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Mar 05

Television’s Favourite Search Engine

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Television’s Favourite Search Engine – as seen on Dr Who, and Footballer$ Wives. “set up for clearance purposes so that it can be used in film and TV productions”. Bah, and I thought the logo was some deliberate pastiche of the “Eye of Horus” for Who nutters.

TV Diary: everything I watched on 30/3/05

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TV Diary: everything I watched on 30/3/05

England vs. Azerbaijan: The usual coverage. An absurdly one-sided game, finishing 2-0. Pundits claim it’s the highest chance to goals ration for one team ever. We won, and I don’t care too much about the rest of it.

Blackadder: The Elizabethan series. The one with the rich puritan relations coming round. A very forced plot, but lots of terrific performances (Miriam Margoyles, hurrah!) and some excellent lines. About the fourth time I’ve seen it, so hard to get too enthused.

(sorry, that’s all I watched tonight. Wasn’t much on, wasn’t in the mood, etc.)(and there may be a blank tomorrow, by the look of it)

The new big thing is films made completely in computer,

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The new big thing is films made completely in computer, actors existing at best on green screen. It was used in Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, the upcoming Sin City and in super-bore Japanese yawn-fest Casshern.

Did I say that Casshern was rubbish?

Apparently Casshern is based on a long running (for which read potentially interminable) Japanese animated series from the seventies. Dystopian future – blah blah – dead hero brought back to life – blah blah – no heroes, we are all villains. Apparently the original also had a cute dog for comic relief, who unsurprisingly barely turns up in the 150 minutes of hell that this film is. This film could not be more po-faced unless it
a) had a real actual face that
b) was made of porcelain and kept under a Victorian bed and
c) someone shat in it.

I have a degree in Philosophy (not worth the paper it isn’t written on but…) and when people say a film is philosophical I tend to sigh. Usually because the level of enquiry presented is that of two fourteen year olds having their first joint. And for all the superpowers, explosions and the giant robots, Casshern is just a couple of dopeheads musing on mans inhumanities to man. Surely the point is that it is mans very humanity to man that makes it keep starting wars, killing innocent victims and MAKING FILMS AS TERRIBLE AS THIS.

Green screen computer movies are a great technology for the visionary. So far it appears that vision has been solely to produce films full of giant robots. At least Sky Captain did it for the fun of it. Casshern goes on and on and even the giant robots stop being fun (the strange claymation bringer of death equally pales). Every time I talk about this film its individual elements make it sound like the best thing ever. IT IS NOT. The moral of the film is apparently that the human race needs hope. Ironic because everyone in the cinema had easily lost all hope by the time its final expensively pointless effects sequence finished.

Mar 05

TV Diary: everything I watched on 29/3/05

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TV Diary: everything I watched on 29/3/05

WWE Raw: It starts with an occasional chat-show style segment, and commentator Jerry Lawler says, in a surprised tone, “It seems like every time we have a Highlight Reel it ends up in a fight!” Perhaps next week he will note that approximately 50% of wrestlers seem very willing to break the rules. There’s a break in this live transmission, fortunately missing one of their appalling movie-scene-parody trailers for Wrestlemania. Had it lasted a little longer, we’d have missed a women’s champ vs #1 contender arm-wrestling bout. Best line in the show: “I’ve fought The Undertaker at Wrestlemania twice, and both times I was lucky to escape with MY SOUL.”

The Munsters: Not well enough written to want to watch it too often, but Al Lewis as Grandpa is good value, and Fred Gwynne’s Herman is one of the great sitcom characters. The bumbling father is at the heart of so many sitcoms, particularly American, and even without the Frankenstein image, Herman might be the best of them before Homer.

Spy Kids 3: I loved the first two and this has a fabulous opening, with the young boy in a trenchcoat offering a voiceover explaining how he is out of the agency now and never going back. Trouble is, from then on it’s all inside a video game with Sly Stallone as the big enemy. ‘Better than Tron‘ is pretty faint praise.

Smallville: Oh dear. Two days of Earthsea, now I have to adjust back to Lana Lang. This is of course always best watched on video, as then you can FF through the worst theme tune this side of Enterprise. I think the show might be better if they could find story material to carry through a season, and do a bit more that suggests that they know the whole thing has a limited life, which we know it must have.

King Of The Hill: This is an odd series. Has there been a cartoon pitched as a sitcom with so few laughs? It doesn’t try for many. What it does do is take a fairly strong and honest look at an impressive central cast of characters. I am particularly convinced by Hank: I don’t find him likeable, but he is pretty admirable. I also can’t think of another show which uses some of the advantages of animation as this one does: the characters don’t age, so you can keep examining them in depth at the same age; but also the lack of actors who want to be liked and look good means that Peggy can stay plainer than anyone ever does in a live action series, for instance. An interesting show.

The Simpsons: The one where the kids are put in the foster care of the Flanders. The moment where Rod & Todd are first exposed to Itchy & Scratchy is great. And a second episode, where Lisa turns vegetarian. This is all from the show’s prime, of course. A real joy.

MASH: Right, any joy has gone because my oven has just gone horribly wrong and there is a smell of burnt lasagne and plastic, and it’s clearly buggered, so I’m in a terrible mood. Didn’t plan to watch TV now, but I’m too pissed off to choose music, so Paramount Comedy is a default option. I am busy ranting and resorting to microwaving, so have nothing to say about the show. I ‘watched’ two episodes. One had a rabbit in it.

CSI: I love this show. It’s generally brilliantly worked out and superbly directed, but the thing that sets this well above the two spin-offs for me is Grissom, a great creation. I kind of wish that more episodes went into the complexities of his character. His superior is gunning for him in this episode, but there’s no real tension about that – though we do get a surprise ending anyway.

Room 101: Guest Harry Hill. A rerun, but don’t think I saw it first time. Reasonably funny, but bantering with someone else is not his style. When he talked about the start of his career, saying “I was happy with two laughs and a clap at the end,” I immediately said: sounds like my sex life. Yes, aloud, despite being on my own.

Mar 05

Poptimism in Space

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Poptimism in Space

The key moment for me in the new Doctor Who is when the Doctor, having just twigged that the bad ‘guy’ is using the London Eye as a space transmitter, turns to Rose and grins, “Fantastic!”. “Fantastic!” – you’ve solved the problem. “Fantastic!” – we’ve found the evil base. But also – isn’t this “Fantastic!”, this running around saving the universe thing? It’s not the companion, new to it and in a state of understandable shock, who says this, it’s the Doctor, who has 900 years of it under his belt and seems more wide-eyed and enthusiastic than ever.

In the interviews I’ve read leading up to the new series (which I loved, even more than I expected to – in fact I loved it so much that I haven’t wanted to watch it a second time) I’ve been told a lot of things. Russell T Davies has written about the Doctor as a hero. Chris Eccleston has talked about wanting to bring the emotion back. There have been mutterings of a more human Doctor, or of a darker one. So I was completely blindsided by the simple glee in Eccleston’s performance, which almost nobody mentioned but which on the sliver of evidence we have seems to be something of a keynote. The Doctor has always had a sense of curiosity, sometimes an irresponsible one, but the sense of wonder has been left to the viewer until now. Eccleston, though, fizzes with it, whether he’s chivvying the “stupid apes” to wake up to themselves or grinning like a look when we do.

I’m not going to review every aspect of the show – you name it, I thought it worked, or could at least see what it was doing there. Looking at a big Who news and reviews site and reading the fan reviews there, the main quibble seemed to be the length – the show was rushed, the one episode format simply ‘unsuitable’ for Dr Who. For old Dr Who, maybe, but with a handful of acknowledged classics excepted can anyone really say that the old Who couldn’t have done with editing? Any given story is a rickety mess, superb scenes and great ideas interspersed with repetition, capture/escape routines, slack banter and the very occasional magnificent build up (something I suspect we’ll get in this series’ two-part stories anyway). It’s all lovely stuff but the feeling I get when I consider, say, The Daemons is like the feeling I get when I think of a favourite album. Contemplation of the whole brings a glow, a sense of completeness. The experience of actually listening though leads more often than not to ennui, awareness of flaws, a simple desire to skip to the good bits. Rose though was more like a great single, something thrilling and immediate but affirmational and jumping with possibilities. It was rushed because it was a rush. “Fantastic!”

TV Diary: everything I watched on 28/3/05

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TV Diary: everything I watched on 28/3/05

Huff: An overnight gap from Help, but here’s another show centred on a psychologist. Hank Azaria, the great Simpsons voice actor, plays a shrink with troubles of one sort and another with wife, son, parents, patients and friends. The support cast is excellent, especially mother Blythe Danner, and it’s written with strength and maturity – it’s a fine comedy drama.

Homicide: Life On The Street: a rerun from lateish in the show’s run. Smallville‘s Lionel Luthor is in it, and Lana Lang was in Earthsea yesterday. This is one of my all-time favourite shows, but this one is low on Pembleton, Munch and Lewis, who are my favourites, though there are some quite good Giardello scenes.

Culture Show: the one from ages ago with a segment on graphic novels, which was deeply irritating and full of wrongness, despite contributions from my old friend Paul Gravett.

Legend of Earthsea: The second and concluding part. I’ve enjoyed this – there was the odd moment of low-budget CGI, but mostly it’s looked good, sometimes terrific. The acting was mostly second-rate, but I guess it’s hard to imagine anyone doing too much with the parts. It’s a very strong story, and that carried it all through very well.

A Mighty Wind: This is the people behind Spinal Tap taking on folk music. If you crossed ST with their later Best In Show, this is what you’d get. Lots of the same cast, same kinds of jokes and mode. I didn’t find it as funny as either, to be honest, but I liked it well enough.

Mar 05

a form of electricity we know nothing of

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a form of electricity we know nothing of

i. the van
my family lived in a tiny flat crammed inside a roomy educational institution far out in the country: until i wz five (1965), the only transport was the staff van (actually there were two, white bedford vans, for taking students to relevant marshes or mountains or woods, or just to and from the station at start and finish of their course); and until i wz seven (1967) the only TV wz downstairs in the staffroom… which means that the first DR WHO scene i remember i must have seen down in the staffroom. i remember it bcz it featured a white bedford van, being driven by a rebel, with the doctor’s grand-daughter susan, being chased through a wood by the huge, looming dalek flying saucer — at the last possible moment they jump out and hide in rhododendrons as the van is blasted to nothing… when a staff-member went shopping in the van, i often got to ride along, strapped into the vast three-person passenger seat: in summer we drove with the doors slid open, and i watched the roadwise flashing by between my feet. it wz all very grown-up and exciting, and i wd eye the sky slyly also, alert to be first to spot the flying saucer and calculating how much time we’d need to leap free and skitter to the safety of the rhododendrons (in Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD, the film version of the original tv series, the van is NOT a white bedford van sadly)

(like this except white)

ii. dreams of the blitz
the backdrop to Invasion Earth is a bomb-shattered London, a notion probably more powerful to the young (and not so young) adults involved with the film than we quite take account of, moaning a bit complacently after the fact about the clumsiness and inattention and plain lack of RESPECT the movie shows for the “idea of dr who” blah blah: after all, some reaches of london still lay bomb-shattered into the late 70s… what seems to have worked into the heads of at least sme of the actors is the following question: HOW WOULD BRITONS HAVE REACTED IF THE NAZIES HAD INVADED AND TAKEN OVER? yes yes a fierce indomitable patriotic resistance movement, this goes without saying: but of course the meatier invention happens in the area of collaboration and treachery, and the two best characters are loyal to no one but themselves, committed to their own survival above all, and thus – as played – unreadably ambiguous: the great Philip Madoc’s leather-coated spiv, sinister and unflappably amused, and Sheila Steafel’s “Young Woman”, who works with her mum near the dalek mining project mending clothes for their slaves, and turns Susan and the rebel in for food: so far so standard-issue desperate, but as the dalek leads them away, she suddenly grins and giggles: “They wanted to go to the Dalek mines anyway!” And here for a moment well into a film w/o many emotional surprises to speak of, you feel yrself far far out on the ice of human behaviour, spinning and slipping uncontrollably, confronted with something frightening and true and unaccountable…

iii. the dalek in the thames
daleks were a bit unavoidable in the mid-60s if you were a kid, and i honestly don’t remember when i first saw them (possibly an episode of Dr Duck and the Duck-Leks, in Titch and Kwackers) or what i thought of them (i also remember a cousin having a large and intricate dalek-shaped bath-sponge, which i STILL covet): what’s fun abt the dalek emerging from the thames is that it DOES fuck a little bit w.yr expectation, at least if you’d been paying attention in the earlier movie – they travel by static electricity (“of a form we don’t understand”) hence IN the river is NOT where they’re likely to be lurking… not that this movie ever rises to any such sinister playfulness again,. at least at directorial/designated WhoFoe level. Cushing tamps down his cute goofiness, becoming merely boring, an onlooker in his own adventure until the frankly idiotic ending: but here, momentarily, as the dalek rises from the waters, he is dumb-struck and out of his depth and at most a hapless catalyst. It’s abominably realised but it’s the deepest reading, all the same.

ALL of dr who is abt the swirling together of times past and times future to illuminate time present, and the adventures time present (= US, his companions) have discovering what their perspective is on these futures and these pasts. So far so obvious i guess. The vast wrinkle in all this that the story also now extrudes back into its OWN considerable real-time past (and presumably forward into a distant-ish future, too). Cushing “explains” matters to Cribbins thus: “you see, time is the fourth dimension and space is the fifth!” A prophetic bit of script-writer carelessness: this Dr doesn’t have a CLUE (but that’s perhaps as it should be). I always parsed it thus: TARDIS = T&(RDIS) but i think it’s actually (T&RD)IS. The “relative dimensions” being other kinds of TIME: space (as it happens) can look after itself…

Life Is A Miracle = Life Is Bloody Loud

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Life Is A Miracle = Life Is Bloody Loud. There is nothing meaningful in this Bosnia/Serbian satire that is not also accompanied by a cacophonous Wurlitzer soundtrack, a bit of the ultra-violence and some farting. Initially this is rather refreshingly energetic, but relentless energy soon wears you down and at one hundred and sixty minutes this is enough energy to power all of former Yugoslavia.

What also does not help is that this is actually two films stuck together. The first hour is a de facto musical, where the unhappy family are rooting for their son to get called up for a national football team whilst finally finishing the railway the husband works on. And then suddenly, the war starts, the son is conscripted, the opera singer wife legs it and we are thrust into a Romeo & Juliet situation between the husband and an attractive prisoner of war. The second half is much better than the first, possibly because it is a plot that is almost impossible to fuck up. That and the removal of most of the intensely annoying characters from the first half (namely the opera singing wife who seems to be constantly channelling all five of the Three Stooges). Unnervingly domestically violent in places, Life Is A Miracle is nevertheless terrifically entertaining in these latter stages: if your stamina holds out.

It is an interesting break from standard cinematic convention nevertheless which follows Emil Kustarica’s previous films Underground and Black Cat, White Cat. Hi-energy screwball farce is just plain difficult to do well, and no matter how well it is done here there is too much of it. Shave off the first hour with its football match and party set pieces and you have a much smaller, much more focussed ultra-loud screwball farce. It has been a while since I have been so exhausted in a cinema (well, Casshern, but that is a different kind of exhaustion).

TV Diary: everything I watched on 27/3/05

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TV Diary: everything I watched on 27/3/05

Traffic: another one where I hadn’t realised there were subtitles (what is it with American films where not everyone speaks American?). I’m at the computer doing stuff, and can barely read them from here (at least 15′ away). I like the cast a lot, but I suspect my interest in the drug trade is too minuscule to really love this. It kind of drifted past me.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: second ever episode. I had forgotten the roundness of her face in these early shows. It’s pretty straightforward undead action at this stage. I’m slightly surprised that I liked it so much from the start, as bar the odd good line there wasn’t so much to it at this point.

CSI NY: better than Miami, in that I find the star far more tolerable, but he’s no Grissom. I think the CSI franchise may be the best directed regular series TV shows that I have ever seen, spectacular, atmospheric and imaginative. Lots of good acting and thinking too, though there is only the central investigator in each series who isn’t rather underwritten.

Legend of Earthsea: The TV guide I read described this as being in the tradition of Harry Potter, which is interesting phrasing. Obviously it does have a certain amount in common, with the apprentice wizard and several of its details, but it’s set in a fantasy world, not a fantasy offshoot of ours, and is a much more serious and mature piece of work in many ways, if that matters. This is a classy adaptation, and pretty satisfying.

Batman: Mystery Of The Batwoman: for me, this movie-length cartoon is is far superior to any of the live action films – I think I would include ALL superhero movies in that, not just Batman ones. It sets up a mystery, gives us clues and suspects and detective work, and comes up with a surprising answer. There is plenty of good action and a terrific climax, and it looks great, but it also deals with quite complex and interesting moral matters and relationships. It’s the kind of story a good comic might take 20 or 30 issues to tell. Tremendous.

Joey: I always liked Friends, which is obviously what started me watching this, but this is highly lame. Joey worked well with someone given sharp lines, like Chandler, but the smart one here is a geek without great wit, which doesn’t work the same way at all. This is a better than average episode, by virtue of giving Joey an emotional involvement with a woman.

Help: For those who don’t know, this is Chris Langham as a psychologist, and Paul Whitehouse playing a vast range of patients. It’s easy to forget that all the dozens of patients are the same actor – even when thinking of it, it’s sometimes hard to believe. It’s mostly about that brilliant acting performance, but it’s also very cleverly and wittily written in places. I love it.

Mar 05

TV Diary: everything I watched on 26/3/05

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TV Diary: everything I watched on 26/3/05

Top of the Pops (taped yesterday): It’s only a couple of hours, but I have forgotten most of what was on. I think Basement Jaxx was the only thing I loved. The Snoop/Timberlake/Neptunes/someone else (Charlie Wilson?) single is good.

Soccer AM: not paying that much attention (reading Essential Dr Strange 2, then catching up on ILX and email), but the usual good Platoon and Showboat moments.

Football Focus: I watch this less regularly nowadays, as there is often live premiership football on Sky at the same time. I always feel guilty when I skip it. Mostly about the England game today, of course. I am feeling very confident. The presenter here, Manish (sp?), whom I like, stumbles a bit. The cult hero feature is a bit of a decline from last week – George Best can hardly live up to the standards set by Bristol Rovers’ Ian Holloway.

England vs N. Ireland: John Motson described one Irish player as “an Iain Dowie lookalike,” which has to be actionable. Dowie, in the studio as a pundit, starts talking about his lookalike getting modelling work. The current Tony Christie #1 has been adopted by the Irish fans, giving Motty a chance to talk about the ‘hit parade’. (I’ll leave talk of the match for others on TMFD.)

Dr Who: I’ve been less excited about this than, it seems, nearly all of my friends, but I am watching with interest, and enjoying it. Lots of good lines, best of them “Lots of planets have a North!” I expect others will write about it at length.

The Last Samurai: I guess I might have a problem being fair to most anything starring Tom Cruse, but I also wasn’t expecting so many subtitles and didn’t intend to just sit and watch this, so I can’t be remotely fair at all as I missed lots of it. It has some very silly bits, as far as I could gather.

Jeepers Creepers 2: I know this logic doesn’t make any sense, but I appear to be watching this because I thought Traffic ran too late (I’m videoing that). No, it doesn’t follow. #1 wasn’t particularly good, and I am surprised there is a sequel, but I have a strong tolerance for third-rate horror. This may turn out not to be even that good, however, and I am popping in and out while grilling some cod in batter. Which I overcooked a touch, and that has made rather more of an impact on me than this film, which featured a monster and some teenagers running around screaming. I’m sure that narrows it down for you.

I caught a news flash at some point in the evening saying that James Callaghan had died, which is sad. An undervalued PM, I think, probably because he was a cautious, conciliatory type, but I suppose dying will bring out the most positive angles on his leadership.