Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sweet!

At this weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con director Zack Snyder didn’t surprise anyone by admitting that Alan Moore, Northampton’s resident misery-guts, still asked for his name to be taken off the project.

As for Dave Gibbons' involvement in the movie adaptation of Watchmen...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Film Flam

Apparently this is the Summer of British Film. That could be a punch line in itself, except there’s really nothing to laugh about.

Friday evening on BBC2, the half-hour Once More with Ealing followed the owners of the revitalised Ealing Studios as they went about filming their completely unnecessary remake St Trinian’s and then trying to flog the project at the recent Cannes Film Festival. God it was a depressing sight.

Missing the beginning meant I didn’t catch their names and job titles. When it came to the promotional poster design there was one woman, whom I frankly wouldn’t have trusted to make the tea, who decided that rather than push the fact that Rupert Everett and Colin Firth had been dragged into the sorry affair/headlined the film, the poster should just feature a line-up of schoolgirls and trade on the St Trinian’s name. Luckily she was overruled.

That sequence alone displayed the narrow-minded, parochial mindset of British filmmakers and the overall folly of the venture. Does St Trinian’s mean anything to the younger generations of today?


Cartoonist Ronald Searle created St Trinian’s in the late 1940s to be the complete antithesis to the posh boarding schools for girls of that era. The initial quartet of films made by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat that began with 1954’s The Belles of St Trinian’s played up the mayhem with contemporary social satire.

By the time of The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery in 1966, the series had run out of steam, while 1980’s late entry, The Wildcats of St Trinian’s – which proved to be Launder’s swansong – was a dispiritingly feeble and pointless entry. Now, at a time when the little hoodied fuckers roaming the streets wear their ASBOs with pride and are far worse at wreaking havoc than the school’s ferocious Fourth Form or sexually overt Sixth Formers, what is the point of St Trinian’s in this day and age?

Maybe it was answered at the top of the show and I missed it. Then again, one of the most recent of the new Ealing films was the execrable Alien Autopsy starring Ant and Dec that stank and sank. Given how few foreign sales they managed in Cannes, St Trinian’s looks like it’s destined to take the exact same route.

Then last night came Guns, Gangsters And Getaways: The Story Of The British Thriller. This was the first part of the seven-part British Film Forever, the BBC’s “flagship series” of The Summer of British Film. This time last year, BBC2 had the marvellous eight-part documentary series The Story of Light Entertainment. Entertaining and informative, and certainly benefiting from the 90-minute running time per episode, the series started with Double Acts before moving on to All-Round Entertainers, Radio Stars, The Comics, Pop and Easy Listening, Impressionists, Chat Shows, and finally Variety.

British Film Forever followed pretty much the same format. Rather than go decade by decade, which would have certainly ended on a downer, has been divided into genres – Thriller this week then Romance, Social Realism, Costume Drama, Horror/Fantasy, War before ending with Comedy. Whereas The Story of Light Entertainment was entertaining and informative, virtually leaving no stone unturned as it told the history of the popular strand of television, Guns, Gangsters And Getaways: The Story Of The British Thriller was a complete and utter fucking mess.

Obviously one hundred years of British cinema has to lot of ground to cover. There was an instance in the programme where it looked like British Film Forever was going to make the effort. Then it gave up. The Story of Light Entertainment took each of its categories and created a tight chronological narrative. British Film Forever occasionally strayed toward trying to put the chosen films in some kind of context, but it increasingly looked like someone had started out devising a history then not quite figuring how to get a handle on it and giving up.


For some reason it started with The Long Good Friday before lurching off all over the place. Nearly all the films were the obvious choices: Get Carter, Brighton Rock, The Ipcress File, The 39 Steps, Mona Lisa, The Third Man, The Italian Job, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Even when it came time for James Bond to make an appearance, the segment bounced from Dr No to You Only Live Twice then back to Goldfinger. Live and Let Die got a look in before it leapt to the present and Casino Royale.

Pick key and iconic films by all means but create a narrative thread that explains why the selected movies are relevant. According to the BBC press release, “the series reveals untold stories from behind the scenes and examines what makes British film unique and what it reveals about British culture.” Er, no. There was no real examination and absolutely no contextualization. Untold stories amounted to the likes of veteran director Bryan Forbes admitting that he was first approached to direct Dr No and turned the offer down. Okay.

It may have helped if the programme makers had interviewed surviving writers, directors and producers as well as sourcing relevant archive clips to that people had something relevant to say. The Long Good Friday’s John Mackenzie had the occasional look in, as did Danny Boyle to talk about Shallow Grave, but neither were on screen long enough to say anything worthwhile. Remarkably Len Deighton even put in an appearance to talk about The Ipcress File but after one brief sound bite of little consequence he disappeared for good.

All that was left was a long parade of talking heads – most of who had nothing to do with the project – giving their opinions of the various films, just like one of Channel 4’s 100 Best lists. Actors would talk about their favourite scenes or recite lines of dialogue, which would then, rather obviously, segue into the exact scene they had just described. Oh, and Kate Winslet popped up to declare she wouldn’t make a good Bond girl. No offence love, but fuck off.

It was like if the BBC Natural History Unit’s next series cut away from their routinely spectacular footage to irrelevant non-entities like Richard Bacon saying “Well, my favourite animal is the orangutan,” or have James Brown, taking a break from wanking off over Michael Caine films, to say how much he liked aardvarks. It was documentary for tabloid television and nothing more.


Even the reasonably sensible remarks had the superficiality of the standard Electronic Press Kit footage. If you knew the films you wouldn’t learn anything. If you weren’t familiar with a particular film, bad luck because they invariably gave the ending away. Meanwhile, the ill-judged narration barely reached the level of the user comments on IMDb. The appearance of Richard Attenborough as Pinky Brown in Brighton Rock came with the reminder that he was “the old man who made the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.” Yes, really.

One thing the season should have going for it, even if every episode is similar to this horribly wasted opportunity, is the accompanying selection of films, although during the week most of them appear to be scheduled late into the night. Yesterday afternoon the ‘thriller week’ began with a welcome Hitchcock double: The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. Immediately after the first part of British Film Forever were two Stephen Frears-directed films: Dirty Pretty Things and his first feature, the rather eccentric Gumshoe.

While the latter is always welcome, I couldn’t quite see how Dirty Pretty Things fitted into this week’s ‘thriller’ category. The Social Realism strand in a couple of weeks time seemed the more appropriate place, but then again it was just another example of how none of this had been properly thought through. It’s a shame they couldn’t have gotten hold of The Hit from 1984, Frears’ second film after a decade working in television, starring Terrance Stamp as an ex-gangster who grassed up his colleagues a decade ago, and John Hurt and Tim Roth as the hitmen who snatch him from his home in Spain and take him north to face the music.

Next week’s episode is Longing, Loving And Leg-Overs: The Story Of British Romance. Even if you don’t bother watching it, try and catch the afternoon double from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger: I Know Where I’m Going followed by The Red Shoes.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bay Defences

One of the most interesting things about seeing Transformers on Tuesday was, with two free tickets for the screening, I couldn’t for the life of me give the second one away. Perhaps it didn’t help that it wasn’t until well into the afternoon that I decided to go myself.

Even then, when I called up a pal who works on Long Acre, which meant he could easily get to the cinema on time, his response was a simple “Transformers? Fuck Off!” It didn’t come as a surprise that I ended up going alone. After the fact, I mentioned in an email to a friend that I had seen the movie and the reply back was “I'd rather self harm than watch that film”.


Just for the fun of it I glanced at the film’s reviews in the broadsheets. None of them are well known for embracing summer movies so it wasn’t difficult to guess their reactions. The Daily Telegraph let it off the lightest with “entertaining tosh.” Actually, it was also the only review that mentioned the comedy woven around the ongoing knock-down, drag-out set pieces.

Truth be told, Transformers is probably not a movie I’ll want to own on DVD. But that said, whether they should be classified as a guilty please or not – and in fact, I think not – I do like Michael Bay films.

As action flicks they’re very well made and certainly tick all the right boxes. More importantly Bay’s movies never seem to take themselves too seriously. Before him James Cameron was the biggest proponent of boys-with-toys movies. Looking back at his films, they can be exceptionally po-faced at times.

The only time Cameron went for tongue-in-cheek comedy the result was the remarkably misogynistic, and racist, True Lies. Maybe he wrote it during one of his divorces. Even with the stakes raised to absurdly extreme levels, Bay goes for the chuckle to deflate any hints of pomposity.

The Rock is made all the better by the byplay between Nicholas Cage’s unprepared chemical weapons expert and Sean Connery’s old lag secret agent. Few of the drillers in Armageddon spend their time furrowed-brows and gritted teeth. Instead they embrace the absurdity of the situation. Especially Steve Buscemi’s Rockhound who, playing the Archer Maggot role in what was pitched as “The Dirty Dozen in space,” wigs out with “space dementia”.


Then there are the full-on, adrenaline-fuelled action sequences. To get the long-incarcerated Mason to play ball in The Rock, there had to be a scene revealing his daughter lived in San Francisco and therefore at risk from the lethal biological weapons aimed at the city. I suppose the scene could have taken place in the hotel bathroom where he had access to a telephone. Far better though to set it during a massive fuck-off car chase that rips through the streets of San Francisco that ultimately totals a Ferrari and blows up a cable car.

Even with all the slam and the bam, there’s still wonderful little moments of characterisation. The scene in Armageddon that does it for me takes place on the eve of the shuttle launch when Will Patton’s Chick Chapple stops by the visit his estranged wife and the young son he hasn’t seen for a long time. Apologising to his wife, he tells her he has something coming up that should make her proud. It gets me every time.

It doesn’t mean the films don’t have their faults. After the lean Bad Boys, the sequel was bloated and far too self-indulgent. Pearl Harbor, very much like Titanic, stuck a grating love story into an already interesting narrative to pull in audiences who wouldn’t ordinarily go to a war film.


He may anger critics by frame-fucking the films to within an inch of their existence but they’re testosterone-soaked action movies for fuck sake. I’d be more worried if James Ivory took up the same editing practice for a period drama.

Whatever people thing of Bay and his films, he still manages to get NASA and the Pentagon to pony up and play ball when it comes to ordnance and access. Space shuttles, F-117s, and every other USAF jet are apparently just a phone call away and eager to careen wildly across the screen at full throttle.

I guess in the end such dumb fun takes me back to the days when, as a wee lad, I was taken to see the likes of Where Eagles Dare. Probably six or seven-years-old at the time, the story didn’t make any sense to me with all the bluffs and double crosses. I still wasn’t all that clear when I saw it for a second time a couple of days later at that ratty little cinema in Exmouth. But damn did they blow stuff up good.


If fact, if Bay wants to make the perfect action movie all he needs is for one character to get on the radio as all hell breaks loose and start shouting, “Broadsword calling Danny Boy!”

Friday, July 27, 2007

Panic Over

In case anyone was concerned, the folk’s barbecue for the Bowls & Croquet Club went off without a hitch. The rain stopped mid-afternoon and the sun came out enough to dry the grass before everyone arrived.

48 people turned up, which was more than expected so a few went without steaks and had to make do with sausages and salads. The pheasant stayed in the bushes on the fringes of the garden, watching everyone with interest. The seagulls behaved until they were given the leftovers to pick over.

The Old Dear just called to relay the news. At 10:28. Don’t these people have an evening call cut-off? The phone rings at that time of the night, I snatch up the receiver expecting to hear bad news. It may be conservative of me, but 9:30 will be the latest I’ll call someone unless it’s really important.

Still, she had an excuse. The Old Man had been on the computer up until then. Tying up the phone line meant that he had been on the internet – they don’t use it enough to bother with broadband. Which meant that he was fed up of the rain and looking to book another holiday. Some people...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Premium Plus

Back from a screening of Transformers, which turned out to be the perfect antidote to what had been a particularly shitty day. On the dumb fun-o-meter, it went clear off the scale, making it the perfect summer movie.


Not a fan of the skanky, animated series which, like Thundercats and all the other bilious garbage of that ilk from the 1980s, was little more than an extended commercial to flog plastic tat to kids, I didn’t have a clue what the hell was going on. Ultimately it didn’t matter.


The story might have made little sense but it all came down to the good Autobots and evil Decepticons tearing up the landscape as they beat the shit out of each other. More surprisingly was the fact that woven around all the ingenious CGI mayhem was an incredibly funny film.

It’s a given that Michael Bay can do high-octane action to the max. While his previous films had their fair share of humour, the human portion of Transformers seemed to be an outright comedy. And the girl was hot.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Absolute Disaster

Yesterday evening I watched Titanic on BBC2. I hadn’t seen the film in the ten years since it’s release, within a couple minutes I realised why.

The Christmas of its release I’d gone to see it with my then-girlfriend in LA. We must have spent the day goofing around Universal Studio’s Theme Park because we caught it at the AMC CityWalk Cinema rather than wandered up through Burbank Village to the multiplex on E. Palm Avenue.


Bored beyond belief, the only thing that got me through those 190-odd minutes was by concentrating on a tiny hole in the middle of the screen that shone white. Forget Jack and Rose, it’s really a love story between James Cameron and every little detail of a very big boat.


Detail doesn’t matter when you don’t give a shit about any of the characters. I just remember sitting there trying to stop myself from yelling, “Fucking sink already!” especially when it came to the below-decks clichéd “begorra!” bogtrotters having their riotous “top o’ the morning!” time. Drown you bastards!

Once it was done, and DiCaprio had thankfully sunk like a stone, I had meant to catch the last episode of Rome. Since it’s repeated tonight, I reached for the DVD of The Poseidon Adventure instead. As disaster movies go, this is the way to do it.


The model effects may look ropey, but the sets were great. Who needs CGI figures flailing around when there was Ernie Orsatti on hand? The acting at times could have seen the characters chew their way through the hull, especially with Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine going head to head through every deck, but at least it remains the more entertaining of the two. Even the irritating kiddie didn’t make me want to take a shit in his mouth and sew it shut. And of course there were Pamela Sue Martin’s legs.


Good as Bernard Hill was as the Titanic’s Captain Edward John Smith, The Poseidon Adventure had Leslie Neilsen as “The Captain”. Obviously this was years before he was put to good use in Airplane and Police Squad, but The Poseidon Adventure has a marvellous scene of “The Captain” looking at the shallow green crescent flashing on the radarscope and saying to his First Officer, “It seems to be piling up in those shallows. By the way, Happy New Year.” Excellent!

Tonight also sees ITV1 broadcast Die Hard 2. It was meant to be shown earlier this month but pulled from the schedule when the flame-grilled driver of a Jeep Cherokee tried to turn Glasgow airport into a drive-thru. Once the Titanic was holed and slowly going down, wasn’t it a bit insensitive for the recent flood victims to watch characters race through water-logged rooms and corridors?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Washout

Typically today we get the sunshine and dry weather. Even the towering plumes of benign Cumulus Castellanus languidly rolling across the sky seemed to be taking a day off.

Yesterday was a different matter altogether with a heavy dun blanket of cloud stretched out over the city, even more threatening than the livid bruise that shrouded New York when I stepped out of JFK on the way to a photoshoot years ago. Then it had brought snow. Here the cloud just ripped open and water poured through the rent.

Virtually everyone had cried off yesterday’s scheduled blogger drink. Work Buddy and I had been wondering if it was worth making the effort. Neither of us was particularly enthused by the location, which was a storefront pub close to the heart of London’s Tourist Zone. Nice if you want to wait ages for service and get bashed amongst the out-of-towners, most of whom didn’t think to remove the rucksacks strapped to their backs.

The problem with horrendous weather conditions in London, if not the whole of the British Isles, is that public transportation immediately curls up and goes limp the moment the going gets tough. I had emailed the one person we had wanted to see and came to the decision that if looked likely that we’d be trapped in Central London with only one bendy bus and a trio of the rickshaw bicycles to get out on, it wasn’t worth the effort. Come Saturday morning, with the mainline trains already suspect, we all decided to give it a miss.

Not long after the Old Dear called to regale me with life in Devonshire. The river estuary at the far end of the beach would always flood during heavy rains and put the town’s cricket ground under water, but other than that they endured.

The main problem was that a neighbour’s cat had almost got its claws into the pheasant that comes into the garden to be fed, that and the fact that the Old Man had agreed to host a barbecue for the local Bowls & Croquet Club this coming Wednesday. I guess we all have our cross to bear.

Friday, July 20, 2007

All The Pretty Colours

With The Simpsons Movie almost upon us, Vanity Fair has published an oral history of the TV show on their website. An expanded version of the article that appeared in their August 2007 issue, while Matt Groening, Jim Brooks and past and present showrunners may be conspicuous by their absence, the likes of Conan O’Brien, Hank Anzaria and even Rupert Murdoch are on hand to help fill in the blanks.


Even without them we get to discover who many of the writers and animators consider to be one of the unsung heroes of the show, and the sweet deal he walked away with, some of the more awkward guest stars – including Elizabeth Taylor’s parting remark as she left the recording session – and, according to a study conducted by Fox. the number one reason why audiences like The Simpsons.

Wireless

The 2007 Emmy Nominations were announced earlier today. Hurray for Robot Chicken getting a nod for Outstanding Animated Program! (I have no idea what I’m talking about).

HBO leads the pack with 86 nominations; 17 going to the Western TV movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which focuses on events leading up to the massacre of the Sioux at the tail end of the 19th Century, and 15 for the final season of The Sopranos.

The third and final season of Deadwood scrapes in with a handful of technical awards when it obviously deserves much more. Once again The Wire gets bupkis, which is just simply astonishing.


Aren’t these awards supposed to celebrate the best in television rather than cough up the same old perennial favourites? Looking through the list of nominations, a lot of them seem to be left over from last year and even the year before.

Why are voters still fixated on James Spader and William Shatner for Boston Legal? I’ve watched the first season and it was typical, frothy David E Kelley fun and games slathered over the “serious issue”. But enough, already. Rather than play characters, the pair seem to fall back on parodies of their own manufactured personas.

Wouldn’t those spots be better served honouring the contributions made by Ian McShane or James Earl Jones, or Michael Hogan? Or Mary McDonnell instead of previous winners Mariska Hargitay or Patricia Arquette, whose particular acting style seems to have gone from limited to dormant?

At least Battlestar Galactica has been recognised in other categories. Ronald D. Moore gets an Outstanding Writing For A Drama Series nomination for Occupation/Precipice, the two-part opener set on New Caprica, which deals with prisoner abuse and suicide bombers. He’s up against three episodes of The Sopranos, including the finale, Made in America, and the third season finale of Lost.

On his commentary for Exodus, Part 2, between the whiskey and the smokes, Moore declares “We better win the fucking Emmy this year, I swear to God!” right about the time this happens:


It’s also the one where the Pegasus goes out in a stunning blaze of glory. Gary Hutzel and his team are nominated for that particular episode for Special Visual Effects and hopefully should walk away with the trophy. Unless they give to Heroes for the episode Five Years Gone.

Remarkably Felix Alcala also gets a look in with an Outstanding Directing For A Drama Series for Exodus, Part 2, as well. With one final season of The Wire coming next year, maybe there is still time for some factions of the voters to look beyond the familiar and put things right. Yeah, right.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Horror!

Watching the penultimate episode of Rome last night, it struck me that it’s the only new drama I’m actually watching on television right now. Even more odd given that when the first season was screened it took me a long time to really get into the show.


It may seem very silly at times, but Rome certainly enlivens the stories I remember from the one Latin class a week that was dedicated to Roman History. Although the lashings of sex and violence must have been something the Latin Master purposefully omitted.

As for everything else in the schedules, Jekyll I gave up on when it returned on Saturday. The set may have stayed on but after a few minutes I dropped the volume and stopped paying attention until it was time for The Thick Of It.

Even House, which I regularly turn to only holds my attention when the titular character is having one of his bastard moments. Shark is just as disappointing because James Wood has dialled down on the utter bastard-o-meter and comes across as almost cuddly on some occasions. And that’s just not right.

The past few nights, after a weekend when my sleep pattern went completely out of whack, I’ve been revisiting various DVDs that I hadn’t watched for a while. Monday night, I’m still not sure why exactly, I felt in the mood for a horror film. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much on the shelves here.

Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, An American Werewolf in London, 28 Days Later, Near Dark, Fallen, Shaun of the Dead. That was it. If I had shuffled through the pile of films that came free with The Times or The Sunday Times, I’d have found The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now. But I didn’t.

Actually, because of the depth of the bookcase being twice that of a DVD case, on most shelves there is a second row of discs behind the spines I can see. Most of the films were at the back and I forgot I had them. So from what I could see there was only Alien, The Thing and Fallen to choose from. And The Mummy and Van Helsing*.

It surprised me I didn’t have any more horror films. Most all of the ones on the shelves cross genres. Fallen, which went into the DVD player is more a supernatural thriller than straight horror. What about pure undiluted horror?

Thinking about it, I can’t think of one available on DVD. It’s not that I’m a big scaredy-cat wuss and don’t watch horror films. I don’t watch them because a whole lot of the time the stories don’t do it for me. The characters are usually idiots and the stories maybe not that well thought through.

Scream, for instance, was interesting up until all the kids were introduced. At that point, along with the nudge-nudge, wink-wink post-modernism it became so irritating I wanted them herded together and done in, all in one fell swoop. Almost all the other slasher/torture flicks seem to be made by people who really have issues they need to sort out as quickly as possible.

I watched The Blair Witch Project once. Boy they were morons. Listen, if you get lost in the woods and there’s a river, follow the river downstream. You’ll find your way back to civilisation. I know you’re supposed to suspend disbelief, but it would need a gravity-free environment for that one.

I know horror films find an audience and they can be done on the cheap, so if you want to make a low budget movie, this is the genre bouncing up and down at the back saying, “Me, sir! Pick me sir, please!” But I don’t think a lot of them have enough thought put in to get past the cheap thrills and gore fest.

What available horror film proves me wrong?


* Some of the DVDs here were bought for “research purposes”. Van Helsing was certainly one of those. Same for 28 Days Later, which was in a Woolworths sale up the road and cheaper than an M+S sandwich. After watching it once, I really missed that sandwich.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Vote Boris!

Ah, joyful London life. Public transportation is about as inviting as having your genitals dunked in battery acid. Right now the city is jammed solid with gormless shuffling tourists getting in the way all of whom deserve nothing less than a .357 Magnum 180-grain Supreme Expansion Talon through the brainpan. Meanwhile the 2012 debacle looms overhead ready to take a giant dump on the city.


Still, there’s always a bright side. Especially now that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, MP for Henley, has stepped up to enter the race to Conservative candidate for Mayor of London in next year’s election. He may not be much better than boring Red Ken, but you know it’ll be a laugh. Boris does good soundbites, even with his foot planted firmly in his mouth.

Boris on why people should vote Conservative:

“Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.”

Boris on drugs:

“I think I was once given cocaine but I sneezed so it didn’t go up my nose. In fact, it may have been icing sugar.”

Boris on being appointed Shadow Arts Minister:

“Look the point is... er, what is the point? It's a tough job and somebody has got to do it.”

Boris on Liverpool:

“[Liverpudlians] cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance about the rest of society.”

Boris on the railways:

“To rely on a train in Blair's Britain is to engage in a crapshoot with the devil.”

Boris on becoming a future Prime Minister:

“My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.”

Boris on Portsmouth:

“One of the most depressed towns in Southern England, a place that is arguably too full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs.”

Boris on the Conservative Leadership Contest:

“I am supporting David Cameron purely out of cynical self-interest.”

Boris on Papua New Guinea:

“For 10 years, we in the Tory Party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing, and so it is with happy amazement that we watch as the madness engulfs the Labour Party.”

Boris on being sacked by the then-Conservative leader, Michael Howard:

“My friends, as I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters.”

He sure as hell gets my vote.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Lot Of Oysters But No Pearls

The summer half over, trailers for various end-of-year film releases are already being spewed out all over the internet. A couple look interesting. Others don’t inspire confidence. The remainder won’t ever see me in the audience.

Whatever the JJ Abrams-produced 1-18-08 is about, I’m just too old to play along with all this super-secret teasing. If they’re not careful, it’s pretty clear that the hype is likely to crush the end product.

One I’m seriously in two minds about is Gone, Baby, Gone. It’s based on a book by Dennis Lehane and has a solid and reliable cast that includes Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and John Ashton.

If you only recognise Lehane’s name from him writing the odd episode of The Wire, go buy his books. His breakout novel was Mystic River, a damn good book turned into a damn good film by screenwriter Brian Helgeland and director Clint Eastwood. The cast were pretty damn good too.


Before Mystic River, Lehane’s first five novels featured Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. Before becoming a full-time writer Lehane was, for a time, a counsellor helping abused children and the mystery thrillers not only blur genres, they feature sexual predators, the relationships between fathers and sons, and the consequences of the sins of the father as they echo down through the years.


Although gripping reads, like the best from his contemporaries, Lehane’s books don’t all lead toward a happy ending, even if justice is eventually served. The stories, which have to be read in order, leave the characters emotionally, physically, and psychologically damaged as they sink deeper into a world of violent brutality.

Adapted and directed by Ben Affleck, Gone, Baby, Gone – the fourth book in the series – stars his younger brother Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan as Kenzie and Gennaro, characters who grew up in hard neighbourhoods, took some hard knocks and them some.


If you know the books, is this how you pictured the pair?

Me neither. I think, on reflection, I’ll stick with the books.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Does Everybody Need a Happy Ending?

One thing I miss most on television, apart from a sustained output of decent UK drama, is the loosely themed film seasons that BBC2 used to screen. Growing up there would be seasons that introduced me to the old science fiction movies like Them, This Island Earth, Invaders From Mars and Forbidden Planet, or the series of Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.


Later on, around the time I was just about done with The Esteemed School of Art, came Moviedrome on Sunday evenings. With each film introduced by film director Alex Cox, the annual series offered up a typically eclectic selection of “cult” movies like John Milius’ Big Wednesday, Bill Wilder’s marvellously acidic Ace in the Hole, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia and both the 1946 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, directed by Robert Siodmak, and Don Siegel’s 1964 version starring Lee Marvin.

The late 1980s also saw The Film Club on Saturday, which introduced me to a good selection of Preston Sturges films like Sullivan’s Travels, The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story.


Then there were more genre specific film seasons. Here my memory gets a little hazy over the season umbrella titles, but some concentrated on the marvellous offbeat cop/LA Noir films from the late 1960s and early 70s. Which meant the likes of The Parallax View, Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite, Freebie and the Bean, the marvellous Hickey & Boggs and The Conversation.


It may already be apparent that I’m not exactly a happy ending kind of guy. A miserable old bastard at times, certainly, but not really a pessimist, unless it can be defined as an optimist with experience. It’s not that I don’t really care for the neat and tidy resolutions that leave people walking off into the sunsets. I just figure that to get where you want to be a price has to be exacted.

These films undoubtedly featured dissolute and disillusioned, down-at-heel characters who usually have little grasp of the wider implications of the events happening around them. None more so than Gene Hackman’s Harry Moseby in Arthur Penn’s Night Moves who literally finds himself lost at sea.


Pessimistic and occasionally nihilistic, they undoubtedly reflected the unease and disenchantment of the times they were made in. Which makes them perfect material to watch again today.

Film seasons like this aren’t around anymore. Film Four shuffles a few films together, but they never seem to be more than ten or fifteen years old. Almost all these great, off-beat films haven’t been seen since the first time I saw them and hardly any are available on DVD.

At least the BBC are going some way to rectify the situation. A month or so ago Freebie and The Bean appeared in the schedules. Tomorrow night there’s a welcome repeat showing of Michael Ritchie’s Prime Cut.


Here we have Lee Marvin as a Chicago mob enforcer pressured into collecting a debt from Gene Hackman’s depraved Mary Ann, a dope dealer and slave trader who works out of a meat-packing factory and sent the first man who came looking for the money back to Chicago as a string of sausages.

Of course the film is being shown at one o’clock in the morning, directly opposite John Huston’s Wise Blood on BBC2, but at least it’s getting a showing. Wouldn't it be better if the channels made a concerted attempt to show all these near-forgotten movies that aren't easily accessible on DVD?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Meet Just One Veg

I have a love hate relationship with all the crap that gets shovelled into my junk mail folder on a daily basis. It’s nice that certain people think I’m in need of finding a Fuck Buddy in my area, although the ones offering a solution to erectile dysfunction are honestly wasting their time.

Then there are things like this...

From: MR LARRY KUMAR,
The Manager,Audit/Account Section
African Development Bank
Ouagadougou Burkina-Faso.

Dear Comrade,

How are you today? Hope all is well. Please be informed that I have decided to contact you for a fund transfer transaction worth the sum of US$22,300,000.00 into your reliable bank account as the sole NEXT-OF-KIN to the foreign deceased customer of our bank (an International Billionaire French Businessman) who was killed with his entire family by PLANE-CRASH in Central England atmost 3 years ago. Since his death occured, no body have show up as his next of kin for the claim because the account is untraceable. Upon the investigation I carried out from his records, I found out that his foreign business consultant who would have trace the account died earlier before the deceased. Therefore, this is a confidential and sealed deal.

For the success of this transaction, you should apply and act as the only existing NEXT-OF-KIN to the deceased which our bank will replace the deceased account information through proper documentation in position of your own account. This transaction is risk-free, it will never harm your good reputation in your society because no one can trace the account, and on the instant of the transfer of the fund into your account, the chapter of this transaction will be closed entirely.

Note that in a business of this nature, the bank dont want to know your difference between the deceased country, religion or believe because our bank inheritance law is against that. So, it is a preference for us achieve this success without any problem.
Please note down that once the fund get transferred into your account, you will take 39% of the total sum while the rest will be for me as I will arrange myself down to your country to take my share.

I need your urgent response and include your private telephone/mobile numbers for easy communication.Please reply if you can be trusted in this deal.

Thanks,

Mr. Larry Kumar,

Wow, it sounds utterly brilliant! Or rather it would sound brilliant if I’d just fallen off the fucking turnip truck. I may be a cynical sonofabitch but gullible I’m not.

Unfortunately there are folk out there who can’t see that this is even more lame than the plots of the ITC adventure shows from the 1960s and 70s – although, if I remember rightly, The Persuaders! probably came pretty close on more than one occasion.

Let me guess, the next step involves handing “Comrade Larry” bank details and a handling charge? Maybe even the odd vital organ, I’d imagine, just for the hell of it.

Larry, the only thing you need to know from me is that I can be trusted to tell you to fuck the fuck off the planet, you utter parasite.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Last Rites For Real?

Finally, I get a chance to sit down and catch up with The Sunday Times magazine, which has laid on the sofa, alone and forlorn, the last few days. The cover story was a feature article, Are You Looking At Me?, by Rod Liddle on the decline of reality television.

Liddle trails the filming of ITV’s upcoming The Baron in which a trio of “celebrity stars” compete to win enough votes the win themselves the title of Baron of Gardenstown. Yes, it is that pointless. This is an idea that has gone through the bottom of the barrel and kept on going.

The three stars are retired actor Mike Reid, ex-pop singer Suzanne Shaw, and useless gob on legs Malcolm McLaren. Even the residents of Gardenstown, a small village on the northern coast of Aberdeenshire, think the line up is particularly piss-poor.

So far, so bad. Knowing that utter nonsense like this is coming to television makes me want to be thrown into a vat of boiling piss. But turn the page and Liddle gets to the point of why he’s there.

Overall, the genre is in merciful slow decline – a victim of public ennui as ever more facile formats are introduced to spice things up. Celebrity Love Island, where a dozen or so of the worst people in the world were invited to have sex or argue with one another, lost 2m viewers after the first show and was beaten by the lowly CSI on Five. Big Brother was recently matched by BBC’s Springwatch and ITV faced a loss of some £70m in advertising revenue after a slump in viewing figures for its flagship reality show, I’m a Celebrity... Get Me out of Here!

There’s also been a nasty knock to those other revenue streams: the telephone voting. Channel 4 was recently forced (by public outrage, as much as anything) to halve the cost of its phone-line votes for Big Brother, thus more than halving its income. And the companies have realised that there is no great appetite among the public for DVD reissues of reality shows, nor money to be made from syndication. This is a wounded and tired genre, limping haplessly towards the TV crematorium.

Yes please. These useless shows started off useless and got worse. I’m amazed that the companies may have thought that the public would be interested in “DVD reissues”, which means that they drop into the schedules like a big steaming turd and are flushed away, only ever to be seen again in cheap clip shows.

Wouldn’t it be better to put the money into some quality drama that can be sold to territories around the world and even welcomed as repeats here at home? Something that could try to reach the heights of


Or


Or maybe even


Just make sure they don't have words like Cape and Wrath in the title.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sat Nav Suicide

There are words that strike fear into the hardest of men, freezing the blood and loosening the bowels. For me one such word is “Birmingham”.

A horrible tangled mess of concrete and tarmac, traversing one ring road after another, looking out for the piss-poor signage that only appears at the very last minute, made us wonder what circle of merry hell we were on.

Eventually we found the location hosting the medical symposium. Finding the right hall was another matter because, unsurprisingly, the interior signage sucked just as badly. One thing that did amaze us was that the on-site AV technician really knew his stuff. In the past, at various venues around the country, that hasn’t always been the case.

After that it was just a case of filming the various speakers, pack up, shake hands and head for the exit. Was it really that easy?

Yesterday evening I had the great pleasure of meeting up with William Martell who was over in London to give his screenwriting classes. Softly spoken, with a good sense of humour, he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of film and understands better than anyone I’ve met how to navigate the absurdities and contradictions that lie at the heart of Los Angeles’ film industry. If you don’t already read his blog, start now.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Rock Hard

We weren’t in our seats long when I leaned over to the Bubbly Blonde and admitted I wasn’t sure what the procedure was in situations like this. On the plus side, I had made an effort to wear a black tee-shirt, and not the one with BEEN THERE FUCK THAT emblazoned across the front just in case that was too much.

The seats were high up in the nosebleed section. Because of the overhang we couldn’t see the tier directly below us, which made the perspective appear all wrong. The mass of people standing on the stadium floor appeared too small to be real.

In amongst the large mass circles appeared looking, from where we were sitting, like an inverted version of the Meteorological Office’s computer- generated images of a hurricane building up a head of steam. Inside what should have been the calm eye, tiny bodies were flinging themselves every which way. I asked if that was “moshing”. The Bubbly Blonde admitted that in her punk days she pogoed. Apparently it was slamdancing.

During the songs, everyone around us was chanting, singing, shaking themselves about and punching the air. When the songs finished they went even more mental. That was the part I wasn’t sure about. Were we supposed to leap up and make the horny demon sign or just clap enthusiastically? Or just carrying on sitting there, feeling our vital organs vibrate?

The blind fervour of the fans occasionally made it feel like the Reichsparteitag with musical accompaniment. Still, we had a good time, and the nice boys from Metallica seemed to have enjoyed themselves and were pleased that everyone had turned out to see them.

The only downside was that, in the time it took to raze old Wembley and build the new Stadium, you would have thought some decent exit routes could have been sorted out. The only other stadium I’ve visited is The Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, built in the shadow of I-10 and the Pontchartrain Expressway for a quick getaway.

Wembley just has a pot-holed road that winds around the sort of tatty warehouses begging to be bulldozed, reducing outgoing traffic to a bumper-to-bumper trickle. But that’s London for you. It's difficult to see the bigger picture with the smog and Hansom cabs getting in the way.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Death Metal

Is there anything had didn’t happen in London this weekend? Wimbledon made good use of the sunshine, the organisers of the Tour de France made their inability to read an atlas public, and out of town the British F1 Grand Prix roared around the track at Silverstone.

I caught some of the Live Earth concert on television, but unfortunately not when Spinal Tap took to the stage. Instead of hearing their new song, Warmer Than Hell, I caught David Gray singing Que Sera, Sera, which didn’t quite seem to be on message. In the evening I flicked over for a minute’s worth of Madonna, although my first reaction was, “Fucking hell, Courtney Love really has let herself go!”

Whether it gets the message across that we need to stop fucking up the planet remains to be seen. I remember the days when documentaries simply gave you the cold, hard facts. Apparently now that kind of information has to be accompanied by a sing-along before anyone shows the slightest interest. Perhaps all the ex-rockers who have slipped out of the limelight should apply for teaching positions.

Having explained why I don’t do concerts a couple of weeks back as the Glastonbury Festival was wrapping up, this evening I’m off to Wembley to see Metallica. Strange, I know, but Work Buddy had a spare ticket and The Governess and The Bubbly Blonde are going along so it should be a laugh. The show started this afternoon but we’re giving the support acts a miss and just catching the headline act.


Dexter starts tonight on FX. Catch it if you can. Ignore what Caitlin Moron wrote about it in The Times yesterday, if you happened to read it. Once again she got completely the wrong end of the stick. I’m seriously beginning to wonder whether she actually watches the preview tapes or just shoves them up her arse once she’s done talking.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

No Respect For The Dead

However superficial they may be, having to fit so much television history into such a short running time, I’m always fascinated by documentaries like the BBC’s Comedy Connections and the follow-up, Drama Connections. Unravelling a decidedly tangled extended “family tree”, the Connections series, much like last year’s eight-part The Story of Light Entertainment, illustrated how television got from where it was then to where it is now.

Eight years back, Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America, West, ran a long oral history from the drama writers who had worked in a nondescript two-storey structure, sandwiched between Ventura Boulevard and the 101 Freeway, on the CBS Radford lot in Studio City.

For most of the 1980s, the ground floor of what was simply refered to as “The Building”, was home to Bruce Paltrow, Tom Fontana, John Masius and the writers who produced 137 episodes of the hospital drama St. Elsewhere. Right above them Steven Bocho, Jeffrey Lewis, David Milch and their writing team turned out 146 episodes of Hill Street Blues.

If ever an American network/cable channel decided to make a version of Drama Connections that would certainly be a good place to start. The 26 writers who worked in the building would eventually leave the MTM dramas behind and go on to create or write for the likes of Miami Vice, Twin Peaks, Moonlighting, Law & Order, Northern Exposure, China Beach and Murder One.

One would also, indirectly, lead the way for The Wire, one of the greatest television dramas ever made. With Hill Street Blues regarded as one of the most innovative and acclaimed dramas of the 1980s, The Wire is one of the most innovative and acclaimed dramas of this decade, joining the two was Homicide: Life on the Street, which ran from 1993 to 1999.

Det. Beau Felton: You have the right to remain silent; although personally, I don't feel remaining silent's all it's cracked up to be... Smoke?

Like Bochco and Milch’s NYPD Blue, which premiered the same year and stole the headlines with it’s profanity and David Caruso’s bare butt, Homicide: Life on the Street came with a similar high pedigree. Although developed for television by screenwriter Paul Attanasio, the driving forced behind the show were director Barry Levinson and St Elsewhere’s Tom Fontana who began his career as a playwright.


The show was adapted from the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets written by David Simon. A reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Simon took a leave of absence to follow the lives of the city’s homicide detectives as they investigated the 234 murders that took place in Charm City that year.

Levinson, himself a Baltimore native whose most personal films; Diner, Tin Men and Avalon were set in the city, assembled a remarkable cast that included film actors Yaphet Kotto as Lt. Al Giardello, John Polito as the Lincoln assassination-obsessed Detective Steve Crosetti, Ned Beatty as Det. Stanley Bolander and comedian Richard Belzer as Det. John Munch. Behind the camera, episodes were directed by the likes of Peter Medak, Martin Campbell, Tim Hunter, Kathryn Bigelow, John McNaughton, Ted Demme and Whit Stillman, giving the show a specific cinematic feel.


Det. John Munch: Life should come with a money back guarantee. If you're not satisfied, return unused portion for a full refund.

Beginning as a mid-season replacement, the series premiered immediately after Super Bowl XXVII in January 1993. Fans tuning in for what they expected to see in a police procedural left disappointed. Shot hand-held on Super 16, mainly on location in an almost documentary style, with jump-cut editing, Levinson and Fontana’s edict for the show was no car chases and no gun battles. Neither would any of the murders be seen, only the grim aftermath as the police start their investigations.


What the show had going for it were smart scripts laced with a sly and marvellously subversive sense of humour. The grim reality of sitting at a desk waiting for the call to come in, combined with the detectives’ conversations, banter and arguments that would continue through the grim investigations, produced a remarkable snapshot of life in urban America throughout the last decade of the Twentieth Century.

After the initial nine episodes, the second year ran for only four episodes. It wasn’t until the third year that NBC commissioned a full season by which time less esoteric stories and cast changes were made to ensure the show’s survival. Such compromises didn’t stop Homicide from winning the Humanitas Prize in 1999, three coveted Peabody Awards and numerous Television Critics Association and WGA Awards.


Det. Steve Crosetti: Either it's murder, or this library has a very strict overdue policy.

In the fifth season, the episode Prison Riot saw the murder police investigate the violent deaths of two prison inmates. Many of the prisoners interviewed were characters familiar from previous episodes, caught by the detectives. The episode illustrated how jail time had altered their attitudes and personalities.

The idea of such a controlled environment, with its mixed races and tensions, fascinated Fontana so much that he went on to create Oz, the first one-hour dramatic TV series produced by HBO. Premiering less than a year after the Homicide episode was broadcast, the drama played out within Emerald City, an experimental unit within the maximum-security Oswald State Correctional Facility.


Oz typically featured numerous actors who had guest-starred in Homicide: Life on the Street. Lee Tergesen who played the newly incarcerated Tobias Beecher, and Eddie Falco, who appeared as Prisoner Officer Diane Whittlesey for the first three season before being cast as Carmela Soprano, had appeared together in Homicide as a uniformed officer wounded in the line of duty and his wife.

Sgt. Kay Howard: Do be a milk drinker. Don't be a crack addict.

By then David Simon was already working on Homicide, first as a writer and story editor before becoming one of the show’s producers. The year the show first appeared on NBC, Simon was on a second leave of absence from the Baltimore Sun to research and co-write The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood with Edward Burns, a 20-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department.


A harrowing account of a West Baltimore community dominated by an open-air drug market at what was then Fat Curt’s corner at the intersection of Fayette and Monroe, the book was published to great acclaim in 1997. Three years later a six-hour adaptation, co-written by Simon, appeared on HBO and won the Emmy for Best Miniseries. Simon and Burns’ next collaboration, combining all their previous production and professional experience, was The Wire.

Channel 4 snapped up the UK rights to Homicide: Life on the Street, screening it on Monday nights in the slot recently vacated by the previous season of NYPD Blue. There it stayed until, not getting the audience figures the channel wanted, it was dismissed, unannounced to a late night slot. The final season didn’t even make it on air.


In the US, A&E gradually brought the series out on DVD, culminating in a boxset that collected together all 122 episodes, the three Law & Order crossover episodes (which Channel 4 ignored completely), and the TV movie that eventually wrapped up the show. Extras included selected episode commentaries, interviews with the likes of Levinson, Fontana and Simon, and documentaries.

Finally, earlier this year, Homicide: Life on the Street arrived on DVD in the UK. And what did we get?


The complete “first” season is actually the thirteen episodes of season one and two. Which means the soon–to–be–released third year is being labelled the “second” season. Well, “thanks” Fremantle Home Entertainment. That’s really big of you.

Det. John Munch: Homicide: our day begins when yours ends.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Pens Down!

For anyone who still thinks the writer’s life is the life for them, here’s some cheery news from the Screenwriters Festival at Cheltenham, as reported in Broadcast now.

Facing rejection trying to break in to the industry is bad enough for most, but apparently once writers are in and making a name for themselves, clinical depression and the prospect of a shortened lifespan are amongst the joys waiting for them. Psychologist Raj Persaud, who spoke at a session on writer’s block, suggested unhappiness among writers may happen because they are driven by their emotions.

All you can do is remember what Horace Walpole said:

“Life is a comedy for those who think... and a tragedy for those who feel.”

Thursday, July 05, 2007

What Not To Write

Alex Epstein flagged this on his blog a day or so ago and it’s worth passing on to anyone who doesn’t pay him a visit. It also saves me from dissecting a rather gloomy and unproductive day.

The editors of the online magazine Strange Horizons, while always on the lookout for contributors, have posted lists of stories the poor souls have obviously seen far too often and don’t want to see ever again. The lists are divided into horror plots and general plots, although given the content of the magazine they are biased toward science fiction.

Even though they’re talking about the prose submissions, a lot of what they say could easily apply to film and television. Especially now that what has been on offer of late has driven us to become bored and jaded and on the point of pouring bleach in our eyes. (Or maybe that’s just me).

Given how much science fiction shows complete and utter contempt to the science part, I did like:

An A.I. gets loose on the Net despite the computer it was on not being connected to the Net.

An A.I. gets loose on the Net but the author doesn't have a clear concept of what it means for software to be "loose on the Net." (Hint: the Net is currently a collection of individual computers, not some kind of big ubercomputer; software doesn't currently run in the wires between computers*.)

They keep updating the list. So far, what have they missed?

* Right here, I would have written “you fucking muppets!” Obviously they’re more tolerant that I am.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Freedom!

As a Brit there has never been a point in celebrating Independence Day. The one time I was over in New York for July 4th we had got so ripped the night before that everyone spent the day sliding in and out of consciousness.

By the time everyone got their act together to head down toward the East River and watch the traditional Macy’s fireworks display it was pretty much over. Walking through the virtually deserted Upper East Side I bumped into a chap from my year at The Esteemed School of Art who I hadn’t seen since I ran screaming from the building, three years earlier.

With the renewed terror alerts, torrential rain, power cut and fouled up public transport, this week had been something of a downer so far. It probably wasn’t brilliant for ITV who had planned to broadcast Die Hard 2 late on Monday night. It certainly wasn’t brilliant for anyone tuning in, either ready to complain at the channel’s insensitivity if the screening went ahead or, for curiosity’s sake, wondered what would replace it.

They went for Cliffhanger instead. Is there an action movie more inept then Cliffhanger? I’m surprised Renny Harlin is still allowed to make films. Obviously it’s difficult to recreate the same lighting conditions from the exterior mountain shots, but all the studio-filmed scenes scream, “Fake!” at the top of their voice.

Could there be the faintest glimmer of a silver lining to boost spirits. Actually, yes, and from the most unlikely of places. Step forward Doctor Who.

I’ve pretty much nailed my colours to the mast when it comes to my opinion of this rancid old pile of ocelot vomit. So much so that some commentators have suggested that if I don’t like it, don’t watch it.

That seems to be the most sensible thing to do, and I tried to stop for a couple of weeks, but the show managed to elicit an alluring siren call. Every time I’d watch in the hope that it would be good – which, for a brief moment it was – only to have my expectations cruelly dashed on the rocks.

At least the first year made some attempt to draw in an audience who doesn’t have time for this juvenile “sci-fi” crap. As the weeks and years went on, with generally piss-poor stories and the blatant theft from other, far more accomplished material, it was a perfect example of what happens when grown-up fanboys are put in charge of this kind of material.

Now I’m happy to be done with it. The final straw? The news that the new companion for next year has been cast and it’s Catherine Tate – yes, that loud-mouthed, unfunny harpy, who appeared in last December’s Christmas Day episode. Some called it a special. “The fairy on top the Christmas Tree of Stupid” is what I called it.

I may be a traditionalist when it comes to sketch comedy but I prefer sketches that are funny, whether through visual gags amongst the jokes or very clever plays on words. Getting made up into a succession of grotesque characters and spouting tired, idiot catchphrases ad nauseam simply doesn’t do it for me.

So with that miserable old sow added to the mix, that’s it for me. What a bloody relief. I think a few people have suggested this is a clear example of Doctor Who jumping the shark. More like jumping the shark and then dragging it onto the beach and beating it to death.

I don’t know whether they’ve made the news official but the word from very reliable inside sources is that the next series is the last for Russell T Davies and Tennant. Maybe RTD is going for a full-on Viking Funeral, burning it down so that if he isn’t doing it all that’s left for the successor is an utter shambles.

Thinking back to the third series finale just gone, here’s something to mull over. It was daft enough already but then the companion goes walking the Earth telling people about this unrecognised saviour who have saved their drab and dreary lives.

What subtext should we deduce from this? Would it have anything to do with a writer/exec producer who got into a strop because his show hadn’t been feted at the last BAFTA ceremony? Just a thought.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Burn, Baby, Burn!

Just caught the first episode of Burn Notice, a great new drama from the USA Network. Not the usual Sturm und Drang–leaning dramas I’m used to watching, Burn Notice is more cheeky and frothy – like Hustle, but with a blacklisted government agent instead of cheeky-chappie conmen.

Dumped back in Miami, dumped spy Michael Westen has to find out why he got burnt while trying to make a buck to survive. Then there’s his nagging mother to deal with, his nagging ex-girlfriend, and an ex–Navy SEAL buddy who is set on drinking his way through retirement.


Sharon Gless plays mom. Gabrielle Anwar, who I probably last saw in Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, sports a frankly bizarre Irish accent as the ex. The mighty Bruce Campbell breezes through the buddy role. Because television should inform as well as entertain, the first episode shows you how to beat a fingerprint activated lock and the best way to shoot someone behind a reinforced steel door.

Perfect summer fare, it’s a shame we’re not getting Burn Notice instead of the dire Cape Wrath.

I haven’t bothered checking the Apple site for any new film trailers for a while. Finally I moseyed over and discovered a trailer for The Golden Compass, the adaptation of Northern Lights, the first part of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Damn it looks good.



Even though the release is six months away, I should buy the books. Again. The first set I lent to The Blonde with the Butterfly Tattoo who passed them on to her legion of nieces. The next time I bought the trilogy they went to the Delightful LA Actress who then gave them to her daughter to read. I leave it too late and they’ll be reprinted with some damn movie tie-in cover. Maybe it is too late already.

Monday, July 02, 2007

...Feel The Length

Sorry, this isn’t about porn. I just thought I better get that out the way first. That time may come, but the post will probably be titled Kiss My Whip or Oh... Buttery or just Spank Hard!

Instead... Hot Fuzz. Well, that’s close I suppose. As well as The Departed, I finally got around to catching up with Hot Fuzz. Not as funny as Shaun Of The Dead, but still funny nonetheless. Especially the insert shot of the swear box lid with punctuation marks on BAS!*RD, SH!T and F*@K, but nothing to disguise CUNT. Oh, and NOB was misspelt.


Obviously you’re going to get a lot of mileage out of smashing Bruckhammer action movies into a sleepy Somerset village that would more likely be home to Miss Marple. With the obvious juxtapositions and the required Bayhem frame fucking.

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg did it really well, but God did it go on. Come the multiple showdowns it felt like instead of taking the piss out of overblown action movie showdowns the pair had fallen in love with them.

It’s pretty obvious that nowadays most movies are just too damn long. A while back I mentioned that Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven is perhaps one of the few recent films that benefits from the additional footage, putting the conflict in better context.

Another film that can be added to the list is 1941. Work Buddy brought back a copy of the Region 1 DVD with close to half an hour of material reinstated. I first saw it when it was out on general release in 1979/80, not because Spielberg directed it but because it starred Belushi.


Now, as then, it isn’t all that funny, which is a problem given that it’s supposed to be a screwball comedy. The best laugh comes from the howling continuity gaffe where the two lookouts up on the ferris wheel swap places midway through the film for no apparent reason.

Technically it’s a nice piece of work, and quite entertaining, but it’s just proof that Spielberg can’t do slapstick. The bizarre thing is, the extra footage, which is predominantly character-based, turns them into far better-rounded individuals to replace the cartoon buffoons that first appeared up on screen.

The best laughs come from The Making of 1941 feature, which kicks off the package of extras. Writers Bob Gale and Bob Zemekis, and producer John Milius giggle over their seditious intentions for the script originally entitled The Night the Japs Attacked.

While Spielberg reveals that the part of “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell, which went to Robert Stack, was initially offered to John Wayne. Outraged, The Duke thought it was anti-American drivel – not a great surprise there – and tried to talk him out of directing it. Then he admits that he envisioned 1941 as an "old fashioned Hollywood musical." Ah, okay.

...Anyway, how about Nympho Dwarf Anal Eruption for a porn title? It just popped in my head. Maybe I should enter that into one of the bloggy logline competitions doing the rounds.