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