Review 2014:
One Thing:

About In the film City Slickers, Billy Crystal's hum drum blue collar worker Mitch spends two hours hauling cattle across the southwest of the US so that he can learn to smile again.

At the centre of the film is this exchange between his character and Jack Palance's Curley, a grizzled old rancher who doesn't look like he's seen a concrete building let alone walked through its doors, but he's happy because he knows this one thing, the secret of life, but as Mitch discovers the problem is that secret is different for everyone.

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what *you* have to find out.
-- Curley, City Slickers.

Which is a fine premise for Review 2014, asking people to write about what they think is "the secret of life".

But that's hard.

Plus it's surprisingly limiting.

So instead, I took the idea of the "one thing" and expanded it.

So this year, in December, I've asked a series of guest bloggers to write about the one thing everyone else should know about.

This could be anything.

For some of them it could be advice or an idea they’ve had.

For others it’ll be some piece of science or culture we want to bring to everyone else’s attention, a book, or film or album or piece of television.

It could be a place.

It could be a time.

Could even be a confession, something they’ve always wanted to talk about.

A memory.

Let's see what happens.

The Films I've Watched This Year #45

Film Oh Romola, Romola, Romola, where for art thou, Romola? From here on in Garai has a bit of a career schism in which, with the exception of Glorious 39, she enjoys the lead role on television but ends up playing secondary roles of daughters, wives or BFFs in films were quite often, and Vanity Fair's a clear example of this, she could play the lead just as well if not better.  Perhaps it's a choice; carrying television series with long schedules then dipping into shorter roles in films.  That seems to be the impression might draw from this 2011 interview.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  The point is she's still in that interstitial point of being thought of enough to be able to make television but entirely capable of playing character roles in films which is the very definition of the kind of actor who ends up playing Time Ladys.

As I mentioned the other day, Australian mini-series The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant is a fascinating shop window for the kinds of powers she'd bring to the Doctor, not least the necessary authority.  The piece itself is a bit halfy.  The first episode which sets up her character Mary Bryant's predicament, as a convict on the first ship to settle in Australia who breaks free of the authorities is amazingly pants in places with Jack Davenport playing an even more feckless version of his Pirates character in what's essentially the Torchwood equivalent of the old education series, How We Used To Live.  Endless exposition about the horrors of utilising convicts to build a colony punctuated by graphic scenes of sexual assault and torture.

But then in the second half, for an hour or so, everything clicks into place as a more intriguing chapter begins in which Bryant, her husband, children and various hangers on end up in an Italian colony where they attempt to build false identities.  Clearly the more intriguing story, you could imagine a film version told from the pov of the colonists attempting to decide if this group of apparent aristocrats are everything they say they are.  As intrigue gives way to tragedy, Garai's acting ability is on full display and she's heartbreaking, her Cornish accent cracks (forget what I said last week about accents).  Well worth three hours of your time so long as you're of a patient disposition.

Hugo 3D
As You Like It
Amazing Grace
Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope

Garai's next film according to the IMDb was voice work as Helena on the English dub of the Spanish animation El sueƱo de una noche de San Juan or Midsummer Dream, which isn't available anywhere but tantalisingly has some box art on Amazon.  Garai's next film after that according to the IMDb was voice work as Ilona Tasuiev on the English version of the French animation Renaissance which is available everywhere and is sadly practically unwatchable.  A sub-2000AD story about the super rich attempting to find immortality, the animation utilises a graphic novel aesthetic to evoke film noir with the result that some scene are simply loads of black with various points of light which makes the action difficult to follow.

Romola is fine as are her co-stars especially Daniel Craig, but the enterprise falls into an animation uncanny valley because the characters they're playing look nothing like the actors which is less of a problem in other animation styles but a bit distracting here, especially when the character they're voicing looks like a famous French actor.  Who interest comes in the form of Sean Pertwee and Nina Sosanya who was about the only actor to come out of the Fear Her debacle with her reputation intact.  But on the whole you can imagine director Christian Volckman  and his crew slaving away on this for ages then watching as Sin City steals their thunder.

The rest of the week was spent rewatching films from a slightly different perspective.  This is my third time through Scoop which I've already reviewed twice on the blog, on first viewing and then in 2010 as part of the Woody Allen watch which is ongoing.  That's when I first noticed Garai and said:
"The big surprise this time was to notice Romola Garai as Scarlett’s best friend. Since 2006, she’s taken a few high profile roles, most recently as Emma in a BBC tv adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and in Stephen Poliakoff’s underrated Glorious 39 and I think has the potential to be the next Kate Winslet or at least the British Johansson. She doesn’t have much to do here other than be Scarlett’s facilitator and sounding board (“I can get you into a club to meet Peter” / “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”) but even then she’s luminous."
Which pretty much sums things up even if my predictions have gone a bit south since she's purposefully become neither of those things.  Like all the other British actors in this very rich cast, she's clearly agreed to do it so  she has a Woody Allen film on her CV and she's at least better served than Richard Briers and Toby Jones who seem to have found themselves in the waste bin on the computerised editing system for all but 0ne shot of them looking sullen on a barge.

Romola's role essentially that of Tony Roberts in Annie Hall, of walking in lateral tracking shots so that Scarlett as Woody's younger female avatar can fire jokes at her.  She does have one moment of agency while lying on a bed being told off by her mother but on the whole its all saucer eyes and teasing and not really having much in the way of a story for herself though it's not really that kind of film to be fair.  Despite being a BBC Film, Scoop still hasn't hasn't had a UK release but there are plenty of region 2 versions available on Amazon, including an Italian Blu-Ray.

For reasons I can't fathom, I really took against Branagh's HBO version of As You Like It first time around.  Not having bothered to write anything about that on the blog, my memory's a bit dim as to why, but I suspect it's because of the liberties played with the text to the point that some major characters are left with just a few lines and the Orientalism and it not being as epic as his theatrical releases notably Hamlet, not that anything could be as good as Hamlet.  But on a television budget what was I expecting?

This time around I found the whole thing a deeply emotional transcendent experience, from Patrick Doyle's ravishing soundtrack, to the golden photography to the touching performances especially from Brian Blessed in the dual roles of Duke's Senior and Frederick.  Plus having read much more theatrical history since then, I can appreciate the implications of Adrian Lester being here albeit not in his signature role as Rosalind, filled on this occasion by Bryce Dallas Howard.  who in her own way, for all the family connect is sort of the US Garai.  Perhaps Jurassic World will give her some traction.

Essentially two things pushed me over.  Garai of course as Celia, notably in the scene where staging requirements leave her sitting on the edge of a bridge, alone, contemplating nature while Rosalind sets out her test to Orlando, in the background throughout patiently waiting for Ken to say cut.  But also Kevin Kline's Jacques, a figure I sometimes fear I may have become especially in the closing moments when he's walking off just as the party's starting.  To break character for a second, that's just the sort of thing I need to do less of.

After two BBFs, Amazing Grace has Garai playing William Wilberforce's wife Barbara in what turns out to be the crucial role of persuading him to carry on with the necessary work of ending slavery.  But the real surprise in that lovely, oh you're really quite famous now but you weren't when I first saw this so I didn't notice you, is Benedict Cumberatch as William Pitt and clearly loving it.  Much of his IMDb is like that, loads of "I didn't realise he was in that..."  Creation?  Starter for Ten?  Four Lions!?!  Heartbeat!?!?!??!?

Ended the week on Star Wars for reasons you can imagine.  The BD on my 50 inch LED looked amazing, almost too detailed, with scuffs in paintwork, matting errors in space and prop shadows aplenty (across Sir Alec's body in the lightsaber scene).  Noticed this time?  The lack of women.  Apart from Aunt Beru and Leia and some background artists there are no women in the thing,  None of the Rebels are women.  None of the Imperials.  Where are they all?  Stuck in the 70s presumably.  Still, can't fault it otherwise ...

The Science of Doctor Who.

TV  So anyway, yes, The Science of Doctor Who, the only piece of televisual Matt Smith playing the Doctor I had outstanding, both for scrutiny and review which I’ve finally seen in high definition from the 50th anniversary boxed set. Fairly typically while the rest of the world was all light sabres, Millenium Falcons and “Is that Cumberbatch?” I was watching Charles Dance firing chemicals at a Bunsen Burner.

Someone I know hasn’t seen the second half of The Ultimate Guide short so that there’ll forever be some piece of Eleventh Doctor out there he’s tantalisingly never seen, but I’m not like that. I’m too much of a completist. Plus having blubbed my way though Time of the Doctor (which is odd considering how disappointed in it as a send off I was the first time), I wasn’t quite ready to let him go just yet.

There he is, Matt Smith, all Doctorish, flying around the TARDIS, pushing levers saying sarcastic things to Professor Brian Cox and generally demonstrating all the reasons why he’s still so beloved by so many people and was probably the reason the show broke the US. Or rather was the reason the US finally embraced the show and more to the point have been discovering its history.

The story such as it is here, is about inspiring Brian to feel confident enough to produce a brilliant lecture and in time honoured timey-whimeyness, we’re essentially cross cutting between the lecture itself and the various moments before he’s about to give it. The drama inserts also serve to introduce the lecture’s various chapters about travelling forwards and backwards in time and about aliens.

The script this time is by Stephen Thompson and it really captures the Eleventh Doctor’s manic energy, ideas flying off in all directions and manages to be something other than simply pieces to camera. Bits of it are genuinely hilarious especially Professor Cox’s perfectly timed reaction to The Silents and poignant in the closing moments when we’re reminded of how inspiration can come from all sorts of places.

Is it canonical?   Well of course it is, there's nothing in here to suggest this isn't the Whoniverse's Professor Cox giving a lecture in the Whoniverse, the Doctor having landed the TARDIS backstage, if not necessarily this lecture, which strenuously keeps clear the differences between that fictional universe and ours.  Thanks again, then, Matt Smith.  It's been a time.

Writing review is hard.

Food The New Yorker has a piece about good review of bad restaurants which includes a useful paragraph from Jay Rayner about why writing about good restaurants is so difficult which also, somehow manages to exemplify why it's also so difficult to write about anything else. So here it is rewritten for something else:
"He likes writing about terrible restaurants Doctor Who, he explained, because “when you start to write about good restaurants Doctor Who, the lexicon begins to close down. You end up in the language of the motivational poster. But when you’re talking about a bad restaurant Doctor Who, basically you are rubbernecking at a car crash. And the language opens up before you. There are more tools in the toolbox.” Citing the famous Tolstoy line about happy versus unhappy families, Rayner argued that it could be applied to restaurants. “All good restaurants Doctor Who stories are good in the same way: they have tables good plots; they have chairs good characters; they have nice food good direction, and it’s served written by people who aren’t psychopaths. The number of ways by which restaurants Doctot Whos have to fuck things up, the bad ones, leaves me speechless—for a little while, until I sit down to write.”"
Welcome to my life each Saturday night during the on-season.

Actually Love This Honest Trailer.

Film Yes indeed. Covers most of the main issues I have with the film without the film studies jargon, the Hunest Traylor of Love Actually is near perfect and educational. See if you can spot the moment when I screamed, "Oh my God! Is that her? Oh my God" whilst quietly seething because having had to watch the thing so many times when writing my dissertation, I didn't notice. Not as many times as the makers of this Honest Trailer presumably, poor humans. Spoiler in this post's labels.

My Twitter Archive #4

About Back in 2009, I was epically grateful to take part in Antony Gormley's One and Other project. The whole story is here. As became increasingly the case even in 2009, plenty of us sat around watching the live stream and commenting on events via Twitter and I've had a look to see what people said about me while I was up here. Well ...

Which is, well, is, really. Then someone I actually knew noticed:

In case you're wondering, because the's always mysteriously scary, it was Ianto Jones dying on Torchwood, a campaign against which was brewing online in a version of the kind of thing which has become especially scary now.  Now I won't use the hashtag.  Someone dared me I think and so I did while I was wandering around and trying to think of something to say...

Romola Garai is the Doctor.

TV Yes, well, ok, not quite yet, but as I work my way through all her films, I do keep bumping into scenes which demonstrate she'd clearly be very good in the role. Last night I sat through all three hours of Mary Bryant which I'll comment on more fully in the weekly film posts even though it's television, but I thought you'd appreciate a glimpse of just how Doctorish her performance is. Here's a link to a shaky ipad video on Vimeo:

Romola Garai is the Doctor

Well yes, she's brandishing a rifle, has a Cornish accent and I'm not sure that would be quite the costume but the intensity's all there and just notice the sparkle and wonder in her eyes when she says "a wonderful madness..." and goddamn doesn't the slow motion walk away at the end demand a Murray Gold theme of some sort?

Last Christmas.

TV Aha, the good old midnight surprise announcement. Here's the Doctor Who News version with a larger commitment to the above picture with Peter giving it some Pertwee and Santa brandishing a satsuma.  Note Clara's wearing a nightgown and if this is her final adventure its an interesting contrast to Amy whose first trip in the TARDIS was also in nightwear.

As ever, no title goes without some other pop culture resonance and having a glance at the lyrics to the Wham song, it could just as well be a duet between Clara and the Doctor going over the main points again. Perhaps we'll get a He Said/She Said style spoken word version for the trailer. Here's how I think it'd carve up.

Last Christmas
I gave you my heart
But the very next day 
you gave it away.
This year
To save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special.

Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance
But you still catch my eye.
Tell me, baby,
Do you recognize me?

It's been a year,
It doesn't surprise me

I wrapped it up and sent it
With a note saying, "I love you,"
I meant it.

Now I know what a fool I've been.
But if you kissed me now
I know you'd fool me again.

A crowded room,
Friends with tired eyes.

I'm hiding from you
And your soul of ice.
My god I thought you were 
someone to rely on.

Me? I guess I was a shoulder to cry on.

A face on a lover 
with a fire in his heart.
A man under cover 
but you tore me apart, ooh-hoo.
Now I've found a real love, 
you'll never fool me again.

Well, yes, ok sort of.  "Baby" doesn't seem like Capaldi's thing at all.

Soup Safari #9:
Cream of Tomato at Westminster Tea Rooms.

Lunch. £4.95. Westminster Tea Rooms, 165 Lord St, Southport PR8 1PF. Phone:01704 540066. Website.


TV With fifty-one years of stuff, it's impossible to actually list ten favourite Doctor Who stories, but here's some that I would watch or listen to right now or in one or two cases because they're just very meaningful to me.

  1. City of Death
  2. Storm Warning
  3. Day of the Doctor
  4. Marco Polo
  5. Touched by an Angel (audiobook version)
  6. The Caves of Androzani
  7. Blink
  8. Torchwood: Children of Earth
  9. An Unearthly Child (pilot version)
  10. Planet of the Dead

I think.

[Inferno is now at eleven having been nudged out by Day of the Doctor which I rewatched in 3D last night and is near perfect. Poor Zygon Osgood.]