Saturday, January 30, 2010

Psych on Mars

The problem with the American "Life on Mars" crystallised itself recently when I saw an episode in which Sam visits a police psychiatrist. In 1973. The problem is that American policing hasn't changed to the extent that British policing has. Whereas in a British context, a police psychiatrist in 1973 seems unthinkable, there it's natural; having Annie act as a real police officer rather than a glorified tea-lady is fine, even expected, for the Americans (what with their Charlie's Angels and all) but not for the Mancunians. In the British version, nobody except Sam follows correct forensic procedure; in the American version, Sam only comes across as strange if he blurts out something about obtaining DNA. So basically, it's hamstrung from the start. Still, gets some good lines in, and their Ray is better than ours.

Survivors thoughts

If they're so keen on bringing the remake of "Survivors" into the 21st century, why haven't they renamed Abby "Santander"?

Two Noirs and a No-no

They Live by Night: Another unusual film-noir, focusing on a young couple on the run for a crime one of them did commit (the man, though the woman was complicit); while they attempt to set up a normal household in the wake of all this, getting married, renting a cottage and getting pregnant, the media are, in the background, sensationalising the whole affair, to the point where armed squads of police marksmen are sent out to apprehend a 23-year-old with a Saturday Night Special. The portrayal of small-town squalor is positively Steinbeckian, and Cathy O'Donnell as the girl looks scarily like Summer Glau.

Gilda: A more conventionally noirish film, and one aimed at a more commercial market, as Rita Hayworth gets two pointless song numbers, clearly intended as a hit tie-in single and a B-side. Don't let that put you off though, as it's actually a complicated plot about profiteering which is filtered through the story of one man's obsession with revenging himself on the woman who left him and married someone else; the setting, Argentina in the immediate aftermath of WWII, has the right mix of glamour and fascism.

The Wicker Man (2006 Remake): In and of itself, the idea of reimagining the population of Summerisle as "pagan Amish" who fled persecution to the New World has potential. What would such a group be like? How would they relate to modern-day neopagans? How would you convey the seductiveness of such a lifestyle, which was crucial to the original film? Why would they want to burn Nicholas Cage, who is plainly no virgin? Unfortunately, this take turns them into po-faced historical reenactors, with none of the original pagans' humour, music and sexuality, and never really answers the question of why they would want to burn Nicholas Cage (there's some brief guff about having to sacrifice someone connected to them by blood, but if that's the case, why him particularly?). There are far too many logical holes in the story to cover in a capsule movie review (just as an example, why would a community which actively repels outsiders have what seems to be a comfortable multi-roomed hotel? What was the point of the vignette at the start where Nicholas Cage fails to save a girl in an automobile accident?), but the stupidest aspect for me was that the whole thing came across as the kind of clumsy, awkward rant against feminism one might expect from a right-wing 1970s TV show. The Summerisle pagans are re-envisioned as matriarchs who oppress their men, seduce innocent outsiders to get pregnant and then deny them visits to their children at the weekend, and, from the look of the jars full of foetuses in the doctor's office, have lots and lots of abortions. I'm sure this is a popular movie with the sort of men who climb Buckingham Palace dressed as Spider-Man and unfurl "Fathers4Justice" flags, but give me Christopher Lee romping around in drag with Britt Ecklund any day.

Movie count for 2010: 13

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Crossfire: A PTSD-afflicted recently discharged American soldier is accused of the murder of a Jewish acquaintance, but naturally the truth turns out to be far less simple. Another application of film-noir techniques and tropes to a subject normally outside its parameters (see last review), with soldiers as its protagonists and mental illness and prejudice as its themes. Contains one truly excellent scene where a soldier and a mysterious man meet at the apartment of a dancing girl, and conduct a beautifully Pinteresque conversation which could stand on its own as a minimalist theatre piece, counterbalanced by one truly dire scene where the detective character has to stand up and explain why anti-Semitism is wrong and hurts everyone. Since the dialogue otherwise is full of clever allusion and subtextual insinuation, I suspect the studio ordered its insertion just to make it clear to the idiots in the audience what the story's about. Worth tracking down anyway.

Movie Count for 2010: 10

Monday, January 18, 2010

Very much encapsulated movie reviews

Too busy to write much, so:

The Reckless Moment: Unusual film noir in having the hard-bitten dame as the hero, moreso when the dame in question is a suburban housewife doing everything possible to keep her daughter out of trouble. Guest starring a very, very young James Mason.

The Deer Hunter: Not sure which is more nightmarish, life in a 1970s steel-working town, or Vietnam; certainly all three of the central characters seem to choose a slow, elaborate form of suicide, and only Christopher Walken actually succeeding seems to bring them out of it. Unusual to see a Russian-American community depicted fairly unproblematically-- the existence of the Cold War is only even hinted at briefly, despite the context.

Catch-22: Valiant attempt to film an unfilmable novel. Partly successful. Co-stars Art Garfunkel as you've never seen him before.

The History of Mr Polly: The message is that you can change your life, whatever it happens to be. Which is ironic since this film isn't sure if it wants to be a kitchen-sink drama or a slapstick comedy. Stars John Mills, who was contractually required to appear in every film from 1945 to 1960.

Journey Into Fear: Would have been a film-noir classic with a bit more money and a better soundtrack; as it is, it's worth watching for the witty dialogue, occasionally enchanting set-pieces (the monologue of the French Communist who only joined the party to piss off his wife, for instance) traces of brilliant acting and Orson Welles as the Head of the Turkish Secret Police, in a hat which renders subtlety impossible.

Movie Count for 2010: 9

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Last movie of 2009/first movies of 2010

The Stranger: 1940s movie featuring Orson Welles as an escaped Nazi war criminal taking up in a small town as a teacher, and being hunted down by Edward G. Robinson. Some nice if fairly obvious noirish directorial touches, but overall I think they were a bit too close to the subject to do it really well-- whereas later treatments (e.g. Apt Pupil or Kessler) have focused on the disturbing fact of ex-Nazis integrating themselves into postwar society just like ordinary folks, suggesting that maybe there's less to differentiate ex-Nazis and ordinary folks than the latter would like to think, Orson Welles has to be a complete psychopath with no real redeeming features. Which, given that he spent The Third Man playing a character who can mingle charm and amorality in equal measures, is a real missed opportunity.

Darling: 1960s Julie Christie film that won a lot of Oscars and Baftas, but from a modern perspective it's hard to see why. At the time it was probably daring in its portrayal of homosexuality and abortion (i.e., actually admitting these things go on instead of relying on subtext and euphemism), but it comes across as very right-wing, essentially conveying the message that the bright, swinging young media darlings of the day are really just amoral little tramps who sleep around, abort babies on a whim, and make friends with (horrors!) pooves and (double horrors!) Italians in order to get on (it's not inappropriate that this copy was a Daily Mail free-DVD). You can just hear the Little England housewives of the day consoling themselves with this movie: "see? They may be beautiful and rich, but they're Not Happy, no they're not..." Dirk Bogarde plays a heterosexual, and does it badly.

The Simpsons Movie: A lot of fun and some good laughs to be had, but I'm still glad I didn't spend money for it, as it was basically just a triple-length episode of the TV series. They never explained what happened to the pig, either, but I'm not sure it matters.

Movie count for 2009: 111

Movie count for 2010: 2

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Doctor Who Recyclingwatch: The End of Time, Part II

The End of the World (also The Long Game, The Sontaran Strategem, etc.): Character looking down on the Earth from a space station/ship orbiting it, and being amazed.

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances: The Doctor stalks Rose before she's met him.

The Parting of the Ways: the Doctor absorbs a fatal dose of radiation to save his companion and then regenerates. Also the Doctor faced with a moral choice which involves the possibility of killing one's enemies.

The Christmas Invasion: the Doctor's hand is the first bit of him to start regenerating.

The Satan Pit: The Doctor miraculously survives a fall from a great height.

Doomsday: Participant group in the Time War, believed extinct, turns out to have been hiding itself someplace improbable, and thanks to someone activating the trigger are now coming back in force. They are then sent back to a place the Doctor likens to hell, via the usual machina.

Voyage of the Damned: Ship falls into the Earth's atmosphere, pulls up just before hitting a stately home, while the Doctor shouts "allons-y".

Smith and Jones: the Doctor again absorbs a fatal dose of radiation, though this time he shakes it out through his shoe. Martha Jones' married name is apparently Martha Smith-Jones.

Gridlock: the Doctor jumping through a hatch at the bottom of the ship (though it made more sense in Gridlock; why the hell does a ship like the Hesperus have a hatch at the bottom, which could let in the vacuum?)

Human Nature/The Family of Blood: Device which can rewrite Time Lord DNA.

Last of the Time Lords: The Doctor being wheeled about in a wheelchair, plus getting lots of gay emo moments with the Master.

The Sontaran Stratagem: People saluting the Doctor.

The Doctor's Daughter: the Doctor pulling a gun and then not shooting people with it = "The man who never would" speech.

The Stolen Earth/Journey's End: Planet mysteriously appearing in Earth's sky; when it disappears, one of the companions' mums rushes out into her garden and looks up at the sky. The Doctor sits around in space not knowing what to do. Extended self-indulgent ending involving every single Tennant companion ever, except the ones Stephen Moffat wrote. Bad Guys have a crazy visionary among their number.

The Waters of Mars: The Doctor going on and on about who's important and who isn't.

Torchwood: Glove-based technology.

Who's in the Star Wars Cantina: Hath, Judoon, Adipose, Slitheen, the Graske, a Sycorax, the red-skinned and white-skinned people seen in "New Earth" and "Gridlock", Murray Gold (the song "My Angel Put The Devil In Me" from "Daleks in Manhattan"). And that werewolf fellow from "Being Human," can't think why.

Old Skool Who: "The Ribos Operation" (the Time Lord psychic). "Planet of the Spiders" and "The Caves of Androzani" (both of which involve the Doctor dying through absorbing fatal radiation or other toxin). "Logopolis" also featured a fall from a great height, and it and "The Caves of Androzani" both have visual nods to all the era's companions. "The War Games" (sinister Time Lords, plus the youthful Master's outfit in the initiation scenes). Faction Paradox (the nature of the Time War as described in the opening scene). Vengeance on Varos (the original story featuring the Doctor sitting around for ages not doing anything). The woman in white appearing randomly to Bernard Cribbins = The White Guardian (while speculation as to her actual identity continues, the fact is, she *acts* like the White Guardian does in the relevant stories) or possibly the Watcher. "The Ark in Space" (yet another iteration of the "homo sapiens" speech in the Doctor's conversation with Wilf about the value of the human race); "Pyramids of Mars" (the human race compared to insects). The Seeds of Doom (the Doctor jumping through a glass skylight). The Tenth Planet (planet appearing in Earth's sky). The Five Doctors (appearance by Rassilon). "Silver Nemesis" (cameo by world leader impersonator). "The Twin Dilemma" (villain being attacked by having a vial of fluid thrown at them).

Everything Else: The Space: 1999 episode "Brian the Brain", ironically guest starring Bernard Cribbins (two people in sealed glass booths, one of whom must sacrifice their own life for the other to escape); Star Wars (the "cantina" scene, plus the Time Lords stalking through Gallifrey at the start, plus Wilf's Milennium Falcon laser guns bit, plus see remarks last episode.) The cactus people's ship is called Hesperus, referring to the Longfellow poem, and looks like the offspring of Red Dwarf's Starbug and Battlestar Galactica's Colonial One. Macbeth (a prophecy coming true but not quite in the way its referent expected). The scene where the Doctor points the gun from the President to the Master is too much like the old joke along the lines of "you're stuck in a room with a gun, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher; the gun only has one bullet, who do you shoot?" to pass comment (although one hopes Wilf would have put more than one bullet in), Pennies from Heaven's line "the song is over but the melody continues." Babylon-5 (prophecies, plus the Doctor falling from a great height is rather like Sheridan at Z'ha'dum). Matt Smith's speech at the end as he figures out what crashing is, is straight from The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy (and the whale falling to Earth).