Second Smile.



TV Having seen Saturday night's episode of Doctor Who a second time, I think I still agree with huge tracts of my Saturday night instaopinion but also with a lot of the people who's opinion usually chime with mine who seemed to love it to bits.  Thematically it is a bit confusing, the secondary characters are nothing burgers and the conclusion is rushed and unimpressive.  But it's very enjoyable indeed in places because of Capaldi and Mackie, because some of the dialogue and character work is superb and because of the locations.  That's why I'll disagree with the drowsy Saturday night version of myself about it being boring.  It's never boring.  That's unfair.  They're such overwhelming compelling company that it can't be.  Like the best companions, Pearl is always acting even when she doesn't have dialogue, her entire body communicating the space between the lines.  Background business like taking photographs make her incredibly human.

As was the charge that it lacks depth.  Not every Doctor Who episode, even in the RTD years had a lot of depth and such episodes grow on you.  The Long Game isn't something you'd sit down to watch on purpose but as part of the series, it's pleasant enough and like Smile have moments which are simply about showing what life could be like in the future.  I do keep forgetting, perhaps because of how spin-off media tends to be much more densely written. that the television version is often about the visuals more than story, and that it's illegitimate to smack a fifty-three year old franchise around the four act structures for repeating itself.  It's a very rare modern Who story which has no traces of something happening the background.  I've often been an apologist for such thing.  Not sure what I forgot about that this time.

Smile was designed to have a particular function within the ongoing story of these two characters and not much else and that's fine.  I mean it's not much more than fine and I still think that even this kind of episode should strive to leave the viewer thrilled but I also have to acknowledge that isn't always going to be the case.  You might also wonder if, like The Beast Below, the reason the conclusion bleeds into the next episode, as well as a homage to the Hartnell years, is because the production team suspected that the ending wasn't quite as bigley as it could have been.  There's a version of Smile which ends on a quip from the Doctor or Bill.  How much better to leave the viewer with the image of an elephant on the frozen Thames, which is fascinating even if you know how it could be and when the next episode is set?

My Favourite Film of 1902.



Film There is a home video in existence, recorded during my A-Levels, about a quarter of a century ago, in which I’m shown, because it happened, reading the description of how various chunks of technology on the Starship Enterprise D work from a copy of the official Technical Manual to some school friends who’re doing their best to ignore me. I was about sixteen years old and I think it’s probably my nerdiest moment which is quite something considered everything which has been published on this blog and elsewhere for the past fifteen odd years. Later in this filmed conversation, I turn to describing the Vulcan concept of the IDIC before someone throws an empty water bottle at someone else’s head. I don’t think it was mine. It’s quite a while since I’ve been able to watch it.

Not long afterwards, I declared this to be a different person, that I’d completely changed and I was more interested in other things, had some kind of “awakening”. But I was fooling myself. I’m still that person, I just multiplied my number of interests and learned when to shut up about it within disinterested company. I’m in the process of watching all of Star Trek in hard chronological order for goodness sake. I watched the first twenty minutes of Star Trek Generations before Encounter at Farpoint and returned to the rest of it between the Deep Space Nine episode Distant Voices and Voyager’s State of Flux. I was nervously holding my finger next to the pause button during TNG’s The Pegasus, guessing the exact moment to insert Enterprise’s These Are The Voyages before realising that they run in parallel so need to be watched concurrently.

Why do some people gravitate towards science fiction more than others? Escapism certainly, but all kinds of page and screen fiction offers that release. It’s what it’s designed for. How I became enraptured was probably through habit. As a child, I’d be slotted in front of Saturday morning cartoons and Star Trek, Doctor Who and Buck Rogers, Street Hawk and Airwolf and at a certain point it just becomes the thing I most looked forward to. Plus although I know they’re not mutually exclusive, an especially disastrous afternoon watching Everton lose to Manchester United in a cup final turned me away from football forever. My finely tuned trauma reaction led me quickly to decide that anything which made me cry that much wasn’t a good thing.

I also have a collector’s mind and most science fiction is designed to take advantage of my kind of personality. From a perspective of pure commerce, the franchises are designed to churn out more story, more product leading completest to want it all and now. But that’s because we want to know the whole story. Once a world has been established, we’re desperate to know all of the details, watch the narrative cartographers, both solo and within a writing staff of a television show explain how their world fits together. That’s how they survive in numerous formats. We’re desperate to see what’s next and how it fits with what’s gone before, ready and eager to point out when it doesn’t much and perhaps publish a corrective.

But single stories still have great power. In Melies’s A Trip To The Moon, we know little to nothing about the society which inspires the mission, the film is closer to fantasy than scientific fact, obviously. But its impossible to watch with just a surface interpretation of events. We’ll wonder about the kind of propulsion the space ship has, why they’re breathing on the moon and why the celestial body has a face. We’re equally delighted and perplexed, our imaginations filled with notions of what the rest of the society might be like even though we know it’s futile and silly. Same with Blade Runner. Same with Gravity. Same with Inception. Tiny details here and there engaging with our detective skills. Often films which explain too much are crushing bores.

But other than the intellectual exercise, when even with the most generic quest storyline there’ll be something engaging about the world even if the film itself doesn’t disappointingly take advantage of it, there’s the sense of being shown something new, outside of our reality. During the meet and greet for my MA Film Studies course, when we were introducing ourselves and the kinds of films we like, I said that I’m often impressed by films which are critically derided if they’re visually interesting. That’s still true. I love the Resident Evil film franchise whose newest instalment received a one-star review in Empire. Every film is visually stunning even if the stories have become repetitive. I can’t wait to see it.

In other words, I completely understand what enthralled that younger version of me even if I’m thoroughly embarrassed by his approach. You are what you are and I’m pleased that I embraced that if only because the person I was in my early twenties who sold off his original Doctor Who collection at a flea market for buttons in heavy denial probably wasn’t a happy young adult. Of course it helps that the social stigma has somewhat dissipated but I like to think I would have ended up here either way. When you reach a point when you can ask a box the size of a hockey puck to play almost any music you’d like, what the weather is and to tell you a joke, in other words you’re living in the future, it helps if you’ve already considered the possibilities.

Smile.



TV Yesterday, for the first time in a hundred and thirty five years, the National Grid was able to deliver enough power to consumers without utilising any electricity generated by coal. Tonight, I almost passed a similar rubicon and didn't watch Doctor Who live on I think the only occasion since 2005, having decided that life was too short for me to wait for the potential extra time to play out in the FA Cup semi-final between some teams.  Any later than scheduled and I would have iPlayered Doctor Who tomorrow night and this review would have been a day late.  In the event, one team beat the other by a couple of goals so Smile was broadcast at the correct TX so I'm not watching American Gigolo as would have been the otherwise plan and sit writing this instead.  You lucky personages.

During the Moffat era, second episodes of seasons have tended to be the climactic movement of an opening story, the idea being that what would traditionally be a finale is being front loaded at the top to attract viewers.  Smile takes the approach of The Beast Below and Into The Dalek of a stand alone set in the future with a few side references to whatever the ongoing storyline of the series is.  In this case, that's the box/vault/thingy and the Doctor's promise to protect it of which we discovered a little more this week, that the Doctor has promised to protect the box/vault/thingy in a kind of self inflicted exile and really shouldn't be leaving Earth.  Again we shrug and hope that this is more exciting and mysterious than it currently seems.  Plastic Rory guarded the Pandorica for two thousand years and it's impossible to beat that sort of heroism (even if he tried to undermine it himself by using his heroism as a form of point scoring in an argument with the very person he was protecting).

Smile is inferior to both those episodes.  Indeed it's the weakest of the second episodes since the show returned, an astonishingly lifeless, boring effort which like Frank Cottrell-Boyce's previous entry in the franchise only just manages to keep watchable thanks to some stunning visuals and likeable performances from the regulars.  In The Forest of the Night has its fans, and it's apparently very popular with children.  But in what had already been a generally horrible season thanks to a miscalculation in the characterisation of the Doctor, it just felt like another example of the show losing its way and having the same writer at the top end of Capaldi's final season doesn't pay off.  It's not as awful as ITFotN, just horrifyingly simplistic in a way which would even embarrass the writers of the usually far more imaginative Doctor Who Adventures comic strips.

Now, there is something to be said for stories which have the Doctor escorting his companions around a new locale revealing their wonders of this new world.  The Ark In Space gives us one of the Time Lords best moments when he's describing humanity, "They're indomitable!" and the first episode of that story is a clear influence here.  Target Books had several publishing successes with exactly this format.  The Colony city Gilese 581 D is an architectural design marvel, a brilliant white Utopian space, exactly the place the inhabitants of the rocket in the episode Utopia might have ended up if the Master hadn't become involved.  Shot at the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, if there's one thing you can't fault about the episode, it's the production design and location choices, redolent of Elysium, the Aeon Flux movie and the Festival Hall at Liverpool's International Garden Festival in 1984.  It's impossible not to be impressed when Capaldi's holding forth against this backdrop.

It's also fair to say that the banter between the Doctor and Bill is always entertaining, his exposition endlessly counterpointed by her fixation on other details, like how many hearts he has or why a police box, questions which have been pondered in the past but with great whimsical vigour here.  Capaldi seems more at ease with Mackie than he ever did with Coleman, where there always seemed to be a professional detachment and I appreciate that one of the reasons the episode seems so empty otherwise is because, like The Beast Below, it's allowing time for the characters to bond and the audience to understand the dynamic, which in this case is teacher and pupil more than simply best friends.  We're seeing another facet of the Fourteenth Doctor in this series, much more benevolent and easy going if a little bit generic in the early Eighth Doctor BBC Books range, oh err, what do we do with this, kind of way.

But the rest?  Damn.  The Black Mirror for kids concept of a society in which a robot executes if you don't smile enough was accomplished very successfully during the McCoy era and perhaps the sun-blessed production design was an attempt to obscure that we're essentially watching The Happiness Patrol. sans its noirish lighting. for the social media generation.  But unlike Graeme Curry's political satire (which was definitely not about Thatcher, obvs), the commentary here is rather more confused and with a vague whiff of a older writer trying to say something about how Twitter or Facebook effect people's mood and something emoji without being entirely sure what the social implications of all of this is.  Patronising lines like "Emojis, selfies and wearable communications.  We're in  he Utopia of vacuous teens." don't help much either.

In the parish circular, the Boyce says liked that the use of the emoji has become a kind of universal language for communicating mood, that it's quite touching, which is precisely what they were originally designed for.  It's also true that like hugs, they're an excellent way for a person to hide their true feelings.  Even if you're feeling shit but not wanting to communicate such, bunging in a smiley face masks how we're actually doing.  But in the episode they have the more sinister application of demonstrating exactly how a person is feeling, but only on a very superficial level.  You might be terrified inside but turn the frown upside down, Mrs Brown, and the emoji disc reflects that instead.  The writer likes the idea of emojis but isn't sure how to communicate that within the internal logic of the script.  It's a writer experiencing the anxieties of Douglas Adams's technology rules in script form.

The problem is there's no great depth to any of this.  For all the enjoyable bantz, there's nothing much for us to become invested in amongst the characters or story.  Although there's a brief glance toward Bill realising that they have the fate of humanity in their hands and how the Doctor's motivated by his need to help, the episode coasts on the kind of astonishingly generic, run of the mill jeopardy which turns up in the less skillful spin-off media.  Casting Ralph Little as the lead human was presumable an attempt to shorthand some sympathies, but I don't remember his name even being mentioned on-screen and his entire character exists to simply blunder in and do something stupid with guns.  Mina Anwar's cameo at the beginning of the episode is gut wrenching but once she's gone there's no one for us to latch on to, someone we care about for the Doctor and Bill to save.  The small boy isn't on screen long enough.

Much of this is a casualty of the Moffat approved structure of old school episodes one and four bonded together with the running around of episode two and three tossed out.  But just having the first and last instalments of The Ark In Space misses the opportunity to meet the characters who're going to be threatened in the concluding moments, become involved in their stories.  Which admittedly would have been difficult given the obvious aim of the episode, as I said, to present the new dynamic and adding third wheel to those moments would have diluted their effect but these are more fundamental issues to do with choosing this story as the containment force field.  There's a version of the episode were the Doctor re-engineering the robots and having them co-habit with the humans is the start of the story not the whole thing,

Including the ending, which is just rubbish in a way which simply can't be masked by having Capaldi read us a bedtime story.  JNT roasted Davison's sonic because of its potential to create precisely the kind of story resolution we enjoy here and along with similar efforts in the likes of New Earth shows a mediocre lack of imagination.  One of the side effects of my anti-anxiety tablets is I have a tendency to nod off if I'm sat in one place for too long, and I'll admit to my eyes closing a couple times during the episode and after the show ended I wondered if I'd missed something spectacular.  Having gone back just now and had a glance on the iPlayer, I've discover that no I didn't.  It really is one of those stories where the Doctor and his companion walk through a lot of corridors, stumble into an explanation as to what's occurring then solve it by turning something off and on again which is frankly embarrassing when you consider this is the same show which almost ten years ago this week gave us Gridlock.

Once again this week Twitter's filled with people saying how much they enjoyed the episode and good for them.  But I just miss the version of the show which had emotional and structurally  complexity week in and out which perhaps isn't as child friendly as smiley robots and killer swarms, but at least meant you felt like you'd had a meal rather than just skipped breakfast. You were thrilled at the end rather than simply, ah, ok.  Judging by the cliffhanger, tonight's instalment could simply be anomalous and Sarah Dollard script might offer something more akin to drama than whatever this was.  But so far there's nothing in here which feels like appointment television and if it was any other show I'd be iPlayering it, assuming I remembered to even watch it at all.  Perhaps a rubicon has been passed after all.



[On rewatch: Having seen the episode a second time, I think I still agree with huge tracts of the above and also with a lot of the people who's opinion usually chime with mine who seemed to love it to bits.  Thematically it is a bit confusing, the secondary characters are nothing burgers and the conclusion is rushed and unimpressive.  But it's very enjoyable indeed in places because of Capaldi and Mackie, because some of the dialogue and character work is superb and because of the locations.  That's why I'll disagree with the drowsy Saturday night version of myself about it being boring.  It's never boring.  That's unfair.  They're such overwhelming compelling company that it can't be.  Like the best companions, Pearl is always acting even when she doesn't have dialogue, her entire body communicating the space between the lines.  Background business like taking photographs make her incredibly human.

As was the charge that it lacks depth.  Not every Doctor Who episode, even in the RTD years had a lot of depth and such episodes grow on you.  The Long Game isn't something you'd sit down to watch on purpose but as part of the series, it's pleasant enough and like Smile have moments which are simply about showing what life could be like in the future.  I do keep forgetting, perhaps because of how spin-off media tends to be much more densely written. that the television version is often about the visuals more than story, and that it's illegitimate to smack a fifty-three year old franchise around the four act structures for repeating itself.  It's a very rare modern Who story which has no traces of something happening the background.  I've often been an apologist for such thing.  Not sure what I forgot about that this time.

Smile was designed to have a particular function within the ongoing story of these two characters and not much else and that's fine.  I mean it's not much more than fine and I still think that even this kind of episode should strive to leave the viewer thrilled but I also have to acknowledge that isn't always going to be the case.  You might also wonder if, like The Beast Below, the reason the conclusion bleeds into the next episode, as well as a homage to the Hartnell years, is because the production team suspected that the ending wasn't quite as bigley as it could have been.  There's a version of Smile which ends on a quip from the Doctor or Bill.  How much better to leave the viewer with the image of an elephant on the frozen Thames, which is fascinating even if you know how it could be and when the next episode is set?]

Screen Select Lives!

Film As you know, I recently signed again with Lovefilm-by-post having become tired with the tedious wait for the few films I actually want to see to be uploaded to one of the streaming services (as opposed to those entertainments which I'll watch because they're there). Surprisingly they'd retained my previously viewed items from the six months before back to 200 titles.

I've always been slightly cheesed off about brevity of that list. Back when Lovefilm had its own website and before that ScreenSelect, it was possible to look backwards right through the archive, be able to check if you'd seen a title before. Now, it seemed, anything before 200 was dropping off, just a year or two going backwards.

Well. Idling online late the other night, I was startled to discover that the entire archive is still there. Amazon still retains the entire list of everything I've watched either via shiny disc or streaming right back to 2004, albeit in their own format.

For the three people reading this for whom it'll be of interest, here's how I found it.

 At the top of the page under the search box it a link for "Stuart's Amazon" replacing my name with yours. Click this.


Now you'll see a link for "Improve Your Recommendations". Click that too.

Log-in. That brings a page which defaults to items you've purchased. To the left there's a link called "Videos you've watched". Click that.


You'll now see a list of all the discs you've had by post and watched through Amazon Prime in reverse chronological order.

This is where is gets a bit tricky. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you'll see a yellow "next" button with 1-15 to the left. Click that.


At this point I assumed that this would just take me backwards through the two hundred. But I was wrong.  It went even further.

 Now, look up at the address bar. You might need to scroll a bit but it should contain something like the following text:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/yourstore/iyr/ref=pd_ys_iyr_next?ie=UTF8&collection=watched&iyrGroup=&maxItem=30&minItem=16

As you can see at the end, there are instructions to tell the website which section of the dvd list the show, fifteen items, in this case items 16 to 30. This is the tricky part.

Feeling myself backwards, I first tried to look at the page with items 185 to 200. So I changed the numbers thusly:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/yourstore/iyr/ref=pd_ys_iyr_next?ie=UTF8&collection=watched&iyrGroup=&maxItem=200&minItem=185

That worked. So decided to go further.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/yourstore/iyr/ref=pd_ys_iyr_next?ie=UTF8&collection=watched&iyrGroup=&maxItem=2000&minItem=1985

And was amazed to find a series of items from the Lovefilm era, from Michael Clayton to Spider-Man 3. How far backwards did this go?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/yourstore/iyr/ref=pd_ys_iyr_next?ie=UTF8&collection=watched&iyrGroup=&maxItem=3000&minItem=2985

Produced a blank page indicating I hadn't watched anything, so I began working backwards in 50 item intervals until, magically I reached:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/yourstore/iyr/ref=pd_ys_iyr_next?ie=UTF8&collection=watched&iyrGroup=&maxItem=2604&minItem=2590

And the start of my viewing list, right back in 2004, the ScreenSelect days with the "previous" button at the bottom of the list allowing me to go forward in time.  A record of my dvd viewing for the past decade and a half, beginning with my French New Wave obsession.

There they were, the first discs I ever rented, Keanu Reeves actioner Chain Reaction, The China Syndrome and anthology series "Perfect Crimes" with its episode by Steven Soderbergh.

Much of this first year is recorded already on this blog in the ultra tedious Review 2004, but everything after that is like a diary of my viewing tastes which have always been eclectic and reminded me that back then I was just as likely to watch something archival or back catalogue as something new.

That's something I'm trying again.  To be continued.

Elizabeth Wurtzel on Girls.

TV For the Washington Post. She saw a lot of herself in there:
"I am scared of my 20s. That decade took me down. My Room 13 is being 25 again. I spent every day getting over the night before. I lived downtown in New York City, in every neighborhood south of 14th Street, because I moved all the time, as I ran rampant through life. I had boyfriends who broke lamps to make a point. I ordered in morning coffee at 2 in the afternoon. I did not understand a schedule. My heart had a black and blue mark on it all the time."
Elsewhere, here's Lena Dunham on the final episode. I thought initially it was a bit "These Are The Voyages" in that episode nine felt like the structural end of the series, but on reading this I can appreciate that having episode 9 as the climax isn't very Girls. Episode ten and that final shot it.  Marnie spin-off please?

My Favourite Film of 1903.



Film  Some brief notes on genre. Again.

The Great Train Robbery is popularly thought of as the first Western or at least a pre-cursor to the modern western. But in production, this was not in the minds of the film makers. The situation is rather more complicated and although for various reasons it’s possible to label it a “western” it’s also a number of other things.

Genre tends to be defined in two ways, semantic and syntactic. Semantic refers to how the film looks and the tropes of the genre are in what we can see. If everyone has guns, hats and horses in a desert it’s a western. If it’s guns, hats and cars in the city it’s gangster film.  If it's phasers, environmental suits and spaceships its sci-fi.

Syntactic is about the structure of the story. A romantic comedy is a meet cute with various obstacles then inhibiting the couple from coupling until they do. A hyperlink film has lots of different plots, with lots of different demographics of people mixing unexpectedly across numerous geographic locations. A walking film is a road movie on foot.  If everyone dies at the end, its a tragedy.

There are also two ways of deciding the genre in which a film fits. The first is to watch a “corpus” of similar looking films, looking for commonalities, “tropes” and then dismissing titles which don’t match and seeking others which do. Semantically that’s how The Great Train Robbery became thought of as a western due to the tropes we’ve already discussed.

The other is through cycles, in which a film is popular, does business and so a lot of similar films are made to capitalise. Found footage films are a recent example, as is teen horror in the wake of Scream or “torture porn” after Saw. Usually these genres are actually presenting a new twist on some old format and so antecedents will show themselves.

Which is why The Great Train Robbery is so complicated; in production it was actually within contemporary a cycle of “heist” or caper films (see also A Daring Daylight Burglary) and is even still listed as such at the Wikipedia. It fits the syntactic tropes of planning a robbery and carrying it out ala the Oceans films, albeit over a slender run time.

It’s also a period drama, since it’s recalling recent history, the production design recreating a landscape and people from just a couple of decades previous not unlike a 2010s filmmaker setting their film in the 80s. Some of the people watching The Great Train Robbery would recognise the images in their own memories.

The “western” didn’t exist as a film genre when this was made, the term not being used until 1912 and even then it would be decades before directors set out to make a “western” rather than a film which happened to be set in the 1880s in the American West. The final shot of the film is up front on the genre’s Wikipedia page.

Which is why I find film studies so interesting. Nothing is fixed, everything is in flux and preconceptions can be annihilated with a new piece of information or thought and how you approach viewing films changes. Watching The Great Train Robbery as a heist or period film gives it a completely different texture, making it even more entertaining.

Romola on Feminism. Lot's of other things.

Film Eve Wiseman talks to the next Doctor and recounts this horrifying anecdote about the filming of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights:
"Romola Garai was 17, standing in her underwear while a female producer pointed at her thighs and told her: “This isn’t good enough.” She was weighed in and out every day, with a dietician flown to Puerto Rico to make sure she stayed underweight. It was her first Hollywood studio film, a sequel to Dirty Dancing, and it would prove to be her last. “It screwed me up for years. Not only did it completely change how I felt about my body, but I felt like I’d failed because I hadn’t fought back. I felt complicit, because I didn’t say no. I signed off on Photoshopped images and felt terrible for perpetrating this… lie.”"

The Pilot.



TV "She was fat. I'd fatted her."

Last night I watched the Adam Sandler film 50 First Dates. Most of Sandler's oeuvre is awful but every now then even he manages to turn out an averagely decent piece of work, and at the centre of 50 First Dates is the very sweet story of a guy who falls in love with a girl played with Goldfield's Syndrome, played by Drew Barrymore, who wakes up every morning having forgotten everything which happened the day before going backwards to the day of an accident. As with The Wedding Singer, there's real chemistry between the two leads which shows that with the right material Sandler can be a likeable lead.  Unfortunately the whole rest of the film is a non-PC shitshow with cruel jokes about people with mental illness and an extremely racist performance from California born Rob Schneider as a Polynesian.  So all the while you're grinning through as Adam and Drew make googly eyes at each other, you're also aware of just how awful much of the surrounding tissue is.

That's how I probably felt about Doctor Who's The Pilot because tossing that fat joke into Bill's opening scene did little to warm me to her and so undercut whatever the rest of the episode was trying to do.  I've had the structure of the line circulating backwards and forwards trying to decide who the joke is supposed to be on, and it keeps returning me to Bill's misfortune at having accidentally made a girl she fancies fat, no longer beautiful and so therefore undateable, with a side order of cheap humour about the intelligence of models which is precisely the kind of garbage the likes of Chrissy Teigen have to deal with.  Admittedly Donna could be cruel on occasion, but as the Doctor has said somewhere in the past, first impressions count and this threw me.  If the idea was to make her a human being who says stupid things, fine,  But the ad campaign talks about this being a show about heroes, and its simply not right for someone who's supposed to be a children's hero to make fat jokes especially if it's a child who is currently being bullied at school for being overweight themselves.

Good evening, welcome back and sorry that I can't be as effusive as everyone else.  There was a much derided column from The Guardian the other day about how Doctor Who's become stale and although I took issue with the writer Abigail Chandler about Robots of Sherwood, which was my favourite episode of an otherwise often unwatcheable Season Eight, there wasn't a lot in there I could disagree with.  After the patchy season nine, an only decent Christmas special and a rubbish Christmas special, Steven Moffat feels like a creatively spent force who's lost focus on exactly what the show he's writing is supposed to be (sideways glance at Sherlock).  Perhaps because of this, I was the least excited I've ever been about a season opener and despite going through the motions, including wearing my Eighth Doctor t-shirt to work this afternoon (not that anyone cared enough to mention it).  But my heart just hasn't been in it.

Does The Pilot help?  Well, yes, it's fine.  Although it does at least subtly change the format again from the lengthy scene thing Moffat's been experimenting with these past few years to something more akin to earlier years, it's not the massive game changer we were promised.  Perhaps the show is just too old and has too many different iterations for that to happen.  But there are enough sparkly moments in here to suggest that the writer/producer appreciates some of the weaknesses, especially in the Doctor's characterisation, which we've had to endure recently.  The fact that I'm writing this review shows that it was interesting enough for me to care, something which wasn't certain.  Then again, every season I wonder if I'll bother writing these things and yet here I am again on a Saturday night developing laptop hunch and creating lines on my arms were they're resting on the edge of the table.  I know I could buy one of those rubber rest things, but they bring me out in a rash.

The structure of the episode is quite different to usual.  The first half develops across what must be six months as the Doctor casts himself as Frank in his own version of Educating Rita.  This is the stronger passage as its implied that this soft reboot will see an Earth bound Doctor working out of a university fighting aliens with Nardole as his butler and Bill as the new Jo (even if the bit with the festive mat implies he's taken at least one trip in the TARDIS).  Then halfway through and unlike any of the opening episodes since the show came back, the Doctor whisks his new friend through space and time.  This gives everything some scale whilst simultaneously (and not unlike the first episode of Quantum Leap) explains the premise of the show for potential newbies so that the second instalment can be largely free of the usual explanations.  No "Is this a different world?".  We've done that.  No "Who are the Daleks?" We've done that too.

Yet for all that I'm not satisfied.  The idea of companions ignoring rote reactions to the TARDIS and the Doctor showing off have become so cliche itself now that it would probably have been more surprising if she'd gone through the motions.  Throughout there's a constant sense of trying to undercut the magic.  Big lighting reveal of the interior, joke about it looking like a knock through and a kitchen.  Contrast that to the Ian and Barbara's faces in Doctor Who's actual pilot (depending on which moutning of the second half you're watching) and there's no contest.  Admittedly I cheered along with the Doctor and Nardole when Bill finally said that it was bigger on the inside, but it does work against one of the series best moments.  Sometimes the cleverest thing is to not to try to be too clever.

That goes too for whatever lies behind JJ Abrams' box or as is the case here, vault.  I've never particularly been particularly keen on those stories in which the Doctor himself is a mystery, or rather there's a mystery about something he's doing rather than who he is.  Whilst it's true that like Eccleston we're wondering what's been happening to the Doctor since last we saw him and how he's ended up in this predicament, it's always tricky pointing towards a viewpoint character and then deliberately omitting narrative information about them as Moffat is trying to do here, especially when Bill never quite feels like the protagonist and can't be.  Whatever the Doctor's mission here is a mystery simply because you haven't shown us the initiating scene.  Perhaps if Bill had indicated any great curiosity about what's in the box, sorry, vault, herself it would have provided a useful counterweight, but Moffat doesn't want us to care too much about it yet, so she doesn't either.

Nardole's presence still doesn't make any sense either.  As we're reminded through Bill of the healthful characterisation that recent companions have enjoyed, not to mention proper introductions, he's an anomalous blank.  Kind of amusing but for the most part stripping the Doctor of some of his eccentricities and whimsy.  Having the Second Doctor as companion to the Third sounds fine in theory, and didn't we all enjoy The Three Doctors, but for the most part he seems to exist because Matt Lucas said he'd like to be in Doctor Who again and everyone supposedly likes him.  He's Handles with limbs.  He's Kamelion unfettered by Anthony Ainley's availability.  I'll keep the faith for now, Lucas's chemistry with Capaldi is obvious and it's possible the next eleven episode will include something which'll make me love him, but at the moment, yeah, ok, shrug emoji.

Like Rose, The Pilot contains a pretty low key antagonist of the week, the stuff of annual prose stories and Class, perhaps from the same genome as the the waters of Mars.  The CG isn't quite a seamless as perhaps you'd like to be, but the shots of actress Stephanie Hyam underwater and breaking the surface are creepy, especially from side on.  Taking her to the middle of a Dalek war was a logical way of working in the Friend from the Future footage, which then, curiously, mostly doesn't appear.  Which somewhat makes sense, the episode would literally have had to stop to accommodate pre-shot material everyone has been, but it is distracting to be sat waiting for them to turn a corner and straight into it, especially since Bill is wearing her accidental tribute to Prince t-shirt.  Where does that leave Friend from the Future?  A dream?  A side step within this scene perhaps occurring during a Nardole cutaway?

The episode is at its best during the kisses to the past.  The photos of Susan and River on the desk, the sonic screwdriver collection in the pen pot, the Movellans (more thrown away than the pre-season trailer perhaps had us believe).  Unless its an anniversary year, Moffat's is reticent about these kinds of references in the past, almost embarrassed, but every franchise is enriched by its mythological tapestry and should be happy to embrace it.  After watching tons of Star Trek lately, I'm pretty much convinced taking the time to create back story and baggage are why shows like this have the greatest longevity.  Here the Doctor's talking to photos of his Granddaughter and late wife (ish) and at no point are we told who they are which is as it should be.  Like I said, mysteries about who a person is are always more interesting than about what they're doing and why they're doing it.

Recent Capaldi continues to be character he clearly wanted to be from the start but was boxed in, a patrician at times,  with elements of the Henry Higgens and Lear's fool.  A good man, in other words, someone who simply wouldn't react in the same way if he was to be faced with The Caretaker or Kill The Moon now, wouldn't insult Danny Moon with such ferocity.  Is this as a result of his loss of memory?  Does it matter?  Initially having Clara's theme under his decision not to mind wipe Bill feels like a misstep, his treatment of Donna surely being the clearer reference, but Journey's End was nearly nine years ago and sometimes television has to assume Netflix or blu-rays don't exist.  The guitar and shades business is still a pain in the arse, but Moffat seems to have tossed that in here as a joke rather than something being pursued going forward.

Having said all of this, it's just possible I'll watch it again and have another reaction entirely, as anyone who read my positive review of Class's first episode will know.  However much the production team want to downplay the fact, having a gay companion is huge and despite some of the line's she's been given, Pearl Mackie's offbeat performance is a refreshing contrast to what's gone before.  Even with that opening scene, this is me singing her praises.  I just wish Steven didn't have such a cloth ear for the implications some of his dialogue can have.  Plus, looking forward, with Michelle Gomez having redefined the Doctor's Time Lord nemesis, having her stuffed into the trailer and then having the John Simm version as some big reveal feels a bit shoddy.  And Frank Cottrell-Boyce is back next week.  Shudder.  Happy Easter!

The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition: The Complete Works.

Books Someone should send a copy of this to Germaine Greer, whom as I discovered a couple of weeks ago doesn't believe that any of Shakspeare's plays were collaborations. If the evidence here is correct (and I'll be reading the authorship companions shortly), nearly a third of the plays in the folio contain words by someone else, either due to collaboration or later rewrites. Whole sections of Measure for Measure are by Thomas Middleton, including a line which later became an essay question for the A-Level English Literature (which I failed but that's probably not the
reason).

Utilising a hard chronological approach (based on theories of when works were written and published), the editors have chosen include the versions of the plays which contain the most of Shakespeare's words (hiving off other versions into an edition containing "alternatives"). My taste would have been to have included all versions of all texts, but I suppose you might ask were this would stop. Including all three Hamlets and both Lears is one thing, but what if the different editions only contain a variance of a few words or lines? Perhaps the expectation is that for most scholars and fans, this won't be the only copy of the plays they own.

But it may be the only complete works which contains Double Falsehood and the 1602 rewrites for The Spanish Tragedy. Except in both case they've chosen to only include the parts of the text they think are by Shakespeare, which leaves the former completely unreadable. We're told that full edited versions are in that alternative volume, but this still feels like a swiz, since mechanisms are surely available which could highlight which sections are his verse and which are not. They're employed elsewhere in the volume (to point out those Middleton additions, for example), so this feels like a missed opportunity.

Mainly all of this is a reminder that because the discourse is focused so strongly on Shakespeare, we're only ever receiving half the story.  We're told that much of the work of his collaborators was simply mundane, but unless it's produced and examined with greater regularity, how are we to compare?  It's a Catch-22.  My instinct is that if Shakespeare was a genius then why would be choose to work with these people if he didn't think they had a valid contribution to make?

Cheek by Jowel's The Winter's Tale coming to the iPlayer.

Theatre The iPlayer's commitment to filmed Shakespeare productions continues with Cheek by Jowel's The Winter's Tale being uploaded on Shakespeare day:
"Cheek by Jowl will be livestreaming its critically acclaimed production of The Winter’s Tale at 19:30 on Wednesday 19 April, in association with The Space. Watch it live here, or on demand via BBC iPlayer from Sunday 23 April - Shakespeare Day. Find out more about the play below."
The last two weren't really to my tastes but I'm looking forward to this. The accompanying director's commentary notes the sixteen year gap in the middle of the play. I've often wondered if it would be possible to mount a production either on stage or film in which that gap could be included in actuality with the actors, director and even the audience returning after sixteen years for the second half.

Emmerdale: Their Finest Hour.

Books Lately I've been linking to the old Eighth Doctor novel posts in Twitter which prompted Allyn Gibson to reveal to me that Lance Parkin had included an Eighth Doctor cameo into this Emmerdale tie-in novel, as the author himself mentions on his website. So yes, I've read it and yes, I did spend it's entire duration looking out for a someone who didn't quite fit the narrative landscape.

 Not having seen an episode of Emmerdale since it had Farm in the title, probably some time in the early eighties, and so only a hazy notion of who any of the characters in this are or the how carefully Lance and worked the soap's back story into this flashback about the village of Beckindale during WWII, I'm probably not the right audience.  How does it fit with with the other Emmerdale Farm novels?

The cover promises "the stormy loves of Annie Sugden and Betty Eagleton" and it certainly delivers, there are few characters who don't have sex with each other at some point.  The structure of the book  is designed to replicate a soap, with mainly short scenes and dozens of characters and love and marriage.  The effect is dizzying and it's sometimes difficult to keep track of who everyone is and their connections, just like its television counterparts.

The best chapter, about Annie taking an illicit trip to London, throws out that approach in favour of less dialogue and more descriptive passages.  Her observations really captures the contrast the place has even now with so-called "everyday life" and how you become anonymous as people care more about their own business than yours (which is something which has drawn me there this past few months).  Like her, I often feel like a different version of myself without the illusory expectations of who I'm supposed to be.

And the Doctor?  He's there, on page thirty-eight.  There's a public meeting about plans for an airfield just outside the village and one of the local land girls is glancing around the room assessing the local talent.  Amongst the ineligible candidates, she spots "a man in a long dark coat with light brown hair stood at the back, keeping himself to himself."  Couldn't be anyone else, really.  Perhaps he's investigating the increased romantic activity in the area.  Not sure it was worth reading the whole book just for these few lines, but fans eh?

Placement:  Wolfsbane is set in 1936 and The Turing Test at the other end of WW2.  This happens in the middle so let's put it there, for what it's worth.

Not That Kind Of Girl.

Books Lena Dunham's memoir is almost the exact opposite to Lauren Graham's.  Anyone wanting to discover how GIRLS is made should look elsewhere.  Few of the other creatives are mentioned with most of the cast not even mentioned in the acknowledgements.  Unlike Graham, Dunham strikingly doesn't seem to want to be defined by her work, which is strange because in providing this intimate investigation into her young life demonstrates how much of it has become material for that work.

As expect, her writing is raw.  Despite her moderately stable childhood, she developed numerous mental health problems which have infested her ever since demonstrating that it's not always unexpected trauma which causes these kinds of problems.  She's quite open about the therapy she's received and medication and how it's effected her perception of the world.  How it's defined her.  These are the chapters I can most relate to.

How much of what happens in here is commonplace or is there a correlation between people who lead complicated, busy lives and creativity?  Perhaps it's that most of her experiences are relatively mundane or common place, but it's her emphatic descriptions which make them kinetic.  Or perhaps it's that because I've had such a monkish existence, anything outside my own social experience is exciting.

Selecting a thematic rather than chronological approach in order to give each of her stories some structure, it's impossible not to play detective in trying to discover how the pieces fit together.  Where do her nine months working in a baby clothes shop fit which is she writes about later in the book fit with her many love affairs, and at what point did production on her film Tiny Furniture begin?  Missing the point, perhaps, but it provides a welcome distraction from some of the darkness.

Dunham reveals herself to be an at times judgemental, hateful person.  In other words, a typical human being.  I didn't laugh as much as the cover text suggests I might, partly because so much of it is from outside my field of reference, which probably the point of reading and probably why men should read more of this kind of biography.  The main takeaway is: how has she found time to do all of this?

Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between.

Books At two hundred pages for £16.99 and a pretty large font size, the RRP on this memoir is a bit steep so I ordered a copy through the local library. After having read those two hundred pages, which are admittedly very content rich and read like a letter from an old friend, this still feels very expensive, so if I were you I'd wait for the paperback.  Unless you are desperate or rich or have a library which is happy to buy in this sort of thing.

Striking a good balance between her private life and career,  Lauren takes us on a tour of how she got into show business, some of her lesser known roles and retells the story of how she was cast in Gilmore Girls even though she was almost contracted for another series and Piers Brosnaned out of it.  Back stage gossip is minimal even in relation to the Pallidinos leaving the series with only mild barbs about what happened in season 7.

There's little darkness in here.  But that's all fine.  The last thing you'd want is to turn to these pages and find out that Graham is a nihilistic so-and-so who hates everyone.  Arguably the more interesting passages are when she's clearly paying lip service to her other work even though she knows much of the core readership for the book doesn't care.  The Parenthood chapter is very, very polite, all very, "Yeah, I did Parenthood for years but all you care about is Lorelei so ...."

Romola Garai could still be the next Doctor.

TV The Bookseller announces that Romola is to star in an adaptation of some book I've never heard of, let alone read:
"Romola Garai is starring in the BBC adaptation of Jessie Burton’s “genre-bending” debut The Miniaturist.

"Filming has begun and is taking place in both Holland and the UK, for broadcast later this year.

[...]

"Garai (previously seen in "The Hour" and "Atonement") will play Marin, the “cold” sister of wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. She said: “I'm so happy to be part of this superb adaptation of Jessie Burton's exquisite, genre bending novel The Miniaturist. Marin is a character with an extraordinary journey of true complexity and depth. I am also truly honoured to be working alongside such an extraordinary cast and creative team on bringing this moving and iconic story to life.”
So there's still plenty of time for her to film the regeneration scene for the Christmas episode.  Oh and the synopsis suggests this thing has a massive twist in there.  Alternate reality?  Holodeck?  Dream?

My Favourite Film of 1904



Film One of the questions I frequently ask myself (not that it keeps me up at night because there are plenty of other nightmares and anxieties available) is why I find some things funny and others not. What exactly is my sense of humour? What is it about FRIENDS which makes me guffaw or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver or Harold Lloyd films or Fleabag or even Shakespeare when played well but turns me away from the likes of Anchorman, Mock The Week, pretty much any modern British studio based sitcom and whatever it is Ricky Gervais or Sacha Baron Cohen think they’re doing in their own projects.

I think I can see some demarcation lines. I really hate smug comedians or filmmakers, the ones who’ve had a bit of success and so assume that they’re funny, and admittedly make others laugh even if what they’re actually doing is making fun of others or presenting false deprecation. The theatre of embarrassment is hateful. I think I need to have characters with a modicum of dimensionality, who feel like they exist for a reason other than as the basis for parody or comedy. Oh and not written to be wilfully stupid for no logical reason. There has to be some kind of realistic underpinning characterwise. Matt Damon in The Informant! Is a good example.

That explains why I have such a tin ear for the likes of Anchorman or Zoolander in which I can often see what the joke is, understand what it’s trying to do but don’t laugh. For some reason I genuinely loved the interaction between Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig in Anchorman 2, which seems like a much more affectionate piece of characterisation than elsewhere. One of the reasons Mock The Week and many of those panel shows turn me off, is the sense of one-up manship (because it’s usually men doing it), of wanting to upstage everyone else even at the expense of belittling the other comedian. It’s noticeable in Have I Got News For You how respectful Merton and Hislop are with each other and how other contributors often mess up the tone.

All of which has the counter argument that I’m over analysing and if something is funny, it’s funny, but I have met people who think that Adam Sandler is some comic genius, they see something I don’t and there is an element of frustration about missing out. Mark Kermode has a theory that people spend a lot of time going to the cinema to see films they don’t like and I am tempted to see one of the films I’d hate with an audience to experience the reaction. Perhaps the fact I watch most of this stuff alone causes them to lose some of their power. Certainly I can imagine the silent slapstick An Interesting Story (which you can watch here) going down a storm back in its day in front of the right audience. Some films don’t work as well without the collective response.

So what do I find funny? The unexpected, the proverbial banana skin in its many forms, when everything seems to be going ok but then a random element intrudes. But quite often I’ll be laughing at the reaction rather than the action itself. It doesn’t need to be someone tripping over. It could be some surrealist element which doesn’t quite fit with the general sense of the rest of it, so I’m probably laughing at the cheek or simply because I’m impressed at the cajones. I also like smart people being funny together but not to the point of purposeful cruelty. Watching people take the piss out of someone isn’t fun. Unless it’s the real world and they’re a figure of authority and they deserve it. I tend to love current affairs jokes.

Example: I recently watched part two of the Star Trek: The Next Generation story, Gambit. Data’s in command and part of the story is about him imprinting his authority especially on Worf who’s being an insubordinate arse again. There’s a moment when he gives the Klingon an order and as he stalks off the bridge, Data settles backwards in the Captain’s chair with a sense of satisfaction and Troi gives him a look which can only be described as “Ooh, get you…” I laughed, a lot. The timing of the performances is impeccable, but there’s something about the way she moves her head and eyes and the camera holds the shot for much longer than usual. Throwaway moments tend to be funnier to me than more obvious comedy.

The films of last year I laughed at most were Deadpool, Star Trek Beyond, How to be Single and Money Monster which also demonstrates that I prefer films which are of another genre which also happen to be smart rather than simple out and out comedies. The West Wing is one of the funniest series ever written but you would never consider it a sitcom. The reason When Harry Met Sally works is because there’s a ring of truth about the characters and they’re not supposed to be paragons. Much of the time, if you give me a reason to root for a character within a proper narrative, you’ll have me. The Boss would seem to run counter to my tastes but the fight scenes between the girl guides are amazingly amusing. I tittered all the way through the widely derided Vacation.

So perhaps my sense of humour isn’t that easily defined.

Checking In.



Life Let's check in.

Find above today's trailer for the next series of Doctor Who. Two weeks to go and apart from the recent LGBT related news, I have a pretty low sense of excitement about the upcoming series. The Christmas special was hogwash and watching Matt Lucas grimacing out of every magazine or book cover is filling me with dread. Yes, Mondasian Cybermen, yes epic alien worlds and yes, I've been here before in the run up to previous series, but there's nothing much otherwise here which is making me squee in the way I'd like. Perhaps I'm jaded. Perhaps its that, having reintroduced all of the primary and secondary mythology in this past few years, the series is showing the kind of growing pains which often occurred in the classic run when even with the introduction of a new companion, not everything felt new again. But I have heard some good reports of this and that (spoilers) so we'll see. I just hope there won't be anything as deadening or disastrously ill structured as the Me arc from the last series.

The relatively low posting count here, although I notice that it's increased a bit this past week, is because I'm trying to work through a backlog of books and still have around a hundred and eighty episodes of Star Trek to watch after once again starting on some grand project which has gone on for far too long. As you know, I'm a very slow reader and don't have much of an attention span which is why I've let the pile mount higher than it should be. I like the idea of books, it's actually consuming them which is the problem. My current strategy is to work through them a chapter at a time with a rest between (often to watch some TV), trying to cover at least one per day, stopping even if I feel like I could read some more. This has succeeded so far and only really problematic when the chapters are just a few pages long as is the case with Lena Dunham's memoir. I should probably read another essay when I've finished writing this.

This morning I noticed that Amazon have quietly added Kindle support to the Echo Dot which mean Alexa will read the text you through its speaker. The result is curiously fine. She's been programmed to pick up the nuances of most grammar and although its in no way a performance, she only really stumbles when faced with dialogue. I've heard some real audio books with inferior readings. Predictably she works best with non-fiction. The result I've had so far is with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; during the prologue she followed Peter Jones's reading spectacularly closely, even picking up some of the irony which just goes to show how well conceived Douglas's original script was and how little was done in translating it to the page. The only weakness is accessing the books. Alexa's not very good at understanding complex titles and the selecting from the app not especially conducive at least from a tablet. The list is tricky to scroll without accidentally selecting one of the items.

I'm not going to London this month for various reasons but have decided to designate a day to finally sit and watch the collection about the city on the iPlayer, or as much as possible. Perhaps its my age, but I've lately been increasingly drawn to archive and back catalogue especially in films, catching up on anything which I've somehow missed over the years rather than something new.  I'm very grateful to those of you who've been answering the daily tweet asking for suggestions, which has been an excellent way pointing out the gaps in my personal viewing history.  Last night, I finally saw Panic in Needle Park, in which an ultra young Al Pacino and Kitty Winn have to survive a heroin drought in 70s New York amid some guerrilla filming.  After all these years, my admiration for his acting ability has only increased, especially considering how often De Niro phones it in, even in some of his earlier work.  Pacino is electric, even now.

Otherwise, life in the Shire carries on as ever.

My Favourite Film of 1905.



Film  In tribute to The Misadventure of a French Gentleman Without Pants at the Zandvoort Beach (which you can see here), here’s a storty from my archive about when I too almost lost my pantaloons in the sand, along with the rest of me:

Another Place.

My boots were stuck in the sand. Actually they were deeper than the sand. I was in the mud. My boots were stuck in the mud. I tried to pull myself out, but I feel my socks coming loose and the shoe being left behind. I tried to step forward but I couldn't. I look ahead into the distance and see my Dad running madly forward.

"That's the sandals lost then." He said. He's only in his socks.

We went to Crosby beach today to see "Another Place" or Anthony Gormley's statues. I'd watched the news reports beforehand of teenagers going out too far and getting stuck in the tide, holding onto the figures for dear life. How we'd laughed at the stupidity. So we'd said we wouldn't go out too far. And we hadn't. But that sand looked so stable and I'd stepped forward and plop.

I didn't panic. I wasn't actually sinking. But I wasn't going anywhere else. I eventually managed to pull my left foot out, boot and all. But there was nowhere for it to go but backward, back into a squelch as it went back into the soft sand. My plan was to keep doing this until I hit a hard surface. That lasted about thirty seconds when I realised it would require the right foot to move and it wasn't going anywhere.

By now my Dad had retrieved his sandals and had trotted back over. I put out my hand and he took it and tried to pull. But he was falling towards me so he stepped back again. I'm glad my Dad's here. I imagined the phone call home if I'd been out on my own "I'm on Crosby beach and I'm stuck in the mud." I'm not very practical -- whenever something happens in the real world, usually with nature, I have no idea what to do. I'll struggle through, but my Dad somehow just knows. I've no common sense whatsoever.

"I'm going to have to come out of the boots." I said.

I pulled my left foot out, with boot still stuck in the mud. My foot found some more sand to get lost in, but this seemed safer somehow. I turned and tried to pull the orphaned boot out. I eventually had to dig my hands in and pull the thing up from underneath. It was misshapen and caked in dirt, which scattered off as I flung it backwards towards the steady sand behind. Time to do the same with my right foot. I pulled my right foot out, but this time I started sinking. I panicked and dragged myself backwards as quickly as I could, each step slightly easier. I dragged my way up the stand. I turned back. My boot had been left behind.

By now I'd decided it was a lost cause. I'd walk all the way back to the station and get the train back into Liverpool in my bare feet if I had to. But before I could say anything, my Dad had jumped forward and was throwing himself into a battle with the sand to the pull the boot up. Now he was knee deep and I'm telling him to leave it or that I'd go back myself, but by now he had both hands in each of the holes I'd left behind trying to find the thing.

Dad found the boot. It was sunk a little bit, and by hand he dug a space around it, throwing the mud from side to side until he could pull it free. Dad turned and handed it to me -- it was full of sand and clay which I tried to shake out as best I could. Dad turned and with much more agility than I had, stepped back up to the steady sand.

We spent the next half hour using the salt water which had been left behind by the tide in some parts of the beach trying to wash ourselves off as best we could. Somehow, while Dad was getting cleaner and cleaner, I was getting even dirtier. I kept joking about how in some places you'd pay thousands for a treatment like that. I had mud everywhere. It was caked up my jeans, up my legs, up my arms. There was even a spot on my face. He suggested I use my sock as a cloth and this worked. But I wasn't clean, just making space in my skin so that I could move my fingers to blow my nose and throw the hair out my eyes.

Eventually we were together enough to walk back up the beach and enjoy the statues. They're an incredible sight, lonely figures looking hopelessly out to sea, unable to move. For those few minutes when I couldn't get my legs to move I knew exactly what that was like.

Shakespeare & Me.

Books During my recent visit to Portobello Road, I stopped in at The Notting Hill Bookshop, the bookshop which appeared in the film Notting Hill. About a quarter of a mile away there's also a cheap gift shop which has the film's logo atop the entrance as well as the phrase "the travel bookshop" which is presumably meant to suggest to tourists that it's there. But The Notting Hill Bookshop has the blue plaque of legitimacy. Either way it was a pleasant surprise to be standing inside the same location as Julia and Hugh from back in the days when Richard Curtis let other people direct is writing.  Just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking her to where the Shakespeare section is.

The only book in stock which I hadn't read was Shakespeare & Me, a collection of essay by actors, directors, novelists and academics about what the canon mean to them.  There's Camille Paglia on teaching Shakespeare to her students, Ralph Fiennes on what attracts him to Coriolanus or Julie Taymor on directing her film adaptation of The Tempest.  Most of the material is original, some of it reprinted but the overall effect is similar to some of this blog's annual reviews.  Providing a group of people with a slightly nebulous open topic and telling them to run with it and see where it takes them.  Some offer a couple of pages, others more than twenty.

Inevitably the results are a bit of a mixed bag.  Certainly the best piece are when the writers have stuck to the brief and write about how Shakespeare has effected them directly, the process of thinking through a performance either in a role or directing with behind the scenes anecdotes, underscoring that these are plays to be watched more than read.  F Murray Abraham's meditation on Shylock is perfectly structured around the challenges of staging the play in numerous venues and how his interpretation changed depending on the communication possibilities of the space.  Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare company compares the revision process of his show with Will's own.

Unfortunately, there's also a tendency to shift into a much more generic academic approach, with articles indivisible to what might be found in a traditional literary criticism publication of the kind which is only truly interesting if the reader is actually studying a given play and not simply seeking passing inspiration.  Oddly, a few of these are provided by actors, who begin with some explanation as to why they're covering the topic, usually that they played the role in some old production, before heading off into something which seems to be allowing them to write the essay which might have eluded them during their university career.

Not that there aren't some exceptions.  James Earl Jones's The Sun God which investigates tragedy in general and particularly Lear and Othello offers an approach I'd not previously encountered, that if you blame others for their failures as is the tendency in those plays, you're diminishing their own role in the chaos.  Iago is racist and persuasive, true, but its Othello's own failings as a human being which lead to his destruction.  Rory Kinear considers the flexibility which Shakespeare's texts provide and how much of what we see is based on the rehearsal process and the audience's interpretation than what appears in the actual text.

A few outrages.  Germaine Greer's otherwise quite logical argument that Shakespeare must have visited Stratford regularly during the quarter of a century he was otherwise in London then continues by suggesting this as a reason why he can't have collaborated with any other writers, singling Pericles out as a solo work even though anyone whose read or seen the play can tell full well that he clearly  takes over after act two as the intellectual quality of verse increases ten fold.  There's a reason why there's been less writing on Shakespeare potentially being the sole author of the plays -- it's because the evidence stacks up against it.  He can only be the sole author if he's deliberately pastiching the style of another writer in places.

In her introduction, editor Susannah Carson says she hopes the essays will act as a conversation, which she facilitates by grouping them around loose topics, either plays or themes or modes of production.  There's some repetition, with R&J's balcony scenes being investigated from numerous angles.  Reading the book cover to cover was probably a mistake.  This is the sort of thing to be dipped into, perhaps around watching the plays.  Almost all of the writers acknowledge that it wasn't until they saw the text into production that they really became fans of the plays and perhaps that's the best message the book can offer.

The Love Actually Sequel is for charity.



Film As you will have noticed from the many click bait articles which have slipstreamed in its stead containing what amount to a synopsis and screenshots for people without the patience to sit through ten minutes of moving images with sound, a Love Actually sequel was broadcast during this year's Comic Relief. I did not watch Comic Relief. Comic Relief stopped actually being comic relief many years ago when budgets were clearly cut and many of the comedians I actually liked retired in favour of the kinds of people who turn up on comedy panel shows. Oh and when paradoxically they stopped doing special versions of comedy panel shows.

But I did dip in after seeing High Plains Drifter for the Love Actually sequel if only so that I wasn't going to be spoilt by the many click bait articles which have slipstreamed in its stead containing what amount to a synopsis and screenshots. Perhaps it would provide an magical epilogue to the original monstrosity with the ability to retrospectively nullify some of its crimes. In the event, caught between homage, parody and straight sequel and shot in a televisual style on 16:9 digi-cameras, well, no, no it didn't. The moment at the end of the making of documentary on the Spaced dvd which showed what happened next for Tim and Daisy was more relevant and essential.

Yet it feels like I should provide some analysis, not least because thanks to discovering the joy of reading and binging on Star Trek, this blog has lately become without form and void just as I feared it might do at some point. Linking to the same bloody film review and old blog posts on Twitter isn't the same thing. To provide some structure I'll reuse some of the subject headings from that same bloody film review even though most of them probably won't fit. There's not a lot you can do with a ten minute piece. On the upside, unlike the content of that original post, I don't have the final mark for a post-graduate degree counting on it being coherent.

It’s not a romantic comedy.

Still isn't. One of the inherent problems with sequels to romantic comedies is that narrative unity has already been fulfilled first time around. That's why there tends to be so few of them, there's nothing less amusing than watching the same couple fall in love again. That's why they generally seek to focus on some other couple who're related to the main characters from the original film, as per This is 40 or My Big Fat Greek Wedding II. The reason the Before ... trilogy works is because the first film didn't provide a solid ending, there was a moment of doubt, something which could be picked up later in the unplanned sequel.

Love Actually again isn't trying to be a rom-com in the strictest sense, setting itself up to follow the pattern of Richard Linklater's films and the Cold Feet revival. What are these beloved characters doing now? As with both those examples, in the answer in this text is getting old, although with the slim running time there precious little space to enter into any profound discussions about the implications of ageing. About as close as the script comes to such is Liam Neeson's Daniel acting like a Outbin clicker "You won't believe how old your son looks now ..."

Though it's noticeable that all of the original film's featured hetro couples are still together after fourteen years. The huge mistep is in killing off Gregor Fisher's manager character offscreen and in an offhand comic way. His ambiguous relationship with Bill Nighy's Billy Mac was one of the film's few truly poignant moments and to plop that revelation into the middle of this seems ill advised and somewhat ruins the conclusion of that storyline depending on how canonical you consider this sequel to be. There'll be fan arguments on discussion boards for years to come. "But it was for charity and featured the Eastenders!" "Yes, but it's the Rani's third tv appearance!" That sort of thing.

It’s poorly edited.

Arguable. Mainly a series of sketches, there is some motioning towards the structure of the original film with some cross cutting between some characters single scenes and the sections featuring Hugh's PM and Atkinson's angel (or whatever he's supposed to be). But there's no sense of time. Is the car ride between Jamie and Aurelia supposed to happening while the shop assistant is filling the bag or are we supposed to assume that they're disembodied sketches, the cross cutting between mirroring the approach used frequently in The League of Gentlemen or The Fast Show?

Presumably the idea is to create an increased longevity to that shop scene but the point of the scene in the original film, other than providing levity to a moment about a man buying a present for his potential mistress, was that due to the longevity, the audience, like Alan Rickman's character was stuck in that moment watching the shenanigans as they pressed on and on and on. Cutting away here kills the joke stone dead. Not that it was especially funny to begin with due to the lack of surprises.  Especially when Curtis cut to the massive queue outside.  Didn't see that coming.  At all.

They’re barely characters.

Quadruply true here. Imagine if you'd been lucky enough to have never seen Love Actually before watching what amounts to a series of callbacks to (admittedly for some) beloved scenes. None of it really makes any sense and only goes to highlight as I indicated in the original review, just how much they're simply playing versions of the kinds of roles they've played elsewhere.

It's also notable that most of the male actors in here haven't changed the kinds of roles they play that much in the meantime. Most of them have simply shifted into more character rather than leading men roles, with the exception of Liam Neeson who has become an all the skills action hero something none of us expected.  I miss the man who made Kinsey.

It’s less funny and even a bit creepy the second time around.

Good god, the Andrew Lincoln section makes that original storyline even worse. Now we can watch the original film safe in the knowledge that stalkery Mark is going to return in fourteen years to essentially shame Juliet for not choosing him in the first place and then boasting that he's married Kate Moss. Who actually turns up so she can be part of the reveal. I appreciate this is supposed to be funny and charming and a homage to the Claudia Schiffer cameo in the original film and has a metafictional element in which the idiot boards talk the viewer but the fact that Richard Curtis still doesn't get why all of this is horrendous, unfunny, creepy and sinister does him no credit.  In this month Empire, during an interview with Paul Feig he even mentions someone calling this the "the stalker scene" to his face.  He knows.  He knows.  And yet here we are again.

It’s about middle class white men seducing their employees.

This sequel only goes to remind us of this and even uses their change of status as a source of humour. "I liked you best when you worked for me" he says. Christ. Oh how they must reminisce. "Remember when I used to pay you a salary?" There's no indication as to whether Aurelia has her own job now and without much more evidence it's not fair of me to speculate.  But that is a lot of children.  Hopefully they share the caring duties.

Nearly all of the men are creeps anyway.

Fucks sake Jamie haven't you learnt Portugese yet? You've been married to her for over a decade and her English is amazing. Your children know the language better than you do. I appreciate this was the point of that scene and writing is hard and finding something new to do with this couple was probably tough but it makes Jamie look even more foolish than he did in the original film and that's saying something.  Admittedly that's not creepy in the Mark sense, but another definition is "slow steady movement, especially when imperceptible" which seems to fit the bill here.

The only two “main” female characters have unhappy endings.

Almost all of the female characters are still in supporting roles and used to create a moment of surprise, Natalie bursting in on her husband dancing, Kate Moss's cameo and Joanna's reveal (It literally is "Here's Love Actually's Olivia Olsen all grown up! Photos on pages 3, 4 & 8").  Incidentally, in that same EMPIRE interview, Richard Curtis says the Laura Linney storyline from the first film is something he's most proud of.  He still doesn't get it, even now.

Assuming they’re main characters at all.

The one exception is Aurelia who has one of the longer speeches and funniest reactions in the piece (making Jamie's lack of language skills somewhat forgivable).  A glance at the IMDb indicates LĂșcia Moniz has been in solid work on Portugese television since 2003.  Good for her.

It has a stunning lack of diversity.

Still somewhat true in a lead character sense due to the casting choices from the original film. Chiwetel Ejiofor remains on the sidelines. Gregor Fisher's potentially gay character has been killed off.  But the supporting cast is exceedingly diverse, notably the boy who acts as straight person for Atkinson's antics and the press pack in the press conference at number 10, although that is still overwhelmingly white (probably simply reflecting the industry more than anything given how many of the people in the crowd were invited from actual news organisations).

Three redeeming features:

(1)  "And Piers Morgan's still alive." Oh burn and the only genuinely laugh out loud funny moment due to its audacity.  Morgan spent Comic Relief Day in a vow of silence.  I wonder if that broke when he sat watching this and heard that comment.  It's amazing he wasn't straight on Twitter saying nasty things about Hacked Off again or whatever.

(2)  Hugh's final speech, which he plays beautifully, recalling his superb performance in Curse of the Fatal Death.  Curtis knows how to write this stuff still at least and the message, as Mark Kermode also says, that everything is going to be alright in the end, is just the sort of thing we all need to hear right now.  Plus the Elf joke which I'm sure pleased Gary Bainbridge who hates that film just as much as I hate Love Actually.

(3)  It was short.

In Conclusion

There was a time when I adored Love Actually, before having to take it apart frame by frame for my dissertation and I'd be lying if I didn't say that there was something Proustian about revisiting these characters or that re-hearing the Shakespeare in Love theme at the end didn't make me sigh.  Some people still love this film and I can't hold that against them.  Indeed this almost made me want to go back and watch it again after ten years.  Perhaps I'm just afraid I'll like it too.

My Favourite Film of 1906.



Film After last week’s early sound experiment, here’s a colour filmmaking system from 1906.

George Albert Smith’s documentary Tartans of Scottish Clans is mostly simply that, shots of tartan patterns with their identifying labels, with a last minute twist.

Smith is utilising a two colour process he invented.

Kinemacolor projects a black and white image behind alternating red and green filters.

The Wikipedia page has a more detailed explanation along with further examples.



Jenny Slate on Chris Evans.

Film On Monday, The Guardian's G2 published an astonishingly invasive interview with Jake Gyllenhaal in which the interviewer asked the actor about his relationship with Taylor Swift and then proceeded to essentially force an argument by persisting then wondering why the whole process went south. The interviewer clearly hoped to get a scoop and the actor didn't want to give him one, knowing that anything he said would enter the feedback loop on celebrity "news" websites.

For what it's worth, I think that in that kind of situation, if the actor wants to talk about their relationship they will, but there's no point pressing them on it, especially if they've otherwise given an indication of being a private person. Plus, frankly, it's probably none of our business. I'd rather hear an actor talk about the work and process and how they do their job, which is also in the interview to some extent but with less depth once Gyllenhaal is on the defensive.

If, however, they actually want to talk about their private life then that's fine, especially if it's as fascinating as this piece about Jenny Slate who recently got out of a relationship with Chris "Captain America" Evans. On the one hand, I'm slightly concerned about the extent to which his privacy is being broken here, the details of his life which are now in the public domain. But on the other she still clearly adores him and more importantly, there's nothing in here which contradicts his public image:
"Evans and Slate met at her chemistry read — the audition in which it’s determined whether two romantic leads play well together — and they instantly got along. “I remember him saying to me, ‘You’re going to be one of my closest friends.’ I was just like, ‘Man, I fucking hope this isn’t a lie, because I’m going to be devastated if this guy isn’t my friend.’ ” The first time they went out to dinner, as co-workers getting to know each other, she remembers insisting they split the bill over Evans’s strenuous objections. “If you take away my preferences, you take away my freedom,” she says she told him. “Then I was like, Oh, man, is this dude going to be like, ‘Ugh, this bra-burner.’ Instead, he was like, ‘Tell me more.’"
Of course, now he's probably going to be asked about the contents of this interview and so the feedback loop begins again.

Hadley Freeman on Love Actually.

Film After a slightly confused (slightly?) column about trans identity at the weekend (see this Twitter thread for key objections), Hadley Freeman's back re-iterating many of the same points from my old Love Actually post (which is here in case you haven't read it):
"My best friend and I went to see it on the day it opened, excited as babes on Christmas Day. We loved Notting Hill, and we adored Four Weddings and a Funeral, and sure, they were basically odes to the Oxbridge-educated, but they had charm and clever scripts. And those movies only had one plot line – this new one had nine! That meant it would be nine times as awesome, right? Wrong. We emerged from the cinema with faces frozen like Munch’s Scream, and silently went our separate ways. We called each other later to check in on one another, like victims of a terrible disaster."
Unlike Hadley I actually liked Love Actually at first. Saw it twice at the cinema, asked for the dvd at Christmas (etc etc) and it wasn't until I studied it for the dissertation I noticed how disdainful it is. Let's see if the Comic Relief sequel acts as a corrective.

My Favourite Film of 1907.



Film It’s 1907 and here’s singer Jean NotĂ© performing the French national anthem with synchronous sound. The Jazz Singer’s generally thought of as being the first sound film, and although it’s true that it was the first to utilise a technique which was commercial repeatable, the director Georges Mendel achieving a similar effect over a decade earlier. One can well imagine if this was shown in cinemas, the audience taking to their feet and singing along. Just remarkable.



But this still isn't the earliest. William Dickson was experimenting with sound in the mid-late 1890s.

"one of Scotland's best-kept secrets"



Logan: 11 Revelations From Director James Mangold:
“I gave them many escape valves. We take place in 2029, and X-Men Apocalypse ends in 2024. There’s five blank years there that are wide open to seeing how things got from here to there. Or else you could do what I would advocate, which is imagine a different world and create a new movie, and you don’t need the permission of the other movies.”

What bookstore employees do behind your back:
"With noise at a premium in libraries and bookshops, much of any fun to be had there needs to be visual."

Bothy-bagging: Scotland's best-kept secrets revealed:
"Bothies - remote shelters in the wilderness where walkers can spend the night free of charge - have long been one of Scotland's best-kept secrets. A new book has revealed the location of 80 of the mountain huts. For more than 50 years the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) has maintained an eclectic network of shelters across the wilderness areas of Scotland."

Steven Moffat speaks with TV Drama about his work on the hit drama series Doctor Who and Sherlock:

"A lifelong Doctor Who fan, Steven Moffat began writing for the series when it was reintroduced in 2005 after 16 years off the air. Five years later he was elevated to head writer and executive producer of the iconic British sci-fi hit. At the same time, Moffat was working with fellow Who writer Mark Gatiss on making a contemporary drama based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s quintessentially British detective Sherlock Holmes. Over the course of just 13 episodes in four seasons, Sherlock became a worldwide viewing phenomenon and racked up a Peabody and multiple BAFTA and Emmy wins."

Phoebe Fox: 'I'm always playing bloody aristocrats!'
"In Simon Godwin’s riotous, rowdy new Twelfth Night at the National Theatre, Phoebe Fox wanted to give her Olivia a bit more to do. “There’s a whole scene in a drag club and a massive fight breaks out,” she explains cheerfully. “On the sly, I said to the guy who choreographed the fight, ‘Look, I know I’m nobility, so I wouldn’t, but do you think I could get a punch in there?’” He happily obliged. “So I walk in, deck a girl, and then start speaking. I loved that.”"