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