Sunday, December 14, 2014

Closeted

Skeletons: Surreal British drama-ish thing about two psychic investigators, sort of, who go around exposing the skeletons in people's closets, sort of, and who meet their nemesis when investigating a missing person. Sort of. It's all a bit hard to summarize, but it really is worth seeing.

Movie count for 2014: 65

The House in the Middle

Kiss Me Deadly: Starts out as a conventional film-noir thriller with a distressed blonde flinging herself into the life of a hard-boiled private detective. Eventually turns into an eerie story about nuclear paranoia and the Manhattan Project. Sort of "The Big Sleep" meets "Edge of Darkness", with more sex.

Movie count for 2014: 64

Friday, December 12, 2014

Entertaining June

Brazil: A repeated rewatch (I've lost count of the number of times I've seen it), this one distinguished by having seen it at the BFI with a talk afterwards by Terry Gilliam, and by getting to meet Gilliam afterwards. Film's still brilliant, Gilliam is too.

Movie count for 2014: 63

What's Wrong with the 1970s

Serpico: Biting expose on police corruption, through a biopic of New York policeman Serpico, an innovative and perceptive undercover detective whose honesty and integrity puts him at odds with almost the entire political and law enforcement establishment. It's depressing how little has changed in some ways.

The Candidate: Biting satire on the corrosive influence of politics, as Robert Redford's young lefty activist slowly morphs into a compromised and compromising career politician. You can see where it's going right from the start, but that's sort of the point.

Movie Count for 2014: 62

Cyclo Tron

Tron: A genuinely groundbreaking film on a number of levels, with the technical innovation (the graphics still look amazing over 30 years later) being matched by the playful postmodern referencing of (particularly Soviet) Expressionist film, Christian mythology and video-game imagery. The message is very much of its time (good capitalist/entrepreneur triumphing over bad capitalist/corporation), and there's only one woman in it (to be fair, she's a scientist who's presented as such without any fanfare, and she's far from a passive "prize", freely choosing between two good-looking and intelligent men), but both are easily forgivable.

Tron II: A vastly inferior sequel. There was one major visible technical innovation (the use of a virtual actor, of sorts, to play the young Jeff Bridges-- one step closer to the world of Idoru), but otherwise it was a banal-looking, too-long story with little message other than that the baby boomers think their Generation Y kids are miserable slackers who don't understand them, and which turned the playful virtual world of the first series into a lame collection of well-worn tropes. Michael Sheen was sort of fun to watch though.

Movie count for 2014: 60

Grauniad

Guardians of the Galaxy: Watchable superhero flick; the action scenes got pretty boring and it was half an hour longer than it should have been, but there was some good humour and interesting worldbuilding, and a sort of Firefly-esque self-awareness.

Movie count for 2014: 58

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Live, Die, Repeat

Groundhog Day: Watched as a follow-up to Live, Die, Repeat (below). It's still good; its score on the Bechdel Test is practically negative, but the message is so perfect that I'm willing to forgive it for that.

Movie count for 2014: 57

Two Films Which Shouldn't Be About White Guys

Godzilla: Remake of the much better Japanese original. It wants to be a story about two middle-aged scientists, one Japanese and one American. It winds up being a story about a young white guy. There are also hints that a subplot involving the young white guy's young white wife got cut out to make it even more about him. Meanwhile, all the subtext about nuclear power and global war goes out the window.

Live, Die, Repeat: This one is much better, a sort of cross between Groundhog Day and Pacific Rim. It's also better in that it really is about Emily Blunt, just seen through the eyes of Tom Cruise (even though all the publicity material that I've seen focuses on him and makes it look like a movie about a white guy), that the hero doesn't get the girl but it's completely OK, and that the story really is genuinely interesting.

Movie count for 2014: 56

Reasons to hate Steven Spielberg, sort of.

AI (Artificial Intelligence): One of these bad films with just enough good in them that it keeps me going back over and over them, trying to figure out what the hell the problem was (aside from the sentimentality, and Spielberg once again exploring his abandonment issues). A few thoughts:

1) Too short. Yes, for a movie it's way too long, but it also feels like it's rushing from plot to plot, scene to scene. We never actually see the couple bonding with their new AI son; the woman gives him the imprinting programme, and then practically a scene later we're into the sibling-rivalry scenario when their natural child wakes up from his coma. If it were a 6-part TV series, then there'd be time for the story to breathe, and scenarios to develop.

2) Wrong ending. The story should have ended with the advanced AIs discovering David. It's perfect; we find out what happened to the world, David gets his wish to be a "real boy" (as he'll be the closest thing to one on the planet) and we can end on a high, tempered with the uncertainty of what sort of future he'll have out there. And we'd be spared the creepily Freudian stuff.

3) Too many fridge moments. Gigolo Joe is framed for murder *how*, exactly? Surely the mecha have some sort of Asimov's-three-laws system preventing them from harming a human, and even if not, he could surely upload his memory to the court and demonstrate that he was with Paula Malcolmsen at the time. Why aren't the police tracking their own helicopters? Why does William Hurt leave David alone in the lab for 20 minutes, with predictable consequences? And so on.

4) Doesn't age well. It was first written in the 1970s, and it doesn't seem like it was updated much when it was filmed in the late 1990s: no mobiles, no Google, a family in which the wife stays at home all day doing, as far as I could see, pretty much nothing.

On the other hand, hey, cool practical and digital effects, and I want one of those teddy bear androids.

Movie count for 2014: 54

Vengeance Is Theirs

Sympathy for Mr Vengeance: Riveting tragedy about how good intentions can lead to catastrophic disasters, and how it can sometimes be hard to determine who the victims are.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: Follow-up to the latter, using many of the same themes and some of the same actors. Poses uncomfortable questions about culpability and the social/emotional cost of pursuing revenge.

Movie count for 2014: 50

World Gone Mad

Despicable Me: Kids' film about a villain who learns the redeeming power of love when circumstances throw him together with three orphan girls: cute, but with a bit of a Brothers' Grimm/Roald Dahl subversive edge, and the child characters are believable.

In Bruges: Two Irish gangsters hole up in a Belgian city over Christmas after an assassination goes horribly wrong. Bruges is lovely but cold (in all senses of the word) and the story tragic. It's about the senselessness of it all, really.

Seven Psychopaths: Postmodern film about the writing of a movie, which becomes a movie; sort of an anarchic cross between *The Player* and *Natural Born Killers*.

Movie count for 2014: 53

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's A Thing: Death In Heaven

There's only one thing harshing my squee
about this episode, and it's this.








Moffat-Era Tropes: Everything from last week, plus: New-look UNIT with Osgood and the She-Brigadier, “bowties are cool”, the Doctor coming up with an insulting nickname for someone, “Permission to squee!”. There's a belated attempt to rectify the fact that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart never appeared in the new series proper.

A Thing in a Thing: An army of Cybermen in graveyards.

The Doctor is A: President of Earth (that's actually some pretty neat lateral thinking on UNIT's part). Also a blood-soaked old general, but then again Danny's got issues (see last episode).

The Master Is A: Queen of Evil.

Clara Lies About: Being the Doctor (though the credits apparently believe her). She and the Doctor lie like rugs to each other in the cafe scene.

Reasons Clara Should Drop Danny Like A Hot Potato: Because even as a cybernised corpse, he's still passive-aggressive, self-obsessed and dealing with some pretty bad issues-- including threatening to shoot her before losing all human emotions.

Child Count: One (undead).

The Thick of It: Missy finally kills off Chris Addison.

It's Actually About: How you can never be sure of anything, except unconditional love.

It's A Thing: Dark Water

Moffat-Era Tropes: Troughton-era references. Dead people's personalities surviving as computer programmes. Companion's boyfriend dies and the Doctor has something to do with resurrecting them. The companion's timeline being mysteriously intertwined with someone else's. Scottish jokes. As numerous people on the Internet pointed out, Missy is yet another iteration of the mysterious, slightly antagonistic older woman with a flirtatious relationship with the Doctor (e.g. River Song). The Doctor getting unexpectedly snogged. “Doctor who?” There's an inside joke when we learn that the Doctor keeps a copy of “The Time-Traveler's Wife” (which Moffat is frequently accused of using as a source rather too often, not least on this blog) in the Tardis.

A Thing in a Thing: An army of Cybermen in St Paul's Cathedral.

The Doctor is A: bit slow on the uptake this week, as he doesn't figure out who the Master is until she flat-out tells him.

Seriously, she's totally the girl version of this guy.
The Master Is A: Woman. But most of the audience had figured that out.

Clara Lies About: Nothing. There's something important she hasn't told Danny yet, but the audience don't find out what it is either.

Reasons Clara Should Drop Danny Like A Hot Potato: Because even death is no barrier to his passive-aggression and self-obsession (it also turns out that the thing he's been blaming the officers for is in fact something he screwed up himself-- namely, he sprayed a room with gunfire without checking what was in it and shot a child-- which shows a distinct inability to take responsibility for his own actions).

Child Count: One (dead).

The Thick of It: The Doctor's psychic paper announces him to be a government inspector: “Why is there all this swearing?” Doctor Chang asks, perusing it, and the Doctor answers, “I've got a lot of internalised anger.” Chris Addison is also back.

It's Actually About: The Kubler-Ross stages of grief.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It's A Thing: In the Forest of the Night

Moffat-Era Tropes: Child-focused story, particularly one revolving around some unusually special little girl; fetishization of motherhood; trees; a thing that appears to be malevolent turning out to be benign. Little glowing tree-spirit things which are clearly the same ones seen in “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”. Happy ending that makes no damn sense whatsoever. There's a slightly jarring call-back to the Davies Era in the montage of international news broadcasts (which suggest that everyplace everywhere is affected by the forests, a fact which is immediately forgotten).

A Thing in a Thing: A forest in central London.

The Doctor is A: Scotsman. But why do none of the kids recognise him as the school caretaker?

The Master Is A: TV viewer. Presumably Apple TV.

Clara Lies About: Calling the Doctor instead of the school. This week Danny's the one to find out about her Big Lie in “Mummy on the Orient Express”, and the results are predictable. It also turns out that she just tells the class they're “Gifted and Talented” to make them feel better, which speaks volumes about her wanting Courtney to think she's “special” in “Kill the Moon”.

Reasons Clara Should Drop Danny Like A Hot Potato: Seriously, he's offered the chance to see the Earth from space being hit by a solar flare, no strings attached, and he turns it down like a kid in a sulk, saying he doesn't want to see anything new because “I was a soldier” (trust him to bring that up again)? Unless Clara wants to spend the rest of her life never going out, she'd better end this now.

Child Count: 8 (that's a pretty tiny class by anybody's standards, let alone those of modern hyperinflated student-to-teacher ratios). Possibly 9 if Mabh's sister counts, but it's hard to tell how old she is.

The Thick(et) of It: The Doctor tones the Mr Nasty act down a bit this week, probably because of the children present.

Where is Max when you need him?
It's Actually About: Something narratively interesting happening, and then absolutely nothing that follows making sense. Why is central London entirely deserted except for one school group and a disappearing security guard? Why was nobody, apparently, awake at the point at which the forest appeared? Why aren't the children's phones ringing themselves flat with calls from anxious parents, why is Mabh's mother the only one concerned enough to take any kind of initiative to find her daughter, and why doesn't Clara ring the school (indeed, why doesn't the school ring either Clara or Danny)? How does Year Eight get from Kensington to Trafalgar Square in next to no time? What idiot at COBRA thought burning the trees was a good idea (since it would clearly cause massive damage to very expensive property if it worked), and why do the emergency crew not react to the sight of two civilians walking out of the forest with cries of “bloody hell, stop the burning, we thought the area was deserted, now then, miss, tell us how many more people are in there?” Why are international relief efforts not being coordinated? Where, indeed, are UNIT, Torchwood, and all the other usual suspects? Why do Mabh's mother and her neighbour react so calmly to the revelation that the street is covered in trees? How does the Doctor not know how ice ages work? Why do zoo-habituated wolves and tigers immediately go on the attack, rather than finding a safe place to hole up till they can get the lie of the land and investigate? Who left a set of beach chairs out in central London? How do planes land? Since the sea is now also covered with vegetation, what's happened to the boats? Why does Clara think that dying is preferable to being orphaned, and who does she think she is, making that decision on behalf of the whole class and Danny? How does a phone call to everyone on Earth from a single schoolchild result in mass global consensus as to the correct course of action (why can't we get Mabh to advise on Mideast peace)? Why does nobody consider that the solar flare would knock out every single communications satellite, plus kill off everyone on the international space station? Why the strange anti-medication message-- yes, there's controversy about diagnosing and medicating some childhood-onset disorders, but suggesting that every child with psychotic symptoms is just talking to the tree-fairies is a little regressive. And was Mabh's sister hiding behind a bush the whole time? There's a great story to be told about a forest appearing in London overnight, but this really isn't it.

It's A Thing: Flatline

And now, a Banksy, Just because.
Moffat-Era Tropes: Hostile alien creatures hiding in plain sight as everyday objects; Doctor-lite episode; aliens targeting specific people; cryptic utterances which turn out to be threats; something strange and possibly fatal happening to the Tardis; stalking zombie-type creatures; the Doctor as scourge of monsters; the Doctor coming up with insulting nickname for his companion's male friend; the Tardis' siege mode looks a lot like a miniature Pandorica.

A Thing in a Thing: An alien species, and their victims, in the walls.

The Doctor is A: man who stops the monsters.

The Master Is A: fan of Apple products.

Clara Lies About: She doesn't technically lie to Danny about what she's up to when he calls, but the ideological distinction is pretty thin. The Doctor finally confronts her for having lied to him about Danny last episode.

Reasons Clara Should Drop Danny Like A Hot Potato: Because she describes him as “territorial”, and because a lie this big never does any relationship any good.

Child Count: None (if Rigsy's working a community service order during normal business hours, he must be too old for school).

The Thick of It: The Doctor really gets into his alien-destroying bit at the climax.

It's Actually About: Intentions. It's not what you do, it's what you mean by it.

It's A Thing: Mummy on the Orient Express

Spoilers.
Moffat-Era Tropes: Seemingly evil monster that really just wants to be told “good job, sir”; mummies; “are you my mummy?”; improbable things in space; character singing song; gratuitous, not always effective, celebrity guest stars (Moffat's not the only offender, but his era hasn't shied away from it); ancient myths that are actually real; ancient tech malfunctioning and causing fatalities; aliens targeting specific people; the Doctor sacrificing people in order to save others. This season's running obsession with soldiers is, well, soldiering on.

A Thing in a Thing: A mummy on the Orient Express, what else?

The Doctor is A: Nosey Parker. And Doctor of Intestinal Parasites.

The Master Is A: ...way. Gus is filling in for her this week.

Clara Lies About: the real reason the Doctor wants her to bring Maisie to the lab, and, for once, gets called on it. She then lies to Danny about having left the Doctor, and to the Doctor about Danny being fine with her traveling in the Tardis, but doesn't get called on it. Yet.

Reasons Clara Should Drop Danny Like A Hot Potato: Because he's clearly jealous and possessive, but denies it all over the place.

Child Count: Zero, this week, just to give us a break.

The Thick of It: Clara suggests the Doctor is addicted to power.

It's Actually About: Difficult choices.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

It's A Thing: Kill the Moon


This story needs more crystals.
Moffat-Era Tropes: "The Ark in Space" reference (Bennett oscillator); alien that appears malevolent but actually just wants to be loved; traveling in the Tardis as some kind of emotional therapy for needy children; fairy-tale presented as (really preposterous) science; Timey-wimey (the return of the “Pyramids of Mars” idea of events being in flux); female military types who speak in monotones; skeleton in a space suit; “Everybody lives!” speech from the Doctor; sour grouch regaining an appreciation of the beauty of life thanks to the Doctor's intervention. It's not a Moffat Trope, but it's worth pointing out that the design of the mites is awfully close to that of the red-striped giant spider on the 1978 edition of the Target novelisation of “Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders.”

A Thing in a Thing: A space chicken in the moon.

The Doctor is A: Man who normally helps. At least, that's what Clara says.

The Master Is A: voiding this week. Evidently the sheer level of Science Fail is too much for her.

Clara Lies About: Courtney being special. Fact is, Courtney, however important she may be to the people around her, is nonetheless one of several billion human beings, and, even if she winds up as Dictator of the Solar System, she will be forgotten within a few thousand years of her death. Telling her she's special is just catering to some kind of entitlement mentality at best, and implying that some humans are superior to others at worst.

Reasons Clara Should Drop Danny Like A Hot Potato: Once again, it's all about him: he can't just listen sympathetically to Clara, he has to wrench the conversation round to being about him leaving the army.

Child Count: 28 (13 in the opening scene, 12 in the closing scene, Courtney, and two space-chicken embryos).

The Thick of It: The Doctor tells off Lundvik for swearing in front of children.

It's Actually About: Where to begin? It's about how if the majority votes for something you disagree with, you go ahead and do what you want anyway (a lesson Courtney is sure to take with her into the Oval Office); it's about how kids need to be told they're special, otherwise they'll start drinking White Lightning; it's about how the potential life of a single space-chicken is more important than the actual lives of billions of humans; it's about the Doctor being an arrogant manipulative bastard to Clara. Take your pick.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

It's A Thing: The Caretaker

Moffat-Era Tropes: Troughton-era references (the Doctor offers to introduce Clara to fish people, and later paraphrases the Doctor's “up or down, I don't care which” speech from “The Power of the Daleks”). Timey-wimey (Clara fitting her adventures with the Doctor around her dates with Danny). Doctor Who as romcom. River Song is mentioned. Bow ties are still cool. Companion with a boyfriend who is jealous of the Doctor. The Doctor's antagonistic relationship with Danny appears to have been lifted wholesale from the RTD era, namely Eccleston's antagonistic relationship with Mickey Smith.

A Thing in a Thing: An alien robot killing machine in a school.

The Doctor is A: Caretaker. Also Clara's Space Dad.

The Master Is A: bit busy today.

This machine kills caretakers.
Clara Lies About: Her relationship with the Doctor, both indirectly (in not telling Danny what she's up to) and directly when she pretends she doesn't know the new caretaker, and when she tries to convince Danny she and the Doctor are just rehearsing a play. She also doesn't tell the Doctor that she's dating Danny, or that she's smuggled him into the Tardis using the invisibility watch.

Reasons Clara Should Drop Danny Like A Hot Potato: Because he can't handle the idea that she's a time traveler, because it's always all about him, because it doesn't really seem to occur to him that Clara lying to him might have been justified (as it's not easy to explain a lifestyle like hers to non-time-travelers) rather than some kind of personal slight, and because he's a complete jerk about the Doctor, particularly with his passive-aggressive “I'm a soldier and he's an officer” bit. The Doctor's right; he's not good enough for her.

Child Count: Between 41 and 147 (17 outside Coal Hill, and 6 more as Clara and Danny go into the school; 12 in the act one establishing shot; 7 as Danny and Clara discuss Smith; 2 are moved on by the policeman in the shopping street; 15 in Clara's English class; 41 as Clara goes from her class to the school garden; 5 when Clara tells the two boys off for playing football on the garden chessboard; 19 when Clara bumps into Danny after her conversation with the Doctor; 20 on the wide establishing shot of the school before Clara gives Danny the watch; 3 at the parents' evening). Courtney (alluded to in “Listen”) is finally identified as the cheeky teenager with the Afro seen in Clara's flashback in “Deep Breath” and when Danny visits the school office in “Inside the Dalek”.

The Thick of It: Chris Addison is in the Nethersphere.

It's Actually About: Doctor Who changing from a wacky romcom about two pretty boys vying for the attention of a pretty girl, to one about a pretty boy and a pretty girl trying to get together despite the efforts of her crotchety older relative.