Click there goes the gun...

Music "Who knew that your grandparents' record collection could produce something so sassy?" -- Concludes Rolling Stone's mostly positive review of Nellie McKay's new album.

Chuckie Egg

Games The 50 Worst Video Game Names Of All Time. This is no joke, there are some real stinkers here which show that people who market games never, never realise that people might actually have to ask for them in shops. Some of these are actually unpronounceable. My favourite title of all time? Attack of the Mutant Zombie Flesh Eating Chickens From Mars (Starring Zappo the Dog), which was so good the resulting game could only be an anticlimax [via].

Mapped out

Film I really hadn't expected much from National Treasure, the IndianaJones-a-like from a couple of years ago that turns freemasonry and American historical icons into a jumping off point for an action adventure film. Yes, there are cliches, but the script is very funny in places and for once Nic Cage pulls in his wilder excesses. There was a moment though when I realised that I was actually watching a Hollywood remake of the old Channel Four gameshow Treasure Hunt with all of the obscure clues but without Anneka Rice's magenta jumpsuit. It's also a treat to watch something in which the main character thinks his way through problems without once resorting to gun play. Sound familiar?

Sky High

That Day The sky is already filled with fireworks -- I can see across the River Mersey from here and the horizon is lit with temporary lights. The park is already being prepared for tomorrow night's display with barriers erected across the parade field and the tower from which the pyrotechnics will begin already reaching into the sky. It's the first time that the display will be so close to home (it's usually hidden by many trees) and we'll be able to watch the field fill with people which will be a sight in and of itself from up here.


Film Mark Kermode's Borat review is a sobering antidote to all the critical acclaim it's been receiving everywhere. Now I am intrigued.


TV Something that is casting a quite a long shadow over Torchwood within Doctor Who fandom and beyond is the question of a rape scene in the very first episode. Sometimes tie-in novel author Kate Orman succinctly describes the scene and lists the issues here and the ensuing discussion includes most of the arguments I've read elsewhere.

Did Russell T Davies think through any of these moral issues as he wrote the scene? He's a clever writer (as he's not too afraid to tell everybody sometimes) and I'm sure that he did. But did he really think that it would blow into such a storm, that it would simply work within the arc of that episode (Torchwood personel can be a bit dodgy).

Was it rape? At the Manchester preview screening I attended, the audience laughed and on that first viewing I interpreted it as being as harmless as a love potion or a hyper-intense version of the The Lynx Effect. It's only on later scrutiny that the fact that neither of the parties are in their right mind and consenting to sex under duress (one of the legal definitions of rape) was at all obvious.

Could it hurt the show? I think it probably already is at least in fan circles -- people are still debating this one scene online weeks later and so by implication their reaction to ensuing episodes will be effected/tainted by that. In this week's episode, the audience was supposed to sympathise with the character but some couldn't because of his apparent history. But we'll still inevitably be watching if only to see if the real implications of this scene will be returned to at some point or if indeed it was just a sight gag. It could go either way at this point.

No I am!

Film Oh no.
"A media studies teacher where I work recently came out with a wonderful gem over lunch.

She was preparing a Q&A sheet about "I'm Claudius".

I queried this asking, "Shouldn't it be I, Claudius?".

She replied saying - "Uh? I don't *think* so. Surely you've heard of that ending? "I'm Claudius! No, I'm Claudius! No I'm Claudius"".
For a moment I thought it was joke and then I read the second gem.


Life Something that realised on Tuesday but didn't want to deal with for a few days was that at thirty-two I'd reached a milestone. When Harry Met Sally... is one of my favourite films and something I've watched pretty much every year for about fifteen of them. I've been watching it since I was at school, and know it inside out. It was always and aspiration -- moving to New York and marrying Meg Ryan, sorry, becoming a journalist.

I've also known that at some point I will actually reach the Harry and Sally's age and at some point live past them -- even though I suppose I'll still always think of them as being old than me. And that was the milestone. All through the past few days I've been thinking about this scene when Sally's age is revealed, even though other than that it's unrelated to anything.
Sally: He just met her... She's supposed to be his transitional person, she's not supposed to be the one. All this time I've been saying that he didn't want to get married. But, the truth is, he didn't want to marry me. He didn't love me.
Harry: If you could take him back right now, would you?
Sally: No. But why didn't he want to marry me? What's the matter with me?
Harry: Nothing.
Sally: I'm difficult.
Harry: You're challenging.
Sally: I'm too structured, I'm completely closed off.
Harry: But in a good way.
Sally: No, no, no, I drove him away. And I'm gonna be forty.
Harry: When?
Sally: Someday.
Harry: In eight years.
Sally: But it's there. It's just sitting there, like this big dead end. And it's not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had babies when he was 73.
Harry: Yeah, but he was too old to pick them up.
See? And her age is only mentioned in arithmetic. It's a great work of fiction and I shouldn't worry too much that my life isn't as sophisticated as this (hello again Peter Pan complex, leave your maturity at the cloakroom) -- but naturally I do. Watching again tonight I wondered what the teenage version of me would have thought had he known how much of a fantasy the film would actually turn out to be. Still at least there's still the journalism to look forward to.


Commerce I love Starbucks. I can't help it. I know that it's a multinational conglomerate, but I can't imagine how I got by without the little mermaid in my life. The cafes are almost always comfortable and they always seem to be staffed by people who genuinely care about their job and I haven't yet been through a Starbucks were I haven't feel like I was made welcome. You feel like a guest. Example:

As I was passing the Bold Street Liverpool shop today I noticed that their new Christmas blend was being advertised and even though I don't actually have any disposable income to spend on the probably inessential, I knew that as I curled up with When Harry Met Sally... again tonight I wanted to be drinking this year's version. Pick up a pack, queue up, pass it to the sales person and she takes the money, then passed the beans to a colleague who is beavering about in the background to be ground.

I stand at the end of the counter while she works. She asks if I'm buying for Christmas. Caught unawares by the small talk, and possibly with a drone-like minion intensity say:
'Actually, it's because I love Starbucks coffee.'
She continues to grind.
'Have you tried this one yet?'
'No. But I liked last years.'
'It's a blend of ... Venezualan, Ethopian ... everything. It's new every year.'
I nod. She walks away. She picks up a small take away cup and fills it with the Christmas blend they already have on the brew. She passes it to me, and suddenly I feel like I'm in a coffee version of the film Sideways. I'm surprised. I take drink.
'It's nice.' I smile. It is nice. 'I doesn't have that nasty, bitter after taste some blends have.' I'm suddenly the Paul Giamatti of coffee ('I'm not drinking fucking Maxwell House!').
She finishes the grind. She pops it into a bag and passes it to me.
'Well I hope you enjoy it.'
'Thanks very much' I say. We part company.

The point about this conversation is that it didn't need to happen. I could and would have simply waited and have in other places. But the barrista filled the pause with small talk despite my usual idiocy and gave me a free taste of the coffee I was buying. I haven't had that kind of service in (m)any other corporate coffee shops and I think that's probably Starbucks' secret weapon, they're a big chain but usually they seem like the local independent were you're always welcome.

Way down to ...

TV The new issue of Off The Telly has been published and as well as the final installment of TJ's wonderful Watch With Mother articles, there is also Ian Jones's House of Cards analysis and an exploration of No.73 by Paul Stump. The one show that could drag me away from the BBC on Saturday mornings. Get in there! indeed.

Don't box me in

TV "Space management is another significant factor. The box set has brought to broadcasting a library mentality that previously applied only to books and music. This is partly because of the rise of high-quality drama with enough ambiguity to bear repeated viewing, but it has been physically possible because the switch from VHS to DVD is, in dimensional terms, a move from sumo wrestler to supermodel: it is now possible to have a shelf or wall of favourite television, where, in the video age, a room would have been required." -- Mark Lawson on the tv dvd boxset phenomina.

Oh absolutely. Seven season of Buffy on dvd only use up the same amount of space as two of the old vhs boxes. I don't watch series on tv anymore because it is so much easier to add things to my Lovefilm queue and just wait for them to arrive -- and often these are series which simply don't appear on terrestrial television anyway. The L Word, Boston Legal, even Alias. Lost has gone too. Lawson does mention the price of owning a whole series, but even most boxsets present excellent value. I remember when I was fan of a certain series with Klingons, spending up to thirteen pounds for two episodes on tape. Now you can buy a whole season (in a sale) for just under twice that amount in a format that actually looks better than broadcast. That is extraordinary.

Bar we

Life Spent some of this afternoon at Liverpool University listening to John, my old film philosophy tutor give a talk about (and I think I understood this) the extent to which Ingmar Bergman viewed religion as having about as much use as a rabbit's foot in terms of how praying can actually help your situation in life. Somehow managed to get into a lively 'discussion' with some bloke about whether religious people can debate philosophy dispassionately. I say it was a debate -- I was basically being lectured at, but my few interjections, which basically contradicted what he was saying, seemed to rattle him a bit so I think I won the argument (in my own head anyway). The fact that I understood any of this anyway seems like a victory to me.

Afterwards, birthday dinner with my friend Chris at the Everyman Bistro -- I discovered the vagaries of their Nut Roast with Red Pepper and Cheddar Cheese which I think needed more salt. Then we ended up in the FAB Bar, which I discover, six months after it opened is a cult sci-fi fans mecca. It's on Hope Street underneath Road Kill near The Phil pub and through a doorway past a fairly nondescript sign is are stairs downwards, the walls covered in movie posters (mark gained for Serenity, marks lost for Little Britain). At the bottom is a basement bar and it didn't take long to see that this was nothing like anywhere else in the city, what with the screen showing Trap Door (remember that?) and a giant wall behind the bar featuring a range of comic and cartoon characters from the Clone Wars animated version of Yoda to a more than prominent Wonder Woman.

The bottom end of the bar to the floor level is a model TARDIS with lights behind its windows flashing in and out. To the side of this is a late-sixties era Cyberman breaking from an ice chamber, with a K9 looking slightly drunk. A raised stage area is modeled the transporter pad from Classic Trek and on another wall lights flashing over a sphere which I think is meant to be Zen from Blakes Seven. The rest of the walls are covered in film posters, and signed photographs of over a hundred genre actors from Sylv and Sophie through Harrison Ford to George Lazenby to the cast of Buffy. There's also a display cabinet filled with merchandise, the most exciting being a Metal Mickey piggy bank. I'd really like to see what this place is like at the weekend -- I can't imagine it being filled with the not-we.

Older, looking younger

That Day I spent the day in Chester, actually beginning my Christmas shopping. It's a town that has found an equilibrium between individuality and the homogeneity of high street stores that's happening throughout the country so there are always unusual shops filled with the kind of curiosities that I like to give as presents. There's now, for example, somewhere called The Japanese Shop, that sells everything Tokyo, from Manga to sushi kits to origami to tea sets, all seemingly sourced from the other side of the planet.

Meanwhile I'm one year older although I'm not too worried about that. The other day I was chatting to someone about life and everything about life and listing everything I've done and I slowly realised she was trying to work out in her head how I'd fitted it all in. Eventually she asked, oh so politely:
'I'm sorry, can I ask? How old are you?'
'I'm thirty-two at the end of the month.'
And she looked genuinely shocked.
So I said:
'You thought I was older?'
'No. I thought you were younger. Mid-twenties...'
That was nice.

This Life’s farewell tour.

TV The Independent have a detailed report from the set of the new episode of This Life which they’re suggesting will be broadcast at Christmas time. Annoyingly, it’s very spoilery, and the kind of thing you’d want to save until you’ve seen the episode so that everything is a surprise - as I suggested here part of the fun of the episode will be discovering what has happened the gang since the mid-’90s. But if you cover up the first column, the second is a good discussion of the flavour of the new episode if not the details and why now seemed like the right time [via].

The Ghost Machine.

TV Last night I did something that I've never done before.

After watching The Ghost Machine, I sat down to write a review and as usual checked Outpost Gallifrey [which is now called Gallifrey Base -- future Stu] just to see what the general fan reaction had been, especially since I'd the closing minutes with my head hidden under a pillow trying to block out all sound and vision. I clicked across to the ratings forum and began to read overwhelmingly positive reviews. Third time lucky, some said, better late than never said others. The little bar charts were showing high ratings and I began to wonder what I'd missed. I turned off my computer, and watched the episode again. And although I could see the second time around that there were things to admire it was still a fundamentally disappointing experience.

Tonight I sat down for the fourth time trying and write a review and found myself looking at the screen, and the little curser blinking in and out. As the minutes passed by, something dawned on me. I didn't know what to write. I actually have writers block. I'm so indifferent about the episode that I simply can't craft that indifference into words. I actually wrote down some notes on viewing the episode the second time around and considered simply posting them, but they're really not that interesting. On one line I've written enigmatically 'director Colin Teague'. Yes, and? On another: 'Tales of the Unexpected'. And finally Jack's closing dialogue: 'A million shadows of human emotion - we've just got to live with them...' which looks good on paper but didn't quite work on screen.

The search for Bernie worked quite well. And I continue to enjoy the performances and some of the writing was very good indeed. But eventually I realised that this was the most exciting moment....

And there's not much more you can say about that really ...

It's your ... nearly ...

Life It's always a strange feeling when I don't go outside during the day. I spent the day applying for a job (very intricate form) and although I fundamentally know this is a good thing, I still feel like I've wasted the day because I haven't been breathing the air out there. Perhaps you're not supposed to do anything too exciting the day before your birthday so that it can seem that much more special. I'm very excited. It's time for my annual shower and shave too.


Old film, new review

Film In Jon Amiel's Copycat, one of the cycle of serial killer films from the mid-nineties, Sigourney Weaver plays Helen Hudson, a famous psychologist specialising in serial killers who develops agoraphobia after an incident in which she almost became the victim of one of her subjects, played by a pleasingly manic Harry Connick Jr. She's called onto a new case by Detectives Monahan (Holly Hunter) and Goetz (Dermot Mulroney) and it's perhaps not revealing too much given the title of the film that it transpires that this particular nasty is copying the work of his more prominent antecedents such as Summer of Sam, in the hopes of becoming as famous as they are. Can Hudson and Monhan put the pieces together before the killer completes his cycle?

Given the nature of the film it's particularly difficult to talk to much about the story without ruining the more shocking moments. There are certainly enough red herrings and clues to challenge someone interested in attempting to beat the detectives to the answer although it's worth saying that the film arguably tips its hat a little too early and could have restricted its exposition a little while longer. More often than not, the revelations are surprising but as with the lesser examples of the genre, once the furniture of the plot is in place and the film becomes a fairly straight thriller and is inevitably less interesting.

Amiel is something of a journeyman director -- his previous film had been Sommersby and since, his filmography has included the underrated Bill Murray starring The Man Who Knew Too Little, espionage thriller Entrapment -- and he does a perfectly fine job here of keeping the film moving. Hudson's predicament is effectively presented -- watch the number of times that she looks through the peephole of her door to see who is there, on each occasion the action deliberately playing out as though to remind the spectator that this is her routine, her way of working through her predicament. It seems proper that the psychologist's house should be spacious if this is to be her whole world and legendary cinematography László Kovács simply but beautifully conveys her moments of agrophobia when she has to venture into the outside world.

It is the performances that are the key -- although both Hunter and Weaver are playing variations of previous successes, they have an excellent chemistry and their collective deductive moments are pretty convincing. Hunter, who actually looked somewhat ludicrous as an action hero in the misleading trailer for the film (which seemed to turn up on every Warner Bros. video rental the time but is missing from the DVD) acquits herself well with a firearm. Some of her best scenes are with Mulroney, and the script sings most here and their schtick has a ring of the moments that Hunter shared with both Albert Brooks and William Hurt in Broadcast News. The only weak link is Will Hutton whose job appears to be to look creepy enough to be a red herring and who seems ill at ease during his more tender scenes.

The film has become something of a cause celeb in the academic community for its portrayal of female empowerment, although its pretty conventional in that, despite what Amiel says on the commentary, neither Weaver and Hunter are allowed to follow though with their romantic encounters with Mulroney, with Hunter in particular being the focus of the male gaze without being in a position to resiprocate. Also, strangely given the film's 18 certificate some of the violence lacks the brutality of other serial killer films and seems less potent than what might appear in prime time post watershed, which is refreshing given the genre's propensity for gore.