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.