originally a caveman

feeling listless finds
I've been trying to decide what to do with the tumblr for months, and finally I've decided to turn it into a place to gather any videos and the like. In other words, use it properly. So that's somewhere else for you to subscribe to, because I'll not be repeating anything here. It's like an alternate multimedia reality. Latest video? Matt Damon: "I want to know if she believes there were dinosaurs four thousand years ago..."

Archrs - an everyday story of web development
The every day story of country folk turned into an astonishing web-based interactive drama without changing a word.

Play With Spider
For those of you missing La Princess.

Soundtracked - "Death Race" by Paul Haslinger
Brutally honest blog post from the composer for P.W.S.A.'s new film, which demonstrates how far along in the creative process it is that the music is conceived. John Ottman's talked about this very subject. Elsewhere, Charlie Kaufman directs.

Google News farce triggers Wall Street sell-off
I think as people reliance on the web for information rather than human contact intensifies, the regularity of this kind of thing will increase.

Steven Soderbergh working on Liberace film and wants Michael Douglas
Which is precisely why I love Soderbergh. I can't think of a single predictable career choice he's made.

Michelle Obama Interview: Her Father's Daughter
"Eventually I thought, This is a smart man with a good heart, and if the only reason I wouldn't want him to be president is that I'm married to him, no, I can't be that selfish.''

Jerome Bixby's Man From Earth
It's not often I'll unreservedly recommend a film, but Man From Earth is special. It's a low budget fantasy tale in which a man draws together all of his university colleagues out to his wood cabin just before he leaves forever and tells them that he was originally a caveman and has lived for fourteen thousand years. Their reaction is as you'd expect, but over the following eighty odd minutes the details of the man's possible life are laid out and through some great performances and writing from the late Bixby (he finished the script on his death bed) you begin to question what's possible. This is intelligent sci-fi of the kind which is rare in movies these days, questioning genetics and belief systems and in places has crystallised answers to some of the intellectual questions I've been wrestling with for the past few years. The cast includes the likes of Tony Todd and John Billingsly and a stunningly good David Lee Smith as the potential cro-magnan. It's K-PAX without the showboating.

well, sexy

Music I felt rather disconnected from the Last Night of the Proms tonight having spent the past month missing everything. I just simply failed to be excited by some of the programming for a few weeks at the beginning of August, didn't listen for a stretch and then got out of the habit. I felt ... as though I hadn't earned it, like one of those people who don't go to anything else but manage to grab a ticket for last night through the morning clearing service. There's no doubt though that it's rekindled my appreciation and I'm very thankful that I still record all of the televised concerts and I'll be able to catch up on at least some of the things I've missed.

I've not heard Beethoven's Fantasia in C minor for piano, chorus and orchestra, 'Choral Fantasy' before and as suggested by the very ill at ease Clive Anderson (who seemed to spend most of the broadcast with the same look in his eye as he gave Barry Gibb when the Bee Gee walked off the set of his chatshow) I could see the similarities with the 9th, almost a synopsis for the longer piece. Coincidentally his Piano Concerto 4's just truned up on my mp3 player and I can't think of anything that man composed that I don't like.

Special mention has to be made for Anna Meredith's froms, which could have been a rerun of the Harrison Birtwhistle/Panic incident, but because of its ambition, spreading the sound across the various sites simultaneously was clearly the best non-tradition moment of the night, just fascinating. The interview between Meredith and Suzy Klien was fun too, entirely knocking down the expectation that composers can be stuffy and rather over serious when talking about their music. Anna was as excited as you'd hope she'd be to hear how the piece turned out and well, sexy. If that's not the kind of thing which is going to drag me back to classical music, nothing is.

Something In The Water.

Books I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a Torchwood novel. Spin-off books if they’ve been publishing for long enough tend to develop a format of their own away from their original property, especially in the case of television tie-ins where the story will inevitably be longer than the average television episode. In Doctor Who, the best authors, even when writing about a past version of the Time Lord, often enjoy the opportunity to be fairly experimental, taking advantage of the flexibility of the format. If Trevor Baxendale’s novel is anything to go by, the approach in Torchwood books is to be as close to the television series as possible.

A mysterious virus is spreading through the population of Cardiff concurrently with the appearance of an equally mysterious woman and a not quite dead corpse. Much of the novel takes place in either the Hub, a suburban house, a medical centre and some marshland on the outskirts of Cardiff. None of the characters (as is usual in these things) really learns anything and counter to Jack’s annoying tv opening speech nothing changes. There isn’t actually anything wrong with that and certainly fans will probably be well served by what’s here. It’s just that there’s a lack of ambition which ultimately dulls your appreciation of the book.

Spoilers after the jump.

Baxendale isn’t really interested in big dramatic openings. His method is a slow burn, the characters strewn across the city following their own discrete narratives. Bob Strong, an English GP in the mould of A Very Peculiar Practice’s Stephen Daker is visited in his surgery by that mysterious woman, Saskia, an apparently recovering addict who has more on her mind than a simply check up, Jack and Owen chasing the Weevil equivalent of Jaws through a fish factory plus Gwen and Tosh investigating apparitions with one of Jack’s old flames. Regardless of arguments to the contrary between the characters, these threads are eventually tied together through the usual mayhem and co-incidences.

As with much of his Doctor Who writing, Baxendale’s skill lies in characterisation. Considering this was no doubt being written whilst the second series was still in production (the novel’s firmly set betwixt To The Last Man and Meat) he captures the new versions of all of the main cast brilliantly – Ianto’s wisecracks, Owen’s kinder heart, Tosh’s mechanisma, Gwen’s boggle eyed surprise and Jack’s inherent Jackness. The ‘guest cast’ are convincing additions too, particular Dr. Strong who ironically spends most of the novel incapacitated, the divorcee’s poignant sorrow at having no one to look after him and frankly wanting his mummy is a gloomy highlight.

Despite being one of those shouting and running stories, as with some of the best Torchwood episodes, it’s these moments of darkness which work best. Some of the few good scenes in the opening television series are recalled when Gwen realises she’s becoming desensitized by the carnage only for Jack to remind her that even one death has consequences which makes the predicament of the invader, survivor of a dying race something of a grey area. Like our favourite benevolent alien, she’s the last but unlike him, her continued existence threatens our planet and our endurance. Not that these weighty issues ultimately get in the way of the gunplay and jokes about Google and the Wikipedia.

In the end though, like the television series the book fails to find the right tone -- wanting so desperately to be adult without quite being able to commit. Some of this confusion possibly stems from the book having the same format and pagination as the new Doctor Who novels and because of this restricted word length like them it lacks the depth you'd expect for a work aimed at an older age group. Much more could have been said about Saskia, who in the end is less complex there an absence of thematic resonances the influence for which would really give the game away. At some point mysterious becomes anemic and when an infodump finally arrives if you're not too careful it can seem like an afterthought.

Similarly, we hear about the spread of the virus through News 24 and dialogue instead of actually reading about the civilians its effecting – imagine the film Outbreak without those amazing scenes in which we see a victim being processed or for that matter a Doctor Who and the Silurians in which we don't see Masters go to London. Certainly it's more dramatic for the regulars to be at ground zero of the problem but a novel has the facility to go beyond that, to give the story epic scope but instead we're left with the textual equivalent of the Roman Centurion from End of Days representing a global phenomena.

Despite a dramatic conclusion then, everything wraps up rather abruptly and considering everything that’s happened misses a moment of reflection. Unless it’s actually a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next book. But they're not allowed to do that are they?

Torchwood: Something in the Water by Trevor Baxendale
ISBN: 978-1846074370
RRP: £6.99
Release date: 6th March 2008

a few splodges of paint

Art It’s a unique experience seeing a painting of your own home on the wall of an art gallery. Not just my home but hundreds of others, all together, a history of domestic architecture all neatly laid out within the glance of an eye. It's within Ben Johnson’s exciting new vista, Liverpool Cityscape 2008 which was commissioned for our Capital of Culture year and is part of a mini-retrospective of his work at the Walker Art Gallery. Looking at the landscape straight on, our flats are at top right hand corner of the image (not including the sky), just behind the Anglican Cathedral, a speck in the distance. Funny to see the place I've spent the best part of fifteen years rendered in a few splodges of paint.

Johnson’s painting took up to a year, the last part of the endeavour under the watchful eye of gallery visitors. I didn’t visit then – I hate seeing works in progress, the better to soak up the artist’s entire vision and I’m glad I did – the finished product is mind-jangling. Even knowing that these days the artist uses computer models and assistants doesn’t draw away from the sheer amount of visual information in the picture and need to try and find all of the familiar Liverpool landmarks. The point of view Johnson’s selected is above the Mersey looking down on the town; we're briefly guardian angels of our own town, perhaps wondering where all of the people have gone (the only humanity in the painting is the artist’s brush work).

What struck me at least is that for all the pre-publicity about photo-realism, these aren’t documentary images. For a start, Johnson has painted in architecture such as the Museum of Liverpool and Liverpool One as they will be once they’re completed which makes this the look of the city in the near future, perhaps 2010. If there are any changes to these edifices then the image’s reality will become less certain; elsewhere in the exhibition, Walter Richard’s chaotic Modern Liverpool painted in 1907 bravely includes the Anglican Cathedral (not to be finished for another seventy years) with its original two tower configuration eventually simplified for reasons of cost and logistics.

But like all good artists Johnson is also keen emphasising some elements ahead of others for thematic purposes by selecting a particular topographical perspective. In his commission of Jerusalem, we’re looking down on the city from a far higher angle which allows him to include all of the three major holy sites and give them equal weight, the Dome of the Rock, the western-or-wailing wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, having been tasked to produce an image that offers common ground between the three major Abrahamic faiths. We look at Hong Kong from lower down so as to emphasise the verticals of the city, sky-scrapers piercing the sky to the point that with the exception of piece of motorway ground level has gone, engulfed by greenery.

Liverpool is the most complex of the lot. Johnson seems to have decided to highlight those buildings that are part of the ‘gap toothed’ Liverpool skyline – the two cathedrals, St. John’s Beacon and the three graces, plus some of the new additions. From what I can see in order to do that he’s increased the curvature of the Earth so that the Anglican and Metropolitan loom over the city (which they do in reality, but not to this extent) and actually appear far further apart making Hope Street rather longer than it actually is. He also makes some details, such as the suburbs rather abstract and anonymous – I’d be interested to know if anyone living Toxteth way can pick out their home as well as I can. Of course, my sky line view of the city is from the opposite direction so is naturally going to be skewed, but if Ben Johnson’s to be congratulated its for creating a modern landscape that force us to question not just its content, but his technique as well.
Elsewhere I've reviewed today's radio Torchwood. The episode is also also available to download here for the next seven days.

Superlambanana-on-and-on #9

Starry Sunflower

The End. Seventy of the lambs were on display at St. Goerge's Hall plateau yesterday and today ahead of the final auction (average guide price about £3000). I managed to pick off some that I missed because they were in far off places like the Wirral (!) or Speke (?). The plateau was packed with people, many like me taking those final shots to try to complete the set, though I somehow managed in my photographs to make the place look emptier than it really was.

Some will no doubt choose the spider, but I think the Superlambananas will be '08s great legacy. They've managed to bring people together, not just in terms of community groups in the creation of the pieces, but in visiting and photographing them, seeing people like me with the maps or Echo supplements seeking them out. You saw that today. There was a genuinely good atmosphere, with people laughing and largely waiting patiently for their turn. I wonder how many will be back on the streets in a few weeks, having been bought up by people without a thought as to were to put them.

They'll need a very big garden.

two covers and a spine

Check Out Zac Efron's New Look in 'Me and Orson Welles'
Richard Linklater's latest film which I have somehow missed, even though it's directed by him and features Claire Danes and is about Mr. Welles. Though this is much the same thing as happened with Before Sunset so I shouldn't be too surprised. I am delighted though, and early reviews are good. Meanwhile, Baz's new treat is being trailed and Guillermo is making a film about Charles Dicken's last few months. Which knowing him, shouldn't look too dissimilar to this.

Anthony Edwards Scrubs Back in at ER
I stopped watching ER years ago -- the storylines were becoming repetitious and desperate and damn I just missed the original cast. But I might just catch up if the final season's trying to rekindle the old magic.

The RSC's King Lear with Ian McKellen, Frances Barber & Sylvester McCoy is coming to dvd.
Are you hoping what I'm hoping?

Cyrano de Bergerac
New film with Kevin Kline as Cyrano and Jennifer (shucks) Garner as Roxanne based on a stage version.

"Read ... read ... READ! I meant READ!!"
Matthew makes a confession...

Rick or treat?
Astley is asked about rolling.

Unofficial Torchwood Series Guide Copies from Fan Journals
Actually that should be 'quoted from'. I'm in there too again (from here), but some livejournalers seem to have missed the point and are braying for -- well it's not entirely clear what. I write for fun and am just happy to see my work quoted in something which has two covers and a spine and can be bought in the shop and be read by a much larger audience than on the web. It's a pity these people can't see it the same way.

Hoodies beware: Kelly Reilly takes revenge in Eden Lake
“I've gone from being a normal woman who cares for children to someone who will kill any kid that comes near me!” she says. “There are no f***ing boundaries any more.”

Milky Way's black hole seen in new detail
The appearance of an average spacial anomaly from Star Trek: The Next Generation proved realistic.

Huge tribute to Lenin visible on Google Earth
"The message, which translates as "Lenin is 100", was cut into a forest in a remote region of Siberia. Each letter is around 80 metres high, and the entire message stretches for 600 metres."

Beauty and the Beast
Which looks like Doctor Who as directed by Tinto Brass.

Your Pocket Guide To Speaking Palinguage (Vol. 1)
McCain's pulled ahead slightly in the polls, but I think it is just convention bounce and won't last too long. It won't end in tears. Especially if there are enough of these around ...

It's far from perfect.

Life I'm an organiser. I'm not a manager -- which has become apparent on too many occasions -- I'm terrible at delegating and like to do everything myself -- but if a manager asks me to organise something I seem to be very good at it. I like projects, I like making plans and completing them. I like problem solving, puzzling over something which needs accomplishing and working through to the goal.

I suppose this is why I like research too; what I'd really like to be is in a profession where I spend the day answering complex questions with either the internet or a library as my source. The good things about having all of these genes is that when I realise that something needs organising around the house, my librarian tendencies kick in and some time later I'll find a solution.

I've been puzzling for weeks about what to do about my dvds, of which I have many. Not the commercial bought, special editioned, boxsetted oh look I have everything Woody Allen's directed ones -- they've taken care of themselves clinging together in a gap between two book cases on the wall. I'm talking about the many hundreds of films and programmes I've recorded from television sitting in boxes about the place.

The solution, or at least my solution, is to put them in chronological order based on the year in which they're supposed to be set. So with wikipedia and imdb to hand, I've been working through the piles and classifying them by the century, decade or year (depend on how specific a synopsis is) the story, fiction and non-fiction, occurs. That means that some genres are naturally dropping in next to each other, westerns and noirs, Edwardian costume dramas and futurist sci-fi. Fantasy realms are all being put together at the front.

It's far from perfect. Decade spanning bio-pics don't naturally go anywhere so I'm slotting them at the first year featured. Some stories aren't really set in a particular time period, rather a kind of generic sub-universe in which everyone were hats and togas or spurs or macs and carry guns or spears. But if you assume that its the Roman period (turn of the first millenium) or the Wild West (late 1800s) or the great depression or prohibition it sort of works. Plus there are films which cross cut between time periods, either because of flashback structures or something else. And doing things this way spoils a certain M Night Shyamalan film (though obviously unless you haven't seen it which seems to be too many people since it's his best work).

All of which is by way of an excuse as to why I may be blogging light here. It is a gargantuan but worthwhile task which I'm fitting in between attempting to construct a life. In doing it, I've found all kinds of things I'd forgotten I'd recorded and now I'll be able to find again. It's also a chance to catch up on all the music I've not got around to yet, and discover podcasts, something I've missed because of being trapped at 56k up until a month ago. So far: This American Life's a miracle and I've enjoyed the banter between Aleks and Jemima on The Guardian's Tech Weekly. Does anyone else have suggestions as to what else I should be listening to?