“There is lots of nostalgia on the site”

TV Off The Telly was mentioned in The Guardian’s The Guide today: “Rallying against the BBC’s attempts to “sex up” Ski Sunday, bothered by the scheduling of Doctor Who and still angry over the axing of the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club 30 years ago, this is for people who take unserious TV seriously.”

Forgotten Films

Visions of Light (1992)

I knew I would want to include at least one documentary on the list and it seems only proper that it be about the medium itself and that it should be the work that sparked my interest in filmmaking techniques and the nuts and bolts of the process and which would lead to me to eventually taking my MA Screen Studies course.

Visions of Light is about the art of cinematography, and features interview with a couple of dozen legendary photographers, from Gordon Willis to Vilmos Zsigmond to Conrad L. Hall, collectively narrating the history of their craft from the early days of silent film through to somewhere in the late Eighties when this film was produced.

It's a story of loss, about how the cinematographer was simply more expressive in the black and white days, how darkness, light and shadow could be used much more as a storytelling tool and to evoke character. But there were gains too, as the square frame opens to cinemascope allowing much more information to be present within the shot.

You hear about the work of James Wong Howe putting together his helicopter shot in Picnic and how NĂ©stor Almendros coped with Terance Malik's decree that all of Days of Heaven should be filmed during the magic hour, the forty minute window between day and night. Often there's a definite sense of the cinematographer's abilities elevating some pretty average material.

The only real omission is in the area of international cinema which gets just a few comments and a clip of Jules Et Jim to shine. The American cinematographers weren't working in a vacuum and although the connection is acknowledged, more could certainly have been made. It's a shame too that it seems to end a few years before the production date of the documentary so that what were new innovations then, such as steadicam aren't really covered, other than in a closing montage.

But even if the technical details don't interest you, there are the clips from a whole vast range of films, always illustrating the matter at hand. It's amazing to see the continuity between projects in someone like Gordon Willis as he shifts from Godfather to Annie Hall, and how certain men and women are hired because they're comfortable working within a certain locale such as New York.

The film was originally broadcast in the UK at the start of a whole season of films on Channel Four called Visions of Light, which included many of the titles featured within the documentary. It has since been released on dvd by the BFI, with, miraculously, all of the clips intact and it's really worth the trip.

Links for 2007-02-16 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • Games: Dots
    It's the old boredom stopper -- can you fill in the dots with more squares than him?
  • Variety.com: Brown launches Film Club scheme
    Wow, excellent idea. When I was very young there was film club at my primary school were Disney films such as 'One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing' would be project from a 35mm print. And they've included foreign language titles too.
  • eBay Seller: feelinglistless: DVDs, Fiction Books items on eBay.co.uk
    I spent some of this afternoon putting some items on ebay.
  • The Geek Beat™: Mark Kermode Movie Review Podcast (BBC)
    Really excellent review which expresses why I love Kermode's work too. In fact, I'm just off to listen to this afternoon's podcast. I hope he enjoyed 'Hot Fuzz'
  • Forgotten Films

    Stealing Beauty (1996)

    Bit tired tonight so I hope you'll forgive for posting this review from about twelve years ago. It was written in a letter to my pen friend Louise and I think it gets the measure of what I thought of the film:
    "No complaints - see this film. It's one of those movies you can watch over and over, like you're visiting friends every so often. Liv Tyler is a babe (which I know is overtly sexist, but sue me) and as this incredible emotional intensity. There seems to be a few of these new actresses around at the moment - like Claire Danes, for example, who somehow have this ability to convince the viewer that they are feeling every word and experiencing what their characters are going through with every pore in their body, in a way that few actresses do. You know, the camera does not leave Liv for much of the movie, but you don't care, because she is a pleasure to watch. So even though there is little plot (the usual fish out of water story about awakening sexuality), the whole thing creates such pleasure. Oh and every shot could be printed and hung on a wall as art. (PS - doesn't Liv Tyler look scarcely like Alanis Morissette?!?)"
    Um, no. But I do love how, in the middle of the drooling, I managed to write an accurate synopsis of the film in ten words. It's still a very underrated work, and the shot when Lucy reveals her breast and the surrounding group turn to look at her, is probably one of the best expressions of the moment when someone shifts into adulthood ever committed to celluloid.

    Partly Animals

    TV Apparently the viewing figures for BBC Two's Party Animals have dropped to the unmagic million which means that it's not really likely to be recommissioned. Which is a shame because it's actually really quite good. I've often been a champion of these unloved series, thrown onto television to much hype only to find a small audience, the likes of Fish, North Square, Rescue Me and NY-LON and actually it's got to the stage were I wonder if I'm jinxing these things -- many is the show I haven't watched which has gone on to great success -- see Teachers and Shameless.

    Granted this isn't the British The West Wing it could have been but neither is it the This Life clone it was reputed to be. Yes, it can be superficial in places and I wish it would introduce some of the more biting wit of The Think Of It but generally it's scorchingly written and still very funny and despite some fuckwittery, most of the characters are really likable, helped by some excellent performances from the likes of Raquel Cassidy, Andrew Buchan, Shelley Conn and the brilliantly named Clemency Burton-Hill.

    Perhaps that's the problem -- there's no demarcation across party lines. Politics can define people and because the creators are desperate to create empathy within the viewer for all the characters it puts them in the position of having to cheer for someone on the opposite side of their political belief system. So you're really pleased that Jo Porter MP is able to deal with the angry leader of a pressure group and then you realise she's new Labour and you tend to despise them.

    I had much the same problem with final season of The West Wing during the Vynick heavy episodes -- why should I care if he wins or loses if he's a Republican? This is the kind of thing that can confuse people and perhaps because I'm generally disaffected with the main parties, despising them equally, I can sit back and just treat the characters as people rather than types, buzzing around the political arena. That said, why no Lib Dems or Greens in the ensemble? Under proportional representation, that kind of thing simply wouldn't happen.

    Of course it's distracting that Matt Smith reminds me of Adric from Doctor Who and that sometimes some of the characters deliver lines of dialogue that don't have any place in a drama set in the apparent real world ("It's fuck-a-Tory week" being fairly high on the list). And you could argue that because all of the characters are from within the walls of Westminster there's no one to give some much needed perspective. But it's a shame that in the cut and thrust of the ratings war shows like this aren't given a few weeks to bed in by the discerning viewer if there's a kernel of something good there.

    I mean for goodness sake, if Torchwood, a show summed up by SFX Magazine this month as being afflicted with 'clunking dialogue, awkward shifts in mood and confusion over what it's exactly supposed to be' can get recommissioned and Party Animals with its clear mission statement, great characters, own fictional blog and coherent storytelling can't, what's the point of television anyway? Seriously people, give it another try and if you think I'm wrong, just blame it on my passion as the champion of lost causes.

    Forgotten Films

    The Tribe (1996)

    Not the Australian teen soap but the drama that after its first television broadcast in the mid-90s became popularly known as the place to see Anna Friel naked. Steven Poliakoff's The Tribe has become something of a cult film and is one of the few works on this list to not even grace the VHS release in the UK. As the imdb describes it: "A ruthless property developer dispatches Jamie (Jeremy Northam) to evict Emily (Joely Richardson) and her followers from a housing estate by whatever means necessary. However, Jamie discovers more than he bargained for when he tries to execute his orders."

    In other words, he finds that actually this cult seems perfectly reasonable from a certain point of view and he slowly becomes intoxicated by their psychological freedom. Within there's a very complex discussion of how society tends to object to behaviour that is slightly out of the norm if the prevailing wind is in the other direction, a theme that's prevalent in much of Poliakoff's work. He's pretty careful not to portray any of the sides too sympathetically, and in shots were the tribe drift on mass through the urban landscape, clad in the leather, they're perfectly menacing, making the objections of other residents perfectly understandable.

    All of the performances are top notch and it even features an early appearance from Laura Fraser, who I still have my fingers crossed will make it really big some time soon. Produced by BBC Films for theatrical broadcast it's appeared a couple of times on BBC Two in Screen Two strand, which is when I managed to snatch a recording. Miraculously, there has been a region one dvd release, but that has been deleted. Amazon have some copies in their marketplace.

    Links for 2007-02-14 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • The Dave Gorman Collection now out on DVD
    Although you can only buy it at this shop. Interesting.
  • filmlog: His Big White Self (2006)
    Useful follow-up and in some ways annotation to the first film, which provides useful back ground to the leader, his driver and his driver's wife. The climax in which Broomfield returns to his original interviewee is really intense.
  • Liverpool Art and Culture Blog: Jesus Sculpture has Devil's Eyes
    "Visitors have descended on the Liverpool Academy of Art to kneel before the steel and bronze artwork after reports that “sparks” were shooting from its eyes."
  • Mancubist: What does the future hold for Afflecks Palace?
    Like Quiggins in Liverpool this is one of the hubs of student shopping in Manchester. I'm shocked and appalled that such a vital part of their community could be shut down.
  • Cinematical: George Lucas: Empire Was the Worst Star Wars Film!
    Wow, I mean wow. This explains so much ...
  • Andy's Anachronisms: Time Travel Reviews
    As it says but also lists some of the things the prop people missed.
  • Hulk Stitch

    Comics John Freeman for a time edited Doctor Who Magazine and also wrote for the Seventh Doctor, particularly in the five page strips that appeared in the Hulk Presents comic. That material, so pleasingly surreal, is largely unavailable - until now.

    As revealed on his blog, John is selling the original artwork for one of the strips, A Stitch In Time, on eBay and so that buyers can see what they're getting, he's posted the story online in pretty readable (though watermarked) format.

    [Links broken now :(]

    Diary of an Unlikely Who Girl

    TV Surprisingly, Belle De Jour wades into an important debate: "Doctor Who would not use a PC. Doctor Who would not soil his fingers on a Silicon Graphics. He would not give the time of day to Sun, Amiga, Next, Cray, Xerox Alto, Datapoint 2200 or indeed any other box you care to come up with."

    Forgotten Fiction

    Life Naturally I spent today looking for displacement activities which included a visit to Liverpool University for a book sale and found a copy of the 24th edition of The Saturday Book an annual publication that ran from 1941-1975. It's an anthology of writing on a range of random topics from women painters to the old school tie and includes the reason for my interest an essay by Brian Aldiss on SF Art. It's very much in the mode of the article Dave Langford writes for SFX Magazine and includes extraordinary images from the covers of contemporary sci-fi fiction magazines.

    Within Aldis talks about the golden age, when WH Smiths would stock dozens of different magazines, from Amazing Stories to if granted of various quality but still very impressive and generally readable. Of course these were superceded by comic books and eventually, now I suppose, dvds and books are far cheaper and more readily available.

    Could a mass market textual fiction magazine be successful now provided it was marketed right and featured shorts or serials from top writers and a nice cover? It needn't be genre specific and might even make a virtue of the fact that it'll cater for a range of audiences at the same time tucking into the crossovers that seem to exist now in media. Oooh and it could include existing franchises such as Life On Mars next to original material as an incentive. It could look something like this:

    Meanwhile I received an invited for a preview screening of a new film in London which is 'solely for influential bloggers such as yourself'. I can't go obviously but the real question is -- am I really? Now and then I have received screeners for things, which accounts for odd random review for Region One dvd titles you'll sometimes see here. But it's odd to be called 'influential'. Sure, it's marketing flattery and graciously received but once again it makes me wonder who and exactly how many people are reading. It's sure to go to my head. Hello to all my many readers...

    Forgotten Films

    Quinceanera (2006)

    Annette writes:

    Quinceanera (released as Echo Park, L.A. in the U.K.), is a coming-of-age story set in the predominantly Hispanic Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. I was surprised to find out that this film, directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, won a couple of awards at Sundance last year (Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for dramatic film) since I saw only a few brief mentions of it in the press in the middle of last year. Even compared to independent films in a similar vein such as Real Women Have Curves and Maria Full of Grace, Quinceanera seems to have been shortchanged of publicity, which is too bad because this film deserves to be seen.

    For the uninitiated, a quinceanera is a traditional celebration in Mexican culture of a girl's coming of age at her 15th birthday. It's similar to a wedding in scale, with a court, formal dresses, a dinner and a dance. This film is the story of Magdalena, played by Emily Rios, who becomes pregnant in the months before her 15th birthday. Of course, her pregnancy causes problems with her father who is a conservative minister. She goes to live with her elderly great grand-uncle, who seems to be running a safe house for outcast youth. At her uncle's house, Magdalena gets to know her cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) who is there for his own moral transgression: he's gay.

    What I liked most about this film is its honest portrayal of Mexican-American youth. The characters are not cliches or stereotypes like many Mexican-American characters are in films. The directors do a great job of showing the world of these characters, particularly the juxtaposition of the traditional (the old-fashioned ways of Magdalena's parents and uncle) and the modern (Magdalena wants a stretch Hummer for her quinceanera).

    I thought these characters dealt with issues like teen pregnancy and homosexuality in a way that most teenagers would in real life, with confusion and awkwardness and naivety. Just like in real life, the characters make plans that don't work out. In one scene, Magdalena tells Carlos that she's going to continue to go to school and do everything she planned before she became pregnant. It's a poignant moment that shows just how young and naive her character really is.

    This is not a perfect movie--the production values could be better and the acting of some of the peripheral actors is a little flat. But overall, Quinceanera deserves to be seen for its authentic performances by Rios and Garcia and for its look at Mexican-American culture that goes beyond stereotypes.

    [Thanks Annette. Just to add that the film is available on dvd everywhere and that if anyone else would like guest blog about their own forgotten film,, they should feel free to write in.]

    [DVD Times have news of the UK Region Two release.]

    Links for 2007-02-13 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • BBC Two's new "Window on the World"
    New channel idents that recall the old days of the flower bed and the electric shock one.
  • qi transcripts dot com | the quite interesting textual alternative
    Bit of a curiousity. Every episode of the panel game transcribed. Loses something in the translation. Somehow I forgot that Hugh Laurie appeared in the first episode.
  • My Boring Ass Life » Gimme an Oscar, dammit!
    Kevin Smith is egotistical mood quite rightly lists all of the positive notices his acting received in the forthcoming movie 'Catch and Release' before giving some of the less than complementary critics a piece of his mind.
  • filmlog: Noel 2004)
    'Love Actually' is the victim of an attempted beating from a hyperlink film that straddles the fine line between heartwarming and mawkishness. Directed by Chazz Palminteri, touching performances from Sarandan, Cruz, Arkin and Walker.
  • Testing

    Life Sometimes life's incidents pile on top of one another and gain a significance they might not otherwise have. Lately, I've been missing university, the academic experience, going to lectures, writing essays and yes, even the travel to and from Manchester. It's not the academic experience in general, it's the experience I had last year. For all my worry about deadlines and feeling isolated, I just enjoyed being there, and I suppose having a purpose. The easy answer would - do a Phd - but that wouldn't be the same. It doesn't feel like the next step.

    Yesterday I received my Manchester University Alumni card. In the corner, in a small scarlet red box it says 'graduate' in white block capitals. It comes with a range of benefits and discounts related to accommodation, travel, restaurants, magazines and entertainment and free use of the college library which could be useful should I move back to the city. I also noticed that my Young Person's Railcard ran out today. My wings have been clipped. Paying full price is really going to be noticeable.

    If ever two things were going to remind me that my second academic life is over it would be these. I know I'm only thinking about it because I'm not working, I know that. Which is why I registered with an agency today for temporary work, or as I said, a week here, a couple of weeks there. They don't do call centres which is ok because I'd be happy simply doing some data entry or reception work. It was actually a re-registration having done some work for them at the turn of the millennium. I even remember the typing test from way back then. It took me five minutes in 2001 to type a third of the page they gave me. Today I completed the page. At least I know my typing has improved.

    Martha Jones's Diary

    TV The good people at FreemaAgyeman.com have spotted that the BBC's official site has been updated with a special page dedicated to Martha Jones. They also have a couple of previews of video diaries for the next season, although I can't tell you what's in them because I'm on dial-up. Anything good?

    [None of the original links worked. Included for archive purposes.]

    Forgotten Films

    Hostile Hostages (1994)

    An acerbic answer to the cutesy comedies that tend to be released during the holiday season, this black comedy stars Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis as a couple of the edge of divorce taken hostage by Denis Leary, a cat burgler on the run after a botched job looking for a place to hide out. Obviously he's picked the wrong couple and the wrong house as he must endure their bickering and later their extended family who descend on the house for the annual Christmas Eve meal. He pretends to be the couple's therapist and in between threats of violence helps them to overcome their marital problems. What I love about the film is that it takes what should be a dreadful premise but presents it with so much wit and warmth and intelligence.

    All too often these high concept suburban comedies are ruined by constantly resorting to slapstick or an episodic structure that distances the audience from really caring about the characters (I'm thinking of Meet The Parents, the late films of Steve Martin). This instead is perfectly structured; this isn't simply about the bickering couple and their captor - their story is intercut with the police search, the extended family and Spacey's pushy mother stopping off at a diner before they arrive and the black mail plans of their errant son at military college - but these scenes also underscore that central relationship explaining the reasons for the marital problems far more than some untidy exposition with their arguments.

    Also, unlike those films, the script actually plays to the strength of the actors involved, and in a kind of old Hollywood style allows them to create or recreate performances familiar from elsewhere. This is the same Kevin Spacey on-screen persona that would work out the rest of the nineties and in fact American Beauty's Lester Burnham is all but a replay of the man that appears here, albeit without the potential redemption at the conclusion. He gets to do those big speeches he's known for and has a particularly great solution involving a fire poker and a Christmas tree when someone has the audacity to interrupt him. 'Excuse me - I believe I still have the floor'.

    To a degree, Judy Davis is rerunning the highly strung character so familiar from her work with Woody Allen and Denis Leary is the motor mouth, the wit, but and this is important because it makes the film, he's far more three dimensional than these characters tend to be, seeing in the couple's son the boy that he once was, telling him not to run out on them because if he goes, he'll never stop running. That kind of attention to characterization is repeated throughout the film - watch for the moment when the police chief points out exactly why his offers are so green or the approbation of a pissed Santa.

    The film was released in the US as The Ref and it's now available in the UK on dvd under that title. But my old ex-rental VHS uses the above name and it's miles more appropriate. Plus it's fun to look at the back of the box and see how that cast was perceived on the release of the tape. This is Denis Leary - "Demolition Man", Judy Davis - "Naked Lunch" and, get this, Kevin Spacey - "Consenting Adults". Thanks god for "The Usual Suspects". I'll end this with a quote from an interview with Demme on the subject of why this film wasn't a success:
    " It didn't take in the theater, and I'll tell you why: Because it came out in March! It's a movie that takes place on Christmas Eve, and it's released in the Spring-time! The last thing you want to do is go see a movie with snow in it in March, because you've just been living through hell in the last three months. It should have been released at Christmas, but everyone said, "It'll get buried by the Christmas competition." I always thought it would be a great anti-Christmas movie. My fantasy is that in ten years, when they're still watching It's A Wonderful fucking Life, people will go, "Let's watch that really nasty christmas movie, The Ref.""
    Most of these films are only forgotten because some lunkhead at studio didn't really know what they had or how to market it ...

    Links for 2007-02-12 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • Metacritic: Music High and Low Scores
    Harsh but fair.
  • filmlog: The Leader, His Driver and the Driver's Wife (1991)
    Excellent Nick Broomfield piece in which he reveals the hypocrisy of the far right in South Africa simply by being late for an interview and filming the reaction. Shows that the process of making a documentary can be just as revealing.
  • filmlog: The Green Ray (1986)
    A young woman spends her vacation from work trying to decide why she feels disenfranchised from society and why for no readily apparent reason she never feels part of the group. I know the feeling. Cried throughout.
  • filmlog A Good Wedding (1982)
    Pleasant Eric Rhomer film in which a character not unlike Paris from 'Gilmore Girls' tries to find a man who'll treat her right and then ends up stalking some random bloke even though he's really not the right man for her.
  • filmlog: The American Nightmare (2000)
    Decent documentary about horror from the 60s and 70s in which their creators discuss their thematic resonance rather than the nuts and bolts film making process. Interesting editing style mixing film shots with relevant news footage.
  • Forgotten Films

    11:14 (2003)

    An excellent little film as good as anything else released here last year, cruelly given a tiny (and as you can see from the date above rather belated) run at the cinema with little publicity. An automobile accident occurs one night at 11:14 pm and the events before and after are revealed as the same ten minutes of time are replayed through the eyes of five different characters as their lives intersect.

    The miscellaneous cast includes Henry Thomas (E.T.'s Elliot all grown up), Hilary Swank, Patrick Swayze, Barbara Hershey and Rachael Leigh Cook and all of them appear to be having a great time. Director Greg Marcks keeps all of the different stories lucid through impressive editing and visual clues such as the prevalence of clocks and there's a dark seem of black comedy that runs right through it.

    If this has surface similarities to Amores Perros, it's actually spiritually closer to Momento or Crash and the perfect cinematic extrapolation of Carl Jung's theory of synchronicity; Jung said that there was no such thing as chance happening - it's just that we don't know what the connections are yet and during each of the individual stories events that appear insignificant from one point of view become central from another.

    The film has just been released on dvd in the uk, but the us release is the one to go for with Marks' illuminating commentary and a feature that lets the viewer skip between stories at crucial moments during the film.

    Links for 2007-02-11 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • TV Scoop: Review: Primeval
    It's not just me as this witty review reveals. I did have a search around the 'sphere and the reviews were generally positive, although most were of the order of 'It's early days' or 'It might get better'. Which makes any future viewings charity.
  • Time Out Film: 50 Cinematic Masterpieces at the NFT
    Wonderfully idiosyncratic list and I love the note that they would have included 'F For Fake' instead of 'Kane'. Why the willful lack of anything too Hollywood though?
  • Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog: The BBC vs The Bard
    John Morrison's passionate post about the lack of Shakespeare, real Shakespeare on network television.
  • Keris Stainton: Up above the streets and houses
    Circular rainbows! Pictures of them!
  • "I think I may have made an error of judgment..."

    Before you start work today, please remember that at two o'clock this afternoon we will be having our monthly revision of the spoiler policy. You may want to prepare yourself by watching the training video.

    I loved the opening scenes of this story, the appearance of the timelord Straxos, the time ring, the talk of a temporal black spot. All very Genesis of the Daleks. Once again I wondered when the story was set in relation to the Gallifrey spin-off series and if it was Romana who was behind leaving Lucie in the Doctor gentle care. Please can we have a Lalla Ward cameo. Please, please, please, please, please (as the Doctor would say). Luckily, for once, everything else lived up to these initial scenes in what turned out to be one of the most entertaining episodes of the series.

    The central problem for the scriptwriter in turning out this kind of story is that the central mystery, who the monster is at the centre of it all will already have been released and heavily trailed beforehand. We already knew it was the Cybermen. In some cases, the writer simply includes the villain from near the start and looks for something else to become the cliffhanger, as happened in Blood of the Daleks.

    In Human Resources, Eddie Robson took the other approach, which is to keep the reveal of the monster as his cliffhanger but to make the rest of the episode sufficiently intriguing for it not to matter and make said reveal actually quite secondary to the other mysteries on offer.

    Playing in from last week's cliffhanger, Lucie is being settled into her first day at work in an office in Telford and being given the usual random work that makes no real sense but still seems very important. I recently began watching The Office having somehow avoided it for many years. I'm only at the second episode but I can already see the many archetypes from my own experiences, especially the unfunny Brentian figures.

    There was one bloke in a place I worked once who was perfectly normal, nice even, until he saw me come in from lunch one day wearing a scarf and carrying a copy of Doctor Who Magazine and for the rest of the time I was there, some one and half years, he wouldn't let me pass by without singing 'Doctor Stu' to the tune of the hit by The Timelords. Did you see what he did there? So clever ...

    The first half of the first half of Human Resources perfectly captured the soulless banal unreality of the office, from the pointless data entry to the consistently bewildered personnel to sheer monotony. I was working in a call centre, so for obvious reasons we didn't have those announcements but their tone was exactly the same as the constant emails telling us not to be too loud in the staff room so as not to disturb the people working next door or that we needed to install some new piece of software that inevitably wouldn't work.

    The initial accuracy was important so that when the unreality began to seep through its grip was all the more shocking, all the talk of related to military strategy, of the very wrong kind of planning. That was the real success of the play, the seeping out of information, the constant reliance on mystery, on keeping the listener gripped by simply not revealing the important information when we wanted it.

    In the very worst drama, not naming anything featuring dinosaurs that appears on the ITV1 on a Saturday night, the audience is told everything they apparently need to know straight away. The linchpin mysteries of the series, exactly what is so special about Lucie Miller and who the Headhunter really is still haven't exactly been revealed at the end of the fifty minutes. There are new mysteries too - who were the lizards hiring the company for the clearance work?

    RobotThe concept of the giant anime- style mega-robots being controlled by this collective mind might be a new spin on an old concept but worked brilliantly for its sheer unexpectedness and the matter of fact way that Lucie took it in her stride. Although the chasm betweem what was apparent to workers inside and the actuality wasn't totally explained the idea that something that looks like a Transformer can be called Telford was a lovely idea.

    Shrewdly, Robson didn't keep all of his action in one place so that in the second half of the episode, the Doctor and Lucie were outside of the office attempting to discover more about what was happening. If Lucie's chat with the resistance fighters was pretty standard if slightly surreal material, the former's chat with Roy Marsden's Todd Albert was wonderfully menacing. Someone more clever than I am once said that what's terrifying about most evil that often it's perpetrated by the blandest of people and that's exactly the feel of Albert, so matter of factly talking about the annexing of planets as though he's simply sorting out a council planning application.

    Actually the clearest influence I could detect throughout the story and particularly at the end was Douglas Adams. There was Lucie and Karen being pushed out of the airlock by the security guard; said annexing of planets which felt like the work of the ancient planet of Magrathea if they had stopped building the planets from scratch and had instead been taking some advice from the Vogons; and the final moments when Todd Albert address potential clients was entirely reminiscent of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

    But the dialogue too echoed his witty dialogue; the headhunter's frustration at the system reminded me of Ford Prefect trying to deal with the ways of Earthmen, and I loved the moment when Todd said that aliens expected everyone on earth to talk like Del Boy and Rodney and then when offered a drink the Doctor returned with 'Lovely jubberly'. Some might criticize this version of the timelord's description of the time ring as a bit bling, but I think that simply reflects what happens when you spend a lot of time with someone else, you begin to pick up their linguistic quirks.

    Once again the performances were great across the board, from the rampant and random sleaziness of Owen Brenman's Gerry Cooper to listless vacancy of Louise Fullerton's Karen. I think this was the first play which didn't have a dull note. It's great to finally hear Kristina Olsen's headhunter given full range and it'll be a shame if she doesn't survive past the next episode or get the expected verbal tap dance with the Doctor. And as is customary, McGann and Sheriden lived up to the challenge and it' really would be a disappointment if this is the last story they share together (although next week's Beyond The Vortex will hint at the future). Not that I don't still miss India Fisher. Her voice over work on Masterchef isn't really a substitute.

    The final word must go to the Cybermen voices. Nice choice Nick. Taking a cue from The Tenth Planet but mixing it with the new sound they have just the right menace, but also a flexibility absent from that heard in the recent television series which generally couldn't sustain much beyond 'Delete...'

    Next week: I'll not be happy unless one of the Cybs says: "Excellent!" with a gutteral voice ...


    TV Paul Cornell currently has rather a good essay about canonicity on his blog: "Not giving a toss about how it all fits together is one of Doctor Who’s oldest, proudest traditions, a strength of the series. (And a No Prize to the person who points out the first ever continuity error in the original series.) It’s allowed infinite change, and never left the show crunched into a corner after all the dramatic options had already been done. Terrible continuity equals infinitely flexible format. It’s undefinability that results in that old ‘indefinable magic’. Much in the same way that there’s no one definition of what a ‘Doctor Who companion’ is that includes all of them, and so a new one can be whatever works."

    Personally I've decided that everything is canon. Yes, even Dimensions in Time and Death Comes To Time. They're all quirks of the process that time travel has on temporal continuity, dropping incidents in and out. They all happened, they're just been trodden on and shift in and out of history as it all tries to work itself out. Yes, even the Cushing movies. Why not?

    Meanwhile, Scott has written a rather lovely review of our blog here. Hey, Scott!

    Forgotten Films

    The Core (2003)

    If I have to include one big dumb Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster action adventure film in this list it has to be The Core. Now, I know that the definition of a forgotten film is certainly stretched when you're look at something on the order of a big dumb Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster action adventure film, but as it's surprisingly detailed but spoiler packed Wikipedia page indicates: "Despite being a big budget sci-fi flick in the vein of Armageddon, The Core flopped at the box office, earning only US$74 million worldwide. It failed to recoup production costs." Which means that less people have probably seen this film than most of anything else which is a good enough excuse for me.

    Oh yes, it's stupid, but gloriously so. Any film that opens with the crash landing of a space shuttle into that drained river in Los Angeles to show that Hilary Swank's astronaut, sorry, terranaut character is quite good with sums and can navigate the ship off the top of her head cannot claim to be anything other than a b-movie. The premise is ludicrous - the centre of the Earth has stopped and they burrow what amounts to a manned missile with the maneuverability of an Arriva bus into the centre of the Earth to kick start it again using nuclear explosion. Some of the exposition is far too complicated for its own good, making up science hither and thither none of which sounds at all plausible and makes Star Trek's technobabble look like textbook GCSE Physics.

    But, and this is a big BUT. It's just so damn entertaining. Transplanting the tone of Armageddon and Independence Day, no one seems to be taking this enterprise seriously and if they are it simply looks like spoofery on the order of Leslie Nielson in Airplane!, particularly the chiseled Aaron Eckhart who I always think looks a bit disappointed with life no matter the film he's in and Hilary Swank, bless her, three years out from Boys Don't Cry and still yet to make Million Dollar Baby. Her slate for the year was this and 11:14 (which is oddly enough also on this list and will appear later in the month) and I can't imagine what she was thinking as she had to act the shaking of whatever ship she happens to be piloting depending on the moment in the film.

    Towering above all is Stanley Tucci playing Zimski, the scientist who may well have caused the whole shebang, oscillating between villainy and heroism and channeling Dr Smith in the original series of Lost In Space. Of course this is another in a long line of gloriously immoral characters for Tucci but he seems to be having a rare old time here and it's no surprise that half the deleted scenes on the dvd are him improvising and goofing off: "Yes, yes, yes, yes, and what if the core is made of cheese? This is all best guess commander. That's all science is, is best guess." Oh and there's also Road Trip's DJ Qualls as a computer hacker who accepts the assignment but only if he can have an unlimited supply of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hot Pockets to help him concentrate.

    Recalling the Irwin Allen adventure films from the 1960s, the only bum note is the CG special effects, some of which, once the destruction of the major international landmarks (pictured) have passed, look fairly unspectacular as though the studio pulled some of the funding right at the last second so that they couldn't be quite finished properly. I suppose that could be considered part of its charm that indeed it just isn't perfect. But it doesn't need to be. As I described the film on here when I saw it not that long ago, "A group of scientists blast their ship through the Earth to restart its core sharing jokes and grim death along the way. How can a film so bad be so much fun?" I don't know, but it's best not ask too many questions. I know this was only three years ago, but they really don't make them like this any more and that's a shame.

    Links for 2007-02-10 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • Play.com (UK) : Russian Dolls
    My favourite film of last year that wasn't Clerks II is out on dvd...
  • Free Download A Day: Classic arcade games
    Asteroids, Pacman, Pong, Snake, Space Invaders, Frogger, Tetris and Hexxagon all in one place, with pretty close recreations of them all, complete with sounds. I'm really addicted to Hexxagon and Frogger.
  • Jane Espenson: Jokes that Play Hard to Get
    On writing really subtle cultural references and still make them funny.
  • John August: Sundance, expanded edition
    John blogs his Sundance experiences.
  • filmlog: En plein coeur (1998)
    Classy French thriller about a randy lawyer who sleeps with a young, ingenue client and then has to deal with her obsessive boyfriend. Does lose steam towards the end, but on the whole really rather entertaining.