Do you think I'm sexy? Rod Stewart. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
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Never underestimate how unbelievably boring we all are

Rod Stewart laps it up in the BBC's first History Hour of 2015.

The History Hour
BBC World Service

“Light and shade for you this week,” cheeps Max Pearson at 2am, presenting the first of 2015’s History Hours (4 January, 2.05am), the weekly slot that showcases historical reporting, from the Battle of the Bulge and Hong Kong’s 1967 riots to the Kyoto conference and the release of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. “In a moment, a post-World War One tragedy concerning servicemen returning to Scotland,” says Max, “but before that . . . the biggest ever free party on a beach!” It’s a segment on Rod Stewart’s humongous New Year’s Eve 1994 gig at Copacabana, featuring a recent interview with the Epoxy Resined One himself, who turns 70 on 10 January. “I thought there was, like, 30 rows of fans at most . . .” mused Stewart. In reality, there were 3.5 million people in the crowd and 35 million watching on the box. Rod’s spatial awareness is about as good as mine. Three and a half million: that’s like the entire population of Uruguay.

Never, ever underestimate how unbelievably boring we all are. Or forget that the biggest-selling album in the world is Thriller and the second is The Eagles: Greatest Hits. Stewart’s faithful Swedish production manager Lars interjects, entirely without double-entendre: “You are enormous down there. Enormous. Down there. Enormous.” This, Rod takes seamlessly as his due. “I love it down there,” he says. But then adds Scroogeishly, “It’s one of the hardest places to work, mind you. Down there. They’ll tell you one thing and do another.”

“The morning sun when it’s in yer face really shows yo age,” goes the song in the background and you have to admit it sounds pretty good. Followed by snatches of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”, played in such a way that immediately indicates it’s the stadium version – the kind that stretches out like a fat man in a hammock while you go off and look for more ketamine – and no doubt featuring Stewart’s session favourite Jeff Golub (RIP. Best blond curls in rock, bar Daltry) casually walking about the stage while noodling away convivially on his guitar, occasionally approaching the 300-foot-high sound desk and staring at it with his back to the audience for another unhurried 15 minutes, as though reprogramming a gas metre. Still, the crowd are lapping it up. “I think they’d been drinking a little.” No shit, Rod. 

The Biggest Rock Concert Ever is available on BBC Radio iPlayer until 3 February

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Churchill Myth

Marvel Studios
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In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, every other line reeks of a self-help manual

This lame sequel suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing.

The 2014 romp Guardians of the Galaxy boasted the budget of a blockbuster and the soul of a B-movie. What that meant in practice was that audiences had to endure the same biff-pow battle scenes and retina-blistering effects as any space adventure, but they were rewarded with eccentric characters and tomfoolery for its own sake.

Despite the Marvel Studios imprimatur, the film showed the forces of intergalactic evil being fought not by superheroes, but by a ragtag band of bickering goofballs: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, a self-regarding rogue in the Han Solo mould; the green-faced alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax (Dave Bautista), a literal-minded hulk; Rocket, a racoon-like warrior (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and Groot, a piece of bark that says “I am Groot” over and over in the dulcet tones of Vin Diesel. Movies this odd don’t usually become $770m smash hits but this one did – deservedly.

Those characters return in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (the “Vol 2” reflects Peter’s love of mix-tapes) but the new film suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing. Gags are rehashed; several sequences (including an interminable slow-motion section involving a laser-powered arrow) are dragged way beyond their desirable lifespan. Late in the day, Rocket tells his shipmates that they have too many issues, which rather pinpoints the problem with the screenplay by the director, James Gunn. Gunn has saddled his characters with unreasonable baggage, all of it relating to family and belonging. No matter how far into space they travel, all roads lead back to the therapist’s couch.

Peter, raised by his late mother, is delighted when Ego (Kurt Russell) materialises claiming to be the father he never knew. The old man makes grand pronouncements, only to undercut them within seconds (“’Scuse me, gotta take a whizz”) but, on the plus side, he has his own planet and pulls the whole “One day, son, all this will be yours” shtick. Gamora also has family business to contend with. Her blue-skinned sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), wants to kill her: Nebula has never quite got over Gamora being Daddy’s favourite. To be fair, though, he did force them to fight one another, replacing parts of Nebula’s body with metal whenever she lost, so it’s not like we’re talking about only one sister being allowed to watch Top of the Pops.

The more Peter gets to know Ego, the less admirable he seems as a father, and soon we are in the familiar territory of having parenting lessons administered by a Hollywood blockbuster. The reason for this became obvious decades ago: the film industry is populated by overworked executives who never get to see their children, or don’t want to, and so compensate by greenlighting movies about what it means to be a good parent. Every other line here reeks of the self-help manual. “Please give me the chance to be the father your mother wanted me to be,” Ego pleads. Even a minor character gets to pause the action to say: “I ain’t done nothing right my whole life.” It’s dispiriting to settle down for a Guardians of the Galaxy picture only to find you’re watching Field of Dreams with added asteroids.

Vol 2 gets by for an hour or so on some batty gags (Gamora misremembering the plot and star of Knight Rider is an especially juicy one) and on the energising power of Scott Chambliss’s glorious production design. The combination of the hi-tech and the trashy gives the film the appearance of a multimillion-dollar carnival taking place in a junkyard. Spectacular battles are shot through scuffed and scratched windscreens, and there are spacesuits cobbled together from tin pots and bubble-wrap. This is consistent with the kitschfests that inspired the Guardians aesthetic: 1980s science-fiction delights such as Flash Gordon, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

If only Vol 2 had mimicked their levity and brevity. Gunn ends his overlong movie with a bomb being attached to a giant brain, but this is wishful thinking on his part. He hasn’t blown our minds at all. It’s just a mild case of concussion. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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