Monday, December 28, 2009

Doctor Who Recyclingwatch: The End of Time, part one

This one's kind of work-in-progressy, so check back over the next few days as I'll be putting things in as they occur to me.

Rose: Another zoom-in on Earth/UK/London (see also Smith and Jones, etc. etc. etc.). Dropping a phial of Essence of Whatsit into the menace destroys or disrupts it.

Aliens of London/WW3: A pair of normal human beings are in fact green aliens with a secret agenda, and finding their human disguise uncomfortable.

Dalek: The Dalek is healed by a brief contact with Rose's DNA, just as the Master is brought to life through a brief contact with his wife's.

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances: Alien medical device fetches up on Earth, which uses whatever's in it as a template to "repair" the rest of the human race, and so winds up turning everyone around it into a copy of one particular individual.

Bad Wolf (and later "The Stolen Earth"): Army of chanting Daleks rising on hover platforms = army of chanting Time Lords rising on hover platforms.

The Christmas Invasion: Mind-controlling a certain percentage of humans on Christmas Day.

Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel: A menace which preys upon the homeless.

School Reunion, also Doomsday, Journey's End, The Sarah Jane Adventures etc.: Apparently once you've had Gallifreyan, you never go back, as Donna's perfectly functional relationship with an evidently sweet guy is described as "settling," just because he's not the Doctor.

The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit: Ood whose eyes glow red in the presence of evil.

The Idiot's Lantern: Woman who talks to certain people through the television. Oh, and "Hungry!"

Love and Monsters: The Silver Cloak are basically a pensioner version of the find-the-Doctor club in this story, plus the whole "I'm not a Slitheen, I'm a related species" bit is echoed by the two cactus-heads to explain why they're nothing like Bannakaffalata.

Army of Ghosts/Doomsday: the whole setup with the Eternity Gate, down to two technicians who keep finding contrived excuses to run off with each other. Plus figures from the series' past, believed dead, but actually about to burst out of some secret hiding-place and take over again.

The Shakespeare Code: The Doctor and Queen Elizabeth I have a, shall we say, history together.

Last of the Time Lords (if only): Time Lord restoring self to normal through the concentrated belief of people.

Voyage of the Damned: Gratuitous cameo from a Queen Elizabeth II impersonator = Gratuitous cameo from a President Obama impersonator.

Planet of the Ood: They've got a functioning civilization now, apparently, although they're still carrying their brains around in their hands.

The Sontaran Stratagem: A deleted scene has the Master complaining pedantically about the phrase "merry Christmas" and how it should be "happy Christmas," like this episode's running gag about acronym pedantry.

Journey's End: Timelord reincarnated through plot device and comes back naked.

The Waters of Mars: The Doctor turns up at the start in full tourist mode, then rapidly gets more serious.

Torchwood: Rifts/gates in time; corrupt politicians about to take on more than they can handle with aliens; find-the-Doctor clubs.

Old Skool Who: Deep breath. "Logopolis" (the Doctor meets up with a secret order of aliens who tell him the universe is being disrupted); "The Keeper of Traken" and "The Deadly Assassin" (skull-faced Master); "Meglos" (cactus-headed aliens). "The Talons of Weng Chiang" (partly-formed villain who must consume people to survive). "Inferno" (well-intended large-scale scientific experiment goes hideously awry). "Shada" (villain who turns the whole world into him) plus "The Leisure Hive" (similar, only in that case, the whole clone army turns into the Doctor temporarily). "Image of the Fendahl" (ritual in which the thing being summoned makes itself out of the life energy of believers). The True History of Faction Paradox (plot in which the biodata of a deceased alien is reassembled in a ritual, to bring back said alien, but somehow he comes back wrong) and Kaldor City (mystical being informing protagonist that there are no coincidences; conversation with person invisible to everyone else through the television; dead cult figure who made provisions for his "return", plus see Fendahl above; the homeless charity is called Steven's Point). "The Stones of Blood" (a crypto-lesbian named Mrs Trefusis who's into pagan rituals). "Silver Nemesis" (the ritual, plus an unexpected image of the Doctor's companion in a painting/the Doctor's Tardis in a stained-glass window).

Everything Else: Harry Potter (a secret order determined to resurrect a dead baddie, which they do through a magic ritual; use of magic potions and secret books; a hero reluctant to meet his destiny). Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (lightning bolts from hands fighting), The Phantom Menace (the Time Lords apparently live on Coruscant) and Attack of the Clones (erm... pass). Being John Malkovitch (or, in this case, Being John Simm). Right-wing conspiracy theories about Obama (plausible black politician who's secretly doing some rather evil things). For Your Eyes Only (gratuitous insertion of contemporary, recognisable politician into story, played by an impersonator). The Satanic Rites of Dracula (the ritual to bring back the Master, plus the Doctor-Master relationship parallelling the Van Helsing-Dracula one). Jacob's Ladder (the shaking-head bit). Buffy the Vampire Slayer (character returned from the dead comes back wrong). The Matrix (everybody turning into Agent Smith, plus high-flying martial arts in an urban wasteland). "Stargate". "Ghostwatch" (newsreader possessed by external force). Timothy Dalton's spit-laden speech keeps reminding me of the video for Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise" for some reason. Prisoner Cell Block H, also House of Whipcord (sado-masochistic lesbian prison wardens). Silence of the Lambs (as has been repeatedly pointed out in the media, though they usually just mention the heavy bondage scene and not the fact that the Master eats people). Life on Mars (people sending messages through the television that only one person can see). Battlestar Galactica (armies of identical people aside, there's also a Head Person who appears to one specific character).

Dirty Shame

Hunger: Feature-length docudrama following Irish political prisoner Bobby Sands as he goes first on dirty protest, then on an ultimately fatal hunger strike. A difficult subject, made compelling and eerie by director Steve McQueen (the Turner prize winner, not the other one); it's an almost wordless story, so when you finally do get a long conversation, it grips you completely. The film plays subtly on the idea of hunger, not just for food but as desire in general, showing the lengths the prisoners will go to not just for political recognition, but also for letters and smuggled-in crystal radios. The prison sequences are, of course, brutal, but you come out of it all full of admiration for the people who withstood it.

Movie count for 2009: 110

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Begin again

Batman Begins: I'd missed this one first time out, but really, really, liked The Dark Knight, so thought I should catch up. It's probably just as well that I saw The Dark Knight first, as this has the power to put one off the franchise forever. The story was simultaneously boring and improbable, and amazingly managed to make even the fight/car chase scenes dull as dishwater. It features the world's hardest bats (capable of punching their way through glass windows), some bloke incapable of blinking (him versus the Weeping Angels; who would win?) and Michael Caine (clearly in Shadow Run mode rather than Get Carter mode). Morgan Freeman appears to be playing a genie, as he apparently develops and constructs prototypes for all this cool experimental gadgetry without any staff whatsoever, as well as having enough knowledge of pharmacology to whip up a quick antidote for a previously-unseen poison. There's also a curious continuity error, or something, when Alfred tells Bruce Wayne that his father had been involved in philanthropy during the Depression, which means either the film is set in the 1940s (in which case what is everyone doing with mobiles, etc.), or (arguably) that this takes place in an alternate universe in which the event in question held off until the 1990s. Still, the public transport system is pretty cool-looking.

Two observations:

1) Ever notice how these reviews are always longer when I don't actually like the movie? and

2) Much as, in London, you are never more than nine feet from a rat, on the BBC this fortnight you are never more than nine minutes away from David Tennant.

Move count for 2009: 109

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My taste in holiday movies and music

Casino: Really long, but compelling, partially-true story of the rise and fall of a Jewish casino manager and his Italian mob-boss friend in 1970s Vegas. Forget the mafia antics and the breathtakingly tacky glitziness of polyester-era Nevada, this is actually about love and betrayal, as DeNiro loves his wife (carnally) and his friend (platonically), but is betrayed on the personal and economic level by both, and walks away from the experience alive (which is more than can be said for most of the film's characters) but diminished as a person. Equivalent on my holiday playlist: "Walking on Broken Glass" and "Fairytale of New York."

Inglorious Bastards: Not the Tarantino one, but the film also known as Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato (which my limited Italian translates as "that damn armoured train"). Arguably a masterpiece of clever irony, mixing Blaxploitation tropes and subverted war-film cliches to create a knowing wink at European images of gung-ho American imperialism. That, or just the Italian sense of humor at work. I can see why Tarantino liked it, and Tarantino's is the cleverer film, but the original has an exuberance which Tarantino's version lacks. Equivalent on my holiday playlist: "Killing in the Name" and "Walking Round in Women's Underwear".

Jacob's Ladder: Hallucinogenic, terrifying and poignant portrayal of what appears at first to be a Vietnam veteran, his life in pieces after the war, stumbling shell-shocked through a bewildering system, then to be a thriller involving a cover-up of the use of experimental drugs in Vietnam, and finally something rather more Dante/Hieronymous Bosch influenced. For all its horrific imagery of war and madness, I defy anyone with a heart to watch the ending without tearing up. Features the only non-annoying use of Macauley Culkin ever. Equivalent on my holiday playlist: "Mad World."

Movie count for 2009: 108. Number of songs on my holiday playlist: 53.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Two very different Eighties movies

The Cotton Club: Richard Gere plays a mean trumpet, is a hit wit the ladeeez, and too much of a gentleman to take advantage of either. In other news, black people found it hard to break into the mainstream dance business in the 1930s, and New York had a number of ethnic mafias who carried out hits on each other. You'd think that with Francis Ford Coppola behind the camera and Larry Fishburne and Bob Hoskins in front of it, it would be a damn sight more interesting movie, but as it is, it's outclassed in all departments by Bugsy Malone.

Flight of the Navigator: Cute, if not terribly deep, 1980s sci-fi piece about a preteen boy who wakes up after a fall to find out that eight years have passed for everyone else but not for him; this turns out to have a connection to an alien spacecraft picked up by NASA, for which he, it seems, is the Navigator. The effects are variable (the spacecraft is good, the alien animals kind of puppety-looking), and the 1980s pop culture is either charmingly nostalgic or annoying, depending on how you feel (there's a gratuitous robot, a continual awestruck worship of NASA, a sub-Pet-Shop-Boys electropop tie-in single, and the protagonist's brother, as a teenager, punctuates his conversation with "dude", "rad" and "totally" to the point where one suspects Tourette's) . Keep an eye out for a teenage Sarah Jessica Parker.

Movie count for 2009: 105. Meaning I now average 2 movies a week.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fly Away

Grave of the Fireflies: Tragic story of two orphaned children in wartime Japan, abandoned by their family, the authorities and the system. Really, it's a story that could have been set in any war, any place, any time; however, the delicate charm of the usual Studio Ghibli animation style lends it an extra poignancy and sense of fragile innocence, and arguably the repeated motif of the traditional Japanese houses, of wood and paper, going up in flames adds to the idea that life is transient and easily destroyed. Watch it, absolutely watch it, but be warned: you will cry buckets.

Movie count for 2009: 103

Friday, December 04, 2009

Cassandra wept

The Cassandra Crossing: Really too bad to summarise without going into a lot of detail, but my main problems with it boil down to three areas (warning: spoilers).

1) The plot is solid 1970s disaster movie: a train heading from Geneva to Stockholm turns out to have a man on board infected with some experimental American military virus as well as the World's Greatest Doctor (Richard Harris); cue high-speed shenanigans as the virus spreads while the train hurtles through Europe. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself, as that format has lead to some really great movies. But the films which make best use of the genre are those which don't focus on the disaster, so much as on its impact on a variety of little but powerful human dramas: The Towering Inferno, for instance, is less about the fire than about the woman about to make a mistake in marrying Fred Astaire, the woman unhappiliy married to the psychopathic architect, the businessman having an affair with his secretary who gets trapped with her in the burning office... et cetera. There is almost no human drama of this sort in Cassandra, barring two subplots, one about Richard Harris' character getting back together with his ex, and another involving OJ Simpson as an undercover policeman hunting down Martin Sheen (you can read that phrase again if you like). Neither of them are interesting enough to sustain the movie.

2) The scenario is just too unbelievable. The plot twist is that the American military, having discovered the virus is loose on the train, plan to divert the train over a faulty crossing in Poland (yes, in the middle of the Cold War) so that it will crash and they can claim the passengers were all killed in an accident, eradicating the virus and destroying the evidence/witnesses. Um, sorry, but have they thought this one through? Leaving aside the fact that any train crash of this sort would have investigators all over it-- from insurance companies, the train operators, the grieving relatives-- who would immediately expose anything remotely fishy to the press, a whole lot of infected corpses out in the open are a considerably greater risk to public health than a containable train full of sick people (particularly since it's established in the story that the virus is transmissible to animals, so any scavengers would become carriers). Why not just inform the world that the passengers have something rare but plausible-- bubonic plague, swine flu-- and isolate them for three months?

3) Finally, Richard Harris is not a good leading man. He's a good character actor (Harry Potter); he's a good man at playing the leaders of interestingly diverse ensemble casts (The Wild Geese). But he's just not a good leading man (and no, Camelot doesn't count; the whole point of the story is that Arthur is a good leader but just uncharismatic enough that you can understand Guinevere falling in love with Lancelot), and having him as the leading man here is just asking for the camera to go drifting gently off in the direction of OJ Simpson.

Movie count for 2009: 102

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Life on Mars USA: the halftime verdict

Life on Mars USA's run on FX is halfway done now, so perhaps I'm premature in offering a verdict, but it's still worth offering some preliminary comments.

Firstly, it's actually got more to recommend it than I thought. My expectations were pretty low based on the fan grapevine, but I thought, give it a chance. And I have to say that there's some snappy dialogue, some good performances, and some takes on particular episodes which can be better than the original (the episode where Sam meets a younger version of his black colleague came across to me as massively patronising in the British version, but not so here). I also find that, having spent my Seventies childhood in a big North American city, the imagery has more resonance for me than the British version (although interestingly, I find that the imagery of Ashes to Ashes has powerful resonance for me despite the fact that the Eighties portion of my childhood was spent in the same city; perhaps it's a big-city thing, since Ashes to Ashes is set in London, not Manchester). For me, the Seventies was about New York style, big afros and flowing dresses, Three Dog Night, and hot summers with picnics in the park, not about strikes, test pattern girls and football games.

Where I'm finding it falls down is in the relationship between Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt. As Sam, John Simm had a kind of trustworthy, sensitive-man quality, where Philip Glenister played Gene as a bluff, blustery man who was clearly compensating for some kind of inner pain; these, coupled with the heterosexual chemistry between the two, made it perfectly understandable why Gene would be willing to go along with Sam's crazy hunches, and/or why he would sometimes unburden himself to Sam at times of trouble. However, the American Sam is too much the classic strong-jawed, blank-faced hero to seem like the sort who inspires confidences from macho superiors, and Harvey Keitel, while lovely, plays Gene more like a bluff, spunky old man refusing to change in a transforming world than someone with any kind of interior turmoil. As for the heterosexual chemistry, there's more between Gene and Ray than between Gene and Sam.

Poor old Chris is just completely marginalised in all of this, coming across as a non-character rather than as a prototypical sensitive man forced into a macho mould.

Upon a spider's web

The Elephant Man: Another one which is brilliant, but it's hard to find something to say that isn't trite. I suppose what I liked best was, first, the complicated moral problem: the doctors may have been giving Merrick a better life than he had at the freak-show, but it was still exploitation, and yet, was there any situation in Victorian Britain that Merrick could be in which is not exploitative (the real-life Merrick joined the freak-show voluntarily, the reason being that he couldn't get any other kind of work)? Secondly, though, was the triumph of the human spirit: faced with such a no-win situation, Merrick rises above everyone else in the story, finding good even in the people who come to sneer at him. What a hero.

Movie count for 2009: Room 101

Friday, November 27, 2009

100th Movie

Taxi Driver: One of the all-time best movies ever, in my opinion, but one which I haven't seen for about ten years, so it's worth revisiting. There's not much I can say that hasn't been said already, but what I particularly like about it is the way in which, viewed objectively, Travis Bickle's life is nightmarish, and yet the way Scorscese directs the film you find yourself drawn into it, finding it normal and his reactions natural. At the end of the film, Bickle achieves closure, but not redemption; having gone to Vietnam as a teenager, he is now an adult operating on the principle that problems have violent solutions, and his firearms spree, however grateful Iris' parents may be for the outcome, has done nothing to move him towards a more normal view of the world.

Movie count for 2009: 100 (goal reached!)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Decade of Nyder

I've been running the website "Nyder's Dyner" for ten years now, and have had the domain for almost that long. Round about 2002, I opened up a blog as an annex to the website, eventually called "Nyder's Takeaways". As with all such websites, gradually the site became more and more motheaten, while the blog became more and more the focus of attention. So, for the tenth anniversary of the site, I've amalgamated the two, including links to bits of the old site which are antiquated and Nineties, but which I still don't want to lose (like the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs page, which seems to have a steampunky little fandom all its own) into the blog menu, and redirecting the main page of the website to the blog so visitors to it aren't immediately put off by the antique interface. Happy anniversary to all our readers!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Germany calling

The Holcroft Covenant: Fortunately the last bad Michael Caine film I have to watch for a very long time. A highly improbable thriller incorporating every single 1980s spy-movie cliche available: Nazis, Swiss banks, a plan to "establish the Fourth Reich," incest, jet-setting between European cities, MI5, and black and white flashback sequences. It does contain two good lines: one is "Assumption... is the mother of f*ckup," and the other is "High on my list of things that I am not going to do with [a $4bn legacy] is start a new Nazi party, I'm pretty sure on that one; neither am I going to finance the redesigned Edsel or a broadway musical, or shave my head and give it to the Moonies."

The Lives of Others: On the other hand, we have a film about social redemption and observation, in which a Stasi officer tasked to eavesdrop on a playwright finds himself compelled to question his own activities even as the playwright comes to question his own support for the system which has nurtured him but arbitrarily condemned many of his colleagues. The portrayal of how bureaucracy furthers the development of shallow, petty-minded bullies, and of how easy it is to fall into compliance with a totalitarian system, is frighteningly accurate. Recommended, particularly for social science students needing a case study in professional ethics.

Movie count for 2009: 99

SJA Checklist: The Gift

Crowds of people walking through London under alien influence: No, though there's crowds of plant spores floating through London under alien influence. Also, crowds of people being driven through London in ambulances under alien influence.
Tie-in with Doctor Who story:
Distantly, as it's part of the cycle of Slitheen-featuring stories taking over the Sarah Jane microverse like a stand of rackweed. There's also an oblique "Children of Earth" reference in Sarah Jane's line "My son is dying just to feed your addiction."
Rani's Mum is annoying: Rani's mum is absent. So is Rani's Dad, at a convenient "headteacher's conference," or are they trying to rebuild their shattered relationship?
Star Wars reference: No.
Mobile phone as plot device: Yes, along with every other electronic device in London.
Luke says something so daft that you have to wonder how he gets through life without being mercilessly bullied: No, mainly because he spends most of the story unconscious and thus unable to do so.
K9 interprets a figurative English expression literally: Sort of-- his overgeneral interpretation of "test" as being a way that one human proves intellectual superiority over another means that Clyde can talk him into helping him cheat (on the grounds that figuring out a way to do so is also a means of proving intellectual superiority).
Sonic lipstick: Check, and yet again as a sophisticated lock-pick cum offensive weapon.
Wristwatch scanner: Check, and it's a serious plot device as Sarah Jane's scan of the Blathereen's teleport coordinates enables her to track them down.
One or more of Sarah's companions falling under alien influence: Luke, for most of the story.
Sarah and/or companions acts like a selfish cow: Clyde's attempt to cheat on exams using K9 (how the hell did he reckon this one would go unnoticed?).

And, because it's the last episode of the season:

Wide-eyed speech by Sarah Jane about the wonders of the universe and how great it is to be in her gang: Check, also including quick arse-covering section to the effect that not all aliens are evil, just in case they get accused of racism for their constant portrayal of non-humans as criminals, idiots and/or chavs.

Next year, I'm going to include "Somebody says 'maximum [something]'" in this checklist, because I reckon it happened at least once per serial this year.

Also: Simon Callow appeared in this?!

Friday, November 20, 2009


The Dam Busters: Contains many elements of the typical 1950s Brit-warflick (genius inventor persisting in the face of widespread rejection, stiff-upper-lipped airline pilots who never actually question what all the killing and dying is for; lots of black and white aviation techno-porn), but rises above the herd by being actually funny in places (normally these things are so po-faced you have to go watch some comedy with lots of swearing afterwards to cleanse your brain), and, in its first half, being remarkably pacy. Bizarrely, this is the half with all the inventing and planning in it; the second half, containing the actual raid, is much slower and best viewed on fast-forward. Having watched a lot of Armstrong and Miller lately, I kept expecting the pilots to break into chav-speak. The final irony is that although the film has cemented the bombing of the Ruhr dams in the British psyche as a moment of national pride to be brought up by any petty right-winger wanting to point out how great we were before the advent of the EU and the demise of empire and all that, the raid itself was actually a bit of a disaster; not as much damage done to German industry as hoped, and most of the casualties being Allied POWs and forced labourers.

Movie count for 2009: 98.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doctor Who Recyclingwatch: The Waters of Mars

The Unquiet Dead: The Doctor meets, and bonds with, a historical figure despite knowing that something really tragic is shortly to happen to them.

Father's Day: Messing with causality so that someone who should be dead survives, only for them to kill themselves voluntarily.

The Parting of the Ways: The imagery of the Dalek hovering slowly up in front of a window, watched by a girl or young woman. Solar flares interrupting communications.

The Girl in the Fireplace: The Doctor meets, and bonds with, a historical figure despite knowing that something really tragic is shortly to happen to them.

The Satan Pit: Base full of multiethnic people in sensible clothing who are sitting on top of some long-buried nightmare which is about to start slowly taking over and/or killing the crew.

: Spaceship full of multiethnic people in sensible clothing, who are floating on top of some long-buried nightmare which is about to start slowly taking over and/or killing the crew.

: "Don't drink the water!" as analogue to "Don't blink!"

: People in a sealed base with a rocket being afraid of some human-like people with funny mouths, one of whom gains access without people realising what she is.

Voyage of the Damned: Doctor attempts technological solution to save companion-figure, with Pyrrhic results; an "insignificant person" saved from the disaster by the Doctor rushes off into contemporary London.

The Fires of Pompeii:
This one's so obvious even the programme itself mentions it.

The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky: Techno-obsessed tragi-comic American nerdboy-- they even look kind of similar, with black hair and goggle-eyes. Freeze-framing the obituary reveals this one's also a boy genius.

Silence in the Library/The Forest of Fear: Library full of multiethnic people in sensible clothing, who are sitting on top of some long-buried nightmare which is about to start slowly taking over and/or killing the crew. Plus the Doctor meets a woman he really, really likes, who then kills herself.

Midnight: Another small group of people trapped in a small ship, in the middle of a hostile alien environment, with one of their number taken over by an alien; they are suspicious of the Doctor, and the situation is finally resolved when one of them commits suicide.

The Stolen Earth/Journey's End: Technically a revisiting rather than a recycling, but still involves a riff on a past adventure.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Previously had the corner on people who are supposed to be dead getting a paradoxical reprieve and then killing themselves anyway.

Catchphrasewatch: Mostly absent, but Tennant does work a "Molto Bene" in there.

Old Skool Who:
"Fury from the Deep" (People taken over by something that makes them go goggle-eyed, big-mouthed and exhaling); "The Wheel in Space" (Space station full of multiethnic people in not-very-sensible clothing who are being sat upon by some long-buried nightmare which is about to start taking over and/or killing the crew); actually, pretty much any of the "base under sieges" of the mid-to-late Sixties for multiethnic crews menaced by aliens; "Remembrance of the Daleks" (Daleks being afraid to mess with minor points of causality when concocting their reality-destroying schemes); Mars is getting pretty damn crowded between this story, "The Ice Warriors" and "Pyramids of Mars" (which also riffs on the whole "is time fixed or fluid?" question); K9 indicates the Doctor's aversion to cute robots is pretty recent; "The Aztecs" (character spared from death by Barbara kills himself anyway); "The Massacre" (it's not OK to save Anne Chaplet from the Massacre, but it's OK to remove her possibly direct descendent from the 1960s); "The Ice Warriors" (the Doctor trapped in an airlock with a person threatening to pump the air out); "The Reign of Terror" (start of the idea that there are fixed points in time which can't be altered); "The Tomb of the Cybermen" (crew debating which of many groups the mysteriously-arrived Doctor may be from); "The Power of the Daleks" (Dalek recognising the Doctor due to events which haven't happened yet).

Everything Else
: "Silent Running" (space greenhouses, cute but useful robots and blissed-out hippie space gardeners who dig their veg both literally and figuratively); any zombie movie in which the zombies can run fast (principally "Dead Set" and "28 Days Later," though the "everybody dies" ending of the recent remake of "Day of the Dead" is also in there); "The Thing," particularly the John Carpenter version (isolated research base full of monoethnic people in sensible clothing who are sitting on top of some long-buried nightmare which is about to start slowly taking over and/or killing the crew; the base is blown up to prevent said menace from spreading); "28 Days Later" also is briefly homaged in the shot of the drop of water falling on Roman's eye; Terminator 2 (an explicit homage in the way the water zombies run); Wal-E (Gadget's appearance; Confidential makes it clear the resemblance was originally so strong as to be almost actionable); any anime series featuring a cute robot and/or catchphrase-repeating character (Ulysses 3000 and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, I'm looking at you); cute robots with catchphrases also feature heavily in both Buck Rogers ("Bidibidibidi...") and the Star Wars prequels ("Roger-roger!"); any Joss Whedon series featuring a comic goggle-eyed nerd ("Dollhouse"'s Topher is the closest IMO); Life on Mars (bad David Bowie puns); 2001: A Space Odyssey (general design appearance, people calling up their kids on videophones).


2001: A Space Odyssey: "Stands the test of time" is such a cliche, and yet it does; the brilliant models, the minimalist decor, the use of slitscan to produce alien landscapes weirder than anything produced in the CGI era. In a way, the most alien thing about it is the brief scene where Frank receives a birthday message from his parents; they're the ones who look like creatures from another world. We had good fun afterwards discussing the motivations for HAL's breakdown. It's also fairly plain that both George Lucas and Gerry Anderson were sitting in the audience taking frantic notes.

Movie count for 2009: 97 (I'll make 100 by the end of the year!)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Stolen Earth: Dalek Cutaway

[Recyclingwatch soon, but first, a few thoughts on one of the implications of "The Waters of Mars". Not that it wasn't a great story and all that, but following the implications of the Doctor's interpretation of the Dalek's behaviour through to its logical conclusion..]

(Scene: Davros' sanctum within the Crucible. A Dalek approaches)

Dalek: Um, excuse me, Davros?

Davros: Yes, what is it? Can't you see I've got a reality bomb to detonate and all of causality to throw into chaos?

Dalek: Um, well, you see, Davros... when I was down on Earth exterminatin' the population like you said and all... I saw this little girl. Name's Adelaide Brooks, and, um, it seems she's, like, a fixed point in time.

Davros: What are you talking about?

Dalek: See, if we kill her, then the future won't unfold like it's supposed to, and so we can't actually kill her.

Davros: Why the hell not?

Dalek: See, if we kill her now, then her death won't inspire her granddaughter to lead some sort of mission which will be the start of humans going out into space, and so the Daleks will never encounter humans and none of the events leading up to you and me being here will ever actually happen.

Davros: What?! But that means...

Dalek: Yeah, that this reality bomb scheme of yours is going to be somehow thwarted before it can do any lasting damage. Cos you can't destroy the Earth in 2009, otherwise Dalek history is screwed too.

Davros: And you've known this since when?

Dalek: Um, well, all along really. All of us have.

Davros: And nobody told me?

Dalek: Well, we sort of assumed you knew.

Davros: Ohhh.... Bollocks!

(Curtain. Davros wheels off to have a word with that little bastard Dalek Caan)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Film round-up

Quicksand: An interesting enough premise-- Michael Keaton as an auditor who goes out to Monte Carlo to investigate a possible case of money-laundering using a film studio as cover, and finds himself framed for corruption and murder-- let down by an unbelievable ending. Co-stars Michael Caine as a has-been film star making bad movies for the money, and includes, cheekily, a clip from the Michael Caine film Shadow Run as the film the bogus studio is supposedly making.

Fantastic Mr Fox: Every bit as good as the reviews have been saying-- cute and funny, with a bit of bite and lovely attention to detail.

In Which We Serve: It's not a title so much as a description of the plot, and the film is not so much a British war film as a Noel Coward vanity project. Coward writes, directs, and plays a dashing naval captain surrounded by a collection of jolly working-class stereotypes who love both him and his ship (one of which is a very young Sir John Mills), and various naval wives who never let their upper lips unstiffen as the casualties mount around them. A little unusual for the genre in having a non-linear narrative, but otherwise fairly undistinguished. Probably given more attention than it deserves due to the fact that David Lean co-directed it.

Movie count for 2009: 96

SJA Checklist: Mona Lisa's Revenge

Crowds of people walking through London under alien influence: No, again. Though the art competition judges have to be under some kind of alien influence, to have given Clyde's poorly-proportioned "Charlie's Angels" ripoff first prize.
Tie-in with Doctor Who story:
As well as being a reiteration of "Fear Her" (and on the non-Doctor Who front, when are the writers of this series going to stop plagiarising Sapphire and Steel?), the presence of the Mona Lisa renders this one a direct tie-in to "City of Death." Imagine if all six Mona Lisas had come into contact with the demon painting....
Rani's Mum is annoying: Rani's Mum is yet again absent (is divorce in the air? Certainly Rani's Dad does look awfully pleased to see Sarah Jane), though she does give Rani's Dad an earful over the phone.
Star Wars reference: Clyde to Luke: "I hope you know what you're doing my young padawan; you've gone right over to the Dark Side"
Mobile phone as plot device: Yes, repeatedly so. I've been to lots of galleries where they ask you to switch your mobile off, but never to any where they actually confiscate them too.
Luke says something so daft that you have to wonder how he gets through life without being mercilessly bullied: Right at the start, where he informs Clyde that art is just a matter of biomechanics and geometry. I'm surprised Clyde doesn't clock him one for that.
K9 interprets a figurative English expression literally: No, probably because the K9 we see isn't the real one, but an artisitic interpretation.
Sonic lipstick: Check, and used for breaking and entering again.
Wristwatch scanner: Check.
One or more of Sarah's companions falling under alien influence: Yes, if you count Sarah turning into a Hockney.
Sarah and/or companions acts like a selfish cow: Told to clean his room, Luke goes into a snit rivalling Rani's from "The Mad Woman In the Attic," similarly involving the switching-off of mobiles and assertions that he can solve the mystery on his own.

Monday, November 09, 2009

SJA Checklist: The Eternity Trap

Crowds of people walking through London under alien influence: No. Though we do get crowds of alien-influenced people standing on a staircase in a stately home.
Tie-in with Doctor Who story: No, though it rips off "The Stone Tape" and "Sapphire and Steel" shamelessly.
Rani's Mum is annoying: Rani's Mum gets another break this week, along with Rani's Dad, Luke and K9. Casting department has definitely suffered a budget cut.
Star Wars reference: No.
Mobile phone as plot device: Yes-- of course everyone has to switch off their mobiles when entering the haunted house, as mobiles interfere with the ghosts or something.
Luke says something so daft that you have to wonder how he gets through life without being mercilessly bullied: Luke, as noted above, is absent-- but we do learn that he has mercilessly beat Rani's Dad at chess, and Rani's Dad is none too pleased.
K9 interprets a figurative English expression literally: No; there's no K9. Taking the role of guest annoying "smart" person and infodump machine this week is Toby, whose parents should have known that's a dangerous name to give any character in a nu-Who story, seeing as the last one got possessed by the devil and all.
Sonic lipstick: Check.
Wristwatch scanner: Check; Sarah uses it in episode 1 before bragging to Toby that hers is better than his.
One or more of Sarah's companions falling under alien influence: Yes, sort of-- it's Professor Rivers, actually, but she's a semi-regular.
Sarah and/or companions acts like a selfish cow: In spades. Sarah's recent encounter with the Doctor causes her to go into full Tennant mode, bragging continually and smugly to the guest stars about her space-and-time-travelling activities.

And I would also like to say that it really, really irritates me when I hear silly lines about scientists covering up paranormal activity because they "can't explain" it. In fact, scientists can explain paranormal activity-- it's just that the explanation is usually rather more boring and mundane than "ghosts exist."

On the guest star front, it seems Anthony Valentine is appearing in Coronation Street these days. I find this slightly depressing.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Rules OK

The Cider House Rules: The titular "rules" come in when the film's protagonist (Tobey McGuire) is working as an apple-picker; the establishment in question has a set of arbitrary rules of conduct for the apple-pickers, which the pickers reject, saying that they were made by people who aren't pickers and don't understand their situation, and that they will instead make their own rules and live by these. The entire film revolves around the damage done by arbitrary social rules made up by people who haven't experienced a particular situation and don't understand what it's like. The protagonist, a young man raised at an orphanage and trained in medicine by the institution's resident doctor-cum-abortionist, has strong anti-abortion feelings until confronted with a situation in which abortion is the only way of resolving it happily; the doctor who raised him (played by Michael Caine) is continually constrained in his running of a successful orphanage by the social-conservative moralising of its board of directors; his on-and-off girlfriend is faced with a terribly ironic situation at the end of the film which, not to spoiler it too much, is also caused by arbitrary social rules about sex, marriage and childbearing. There's lots of other aspects of it to talk about, of course-- it's a complex movie, and surprisingly pro-choice for a mainstream American film-- but it's worth seeing for the rules alone.

Movie count for 2009: 93

Saturday, October 31, 2009

SJA Checklist: The Wedding of Sarah Jane

Crowds of people walking through London under alien influence: No. Still thinking the casting department's had a budget cut.
Tie-in with Doctor Who story: Well, it technically is a Doctor Who story, seeing as Doctor Who is in it, so yes.
Rani's Mum is annoying: Wouldn't you just know she'd be the sort to tell embarrassing stories about her honeymoon at other people's weddings? It's a wonder Rani's Dad hasn't sued for divorce.
Star Wars reference: Unless the title is an oblique reference to the novel The Courtship of Princess Leia, no.
Mobile phone as plot device: No, though a GPS does figure in episode one.
Luke says something so daft that you have to wonder how he gets through life without being mercilessly bullied: “What do I call him? Dad?” Since it's Sarah and Peter's third date and he hasn't proposed yet, methinks he's jumping the gun a little.
K9 interprets a figurative English expression literally: Check-- practically every second line.
Sonic lipstick: Check. Had Sarah succeeded in blowing her own head off with it in episode one, we might have been spared Episode 2.
Wristwatch scanner: Sarah removes it as some metaphor for how she's so utterly sick of the lifestyle which she tells us is completely wonderful twice a season. I think she might have issues.
One or more of Sarah's companions falling under alien influence: Yes, kind of-- Sarah winds up under mind control via an enchanted engagement ring for a bit, but seriously, with Sarah deciding to chuck in her lifestyle every time some relative/boyfriend turns up (was this just “The Temptation of Sarah Jane” in reverse, or what?), who needs mind control?
Sarah and/or companions acts like a selfish cow: Apparently meeting Mr Right means you have to give up all your previous mates and everything you enjoy doing, and she winds up telling Mr Right to go kill himself, literally, when she realises this. I really think she's got issues.

Over on Dollhouse, Michael Hogan guested this week. I think the series is secretly set on Caprica.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Night Watch: Familiar premise (people with supernatural powers a) exist, b) walk among us, c) are divided into Light or Dark and d) are at war, sort of) with a couple of interesting twists. First, the ambiguity between Light and Dark sides: both police each other, and both sides seem to have equal measures of being dodgy and being sympathetic-- indeed, the difference is less one of Good v. Evil than, as one character puts it, that the Light feed off the lighter, and the Dark off the darker, sides of human behaviour. Second, the fact that it's a Russian film gives it a very different tone to American and European fantasy films; overdecorated Soviet-era flats, nouveau-riche nightclubs, a general sense of slight hysteria, mosquitoes as vampire metaphor. Thirdly, the most original use of subtitles I've ever seen outside of the intertitles in Doktor Mabuse, der Spieler. Otherwise, it's easy to see that the creators of Heroes were taking notes during the screening.

Movie count for 2009: 92

Friday, October 23, 2009

SJA Checklist: The Mad Woman in the Attic

Crowds of people walking through London under alien influence: Well, four people walking through "Danemouth" under alien influence. Did the casting department suffer a budget cut this year, or what?
Tie-in with Doctor Who story: Flashbacks to the Pertwee and Baker eras, plus "Journey's End" (shudder), and a big naff-off repeated reminder that next week's ep is a crossover guest starring David Tennant.
Rani's Mum is annoying: Rani's Mum is absent, actually. But Grandma Rani with her gratuitous name-dropping in the final flashforward more than makes up for it.
Star Wars reference: No.
Mobile phone as plot device: Check; Rani punishing her friends by not answering her phone, plus Clive's showing off his mobile camera (how 2004) at the end.
Luke says something so daft that you have to wonder how he gets through life without being mercilessly bullied: Not really, though dialogue in episode one indicates that Clive's been trying to train this tendency out of him.
K9 interprets a figurative English expression literally: His "Cheese!" interpretation is practically the second thing he says, setting us up for much more to come.
Sonic lipstick: Check. "Who needs the sonic lipstic?" Rani asks. The writing team, evidently.
Wristwatch scanner: Briefly in episode 1, to scan the derelicts on the fairground rides.
One or more of Sarah's companions falling under alien influence: Check. Love the red-eye effect.
Sarah and/or companion(s) acts like a selfish cow: Rani's friends are a little offhand with her, and suddenly she's off to the coast without telling them and not answering their calls? What a diva.

On a side, unrelated point, I did absolutely love that last week's epsiode of "Dollhouse" featured Karl "Helo" Agathon and Lee "Apollo" Adama kicking the crap out of each other. Hooray for casting cross-pollination.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

SJA Checklist: Prisoner of the Judoon

Yes! It's the return of the SJA Checklist, now in single-story format!

Crowds of people walking through London under alien influence: No. But as for everything else...
Tie-in with Doctor Who story: Oh, yeah. "Smith and Jones" and "The Stolen Earth," and UNIT's usual meteor-investigating activities get a namecheck in ep 1 as well
Rani's Mum is annoying: Better make that Rani's Mum reaches new heights of annoying. Honestly, is that woman sane?
Star Wars reference: Check-- Clive calls Luke "my young padawan" at one point.
Mobile phone as plot device: Check, also the absence of mobile as plot device when Rani's Mum realises the security guard has confiscated hers.
Luke says something so daft that you have to wonder how he gets through life without being mercilessly bullied: Yeah. Cue more "I don't understand how the English language works" antics in episode 1.
Sonic lipstick: Check-- the possessed Sarah is so massively over-the-top with it that you begin to suspect something Freudian is going on.
Wristwatch scanner: Check, in ep. 1
One or more of Sarah's companions falling under alien influence: Check, also Sarah herself.
Sarah and/or companion acts like a selfish cow: No, but Rani's Mum more than makes up for it, with her total self-absorption all episode.

And since it's the start of the season:

Wide-eyed speech by Sarah about the wonders of the universe and how great it is to be in her gang: Check.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stitched up

Lilo and Stitch: Still one of my absolute favourite kids' movies of all time. Much as I hate the corporate-behemoth aspect of Disney, I have to admit that when they get it right, they really get it right. Cute and funny, but also tearjerky and with a strangely adult premise at the heart of it: can a creature which was created to do nothing but evil become redeemed through love? Anyone who owns cats (particularly, and I speak from ongoing personal experience, part-Siamese ones), also, will emphathise with the poor animal-shelter lady's misadventures with Stitch.

Movie count for 2009: 91


Lawrence of Arabia: was a welcome respite after a week spent secluded with Battlestar Galactica, for the simple reason that the current fashion for wobblecam and relentless cutting from angle to angle starts to give one vertigo after a while and it's great to switch to sweeping shots through huge swathes of desert.* The plot and characterisation were fairly simple, it's true, but then one doesn't expect intricate complexity from an epic, one expects Jungian universals, and there were plenty here, with a Siegfriedesque hero, his pragmatic sidekick, his wise mentor, his romantic but doomed quest, etc. The decision to black up Alec Guinness to play Prince Feisal made me do a double take every time I saw him, but the performance was riveting nonetheless. Lastly, Peter O'Toole's take on Lawrence was simultaneously powerful and, well, feminine; again, there's something beautifully Jungian about that.

Movie count for 2009: 90

*The one contemporary series I feel uses wobblecam well is
Firefly, and that's because they don't use it all the time; they contrast a wobblecam for the protagonists with a steadycam for the villains, creating different moods in the mind of the viewer depending on the setting.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Dead On

Dead Snow: A Scandinavian Nazi Zombie flick? That's three different 'sploitations already. Unfortunately the film doesn't really live up to its promise, most of it being a pointless retread of ideas from American horror films (oh, and note to scriptwriters: no, it's not OK to use a horror-film cliche if you then have one of the characters say "what a horror-film cliche!" I know Joss Whedon does it, but that' s no excuse). Towards the end, though, when the production team abandon any pretense of trying to stick to a plot and just engage in gory hack-and-slash like an extended video-game cutaway, it does gain some momentum and exuberance, but that wasn't really enough to save it.

Movie count: 89

Gettin' Cained (and Williamsed)

Shiner: An obscure Michael Caine low-budgeter, which is a shame as it's a fast-paced but poignant gangster flick about an ageing boxing promoter of dubious morals who has a shot at the big-time when his own son starts to show some promise, only to have everything go horribly, inevitably, wrong. Also interesting in that, having been made in 2000, it's now old enough to be retro (I can remember when those big black leather trenchcoats were fashionable). Guest starring a very creepy Martin Landau, and a not-quite-famous-yet Andy Serkis.

The Fisher King: Somehow I've avoided seeing this one till now, which is a real oversight as it's even better than the cast (Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Amanda Plummer) and director (Gilliam) would imply. Selfish misanthropic radio shock-jock plunges into the abyss after a career-ruining incident, only to be brought out of it through meeting a periodically insane homeless man with an obsession with Arthurian legend and a connection to the shock-jock which isn't immediately apparent. There's at least three Fisher Kings in the movie too; see if you can spot them all.

Movie count for 2009: 88

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hit, miss, miss, hit, hit, hit.

A Shock to the System: The presence of Michael Caine and no other star names made me brace myself for a bad movie, but this turned out to be a pretty deft black comedy of the 1980s "nice-guy executive snaps and starts murdering his corporate rivals" subgenre.

The Whistleblower: Another Michael Caine one, this time of considerably lesser quality. It's one of the paranoid-thriller Britpic genre that sprang up in the wake of Edge of Darkness, and like most of the genre it lacks the credibility and disturbing characterisation of the original. Nigel Havers is a man who Knows Too Much about corruption at GCHQ; Michael Caine is his father. Barry Foster, John Gielgud, James Fox, Gordon Jackson, Peter Miles and others lend far too much credibility to the venture.

Runaway Jury: A thriller about a jury called upon to judge a lawsuit against the American gun lobby? Sounds great, but in practice any anti-gun message is watered down and forced into the background of a deeply unbelievable vigilantism-cum-revenge plot. Gene Hackman does his best but ultimately gives up trying to make anything interesting of the villain.

Under Suspicion: Low-budget, set in Puerto Rico on carnival night, and starting off as a simple police procedural with Morgan Freeman as the jaded cop and Gene Hackman as the blustering local dignitary dragged in as a witness to a murder case, but ultimately venturing into territory exposed by the "Satanic ritual abuse" court cases and questioning the nature of memory and reality.

Malice: Fantastic medico-sexual thriller, which unfortunately I can't synopsise without revealing any plot twists. Suffice it to say that your initial impressions of every single character will be utterly transformed by the end of it.

This is England: Disturbing but credible and touching story about a young boy in 1980s England who falls in with a gang of skinheads, just as the movement is starting to tip over into racism. The performance of the main racist skinhead in particular is simultaneously lunatic and charismatic.

Movie count for 2009: 86

A change or two

Over the past couple of months I've become increasingly aware that while I've got less and less to say in the main blog itself, the sidebar, particularly the film sections, are just getting bigger and bigger. So, in the interests of continuing this blog outside of Recyclingwatch season, I'm trying out a new focus: making this blog more about capsule reviews of the various films I've been watching, with, obviously, periodic forays into Recyclingwatch/SJA Checklists when in season, and considerably more periodic forays into the usual self-indulgent stuff which is the nature of bloggage. We'll see if this works.

9 Britflicks and a Remake

They Who Dare: Why is it that every war film with Dirk Bogarde in it is so massively homoerotic? The additional presence of Denholm Elliot meant that it looked like everyone was going to start ripping the clothes off each other within minutes. Also celebrated for the line "Stiff? Mine's hanging out like a Ubangi's" (in reference to upper lips, but it's funnier out of context)

Return from the River Kwai: Another one with Denholm Elliot, as well as Nick Tate off of Space: 1999, and George Takei, who is surprisingly good as a sadistic Japanese officer. Unfortunately the rest of it is full of logical inconsistencies and plotlines that make you go "um... no, not believing that" (mainly involving an American officer and his Boy's Own Adventures in Southeast Asia).

Silver Bears: Substandard Michael Caine caper film, costarring a miscast Cybil Shepherd who seems to be channelling Goldie Hawn. An attempt by the writers to keep everybody in the film just on the right side of likeable and give them all a happy ending, and to avoid any hint of any sort of actual serious crime, hampers its ability to be an original Pink Panther-style dark comedy. Oh, and there aren't actually any bears in it, even metaphorical ones.

The Madness of King George: A complex film about leadership, responsibility and legitimacy of government. I remember seeing this on its first release, and it hasn't lost any of its power or significance.

Zulu Dawn: Not as good as it's cracked up to be, though better than I was expecting. Most of its drive comes from a Titanic-like sense that all these people are going to be dead by the end of the film.

The Narrow Margin (1990 remake): Good lines, good (if slightly predictable) twists, and fun to see Canada as the location for an American film (I suspect because only Canada still had sleeper trains at that point).

Rogue Trader: Not-bad retelling of the Nick Leeson story, which needs to be retold as often as possible so people don't keep doing this sort of thing.

Shadow Run: Just when you think Michael Caine can't be in any worse movies, he signs a contract, takes out a pickaxe and starts digging. Slightly enlivened by the fact that they filmed round Gloucester so people who know the area can play "Spot the A40 off-ramp."

Swimming with Sharks: Like The Player on a tiny budget, but if anything darker and more ironic. Starring a fantastically evil Kevin Spacey and Michelle "Cain" Forbes; features a brief cameo from a then-completely-unknown Benedicio del Torro.

Defense of the Realm: An attempt to cash in on "Edge of Darkness", with a great cast but a plot which makes no sense whatsoever. Apparently the Americans are murdering Brits to cover up the fact that an escapee from juvenile prison wandered onto one of their UK airfields and was hit by a landing airplane. Why bother? Stars Denholm Elliot, again.

Movie count for 2009: 80

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Compare the (meer)kat

Baby meerkats! In Yorkshire!

In other news, if you're thinking of adopting a kitten, now might be a good time. These guys have a shelter near where we live, so this is by way of helping out the neighbours.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Doll's House

It's an oft-repeated observation these days that the weird thing about the Doctor Who universe is that nobody in it's ever seen Doctor Who.

Well, I was watching Dollhouse the other day, and at one point Topher uses the expression "Frak." Which means that Battlestar Galactica exists in the Dollhouse universe. Which then begs the question of why, when meeting Paul Ballard, his first reaction isn't "Did you know you're a dead ringer for Helo Agathon?" As well as, does Buffy also exist in this universe, and if so, why Topher hasn't remarked on the strange resemblance between Echo and Faith.

A possible explanation is that only the original series of Battlestar Galactica exists in the Dollhouse universe, and thus that Topher is saying "Frack." But it's more funny the other way.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What I'm reading

In other news, I'm completely fascinated at the moment with The Left Behind Index. This is a page-by-page deconstruction of the Left Behind novels, which is particularly interesting because it doesn't take the easy route of just taking the piss out of them. The writer is an evangelical Christian himself (albeit not of the Rapture-believing kind) and a journalist, and so uses the books to discourse on what's wrong with mainstream American evangelism, and how the books reflect the darker aspects of American culture more generally. It's a long read, but absolutely riveting.

Torchwood: Getting It Right

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will have realised I'm not a massive fan of Torchwood. Well, that's changed, or at least partly. You can keep Seasons One and Two, but I'm now a massive fan of Torchwood: Children of Earth.

OK, so the whole thing is so massively Recycled from the excellent 1970s Quatermass serial that everyone in the UK can hear the spinning noise from a graveyard somewhere in the Isle of Man. OK, so it contains the usual bombastic RTD threat-to-Earth-thwarted-by-someone-using-the-Internet tropes. OK, so there are lots of children in it. It doesn't matter. It gets it right. I wish the whole series had been like this, but since it couldn't be, I'm happy that we've got this little bit here.

ETA: Torchwoodmania!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Well, *that* was pointless

This month, I signed up for paperless billing with my bank, thinking that it would be less hassle, make for fewer boring envelopes in the post, and save paper/trees/the environment.

Yesterday, I received a letter from my bank, informing me that my credit card statement for May was now online.

The logic escapes me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jim can't fix it

Watched *Tonight's The Night* this week, purely for the Doctor Who segment (I'm shameless), which reminded me of something that's been bothering me about John Barrowman's career lately.

On British TV, gay men are almost inevitably cute, campy hoofers who alternate between bitchiness and a kind of girl's-best-friend attitude, and who, while they may be gay, never really produce much evidence of their sexuality beyond a bit of innuendo: Larry Grayson, John Inman, Graham Norton (OK, he doesn't dance, but he's got the rest of it). Then along comes John Barrowman. He's gay-- but he's macho, looks like a taller Tom Cruise, he's not campy, bitchy or girl's-best-friendy, and he's willing to talk frankly about his life with his partner (and subsequently husband). Fantastic, I thought. Finally, we've moved beyond the stereotype and we can treat gay men as normal human beings who just happen to have a particular sexual orientation.

Fast forward to *Tonight's The Night*. Barrowman, dressed in a Nortonesque shiny suit, is all out there with the campiness, the girl's-best-friend attitude, a couple of dances to show tunes, and the real life with the husband is firmly out of sight. And then it's announced that Barrowman's playing the lead in *La Cage Aux Folles*. And it just feels like we haven't made any progress at all since the 1970s, and I'm slightly disappointed.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What I saw at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival, by Fiona aged 34 1/2

As mentioned, Alan and I got some complimentary tickets to The Sci-Fi London Film Festival this year. Here's what we saw:

Eyeborgs: Surveillance paranoia thriller about a future America where all CCTV cameras are linked in a super-surveillance network, supplemented by a network of little mobile cameras called Eyeborgs; a Department of Homeland Security agent gets suspicious when he realises the physical evidence of a number of crimes doesn't match the video evidence. This was really quite good; the effects suffered in places from a limited budget but were generally fine, the cast were good and the topic timely and well-dealt-with. Better than 90% of mainstream thriller movies.

Cyborg She: Sort of like Terminator: TSCC with humour and pathos. Lonely Japanese university student meets quirky girl who claims she's a cyborg from the future sent back in time by his future self to protect him; he teaches her about humanity and love, she teaches him about compassion and caring. Spectacular effects, good characterisation and casting, beautiful directing, and a few interesting time-travel twists towards the end. A mainstream movie in Asia, but unlikely to get a mainstream release here, however, it's definitely worth forking out £10 for a DVD if you find one.

Recon 2023: The biggest disappointment of the festival. We had high hopes for this film, as the subtitle was "The Gauda Prime Conspiracy" (which should have all Blake's 7 fans pricking up their ears) and the description and trailer made it look like a BSG-style space-war story. However, the acting was generally not great, the effects problematic (e.g a chicken retro-engineered into a sort of dinosaur; nice idea, but it's hard to find something terrifying when it's clucking and shaking its wattles), the story largely lacking in humour, and too many plot holes, unexplained actions and just plain improbable elements for me to enjoy it (e.g., a politician character who is clearly loosely based on Servalan, but who somehow seems to be raping and murdering half the cast without the other half noticing, or a soldier deciding to take himself off behind a tree and masturbate to a porn video right in the middle of a jungle battle). The locations were good, though, and it seemed to have a bit of a fan following, so who am I to judge.

Cryptic: Definitely the highlight of the festival, despite stiff competition. The premise is simple and the stuff of many lesser movies-- young woman finds a mobile phone which allows her to communicate with her child self and change her own past-- however, as the story unfolds you realise that it is in fact a detailed and merciless character profile of a murderer, which is gradually revealed through the changes in history. Shot on next to nothing with an unknown cast, this film deserves awards, recognition, release all over the world and huge amounts of publicity, none of which I can provide so I'll just rave about it here.

Angels and Idiots: A simple animated morality tale for adults, about a criminal who magicaly receives angel wings which force him to do good. A premise like that could lead one easily into treacly he-sees-the-error-of-his-ways territory, but this instead takes it off into a morally complex and often terrifying universe of consequences. Hand animated in pencils, which gave it a spare, innocent quality which contrasted nicely with the mature content of some of the story.

A Bunch of Short Films: Too many to review in detail, but the ones we liked best were Marooned (about a LARPer who becomes convinced he really is his role-playing character, and the killing spree which ensues), The Day the Robots Woke Up (a really cute stop-motion piece about robots in a deserted future London and the pleasures of low-tech lifestyles), Death In Charge (a black comedy about Death working as a babysitter for an evening), Simulacrum (about a man whose robot duplicate is better at being himself than he is), Die Schneider Krankheit (a fake-1960s newsreel about a plague from outer space arriving in East Germany courtesy of a Soviet space mission gone wrong), Attack of the Robots from Nebula 5 (another one about the vague boundary between science ficution and madness) and The Story of Sputnik (a stand-up routine about the Cold War). So obvious themes are childhood, identity, madness and the 1960s. Look out for these online soon at Sci-Fi London's website.

Other highlights: Meeting Pat Cadigan (a feminist hero of mine) and Liz Williams, as well as hearing from the horse's mouth all about Bryan Talbot's latest project, Grandville (which looks cool as all get out, being Rupert Bear as imagined by Quentin Tarantino) and being given a ton of free books, DVDs and T-shirts. Here's looking to Sci-Fi London 9!

Looking at the Sky

Alan and I recently got a Sky box-- we actually did it for the cheap broadband (when we did the math, we figured out that the full Sky package, including HD, broadband and phone, is about £30 a month less than we normally spend on phone and broadband). To my surprise, it has actually changed my viewing habits. Before getting the box, we would usually have to make decisions over which TV show to watch in the evening if there were two or three on at the same time, and also, since videoing is such a pain in the neck, we'd often not bother videoing a programme if we were going out if it wasn't something we absolutely had to see. Now, though, with the box, we can record two programmes and watch a third, so suddenly our TV viewing has expanded exponentially, even though we don't actually watch much that's on the channels we're paying for.

This, along with our DVD player packing up, has cut into our film viewing activities somewhat-- but since we've gotten complimentary tickets to the London Sci-Fi Film Festival (comprehensive review post coming next week), I should be making up for that this weekend.

Annie, Karaokely

Happened to catch about 20 minutes' worth of the film "Annie" on television recently. Featuring 1980s people dressed up in 1930s style, periodic random song numbers, child abuse, vaguely paedophilic dancing by a chorus of girl orphans, (attempted) murder by throwing someone off a bridge, and Albert Finney with a very strange head....

This is the Bizarro Universe version of Dennis Potter, isn't it?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Planet of the Recyclingwatch

For those of you who have just joined us, Recyclingwatch is a handy guide to everything that you might be finding, well, a little familiar, whether from past seasons, the old series, or something else entirely. Whether you call it homage, pastiche or out-and-out blatant ripoff, it's out there, and we're looking for it.

The Unquiet Dead: Malcolm's “fanboy” gush at the Doctor is a strong parallel for the Doctor's own treatment of Dickens, with equivalently bemused-but-pleased reactions on the other side.

The End of the World: Mobile phones that work through time and space

Father's Day: The Doctor is galvanized to intervene when he finds out about people's ordinary mundane lives and thinks they're wonderful. Person being gobbled up by armoured flying creature

The Parting of the Ways: Swarm of alien creatures descending upon Earth.

The Christmas Invasion: seasonal references, to highlight that this is a holiday special. Someone getting skeletonised (also: pretty much any Dalek story since the new series started). “Press the big red button.”

New Earth: ...also "Gridlock," "Smith and Jones," "The Doctor's Daughter" and anything else featuring an alien which is basically a human in an animal mask: the Tritovores. “New Earth” also has the Doctor being forcibly snogged by companion, and a sudden ascent through a lift shaft on wires, as here.

The Runaway Bride: the Doctor going all emo over the departure of a companion

Daleks in Manhattan: Animal-headed creatures wearing boiler suits for no logical reason.

Voyage of the Damned: 70s disaster-movie action, with a small group of interchangeable survivors and a temporary companion who fancies the Doctor. Improbable vehicle flying through London's aerospace. Implication that the Doctor gets on rather well with Queen Elizabeth II.

The Fires of Pompeii: Psychic whose prophecies foreshadow the Doctor's future

Planet of the Ood: More prophecies, and a visibly recycled title.

The Sontaran Strategem: UNIT return, and they're all fanboyish over the Doctor. Soldiers saluting the Doctor (despite him being a civilian) and the Doctor getting anal-retentive about it.

The Doctor's Daughter: Temporary companion with dubious morality, who ends the story by flying off with the potential of a return later.

The Unicorn and the Wasp: Giant insect aliens.

Silence in the Library: fast-moving, all-consuming group of creatures; temporary companion who fancies the Doctor and goes on about their similarities.

Midnight: Small group of diverse people, stranded on a bus, turning on the Doctor in panic, and one of them starts getting psychic messages from the outside.

The Stolen Earth: prophecies of death and doom for the Doctor, again. Also the Doctor translating the animal-headed aliens' dialogue for his companion.

The Next Doctor: The Doctor again announcing that he doesn't travel with companions anymore, but picking up a temporary companion for the duration.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Mobiles saving the day, over and over.

Old Skool Who: “Delta and the Bannermen” (bus stranded on alien planet); “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” (ditto, with deserts); “Battlefield” (return of the Brigadier Bambera-alike); “The Demons” (Malcolm is basically Corporal Osgood in a lab coat); Big Finish/BBC Books (Iris Wildthyme, a slightly amoral but charming female Time Lord who travels time and space in a London bus); “The Ark in Space” (this episode's "homo sapiens" speech is the one about chops for dinner being much more important than alien planets); “Ace” (a companion who's a juvenile delinquent and the Doctor doesn't particularly censure her for this; always carries a backpack with various unlikely but useful items in it; also, Andrew Cartmel has said that her replacement was intended to be a female cat-burglar); “The Ribos Operation” (descending through a hole in the roof to rob a museum); “Planet of Fire” (the production team at great expense and with much fanfare travel to a foreign location to shoot it, and never let you forget it, but frankly they might just as well have gone to Camber Sands for all the difference it made*); “City of Death” (art theft, plus bumbling detective); “Remembrance of the Daleks” (skeletonising weapons); “Time Flight” (Tegan repeating airline landing safety info as the Concorde approaches the 1980s = the Doctor repeating bus driver instructions as the bus approaches modern London); “The Caves of Androzani” (excrement as valuable commodity).

Everything Else: “The Langoliers” (ill-assorted group of people who land somewhere strange, to discover there's a swarm of omnivorous creatures), “Pitch Black” (desert planet with swarm of all-consuming aliens and catsuited heroine); “Mission Impossible”, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” series 6, “The Return of the Pink Panther” (sequences in which a black-suited thief drops from the roof of a museum to remove an artifact); “Buffy” series 7 (“from beneath you, it devours”); “Raffles” (who also stole a well-guarded antique gold cup from a museum, but much more amusingly and plausibly; also, a minor aristocrat who steals for fun and excitement); Lara Croft (antiquity-robbing well-endowed action heroine); the 1953 version of “The Fly” (oh, just look at the Tritovores); “Summer Holiday” (the archetypical Brits on Buses film); “The Time Traveler's Wife” (person making use of psychic powers to supplement their income by winning the lottery); “Primeval”'s season premiere this year featured long action sequences in the British Museum and surrounding area, and regularly involves time rifts with nasty creatures coming through; “Alien” (all-consuming aliens with metal bones); “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (carefully replacing a valuable object with a cheap one of equal weight).

*Seriously, one of Britain's main assets is that, for a country that tiny, it packs an amazing amount of varied landscape. Want snow? Go to Scotland. Want tropics? Go to that weird microclimate in Northern Ireland. Want beaches? Go to Southampton. With a bit of CGI it could be anywhere in the world. No need to go to Dubai and support morally dubious political regimes.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Train to be a 1980s film star...

Watched "Night of the Creeps" recently, which is one of those bad horror films that's aware of its own badness and enjoying itself thoroughly. The weird thing about it, though, was that the casting director quite clearly had in mind particular high-profile, but expensive, actors of the era (mid-eighties) for the key roles, and was casting cheaper lookalikes. In a parallel universe somewhere, there's a mega-budget, mega-hit "Night of the Creeps," which features Michael J. Fox as the hero, Rutger Hauer as the villain, Geena Davies as The Girl, the Jewish one from Parker Lewis Can't Lose as the best friend, Stacy Keach as the hardbitten police detective and Morgan Freeman as his sidekick, with Danny Devito as the comic-relief coroner (are there any non-comic-relief coroners in popular culture, except perhaps Dana Sculley?) and a cameo by Jeff Goldblum as the research scientist who's the first to die.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Flaming Dune

Great misguided tie-in movie products of our times

Go see "Watchmen," everybody

Alan tells me that the general consensus re "Watchmen" is that bloggers love it, and professional reviewers hate it. Well, put me in the blogger camp then.

I wasn't prepared to like it either, as the last couple of Alan Moore film adaptions made me convinced his material is unfilmable. But no-- about one-third of the way into the really clever title sequence (who knew it was possible to insert all the backstory that Moore provided in the text sections of the comic, into the movie?) I turned to Alan and whispered "I think I'm in love with this movie." The rest of it didn't disappoint, and although there was a significant change to the ending of the story, it's a change that I think worked and if anything strengthened the message of the comic. They also managed the trick which I felt "V" failed to do, which is to adapt a story written in the 1980s, keeping all the 1980s issues intact, but still keeping it relevant to today.

Sign me up for the four-hour directors' cut!

As for the reviewers, well, the comments for the Daily Mail's predictably negative review are pretty hilarious.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Natasha Richardson RIP

Another thing to bolster my dislike of downhill skiing (I'm fine with the cross-country kind, but downhill skiing has never had much appeal; the scenery goes by too fast). I suspect I might even have skied at that resort myself, at the age of 13, which is just too weird.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Headline of the Week


...Several Federation officers to press charges. Vila reported to have turned State's Evidence.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Unexpected Reassessment Corner: *The Green Slime* (1968)

Alan and I finally, courtesy of Ebay, got our hands on a copy of The Green Slime, a film we'd been wanting to watch for ages, anticipating a 90-minute-long festival of Sixties horror kitsch. Well, although the kitsch was there to some extent (the general look of the film can be summed up by imagining what Gerry Anderson would have done if he had been working on a BBC rather than an ITC budget), we actually found instead that, if you peel away the hilarious-looking monster, the detergent-bottle spaceship, the banal dialogue and the inexplicable decision to have everyone speak in a 50s-newsreader monotone, there's actually a really good film in there (incidentally, if you're not familiar with it, there's a really funny review here and the trailer here).

It's always been a firm belief of mine that the best sci-fi and (especially) horror movies are the ones where the sci-fi/fantasy/horror element isn't an end in itself, but is a metaphor, externalisation, or means of understanding something more basically human. Hellraiser isn't about the cenobites; it's about a woman tearing her marriage apart through adultery. Forbidden Planet, famously, isn't about the robots or the spaceships, it's about one man's suppressed reverse-Oedipal desire for his daughter and jealousy of the younger men who will inevitably replace him in her heart. The Black Hole is about sexual repression and the ways that can twist human relationships; The Blob is every bit as much about the 1950s' ambivalence about the emerging teenage subculture as anything starring Marlon Brando. And so on. Amazingly, The Green Slime turns out to be one of those films.

Taking away the space station setting, The Green Slime is the story of two men who are in love with the same woman. She chooses, not surprisingly, the one who generally seems to be a nicer and more responsible human being. The film's protagonist, the rejected suitor, Rankin, comes back into their lives after a decent interval, and then, in an orgy of repressed lust and desire for revenge, takes away his former friend Vince's command, completely destroys his life, and then kills him. Kurosawa films have been made of less.

So where does the monster fit in? Again, like the cenobites, the Blob, the Id Monster, etc., it (or possibly they) fits perfectly into the story as a metaphor for what's happening at the human level. The titular slime is brought onto the space station because Rankin's anger issues mean that he smashes a scientist's sealed specimen jar, splattering a crewmember's uniform, and then orders the uniforms triply decontaminated, which exposes it to energy which causes it to develop into a marauding creature. As the creature multiplies (and yes, Rankin's personality disorders are responsible for that as well), so it parallels the deteriorating situation between Rankin, his ex-friend, and his ex-love interest. The creature/creatures is/are, in a sense, a physical manifestation of Rankin's jealousy, becoming activated, growing, and multiplying, and not incidentally attacking Vince, his staff, and his girlfriend as it does (though interestingly, although the monsters attack the girlfriend, they don't kill her the way they do everybody else; come to think of it, no women actually get killed, which supports the metaphor), ultimately destroying Vince's space station and him along with it. Not incidentally, the monsters are also green, one-eyed, and possessed of phallic tentacles which kill any man which gets between Rankin and the object of his desire, and it is Rankin's attempts to destroy them which feed them with the energy they need to grow.

Basically, this movie needs to be remade, with a proper budget, a witty script, and an overall presentation which will bring out its hidden messages (arguably, that is; I'm compelled to add that Alan's position on this is that it's the very Sixtiesness of it that makes it so great). As it is, since it's not even been officially released on DVD, I'd just like to encourage anyone who's interested to seek out a copy and watch it with an open mind. Or vote for it at TCM and hope that this will get it an official release.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Monday, March 09, 2009

Headline of the Week

From the Globe and Mail:


...mainly because I immediately pictured a group of Canadians sitting around a monopoly board, arguing as they buy up Niagra Falls-based tourism companies.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Farewell Miss Brahms

RIP Wendy Richard, then. This is particularly ill-timed, as Alan and I have been holding Are You Being Served? marathons lately (sometimes chanting along with the jokes, Rocky Horror-style), and so it was literally only yesterday (well, last week) that I saw her as a bright-eyed young Cockney shopgirl.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I've just won a court case against my ex-landlord and gotten the balance of my deposit back.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Keeping score

Since last January, I've been keeping track of the number of movies I watch every year in the sidebar. The problem with this system is, what do I do with partial movies? For instance, last year I watched about two-thirds of both Cloverfield and Great Expectations; in both cases, enough of the movie that I felt like I'd invested a significant amount of time in seeing them, but in neither case had I watched the whole movie.

This has come up again because the other week I watched the remake of The Omen, but got thoroughly fed up by the time I got to the scene where Damien murders his mother, and I'm not sure whether to count it as half a movie or just ignore it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dune is busting out all over, part II

Fixing some packet pasta with a French label, I noticed that the cheese sauce sachet was prominently labeled MELANGE.

Don't it make your brown eyes blue...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Patrick McGoohan RIP

Also Ricardo Montalban. Is someone collecting actors?

As a result, I've been paying attention to The Lol'ing Prisoner again after far too long. Expect some more pictures over the next little while.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Next Recyclingwatch

The Unquiet Dead: Christmas Dickensiana, also featuring homeless aliens trying to take over the Earth.

The Christmas Invasion: Christmas setting featuring regeneration crises, and questions about the Doctor's identity. The Doctor gets, and accepts, a dinner invitation.

Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel: Mrs Hartigan's "Turn left, turn right," routine is a deliberate echo of Mr Finch's playing with the converted; Cybermen chasing people through the corridors and back staircases of an old house; Cybermen hiding out in underground tunnels and snagging a local power-hungry maniac to convert into their leader.

The Runaway Bride: Christmas setting involving red/red-clothed queen who is trying to save her race from genocide; improbable physics regarding the Thames. The Doctor gets, but declines, a dinner invitation.

The Shakespeare Code: Bitchy evil feminists involved in the conjuring of portals around premodern London (and watch for a Shakespeare cameo on the London info-stamp).

Daleks in Manhattan/Enemy of the Daleks: Small band of classic DW villains are thrown into the past and, low on power, make use of local technology and workforce to try and build themselves up again; the "Cybershades" are a close analogue of the Daleks' pig-slaves. Both Dalek Sec and the Cyberking are hybrid creatures whose merging doesn't quite go according to plan, leading to an internal power struggle between them and their followers. The Doctor offers the Cybermen here the same deal he offered the Daleks before-- relocation to another planet provided they leave humanity alone.

Last of the Time Lords: The Doctor's messiah complex surfaces again.

Voyage of the Damned: The Doctor's Tarzan act on the pulley is a direct visual steal from his using the angels for flight.

The Sontaran Strategem/The Poisoned Sky: Frustrated intelligent person allies self with aliens bent on taking over the Earth, then is rather surprised when the rest of the world doesn't see their plan as anything but horrible.

Journey's End: Something that appears to be a regeneration but isn't, which leads to the creation of a human analogue to the Doctor.

The New Series Generally: Rosita has a name which is a merging of Rose and Martha, and seems to have Donna's personality to go with it. The Next Doctor is every bit as much at home in Victorian London as the current one is in modern London.

Catchphrasewatch: Between the pair of them, the Doctors get off some "Allons-y,"s, one "No no no no no," and a "Brilliant" or two, with the Cybermen wandering around muttering "delete" at intervals.

Old Skool Who: Big Finish anticipate this heavily, with "The One Doctor" featuring a fake Doctor and companion team, and "Minuet in Hell" a man who is convinced through alien influence that he is the Doctor. Doctor Who: The American Telemovie brought us a faintly-ersatz Doctor with a penchant for cod-Victoriana. Earthshock has the Cybermen searching their database for info on the Doctor's past lives, in black and white. The War Games features people with artificially altered memories. Remembrance of the Daleks (villains who gain the power of imagination by wiring a human into a computer).

Everything Else: Not only is the setting Dickensian, but there's a straight-out A Christmas Carol reference in the Doctor's conversation with the urchin at the start. Lionel Bart's Oliver! (you keep expecting the Victorian extras in the background to burst into song). Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has the cod-Victorian protagonist, and his offspring, rescuing an underworld full of dirty-faced oppressed children from the machinations of the Child Catcher, as well as some proto-steampunk chic. Little Orphan Annie featured the villainous Miss Hannigan, a power-hungry, child-hating orphanage matron with a fondness for saucy double-entendres. The Cyberking references, as well as The Iron Giant, the Japanese "mecha" genre of films and animes, featuring giant robots attacking cities (in particular, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman has a hermaphrodite villain with a fondness for siccing improbable mecha, including a giant robot mummy, a giant scorpion and a nest of giant ants, upon Tokyo). Around the World in 80 Days features balloon-related Victorian shenanigans.

Thought for the day

Q. How many television executives does it take to change a lightbulb.

A. One, but does it have to be a lightbulb?

(from the commentary track of my new Out DVD)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

a review of "Dune: House Harkonen" in the style of nigel molesworth

there is a man named baron harkonen.

baron harknonen hav a brother, and he hate baron harknonen.

there is also a religious order called the bene gesserit, and they all hate baron harkonen.

there is also a duke called leto atreides, and he hate baron harkonen.

leto atreides hav two wives, one son, three good friends, a doctor and a mentat, and they all hate baron harkonen.

in fact the whole business is unspeakably sordid.