Saturday, 31 December 2011

Twentyleven

Twentyleven was a word I coined at the beginning of the year for use on the Carruthers blog and in the absence of a better title I've used it here as well at the end.

2011 was the year that Osama Bin Laden and Colonel Gaddafi were killed, there were riots across England, a devastating earthquake in Japan and the world's population is reported to have reached seven billion.

Personally, Sarah and I moved in together and I took part in Holly Lodge - A Celebration, Topsy And The Bard, Frankensteining, Lenin’s Lunch, Lenin In London and Monitor among others and FistKrammer finally saw the light of day.

These are a few of my favourite things from 2011:

Film
Attack The Block
Aliens invade a South London block of flats in Joe Cornish's directorial debut. The cast are great, the monsters are amazing and the slang in the dialogue gives a real sense of authenticity. The film is incredible. The trailer is here.

Paul
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s geeky science fiction comedy mix of buddy movie and road movie is a lot of fun. Pegg, Frost and Jason Bateman are great. The eponymous Paul is well animated and acted. The film expertly references several classic SF movies, its depiction of fans is well-considered and the running gag of Adam Shadowchild’s back catalogue is very funny. Here’s the trailer.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
Drawing heavily on the story of the fourth Apes movie, the seventh is very enjoyable, but feels less like a reboot or a prequel and more like a set up for a sequel. John Lithgow, Freida Pinto and the motion-capture cast are all great. The CGI is excellent and the Ape characters are often more realistically drawn than the humans. Here's the trailer.

TV
Eric And Ernie
It's refreshing to see a biopic that isn't an exposé, but rather a celebration and this story of the formative years of Morecambe and Wise is exactly that. Jim Moir and Victoria Wood are great as Mr and Mrs Bartholomew and the various Erics and Ernies are all wonderful. Stepping into Eric Morcambe's shoes was a tall order, but Daniel Rigby's performance is spot on and he succeeds brilliantly.

Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut & Day Of The Moon; The Doctor's Wife; The Almost People; A Good Man Goes To War; Night Terrors; The Girl Who Waited; The God Complex; Closing Time; The Wedding Of River Song; Death Is The Only Answer; The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe
Matt Smith's second season opens with the fantastic and intricate two-parter The Impossible Astronaut and Day Of The Moon which sets out the store for the year to come with the death of a central character, the Silence are a brilliant concept and Smith, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston and Mark Sheppard are great. Suranne Jones plays the TARDIS in human form brilliantly in the risky, but as it turns out absolutely perfect episode The Doctor's Wife, and Adrian Schiller and Elizabeth Berrington are wonderful. The Almost People is another approach to a multi-Doctor story, Rachel Cassidy is great and the cliffhanger is phenomenal. The season's first half ends as A Good Man Goes To War with a cast of thousands, an epic feel, revelations about River Song and the hilarious reveal of the title of the next episode. Smith and Darvill go from strength to strength as the season's second half rallies with the very creepy Night Terrors and the thought-provoking The Girl Who Waited which gets a great performance out of Karen Gillan. The TARDIS finds itself in The God Complex and fear itself is put under the microscope and Anara Karan is fantastic as Rita. Smith, James Corden and Stormageddon make for a great comedy trio in Closing Time. The season concludes and time stops and unravels as all of history happens simultaneously until The Wedding Of River Song in another epic tale that revisits the death that has haunted the Doctor all season, the Silence are terrifying and Frances Barber is great as Madame Kovarian (particularly in her last scene) and as the universe's oldest question threatens to be asked it spurs the show ever on. Death Is The Only Answer is a nice little runaround featuring Einstein and the Ood. The connotations of a title like The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe are obvious and this Christmas special definitely lived up to them, Claire Skinner, Maurice Cole and Holly Earl are fantastic and brought out the best in Smith.

United
David Tennant, Dougray Scott, Kate Ashfield, Ben Peel and Brogan West are fantastic in this dramatisation of the events of the plane crash that nearly spelled the end of Manchester United, but was arguably the making of it. This film succeeded where so many others have failed because it concentrated on characters and their passion for football rather than relying on a presumed passion in the audience. For ninety minutes United made me care about football in a way that nothing else ever has.

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace
Adam Curtis charts the causes of the credit crunch and subsequent financial meltdown from Ayn Rand's philosophy to Alan Greenspan's overconfidence in market forces and the revelation that people believed that a model based on the balance of nature would create self-regulating systems that could prevent boom and bust economies is a hugely flawed principle. I don't know if Curtis is right about any of it, but he makes it all sound so plausible and his choices of stock footage are inspired.

Psychoville
The second series of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith's mystery sitcom picks up where the first series cliffhanger left off and takes no prisoners. Ruthlessly bumping off established characters, introducing new ones and twisting and turning to keep you in suspense. The cast of thousands: Pemberton, Shearsmith, Dawn French, Daniel Kaluuya, David Cann, Mark Bonnar, John Landis, Daisy Haggard, Christopher Biggins, Jason Tompkins, Sheila Reid, Vilma Hollingbery and Jason Watkins are all fantastic, but invariably Imelda Staunton gets all the funniest lines. I really hope we will see more from Psychoville...

Torchwood: Miracle Day
Torchwood goes stateside and yet loses none of its Welshness. Miracle Day arrives and people stop dying. Job done? Well, no because the planet's resources are being used all the quicker and healthcare provision is becoming more and more stretched by the day. The problem increases in scale episode by episode. This is topical SF at its best, asking tough questions of healthcare just as the USA is talking of reform and Cameron is threatening to sell the NHS down the river. Eve Myles and Kai Owen are as great as ever, Bill Pullman, Lauren Ambrose and John de Lancie make fascinating character studies in the face of such overwhelming odds. The ten part story ends on a great cliffhanger that is hopefully not the end for Torchwood

QI
The H and I series saw the panel show look at subjects as varied as Hypnosis, History and Hallucinations & Hysteria and Imbroglio, Inland Revenue and Inequality. There is at least one question each week to which the answer is unknown (by humanity at large not just by the panel) and the Nobody Knows card is a new recurring element that allows panelists to score points anyway when played correctly. It rewards humility.

Alan Davies' Teenage Revolution
Alan Davies looks into the events of his youth that made him politically aware and reveals a fascinating journey through the protest movements of the eighties.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Sky; The Curse Of Clyde Lander; The Man Who Never Was
The fifth season was sadly curtailed by the death of the wonderful Elisabeth Sladen, but the three serials that were filmed are fantastic. The first story riffs on the series pilot as Sky arrives as a baby left on Sarah's doorstep and Sinead Michael is great as the grown up new arrival in a story that is all the more bittersweet because it was clearly meant to set a new format for future years. Daniel Anthony and Lily Loveless are fantastic in The Curse Of Clyde Langer which deals with homelessness incredibly well for the target audience. The return of Tommy Knight in the final story, The Man Who Never Was reunites the family and somehow provides a grace note to end on, everyone is given a decent slice of the action, features some very funny (and very risqué) dialogue, Luke and Sky's scenes are very touching, the Mr Serf puppetry scenes are a lot of fun, Peter Bowles and James Dreyfus are great, Anthony and Anjli Mohindra are wonderful together in all their scenes and the "Clani" storyline feels as if it is left moving in the right direction and the series ends with a beautiful montage, the wonder of Sarah's monologue and a caption that just hits the right note: "And the story goes on...forever."

Holy Flying Circus
An incredibly absurd, inventive and varied TV film about the furore surrounding the release of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian culminating in the famous interview with Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark. Darren Boyd, Charles Edwards, Rufus Jones and Steve Punt are all fantastic as their respective Pythons (and often their wives and mothers), while Mark Heap, Simon Greenall, Michael Cochrane, Roy Marsden, Tom Price and Stephen Fry are all wonderful.

Hattie
Ruth Jones is fantastic as national treasure Hattie Jacques in a biopic that concentrates on her home life as she moves her lover in under the same roof as her husband, John Le Mesurier. The sequences of filming for Carry On Cabby and Hattie's episode of This Is Your Life are beautifully realised. Marcia Warren is wonderful as Esma Cannon and her swearing is particularly impressive. Graham Fellows, Jeany Spark and Lewis Macleod are great.

Black Mirror: The National Anthem; 15 Million Merits; The Entire History Of You
Charlie Brooker's trilogy of terror is very dark, very stark and very funny. The National Anthem sees a Royal Princess kidnapped and a Prime Minister held to ransom by her abductor, not for terrorism or money, but for a very different cause. The demands for her release are simple, he must commit 'a sex act', on a pig, live on television. Rory Kinear and Lindsay Duncan are fantastic as a put upon PM and spinning home secretary in a witty script which cuts through the tension with phrases like "trending on Twitter" that would have meant nothing just five years ago. The episode wraps up with a neat ending that is also a very rewarding one. 15 Million Merits is a cross between Facebook, The X Factor and THX-1138 and sets its sights on the crass commodification of reality TV and opinions for sale with a great central performance from Daniel Kaluuya. The final episode The Entire History Of You is a cautionary tale in which implanted "grains" which record memories for review are as commonplace as iPods and Toby Kebbell and Jodie Whitaker are phenomenal as a couple driven apart by the instant access to the digitised truth the grains afford.

Radio
Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service
Eclectic musical choices, well chosen readings and interesting guest interviews, Jarvis Cocker has successfully made a very niche radio show into a very inclusive one. Endearingly assembled and often shambolic, but exactly the sort of show the BBC should be making.

The Bob Servant Emails
Brian Cox is wonderfully deadpan in these epistolary conversations with spam scam artists from across the globe.

Adam and Joe
The duo return for a criminally brief run of shows with all the usual features, plus a new Taffin obsession.

Doctor Who: Cradle Of The Snake; Hornet's Nest: The Stuff Of Nightmares; The Dead Shoes; The Circus Of Doom; A Sting In The Tale; Hive Of Horror
Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson and Sarah Sutton are reunited as the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa come to radio. Cradle Of The Snake pits the TARDIS crew against the snake-like Mara once more with great success and with each of them getting a decent slice of the action. Tom Baker reprises his role as the Fourth Doctor now paired with Richard Franklin's Mike Yates for Hornet's Nest, a season of five linked two-parters. Halfway between a full cast drama and a talking book, they are filled with Paul Magrs' florid prose and it is clear that the leading man is having a ball. The first story, The Stuff Of Nightmares, is aptly named, sets the scene for the rest and draws Yates into the action with an interesting device, albeit more as the Doctor's audience than as his companion. Despite the horrific imagery of The Dead Shoes is a romp that makes great use of the Doctor's housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey. Stephen Thorne is great as embittered dwarf Antonio in The Circus Of Doom which sees the Doctor stick his head into a lion's mouth and complicates the Hornet's story. A Sting In The Tale plays with cause and effect in a timey-wimey fashion in an adventure largely set with the TARDIS. The Doctor and Yates finally share an adventure as they enter the Hive Of Horror in a season finale that utilises the former Captain far better than any of his television appearances.

Torchwood: House Of The Dead
Set before the events of Miracle Day, seemingly an investigation of "the most haunted pub in Wales" this story cleverly plays with the audience expectation created by the previous two episodes and deepens into something very special indeed. John Barrowman, Gareth David Lloyd and Rosalind Ayres give lovely performances in a beautiful, macabre and bittersweet tale by James Goss.

Books
Mother, Brother, Lover by Jarvis Cocker
A book of selected lyrics from the man who has always included the "n.b. Please do not read the lyrics while listening to the recordings" on the sleeve notes to his every album. Cocker is quick to point out that lyrics are not poetry. He asserts that they are merely one part of a song and not necessarily a particularly important part at that. His introduction is practically begging you not to buy the book. Ignore him. The lyrics are, of course, fantastic featuring not just Pulp songs but also those written with Barry Adamson, Relaxed Muscle, The All-Seeing I, Marianne Faithfull and Charlotte Gainsbourg/Air. The notes at the end provide a great insight into their writing, performance and context. This book is beautiful. (n.b. Please do not read the lyrics while listening to the recordings.)

Music
Cornershop, featuring Bubbley Kaur: And The Double-O Groove Of
The band's seventh album features a new vocalist and lyricist in Kaur and with her they achieve a very different sound and an inspirational quality. The lyrics are largely in Punjabi and I haven't got a clue what she's singing about and it clearly doesn't matter because it sounds great. The musical accompaniment of Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres still blends from many and eclectic styles often drawing even more attention to the vocal.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Topknot', 'The 911 Curry', 'Natch', 'Double Decker Eyelashes', 'The Biro Pen', 'Supercomputed', 'Don't Shake It'

The Hoosiers: Bumpy Ride
Essentially a re-release of The Illusion Of Safety and a fine album it was, but now with the excellent 'Squeeze' on board as well.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Choices', 'Bumpy Ride', 'Who Said Anything (About Falling In Love)?', 'Unlikely Hero', 'Made To Measure', 'Squeeze'

Comics
Doctor Who: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night; Apotheosis; The Child Of Time; The Chains Of Olympus 1
Jonathan Morris' storyline for the Eleventh Doctor and Amy continues with Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, a one shot with a lovely story and beautiful artwork from David A Roach. Apotheosis has a fantastic first cliffhanger, nuns with guns are inherently funny and the strip sets up the 'season finale' very well. The Doctor and Amy tangle with Chiyoko, The Child Of Time, various threads from earlier strips are tied together in a very timey wimey fashion, a version Alan Turing that is the embodiment of the Turing Test itself is a great concept and Morris clearly had a lot of fun with the gun-toting Brontë sisters and Martin Geraghty‘s art is wonderful. Scott Gray’s script for the first part of The Chains Of Olympus finally introduces Rory to the strip proper and the Doctor's underwhelming meeting of the minds with Socrates is very funny.

Star Tigers: The World Of The War-King
Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer and his motley crew return with a Dalekless one-shot story written by Steve Moore thirty years ago and finally brought to life by Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon and Roger Langridge in fanzine par excellence Vworp Vworp!. The artwork and colours are fantastic, the violence well choreographed and the last page has not one, but two great shocks for the reader.

Games
Back To The Future: Get Tannen!; Citizen Brown; Double Visions; Outatime
I haven't completed this game, but what I have played so far has been great. The story gets more intriguing as the timeline gets more intricate and I look forward to seeing how it ends.

Online
Mid-Morning Matters With Alan Partridge: Episode 7, Episode 8, Episode 9, Episode 10, Episode 11, Episode 12
The cracks in Alan Partridge's regional radio career become all the more apparent as his relationship with Sidekick Simon deteriorates and then he becomes embarrassingly enamoured with Simon's replacement, Zoe. Alan's ideas for phone ins get worse every episode and his guests are brilliant as he interviews himself, a survival expert turned hypothetical RSPB anti-insurgency assassin and a fantastic section with an agony aunt.

Carpool
Robert Llewellyn's taxi chat show made its transition to TV, but I didn't really manage to catch it on the box, so I've remained a viewer online. Highlights include interviews with: Ross Noble, Stephen K. Amos, Jason Manford, Rufus Hound, Chris Addison, Arthur Smith, Rob Brydon, Tim Minchin, Craig Charles, Phill Jupitus, Doon Mackichan, Dr Sue Black, Jim Jeffries, Jason Byrne, Toby Williams, Richard Herring and Cory Doctorow.

This Guy Has My Macbook
A MacBook was stolen from an apartment in California and using an app called Hidden the owner could capture photos of the thief that lead to its subsequent recovery. Surely this is the best possible advert Hidden could have hope for.

Art
The Time Machine by George Shaw
I first became aware of George Shaw when he was nominated for this year's Turner Prize and I was immediately taken with his style and later I found his medium to be fascinating and very endearing. I don't know whether the painting below, The Time Machine, is from 2011 or not, but it's one that really appeals to me for obvious reasons. Shaw uses Humbrol modelling paint to create beautiful romanticised views of unlikely and often ignored subjects, which makes him feel like the Jarvis Cocker or David Hockney of painting. He was robbed.


Recommendations Welcome.

Next month: 1998

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I thought I'd take the opportunity to look back through my posts for These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things, and focus on the Christmassiest elements.

So firstly, it's Christmas 1999 and The Santa-Land Diaries (below) makes for a great eclectic festive read with David Sedaris turning his wry eye on the crass commercialisation of the holiday. On television Futurama features a Christmas episode that shows us that in the year 3000 Christmas has been replaced by Xmas and Santa Claus is now a robot to be feared in the very funny Xmas Story.


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After the success of their second series, the year 2000 saw the broadcast of The League Of Gentlemen's Christmas Special (below). Taking the form of A Christmas Carol with the misanthropic Bernice cast in the role of Scrooge hearing confession from three other characters with their stories shown in flashback. Their tales melt her heart just in time for her childhood horror to be realised. It's fantastic.


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Futurama returned to an Xmas theme in 2001 with A Tale Of Two Santas (below) as Bender takes over Santa's reign of terror and Coolio makes a great cameo as the voice of Kwanzaa-bot.


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No less than three Doctors celebrated Christmas in 2005, although technically none were actually in 2005 if you catch my drift. The Ninth Doctor encountered Charles Dickens in 1869 at Christmas in The Unquiet Dead as Doctor Who returned to our screens earlier in the year as a roaring success. Two of the effects of this renaissance in the fortunes of the good Doctor were more appearances on radio and a Christmas special on the big day itself. The Eighth Doctor heard The Chimes Of Midnight at Christmas in 1906 on radio and the first real adventure of the Tenth Doctor was broadcast on television as he foiled The Christmas Invasion a hundred years later (below).


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In 2006, the now-annual tradition of a Doctor Who Christmas special became a more regular occurance with as the Doctor and Donna, The Runaway Bride prevent the Racnoss from destroying Earth and Torchwood produced the beautiful Out Of Time which saw a plane from 1953 deposit three unwitting time travellers in the present day at Christmastime and followed their struggles to comprehend the modern day. While an adaptation of Terry Pratchett's twentieth Discworld novel, shows us what happens to Hogswatch, a Christmas-like festival, when Death is forced to take over from the eponymous Hogfather (below).


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Two years later, Doctor Who introduces The Next Doctor in an epic yet character driven Christmas special set in Victorian London with some wonderful central performances (below). Adam and Joe's Song Wars Volume One gave us Adam Buxton's 'Christmas Country Party Time', a raucous and rambunctious Christmas song that I'd welcome over many of the other Yuletide staples.


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David Tennant was everywhere during Christmas 2009, QI, Hamlet and naturally his Doctor Who swansong The End Of Time was event television of the highest order. Tennant, Bernard Cribbins, John Simm, Timothy Dalton, the Master race cliffhanger, four knocks, the epilogue: this two parter was brilliant (below). A Child's Christmases In Wales is a great little story about traditions within one family over the course of three Christmases.


- - - - -

Another year, another Doctor Who Christmas special. 2010's A Christmas Carol is set in a pseudo-Victorian future which unashamedly borrows its theme from Dickens, but shakes it up enough to make it feel completely innovative. Matt Smith's first Christmas special was the first episode that secured him as the Doctor for me. He is at his best when acting alongside children and his scenes with Laurence Belcher are a joy. Michael Gambon and Katharine Jenkins are great.


Here's to Christmas 2011...

Thursday, 22 December 2011

I Had To Watch Them Try And Get You Undressed

Here's another song from the Pulp gig that Sarah and I attended at Brixton Academy earlier this year.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Carruthers Camera #20

Five more Carruthers blog potos that I took:

Trash Talk was taken in Hammersmith on the way back from a rehearsal for The Tables Turned.

Free Cameras was a conspicuously empty glass case in the National Media Museum in Bradford.

Swannage is a photograph of a piece of artwork by Kim who works at Caledonian Road tube station in London. I met her once and she was very embarrassed that I liked her efforts.

Bin Bomb would have been taken during another rehearsal period for the New Factory Of The Eccentric Actor on Torriano Avenue, but I forget which play the rehearsals would have been for.

Greenbelt is one of the many derelict houses on Bowes Road, near Arnos Grove tube.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Rolled Up, Blown Out

“I sat down opposite a scruffy looking young man rolling a cigarette. He held his little carcinogenic work of art so gingerly and carefully as he sculpted its form, and more importantly, its contents. He licked his finger and dabbed at a loose seam, his task complete he looked around as he patted his pockets, searching for what turned out to be a lighter. He found it, shook it and poised to set fire to his creation, but nothing. The wind was blowing the well-used lighter out before it could deliver its spark, he tried a number of poses all to shelter it and all to no avail. Finally, in what looked like a desperate act of self immolation he hoisted his t-shirt up over his face with both cigarette and lighter together underneath: success!”

This is another set of six sentences that I posted on Six Sentences.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Uncertainty

At the beginning of time there was nothing. Suddenly a bang filled the silence, but there was no one to hear it. In an instant, nothing was replaced with everything. Everything grew exponentially to a size so far beyond man's understanding of infinity that it seemed impossible to comprehend. The nothingness was rudely consigned to a history no one could possibly remember. As he stared out of his kitchen window, Gary took solace from all of this as he failed to open a carton of milk.


I recently posted this on Six Sentences, which asks people what they can say in six sentences.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A to Z Blogging Challenge

Next April I am going to take part in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. "Next April?!" I hear you cry. "Then why are you banging on about it now?"

Well, Arlee Bird has asked those taking part to promote the challenge well in advance of the event itself and so here is my effort. I've been aware of the challenge for a while but it has usually only occurred to me to write something about halfway through April. So I'm happy to have the early reminders I've seen on other sites and hopefully this will work in a similar way for someone else.


The A to Z Blogging Challenge invites people to post something pretty much every day of April:

26 days
26 posts
26 letters of the alphabet.

One post beginning with each letter. Since I started writing this I've been aiming for a post every three days or so and this will be the most I've posted for a particular month. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Dave Of The Dead

I was wondering if I'd regret posting a photo of my screaming boat race, but it's already been worth it because Jeremy of iZombie fame has seized the opportunity to induct me into his army of the undead.


More Zombies here.

Thanks Jeremy.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Face(s) Of Evil

I've mentioned Big Finish on here before. They are a company for whom I have a lot of affection. I've included several of their efforts when writing These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things and failed to interest them with a proposal for a script and a short story that I wrote.

So when they requested that people send in photographs of screaming faces for the cover of a sequel to a Doctor Who spinoff called Graceless, I duly obliged. I recently discovered that my fizzog is one of those pictured below:


Can you see me?

If it helps, the original photo is here:


Yep.

Graceless II is available here.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

"Tonight I'm Gonna Party Like It's 1999...Again"

So says Philip J. Fry in Hell Is Other Robots (see below) referencing Prince's 1982 song '1999'.

1999 was the year that the first elections of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly took place, the Earth was circumnavigated in a hot air balloon for the first time, the Columbine High School massacre took place, Slobodan Milošević was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo and the world worried unduly about the wrath of the Y2K bug.

I spent 1998 studying for my A-Levels, appearing in Kiss Me Kate and turning eighteen.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1999:

Film
Magnolia
On a random day, a tangled web of intertwined lives are shaped and reshaped by coincidence. P. T. Anderson's masterpiece features fantastic performances across the board and not one, but two very surprising shifts in tone. Here's the trailer.



Being John Malkovich
Andy Kaufman's continually surprising script is brimming with ideas: the 7½ floor, Malkovich inside Malkovich, the resurgence of puppetry, the chase through Malkovich’s subconscious. The film takes twists and turns and becomes the most extraordinary love story ever told. Puppetry, comedy, metaphysics and existential ennui. John Cusack, Catherine Keener, Cameron Diaz and John Horatio Malkovich himself are wonderful, while everything Orson Bean does is absolutely sublime. Here's the trailer.

Sweet And Lowdown
Sean Penn stars in Woody Allen's biopic of the world's second best jazz guitarist (after some gypsy in Europe), the arrogant, childish and kleptomaniac Emmet Ray. Samantha Morton steals the show in every scene she has and the descent of the crescent moon is fantastic. Here's the trailer.


Star Trek: Insurrection
The ninth Star Trek film concerns "the forced relocation of a small group of people to satisfy the demands of a large one" and that larger group's quest for a fountain of youth. It feels like exactly the sort of Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry would have approved of. As with the other Next Generation films, Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner get the lion's share of the action with the other characters getting only moments such as Michael Dorn's Worf reluctantly singing Gilbert & Sullivan, LeVar Burton's Geordi seeing a sunrise with his own eyes for the first time, romance between Riker and Troi being rekindled and F. Murray Abraham makes a wonderfully chilling villain as Ru'afo. Here's the trailer.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Mike Myers is hilarious in his trio of roles in this spy spoof sequel which exploits time travel, "how much England looks in no way like Southern California" and running gags from the first film with very funny results. Mindy Sterling, Seth Green and Rob Lowe are all wonderful and Heather Graham is a Bondgirl par excellence. Here's a fantastic trailer.

The Straight Story
Based on the true story of Alvin Straight's six week journey across rural USA on a lawnmower. This beautiful off road movie explores themes of mortality and family and Richard Farnsworth is fantastic as Straight. Here's the trailer.




Galaxy Quest
SF fandom is a great concept for a comedy and Galaxy Quest doesn't disappoint. The cast are uniformly impressive. Here's the trailer.




Go
Doug Limon's tangled web of a weekend has a great cast, a Tarantino-esque sscript and style and forms a black comedy triptych as its plot threads interweave. Here's the trailer.





TV
Spaced: Beginnings; Gatherings; Art; Battles; Chaos; Epiphanies; Ends
The first episode, Beginnings, sets up the dynamic of this slick and stylish flatsharing sitcom perfectly. Daisy meets Tim and they move into a flat at Marsha's house masquerading as a Professional Couple Only, but it's the rapid editing, pop culture references, great music and surreal elements that make this the most inventive sitcom of the twenty-first century a year early. The introductions of Marsha, Brian and the getting to know you sequence for Tim and Daisy are brilliant. In order to avoid work Daisy throws a party in Gatherings which gives Mike and Twist proper introductions and features fake sex noises, Daisy singing 'Hot dog jumping from almond cookies' and Brian to the rescue. Brian takes Daisy and Tim to see Vulva's Art and highlights include zombies, Cassandra's phone number and "It's not finished. It’s finished." Brian's literal tribute to the self reflexivity of Rembrandt, the colourful tale of Pom Pom, Paul Putner, Mike's 'death' and Peter Serafinowicz is great as Tim Battles Duane Benzie while paintballing. Between Gramsci's politics and Colin's kidnap, Chaos ensues and the rescue attempt is great and Twist running comes into her own with the DK urban warfare range and "Is Jabba the princess?" Michael Smiley is wonderful as Tyres in Epiphanies and his mood swings are inspired as are the Scrabble fight, the clubbing scenes, the glorious remix of The A-Team theme tune and Tyres' exit. The first series Ends beautifully with Mike returning to the TA, Brian and Twist on a successful date and Tim realising life with Daisy is better than it was with his ex. Simon Pegg, Jessica Stephenson, Mark Heap, Nick Frost, Julia Deakin and Aida the Dog are magnificent throughout. It should be required viewing.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Gingerbread; Helpless; The Zeppo; Bad Girls & Consequences; Doppelgangland; Enemies; Choices; The Prom; Graduation Day; Earshot; The Freshman; Living Conditions; The Harsh Light Of Day; Fear, Itself; Beer Bad; Wild At Heart; The Initiative; Pangs; Something Blue; Hush
The slayer's third season (and senior year at high school) continues with another great metaphor episode, Gingerbread is about mass hysteria, which proves that paranoia is often far more dangerous than the problem at hand. As usual it's a terrifying concept that is dealt with intelligently and the episode is chock full of funny like Willow's "A doodle, I do doodle. You too, you do doodle too", Cordelia's "wake up in a coma" and Oz's "We're here to save you" lines. Buffy turns eighteen and is made Helpless in an episode about how disempowering reaching adulthood and realising that your parents are flawed can be with great opening and ending scenes. After the briefest (and therefore probably the funniest) Previously On… sequence, Cordelia declares Xander The Zeppo in the first episode of Buffy that redefines what the show can do, the inversion of the A and B stories reduces the apocalypse to the background, raises Xander's quiet night out to epic status and Nicholas Brendon gives a fantastic performance in Buffy's funniest episode. Two-parter Bad Girls & Consequences introduces Wesley, gives Mr Trick a great exit line and is the turning point for Faith. Buffy turns to another SF staple, the 'Evil Twin', with the return of Vamp Willow in Doppelgangland and once again deals with it better than anybody else. Naturally Alyson Hannigan is fantastic in both roles and also as both characters impersonating the other, the hugging scene and Percy's Roosevelt papers are hilarious. Buffy capitalises on its own mythology in Enemies and sets up the showdown between the Slayers in the season finale. Hannigan gives great hostage in Choices and Oz's silent decision making is great. Angel's dream and Jonathan's Class Protector speech are wonderful as Buffy saves The Prom. The Class of '99 goes to war on its Graduation Day in an amazing two-part season finale which has great character moments for everyone, the Mayor is probably TV's most enjoyable villain, the students disrobing is triumphant (though not for the reasons you might expect), Oz's final line shamelessly spelling out the show's metaphor is a great touch. Scheduled to be broadcast the same week as the Columbine High School shootings, Earshot was understandably delayed, but it was worth the wait. Buffy's temporary telepathy gives great insights, especially into the inner thoughts of Cordelia and Oz. Veering from comedy to tragedy and back again with incredible skill. Probably the best standalone episode in the entire run of the series.
After high school comes college and The Freshman shows Buffy not out of her depth, but unsure of it and is a great 'mission statement' episode. An episode about irritation is not an easy thing to pull off, illustrating annoyance without just being annoying is tough and yet some how Living Conditions manages it. The Harsh Light Of Day sees the welcome return of James Marsters, Emma Caulfield and Mercedes McNab, and proves you can learn more in college than you realise. Fear, Itself is a classic, as magic causes the Scooby Gang's fears to manifest it demonstrates the strength of the ensemble, despite spending most of the episode separated. Beer Bad replaces the usual intelligent dialogue with caveman grunting and the result is a bad episode of Buffy, but what it shows is that a bad episode of Buffy is still much, much better than a good episode of a great many other shows. After a great cameo from Spike, Wild At Heart features great performances from Hannigan and Seth Green as Willow and Oz's relationship is tested and the latter leaves Sunnydale. He will be missed. The introduction of The Initiative in The Initiative is really impressive, but it's Spike's promotion to the regular cast and his scene with Willow that make this episode great. Buffy attempts to fend off a vengeful spirit whilst preoccupied with cooking the perfect thanksgiving dinner in Pangs unaware of Angel's return. Protecting her from the wings he interacts with pretty much everyone except Buffy and the subsequent awkward dinner conversation is great. Something Blue is just fun. The almost-silent Hush is a phenomenal piece of television. Watch it.

Angel: City Of…; Lonely Hearts; In The Dark; I Fall To Pieces; Rm W/a Vu; Sense & Sensitivity; The Bachelor Party; I Will Remember You; Hero; Parting Gifts
Angel forges out on his own, but only gets as far as Los Angeles. The pilot City Of… sets up our hero as an atoning dark knight with equivalent Batcave and Batmobile, and with Cordelia as his secretary and Doyle as a messenger keeping his destiny on track. The episode sets up Tina as a damsel for Angel to save and Russell Winters as Angel's big bad and then neither of these things comes off quite as we expect. Initially a monster-of-the-week detective show the series seeks to establish its own identity and Lonely Hearts brand of almost sexually transmitted possession is definitely a step in that direction. Conversely it's the link s to the series we know and love that make In The Dark such a success as Spike and Oz crossover from Buffy. I Fall To Pieces is Angel at its creepiest. Rm W/A Vu is a great Cordy episode with a B-story that gives us a glimpse into Doyle's life and introduces Phantom Dennis. Sense & Sensitivity is good example of an idea that is allowed to work better here than it might in a lesser TV show, rather than simply being oversensitive there is far more scope in having the affected characters unable to control their emotions and reveal more about themselves. It's also another opportunity for Wolfram & Hart to emerge from the shadows. We learn a little more about Doyle in The Bachelor Party and Carlos Jacott puts in another great performance. When Buffy arrives in LA the ante is upped and the resulting I Will Remember You is the best love story that never happened. Hero is fantastic, a great send off for Doyle and all the more poignant after Glenn Quinn's death. Setting the pattern for the next couple of years Parting Gifts gives Cordelia the link to The Powers That Be and brings Alexis Denisof's Wesley back into the fold.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Prodigal Daughter; The Emperor's New Cloak; Field Of Fire; Chimera; Badda-Bing Badda-Bang; Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges; Penumbra; ‘Til Death Do Us Part; Strange Bedfellows; The Changing Face Of Evil; When It Rains; Tacking Into The Wind; Extreme Measures; The Dogs Of War; What You Leave Behind
The final season continues with an interesting twist on the semi-annual 'O'Brien must suffer' episode with the return of the Prodigal Daughter as Ezri investigates the Chief's disappearance on her homeworld. Another semi-annual tradition are the episodes set in the Mirror Universe, and The Emperor's New Cloak is a lot of fun with Quark and Rom’s theft of the cloaked cloaking device, Rom’s attempts to understand the differences between the alternate realities and realisations of the Mirror versions of Ezri, Brunt and Leeta are great. Field Of Fire is a forensics-style whodunnit in the vein of CSI and another great use of Ezri. Chimera presents Odo with Laas, another Changeling who isn't part of the Dominion and J.G. Hertzler plays his feeling of superiority over the 'monoforms' wonderfully, Quark gets a great speech about genetics and Nana Visitor deserves a special mention for the palpable sense of guilt that she gives Kira about the possibility that their relationship is holding Odo back. Badda-Bing Badda-Bang isn't just DS9's version of a heist movie, it's DS9's version of the original Ocean's Eleven, it's mostly frivolous, but great fun. William Sadler makes a welcome return as Sloan in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, a well told espionage story which makes Section 31 seem even more complex. Setting up the next eight episodes of the epic end of the series, Penumbra is the calm before the storm and shows that the show is going to go all out as Ezri rescues Worf and they are captured by the Breen, Sisko proposes to Kasidy, but is subsequently told by the Prophets not to marry her and the sight of a Dukat surgically altered to appear Bajoran is very shocking. In spite of the Prophet's warning Sisko and Kasidy are joined in marriage 'Til Death Do Us Part, the political wrangling continues as the Breen and the Dominion form an alliance and Ezri and Worf are handed over as gifts, but topping Dukat as a Bajoran, is Kai Winn unwittingly becoming romantically involved with him. Winn and Dukat make Strange Bedfellows as the Pah Wraiths send her a vision and she struggles with her faith and as the Cardassians begin to be victims of the Dominion's plans for the war, Damar is increasingly uncomfortable as puppet leader. Louise Fletcher and Casey Biggs are phenomenal as their characters each undergo an about face. The Changing Face Of Evil sees both these characters finally switch allegiances as Winn turns to the dark side, in scenes which another great performance from James Otis as Solbor, and Damar's resistance turns the Cardassians against the Dominion, shown as a broadcast witnessed by all the major players at the same time. The space battle at Chintoka is great and the destruction of the USS Defiant is a hell of a blow. When It Rains… it pours., this episode is packed with developments: Odo, Garak and a now Starfleet Kira aid Damar's resistance, Gowron takes over the Klingon deployment seeking glory, Bashir and O'Brien discover Starfleet deliberately infected Odo with the morphogenic virus and Dukat is blinded and shunned by Winn. Tacking Into The Wind keeps all the balls in the air and the "something has to be done" scene between Sisko and Worf, Garak lurking in the shadows, the scene between Kira, Garak and Damar after the latter's family has been killed, Ezri's appraisal of the state of the Klingon Empire, O'Brien and Bashir's 'devious' scheming, Gowron's death, the Mexican standoff aboard the stolen Jem'Hadar ship are all excellent. Bashir and O'Brien take Extreme Measures to find Odo's cure and Sloan is determined not to make it easy for them in the most SF episode of the last nine, A Tale Of Two Cities being the key to realising they've been duped is a lovely device and it's great to see these two friends get one last adventure together before all hell breaks loose. The new USS Defiant arrives at DS9, Odo is cured of the virus killing his people, Damar becomes the champion of the people of Cardassia, the Emissary's wife discovers she is pregnant, The Dominion retreats and the Alpha Quadrant alliance decides to go on the offensive and press home the attack in The Dogs Of War, but the big picture of the Dominion War has largely left Quark on the sidelines and so the penultimate episode redresses the balance somewhat and is a wonderful last hurrah for the Ferengi: Armin Shimerman, Max Grodénchik, Wallace Shawn, Chase Masterson, Cecily Adams and Jeffrey Combs (in both his roles) are all as great as ever. The finale, What You Leave Behind, is astoundingly good: Ezri's reveal in the first scene, O'Brien resisting telling Bashir about his post-war plans, Broca's uselessness, the Female Changeling's dismissive reaction to Weyoun's offer to give his life for her own, Bashir and Garak's final scene together, Worf's weird repetition of "Minsk", Vic's farewell song, Sisko's toast, Dukat getting everything he wanted, Winn's reaction to the disappearance of the Kosst Amojan, Sisko's ascendance, Odo and Quark's lack of goodbyes, the last line (and the fact that it's Quark that gets to say it), the beautiful last shot are all amazing. It's an achievement that the end of the Dominion war doesn't completely dominate this episode and the tying up of loose ends and the separation of O'Brien from Bashir, Kira from Odo and Sisko from Jake and Kasidy leaves the viewer with a satisfactory sense of closure without being sentimental. Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, de Boer, Michael Dorn, Cirroc Lofton, Colm Meaney, Shimerman, Alexander Siddig, Visitor, Marc Alaimo, Biggs, James Darren, Fletcher, Hertzler, Salome Jens, Penny Johnson, Juliana McCarthy and Andrew Robinson are all excellent throughout. So ends the best of the Star Trek series and one of the best television series ever made.

Star Trek: Voyager: Latent Image; Bride Of Chaotica!; Gravity; Dark Frontier; Think Tank; Someone To Watch Over Me; 11:59; Relativity; Equinox; Survival Instinct; Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy; Riddles; Dragon's Teeth; The Voyager Conspiracy; Pathfinder
From memory loss to conspiracy via a Sophie's Choice dilemma, Latent Image is great and Robert Picardo is fantastic as the Doctor attempts to discover what happened to him and then to resolve it with his ethics. Bride Of Chaotica! is incredibly camp, but also great fun. Gravity is excellent and Tim Russ and Lori Petty are fantastic together. TV movie Dark Frontier is epic, brings out the best in Kate Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan and Susannah Thompson and the flashbacks to Annika’s childhood are great. Jason Alexander is suitably eerie as part of the Think Tank, an episode that is incredibly simple and all the better for it. Someone To Watch Over Me is a delightful romantic comedy with an very sad ending. The millennial flashback scenes of 11:59 are great and the Y2K bug prediction is bold (and as it turned out largely accurate). Voyager's encounters with the USS Relativity revisits earlier episodes and complicates them with a fascinating temporal paradox. Voyager discovers the USS Equinox, another Starfleet ship in the Delta Quadrant which has travelled the same path, but abandoned its ethics along the way. It vindicates Janeway in a season that saw her questioning the decision that marooned her crew.
The second part sees the two Captains switch positions as Janeway tries to get revenge by any means possible and Ransom has a change of heart and repents, but once again it's Picardo and Ryan that rescue the story. The sixth season continues with Survival Instinct, which forces Seven of Nine to choose quality or quantity of life for three of her peers. Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy is great fun and the Doctor's daydreams are all wonderful, especially his operatic diagnosis of Tuvok's medical condition and Seven as his muse. Ethan Phillips and Tim Russ are wonderful in Riddles, a great Neelix and Tuvok episode. Dragon's Teeth features wonderful CGI effects and some great scenes for Neelix. A little learning is dangerous thing and an overabundance of information causes Seven to theorise The Voyager Conspiracy and sets Janeway and Chakotay at loggerheads, it's a little late in the day to convince but compelling nonetheless. Dwight Schultz is as wonderful as ever in Pathfinder and his scenes aboard the holographic USS Voyager are particularly poignant and this episode manages to bring the real one a step closer to home with being cloyingly sentimental.

Red Dwarf: Back In The Red; Cassandra
Series VIII begins with epic three-parter Back In The Red which sees the Starbuggers return to the small rouge one to find it bigger than ever before and amazingly with its long dead crew resurrected. After seven series of being the last man alive, Lister is suddenly back at the bottom of the pile. It's great to see him reunited with Rimmer, how Cat and Kryten react to their new situation and Mac MacDonald makes a welcome return as Captain Hollister. Cassandra is an intricate locked box of an episode reminiscent of Dwarf circa Series V, with some nice jokes in it and it's nice to see each of the characters reactions to learning their future.

The League Of Gentlemen: Welcome To Royston Vasey; The Road To Royston Vasey; Nightmare In Royston Vasey; The Beast Of Royston Vasey; Love Comes To Royston Vasey; Escape From Royston Vasey
Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith prove themselves to be three of the country’s best actors as their sketch show meets sitcom comes to television. The dark comedy world of Royston Vasey is brilliantly brought to life in Welcome To Royston Vasey: from its fantastic opening joke with the wonderful Frances Cox, Benjamin visiting the Dentons, Tubbs and Edward at the Local Shop, Barbara, Chinnery, Pauline and her jobseekers, Geoff, Mike and Brian telling "Mau Mau", the characters are more than mere grotesques but have a real depth to them, the visual gags are brilliant and the horror movie references are very rewarding. The first series is made up of groups of sketches which for the most part only have the town in common, but with the construction of The Road To Royston Vasey as an overarching storyline, the introduction of the "special stuff", Henry and Ally's video selection and Pop's son(s). Aqua vita, "there is a Swansea", the roundabout zoo, Bernice's sermon and egregious are among the many highlights of Nightmare In Royston Vasey. The series takes on an epic quality with the discovery of The Beast Of Royston Vasey and turns darker still with Farmer Tinsel's scarecrow, Charlie and Stella's date and Legz Akimbo Theatre Company gives Theatre-In-Education a bad name with its unfortunately accurate portrayal. Gatiss is excellent during his monologue as the Stump Hole Caverns tour guide while Geoff uses his speech as Mike's best man to settle old scores and Barbara misunderstands Benjmin’s advances as Love Comes To Royston Vasey. Things culminate in Pauline's dismissal, Geoff finally firing his gun, the return of Tubbs and Edward's son David, the reveal of the contents of the towns postboxes, Barbara's operation and Benjamin makes another attempt to Escape From Royston Vasey.

Futurama: Space Pilot 3000; The Series Has Landed; I, Roommate; Love's Labors Lost In Space; Fear Of A Bot Planet; A Fishful Of Dollars; My Three Suns; A Big Piece Of Garbage; Hell Is Other Robots; A Flight To Remember; Mars University; When Aliens Attack; Fry And The Slurm Factory; I Second That Emotion; Brannigan, Begin Again; A Head In The Polls; Xmas Story
Matt Groening and David X. Cohen's vision of the future gets a solid start with Space Pilot 3000. The characters of Fry, Leela, Bender and Farnsworth arrive fully formed and the trademark cruel humour is already in place. Amy joins the Planet Express crew as they make a delivery to the moon in the both touching and funny The Series Has Landed. I, Roommate is I, Robot meets The Odd Couple and the flathunting montage is great. Introducing Zapp Brannigan, Kif and Nibbler, Love's Labors Lost In Space, is a step into a more adult arena and the Vergon VI fauna are great. The demonisation of humans in Fear Of A Bot Planet is great and best summed up in the It Came From Planet Earth B-Movie line featured within: "Relax Wendy, humans will never come to our defence less little town. It's perfectly safe to let our guard down, even for a second." As extinction tales go, A Fishful Of Dollars is funnier than it has any right to be. The episode introduces Mom and her assumption of Fry's plan for the last tin of anchovies is as terrifying, as the last scene is funny. My Three Suns is a more sedate, but no less brilliant episode featuring a unisex robe. The Planet Express crew go up against A Big Piece Of Garbage that threatens Earth in an episode which highlights the show's interesting take on environmental issues. Hell Is Other Robots compares religion with addiction and hilarity ensues. The Robot Devil is a great character and the episode features the first of many wonderful original songs.
A Flight To Remember sees Leela and Amy both pretending to be dating Fry aboard the starship Titanic, what could possibly go wrong? The episode's highlight has to be Hermes facing up to his past as a limboer. Mars University is Animal House with an actual animal as Guenter the monkey with the Electronium Hat bests Fry who enrols in college to become a college dropout. When Aliens Attack is wonderful, the Monument Beach scene, the Single Female Lawyer scenes and the reassuring-everything-back-to-normal ending. Fry And The Slurm Factory is reassuringly disgusting. Bender is forced to feel Leela's emotions in I Second That Emotion which the episode exploits brilliantly, whilst introducing the sewer mutants very successfully. Brannigan, Begin Again is wonderful: the Neutral planet, "I'm going to allow this", Fry's "Woooooh", the Midnight Cowboy parody, Bender looking back and laughing. All of it. As a treatise on political apathy A Head In The Polls is very funny, Billy West's Nixon is a triumph and its The Scary Door opening is excellent. Introducing Robot Santa and Tinny Tim, Xmas Story gives us a terrifying vision of the Christmases of the future and features some great yuletide gags.

Farscape: Premiere, Thank God It's Friday, Again; I, ET; DNA Mad Scientist; Jeremiah Crichton; A Human Reaction
If Firefly's Mal Reynolds is Han Solo done right, then Farscape's universe is the Mos Eisley cantina writ large. For obvious reasons most of the first season concerns Ben Browder's fish out of water Crichton, but Virginia Hey's performance as Zhaan deserves a special mention.

Doctor Who And The Curse Of Fatal Death
Featuring no less than five Doctors and a fantastic performance from Jonathan Pryce as the Master, Steven Moffat's Comic Relief spoof is a loving tribute that pokes fun in all the right places.

Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends: Swingers; Wrestling
Wife swapping is your future, and Louis investigates the world of Swingers, finds it difficult to fit in and exposes cracks in a relationship. Louis tries his hand at professional Wrestling and discovers that while it isn't fake, it is predetermined and the WCW's Sarge trains him hard enough to prove the distinction. Rowdy Roddy Piper, Pistol Pez Whatley and the AIWF come out of it very well.

Journeys Into The Outside With Jarvis Cocker
An excellent three part series following the Pulp frontman around fascinating artwork created by people with no formal training. The documentaries take in Les Rochers Sculptés, La Maison de la vaiselle cassée, Jardin du Coquillage and Ferdinand Cheval's Palais Idéal in France, the Coral Castle, Miracle Cross Garden, Beer Can House, Bottle Village and Watts Towers in the USA, Las Pozas in Mexico, the Tower of the Apocalypse in Belgium and the Chandigarh Rock Garden in India. Cocker's insights are great and his French is very impressive.

Now And Again
The first ten episodes of this excellent and criminally unavailable TV show were broadcast this year. Eric Close, Dennis Haysbert, Margaret Colin and Gerrit Graham are fantastic in the story of Michael Wiseman, a man whose brain is transplanted after his death into the perfect genetically engineered body and resurrected as a tool for espionage. Wiseman is given a new life and trained to be a spy, but is unable to leave his old life, wife and daughter behind. The show was a great mix of action and comedy

The Flint Street Nativity
A class of schoolchildren attempt to tell the story of the birth of Jesus as they understand it. Tim Firth's Christmas tale sees the children played by a great cast of adults on an oversize set. The misunderstandings and logical leaps of the children, both about the nativity story and life itself, are very, very funny and sometimes heartbreaking.

Music
Supergrass: Supergrass
The band's third (and eponymous) album, also dubbed the X-Ray album, is fantastic from start to finish and consistent throughout. Musically it is mature and assured, but the trio have lost none of their sense of fun.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Moving'; 'Your Love'; 'What Went Wrong (In Your Head)'; 'Beautiful People'; 'Shotover Hill'; 'Eon'; 'Jesus Came From Outta Space'; 'Mary'; 'Born Again'; 'Mama & Papa'

The All Seeing I: Pickled Eggs & Sherbert
This electronic album which feels like it came from an astral conjunction of a Sheffield supergroup. Jarvis Cocker's lyrics are fantastic and the vocals by Tony Christie, Phil Oakey and Stephen Jones from Babybird are all great.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Walk Like A Panther', '1st Man In Space', 'Stars On Sunday', 'I Walk', 'Happy Birthday Nicola', 'Plastic Diamond'

Blur: 13
The band's sixth album moves further away from their Britpop roots with a baker's dozen of tracks largely about love and loss that stretch them musically.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Tender', 'Coffee & TV', '1992', 'B.L.U.R.E.M.I.', 'Trailerpark', 'No Distance Left To Run', 'Optigan 1'

Ultrasound: Everything Picture
The sole double album release from Ultrasound is an epic and sprawling beast of an album with layers and layers of sound. Every song feels like a big hitter, the anthemic 'Stay Young' builds into what I'm sure would have a crowd pleaser given half a chance, while songs like 'Cross My Heart', 'Floodlit World' and 'My Impossible Dream' show the enormous musical ability of band. The unassuming 'Sentimental Song' is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard and the title track is a 21 minute symphony that revisits the first ten songs expertly and is at turns triumphant and discordant and then a hidden track like a delightful lullaby. This is a bittersweet beauty of a record as sadly their inability to remain in the 'Same Band' denied us a follow up.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Cross My Heart'; 'Same Band'; 'Stay Young'; 'Suckle'; 'Fame Thing'; 'Aire & Calder'; 'Sentimental Song'; 'Floodlit World'; 'My Impossible Dream'; 'Everything Picture'

Gomez: Liquid Skin
The second album is another slice of hazy pseudo-Americana in the same vein as the first, but with a more refined production this time around.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Revolutionary Kind'; 'Bring It On'; 'Blue Moon Rising'; 'We Haven't Turned Around', 'Rhythm And Blues Alibi'

Kula Shaker: Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts
The band’s second album is a grand soundscape heavy on the psychedelia and eastern mysticism, but it's the rockier tracks that impress the most.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Mystical Machine Gun'; 'Shower Your Love'; '108 Battles (Of The Mind)'; 'Sound Of Drums'

Mr Scruff: Keep It Unreal
Breakbeat programmer Mr Scruff has excelled himself with this diverse collection of tracks.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Spandex Man'; 'Get A Move On'; 'Midnight Feast'; 'Shanty Town'; 'Blackfoot Roll'; 'Fish'


Books
The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
One of the themes of the Discworld series is the conflict between tradition and progress and the twenty-fourth novel pulls in both directions as the Ankh Morpork City Watch expands and modernises. Vimes briefly becomes the city's ambassador to Überwald, the disc's allegory for Transylvania, where he investigates the theft of the Dwarf's Scone of Stone and becomes embroiled in Vampiric intrigue. A crime thriller set against a fantasy backdrop that is as funny as it is scary. References veer from Dracula to the plays of Chekhov and back via the Diet of Worms and The Italian Job.

The Science Of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Ian Cohen & Jack Stewart
Alternating between a Discworld story featuring the creation of a universe of 'Roundworlds' by the wizards of the Unseen University and scientific explanations of the creation our universe, the Earth and the beginnings of life. This book is a great literary contribution to popular science and the two halves compliment each other and made up for shortcomings in my own knowledge of science.

The Boy Who Kicked Pigs by Tom Baker
This story of a misnthropic boy who takes a perverse pleasure from the kicking of pigs is an escalating morality tale with inevitable (and horrific) comeuppance. The novel is wonderfully macabre and the accompanying illustrations by David Roberts are just as unsettling.


Santa Land Diaries by David Sedaris
These six short Christmas stories are hilarious, from the titular tale of the trials and tribulations of being one of Santa's helper elves in a department store to 'Season's Greetings To Our Friends And Family!!!' is a great parody of the traditional American holiday newsletter with a touch too much honesty in it.


Comics
Doctor Who: The Fallen; Unnatural Born Killers; The Road To Hell; TV Action!
The Eighth Doctor is reunited with Grace Holloway in The Fallen a story that riffs extensively on Paul McGann's TV movie and the fantastic final panel makes it obvious to the reader that this is the beginning of another epic story. Adrian Salmon's simple storyline and stark artwork for the Doctorless strip Unnatural Born Killers reintroduces Kroton the Cyberman with a soul, as he takes on a pack of Sontarans and loses his home. The Road To Hell is paved with good intentions as the Doctor and Izzy arrive in 17th Century Japan during an isolationist period, Lady Asami being driven mad by images of Japan's future from Izzy's mind is great and the concept of forcing immortality on a Samurai who try as he might cannot give his life and therefore his continued existence dishonours him is fantastic. The TARDIS lands at BBC Television Centre in TV Action! which is a nice little comedy strip that shows a snapshot of the BBC's output in 1979 and features a guest appearance from Tom Baker of all people.

Recommendations welcome.