Sunday, 31 December 2006

Randall & Hopkirk

To start with, I don’t like Reeves & Mortimer…

TV stars Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer have a comedy double-act that owes more to old style music hall and the moribund traditions of Morecambe & Wise than anything inspired by the postmodern lunacy of Monty Python… For the irritatingly clueless Vic and Bob, simply read Eric and Ernie: the next degeneration. With that in mind, I was not very keen on seeing the double act’s BBC remake of cult detective series Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). The original, and very British, drama starred Mike Pratt as Jeff Randall, and Kenneth Cope as the late Marty Hopkirk, and the memorable show provided many hours of happy family viewing back in 1969-70. Later on, in that land of telly disambiguation, the USA, they re-titled the show My Partner The Ghost.

Two seasons (but with only 13 episodes in total) of the remake were first aired in the UK from 2000. In November 2006, Universal Playback finally released the complete four-disc DVD boxset (630 minutes, certificate 12). The programme makers retold the basic set-up of the 30-year-old original without much variation, and subsequent episodes find the dead and living nitwits (oh, sorry, private detectives) joined on their often-farcical investigations by Marty’s long-suffering fiancée Jeannie Hurst (talented Emilia Fox, briefly engaged to Reeves, before she came to her senses… and married actor Jared Harris). Of course, the new Jeannie might well be a wryly über-feminist romantic foil development from the original TV show’s (usually simpering) secretary - played by Australian blonde Annette Andre, but the Fox version’s blatant mimicry of Charlie’s Angels’ fondness for beating up bad guys, and numerous costume changes, is hardly much of an improvement on the sub-genre’s basic ‘pretty female sidekick’ characterisation. The addition of a fourth regular, Marty’s afterlife guru and mentor, Wyvern (Tom Baker), serves as little more than an excuse for streams of cheap visual effects allowing Hopkirk to ponce about in ‘Limbo’, every soulless minute of which is profoundly monotonous if compared to the quirky inventiveness of Tim Burton’s hilarious Beetlejuice.

Okay, so we have the white-suited ghost, the dodgy spin on familiar cross-genre riffs, and a lot more scenes for the heroine, but what - if anything - does this supposedly updated Randall & Hopkirk series have to offer TV viewers in the post-X-Files era? The painful truth is that it merely borrows, often carelessly and without the delicate balancing skills of astute genre parody, from the numerous homegrown chillers and horror movies of the 1970s. And so we get assignments to sinister hotels and haunted manors, a school under threat from a gang of evil boys, a weird murder in a museum, and a visit to an island of leery folk (albeit with a penchant for hormone-spiked ale), none of which really have a crumb of originality or a shred of credibility to add to the established canon of naff supernatural fantasy or even cheesy sci-fi adventures.

The best episode, Painkillers (as directed by the series’ producer and main scripter, Charlie Higson), features Derek Jacobi and Dervla Kirwan as mad doctors in a secret underground lab, where they’re on a quest for immortality, using a faux Amazon rainforest to cultivate a rare herb which delays pain by freeing the human psyche from its physical body. It’s all of a dismally uninventive sameness, though, with scene thefts galore from familiar classic TV, harking back to Department S, The (New) Avengers, and The Champions.

My favourite bit of this entire series occurs in an early scene in the very first episode, Drop Dead… Guest star, Charles Dance, catches the incompetent pair spying on him and, with slapstick verve, repeatedly slams Vic Reeves head against the back of their getaway car. How I laughed, but wished that I could have had Mr Dance’s job for that particular scene!

Saturday, 30 December 2006

Kodak Z650

I bought a digital camera for the New Year.... Kodak Z650 from ‘EasyShare’ range, though I decided against getting a printer dock for it.

Now I'm wading through the user’s guide and learning about secure digital (SD) memory cards for picture storage, and installing software on my PC ready for loading the first batch of weekend photos to image editors on the desktop.

The palm-sized camera handles well, and initial test results (although, as yet, unprinted) are impressive. Hopefully, 6.1 mega-pixels will produce more than snapshot-quality photos, and some worth framing.

My only real concern about this new gadget is the apparent lack of ‘image stabilisation’ feature, which some online reports said causes problems at extreme telephoto. That aside, I'm quite pleased with this purchase, so far.

I will post a few (low-res) samples of early work, sometime next week…

Thursday, 28 December 2006


Be mild… be vaguely mild!

“Have you ever heard of sheep politics? Neither have I.
Sheep… don’t have politics. They’re very docile. No passion, no promises. We can’t believe in sheep… I’d like to become... the first sheep politician. You see, I’d like to, um... but... I’m meek, uh…

“I’m counting... I’m counting… I- I’m a sheep... who dreamt he was a man... and was gentle. But now the dream is over... and the lamb is awake.

“I’m saying... bah-h-h. I’ll bore you if you stay.”

(What the flock? Apologies to Langelaan, Pogue, Cronenberg, and Goldblum)

Sunday, 24 December 2006

All religion is bad

I often wonder how many people were ‘weaned’ off their parents’ religion(s), just by reading some genre literature while at a suitably impressionable age? As a teenager, my steady diet of ‘pulp’ and hard science fiction, and later reading about quantum theory, somehow managed to dispel any childish faith I once had in the existence of god.

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” - Richard Dawkins

I was christened C of E, and went - or, more accurately, was sent - to Sunday school (Methodists), but I have become an - increasingly militant - atheist, and nowadays (at 45+) find that I’m rapidly losing even vague respect for anyone with religious beliefs, whether they go to ‘high church’ (prayer-sayers are all nutters, to me!), or just persist in celebrating Xmas… because they’re diehard consumers, or simply cannot shake off those bad habits (indoor-tree decorating, paper-wasting card swapping, pointless gift exchanges, turkey dinner, etc) still fondly recalled from childhood in the family home. The commercial side of Xmas clearly supports and tacitly maintains the various social events and public rituals, from building snowmen and traditional carol singing, to the televised ceremony of ‘midnight mass’.

When atheists suggest the world might be better without religion, I've noticed the response from believers is usually something like: "if religion is gone, what are you going to put in its place?" It's a mistake to assume that a godless world creates a void in society that must be filled (with 'worship' of science say religious folks!)... It makes me laugh because it seems they've missed the point of what science is and what it does. To me, getting rid of religions is not like emptying a room in your house so that you can fill it up again, it's like cleaning all the windows so that everyone can see outside better than before.

A poignant example of how religious leaders deceive the faithful is found in Muslim teachings. The infamous ‘afterlife’ compensation said to await the jihad’s martyrs is “eternal paradise with 72 virgins” … but, since 2001, scholarly reports (cited by Guardian / Ezra Klein) claim this was a misinterpretation of the Koran. Perpetrators of attacks on the 11th September who were expecting to be rewarded with six-dozen attentive wives might have been rather disappointed to learn the ‘virgins’ in question are probably not a bevy of angelic girls, but the rare delicacy of white raisins.

Of course, warmongering Islamic extremists tasked with brainwashing young men into happy suicide bombers need to promise them something more enticing than a handful of dried fruit!

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Friday, 15 December 2006

Old grey whistling test

After reporting a line fault (severe crackling noise, no broadband connection, sometimes no dial tone!) due to windy and rainy weather, got a visit from BT engineer, yesterday, and the overhead cable (split and badly corroded in places) from my house to the telephone pole was replaced.

Engineer told me they have to replace old grey wires with the newer black cable, whenever and wherever they find them, nowadays... though, usually, I suspect that's only when faults are reported.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006


Browsing through genre forums, I’m often amused by how quick a potentially interesting debate can lapse into blather whenever people start using Americanisms.

A recent example…
Someone makes a seemingly outrageous statement, and the first reply is:

“No way!”

Rebuttal is, perhaps, too big a word to describe what follows:

“Yes, way…”

Which then prompts another response of:

So way!”

As a website editor, it’s very tempting to post:

English, please…

Monday, 11 December 2006

Xmas spam!

No broadband link for 30 hours (Sunday afternoon to Monday teatime).
Spam build-up reached new high (for me) with 1,055 messages sorted by Mailwasher.
What's your one-day spam record?