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:

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.

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.

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.

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'

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.

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.

Monday, 28 November 2011


This is a Carruthers sketch that we filmed in 2008 and has been languishing on a hard drive somewhere, until now...

Michael Everhard plays the eponymous store detective, Gi Lewis wrote the script and also plays the shoplifter, while I'm playing FistKrammer's boss.

Once again it was filmed by Dan the Cameraman with sound by Mark Skilton and directed by Jake Cardew. Thanks again to Objective Productions.

Andy Cartwright has done sterling work getting hold of the footage and Michael has finished the edit.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Today is the 48th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who.

A while ago and with too much time on my hands I came up with a game that uses the titles of Doctor Who stories. I called it Portmantwho, which is probably the cleverest thing about it.

The idea is to link multiple (preferably unconnected) stories of Doctor Who and its spinoffs by name alone, with the end of one name being the beginning of the next. Then come up with a story synopsis of your newly created mongrel moniker. It's more difficult to explain than it is to play.

Here are some examples:

William Hartnell and Tom Baker star in this tale inspired by The Manchurian Candidate set near Manchuria. The Master frames one or more of the Doctors for the murder of Kublai Khan in…

The Deadly Assassin At Peking

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Guerrillas from the future come back to 2011 to prevent a future dominated by the Daleks by accidentally creating it in the past. You heard me. Captain Jack Harkness returns to Earth and his arm hurts. The Daleks scream "EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!", but no one dies in…

Miracle Day Of The Daleks

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The TARDIS visits the planets Florana, Metebelis III and Barcelona while the Doctor and his companions aren't looking, only to return just in time to pick them up at the end of their story in…

A Holiday For The Doctor's Wife

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Luke Smith and Clyde Langer are recruited to fight in a war by the Martians, meanwhile the Second Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith investigate their disappearance in…

The Ice Warriors Of Kudlak

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Fleeing the Movellan war the Daleks use a time corridor to New York City, Rodney Bewes can't stand the confusion in his mind, while Tegan, Turlough and Tallulah (three l's and an h) run up and sewer tunnels and it takes the combined efforts of the Fifth and Tenth Doctors to get them off the planet in…

Resurrection Of The Daleks In Manhattan

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The apocalypse ends with a tautology in…

The End Of The World's End

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A whistle blowing documentary showing the true story of the Sixth and Seventh Doctors run-ins with the enigmatic Rani starring Kate O’Mara as The Rani as Melanie Bush as Bonnie Langford in…

Real Time And The Rani

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Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Amy Pond turning into a terrifying wooden doll and a visit from a threatening landlord in…

The Chimes Of Midnight Terrors

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Feel free to play along...

Monday, 21 November 2011

Carruthers Cartoons #4

More alterations to somebody else's hard work for the benefit of the Carruthers blog:

Once again at the centre of the Sitcom Porn posts was a piece of adjusted DVD cover art Phoenix Nights & Rising Damp, The Day Today & Gavin & Stacey and the christmas specials of both Gavin & Stacey & The Office

I added a 'U' and a 'P' to a photograph I took in the National Media Museum in Bradford to create the Caress Of The Daleks.

Not content with simply adding letters to photos, I made Nil By Moustache out of the Nil By Mouth DVD cover and two halves of Mr Carruthers' moustaches as drawn by Gi.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Am I Talking Too Fast...?

...Or are you just playing dumb?

Here's another track from Pulp's performance at Brixton Academy earler this year that I hadn't seen live.

I have now.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Noughties Blogfest Debrief

I'm going to declare The Noughties Blogfest a success since of the twenty-five people that signed up, nineteen posted a list.

I hadn't really thought about the research element involved. Working out what happened in a particular year might not have appealed to everybody. Sorry about that. If I did it again I'd probably keep the 'rules' the same, but give a suggestion that vagueness was permitted.

Tastes in music, comics and games were more varied and individual titles were all listed just once across the whole decade.

I thought I'd do a run down of the most popular suggestions:

In each year, film was the most hotly contested medium. In 2000 the runaway leader, appearing on no less than six lists was X-Men while Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Titan A.E. each appeared twice.

In TV there was generally less competition, which I found quite surprising. The Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode Restless was mentioned on two lists.

Fewer books made lists than I expected. Less surprisingly Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire by J.K. Rowling made three lists.

Moviewise The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring made it onto six lists. Ocean's Eleven was on three whilst Shrek, Moulin Rouge and Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone/Harry Potter And The Sorceror's Stone* were each on two lists. (* delete as appropriate).

In cinema, The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers continued to dominate again with six appearances. The Pianist, Equilibrium and The Bourne Identity were all two lists each.

The only TV show to get a look in this year was Firefly, posted no less than four times.

In film, surprisingly The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King got less love than its predecessors getting onto four lists, with Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl just behind getting three mentions. Bad Santa, Big Fish and Finding Nemo were all on two lists each.

Bookwise Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix by J.K. Rowling appeared on four lists.

Regarding online phenomena, surprisingly Paris Hilton's Sex Tape was mentioned twice.

After The Lord Of The Rings movies had subsided the field was more open, with Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Spiderman II both appearing on three lists, while The Butterfly Effect, House Of Flying Daggers, The Incredibles and Shrek 2 got two mention apiece.

After the success of Firefly it isn't a surprise that its movie sequel Serenity won out with five mentions, while Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith got three and Batman Begins was on two lists.

On TV, Doctor Who was on three lists and Bones was on two.

In books, Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling got four mentions.

Bond prequel Casino Royale topped this year's movies with three listings, while The Illusionist, Little Miss Sunshine and Stranger Than Fiction all got two.

In movies, Transformers received five mentions and Shrek The Third got two.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling appeared on four lists.

Superhero movies came to the fore this year as Iron Man was on five lists and The Dark Knight was on four.

The book The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was posted three times.

The online musical Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog garnered two mentions.

Avatar was listed four times, Sherlock Holmes and The Hangover three times each and Moon twice in films.

The posts should you wish to find them after the Linky stops working: me, Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh, Laugh Quotes, Patricia Lynnes Journey Through the Pages, Tasha Seegmiller, A Daft Scots Lass, Rics Reviews, SciFi Media, My Pet Blog, PepperWords, Two Thumbs, Vive le Nerd, Rooikat back in France, Jennee Thompson Local Celebrity, Building Castles on the Beach, Confessions of a Watery Tart, Donna Hole, Pensuasion and ZA to CH - Born in SA, living in Switzerland.

Hopefully I'll see you here in eleven months time for
The Nineties Blogfest...

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Noughties Blogfest Today

Today, is The Noughties Blogfest where I invite you to tell me your favourite things from the Noughties.

It's not too late to join in. Choose one thing from each year from 2000 to 2009, be it a Film, a TV show, a radio show, a particular episode of a TV or radio show, a piece of theatre, a book, a comic, a piece of artwork, something online or something else entirely, and then tell us what you love about it.

Here are my favourite things from the Noughties:

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Restless
Every season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer ends with an epic season finale, with one exception. The fourth season ends not with a bang, but ostensibly with a whimper. And what a fantastic whimper it is. The clash with the Big Bad is taken care of in the season's penultimate episode and the actual finale Restless is more of a coda. Having combined their energies with the essence of the first slayer in Primeval, she takes her revenge of Willow, Xander, Giles and Buffy and tries to kill them in their dreams.

The dream sequences are phenomenal, taking in Sapphic poetry, the oddest version of Death Of A Salesman, the first episode of Buffy, Oz and Tara flirting, overexposure, disjointed images, the most conspicuously off camera lesbian kiss, Anya's emphatic steering, starkly colourful lighting, French dubbing, Principal Snyder as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, continuous shots across neighbouring but disparate sets, black and white, 'the exposition song', claustrophobia alongside huge spaces, disconnected speech, "Be back before Dawn", Joyce living in the wall, Adam as a human, Surgeon General Riley's pillow fort, images in negative, a beautiful desert vista, a borrowed Tara, a false awakening and the cheese guy.

I’ve never seen dreams shown better on screen. A masterpiece.

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Spaced Series 2
I nearly wrote about another Buffy episode, The Body, here as well, but the quirky twentysomething flatsharing sitcom Spaced meant so much to me in 2001 so I had to include it. I love this show. I love each and every character. I love 23 Meteor Street. The second series reunites our favourite characters, but stretches their friendships to the limit. Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson's scripts are wonderful and the dialogue contains a plethora of film and TV references are a gift to the viewer. The editing style compliments them brilliantly and really marks this show out as different. Intelligent, surreal and always very, very funny the show manages to be both epic and intimate at the same time.

Tim and Daisy’s relationship deepens as Brian and Twist’s relationship gets shallower. Marsha gets more involved and is all the more hurt when things fall apart. The return of Tyres and Duane Benzie are welcome and the addition of Sophie tests fan loyalty. We watched the fifth episode, Gone, over and over and over again and it never got old.

It's a shame that there wasn't a third series, but if it had to end here, at least it ends on a beautiful note.

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Shamefully messed about by the broadcaster, Joss Whedon's space opera western (with Chinese swearwords) is the best missed opportunity in TV. The story of a spaceship carrying nine people, each with different loyalties and different reasons to stay aboard, somehow becoming a family. The dialogue, the characters and the Verse are all equally compelling: the Alliance, the Reavers, the smugglers and the colonists with a pioneer spirit were all brilliantly conceived. The crew are outsiders and this perspective was key to the success of the show. Everybody loves the underdog, except Fox apparently.

Each of the characters is a beautiful contradiction. Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau and Ron Glass are uniformly fantastic and it would have been a joy to watch their adventures unfold over seven seasons or so, but it wasn’t to be. Cut down in its prime, we were left with fourteen really great episodes. Fourteen episodes that are better than any fourteen consecutive episode run of any other TV show, ever. I was beyond happy when they returned in the excellent movie Serenity, but out of necessity that is one story and we deserved hundreds.

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The Station Agent
Tom McCarthy's debut film is a comedy tinged with sadness and a confident sense of modesty. Peter Dinklage, Bobby Cannavale and Patricia Clarkson play three characters who for one reason or another are isolated until they reluctantly find each other and then begin to enjoy each other's company. The hopeful hermit Fin and grief-stricken artist Olivia are drawn out of their chosen mundane lives by the gregarious Joe. Nothing makes me happier than when the trio are together. Every performance in this film is outstanding and has a depth beyond the dialogue. The music is wonderful and the scenes of walking, and there is a lot of walking, are beautifully shot. When the credits rolled after I first saw this film, I wanted to watch it all over again straight away.

I don't just love this film, I adore it.

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Y: The Last Man
On one day in Brian K. Vaughn's post apocalyptic comic book every mammal with a Y chromosome died, with two notable exceptions. One man and his monkey are left alone in a society of women attempting to rebuild and surrounded by male corpses. At this point the comic had been running for two years, but this is when it takes on a more playful and sinister tone. The almost manless world grows increasingly complex and cruel in this period, as the comic asks bigger and bigger "what if?" questions, takes more chances, increasingly plays with its format and is bolder with its take on gender politics. From the comedy and tragedy of Comedy And Tragedy's play within a play, via the sadomasochism of Safeword, to the big theological questions of Tongues Of Flame, a sidestep to witness Hero's Journey, before the plot surges forward in Ring Of Truth…At a point when many ongoing comic starts to flag Y: The Last Man just got better and better and better.

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Doctor Who's triumphant return
Fantastic. Doctor Who never really went away, but by crikey in 2005 it was back. It was back and it was great. The first new season in fifteen years was as good as we knew it could be: Bad Wolf, anti-plastic, bitchy trampoline, Charles Dickens, Harriet Jones MP for Flydale North's Port etiquette, the Metaltron, the Doctor's response to the question "Is a slave, a slave if he doesn't know he's enslaved?", the Tylers in the Eighties, "Are you my mummy?", Blon, Lynda with a Y, Barcelona and the new Doctor's new hand.

Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke, Simon Callow, Penelope Wilton, Simon Pegg, Shaun Dingwall, John Barrowman, Annette Badland, Jo Joyner and David Tennant are all magnificent in excellent scripts, beautifully designed and brilliantly realised. Why did we ever let it go away? It proved that Doctor Who made by fans wasn’t the inmates taking over the asylum, it was the way it needed to be and caused a boom in British SF programming. Thank you Russell T. Davies.

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Jarvis by Jarvis Cocker
I was devastated when Pulp went "on hiatus" and so when 'The Jarvis Cocker Record' was released I was one of the first in the queue. The new sound is more relaxed, the lyrics are as great as ever and featuring former band members Steve Mackey, Mark Webber, Anthony Genn and Richard Hawley it could be argued that this is a Pulp album in all but name. There are pop songs like 'Black Magic', 'Heavy Weather' and 'Fat Children' with a real momentum behind them, but it's the more introspective tracks with ballsy lyrics like 'I Will Kill Again', 'Auschwitz To Ipswitch' and 'Running The World' prove why music needs Jarvis.

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The return of the Master in Doctor Who's Utopia
I managed to avoid any spoilers during David Tennant's second season and so I had no idea that one of the best villains on television was about to return. I was completely fooled. Professor Yana seemed like nothing more than a delightfully amiable fellow wearing a pocket watch. Derek Jacobi had previously played a version of the Master in Scream Of The Shalka and so I put any thoughts of the Master appearing here out of my head, because that sort of joined up thinking just doesn't happen. And then it did and it was fantastic. I doubt my reaction was as explosive as this, but it gives you an idea. Thank you again, Russell T. Davies.

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Son Of Rambow
The coming of age story of two very different boys who try to film a tribute to Sylvester Stallone's super soldier. The Plymouth Brethren, the French exchange programme and an inattentive brother all complicate their efforts. Bill Milner and Will Poulter are fantastic as the two boys and give the film a genuine youthful zeal. Inventive and nostalgic in equal measure, this film is beautiful, imaginative, charming and full of the wonder of childhood. A very funny and very intelligent feel good film.

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This movie is amazing. It's brilliant to see a return to the claustrophobia and traditional movie making techniques of films like Alien. Sam Rockwell is fantastic, the tone of the film is wonderful and the twist in the tale is incredible. The twist is also something I'm really glad I didn‘t know about when I first sat down to watch the movie and so I'm not going to reveal any more about it here.

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Here are the details on how to take part:

Leave your name and link on the linky below.

• Feel free to publicise the blogfest on your blog, facebook, twitter, etc and post the above image on your blog if you wish.

• On the 14th of November post a favourite something for each year 2000-2009, and tell us what you love about each of them.

• Leave a comment here, so that we know that you have posted your efforts for all to see.

• Visit as many other participating bloggers as you can on the list below. Compare, contrast and comment on their choices.

Join Us...