Monday, 26 December 2011

Xbox Live listen to their customers (eventually)

When my previous Xbox Live subscription came to an end, It was automatically renewed without me asking for this service.

After several phone calls to their customer service department, I was told apologetically that my subscription would now not be automatically renewed (there was no option allowing their customers to do this at the time, meaning a lengthy phone call to customer services).

In fairness to them they did offer to reduce the cost of my subscription as a way of saying sorry.

Imagine my surprise then when the lovely people at Xbox Live have sent me numerous emails telling me that my automatic subscription cannot be completed as my card details were out of date!

After the scares of the Playstation Network and other high profile hacking cases, I decided to use a pre paid Xbox Live subscription card rather than enter the details of my new card online.

Upon attempting to sign in to Xbox Live I'm informed that my account has been suspended as no payment has been made, I try to reactivate my account by using the code on their pre paid card which the console recognises, but as soon as I click on Redeem Code I'm told that there is a problem trying to process my request.

Can't say I'm very impressed Microsoft.


Following the initial post, I spent 35 minutes on the phone to Xbox customer services, who were very helpful, and I am now back online! They have now given the option to cancel the auto renew feature on their web page now, which wasn't available last time I had this issue.

I would like to say for the record, their customer service advisors were excellent.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Patrick Troughton: The Biography by his son Michael Troughton

To say that I have been keenly anticipating the release of this book would be something of an understatement, like many of my fellow Doctor Who fans I have been following the progress of the author, Michael Troughton, via the social networking site Twitter. He has been very generous with his time answering questions posed by fans and sharing stories about his dad.

So has Michael been able to meet the extremely high expectations raised when the book was first announced? Absolutely yes!

Michael Troughton has written a very fair and balanced account of his father's life, Patrick was a wonderfully talented character actor and a rather complex person who seemed torn between his life as a family man and the life of a high profile actor.

During his career as an actor, Patrick was able to inhabit a wide variety of roles, including starring as Robin Hood in the first televised version of the classic tale, he also played Paul of Tarsus in a much lauded production.

After reading this book, the one performance (outside of the rest of his remaining missing Doctor Who episodes) that I would dearly have loved to have seen would be his much admired interpretation of the vile Quilp in Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop, broadcast in 1962.

The book is full of interesting stories including several accounts of Pat's bravery during his navy years in the second world war.

There is also an air of sadness as the author writes about his father leaving the family home, Patrick by many accounts was a lovely man, but it must be said that he treated his wife rather badly.

Michael could easily have glossed over this aspect of his father's personality, he obviously loved him dearly, and to his credit, he has given us a fully rounded view of this most interesting man. While his acting career was a great success, I think he had a romantic notion that if he could only find a perfect partner he would be truly happy, but in reality I think he realised that he had made some very bad errors of judgement and chose to put a brave face on it.

Although there are quite a few traumatic moments brought to light in this biography, I would hate anyone to think that it is a depressing read, there are plenty of fun anecdotes scattered throughout the pages that will bring a smile to your face.

There are some great photographs featured in the book including a great shot of Pat in his legendary Tea Cosy hat!

One minor quibble would be a few typos that missed the scrutiny of the proof readers, since this review was originally posted, a friend who also writes for Hirst Publications pointed out that the wrong version of the manuscript was sent to the printers and that this will be rectified in time for the next print run.

For many people Patrick Troughton will be most fondly remembered as the second actor to play the lead role in Doctor Who. This period in Pat's career is covered in extensive detail, with some wonderful first hand accounts of visits to the television studios, these passages provide a fantastic insight into the work that went on behind the scenes to make one of the most iconic series to be shown on British television.

So to sum up if you are a fan of, in my opinion, one of Britain's finest character actors, this book is not to be missed.

This fine book is available from Hirst Publishing and It can be ordered here

Friday, 16 December 2011

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last! (1923)

I was inspired to watch this again by episode three of the Prognosis Negative podcast, where Eric and Warren discuss Martin Scorsese's latest movie Hugo, which features clips from silent movies including "Safety Last!".

Harold moves to the big city, where he has sworn to make a successful career so that he can marry his sweetheart Mildred.

So determined is he to make a good impression on her, that he embellishes the letters that he sends home, and she soon believes that he has risen to the lofty status of general manager at the department store where he works (rather than his lowly position of fabric salesman).

When the store owner says that he will give $1,000 to anyone who could come up with an original idea to promote the store, Harold persuades his friend Bill to split the money 50/50 if Bill climbs to the top of the store without any safety harness. Bill has already proved earlier in the film that he is adept at climbing after a run in with a cop.

Their money making scheme seems to have hit a snag when the same policeman shows up to apprehend Bill before he can start his daredevil stunt. Harold agrees to pretend to be the mystery man that featured in all the publicity shots with his face blanked out, as Bill offers to switch places with him on the second floor, but things don't go quite as planned, and Mr Lloyd presents us with one of the most iconic images from the world of cinema.

There are some beautiful visual gags in this movie, the very first shot with Harold behind bars, the scene in Harold's apartment when the landlady turns up to get her overdue rent are fantastic.

This picture was made by Hal Roach studios, Mr Roach was responsible for Laurel & Hardy's greatest films, and he also gets a writing credit.

Harold Lloyd was famous for doing dangerous stunts, he climbed up a facade placed on top of a four storey building for the scenes used in the film, when he is hanging from the clock pictured above he was ten storeys up, by the time he reaches the top he is nearly fourteen storeys high. There were mattresses laid out on one side of the building, if he were to fall off the wrong side of the building he would land on the street below, if he fell straight down he would go through the roof below. Now all this is dangerous enough, but when you learn that he was missing the index finger and thumb from his right hand after a mishap with a bomb used as a prop in a photo shoot three years previously it puts a fresh perspective on things.

This is one of my favourite silent movies, if you haven't seen it, I would urge you to check it out!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Apple iPhone 4S First Impressions

I had been weighing up getting a new smart phone for a while and finally bit the bullet and opted for Apple's latest handset.

My last iPhone was the (new at the time) 3G. Things have certainly moved on in the intervening years, the 4S boasts a dual core processor, a gorgeous retina display, an upgraded 8 megapixel camera with video recording at 1080p full HD resolution, increased battery life and the all new ios 5 operating system featuring hundreds of improvements to enhance the overall performance.

The other high profile addition the iPhone 4S is Siri, your virtual personal assistant. Now admittedly I have only had a little bit of time to try out this new feature, the first thing I asked siri was "what is the time in New York?" and lo and behold Siri brings up an on screen clock with the time in New York city. I also managed to successfully set a reminder which was very straight forward.

The UK version of Siri's voice is a tad on the dull side (sorry Jon Briggs!) so I decided to experiment with the various voice options. The Australian voice sounded positively disinterested in wanting to answer my questions, so I have opted for the American version for the time being!

The design has been tweaked from the iPhone 4, the major improvement on the phone side of things is an overhaul of the infamous antenna which caused problems if you held it in a certain way. It seems to handle multi tasking very well letting me access apps while syncing (not something I remember being able to do on the 3G).

Being back in the iPhone stable also gave me a preview of the new layout for Twitter which rolled out yesterday (8/12/11). At first I was unsure about the redesign, but I am warming to it.

Overall at this early stage I am very pleased with this phone.

AFI 100 Movies #11 It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

Frank Capra's 1946 opus has divided opinion in our household.

I love it, but Amy can't bear to watch it.

So I took the opportunity of a day at home to sit back and enjoy.

Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a thoroughly good man, whose early days are covered at the start of the film. As a youngster he rescues his younger brother from drowning after he falls through the ice while sledging near a pond, and as a consequence of his brave act he is left deaf in one ear.

Moving the story on a little, George forgoes his own life goals in order to allow his younger sibling to pursue his ambitions.

As George's life progresses, his dreams of moving away from the little town of Bedford Falls and exploring the great wide world gradually diminish as he is forced to stay on in order to do the right thing by his co-workers and family.

Although he is happily married to the lovely Mary (played by Donna Reed) and has four children whom he loves dearly, the viewer is left with the distinct impression that George feels that the life he had planned has passed him by.

Things take a turn for the worse as George's nemesis, Henry F. Potter, who has sought to close down the Bailey family business for years, takes advantage of a very costly mistake made by George's absent minded uncle Billy, who manages to lose $8,000 from the company funds just as the tax inspector makes his visit to look over the company books.

Unable to cope anymore with the mounting pressure, George considers ending it all by jumping off a bridge, at which point Clarence, his guardian angel steps in tasked with trying to convince George that the world would be a poorer place without him in it.

It's described as a feel good movie, and I would go along with that, but I think that Amy has a valid point when she says that one of the reasons that she can't watch it is that George has to go through a lot of torment before there is any chance of a happy ending.

That's not to say that the film lacks humour, far from it, the scene at the school reunion with the swimming pool is tremendous fun, as is the scene following it when George and Mary walk home in clothes borrowed from the mens locker room.

I am a big fan of Jimmy Stewart, I think he personifies the everyman, and his portrayal of George is superb, you care for his character and when he reaches that lowest point of desperation you feel his pain.

One of the better films from the AFI list so far for me.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Blake's 7 Series One

My poor wife has a lot to put up with, after a chance remark made by BBC Radio 5 Live's Mark Kermode saying how much he liked Howard The Duck, I felt the need to rent it and make her sit through it (it wasn't as bad as I had expected) and more recently I have been working my way through the series one boxset of Blake's 7. She sees it as a way of getting on with some reading.

My memories of the programme stem from watching it as a kid in the 1970s and seeing the occasional repeat on UKGold when I still lived with my parents, my recollection was that the first series was rather good and that the subsequent series saw the quality slide a little.

The first series seems quite bleak and dystopian compared to the colourful campery that was to follow in later series.

Gareth Thomas as the eponymous Blake and Paul Darrow as Kerr Avon have a sparky on screen relationship, which adds a good deal of tension to the proceedings. Michael Keating brings a bit of needed humour in his portrayal of cowardly thief Vila Restal.

Sally Knyvette and Jan Chappel provide the glamour and essential skills to the team as pilot Jenna and guerrilla fighter Cally respectively. The final pair who complete the group of seven are David Jackson as Olag Gan, who must have been a bit miffed when he realised that his role would be restricted, as his character, a convicted murderer, was fitted with a 'limiter' in order to stop him being violent, which results in him being sidelined while the others get into all sorts of exciting shenanigans, and Peter Tuddenham as Zen the ship's computer onboard the Liberator.

The theme music provided by Doctor Who stalwart Dudley Simpson, is one of the more memorable ones to grace our TV screens from that era.

If you are well versed with Doctor Who from the 1960s and 1970s you might find it fun spotting guest actors in the series who have also featured in that show.

Memorable episodes include The Web (despite some low budget effects), Seek-Locate-Destroy with a slightly pedestrian security robot, and Duel directed by Douglas Camfield and featuring some revealing costume decisions (!).

Jacqueline Pearce is great as the icy Servalan and Stephen Greif who plays the hapless psychopath Travis is fun to watch.

DVD extras include; commentaries by the cast and crew on selected episodes, out-takes, a trailer for series 2 and a segment from Blue Peter with Lesley Judd showing viewers how to make a Liberator transporter bracelet, which I have vivid memories of watching when I was a child.

So, if you can see past the budget limitations (not too much of a stretch for fans of Doctor Who from this era) and you want something to watch during the break between the Doctor Who christmas special and series 7 due in the autumn of 2012, you might consider giving this a look.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Doctor Who: Frontier In Space

After receiving a bit of a telling off from Andrew Lewin, the esteemed curator of Taking The Short View for not feeling the Pertwee love in my last Doctor Who related post, I decided to give him another try.

Frontier In Space is a six part story from 1973, which features a plethora of creatures from the "whoniverse" including the Ogrons and the Draconians, the latter being Jon Pertwee's favourite monsters, and rather brilliantly realised they are too.

This story is also the final appearance from Roger Delgado as The Master, before the tragic car accident that claimed his life. His portrayal for many fans is the definitive version of this classic villain.

My issue with many six part stories is that they tend to be padded out which makes the story drag, but this manages to keep up a decent pace.

The idea of the sonic gadget that makes the characters see the thing that they fear the most is a clever plot device.

I chose this as it was the story that was being broadcast when I was born, although not quite a Genesis Of The Daleks or an Earthshock, it's a good one to be associated with (thankfully I'm too old to have had Time And The Rani as my story!)

And for anyone who hasn't yet seen this classic series story, there is a little cameo at the end that will make it worth watching all the way through.

I would be really interested to hear what story was doing the rounds when you were born, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Overall I quite enjoyed this one, I may yet be converted to the Pertwee cause!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Glen Campbell: Ghost On The Canvas

Growing up in our household in the late 1970s and early 1980s I was introduced to lots of different kinds of pop music, my brother, who is four years older than me would listen to metal, punk and prog rock. My parents who had their teenage years in the late 1950s and early 1960s would listen to country music.

So my musical tastes were and always have been quite diverse, one of the artists I was introduced to from an early age was American country pop singer Glen Campbell.

Campbell's musical career started at the end of the '50s as a session musician, his guitar skills can be heard on many classic pop tracks, he was a part of Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound, and he played on the Beach Boys' seminal 1966 album Pet Sounds, and toured with them when Brian Wilson was unable to join the rest of the band due to his declining mental health.

He was later offered a contract with Capitol records and after a few false starts had a string of hits throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Wichita Lineman and Galveston.

During the 1980s and 1990s Campbell's stardom had faded somewhat, not helped by drug and alcohol addictions.

He made a cameo in Clint Eastwood's Every Which Way But Loose, which he also provided the theme for.

He later gave up his addictions and became a born again christian.

In 2008 he was persuaded by Julian Raymond to return to Capitol and record an album of covers of more contemporary artists, illogically called Meet Glen Campbell.

Campbell revealed in June of this year that he had Alzheimer's disease, and that he planned to make one more album and go out on the road for a farewell tour.

Ghost On The Canvas goes back to the sound that made Campbell a star, the trademark tremolo guitar sound is there. The album features a list of guest artists including Dick Dale, Chris Isaak and Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins.

Lyrically at times it's very moving, the title track and Any Trouble are the sound of a man who has come to terms with his situation and is prepared to fight on rather than just give up.

One of the highlights for me is a cover of one of my all time favourite songs, Hold On Hope, originally by Guided By Voices, a song by a band that you would never automatically think of as ripe for a cover by a country music veteran, but it's a perfect fit.

As the final release in a career that has spanned over fifty years this is a fitting tribute to an artist who brought country music to the masses.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Doctor Who: Spearhead From Space

First things first, I have to come clean and admit that Jon Pertwee is not my favourite Doctor.

That said, this story is a solid start for the third Doctor. It's a story with many firsts, it's the first outing for Pertwee, the first story broadcast in colour, the first to feature the Autons, and the first time that it's revealed that the Doctor has two hearts.

This story looks great due to the use of film instead of the cheaper option adopted afterward by the BBC to use video tape.
I knew I shouldn't have ordered the calamari

Caroline John plays new companion Liz Shaw, her character was more of an intellectual equal to the Doctor than the majority of her predecessors, and as much as I like Jo Grant, I think on reflection I prefer the dynamic between the Doctor and Liz, at least until Sarah Jane Smith turns up.

Part of the reason for wanting to re-watch this was a desire to see a story that features the brigadier, Nicholas Courtney's portrayal of the brig was one of the most endearing characters in the history of the show, he provides the perfect foil to Pertwee's Doctor.

The pace of the story is good, the action sequences and stunts are pretty good, aside from a slightly dodgy bit of Pertwee gurning during the denouement, I couldn't find too much else to really pick holes in. As first new Doctor stories go this is certainly one of the better ones.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Panasonic Announce New Lumix GX1

Panasonic have announced yet another addition to their ever growing family of G series system cameras.

The DMCGX1 will hit stores in the next few weeks and design wise it looks like a cross between the Lumix DMCGF1 and the DMCLX5.

In keeping with the retro styling of the camera, Panasonic seem to have gone back to the 1990's for the concept of this promotional video.

The camera looks cool though!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Doctor Who: Horror Of Fang Rock

This is one of my favourite classic series stories.

Producer Graham Williams, was brought in to take over from Philip Hinchcliffe in the face of growing concern from the likes of Mary Whitehouse that the programme was becoming too dark and violent for children.

It's somewhat ironic then that this story is thematically one of the darkest in the entire history of Doctor Who.

It's fair to say that this was a transitional period for the production team, so the (most welcome) darker tone owes a lot to the writing style that had gone before, this can also be explained by the circumstances at the time, when Terrance Dicks was asked submit a new story as a quick replacement for a planned vampire story, which would have clashed with the BBC's adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, due to air around the same time.

Filming was also affected when the studio scenes had to be moved from BBC television centre in London to Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham.

Tom Baker's working relationship with Louise Jameson took a turn for the better during the making of this serial, known for sometimes being a prickly personality, Tom was very close to Elisabeth Sladen who played previous companion Sarah Jane Smith. His attitude toward Louise Jameson was at best frosty to begin with.

In the commentary featured on the DVD Louise Jameson says that she feels that their relationship turned a corner when filming a scene in which Tom was meant to enter the shot on cue, he would deliberately walk in ahead of his cue and upstage her. She asked for the scene to be restaged three times in order to get it right, and subsequently earned Tom's respect.

I think Terrance Dicks' contribution to the programme is often overlooked, his stories may be more simplistic compared to some of his contemporaries, but they have a sound structure, which is one of the reasons I find this story to be one that I go back to again and again.

My pick of the guest cast would be Colin Douglas as Reuben, his demonic smile when he is playing the Rutan is chilling.

This story is also notable as one of the few classic Who serials directed by a woman, Paddy Russell, and what a sterling job she does too.

The extras on the DVD are up to the usual high standard including; a commentary by Louise Jameson, John Abbott and Terrance Dicks, a documentary about Paddy Russell, a documentary about collectable memorabilia, and my favourite of the collection, a documentary about Terrance Dicks.

If you have yet to see a story featuring Tom Baker as The Doctor then I would rate this as one of his best.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

AFI 100 Movies #62 Tootsie (1982)

After subjecting my poor long suffering wife to a fair few AFI selections that didn't really appeal to her, I figured I might go easy on her and make my next choice from the list something I know she loves.

She really admires Dustin Hoffman, for different reasons from me, I might add!

He plays actor Michael Dorsey, who due to his outspoken nature and questioning of director's methods, has made himself unemployable.

He hits upon the idea of posing as a woman in order to try and get roles. He lands a role in a soap opera, and soon becomes a leading character in the show.

Things get complicated when he falls for a fellow cast member Julie, she meets him in his Michael persona and hates him on sight.

Cue farcical situations involving lecherous older actors, the girl in love with him (Teri Garr), the co-star he's fallen for (Jessica Lange) and her widowed father (Charles Durning).

Amy did point out as we watched that Hoffman's character was the only really strong female part and that Geena Davis seemed to spend most of her time on screen in her underwear, which although the story and acting were good proved to be a welcome highlight.

Bill Murray is worthy of a special mention, and is very likeable as Michael's flat mate

Definitely one for the watch again list, although, Dustin, seriously, you turned down Teri Garr?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

AFI 100 Movies #74 The Gold Rush (1925)

So then, after a break it's back to the AFI 100 list.

Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush was made in 1925, he had intended to film the majority of the shots on location but had to abandon this idea as the weather made filming problematic.

The little tramp character travels to the Yukon to make his fortune in the Klondike gold rush.

The weather is treacherous and he is forced to look for shelter amidst a terrible blizzard, he stumbles across a fellow prospector "Big Jim" they take refuge in a log cabin until the storm passes. They have a fellow cabin-mate in the form of Black Larsen (who unknown to them is a wanted fugitive).

When the blizzard shows little of slowing up, Larsen goes out to get supplies, and trapped in the cabin together the tramp and Big Jim start to get cabin fever, with Jim becoming so hungry that he starts to hallucinate and sees the tramp transform in to a giant chicken!

Needless to say the blizzard subsides and the three go their separate ways, another famous scene see the tramp perform the "Bread Roll Dance" which many consider a tribute to Roscoe Arbuckle, who was being shunned by many in Hollywood at the time. I won't divulge more of the plot incase anyone reading this intends to watch it themselves.

I have to admit to being a late convert to Chaplin, my wife really doesn't get Chaplin and finds him mawkish and overly sentimental, which I can kind of see, but if you look at his body of work, his writing, directing etc. you can see someone who had global fame and wanted to use it as a positive thing, his speech at the end of The Great Dictator is so moving, and such a brave thing to do.

So, Charlie, you're alright by me.

Roscoe Arbuckle: A Good Man Wronged

Back in the early days of cinema, in the silent era, one of the brightest movie stars of his generation was Roscoe Arbuckle.

Roscoe was a large man, but never used his size as an easy way to get laughs. He was very nimble for a larger gentleman, and excelled in physical comedy, and his films were often fast paced with chase scenes and stunts.

At the peak of his popularity in 1918 he was offered a $3million contract to make 18 feature films over a three year period with Paramount Pictures, this equates to over $43million in today's money.

During his time in the limelight he helped bring through new talent such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin (who adopted his trade mark tiny bowler hat and balloon pants for his Little Tramp character) and is said to have given Bob Hope his first break in showbusiness when he asked Hope to open for his comedy act.

In September 1921 during a break from his punishing filming schedule, Roscoe, along with two friends, Lowell Sherman (a film director) and Fred Fischbach (a cameraman) went to San Francisco and checked into three rooms at the St. Francis hotel. Arbuckle and Fischbach shared a room, Sherman had his own room, and the third room was booked as a "party room".

Roscoe Arbuckle
Several women were invited to the room, during the events of the evening the hotel doctor was called to Arbuckle's room to tend to an ill woman, Virginia Rappe. The doctor was dismissed by Virginia's friend, Maude Delmont, who called for a Doctor Rumwell to help her instead. She was not taken to hospital until two days after the incident.

Virginia Rappe had been ill for some time, it is believed that she had undergone a botched abortion as a result of becoming pregnant by her boyfriend, director Henry Lehrmann, prior to the incident, an operation undertaken by the same Doctor Rumwell.

It has been suggested that Rappe, in her inebriated state, may have been knocked in the abdomen by Arbuckle during a bout of innocent horseplay, causing her already damaged organs to rupture. This would also account for her alleged statements while delirious with pain that "Arbuckle did it".

At the hospital, Delmont told the doctor that Arbuckle had raped her friend. The doctor examined her and could find no evidence to support this claim. Virginia Rappe died a day later from peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder.

Delmont went to the police and repeated her claim that Arbuckle had raped Virginia, the police concluded that because of his weight, Arbuckle could have caused her bladder to rupture, and so began some of the most despicable newspaper coverage, which would haunt Roscoe Arbuckle for the rest of his life.

William Randolph Hearst's newspaper publications claimed that Arbuckle was a terrible womaniser who used his size to overpower unsuspecting girls, according to those who knew Arbuckle this reputation couldn't be further from the truth, he was described as very shy and awkward around women.

When the trial began, the prosecutor used Delmont as his prime witness in the indictment hearing, but refused to let her give evidence during the trial. Delmont had a long criminal record, including racketeering, bigamy, fraud and extortion. She was known to secretly take photographs of men in compromising positions and demand money in exchange for her silence. The judge was unable to find any evidence to support a charge of rape, but found reasonable grounds to charge Arbuckle with first degree murder, this was later changed to a manslaughter charge.

At the end of the first trial, after 44 hours of deliberation the jury reached a deadlock 10-2 not guilty verdict and a mistrial was declared. It was later revealed that one of the members of the jury was part of the Daughters Of The American Revolution feminist pressure group, who had vowed that she would vote guilty until hell freezes over, and that she refused to discuss the evidence, look at the exhibits or read the trial transcripts.

Three of the witnesses for the prosecution in the first trial, Betty Campbell, Zey Prevon and Alice Lake revealed that Matthew Brady, the prosecutor, coerced them into testifying against Arbuckle, threatening them with prison if they refused.

In the second trial Roscoe's defence team really dropped the ball by not asking him to testify, presumably thinking that this had been thoroughly covered in the very public first trial. They also omitted the usual summing up of the evidence to the jury, which did not impress them one bit.

The jury were again deadlocked, this time 10-2 in favour of a guilty verdict, which forced a third trial.

When the third trial took place on March 6th 1922, Roscoe Arbuckle once more stepped up to the witness box and made his case before the jury.

When the jury were asked to retire and consider their verdict, they were out of the court for a total of six minutes. When they returned to the court room the foreman of the jury was given permission by the judge to read aloud a statement:

"Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done to him... He was manly throughout the case, and told a straight-forward story on the witness stand, which we all believed. The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success, and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women who have sat listening for thirty one days to evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame."

Roscoe and Buster Keaton
In November 1923, Roscoe's estranged wife filed for divorce, she had stood by him during the trial, but the pressure on them both had taken its toll.

Arbuckle tried to return to acting, but even though he was found not guilty, there was a reticence from the studios to hire him. His friend Buster Keaton stood by him, employing him as (uncredited) co-director on Sherlock Jr and handing him a cameo in Go West. Buster & Charlie Chaplin helped him financially after the furore of the trial.

Arbuckle turned to directing under the pseudonym William Goodrich, which attracted the attention of Warner Bros. he made some two-reelers that proved successful, and in 1932 after a decade in the wilderness Warners offered Roscoe a contract to make some feature films, which he accepted. Later in the evening that same day he suffered a fatal heart attack in his sleep.

It's a very sad story, and because the industry at the time wanted to draw a veil over the whole affair, an important character in the development of cinema is in danger of being forgotten.

I could not have written this without the wonderful resource that is Silent Comedy by Paul Merton, a thoroughly engrossing book about the early days of cinema. If you are interested in this period in history or the cult of celebrity which really got going with the birth of Hollywood, it is a fantastic read.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Panasonic Announce New X Series Micro 4/3 Lenses

Panasonic have announced two new additions in their expanding range of micro four thirds lenses.

The unique aspect of the new X Series lenses is that they are the worlds first interchangeable lenses to feature a power zoom.

While micro four thirds lenses are renowned for being small in size, because of the power zoom the lenses are significantly smaller than those currently available.


Standard 14-42mm Kit Lens

X Series 14-42mm Power Zoom Lens

The two lenses are a 14-42mm general purpose lens, and a 45-175mm tele photo lens, both lenses feature Panasonic's Power O.I.S. image stabilisation system to prevent image blur, even on maximum zoom.

X Series 45-175mm Power Zoom Tele Photo Lens
Having purchased my Lumix DMCG3 with the standard 14-42mm lens, I doubt very much if I wil invest in the X series equivalent, however the option of a compact tele photo lens would prove a very welcome addition to my micro four thirds collection.

Giving The Panasonic 20mm Pancake Lens A Workout

In a few rare moments of spare time I have been trying out my new Panasonic HH020 pancake lens.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Stone Roses Reunion: The Second Coming

As a music nerd of a certain age, I have fond memories of listening to the Stone Roses' eponymous debut album, it was the soundtrack to my summer as a 17 year old.

After several years of legal wrangling with original record label Silvertone, they emerged from the musical wilderness with a very hit and miss follow up in the form of Second Coming, the band continued to tour, but the stress fractures were beginning to show.

Drummer Reni was the first to leave, followed by guitarist John Squire which caused this once lauded band to implode.

Fast forward fifteen years and the four original band members call a press conference to announce their forthcoming comeback tour. The cynic in me thinks it's all about the money, but the romantic in me wants to believe that they might make the most of this second chance.

They have been rehearsing since April according to press reports, their initial live dates sold out in 14 minutes, with reports of touts snapping up masses of tickets and offering them for thousands of pounds, is there any way of clamping down on these greedy morons who want to make easy money out of genuine fans who just want to see their heroes?

Past evidence shows that such reunions can cover the gamut between the sublime (Pixies Sell Out Tour) to the frankly ridiculous (Sex Pistols Filthy Lucre Tour).

If they can manage to recapture a fraction of the beauty found in their early material, particularly some of the finest b sides recorded in pop history, then this 30 something will be a very happy man.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Mostly Harmless Cutaway

I am a relative newcomer to the Mostly Harmless Cutaway podcast, my first encounter with the show was listening to the coverage of the Gallifrey 22 convention in Los Angeles, which features a host of podcasting talent recorded (sometimes stealthily) in a very entertaining way.

The show originally started out as The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Whoverse, and gradually evolved into the show you can hear today.

Eric is your host, along with co-host Josh, and a cast of entertaining guests including Sean from the TARDIS Tavern & the Doctor Who Book Club podcasts, Cat from the Sci-Fi Partyline podcast and Julian from the 2am Show Podcast (he also supplies the fantastic cover art for the show).

For me, what makes a good podcast is the chemistry between the participants, and this show doesn't disappoint. There is a lot of humour in this podcast, Eric has a smooth presenting style, peppered with witty jokes and Josh is always ready with a great one liner, which often leads to spontaneous bouts of giggling.

The show looks at Nu Who, and there are reviews of the latest episodes, part of the appeal is that the discussions remind me of the conversations I have with my fellow Doctor Who fans when we meet up at our local pub.

One of my favourite parts of the show is listening to Cat as she discovers the classic series, maybe I'm turning into a sad old man, but there is a nostalgic joy to be had from hearing someone seeing these fantastic (and sometimes not so fantastic) shows that you watched as a child for the first time.

Another fun aspect of the show is when they provide a commentary for classic series stories, so far we have had The Trial Of A Timelord, The TV Movie and the first three stories from the Key To Time series (there is a running joke that The Androids Of Tara hasn't been released yet, after almost a year at the time of writing since the commentary for the previous story was released!).

One other thing that marks this show out from the select number of Who related podcasts that I subscribe to is the listener feedback section, complete with one of the most amazing fanfares (!) which makes me laugh every time I hear it. There are some interesting points from my fellow listeners (yes I'm looking at YOU Erika Ensign aka @_HollyGoDarkly_) and it gives the show a real sense of community.

If you haven't realised by now I really love this podcast, and if you like Doctor Who and want to try something new, what are you waiting for.... give it a try here.

So, closing out this blog post, this is Mark, and remember, even if you if you think you will never get to hear the MHC commentary for The Androids Of Tara, DON'T PANIC!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

True Grit (2010)

I'm a long time fan of the films of Joel and Ethan Coen, with the odd rare exception their work is some of the best on offer from contemporary cinema.

In my opinion their adaptation of Charles Portis' novel is right up there with Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? amongst their finest efforts.

Jeff Bridges, who can do no wrong in my eyes, is great as the ageing, alcoholic marshall Rooster Cogburn the archetypal anti hero, who reluctantly agrees to help fourteen year old Mattie Ross (played so impressively by Hailee Steinfeld) to hunt down the low life Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) who brutally killed her father.

Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (played by Matt Damon) is also on the trail of Chaney, and so begins an on/off partnership between the three of them.

Chaney has fallen in with Lucky Ned Pepper (played by Barry Pepper, who is almost unrecognisable thanks to the excellent work of the make up department) and his gang of no good scum bags.

Hailee Steinfeld steals the show, with an acting tour de force, Mattie is a feisty girl who won't be sassed by those who are older and should know better. The scene where she barters over the ownership of the ponies is a real joy to watch. And I also think her character makes this film more accessible to female viewers, like my wife, who would ordinarily avoid the Western genre.

The photography is wonderful, and really shows off the natural beauty of New Mexico and Austin, Texas. The shots of the snow falling really take your breath away.

Without wishing to give away too much of the plot, there are a couple of scenes toward the end of the film that really tug at your heart strings, giving an added emotional connection not seen too often in older films in this genre.

So, if you've never seen a western, and you're curious to see what all the fuss is about, I can't think of many other better introductions.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Sky

I havent watched too many SJA episodes before, mainly the ones with David Tennant and Matt Smith, but after the sad loss of Elizabeth Sladen I felt compelled to watch the final series.

Being a relative noob to the SJA universe, I have to say this was pretty good stuff.

Clyde (Daniel Anthony) and Rani (Anjil Mohindra), who I've seen in previous episodes are both very watchable in their own right rather than being tacked on companions. The new girl Sky (Sinead Michael) is still very young, and it would be harsh to be too critical of her acting, it's a shame that she won't get the same chance as Tommy Knight who plays Luke to grow into her part, but she did pretty well considering the daunting task of joining an established ensemble cast.

Elisabeth Sladen was born to play Sarah Jane Smith, such an enduring character, and I think one of the reasons (without wishing to offend some of her fellow Doctor Who companions) was that she was more than just a pretty girl in a state of constant confusion having to ask the Doctor what's happening in order to drive the narrative of the programme. Hats off to Doctor Who producer Barry Letts who decided to introduce her as an investigative journalist, which allowed her to be more independent and get into dramatic situations through her inquisitive nature rather than being the stereotypical damsel in distress.

The guest cast were entertaining enough, Miss Myers (Christine Stephen-Daly) is suitably over the top as the villain of the piece, equal parts Cruella De Vil and Alexis Colby from Dynasty (maybe it was the '80s get up she was wearing!).

And can I be the only one to have a flashback to The Hand Of Fear, seeing our heroine running around in a nuclear power plant?

A good start to the fifth and final series.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Attack The Block

I have been giving myself (and the poor long suffering Amy) a break from the AFI 100 list, and have been focusing on more recent releases.

Attack The Block for the uninitiated, is the feature film directorial debut of British comedian, writer and BBC radio DJ Joe Cornish.

Jodie Whittaker plays Sam, a nurse, who is attacked by a local gang of youths on her way home to the tower block where she lives. Just when things are looking bleak, all hell breaks loose when something that looks like a shooting star crashes into a car parked right next to where the mugging is taking place.

It's difficult to say much more about the plot without straying into spoiler territory. What I can say is that the cast are great,  Nick Frost makes a welcome cameo appearance as a dodgy drug dealer, and considering that some of other cast members are quite young they aren't found lacking in the acting stakes. The dialogue sounds realistic without ever straying in to a parody of street slang.

Although this wasn't a mega budget film, the effects are good. If I had to categorise this film I would put it in to the same league as Joe Dante's Gremlins, by no means an out and out horror movie, but enough thrills and spills along the way to keep you thoroughly entertained.

Joe Cornish has been very busy of late, co-writing the script for Ant Man with Edgar Wright, and also co-writing with Doctor Who supremo Steven Moffat, the script for Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg's forthcoming big budget motion capture movie The Adventures Of Tin Tin: Secret Of The Unicorn.

The movie is available to buy or rent on Blu-Ray and DVD, and I couldn't recommend more highly.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

FIFA 12 First Impressions

After being a staunch advocate of Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series for many years, their more recent efforts have been below par, in my opinion.
So for the last few years I have switched allegiance to EA Sport's FIFA series. In more recent iterations the franchise has added quality gameplay to the already top class presentation.

New features added this year include; a new tactical defence system, a new player impact system to create more realistic in game physics, Head To Head Seasons allowing players to compete in an online competition aiming to put their favourite team to the top of the international league table, improved online matches due to improved skill matching.

I have played a few games in career mode (Pro difficulty) as my beloved Everton, and it's bloody tough, or maybe I'm just not very good at it yet?

Take all the gameplay improvements, add slick visuals and you've got a pretty decent football game.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The King's Speech Blu-Ray

Just a quick blog entry for the weekend.

After submitting Amy (my wife) to endless AFI list movies, it was a welcome break to watch something different.

As neither of us are particularly pro royal, it says a lot for this film that we both really enjoyed the film.

The obvious focus for a lot of the praise received for the film centered on the performance by Colin Firth as the reluctant King, and rightly so, he was superb in his role. But for me the stand out performance was that of Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, who is the latest in a long list of therapists attempting to help the king with his debilitating stammer. He is in turns supportive and antagonistic in his efforts to help Bertie, and this brings a dramatic edge and some comedic moments to the story.

Also worthy of praise are the supporting cast; Helena Bonham Carter shows that she can command a screen presence without going over the top, Derek Jacobi who himself famously played a stammerer in I Claudius, is suitably annoying as the meddlesome Archbishop, and Guy Pearce does a decent job of portraying the abdicating King Edward VIII as a man obsessed with the woman he loves, without a thought for his country, or the feelings of his family.

Timothy Spall as Churchill and Claire Bloom as Queen Mary make the most of their time on screen, and UK viewers might be surprised to see Karen from Outnumbered (Ramona Marquez) as Princess Margaret!

If you are late getting to see this, as we were, you are in for a treat.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Everton To Offer Shirt Refunds

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright has offered to refund supporters who purchased 2011/2012 home or away shirts with the names Arteta or Beckford printed on them.

This once only offer has been made to fans after Mikel Arteta and Jermaine Beckford left the club at the end of the summer transfer window. Fans who wish to claim a refund should return the shirts to the club, with proof of purchase by September 30th.

Well done to everyone involved for respecting the fans who pay their hard earned money to support their team.

For more information head over to the official Everton F.C. website.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Everton F.C. Need To Consolidate

So, at the end of the summer transfer window, Mikel Arteta asks for a transfer to Arsenal. I don't begrudge him a big money move, he has been a good servant to the club, and if his heart isn't in it anymore then it is better for him to join another club, and lets get real for a moment, Everton need the money.

Sadly it would seem that none of the funds raised from the sale of Arteta and striker Jermaine Beckford to Leicester City, will be given to manager David Moyes in order to buy in new players. He did however make two loan signings in the form of Denis Stracqualursi and Royston Drenthe.

Stracqualursi was the top scorer in the Argentinian top flight last season, and might be the clinical finisher that the team has been crying out for in recent seasons. Royston Drenthe joins on loan from Spanish giants Real Madrid, the Dutch international can play on either wing and will look to add further pace to the midfield.

Along with the established first team regulars and some promising youngsters like Ross Barkley, let's hope that Everton F.C. can kick on and avoid what seems to be their usual slow start and move up the table.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

AFI 100 Movies #15 Star Wars (1977)

After the disappointment of my last AFI outing (#88 Easy Rider) whatever the next selection happened to be would be an improvement. The arrival yesterday of the Star Wars saga Blu-Ray boxset prompted a viewing of Episode IV A New Hope (or just Star Wars as it was when it first hit the cinema screens).

An embarrassing admission, an early memory for me was being left inconsolable as my older brother and his friend were allowed to go to the cinema to see this amazing new film, but I was considered too young (at the tender age of 4, I couldn't see what the problem was!), this was only to be overshadowed by my brother (who was fairly indifferent about TV's greatest hero) getting to meet Tom Baker, during his tenure as The Doctor, and not being allowed to go as it was an event that his class at school was taking part in.

Anyway, back to the film. The opening shot of the movie sets the scene for the epic scale of George Lucas' space opera. Princess Leia's space ship looks huge as it enters the frame, and is subsequently dwarfed by the imperial star destroyer in hot pursuit.

Trying to think back to watching this as a child, the cast of characters was very appealing, the C3PO & R2D2 double act, the mysterious wizard-like Ben Kenobi, Han Solo the anti hero, Luke & Leia the kick ass teens, the creepy Grand Moff Tarkin and of course the man/machine that you love to hate Darth Vader.

Watching it back as an adult, some of the dialogue is a little clunky, but there was something about this story that fired my young imagination.

Despite Mr Lucas' unending need to go back and tinker with something that was perfectly good in the first place, it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the film.

The dogfight sequences as the movie reaches its climax still have the wow factor now that they had all those years ago.

With regard to the Blu-Ray transfer (which I will get around to reviewing in full, once I've been through all the films & the 40 hours of added content), the picture is immaculate and the DTS 6.1 Master HD soundtrack is very impressive, John Williams' soundtrack has never sounded better. Home cinema nerds (like me) will love it.

Doctor Who: Day Of The Daleks (Special Edition)

As with many a Doctor Who nerd of my generation (I'm 38), my first experience of this story was in the form of the Target novelisation by Terrance Dicks, so upon watching a repeat of the programme as a kid, it was a little bit disappointing to see the actual programme compared to the version conjured up in my mind by the novel. The difference between your memory of a story and the reality is addressed in the extensive list of DVD extras.

© 2|Entertain
This release contains the original version, and a souped up special edition, containing new special effects, new Dalek voices (from THE voice of the Daleks Nick Briggs) and new footage shot on vintage film cameras in order to match up with the original print.

The plot revolves around a group of guerrillas from the 22nd century who have travelled back to the 20th century in an attempt to kill the man they believe is responsible for the Daleks conquering the Earth. The Doctor is sent by U.NI.T. to investigate. I can't help but think that James Cameron might have seen this prior to coming up with the idea for The Terminator.

This may seem like heresy to hardcore classic Who fans, but I really like the special edition version, the new effects don't look out of place, and the new Dalek voices make a huge difference to the atmosphere of the story. For those who can't bear tinkering with the classics, you still have the original version on disc one.

In terms of extras, as usual 2 Entertain have put in lots of interesting content including the aforementioned 'The Cheating Memory' (nice title), part two of 'The U.N.I.T. Family', 'Now and Then' looking at locations used for the story, the very entertaining Toby Hadoke presents 'The U.N.I.T. Dating Conundrum', 'Blasting The Past' a making of documentary, along with a making of documentary for the special edition, as well as 'A View From The Gallery', and clips from Blue Peter and Nationwide, production subtitles and a commentary from Anna Barry, Jimmy Winston, Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks and Mike Catherwood.

If you are after a classic Who DVD to add to your collection this is a must.

Monday, 5 September 2011

AFI 100 Movies #88 Easy Rider (1969)

I'll keep this brief, and ask you to recall the two word review of Shark Sandwich from This Is Spinal Tap.

One saving grace was the soundtrack featuring The Byrds.

Apologies to anyone who likes this film, it just wasn't for me.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

iPad2 First Impressions

I finally crumbled and bought myself an iPad2, my poor long suffering wife said that she was surprised that I had managed to hold out this long. In order to try and reduce the retail guilt I chose the Product (Red) smart cover, which gives a percentage of the retail price to charity (yes, I know weird logic).

First impressions are very good, the build quality is excellent, the touch screen is very responsive and easy to use. The initial setup was a breeze, with plenty of options to determine which apps, music, videos etc. are synced with the device.

I have downloaded a few of the free apps from iTunes; the official Twitter app is a neat piece of software, the user interface is simplicity itself, with a simple finger swipe allowing you to refresh your timeline and explore links etc. the BBCiPlayer app is a very glossy looking bit of software offering good quality video on demand.

One thing I missed since getting rid of my iPhone 3G was something as simple as push email, all the most popular email providers are covered. The simple things eh?

Although much pricier than an average e-reader the iPad offers a good variety of choices for would be electronic bookworms, with apps from Amazon's Kindle, Kobo and of course Apple's own iBooks service.

Expect more posts as I get to grips with this work of electronic art.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Everton F.C. Facing A Tough Season

As an Evertonian of the best part of 30 years, I've seen my fair share of ups and downs. From the ecstacy of championships and european glory of the mid to late eighties to the seemingly continual battle to avoid relegation from the premier league for the most part of the nineties.

Then in 2002 David Moyes was appointed club manager, year after year he has overcome the limitations of a (by premier league standards) shoestring budget to take his team to highly respectable finishes, with a blip in the 2003/2004 season seeing the club finish in 17th place, which was more than made up for the following year with a memorable 4th place finish in the 2004/2005 season.

During his time at the club, Moyes has had the support and backing of club chairman and theatre empresario Bill Kenwright, who has done, in my opinion, a decent job of acquiring funds for player transfers in the climate we now find ourselves in with oligarchs and sheiks who have seemingly bottomless pits of money to fund their pet projects.

This year prior to the start of the 2011/2012 season a group of fans secretly recorded Kenwright during a meeting where he admitted that the club's finances are not in great shape, and that the banks are looking to recoup their overdraft repayments with potential player sales, leaving David Moyes with no transfer kitty to bring in new players during the transfer window.

Mr Kenwright has made no secret of the fact that he is looking to sell the club to a wealthy investor who can take the club forward, but he is unwilling to risk the club's long term future by letting any Tom, Dick or Harry come in and destroy the foundations that have been put down during his tenure.

The one glimmer of hope for evertonians is the club's academy which has brought through some very promising young talent in recent years in the form of Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley (and some kid named Rooney?), but I wonder if these talented youngsters should be put under this sort of pressure so early on in their career?

Finally a special mention for Leon Osman, who although not a big money transfer is an evertonian through and through, and, in my opinion, is integral to the midfield. Which is some feat with the likes of Cahill, Fellaini and Arteta in competition for midfield places.

In Moyes we trust.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation

For the 16th series of Doctor Who, producer Graham Williams decided to create a linking narrative between the stories, rather like the story arcs used in present day Who (although not as successfully as messrs Davies and Moffat).

The Doctor's intended holiday is put on hold when he is summoned by the mysterious White Guardian, who asks him to locate the six missing segments of the key to time, which if made complete would be a weapon too dangerous for anyone to possess.

The White Guardian imposes a new companion on The Doctor in the (frankly gorgeous) shape of Romanadvortrelundar, or Romana for short played by the glamorous Mary Tamm.

The story, penned by long term Who script writer Robert Holmes is set on the planet Ribos, and centres around a pair of con men trying to sell the icy planet to the tyrant war monger the Graff Vynda-K.

Although the 16th series divides opinion, this story for me is one of the strongest of the 1978 run, and superior to Holmes' other effort that year The Power Of Kroll. Ian Cuthbertson and Nigel Plaskitt as dodgy duo Garron and Unstoffe are marvellous, Paul Seed, who plays the Graff (And would later go on to direct classic BBC drama House Of Cards) is somewhat shouty, but nonetheless entertaining.

The DVD is chock full of extras the stand out for me was 'A matter of time' an hour long documentary looking back on Graham Williams' time in charge of the programme, including interviews with Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, Lalla Ward and John Leeson, and archive interviews with the late Graham Williams and Douglas Adams.

The documentary, written by Nicholas Pegg, gives a very good insight into what the programme making process was like in the 1970's. The producer had to contend with ever diminishing budgets, a difficult to handle lead actor and problems caused by industrial action when the unions were at the peak of their powers. Graham's widow Jacqueline speaks very eloquently about how very tough it was for her husband, and how he cared very deeply for the ongoing success of the programme.

Other extras include a commentary with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm, 'The Ribos File' a making of documentary, continuities and a series 16 trailer.

While the Key To Time series is not perhaps the best in the programme's long history it is still very entertaining, and this DVD boxset is a real "must have" for fans in terms of the extensive extras.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy: Extended Edition Blu Ray

I'm guessing if you're reading this there is a pretty good chance that you already know the story of The Lord Of The Rings, so I will dispense with the synopsis and get on with looking at what you get in this extended edition set.

This fifteen disc set is presented in rather nice gold embossed packaging and comprises of six Blu Ray discs and nine DVDs. Each of the three films is split over two Blu Ray discs in order to allow for the best picture quality. The other nine DVDs contain over twenty six hours of special features.

The transfer quality of the films, particularly The Fellowship Of The Ring, have been criticised by many for lacking sharpness and weird colour correction when the theatrical versions were released on Blu Ray disc some time ago.

I found the picture quality of all the films to be of a high standard, although some, perhaps more critical than I, have mentioned a "green tint" in some sections of the first film, I have to say I couldn't detect this (perhaps I need to get my eyes tested!).

The audio is presented in DTS Master HD 6.1, and it sounds fantastic, the surround channels are used to good effect, and dialogue is handled well, never getting lost in the mix.

For anyone new to this classic series of films, the extras are as complete a document of the making of the trilogy as you could ask for. The highlight for most fans is Costa Botes' making of documentary, the film maker was given unprecedented access during the making of these iconic movies. With such a sumptuous array of special features to choose from you could not fail to be impressed.

Roll on "An Unexpected Journey" and "There And Back Again"!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

AFI 100 Movies #90 The Jazz Singer (1927)

The AFI 100 list chooses its movies based on a number of criteria, The Jazz Singer makes it on to the list, from my understanding, for being the first full length feature film to include dialogue that is synchronised with the pictures on screen, using Warner Bros. Vitaphone audio system, bringing about the rise of "Talkie" movies and the eventual demise of silent movies.

On that basis I completely understand it's inclusion in the list, it is, however, my least favourite film so far. I am a fan of silent movies, so I wasn't put off by the vast majority of the film lacking speech. The main problem for me was that I found the star of the film, Al Jolson, intensely irritating.

I have already seen films in this series that I didn't take to, Duck Soup  for example, but I still found things to like about them.

I know that taste is subjective, and I suppose that there are people that rate this film very highly, and I appreciate that the acting style in silent cinema in some cases was far more expressive and over the top, and he might be forgiven for being the lead actor in what must have been a difficult transitional period, but Jolson's gurning facial expressions made me cringe.

And while we're talking about cringing I will tackle the uncomfortable subject of "Blacking Up", I know Mr Jolson was incredibly popular in his day, but looking back on it now in the 21st century, it makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

On it's original release in 1927 it did big business at the box office, so the audiences at the time really took to it, but was it the novelty of the actors speaking on screen, or because it was a great movie?

During this AFI challenge that I set myself, one of the interesting things for me was the thought that it would encourage me to watch films that I wouldn't ordinarily have seen, and there have been some great finds along the way, my favourite new finds so far have been The Apartment , Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? and Bringing Up Baby.

This, though is not a film I would necessarily choose to watch again.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Mirror Ball Man By Joel Brown

"Bullet holes in a Life Is Great T-shirt. It was the kind of cheap irony I would have written a song about, normally. But it wasn't so funny when it happened to someone I knew."
So reads the blurb of Mirror Ball Man written by Massachusetts author Joel Brown.

Mirror Ball Man is set in the fictional town of Libertyport, although I gather, if you are acquainted with Mr Brown's home town of Newburyport, you may notice a few similarities. 

Baxter McLean, a Libertyport man, born & bred, is a Folk singer/songwriter who had a huge hit record "Mirror Ball Man" in the early 1980s, but despite making several follow up records, he never managed to capture the success of his initial one hit wonder.

So, after what seemed to have been a promising start to his career, opening for Elvis Costello, and appearing alongside big names like Pete Seeger, Taj Mahal and Arlo Guthrie at a benefit concert, his fifteen minutes of fame have come to an end, and he has found himself back in Libertyport after travelling the world, and he is scratching out a living playing gigs in the local area.

Baxter is asked by his good friend Davey Gillis to perform at a town meeting concerning the re-development of the town's harbour area. Davey owns the Rum House restaurant on the harbour, and he firmly believes that his business is under threat by the plans of local money man Jules Titward, who wants to replace the free car park used by customers of the harbour businesses with a luxury hotel complex, which would have a huge impact on the Rum House.

After a lively town meeting, in which Baxter gets the assembled citizens singing along to his "Send the Innkeeper packing" refrain, it would seem that the hotel plans are doomed, and after a volatile argument with Titward in the Rum House afterwards, Baxter and Davey seem convinced that they have done enough to stop the developers.

The following morning on his daily walk to his local coffee shop Baxter discovers Jules Titward's body, he has been shot three times through the heart, and so begins a series of events that sees him become the prime suspect....

This book is written in a very entertaining way, there is a rich vein of humour running through the story, which is refreshing for a murder mystery. The cast of characters are interesting, Baxter, the main protagonist is a very likeable character. The plot moves along at a fair pace, and I found myself not wanting to put the book down.

Joel Brown has written for the Boston Globe, and has also worked for the Boston Herald. He has been a freelance writer for the last three years. But now it would seem, he has a very promising career as a novelist, and with another Libertyport mystery in the works "Mermaid Blues" the future looks very bright. I for one, can't wait to read it!

Click here if you want to get your own copy of Mirror Ball Man.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Laurel & Hardy Double Bill: Them Thar Hills & Tit For Tat (1934 & 1935)

In Them Thar Hills, Oliver is suffering from a very bad case of gout, when the doctor tells Ollie it stems from "too much high living" Stan suggests that they should move down into the basement!

On the doctor's advice they hire a caravan and head up into the mountains to get away from it all. They set up camp next to a well, which unknown to them has been filled with moonshine by a bunch of bootleggers trying to evade the police.

They put the taste of the "water" down to the iron in mountain spring water, and they drink it with gusto!

Enter Mr & Mrs Hall (Charlie Hall & Mae Busch) who are stuck in the mountains as their car has run out of gas, the boys helpfully offer to let Mr Hall have some gas, and Mrs Hall stays with the boys while he goes back to the car, and is so thirsty she happily accepts the offer of some mountain water, with a knowing look to camera, she thinks the boys are secret boozers.

Mr Hall returns to find all of them as drunk as skunks, and so ensues one of the greatest slapstick fights committed to celluloid! The movie ends in an explosive way, when, Ollie, with his pants on fire, dives into the well to put out the flames.

One year later, Oliver & Stanley are about to open their new business, an electrical store. Oliver chatting to a passing policeman tells him they would have opened the previous day, but his partner had just had a mental breakdown!

Oliver tells Stan that they should go over to the shop next door to introduce themselves to their new neighbours, when they enter the shop next door they soon realise that it's run by Mr & Mrs Hall, who they ran into in the mountains last year (Pom Pom!).

Ollie offers to let bygones be bygones, but Mr Hall is still upset about what happened last year and tells them to mind their own business.

While endeavouring to fit light bulbs to their shop sign, Oliver gets knocked off his ladder and ends up trapped on Mr & Mrs Hall's window ledge, Mrs Hall takes pity on him and lets him come back down by walking through their store. Mr Hall, the very definition of jealousy, gets the wrong impression, probably not helped by Oliver saying "Well I've never been in that position before!".

Predictably he accuses Oliver of philandering with his wife, Oliver is enraged, Stan puts in his two penn'orth "you're right, Ollie; he who filters your good name steals trash".

And so begins a humdinger of a showdown as the boys and Mr Hall trade blows in spectacular style.

Every time the boys leave Mr Hall's store they help themselves to a marshmallow, this is finally paid off when Mr Hall laces the marshmallows with alum to humorous effect.

While the boys are so intent on their feud, leaving their store unattended, they give little heed to a chap who keeps wandering out of their store with goods that he hasn't paid for. By the end of the film their store is completely empty (a truck drives away loaded with the last of their stock).

There are some people out there who look down on slapstick humour as low brow entertainment, but I defy anyone to watch Them Thar Hills & Tit For Tat and not enjoy with childish glee the moment, for instance, when Stan cuts off Mr Hall's fringe and glues it on to his chin using molasses, the comedy timing by all involved is superlative.  

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Doctor Who: Paradise Towers

This might be described as Sylvester McCoy's first proper story, as Time And The Rani was written for Colin Baker.

The Doctor and Mel arrive at Paradise Towers after Mel decides, having seen a promotional video, that she would like to make use of their rooftop swimming pool, as the Doctor had jettisoned the TARDIS's pool as it was leaking!

© 2|Entertain
It's instantly apparent that things have gone very wrong in the tower block, the gleaming decor of the promotional video has been replaced with graffiti covered walls, and rubbish strewn floors.

The tower block represents a microcosm of a dystopian society, there are fractured groups of humans; the Kangs, girl gangs that clash with each other based on the colours they wear (red, blue & yellow), the Caretakers, jobsworths, who oversee the running of Paradise Towers cleaning the graffiti and acting as police, and the Rezzies, the older residents who rarely leave their apartments.

Not long after they arrive, the Doctor and Mel are taken prisoner by the red Kangs, who are planning to take out the remaining blue Kangs, having learnt that the last yellow Kang has been killed.

As is usually the case (if you watch enough Doctor Who) the Doctor and Mel get separated, and Mel winds up being invited into an apartment by Tilda and Tabby (Elizabeth Spriggs & Brenda Bruce), two (seemingly) harmless old dears who invite her in for tea and cakes.

It transpires that all of the able bodied men have gone off to fight in a war, leaving these disperate groups to look out for themselves, there is, it would seem, one heroic man left behind called Pex who appoints himself Mel's guardian and protector.

Something is lurking in the shadows in the basement, and one by one, the rezzies, kangs and caretakers are being picked of by the cleaners, a bunch of maintenance robots, who are being controlled by something or someone.

The chief caretaker (Richard Briers), is beginning to realise that he is no longer in complete control of what goes on in the tower block, and the Doctor soon realises that he has been allowing the cleaners to kill off people, in order to feed his "pet" in the basement, but that they are now killing in greater numbers, and the creature seems to be taking control, and it seems that it won't be satisfied until all the humans in Paradise Towers are dead.

This is an entertaining story, the writer, Stephen Wyatt, was inspired by J G Ballard's novel High Rise. The ideas are very good, but I'm not sure the execution of them always works. The cleaners aren't particularly scary, and they seem to struggle in their murderous duties!

And the robot that attacks Mel in the swimming pool is far from being sinister, and is rather cute!

The DVD has a reasonable number of extras including a documentary hosted by Mark Ayres on the making of Paradise Towers, Girls! Girls! Girls! The 1980s, a chat with Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred about being in Doctor Who in the '80s, deleted and extended scenes, and the opportunity to watch the programme with the original score which was subsequently changed to a score by Keff McCulloch at a very late stage.