Predictions 2015.

That Day We reach the time when I assess how well I predicted the ups and downs of the year and look forward to the next. Here we go again:

The Beatles are added to Spotify.

There it was and not just Spotify, all streaming services. On Christmas Day we opened our presents while listening to the 1 compilation. One Mark.

Taylor Swift does Glastonbury.

No, although there was much fevered speculation when the Foo Fighters had to understandably pull out, because she was in the country. She didn't but clearly not for the reasons Ed Sheeran suggests since she later featured at the BST festival in Hyde Park and at Radio 1's Big Weekend. No marks.

Greens overtake the LibDems in Parliament.

No, but close, the LibDems being demolished at the General Election. No marks.

The next series of Doctor Who is better than the last one.

Entirely subjective but I think it was. I certainly enjoyed it more and many of my reviews were pretty upbeat. One mark.

Spider-man joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Which was seemingly on the cards after the Sony hack but I didn't think would actually happen. Another reboot, but bravely keeping him a teenager and in high school so different enough to be interesting. One mark.

Three out of Five, which isn't bad at all.

Right then, for next year:

The Mutya Keisha Siobhan album is finally released.

Arden Shakespeare announces Arden of Faversham.

Moffat and Capaldi leaving Doctor Who at the end of series ten.

Film streaming services announce deals which allow for studio back catalogues to be available in greater depth and for longer ala music.

Major scandal leads to early UK general election.

Review 2015:
Film Experiences:
Mags L Halliday on Fatal Attraction.

Film I think I saw every film released between 1987 and 1991, many of them twice in one day. I worked in an independent cinema chain. It was an ideal job for a teen too young to work in bars and too snarky to survive long as a waitress. I always wanted the Friday shift, when the cans of reels would arrive at lunchtime and be stitched together by the projectionist ready for the first screening. I also liked Sundays, where you started later (the religous manager not wanting anyone working before lunchtime on the sabbath) and got double-time. Everyone hated Saturdays: the kids left to run riot at the matinee; the teens leaving used condoms behind in the back row at the late screening.

As an usher, my job included selling tickets and popcorn, tearing tickets, selling ice-cream, cleaning the screen after each screening, being ready to evacuate the building in event of a fire, and 'watching the audience'. In practise, unless there was trouble in that pre-mobile era, the final task really meant 'watching the film'. I might watch in the screen, or through the projectionist's window. The latter meant I could have a quick fag whilst watching, so long as I didn't mind the loud whirring of the projector (and snores of the projectionist). We also got free passes to see films: those tended to be great currency in our social group as they are the cinema equivalent of your name being on the list for gigs.

The downside of the job was I became used to missing the start of films: the first 20 minutes were spent either letting the other screen in, cashing up the ice-cream sales, or both. If two of us were on, I might convince one of my colleagues to cover so I could see the start of a film I really liked. I have a lot of random memories of those years behind the torch. Like the time I fell asleep in Rambo 3, or how me and a friend crushed so hard on Carey Elwes in The Princess Bride. Or how I knew which of the town's small goth population were fibbing when they claimed to have seen The Lost Boys on its first night (one week run, mostly empty). Or that my last film was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which I adore to this day.

But I'm going to focus on Fatal Attraction.

It was due to be huge: we knew that as all passes were suspended and nearly all of us were on duty the first night. The first week, our big screen was sold out every night. And it ran for three weeks. I know that because by the end of its run, I hated it and counted up that I had seen it 20 times. Twenty times is a lot of times to see a film you don't like. I don't like Michael Douglas in it, I didn't like or care about the characters, I didn't like the plot or the sexist subtexts. I've never rewatched it since the last Thursday it played in that seaside cinema (by then downgraded to screen 2). And yet...

The first Friday, its opening night in our fleapit, I stood in the ushers' bit and clutched my colleague's arm in surprise when Alex suddenly reappears. A couple of screenings in and I started watching the audience. It was fascinating to see 200 people jump in unison and then - and this was the bit that fascinated me - sit back with an embarrassed grin. I watched it for weeks: this visceral response, and unpicked shot by shot how Adrian Lyne created it. The mise-en-scene used to denote each world, the zooms, the diegetic sound effects. I applied critical film theory to it to understand why an audience reacted en masse to a film. People go to thrillers with the same mindset they go to an illusionist: they think they won't be fooled like all the others. And they're wrong. Because film lures you in, creates a suspension of disbelief and then slams you in the gut with it.

I've seen that same communal gasp in other films over the years. At the first screening of Resevoir Dogs in a full Sheffield multiplex screen, when the only other woman in the screening walked out after the ear scene. Or at a moment in The Force Awakens two weeks ago (despite the person with their bloody mobile out just in my eyeline). That first time, when I started analysing how it worked, was another early step on a path to studying film history and creating a cornerstone of my life.

So whilst I still can't stand it, Fatal Attraction was a major film experience for me.

My Favourite Film of 1966.

Film And so, with some inevitability, let's talk about Doctor Who or Dr. Who as is the case with Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (or whatever it's called - opinions surprisingly differ).

I've already talked at some length elsewhere on multiple occasions, and here's a version here, about how I properly became a Doctor Who fan, during the so-called wilderness years after listing to an audio starring Paul McGann.

I've also written here about my first memory of the television series, which was later revealed to be a scene from The Invisible Enemy.

With that covered there's one aspect of the Amicus film series which I've always found slightly fascinating.

If Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. had been a bigger success, and notice how it wasn't, how the first flush of Dalekmania had subsided enough for kids not to want to see this version of Who at the cinema, the third film would have been an adaptation of The Chase.

Although for production company Amicus this must have seemed like the natural choice being the third television story to go into production featuring the robotic Russian dancers, the whole process of actually adapting a two and a half to three hour, six episode epic into an eighty minute widescreen technicolour film sounds like a challenge.

If someone has ever seen a potential outline I'd be intrigued as to where they went with it.

There's certainly plenty of incident.  From the chase around the desert to meeting the Aridians (and mire beasts!) to visiting contemporary Earth a couple of times (with the whole business in the haunted house!) and then the material with the doppelganger, the filmmakers would have a lot of spectacle to choose from.

There's a lot of chaff in the script too.  With needs and budgetary requirements of having to create more new locations on a weekly basis than normal, the scripts contain a lot of moments which feel like writer Terry Nation giving his characters something to do to fill the duration of the episode having had the set built rather than a proper sense of action or jeopardy.  In some cases the action just stops altogether.

Nevertheless you could imagine plenty of jokes being achieved through montage sequences of the TARDIS team finding themselves in scrapes, of some sections being given the full adaptation treatment and others being parred down to a visual gag.

Unless it's simply the concept which is retained and the rest would be thrown out.  The Daleks chase the TARDIS across time and space.  For reasons.  Plenty of scope for the utilisation of stock footage and premade costumes and sets.

Which crew?  Would Roy Castle have returned?  Or Bernard Cribbins?  Or some new comedic leading man?

Either way, this is another one of those delicious almost wheres in Doctor Who's long history.

The Diary of River Song: The Rulers of the Universe.

Audio Marvellous, totally, bloody marvellous. As you might have gathered, I'm rather enamored with Doctor Professor Song and the actress who plays her, so the idea of a dedicated spin-off is really, quite welcome. But oh the danger. Apart from Big Finish having to produce something featuring a time travelling archaeologist which sounds totally unlike the Bernice Summerfield stories (not easy given that Benny is a clear influence on this television character) it also has to feel as though it's a natural extension of the television revival.

Well it does on all counts.  She's entirely unlike her antecedent.  River's motives ambiguous and her methods reckless and very much the figure who devised the baroque approach to contacting the Doctor in Time of the Angels, who can barely suffer fools, generally men.  As is often the case when actors shift a character into a new medium, Alex seems to take a few beats to get into her stride in translating her performance to audio but within minutes,Song sings again, entirely charming and electric and dangerous.

There are a couple of niggles.  An element of the overarching story (oddly) has strong echoes of Paul Magrs's Fourth Doctor Nest Cottage audios which is distracting if you're already aware of that story.  Plus much like the design on the box set cover, to an extent River is pushed to one side in the final installment in favour of the Eighth Doctor ultimately becoming the figure who confronts the main antagonist.  Which isn't to say she doesn't have a strong story thread of her own, you will punch the air, but it feels like an odd piece of structuring.

But the writing from all four authors is incredibly strong, notably James Goss's typically experimental third part which is a two hander best approached without any knowledge so, y'know, spoilers.  Everyone has captured exactly what it must be like for River, still learning what it means to be a Time Person, finding herself running into her husband but unable to tell him who she is, because as she says, he's yet to go through the change that leads to him becoming the man she loves (which in and of itself is an interesting delineation).

Quick skippable spoilery discussion about placement: It's very much about The Diary of River Song as an information source and how it structures River's life, not simply an audio crutch to allow for exposition.  Although it's very non-specific about timing, my guess is it's some time after The Angels Take Manhattan in the two hundred years mentioned in Husbands helping to account for why she's so clued in on his earlier incarnations almost expecting one of those to show up instead of a future version.

The Rulers of the Universe.

Here we are, Paul McGann's first occasion playing the Eighth Doctor during the Time War on audio.  With just his brief pre-regenerative television appearance to build on, the approach in performance and writing is to return to something of his pre-Dark Eyes state, more adventure seeking, less cynical about the universe, perhaps because he realises that it might not be around for very much longer.  He's notably treating the TARDIS as a friend again, perhaps because he's travelling alone and she's as close to a companion he has now.

Deciding to go with this version of the Eighth Doctor is somewhat dictated by this being a spin-off from the television revival and the pre-regenerative Time War version most likely to be familiar to the potential audience; teaming River with the even younger pre-Storm Warning figure or even not specifying where he's from in his timeline would have been the braver approach but as a result, the writers are also boldly able to make the war a central part of the narrative, perhaps as a pre-cursor to the upcoming boxed set.

As expected his interactions with River are frustrating because he can't know who she is, but as is becoming customary between Kingston and her various opposite numbers, the chemistry is palpable.  Throughout there's also the nagging question: if this is set after the second Doom Coalition box, how does he not know who she is and this seems to her first interaction with him, although she's clearly aware of him and able to describe him.  Will they meet on equal terms then and if so, how will he forget her again?

The Husbands of River Song.

TV Happy Boxing Day. I had planned to wait until January before reviewing yesterday’s Whoverfest but after sitting through the first forty minutes of the Harold Lloyd silent The Kid Brother and not laughing once due to the high number of jokes which are at his expense through bullying with half my brain writing the following in my head, I realised that it was best to get it into this infernal, extraordinary machine rather than having the words bouncing around waiting for them to flow through my fingers. You’ve probably read most of the following in one of the professional reviews which turned up online within seconds of the episode ending but I haven’t read any of those. About the only pieces of writing I’ve tended to pay attention to about any episode this year have been my old colleague from Behind The Sofa Frank who's now posting to the Frame Rated blog and Graham in the monthly consociation proceedings.

As is so often has to be the case when a Steven Moffat script is making a statement, let’s begin at the end. Once The Husbands of River Song concluded, many of the tweets advertising the wares of those being paid to do this sort of thing before Christmas asked readers what they thought of the archaeological academic’s final adventure, even though everything about the story is designed to eek out her story for a good while yet. One of the problems inherent in the character is that when he created this treasure in season four, Moffat narratively locked in a bunch of story points which would indicate what her penultimate adventure would entail. Like the Doctor’s limited regenerative cycle there was always going to be a point where the writer would need to circumnavigate these details, not retcon them as such, but at least provide an re-interpretation.

That’s what I think Moffat is doing here. Apart from the additional two hundred years mentioned  reminding us that River’s a Time Lord and therefore capable of many millennia of life and seemingly designed to give the ironically named in this instance Big Finish a massive gap to fill, if this final date is to last twenty-four years, there’s clearly enough wiggle room to indicate that not all that time will be spent on Darillium. Far from being her final adventure, the whole substructure of this seems designed to both honour her description of their final encounter from The Forest of the Dead and circumvent it, thank goodness, if required. Anyone else wonder if we’ve even seen her introduction into being a “companion” full time for the next season? It’s certainly very interesting that we’ve not had announcement yet about Clara’s replacement …

As a quick sidebar on the Big Finish stuff, and note I haven’t heard The Diaries of … yet, but The Eternity Clock game apparently establishes that she uses a mnemosine recall-wipe vapour whenever meeting earlier incarnations of the Doctor so as not to pollute the timeline and fictionally to keep with the spirit of him not knowing who she is during Silence in the Library (even though it makes a nonsense of her complaint about him not recognising her).  As an alternative, doesn’t Hell Bent also provide a nuWho-hewn method for this to be the case? And given that, what’s to stop her and Tenth even having audio adventures together? Or with any of the Doctors? At this point I’d certainly welcome an appearance in one of The Early Adventures with Fraser subbing in as a Pat against her. Imagine her turning up in a Tom and Lalla story. I’m giddy with anticipation.

None of which really explains how she doesn’t recognise Twelfth as the Doctor for reasons other than comedy. Time Lords have tended to identify each other irrespective of their outward appearance, even, if Ninth in Dalek is an indication, able to know if there’s another member of their race in existence anywhere in the time vortex. Moffat seems to have decided to ignore that now. Twelfth didn’t suspect Missy in Dark Water and now River spends most of Husbands (an abbreviation which sounds like a nineties sitcom starring Belinda Lang and Jenny Funnell) entirely oblivious to his presence, even in the face of an orgy of evidence that this random stranger is the love of her life. It’s all completely worth it for the look on Capaldi and Kingston’s faces when the penny drops (in favour of Donna) but it’s still a nagging irritant through much of the episode.

Which is, sigh, part of the problem with Husbands (co-starring Daniel Hill as "Trevor"). Like so many of these kinds of stories with their overwhelmingly poignant conclusions featuring huge story points which are likely to be the thing most people, well ok fans, talk about, not everything which occurs in the run up is top draw entertainment and you can boo all you want but I’ll just give you my best Craig Revel Horwood disdain face in return. The whole robot business is rubbish, and inane rubbish at that, right down there with many of the underpowered antagonists we’ve endured during the Moffat era. Perhaps Hydroflax plays well with children with its jolly big red (Hero 6) and Lego friendly replaceable heads, but it’s not a patch on anything in the panto parts of season 17 this story is pastiching with its references to how a wife might consummating her marriage without knowing the particulars of her spouse’s anatomy.

The guest cast doesn’t really help. The first time I saw Matt Lucas was inches away from me in the foyer at The Pleasance at the Edinburgh Festival in 1998 coming out of a show I wasn't attending dressed in a chicken outfit in the process of removing its head, sweat pouring off him. “It’s fucking hot in here” he said to no one in particular which is probably the funniest I’ve ever seen him be. I’m also immune to Greg Davies as a performer and although in all fairness he’s barely given leeway to do much more than Crowden his way through the mania much like the Doctor and River I was certainly happier when he existed simply as a silent cranial carbon carrier in a bag. Even the usually good Philip Rhys, previously known for his “outing” of Patterson Joseph as the Eleventh Doctor on News 24, decided that ham was the way to go and ended up as the Pork Sausagemeat we’ve just bought reduced to 20p from Tesco.

Nevertheless through all of that Capaldi and Kidston crackle and pop and have the most formidable of chemistries. A reader (whose anonymity I’ll be happy to break if he wants me to) noted via email recently that when Eleventh said in his regeneration scene that his new body might need time to “bed in” it was an indication of what was to come with Twelfth. I suggested in reply that the show is always at its best when it doesn’t require this sort of close textual reading and it would have been handy if this had been made plainer that his regeneration had gone a bit wonky while the new Doctor was being an utter bastard (or words to that effect) but does at least allow for a certain retrospective appreciation even if you couldn’t pay me to watch Kill The Moon or The Caretaker again for fun. Whatever our fellow Whoever says in polls, Robots of Sherwood was the best story of that season. Yes, it was.

Either way, at this point season eight has become an aberration and by now Moffat et al have simply decided to let Capaldi be Capaldi. As Graham says in his After Image slot in the Christmas number of DWM, “in 2015 we had the Doctor again. Just the Doctor in all his glory.” The root of that seems to be to let his performance to dictate the differences to Tennant and Smith rather than trying to write it in. Don’t runaway from allowing him to be Tuckerish or present the light comedy that has been his hallmark since Local Hero. Give him big speeches. Allow him to be romantic, to laugh (and what a laugh!) and cry and be passionate. When he bares his teeth while smiling, yes it might look like the award ceremony at a garden fence convention, but its extremely potent and gives him the approachability of Ninth, who was equally sullen at times but surprisingly huggable.

If River had arrived during series eight, the atmosphere would have been equally electric but probably also with an unhealthy toxicity. Would that version have baulked at her homicidal tendencies or agreed to them? Isn’t it important that he does offer that contrast? Notice how Doctor Professor Song’s moral compass swings back towards something north of the righteous whenever she’s in his magnetic pull? The way Kingston deftly modulates her performance in Husbands is remarkable, shifting gears the moment her love seems in danger in a moment which feels like it was written to be played for laughs, swatting her devotion into a punchline but her quiver of her voice draws straight into the drama. I adore this character and this actress. Can you tell? Twelve episodes and a couple of Christmas specials next year. Please?

Anyway, that’s quite enough of Boxing Day spent on this. Thanks to the River shipping, Husbands (created by Stephanie Calman) is pretty high up the league table of Christmas stories, even if it pretty much dumped the seasonal attributes early ala Planet of the Dead. Rather like soap operas, Doctor Who tends to save its big events for the festive episode when presumably the most people are supposed to be watching and I’d be interested to know how many of the not-we caught the significance. But given the rating (5.77m), it’s not really clear how many of those people were watching. Regardless, it was just what I needed yesterday and when it oscillates around in rewatches it’ll be a welcome respite after the grimness of the previous two seasons. Now all we need is an official announcement of when exactly we can expect the next season of Doctor Who. Someone said the word “hiatus” to me the other day and I nearly lost my head.

Christmas Links #24

In Conversation: Charlie Kaufmann:
"The writer behind Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and, now, Anomalisa — a stop-motion animated dark comedy about a depressed customer-service expert who falls in love on a business trip, which Kaufman co-directed — discusses where his ideas come from, the TV shows he can’t get made, and the finer points of puppet sex."

Festive food on the BBC 25 years after Delia Smith's Christmas:
"2015 marks 25 years since Delia Smith’s Christmas, so Press Officer and foodie Alasdair Drennan remembers that landmark programme and looks back at Christmas food on the BBC."

Star Wars is dead, long live Star Wars:
"The Force awoke a few days later than most for me, but on Monday 21st December, I sat in a small cinema in Hammersmith and readied my body for Star Wars. Sweaty palms? Check. Slightly elevated heartbeat? Check. Stupid grin plastered on face despite nearby proximity of colleagues who consider me an otherwise professional and functional human being? Check. There are have been few cinematic experiences in my career where I have legitimately broken out in goosebumps, but Episode VII was one of them: if a new Star Wars trilogy can no longer be considered a once in a lifetime event, then it's still a rare treat to savour. Excitement, thy name is The Force Awakens."

As Climate Change Imperils Winter, the Ski Industry Frets:
"The typical scene at New England ski resorts over Christmas vacation—madhouses filled with students as young as 2 or 3 packing onto bunny hills while parents head to higher elevations for their first runs of the season—has been replaced by a sobering reminder that climate change is already taking a bite out of winter."

Exposed: How Keanu Reeves’ Newest Film Got Whitewashed:
"Originally called Daughter of God and directed by a black filmmaker who has since removed his name from the project, Exposed is Hollywood’s latest attempt to erase the work of people of color."

Christmas Links #23

The evolution of Christmas:
mid 1990s Xmas: Go to the shops to buy everything you need for Christmas
mid 2000s Xmas: Go to the shops to buy everything, except for a few books, CDs and DVDs from Amazon
mid 2010s Xmas: Get most of your Christmas stuff online, assuming it ever arrives

The Beatles Now On Spotify:
"On December 24 at 12:01am in your time zone around the world, The Beatles’ catalogue will be available on Spotify to all of our users."

The Year In Pictures 2015:
"THIS was the year of the great unraveling, with international orders and borders challenged or broken, with thousands of deaths, vast flows of migrants and terrorist attacks on some of the most cherished symbols of civilization, both Western and Muslim."

The first Christmas Radio Times:
"It was all very different to today's multi-channel, on-demand world. There was only radio, and London station 2LO had a meagre five-and-a-half hours of programmes on Christmas Day." [editorial interjection - post includes link to download a pdf of that very first issue!]

“There’s something rejuvenating about getting a good fright…” The Big Interview: Chipo Chung:

"You may recognise Chung from Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007), Thick of It spin-off In The Loop (2009) or alongside Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins in Proof (2005); or perhaps you spotted her in Doctor Who, recent BBC crime drama From Darkness, or in Sky Atlantic’s Fortitude. The RADA trained Yale graduate also has some impressive theatre credits, including The Overwhelming and Phèdre at the National Theatre."

Readers Letters for the 22nd December 2015.

Film This blog doesn't often get comments these days due to a mix of messy Disqus logins and social media. I'm going to try and fix this in the new year, but in the mean time there's been a lovely message on the Mean Streets post from David Pascoe which is well worth highlighting here:
"What a marvellous post, both about Mean Streets (my favourite film) and the importance of a venue where you can see a wide array of films (in my case, Falmouth Arts Centre, now called simply The Poly). I lived in Falmouth all my life up to the age of 32, and it's possible my wife and I might move back in a couple of years time after a decade away. I still try to go and see films there whenever I'm back visiting. My main spell if watching films there covered 1998-2008 and was especially important as it was the only cinema Falmouth had at that time. A more mainstream cinema called The Phoenix opened in 2009 and covered a gap while the Poly was closed for a year due to financial problems. Is it symbolic that this happened the year after I moved away?

"As for Mean Streets, I got into it during my late 90s obsession with Harvey Keitel/Robert de Niro and Martin Scorsese. It became a touchstone film and one I constantly went back to in 1999-2000, probably because it captured them before their shtick had set in. A refrain at the time, as all of those incredible actors from the 70s started to age and move into projects which their reputations didn't deserve, was to check out the early work to see them "young, hungry and changing the film world". Mean Streets was dazzling, energetic, heartfelt, exciting, and looked at times like something from another world. It became my favourite film and then I didn't see it again for over a dozen years until it turned up on iPlayer. I watched it again and at the was still my favourite film."

Christmas Links #22

How we made: The Muppet Christmas Carol:
"When I met Michael Caine to talk about playing Scrooge, one of the first things he said was: “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.” I said: “Yes, bang on!” He was intimidating to start with, but he’s a delight."

‘Wallace And Gromit’ Creators Release New 360-Degree Animation for Google’s Spotlight Stories:
"Santa Claus is coming to town — but one particular custodian really doesn’t like the idea of someone messing with his chimneys, or climbing around on the roof. He tries to catch the intruder, starting an epic and hilarious chase. That’s in a nutshell the premise of “Special Delivery”, a new animated short by Aardman Animations, the award-winning animation studio behind such hits as “Wallace and Gromit”, “Shaun the Sheep” and “Chicken Run”."

Tesco delivers our Christmas parcels to an address 700 miles away in Shetland:
"I ordered three items on 23 November. One arrived three days later but, according to my Tesco account, the other two were delivered to Shetland. We live on the Isle of Wight, nearly 700 miles away. I have phoned, messaged and emailed, but get nowhere, just a “we will get back to you” message."

‘The Quatermass Experiment’ Experiment:
"This caption is a blatant lie."

Love, SRSLY:
"It's the first of two SRSLY Christmas specials! First up, we revisit Love, Actually in great detail, with a little help from our friends. (Caroline Crampton, Anna Leszkiewicz, Anoosh Chakelian, Barbara Speed, Stephen Bush, Jonn Elledge)"

My Favourite Film of 1967.

Film As Christmas draws near the last thing on anyone's minds should be eggs, and yet here we are with my favourite film of 1967, Cool Hand Luke. Here's a gentlemen during the 2012 festive season eating fifty Cadbury's Cream Eggs (after consuming a box of Oreos):

Christmas Links #21

The Complete Series Nine: Blu-ray/DVD details announced:
"The DVD and Blu-ray contains all twelve episodes from Peter Capaldi’s second series in the role, with guest star’s Maisie Williams and Rufus Hound as well as the brilliant Missy (played by Michelle Gomez). The Complete Boxset also contains the 2014 Christmas Special, Last Christmas and this year’s highly anticipated The Husbands of River Song and more than four hours’ worth of VAM, including ...."

Please Stop Spreading This Nonsense that Rey From Star Wars Is a “Mary Sue”:
"Over the weekend, even as most of us were celebrating the fact that a new Star Wars movie did not in any way suck, some portions of the internet got sucked into a pointless, silly debate. Is Rey, the film’s hero, a “Mary Sue”? The answer is no. Next question?"

Christmas covered:
"Taking delivery of your bulging, bumper Christmas issue of the Radio Times is as seasonal as dressing the tree and basting the turkey."

Star Wars: The Feminism Awakens:
"Rey, the franchise’s newest breakout star, is a heroine fans can finally feel good about liking."

Our funniest moments of 2015:
"Here are some of the funniest moments and incidents from BBC Weather during 2015."

Soup Safari #60: Parsnip and Apple at Ego Mediterranean Restaurant & Bar.

Lunch. £4.95. Ego Mediterranean, Hope St, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 9BW. Phone: 0151 706 0707. Website.

Christmas Links #20

Longfellow house opens doors for the holidays:
"The historic Henry Wadsworth Longfellow house is opening its doors for the holidays to give visitors a view of the how the poet and his family celebrated Christmas in the 19th century."

THE HATEFUL EIGHT: A movie is a really big thing:
"This is a picture of the last three Hateful Eight prints leaving our print assembly location in Valencia. They are destined for local LA presentation locations."

Eyewitness 1915: Bank failure ruins kids’ Christmas, but Frick comes through:

"When a Pittsburgh bank closed its doors three days before Christmas 1915, the move threatened the small accounts of thousands of school students."

Britain's favourite Christmas paintings:
"Christmas is the ideal time to visit Britain’s public galleries. With everyone out Christmas shopping, or stuck indoors with their in-laws, your local art gallery is the perfect refuge from the Yuletide madness. In December you can see great artworks in quiet seclusion, away from the commercial hubbub of the high street – and it won’t cost you a penny. To celebrate the festive season we’ve asked curators across the UK to choose a seasonal painting from their permanent collections. Here are their favourites. What’s yours?"

Meet the 'Christmas elf' who struggles to enjoy the holiday season:
"Christmas is one of the hardest times for people with depression and other mental health issues."

Christmas Links #19

Christmas ghost story: Frozen in Fear:
"Storms scare me, even daytime ones. The barn shook with every thunder clap. Joe tried to help by stroking me with his hairy legs. He’s very kind for a spider. Then the door opened. ‘People!’ I whispered. I don’t like strangers but I had to be brave, I had to ask for help."

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Reviewed BY ANTHONY LANE:
"O.K. spoilers first." [editorial interjection - yes - don't read this if you haven't seen the film yet]

Christmas cards that shocked the web:
"Meet the Johnson family from Louisiana. What began as an attempt at a humorous card soon spiralled into an online debate. Some defended the family's right to portray themselves in whatever way they choose. Others argued it was sexist, with one user writing: "Nothing funny about teaching your daughters they have less value than their brother. This is terrible."

Bridget Christie: The greatest gift of Christmas? A social media truce:
"It’s time for the Twitterati and Instagramati to take a rest, even if a mother does buy too many presents for her family."

Buffy The Vampire Slayer staked its claim to a twist on a Christmas classic:
"What this episode captures, and what so few other “holiday special” episodes of TV fail to appreciate, is just how dark Christmas despair can get. As any hotline operator can attest, the Yuletide season is noteworthy for the spike in suicide attempts it annually garners. And that downbeat statistic is only one way in which the end of the year triggers depression in people."

Christmas Links #18

Natascha McElhone: 'People talk about strong female roles – I shy away from that term':
"I have to ask you about this Jeremy Beadle panto that you once worked on at City Varieties in Leeds. You were an assistant stage manager for it? I read about it in an interview ..."

Carrie Fisher on Star Wars:
"Carrie Fisher being interviewed about her role as Princess Leia on BBC's Nationwide in 1977."

‘Xander the Slayer’: Steven DeKnight details the spec script that got him hired on ‘Buffy’:

“Somewhere in a storage facility in LA is a copy of that spec script,” said Steven DeKnight when we asked him about it. “I have actually no idea what box that particular script is in, but it’s out there somewhere. It’s like the lost ark. Yeah, that was a crazy little story.”

Star Wars's The FA.

Film One of my prized possessions is a t-shirt which was given away free in Tesco shops with purchases of the VHS release of the Star Wars: Special Edition boxed set. Although the widescreen version I bought had a silver cover, this has the box logo from the golden pan and scan version, that's golden in colour rather than content of course. Unfortunately due to my girth I wasn't able to wear it then. Or to any of the subsequent releases of the prequels. But due to my recent weight loss (six stone and counting) (ten whole inches around the waist) it finally fits and sure enough there was really only one garment of clothing I could wear today.

I hadn't planned to see Star Wars's The FA today, hating crowds in cinemas and knowing that I'd end up sitting with some of the worse examples of film's patronage. But due to the number of spoilers or veiled spoilers already floating around online there wasn't much of a choice. Even this morning someone tweeted something which in mentioning a character name effectively gave away a huge happening somewhere in its duration. Sure enough I ended up sitting next to two people who provided a running commentary for its duration even after I'd quietly asked them to sush, partially spoiling the experience because of the connected internal monologue leading up to said sushing.

Not all franchise films are in this area of spoiler avoidance through immediate viewing.  I'd say that neither of the Star Trek films, for example, really required being seen on the opening day apart from one particular unfortunate incident which wasn't spoilt at all for me beforehand.  The MARVEL films similarly have easily waited until some way into the first release week.  Outside franchises, I managed to entirely avoid Gone Girl right through to the blu-ray release.  As we've discussed before, quite often all I like to really know about a film is on the poster, though I have seen the trailers for all of next year's big franchise releases, what with them being thrown up before Star Wars.

After sitting with my hood up for the duration to also block out my neighbour's gesticulating and nervous foot movement, I got the gist of The FA, more than that, I utterly adored the film and everything it's trying to do within its own limits. The are moments of true wonder not simply in how JJ Abrams manages to distill all the elements which made the sacred trilogy sing but also in terms of the epic, gobsmacking bigness of the visuals. This is a film which will bare the multiple viewings it will be receiving in a way that few space films rarely do these days even when the art department is at their most proficient.

Some notes.  No major spoilers but if you want to avoid knowing ANYTHING, STOP READING NOW.

(1)  On a purely dispassionate level, it's possible to grasp towards suggesting I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy more as piece of entertainment and that a lot of The FA is about revisiting old characters and a world and sustaining itself through that.  But given the choice and if I had GotG and The FA in front of me, I'd want to watch the latter again,

(2)  Oh Carrie Fisher.  For years Carrie Fisher has felt like the Tom or Eccleston of the Star Wars franchise and if there was ever to be a figure who might not turn up for a sequel (just as they didn't for anniversary Doctor Who) it would be her.  Well there she is on the poster and embracing the everything of it and in the film she's really, really great, like Harrison Ford, logically picking up her character all these years later.  Her presence alone applies a validity to the project which the other actors wouldn't necessarily because their attitude to those old film hasn't been as severe and sarcastic.

(3)  The secondary and supporting cast is hilariously stacked.  Part of the fun of the thing is simply in looking out for all the cameos and day players - in places it resembles All Star Record Breakers or one of Woody Allen's European films.  There's one scene in which a particularly renowned senior actress is called upon to do a thing which might be in the top five funniest screen moments this year.  You'll spend a lot of The FA saying (in your head) "Oh that's thingy off of whatnot..."

(4)  There's not one duff new character.  Some are in it less than you'd imagine from the trailer but clearly they've planned out the sequels so everyone gets a chance to shine.

(5)  Abrams and Kasden and Pegg and whoever else worked on the script have deliberately kept some of the geopolitical details of the world vague, perhaps as a reaction to the prequels which spent half their dialogue on route talk and explanations on how the senate was structured.  Lucas was clearly trying to do something different with the prequels in terms of high melodrama and making a space version of the Hollywood sandal epics crossed with modern wuxia (rather than westerns and classical wuxia (definition of wuxia) of the sacred trilogy) which made such discussions about the nature of things inherent in their DNA for better or worse, but it's refreshing to be watching a film in which the audience is left to try and piece together the space the characters inhabit.

Christmas Links #17

Star Wars at the BBC:
"A long time ago in a TV studio not so far away, the stars of the original Star Wars film came to the BBC to promote their then-unknown movie."

A fan’s new hope:
"Ten years ago, in a movie theater not so very far away, the credits rolled on a Star Wars movie and I succumbed to a wave of unexpected emotion: relief. Not because it was good—no matter what anyone tells you, Revenge of the Sith is not a good movie—but because it was over. Done. After six long years of anticipation and anxiety, the prequels couldn’t hurt us anymore."

Master of the Darth arts: the man doing a Star Wars cartoon every day for a year:
"Star Wars fans are notorious for their devotion – just look at the growing number of people who list Jedi as their religion. But artist George Folz, a fan since the age of four, has found a more creative outlet for his obsession. Every day this year, he has posted a comic-book panel based on the original trilogy on Twitter, in anticipation of the latest chapter in the saga, The Force Awakens."

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' – John Boyega's Finn echoes Han Solo:
"Harrison Ford has offered no meaningful advice to his young co-stars in Star Wars: The Force Awakens because everyone’s burst into stardom is so different. “I’m not going to tell them how to navigate this personal space,” the wily Hollywood veteran tells a Star Wars press conference. “But they’re in for a big ride, and they know it, I think. I hope you know it!”

Posting Star Wars spoilers should be illegal, says Philadelphia PD:
"If you should accidentally discover, before you’ve even had the chance to view Star Wars: The Force Awakens for yourself, that Maz Kanata is Luke Skywalker’s twin, or that Chewbacca is BB-8’s uncle, you might well think the perpetrator of said spoiler ought to be locked up. According to police in Philadelphia, a change in the law is indeed well overdue: officers have taken to an official Twitter feed to declare that leaking Star Wars secrets ought to be illegal."

Filmspotting: Star Wars: The Force Awakens review:
"Are you looking for "the most non-specific, superficial" review of STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS? Then step on board the Millennium Falcon with Josh and Adam for a spoiler-free conversation – until the 22 minute mark, anyway."

Thanks to Star Wars, we know what movie tickets look like pretty much everywhere in the world:
"The whole world is eagerly anticipating the same movie at the same moment. So eagerly, in fact, that the whole world is posting images of their tickets on social media, in various languages and from various locations. So we at Quartz had a question: How different are the physical tickets—still given out in most theaters around the globe—from country to country?"

Carters bar unveils Star Wars menu - but you'll need to be quick:
"A popular Coventry bar and grill is cashing in on Star Wars fever - by transforming their dishes into ones inspired by the galaxy far, far away."

6 classic Star Wars games to help you celebrate ‘The Force Awakens’:
"We want to celebrate Star Wars by specifically looking at some of the best games to ever take place in a galaxy far, far away. If you want a list of recent games that may help you prepare for The Force Awakens, we got that as well. But this is all about remembering the games that made us fall even more in love with Star Wars over the last 38 years."

Christmas Links #16

Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen on Rehearsals, ‘Lord of the Rings’
"After journeying to Middle-earth together for the “Lord of the Rings” movies, Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen are playing more grounded roles in this year’s films. In “Mr. Holmes,” McKellen stars as the famous detective in old age. Blanchett pulls double duty in “Carol,” as a 1950s housewife who falls for a younger woman; and in “Truth,” in which she plays embattled “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes."

'Star Wars': How the Ewoks Came to TV 31 Years Ago:
"Long, long ago — try 1984 — on a network not so far away (ABC), Star Wars fans gathered around the TV to witness the next chapter in George Lucas’s beloved franchise. No, it wasn’t a long-lost Lando Calrissian spinoff or another terrifying Holiday Special. Instead, it was a feature-length family friendly adventure based around the furry woodland critters who had helped the Rebels defeat the Empire once and for all in Return of the Jedi. We’re talking, of course, about the Ewoks, who lived amongst the treetops on the Forest Moon of Endor and employed ingenious traps and other guerrilla tactics to combat Imperial troops and confused Jedi alike. Popular characters — and even more popular toys — with young audiences, Lucas saw the potential in giving the Ewoks their own adventure within the larger Star Wars universe."

The 25 Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time:
"It's no surprise that a Christmas song – Bing Crosby's "White Christmas"– is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling single ever. There's a universality to Christmas music that even transcends religion. Just ask Bob Dylan, who was raised Jewish but loved Yuletide tunes enough to record an album of them in 2009. From gangsta rap to jazz to reggae to indie-pop, from crooners to rockers, the impulse to knock out a "Blue Christmas" or a "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" knows no boundaries. Read on for our list of the 25 greatest Christmas albums of all time."

Flying close to Beijing's new South China Sea islands:
"Last year the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes travelled across the South China Sea in a fishing boat and became the first journalist to observe close-up how China is constructing new islands on coral reefs. A few days ago he returned to the area in a small aircraft - provoking a furious and threatening response from the Chinese Navy."

Alicia Vikander: ‘I made five films in a row before I had a scene with another woman’:
"I don’t have the best feet,” Alicia Vikander says matter-of-factly midway through our interview. She doesn’t speak in the smugly self-deprecating tone of unnervingly beautiful celebrities eager to point out that they, too, are humans with physical insecurities; rather, it’s expressed as a shrugging statement of fact."

Birmingham's former Central Library demolished:
"Demolition work has begun on Birmingham's former Central Library. Built in the 1970s in the brutalist style, the building has divided public opinion over the years. Prince Charles described it as looking like "a place where books are incinerated, not kept". A £189m library opened in the city's Centenary Square in September 2013."

Don't Go Changing To Try And Please Me.

Film Wow, seriously, don't watch that trailer. It ruins all the good jokes and surprises and is nothing like the actual tone of the film.

Good evening. Quite unexpectedly my favourite film of 2005, Don Roos's Happy Endings, has turned up on Netflix in the UK.

You can go watch it here or add it to your relevant list.

As I mentioned back when I wrote an open letter to him, it features one of Steve Coogan's best drama performances and also great turns from Lisa Kudrow, Bobby Cannavale and Maggie Gyllenhaal who partly steals the thing through the medium of song.

Its killer app is how it delivers exposition, which is in the form of captions which appear on the screen rather like Pop-Up Video or Network 7, but timed to amusing perfection, undercutting the given action and providing a different perspective on the scene.

Of course it's also now doomed to be the potentially disappointing offering to people searching for the sitcom, the Will Ferrell film or the most rubbish Karen Gillan vehicle Not Another Happy Ending which is also on Netflix and should be ignored with extreme prejudice.

Christmas Links #15

Eddie The Eagle: the first trailer:
"The movie - which we're hearing is really something quite special - stars Kingsman's Taron Egerton and Mr Hugh Jackman. And we've got the first trailer, the first poster, and an official synopsis for the movie."

Clarenville Chinese restaurant serving free Christmas Eve turkey:
"Uncle Li's will serve turkey dinner to people who can't afford to pay, or who don't have family to share a meal with — it will even do takeout for customers too shy for a sit-down meal."

The TV traditions that get us through Christmas:
"Whether it’s attending a carol service, heading for the sales on Boxing Day or buying two copies of Radio Times, one to use and one for best (that one’s just us, probably), we all have our own Christmas traditions – often involving TV. Here, we highlight some of the most cherished telly traditions which always get us in a suitably seasonal mood and which we’ve already marked in our TV guides (not the one we’re keeping for best, obviously)."

BBC DJ not biased despite not playing Bay City Rollers on radio for six years:
"Complainant says band is ‘Scotland’s answer to the Beatles’ and Johnnie Walker not playing one of their songs in more than 310 Radio 2 shows is anti-Scottish..."

Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame:
"... despite this success, we’re just barely scraping by. Allison and I make money from ads that play before our videos, freelance writing and acting gigs, and brand deals on YouTube and Instagram. But it’s not enough to live, and its influx is unpredictable. Our channel exists in that YouTube no-man’s-land: Brands think we’re too small to sponsor, but fans think we’re too big for donations. I’ve never had more than a couple thousand dollars in my bank account at once. My Instagram account has 340,000 followers, but I’ve never made $340,000 in my life collectively."

My Favourite Film of 1968.

Film Uneasiness is a strange emotion, that feeling of something simply being wrong or at least outside of your own understanding or ability to comprehend coupled with the sense of know knowing how it is happening mixed with a sense of awe.  It's an especially difficult feeling to conjure for film viewers because it requires us to be so completely engrossed in a film, our suspension of disbelief so intact, that we're willing to overlook or even consciously ignore any flaws in the delivery method.

This is why I'm not a huge fan of horror films.  All too easily I'm able to see the joins and unable to give myself over to the thrust of the narrative and very rarely scared.  More often than not I'll wish that a film like The Conjuring was applying its period detail and characters to some other story, though it's true in that case we've already seen The Ice Storm.  The only moment that really stands out from all the horror I've seen recently is the shot in Sinister when Ethan Hawke's ghostly antagonists orbit him in slow motion as he walks gingerly along a corridor in real time.

When writers talk about 2001, it's often to credit the special effects or the predictions its made about the future or the use of music or as an example of cerebral science fiction.  But rarely enunciated is just how uneasy it is to watch, the queasy sense of knowing that it's a film but also that the story it's telling, of alien interventions into humanity's development has an element of plausibility about it however ludicrous.  This is aided by the choice of music, particularly the Ligerti which sounds like it was composed by the other.

On first seeing Kubrick and Clarke's vision, I think on its first 'scope broadcast as part of a Channel 4 science fiction season, on a 14" portable on table diagonally opposite my bed in a large room so that it was a tiny image in a dark space, it felt like watching a message from another galaxy with a crack in the wall.  The cutaway shots of the monolith, its black shiny surface somehow given a sense of purpose through montage, almost an emotional drive, a performance even though it sucks in all the surrounding light.

The tiny speaker on this Matsui tv creaked and wined horribly during the harsh musical accompaniment to the moon visit and stargate scenes and I seem to remember one of my parents visiting the check that everything was ok and to ask me to turn the thing down.  In those days I was less bothered by such interruptions more able to re-engage with a film.  My mind wanders much more now.  Perhaps it's my age.  In any case I didn't sleep much that night, images and sounds flashing through my mind as I lay in the dark.

A week or so later a friend visited one Sunday afternoon and we watched it together on video,  stopping it now and then to discuss the implications of what we were seeing, what various scenes meant.  He'd already read the novel but still remained confused by it, partly because of the switch in planets between media.  In the days before the internet it wasn't possible to simply visit YouTube and find a video of Neil Degrasse Tyson explaining the mechanics of what we were seeing.  All we had was deductive reasoning.

Even now, having read the book, its sequels, the books about the making of the film, countless documentaries and seen various Q&As, I'm still transported whenever I see that monolith, the potential of just what an alien technology might be capable of leading to goosebumps with only really AI and Contact coming close to generating the same feelings, although in their cases it's simple awe without the jelly-belly.  But let's hope that when we do finally bump into alien life, it has a slightly friendlier face...

Christmas Links #14

Rare old NYC subway photos of trains, overcrowded platforms and more:
"The images span nearly three decades, from the 1970s to the 1980s. And the more you look, the more you'll see echoes of your own experience of the subway system. Whether that's cause for lament is another point entirely."

1970-1979: Camilo José Vergara's New York:
"he crumbling spaces and resilient inhabitants of a decaying city."

Harper Lee: my Christmas in New York:
"One midwinter in 1950s New York, Harper Lee went to stay with friends. Little did she know she was about to receive the gift of a lifetime..."

Is This Real? Does It Matter? Follow — Reviewed:
"Splendiferous in white sports socks and grey leggings, sat at a Mac wearing a headset, LaBeouf occasionally jumps up from his office chair, proclaiming to the anonymous caller: “I totally disagree!”; or crumples in fits of laughter, responding to, we presume, a joke or filthy comment made by the person at the other end of the line."

50 years of Jackanory: what the TV show gave to me and other authors:
"Long, long ago, when the world wasn’t digital and there were only three channels on TV, there was a show called Jackanory. It seemed a simple little show - a grown-up sat in a peacock chair and read a story straight off the autocue, into the camera."

Christmas Links #11

Counterfeit Christmas: Fears over fakes on sale:
"Lucy Lane ordered what she thought was a Nutribullet blender on eBay in February 2015. It turned out to be a counterfeit. "I bought it from eBay and I paid £124.99 for it. I think they retailed for £150. That eBay [seller] came up as one of the cheapest but not by a dramatic amount. [...] I didn't think for a minute that it could be fake - I mean £125 is still quite a lot of money. It's not like I'm paying 25 quid and hoping that it's real."

We Called Shia LeBeouf’s New Hotline And This Is What Happened:
"This aside, what are you supposed to do? What is my role in this, when (or if) I decided to give Shia a bell? There is a sense of excitement, starfuckery almost, about being granted access to a ‘movie star’. Are you to enact the typical fanboy role? I’m sure many of us have indulged in a celebrity friend fantasy. Whether that be actor, musician, artist, we tend to confuse the enjoyment we gain from their work as a connection. Through this we create a personal simulacrum from that celebrity; an imaginary friend that other people would recognise."

Some kids taking Christmas snooping up a notch:
"Liz Ripking of CyberSafety Consulting suggested parents should change their email and online passwords, keep them private, and close all windows on the computer when finished browsing the Internet. She also said parents need to have ongoing serious talks with their children about what is and is not allowed online."

What a map of the UK's 1,650 branches of Greggs can tell us about the British high street:
"But then the questions started rolling in. Why only one in Northern Ireland? Why so many in northern cities like Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester? Why none in Devon and Cornwall? And what, exactly, is a second-hand Greggs?"

Why Aren't Christmas Ads as Big a Deal in the U.S. as They Are in the U.K.?
"But mixed in with the warm and fuzzy holiday feelings these ads stirred up, Devra Pyrwes experienced another emotion: frustration. Because Pyrwes is an American marketer who works for a U.K. firm, the Unruly Group, which specializes in Web video content, and every year at this time she ponders the same question: If U.K. retailers are generating such enormous Web traffic and overall goodwill for their brands with touching short films, why don't their U.S. counterparts do the same?"

How ‘Turner and Hooch’ helped Pixar convince Tom Hanks to star in ‘Toy Story’
"On Thursday (Dec. 10), ABC's "Toy Story at 20" delighted fans with a trip down memory lane. The special served as a history lesson for those unfamiliar with the humble beginnings of the beloved movie that started it all."

'A Christmas Story' museum in Cleveland gets Red Ryder gun from 1983 movie:
"Now, visitors to the adjacent museum will get to lay eyes on the Christmas gift Ralphie longed for most of all: the "Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time."
Connect with us... Facebook/69WFMZ or @69News

The Back of Shia LaBeouf's Head.

Art  Shia LeBeouf, sometime Hollywood actor, now more meme than man is currently sat behind a desk in FACT Liverpool as one third of a human art installation, with the artists Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö, called #touchmysoul.  He'll be there all weekend taking calls from the public via a heavily publicised telephone number whilst the visitors shuffle through having a glare at him.  Even though his work in the Transformers films was enough for me to turn away from his charms, his recently developed irony gland and general sense of being a walking event was enough to make me want to go and see him in the flesh, which I did at lunch time.

There was a queue but not as long as you'd expect.  Pausing briefly just at the entrance to Gallery One provides a view not unlike the Talosians had of Captain Pike in the original Star Trek pilot or Roddy McDowell in that episode of The Twilight Zone about the human zoo.  It was from this point I still felt able to criticise the man and his disappointing robot films to the giant security guard standing at the doorway who rightly noted that Shia was quite good in Lawless.  Which he is, even if the rest of this neo-noir is boringly generic.  For my money, his best film is still techno War Games knock-off Eagle Eye.

Moments later I was let through the door and in the gallery space and although the walls are adorned with the rest of the exhibition, everyone's eyes are focused on one thing and there he is hunched over that desk chatting away to callers, him essentially inaudible, them totally.  Every now and then Shia says the hashtag title of the exhibition "Touch My Soul", which seems to be the opening greeting in this existential call centre before either thanking the person on the other end of the line for calling, or asking them to repeat whatever it is they're trying to say.  Assuming they're saying anything.  Sometimes they don't.

I know this after chatting vaguely to a couple of women nearby.  They tell me they've been here for two hours, queuing up for an hour even before the exhibition opened.  They love Shia and you can see that love in every shaking gesture of their fingers on their iPhone as they attempt to fruitlessly call him from a couple of feet away.  Two hundred attempts apparently.  How strange to be within shouting distance of an idol but unable to speak to him via a tool designed for communicating through long distances.  I ask them later what they learned from the experience.  "That Shia is beautiful", they tell me.

Bored with looking that back of his head, I wander around to the various sides of the gallery and take some photographs.  All three artists seem entirely unphased by this or the many other smart phone photographs being taken.  Back in the queue I'd been asked if I had a camera.  I admitted to the iPod.  Was told this was ok, they were ruling out professional models with telephoto lenses.  Presumably they're more distracting.  I visited each wall of the gallery and shot the table from different angles.  They're not the most visually arresting images although I do like how Shia's hunched forward in the side on view.  He looks deep in conversation.  He wasn't.

After a while I wonder, as I so often do in this situation, what it's all for.  To an extent it doesn't feel that much different from the performance work of Marina Abramovic which is noted in this The Guardian interview although they refute it.  Unlike The Artist Is Present, they're all looking at each other and are addressing people outside the gallery rather than those who've come to gawp.  Also unlike Abramovic it lacks emotional scale.  As a performance piece people within the space aren't really receiving much themselves within the feedback loop, other than that they're in the presence of someone who otherwise exists for us on screens.

In a sense, despite having breathed the same air at Shia, I actually felt more emotionally connected to him during #allmymovies, perhaps because his face was front and centre and he was on a screen and when his usually bored, dissonant features broke into a smile or even a laugh, it was like we were witnessing some kind of psychological breakthrough.  That it tended to happened during his childhood films offered extra poignancy.  He giggled a couple of times during the visit, but without knowing why it didn't have the same results.

There is some kind of an outlet.  Shia is typing up fragments of his conversation in a massive document which appears on one of the screens in the gallery and the #touchmysoul website.  That is perhaps the soul of the piece, piecing together an idea of the kinds of people who would attempt to phone the actor and why.  Sometimes they just want to say hello.  Sometimes they want to complement him.  On a couple of occasions he's insulted.  Sometimes the text strays into something not unlike poetry,  Sometimes: " i just wanna say transformers is a big bag a shit ... but its not your fault i just wanna say you should forgive yourself ..."

The live stream of the event is also being displayed in the gallery and in the first picture above I think you can see me taking a picture of the live stream recording me taking a picture of the live stream.  The stream is here and if you scroll back far enough you'll see it was even recording while the gallery was closed and also be able to see the trio sitting down at the beginning of the day and the first set of visitors entering.  Everyone keeps a respectful distance.  A few people attempt selfies.  But no one actually approaches the table, an extra invisible, imaginary wall between them and the artists themselves.

Somewhere in here I decided to see if I could take a picture of the back of my own head with the back of Shia's head.  I held the iPod behind my bonce and jerked backwards but unable to see the screen I had little idea if either of us would be in shot.  This is the best I could do in situ:

It's sort of there.  Inevitably all of these got me noticed on the live stream:

Which gave me a date stamp for when I was in the gallery space. Work backwards through the live stream and ...

Ultimately I don't know what to make of the experience.  Generally I don't go out of my way to see people in the public eye preferring to bump into them and especially try to avoid heroes.  I was two inches away from Hadley Freeman of The Guardian at a Tate press view a couple of years ago and I'd say that was the more thrilling experience.  If anything it's more about being able to say that I managed to see #touchmysoul because it's the kind of event which doesn't come to Liverpool that often even if I'm not entirely sure what it was for and what it was about.

[Updated 16/12/2015:  Revisiting the gallery today I discovered that the table where Shia et al were sat now houses a recording of the conversations they had with callers.  Only able to listen briefly, I don't know how many of them are there or which days but its an interesting sensation to be inside the conversations and actually adds much to the piece.  From what I heard, they mostly simply listened to people, not really interjecting or offering question, I expect to some extent to emulate what it's like for normals to speak to celebs on Twitter which is almost always a one-to-one versus one-to-many situation.  I'm reminded of the description Sarah Silverman gives sometimes of a call she heard on The Howard Stern Show in which a fan nervously insulted Stern but just as he was being cut off blurted out, "I exist!"]

Christmas Links #10

Couple Marries in Christmas Tree Farm Wedding 15 Years After Planting Tree:
"Tis the season to visit Christmas tree farms and deck the halls with smells of evergreens and sights of twinkling lights and big red bows. But it wasn’t jingle bells this entrepreneurial couple were thinking of on their journey to Henry’s Christmas Tree Farm in Hope, Rhode Island last weekend – it was wedding bells."

This One-of-a-Kind Christmas Tree Is Made of 2,000 Handmade Glass Ornaments:
"Since 2008, the world-renowned museum, which boasts a collection of more than 45,000 glass objects that span 3,500 years, has been drawing thousands of visitors each winter to marvel at its sparkling tree. There’s no other holiday tree like it in the world, and no two of the tree’s ornaments, which are created by a team of resident glassmakers, are the same. The tree is so elaborate that it takes several days to install inside the museum’s glass-walled lobby. Once the final sphere has been hung, lights from within the tree illuminate it from the inside, making it glow like a giant, festive lightbulb."

Longer News at Ten for the BBC:
"From 11th January, the 10pm news will be extended with a longer bulletin from the nations and regions following the main UK and international news with Huw Edwards in an extension that was initially trialed in the run up and immediate aftermath of this year's General Election."

White Christmas:
"Bing Crosby dreamt of it, children wish for it but what counts as a white Christmas and how likely is it to happen? BBC Weather's Helen Willetts explains."

Fly Over OP Mest and FOB Sharana:
"Bowe Bergdahl said he planned to cause a DUSTWUN by leaving his outpost, OP Mest, and running—or at least walking—to his base, FOB Sharana. This map (push play to fly over the area) gives a sense of the terrain he would have had to cross."

Father Christmas letter from the 1930s found up Powys chimney:

"A letter written by a five-year-old girl to Father Christmas in the 1930s has been found up a chimney during renovation work at a house in Powys. In the note, found at Garthmyl Hall, Berriew, Christine Churchill, now 82, asks for "some nice toys" and a hymn book."

Shia LaBeouf: 'Why do I do performance art? Why does a goat jump?'
"Shia LaBeouf’s artworks have been dismissed as stunts and ripoffs – but he doesn’t care. The Hollywood star and his collective explain why they’re in Liverpool taking calls from the public."

Austin Middle School 62nd Annual Singing Christmas Tree:

"The program will feature a 25 foot tree with students in the tree. Dancing elves with Santa, Rudolph, and a singing angel at the top of the tree singing "O Holy Night"!"

Christmas Links #9

How to have a green Christmas without being a Grinch:
"If you’re looking for a holiday that holds less waste, debt and stress, there are many ways to shift the gift-centric nature of modern Christmas celebrations without eliminating the tradition of exchanging presents altogether. Did you really think I was going to tell you to do that? I’m no Scrooge. I mean, without gifts, Christmas morning would find us all staring blankly at each other as we sip coffee and wonder: “What now?”"

Well, that went well:
"People will want to make you feel small when they think you’re happy and content. I cannot say this clearly enough. Fuck those people. See also people who send you stories about how little self-employed people earn. It’s political. Fuck those people too. If you make self employment look easy (largely by not complaining about it) you’ll become a magnet for people who think they’ll spend the rest of their days typing on a laptop in coffee shops for a couple of hours before heading home to bake cakes. Yeah. Cos that’s what this life looks like."

Secrets of the Mona Lisa:
"Presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon, this landmark film uses new evidence to investigate the truth behind her identity and where she lived. It decodes centuries-old documents and uses state-of-the-art technology that could unlock the long-hidden truths of history's most iconic work of art."

Review 2015:
Kathleen Herzog on
The Empire Strikes Back.

Film My dad was an old-school science fiction fan who loved Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes films and was thrilled to have a kid to share it all with, even if I didn’t quite get the appeal of Star Trek beyond “The Trouble With Tribbles.” I was a Star Wars fanatic, having been so impressed by the first movie I ever saw in a theatre that I was the only girl Darth Vader in my kindergarten class’s Halloween parade. My dad was delighted.

When Stuart asked for film experiences for this year’s Review, there was one perfectly crystallized moment that came to mind. I was seven years old when The Empire Strikes Back was released in May 1980. The memory of that day is mostly a blur of childhood rapture, adrenaline and joy, and the reason I am, to this day, consumed with instant goosebumps when I hear the theme music. But that moment, maybe a single second long, is frozen: turning to my dad when the Millennium Falcon escaped Cloud City, his face illuminated by the light of the screen. He was grinning and aglow with joy, and time stopped. “I’ll always remember this day,” I thought, “When I saw The Empire Strikes Back with my dad. I’ll never forget this for as long as I live.”

And it’s true, I have never forgotten and I never will. I’m sure my seven-year-old self didn’t realize that someday memories would be all I had left of my dad, and just how precious that particular one would be. He died four years ago, a brutal departure he fought as hard as he could. Gallows humor being a family specialty, he joked about being pissed off about all the great movies he was going to miss. He wasn’t really kidding, and this was before we knew about the pending reboots of so many of our other favorite things – The X-Files! Twin Peaks! Mystery Science Theatre!! Come on!

The Force Awakens wasn’t even a twinkle in J.J. Abrams’ eye back then, at least as far as we knew, but my dad loved the Abrams Star Trek reboot and would have been ecstatic that he was handling such precious cargo as our Star Wars franchise. The release coincides with my nephew’s eighth birthday and his next-generation excitement for a “new Star Wars movie” thirty-five years after my own giddiness for Empire is wonderful anti-bittersweet balm. It does happen time and time again, though, the flare-up of quick, helpless anger – Dad should be here! It’s not fair! -- quelled with the resolution that, in his absence, I’ll strive to enjoy it enough for two.

I’ll close my eyes when that logo hits the screen and remember the glowing cinematic moment I told myself I’d never forget. And just like that, he’ll be there with me.

Christmas Links #8

Christmas In New York City - Rockefeller Center Tree:
"Last week, my hubs surprised me with a quick trip up to the City (our first since being back east!) and it was during the eve of the lighting of America's Christmas Tree, the tree at Rockefeller Center! We were there only a short time (and arrived later than expected due to weather delays), but it was still wonderful to "be a part of it." Seeing all the lights, decorations, people, and storefronts dressed for the holidays can really lift ones spirit - even with a few precautionary street closures..."

Lincoln's Christmas melted ice rink becomes giant puddle:
"An outdoor Christmas ice rink has turned into a giant puddle because unseasonably mild weather has caused it to melt."

New York Brewery Makes Giant Christmas Tree Using 428 Kegs:
"Using 428 empty kegs, they created a stack that comes in around 26-feet high. In addition to the 11 layers of kegs, there are also stands of lights and an electrical Genesee bar sign on the top. It’s a classic play on the “Beeramid” that I’m sure many of you have made before, except, you know, this is with kegs instead of cans."

Is BBC One really the same as ITV?
"The BBC should not start with a gap in the market, and try to fill it. It should start with its public remit and the creative idea, and then deliver programmes that fulfil them. The fact that the BBC makes some of the same types of programmes as the commercial sector means there is ‘competition for quality’ that benefits all sides and explains why this country has some of the best television in the world. If we withdrew, it’s likely that commercial broadcasters would reduce their investment too and audiences would have less choice. ITV is already spending less in real terms on original UK content investment, despite its strong advertising revenues and profits."

Rape is not a punchline – or a way to sell Christmas presents:
"Banning jokes and adverts is not the feminist endgame, but why is there a seasonal spike in tasteless advertising?"

Bill Murray's Little Christmas Miracle:
"Bill Murray’s “A Very Murray Christmas,” directed by Sofia Coppola, is full of little stocking-stuffer performances that add up to something that feels, almost unaccountably, like an instant classic."