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