Not Review 2007: Predictions

That Day That time of year anyway. Last year I decided to be very specific with my predictions. Let's see what happened shall we?

Bush forced to resign.
Clearly not. The man is staying at his desk until he has to be forcibly removed. Who'll replace him? Any democrat will do, although I think Hillary will just sneak in.

Blockbusters become less solvent. An increase in the popularity of art house type products. It'll be like the 1970s!
Actually I was half right -- PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP were appointed joint administrators of ChoicesUK plc ('ChoicesUK') on 22nd August 2007 (according to their ghostly website which is still talking up the release of Norbit). What'll I do with my membership card now? Given this was the summer of the threequel I think we can quietly skip over the last part.

People will watch even less television in a pronounced way.
Ratings are down across the board even in multi-channel homes. But I meant people would just stop watching television and do something less boring instead. Actually they're just watching other things and on-line more. To be honest, since The Proms, it's been more like I've been watching even less television in a pronounced way.

There will be a very unlikely celebrity marriage.
Does Billie Piper and one of the Foxes count? This wasn't really fair since there's always one or two and arguably, here's a page full of them. I didn't know Steve had married someone literally half his age.

My life is going to change in a big way. Again.
Well I'm working two jobs; no matches or hatches though.

So for the older version of me and to be a bit of a technologist:

The HD-DVD/Blue-Ray thing will be won by someone and the price of dvds is going to drop like a stone.

Broadband will get sorted out in the UK and it'll be much cheaper.

As will technology overall. A consumer laptop costing less than a hundred pounds will go on sale in supermarkets.

A UK blogger will break the biggest news scandal of the year.

RSS feeds will really go mainstream ...

"Give me one more night...." -- Phil Collins, 'One More Night'

Life This is a strange kind of limbo, the day before the end of the year, nearly a week since Christmas. I'm back at work come next weekend, so every day feels like it should count, I should be doing something really worthwhile, even though in the coming weeks I know I'd relish the chance just to be able to do nothing with a day other than watching BBC Shakespeare's Othello or listen to the Hot Fuzz dvds commentaries, read this, and moan at the news, as the world looks increasingly broken.

Right now I'm listening to 80s compilation LPs on my new turntable, which means music which regularly turns up School Reunion cds but in its original native crackly form. Right now, I'm on NOW 5, with a pig on the cover and Duran Duran's A View To A Kill as the opening track. This one has a surprisingly good strike rate in terms of longevity music , except for The Power Station's cover version of Get It On which is an electronic travesty. Predictably the Wikipedia lists them all with track listings. I haven't reached Steve Arrington yet.

"Insanity is knowing that what you're doing is completely idiotic, but still, somehow, you just can't stop it." -- Elizabeth Wurtzel

Law Elizabeth Wurtzel interviewed on the occasion of her graduation from law school. The writer spends most of the wordage ploughing over old ground but it does include a new photo and comments from her professor: “We read an article by one prominent scholar,” he said, “and she raised her hand and said, ‘He’s very pompous, isn’t he?’ Which is very true, but you don’t know how to respond to that.”
Also: Wurtzel crops up amongst Kelly Kreth's "writers I’d like to fuck".

"When the time is right, we will emerge and take our rightful place as the supreme power of the UNIVERSE! " -- Daleks, 'Genesis of the Daleks'

TV Wil Wheaton's just discovered Doctor Who:
"The best thing about being a geek who makes a living writing about geek stuff is that I get to do the things I love and not feel like I'm goofing off. So even though I was sitting on the couch watching Genesis of the Daleks for the entire afternoon, I felt like I was being productive."
I'm sure there's some kind of scientific term for this, but the thought of Wesley Crusher grown up watching the 'Have I the right' scene certainly warms the cockles. To answer his questions:

(1) Whovians. Although I haven't heard that being used in since the show went on extended hiatus (how can a show be canceled if it keeps coming back and continuing the same story?). I think it's most Doctor Who fans these days. Or BBC viewers.

(2) It's all grotesquely uneven, which is a tradition that is still being continued in the new series. Which is probably why we love it so -- if it was perfect we'd have nothing to moan about. But really, there wasn't any excuse to follow up The Caves of Androzani with The Twin Dilemma. But that means ...

(3) That although the 80s looks like a very fallow period for the show there is still a range of really decent stories but they tend not to be the norm because the production staff were over worked, underbudgeted and usually didn't have time to see what was really working and what wasn't. Most of it was on instinct so most of the classics were happy accidents.

(4) I don't know that people feud about Doctors so much as production eras. Tom Baker's tenure can be broken down very clearly into the Hinchcliffe era (gothic), Williams era (undergraduate humour) and Nathan Turner (weird) and even McCoy's three years can be split between the spoon playing of the first year into the mad manipulator playing through the final two. Everyone seems to be a fan of some of it. The problem with picking Doctors is that there are people who really, really hated the Colin Baker tv stories but love his Big Finish audio dramas which have rather rehabilitated his reputation.

[I'd usually post something like this on Behind The Sofa but since that's about to go through some kind of regenerative cycle ...]

Not Review 2007: Films

Film Once again this year my cinema going was random at best. As I said last year, my approach to film releases has stopped being – chronological. There have been very few films which I’ve dragged myself to the picture house to see and more often than not I’ve completely missed something. So I’d be shocked if any of the Branagh trilogy (man had three films out this year) or Two Days In Paris wouldn’t have been on this list had they actually been on in Liverpool for long enough for me to realise. Anyway, apologies in advance for the mainstreaminess of the films, and I’ve really got my work but out next year catching up on everything. Not that I’ve caught up with 2006 yet. And in case you're wondering I've included films which were released in the UK in 2007 based on this official listing.

Sometimes all that's needed to make a great film is Gerard Butler and pals implacably facing down demon hoards with nothing but some swords and a bit of shouting. Underneath all of that though, the film takes a very interesting theological perspective on the art of war and actually gives the ravishing Lena Headey some cogent political intrigue. Plus Xerxes!

Hallam Foe
Sometimes quirky is good, and Hallam Foe is oh so very quirky. Demonstrated to me for the first time that Jamie Bell does have the chops for an extended acting career and Sophia Myles confirmed that she’s entirely wasted currently working in an Angel knock-off for US television. It’s also one of the best looking films of the year, the night time scenes of Edinburgh by cinematographer almost worth seeing the film for on their own [full review].

A Prairie Home Companion
Perfect footnote to Robert Altman’s career with a massive improvisational cast, supernatural element and the overall sense of the end of an era – it’s almost as though he knew it would his last film. Musically it’s perfect too, weaving the same magic as Nashville in making country and western listenable [full review].

Blade Runner: The Final Cut
I’m sure there’s a rule against including rereleases in these things, but it’s not often your served with your favourite film, something you’ve seen dozens of times, in way which makes it totally new again. This cleaning and re-editing doesn’t put a foot wrong and actually deepens the experience, as well as underscoring what’s been lost as Hollywood’s shifted inexorably towards digital imagery [partial review].

Emilio Estevez’s fictionalisation of the assassination of RFK was largely ignored or shouted at by critics even though it features some of the best performances of the year. Yes, it slackens narratively somewhat in the middle – as most of these Grand Hotel-style films tend to, but given that the writer/director actually references that earlier work right at the beginning, it’s almost as though he intended it to.

Very late entry, but I couldn’t not mention this really sweet and charming piece of work that I’m still thinking about days later wishing that the dvd was already available (legally). Loony Tunes: Back In Action was on television earlier and that’s a salient and humourless demonstration of how not to do this stuff (even though it features a Dalek voiced by Roy Skelton) [full review].

Hot Fuzz
Watched this again yesterday and although I still don’t think it’s as good as Shaun of the Dead, it was still the best British comedy of the year, constantly inventive and hilarious always repaying repeated viewings. I love that Somerfield agreed to let their supermarket with the film be managed by an utter murdering bastard (albeit one played by Timothy Dalton) – I can’t think of many other brands that would be that open minded.

Notes on a Scandal
The trailer for this turned out to be total disappointment. As usual we found clips from the film with jangly piano music underneath. When what it really needed was names in block capitals and exclamation marks filling the screen one after another DENCH! BLANCHETT! ONLY ONE WILL SURVIVE! Followed by a clip of sour faced old Judi and naïve Cate wrestling with one another outside the house. Yeah, that would have been nifty.

Ocean’s Thirteen
Well I thought it was good. Again the reviewers jealously described the cast as smug or detestable whilst simultaneously ignoring Soderbergh’s experimental approach to narrative, imagery and editing. Both this and Twelve are ripe for reassessment in the future and I look forward to the fall out. Roll on Fourteen frankly. I mean how can you not love a film when one of the characters has The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me as a ringtone? [full review]

Orchestra Seats
Whilst I wait for Cécile De France to accept my friend request on Facebook, I can at least watch her brightening up a small corner of Paris. This is the kind of romantic drama which the French seem to do so effortlessly but always end up feeling a little forced over here (see Born Romantic etc.). Now that I’ve been through the Proms education plan, it’d be nice to revisit it this with half the possibility I’ll understand the musical references [review].

Paris Je T’aime
Clearly I can’t get enough of films about Paris and here were a couple of dozen of them. Why should it be unsurprising that most of the contributing directors managed to produce some of the their best work in years given the tiny and focused running time? Apparently the plan was to make this even more of a hyperlink-lite work, with the various characters interacting more closely – I suspect that would have spoilt it though – this film is about showing a collection of unconnected visions of one city [review].


I was watching Bowling for Columbine the other day, and in between bothering Moses, Moore offers some suggestions as to why the US has the highest number of gun related deaths and already he was comparing the health system of his own country with Canada and its almost as though you can see him test out a few ideas for this later film. These films are not isolated collections of anger but a sustained attack [full review].

If ever there was a film that deserved to be made in IMAX. Some hated the ending because it seemed to throw out the more thoughtful elements of the film out in favour of a good old fight to the death, but throughout this straddles the sub-genres and although it’s clearly at its most comfortable when exploring the Sol imagery it wouldn’t nearly be as watchable were it not for the crew [full review].

The Bourne Ultimatum
Magnificent, majestic and obviously the best action film of the year. Die Hard 4.0 was good fun, but it simply lacked the emotional character beats and understanding of how they can drive a plot forward, that contrivances are not always the only option. I’m still reeling from the realisation that the first two thirds of the thing happen in the closing moments of Supremecy. It takes a really gutsy bunch of filmmakers to try something like that and pull it off [review].

The Last King of Scotland
Forrest Whitaker seems to live two lives. In one he’s the director of fairly anodyne chick flicks like Hope Floats, Waiting To Exhale and First Daughter – he might even help his landlady out with her garbage. In the other he plays, crooks and charlatans and African dictators demonstrating what a job of acting his turn as Idi Amin actually was. It’s one of those rare occasions when a man looking through a television screen actually makes you take a step back because you think he might kill you.

Taking two whole years to be released in this country, this Oscar-nominated film which you’ve probably never seen looked at how we really do need to balance how religious and cultural ideas effect human freedom. Why should the life of a seven year old be mapped out because a fated husband she’s never met dies? A truly courageous and surprising piece of film making that deserves to be seen by everyone [old review].

"As films became longer, American filmmakers were starting to organize their plots around characters with firm goals." -- David Bordwell

Film Happy birthday, classical cinema! It's now a hundred years since the first films which featured all of the editing and narrative techniques we recognise today were first used. David & Kirsten explain all.

Review 2007: Home

Me on Liverpool

In 2007, Liverpool celebrated its 800th birthday and for the first time, in the shape of the book, Liverpool: From The Air its citizens had a chance to see it from above, warts and all. Based, as most things these days seem to be on a website, this is ‘simply’ pages and pages of aerial photographs of the city and the surrounding area with short explanations and factoids describing each of the different landmarks. Those of us who live in tower blocks might live with this impression of the city from the sky, but even we get to see parts of the city we could only dream of.

What makes the endeavour special is that it captures the city in one of its moments of transition. Many of the pages feature parts of the city in the grip of building work, shifting from one pattern to another. The shot of the Paradise or Liverpool One Project shows a whole new neighbourhood in construction and there’s also a fascinating image of Beetham Tower, one of the new buildings on the skyline nearing completion and its these sights which will prove most revealing in years to come, just as the faded images of an unfinished Liverpool Cathedral are now.

But there’s also the chance to see familiar streets from another angle, how the structure of the place, usually so abstract from street experience fits together. Clearly such things are also possible online through Google Earth yet there is something arresting about being able to move the eye down Ranleigh Street, up shadowing Church Street then the newly constructed parts of Hanover Street in seconds and through a relief angle that favour aesthetics rather than information. At Google, buildings often simply become rooftops; here you can recognise what those buildings actually are.

Particularly interesting are the images of places less accessible to the public, such as the docks and estuary. Liverpool it transpires is still an important harbour carrying most of the bulk cargos heading from the UK to North America and there are shots of the containers being shifted too and from the portside and of ships thundering up and down the Mersey. Sporting venues are also served well, with both Aintree racecourse and the Royal Liverpool Golf Course in Hoylake somehow somehow fitted into a single frame. Some might wonder though why Anfield is favoured with two photographs and Goodson Park only one – that said, the picture of Everton’s ground is far larger, so that’s ok then.

Essentially you come away with the impression that Liverpool is an architectural patchwork with neo-classical, Edwardian, Victorian and Modernist styles glancing at each other across streets. It can be rather single minded if it wants to be though; the suburban space between the two football grounds is filled with uniform housing broken hear and there were local development as led to the demolition of terraces in favour of the twisty semi-detached, in fictional terms Bread’s Kelsall Street replaced by Brookside Close.

About the only potential disappointment is that my own home isn’t there, despite being on the edge of Sefton Park; the park is included except we’ve been cut from the very edge of the composition. That’s more than made up in being able to see the likes of Lime Street Station, the place that’s delivered me home on so many occasions from the sky. The roof has a slight curve. Why haven’t I ever noticed that before?

Click here to find out more about this review of 2007, read previous posts and learn about contributing yourself. There's still plenty of time.

"Is that the only word you know? "No?" " -- Giselle, 'Enchanted'

Film On the face of it, Enchanted really shouldn’t be very good. The blasting of characters from a fantasy realm into the movie version of reality isn’t a new idea, last attempted properly by the underrated Last Action Hero and on top of that the characters making the trip are from the fairy tale Disney film filled with princesses, talking animals and songs of the type which has fallen out of favour of late, only continuing a semblance of existence through Shrek’s increasingly anodyne parody. But its actually (PIXAR accepted) their best film in years, an ironic dollop of entertainment that should have kids returning to their copies of Beauty & The Beast, Cinderella and Snow White.

One of the problems with the Shrek films is that in the midst of their caricature, only rarely do they betray a love of their subject. Plus they’re laced with timestamped pop culture references which were dropping out of date even when the first film was released. Enchanted has none of that – with the exception of a couple of mobile phone gags there’s nothing here that, like the Disney films of yore, shouldn’t play ten or twenty years from now. In the kingdom of Andalasia, Giselle (Amy Adams) literally falls into the arms of Prince Edward (James Marsden) and within moments they’re engaged to be married, but fearing her crown is in jeopardy his wicked step-mother (Susan Sarandon) banishes her to our reality. Here, she meets Patrick Dempsey’s New York divorce lawyer who through his own relationship problems is the embodiment of the fact that unlike in her home, people don’t live happily ever after. As she stumbles with him about the city, Edward follows through the portal searching for her, closely trailed by his untrustworthy servant Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) – oh and Giselle’s best friend Pip, a chipmunk.

Frankly, the film’s worth seeing for Adams alone; in a career defining moment she commitedly mimics an animated character, not once betraying a moment of irony as she runs about bringing some sunshine into the dark lives of those around her. It’s a tricky balance to pull off, since it could have spilled over into parody, but not once does she seem to be winking at the audience. But the film isn’t afraid to make fun of the fact that some of the givens of the animated kingdom don’t work in quite the same way in New York, such as when she calls upon the local animal kingdom to help her clean an apartment and the local vermin come calling. She's helped clearly by Billy (totally forgiven for Premonition) Kelly's script which doesn't force the character to embrace reality and whilst the story could have dipped into far darker territory with the character being committed for being a bit of a loon, everything's kept on a child-friendly keel as the people she meets simply accept that she's just not from around their part of the world and enjoys a different belief system in which everyone could and should be happy and in love.

This commitment to plausibly making flesh the animated characters is carried over to each of them with James Marsden in particular finally given the comic role he was born for, the best chisel jawed beef cake innocent since Brendan Fraser pulled on a pair of trunks for George of the Jungle. Spall too is predictably good, only now and then showing signs of taking his cues from panto instead of Walt but they’re forgivable lapses given the various disguises he’s asked to act through. Sarandan is largely called upon to mimic the queen from Snow White, her old hag make-up looking surprisingly like Jimmy Saville. Patrick Dempsey’s performance hasn’t been universally loved because he comes across as a bit dull – well yes, but anyone would opposite Adams’s unalloyed joy. He’s the real world, a literal straight man, all broken and divorced and jaded and as Giselle brings her fairytale magic into his life, he certainly lightens up, as usually happens in these screwball dynamics and there’s no denying he has some of the funnier moments.

The film is a technical marvel. Sadly, because Disney has jettisoned its cell animation department, the opening scenes set in Andalasia weren’t animated in house, but the company James Baxter Animation, capture the mood of the original animation perfectly taking visual cues from 2D animation history with Thumper-style bunny rabbits and a horse that seems to have galloped in from Hercules. The leap from animation to live action doesn’t jar though, because director and Disney veteran Kevin Lima has been careful to make the rest of the film an aural and visual feast. When Giselle first appears in New York, the mono audio of her realm is replaced with surround sound, the noise of the city assaulting our ears from all sides. Bed-decked in her massive wedding dress she has to traverse the city, carried aloft by the crowds in the vistas.

That's all punctuated by some really wonderful songs by Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz entirely in the groove of their previous work on everything from Aladdin to Pocahontas, and again they’re entirely affectionate and in the case of a number that spills out across New York City probably transcends the originals because of the audacity of the accompanying non-animated images. Is it a musical? It depends upon your definition; like the characters in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, they’re certainly aware of bursting into song and one of the pivotal scenes revolves situation when that doesn’t happen. As with much of anything else in the film, it’s something which will be argued over by film critics in the field for years to come.

Some have argued the story is a bit predictable to which you can only say – of course it is. As theorist Vladmir Propp discovered, fairy tales only have a certain number of different elements; above all, despite the shifting locale, this is supposed to be an old fashioned Disney fantasy all of which follow a deliberate pattern and actually arguably here, without giving too much away, the roles are subverted anyway, giving young girls a role model in Giselle which their older sisters once found in the likes of Xena and Buffy. This might well be the first non-PIXAR kids film in ages which adults will also want to watch over and over as it takes us back to the more innocent type of storytelling we remember when we were young, bereft of the cynicism which has been quietly strangling the fun out it all.

Voyage of the Damned.

TV The original cancellation of Doctor Who dovetailed nicely with the period when I first started to like the girls and the girl I tended to like was Kylie Minogue. She seemed perfectly attainable despite such impediments as apparently living Australia (or the UK it was very confusing), being nothing like her character in Neighbours (at least as far as I could tell from a rather stilted interview she gave on Get Fresh) and being a much older woman (all of six years). But I bought the all the records, filled scrap books with articles and lyrics from Smash Hits, covered my wall with posters and kissed her calendar every night before I went to bed. It was a level of dedication which some religions would consider unhinged and yet there I was praying at the alter of Locomotion (see this post at my own blog for further devotional tales).

Of course, the teenage heart is a fickle thing and when it decided that Better The Devil You Know wasn’t a great single and that Lost In Your Eyes sounded purer, it was down with the Kylie posters and up with the Debbie Gibson ones. But you never forget your first love so it there was no more curious experience watching the two merge into one another last night. Post Charlene, Kylie’s not really had a respected acting career (my heart died a little when I sat through Street Fighter – oh yes I’ve seen everything) but she was really good in this, totally holding her own within the ensemble and particularly against Mr Tennant, not afraid to make fun of her height by standing on a box to kiss him. These one-off companions are difficult because they have to mark themselves out in a very short space of time and make us care and I do think she did that, imbuing Astrid with a likeable wonder but also making her sacrifice entirely plausible.

Plus it’s Kylie dressed as a waitress. What’s not to like?

Elsewhere, writer Russell T Davies was playing the genre game, tossing the Doctor into a disaster movie to see what that would be like. Apparently he’s always wanted to do this since The Poseidon Adventure was the only VHS he had to hand as a kid. Oddly enough, it’s not the first time the franchise has attempted something like this. Fans with long memories might remember that Christopher Bulis’s Vanderdeken's Children, an Eighth Doctor novel, had many of the same figures you’d expect in an Irwin Allen spectacular eventually scuppered by a far too complex plot. It’s not an impossible fit though; Doctor Who stories tend to develop through set pieces and that’s exactly what you find in something like The Towering Inferno and indeed that’s exactly what you got in Voyage of the Damned as the Doctor led a band of familiars from one end of the ship to the other, with the monetary scam and villain an added appendage to explain the disaster.

These were good set pieces, the bit in the corridor, the bit in the stairwell, the bit on the strut. If anything the template was used too well; disaster films are about death; so is Doctor Who apparently but did this really have to be so unremittingly grizzly? Here’s something being served up as pre-watershed family entertainment on Christmas Day which featured mass murder and suicide. I shuddered as I wrote that since it’s clearly what Mediawatch UK were thinking too as they scribbled down all of their criticisms in crayon but I can’t lie and say I didn’t cringe a little bit as the Doctor amongst other things failed to save Astrid and provide a happy send off. Perhaps we should be excited that the show is still willing to bounce off the curve letting the hateful character lives, but the last thing we need at this point is to lose the family audience because parents think the show is too scary, too raw, too ugly, particularly on the holiest of holies.

That said, The Poseidon Adventure is a PG these days.

But as I said in the introduction still managed to raise a chuckle and not just during the closing moments. As well as Mr Copper’s bizarre verbal mincing of Christmas traditions (which when you consider what we actually do aren’t that odd – apart from the boxing) there was the discovery that the residents of old London town had taken the logical step of deserting the place around the festive period based on previous experience. It’s not the first time they’ve done this – remember Invasion of the Dinosaurs – but in a way it’s a shame that the episode couldn’t have been expanded to explore that idea instead; it felt thrown away here but perhaps that’s the big new arc story which will be looked at in the new series, Cribbins included. And wasn’t he marvellous – weren’t all of the guest cast? Some will say that Geoffrey Palmer was wasted but it needed and actor like that for you to believe that Captain would be capable of what he did, just as it needs George Costigan to turn up at the end and be plausibly villainous.

It was certainly one of the best designed episodes of the new series. Some money was clearly spent on the interiors and although the geography of the ship wasn't too clearly defined the strut area may well have been one of the best sets of the series, recalling the propeller room from The End of the World. The exterior shots of the Titanic itself are majestic too although I had a soft spot in particular for the shots of the TARDIS hurtling towards the Earth. It really does make a change to see the Earth from a non-North American point of viewing, seeing Europe and UK floating below us. There’s no denying that the design of the Hosts must have been inspired by some other robots of death – particularly the hair – and it’ll be very surprising if they don’t inspire some merchandise partner to create tree decorations for next Christmas.

I really liked Voyage of the Damned. It wasn't perfect, but as a Christmas Day post everything slice of action adventure with a dash of heart it was fine and in the end I laughed like a drain because sheer audacity of it all. I mean really what else could you do at the sight of the Titanic dodging the roof of Buckingham Palace with her Madge, in her rollers, thanking the Doctor for saving the world one more time, with Nicholas Witchell reporting on events. Sure it’s pretty camp and arch and typical of many of the things that some despise nu-Who for, but it’s also hilarious and doing everything which you never thought you’d ever see in a television programme, least of all the one you were brought up on. If it didn't quite make up for some of the darkness which had gone before, at least it prepared some viewers for the shitstorm that was about to hit them in the episode of Eastenders that followed.

If it wasn’t quite as affecting as either of the other two specials it's because it didn’t feel like part of the fabric of the series. The Christmas Invasion was clearly all about the regeneration and The Runaway Bride dealing with the loss of Rose. Even though he’d only just dropped off Martha, this felt like a very separate story, rather like an example of spin-off fiction in that you didn’t really need to know about anything else which had happened in the series to enjoy it. Certainly that was the case for the first two or three decades but it threatened here to make the piece inessential. Despite all the murder and mayhem there wasn’t anything as gut busting as the moment when the Prime Minister ordered the destruction of the Sycorax ship or the Doctor watched as the Queen’s children drowned at least not with the sense that it’d have consequences.

But then again, for all we know this could have been the most important episode of the lot, especially as it proved that actually even though he is the Doctor he can't do everything. Roll on the fourth series – “What d’you mean miss? Do I look single?” etc.

"A sequel. That's it. We'll bring it out on March 25, and we'll call it... Christmas 2! " -- BZ, 'Santa Claus: The Movie'

Film I'm going to miss Nathan Rabin's My Year of Flops posts. It's the end of the year and he's not flagging. Here's the opening paragraph of his Santa Claus: The Movie review and I think it's his best yet:
"There’s nothing lonelier than being a Jew on Christmas. When someone says “Merry Christmas” all I hear is “Fuck you, Jew.” When someone says “Happy Holidays” what they really mean is “Fuck you, Jew.” When they say “Happy Chanakoonah” that’s ultimately just another way of saying “Fuck you, Jew.” When someone at work says “Hey, Nathan, can I borrow your Juno screener?” All I hear is “Fuck you, Jew”. Man, I really need to go back on my meds. Fucking seasonal depression."
Now if you'll excuse me, my record is stuck.

"Love, love is a verb, love is a doing word, fearless on my breath." -- Massive Attack, 'Teardrops'

That Day If anyone is reading this today, 'Appy Chrismass. This year I was greeted by a turntable under the tree which means I can revisit my old record collection, which isn't exactly Championship Vinyl size but still has a few 'oohs and aah's and I didn't know I had thats. Look, it's ELO!

The strangest moment of the morning was watching my expectant mother waiting for my approval as I unrapped the Newton Faulkner album.
'Right. Yes. Thanks.' I said.
'Well I saw it advertised.' Mum said, clearly wondering why I wasn't more excited.
'Um. Yes.'
'What's wrong?'
'Well, I've never heard of him.'
And I haven't. The name hasn't passed through either of my ears or rested on either of my braincells. Is Newton Faulkner someone who everyone has heard of? Have I totally missed a very large ship, perhaps three of them? I suspect it's another knock on effect from The Proms, when I totally, like, missed, like, everything, like, like. It's quite a good album actually although I'm not sure about his version of Teardrops, probably because I'm so used to the masterful Massive Attack version. Please put me out of my misery.

Anyway, have a great rest of the day and I'll speak to you soon.

"Not even a mouse..." -- Anonymous, 'A Visit from St. Nicholas'

Life I love that even in the mid-end of the noughties, BBC Two can still think its plausable to have have a Ken Dodd inspired theme night with an ITV manufactured 'Evening With ...' whose main pleasure is still to see how celebrity culture has changed. Not much apparently. Hello, it's late Christmas Eve and I'm hiding away because there are people asleep in the lounge and since anything I do would include talking I've decided to let them nap. Long day tomorrow.

I actually went shopping in town earlier, proper shopping including the purchase of a turkey and everything. Actually it was just a crown but I still feel like I've done the christmas thing. The longest queue was in our currently tiny HMV (Hot Fuzz & extended King Kong by the way) not Tesco though which shows that people's priorities are not at all out of joint - though to be fair, the food store has more tills. I only managed to stress out once this year -- over carrot and swede and finding thereof. Again, priorities.

Is that the time? Hour and ten minutes to go ...

Review 2007: The Year The Turner Came To Town

Ian Jackson on Liverpool

Of course, Liverpool is a fantastically cultural city all the time, we don't need Governments or EU commissions to tell us we are allowed to be a Capital of Culture for one year then revert to normal. But having this award has meant that we have even more organisations and people wanting to be a part of the action even before 2008 starts. So the Liverpool Biennial have had more money to spend on great public artworks such as Antony Gormley's Another Place and Richard Wilson's Turning the Place Over.

We even had the Royal Variety Performance held at the Liverpool Empire, so the poor Queen and Mr Queen had to travel up to Lime St. to endure, I mean enjoy, the best of variety entertainment. The really big thing though was the first non-London Turner Prize for art which this year was held at Tate Liverpool. This was seen as a major coup for the city but in hindsight maybe the hype was a bit overdone. The Tate couldn't quite bring itself to totally deny Londoners their annual ration of Turner artists so they had a massive retrospective of past winners at Tate Britain.

When the shortlist was announced in May the cameras were there but only so all the journalists and art critics could watch the announcement live without bothering to travel up north. It was a bit embarrassing to be honest as the judges had to wait for a member of staff to write down the questions being phoned in from London and then read them out. Then the shortlist itself and the works the artists were nominated for sounded all a bit serious, political and safe. Yes, all good artists and good works but nothing that was likely to make people all over the nation think 'Oh yes, must travel to Liverpool to catch that show'

Then the exhibition opened in October and again many people were underwhelmed and unexcited. It was almost as if even the artists thought 'Well, its only Liverpool and Wallinger is going to win anyway so I'll just do something quick' Mark Wallinger's own entry for this exhibition was his Sleeper video. So I imagined him sitting at home thinking 'Well its only Liverpool and I'm bound to win anyway for my State Britain piece, so, lets see, I could just post off this video I shot in 2004 for the 05 Venice Biennale. Yep. Job done.’ I'm joking of course, I know the artists wouldn't think that way but the show did have that sort of feel about it.

The national press did post the required reportage but with little enthusiasm and national TV, even programs such as Newsnight review and the Culture Show who are often scraping the bottom of the barrel to find a cultural event of interest to talk about, steadfastly ignored Liverpool. The evening of the awards came in December and as expected Wallinger won. Channel 4 reported the event live. In some years past the Turner merited an hour or half hour long program. This year it was going to be the 5 minutes following the end of Channel 4 News, then it was to be the last 5 minutes of the news then it was going to be in the middle.

So, of course, we all had to watch the whole news program just to see the very brief announcement (at 19.45). There was also a report about the prize at 19.30 which included a brief shot of me and my wife, Minako. We were not invited to the awards as we are not celeb enough but this shot was taken at the press viewing in October. Ok, having said all that, it was actually a good exhibition. I'm glad it was here and I'm glad I saw it (several times). Maybe its more of a problem with the Turner Prize itself, many think its had its day, time to come up with something new.

Fortunately the good people at Tate Liverpool have been here long enough to realise that you have to add a bit of fun and flair if its happening in this city and so they planted a big black Taxi cab alongside the show with a video screen in the back showing filmed interviews of recent passengers talking about art. Many people thought this was the best thing, it should have won the prize.

Ian Jackson runs Art In Liverpool.

Click here to find out more about this review of 2007, read previous posts and learn about contributing yourself.

"peace among those whom he favours" -- the new angel of the lord

Literature These years, I always make a point watching the Candlelit carols edition of Songs of Praise. The changing of words in the hymns (which I've heard someone horridly call 'contemporising' on occasion) is a given these days. But between the carols, there were Bible readings telling the story of the nativity, which this year were read by Julia McKenzie and the late Anton Rogers in the gorgeous Hereford Cathedral. For years, my impression is that the words have been from the King James edition Bible, so beautiful and poetic and infused with awe. Here's perhaps the most famous section, it's from Luke 2:8-16 ...
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
In fact, even at a young age if I didn't remember anything directly from the Bible other than the Lord's Prayer, I remembered those words: "on earth peace, good will toward men" If nothing else, it inspired one of my favourite ever cartoons, MGM's Peace On Earth as brilliant a demonstration of why war is stupid as you're likely to see.

Not on Songs of Praise tonight though. Tonight instead I was introduced to the Holy Bible, New Standard Revised Version. Here's that same passage as it appears in the version read out in Hereford Cathedral:
"In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!'
So region instead of country. News instead of tidings. You can't say Christ -- it's the Messiah. Swaddling clothes become 'bands of cloth'.

The project was no doubt to make the Bible accessible to new generations (more of that contemporising). Arguably there shouldn't be anything wrong with that since the King James itself was translated from Greek and used so that the masses -- at least those who could read -- would have access to the word of God (I'm simplifying -- the Wikipedia inevitably has greater detail). Except in this case were not talking about going from one language to another -- it's the same language. It's just that some of the words are more archaic. It reminds me of the modernisations of Shakespeare in which the verse is translated into prose, absolutely losing the poetry. That's what's happening here -- you're going from one piece of writing which is inspiring and uplifting even to a questioner like me to something which, yes, does the job, tells the story, but lacks a sense of history.

You're into the territory of turning "on earth peace, good will toward men" into " and on earth peace among those whom he favours!" The intention here seems to be strangely PC (considering this work was done in the mid-20th century) and changing 'men' which is too gender specific for some probably into 'those he favours' which is supposed to mean everyone but in context actually sounds like God is only offering peace to those he likes, offering a whole raft of loose interpretations I'll leave in your capable hands. Why is the use of the word 'man' to encompass everyone still a polariser? Aren't actresses called actors these days?

Unsurprisingly, the Revised Standard Version also has a wiki which supplies this great quote:
"The intention was not only to create a clearer version of the Bible for the English-speaking church, but also to "preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it has been known and used through the centuries" and "to put the message of the Bible in simple, enduring words that are worthy to stand in the great Tyndale-King James tradition."
Which must have looked really good on the sales brochure.

The fact that I was and am annoyed by this continues to underline that I haven't completely let go of my connection to religion just yet. And it could of course just be that I'm a stuck in the mud traditionalist who likes to hear the expected words in the right order and if I'd been brought up on the RSV, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. It's just very disappointing that a text which has served us so well on the BBC for all of these years is being phased out in favour of something which seems to have been written to sound similar yet simpler because collectively, even the middle of the last century, we'd become less clever in our use and understanding of language than we used to be.

"I’d also love to do a DEEP SPACE NINE novel..."

TV Pantechnicon has a really rather fabulous and revealing two-part interview with script editor Gary Russell which begins with his acting career (bless) and continues almost right up to date at Cardiff (if he's got the IDW gig yet, it only shows in that he says that he wants to write a graphic novel). Great stuff about Big Finish and particularly his feelings about Tom Baker's treatment thereof. I didn't know those three scripts were originally written for him.

[Part One, Part Two]

The first part can be read in the .pdf version of the fanzine at around page 21. The rest is in html.

"I missed the train." -- Matthew Rudd

Travel Matt has a few problems using our shambolic transport system: "A car journey from my home to the railway station takes approximately 15 minutes, depending on the regulation factors like weather, time of day etc. So, the Natural Blonde agreed to drive me from the village (we haven't had localised services to the vast terrain of small towns and villages east of Hull since Dr Beeching decided in 1964 that they were no longer necessary) to the station. [...] We set off on a 15 minute journey with half an hour to spare. [...] We got stuck behind a succession of 25mph transporters carrying those mobile offices, which take up two lanes by just enough of a margin to prevent you from overtaking. [...] I missed the train."

"It gave me palpitations and my palms were actually sweating..." -- Keris Stainton

TV Well of course I've secretly been watching Strictly -- it's been difficult to get away from wedged into the schedules at weekend teatimes. Part-dance contest, part soap opera, part panto, the contest has largely been worth watching to see pop-culture 'icons' in entirely unlikely situations (well one situation -- Willie Thorne dancing, Stephanie Beacham dancing, don't get done get Dom dancing, everyone basically dancing) their emotions laid bare -- it's unsurprising how false or arrogant someone can come across as being when being interviewed about the foxtrot and talking about their 'journey' (Taxi or train? Or did they send a car?). I was more impressed with the celebs who took the judge's comments on board and promised to do better than the miscreants who argued and told them they didn't know what they were talking about. Yeah, and whose the expert?

Quite rightly Alesha won which made a liar out of those who reduced the viewership to a bunch of mindless cretins who'd simply vote for Matt because they fancy him (some of whom were judges apparently). She's been consistently good from the first show, always displaying an ability a cut above the likes of Di Angelo whose frequently forgotten his steps in the middle of a routine (actually to an extent, by her own admission, she'd get flummoxed herself now and then, but because she seemed relaxed and gave off the vibe of being in control, this didn't seem as apparent -- the more nervous contestants were laid bare on the dance floor because their problems were magnified). Either way it underlines just what Charlie Brooker says in the Christmas Screen Wipe -- that people who vote in uk reality tv shows are a far more liberal bunch than most people give them credit for, in this case voting as winner someone whose black and a woman and clearly has talent.

Keris has the full story at TV Scoop. Where there really that many dances? Is it really only another nine months to the next one?

"The implications of this rumour are clear." -- Suw Charman

Journalism Suw writes about a quite bizarre controversy in which a reviewer on a games website appeared to have been fired for giving a bad review for something which for which a company had bought loads of ad space for. I love the poetry of this sentence which is the best digital substitute I've seen yet for 'not worth the paper its printed on':
"The implications of this rumour are clear: If CNET is bowing to pressure from advertisers to ensure that their own games are favourable reviewed, then CNET's games coverage becomes not worth the electricity that lights its pixels."
One of the great pleasures in some print magazines is seeing a one-star review of a film accompanied on the opposite page by an advert for that same movie almost as though the distributor are saying 'Yeah -- but look -- it's Martin Lawrence in drag --- again! It's gonna be - hi-lar-eus!' But really -- can anything which takes massive amounts advertising from the industry its writing about be truly independent?

"He took a photo of the two ‘rubbish’ trees and asked which one I preferred." -- Gia

Christmas Luckily, since A Charlie Brown Christmas isn't on in the UK this year, Gia's found a copy and explains neatly about how it's effected those of us who saw it as a child.

Since we are now in the time of the Christmas Radio Times, here again are my tv recommendations for the festive season.

"I wanna live again!" -- George Bailey, 'It's A Wondeful Life'

Life This is not how I expected to spend the week before Christmas. Monday I felt perfectly perfectly, but Tuesday was somewhat boss eyed. Dragged my bones to a sort of work appraisal which I hopefully managed to get through without being too weird. Walked into town and bought a new printer (Canon PIXMA ip2500 dontcha know) and odd bits (as late Christmas presents are usually described) but by the time I’d been through Odd Bins I was really bleary, and not for that reason. Sigh. Home then. Bed then.

Spent Wednesday under the duvet, sweating visibly and on the edge of consciousness I think. Managed to watch four films which isn’t something I’ve done in ages. Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, a rubbish tv movie from ITV called Lie With Me, Bobby (Emilio Estevez’s underrated fictionalisation of RFK’s assassination) and Barefoot in the Park (which is just lovely – I don’t think I’ve seen Jane Fonda as funny).

Thursday actually felt a bit better. Said some of the interesting things that men to tend to say about these things like ‘I think my fever broke last night’. Went out at lunch time and bought food. Spent the afternoon reading and reviewing this (which, um, led to this). But truthfully I was rotten and not entirely coherent. Drifted through Seven in the evening. Some people are drawn to comedies when they’re ill to try and cheer themselves up. They have opposite effect on me. I just look at all the happy faces, and jolly music, and wiz bang and it just makes me feel worse – because they’re doing all the things I’m not right now. I’m such a misanthrope at times.

Friday I was supposed to go on a work’s afternoon drink thing but decided I’d be dreadful company (hell, I was finding my own company disappointing what with all the self pity) so decided to go instead on my semi-annual pilgrimage to Bedford Falls and a lovely digital print of It’s A Wonderful Life at FACT in Liverpool. Jimmy Stewart was a great actor - he makes Brando look like a shameless mugger. Sobbed my way through the ending as per usual.

This morning did the final pre-Christmas shop at Tesco, where we managed to meet our immediate neighbours, someone I hardly worked with ten years ago and the girlfriend of a friend of a friend who I met at s housewarming last weekend. I had the kind of avant-guard hair which only develops through days of having a cold so I’m sure I must have come across as very odd and eccentric soul as I searched for strawberry jam. When you’re ill and you’re walking around in public nothing is indeed real.

Now I’m feeling really tired and wondering whether I should really post this wallow in wallowing. But blogging can be like filling in an application for welfare. You must show the gaps in your work history and so here we are. Normal service will hopefully resume shortly. Review 2007 submissions still welcome etc.


The Pirate Loop.

TV How’s this for timing? You wait years for an intergalactic luxury liner in peril and two come along at once. Luckily, it looks as though in each case the source of that peril is completely different. Well clearly. Whatever’s happening on the Titanic on Christmas Day can’t be as random as the journey the Starship Brilliant is on in here, what with being stuck in a time loop and being menaced by pirate badgers, the only way of travelling about the ship being to dive into something which feels almost but not exactly like scrambled egg. Welcome to the bizarre fantasy that is Simon Guerrier’s The Pirate Loop. Leave your preconceptions at the front cover.

The Doctor and Martha travel to the aforementioned ship to solve the mystery of why it disappeared. The timelord uncovers the truth disappointingly easily but then, as with some of the best Doctor Who stories, has to wrestle with his conscience as to whether he has the right to disrupt recorded history and save the lives of those onboard. It’s in the process of trying to warn the captain that they greet the aforesaid impediments as well as an aristocratic alien race, the Balumin, which Guerrier describes as looking like Mr. Tickle, which isn’t an easy image to ignore really. All of which makes it sound terribly exciting and surprising which it certainly is – but ultimately, despite some discrete moments of charm it doesn’t quite hang together.

The first problem is one which afflicts many of these novels – an over familiarity of ideas. Time loops and paradoxes have become the show’s stock in trades of late, particularly in this past series and certainly you shouldn’t knock anyone whose following in the footsteps of Steven Moffat. Indeed one of the best bits of the novel is right in the middle when the story cuts between the Doctor and Martha in two time periods, the actions of one echoing through to the other. Sadly the big surprise at the centre of that really doesn’t work if you look at it too closely and particularly in relation to Moffat’s work and the alternative might have been a bit more interesting.

The characters too, with the exception of a well interpreted Doctor and Martha, are all fairly irritating. Most of our time is spent in the company of the badgers, bred with the intellect of Forrest Gump to make them malleable and blessed with Home Counties accents which the author takes great pleasure in reproducing – the dialogue is apostrophe central. There is a sweet scene in which Martha explains to them how to eat canapés (no really) but in the end they’re about as appealing as the cavemen in The Tribe of Gum (or whatever it’s being called this decade) and will only work for those with a high tolerance for cutsiness

The Bulamin’s speaking representative is Mrs Wingsworth, essentially an ovoid Margot from The Good Life with extra arms. Again, there’s neat bit of dialogue between her and the Doctor about her low self-esteem (no really again) but other than that like the badgers she’s pretty two dimensional as are some human characters who eventually appear to do some shouting. It’s almost as though Guerrier has deliberately written them as cartoons with the intended audience in mind, but some of the characters in The Infinite Quest had more depth than this. Only the Ood-like mouthless engineers are effective and it’s a shame we don’t spend more time with them.

Despite all of that it’s not an unenjoyable read and sometimes quite ingenious. Guerrier has clearly structured his story in advance and details in the opening chapters pay off well in the end. The reader is always orientated within the ship and the use of analogies keep the readers totally aware of the environment mostly drawn from Martha’s Earthly experience. It’s Martha who probably comes off best in all of this, absolutely in-keeping with the television version with a range of contemporary references to everything from myspace to Facebook in her jacket pocket – something which the Doctor indulges in himself to good effect. But you know what in the end makes this worth reading? A single paragraph of introspection in which our hero ruminates on what would need to be done were he really to lose his companion. It’s perhaps the most powerful bits of writing about the lonely god since the bottom end of The Family of Blood.

The Pirate Loop, by Simon Guerrier, is released by BBC Books on 26 December. ISBN 9781846073472.

"Lots of fun, not the most cerebral slice of Who ever..."

TV OTT's Graham was at the screening. Potential spoilers (from a certain point of view) but worth reading for the stuff about the Q&A: "Lots of fun, not the most cerebral slice of Who ever, but terribly exciting, and with one real groaner they could only get away with on Christmas Day. That's what I reckoned, anyway." New theme music too.
Elsewhere I'm feeling a bit under the weather today, so here's a review I've written of The Liverpool Nativity published at Off The Telly to tide you over.

"We're livin' la vida loca!"

TV Freema (a fansite) notices that IDW have published a five page preview of their new comic: cover, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This first page is squeetastic and the rest does somehow have a different to the strips in Battle in Time, DWA and DWM. Even though both of the characters only look somewhat like the real thing it works. I'd rather have this than an attempt at photorealism that doesn't look quote right.

[website is gone.]

"Oh, my..." -- Kirk, 'Star Trek: Generations'

Film Speaking of canons, according to the producers of the new Star Trek film the reason that they can't fit William Shatner and Kirk into the new movie is because he died in Generations so to include him would be non-canonical. In other words:

(1) This new film is canon, fits within the chronology and is not a massive reimaging/remake of the mythology as previously reported
(2) The future Spock scenes happen in the post-Generations Trekiverse
(3) But if they retcon anything it'll look like they really didn't want Shatner in there in the first place because ...
(4) If they really wanted him there, they could have set the future scenes pre-Generations (with some heavy foreshadowing) oh and ...
(5) It buggers the canonicity of all of William Shatner(ish)'s Trek novels because in those he resurrected Kirk.

I mean what the point? It's not like Trek itself has been too protective of this stuff in the past. Enterprise was a minefield and just where was the Eugenics War when the Starship Voyager went back in time in Future's End?

My reaction to all this as a Doctor Who fan ...


Because in the Whoniverse they just make stuff up as we go along and everything is canon. Except Dimensions in Time. And Scream of the Shalka. And Death Comes To Time.

Oh, my ...

"When James Bond gets an assignment, he probably ends up on the Riviera, up to his 007's in bikinis. Me? I end up 80 miles past nowhere." -- MacGyver

Books The Penguin Blog unveils the cover for Sebastian Faulks's new James Bond novel, Devil May Care and describe the genesis of the design: "The Partners presented us initial designs based around the concept a blood-red flower with the silhouette of a naked woman as its stem set against a jet black background."

According to an interview I heard some time ago, Faulks is deliberately going to be aping Ian Fleming's writing style although he's not the first. According to the Wikipedia, when Fleming died, a range of authors including Kingsley Amis wrote stories under a single pseudonym although as the way of these things, there canonicity is in doubt etc.

The Liverpool Nativity.

TV The Liverpool Nativity was rather better than anyone expected. In the run up, cynical writing and comment abounded with some questioning the casting – any scouser with an equity card – and the setting, which could potentially have led to another airing of the usual stereotypes (gosh we’re so chipper and funny and welcoming and not all like you southerners portray us etc). But in the end it was a rather winning bit of television because of the obvious passion which had gone into the organisation and the performances.

This televised modernisation of the story of the birth of Christ kicks off Liverpool Capital of Culture year and was brought to us by the people behind Easter’s Manchester Passion. However, it was logistically an even more complex prospect than the crucifixion; narrated in front of a crowd by joyous MC Geoffrey Hughes as the Angel Gabriel from a stage at the bottom of William Brown Street, his commentary and shouting intercut with scenes set in other parts of Liverpool city centre and beyond. This was everything that might appear in the average school nativity but on a massive scale and with a BBC outside broadcast unit instead of a nervous parent with a camcorder.

In St George’s Hall, Cathy Tyson, aided by some winning Busby Berkley-style dance routines, gave a panto rendition of Herod – in this version a Minister for the Interior bent on chucking out asylum seekers such as the good Joseph. She was visited by the three wise men – who included ex-Chinese Detective David Yip and Joe McGann sporting a rather natty velvet jacket. Up by St Nicholas’s Church, we met the shepherds – Andrew Schofield knocking out a decent rendition of Imagine before being visited by Jennifer Ellison doled up in a silver tracksuit as an angel. Sadly we cut away before seeing the star that would lead them to St John’s Gardens.

The most impressive journey was for Mary and Joseph, who began in the café of the Seacombe Ferry Terminal before travelling across the Mersey by boat (instead of the usual donkey), through the streets of Liverpool and up to the stage. This central couple were rather actually rather convincing – with West End veteran Jodie McNee in particular generating real sympathy for Mary’s plight and clearly in tears at one point. This was some mean achievement when you take into account much of the show was happening across town, the duo had to wait for cues before performing and they had to ensure they reached their goal before the finale.

Most of the songs also worked well, even if the resonance of some of the lyrics was lost, despite the best efforts of the performers – a problem with the microphones led to many of the words not being quite audible. Good job everyone knows the plot. Some thought had clearly gone into the context of the selections – such as the appearance of Mary and child heralded by Lady Madonna – and why not celebrate Liverpool’s musical heritage at an event like this? It’s all a matter of taste, probably, but original composition just would not have worked in this context. It’s far more impressive to have a standing audience that looks like half the population of the city, singing en masse, All You Need is Love.

It was also dead funny – the look on Mary’s face was priceless when Gabriel apparently appeared to her and explained her physical predicament. Ditto her husband, who clearly got the wrong idea. Often the script attempted to burst the expectations of the viewer – when Hughes had to indicate Christ’s parents were taking the ferry across the Mersey he joked, “You might think that’s a cue for a song … well it isn’t.” Schofield, meanwhile, perked up on hearing free food might be available at some point, at which point a fellow shepherd suggested he should stop fulfilling the stereotype. Only some of the material Cathy Tyson had to deal with fell rather flat and listless, but after booing from the crowd, proceedings went right back on track.

I imagine there will still be some viewers who were offended by all this, either because of the appropriation of the key biblical story or a reminder that for some Liverpool is the centre of the universe. But hopefully even they couldn’t deny that, for the most part, this was done with the best of intentions. Everyone involved got into the spirit of the thing, and as the crowd parted to give Mary and Joseph a clear run away from their pursuers, you really could believe that all you need is love.

"Everybody in the whole cellblock, was dancing to the jailhouse rock". -- Elvis Presley, 'Jailhouse Rock'

TV When the producers of tonight's Strictly Come Dancing decided that those kids should jive to Elvis's Jailhouse Rock I'm not sure that they were totally aware of what some of the lyrics were about: "As noted by Rolling Stone magazine [...] there are parts of the lyrics that may represent talk about homosexual relationships between inmates:"Number forty-seven said to number three / You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see / I sure would be delighted with your company / Come on and do the jailhouse rock with me."

“You cannot open a book without learning something.” -- Confucius

Commerce I've done my fair share of internet shopping this Christmas. I've had many real world shopping days, but almost all of the books and cds have been sent from Amazon or's warehouses wherever they are. It's cheaper, true and the free delivery over a certain price helps, but also the selection is larger -- you're able to shop based on search terms rather than whatever happens to be on the shelves and although as Barbara Ellen notices today in The Observer there's always the possibility that whatever you order doesn't quite fit with your expectations (which is very true -- one of the books is smaller than I expected -- insert well worn cliche here) it is gratifying to be able to give a present that fits the person exactly rather than some hazier version thought up by the central purchaser for a bricks and coffee-shop shop.

A new ruling in France suggests I should feel guilty about this. Their courts have order Amazon to stop free delivery on their books from the end of the year, as a way of combating their 'illegal' practices and to support the work of small retailers. That's certainly laudable, but I do wonder how it effects consumers throughout the country. In Liverpool, we don't really have any small retailers. In terms of proper book shops, we have Tescos, Waterstones, WH Smith, Blackwells, The Works, Country Book Sale and Borders out in Speke, all chains. There are a couple of second hand bookshops, but our only small book retailer is News From Nowhere and they seem to have found a perfect niche for themselves covering non-mainstream topics.

I don't have a problem with going internet because it's simply an example of shopping around and finding the best price. There must be some places in France like us, where the real-world chains have already mostly swamped the independents and so in those areas this ruling is essentially favouring one type of retailer to the detriment of another with the consumer in the middle paying more for their books. I don't believe this is too similar to the big supermarket ruining the high street because in this case I'm buying exactly the same product online. Fingers crossed then that someone political in the UK doesn't get wind of this and try to score some points by proposing something similar.

Wishing Well.

TV At what point does a spin-off novel become a missing adventure? In the dark decade such things were carefully delineated. Missing adventures usually featured a previous Doctor in a story which could be slotted into old television era, with a sister series featuring the current incumbent, Seventh or Eighth Doctors which weren’t really missing because they wouldn’t have fitted anywhere. Now we have a group of releases which feature the current Doctor but which are supposed to have happened during a gap in the previous series – in that foggy area around Blink when we didn’t really know what our hero was up to apart from being trapped in the past and going all Robin Hood on something. So they really are missing adventures but don’t really seem like it. Perplexing isn’t it. That said Nick Brown from Kasterborous thinks that we fans are cool now. After rereading this paragraph I’m not so sure at least about myself.

So when you pick up something like Trevor Baxendale’s Wishing Well, you’re filling in a gap in the previous series, finding out exactly what happened before the time travellers stopped off in Cardiff for a recharge, accidentally picked up Captain Jack and from a certain point of view inadvertently doomed the future of the human race. There is the opportunity to provide a different kind of entertainment to the television show, situations sometimes that simply aren’t very Saturday night, action that only really works in a textual context. That’s probably why often, these novels sometimes have quite an old school flavour and Wishing Well is a good example of that featuring as it does ‘something dark and sinister lurking in a country village’ – it’s The Daemons, K9 and Company, The Stones of Blood and that great bit in Lance Parkin’s novel The Dying Days when the red death permeates Adisham.

The set up then: after a warning from the local homeless man not to, The Doctor and Martha pitch up in the Derbyshire village of Crighton Mere and become mixed up in a war of words between some students, the local gentry and restoration committee over the titular water source which may or not have buried treasure at the bottom. The Doctor’s convinced that something darker is going on and it slowly becomes apparent that a far more malevolent force than the real ale at the local pub. Baxendale has become something of an old hand when it comes to spin-off fiction with a clutch of Eighth Doctor novels and the odd Big Finish audio to his credit. He’s always been a technically very proficient writer even if his work hasn’t ever been lauded with the likes of Parkin and Cornell. His magnum opus though are his cherishable kid orientated comic strips for Doctor Who Adventures -- short, colourful and always fun journeys full of character (which is what apparently led him to getting a commission here).

This is pretty much the opposite of that. There’s a palpable atmosphere of dread throughout, Baxendale clearly enjoying the chance to do some of the omnipresent darkness that might not be appreciated sandwiched between the mazes and word searches of DWA. Until the final forty or so pages too it’s not particularly pacey, choosing instead to let our heroes get lost in the mystery and the red herrings, attempting to cover the truth about the well amongst the old wives tales and urban legends. That said is isn’t a particularly complex tale – most of the scenes happen around the mouth of the well, in the tunnels underneath and at the local manor and just now and then you do wish that it was a more complex story which is tricky with this number of pages and potential audience, but some of the scenes are rather stagey considering that they’re being rendered in prose.

Apart from the oh so typical students, there’s an admirable lack of younglings amongst the characters. Baxendale instead concentrates on Sadie and Angela, two witty local pensioners (‘I’m 83’ the latter muses at some point) and Henry Gaskin the local land owner. It’s the cast of the Christmas To The Manor Born, probably, which adds that different tone to the proceedings and teaches kids the valuable lesson that the older you are, the wiser you generally are too (the Doctor is 903 or thereabouts after all). There’s a gentle animosity between Angela and Henry after he apparently let her husband die in a climbing accident that adds an extra thematic layer about the frailty of human life which pays off at the very end. The Doctor and Martha are very well evoked too with the timelord in particularly making a couple of big speeches and getting very excited about something his companion’s suggested.

The book just lacks ambition, an extra zing. Since it is in prose and there is an unlimited budget it’s baffling that Baxendale would choose such a mundane setting and small scale story. The latest Doctor Who Magazine reveals that he didn’t – he’s writing to a remit the ‘something dark and sinister lurking in a country village’ idea coming from series editor Justin Richards. Presumably the plan, like the old fashioned BBC Missing Adventures is to produce something which is indistinguishable from its given era and it certainly carries that off (particularly the villain of the week and the resolution which will both be familiar to fans of a certain tv episode and oddly enough readers of one of this quarter’s other releases Peacemaker). If that’s what you’re look for then there’s much to enjoy and plenty of humour amid the gloom; otherwise seek out the author’s strips for Doctor Who Adventures. They’re ace and totally unlike anything else you’ll ever read.

Wishing Well, by Trevor Baxendale, is released by BBC Books on 26 December. ISBN 9781846073489.

Review 2007: Home

O. Dear on the Chicago Suburbs

Dear Stacy Peterson,

I never met you. Although, I don't know, I might still have a chance. The problem is, no one knows where you are. I mean, you do. You know where you are. But there are a lot of people wondering about you. How does a young mother go missing? How does someone leave their house and never come back?

I'll be honest, when I first heard about you, I was watching the local news and I didn't think much of it. You were just someone I never met, who had just up and disappeared. Let's be honest, alright? There's no use pussy-footing around here. We have very little in common; we would not have been friends. We wouldn't have been in the same classes in high school, nor the same extended group of friends. I would have said mean things about you being white trash; if there had been a rumor about you and a married man, I would have called you a slut.

When the news trucks started coming off the highway and settling on your quiet suburban street, I was confused. A local mother had gone missing, newsworthy, sure, but what is Fox News doing here? I can practically hear the hum of the generators from my house. Generators powering the trucks, helping spew speculation across the globe. There is a smell in the air from it; the unending stench of a nation so plugged in, so connected, that constant, renewing information is an absolute necessity.

And to chase you, they have come here. They have trampled your neighbors' lawns. To dissect ever moment of your life, every second of your marriage they have clogged the streets with satellite trucks. They are fascinated with you, your last seconds before vanishing off of the end of the Earth. They feign troubled expressions while describing your husband. They want to talk about him, him, him.

And I wonder about you. The things I fished out of the moving river of information disseminated about you doesn't paint a pretty picture. It shows me a little girl who's parents were unreliable caretakers, who grew up to be a rebellious teenager, fooling around with a married man 30 years older. I see dark eye liner and low self-esteem. I see endless days of cashier jobs. I see someone who wasn't ever loved by the people who were suppose to love her, who latched onto a lecherous man because he meant the holiest of holy things: stability. No, no, I'm not insinuating that you were lured. Or that you couldn't think for yourself. I believe that even at 17 you could make decisions for yourself - you'd been apparently doing it for a while. I just don't think you even had a chance to make a good decision. To you, this man, this life you had with him, was a good decision for you and the baby that was swelling your stomach. Your life had been full of houses, this was your chance to have a home.

The newsmen can prattle on and blaze up the snowy Chicago sky with their flood lights. They can theorize and broadcast and theorize and broadcast and Back to you, Tom to infinity. They are missing the point: You were always missing, and now, you're gone.

O. Dear writes To Whom It May Concern.

Click here to find out more about this review of 2007, read previous posts and learn about contributing yourself.

"Both, however, would be appropriately shown at 1.37." -- David Bordwell

Film Typically fascinating article from David Bordwell about how films are cropped for dvd and projection with emphasis on Godard: "Even if you’re not that interested in Godard, everybody should be aware of what video cropping can do to the film image. I’m not talking about panning and scanning, that process which begins with a widescreen film, typically one of an aspect ratio 1:2.40, and extracts a 1.37 frame out of it for video purposes. This is deplorable, but most of us are alert to it. What’s more interesting is the sort of thing that happened when a film is cropped inaccurately, either in projection or for DVD."

"Every Christmas it's the same. I always end up playing a shepherd." - Shermy, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'

TV Every year the Christmas Radio Times is last to appear on the news stands. This year it was published on Saturday but didn't make its way up north until at least Wednesday, which in its own way added to the excitement of discovering whether the networks had got their act together this year. There is still some very good stuff on but really I've no idea what ITV1 are thinking and overall it just seems a little bit less exciting year on year, a downward trend which can only continue. But with all the various digital stations and the extra movie reviews, the RT this year is so fat there's no way the staples are going to be able to hold the cover in place so it's bound, as usual, to fall off before new year. In the absence a new Review 2007 post (more promised soon), I thought I'd offer some recommendations -- one per day -- based on what I've seen so far (with apologies to the far more brilliant TV Cream Digest emails ...):

Saturday 22nd December, Channel 4, 16:35.
A Christmas Carol (2001)
The RT grants this a single star which may well be fair -- I haven't seen it -- but I do wish it was live action what with Nic Cage playing Jacob Marley opposite Simon Callow's Scrooge ('No, nah look Ebenasaa, hn, you reaaally need to listen to what aaahm saying now...focusss'). No the reason it's on this list is for the theme song, What If, given by one Kate Winslet who plays Belle in the movie. Frankly, I should hate every second of this, what with it being a ballad and having been written by Julian Knott and produced by Steve Mac who usually spend their time giving the likes of Westlife something to sing about from their stools. But Kate can really carry a tune and she looks absolutely yummy in the video. So actually you could bypass the film altogether and see if you can spot the promo on Freeview music channel TMF's Christmas Turkeys compilation show (which has been on twice already).

Sunday 23rd December, BBC Four, 23:20
Trade Secrets
For much of the late nineties this was a useful BBC Two schedule standby in the days when dramas used to run fifty minutes and weren't uselessly padded out to an hour. Experts in a given domestic subject (who generally looked like your auntie or uncle) would give useful hints as to how to do things around the house, what we younglings (?) tend to be called life hacks. It's great to see its return if only late on a BBC Four, which over the Christmas period, is becoming interestingly mainstream, tonight with a range of cookery programmes featuring the Two Fat Ladies and Nigella.

Christmas Eve, BBC Radio 3, 22:20
BBC Proms 2007
Radio 3 are rerunning many of this year's Proms on a nightly bases and hooray, here's the one that really sent me over the edge and made me want to listen to all of them. It's Prom 6, the one in which the BBC Singers and Tallis Scholars along with conductor Davitt Moroney reintroduced a Striggio choral work which hadn't been heard by the world for four hundred years. You can read me waxing lyrical about it here and noting my disappointment at not having recorded it but in short it’s amazing, as perfect example of polyphony as you’re likely to hear.

Christmas Day, BBC One, 18:50
Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned
Well clearly. The facetious choice would have been not to add this to the list, selecting instead the rerun of Stargate Atlantis Five are putting out at midnight (as well as umpteen episodes of Everybody Hates Chris), but what would be the point? It’s Kylie in Doctor Who on a space Titanic. To set that into perspective, celebrity casting on the show when Kylie was recording with S/A/W looked like Ken Dodd and Hale and Pace and not in an ironic way. According to the cast list in the RT, Royal Correspondent Nick Witchell will be playing himself which seems like perfect casting especially if Charles Dance wasn’t available – let’s just hope he’s not saddled with the kind of script that Huw Edwards endured during Season Two’s episode Fear Hear – "It's much more than a torch now, it's a beacon. It's a beacon of hope and fortitude and courage. And it's a beacon of love. " Oh purlease.

Boxing Day, BBC Two, 19:00
The Terminal
Good lord there’s a lot of films on through Boxing Day. BBC One turns itself into a film channel from ten am through to tea time and all of the other channels average out at about five each – so although there’s the battle of the quality dramas after 8:30 – Ballet Shoes vs. The Old Curiosity Shop – it seems wrong not to pick something and this, despite the *** RT gives it, is as good as most things. It’s not classic Spielberg, but there’s something to be said for this edgy romantic comedy which takes place almost entirely in an airport between an refugee and someone in the service industries – it’s like Mannequin with air miles. Tom Hanks, is, well, Tom Hanks with a cod-East European accent (and a hint of Monsieur Hulot), but I do think it’s one of Catherine Zeta-Jones’s best performances and Stanley Tucci is at his most reptilian. If that’s not your bag, Galaxy Quest is on just before midnight – I wonder how they deal with the weird ratio thing at the beginning.

Thursday 27th December, BBC Four, 0:35
About the only Shakespeare on television this Christmas is a nightowl showing of Olivier’s Henry V with in-vision signing which might just be worth a punt to see how the little man or woman in the corner deals with iambic pentameter. I think the most attractive prospect for the day is probably this episode of Omnibus even though RT have declined to mention what it’s about. There used to be a useful equilibrium on BBCtv – Omnibus did the arts, Horizon did science and Arena did what it damn well felt like. Sadly, Omnibus is the one which hasn’t survived (although arguably Horizon hasn’t either after all the various rebrandings its endured) which is a shame because it was always consistently interesting in that way on BBC arts programmes used to be. One of BBC Four’s many strands throughout the period is about dance with various films and documentaries so it’ll more than likely have something to do with that and since Billy Elliot’s on before it, perhaps that means something about boys who do ballet.

Friday 28th December, BBC Three, 20:00
The Real Hustle: the 12 Scams of Christmas Special
Like Trade Secrets, The Real Hustle is shockingly addictive, perhaps because it relates to something which could realistically have some bearing on your life, unlike 99% of the rest of television. The trick is that it’s essentially a Candid Camera remade under the banner of information. Typical set-up: a bloke in a bar (the mark) will think he’s being chatted up by presenter (and former playboy model) Jess (clearly the honey trap). Whilst he’s salivating at the prospect of spending a night with her, one of the other two blokes Alex or Paul who also present the show will steal his wallet/his bag/his wife. And then we’ll see how it was accomplished and the mark will be shown looking slightly embarrassed and saying things like ‘I’ll be more careful in future’. Much of the time though it’s an evisceration of the general public as it demonstrates the raw stupidity that most of us spend our lives exhibiting, believing anything some total stranger tells us because they look alright. In a recently repeated episode, one of the blokes turned up at a car park in a florescent tabard carry some change and clip board, and after putting an out of order sign on the perfectly fine ticket machine and asks people to pay him instead which they duly do. After an hour he’d made three hundred pounds. Amazing.

Saturday 29th December, BBC Two, 21:30
The Funny Side of the News
This sounds like the kind of old fashioned talking heads show which went out in the early naughties. According the RT, we’ll see a ‘selection of bloopers demonstrating the many different ways in which news gaffes can occur and how the style of news presentation has changed’, and that’s the Reithian ethic right there – to entertain and inform. It highlights the appearance of Fiona Bruce and Angela Rippon which is odd considering they seem like the only two news readers in living memory who haven’t made any big mistakes live on air. As for everyone else – if BBC Breakfast’s Bill Turnbull or Susanna Reid could get through a link without a fumble, cracking some idiotic joke or looking smug it’d be a blessing. About the only presenter I can stand in the mornings when she’s on is Kate Silverton and now she’s been lost to us now to a ninety-minute slot in the evening. And much as I love Today on Radio 4, it’d be nice just once if John Humphries didn’t talk about the internet and blogging in particular as though someone had farted.

Sunday 30th December, BBC Radio 4, 12:04
The Best of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue
When I was younger than I am now and still at school, one of my English teachers gave an impassioned speech – as was his want – he often gave impassioned speeches that were generally off-topic – about a panel game on the radio which had been going for ever and was the funniest thing you’ll ever here. He then attempted to describe the rules of Mornington Crescent, the context of which failed to make an impression on this sixteen year old, whose brain was split between dealing with untranslated Chaucer and working out whether it was even worth working up a crush on Verity Jones since all the others had gone so well. Anyway, five or so years later I was driving somewhere with friend Chris and he put on a tape of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and I laughed like a drainpipe for two hours, so much so he actually swerved the car in surprise (I laugh loud). This is the best bits of the last year plus deleted scenes. Also, on Radio 3 at eight o’clock is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well which I would have recommended if I hadn’t already written most of this paragraph before spotting it. Emma Fielding, Sian Philips, Miriam Margolyes, Richard Griffiths, George Baker and Simon Russell Beale are in it and you don’t get much more RSC than that.

New Year’s Eve, Film4, 23:20
For a brief period there was always something to watch on the Eve as Channel 4 gave a run down of the best bits of tv from over the previous year, which was a chance to see what you’d missed (in case your wondering and I’m chuckling as I say/write this – I gave up going out on New Years Eve years ago). Now there’s pretty much nothing but movies, reruns and reruns of theme nights and a bunch of prerecorded 'as live' music shows. The limit is probably ITV’s Countdown to Midnight: Take That and Guests at the O2 Arena (the guests being the Sugababes) which we’re informed ‘includes a live countdown to the arrival of 2008’ which is about as ambiguous a phrase as these things can get (do they really expect us to believe that Gary and friends at the O2 gigging and not with their families?). Taking all that into account and the fact I’ve got The Third Man and the accompanying documentary (BBC Four) on dvd already, I think I’ll be seeing in the new year with Kevin Smith’s post-Clerks studio stumble, the underrated Mallrats which is still one of his funniest films and features one of the best opening monologues of any movie ever: ‘One time my cousin Walter got this cat stuck in his ass. True story. He bought it at our local mall, so the whole fiasco wound up on the news. It was embarrassing for my relatives and all, but the next week, he did it again. Different cat, same results, complete with another trip to the emergency room. So, I run into him a week later in the mall and he's buying another cat. And I says to him, "Jesus, Walt ! You know you're gonna get this cat stuck in your ass too. Why don't you knock it off ?" And he said to me, "Brodie, how the hell else am I supposed to get the gerbil out ?" My cousin was a weird guy.’ Wouldn’t you rather see that than Katie Melua ruining What A Wonderful World at Somerset House on BBC One?

New Year’s Day, Five, 09:00
O Thou Transcendent: the Life of Ralph Vaughn Williams
You’ve got to love Five (the channel not the defunct pop group). At one end of their schedule you can still find Disorderly Conduct featuring 'real-life car accidents and drugs raids' narrated by T2’s T-1000 Robert Patrick whilst at the other they’re seeing in 2008 with a three hour documentary about Vaughn Williams. As a recent convert to classical, I’ve learnt that the director Tony Palmer has made many successful films about composers and directed a famous series with Richard Burton playing Wagner. Probably because of its length and timeslot, Palmer has been trying to drum up a bit of interest by implying that he pitched this to the BBC a few years ago who sent him back a letter which said that this isn’t the kind of thing which fits into their vision, but they would be interested when Mr. V. Williams premieres his first work. Ho ho, except the commissioning department at the beeb has no record of the approach and Palmer wasn’t prepared to produce the letter. Either way, I’ll be there – or rather my dvd recorder will be since I’ll still be sleeping off the kryptonite condom scene from the previous selection.

Wednesday 2nd January, More4, 20:30
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Because it means that the US writer’s strike has been resolved amicably and we can all get back to the job of laughing at President Bush. It’s great that RT is still optimistically listing the show in the schedule even though there hasn’t been new episodes in weeks and More4’s been showing documentaries such as Unreported World in the gap. Since The West Wing stopped, or stopped being written by Aaron Sorkin at least, this has been my primary source of information about US politics, except for the two-ways which are hardly ever funny because the timing’s usually off – not even the mighty Dave Gorman could get those things to work. But as it stands, this boy’s not going to be returning any time soon. Still whatever More4 sees fit to replace it with will probably be infinitely more interesting than most of anything else playing during the post chrimbo hangover.

Thursday 3rd January, BBC Four, from 19:30
Irwin Allen Night
Episodes of The Time Tunnel, Lost in Space and Land of the Giants all make an appearance here, besides a documentary profile of the producer of all these shows Mr. Allen and one of his big screen opuses Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (giant rubber squid included). In the good old days when I couldn’t tell the difference and Channel 4 were stacking out their schedules with the things I think I watched every episode of all of these, even though most of them were all the same. Still there wasn’t anything more exciting at the time than suddenly seeing LiS in colour at the opening of the second series, the Jupitor ship finally taking off from one planet … only to crash land on another. Despite the appearance of the at no point having starred in Charmed Lacey Chabert, the 1998 film was a crime. Matt LeBlanc seemed to play his role as though he was playing Joey from Friends playing Major Don West and the essence of the show (Space Family Robinson) was generally ignored. A later tv movie idea which would have seen the surviving members of the cast, older, finally reaching home sounds infinitely more appealing.

Friday 4th December, Channel 4, 21:00
Greatest Comedy Catchphrases
‘Is ‘e avin’ a laff? Is ‘e avin’ a laff?’ Ricky Gervais seemed to make a rod for his own back by creating an example of something in order to be satirical about it, especially since precisely the kind of viewer he was taking the piss out of has unwittingly absorbed the thing and thrown it back in his face. It’s not mentioned in the RT's synopsis of this show but things like ‘Loadsamoney’ and ‘Don’t Mention The War’ are. I haven’t really got on with this kind of comedy for over a decade – since The Fast Show ended at least – so this sounds like utter torture. But it is on for three hours so someone’s bound to say something interesting about the phenomena and I might be able to pick up a few key phrases that I may have missed which means that when something like ‘The computers says no’ in my face I might finally have a chance to work out what the hell they’re saying and not projecting my usual blank air of blankness…

And alas no sign of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Festival television really isn't as good as it used to be is it?