Wonder Woman's current representative.

Film Might as well just embed a tweet from the several hundred:

It's heavily, heavily photoshopped but Gal Gadot certainly looks the part and the costume is about as expected. This particular interpretation of DC utilises a more subdued colour scheme (see Man of Steel) and although this is no way how I wished Wonder Woman was appearing on screen for the first time, at least in terms of this photograph it could have been much, much worse.

Apart from Doctor Who which largely enjoys being a single story across two thousand fictional years and fifty actual, all franchise characters are imagined and reimagined, interpreted and reinterpreted and this is Zack Snyder and the film version of DC's version and hopefully (even though on the strength of Man of Steel I'm not positive) the script will serve her well.

The Films I've Watched This Year #27

Film It's the Commonwealth Games. Just completed watching the Australia vs England pool match which with my miniscule understanding of Netball, I thought would see us slaughtered but ended up being a thrilling match that ended with a fumble from Jo Harten, a goal shooter who until that point had managed to get the ball into the net with great accuracy. But I was out of my seat. I was screaming. I was more excited about this netball group match as I was for the whole of the football World Cup, perhaps because I can see the skill, precision and tactics as the ball's passed with such rapidity across the court in a way which simply doesn't seem as athletic, as kinetic when men are kicking a ball around a pitch.  Plus the whole thing is over in an hour or so with useful breaks every fifteen minutes.

The Wolf of Wall Street
20 Feet From Stardom
Violet & Daisy

Her is a difficult film to watch in isolation if you've any idea of its history.  Apart from its similarities to Electric Dreams (of which this is, as I suspected, essentially updated homage with Miles in love with the computer rather than his neighbour) but the fact that Samantha Morton, present throughout shooting was replaced with Scarlett Johansson.  It's to Spike Jonze's fantasy romance and Johansson's credit that I did eventually manage to largely put this to one side, but there were still moments when I thought, how would Morton have played this?  What the Morton line like that Joaquin Phoenix is reacting to here?  What did Morton not do that Johansson is?  Was it simply that Johansson's the bigger name and they were looking for a wider audience, was this a studio decision?

Presumably I'm not the first to say this, but however heartfelt and entertaining 20 Feet From Stardom is, in no sense should it have beaten The Act of Killing to an oscar.  It's oranges and lemons, of course, comparing a premium rate Friday night BBC Four music documentary (where this will surely end up) with a historically rich investigation into the Indonesian genocide, the wrongs done to Darlene Love by Phil Spector barely on the scale to the mass killings by the awful pen portrayed in Oppenheimer's film.  But like Secret Voices of Hollywood, in cultural terms this is still an important story as the people that are the aural scaffold of some of our favourite musical moments are finally amplified.  Plus it managed to make me think warmly about Sting again for the first time in a while, which is quite an achievement.

Violet & Daisy's been unloved, not granted a theatrical release here, just 23% on Rotten Tomatoes but I do think it's rather better than all that, even if I also think A O Scott's NYT review probably gets the measure of it.  Back in the 90s, this is just the sort of low budget, indie piece which appeared on the art house circuit and I'd end up blundering into at The Hyde Park in Leeds for the nine o'clock showing (just £1.50 on a Monday), in which genre characters would play off against each other in limited settings, where the filmmaker isn't trying to say anything especially new or important, especially since he's clearly likes French cinema a lot, but doesn't do anything especially wrong (cf, Living in Oblivion, Denise Calls Up, Mute Witness).

The advertising didn't really help, throwing together all of the otherwise minimal action sequences even though that's not really the genre its aiming for (and couldn't afford to be if it wanted).  There are Tarantino overtones, but to criticise director Geoffrey Fletcher for offering a direct homage to Pulp Fiction almost twenty years after release while venerating Quentin for borrowing extensively from John Woo early in his career simply isn't unfair.  Plus in exploitation terms having Rory Gilmore and pre-Hanna Saoirse Ronan as hitgirls facing off Tony Soprano is bang on.  Orphan Black fans might also like to know this features an early appearance for Tatiana Maslany in which she doesn't have anything  much to do but does it very well.  My film of the week.

He's back and it's a pound!

TV Big Finish has reached its fifteenth anniversary and to celebrate they're providing a series of offers which includes, today, the first seminal series of Eighth Doctor stories, the very stories which turned me into a Doctor Who fan, for a pound each:
"We're making another free story available as a download today - the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard tale Living Legend, originally part of a cover-disc on Doctor Who Monthly. We'd like to thank Tom Spilsbury and all at Doctor Who Monthly for their agreement on this.

Also available as downloads for £1 each are the first four Eighth Doctor stories: Storm Warning, The Sword of Orion, The Stones of Venice and Minuet in Hell, and then two of his adventures from later in the range for £5 each on CD or Download - Time Works and Memory Lane."
Links to the plays are available at the Big Finish post and if you're a fan of the new series at least I'd urge you to hand over your four pounds.  I wrote about Storm Warning here last year, but I'd suggest you listen to it first before wallowing in my nostalgia for it.  "TARDIS manual, TARDIS manual, TARDIS manual..."

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0: Minneapolis #2

[from: 'Eroica: Piano Improvisions', Virgin, 1990]

Music When I was a student (mid-nineties) I knew two things. The first was that by the year 2000 my life would be complete. The second was that club music in all it's forms was the work of the devil to draw the populace away from real music. And I pretty much kept that opinion for the rest of the decade. Then last year something strange happened. I was standing in record shop and the DJ began to play 'GrooveJet' by Spiller featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Here was a record almost designed to talk me around to the Ibiza way of thinking. A dance record with a good lyric and melody of sorts which also had the kind of structure I'd never heard before. I walked to the counter and bought the thing straight away - and listened to it five times as soon as I was home.

My distrust of dance music still exists, much of it seeming too easy for words. There are the exceptions - the crossover music which I now feel myself not only appreciating but going positively radio gaga over. I'm becoming particular impressed by R&B. During my long and delayed train journey home tonight, I was welcome of the company of Mary J Blige and her 1997 album, 'share my world'. I should not like this album. I mean it features R Kelly for god's sake. But here I am, listening to it again whilst I write this. I want to gas on about her vocal range (extraordinary) or the production (as you'd expect, with glimpses of genius) And as I 'groove' along to the track 'round and round' I've come to a startling conclusion, and believe me, this is something of a revelation...there isn't one type of music I don't like....

Actually that may not be true. I'd run a mile from Kenny Rogers, James Galway and in fact most people with beards. And I'll draw the line at boy bands. And Atomic Kitten (mention number three on this weblog - six to go possibly). But when it comes to everything else, I think I can - if not rave - at least understand. There isn't probably anything better at one o'clock in the morning having had many beers than throwing your weight around S Club 7's 'Reach for the Stars'. The rush of a Slipnot concert will be extreme. And quiet stylings of Vangelis lead you into believing that a calmer world is possible. The only boundary in music should be quality... [1st September 2001]

[Commentary: At the point when this was written, the blog was only two months old and many, many years before the invention of Spotify when and the exponential increase in the availability of music increased exponentially. As I've glanced through these old selections and choices, it's been interesting to me just how much my tastes haven't changed. In the main I still do only listen to female voices and soundtrack albums, with classical music and world music falling between the cracks and odd bits of pop music depending on who it is. Even with all of music available that's still where I head off to. Perhaps some folk and jazz here and there, but generally yes, nothing much has changed. I'm listening to the Mary J Blige album as I type, probably for the first time since I wrote the above and well, yes, it's fine and I can necessarily disagree with most of what's above but I'll still end up listening to Adele when I'm writing Doctor Who reviews.

What's missing from the above is that about this time I was commuting to Manchester to the RBS call centre and had decided to expand my cultural outlook by reading Rolling Stone. This was before it still had large pages but way, way past its heyday, featuring the "girls" from American Pie on the cover. I remember finding the newsier items far more interesting than the music in the end, so it was probably ultimately my entry drug into US politics and rabidly following the presidential campaigns. Mainly it was a way of discovering what was happening in US culture when most of it was still inaccessible and not just a click away. Now it's entirely possible to follow the Chris Christie scandal on a minute-by-minute basis or listen to whatever's at no 100 in the Billboard Hot 100 without having to stay up until two in the morning for Casey Kasem and America's Top 10.]


Sport As a fair weather friend of sport, I'm always grasping around for who to support whenever there are athletes or teams which aren't British or English or otherwise reveal my nationalistic tendencies. After many years of study, I've finally decided on the following policy. Essentially, it's supporting the closest land mass.

(1) City. So Liverpool or if it's football Everton. Liverpudlian athletes if there's a group of people from the national team.

(2) County. Merseyside.

(3) Region. North-West for me. Unless it's Manchester United in which case you support whichever team is playing them.

(4) Country. England.

(5) Sovereign Nation - so during these Commonwealth Games, if it's Wales versus someone else, support Wales. Though I'll support Scotland over Wales because of my surname. Such things are very complicated.

(6) Continent. Europe.

(7) Hemisphere. Which is the Western Hemisphere or Northern Hemisphere for me, depending, which makes it ok to support the Americans.

(8) Planet. Just in case.

Which is fine. Except I was cheering Scotland's Hannah Miley earlier against the English swimmer. Also it becomes trickier if both nations are from the same continent at which point the whole thing becomes a nonsense as I choose France over Germany or Japan over China for arbitrary reasons. Sometimes I'll invoke a "commonwealth" rule.  Oh and underdogs.  Always support the underdogs.

Liverpool Biennal 2014:
The Bluecoat.

Art Here’s how I met Whistler’s mother. It’s Paris in 2001 (isn’t it always) and I’m visiting the Musee d’Orsay having entirely forgotten in the heat and having seen about a dozen other paintings of world importance that Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 is part of its collection too. Having completely destroyed my feet the day before doing the Doctor Who thing on the Eiffel Tower, I needed to rest my pins many times during that museum visit and having entered yet another small, packed room, noticed an empty seat and quickly sat down or as quickly as my feet would allow, sat down. After surreptitiously taking a drink of water, I glanced around and there she was, sitting, literally, on the wall to the side of me mirroring the position of the gallery bench, almost as though we were in audience.

The Musee d’Orsay in Paris is the kind of institution which has such an abundance of paintings of world importance that what would be put in the “average” position in a regional gallery is the sort of thing which would otherwise be given its own room in a regional gallery so here she was on a side wall, only really visible from this seat the visitor’s head cocked to the side. For minutes I sit scrutinising, dodging other tourists as they stand in the tiny space between the bench and the wall or almost in my lap trying to get the decent look which is only really possible from this position on this bench. Eventually my feet begin working again and I totter onward having become rather blasé about the occasion, which is just what happens when you’ve just recently seen about a dozen other paintings of world importance.

All of which makes it deeply unfair of me to say that the best artist I’ve seen so far at this Biennial is James McNeill Whistler because he’s James McNeill Whistler. But James McNeill Whistler is the best artist I’ve seen so far at this Biennial and it’s important to say at the outset that the existence of this exhibition is a blessing. As I have discussed and over-discussed at length elsewhere, Liverpool tends to be overwhelmed with exhibitions of post 1900 art, most often post-WWII art so the chance to see work which was created in the middle of the century before last outside of a permanent collection display, is, yes, a blessing. That in the unusual setting of the Bluecoat, which usually offers the most contemporary of contemporary art and exists due to the curatorial decision of Liverpool Biennial usually considered one of the most contemporary of festival is a brill curiosity.

But Whistler was a contemporary artist himself when the work was originally created and the big theme of the exhibition is justification. One room dedicates itself to the libel trial in which the painter sued the art critic (etc) John Ruskin, who’d taken umbrage at Whistler’s impressionistic artistic style and one painting in particular saying that he “never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face.” Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket is daring stuff and you can see that Ruskin, and Punch who also took a dislike to Whistler judging by the many cartoons included in the exhibition unable to cope with the idea that more than one artistic tradition could co-exist, that this cloudy blue surface could have the same emotional depth and poetry as the fine detail of a pre-Raphaelite scene.

Whistler (spoiler) won his trial due to Ruskin not being able to defend himself and so unable to provide the necessary defence, he did at least do art history the favour of putting the artist on the back foot and forcing him to justify his existence or at least the paintings that sustained his existence. In an exchange from the trial, he’s asked by his inquisitor exactly why as per Ruskin, The Falling Rocket, "The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?" to which Whistler replies "No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime” thereby explaining for that time onward the worth of painting and sculpture which are about thought rather than action or at least in which on balance the ratio tips more towards the former than the latter.

Anyone who visits as many exhibitions as I do will hopefully agree with me that we see a lot of crap art, utter, abject rubbish that not even a well worded explanatory label can morally justify. It’s a hazard of “culture” as defined by the section on The Guardian’s website that there’ll be a largish percentage of dreck, because there has to be, because “culture” thrives on mistakes. But, it could be argued, there might be less of it if artists were forced into a similar position as Whistler, of having to stand behind the work, of being able to not just explain what it means (assuming they can be bothered) but justifying what it’s doing in the world and how they hope it adds to human experience. In other words, why don’t artists (or indeed curators) have to face the same scrutiny and politicians and sports people?

The other theme of the exhibition is reproduction. Set designer Olivia de Monceau has been tasked with recreating Blue and Silver: Screen with Old Battersea Bridge (original at Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow) and a free-standing cross section of one wall of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (original at the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.). The painting featured in the Biennial booklet, The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre appears in the form of a digital print on Foamex (because the notion of borrowing the original from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco with the connected insurance costs would presumably be prohibitive) and Ruta Staseviciute's recreation of Arrangement in Black (The Lady in the Yellow Buskin) (Philadelphia Museum of Art). The display also contains a number of good etchings including the atmospheric Two Doorways from his Venice set, with its mysterious figures in silhouette.

But arguably the best work in the exhibition is one of the smallest and a watercolour, one of the few occasions when the artist himself is directly present. Nocturne in Great and Gold – Piccadilly captures the metropolis at its most impressionistic, vehicles, buildings and people lost in the fog. Like Turner, like the Abstract Expressionists later, it’s a painting which initially appears indistinct but repays our time as the artist’s craft in suggesting details through apparently uncontrolled brush stokes, motioning towards emotional realism through the viewers memory of what it’s actually like to me in that kind of fog. Presumably the street scenes of Atkinson Grimshaw would have been more Ruskin’s sort of thing. But as I think we’ve somewhat forgotten ourselves now, it’s possible for both to co-exist.

Mr Whistler’s Ten O’Clock: 20 February 1885: Public Lecture (recording by Mr P Cock, 2014)

This is a lecture the artist gave at Prince's Hall, Piccadilly on as the title states, 20 February 1885. Here’s a transcript and here’s an essay by Oscar Wilde (who was in attendance) written in response. It’s featured in the exhibition in the form of an audio reading played through speakers in “The Vide” section of the Bluecoat, the concrete area just past the lockers and round the corner from the toilets and notice boards which is more often used for installation art. It’s not a video, of course, but I didn’t want to break format too much so I’m ushering this piece of audio into the project even though I’m not sure what’s primarily of the most importance, its existence as a thing or the content, Whistler’s words. There are also reproductions of those words on a coffee table in the space so I expect that’s the point.

Except I haven’t really had a chance to experience those words. When I arrived at 10:25, the recording hadn’t been turned on. I asked a volunteer about this and after I sat at the table, eventually someone arrived to go behind the scenes and begin the recording. The words played clearly from the wall mounted speakers, “It is with great hesitation and much misgiving that I appear before you, in the character of – The Preacher …” then a lift arrived with a friendly “doors opening”. A staff member walked out. Another lift. More people walking past. The other lift. Clatter. Folded up furniture being moved. Chatter. Mr Whistler’s Ten O’Clock: 20 February 1885: Public Lecture is being played in the second most trafficked area for humanity on the ground floor of the building besides the entrance hall.

Fairly quickly I picked up one of the transcriptions determined to read along and like the video pieces at other venues stick it out to the end. But Whistler is making an argument, essentially reading an essay, and that requires concentration, especially since the language is just slightly more arcane and alien to our ears, and it’s difficult to concentrate when life is happening all around. Of course this isn’t life’s fault. Life has every justification for doing whatever it is that it’s doing. But eventually I gave up not entirely sure what the point was and is in presenting the lecture in this manner. Headphones would limit the audience, but you could argue the audience for this is limited anyway, predicated as it is on a person sitting in a gallery space for half an hour, ad-hoc, listening to a lecture.  Podcast?

Cherbourg Cleaning.

Film For fans of this sort of thing, which is probably all of you, a short piece from Criterion about the restoration of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The videos features Agnes Varda and all the family, including Mathieu Demy, the French Andrew Collins it seems. Spoiler warning: it gives away the ending.


Life Hello. I'm writing this from the future on the 26th September 2014 which is when I finally got around to writing about the TEDx Liverpool meeting which happened at the Everyman Theatre on this date.

I thought it would be a good idea to link to it.

Here it is.

Sorry it took so long, but I was waiting for all the videos of the various talks to be posted on YouTube and that took rather longer than I was expecting.

In case you're wondering, I did consider simply posting the whole thing in this past but since there's some retrospective stuff in there, it would be a severe disruption in the space/time continuum, probably.

Here it is again.

Robot Ergon.

TV Robot Chicken have done Doctor Who and as is so often the case when they tackle anything outside Star Wars it's about as funny as a hernia (as I know from experience) making all the same mistakes as that stupid Extras thing with David Tennant of not actually referencing anything in particular from the show other than the relatively iconic stuff which wasn't even particularly amusing when Lenny Henry or French & Saunders did them decades ago.  Oh and the obvious sense that they haven't watched the revival at all which makes them look even less relevant.  Plus, Whizz Kid?  Hello?