Here’s some new photos for you:
Northcliffe memorial at St Dunstans on Fleet Street, Dancer sculpture on Millbank near Tate Britain, Statue on Fleet Street near Royal Courts of Justice, Somerset House through the clouds and Statue of Faraday on Embankment…
Life on Mars was on TV over here earlier in the year, shown by BBC1. It’s strange: I saw a piece in the papers recently that pointed out that the UK and the US have traded places: it used to be that over here was respected for quality drama while the US was derided as a producer of shitty daytime soaps. I blame Big Brother and reality shows: once the TV companies realised they could get a bunch of talentless exhibitionists to fill their schedules, quality drama went the way of the dodo. But Life on Mars is a quality series and it’s now available on DVD over here so I rewatched the first series with its extras. The conceit of the series is simple enough: John Simm plays a very modern copper, Sam Tyler, who has a car accident and seems to find himself in the Manchester of 1973. Here he joins a police unit headed up by throwback DCI Gene Hunt, brought to life superbly by Phillip Glenister, and so we have the superb odd couple chemistry between the pair as Sam tries to figure out whether the car accident has thrown him into a coma or it’s done something far more bizarre. Life on Mars is a brilliant love letter to shows like The Sweeney, The Professionals and Minder and the team behind it should be applauded. Directors include Bharat Nalluri, a British TV veteran, and SJ Jackson, another experienced drama director, bring so much to the series. Everything from the show’s theme tune to the way it’s shot is perfectly measured. The extras on the DVD aren’t bad: Take A Look At The Lawman looks at the genesis of the series and discusses the inspiration for it, which includes classic Seventies film Get Carter, while there’s featurettes on the production design and the theme tune’s composition. This country has a lot of ground to reclaim, since HBO in the US is still producing great television drama (Big Love is a well-crafted series), but Life on Mars is a step in the right direction. ITV1 is bringing back Cracker and Prime Suspect this autumn, while the second series of Life on Mars will be broadcast next year, so maybe the future for British drama is looking rosy again.
I had my San Diego Comic Con report published in T2 in The Times over here last Thursday (August 3rd: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,14931-2296222,00.html). I went to San Diego as I have done every year since 1999 for the insanity of the show: apparently this year there were over 120,000 over the four and a half day period. It’s getting to be a very hard show to enjoy: I went there partly because I had pitched a piece on it for The Times and The Observer (the latter piece should appear in The Observer’s Media section next Sunday, August 13th) but also because it gives me the chance to catch up with friends I don’t see very often, like Andy and Susie, who live in LA. Since the show was two weekends ago now and, if you were interested in what went on, you’ve probably read that elsewhere, I won’t bore you with too many of the details. I got to see lots of film stuff, including doing roundtable interviews with Sam Raimi, Nicolas Cage, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, David Wenham, Gerard Butler and Thomas Haden Church and I saw previews of Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, which looks pretty spectacular in a downbeat, dystopian way. I also got to hang out with the aforementioned Andy & Susie, Tim Bradstreet, David Baillie, Daniel Goodbrey and Jeff Carlisle. I would post the photos I took at the show but I stupidly lost my camera on the Sunday. It was sod’s law really: I hadn’t taken the thing any of the other days because I was wandering around with my laptop bag and was trying to avoid taking another bulky item with me. But Sunday was crazy: it was the day I got to meet Moebius (albeit exceptionally briefly), do the second part of my Jim Lee interview that had been hanging over since February, get quotes from Weta’s Richard Taylor and John Landis for the newspaper stuff, interview Paul Levitz and new Dark Horse publicity guy Jeremy Atkins for The Observer piece and see Phil Hale, who lives over here but I said I would try and find him and say hello to him out there. I hadn’t had any breakfast except for a biscuit and so I was particularly absent-minded, running around like a blue-arsed fly (or headless chicken, take your pick). I put my camera down for two minutes at the DC booth just before I went to do my Paul Levitz interview and, by the time I’d realised I’d done this, it was gone. So apart from losing my camera, San Diego Comic Con 2006 was a great deal of fun for me. The week after, I spent four days in San Jose with my friend Peter Bickford, his wife Carolyn and his kids Neil and Kelly. The time after was also entertaining because I got to San Francisco again, which is always entertaining (Golden Gate Park, Grandview Park and the Sutro Baths were particularly enjoyable) and I got horribly sunburnt at a water park, Raging Waters, in San Jose when the temperature was about 100 degrees. I also got to visit this place, Fort Point, which sits underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, it’s right by where James Stewart fishes Kim Novak out of the water in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. To finish off, I’m just going to be Mr Pedantic: I work as a sub editor and a copy editor and when I told people last year that I had a film piece published in The Times, they asked me if I meant ‘The London Times’? No, The Times published over here is just called The Times. The Los Angeles Times is called that on its masthead as is the New York Times but The Times published over here is just called The Times on its masthead. It could be called The Times of London acceptably but not The London Times. The net has encouraged writers to be imprecise with language and so I had to bring that one up. Lecture over.
“You’ll believe a man can fly” was the poster tagline for the original Richard Donner Superman films. I was only a kid (around seven or eight when the first one came out) but they both made a massive impact on me. Now we have Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, Warner Bros’s much-touted new crack at arguably the company’s most iconic character. Batman Begins was a success last summer so the company obviously hoped to duplicate this and get themselves a bigger slice of the superhero box office than ever before. The film came out in the States at the end of June but it only came out here the middle of July, so I thought it would be appropriate for me to review it.
I saw Superman Returns at Warner’s screening room at their London office in Holborn, just north of the centre of the city, a few weeks ago. I’ll admit that, having seen the last trailer, I was rather looking forward to it. But I have bad news: Superman Returns is an expensive soulless film with a dodgy script, running time that’s about forty minutes too long and, apart from Brandon Routh, who channels Reeve while bringing a naïve charm to the mix, the cast stinks. Also, the classic John Williams theme is horribly overused: it should have been played once, at the beginning, and then discarded and replaced with a new score. The cast is largely redundant: Kevin Spacey plays Lex Luthor as a cross between the comical turns of Gene Hackman and a resurrected Liberace, Frank Langella (a great actor) is wasted as Daily Planet editor Perry White and Kate Bosworth is horribly miscast as Lois Lane (far too young to credibly have a five year old child). There is a sub-plot about Lane’s child which is played clumsily (I won’t reveal it just in case you’re feeling masochistic enough to go and see it). There are occasional visual flourishes (the Fortress of Solitude looks great and the Daily Planet building is a fabulous Art Deco concoction) but that’s not enough. There is no emotional connection for the viewer with any of the characters except Clark Kent and sometimes Routh looks as if he’s drowning in a mediocre toy movie. Singer always looked comfortable at the helm of the X-Men films but the huge amount of money swishing around here (budget estimates vary between $205 and $260million) certainly wasn’t spent on the script and so the whole thing flounders.
Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is another matter though. The first film came like a bolt out of the blue for everybody: the idea that a summer blockbuster based on a Disney ride could be thoroughly entertaining sounded preposterous. Follow-up Dead Man’s Chest is even better. Certain reviews have accused it of being overly busy in terms of its script and only held together by Depp’s marvellous turn. But there’s a lot more to it than that: its running time is pretty much the same as Superman Returns. But money seems to have been spent much more intelligently here: we are introduced to Davy Jones, brilliantly played by Bill Nighy, and his misshapen crew of maritime-related freaks, who Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) owes a blood debt to. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are arrested for aiding and abetting an enemy of the crown (Captain Jack), so to acquire their pardon, Turner has to get Jack Sparrow’s compass, which will lead him to Davy Jones’s heart, locked away in the chest of the film’s title. Dead Man’s Chest is a brilliant summer romp, reminiscent of the Richard Lester Three Musketeers films of the Seventies with more money. Depp is magnificent here as he’s honed his English rock star accent to perfection and even Orlando Bloom is very watchable. Jack Davenport is back, who played the Commodore in the first film, but now he’s discredited and living the life of a pirate and he’s also very good here. The only bum note, performance wise, is Keira Knightley, who is shaping up to be this generation’s Jane Seymour. The effects are amazing: from sea monster The Kraken to Davy Jones’s sinister crew, everything on screen is there in service of the script and the plot. Sequels are nearly always duff but this one is anything but and bodes very well for next summer’s second sequel. Walk or run, but make sure that you see this on a big screen.
Welcome to Walls and Bridges. From January until June, this blog was hosted at www.bloodinthegutters.com but now you can find it here. I am an experienced journalist and sub editor who has written about film, comics and TV for publications like The Times, Independent on Sunday, Dreamwatch, Judge Dredd Megazine and The Guardian. Here I’ll be talking about comics, Film, TV, architecture and whatever takes my fancy.
Currently, I’m working on a number of different projects: I’m polishing off a book on comic artists that I’m co-editing and writing with a colleague of mine, Gary Marshall, called Studio Space, which will look at the way that artists work. The book has a very exciting list of artists including Frank Miller, Jim Lee, Moebius, Brian Bolland, Tim Bradstreet, Duncan Fegredo, Joe Kubert, Walt Simonson, Mike Mignola, Tim Sale, Howard Chaykin and George Pratt.
Also I’m about to launch a website devoted exclusively to graphic novels, www.graphicnoveluniverse.com, and I’m doing a number of freelance features, including two for Variety and a piece on classic James Bond poster artist Robert Mcginnis for Saga Magazine. So come on by here whenever it takes your fancy. Hopefully there’ll be something of interest.