"I'm splitting chickens."

Life Sorry if I'm a bit drowsy today but I watched Comic Relief almost to the bitter end last night which is as late as I've stayed up in months. It's a certain sign of age that even just watching television into the wee small hours leads to aches and a lack of focus the following day. Despite what the string of celebrities said throughout, I'm not sure it was the best ever relying a bit too much on running clips from the Little Britain stage show and the admittedly funny Catherine Tate material. There wasn't anything that scaled the heights of the sudden appearance of TFI Friday channel hopping or the first Celebrity Big Brother.

The highlights? Well The Apprentice was wildly amusing and curious in its stripping bare of personalities -- obviously there's a question of how much was staged, but it confirmed everything you probably thought about the celebrities -- that Piers Morgan is an oil slick with the cold dead stare of a killer ("If you don't buy a ticket, I will ring the Mirror tomorrow with information about your life which will have serious consequences for your future should you have one"), Alistair Campbell's portrayal in The Queen was spot on -- ruinous overconfidence -- and Trinny Woodhall is like a benevolent force of nature. I think Cheryl Cole probably surprised me the most -- she seemed to have a level of irony I wasn't expecting -- there was a wonderful look to camera when Trinny said she'd learnt her excercise techniques from a Russian trainer she stays with in Austria.

The low light's included the Borat material which managed to shock but seemed stilted and wasn't helped by a bewildred looking stuttering Graham Norton. I'm not sure what was going on with the magicians in the Paul O'Grady section and Fame Academy got it's usual short shrift at its climax after weeks of build up. Oh and the Mr Bean thing is getting a bit tired now isn't it? But really everyone will probably spend the next few months talking about Tony Blair's appearance. Did you ever think you'd see the man who runs to country doing that!?! Forget Iraq, that's going to be his legacy, endlessly repeated in biography programmes for years to come. Expect some wag in the commons to say 'Am I bovvered' to him by the end of the week.

Dumped at about two in the morning was a good contribution from Armando Ianucci in the style of Time Trumpet in which the history of Comic Relief was transmogrified into a hateful place filled with such weirdness as Jonathan Ross pissing on the audience and Chris Evans pushing the head of an audience member into a vat of acid. Despite the presence of Adam Buxton and Emma Thompson amongst the regulars it was fitfully funny, but what it did demonstrate was how over the years the show has drifted from in studio material to clips particularly in the early evening and a presentational style far closer to what might be expected from US cable telethons.

In days past the show was still resolutely about the comedy, whilst nowadays that tends to only fill about a third of the material with the rest of the running time being taken up by appeals and celebrity versions of well known shows. Mostly entertaining to be sure, but overall the effect is less funny than I remember. Before the production was resolutely introduced by comedians, the likes of French and Saunders who were naturally funny, whereas that's also changed to appearances by Davina McCall and (ugh) Kate Thornton who are very good at shouting into a microphone but are hardly a substitute for Griff Rhys Jones (who was absent for the first time ever last night -- Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were also awol perhaps for obvious reasons).

What hasn't changed though is the show's ability to highlight the state of British comedy at a certain point in time. Where once there was The Fast Show now we have Mitchell and Webb and The Mighty Boosh all dying on their arse in the studio by presenting material that was far too esoteric for the crowd -- not that they should feel too bad -- it happened to The League of Gentlemen last time. See also Russell Brand on his first presenting gig for the charity and by all accounts was the best of the night, turning his mistakes into comedy and lightly taking the piss out of the audience. Oh and Peter Kaye whose slot was far more inspired that the last with a studio filled with celebs and glorious juxtapositions -- I never thought I'd ever see Gary Wilmott, Dusty Bin and a be-kilted David Tennant in the same frame -- it looked like an illustrated guide to the history of Saturday night telly.

Links for 2007-03-16 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • Popjustice: So what's this new Mutya stuff like, then?
    "Absolute shit. We are joking, of course."
  • filmlog: Welcome To The Jungle (2003)
    Surprisingly entertaining genre experiment which is much cleverer than it looks. If some of the orientalism is a bit ill considered at least it features Walken in a silly hat, another sweet performance from Dawson and bags of charisma from The Rock.
  • Love Forgotten Films

    Film LoveFilm have a new collections feature and I've uploaded what I can of the forgotten films for ease of use.

    The Curse of the Fatal Death.

    TV For all of the humour, bad jokes and references that only a fan could get, what's amazing about The Curse of Fatal Death is that it still manages to feel like the real deal and in the dark days of the late nineties demonstrated to some of us that actually with a producer with a bit of imagination that a series could still be produced on a relatively low budget, making old style aesthetic a virtue. I suspect some money was spent to make those sets look cheap and it really works, particularly in the corridor sequence. And look thousands and thousands of Daleks half a decade before The Mill began rendering them!

    What killed the original series in the end wasn't ropey effects or cheap looking sets - it was the quality of writing and the ultimate torpedoing of the spirit of fun which had been at the forefront during the golden eras. But they're all back in Steven Moffat's script which would have fitted perfectly in the Graham Williams era which much to the chagrin of the hard-scfi fans was when the show was at its most popular.

    There are jokes but they're affectionate, playing on not only the general audience's assumptions about the series, but also on at the meta-level the fans assumptions of what the general audience's assumptions might be. But laced in there are references that only fans could get from calling the planet Tersurus and that this is the ninth incarnation (something that Lance Parkin apparently plays on in the final Eighth Doctor novel, The Gallifrey Chronicles, by saying that all three ninths, including REG and Mr. Eccleston are potentially canonical).

    The real genius of this apparent spoof is how straight it's all played. Rowan Atkinson's portrayal is far from a parody perfectly capturing all of the elements of the good timelord, with even the fart gag rendered with a modicum of excitement and grit. Jonathan Pryce's Master isn't that far from Anthony Ainley at his most scenery chewing and Julia Swahala, bless her, totally getting that the role of the companion is to care deeply for the Doctor in a variety of ways.

    The final few segments/episodes/whatever are the real tour de force though, presenting a succession of new Doctors, all of whom, with perhaps the exception of Jim Broadbent, would have been perfect Doctors demonstrating the maxim that anyone can play the Doctor in their own way. Richard E Grant notoriously hadn't seen an episode of Doctor Who before recording this and yet he's straight on point with the charisma as is Joanna Lumley proving that actually - the Doctor could be a woman.

    Of course before broadcast little was really known about what to expect and there was genius in the casting of these mini-incarnations, largely casting actors who had been rumoured as appearing in the role at one point or another. But watching Hugh Grant appear was totally unexpected and he's such a joy, completely convincing as the dying man. I think Steven Moffat lists it as one of his favourite moments in all of Doctor Who and he's right, in those few a moments are a universe of promise, you can absolutely see how heroic his portrayal would be. Heartbreaking - and at the end of as I said, an apparent spoof.

    I've always thought that my return to Doctor Who fandom was prompted by a trip to the exhibition in Llangolen, but it was probably this. It was Doctor Who as I remembered it being rather than the reality, filled to the brim with fun and not taking itself too seriously. I'm convinced that its success is what began the tiniest spark that led to its return and it would be a tragedy if it didn't show up on dvd at some point. Perhaps for next Red Nose Day.

    Links for 2007-03-15 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • filmlog: Panic Room (2002)
    Surprisingly conventional Hitchcock-wannabe from David Fincher that's gripping for much of its duration before losing its was in the third act. Mostly saved by the performances particularly from Jodie Foster who doesn't make enough films.
  • Behind the Sofa: Fart gags, sex swaps and non-fans.
    I don't know if it'll still look like that by Saturday but the special Red Nose Day 'look' is fantastic. Nice one Damon.
  • kottke.org is 9 years old today (kottke.org)
    Congratulations Jason. I hadn't realised it was so long...
  • johnaugust.com:The Big Red Cheese
    John's writing a 'Captain Marvel' film: "In my head, the movie’s called Captain Marvel, but for legal reasons, it will almost certainly be some variation on Shazam! [...] the hero isn’t a Captain, and doesn’t live in the Marvel universe."
  • Cinematical: Will 'Man Eating a Baby,' Other Scenes Get Grindhouse An NC-17?
    Once again the population of America are treated like children. Violence? Yes! Sex! Nooo!
  • "Still got my demons."

    Comics Buffy's back, jumping and kicking and thumping and thumping her way through the demon hoard just as she always did, the burden of her calling still sitting heavy on her shoulders, and this time she's back with her creator Joss Whedon, who's writing a whole new season of adventures for her and the gang. Most of the articles I've been reading online have begun with that kind of patter before dropping the revelation that it's not on television - but a -- get this -- a comic -- before increasing the level of surprise by indicating how good it is! Well of course it's good.

    This isn't of course the first time Buffy: The Vampire Slayer's appeared in comic book form - even when the series was on air, Dark Horse Comics was publish tie-ins, but along with the novels these leapt into the gaps in the series, between episodes, between seasons, before the slayer's story began, even rewriting the plot of the movie to fit television continuity. But even since the show went off air, unlike some other rudderless franchises, have rarely ventured past the final episode.

    Which is why this new series is special - it's effectively Season Eight, the continuation and more importantly it's 'canonical' - in other words it's just as important to the continuity as Buffy's death then resurrection and the cheese man. But cleverly, the story here is a natural extension of the tv series, extrapolating the aftershocks of that final episode on some time instead of simply producing more of the same, pitching up the Scoobies in Cleveland for more of the same until that town becomes a crater as well.

    Instead, Buffy has become the leader of an army of slayers, grouped throughout the world, fighting the good fight wherever it may be. She's no longer the chosen one, but it's her experience that makes her special, having dealt with the undead longer than anyone. But she's perhaps even more isolated than ever, her friends scattered, with only Xander and her sister Dawn around from the old days.

    Unsurprisingly given Whedon's superlative run on Astonishing X-Men he's been able to translate the saga to the page and at no point does this first adventure The Long Way Home feel like a tv script dropped into comic frames. He takes full advantage of the form allowing each turn of the page to reveal some new surprise of revelation, more often than not in the reveal of an old friend and showing what's happened to them in the intervening time. Some are touching, others are just plain hilarious but that classic Whedon technique of combining the funny with the tragedy is all present and correct.

    As is the characterization - the man knows his protagonists inside and out and even a figure like Dawn, who I've never felt has been captured quite right off the screen is just perfect here despite her predicament. Xander's grown up a bit but still retains some of his goofiness -- but the star, just it should be, is Buffy the crack of light and dark evident in her words. Cleverly, their goodness, leading what amounts to a kind of feminist version of The Initiative, the evil government authority that appeared in fourth season of the tv series, is played off against that very organisation. It's the usual array of scientists and military men and it'll be interesting to see the two groups jutting up against one another as the story progresses.

    Of course the script my still work if there were stick men (and women) across the pages but thankfully this project as the team of Georges Jeanty (pencils), Andy Owns (tracer) and Dave Stewart (colours). Rather than trying to create likeness of the actors - a risky strategy that usually fails in projects like this, what feature instead are comic book versions of the characters, providing something of the flavour of them without it seeming, well, wrong. The action sequences work particularly well and have a good sense of movement - I wonder how they're going to deal with the vamps.

    If the story doesn't quite scale the heights of the tv series yet (a criticism I've seen in more than one place online) it's because it's early days and Joss understands that you have to build towards and earn the big dramatic emotional moments. The television series, even in the less appealing sixth season, was carefully paced in the minutest detail and that's exactly what's happening here. I was reading my copy in Starbucks and couldn't stop myself from yelping throughout and particularly at the shocker of a climax even though I was in a public place.

    Welcome back Buffy.

    Links for 2007-03-14 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • Newsweek Comics: Captain America, 1941-2007
    "Stan Lee and Marvel Comics’s Joe Quesada contemplate Captain America's surprising death." Lee seems slightly bewildered to be asked about the affair and doesn't seem sure of the character's origin...
  • Where Did It All Go Right?: 'Not Going Out' wins Royal Television Society Award
    Yeah! Andrew Collins and Lee Mack's brilliant sitcom gets some of the recognition it deserves.
  • Joss Stone Thank You
    The acknowledgments for the new album are so long they've been posted online instead. To be honest, Joss and I parted company when she said the first 2 albums aren't very good even though they're clearly better than the average new single.
  • Belle de Jour: So much to say, so little space.
    The woman who in the past told us everything, suddenly can't say anything at all.
  • blogjam: Tripe
    Fraser attempts a recipe: "To be quite frank, it’s disgusting. It has the texture of mucus. Or glue. And it tastes like decomposing leek."
  • paidContent.org: Bravo Makes First Media Buy Of Its Own: Acquires TelevisionWithoutPity.com
    Is nothing sacred?
  • filmlog: Caddyshack (1980)
    In general a grimly unamusing and dated comedy whose only light is Bill Murray's grounds keeper. I'm not sure quite why my impression (I laughed once) is so divorced from the critical reaction, but Rodney Dangerfield?!? Really!?!
  • filmlog: Oldboy (2003)
    Fairly horrifying but compulsive revenge thriller which precisely demonstrates how behind the rest of the world Hollywood is in relation to filmmaking technique. What it lacks in narrative focus it more than makes up for in sheer artistry.
  • filmlog: Strangers on a Train (1951)
    Classic bit of Hitchcock from the period before he began to favour character intricacies over plot. What's particularly surprising is the dark humour that reaches through film, particularly in relation to the murder at its centre.
  • filmlog: The Decline of the American Empire (1986)
    It's the French 'Big Chill' with less plot more talk. And what talk! This essays enough promiscuity to fill ten other movies and it's just hilarious. But my favourite moment is the opening shot, a long drawn out push-in through the hallway.
  • filmlog: The Barbarian Invasions (2004)
    Unlike other reunion sequels manages to be its own story without necessarily compromising what went before. Extraordinary performance from Rémy Girard as the cancer victim whose decline broke my heart. Just sublime.
  • filmlog: Full Metal Jacket (1987)
    Repeats many of the problems with Kubrick's films, such as poor structuring leading to a lack of empathy with the characters. The film is best in the opening hour in the training camp; once it reaches Vietnam there's nothing we haven't seen before.
  • filmlog: The Queen (2006)
    Absolutely brilliant film totally deserving of all of its awards -- Michael Sheen was robbed at the Oscars. Interesting to see that the archive footage was researched and collated by Adam Curtis maker of 'The Power of Nightmares' and 'The Trap'.
  • filmlog: Bubble (2006)
    It could be argued that this is playing the same aesthetic games here as with 'The Good German' but its still a very impressive piece of work given that most of the dialogue was improvised and it was almost shot Dogme-style. Rewarding.
  • Liverpool Blogs

    Liverpool Life I suppose the cat is out of the bag. Prompted by a conversation with Ian and Pete the other night, and inspired by Kate, I've set up a new blog dedicated to highlighting the Liverpool blogging scene. I've called it Liverpool Blogs and I don't think there's anything like it in the area yet other than a page at the Liverpool Echo covering the writers in their network.

    The real focus is the blogroll, trying to make that as comprehensive as possible, and for now the main content will be driven by introducing each of the blogs in turn and highlighting some of there content. I'm somewhat in uncharted waters and don't know were it could lead but fingers crossed and I hope it will develop into something really useful and inspiring.

    Links for 2007-03-13 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • Metro.co.uk: £100,000 Banksy painted over
    Idiots. Although to be fair could anyone be able to tell the difference if they were just shown a photo?
  • AlterNet: MediaCulture: Just Call Me Mike: A Journey from Actor to Activist
    "Actor Mike Farrell, best known for his role as Captain B.J. Hunnicutt in the popular TV-series M.A.S.H., reflects on his path from fame to progressive activism."
  • TIME: Firefighters Union Assails Giuliani
    "One of the nation's largest firefighters' unions has accused Republican Presidential contender Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, of committing "egregious acts" against firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."
  • Talk This Way

    Music I've done my bit for Comic Relief. Bought the Red Nose. Bought the single. Yes, the single. Sugababes Vs Girl's Aloud Walk This Way won't rank as one of the great classics (no really?) but compared to some of the cover versions that have been released in the name of charity at least it's fairly catchy and offers the chance to hear Amelle from the 'Babes rapping which at the end of the pop year will probably be listed as one of the oddest yet strangely seductive sounds heard -- sounds like she had a cold. Now about watching the actual programme...

    Fried Chicken

    Liverpool Life I spent this evening at the FACT centre attending a public progress report for the Paradise Project, the big dig and restructuring work that's taking place in Liverpool of late which will result in a massive increase in the commercial, business and leisure facilities in the city centre. I wasn't the only member of the Liverpool blogging fraternity in attendance -- Ian from Art and Culture In Liverpool and Pete from Vanillia Days were also there to see what the contractors, Grosvenor had to say.

    Apparently only a third of the expected audience appeared which is a shame because although sections did have a whiff of an architectural conference (particularly a cute moment when one of the managers of the project became very enthusiastic about the stone being deployed in one of the buildings) it was a very positive experience which even manage to somehow persuade even this cynic that it was all going to be worth it.

    The upshot the project will be somewhat like that which was achieved in Birmingham around the Bullring area and in Cardiff's waterfront although in what seems like a much larger scale. The aim of the project was to retain it within the tone of the existing city and so rather than creating one giant shopping mall divorced from the existing shopping area, this is to be essentially a remake of the existing neighbourhood in keeping with the fabric of the place, attempting finally to unify the waterfront and business quarters with the city centre.

    Many slides were shown of how old areas will look renewed and how new shopping areas featuring traditional names will be springing up. Some very innovative shopping units are to be installed with many new shapes of stairs and escalators and lifts taking people between then. Wonderfully, one relief featuring the new version Chervase Park looked like something from The Jetsons. Of course it's not difficult to offer it as yet another example of the homogenization of the city centre, of every city essentially having the same high street chain stores, but to see that the shopping experience I've traveled to enjoy will be on the doorstep (assuming I don't ironically find a job elsewhere) is pretty exciting. I mean a Wagamamas a bus ride away. Yeh!

    The conference and arena centre looks particularly impressive and is apparently already booked up for years even though it hasn't even been completed yet. Liverpool has really lacked for a decent venue for many years and suddenly within six months there will be the potential that big stadium music acts will be plying their trade within walking distance (theoretically) of home. No more dolefully looking at the The Guide and noting that yet again the likes of Alanis are skipping our company.

    My only reservation is the extent to which all of this benefits local people. There will apparently be 4-5000 new jobs available in the area, but the vast majority of there are in the cleaning and service industries, precisely the economic bracket that won't be able to afford to shop in what were highlighted as designer retailers. This is a repeat of a problem, which has been highlighted in economic models since the nineties and it's a disappointment that it'll potentially be repeated here.

    In addition, lip service could be made about the millions of pounds of investment that are being spent in a relatively small area when there are deprived areas of the city that are slowly rotting. Whilst I understand that raising our financial profile has remunerations that might eventually seep into the local economy, some thought could have been given to making sure that everyone understands the benefits upfront and the best way to do that would have been to spread some of the investment wider than the city centre so that it doesn't look like a lot of money is being spent to benefit a proportionally smaller percentage of the people. But as I said I'm convinced and I can't wait to see what this new area of Liverpool looks like in the stone.

    [For the interested, about the only presentation disaster this evening was the music that accompanied the publicity videos. There was a really exciting time lapse film of buildings springing up all over the building site which begged for a bit of Wagner but was instead escorted by something my own notes described as 'a cheesy 80s synthesizer mistake' but really it was more like Paddy Kingsland from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop had drunk a few too many bottles of wine at the departmental party, broken into the office in the wee smalls and tried to rerecord a John Michel Jarre track with his eyes closed and his face leaning against the keyboard.

    The other was the final 'hard sell' video, a flashing CG info burst which whizzed about to the tune of Queen's One Vision (because the finished product will be called Liverpool One - see what they did there?). Yes, it sounded dated and clich├ęd and some people were walking out (except me -- I waited for the bit when Freddy shouts 'fried chicken'). Not that they were necessarily walking out because of the music -- it could have been the lure of free drinks available afterwards. But if they were going to use a Queen track, why not 'We Will Rock You' or 'Heaven for Everyone'?]


    TV SFX's blog has a transcript of offcuts from the interview that's published in this month's issue. I like what he says about the annual: "It’s that important to do, to keep the consistency. It’s like when you were a kid you used to buy those famous old Doctor Who annuals that were so mad, and disconcerting, and you wouldn’t sit there on Christmas Day going, ‘Hurray! What a marvellous annual!’ I mean, they were mad!

    "You wanted pages full of Daleks and Cybermen and secrets of the TARDIS and things like that. And I don’t think the annual was good enough this year, to be honest - they had a reprinted comic strip in. This year they’re not going to get away with that I hope, we’ve been sending off memos. It was a lovely piece of work and it made the headlines cos it outsold The Beano; nonetheless - not good enough. The annual was good, but it could get better. "

    Links for 2007-03-11 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • Wikipedia: Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car
    Complete list of celebs who've taken part in the popular Top Gear segment. Just the sort of thing the wikipedia was made for.
  • the f-word: High School girls suspended for saying “vagina”
    It's not clear why the school took the decision to ban that word in particular, and exactly what word the teacher is supposed to say in biology class when the subject is taught. I'm not sure that pointing is appropriate.
  • Advertising Age: Hachette Axes Another U.S. Title: 'Premiere'
    Very sad. 'Premiere' was frequent buyer until I had the internet inspired cull, but for ages it was the only way in the uk to hear about US films months in advance. In you are in the US, I'd suggest you subscribe to Sight & Sound as an alternative.
  • BFI | Sight & Sound | The International Film Magazine
    Don't get me wrong, its style and content is a million miles away from Premiere but I think the breadth of coverage is somewhat similar. Premiere is apparently continuing as an online brand which seems like a sop to me. Look what happened to the still much missed 'Yahoo Internet Life!'
  • Kristine Lowe: France bans non-journalists from recording acts of violence
    Essentially makes the distinction between someone who's being paid to be a journalist and the rest of us -- so basically the Rodney King film would be illegal under these terms. Nice one, very progressive.
  • Slashdot: 20 Must-have Firefox Extensions
    Link to a computerworld article brings many great user suggestions. Although given that my install got so bunged up I had to start from scratch I'm not sure how many are all that necessary.
  • IGN: SXSW 07: Linklater's Next DVD
    One of Richard Linklater's forgotten films, Suburbia is to be released on dvd. I managed to grab a pan/scan copy later at night last year and can really recommend it for its laid back approach to everything.
  • Down The Tubes: Writing Commando: The Ten Year Veteran
    Sean Blair writes about working anonymously for ten years on 'Commando' the action war comic that always seem to be available although you're never sure who's reading it.
  • Jayne's World: Among other things, an embarrassing confession (please cover your eyes if you're musically sensitive)
    "Also saw Claire Danes in my local Tesco. We both did a double take and then walked on." The most famous person I've seen in my local Tesco was Sonia from The Hit Factory which isn't quite the same thing.
  • Pointed Opinions

    Film About two years ago I signed up to That's What I Think, a survey website. Although it's name sounds like a radio phone in show from one of the angry radio channels, what actually happens is that periodically they send by email a questionnaire on a telling subject and after answering their question you're assigned 'opinion points' which when collected together over time can be turned into shopping vouchers for Amazon, CD-WOW or Firebox.

    The surveys I've generally received have been about uk cinema releases -- what films I can remember are in general release and which on their list I'd actually want to go and see. It makes for depressing reading and I'm sure there are a couple that are outright fiction given that I've never heard of the actors or the title but it's possible they're just going 'under the radar'. This time about the only worthy thing on the list was Stephen Soderbergh's The Good German. There's a very fallow period ahead.

    I thought it was another transparent dangling carrot but today I made my first £10 voucher. It took two years of course, but it does prove with patience you can get something (sort of) for nothing. The reason I'm boring you with this is because they inevitably have a referral system, were if I send them the email address of people who want to join, when those people do surveys I get a kick back.

    Unsurprisingly, this sounds like a very good thing for somebody but I don't really want to just randomly send out emails unless I think the person is interested and will want to take part. So essentially if this is something you think you'd be interested in doing, let me know and I'll send you the sign up email. The only rule is that you have to be in the UK ...