Thursday, 28 July 2011

Martin Skidmore, RIP

Last night I heard the very sad news that Martin Skidmore had died from cancer at the age of 52. I never met or even communicated directly with Martin, but I've got a lot to thank him for. 

Among his many interests and areas of expertise, he used to edit a comics fanzine called FA (previously Fantasy Advertiser). 

I discovered FA in 1985, just as I was getting into comics. I'd picked up a few Marvel and DC titles from the paper stall at my local bus station, and when I got a Saturday job I eventually found my way to the Odyssey 7 comic shop in Manchester.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Torchwood: a bit of a rethink

When I reviewed the first episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day last week, I think I got a bit carried away out of sheer relief that it wasn't as bad as it could have been. 

I did have a few reservations that didn't find their way into my review, though.

For instance, while the action sequence on the beach was suitably spectacular, it didn't really belong: I was waiting for it to be over so we could get on with the story.

I also had my doubts that the fiercely protective Gwen would carry her baby through the middle of a firefight, no matter how 'cool' an image it created.

And I wasn't really paying a lot of attention whenever the American characters were on screen: those bits just seemed like generic filler and I was waiting to get back to the UK characters.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Apprentice final (BBC One): a quick review

Here's a quick review of last night's Apprentice final for Orange:

So there you have it. After 12 weeks, the railway stations of London no longer rumble with the fearsome hum of wheelie cases, and the Wobbly Bridge no longer reverberates with the echo of self-important stomping. And Lord Sugar has finally got himself a new business partner – Tom Pellereau, who proved once and for all that nice guys don't always finish last. 

Tonight's climactic episode finally saw the surviving candidates reveal their business plans – something that might have had Alex Britez Cabral (you remember – the Chuck-Bass-a-like "fired" in week two) crying into his scientifically proven method for turning water into non-polluting fuel (possibly).

The proposals (and candidates) were then verbally shredded in the traditionally agonising “interview” task. This year, along with old faves Margaret Mountford and Claude Littner, the candidates had to get to grips with magazine publisher Mike Soutar and a bod who was Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007 but still seems to leave the coat-hanger in his jacket and calls lifts “elevators”, despite coming from Burnley.

Friday, 15 July 2011

First Cuts: Double Lesson - 'It felt right, somehow'

Another day, another review for Orange...

Tucked away on Friday evenings, First Cuts is a nice little documentary strand that’s thrown up some very enjoyable films in the past. However, last night’s episode was an unusual and welcome addition – a fictional monologue delivered by Phil Davis, one of our favourite actors.

Double Lesson, written and directed by George Kay, told the story of David De Gale, an experienced teacher who lost it one day and physically attacked one of his pupils in the classroom.

Preparing for his trial, David described the combination of domestic and professional pressures that built up to his explosive attack. Struggling to cope with his wife’s impending mastectomy, the final straw came when a disruptive kid started to influence another, more promising pupil.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Torchwood: Miracle Day - bigger and better?

Here's a quick review of tonight's Torchwood I wrote for Orange.

So, despite the boo-boys, nay-sayers and slightly rubbish aliens in boiler suits, Torchwood continues its march from digital obscurity on BBC Three to something approaching world domination. After hitting BBC One with the Children of Earth mini-series, it's now gone international for its fourth outing – Miracle Day.

The new 10-part series kicked off as people all over the world suddenly stopped dying. And while that's good news for some – like execution-dodging American child-murderer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) – it's bad news for the rest of us: within a few months, there'll be too many people for the planet to support.

Meanwhile, the word “Torchwood” suddenly appeared across the computer system of the CIA, sending a couple of curious agents on a trip that led to the Welsh front door of Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), the reappearance of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman, above) and the kind of shiny action sequence we'd never have got back in the Hub.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

'The fascination of what's difficult...'

The Germans have a word for it: sitzpinkler.

It refers to a man who sits down to urinate, and it's meant as an insult.

But whoever coined it can't have had the pleasure of a loo-side library, which makes every trip to the bog an invitation to take off the weight for a few minutes and dive between the covers.

And it was on one of these visits a few days ago that I came across these lines from Yeats, which sum up perfectly what has become a difficult relationship between creative writing and me:

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead: There ain't half been some clever bastards

Even as I hurtle into middle age, there are still some sizable gaps in the brain loft where my cultural furniture should be.

For instance, I've never listened to a Bob Dylan album or read a Jane Austen novel – not even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

There's also a space in the corner where Tom Stoppard ought to be. Even though he's accepted as one of our greatest living playwrights, the only time I'd seen one of his plays prior to last night was the other year's production of Arcadia with Neil Pearson.

However, on that occasion I couldn’t even concentrate on the play because of having to squeeze into what must have been the West End's most agonisingly uncomfortable seats.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Stolen (BBC One): good cause, not-so-good drama

Here's another Orange review: 

The terrifying statistics about the level of child trafficking around the world that were displayed at the end of Stolen clearly show what an important subject last night's film tackled. However, as emotionally involving as it was, I'm not convinced the drama succeeded in its mission.

You can see the logic in casting a big name like Damian Lewis in there, to attract viewers and make the problem more accessible, but there's always going to be a level of glossy artificiality in the end product that puts a barrier between the viewer and the issue.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Sirens (C4): dead on arrival

While I'm at it, I suppose I should start putting up a few of my more relevant TV reviews for Orange, so here's Sirens from last week. 

After (relative) successes like Teachers and No Angels, Sirens is the latest Channel 4 comedy drama to point the spotlight on people with important jobs who may not always be as professional as we'd hope. However, this tale of cheeky paramedics was pretty much dead on arrival. 

Butley: a slightly uncomfortable evening

While my creative writing has been a bit thin on the ground in recent months (and that's another story), we have been doing a lot of cultural stuff of late, so I thought it was probably worth cranking up the blog again.

I've seen more West End plays than films in recent months, and the most recent was Butley by Simon Gray, at the Duchess Theatre.

As luck would have it, Butley is also - as far as I know - the only play to be dedicated to me (along with, admittedly, all the other staff and students, past, present and future, of the English department at the University of London's Queen Mary College).

Simon Gray had finished teaching at QMC a couple of years before I arrived there, but there was still a shudder of recognition in the setting of the play, about a mercurial but abrasive English lecturer with a gift for pushing people away as vigorously as he tries to keep them close.