Robert Hampton

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25th June 2015

I love it when a plan comes together
Posted by at 8.15pm | Films, Liverpool | No responses

Flying Saucer

Yesterday I went with my friend Boris to one of Liverpool’s newer cultural attractions – the Small Cinema. A dedicated group of volunteers has taken over the old Magistrates Court building on Victoria Street in the city centre, converting it into a bijou space where sixty or so film buffs can sit in comfort to enjoy a movie.

The cinema is running a series of cult films under the umbrella title Cheap Thrills. Yesterday’s opus was Plan 9 From Outer Space – the legendary Ed Wood film which is so bad that it’s actually quite watchable, if only as a study in ineptitude. Boom mikes appear in shot, one actor is visibly reading his script in his lap and the spaceships are obviously toys dangling from strings.

We also get brilliant dialogue like this: “Future events such as these will affect you in the future!” and “Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.”

On the other hand, there is a certain ingenuity on display: Bela Lugosi’s death didn’t prevent him from appearing in this film – old stock footage of the actor from different films is used (one shot appears three times) and in other scenes a different actor plays Lugosi’s role – we’re treated to endless shots of him walking around a cemetery with his face obscured.

It’s a terrible film, yes, but the unintentional hilarity makes it compulsive viewing. As someone who avidly watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its very brief run in the UK, I found it all very entertaining. As an added bonus the main feature was prefixed with a selection of 1950s American drive-in trailers and adverts; a great idea which really added to the B-Movie feel of the evening.

Overall, it’s a lovely venue. Definitely worth checking out if you have a free evening.

21st December 2014

Rolling Ronny
Posted by at 8.30pm | Films, Gay | No responses

Ronny & I is an entertaining LBGT short film and a nice take on the well-worn “coming out story” genre. It’s shot in the style of handheld mobile phone footage so it’s a bit shaky and disjointed, but once you get past that it’s a fun watch. Well worth 20 minutes of your time.

One extra thought from me (with a minor spoiler) below…

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19th October 2014

Miner Miracle
Posted by at 7.03pm | Films, Gay | No responses


I saw Pride a few weeks back, but because of my own ineptitude I’ve only just gotten around to writing about it. I’m really sorry about that, because it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen and deserved better.

Let’s go back to 1984 and meet our protagonists: In one corner, a Welsh mining community devastated by pit closures and the long-running strike. In the other, a small group of gay activists struggling to cope with (sometimes violent) homophobia.

The leader of the latter group, Mark Ashton, identifies a common cause: both gay people and the miners are being attacked by the government, the tabloid press and the police – so why not help each other out? They form LGSM – Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners – and start rattling buckets.

This doesn’t sound like the setup for what has been described as the “Feel Good Movie Of The Year”, but it’s all based on a true story – one which has not received much attention. Jonathan Harvey’s 2010 play Canary, which I saw at the Liverpool Playhouse, includes a scene about it, and it came as news to me that such an alliance existed.

What follows is some riotous culture clash comedy, first as LGSM arrive in the miner’s village and clash with the gruff, traditional locals, then later as the union leader travels to London and addresses a rowdy crowd in a gay bar.

I won’t give away any more – suffice to say it’s an incredible film, with some great performances from pretty much every British actor you’d care to name: Freddie Fox, Andrew Scott, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, and probably some I’ve missed. It’s an American actor who is the real standout: Ben Schenetzer as Mark Ashton is a standout, with a fiery, passionate performance.

It’s fascinating to watch this piece of history and see how far we’ve come in terms of gay acceptance and equality. However, in another sense we are going backward, as the dignity of workers is compromised and their rights are eroded. Watching David Cameron and his chums once again treating “union” as a dirty word while greedy bankers get away with all sorts, it’s easy to feel like we’re back in the throes of the 80s again. We’re in a world of zero hours contracts, a £500 “fee” to launch employment claims and threats to curb the right to strike. Thatcher may be gone, but her legacy lives on – unions are still “the enemy within” as far as our ruling class is concerned.

The ending is a true roller coaster of emotions, both happy and sad, but ultimately inspiring. It’s the first time ever that I’ve heard a cinema audience break out in spontaneous applause at the end of a film. I sat through the credits – not because I wanted to find out who provided the rostrum camera, but because I needed a few minutes to compose myself. It’s rare for a film to make me cry – we’re talking full tears down cheeks mode here – but this managed it.

It’s an amazing film – if you haven’t seen it, don’t wait for the DVD – try to track down a cinema that is still screening it. Gay, straight or bi – you’ll all love it. In fact, the only people who won’t approve are Tories.

12th August 2014

Robin Williams
Posted by at 6.49pm | Films, In the News | No responses

Terribly sad news about the death of Robin Williams. Everyone will have their favourite film. He was amazing as the Genie in Aladdin, of course, but my personal favourite is the underrated Jumanji – many happy memories of seeing that in the cinema.

Williams had discussed his depression in the past. A lot of ignorant comment has appeared online already, demonstrating (as Jake Mills discusses in the Liverpool Echo today) the need to talk about depression more.

Some of the funniest appearances were on talk shows. Here are some clips I’ve found online, spanning a 20-year period from Johnny Carson right the way through to Graham Norton.

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18th July 2012

What’s the Score? Who Cares?

Helen Lewis has an interesting blog at the New Statesman, complaining about the apparent requirement to conclude reviews of computer games with a score out of 10.

It’s frustrating to see a nuanced review of a book, film etc., which ends with a clunky “3 stars – give it a go”. Giving something a “score” implies that the quality of a film, game or other piece of art is something that can be tested objectively – that the review is an unquestionable fact rather than one person’s opinion. We use the same system for reviews that I had for spelling tests at primary school.

The star rating “system” for films also annoys me. TV listings magazines are the worst for this, as their reviews usually come complete with a patronising “explanation” of what the ratings mean – does anyone really need telling that * means “don’t bother” while ***** is “unmissable”?

A star rating may tell you whether a film is “good” or not, but it gives you no information of any use when deciding which film to see. Roger Ebert gave 4 out of 4 stars to both Brokeback Mountain and Toy Story, but I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people out there who would enjoy one but not the other.

Percentage ratings are even worse. I’m reminded of a game called Mayhem in Monsterland on the C64. It was released in 1993, right at the end of the machine’s commercial life, when most games publishers had already abandoned it and Commodore itself teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. It was an amazing last hurrah for the platform though, pushing the venerable 8-bit machine graphically in ways previously considered impossible.

Why do I mention this here? Because Commodore Format magazine, in their wisdom gave it 100%. Now, considering that CF had been running a “diary of a game” about Mayhem for many months beforehand, this score may not have been entirely impartial.

But think about what that 100% implies – was the reviewer suggesting that no game can ever be better than it? That every C64 gamer (even those who preferred RPGs or sports simulators) would enjoy the game? It’s an absolutely meaningless number.

Read the reviews by all means, but if there’s a score, ignore it – it’s not useful.

5th August 2011

Captain Competition
Posted by at 10.32pm | Films | 2 responses

So I went to see Captain America tonight. Wow, Chris Evans has really changed, hasn’t he? Hard to believe that it’s the same person as the scrawny geeky guy who presented The Big Breakfast every morning. He’s done well for himself.

I won’t spoil the plot, but my favourite part of the whole film was the moment where half the people in the cinema pointed at the screen and whispered to the person next to them, “this is the part they filmed in Liverpool!” – seriously, it’s disguised really well, with New York skylines digitally inserted into the background, but as someone who travelled to school along the Dock Road on a daily basis for six years, the imposing outline of Stanley Dock Warehouse was instantly noticeable.

I’m not a fan of 3D films, but the effect here wasn’t appalling – and yes, there was one moment where I flinched because I thought something was flying at me. I’m probably slightly less anti-3D now than I was a few hours ago. I remain unconvinced that it’s anything more than a gimmick to sell tickets, without adding anything to the film.

So anyway, yeah, it’s a film that’s out now.

2nd November 2010

Antisocial Behaviour
Posted by at 9.40pm | Films | 1 response

Last night I went to see The Social Network in the pleasant surroundings of FACT Picturehouse.

For the uninitiated, the film looks behind the scenes at the growth of Facebook, charting its progress from a minor web site covering Harvard University to the worldwide behemoth that it became. In particular, it focuses on the actions of founder Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues. I’m not sure how accurate a depiction it is, but suspect a usual amount of dramatic licence was taken.

I don’t want to give too much away about the film, except to say that the performances of the lead actors are great (Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg is particularly excellent, although it’s distracting that he looks a bit like Simon Amstell). The script keeps things moving along nicely, no easy task when quite a lot of the film is people typing code into a computer.

It’s nice to see Wget and Emacs get namechecked in a major Hollywood motion picture, too.

One thing I’ve learned from the film: never go into business with your friends — unless you’re prepared to lose one or two of them along the way as a price for success.

31st December 2009

2009? More like Woo! Thousand and Nine!

Was this year an exciting way to say goodbye to the decade? Here’s a reminder of what happened on planet Hampo this year (part 2, hopefully, follows tomorrow):-

January started out with one of my favourite shows being revived. Despite being up against EastEnders and being hosted by Ben Shepherd, the Krypton Factor did well enough to be recommissioned for a second series. We found out Who would replace David Tennant, and a year later we still haven’t actually seen him in the role. ITV’s latest attempt to ape the success of Doctor Who was Demons which failed spectacularly; the only creative thing about it being the number of different excuses the writers found for Christian Cooke to remove clothing.

In the wider world, various eras were drawing to a close, as Woolworths closed its doors, Tony Hart kicked the bucket and Dubya left office. Meanwhile, yours truly had an enjoyable night in London Theatreland.

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13th May 2009

Set phasers on stunning
Posted by at 5.37pm | Films | No responses

Halfway through the new Star Trek film, I started getting anxious. How do the events of the movie fit into established continuity? Did the people in charge of the film read the Star Trek Chronology and Encyclopedia to ensure that there could be no contradictions of established lore? What would Seven of Nine think of all this?

Then I realised that this film really wanted to get away from the fanwankery that plagued the franchise in its later years, and so I forgot all about that and enjoyed it. Yes, it’s good.

23rd February 2009

Beautiful, wonderful creatures of value
Posted by at 8.01pm | Films | No responses

Milk is on my big list headed “Films I wanted to see but missed while they were on at my local cinema so now I need to wait for the DVD” (as you can imagine, the font size of the heading is quite small).

Here’s the Oscar acceptance speech made by Milk‘s writer Dustin Lance Black, 1 minute and 38 seconds of wonderful eloquence:

Kudos also to ITV Granada, who, managed to dedicate a significant section of Granada Reports to the Oscars, simply because Danny Boyle is from Radcliffe. Much better than covering any actual local news!