The Films I've Watched This Year #43

Film It's Saturday night, it's after nine o'clock and I'm tapping away at a keyboard.  As I think you may have detected, this particular stretch of Doctor Who's been particularly difficult to parse, certainly as difficult for a range of complex reasons as Torchwood's Miracle Day.  Perhaps I've been out of practice, the recent shorter series and odd episodes not quite preparing me for knocking that out every week for twelve of them.  By the final episode, as I think you might have detected, I was pretty exhausted but there's no doubt that if the episodes had been up to snuff I might have been inspired to do something useful.  But I am genuinely looking forward to revisiting series eight when it's finally released for the home so I can reappraise.  At this point, my favourite episode is still Robots of Sherwood with Listen, Flatline and probably Deep Breath close behind.  Even taking the horrors of The Caretaker and Kill The Moon into account, the low point will always be In The Forest of the Night, potentially the worst episode since the show came back, beating even Fear Her because at least that's unintentionally funny in places (Bob).  Anyway, mainstream, symposium and ...

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey: Extended Version 3D
Only Lovers Left Alive
Dan In Real Life
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Extended Version 3D
Ernest & Celestine
Fantasia 2000
The Last Days on Mars
The Other Man

Now that this series has finished, I've decided to catch up on what I've missed from the career of future Doctor (Who), Romola Garai, starting with The Last Days on Mars, which is essentially The Waters of Mars if the Tenth Doctor hadn't turned up for his moral implosion.  The story is in the title, a group of astronauts fighting off a zombifying alien infection hours before they're due to leave the planet.  Garai is one of the astronauts, the Veronica Cartwright role, and although essentially a bystander, has one very good speech in which she's trying to talk Liev Schreiber into doing a brave thing.  Mainly funded with UK and Irish money.  Well done us for the ambition and that includes for the special effects which offers some of the best man against Martian vista in film history.  It has an eclectic cast.  Olivia Williams is in the more challenging Doctorish role of the science officer who says whatever everyone's thinking but don't want to look like assholes and Elias Koteas is the mission captain.  But it is better than the RT score of 20% but for once I agree with Peter Bradshaw's sympathetic review, especially that it's far more interesting before the viruses and mayhem.

Back in 2008, Garai was playing daughters, touring in Trevor Nunn's King Lear and in Richard Eyre's The Other Man as the offspring of Liam Neeson and Laura Linney.  Utterly ludicrous in pretty much every way, after some initial moments when it looks like it might be a proto-Taken, for much of its duration Eyre's pretending to be Hitchcock via Adrian Lyne before a jaw-dropping twist sends it off into other generic territories.  There are about four things to say about it.  (1)  Romola's character's random film job is as an assistant in Ely Cathedral's gift shop (set report) and her boyfriend seems to be some kind of restoration engineer.  (2)  Antonio Banderas plays the man Neeson suspects of having an affair and at one point having heard the voice of Puss in Boots on a voice message blames the not at all alike sounding Patterson Joseph instead (3)  The twist is so, well, ludicrous that I thought it was something we were supposed to have learned early on anyway and I'd missed and skipped back to the beginning at that moment to check and (4) the ever accurate IMDB says Laura Linney apparently replaced Juliette Binoche though I haven't found the necessary evidence.

Binoche turns up in the pleasantest surprise of the week, Dan In Real Life, which is essentially to Hallmark tv movies what Independence Day is to grindhouse.  She's the object of Steve Carrell's widower's affection having met her at a bookshop while visiting his families vacation house (with the rest of his extended family) (I'd be rubbish writing the Sight and Sound plot synopsis) and then something happens which clearly works best if you haven't seen the trailer.  Hilarity ensues, and oddly, considering my usual aversion of Steve Carrell films, it really does.  Bits of it are maudlin, and like I said, the scripting in places is at about the level of a Hallmark movie, but I happen to like those, especially when the children are cleverer than the adults.  As Carrell's daughter, Alison Pill who gets to make that face a lot.  You know the one.  The director's previous film was Pieces of April, in which goth Katie Holmes attempted to cook thanksgiving whilst being filmed on a consumer camcorder and Patricia Clarkson was nominated for the Oscar.  The even younger Alison Pill got to make the face in that a lot too.  You know the one.  With the eyes.

With my 3D television, I've now also caught up with The Hobbit films.  In 3D.  I still remain unconvinced.  By the 3D.  Apart from odd moments like wildlife flying out of the screen and pointy swords and spears, much of the action takes place on a relatively flat but textured plane, the landscapes rendered miscellaneously murky due to the glasses with large sections lost to hazing.  As with The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey: Extended Version 3DThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Extended Version 3D is much improved by the tampering, a whole new layer of back story added for Dwarf King in waiting Thorin (which I won't spoil because it's delicious) and better pacing overall correcting many of the problems I identified back in The Films I've Watched This Year #29 which now looks unbelievably harsh especially in how it ignores some of the brilliant fight gags during the barrell sequence and Smaug himself.  Having dodged it at the cinema, I won't be making that mistake again and will be there when The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies turns up in cinemas wondering what's been left out.

The Oscar nominated Ernest & Celestine is a charming French-Belgian animation based on the storybooks of Gabrielle Vincent in which a bear and a mouse inadvertently become partners in crime and which rather makes me wish Disney had retained E H Shephard's original drawings for Pooh (though I know when those films were originally made animation technology wasn't quite up to the task).  #disneywatch continues with the fun if empty Fantasia 2000 which has Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance paying host to a version of Noah's Ark starring Donald Duck but also an utterly glorious interpretation of Rhapsody in Blue set in the melting pot of the Jazz age which really cleverly Mickey Mouses the twists and turns of Gershwin's score.  Dinosaur was Disney's first grand experiment in character digimation, presenting big lizards and monkies against photographic background.  The slightly rudimentary facial animation in places might explain its relative obscurity, but like the best of the studio Dinosaur tumbles along amusingly despite its especially nihilistic premise in which extinction itself is the antagonist.

Finally, I've seen Restless now too.  As suspected, it's rubbish, entirely wasting the talents of Mia Wasikowska in the same year (2011) as Jane Eyre didn't.  The worst film Gus Van Sant's directed, it's a romantic tragedy in which she's romanced by a loner played by Henry Hooper, a screen presence so exciting he makes Peeta from The Hunger Games seem like Oliver Reed.  Stuff happens which is attractively filmed, but none of the characters have anything witty or interesting to say, apart from in this case RyĆ“ Kase's character due to the virtue of him being an actual ghost, of a Japanese WW2 pilot not that the screenwriter really do anything useful with this other than offer history lessons.  Glancing at Wasikowska's career since Restless, it's almost as though she's said to her agent that she's not doing one of these again and it's telling that Stoker and the peerless Only Lovers Left Alive (which is pretty much unreviewable so I won't) both gothic character roles came very close on.  Every young actress at a certain point has to decide what kind of career they want and Mia's clearly looking enviously towards Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton.  Good on her.

"Dear the BBC, I must complain about the Coca-Cola product placement in this year's Doctor Who Christmas special..."

TV She's back then. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, we no longer have to sit and watch Children in Need to see the Doctor Who contribution although to be fair these days it's usually just some odd scene rather than some specially written piece of magic. Surprising no one, especially those of us who noticed the reverse of her head in the trailer, Clara's quite obviously back and happy to see the Doctor as far as it goes. Of course, if this is indeed also Santa, the Doctor presumably should have asked the rotund reindeer wrangler instead if he was a good man rather than Clara. At which point Santa would have pulled out Steve Lyons's article in this month's party newsletter and begun pointing ... "Weeeeellll...."

Lost in New York.

Travel In a lot of ways this Gothamist piece about the lost and found section at the Long Island Railroad isn't that different the many of the piece about lost and found sections in railway networks. That doesn't mean it isn't fascinating:
"Books never come back," Henry Felton said as he propped a surfboard against a shelf of laptops. "The books that I get, people aren't looking for. And the ones people are looking for, they never come in. People come in for nothing things like a shopping bag of toilet paper or a coffee cup. But the most expensive things—an iPhone 6—nobody's come in for it yet." Felton is the supervisor of the Long Island Rail Road Lost & Found; it's his job to collect, catalog, and try to return everything that comes in from the trains and stations. His work affords him a keyhole view into the private worlds of others. "You see people's lives play out right in front of you with the things they leave behind," he said."

"...that’s where I learned to hate potatoes."

Food If you didn't think it was possible to hate potatoes, how about if you worked in a potato processing plant? Excellent commentary from "turbid dahlia" at Metafilter:
"Once your bucket had reached critical mass, usually about twenty kilos of spuds in there, you would manhandle it to the end of the line – potato starch and solution water draining and slopping all over the place and your eyeballs fucking frozen – and angle it to kind of funnel/shake the spuds into these sturdy, transparent plastic bags. You had to guesstimate five kilos per bag – they had scales there for another guy to confirm the weight – and then the guy sealed the bags and piled them into a huge crate and that stuff sat there until the crate had ten bags and then you hefted it on top of another already-full crate and the crates either got taken out for delivery (to restaurants all over the city) or it went up into the coldroom behind the greengrocer’s and was stored there for delivery the next morning."

2001: An Evening's Viewing.

Film One of the triumphs of the film sector in YouTube, the Toronto International Film Festival has just uploaded two videos from its screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood in attendance. Although even a big flat screen won't be a replacement for the massive screen at the ArcLight, this seems like it would be the perfect way to spend the evening.

So firstly watch this:


And afterwards:

Soup Safari #6:
Chicken, Broccoli and Brown Rice at Pret A Manger.

Lunch. £3.25. 50p extra for bread. 10p for the glass of tap water. Pret A Manger, Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet Village Kinsey Rd, South Wirral CH65 9JJ. Phone:020 7932 5203. Website.


The Creepy New Wave of the Internet:
"Every day a piece of computer code is sent to me by e-mail from a website to which I subscribe called IFTTT. Those letters stand for the phrase “if this then that,” and the code is in the form of a “recipe” that has the power to animate it. Recently, for instance, I chose to enable an IFTTT recipe that read, “if the temperature in my house falls below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, then send me a text message.” It’s a simple command that heralds a significant change in how we will be living our lives when much of the material world is connected—like my thermostat—to the Internet."

The Chapter: A History.
"The chapter is tied intimately to our notions of literacy, as signalled by the fact that we give the name “chapter books” to the texts that offer school-age children their first mature reading experiences. More than this, the chapter has become a way of looking at the world, a way of dividing time and, therefore, of dividing experience. Its origins date back to long before the printing press or even the bound codex, back to the emergence of prose in antiquity as both an expressive and an informational medium. Literary evolution rarely seems slower than it does in the case of the chapter. What does the chapter’s beginnings reveal about the way our books and stories are still put together?"

Bread, circuses, and Oscar buzz:
"Oscar buzz is also great for filling of column inches or composition panes with text that costs very little to generate. Reviewers have to be sent to festivals so they can see the latest films, and they go armed with expense accounts. As long as they’re there, why not have them write about Oscar buzz as well? They’ve already seen the films, written their reviews, and perhaps interviewed some of the talent. Writing about Oscar buzz is easy and based on chitchat and speculation. It’s presumably a lot cheaper to run such stories than to have a reporter spending a lot of time tracking down information for a hard-news item about business trends in the industry."

Day One:
"And lo, did my first day of business at Sterling Silver Comics come to pass, and things went fairly well. For what was basically a “soft” opening, without all that “BIG GRAND OPENING” hoohar that will likely come later in the month, I did have several customers throughout the day, with one or two dead times that more or less corresponded to the doldrums I would have at the old shop at about the same points in the day, so no big whoop. Overall, I did manage to meet some new folks, welcome some customers from my previous job, and make a little more money than I was expecting for my first day. Hooray, I’m marginally less in debt!"