gaelic producer, to Director of Programmes, to Director of BBC Scotland, Florence Nightingale in the battle between Scotland’s right to international attention and BBC’s colonial constraints on cultural promotion

Dear Donalda MacKinnon

Leaving the BBC is like leaving the Communist Party, you’re never forgiven. In consequence it was not a surprise to hear my company’s drama proposals, praised by you and colleagues, were brushed aside after I left the BBC’s employment. That was way back then. Now that you are  in a position of influence I wonder what authority you have to decide specific programming ideals, or is new, fresh programming still a matter for BBC London and its Strictly Come Dancing elimination contest?

A year ago on your appointment to director of BBC Scotland, amid a lot of condescending hoopla about you being the first woman to command the post, you made this public statement, a laudable one.

“I know there’s a wealth of talent and creativity in BBC Scotland, in the wider sector and in partner organisations. Working brilliantly together, I’m confident we can make compelling and enthralling programmes that entertain and inform all of our audiences.”

“A wealth of talent” contradicts BBC colleagues who believe there is not enough talent in Scotland to justify increased transmission time, or producers to propose and supervise independent productions. That is the presiding bullshit.

Throw food into your backyard and all sorts of birds and mammals appear from nowhere to feed. Or put another way, if BBC Scotland doesn’t offer opportunity nor encourage it, a paucity of indigenous talent will remain the self-serving prophecy. And if BBC subjects Scottish selection to London criteria all you will get are cloned programmes, duly rejected by BBC London.

Some gossip: your predecessor Ken MacQuarrie, mindful of the BBC’s reputation, said in the pleasant cadences only a Gaelic speaker can deliver, “I’ve read your polemic; if your projects are rejected I hope I won’t be reading attacks in the press.” My reply was instant, “Are you telling me the head of BBC Scotland has no veto?”

So, I ask you, has anything changed? Have you been given a veto?

If your authority is hobbled by your London bosses, in the same manner the Scottish Parliament is constrained by Westminster, and you restricted to platitudes, then you might as well sit under your desk playing Angry Birds on your iPhone for all the good you can do.

But please be advised: the issue at the heart of this letter is fraud – as citizens we can be fined and jailed for not paying our licence fee; BBC Scotland cannot be sanctioned for acting like a spiv selling sugar-ollie water at a £147 a bottle. On that basis alone distrust of the BBC is not irrational. So, other than an alternative Scottish broadcaster, is there anything BBC Scotland can do to redeem its flagging reputation?

Below, I set out aspects of BBC Scotland’s output demanding remedy.

A Balance of Opinion.

BBC Scotland is guaranteed to argue it was scrupulous in ensuring all political parties received a balance of broadcasting exposure during the Great Debate to reinstate Scotland’s self-governance. I lost count of television and radio programmes issuing from English regions in which Scotland’s legitimate political ambitions got ridiculed or dismissed as ‘nationalist’. Ignorant commentary exists to this day. Sometimes it arrives in a brief aside, or a quip, sometimes within lengthy discourse.

Even the best of BBC journalists are apt to utter ‘inaccuracies’. They crib from each other, sustaining myths and fiction, or lift from newspapers. That laziness, allowing vested interests to set BBC News agenda, leaves the BBC open to accusations of bias, a ‘state’ broadcaster disseminating narrow British orthodoxy.

Media antagonism aimed at a legitimate movement for greater civil rights places a broadcaster in the position of acting as if a policing arm of the state, naming and shaming its own citizens. We condemn coercive techniques practised in authoritarian societies, but in the United Kingdom the same tactics employed to silence dissent are upheld as patriotic.

REMEDY: Give generous air time to those living in Scotland to discuss its future.

The Voice of the People

Interviewing members of the public in the street vox populi is a hackneyed convention. BBC is obliged to obtain a balance of opinion: two pro and two anti statements edited from a number of individuals interviewed.

Editing down to one-line statements is unscientific as an indication of public mood. If a place is 60% one way, 30% the opposite way, and 10% don’t give a damn, presenting viewers with a 50-50 balance of opinion disrupts truth, giving viewers the impression the town or city is split down the middle – a phony conclusion.

REMEDY: Exclude vapid vox pop interviews from political news items and debates.

Reporting Scotland

I am sorry to confirm television’s Reporting Scotland remains a Mickey Mouse operation, backwoods, inert, visually pedestrian, its presenters pickled in aspic. The entire edifice will benefit torn down and given a fresh, dynamic presentation.

The lack of any international news remains an insult to viewer intelligence and expectation. Scotland is a multi-cultural society keen on knowing its place in the world; why does BBC Scotland hang on to its kailyard origins? Commissioning and transmitting the work of London-based production companies no matter how worthy does not constitute serving Scotland, particularly when you have so little funds to share.

You identified what you describe as “deficits” in BBC Scotland’s news coverage. What steps have you taken to address relevance and authenticity?

REMEDY: Give news and current affairs a backbone and a budget.

Radio

Radio programmes suffer from blocks of mindless chatter. Listener share is in free-fall yet BBC Scotland insists on one presenter monopolising three hours every morning.

The format is tired, a rehash of past lightweight entertainment shows treating listeners as stressed out housewives. The afternoon is no better. At a time of rapid political and social change, when the established order is questioned by all quarters, the department ought to be full of ideas, people jostling for one hour slots. Where are they? What we have is one show fits all sizes.

REMEDY: Give new talent the opportunity to exploit the medium.

The Alex Salmond Show

If anything should be broadcast by BBC Scotland it’s the Alex Salmond Show. Sadly, you and I know that as far as the BBC is concerned, it thinks the SNP is as toxic to British hegemony as Russian Television, the broadcaster that buys BBC’s Top Gear.

Salmond interviewed the exiled leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, a scoop, and a fine example of democracy at work, an interview no British broadcaster thought of organising. He had Scotland speak internationally. Why does BBC Scotland act as if a provincial outpost, timid, nothing done without London approval?

REMEDY: Think big, think international, be bold.

Slandering and discrediting by innuendo

In the lexicon of self-determination howlers let slip by BBC presenters and journalists are legion. From Kirsty Wark’s open indignation on seeing the SNP elected to govern; to persistent descriptions of SNP members as ‘separatists’, there is a determined agenda to tar sections of the electorate as a threat to social stability. One might as well call democrats insurgents, or ‘Death Eaters’, to quote the ever-thoughtful JK Rowling.

With almost 400,000 English living in Scotland and half-a-million Scots in England, together with their families, permanent border controlled separation is a preposterous claim. That notion goes unchallenged on BBC political programmes. Why subject Scotland to propaganda programmes extolling Britannia’s glory days, a plethora moronically entitled “The Best of British”, content resolutely south of Manchester?

Scotland does not want the Lego variety of democracy easy to disassemble and rebuild in in Westminster’s image, a comforting illusion. There is a profound distinction between the democracy Westminster is following, and the better society Scotland yearns for that the BBC ignores. BBC Scotland has a duty to explore beliefs and question dogma and orthodoxy, to give a platform for the exchange of ideas. Why call activists ‘separatists’ or ‘dissenters’ unless you intend to demean?

REMEDY: Stimulate interest in Scotland’s neo-renaissance, not reduce or suppress.

 

Tweeting Journalists

If not already noted, it ought to have occurred to BBC executives by now that their journalists, in-house or contracted, are alienating listeners and viewers when they indulge in banter, disputes, ridicule, and bullying on Twitter. The professional attitude is not to respond to criticism, derision, or abuse.

REMEDY: Either ban use of Twitter or restrict subject matter.

Drama, what drama?

The lack of any substantial drama emanating out of BBC Scotland for years is a disgrace. Whilst BBC is due thanks for creating regular work for local actors and writers in a soap, authors, directors, actors, cinematographers and the like of the first rank are ignored. Worse, innovation is nowhere to be seen. Drama of a political nature is shunned.

The excuse is lack of money. (I deal with this in the next category.) Yet there are ways to make good drama at low cost. Unions in Los Angeles, for example, have an agreement allowing lower fees paid on low budget films.

In fact, nowadays you can shoot an entire film on a high quality iPhone, enhanced later by digital magic. (See Sean Baker’s Tangerine.) Why not offer aspiring filmmakers one minute iPhone drama slots between programmes instead of yet another BBC commercial, or an annual competition followed by a collective transmission?

Why should we not produce an event drama at least once in a while and not once in a generation made by the USA? Why are our great authors of the past ignored? Do we need to see another version of Pride and Prejudice, but not anything of Scott or RL Stevenson? Why has BBC Scotland never produced a drama about the Highland Clearances, an issue of international significance? Scotland invented the historical novel. With digital techniques the cost of recreating large set pieces need not be prohibitive.

Why are our contemporary novelists shunned? Does anybody at BBC Scotland read modern Scottish novels? You pay lip service to Edinburgh’s excellent Book Festival but leave it to London to dramatise major novels. Does an English audience have nothing to learn from a Scottish perspective?

REMEDY: Extricate Scotland from London’s domination of drama.

Show me the money!

When Tony Hall took over as Director-General he promised to provide ‘the regions’ with an equitable share of investment. Nothing I draw notice to has the remotest chance of blossoming while BBC London insists on snaffling every penny of Scotland’s licence fees and tossing back a meagre allowance, a familiar cri de cœur from football fans as well as horrible ‘separatists’. Has he followed up on that promise?

Hall announced: “The BBC has pledged to show a more diverse range of programmes than its rivals and to do a better job of reflecting the UK’s different nations as it seeks to reinvent itself to better compete with Netflix and Amazon.”

Can you tell us if BBC Scotland is ‘renewing’ itself, what new productions have been commissioned, or is it steady as she goes?

REMEDY: Viewers are shareholders in BBC. Where is our dividend?

The trust you talk of as breeched is an understatement. BBC Scotland is culturally irrelevant. No wonder friends and associates warn an open letter is a futile gesture. I reply, how different is that from appointing a new director of BBC Scotland?

I asked if you had a veto, a deadly serious question. You need the right to reject decisions laid on Scottish broadcasting by BBC London which minimise or side-line our politics, culture and international outlook while protecting London’s interests. Scotland categorised as a provincial region is not graven in stone.

Without a large measure of autonomy – I hesitate to use the word independence and embarrass you – the output of BBC Scotland is a criminal waste of licence payer’s money. And as the viewer isn’t in charge of choosing content you can’t blame us.

Yours, reading a good book.

Grouse Beater

“Light the Saltire blue touch paper and retire”

Hard copy was mailed to Donalda MacKinnon and Tony Hall, in addition to posting on BBC, and selected newspaper, sites; also e-mailed to the Scottish Parliamentary committee looking into ways of developing the Scottish film industry.

 

Posted in BBC, Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 44 Comments

An Electric Truck

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The silhouette of the Tesla truck – looming out of the shadows like a spacecraft

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla is at it again. He announced the production of a truck, two of them, one big and one small, and to the surprise of press and public alike, he also unveiled a hyper sports car on the same day.

At an event in Hawthorne, California, Musk said that his new machine, which has simply been referred to as the Tesla Truck until now, given the brand name Tesla Semi, is capable of accelerating from 0-60mph in 5.0sec. Gulp! Chasing a stolen one will be a nightmare for motorway cops!

I had immediate concerns about a truck that accelerates faster than my wee Smart car can when trying to overtake in a rainstorm, a shower of truck wheel spray hitting my windscreen. Further reading  discovered the truck sits much lower to the road than conventional big rigs. Your car’s windscreen should sit higher.

He said it was also able to hit the mark in 20 seconds even when laden with a trailer fully loaded with 80,000lb (almost 36 tonnes) of cargo. No diesel-powered truck can match that whether shifting your IKEA flap pack furniture from  depot to store, or your furniture in a flitting. Rivals can look to a slothful 40 seconds or thereabouts.

The lorry’s (English parlance) energy recovery systems are claimed to be capable of recovering 98% of kinetic energy to the battery. For regular charging, the lorry can be connected to so-called Mega-chargers, which is a new high-speed DC charging solution, that is said to add about 400 miles in 30 minutes and can be installed at origin or destination points, much like the existing Superchargers.

The mega-charge time is the solution electric car owners have been looking for, bringing mid-motorway journeys down to a 30 minute boost or less while having coffee and a donut, if your car’s battery power maxes out at 400 miles.

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The two trucks at the unveiling ceremony – shades of Apple’s Steve Jobs

The streamlined look of the Tesla Semi truck is made possible by the battery pack mounted under the floor of the cab, and the driver’s seat mounted significantly more forward than of those the Freightliner or International trucks. Behind the cab, the two rear axles have electric motors attached on either side, for four in total. They come off existing Tesla models.

The design gives the Tesla Semi truck a lower centre of gravity than diesel-powered models, something the company has said about its cars relative to rivals with internal combustion engines. While it won’t make a truck handle like a sports car, it should assist good high-speed stability. Efficiency is boosted by a low wind resistance, with Tesla claiming that its Semi has a drag-coefficient of 0.36Cd. It states that most of its competitors are closer to 0.65Cd, which is true – Eddie Stobart be advised.

Musk claims the vehicle features advanced autonomous technology. On-board sensors are installed to detect instability and can adjust torque sent to each wheel and independently actuate all brakes to prevent jack-knifing.

Additionally, surround cameras provide autonomous object detection and reduce blind spots, alerting the driver to safety hazards and obstacles. The truck also introduces a new Enhanced Autopilot system, with automatic emergency braking, automatic lane keeping, lane departure warning and even event recording. I’m sure there must be an automatic espresso maker on-board too.

Production is set to begin in 2019, orders taken now reserved for $5000. Wallmart has ordered a brace of them.

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A truly super hyper sportscar, but sure to be too costly for the average open top enthusiast

The other jolt was the announcement of a sportscar than can zip from a standing start to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds – warp speed, Captain Kirk – making the task of fastening your seatbelt after you drive off an impossibility. It has a 630 mile range, more than enough to get you from Edinburgh to London without a battery boost, and from Aberdeen too.

The Roadster will have three motors. One in the front to drive the front wheels, and two in the rear to drive the rear wheels, giving the Roadster all-wheel drive. The car is a 2+2, meaning it has two full-size seats in the front and two smaller seats in the back. If you have one average size pimply adolescent or two small children they have a place to sit in the rear. Or a pacified pooch.

Musk maintains the Roadster will go on sale in 2020, although that figure is speculative given the problems and delays Tesla has faced getting its other cars to market. Tesla predicted 1,500 saloons deliver by now, but the number is somewhere closer to 650.

The Roadster is technically up for pre-order. You’ll need the pound sterling equivalent of $50,000 as a deposit, an indication the car will cost over £100,000 on delivery. Goodness knows what the insurance cost will be, but under current legislation the Road Tax will be £30. I’ll just have to wait until Mazda electrifies the modest MX5.

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The designers remembered to create a place for the registration plate – yellow

At that cost you wonder what is the point of yet another fast car aimed at the wealthy, given Musk’s stated aim for Tesla was to make electric cars mainstream. He clarifies his policy – start with high-priced cars to fund the development of the cheaper and more mainstream models. Musk has the answer – indeed, he has the answer to almost everything except poor suppliers who have delayed production of his salons.

The point of doing this is to give a smack-down to gasoline cars,” said Musk at the launch. “Driving a gasoline sports car is going to feel like a steam engine with a side of quiche.”

Back to the trucks: I don’t know what readers agree with me but I’d rather see goods delivered by rail, and trucks on roads reduced to a maximum number at one time. Even so, the Tesla Truck is a gigantic step forward in commercial goods transportation.

 

Posted in Transportation | 2 Comments

The Florida Project – a review

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Bria Vinaite and Brooklyn Prince play mother and daughter living on their wits

This is a five star movie. No doubt about it. I should begin by stating that without hesitation. My criteria for awarding five stars appears to be of a higher standard than a lot of critics and reviewers who assume a very entertaining  film well edited deserves top marks. For me a film has to have a heart beating at its centre, pronounced insight into human behaviour, aspirations, and situations, fine acting, fine screenplay and cinematography, and surely innovative in some respect of its presentation. You should leave the cinema deep in thought, moved. The Florida Project has all that and more.

My only gripe is the title. Is it the working title left in place, or the lonely housing schemes built around Disney World? The film should be entitled Little Moonee. And if by that male readers assume it’s a children’s film or a chick flick they couldn’t be more wrong. But take a box of Kleenex just the same.

Co-writer and director Sean Baker rose to prominence with his modest but ground breaking  Tangerine shot-on-iPhone: two transwomen on the game and their accident prone exploits depicted making a journey one side of Los Angeles to the other. Like Florida Project the characters in Tangerine are poor, one fresh out of jail. They laugh, they cry, the gird their loins to face each day. Even a modest MacDonald donut is enough to raise their spirits and give them the energy to keep going.

The Florida Project, Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine, has a reasonable budget. It is wide screen 35mm. From it Baker gives us a slice of humanity living on the edge, impoverished, every frame, every sequence riveting.

These are people not just down on their luck but pretty well guaranteed to get washed one day into the drains, and indeed the inevitable becomes inevitable as the drama unfolds. There but for the grace of God, and all that.

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Director Baker, star Brooklyn Prince and co-star Dafoe

The story is simplicity itself, the location a backwater in and around a cheap apartment block surrounded by scrub grasslands, a ‘gater infested inlet, and interstate motorways criss-crossing the entire area. It is walking distance from Florida’s Disney World yet a galaxy apart socially.

Disney World stands for the American Dream, everyone entitled to a safe home, a job and a family, like Disney’s world a synthetic con that has hoodwinked Americans from the day they saluted the Stars and Stripes. To get to Disney there you must first negotiate the half-closed stores of tawdry rip-off merchants selling Disney ‘sale’ goods and fast food, once you manage to cross busy surface roads and under the overhead highways.

Little Moonee, (a knockout Brooklynn Prince) lives with her smart-talking, too short hot pants wearing, blue rinsed hair, overly tattooed young mom Halley, (Bria Vinaite) in the Magic Kingdom Motel. It is newly painted a lurid pink, not an unusual colour for a Florida property. There is a very funny scene of newly arrived guests who, crestfallen and angry, had assumed they booked a top class motel in Disney World.

Moonee is the film’s centre. In fact, the entire story is seen almost exclusively from Moonee and her pal’s point of view. She fills her day in games and adventures around the isolated ‘neighbourhood’ with her childhood pals, Scooty, (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey, (Valeria Cotto). They are inseparable, and share their secrets, creating a world separate but part of the adult’s world.

Full of life with nowhere constructive to expend their energies, left to their own devices most daylight hours, they’re forever getting into trouble, spitting on cars, going into places barred to entry, mooching free ice-cream (as I did as boy, and very successfully) annoying motel neighbours, and playing with cigarette lighters.

The motel is watched over and maintained by grumpy but caring manager Mr Wilson, played by the redoubtable  Willem Dafoe, an actor of whom I’ve yet to see give a bad performance even in a bad film. His Bobby Wilson sees everything that goes in, on, and out of the motel, both by his attention to duties and on the multi-screen security screens in his office. He’s forever chivvying long-term guests to clean their garbage from verandas, keep down party noise, chasing hookers using rooms as temporary brothels, fixing faulty washing machines, telling guests sunbathing naked by the pool to get some clothes on, and keeping rambunctious kids in check.

Halley, Monee’s mom, perfectly pitched by Bria Vinaite – spotted by Baker promoting her clothes line – spends time out with her friends drinking and carousing, getting upset by parallel conversations of the kind we all have using a limited vocabulary, arguments that turn into disputes, and begging for free food from those who work in the local diners.

Moonee sees all of this and in time we begin to understand her high jinks and ability to talk back to adults is a cover for a deep insecurity that she’s not quite handling in her child-like way. Taking her cue from her mother’s example, she believes that as long as you’re clever and cute enough, you can wriggle your way out of anything. “I can always tell when adults are about to cry.”

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Two kids out to make mischief

What can I say about the cast? With the obvious exception of Dafoe, I think nearly all are amateurs, and some of the adults first timers. They are, without exception, superb, giving us a whiff of reality as lived by millions down on their luck.

The character that holds the story together is a wild and irrepressible 6-year-old girl named Brooklynn Kimberly Prince, a startling discovery. I truly hope the undoubted success that is hers by right does not spoil or derail this amazing talent’s path in life. Some children have a gift that dissipates once state secondary school knocks the hell out of idealism. Who knows? For the moment she can bathe in the praise that will come her way, and an Oscar nomination. After that, I trust it will be back to school and perhaps university before any thoughts of an acting career.

I am conscious I seem like a protective father, but so does Dafoe aware Moonee’s mother is without money or the closeness and support of a partner. The women around her are similarly handicapped, joining forces when deprivation cries out for relief.

His Mr Wilson protects Moonee and her pals from unwanted attention and scrapes, knowing Halley, her mother, is one of life’s casualties, constantly overlooking her late payment of weekly rent. In the end, he can only offer small gestures of kindness and advice, for he knows he’s powerless to help when it really matters, when the child protection agency knocks on the door. Halley is her worst enemy and there will be no telling her to change her ways.

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A land of fake promise and cardboard cut out dreams

Scene by scene, Florida Project presents us with one of the most engaging, throat-grabbing, thrillingly portraits of childhood I’ve seen come out of the American film industry. It is European in quality and concerns.

There is a naturalness about all the children do on screen, as if played extemporary, improvised, without any self-consciousness of a camera stuck in their face. And there is lots of close-ups none flunk.

In some ways it resembles Vittorio De Sica’s masterly Bicycle Thieves, the template of any aspiring filmmaker, although it does not share that great neo-realist’s Shakespearean level of tragedy. And it reads like a movie version of Cathy Come Home but without the liberal preaching Ken Loach is prone to inject into his work. There are also moments of our own Bill Douglas Trilogy My Ain Folk but none of his relentless bleakness or heavy skies, this is sunny Florida, after all.

“I cannot stand Hollywood child performances,” Baker is reported as saying. “It just reeks of artifice, and it’s weird that for some reason Hollywood feels they have to make their child characters smarter than adults, and suddenly kids have the vocabulary of a college grad.” Baker wanted the children’s dialogue to sound authentic for 6 or 7-year-olds. Believe me, he has succeeded out of all expectations.

The story seems universal one minute but unusual the next – it keeps us surprised and delighted, but with a feeling of dread, that nothing good can come of all this malarkey.

We are left with fond memories of rascally, precocious little pranksters; a mother without the language to articulate her frustrations or the social skills to secure paid employment; and a motel manager who expresses our feelings. In life they all have a fighting chance but the machine that is state ideology has made sure they get screwed. The subject matter will not alter the politics of America one jot but it might make the privileged aware of the results of a cruel doctrine that their elected representatives continue to promote.

In its final moments The Florida Project makes an audacious leap into the lyrical and for the first time we are given music fully orchestrated to back what we are seeing. We suddenly realise two weeks in the life of selected individuals has flashed by as if a day, a vacation all too soon over and brutal reality returned. It was then I began to weep.

I salute Sean Baker’s accomplishment, and I hope to see even better in his next ‘project’. He has given us a master class in empathy and imagination.

  • Star rating: Five stars
  • Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Bria Vinaite, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones, Macon Blair, Karren Karagulian, Sandy Kane
  • Director: Sean Baker
  • Writers: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
  • Cinematographer: Alexis Zabe
  • Composer: Lorne Balfi
  • Duration: 115 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?
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The Crime of Voting

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Cries of shame on EU neutrality are unfounded

While I was in Spain last week the Flemish nationalist politician and deputy prime minister of Belgium, Jan Jambon, along with the former Belgian prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, condemned Spain for its handling of the crisis, including the imprisonment of regional politicians. The leader of the biggest party in the Belgian government N-VA leader, Bart De Wever went much further, saying that Spain’s ruling People’s Party – which was founded by a former Franco minister – was a prisoner of its own history.

You know where the past of the People’s Party is, and ever more its present, and it is Franco, it is repression, it is jailing people because of their opinion, it is the use of violence against its citizens.”

Those using Spain’s tactics as a stick to beat the EU need their intelligence examined. They are the same people who warned us the EU was turning itself into a monolithic authoritarian super-state. I bet they still cannot see the stupidity of their assertion.

Meanwhile, in Madrid

Thousands of Catalan supporters congregated in the centre of Madrid to show their solidarity with the Catalonian cause. Their presence went unnoticed or ignored in the UK resolutely right-wing press, as did other rallies in other cities on behalf of Catalonia.

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The centre of Madrid full of pro-Catalonia supporters

Senior leaders of the elected Catalan administration faced the Madrid courts, Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras among them. They were denied bail. Their lawyers complained bitterly their clients had been held without food or water or access to a telephone. The lower courts like our own have no jury.

The system is a handy old Franco leftover. A magistrate makes a judgement based on prosecutor evidence, in this case the Spanish Constitution forbidding regions becoming independent unless they can garner no less than 60% of the Spanish population behind them, an impossible task to organise let alone fund.

No one expected the Spanish Inquisition

When that clause first appeared after Franco’s death there was angry debates. It was first mooted a much higher percentage. (Scotland’s first vote on devolution had an anti-democratic 40% hurdle.) Either way, it means when a region wants greater autonomy the dice are loaded against change of any sort. Worse, those leading the movement, merely advocating passive resistance, can be accused of sedition and jailed without trial.

Judge Carmen Lamela made a statement that carries credulity to the limits and beyond. He said there was “a high risk of another crime being committed [UDI] and Catalan leaders destroying evidence,” and so he would show no mercy.

Don’t mention Gibraltar

Judges used to be appointed or approved by Franco. Today some remain part of that legacy given their place by the faux ‘Peoples’ Party headed by the Mariano Rajoy, his administration a minority government, the same ready to blockade Gibraltar if he sees May’s administration too weak to resist.

As soon as Gibraltar voted to remain in the EU, left high and dry by British betrayal, Spain began hatching plans for its subordination to Spanish rule. We’ve had any number of statements to that effect by Spanish officials. Best not to sup with Rajoy’s neo-fascists.

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Pro-independence supporters listen intently to Carles Puigdemont’s UDI speech

All the regional leaders of Catalonia were called to testify in Madrid’s Audiencia Nacional court. Nine made the journey. The others, including Catalonia’s Beatle haircut President Carles Puigdemont had taken up residence in Brussels in order to orchestrate resistance to Spanish aggression, until ready to hand themselves over to the Belgian authorities, which they duly did. It is debateable whether the Belgian authorities will hand them over to a Spanish Government for whom they have so little respect. Moreover, Puigdemont, always one step ahead of the leaden-footed Rajoy, chose Brussels as a destination for the simple reason there he can get the best legal advice.

They all face charges of sedition, rebellion, and misuse of public funds, exactly the ‘crimes’ – I remind readers – the SNP are occasionally accused of committing by the wacky baccy guardians of UK Corrupt Unlimited. Only one Catalonian official was granted bail, 50,000 Euros, the Business Minister Santi Villa, a staunch independence speaker who contrived to resign before UDI was announced.

In the Supreme Court

In Madrid’s Supreme Court the judges there were hearing from the lawyers of Catalonian government Speaker, Carme Forcadell and five regional MPs who controlled the Parliament’s agenda. They were summoned on the same offences as those in the lower court. However, still in their jobs this was a barely disguised attempt to have them leave their posts and return to a replacement behind their desk.

In their case they avoided an immediate jail sentence and had their case postponed till later this month. If you want to whip up sympathy for the crime of voting there’s nothing better than creating martyrs out of the accused. In that, Rajoy and his Franco admirers are slow learners.

In the Spanish press television celebrities and political pundits suggested boycotting Catalonian goods to teach Catalonian upstarts a lesson before they were reminded many components are made in other parts of Spain. For example, corks for bottles of Cava, a Catalan speciality, come from Malaga. A boycott would cripple that thriving industry.

Less a united country, more a group of regions

It’s easy to forget that Spain is made up of a large number of regions, (see graphic below) and life in each carries on not in a perpetual state of revolutionary fervour, but in the daily grind of keeping the lynx from the door.

In Malaga where I spent four days there is a general mood of resignation, the feeling Catalonia will become independent, but above all, Spain has changed irrevocably. And they don’t trust Rajoy’s administration one bit. Nor do they put up resistance to the  certainty of a Free Catalonia. They don’t call for the Guardia Civil to be sent in to bludgeon heads. They continue to serve their best interest – the tourist. In the region of Andalucía alone this summer saw over twenty-five million overnight stays.

Photographs of fascist saluting groups that appear in British newspapers and websites are exactly that, remnants of Franco’s Spain who feel the old ways are the best ways. Franco’s aging and  new adherents have few outlets other than Rajoy’s party. Like our own, they step into the light only because the extreme views of our elected representatives give them encouragement.

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Percentages provided by the Pew Research Centre

Catalonia deserves support

As for Catalonia, it has lots in common with Scotland. (Much to the chagrin of Unionists who insist it has nothing to teach us.) It is a wealthy corner of Spain milked expertly by the Spanish authorities. Catalans pay about ten billion Euros more in taxes than they get back in government spending, a long-term point of contention in Catalonia’s relationship with Spain’s national government. They do, however, have their own autonomous television broadcasting company, one Rajoy is trying to invade or close down.

In many regions of Spain as  many as 80% lack trust in their government and about four-in-ten consider democracy under attack. Like English, Welsh and Scots, Spanish people are profoundly unhappy about the state of their democracy.

Democracy on a shoogly peg

Overall, 74% say they are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in their nation. They want to jettison the remnant’s of Franco’s system. Three-quarters want a system where citizens, not elected officials, vote directly on major national issues to decide what becomes law and what is a good way to govern their region.

British politicians who present us with a supposed unified Spain scorning a ‘breakaway’ Catalonia are deliberately misleading us or wilfully ignorant of the reality. The claim of thousands of companies leaving Catalonia, a claim repeated by dishonest British politicians – as were alleged would  leave Scotland if we regained autonomy – is total hogwash. Companies are in Catalonia because that’s where their profits lie.

In time, the population will object to a large part of their taxes going to pay the running of Catalonia direct from the Spanish Senate. We see the same resentment manifested by sections of society against paying for the upkeep of Northern Ireland, including corrupt brown envelopes handed to the DUP in return for propping up a crass and inept Tory government in Westminster.

No matter how many Guardia Civil are sent in to curb enthusiasm for greater democracy there is no stopping the masses now. For every person thrown in jail another thousand stand behind them. For every government official removed from their post another ten can take their place. Spanish placemen are faced daily with an ocean of sullen rebellion.

And then there is the left-wing movement of Podemos to deal with.

Viva Catalonia.

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Murder on the Orient Express – a review

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The star studied cast, well, some of them

I approached the new version of Agatha Christie’s most audacious murder story with trepidation. I’d seen the original film version directed by Sydney Lumet thirty years earlier and had the privilege of interviewing the film’s composer Richard Rodney Bennett on radio. I’ve also seen many of television’s version starring the patrician David Suchet, a perfectly respectable interpretation for the small screen.

Lumet’s version – which he later confessed he didn’t like – had one fatal error of casting. Albert Finney played Poirot. He played him as if maiden aunt in an end-of-the-English-pier Christmas pantomime. I shudder every time I see his theatrical performance and hear that excruciating Belgian accent replayed in my mind.

For my part, the best interpretation of the genial, self-regarding master-sleuth Hercule Poirot, could never be bettered once it was played by Peter Ustinov. Ustinov played him as in my imagination, a portly figure of a man criminals assume eccentric, unhealthy and slow-witted, tragically underestimating him.

Ustinov infused his character with good humour and the sly intelligence of the practiced observer of human behaviour. Moreover, he dispensed with the nightly ritual that is the palaver needed to protect that Salvadorian moustache. Belgian accent and all, Ustinov seemed born to play the role. You recall his talk, his rolling walk, his moments of temper and his witticisms with affection.

How would Kenneth Branagh’s version shape up?

Kenneth Branagh underplays Poirot beautifully, thankfully keeping the accent in check, and gives us a slimmed-down, athletic Poirot, altogether healthier in body and mind than previous incarnations.

To his Saville Row suited gent he adds a sharp tongue, a sharper dash of vanity than predecessors have managed, clever uses of his walking cane, and a moustache the suspension of which the chief engineer of Scotland’s Queen’s Crossing bridge would envy. Branagh’s piéce de résistance is thee grande mostash that eez part of Errkool Pwaro’s gratness, togessor wees his leetol grey bran cells.

Branagh’s ‘tache dispenses with the curly wurly pig’s tail emulated by most actors who’ve played the master detective. He goes for broke. Made up of four parts, two span – sweep is a better description – under his nose augmented by a further section either side made up of a crisply etched section of his beard.  The dollop of hair mid-chin completes the goatee beard effect. I like it. Poirot fans might find themselves so entranced by its preposterous shape that they miss whole moments of the plot.

Shot on 70mm film to capture the grandeur of the mountains that line the rail track Istanbul to Paris, this version of Murder on the Orient Express is a mildly updated rendition respectful to the train’s ostentatious carriage’s, crisp table linen, low-glow art deco wall lights, acres of dark polished mahogany, and glistening crystal glasses.

Branagh’s Poirot envelopes almost the entire film, long shot, mid-shot, and close up. I can barely remember a line spoken by the other characters. The magnificent locomotive does feature but plays second fiddle to his proud yet vulnerable detective. I didn’t think an actor could best a huge snorting steam engine, but Branagh does.

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Branagh’s Poirot is the main star, from start to finish, the locomotive along for the ride

Agatha Christies plot given a few new twists by writer Michael Green is so well known readers won’t need it recounted here, and those new to it won’t want a spoiler. Christie had a genius for inventing novel crime plots but no ability at all for characterisation. She dealt in stereotypes. Perhaps that’s why the people aboard the train carry so little interest, never getting further than explaining to Poirot why they are on the train.

One to mention is the thoroughly dislikeable cad of an art dealer, here played by Johnny Depp, for once doing a fine job and not camping it up. A pity his appearances are few in number, but when on screen he’s a match for Branagh.

Other characters are played by this generation’s movie icons and aspiring stars but it’s Branagh who dominates. I’ve never understood the animosity some hold against his well deserved success. There is the actor and director regarded as one of the best of his age; an eminent Shakespearean, the first to film Henry V since Laurence Olivier, a talent who can gather a top-flight company of actors to perform a season in the West End or a movie event such as Orient Express.

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Johnny Depp reigned in tight to show he can actually act menace

The film looks handsome, but truth be told it has some snore boring passages of dialogue that demand a lot of concentration, and this is where we come to the film’s score composed by our own Patrick Doyle, a distinguished Branagh collaborator.

In those moments I wanted more of Patrick’s music to overlay low key scenes and add tension. He’s strived not to emulate past composers but to do his own thing. I’d also like to have heard more of a stand-out dramatic locomotive theme, but as my companion intimated, the score doesn’t intrude. “Patrick’s score is subtle and beautiful, worthy of an Oscar nomination. The main piano theme is a tear jerker”, and I agree. It’s in tune with the story’s epoch. As it progresses the score gets darker. And Patrick gives an end credit song to one of its stars, Michelle Pfeiffer. The album is available now!

One big visual flaw slaps you in the face, a coda piece set in the tunnel blocked by a snow slide that halts the train’s journey. The main suspects sit at a long table Last Supper style, as if intelligent, well-read people as they are would not be aware of their positioning or the irony. It’s a serious error of judgement.

The attraction of Orient Express is its romantic intensity, a long journey on a first class train, getting to know interesting strangers. Though Branagh takes us outside the carriages a few times for a change of scenery the tunnel episode tosses away romance and mystery for a smart ass idea.

The last seconds of the story are given over to an invitation for Poirot to investigate a ‘murder on the Nile’ – a sure signal of a sequel.

  • Star Rating: Three and a half
  • Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judy Dench
  • Director: Kenneth Branagh
  • Writer: Michael Green, based on novel by Agatha Christie
  • Cinematography: Harris Zambarloukos
  • Music: Patrick Doyle
  • Duration: 1h 54m
  • 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?

 

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