Amusingly sweary

The Flying Doctors comes to dvd.
I've had one of those days were time just seems to disappear from under you and it's suddenly eight in evening and you're not sure exactly what you did with your day. I'm about to watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford which I'm very excited about, though it's so humid this evening I'll be lucky to reach the end without dozing, probably.

Dirty pretty thing
Amusingly sweary interview with Keira Knightley, who I still think has done her best work out of period costume. As I noted way back in 2006, when asked by potential director John Maybury why she should appear in his film The Jacket, she replied: "If I don't make this film I'll be stuck in corsets for the rest of my career." It didn't really work did it, duchess?

Ben Affleck tones down the love for Barack Obama
I do find it interesting that there's a correlation between the actors I like and their political persuasion. To be honest though, the best thing about this linked article is the photograph, in which Ben is surprised by a cellotape machine going on the offensive.

a veep debate fantasy
Meanwhile, marbury is speculating on what the Biden/Palin televisual verbal smackdown will look like and includes a brilliant clip from the Bentsen/Quayle contest in which the latter is demolished by the former, though it's a salient reminder that the best VP candidate in the world isn't going to swing and election. Also: John McCain Only Met Sarah Palin Once!

Please, people, not another four years

Geoffrey Perkins, the former BBC TV head of comedy has died in a road accident in London.
That is really, really tragic. Perkins was the producer of the first Hitchhikers radio series as well as being involved with pretty much all of the best television comedy since then.

Ever Decreasing Circles
We've only recently lost John Esmonde too. Here's a lengthy analysis of his finest half hours.

This Hillary Democrat won't vote for Palin
As one Egon Spendler said: “This could be extraordinarily bad.” The problem with new Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin is that she has the appearance of being horrendously inoffensive (though not the politics), which perhaps makes her about the most offensive (in both senses of the word) thing that party could have done. They’re clearly desperate to suck the disillusioned Hilary supporters under her event horizon and some will be caught in her wake (despite the whiff of scandal). And here’s the thing I don’t understand -- that there may well be people who profess to be Democrats yet will vote for this other party, the very party which brought the rest of us in the world George Bush for eight years, simply because they’ve picked some woman who to be fair has nothing in common with Senator Clinton other than her gender and a lack of baggage, even though it was the very baggage and experience which made their ideal candidate interesting and useful in the first place [somewhat via].

If Obama Loses it's because of racism
But then I can’t understand why anyone would look at McCain then Obama and then pick the man who doesn’t know how many houses he owns simply because he's in the same age group and white. McCain's actually campaigning on a promise of change. Well, yes, there'll be a different man in the White House but will you or we really be able to tell the difference? Please, people, not another four years, the rest of the world, particularly the environment couldn’t take it. I'm a staunch Liberal Democrat and proud of it or hadn't you already noticed?

Is blogging dead?
I think it's changed. I think bloggers are far more aware now that they're using a communication tool and have often changed their style accordingly. I also think that there are less people taking their fingers to the keyboard rather than picking up a camera or microphone but I also think that to an extent that the quality of the writing has improved too. Plus this Metafilter thread on a certain subject shows signs of life.

The unpredictable way that useful emails arrive makes checking for them as addictive as slot machines.
Great piece from Suw about how email now commands our lives.

Giving My Sport A Bad Name
Keith Topping quite rightly calls out a Mirror tv reviewer who sarcastically refers to the BBC's apparent 'celebration of mediocrity' and fundamentally misses the point that a relay team coming fourth in the olympics is still better than coming twentieth.

Serious Macy's Shoppers

Caligula's sex and excess is bizarre and depressing
Having attempted to watch this in the late 90s when Channel 4 showed the cut version, I can only imagine that the full version is horrendous. And I agree, having oddly enough watched the I, CLAVDIVS version tonight, that John Hurt's interpretation is scary and superior.

Google Workplace
Mork calling Orson. Come in Orson.


I've had a letter...

I am absolutely loving the Hamlet blog - the play happens to be my personal favourite so it's nice to see the Dane finally gets a blog where he can vent (or I can catch up on various versions of the show). I'm sure you're well versed on all of the Hamlet variations currently available but I did want to mention that the company for which I work is running a competition for two free tickets to Factory's presentation of Hamlet at Shakespeare's Globe Theater at midnight (the very witching time of night, perhaps?) on September 6th. It sticks to the script by only uses props provided by the audience and each cast member can play multiple roles - and which actor plays which character is decided upon by the audience as well. Should be quite interesting, I'm really looking forward to it!

If you'd like some more information about the show and the competition, you can see a listing here:

Otherwise, I look forward to more blogging!

Thanks Meaghan. Hope the show goes well for you and the audience. More reviews coming soon, I promise!

Escape Velocity.

EvBooks  Pity Colin Brake, or at least the 2001 version of him.  Writing his first novel, he’s commissioned to cap off one of the most experimental and interesting story arcs in the series’s history, finally answering the question of what will happen in St. Louis when the Doctor (and we) meets Fitz for the first time in a hundred years (or half a dozen novels) and doesn’t know him then send the time lord back into the vortex with his old companion and a much publicised new addition and also following Father Time, an instant classic and one of the best stories the franchise has produced in any medium.  Pity him, and then wonder …

The ‘stranded on Earth’ arc has by and large been very entertaining.  Bits of The Turing Test might have been incoherent and as is often the case in Doctor Who some of the climaxes of the novels haven’t quite lived up to the promise of the preceding pages, but we’ve seen a largely coherent description of the passage of time and its effect on our favourite albeit debilitated timelord.  It’s been most interesting to see the Doctor thread himself into society, to gather friends and allies and we ended Father Time on a note of optimism and the impression that to be frank, the Doctor had got his shit together and though still not completely in control of his faculties looking forward to seeing the decade out in the knowledge that it’s going to be alright, just wait and see.  In Escape Velocity, Brake largely ignores all that and decides that since this may be the only Doctor who novel he ever writes, he’s going to tell the story he wants and basically pays lip service to everything else.  In other words, wall wait just there whilst I piss up you.

I should say that for much of the time the novel is at least readable, even if its taken a good two weeks to read it, for reasons related to bitter resentment.  The story, in which members of an alien race having crash landed on Earth motivate rival earth scientists in developing manned missions into space so that they can liaise with their fleet and argue the case for invasion or not, isn’t bad and offers a decent literal space race, suitably tipping its hat at the rivalry across the iron curtain of Wernher von Braun in the US and Sergey Korolyov back in the USSR.  The slightly dull Kulan are probably the alien type this kind of story requires -- like the Stoans in Voyage of the Damned, just human enough for us to see that they don’t all have the same point of view.  It’s the kind of romp which is the franchise’s stock in trade and has been done far worse elsewhere.  But why does it have to be so determined to be a romp with dozens of characters and yet another Star Trek-lite space battle when a quest story with a personal angle would have been so much more appropriate? 

The meeting in St. Louis, could have been at the climax of the novel and a more thoughtful approach would have made it what the novel is about -- perhaps making the time and place a ticking clock with both Fitz and the Doctor held up for some reason and fighting to get there for their rendezvous which they both do at the last minute or to make it really interesting not -- only to actually enter each other’s company due to an amusing coincidence related to the fact that whatever they’ve been doing is linked.  Instead, Brake has the Doctor take over a bar in London, rename it St. Louis and sit in the back brooding for some months until Fitz stumbles through the door which he inevitably does at the appointed time, even though actually travelling to Missouri is the more logical option.  Then, the much signposted, much awaited reunion is curtailed in favour of the aforementioned two hundred pages worth of running around only to transpire about two pages before the end and in an ill advised homage to An Unearthly Child.  Hardly The Stolen Earth is it?  I’m clearly falling into the trap of reviewing what’s not there, but after all the build up, we’re desperate for a story about the Doctor’s search for identity, whereas moments, such as realisation that he is a time traveller are thrown away in a sentence or two.

You want to be seeing the Doctor coming to terms with the fact that his extended stay on Earth should soon be at an end and his optimism at what may lay ahead, that his quest for knowledge will continue in time and space as he resumes his journey through the cosmos, finally able to see the sights that he‘s been reading about at The British Library all of these decades.  Instead, Brake decides to unnecessarily shoehorn in the character of Control, previously seen in two past Doctor novels on the assumption that there is a cross over in readership and who I had absolutely no knowledge of.  He apparently appeared in The Devil Goblins From Neptune and The King of Terror, but from what I’ve seen he’s hardly a well loved character; compare all this with the cameo of Iris in Father Time which was done with some humour.  The problem is that were not really told who Control is, he doesn’t seem to have much to do with the main story and you hardly miss him when he’s gone.  The sub-plot has the look, feel and chemical properties of padding and I spent much of it trying to square it with the character that Stephen Fry played in A Bit of Fry & Laurie.  You can’t help but feel that if Paul Magrs had been writing the book it would indeed have been the character that Stephen Fry played in A Bit of Fry & Laurie

To an extent, such expectations are born of our collective change in presumption as to what Doctor Who should be doing and how story arcs these days do have an epic though emotional quality.  But this was being written at the same time that the audio Neverland was being recorded so there was already evidence that the franchise was already sailing its 'ships into uncharted waters.  If anything in the preceding forty or so novels had done anything its to emphasise the mythic qualities of the character and the stories and here both are in short supply.  Though its interesting to see him and Anji entering the TARDIS together, the Doctor and companion having largely the same reaction to its scale for the first time, it's on their way to save Fitz and planet Earth from the Kulan.  Their next reaction?  To have cup of tea and sit down and a chat about what to do next.  Yes, the TARDIS can sit in the vortex for days before doing something, but this is supposed to be the same man who stole a space shuttle to save his daughter in the previous book!  Miranda doesn’t even warrant a mention by the way.  Brake’s simplistic characterisation of the Eighth Doctor seems based on a recent viewing of the TV Movie more than anything else and lacks any of the depth injected by the likes of Parkin, Miles, Orman, Blum and Magrs in their version.  In places too he seems to be channelling First as though amnesia automatically leads to befuddlement. 

Milly Brake is far more comfortable when bending his breezy if sometimes grammatically incoherent style around the supporting characters.  Fitz is pretty well described, though now he's conveniently developing amnesia too.  There’s a quite wonderful journey through gender politics when a female scientist whose superior position on a team is torpedoed when the Doctor strides in and takes over and a figure like science fiction fan Dave, which could so easily have been a stereotype has very real world concerns, not least in keeping his girlfriend on side and taking her to Brussels does strike a chord as the kind of boneheaded thing some like him (or us to be fair might do).  Said girlfriend and new companion Anji, though created by series editor Justin Richards, has a good start here, as she slowly realises that everything her boyf has been saying about aliens is true and a certain quote from Hamlet pretty much covers everything.  It helps that at launch time, Richards very particularly publicised that she was inspired by actress Amita Dhiri, or rather he character Milly, from the iconic 90s sex in the chambers drama This Life, so for once we’ve someone in mind and it's often pretty amusing to imagine that often dower figure hurling bricks at windows and the like.  She's a neat, useful addition and a brilliant contrast to Fitz, Sam and Compassion.

But the rest?  Sweet Jehoshaphat.

"I don't know why Y didn't come..."

The Sugababes: does intra-band tension create the best music?
Thesis -- that the babes have been getting worse the more they've become chummier. "Certainly the music that former members Mutya Buena and Siobhan Donaghy made after their departures from the group, suggests that they took the creative spark with them."

Joss-sticks increase cancer risk: Official
I was a scented cone man myself.

US Presidential Campaign Videos
I was asked who Obama's running mate was last night at a pub quiz. I've spent so long calling him Leo Mcgarry, I couldn't remember the name Joe Biden. It's art imitating life, life imitating art. Though hopefully not, at least for Biden or a power plant, if you see what I mean.

Lord Mayor flies Olympic flag
"The Lord Mayor of Liverpool will help get the official preparations for London 2012 underway this weekend by hoisting the Olympic flag from the roof of the Town Hall."

The Asda Story Item Mall Now Open for Business
Brand confusion for those of us in the UK

Blake's 7 Returns, Red Dwarf Rumored Next
Just so long as it's as funny as Season 7.

Shakespeare’s Globe to release music through own label
Record label name almost a Daily Show reference.

Finally, following on from last night's review:

"There's nothing wrong with the Blueberry Pie, just people make other choices. You can't blame the Blueberry Pie, it's just... no one wants it."

Film On release a few months ago, Wong Kar-wai’s My Blueberry Nights received a fair few mixed reviews -- many were beguiled by it, but the same criticisms did seem to crop up -- that it lacked substance, that Wong’s style was compromised in its translation to the west and that the performances are contrived with Norah Jones in particular not showing much promise. I can see those points of view -- it isn’t quite as mysterious or oblique at the director's other work, he doesn’t seem to be playing to some of his strengths as he tries to capture American culture and Jones does melt into the background.

Yet it’s a beautiful, luminous, beguiling experience, precisely the kind of film which works best late on a Friday night, when you’re tired but too wired on caffeine to go to sleep, replete with images and incidents of the kind which stay in the memory the following morning, making you grin or shudder. Even as I sit writing this, moments swim through the chemicals in my brain, the kiss which wipes the ice cream from her lips, the pile of returned postcards, the final drink, the celebration of the final drink, the toast, the loss, the win, the to-let sign and I’m mellowing in a way which only really happens after a cocoa and a Madeleine Peyroux album.

Wong’s never been much for complex stories, preferring instead to concentrate on the wreckage of relationships, and that continues here. Jude Law’s Mancunian New York café owner is surprised when a bedraggled Norah Jones appears at his door trying to confirm the infidelity of her boyfriend. Over successive nights she visits and he eventually authenticates the awful truth, then provides solace in the blueberry pie and ice cream which are always left over at the end each day. Before long and before he can tell her how he’s come to feel about her, Norah’s well enough to drift off into an odyssey across America, becoming involved with a spousal dispute in Memphis then a professional gambler in Vegas, keeping Jude abreast of her thoughts and feelings and learning experiences via postcards.

It’s a film about addicts; people who are hooked on solitude and pain, to alcohol and cards, to learning and lying. It’s also not the kind of film for people who like solid copper bottom plots with a beginning, middle and end and a watertight life lesson along the way. It is a road movie, but the destination is contentment. It’s a portemanteau film but with a central character gaining an education but not learning anything she didn’t already know. There are no easy answers, no pat conclusions and like most of Wong’s other films you’re seeing a slithers of some lives, but not everything, you don’t really know these people any better by the end than you did from the first of its ninety minutes.

The reason that Norah Jones doesn’t stand out is that she shouldn’t. Elizabeth’s the kind of person people can talk to, who only now and then has a sense of purpose when she’s pushed to it. Jones's performance is of the kind you’d find in independent cinema in the 90s, not desperately showy, rather naturalistic but with bags of emotion hidden behind the eyes. Sullen for much of the film, it lights up when she smiles, making those occasions explode with emotion. It is true though, that it improves as the film progresses and you might wonder if Wong shot in order, since she clearly finds confidence in the other performers, sparring best with Natalie Portman’s gambler towards the climax. It's intelligent and even better than some actresses who're making their living in the profession.

It is a great cast, though also a ramshackle one. As the warring couple, Strathern is a reliable drunk and Rachel Weisz introduces us to another of her American accents with a focused unpredictability. It’s been suggested that the rest struggle, that perhaps Law and Portman are miscast, but I’ve never really understand what that means in this kind of context. True, if Vin Diesel had played the café owner there might have been a problem, and though Law’s accent wanders like a pissed student trying to work back to the station down Oxford Road in Manchester, he’s able to communicate a kind of guileful tenacity masking loss and loneliness. Similarly, I think this is some of Portman’s best work -- she’s maturing into a great actress and it’s a genuine surprise to find that face gregariously commanding a poker table, only revealing her vulnerability when it best suits her cause.

Two elements of the film‘s style stand out. It’s also one of the best uses of popular music I’ve seen lately in film; the director repeats music within the same vignettes, most clearly when Jude Law is searching for Norah; the repeated opening piano steps of Cat Power’s The Greatest signalling his longing over and over. Wong’s new cinematographer Darius Khondji largely continues the look developed in previous films, with our view of the characters often blocked by furniture or writing on a window pain, only opening out as the film heads off into the desert and a familiarly Fordian landscape, perhaps signalling Jones's emotional freedom. But it’s the jerky effect created through hand cranking during filming which is the most revealing, allowing us glimpses into the souls of the characters, still images dropped in during motion revealing to us the very thoughts they're desperate to hide.

Magic. Excitement. Some nudity.

George Lucas is lining his wallet once more and rereleasing both trilogies in new boxes. The reaction at the Amazon review pages is suitably hostile. For I, II & III: "A new box doesn't make these films any better, George. Nice try. There is nothing new in this set folks, so don't bother."

For IV, V, VI, the prose is even more florid: "Why isn't the 1997 Special Edition on DVD?! Wasn't it supposed to be "George Lucas' definitive vision"?! Now he has YET ANOTHER vision of the Original Trilogy?! Why didn't he make the prequels fit the Original Trilogy, instead of butchering the originals?! Weren't we told that he was releasing the first versions of Episodes IV, V and VI back in 1995 "one last time"?! But no, now he's releasing the versions he said would never again see the light of day, and what he said was the finished product is not available on DVD. I guess the word "logic" is not part of Lucas' vocabulary..."

Lush Sees Link Between Naked Backsides & Packaging
I've been trying to imagine this happening in Liverpool.

Meltdown expected
Andrew Collins offers a textual analysis of the reworking of a popular music track which happened during the Olympic party yesterday: "Are Scouting For Girls really so witless as to think singing a song about a nuclear attack on London would be appropriate for what is a celebration of London ideally not being attacked? (Were they trying to be punk rock and dangerous? If so, then why change the words?)"

Doctor Who Quiz
How many titles can you name in five minutes?

Kat has a nice encounter. Reminds me of my own adventure.

Dell May Be Signaling New Type of Innovation WIth Lattitude-On
"The basic idea of the new Latitude is that the machine will have a second ARM based processor and Linux operating system along side the standard Intel processor and Windows OS. This machine within a machine will provide a super fast, lightweight, battery friendly environment for doing things like email, web browsing, and perhaps other communications tasks. It will be “instant on”, so you will always be able to get to your basic functionality, and yet you will get a battery life measured in days and not hours when in this mode."

Finally! The Daily Mail admits what I already know. This is NOT a revenge blog
Justice is served.

Spooks stars in city band's debut video

"Having played at the real-life wedding of two of the stars of BBC 1's Spooks, Miranda Raison and Raza Jaffrey, the band called in a favour and asked the duo the help them create a hostile reception as part of the plot."

150 Olympic Images.
Magic. Excitement. Some nudity.

Analog Meets Its Match in Red Digital Cinema's Ultrahigh-Res Camera
The next generation of hi-def camera. Four times more powerful than that used on the Star Wars prequels and the first to have depth of focus features.

Robin Hood in Queens
"The relocation gives the library a more central role in the school's daily rhythms. The library's curvilinear wall affirms its unique status within the school; its variously sized inhabitable windows operate like the cutouts in a construction fence, providing selected views from the ground-floor hallway and cafeteria. "

I'm inconsolable as always at the close of these Olympics.

Sport If our hyped eight minutes of the Olympic closing ceremony were meant to offer a taste of what our life is like in modern Britain these days, it pretty much succeeded. It does piss down, we do spend a hell of a lot of time waiting at bus stops and when we do try and get on board the way is blocked by school kids and the sound of Leona Lewis blasting out from the speaker on a mobile phone or Led Zeppelin from an ipod and there'll inevitably be someone kicking a football around on the top deck. That is of course the cynical view of something which couldn't please everyone and has obviously been carefully thought out, and the opening of the top deck of the bus was very eye-catching as was the violin player. I just wasn't dazzled. When Armando Ianucci mentioned on Radio 4's Charm Offensive last week that David Beckham would be kicking a football from the top of a London bus it sounded like one of his flights of fancy.

Far more entertaining was the appearance of Boris, striding towards the ceremonial podium a salute here, thumbs up here, a small man trying to wave a very large flag. I felt a pang of regret that Ken Livingston wasn't in his place after all the work he did in bringing the Games to London, but as demonstrated in the post-show interview on BBC News, Ken just didn't have the ongoing element of verbal jeopardy as his successor. Boris was quick to point out that at the London opening ceremony there wouldn't be thousands of people being moved around like small dots of colour which is about the best description yet of the overwhelmingly pretty, spectacularly nice ceremonies we've seen. Though I hope the London closing is better than the one at the Manchester Commonwealth Games, where we subjected the former colonies to S Club 7 and a set from some local DJ.

Otherwise, I'm inconsolable as always at the close of these Olympics, blubbing more than once through each of the montage sequences showing British successes and failures. To repeat the rest of the media (what do you mean I'm not in the media?) this has been an amazing games for local sport and though the athletics have been disappointing, there have been enough signs that the youngsters having their first taste of major competition will be fighting to return at London 2012 because they know what's there to win or lose, and what it means to stand on the podium. But that's true in many of the events; Tom Daley's an inspiration -- I wish I'd been that articulate at the age of eighteen -- and so long as his confidence doesn't turn to arrogance he's sure to win a medal in four years.

I've also enjoyed the BBC's coverage. Waking up with Adrian Chiles and Hazel Irving or Claire Balding has been a refreshing change to the middle England groping BBC Breakfast, watching the sporting headlines of overnight achievement through bleary eyes and shooting awake during a rerun of Rebecca Adlington's startling win. The commentary team have been superlative, just as passionate as us to see British success, often shouting and screaming along with us at home. One of my favourite non-sporting moments were the shots of a certain swimmer being chased through the Tienanmen Square by locals under the impression that he's Michael Phelps, shouting "I'm Steve Parry from England" at the top of his voice. At the other end of the day, Radio Five Live's Drive programme has brought the atmosphere through Peter Allen and often Dom Joly in the centre of Beijing often chatting up a storm with the tourists or getting the athletes to open up in ways which might not happen with a camera in their face.

Ultimately then this has been a great games. The Chinese authorities still have a to lot to learn about freedom -- of the press, of their people to protest, of letting those who might not necessarily agree with them politically to live their lives. There's talk that the Olympic experience for spectators hasn't been spectacular (and I loved that Steve Redgrave at the climax when asked so Britishly complained about the food), but for this armchair fan of the non-spotlit sports it's been a blast. As with last time, I will be following a bunch of these athletes going forward but unlike last time there'll be no big announcement, no published list to jinx anyone. For the next four years the Google News Alerts will be my friend and hopefully next time, more good people will be able to follow there dreams. See I'm not as cynical as you thought, and really rather a cliche, so much of a cliche in fact that it's inspired me too.