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."