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.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Repeated Meme: Hungry Like the Woof

The Hungry Earth

Idea Proposed and Used Despite It Being Stupid During the JNT Era: Rematch with the Silurians.
Central Premise Recycled From: "Inferno" and "The Silurians," though "The Daemons", "Frontios" and "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" are in there somewhere.
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: "I'm the one the monsters are afraid of" (The Girl in the Fireplace"), plus "Nobody dies!" (the Doctor Dances)
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: A Silurian with a Scottish accent, and nobody notices.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: No, but Rory apparently is worried about her losing her ring.
Tennant Line: "Run!" (that's Troughton via Tennant, but still) and a couple of "bwilliants."
Star Wars Bit: The way Matt Smith pronounces the girl Silurian's name, it sounds like "Leia."
Nostalgia UK: See "Journey to the Centre of the Earth," above.
Teeth!: None this week, surprisingly. Although the Silurian mask does have a nifty beak.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: There'll be Silurans with noses and honkers in every Tesco's in the country in a couple of weeks. Hopefully they'll take the opportunity to give us some Old Skool ones too.
Something Gets Redesigned: Silurians. With noses. And honkers. And no third eyes. You know, the main thing wrong with the old Silurian costumes was that they looked like a man in a suit, so it's a bit silly to redesign them to look even *more* like a man (OK, woman) in a suit.
The Crack in the Universe Is: Responsible for this somehow, we're sure.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Scarred for Life

Scarface: Loose adaption of the 1930s crime movie into the 1980s, which I found all the more interesting for having watched a Channel 4 documentary on the drug scene in Miami in the late 1970s/early 1980s last month; if anything, the movie is actually tamer than the reality. Overall I find the 1980s iteration better, mainly because the moral messages come out of the characters' actions rather than feeling bolted on in a "see, kids? Criminals are all cowards and crime isn't cool" manner, which I felt rather let down the ending of the 1930s iteration. Moroder's soundtrack is wonderful, and I'm now looking into how I can get my hands on a copy.

They Live: Conspiracy-theory classic, in which a semiemployed construction worker rendered homeless by the recessions of the 1980s discovers that the world has been infiltrated by aliens who are controlling human society through its media and class structure. The makeup on the aliens is great, the action brilliant and the characters believable; the one real sticking-point for me was that it did have a disturbing amount in common with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (substituting “aliens” for “Jews”). Clearly an influence on, though far superior to, the recent remake of V.

Charlotte Gray: Dire ripoff of Carve Her Name with Pride, which perked up slightly when the Communist Resistance with whom the heroine has embedded herself appear to be betrayed and she becomes a suspect, but unfortunately the movie didn't do the logical thing and explore the kind of bitter recrimination and score-settling which is likely to happen in circumstances like that. Still, the scenery was very pretty.

The French Connection: The progenitor of the modern cop movie, but as such more thoughtful and pointed than its less intelligent imitators. Gene Hackman is a driven cop pitted against an international drug ring, willing to go to any lengths to crack them; however, the true cost of this is explored, as Hackman and his team go to extremes to incur what are in the end minimal convictions. Summed up perhaps in the car/subway train chase sequence, which, unlike most movie car chases, actually points up the needless destruction incurred rather than encouraging the audience to cheer along with the exciting events.

Land and Freedom: Ken Loach film about the Spanish Civil War, focusing on how the Communist movement tore itself apart through infighting between the Stalinists, the POUM militia and the anarchists; indeed, the Fascists barely feature in the story at all. It’s an interesting message and the way in which political groups fight bitterly amongst themselves is forensically portrayed; I found it difficult to sympathise with the characters, but taken as a "message" film rather than a "personalities" film, it's a great piece of social analysis.

Movie count for 2010: 57

The Repeated Meme: Catching up

Sorry, I've been out of blogreach for two weekends. Also retro-added a new Teeth meme to the earlier posts.

Vampires of Venice

Idea proposed, rejected, then used in such a distorted form that they might as well not have bothered during the JNT Era: Vampires from Space
Central Premise Recycled From: Anne Rice's The Vampire Armand features a vampire aristocrat in sixteenth-century Venice, who is running an, ahem, "school" for attractive young men, his favourites among whom get turned into vampires.
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: The Doctor takes companion and boyfriend to a romantic historical era and nearly gets them killed: “The Girl in the Fireplace.”
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: Still none-- it's the anti-meme.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Amy actually causes the day with Wuv, or rather the Doctor’s attempt to remind her that she’s in Wuv with Rory. Supposedly.
Tennant Line: The Doctor yells “No, no no no no!” But it was the first episode recorded, so he’s excused.
Star Wars Bit: The Doctor wields something that looks suspiciously like the replica light-sabers stocked by Forbidden Planet London.
Nostalgia UK: Confidential repeatedly reminds us that the vampire girls' look is based on the classic Hammer vampire bodice-rippers.
Teeth!: On the vampires.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy:A surprisingly difficult one this. The most obvious is the vampire girls, but that means using the actress’ likenesses, which costs money. The fish creature would thus seem to present itself as the most likely candidate; however, it’s very detailed and finicky with spindly legs, and so might not work so well in toy form. It’ll probably wind up being Rosanna.
Something Gets Redesigned: According to Confidential, a small Croatian town.
The Crack in the Universe Is: What the aliens came through.

Amy's Choice

Idea Proposed and Used during the JNT Era: An anti-Doctor made up from the Doctor's dark side? Gosh, who could that be?
Central Premise Recycled From: The proverb about the man who dreamed he was a butterfly, and woke up unsure if he really was, or if he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man.
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Companion leaves Doctor, gets married, has children and a whole other life before realising it's an externally created illusion: "The Forest of Gump."
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: Still none!
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: By deciding she Wuvs Rory enough to die for him. But wants to keep the Doctor too.
Tennant Line: None noted. Perhaps he's overcoming his post-regenerative trauma.
Star Wars Bit: None, though it would be hard to work one in.
Nostalgia UK: More cute little small towns with sinister secrets.
Teeth!: On the old people, sort of.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Not much, actually. The only thing which presents itself immediately is an old person with an eye coming out of their mouth (well, it's more sensible than the Destroyed Cassandra at least), though we're sure there will be a limited edition Amy Pond Up The Duff at some point.
Something Gets Redesigned: Amy's abdominal region and Rory's bonce, both temporarily.
The Crack in the Universe Is: Taking a break this week.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


It's the four-movie Aliens marathon! I draw the line at anything with "...versus Predator" in the title.

Alien: Low-budget, British (in style, crew and cast if not in funding and distribution) and, although it wasn't exactly original in all of this, certainly bringing to a mainstream audience the idea of science fiction film focusing on working-class characters in a gender-egalitarian blue-collar environment, worrying about their wages rather than pushing back the frontiers of space. Subtextually it's all about male fear of female reproduction, as the alien rapes and impregnates a man, and the resultant offspring picks off all but one, female, crewmember, who then defeats it; this message is also made clear in the damaged android Ash's attack on Ripley, as his forcing a rolled-up porn magazine into her mouth both mimicks the alien's impregnation of Kane earlier and simulates oral rape. Meanwhile, Ripley's pet cat roams the station hissing at the alien, an ambulatory phallus ultimately outwitted by an ambulatory pussy. I'll stop now before this gets even further, pardon the expression, out of hand, other than to wonder why directors seem so keen for John Hurt to get his kit off in movies of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Aliens: Bigger budget, just as enjoyable and groundbreaking, but this time substituting family metaphors for the sex (perhaps not insignificantly?). Ripley forms a blended family of woman (herself), man (Cpl Hicks), child (Newt) and android (Bishop), and the alien is this time thwarted by a working-class single mother. All of this is also rather reminiscent of Cameron's Terminator films, which also feature a family of woman, child, absent/incapacitated father, and android of questionable loyalties, plus heroic working-class single mother seeing off catastrophe despite the establishment not believing her, plus evil corporate types. The portrayal of military culture certainly references Vietnam movies, but I'm very dubious about the critics who say the whole movie is a Vietnam metaphor, as that would make the alien the Viet Cong and a lot of things really don't read correctly about that parallel.

Alien3: If you possibly can, watch the DVD cut of this one, which is the closest thing we have to the director's original intent, and much, much better than the theatrical release. Thematically it takes the series into religious territory, as the action focuses on an abandoned penal colony whose inmates have found solace in apocalyptic Christianity; the arrival of Ripley and the alien (Newt, Hicks and [sort of, but it's complicated] Bishop, all dying between movies) introduces both temptation and, metaphorically and literally, sin into the community. The ending, where the alien is destroyed in a fiery pit and Ripley sacrifices herself to save the community by leaping after it, is a parallel to both the account of Jesus' self-sacrifice and the Apocalypse of St John. Brilliant performances by Charles Dance and Brian Glover, but the award has to go to Paul McGann, literally unrecognisable as the filthy and insane Golic.

Alien Resurrection: Again watched the "director's cut," though it wasn't much of an improvement on the original. To be fair, there are some good ideas in it; the story refocuses the original's fear of female reproduction into a fear of artificially assisted reproduction (cloning, IVF, genetic modification etc.), Whedon's script contains a lot of funny lines, and the crew of the Betty are a test run for the crew of the Serenity, with a proto-Mal, proto-Zoe, proto-Jayne and proto-River all visibly emerging. I would say the main problem lies in two areas: 1) the direction, which takes a funny script and makes it bland and humourless, with Ripley being more monotonous than scary (to be fair to the director, he couldn't speak any English at the point when he did this film, and also didn't actually want to do it), and 2) Winona Ryder. Call has the potential to be one of the great supporting characters which have up till this film been a real strength of the series (e.g. Newt, Bishop, Dallas, Clemens, Andrews...), but Ryder's performance is so flat that the character is lifeless, unenlivened even by the rather crass attempt at a lesbian subtext between Call and Ripley. Interesting as a curiosity but should never have been made.

Oh, and:


Movie count for 2010: 52

Monday, May 03, 2010

What I saw at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival by Fiona aged 35 1/2

Hospital of the Transfiguration: Expectations were low for this one, it being a 1979 Polish adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's first novel, about a young doctor working at a mental hospital in wartime Poland. However, it turned out to be a very clever exploration of reality, religion, death and medical ethics, with the boundary between doctor and patient becoming narrower and narrower as the Nazis increasingly impose their rule on the institution.

Radio Free Albemuth: By contrast, we had high hopes for this one but it didn't live up to them. A film adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel, the filmmakers argued that doing it as a low-budget indie piece would allow them to stay truer to the book than the likes of Blade Runner and Minority Report. Unfortunately this was the film's main flaw; it was trying to stick as closely as possible to the book, and as such wound up losing most of the book's trippiness and continued ambivalence as to whether the protagonist is crazy or divinely inspired. Setting it in the present also meant that some of the Seventies aspects of the book became rather jarring, and the self-satire aspect of the original was largely absent, not sure how that happened. On the credit side, the hallucination sequences are well done and the VALIS effect is particularly gorgeous.

One: A drama based on a Stanislaw Lem essay, in which all books in a bookshop are suddenly replaced by copies of a single volume, entitled "1", which details what is happening on Earth in a particular minute. The story partly explores Lem's familiar themes of the surreality of the mundane and the enormity of the universe, and partly explores the way in which the system, faced with something it cannot comprehend, looks desperately for someone to blame, as the story's fictional equivalent of the FBI first imprison and accuse the bookshop owner, employees and patrons, and finally turn on their own agents. Interesting, but not exactly emotionally engaging.

Eraser Children: Sort of like what you'd get if you gave the premise of the Blake's 7 episode "The Way Back" to the Monty Pythons and told them to turn it into a low-budget movie shot in Australia. The result includes some moments of sheer creepy, surreal brilliance, but far too many scenes that are just plain tedious. It was probably a mistake to watch this one right after "One," since three hours worth of quickfire, stroby cuts and pounding techno music induced a pretty serious headache.

Vampires: Easily the standout film of the ones we saw, this is a hilarious black comedy about a family of vampires living in Belgium, where they are given free housing and support by the government in exchange for their eating illegal immigrants and children in care. They are then exiled to Montreal, where the vampires are multiculturalists who insist that all vampires must work for a living and encourage them to fraternise with humans. Through satire, the film exposes the way in which well-meaning European welfare policies in fact encourage elitism, racism and corruption, but equally the way in which New World welfare policies also have a hidden social cost. A must-see.

Pax Americana: A documentary about the "weaponization of space," which could have been a polemic but was actually all the more chilling for including accounts by people inside the system who also have considerable doubts about the consequences. It explores how the situation got started, how the anti-nuclear movement has in a sense enabled it through taking people's eyes off of non-terrestrial activities, the level to which everyone is dependent on satelite technology in the here and now, and how globalisation and the post-Soviet world have ironically hastened the process. Buried in all of it, also, is the message that the more missions we send up to space for whatever reason, the more space junk is left in orbit, which will eventually make it impossible for us to use space; an actual war would just hasten this end. We've all got to do a lot of thinking about how to deal with this, and soon.

Drones: Certainly the funniest film we saw, a Whedon-influenced office-comedy about a man who discovers that his best friend and girlfriend are both aliens with designs on the Earth, and the complications which ensue. Office comedies may have been done to death lately, but the performances, direction and especially the script, full of quickfire, quirky lines, gave this one a freshness and a well-observed satirical quality. Give these guys their own TV series, like, right now.

Other Stuff: Of the short films, I quite liked "Life Line," an animated story about love, loss, death and suicide; "X" we never actually got to see more than two minutes of, as the projector broke down; "Reception" was an eerie take on the increasingly-popular digital-ghost genre, and "Reign of Death", an ironically-titled dieselpunk mystery starring Noel Clarke, looked beautiful but I'm still not sure what it was trying to say. Fewer freebies given away this year than last year, but the ones we got were pretty good, and the provision of a seemingly endless supply of free Red Bull was absolutely inspired.

Movie count for 2010: 48

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Repeated Meme: There's An Angel Floating Round My House

Flesh and Stone

Idea Proposed but Not Used During the Alien Trilogy: Alien 3 originally involved warrior monks.
Central Premise Recycled From: Still Aliens, only with a deus ex machina added. Imagine if instead of the time-crack solving everything, River Song had got dressed up as a forklift and shouted "Stay away from her, bitches!" at the angels.
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: The first Angels story it was "don't blink!" Now it's "Don't open your eyes!" So you're screwed either way.
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: Still none, no doubt overwhelmed by all the gratuitous "River Song and the Doctor have a future together!" stuff.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Amy complicates the day with Wuv, more like. Weren't we promised a companion who *wasn*'t going to fancy the Doctor? Then again, we were also told that the Daleks were an iconic 1960s design which would never be tampered with...
Tennant Line: Still lots of gabbled-out technobabbly explanations.
Star Wars Bit: A central character spends half the episode effectively blind (para Han Solo in "Return of the Jedi").
Nostalgia UK: Back to cute little chocolate-box Leadworth. Plus a warrior monk named Crispin, as in The St Crispin's Day Speech from Henry V.
Teeth!: Still on the Angels.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Here's an idea: how about glow-in-the-dark The Crack In The Universe (TM) stickers to paste on your bedroom wall? Not that this is likely to wind up as a toy, but if it does, Character Options owes me some royalties.
Something Gets Redesigned: The entire Davies era's been wiped, apparently. What that means, we're not sure...
The Crack in the Universe Is: Ooh, blink and you miss it...