Friday, December 31, 2010

The Repeated Meme: How did we do?

Those of you who follow this blog's Doctor Who: The Repeated Meme series will recall that every episode, I made a prediction on the Item Most Likely To Wind Up as a Toy. Now that it's Christmas sales season, let's see how well I did:

The Eleventh Hour: I didn`t exactly predict that one, as the sonic screwdriver and Matt Smith dolls were released almost as soon as it premiered. Nice to see them adding Prisoner Zero to the line, though.

The Beast Below: I predicted Smilers. We got Smilers.

Victory of the Daleks: I predicted Daleks (no prizes for guessing) though I didn`t expect the Bracewell figure-- and they did include the cool-looking Dalek as well as the fake-looking ones.

Time of Angels: I predicted, obviously, angels. We got them, in three different flavours.

Flesh and Stone: I predicted glow-in-the-dark Crack in the Universe stickers for your wall. Don`t know if it counts, but there was a Facebook fad for adding the Crack in the Universe to your profile picture for a while.

Amy`s Choice: I predicted a limited-edition Amy Pond Up The Duff. Not yet, but it`s early days. In the meantime, you can make your own with a regular Amy Pond figure and some plasticine.

Vampires of Venice: I predicted either a generic vampire girl or else Rosanna. Surprise, it`s Francesco.

The Hungry Earth: I predicted Silurians with noses and honkers. We got not one, but two. Silurians, that is. Not honkers. There were four of those. Ahem, I`d better stop.

Cold Blood: I predicted Silurian ray-guns. Alas, thus far `tis not to be, which is a shame as they were really the only good thing about the design of the Silurians with Noses and Honkers.

Vincent and the Doctor: I predicted the Invisible Chicken Monster. However, as it`s invisible, we`ll never know if they released it or not.

The Lodger: I predicted nothing. We got nothing, and mercifully no six-inch articulated James Cordens.

The Pandorica Opens: I predicted a coin bank based on the Pandorica. Thus far, I`m still waiting, though the MP3 CD cases which come with the Pandorica Figure Collection do come together to form a Pandorica-like box which I suppose you could keep things in.

The Big Bang: I predicted a stone Dalek; in fact, we got a stone Roman soldier and a stone Cyberman.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Madre de Dios

Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Three men go prospecting for gold, find it, and also find that, out in the stark wilderness and with the temptation of incredible riches in front of them, the basest impulses, most venal suspicions, and deepest greed can emerge. Two of the men are ultimately saved because what they want the gold for is essentially benign purposes-- the old prospector wants to have a comfortable retirement, the young one wants to buy an orchard and start a family-- and both lose the gold, but get their wishes. The third one, Dobbs, played creepily well by Humphrey Bogart, wants the gold for creature comforts and to be able to lord it over other people, and he ends up getting all the gold, but losing his life.

Movie count for 2010: 130

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Comedy of Errors

The Human Comedy: 1943 Mickey Rooney film which I saw through no fault of my own on TCM. It's an example of that kind of American nostalgic-picture-of-village-life genre, along the lines of Our Town, Meet me in St Louis or To Kill a Mockingbird, though unfortunately lacking the bite of all three of these. Rooney is the middle male sibling of a small-town Irish family with a deceased father (who narrates, irritatingly, throughout); the younger one appears to have some sort of mental disorder, the older one is in the Army and quite visibly destined to die heroically in action before the end of the story, and Rooney spends his time failing to pay attention in class, winning school track and field meets, and Learning About Life through his after-school job as a telegram delivery boy. Mainly worth watching for the rather peculiar lesbian subtext revolving around Rooney's sister and her best friend, and there's a cute if sappy big-up for the Alternative Family at the end of the film as the Irish clan, by implication, take in the older sibling's now-disabled army buddy as a kind of adopted child. Oh, and there's a before-they-were-famous cameo from Robert Mitchum, of all people. Relentlessly sentimental and propagandistic, but peculiarly fascinating in that car-crash way.

For some reason this won an Academy Award; clearly talent was rationed that year.

Movie count for 2010: 129

What She Drewe

Tamara Drewe: Stephen Frears continues his exploration of different aspects of British life with an adaptation of a Posy Simmonds comic which continues her exploration of the foibles and hypocrisies of the literary and academic worlds. The film tells the story of a journalist (Tamara) who returns to her native village and finds herself at the centre of a tacit conflict between the reality of rural village life (represented by two poisonously bored teenage troublemakers, and a cute hunky farmhand) and fanciful interpretations of it by city-dwellers (represented by a literary couple with a deteriorating relationship, and the various writers and lecturers attending a writers' retreat at their farmhouse). The film portrays this conflict well, and through excellent casting and design captures the feel of the comic impeccably. Unfortunately I didn't think the film was quite as successful in portraying the pretentiousness of Tamara and her London boyfriend (which the comic does by interweaving excerpts of Tamara's facile Polly-Filla-esque newspaper column with her experiences).

Movie count for 2010: 128 (still debating whether to review the Mickey Rooney film I sort of watched the other night).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Top Tati

Playtime: A wonderful movie about the essential inhumanity of modernism, which celebrates its destruction at the hands of simple human fallibility. Bear with me on this. Tati serves up a series of coldly beautiful Sixties Modernist cityscapes called "Paris"-- an airport, an office building, an exhibition centre, a block of flats, a restaurant-- and then into this throws a simple man in an overcoat, who manages to hurl whole systems into chaos simply by walking through the wrong door at the wrong time, and yet who also never quite manages to overcome the sheer weight of the surrounding bureaucracy. The screen is always relentlessly busy with action, and Tati never actually uses any of the conventional cinematic cues to "tell" you what you should be watching, so it can be difficult to realise what's actually going on in any scene until you figure it out for yourself. But then again, perhaps the sheer randomness of it all is the point.

Movie count for 2010: 127.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jungle VIP

The Jungle Book (1967): Not the best Disney cartoon feature, but in its defense it's trying to weave together a coherent plot out of a series of loosely-linked short stories, and also trying to make a crowd-pleasing kid-friendly film out of a pair of books which are, essentially, about colonialism and the loss of innocence, and rather disturbing in places. The two main points in its favour are a) Baloo, who is really seriously cute, and b) the "I Wanna Be Like You" song and dance number, with jitterbugging monkeys and a scat-singing orangotang. The close-harmonising vultures based on The Beatles, though, have not exactly stood the test of time.

Catch Me If You Can: Reasonably good Spielberg film; the father issues are strong with this one, but it does actually work pretty well in this case, as Spielberg interprets the case of Frank Abagnale Jr. as being about a young man with an inadequate father; he first denies and then tries to make up for his father's inadequacy through impersonating authority figures and engaging in successful cheque fraud (as contrasted with his father's failed tax evasion), but he only achieves closure by recognising, in Tom Hanks' FBI agent, his true spiritual father and giving up a life of crime for an even more lucrative legal job.

The caveat, though, is that the whole thing is relentlessly cheery and feelgood, even though I kept having fridge moments afterwards about the people damaged by Abagnale's schemes. What about the college girls he, at one point, duped into believing they'd won a competition to be stewardesses and then, apparently, dumped in an airport somewhere? What about his fiancee, who accepted him in good faith as being someone he wasn't? Or her father, who helped him through his bar exams and took him on into his law firm? We're never actually shown any of this, and yes, this does bother me, in that it means we're continually being given an image of Abagnale as a likeable, lovable sort, and never asked to consider the harm he's done beyond the financial.

Movie count for 2010: 125 (both Spielberg and Disney in the same post, the very evocation of the Hollywood commercial juggernaut.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Potentially Good, the Sadistic and the Mildly Repellant

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Woot, I finished the "Dollar" trilogy before the end of the year! Despite coming third in order, this film is actually a prequel to the other two: firstly, it is only at the end of the film that the Man With No Name gains his trademark poncho, which he wears in the other two films, and also only then that he becomes genuinely The Good. Likewise, there is nothing to entirely deny the possibility that Lee van Cleef's Angel Eyes (The Bad) is in fact Colonel Mortimer from For a Few Dollars More: in the latter film, Mortimer admits to having done some pretty bad things in earlier years; Angel Eyes is an officer in the Union army; Morricone's score plays the Mortimer clock-chime theme over the climactic standoff between the three protagonists of TGTBATU; and, although Angel Eyes is apparently shot dead at the end of the film, it's possible that he was in fact only severely wounded, and survived to team up with the Man With No Name years later (though the name "Mortimer" suggests the living dead, and it wouldn't be the only time a character in a Leone Western turned out to be a vengeful ghost; not insignificantly, the hoard of gold which the protagonists are after is buried in a grave marked UNKNOWN, also linking the Man With No Name with wealth and death). Finally, The Ugly, a comedy Mexican bandit of dubious loyalty, can be seen to foreshadow the more serious Mexican bandits of the other two films.

TGTBATU is a good film which would be an excellent one if it could lose about thirty minutes; part of its conceit is to weave the action in and around the American Civil War, which, while it nicely contrasts the absurdity, brutality and venality of the protagonists' pursuit of riches with the absurdity, brutality and venality of war and allows Leone to explore his trademark bleakness-of-the-West theme (never before has a Western included so many amputees), also leads to a couple of set pieces which slow the main action down far too much. If you're rewatching this, fast-forward through them and you'll probably enjoy it more.

Movie count for 2010: 123

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gangsters Hieronymous

In Bruges: Contemporary low-budget Britflick in which two Irish gangsters, following a hit gone wrong, are ordered by their boss to hole up in Bruges. The Cultured One thinks this is fantastic and goes on a tour of the canals; the Rough and Ready One is bored and goes off in pursuit of a pretty local woman. It sounds like the setup for a thriller-comedy, and indeed it starts off being one, but as the story progresses the revelations get darker and the scenery gets weirder, ending with Bruges transformed into Hieronymous Bosch's Last Judgment as the consequences of the botched crime and the strict moral code of the boss bring everything to a surreal climax. It's set at Christmastime, too, making it perfect holiday viewing if you're already sick of syrupy family films.

Movie Count for 2010: 122

Friday, November 26, 2010

Nyder goes Nuclear

I've become obsessed recently with tracking down footage of American 1950s nuclear damage tests-- the ones where they build houses, power substations, etc., then put them at Ground Zero of an atom bomb and watch what happens. I thought this might lend itself well to a small multimedia blog essay, selecting and reviewing some of the better ones.

Or, in other words, if you've got a spare fifteen minutes or so and want to get the context behind that piece of footage of a two-story house with its front blowing off that always turns up in documentaries about America in the 1950s, here's a good place to start.

1. Damage and Destruction

I put this one first, even though it's probably the least accessible, because it is essentially a lot of raw, loosely-edited-together clips of the preparation for and execution of, nuclear tests, without any contextualising voiceover (the YouTube description is vague on its purpose, so it might have been either the rough cut of a documentary or possibly, given the continuous jumping back and forth chronologically, something meant to accompany a lecture). Pretty much all of them turn up again in "Operation Doorstep", "Operation Cue" and "The House in the Middle" at some point. The silence, plus the rough nature of the film, gives the whole thing the feeling of some kind of really creepy Fifties home movie shot on Super 8.

2. "Operation Cue"

This is much the same thing, but with context, being a loose narrative in which a Girl Reporter "visits" the Nevada Testing Grounds and asks naive questions of a disembodied authoritative male voice as a means of explaining the run-up to, and the results of, the "Operation Cue" destruction tests (some sources indicate that "Operation Cue" wasn't their official name, but one dubbed onto it for the purposes of this film, and it was really just part of Operation Teapot). The film seems unsure whether it wants to scare the American public about the destructive power of the bomb, or reassure them as to the survivability of same, leading to a final sequence where, as the test crews survey the carnage and destruction, the Girl Reporter optimistically remarks that the buildings are easy to repair.

Also contains some footage not in the earlier film, of tests on mannequins and foodstuffs (just in case we were worried that she wasn't a Real Woman, what with her having a paid job and all, the Girl Reporter eagerly lets us know how interested she is in the effects of nuclear radiation on clothing and canned goods). Particularly disturbing is the sequence where, to test the results of the bomb blast on garment fabrics, a group of well-dressed mannequins are tied to posts facing the blast; it looks like the mass execution of the cast of Mad Men.

I'd also advise skipping to about two minutes into the film if you want to avoid a lecture on megatonnage and go straight to the Girl Reporter's day out.

3. "Declassified Nuclear Test Film #55"

Similar to the above, albeit without the patronising female questioner/male authority figure setup, just going for the traditional authoritative male voice, and with a mix of footage of different tests edited together to pretend they're a single test. The test footage starts about halfway through, following a hymn to civil defence and air-raid shelters. Also explains the purpose behind the tree tests and the materials tests.

4.. "The House in the Middle"

This film was declared "Culturally Significant" by the US National Library of Congress. They clearly weren't doing so for aesthetic reasons, but it certainly does provide a fascinating (as in, you can't look away) insight into the anxiety-ridden nature of life in 1950s America, as yet another authoritative voiceover explains to us emphatically that not painting your house could lead to it being destroyed in a nuclear explosion; indeed, just leaving the TV listings magazine out or the plastic covers off the armchairs could lead to the whole house burning down. The message is complex, at once reassuring the PTSD-ridden, demobbed former servicewomen/factory workers that indeed, they're serving their country even more by keeping the house spic-and span, encouraging xenophobic hatred of that family down the street who don't keep their fence painted, and bringing in all sorts of Freudian imagery about morality and hygiene.

5. "Operation Doorstop and Operation Cue."

(this doesn't seem to want to embed-- click here for the film if it isn't)

The back half of this video is just "Operation Cue" again; the first half, though, is a cleaned-up and edited film of the earlier test alluded to in the "Operation Cue" film, plus lots and lots of footage of mannequin tests (the researchers setting up their subjects into dinner-party groups, children playing, people in cars etc. with an almost sadistic glee). It handles the balance of fear versus reassurance better than "Cue," focusing on how the houses get destroyed (FEAR!) but the shelters don't (REASSURANCE!). The sequence where the authoritative male narrator observes that all the cars subjected to the blast were still driveable is rather ironic from the point of view of modern autos with their dependence on vulnerable electronic systems-- those 50s clunkers might have been driveable, but even my eleven-year-old no-frills Rover 25 wouldn't be. Also explains why the fixed-camera footage of the blasts has an eerily darkened sky-- the tests take place at 5:20 AM.

5. "Survival Town"

A short one this, apparently being a newsreel made up from "Operation Cue" footage, with some "Operation Doorstep" thrown in for dramatic effect. Some of the fixed camera footage from the 5:20 AM blasts has had the colour inverted, possibly to make it look like they take place in daylight and thus match them up with other footage in the reel of broad-daylight tests of military emplacements (populated by soldiers, many of whom are probably unwitting cancer statistics). The tone is also precisely the opposite to "Operation Cue"'s, emphasising that survival is down to the decisive actions of The Army and The Civil Defence, not builing materials-- hm, I wonder who paid for this film?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sunshine in a bag

Beauty and the Beast: A great film from Disney’s output during its 1990s “revival” period, this does what Disney arguably does best: taking a classic fairy-tale and retelling it with enough added riffs, bells and whistles to a) extend it to feature film length, and b) keep mums/dads/babysitters watching along with the kids. This one’s particular strengths for the adult market include an unbelievably trippy production number involving furniture and cutlery (complete with a Busby-Berkley routine performed by teaspoons) and a mad battle sequence also involving animated furniture, which is well worth slowing down to catch the background action (including, among other things, a quick visual reference to Battleship Potemkin-- there’s actually a lot of German and Russian Expressionist namechecking throughout). As for the romance plot, this one shines through being not a story in which the protagonist woos and wins a love object (e.g. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Lion King etc.), but in which both main characters woo and win each other. Which I rather think is a much better message for the kids, and more satisfying for the grownups.

For a Few Dollars More: Sequel to A Fistful of Dollars, in which Clint Eastwood’s drifting mercenary, now turned bounty hunter, teams up with mentor-figure Lee van Cleef and learns a lot about strategy, revenge, and gunplay. Features similarities to the first one (Eastwood infiltrating a bandit gang, a vendetta on behalf of a family member, Eastwood being found out and beaten up by gang members following which he manages to exploit splits within the gang to his advantage, and a bandit obsessed with a dark-haired woman), but, rather than simply repeating with variations, actually deepens the themes of the first, exploring the motivations of both bandits and bounty hunters in a bleak and unsympathetic West.

Tightrope: Boring 1980s Eastwood-vehicle cop-flick, borrowing liberally from Manhunter and Coogan’s Bluff, without being as interesting or disturbing as either. Its main saving grace is, first, casting Genevieve Bujold (and, particularly, Genevieve Bujold in jeans, utilitarian haircut and no makeup) as a leading lady and love interest for Eastwood, and, second, subverting misogynist cop-film tropes by making Bujold’s character a feminist and a rape-crisis counselor, but not then making this a setup to reveal that all these tough women are really weepy, teary girls inside and they really just Need A Man. This one, attacked by the inevitable serial rapist/murderer, fights him off, then tidies her hair and goes round to Eastwood’s place to make sure his kids are OK. We could have done with more of her sort in this genre.

Double Take: Fascinating, complicated news-clip documentary, which interweaves parallels between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the films and career of Alfred Hitchcock. Through using the theme of doubles, a clever melange of news clips and Folgers coffee adverts (no really), and a fantasy conversation between Hitchcock in 1962 and his own future self from 1980, the filmmakers set up America and the USSR as evil doppelgangers of each other. The crucial point comes from an excerpt from Kruschev and Nixon’s “kitchen debate,” in which Kruschev states that the USSR has a better space programme than the USA, and Nixon counters that the USA has more televisions—something which Kennedy later used as a stick to beat Nixon with in the infamous televised debate, but, well, if you think about it, it was television, not spaceships, which won the cold war. There’s a lot more in there to enjoy, so go and watch it two or three times if you can.

Movie count for 2010: 121

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Spartan settings

Go Tell the Spartans: Adequate Vietnam movie, loosely based on the Battle of Thermopylae, about a small group of Americans and South Vietnamese who get unexpectedly pinned down by Viet Cong at an outpost. Brings up a lot of interesting lines of exploration (the trigger-happy psychopath of a Vietnamese interpreter, the fact that the South Vietnamese are usually the ones who wind up paying for the Americans' military blunders, the interesting pasts of the various characters) but doesn't really follow up on any of them.

Movie count for 2010: 117. Have mostly been watching Colditz instead.

Monday, November 15, 2010

SJA Checklist: Goodbye Sarah Jane

..alas, no, I've got to keep on doing this for another year.

Crowds of People Under Alien Influence
: No, they can't afford both crowds of people and a CGI stomach that splurts.

Tie-in with Doctor Who story
: Not actually a canonical one, but one of the authors of this story did a Big Finish audio featuring an imposter version of the Doctor turning up and trying to take over. Plus Sarah gets to repeat her personal narrative about how she met the Man Who Changed Her Life.

Rani's Mum is Annoying/Is Absent: Episode one: the former. Pushy, nosy, gossipy, insisting on painting the house a pale lemon yellow. Episode two: she has a complete personality transplant and is suddenly the sweetest, kindest, least embarrassing mum in the world. This doesn't contradict anything, it just comes as a bit of a shock. Oh, and there's another implication that her husband is sneaking around behind her back with Sarah Jane.

Luke/K9 Cameo: Since it's the final story, they actually turn up in person this time-- well, Luke does, K9 is clearly still immobile after the kebab-van incident.

Sarah Jane Waxes Maudlin: Lots of it. As well as her traditional speech about how wonderful her gang are, episode one sees her going on about the Doctor, about how old and feeble she is (at fiftysomething), how nobody needs her, and how she wants to pass the torch to Ruby. The latter demonstrates her fitness for the job by making speeches about how wonderful the universe is (could this be... Ruby Wax-es Maudlin? Ahem). Ruby's faked message in which Sarah Jane waxes maudlin about the responsibility of her job is unsurprisingly spot on. Because it's the last episode, too, we get guest waxing: Clyde gets a nice maudlin Last Message on his mobile and Luke gets to go on about his special mum.

Mobile Phone as Plot Device: Episode Two is practially deus ex mobile, as Rani's camera-phone not only provides the clue to Ruby's identity but a means of shutting down her computer. Clyde also gets to record his last message on his smartphone.

Racism Towards Aliens: The moment Sarah Jane trusts one, she turns out to be an evil soul-devouring creature. Give those damn aliens an inch and they'll take a yard.

The Crimes of Sarah Jane: Surprisingly, none.

Sonic Lipstick: Handed over to Ruby as Sarah Jane leaves. There really is some kind of female rite-of-passage thing going on here.

Wristwatch Scanner: Within ten seconds of the opening.

One or More of Sarah's Companions Falling Under Alien Influence: Oh, go on, guess.

Sarah And/Or Companion Acts like a Selfish Cow: When Ruby turns up, she's rude, brusque and selfish... and Clyde's first reaction is to blurt out "she's just like you, Sarah Jane!"

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

Wide-eyed speech about the wonders of the universe and how great it is to be in Sarah Jane's gang: Yes, though a surprisingly brief one.

Monday, November 08, 2010

SJA Checklist: Lost in Time

Crowds of People Under Alien Influence: Nope, can't make this one work even at a stretch.

Tie-in with Doctor Who story
: Again, more plot-ripoff than actual tie-in, with the traditional quest-through-time-and-space format (q.v. The Keys of Marinus, The Chase, The Key to Time) heavily exploited. And the idea of Emily's granddaughter giving the key to Sarah Jane at the right moment is a steal from "Blink."

Rani's Mum is Annoying/Is Absent: The latter.

Luke/K9 Cameo: Not even a mention. How soon we forget.

Sarah Jane Waxes Maudlin: In episode 2, when telling Emily how lucky she is someone loves her.

Mobile Phone as Plot Device: Clyde determines that he's in the past by checking the signal, and Emily gets in a (ahem) heavily telegraphed comedy moment as she marvels at the idea that "Mr Bell's invention" not only caught on, but went wireless. Plus it seems MP3s have Nazi-repelling capabilities.

Racism Towards Aliens: Clyde, of all people, tells an SS officer that he's a blind bully who judges others only on appearances, and hates and fears anyone who's different to him. Tu quoque, Clyde.

The Crimes of Sarah Jane: None, though Rani gets in one count of Grand Theft Music-Box, and another of Impersonating a Tudor Personage. And the characterisation of the pantomime Nazis is indeed criminal.

Sonic Lipstick: No.

Wristwatch Scanner: Used to scan for "ghosts."

One or More of Sarah's Companions Falling Under Alien Influence: Well, everyone goes into the past under alien influence, technically.

Sarah And/Or Companion Acts like a Selfish Cow: Actually, Rani gets to be nicely unselfish for a change, giving up the chance to go back in order to urge Queen Jane to martyrdom.

Friday, November 05, 2010

SJA Checklist: The Empty Planet

Crowds of People Under Alien Influence: Non-crowds of people, removed due to alien influence. Sort of a bizarro-universe crowd.

Tie-in with Doctor Who story
: No out-and-out tie-in, but a lot of referencing: Turlough (alien prince hidden on the Earth), The Android Invasion (mysteriously deserted English urban conurbation), the Judoon, The Daleks' Master Plan episode 12 (returning to a planet to find it deserted), The Curse of Fenric (Clive's "I love you, Mum!" when finding himself trapped); plus a reference to "Survivors" when Rani says "Please don't let me be the only one."

Rani's Mum is Annoying/Is Absent: The latter, though that's no different to anyone else. And she does get a good panic at Rani's Dad over the phone when they think Rani is missing.

Luke/K9 Cameo: None, though Clyde and Rani spend a lot of time wishing there was one.

Sarah Jane Waxes Maudlin: Episode Two ends with a heroic maudlin-fest as Sarah Jane, Rani and Clyde gush about how great it is that they know each other.

Mobile Phone as Plot Device: Is back, hooray!

Racism Towards Aliens: When Clyde considers the possibility that Gavin might be an alien, he leaps straight away to the conclusion that Gavin somehow caused the disappearances. Although everyone can be forgiven for assuming initially that the great big Cyberman/NuDalek-offspring robots are up to no good.

The Crimes of Sarah Jane: Well, Sarah Jane is absent this story, but Clyde and Rani severally engage in: Breaking and entering (Rani, Gavin's flat), use of private property without permission (Clyde in the cafe-- it's not theft, as he leaves money to pay for it), and Grand Theft Bicycle ("we'll bring them back," Rani says, though there's no evidence that they do).

Sonic Lipstick: Rani grabs it and uses it repeatedly, in some kind of symbolic female rite of passage.

Wristwatch Scanner: Was presumably on Sarah Jane's wrist when she vanished, so Rani doesn't get that too.

One or More of Sarah's Companions Falling Under Alien Influence: Retroactively-- Clyde and Rani being grounded by the Judoon means they don't get Raptured along with everyone else.

Sarah And/Or Companion Acts like a Selfish Cow: To be fair to them, no more than anyone else would in similar circumstances.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shivers up the Spine

The Insider: Film about a journalist who makes a documentary about a whistleblower for the tobacco industry, then winds up turning whistleblower himself when his network won't screen it. Also serves as a warning against accepting a job with a tobacco firm if one has any sense of self-preservation, let alone morals, at all.

The Devil's Backbone: Typically surreal and complex film by Guilermo del Toro; it's tempting to compare it to Pan's Labyrinth (featuring as it does the supernatural, vengeance, the Spanish Civil War, and children's views on the evil that grown-ups do), but it's a different sort of film, focusing on issues of masculinity and the role of the father figure through the contrasting roles of the kindly, intellectual, but impotent Doctor Caesares, and the charming, priapic, but ultimately evil Jacinto. Of particular note is the character of Jaime, who starts off looking like a stereotypical school bully, but winds up becoming something much more complex by the end of the film.

Movie count for 2010: 116

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sleep is for Tortoises

Sleepy Hollow: Tim Burton is in full relentless-fun mode here, with an updating of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which is cheerily, rather than knowingly, postmodern. The reason for the ghost's appearance, and who's behind it, appears at first to be straightforward but in the final act turns out to be the result of a chain of events so convoluted it might well have come from a Cohen Brothers film, and the writers of Murdoch Mysteries (which also features a historical detective with ideas about forensics which are literally centuries ahead of their time) may well have been taking notes, but again both of these are presented gleefully, rather than as a kind of one-upmanship on the audience or characters. The costumes and design are also beautiful, with Sleepy Hollow managing to feel quite real despite being shot in near-monochrome. With the likes of Michael Gambon, Richard Griffiths, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough and Alun Armstrong slyly inserted into the cast, it's also fun to play Spot the Thesp while watching it.

Movie count for 2010: 114

Monday, October 25, 2010

SJA Checklist: The Death of the Doctor

...shouldn't that be "The Death of Doctor Who"?

Crowds of People Under Alien Influence: No, though apparently there are crowds of ex-companions running charities around the world. And getting married.

Tie-in with Doctor Who (and, not incidentally, Faction Paradox) story
: UNIT claiming to have the Doctor's corpse in a lead coffin? Where are Lawrence Miles' royalties? Meanwhile, every single bit of Doctor Who books continuity regarding the future lives of the companions gets rogered bar one (namely, that Ian and Barbara got married).

Rani's Mum is Annoying/Is Absent: The latter, though her husband reveals that she even does grief annoyingly.

Luke/K9 Cameo: Luke gets another quick Skyping session, though where is K9? Possibly on the top of the kebab van in St Giles' Road, sporting a traffic cone on his head....

Sarah Jane Waxes Maudlin: In pretty much every scene she's in.

Mobile Phone as Plot Device: No. Has everyone on the series suddenly had a personality change? Because this sudden wave of off-grid living is weirding me out.

Racism Towards Aliens: Rani, for once, calls Sarah Jane on her knee-jerk "you can't trust them!" reaction towards the giant space vultures, though unfortunately it does have to turn out that Sarah Jane was right and you can't, in fact, trust them (though this season's face-saver comes in a brief mention at the end that these vultures aren't remotely representative of their species as a whole, no sir). Clyde also gets called on his racism against the Groske, though this doesn't seem to have the slightest impact on him, and he's decidedly ungrateful when one of them saves his life.

The Crimes of Sarah Jane: None, though the kids' forays through the air ducts probably constitutes breaking curfew or something.

Sonic Lipstick: Gets a good outing in episode two. Jo allows as how she'd rather like one of those.

Wristwatch Scanner: by contrast, doesn't appear at all.

One or More of Sarah's Companions Falling Under Alien Influence: Poor old Clyde finds himself as a conduit for the Doctor, a mere episode after having to do similar for Androvax.

Sarah And/Or Companion Acts like a Selfish Cow: When Jo Grant turns up, it seems at first that we've got an ex-companion who's actually well-adjusted and unselfish... until she and Sarah start comparing notes on their past experiences with the Doctor and the jealous-off begins. Sarah, meanwhile, decides to interrupt Jo's moment of bonding and reminiscing with the Doctor in episode 2 by blowing a whistle and telling them to get back to work. There may be dozens of ex-companions doing good works out there, but they're undoubtedly all bitter and twisted despite it. Clyde also gets a good bit of jealousy when he discovers that Luke has a new best friend forever. And both Clyde and Rani pass the selfishness meme on to Santiago by encouraging him to tell his parents to stop working to help other people and start paying attention to HIM, GODDAMNIT, even though he's getting perfectly good parenting from a loving grandmother.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Brides of Dracula: Clearly an attempt by Hammer Films to cash in on the success of the Cushing/Lee Dracula, but unfortunately it's missing Lee, and rather suffers for it. The Dracula-substitute character lacks Christopher Lee's sexual chemistry with the titular women (who are played by a predictable array of girls cast more for looks than acting ability), meaning that one doesn't get that sense of twisted eroticism which Gothic stories should have, and his non-sexual chemistry with Peter Cushing, meaning that confrontations between van Helsing and the vampire tend to be a bit unexciting. However, it's worth watching for Cushing, who plays the whole film totally seriously and thus does manage to give it something of a sense of terror and urgency, and also for the fact that, being an early Hammer Horror, the sex and violence are considerably more subtly played than they would be later, and thus more effective. Also features the world's least convincing fake bat, which seems to be a close relative of the animatronic cat in Doctor Who: Survival; in the scene where it attacks van Helsing, Peter Cushing can briefly be seen hiding a tiny smirk.

Movie count for 2010: 113

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Made of Honour

Sword of Honour: Technically a miniseries rather than a film, but it was included in a Daily Mail free film DVD series, so I'm reviewing it. Overlong, but trenchant, Evelyn Waugh adaption about a man who lets himself be carried along by life, drifting through marriage, fatherhood and World War II, unwittingly at the mercy of the intrigues, politics and love affairs of his friends and co-workers. In other words, sort of like Mr and Mrs Bridge, but with things actually happening in it.

Miller's Crossing: Cohen Brothers gangster flick with a plot too convoluted to outline here (and in any case, half the fun of the movie is figuring it all out), in which Gabriel Byrne is at the epicentre of a Byzantine struggle for control of an unnamed Prohibition-era city by Irish, Italian and Jewish gang bosses. Also noteworthy for an unbelievable piece of black comedy involving Albert Finney and a Tommy gun.

Made in Dagenham: Amazing-- a film which manages to be simultaneously pro-industrial action, and yet anti-union, with a group of plucky women taking on both factory bosses and unsympathetic shop stewards. I feel this is a development of our era (as witness American "Tea Party" actions), and, while, on the one hand I can understand it given the undermining of the unions since the 1980s and their documented patchy record in representing the concerns of women and ethnic minorities, on the other, as a union member who believes that organised resistance with the backing of the law is better than disorganised, scattered (or worse, secretly corporate-controlled, as witness recent revelations about who's funding the Tea Party) actions with no real legal standing, it really, really worries me. Also includes Bob Hoskins (as the token decent union man), Daniel Mays and Roger Lloyd-Pack, making this the only movie to co-star Kruschev, Satan and Trigger.

Movie count for 2010: 112

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SJA Checklist: The Vault of Secrets

Crowds of People Under Alien Influence: There are at least five people who individually come under alien influence, so it's kind of a strung-out extended crowd.

Tie-in with Doctor Who (and, not incidentally, Faction Paradox) story
: Part of Sarah Jane's job involves preventing NASA from finding Osirian pyramids on Mars. Though the story itself is also ripped off from "City of Death" mixed with "Dreamland," taking in a couple of homages to the Auton stories, "The Hand of Fear" and "The Robots of Death" along the way.

Rani's Mum is Annoying/Is Absent: The former, and in spades, as she joins a UFOlogist conspiracy theory group, drags her husband along, and drives her marriage that little bit closer to the edge.

Luke/K9 Cameo: Luke, like every undergraduate on the planet, is keeping in touch with Mum via Skype, but the mutt is conspicuous by its absence.

Sarah Jane Waxes Maudlin: She gets a good maudlin moment in episode 2 when going on about how alone Androvax must feel, what with his civilization destroyed and all.

Mobile Phone as Plot Device: No; amazingly, that's four episodes now that this team of mobile addicts have managed to keep their hands off their Blackberries. Unless the fact that Mr Dread is an Android is some kind of laboured pun.

"Maximum [something]!": No, the script team are clearly onto this blog :).

Racism Towards Aliens: Sarah Jane actually concedes for once that just because Androvax is a criminal, it doesn't mean everyone in his species is, though Clive does keep up a sustained background chorus on the general untrustworthiness of aliens.

The Crimes of Sarah Jane: Breaking and entering (St Jude's); damage to private property (Minty's scanner, Mr Dread's Humber Super Snipe).

Sonic Lipstick: Correct and present, from episode one.

Wristwatch Scanner: Correct and present, five seconds before the sonic lipstick.

One or More of Sarah's Companions Falling Under Alien Influence: Rani, Clive and Sarah all play host to Androvax at various points. So does Rani's Mum, if she counts.

Sarah And/Or Companion Acts like a Selfish Cow: While it's understandable that Sarah Jane wouldn't want the Veil civilization revived at the cost of Earth, it's rather callous that she doesn't even entertain the notion that this is a tiny bit speciesist of her. Clive and Rani, meanwhile, put on their biggest teenage pouts while whining at Mr Dread to save the Earth so that humanity can carry on destroying its own planet in an excess of consumerism (and they don't seem in the slightest bit sorry that it costs him his life). SJA may throw up the odd moral complexity once in a while, but you wouldn't know it from the way its protagonists act.

And in other news, Colditz is being repeated on the Yesterday channel at the end of the month. Between this and Secret Army on Alibi, it's all Chrisopher Neame, all the time.

Monday, October 11, 2010

SJA Checklist: The Nightmare Man

Crowds of People Under Alien Influence: Semi-check; Luke's dream about his farewell party only involves the illusion of crowds of people under alien inluence.

Tie-in with Doctor Who story
: Can we please have a moratorium on guest appearances by the Slitheen now? They've outstayed their welcome, and the callous attitude of everyone on SJA towards the killing of sentient beings by throwing acid on them is creeping me out.

Rani's Mum is Annoying/Is Absent: Rani's Mum is both, as Sarah Jane, helping Luke with his packing, says "I got these from Gita; you're lucky, she wanted to help."

Luke says something so daft that you have to wonder how he gets through life without being mercilessly bullied: Not in terms of what he says, but in terms of his lousy timing, wanting to talk about his A-levels while handcuffed to a bomb.

Sarah Jane Waxes Maudlin: In her treacly speech in episode 1 to Luke about how she'll always be here for him, and her equally treacly speeches in episode 2 about how Luke is off on a big adventure by going to university (and nothing about how he's conveniently saving the production team money by taking himself and K9 off to Oxford).

Mobile Phone as Plot Device: Surprisingly no-- just a plain old videocamera, not even a cameraphone.

"Maximum [something]!": No; perhaps someone noticed how much they were using the expression last year.

Racism Towards Aliens: Luke tells the Nightmare Man that he's "just an alien," and reveals how he himself was genetically engineered by aliens, but that Sarah Jane "made [him] good."

The Crimes of Sarah Jane: None, unless you count teaching Luke to drive before he's old enough to have a learner's permit.

K9 Interprets a Figurative Expression Literally: No, but he seems to be developing his unhealthy rivalry with Mr Smith.

Sonic Lipstick: Absent.

Wristwatch Scanner: Not present.

One or More of Sarah's Companions Falling Under Alien Influence: Luke, Nightmare Man, yadda yadda.

Sarah And/Or Companion Acts like a Selfish Cow: Considering how much selfish behaviour she's previously shown on the series (including being willing to erase Luke from history), is it that surprising that both Luke and Clyde should dream about Sarah Jane revealing she doesn't really care about them? "If you're going to be a journalist, you've got to stop worrying about other people's feelings," says Louise Marlowe.

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

Crash-zoom onto the planet Earth/UK/England/London: Check, yet again.

Wide-eyed speech about how good it is to be in Sarah's gang: Check, though to be fair it has the added twist of Luke finishing it with a quick "...and then everything went horribly wrong!"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rising expectations

Hannibal Rising: Retroactive destruction of the Hannibal Lecter legend. An abominable waste of Rhys Ifans and Gong Li.

Young Guns II: Actually not half bad for a sequel, with the music being a definite improvement on the original, and continuing the earlier film's riffing on classic Westerns (with homages to the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, among others). But unfortunately it was too unfocused, and as a result was unengaging (and at times downright dull).

Le Boucher: Finally, one that was actually really good, a psychological horror story about a school headmistress in a small French town who befriends the local butcher, who has been driven to murder by a combination of an abusive childhood and PTSD from fighting in the Indochina campaign. The result is like a combination of Hitchcock and Lynch (in his less surreal moods).

Movie count for 2010: 109

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Clued In

Without a Clue: Alternative take on Sherlock Holmes canon, in which Sherlock is in fact an actor, hired to play a genius detective by Watson, who is the real brains behind the operation (with some collaboration from Mrs Hudson). Its value is as an exploration of how people in a long-term relationship, sexual or not, can sometimes forget, or take for granted, what their partner contributes to it; however I did feel the central joke went on a little too long.

Crimes and Misdemeanors: Postmodern Woody Allen film, which starts out familiar-- wealthy businessman, threatened with blackmail by his mistress, plots her murder, while a nebbish documentary-maker falls in love with a wistfully beautiful production assistant-- and turns it on its head, with rewards and punishments falling in unexpected places and breaking all the Hollywood tropes. Also: Martin. Landau.

The Page Turner (La Tourneuse de Pages): Disturbing tale of creativity twisted by a lust for revenge, in which a young girl, who fails a crucial piano audition due to the negligence of a well-known pianist, grows up to carefully and deliberately ruin said pianist's life. You just can't look away.

Superman: The Quest for Peace: Hilariously terrible movie, with inconsistent plotting and characterisation reinforced with really bad CSO and some magnificently heavy-handed 1980s attempts at a political message. I'm not sure if it's an influence on the LaHaye and Jenkins school of bad fundamentalist Christian rapture-fiction, or vice versa (with the UN ineptly portrayed as some kind of one world government and nobody in the world seeing anything wrong with Superman's plan to destroy all nuclear missiles). Strangely, there is actually a possible clever storyline limping through it, when a thinly-disguised Rupert Murdoch takes over the Daily Planet and tries to turn it into a tabloid, but the sweet innocent optimism of Clark Kent causes "Murdoch"'s evil daughter to see the error of their capitalist ways, but that unfortunately gets buried under all the silly and is hastily wrapped up in a coda which appears to suggest that newspapers should be publically owned (which one would think rather goes against the American capitalist ethos). You just can't look away from this one either, but for different reasons.

Metropolis: One of my favourite films since I was a teenager, seen here in the restored version with the extra footage discovered in Argentina in 2008 reinstated. While two scenes are still missing, the new material makes all the difference, giving clarity and depth to Rotwang's motivations and plans, and actually giving Slim a personality (curiously, now that the plots involving him are restored, you actually notice him a lot more in the previously-extant footage). Also contains the Yoshiwara sequence, and some extra bits to Freder's visions which clarify and crystallise the expressionist symbolism of the rest of the movie, in which his memories of seeing a monk preaching on the book of Revelations in the cathedral merge crazily with the reality of Maria's erotic dance in the Yoshiwara to form a mise-en-scene in which Slim becomes a preacher and Maria the Whore of Babylon.

Movie count for 2010: 106

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Holiday movies

The Romantic Englishwoman: A Tom Stoppard adaptation of a story about a writer (Michael Caine) with a disintegrating marriage (to Glenda Jackson), who vents his frustrations by writing bits of said marital disintegration into a film script he's working on, with the ultimate postmodern result that the fiction and the reality become conflated. Which should be a lot more interesting than it actually is. There were a few good moments (some of the knowing inside jokes, for instance, or the bit where Michael Caine's character rakes a hypocritical pseudo-feminist newspaper columnist over the coals), but the postmodernism rapidly became tedious and the story unengaging.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula: A Hammer film from the mid-seventies, which is often reckoned as the studio's declining period, since it was focusing less on making real horror films and more on making thrillers with lots of nudity. Which actually works to the film's advantage, as what we get here, gratuitous boobs aside, is the Dracula mythos cleverly reimagined for the Quatermass/Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who eras, with van Helsing as a posh British scientist with an interest in the supernatural and a cute and smart granddaughter (who's also capable of giving a jolly good scream when required), and Dracula suavely infiltrating the London business community with shades of the Master's successfully becoming an Establishment figure in Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil (written by Don Houghton, who also scripted this movie). The apocalypse is said in this film to begin on Nov. 23-- the date of Doctor Who's first broadcast, but also, since the year is 1974, the day I was born. Make of that what you will. Also contains the world's cheekiest blue plaque ("Site of St Bartolph's Church, Built 1672, To the Glory of God and demolished for the site of this office block 1972").

Hammer over the Anvil: Sort of an Australian version of The Go-Between, about an Englishwoman (Charlotte Rampling) who emigrates to Australia and starts Lady Chatterleying about with a local horse rancher (a young Russell Crowe), seen through the eyes of a local child who is excluded from most of the rural community's life due to being a polio victim. To be fair to it, it has good points; the metaphors aren't unsubtle, and the denouement works well, with Charlotte Rampling showing more courage than anyone had given her credit for and the narrator finally coming to terms with his disability and earning the community's respect. However, it's still so boring it feels like it's almost double its length. Based on a book, and was probably better as one.

Movie count for 2010: 101

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The Maltese Falcon: A well-deserved rewatch, one of those lightening-in-a-bottle films, as attested to by the fact that Warner Brothers then spent the next few years putting Humphrey Bogart together with Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet and shaking vigorously, and never getting the desired result (Casablanca is their only arguable success, but it's a very different movie). Anyway, what one has here is a tense, witty thriller with cleverly-used sexual subtexts, impeccable casting and a denouement scene which is still powerful despite repeated viewing.

Movie count for 2010: 98

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Teenage Kicks

A Fistful of Dollars: Another rewatch; what I noticed this time around was the ethnic politics of the town. Both of the gangs that the Man With No Name sets against each other, the Baxters and the Rojas, are clearly mixed-race, but the Baxters emphasise the Northern European section of their ancestry while the Rojas emphasise the Hispanic, suggesting a further racial dimension to an already-complicated situation.

The Lover: Fifteen-year-old French girl, living in 1930s Vietnam, has sexual affair with thirty-two-year-old Chinese man. This could have been a powerful, erotic tale of love forbidden on many levels, but unfortunately it's just boring.

Spider-Man: A rewatch, but one of the few superhero movies I can stand rewatching; it actually does something interesting with the concept by making Peter Parker's transformation into Spider-Man a metaphor for adolescence, both physical (as Peter's body gains new powers, but everyone still treats him like a dork), psychological (as Peter comes to grips with the moral issues surrounding the use of his new abilities) and social (as Peter struggles with the tacit class issues underlying his friendship with Harry and his love for Mary Jane). Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin is amazingly Grand Guignol, but makes it work.

Cyrano de Bergerac: This was one of my favourite films when I was a teenager, and watching it again after many years I can kind of see why. Both Cyrano and Roxane are deeply adolescent individuals, with Cyrano obsessed with his image as a tragic lover and rebel against the system, and Roxane a superficial woman who spends fourteen years locking herself away in a convent after the death of her husband rather than grieving and getting on with it. Unfortunately this adaption, while beautiful, well-cast (hooray Depardieu) and nicely researched without making that background research too intrusive (coughgangsofnewyorkcough), cuts out some of the dialogue from the original play which indicates that the author regards Cyrano as a bit of a self-obsessed manchild, meaning that the audience has to take the characters here at face value.

Movie count for 2010: 97

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Of Dogs and Men

Old Boy: Man locked in hotel room for 15 years then mysteriously released seeks out the person/persons responsible. Result is sort of like The Prisoner, only with martial arts and some gleefully Jacobean incest, mutilation and ironic vengeance schemes.

My Life as a Dog: An earlier you-will-cry-buckets dog story by Lasse Hallstrom, about a young Swedish boy separated from his beloved pet and sent to live with small-town relatives when his mother develops a fatal illness. Suffused with guilt and grief, as well as burgeoning feelings of sexuality which confuse his relationship with his tomboy friend Saga, he conflates his own identity with that of his dog, his mother, and the then-recently-deceased Laika, eventually coming to accept his situation despite all its unfairnesses, leaving the viewer to carry on the anger and grief on his behalf.

10 Things I Hate About You: After my last foray into the post-Lurman Shakespeare-for-teens genre, I was not expecting too much from this, but it proved surprisingly good, being The Taming of the Shrew redone as a Whedonesque high-school comedy, full of zingy one-liners and humourous stereotypes of teenage cliques and with the misogynous treatment of Kate in the original play considerably mitigated (as the focus is less on Kate's brainwashing at the hands of Petruchio, as on the Kate- and Petruchio-equivalents both unbending and becoming less hostile to each other and the world). The one real complaint is that the start of the film seems to set up a subplot involving Alison Janney's randy school guidance counsellor which gets abandoned about one-third of the way in.

Movie count for 2010: 93

Sunday, August 15, 2010

There Will Be Issues

Inception: One of the best new films I've seen this year, a modern take on the sort of reality-bending issues explored by the likes of McGoohan and Cocteau, and in print by some of the best New Wave science fiction, with a cleverly ambiguous ending. Also, the less cute Leonardo DiCaprio gets, the more he actually shines as an actor, here brilliantly portraying a man slowly going mad in a series of dreams within dreams.

There Will Be Blood: Takes several familiar tropes of frontier fiction-- the small wilderness settlement caught in a power struggle between big business and a small community leader, the father and son becoming estranged and reconciled, the unexpected arrival of the long-lost relative who may not be all he seems, the up-from-poverty entrepreneurial life history-- and plays with them to explore the complex dynamics between an oil prospector, a pentecostalist preacher, and the oil prospector's son (or maybe not, it's complicated). I'm not really certain it deserved all those awards/nominations, but certainly it's got a lot going for it.

ETA: Alan suggested a somewhat more complicated subtext exists in TWBB, in which Daniel Plainview is the devil, hiding in plain view (Daniel being a reference to Daniel Webster); first seen in a pit, mining for silver, he then becomes an oil man, leading Paul to sell his birthright and Eli to become tempted by the sins of pride and avarice (note that, like Jacob and Esau, they are twins), leading the latter to deny God in the end; HW, however, ultimately rejects his father and walks away from temptation. So perhaps it did deserve all those awards, and thanks Alan for seeing what I didn't.

Movie count for 2010: 90

Friday, August 13, 2010

Capsule Catch-Up

Disturbia: Essentially Rear Window for teens, with a couple of knowing winks to Psycho and Vertigo in there as well, as a teenage boy confined to the house by a court order suspects his neighbour is up to no good. The title would suggest some kind of Donnie Darko-esque comment on the nastinesses hidden by the polite face of suburbia, but it’s actually just a popcorn flick. Also the love interest is a bit too much of a fantasy figure for me to take her remotely seriously.

Les Valseuses: Follows the adventures of two ne’er-do-wells stealing, breaking and entering, and, depending on how one views the complicated consent issues involved, raping their way through France, until a strange tragedy forces them, gradually, to rethink their position on life and women. An American film would have made them lovable rogues who never do anything seriously objectionable; this film doesn’t shy away from the evil side of the characters, but also provides them with a satisfactory ending which gives them emotional closure as well as an implicit comeuppance for their crimes.

Austin Powers: Nineties nostalgia classic which shows a clear love on the part of its creators for Sixties pop culture (even working in visual references to the Doctor Who stories The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Invasion); watching it now, what strikes one is that the Nineties references are the bit that feels dated, not the Sixties ones (I winced when Robert Wagner announced “The world is dead, there are only corporations”-- we all know where *that* philosophy led). Oh, and that Mrs Kensington Senior is much lovelier than her daughter; guess the modern celebration of the Cougar/MILF was a few years off at that point.

The Sweet Smell of Success: 1950s indictment of celebrity and the press culture which surrounds it, which is if anything more relevant today than at the time. Almost Shakespearian in its portrayal of a press agent and gossip columnist’s conspiracy to bring down a rising young musician, and a clear influence on Mad Men.

Manhunter: Genuinely disturbing adaptation of Red Dragon, exploring the grey area between criminal and investigator, through unfolding the complicated triple relationship shared by FBI agent Fisk, his current quarry, serial killer Dolaryde, and his previous quarry, Hannibal Lecktor. The décor and soundtrack are 1980s to the point of distraction, but, apart from leading to a couple of dreadful synth numbers, it’s mostly a good thing, helping to build up the tension through oppressive music and spare minimalism.

Mr and Mrs Bridge: The single most boring and pointless film I’ve ever seen, consisting of two hours (and about ten years of screen time) in which nothing really happens. Every so often a drama seems to be emerging, but it quickly gets stomped flat. Otherwise there’s not much to do other than develop one’s hatred for the titular characters, a boring and hypocritical man and a woman who never seems to stand up for anything, even herself.

The Untouchables: Garnered a lot of awards when it came out, but really, it didn't tell me much I didn't know (or couldn't infer) about crime and law enforcement in Prohibition-era Chicago, and I'm far from an expert on the place. Also contained a sequence of a raid on some smugglers by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, mounted on horseback (I kid you not), in which, despite the presence of Tommy guns, not one horse gets shot.

Movie count for 2010: 88

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Who's on Faust

Mephisto: Brilliantly incisive retelling of the Faust story. Klaus Maria Brandauer plays an actor with vague socialist leanings but a stronger sense of personal ambition, who is tempted by the promise of success the Nazi party offers, and compromises himself and his ideals, all the while offering platitudes and excuses. Of course it's bigger than that, with Brandauer's experience being an allegory for that of the whole German people post-Weimar, and the complexities of compromise explored through the various characters. There are also some clever breaches of the fourth wall in which the audience is placed as a character in the film, and a very Prisoneresque sequence in which an entire wedding party, some masked as devils and animals, dance wildly to the German tune Im Grunewald.

Passion of the Christ: Disappointingly conventional retelling of the Crucifixion story. Yes, it's gory; yes, they went to a lot of trouble recreating first-century Palestine, yes, everyone's speaking Aramaic or Latin, but Jesus is European-looking, Mary Magdalene is the Woman Taken in Adultery, the implications of Pilate's washing of his hands as regards his culpability in the whole affair is skated over quickly. Even the gore is hardly without precedent (go take a look at 15th century Flemish religious art). If you want a straight presentation of the modern mainstream Protestant take on the Crucifixion, watch it, but if you want a consideration of the implications of the story for society and religion, frankly, you're better off watching Ben Hur.

Movie Count for 2010: 81

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Gang warfare

Gangs of New York: Scorscese taking some of his familiar themes-- New York, anarchy, migration and its links with crime-- and applying them to the Irish community of the 1860s. It has a lot of excellent period detail, but unfortunately this makes it feel a bit too clean and distant: Scorscese can do terrifying urban anarchy (Taxi Driver) and modern filmmakers can do Victorian squalor (the recent BBC adaptation of Bleak House, among many others), but this feels rather like it was filmed in a pioneer village rather than a real place. This, plus the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio (still at the time known for playing cute heroes rather than more ambiguous characters) as the protagonist, plus, apparently, some differences of vision between Scorscese and his producer, has meant that a lot of the film's political message (a savage take on the way in which the rich more or less let the poor of the city go to the devil, other than to exploit them as cannon fodder in their political and literal wars) has less of an edge than it ought to have, and life in the sort of ungoverned environment where everything is privately owned and, consequently, the fire departments spend more time fighting rival fire departments than putting out fires, comes across more as a quaint portrait of olden tymes than, as it must have been, a desperate, terror-filled and brutal existence. Lots of British actors in supporting roles, and if you blink you miss Trevor Cooper about halfway through.

Movie count for 2010: 79

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not Shakespeare

The Running Man: One of the less subtle of the late-C20 media-dystopia genre, but an entertaining one. In a faceless totalitarian world borrowed from Soylent Green (and a dozen others), the public are kept in check through edited news media borrowed from 1984 and a violent, entertaining pro-wrestling-style game conceptually based on Rollerball and populated with characters from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome; Arnold Schwartzenegger, a policeman with no acting ability who decides that Society Is Wrong, finds himself inevitably forced to participate in said game (scenario borrowed from Year of the Sex Olympics) and also aiding a resistance movement wandering in from Terminator. Where the movie shines is in its shameless use of postmodern irony: by encouraging the viewing public to enjoy the violence of the game, the movie makes them one with the audience members baying for blood, and also ends the story on an ambiguous note which questions whether Schwarzenegger's revolt will change society or be assimilated into the media juggernaut. Ahhh, the 1980s, nobody knew how to have their cake and eat it better than that decade. Co-stars Jesse Ventura, making this the only blockbuster movie I'm aware of to contain no less than two American state governors.

Four Lions: Hilarious black comedy about an inept cell of British would-be jihadis, made all the more biting by the fact that most of the humourous episodes appear to be drawn from real-life stories of domestic terrorism, and taking swipes at Special Branch, politicians, orthodox Islam, university students, mainstream misunderstandings of Muslim culture, and marathon runners in the process. The Daily Mail worried that it would offend Londoners; as a Londoner, I can assure them they're wrong.

O: The success of the Baz Lurman Romeo + Juliet spawned a number of Shakespeare-updated-to-relate-to-modern-teens movies, and this is unfortunately not one of the best. The premise is fine-- the story of Othello, set in a Deep South private prep school with Othello as the star basketball player and sole black student at the school. The problem is that the execution misses out on most of the subtleties of the Shakespeare play: Shakespeare's Othello is not just a warrior, but an intelligent, cultured and well-read man, whereas this movie's iteration simply had him as a dumb jock. Iago, similarly, is one of those Jacobean characters who is less an actual person than a personification of some kind of social force (e.g. Vindice in The Revenger's Tragedy), and simply having him as a psychopathic emo kid with fairly obvious motivations (envy, racism and some father issues) lessened him somewhat. As the movie contains a prep school, a dim blonde, an emo kid and some doves, I found myself regularly reminded of the Literal Total Eclipse of the Heart video.

Movie count for 2010: 78

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fraud, fraud and football

F for Fake: Orson Welles semi-documentary on art fakery. A strange film in that it is totally unlike any other early-seventies film I've seen, and yet somehow manages to feel completely and totally of the period. Extra marks for sweetly charming scenes of Orson Welles performing magic tricks.

Hell Drivers: A rewatch this one, but still entertaining. Although the story is cleverly told (with the crime which the protagonist has committed never being totally revealed to the audience, who are forced to figure it out through hints and allusions, and with the villains' scam being carefully worked out), it carries extra amusement through the fact that most of its cast would go on to be known for far different things. Just ten years later, who would believe a girl would turn down Sean Connery in favour of Stanley Baker? Or that Doctor Who and Number Six had gone in together on a complicated business fraud? Actually, perhaps that one's not so unbelievable.

The Damned United: I'm not a serious football lover so I was surprised when I wound up quite enjoying this movie, a drama based on a true story about Brian Clough, a football manager who specialised at taking poorly-performing teams and turning them around, who gets the chance to manage top-of-the-first-division Leeds United and fails. The characters are well outlined, with no one being terribly likeable and yet everyone's motivations being completely understandable, and the whole thing had the feel of a Greek tragedy rather than Golden Gordon.

Movie count for 2010: 75

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Doin' the French Mystique

Gran Torino: Marketed as a "get off mah lawn!" white-old-man's-revenge-fantasy movie, in fact this turns out to be an interesting exploration of race and migration in the Midwest. The initial racism shown by Clint Eastwood's character to his Hmong neighbours is tempered when he finds himself siding with the same neighbours against a Hmong youth gang, and indeed there is the implication in the later stages of the film that the Hmong are simply undergoing the same process of integration that Eastwood's own generation went through (he, and his friends, are all clearly the children or grandchildren of European migrants). The ending is reminiscent of The Shootist and The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, and yet also manages to be anti-violence.

Blazing Saddles: An old favourite of mine, but also part of the general questioning of the Western which took place in the 1960s and early 70s. Where Sergio Leone, at the same time, was showing us a real, more brutal West, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was challenging the genre's boundaries, Blazing Saddles holds the implied racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and general pro-establishment sympathies of the traditional Western up to savage ridicule. That, and it's really funny.

Movie count for 2010: 72

Friday, July 09, 2010

Sound of Silence

The Graduate: A story which uses a minimal plot (young man just out of college and trying to find his way in life sleeps with the wife of his father's business partner and falls in love with her daughter) as an exploration of character, suburban 1960s morality, and social criticism. There is also a further metacriticism in that the two young people's rebellious act in running off together at the end of the story is in fact is exactly what their parents wanted them to do at the start of the story (namely, marry and continue the business dynasty), questioning whether the youth rebellions of the 1960s really were instigating a social change, or just echoing wider patterns of middle-class social reproduction (children are forced into roles by their parents, rebel, but marry people like themselves, and eventually find themselves reproducing their parents' lifestyles and values); Mrs Robinson, after all, no doubt thought she was being rebellious when she slept with her boyfriend as an undergraduate and started this whole mess.

Pale Rider: A disappointing rehash of elements of several much better Westerns (mainly A Fistful of Dollars, High Plains Drifter, Shane and Once Upon a Time in the West), featuring Clint Eastwood as a gun-toting preacher With No Name who comes to the aid of a group of California gold-miners under threat from a local developer who is Evil and engages in environmentally unsound mining practices (no, really, this is an actual plot point). Between the bigging up of the preacher as hero and the simplistic environmental message (hydraulic mining bad, but mining by smashing up rocks and diverting streams perfectly OK, it seems), it appears to have been jointly funded by the Southern Baptist Convention and the Sierra Club.

Brighton Rock: Archetypical British film noir about gangsters in Brighton, which clearly disturbed Brighton Council enough that there's a disclaimer at the start of the film to the effect of "it's not like that anymore, really!" Scarily, it actually is, even now.

Movie count for 2010: 70

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Red King's Dream

Alice in Wonderland: OK, but not really Burton at his best; he seems to be just ticking boxes (Gothic imagery? Check. Childhood imagery? Check. Helena Bonham Carter? Check. Checkerboards? Check) rather than really innovating, and even Johnny Depp lacks his usual sense of madness and just looks like Ronald McDonald after a bad Friday night in Camden. "Alice in Wonderland" is one of those children's stories which lends itself well to adult reinterpretation; the problem is that it's been done before, twice (Dreamchild in 1985 and Něco z Alenky in 1988), both of them bringing a sense of twisted menace and peculiar sexuality which this film is completely missing. Also drags in a linear throughput plot thread which seems to be stolen in equal measures from Dragonslayer and The Wizard of Oz (Alice must slay the Jabberwock and restore the White Queen to the throne, thwarting the evil Red Queen) which Lewis Carroll would hardly have approved of. It passed the time well enough on an eleven-hour flight from Brazil, but I wouldn't have paid money to see it.

Movie count for 2010: 67

End with a Bang

Apologies again for lateness; I've been in Brazil and only just saw this last night.

The Big Bang

Idea Proposed but Not Used in the Davies Era: Ending the Doctor Who universe.
Central Premise Recycled From: Back to the Future.
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: River Song borrows the Doctor's "I'm the Doctor, look me up" schtick from "The Forest of Gump," and Moffat borrows his own "the Doctor seeking help from a small girl who is really the person controlling all this" schtick from the same story.
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: Amy's parents are a pair of Scottish stereotypes: a tall, ginger-haired and nervy woman married to a short, fat, curly-haired man who's terrible at speeches.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Yep. Amy reconciles her Wuv for Rory and her Wuv for the Doctor, and goes off to have the TARDIS' second long-term polyamorous relationship (don't tell me Jamie, Zoe and the Doctor weren't all at it like knives). The Big Bang, indeed.
Tennant Line: None, but we do get the return of "Geronimo."
Star Wars Bit: A seven-year-old child with a Special Destiny, and a special relationship with some kind of universal force.
Nostalgia UK: The Doctor attempts to channel fellow big-chinned media personality Tommy Cooper by donning a fez, though River and Amy both agree that's a terrible idea.
Teeth!: None!
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: At first I thought the stone Dalek, but then I noticed the prototype figures for the Amy and Rory Get Married gift set placed on top of the wedding cake...
Something Gets Redesigned: The Earth, though one could also count the stone Dalek.
The Crack in the Universe Is: Closed.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hell's grannies

And Now for Something Completely Different: An old favourite; film-length compilation of Monty Python sketches, restaged on film and slightly adjusted to flow into each other better. But still hilarious. The sketches have stood the test of time impressively; there were occasional topical references (e.g. to the "domino effect" and to Nixon) but none too problematic for the modern audience. Works well as an introduction to Python for novices, a reminder of what was so special about them for people who haven't watched the series for a while, and a good "greatest hits" DVD for serious fans.

The Rutles: Scarily well-done spoof documentary on a Rutland band whose career eerily parallels the Beatles, realised by a mixture of Python and Saturday Night Live alumni and some real actual 1960s celebs (including George Harrison). The whole thing is done perfectly seriously-- including songs which sound like real ones from the era rather than parodies-- making it even funnier. Off to download "Good Times Roll" from Itunes now.

Die Hard with a Vengeance: Expectations for this were rock bottom given my feelings about the first film in the series, but this surprised by actually being enjoyable. The edge it had over its prequel was that it clearly wasn't taking itself remotely seriously, and the sense of fun permeated every scene. However, it's a very, well, September 10th type of film: leaving aside the fact that doing a story about terrorists blowing up New York landmarks seems a bit anticlimactic these days, the ideas that a) New Yorkers would not be able to spot a bomb threat a mile off and b) an explosives expert would have to painstakingly explain to policemen about homemade devices which could be hidden in cars or other large pieces of mechanical equipment and detonated remotely by mobile phone seem strangely dated.

Movie count for 2010: 66

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Repeated Meme: Amy's Box

The Pandorica Opens

Idea Proposed but Not Used in Galactica 1980: Time-travel story involving Cleopatra and anachronisms.
Central Premise Recycled From: The "Whose Doctor Who" documentary at one point featured a child opining that the Doctor's enemies should form an alliance, gang up on the Doctor, take away his TARDIS and maroon him somewhere. Apparently one Steven Moffat was listening.
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: "The Forest of Fear"-- the Doctor's "I'm the Doctor, look me up" bit as a way of getting bad guys to back off before they start. Worked out better for him there, obviously.
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: Again none, unless you count the return of gratuitous Scottish jokes Bracewell and Vincent van Gogh.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Well, I'm not sure what you'd call it, but Amy certainly does *something* to the day with Wuv.
Tennant Line: Didn't notice one, but then I was too busy waiting for the Pandorica to Open.
Star Wars Bit: River Song's Celtic gear was clearly stolen from Princess Leia during the Hoth sequences of The Empire Strikes Back. Presumably when C-3PO was doing the laundry.
Nostalgia UK: Ahhh, fond memories of "The Eagle of The Ninth," "Sky," "The Box of Delights," and all the other British children's fiction involving ancient Romans and/or Stonehenge. And apparently Amy has the same memories.
Teeth!: None! But hey, horses!
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Leaving aside the fact that the end of the story looks like a sale in the toy aisle of our local Tesco's, who wouldn't love a mechanical coin bank based on the Pandorica?
Something Gets Redesigned: The whole universe, apparently.
The Crack in the Universe Is: Everywhere, though it starts in the TARDIS scanner.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


The Usual Suspects: A rewatch this one. I found it sharp, clever, and witty, well characterised and tensely plotted, with plenty to amuse and interest even if you already know who Keiser Soze is. My father-in-law, who watched it with Alan and me, said it was the scariest thing he'd ever seen. I guess it depends on your perspective.

Movie count for 2010: 63

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Repeated Meme: Where's Ivor Novello When You Need Him?

The Lodger

Idea Done to Death in the Virgin/BBC Books Era: The Doctor being forced to live like an ordinary human.
Central Premise Recycled From: About a million romcoms (slightly pathetic boy fancies beautiful girl, and, with the intervention of a wacky relative/friend/flatmate, finally gets her).
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: "The Girl in the Fireplace" again; a spaceship with no crew killing people in a misguided attempt to get itself functional again.
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: None, with Amy yet again out of the picture.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Amy is out of the picture, but Craig saves the day by finally acknowledging his Wuv for Sophie, and vice versa.
Tennant Line: "No, no no no no!" But spoken by Craig. The Doctor also calls himself "the Oncoming Storm."
Star Wars Bit: I'm trying to think of some amusing way to liken James Corden to Jabba the Hutt, but not coming up with much so far.
Nostalgia UK: Football games on the village green. Also quick nostalgic 1960s Gerry Anderson reference when the Doctor introduces himself as "Captain Troy Handsome of International Rescue."
Teeth!: None for a change.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Nothing, or at least I hope nothing (please God, no six-inch fully-articulated James Cordens).
Something Gets Redesigned: A house turns from a two-story into a bungalow.
The Crack in the Universe Is: In the wall of Craig's flat, and all over the "Next Time" trailer.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Field of Dreams

Cloverfield: While I spent the first half-hour of the film debating whether or not to go on with it, as I was hating the characters in it so much, the rest of it more than made up for it by being, essentially, a crystallisation of the post-9/11 movie/TV genre. Spoilt, overprivileged young people having it all suddenly ripped away from them? Check. People stumbling around the wreckage in the dust, unable to make sense of it all? Check. A military and/or civil authorities unable to do anything and causing more deaths through misdirected friendly fire? Check. A mysterious and incomprehensible enemy attacking New York? Check. But, if you add to that the subliminal reference to the Zapruder footage (in that the video footage the audience are watching is an amateur film which captured a major event in American history while being intended for another purpose) and the fact that the thing attacking New York looks amazingly like the Id Monster from Forbidden Planet, you actually have a film-literate comment on the post-9/11 mindset: that America is, in a sense, fighting its own id.

Movie count for 2010: 62 (yes, I know I'm slowing down output, but it's been a busy couple of months)

Monday, June 07, 2010

No doughnut

Bad Lieutenant: Surprising and disturbing take on the bad-cop-who-does-the-right-thing-in-the-end genre, in that the cop is very, very bad indeed, and doing the right thing involves enabling the escape of someone who might possibly be worse. Under that, it's about what the Christian imperative to forgive your enemies really, actually means. If your sanity can take it, watch it together with Taxi Driver and Mean Streets.

FYI, I mean the original 1992 Harvey Keitel version, not the remake, which, having seen this, I want to avoid at all costs lest it should ruin the experience.

Movie count for 2010: 61

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Repeated Meme: World's Blandest Episode Title

Vincent and the Doctor

Idea Not Proposed but Used Anyway During the JNT Era: A monster that looks unfortunately like a giant chicken (seriously, "Arc of Infinity" may be terrible, but I very much doubt the script description of the Ergon read "looks unfortunately like a giant chicken").
Central Premise Recycled From: Mostly "The Shakespeare Code," though there's an element of "Tooth and Claw" in Amy trying to get van Gogh to paint some sunflowers.
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: "The Girl in the Fireplace" again: the Doctor bonds with a historical figure but not enough to stop them dying tragically before retirement age.
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: Van Gogh has a Scottish accent. Amy has a Scottish accent. "Are you also from Holland?" van Gogh asks Amy. Cue rimshot.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Amy Wuvs Vincent, and makes his final days a little happier by doing so. Aw.
Tennant Line: "No, no no no no!"
Star Wars Bit: Hero with A Destiny, which is recognised by a mysterious traveler and/or hermit, but by no one else.
Nostalgia UK: Who didn't have a copy of either "Starry Night" or "Sunflowers" on the wall of their first residence room/bedsit/flatshare?
Teeth!: No, but some Beak! on the invisible chicken monster.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: The invisible chicken monster obviously, though are Character Options bold enough to just release an empty package and claim it's the monster? It'd be one up on "Destroyed Cassandra," certainly.
Something Gets Redesigned: Two van Gogh paintings.
The Crack in the Universe Is: Running through van Gogh's mind. No, really, since he clearly detects the absence of Rory.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Harder, faster, stronger

Die Hard: Apparently a classic of the thriller genre. I just found it pointlessly macho. And dull. By three-quarters of the way through I was siding with Alan Rickman.

Movie count for 2010: 60

The Repeated Meme: Cold Judas

Cold Blood

Idea Proposed and Used Despite It Being Stupid During the JNT Era: Bringing back a classic monster/villain and retroactively ruining all their street cred.
Central Premise Recycled From: Star Trek. Namely, those interminable episodes where the crew of the Enterprise/DS9/Voyager/Whatever have to thrash out a simplistic diplomatic conflict involving aliens with rubber faces, noses and honkers (who also usually possess a wise elder-statesman type), and usually wind up with some kind of "maybe in a thousand years' time humanity will be ready!" reset button.
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Companion plus tagalong of the week strapped to a dissecting table by an alien with designs on their body parts: "The Girl in the Fireplace."
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: Quite a lot of Silurians have Scottish accents, but still no one notices.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Amy tries to save the day with Wuv, or at least to remember her Wuv for Rory to keep him preserved, but this turns out rather less than effective.
Tennant Line: The Doctor bleats on about being the last of his kind again (didn't he say a couple of episodes ago that he didn't really want to talk about it?)
Star Wars Bit: If Aleya and Restac are any indication, the Silurians have an army of clone warriors.
Nostalgia UK: Welsh mining villages.
Teeth!: As well as humanlike noses and honkers, Silurians have humanlike teeth. Which is just as weird.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Those Sea Devil retro-style ray guns would be a nice idea if Character Options ever get into weaponry beyond sonic screwdrivers.
Something Gets Redesigned: The entirety of "The Eleventh Hour," "Vampires of Venice" and "Amy's Choice," which now have to take place sans Rory.
The Crack in the Universe Is: Grafted on to the story for an exciting coda.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The Final Countdown: 1980s "cult classic" co-written by Doctor Who's Gerry Davis and starring Martin Sheen and Kirk Douglas, about an aircraft carrier whisked back in time to, you guessed it, the day before Pearl Harbour. The plot takes 30 minutes to get going and 60 minutes to get entertaining, and most of the film consists of techno-porn of F-14s and of people standing around arguing over whether they should intervene in history.

Capitalism: Michael Moore feature-length documentary explaining why we're in the mess we're in. The basic thesis-- unfettered capitalism bad, socialism good-- is well argued, but some of the facts are stretched in support of it (while it's broadly true that workers in Germany elect their company's board of directors, in practice they get a lot less say than the documentary implies, for instance), and Obama's turned out rather more right-wing than Moore seems to hope he would. Nonetheless the images of American foreclosure victims and of the destruction of the "rust belt" are chilling, providing an indictment of capitalism in and of themselves.

Movie count for 2010: 59

V sign

I've given up on V after eight episodes. I was pleasantly surprised by the first couple, but the problem is that, in my opinion, modern TV shows can get away with cardboard characters if they've got an exciting, intriguing and continuously developing storyline, and they can get away with storylines which advance at a glacial pace if they've got even one or two interesting characters. In V we have a storyline which goes nowhere, and characters which also never seem to evolve beyond the caricature level (the Fighting Priest, the FBI agent cloned from Sarah Connor, the whiny teenager searching for his identity, the V with a heart of gold...). But worse, it's not even entertainingly bad-- I've been known to watch terrible series just to laugh at them (e.g. Torchwood up till "Children of Earth"), but even attempts to watch V through with snarky commentary (e.g. drowning out anything Father Jack says with overdubs of "Drink! Girls! Feck!") just fall flat.

Also, it lacks the courage of its convictions. I know some people were upset at the way the first couple of episodes seemed to shamelessly court the Tea Party demographic (the evil aliens are here to conquer you with... health care! And clean energy solutions!), but actually I had high hopes for this, as at worst this could have led to entertaining hysterical paranoia and at best might actually make some social and political points (like They Live did between bouts of crypto-antisemitism) providing insight into the sort of people who hold these views. But they have been relentlessly timid ever since; American politicians have been firmly out of the picture, so we haven't had any images of Congressmen or Senators coming down either for or against the Visitors depending on where they stand on those issues; there was a brief subplot about the UN secretary-general last episode, but that was completely perfunctory. Nor have we had any of the characters discuss the pros and cons of, for instance, V-provided health clinics (I thought briefly that we might, when we met Father Jack's pro-V fellow priest, but no), and the writing team seem to have been dialing back the Anna/Obama parallels, so that she now comes across more as a watered-down version of antichrist Nicolae Carpathia from the Left Behind novels.

So in my opinion, another case of please all and you please none. It doesn't ring true as a series, but also, it doesn't ring false in an entertaining way.