Saturday, December 30, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Anyway, Random Shoes. I've just written, and then deleted, a long, rambling and incoherent in a pre-Christmas-not-enough-sleep kind of way, in order to boil my reaction down to two ponts:
1) Cool title.
2) One "Love and Monsters" is enough.
We shall not go to Telos. It is a silly place.
This one wins top marks from me not only for good editing and appropriate matching of song and series, but also for creative use of audio clips from the show (oh, and Brian Croucher jokes).
And, in the holiday spirit:
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Well, this week’s episode of Torchwood was pretty watchable, for a change; having Toby Whitehouse in was a real breath of fresh air in terms of characterisation and dialogue (namely, he actually provided the characters with both). The problem was, though, that, much like after seeing a fast-paced but ultimately superficial movie, afterwards I found myself with far too many niggles on my mind. So, right after Mary tells her the mindreading pendant can be used for good, Tosh just happens to have it on when a murderer passes. And he turns out to be an actual murderer, not, say, a paranoid schizophrenic off his meds. Yet another Torchwood member commits a breach of security that would get them cashiered in any normal organisation (someone on Tachyon pointed out that “Cyberwoman” contained the equivalent of an MI5 agent smuggling his al-Quaeda girlfriend into the office, and “Greeks Bearing Gifts” is just more of same), and Jack just gives them a stern talking-to and lets them carry on at work. And while I can understand Tosh apologising to Gwen for reading her mind, Owen is such a tosser that I think she would be well within her rights to say to him: “OK, I did wrong there, but one more word about it and everyone, Gwen included, finds out about the date-rape spray incident.”
While we’re on that subject, what is it all these otherwise sensible women have for Owen? He’s not particularly attractive (he reminds me irresistibly of Jude Law made up to play an android in AI, only shorter and more out of shape), he has the sort of obnoxious personality that in real life usually is fitted to the office nuisance (the sort who thinks he’s a massive hit with the laydeeez, and somehow manages not to notice that the laydeeez tend to leave the room when he’s around), and he shows every sign of being seriously disturbed on the sex front (leaving aside the date-rape-spray incident, his idea of courtship is to shove Gwen up against a tree and effectively threaten to rape her—and she goes for it?!), and yet reasonably mentally healthy career women—one a policewoman, for God’s sake-- seem to be continually falling into his arms.
Writing all that down, it also occurs to me to say that this episode made me realise that Torchwood has a really, really unhealthy attitude to sexuality. I can’t think of a single example of a positive sexual relationship, whoever the participants, in the entire series. Even the one-off, bit-part ones: we’ve had a married couple where the husband wants to kill the wife this week, cannibal yokels last week, a teenage girl shagging men in nightclubs a few weeks back, Roj Blake the rape-murderer… hell, even Jack’s ex-girlfriend in “Small Worlds” is someone who’s apparently been pining for her boyfriend for decades, and he ultimately gets her killed. Just once, I’d like to see a healthy, loving, friendly relationship where both parties gain support and strength from each other on Torchwood. I don’t care if it’s gay, straight, polyamorous or even human/nonhuman, just so long as I don’t come away from the episode feeling like all relationships are either evil or doomed, and/or that the writing team have got some serious issues to work through.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
- Wittier (in that there were at least three lines that gave me a chuckle)
- More interesting (in that the plot actually started, finished and kept me watching in between)
- More relevant (in that it dealt with a real issue, genetic engineering, and one which is still pertinent today, if not more so)
- More convincingly performed (need I explain?)
- More credible in its portrayal of the relationship between governments and thinktanks (yes, the Doomwatch team have to fill out forms and deal with obstreperous Ministers-- I'd love to see the Torchwood lot do that)
- More mature in its attitude to sex (seriously-- I believed the relationship between the lady scientist and the office Lothario considerably more than I believe, say, Gwen/Owen or Ianto/Circuit Breaker from the Transformers Comic)
God, you know it's time to give up when you're outclassed by a series which is legendary as a byword for lousy early-seventies eco-sci-fi, basically the early Pertwee era without the jokes. I'm going to watch "The Invasion" this weekend and hope it restores my faith in the franchise.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Leader: Cute, muscular and smart American guy;
Female Lead: Cute, feminine, supposedly professional but actually a bit dippy and inclined to mess things up
Techno-bod: Nerdy girl with glasses who almost never gets to do anything interesting (ETA: And she's a crypto-lesbian)
Laddish Sort: Fashionably-haired gent who's thick as two short planks and obsessed with indulging his carnal appetites
Comedy Character: A dogsbody, or dog's body if you prefer.
ETA2: this one appears to have been picked up on by Tachyon, and thence to Charlie Brooker. I'm viral!
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
I've always liked the Muppets best when they broke away from the standard Kermit-and-Piggy mode and started pushing the envelope on what they could do with puppetry: "The Dark Crystal" was one of my favourite films as a kid, partly for that reason. I'll see if I can find some more later on.
Plus: I embedded a video! Go me!
Monday, October 23, 2006
-I have a vague worry, which I hope won't be proved correct, that all of this is the result of the production team spreading themselves too thin. Rather than doing one excellent series, they're now doing two which show promise but don't quite deliver. Which means that Sarah Jane Investigates should wind up being really, really bad.
-Los Angeles, with its gangs and neo-gothicism, worked OK as a backdrop for Angel, but I'm having real trouble accepting Cardiff as a sinister, brooding location for supernatural goings-on. I mean, Cardiff. It's just too... nice. London? Yes. Edinburgh? Absolutely. Belfast? Perhaps not as ghostly, but still has a feeling of genuine menace. Going down a rung, Oxford has gothic architecture, Birmingham has a sense of agonised misery, Penzance and, hell, even Plymouth have got a West Country we-doesn't-talk-to-strangerrrrs feel about them after dark, but Davies just had to pick the major city in the UK least associated with violence, ghosts and gangs.
"The Streets of Cardiff." "The Cardiff Boy." "Gangs of Cardiff." Nope, it's no good. I just can't get creeped out about it.
-Naoko Mori's character will, I suspect, prove to have no personality whatsoever. White Britons can write convincing Black and Asian characters; why can't they ever do convincing Japanese?
-Also, she's nicked my coat. No, really. I had to go check the rack to make sure my own purple leather trenchcoat was still there. I don't know what it says about me that my fashion sense is shared with someone whose idea of a daring illicit use of alien technology is getting it to scan the text of A Tale of Two Cities.
-Without giving too much away, the plot twist at the end of Episode 1 is only a plot twist if you haven't read/heard any of the pre-publicity.
-While I hate judging a series on its special effects, I have to say this one really did give me the feeling that they were trying to save money. Over the first two episodes, we got a couple of understated bits of original CGI (mostly involving the lift), plus a vague-shiny-cloud-monster and a pterodactyl left over from Walking With Dinosaurs. Which doesn't bode well, since it's supposed to be the first episodes on which you spend the most money, so as to hook the nerd crowd. Mind you, the trailer seemed to show something vaguely Cybermanlike later, so perhaps they did wind up spending most of the money on subsequent episodes. We'll see.
-Finally, if Eve Myles is going to do lesbian scenes with the guest star, I'd like it to involve something other than flicking each other's hair about. So many lesbians I know are involved in film or television; surely there must have been someone behind the camera who could give them a few tips?
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
1) Ripping off First Men in the Moon as well (seemingly for no good reason other than to give Jeremy Irons a speaking part) and giving the Morlocks a culture which is a version of the Selenite one from the other book, which actually made them seem much more interesting than the flaky Eloi, who are just a pack of generic noble savages (see below).
2) Completely contradicting its own message halfway through. "You can't change time, it's all fixed, if your girlfriend hadn't died you wouldn't have invented the time machine so you just have to come to terms with it and accept it... oh wait, it turns out you can change time after all, so go ahead and save the Eloi" (and just when I thought he was going to do something actually authentically from the book, and leave Weena [called, boringly, "Mara" in the film] to her dreadful fate).
3) "We Morlocks regard the Eloi as another species, so we kill and eat them-- except for Mara/Weena here, who we're going to use as a sex slave!" Now, really.
4) Most annoyingly, being an unimaginative pastiche of Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Between this and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it's seeming like the default setting for adaptations of classic British fantasy novels these days is becoming "set it in New Zealand and chuck in a bunch of people who look like Maori and add a soundtrack of Polynesian chanting." Which irks me even more, since, while I know it's fashionable to bash Jackson these days (any time anyone has any success, it happens...) I think he's a pretty intelligent filmmaker, and, when Kiwi elements appeared in LOTR (and King Kong), I could rather see what he was getting at in terms of symbolism, message, etc. Whereas this didn't actually contribute anything to the story or say anything remotely new, other than, perhaps, implying that the Maori are a combination of totally thickheaded but beautiful primitives, and hideously ugly murderers, which one hopes wasn't intentional.
Alan summed it up nicely by saying "The 1960 film made you feel like you'd really travelled in time; the 2002 film just made you feel like you'd travelled to New Zealand."
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The Marianne Trilogy: Dark-haired and innocent/knowing girl protagonist, pursued by adoring but clumsy boyfriend who turns out to be a distant relative of hers and by a grotesque female antagonist; character with hair "like a dark cloud" (c.f. Marianne's "Cloud-Haired Mama"); talking dog (OK, in this book it's a coyote) companion; magical creatures turning up and being taken for granted; girl protagonist turns out to have mystical powers the likes of which none of her friends and acquaintaces had remotely guessed.
The Gate to Women's Country: Post-nuclear society obsessed with eugenics, in which the men and women live separate lives and only come together to have sex (in fact, if it weren't for the fact that the cultural reference point is Native American rather than Ancient Greek, and that this book appears to be set in California rather than Washington, I'd have suspected it was the same society, just a few centuries down the road). Whole society is built on a fiction, which a few of the top people know about but nobody else does. Female character who runs away from home in search of adventures, is kidnapped and forced into concubinage, is traumatised about this for the rest of her life, and has a son who can't or won't take a valuable object lesson from his mother's experiences. Girl protagonist's boyfriend doesn't really understand about women's feelings, but gradually figures it out after a few harsh lessons from various female authority figures.
Gibbon's Decline and Fall: Evil rulers of society secretly have a plan to oppress everyone, which is thwarted by a coalition of clever humans and nonhumans; future society in which STDs are rampant (which again turns out to be someone's cunning population-control plan); exploration of alternative ways of sexual/social partnership; Native American spirituality; one character even paraphrases the whole "humans don't mate monogamously like gibbons do" speech from the earlier book.
Grass: Amusing but poignant peasant couple who help out protagonist; diseases; female protagonist finds a resolution at the end of the story that makes her happy but leaves everyone else totally baffled.
The Song of Maven Manyshaped: Girl protagonist, magical powers, adoring but clumsy male companion who needs to be taught a few lessons about gender politics and the oppression of women but he's not a bad sort really, yadda yadda.
There's probably more, but that was all that I identified on a brief readthrough. The idea of a post-catastrophic California in which people live in "archetypical villages", living out Disneyfied fairy-tale scenarios, was intriguing, but it wasn't really explored in enough depth to satisfy me. So: it was worth reading as a kind of greatest-hits album, but I'm glad I didn't actually pay money for it.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
The thing that amused me most was how terribly similar to the 1980s ITV version it was. I mean, really. Unrealistic, wobbly-looking peasant villages, populated by people who apparently haven't heard that in the Middle Ages everybody went in for really colourful clothing (honestly; look at the margin of any manuscript. Even the peasants look like they're auditioning for Dick Tracy), bunch of cute unshaved fellows wandering the forest; a Guy of Guisborne who looks vaguely like Robin and who seems to have some undiscussed backstory with him; a Marion who is far, far too modern-looking and -acting to be remotely credible; everyone taking everything as seriously as only people in their early twenties can; and a Sheriff of Nottingham who's quite clearly a better actor than three-quarters of the cast and desperately thinking of his pension fund throughout. Unfortunately, though, it lacks the main assets of the ITV version: the retrospective kitsch factor which allows one to laugh at how big the mullets are; the Clannad soundtrack (for which I have a nostalgic fondness); the occasional forays into Hammer Horror territory; and the fact that just about every week some star from the Golden Age of British Televsion would turn up in an unlikely role (my favourite still is the sight of Anthony Valentine sporting a Bettie Page wig and managing not to laugh).
What actually offended me about the series, though, was Robin Hood's sudden conversion to Thatcherism. I mean, not only is he the bloody Earl of Huntingdon again (look, guys, that bit was the invention of Victorians who couldn't stand the idea that their kids were reading stories about a working-class hero) but his advice to the Sheriff is to eliminate all taxes, and let the trickle-down economy do its work. Which, frankly, is an economic policy that even the Americans haven't managed to make feasible, and to see a strategy which only benefits the rich in practice espoused by Robin bloody Hood just suggests that something is very, very wrong with the world.
So, in other words, I think I'll give the rest of the series a miss, and then catch it again in twenty years, when I can at least laugh at the ridiculous old-fashioned designer stubble and hoodies.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Monday, September 18, 2006
Just when I was beginning to wonder if I'd spotted a sign of artificial intelligence (or artificial stupidity, which is probably scarier), it then played a song by Tenacious D.
It was "Sasquatch."
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Now, it's easy to attribute the latter point to the fact that they were made in the early 1930s, and so had a cast and crew that were still thinking in silent terms, but it goes beyond that: M , All Quiet on the Western Front and Maedchen in Uniform are all good examples of early sound films which, consequently, look a lot like silents, but still work as sound films, and, indeed, are at least partly improved by the use of sound. Whereas in the Universal horror-pics, the dialogue usually takes away from the enjoyment as far as I'm concerned, being stilted and corny at best, the sort of thing that you might, possibly, be able to get away with on a title card if it's reduced to one line. Think of how much more pathetic the scene in Frankenstein where the father of the drowned little girl staggers into the village to report her death would be if you were left to imagine what he said for the most part, or how much scarier the Mummy would be if Boris Karloff never opened his big mouth to rattle on about Anubis.
Patrick McGoohan, in a 1970s interview, lamented the fact that black and white had gone so far out of fashion, since he thought Ibsen worked much better in monochrome; I'm starting to feel the same about sound as far as some early horror pics are concerned.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Friday, August 04, 2006
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Monday, May 01, 2006
Thursday, April 27, 2006
The main thing that differentiates American sitcoms from every other country's sitcoms, as far as I can see, is that there always has to be a moral lesson somewhere in the episode. If you don't realise how unusual this is, try comparing a Canadian or British sitcom to any American sitcom of your choice, and you'll see what I mean: while some non-American sitcoms do involve moral messages (Corner Gas is pretty heavy on "don't underestimate people just because they're poor/uneducated/not from Toronto"), it's generally pretty understated and also isn't necessarily a requirement for every episode, whereas even Frasier is given to delivering explicit homilies right after the climactic scene.
Now, by its very premise My Name is Earl is set up explicitly as a series dealing with moral lessons. After all, its titular character is a small-time con-artist who has reformed and is trying to make up for his crimes, and each episode revolves around him atoning for some past crime and usually learning some sort of related lesson-- gay people are human too, paying taxes supports public services, stand up to big business, own up to your mistakes, etc.-- so you'd think it would be the comedic equivalent of a Baptist Sunday School class (and one from the sort of Baptist church that frowns upon gospel singing and Getting The Spirit). However, the very fact that the central characters are deeply amoral allows them to get away with it: when Earl makes some kind of climactic speech about how he's just learned he should be nicer to his brother, you can genuinely believe that it's only just now occurred to him that there is value in doing this, and the series' simple the-good-do-well-and-the-bad-suffer setup also allows the series to deliver rewards and punishments to its characters without incurring a "c'mon, that's unrealistic" reaction-- if anything, having had the setup, you're just waiting for the moral payoff.
I compared it to M*A*S*H above, and it occurs to me that the earlier sitcom also managed to get away with its periodic moral lessons for precisely the same reason. Everybody in the surgical unit was as morally bankrupt as the characters in Earl (with the arguable exception of Radar, but he had the innocent-who-does-as-much-harm-as-good thing going, which leads to similar results), and so you could actually believe in them, if not learning from their misdeeds, at least providing a non-preachy example to others through them. So
Now, if they'd only manage to pull off this trick with Will and Grace, maybe I'd actually be able to watch more than five minutes before switching off in disgust.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Case in point, a recent episode in which Galen breaks his leg and the protagonists are forced to find shelter with a sharecropping family who are the ape equivalent of Southern white trash, with all manner of racist preconceptions about humans. You just know how it's going to end: the humans will win the racist apes over, and the now-no-longer-racist apes will end up saving them from the authorities. But it wasn't quite as simple as that.
The initially racist apes were gradually won over by the humans' showing them how to use their farmland, tools and oxen with greater efficiency, essentially demonstrating to them that tradition is not sacred and they didn't have to stay poor sharecroppers all their lives. But opposition was staged by the elder son of the family-- because under the traditional system, the oldest son is given a bull calf and goes off to set up his own farm upon reaching maturity, and, while he initially objects on the grounds that the humans might "curse" the cow and cause it to bring forth a heifer calf, it rapidly becomes clear that he's also afraid that the humans' challenge to tradition might result in him losing his chance at independence-- indeed, three-quarters of the way through, his younger siblings, noting that the sky hasn't fallen when they changed their traditional ploughing or watering systems, begin to question why the eldest should automatically get the calf. So what could have been a dull and worthy lesson on racism turned into an exploration of how people contribute to their own oppression by buying into the small benefits the system allows them-- the son is willing to be oppressed if that means he gets a calf, rather than reject the system and maybe not get a calf. Worth thinking about, even today.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
All these deaths have tempted me to start a blog solely for obituaries. "So, Farewell Then" is what I'd like to call it, but E.J. Thribb of Private Eye would probably sue.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Something about a person dying seems to send me completely into curmudgeon mode. Right, my mission for the next few weeks, should I choose to accept it, is to find some new sci-fi writers to enjoy. Suggestions, as always, greatly appreciated.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
However. The dialogue is flat and boring as all get out (I don't know if it's just a bad translation, or if the Japanese is equally stilted, but either way) and the voice acting is really below par: the protagonist in particular sounds like the director said, when she asked for her motivation, "well, you're a cyborg policewoman with issues about whether you're a robot or a human, so you should say everything in a flat, mechanical voice." Her sidekick manages a bit more emotion, but still sounds like he's ordering out for pizza rather than engaging in high-speed, life-or-death chases most of the time. So my recommendation is: be warned, and ideally watch it in small chunks so that the flatness of the dialogue and delivery doesn't obscure the thought-provoking messages.