Monday, December 26, 2011

The Repeated Meme: The Horse and His Boy

Central Premise Recycled From: "The Empty Child" mostly (see next point).

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: WWII-set story involving small boys and their mummies, and something which looks villainous actually just trying to help out; parents as the real heroes; girls with pigtails; Christmas special which is a Doctor Who-styled reinterpretation of a British children's classic; the Doctor as some kind of wizard-figure who fixes everything for everyone. Though he's borrowed Gatiss' wooden dolls, and Davies' celebration of the nuclear family unit as some sort of ideal.

Amy Screws Up the day with Wuv: What's wrong with carol-singers, I'd like to know?

Robert Holmes Called...: It does make the story less saccharine knowing that the planet that's harvsting the trees is Androzani Major.

And from the Hiatus: There's a story in one of the Short Trips anthologies by Mark Michalowski entitled 'The Lying Old Witch in the Wardrobe'.

Murray Gold's Festive Number 1: None! What, did they run out of budget there as well? We couldn't have had a novelty Forties-style song number from Alexander Armstrong or something?

Nostalgia UK: The story takes place in that kind of fantasy WWII which lurks in the heads of the British, where courageous RAF pilots fight dastardly Nazis on behalf of stiff-upper-lipped mothers and their children, with none of the messy details like the Dresden bombing or black marketeering or Churchill's secret realpolitik or information censorship getting in the way.

Inside Jokes: Alexander Armstrong as a WWII pilot. Come on, who didn't think that his first words to his navigator would be "Vera Lynn, she's well fit, innit?" Rather a lot of Chronicles of Narnia inside jokes (Uncle Digby, sentient forests, a child's journey to an alternate universe providing a means of saving a parent, etc.). Androzani Major.

Teeth! None, they're trees.

Hats! A space helmet with airholes in the back, it seems.

Fish! I'd have to watch it again but there's got to be an aquarium in that playroom somewhere.

Small Child! Two of them.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Bill Bailey's team would seem obvious but there might be some lawsuits from the designers of Halo over the look of their environment suits, so I'll suggest the big tree people.

Special effects

The Conversation: Simple but powerful film about interpretation: Gene Hackman is a private surveillance operative who records a conversation; he doesn't know what it's about or why the person who commissioned it thinks it's important, leading to a spiral of brilliantly-rendered paranoid delusion as the operative speculates endlessly on its meaning and interprets the events of his life in regard to these speculations.

Hugo: I went to see this in part because of reading a review which said that this is the first film to actually use 3D as an integral part of the storytelling rather than a gimmick. I'm not sure I'd really go that far-- the 3D certainly added excitement and drama but I didn't see anything that couldn't have come across fine in a 2D version. That aside, it was still a rather sweet family drama (albeit one which occasionally segues into a lecture on the history of early cinema), with Sasha Baron-Cohen giving a surprisingly touching performance as the ostensibly-evil-but-it-turns-out-just-misunderstood antagonist.

The Red Baron: How anyone managed to make the story of a group of largely-aristocratic teenagers/twentysomethings given access to really powerful flying machines and more or less carte-blanche as to how to use them into such a boring movie, I'll never know, but they did. The misguided worthiness of the piece is summed up for me by the fact that they actually made up a Jewish flying-ace secondary character, adding in a title card at the end of the story that he "represents" the Jewish pilots who distinguished themselves in the German Air Force of WWI-- it's like saying "we have to emphasise this so no one will accuse us of being antisemitic, but God forbid we should actually tell the story of a real German Jewish pilot".

The Magic Roundabout: I was going to go sarcastic on this one and interpret it as a metaphor for how the underlying selfishness of the postwar generation led to the very same bright-eyed hippies and communards of the 1960s and 1970s becoming the relentless commercialists of the 1980s and 1990s. But it's too much work, so I'll just sum this up by saying that I don't remember kung-fu ninja death skeletons being a part of the original TV programme.

Movie count for 2011, with a week to go: 124

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Of Human Bondage

Dr No: Had never seen this before. It's quite a beautifully-filmed slice of late Fifties/early Sixties period colour, with calypso and the Carribbean underlying a story with elements which had yet to become cliched (deformed mixed-race geniuses in Nehru jackets with secret island bases and plans to Take Over the World). Connery looks good, so does Ursula Andress.

From Russia with Love: More beautiful Sixties material, and the idea of SPECTRE as a third party setting NATO and the USSR off against each other for their own purposes is clever, but I found it not as interesting or as much fun as either of the previous films. The fight sequence on the train was very much the highlight.

Diamonds Are Forever: Again, hadn't seen this one before, and things seem a bit more on the slide-- perhaps it's the fact that Sean Connery has gained weight and the design is tending towards the brown polyester of the early 1970s (during the scenes in Amsterdam, I kept expecting him to walk past Van der Valk brooding by a canal). Still, the two crypto-homosexual murderers are lots of fun, as is Charles Gray as Blofeld and his collection of doubles, and there's a fun reference to faked-moon-landing cosmpiracy theories. Points for audacity, basically.

Raging Bull: A film about what happens to people who peak too early, following boxer Jake La Motta to the peak of his athletic career and then the relentless slide downhill. A cross between an art film, a gangster film and a sports film, which somehow works in all three categories.

The Long Day Closes: Impressionistic memoir of a working-class 1950s Liverpool childhood. Does a good job at conveying the randomness and surrealism of being a child, but the slowness of it all does make it difficult to empathise with in places.

Xala: Senegalese comedy about postcolonialism. The protagonist is a Senegalese businessman and politician who marries a third wife, but discovers that he is under a Xala curse which renders him impotent; the events which follow are a metaphor for the corruption which afflicts the country. There's also some clever use of language, with a lot of significance attached to who speaks French and who speaks Wolof, and when.

Beowulf: I enjoyed this more than I thought I would-- it takes liberties with the original story, but I think they're actually for the good (since the last third of the epic is kind of disconnected from the first two, it helps a modern audience to have some kind of through thread) and it's not like people haven't done alternative/postmodern takes on it before. The motion-capture did make everyone look somewhat doll-like, but then, well, it's a legend, where people tend to be rather archetypical.

Movie count for 2011: 120

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mannequin Skywalker

Revenge of the Sith: I was prepared to revise my initial opinion on the prequels for about the first fifteen minutes of this film, which was an exciting, well-paced rescue sequence with a bit of humour and convincing violence. The moment Anakin and Obi-Wan are back on Coruscant, however, things start going downhill. To be fair, this one does have generally pacier dialogue than the previous two (any line involving the word 'younglings' aside), Samuel L. Jackson actually gets something to do for a change, I've always had a bit of a liking for General Grievous as a character (albeit a two-dimensional one), and the scene where Yoda advises Anakin to let go of his grief for his mother and fears of losing Padme, but Anakin simply can't do that, is a nice touch (however brief) of a real-world philosophical problem. But none of this really helps.

Movie count for 2011: 113

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Last Sarah Jane Adventures Checklist: Serf's Up

Absence of Crowds of People Under Alien Influence: Actually, this time we get a crowd of aliens under people influence. Way to ring the changes!

Tie-in with Doctor Who story
: None, but "Joseph Serf" was one of Patrick McGoohan's pseudonyms when writing The Prisoner.

Rani's Mum is Annoying/Is Absent: The latter, and for once not even mentioned in an anecdote.

Luke Cameo: Clearly this was intended as the mid-season Luke episode.

Sky says something so daft that you have to wonder how she gets through life without being mercilessly bullied: No, but then she's got to compete with Luke apparently having always called Clyde and Rani "Clani," even though that's never appeared before in the series.

Sarah Jane Waxes Maudlin: She goes on about family so much I suspect she's planning a US presidential campaign.

Mobile Phone as Plot Device: Luke actually makes a joke about the sheer number of mobiles destroyed in the service of the plots of this series.

Racism Towards Aliens: Yes, but, in a nice twist, not from the regulars this time.

The Crimes of Sarah Jane: Breaking and entering, deception, theft, destruction of property.

Sonic Lipstick: Versus magic alien pen.

Wristwatch Scanner: Yeah.

One or More of Sarah's Companions Falling Under Alien Influence: No, but you've got a whole crowd of hypnotised journalists.

Sarah And/Or Companion Acts like a Selfish Cow: The way she and her kids lord it over Clyde and Rani over getting to go to the big exclusive Serfboard launch, I'm amazed they're still friends.

Wide-Eyed Speech About the Wonders of the Universe and How Great it Is to be in Sarah's Gang: Copied from the first episode for obvious reasons.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Repeated Meme Toywatch: How did we do?

Well, the second wave of Character Options figures are out, so time to check how we scored on the "item most likely to wind up as a toy" predictions front.

The Impossible Astronaut: I predicted the Silent. That didn't take much predicting.

Day of the Moon: I predicted a limited-edition Amy Pond Up the Duff. Thus far, still none. We did get an astronaut, though.

The Curse of the Black Spot: I predicted either a green glow-in-the-dark mermaid, or Hugh Bonneville with a small child. We didn't get either. Still, Playmobil have a range of glow-in-the-dark pirates.

The Doctor's Wife: I predicted Idris. We got not one but three different versions. And Uncle, as well. Plus it seems you don't actually have to custom-make your own Nephew. Is this to make up for the lack of pirates above?

The Rebel Flesh: Predicted gangers. Got gangers, or at least a Doctor-ganger.

The Almost People: The Limited Edition Amy Pond in Labour playset. Come on, I dare you!

A Good Man Goes to War: Predicted Eyepatch Lady (and hoped for a nine-inch dress-up River Song, and a Lesbian Silurian). Thus far, no Eyepatch Lady! What hope have River Song and the Lesbian Silurian?

Let's Kill Hitler: We do get a River Song (albeit a reissue and thus in the wrong costume) but alas, no poseable Hitlers or pull-back-action Amy-and-Rory motorbikes.

Night Terrors: Yep, creepy dolls, or one of them anyway.

The Girl who Waited: Also no Amy Pond up the Menopause.

The God Complex: What, no naked mole-rat person? I'm disappointed.

Closing Time: Rusty Cybermen, as predicted. Though the job-lot of Cybermats were also predictable.

The Wedding of River Song: Novelty eyepatches. None yet, but I'm keeping an eye, so to speak, on the front of Doctor Who Adventures magazine.

Benares brass

Pather Panchali: Classic Indian neo-realist film, which I'll admit is a genre and location I'm not very familiar with, so I'm coming at this as a bit of an innocent. This film reminded me more than anything else of the British kitchen-sink drama of the same period (early Sixties): a story about a poor working-class family ground down by a combination of debt, poverty, bad luck, unsympathetic neighbours and hypocrisy (when, at the end of the film, the family finally decide to cut their losses and go to the big city, the village elders, who have been no help at all to them throughout the story, all turn up to beg them to stay on the grounds that it's their ancestral home). A familiar story which needs to be told over and over, and the characterisation of the family and their neighbours is nuanced, but the story was stretched over about three hours, mostly consisting of long shots of people looking faintly puzzled in the countryside, so I'm in no rush to view the rest of Indian neo-realist cinema.

Milk: Well-cast biopic of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in the USA. Viewed here and now against the backdrop of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the somewhat terrifying rise of the religious right in the USA, it's particularly clear that his story has wider implications: that it's difficult and sometimes soul-destroying (and, as in Milk's case, also sometimes fatal) to stand up for equal rights and justice for the oppressed and marginalised, but that if enough people do, the movement can win in the long run.

Movie count for 2011: 112

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures Checklist: Wooden It Be Lovely

Absence of Crowds of People Under Alien Influence: Just one, and a diminishing chorus of homeless people.

Tie-in with Doctor Who story
: None.

Rani's Mum is Annoying/Is Absent: The latter, though we do get a story about how she met Rani's poor, hapless father.

Luke Cameo: By mobile phone, no less.

Sky says something so daft that you have to wonder how she gets through life without being mercilessly bullied: Actually she's the only sensible one this episode.

Sarah Jane Waxes Maudlin: In fifty-something years of living in London, it seems, it's never occurred to her that there were homeless people. See "Selfish Cow," below.

Mobile Phone as Plot Device: Clyde's gets stolen and stamped on-- he seems to be losing it a lot these days.

Racism Towards Aliens: Sky's clearly picking up on her mother's attitudes when she says that everyone's strange behaviour must be down to "some alien."

The Crimes of Sarah Jane: Child abuse.

Sonic Lipstick: Present.

Wristwatch Scanner: Also present, though not really much good.

One or More of Sarah's Companions Falling Under Alien Influence: Clyde.

Sarah And/Or Companion Acts like a Selfish Cow: Sarah and Rani really don't come over too well this story, even when out from under alien influence. They drag Clyde away with them rather than wait five minutes for Ellie to turn up (thus ensuring that Ellie's never found again) and, when Clyde goes on his search for Ellie through the homeless hangouts, Sarah Jane acts like it's never occurred to her that such places exist.

Totem poles, incidentally, are a West Coast Indian thing, not a Plains Indian thing. And the Mojave desert, being on the Southwest Coast of the United States, is well outside of Plains Indian territory. It took me two minutes on Google to find that out.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures Checklist: Sky me a River

After some thought, I've decided to carry on and finish the series. No disrespect intended to the late wonderful Elisabeth Sladen, but there are some things about the SJA that do need saying.

Absence of Crowds of People Under Alien Influence
: Just four or five nuclear power station workers this time.

Tie-in with Doctor Who story
: No, but people of a certain age may remember a 1970s children's series called "Sky" after its protagonist. Though the Pharos Institute does get a namecheck.

Rani's Mum is Annoying/Is Absent: The former, henpecking her poor husband over the lightbulbs blowing and turning up round Sarah Jane's with a bunch of flowers for the baby (exactly what a new mum needs).

Luke Cameo: I expect we'll be seeing fewer of these as Sky becomes the New Luke, but we've got one here.

Sky says something so daft that you have to wonder how she gets through life without being mercilessly bullied: Her very first episode, and she's already making with the "what's air?" type questions (and there seems to be no real rhyme or reason to what she does or doesn't know). Prepare yourselves for plenty of fish-out-of-water "humour" over the next two stories.

Sarah Jane Waxes Maudlin: Apparently starting a family is "the best adventure of all".

Mobile Phone as Plot Device: Yes, Rani is woken by a call from Clive to say Sarah Jane isn't answering her phone. Later, Clive's phone is destroyed by the infant Sky so he can't call for help.

Racism Towards Aliens: Sarah Jane condemns an entire species just because she's met Miss Myers. That's a bit like condemning the entire human race just because you've met Tony Blair. "What kind of a sick species is Miss Myers" she wonders....

The Crimes of Sarah Jane: Breaking and entering, entering by deception, corrupting a minor.

Sonic Lipstick: Yes, and Floella Benjamin appears to have lipstick envy.

Wristwatch Scanner: Yes.

One or More of Sarah's Companions Falling Under Alien Influence: Sky, obviously.

Sarah And/Or Companion Acts like a Selfish Cow: Fairly light on the selfishness this fortnight.

And, because it's the first 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, in front of a telescope no less.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

No, it actually *does* get worse.

Attack of the Clones: I vaguely remembered this one as being better than The Phantom Menace, but now I'm not so sure. The dialogue was cliched, and, although there's a reasonably good idea going through the political subplot (that Palpatine is secretly backing both the rebels and the Republic and manipulating them into fighting each other), it's not big enough to sustain the whole movie. The romantic scenes play like a parody without the wit; Christopher Lee is underused; and the real tragedy is that the whole film has clearly had so much money and talent invested in it which could have gone on something much more worthwhile.

Movie count for 2010: 110

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Repeated Meme: The Song of Wedding River

Idea Proposed and Used to Death during the New Series: The Doctor's dead! Oh no he isn't! Oh yes, he is!

Central Premise Recycled From: The Pandorica Opens, mostly.

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: River Song, weddings, monks, Cleopatra and other ancient Roman celebrities, the annoying blue guy from the mid-season closer (still not dead), doubles, animate skulls, nerdy guy with an unrequited thing for a pretty girl who's waiting for the Doctor, a timeline arrested but then continuing inexorably towards someone's death, weddings, some catastrophe which is spreading through the universe with the Earth as its epicentre, an explosion-in-a-Tesco-toy-department array of aliens.

Amy Screws Up the day with Wuv: Turns out, judging by her drawing of her ideal man, that she doesn't love Rory, but Stephen Gately.

Robert Holmes Called...: ...from beyond the grave, but he'd like to remind you that there was an often-overlooked and unimportant episode of Blake's 7 featuring electrocution by chess game as a spectator sport observed by jaded New Romantics who like brutalist decor.

And from Lawrence Miles: The Doctor's dead! Because some alien things with a connection to Area 51 want it so! Or maybe not! And there's pyramids!

Murray Goldwatch: I notice that he managed to work the da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da theme into the children's story competition winner in Confidential.

Nostalgia UK: Is the title a reference to the V-after-it-got-really-camp episode The Wedding of Charles and Diana?

Inside Jokes: "What's with all the eyepatches?" asks the cover of the Radio Times. It's a tribute to Nicholas Courtney, of course. Confidential also indicates that one of the jaded New Romantics has a gasmask for a face.

Teeth! On the pterodactyls! And the skulls! And the anachronistically humanlike ones on the Silurian with a Honker.

Hats! Stetsons are still not cool if they've been given to you by James Corden.

Fish! No, which rather misses a trick.

Small Child! There's a group of them menaced by pterodactyls.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Character Options probably won't, but I'm betting there'll be a future issue of Doctor Who Adventures which provides kids with their own wearable eyepatches.

Just so's you know, last weekend I had half an hour to kill in Euston Station, so I went to the cafe, ordered scones, and then texted everyone to let them know.

Three rather disappointing films

The Fog: The undead leper/pirate zombies attacking the Californian small town were well realised and the soundtrack was good, but to be honest it was all a bit John-Carpenter-by-numbers: voiceless, vaguely supernatural killer(s) stalking a group led by a pretty but slightly masculine woman. In fact, arguably the leper/pirates being explicitly supernatural beings (as opposed to only possibly or implicitly, as in Assault on Precinct 13 or Hallowe'en) unbalances the film and makes it less disturbing.

Skokie: Another based-on-a-true-story telemovie, this one about a neo-Nazi group trying to do a march through a predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago; the story focuses partly on the efforts of the local Jewish community to prevent this, and the problems faced by the (also Jewish) ACLU lawyers defending the Nazis on the principle that freedom of speech must apply to all. Some interesting ideas and debate-worthy points, but the presentation is often unintentionally funny due to a lot of flat acting and humourless dialogue. Worth watching also to see Danny Kaye in a rare non-comedy role (he's the Holocaust survivor who spearheads the local anti-Nazi effort).

Frost/Nixon: Dramatisation of the events surrounding David Frost's interviewing Richard Nixon in the late 1970s. Unfortunately I found its main dramatic line less than credible-- it seemed to revolve on the idea that David Frost was a lightweight talk-show-host who, at the eleventh hour, suddenly found his interviewer mojo and won the day, which contradicts what I know about the man's role as a controversial interviewer in the 1960s and 70s (and the impression I get from reading about it was that Nixon's people saw Frost as a lightweight because they weren't aware of this side of his career, but rapidly discovered they'd underestimated him). Watch the last two hours of the actual interview instead, they're more exciting.

Movie count for 2011: 109

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Repeated Meme: You May Still Be Here Tomorrow, But Your Dreams May Not

Idea Proposed and Used to Death during the New Series: We are now three for three this year for stories about fathers who are having trouble relating to their sons and wind up bonding with them. Did I mention that my least favourite film in the world is Nine Months?

Central Premise Recycled From: "Rose," which has to be completely deliberate. Also the idea that babies have a secret inner world as galaxy-conquerors who view the rest of us as peasants is a running gag in Family Guy, among others.

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Small child, the abovementioned parenting issues, Doctor as saviour of children, River bloody Song (and just when I was starting to like her...), creepy nursery rhymes, running gag where people assume two straight friends are a gay couple (c.f. the recent Sherlock Holmes).

Craig Screws Up the day with Wuv: And then saves it again.

Russell T. Davies Called...: He wants to know who's condensed his entire era into fifty minutes. Neil Gaiman would also like bits of Anansi Boys (cool guy who gets away with things paired with normal guy who tries to do the same things but can't get away with them) back.

And from Lawrence Miles: Babies feature as characters in both of the FP audio series.

Murray Goldwatch: Has gone back into soundtrack-for-kids'-movie mode.

Nostalgia UK: Arguably, the saucy slapstick comedy-of-manners in the abovementioned running gag about gay marriage. And Lynda Baron (she of Captain Wrack's Cleavage).

Inside Jokes: The phrase "Spare Parts" is repeated over and over. When a little girl asks Amy for her autograph, then looks excitedly towards the Doctor, one can't help but suspect she's telling her mother "I just met Karen Gillan and Matt Smith!"

Teeth! On the Mat!

Hats! Stetsons are only cool if they've been given to you by John Wayne.

Fish! Alas no. I miss them.

Small Child! Lots and lots of them, not even counting the co-star.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: We're going to get another lot of Cybermen, these ones rusty. Aren't we.

Title explained here.

The Repeated Meme: Complex God

Idea Proposed and Used to Death during the New Series: Alien species visibly based on real-life animals-- to the rhinos, cats, vultures etc., we can now add a naked mole-rat peson.

Central Premise Recycled From: "The Mind of Evil," crossed with "The Curse of Fenric".

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Small children with father issues. The Girl Who Waited.

Amy Screws Up the day with Wuv: In a callback to "The Curse of Fenric," the Doctor has to destroy her faith in him before it kills them all.

Neil Gaiman Called...: He wants his labyrinth, and his quirky take on Greek mythology, back. Oh, and Joss Whedon would like his cowardly but cunning demon with wrinkly skin, floppy ears, and kitten obsession.

And from Lawrence Miles: Who also featured a minotaur in one of the BBV Faction Paradoxes.

Murray Goldwatch: Oddly suited to the setting.

Nostalgia UK: Eighties hotels.

Inside Jokes: Not from the show, but from Greek myth-- the hotel's spa is called Pasiphae (Minos' wife, and famously the mother of the minotaur). The clown, there to frighten someone who isn't there anymore, may be a reference to the fact that Ace was afraid of them.

Teeth! On the naked mole-rat person!

Hats! On the clown!

Fish! In a bowl! Eaten by the naked mole-rat person!

Small Child! Return of Amelia Pond, also, Rita imagines herself being a small child scolded by her father. We also briefly see a small girl in the flashing montage of images as Lucy confronts her fears.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: The naked mole-rat person.

Todo sobre violence and murder

Echoes in the Darkness: American telemovie about one of the longest murder investigations in crime history. Watched this hoping for some serious badflick potential, and it delivered (the first half in particular is a you-can't-look-away progression of bad dialogue and worse characterisation, and it's filmed so much on the cheap that, despite the action starting in 1979 and ending in 1986, the filmmakers couldn' apparently be bothered to put authentic Seventies clothing on the actors for the early bits); however, the fact that it was a true story made it oddly compelling and gripping, mainly for the lacunae. What was the murderer's real motive? Was there more than one murderer? As neither of those accused are talking, we'll never know, and so you can also get some intriguing speculation out of the viewing experience.

Todo Sobre Mio Madre: Complicated story about a woman, after the death of her son, going in search of his father and building a new multi-generational family unit in the process. The film is a celebration of the way in which we make communities through friendship ties which can be stronger than blood, and of gender diversity (as the new family includes a lesbian couple, a transsexual, a nun pregnant by another transsexual, and a HIV+ baby) but I think you have to be better versed than I do in the cinematic oevre of Bette Davis to actually appreciate it fully.

Faust: Classic of the Expressionist era, and with a brilliant performance by Emil Jannings as Mephisto, effortlessly segueing through the character's various personae-- mysterious, debonair, buffoonish, sinister-- without losing track of the evil underneath. Based more on the Goethe than the Marlowe version (albeit with some input from the Book of Job) this version comes across as a gender-inverted take on the story of Jesus, as Gretchen suffers and dies for the sins of Faust, but, in doing so, Faust himself is redeemed and sacrifices his life in her name. Worth seeing, but make sure you get the DVD version with the original German edit-- the overseas edit is decidedly inferior.

Movie count for 2011: 106

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Repeated Meme: Rory's Choice

Idea Proposed and Used to Death during the New Series: Alan pointed out the other day that pretty much every episode this half-season has been ripping off The Doctor's Wife one way or the other. I'd say it's a bit early to begin recycling it, but it did wind up held over for a year, so maybe not.

Central Premise Recycled From: The Mind Robber crossed with Amy's Choice and squeezed into the B-plot of The Doctor's Wife, via the New Adventures novels (in which, early on, Ace got left behind by the Doctor and picked up somewhat later, during which time she'd turned into an embittered warrior woman). Though mind you, that could describe this whole half-season so far.

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Duplicates, Amy duplicates, get 'em while they're hot. Plus wibbley-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff again, and Amy Having Issues about her relationship with Rory versus her relationship with the Doctor. "Duck." One character's timestream moving at a different rate to the other's.

Amy Screws Up the day with Wuv: Well, it's more like "everybody else screws things up out of Wuv for Amy," but she's central to it anyway.

Joss Whedon Called...: He wants both his kick-ass warrior woman and a plot based around a person working against their own doppelganger/alt-universe/future self back.

And from Lawrence Miles: Different characters experiencing time in different ways? Hello, The Judgment of Sutekh.

Murray Goldwatch: Pretty good this week; Gold is always best when he's going all introspective and Bear McCreary with the bells and percussion.

Nostalgia UK: Those robots were straight out of The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy film, and a quarantine facility cum leisure park is a rather Adamsesque/Red Dwarf sort of idea.

Inside Jokes: The Doctor's proclivity for taking his companions to rather dangerous leisure planets is well established.

Teeth! No, though robot-Rory has a fetching smile.

Hats! Old Amy's chapeau.

Fish! There's an aquarium, though we never get to see it.

Small Child! No, though everybody's likely to think the title refers to little Amelia.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: The robots obviously, though there might be a market for a limited-edition Amy Pond Up the Menopause.

The Repeated Meme: Gotta get off, have to get, gotta get offa this ride...

Idea Proposed and Used to Death during the New Series: In the entire 26-year history of the original series, there were thirteen appearances by children under twelve, only two of which were actually central to the story (OK, you could argue that Pangol in The Leisure Hive and Benton in The Time Monster were pretty central, but their screen time as children was limited). In the six-year history of the new series, we've had 22, ten of these in the Moffat Era alone (and I'm not including metaphorical children like Nephew or alien eggs like Bron, though I did include the kittens in Gridlock). Haven't we made up for enough lost time already?

Central Premise Recycled From: Really, wasn't this just Fear Her given a second draft and a change of gender?

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Vulnerable small child (in pyjamas no less) with a connection to an alternate reality; Doctor as saver of small children; father issues; creepy mechanical/doll things; nursery rhymes; "everybody lives."

Amy Screws Up the day with Wuv: Not so much this episode, probably because somebody else is screwing things up with Wuv instead.

Neil Gaiman Called...: Joss is on holiday, and Neil would like a word regarding several plot elements of The Doctor's Wife, to say nothing of Sandman: A Doll's House.

And from Lawrence Miles: Creepiness with an eighteenth-century look. Plus he invented one of those "civilisations of pure thought" that the Doctor namechecks.

Murray Goldwatch: I generally like his original songs (with the exception of "You Put The Devil In Me"), and the creepy nursery rhyme is good, though the incidental music which follows Amy and Rory around the dolls' house is a bizarre mixture of suspenseful and bombastic.

Nostalgia UK: Toy soldiers, plus the decor on the council estate has a brilliantly retro feel (although young George must be the only child on the estate whose parents buy him no branded merchandise whatsoever).

Inside Jokes: "Snow White and the Seven Keys to Doomsday"; also the Doctor refers to "empires of glass," which is undoubtedly a ref to Andy Lane's Missing Adventure The Empire of Glass (spoiler: the title refers to Venice). It's not a Doctor Who inside joke, but one of the tenants' names is Rossiter (as in Rising Damp).

Teeth! On the bulldog!

Hats! I did wonder at first what the Amy-doll was sprouting out of its head.

Fish! Not on the menu tonight, though George owns some dinosaurs.

Small Child! Erm... pass.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: The creepy dolls obviously, although the tragedy is that they will probably wind up as 5-inch action figures rather than actual doll replicas of the creepy dolls (although if future generations want a cool idea for a limited-edition collectible, there it is).

Title explained here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It Should be Wookiees

Return of the Jedi: In this movie, Lucas starts pastiching himself. We get a return to Tattooine with shots of decadent aliens enjoying themselves, the return of the Death Star, the death of one of Luke's mentors, a confrontation with Darth Vader complete with revelations, and a really big battle with fancy Imperial technology (in a forest not a winter landscape this time). It's not a bad movie (at least not compared to things to come), but it's not as good as the first two, and suffers from the fact that a) Han Solo was originally supposed to die, and thus mostly spends this movie as a fifth wheel or someone for Princess Leia to rescue, b) it really should have been Wookiees as the primitive but friendly race in the climactic battle, not Ewoks-- they're less cute, and it would have given a nice bit of narrative closure to the presence of Chewbakka in the team. Oh, and c), they never seem to quite get the scenes of decadence in Jabba's Palace right-- I can understand why they'd want to give them the CGI treatment as the version done entirely with puppets and animatronics is a bit unsatisfying, but adding a kind of singing muppet plus Greedo with breasts just turns the whole thing into a Saturday morning cartoon. And both versions of Sy Snootles look equally ridiculous, but for different reasons.

The Phantom Menace: If I'm going make it through the franchise, unfortunately I have to do this one. To be fair to it, there are only two things really wrong with it on a story level and one on a directing level, but unfortunately they're all pretty major:

1) The Child. If this had been a movie where the focus had been on the political situation surrounding Naboo, concentrating on the two Jedi and Queen Amidala, oh, and somewhere briefly, almost as an afterthought, they acquire some little kid named Anakin who might be special but nobody realises just how special, it would have been a better movie. OK, it would have been basically The Hidden Fortress starring Jar Jar as both of the peasants, but Lucas is at his best when he's pastiching. As it is, the precocious wee lad gets way too much screen time, and it's just irritating at best and a drama-killer at worst.

2) Naboo's WTF Political System. Five minutes into this movie, I thought it made sense. A fourteen-year-old queen suggested to me that we had a Henry VI/last emperor of China situation, where you have a ruler dying suddenly leaving an underage monarch who is weak, inexperienced and thus prey to every unscrupulous vizier looking to be the power behind the throne. But no. Naboo is a democracy which apparently elects monarchs too young to drink to rule the planet during a crisis, and Lucas seems afraid to let any of the blame for what follows to fall onto Amidala, even through ignorance or inexperience.

3) And the directorial problem: Nobody's giving a performance, barring Ian McDiarmaid. Not even Samuel L. Jackson or Liam Neeson. When these two are being outacted by the Voice of Frank Oz as Yoda, the movie's in trouble.

Oh, and I'd also like to give a brief shout-out to the racism and anti-semitism in the film, but they've been commented on so often I don't feel I really need to bother.

Movie count for 2011: 103

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Repeated Meme: Let's Kiss Hitler

Idea Proposed and Not Used during the New Series: Russell T. Davies famously suggested that Hitler would make a good Doctor. Evidently the current production team decided to have some fun with that.

Central Premise Recycled From: Not really so much recycling this week so much as retconning-- tying up a lot of loose ends from explaining why the Ninth Doctor regenerated when he did, to how it is that River Song is both a mortal archaeologist and an immortal regenerating time-traveler.

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: River Song's backstory is now all sewn up. Plus we get a trio of Moffat Moppets (and a virtual one), a lovesick boy who reckons he'll never get the girl, [fill in the blank] lipstick, and getting the Doctor's attention through creating a crop circle he'll read about later (sort of like the Doctor's getting Amy and Rory's attention in "The Impossible Astronaut").

Amy Screws Up the day with Wuv: Amy wuvs her best friend, and effectively raises her best friend, and she grows up to be, well, River Song. I blame the parents.

Joss Whedon Called...: He wants his snappy montages of explanatory flashbacks back.

And from Lawrence Miles: Drawing a blank this week I'm afraid.

Murray Goldwatch: Not quite so bad this episode, though Pachelbel's Canon has to be a pretty damn banal choice for the restaurant.

Nostalgia UK: World War II, crop circles.

Inside Jokes: Why did the Titanic sink again?

Teeth! Not so much.

Hats! Toppers are cool.

Fish! No, unless I really stretch the metaphor and assume that at least one of the people eating in the classy restaurant is having the sole meuniere.

Small Child! Three real small children (in the flashbacks of Amy, Rory and Mels) and a virtual one (the Tardis' visual interface of little Amelia).

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: No monsters that we haven't seen before this week, so let's get creative! I'd love a little Hitler action figure, wouldn't you? Or the Amy and Rory pull-back action motorbike. And this episode just completely reinforces my call for a Bionic Woman-style River Song with a range of dress-her-up outfits and accessories.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Continuing the British Urban Violence and Star Wars mini-seasons respectively.

Exit through the Gift Shop: Meta-documentary about a documentary filmmaker who set out to make a film about graffiti artist Banksy, then, when the film proved terrible and Banksy patronisingly told him to go out and make some graffiti art instead, promptly became a huge international art sensation, with art selling for millions of pounds, despite having no artistic talent whatsoever: however, he astutely noticed that a lot of graffiti art is about marketing, reproducibility, and the use of particular iconic images over and over. Simultaneously a celebration of contemporary art, a scathing critique of contemporary art, and very funny.

The Empire Strikes Back: Still my favourite film of the whole series, with its noirish dialogue, downbeat story, sweeping direction and snow planet. This episode, Lucas is going more into mythology than film history, pastiching the Ring of the Nibelungen famously, but also I saw strong elements of The Aenead (a young hero, encouraged on his destined quest by the ghost of his mentor, taking a trip to the underworld partway through where he learns something pretty sobering). However, we've still got a lot of The Hidden Fortress (the middle section of both films, where a general and two comedy bumpkins escort an irascible princess out of a war zone), and Dune, plus lots of visual nods to chapterplays (the snow planet/cloud planet/swamp planet imagery, plus I swear the architecture for Bespin appeared in an early Flash Gordon). Yoda reminded me strangely of William Hartnell's take on Doctor Who. It's also structurally the inverse of the first film, where the action began with Luke finding out something dramatic about his family and ended with a set-piece battle. Somebody also apparently had a word with Lucas about the fact that the first film has only one woman and no non-white men, though it's a bit depressing that Bespin is apparently the only place in the universe with any ethnic diversity.

ETA: Somewhat nonplussed to learn, while googling for information on the production of this film, that Admiral Piett (you know, the goggly-eyed bloke who gets a field promotion when Vader puts the strangle on Michael Sheard) has a seriously huge fandom. The heck?

Movie count for 2011: 101

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Naked gangsters

In honour of the London riots, I'm holding a mini-season of films about British urban violence!

Get Carter: Seminal British gangster film, which Michael Caine does not so much star in as bestride like a colossus, looming through a series of tiny, dingy houses and bleak industrial landscapes as a Geordie gangster, returning to Newcastle from London to avenge his brother's death, only to find his London partners are implicated as deeply as his Newcastle rivals. Bleak, but curiously beautiful and poetical as well.

Sweeney!: Spinoff of the well-known British cop show, which continually drops visual namechecks to Get Carter (scenes in car scrapyard, scenes on industrial site, scene where protagonist appears in public stark naked....). Basically a cool Seventies political thriller exposing oil companies' attempts to influence international politicians and dealmakers through the corrupting actions of a supposed PR agent, though loses points for a ridiculously melodramatic ending and for some cringeworthy examples of Seventies fashion-victimhood.

Movie count for 2011: 99

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Shotgun wedding

Hobo with a Shotgun: Reminded me very much of Jacobean drama, particularly The Revenger's Tragedy. It features a man who wants to live a peaceful life, but then is confronted with a society which is so evil that the only course of moral action open to him is to take up arms, but, in doing so, is also committing evil acts and must ultimately himself perish rather than return to normality. The sheer level of violence is also pretty Jacobean.

Se7en: Enjoyable mystery, revolving around murders committed on the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins and consequently having an air of literacy and creativity to it. Made in 1995, the film is notable for the absence of mobile phones, PCs or the Internet, all of which would have been unavoidable even two years later.

A Clockwork Orange: Film about feral teenagers looting, raping and murdering for kicks in the Greater London area (not to be confused with current reports on the 24-hour news channels). The book is disturbing for its personal exploration of Alex and final suggestion that Alex can, indeed, grow up to have a normal life as an ordinary member of society; the film, instead, is disturbing for its exploration of the way Alex's bloodlust is fueled and given a kind of tacit permission by the society around him, with its violent sexual popular culture, its lack of support for parenting, its opportunistic politicians, trend-driven scientific establishment, and rigid bureaucracy. Part of Nyder's British Urban Violence Season (see following post).

Movie count for 2011: 97

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Translated from the Japanese

Star Wars (A New Hope): Watching this again now, after having done a lot of relevant re-reading and viewing, the thing which strikes me the most is the fact that this movie is, in all its elements, mainly a clever pastiche. The core of the story is indeed "The Hidden Fortress" (with at least one scene almost shot-for-shot identical and Leia clearly the American cousin of Kurosawa's princess), but the sequences on Leia's ship and the Death Star owe the most to Flash Gordon, particularly as regards dialogue, and Lucas was actually sued over the resemblance between his cute droids and the ones in Silent Running. Meanwhile, on Tattooine, substitute "Confederate Army" for "Academy", "cotton plantation" for "moisture farm" and "slaves" for robots, and you've got a Civil War coming-of-age drama, which then morphs, rather logically, into a Western the moment Obi-Wan turns up to pull everything sideways into The Searchers. There are a few elements of Die Nibelungen (the quest of a young blond hero, whose mentor is keeping some rather important secrets from him), and of course 633 Squadron and Fifties angry-young-teen-makes-good movies, just to round things out. Between this and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, I would argue that Lucas' best films are inherently postmodern.

Movie count for 2011: 94

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Quatermass Special: TV to Film

Alan and I have been watching the Quatermass TV serials, followed by the films. So I'm going to do something a little unusual for this blog, and review the films, but in light of how they compare to the original serials.

The Quatermass Xperiment: A slicker product than the serial and, despite series creator Nigel Kneale's (understandable, given that he'd been cut out of the project) reservations about it, improves on the TV serial in a number of ways. The dialogue is cleaned up (to be fair, the TV script was essentially a first draft), and some of the problematic aspects have been dealt with through rewriting (e.g., rather than having the wrecked spaceship guarded by a couple of policemen and the wounded astronaut taken off to a cottage hospital, the army are called in and the injured man is isolated in a lab). And no, I don't mind Brian Donlevy as Quatermass; he's unsympathetic, but the character's a bit of a jerk in all his incarnations. Where the film is not so good is that it misses the message of the serial: the fact that the returning astronaut is a gestalt of the other astronauts is largely glossed over (which means we also lose a lot of the emotional content of the story, as the grief and astonishment of the other characters as they figure it out is now gone), and the ending takes an original and subversive idea of Quatermass talking the alien out of its takeover plans, and instead substitutes a stereotypical kill-the-alien resolution.

Quatermass 2: The TV serial is considerably more polished this time, with a few more drafts having been written and the BBC having developed a special effects team in the intervening years. Brian Donlevy comes across as considerably more sympathetic both than the TV version and his previous outing, probably because the character is on the back foot fighting authority rather than imposing it. The movie again benefits from a larger budget (e.g. we actually get to see the despised prefab houses of Winnerden Flats), but again loses out on the emotional front, as the chilling deaths of a picnicking family are edited out and the sequence where journalist Conrad (played in the original by Roger Delgado and in the film by Sid James) tries to call in his story while being taken over by an alien becomes a more conventional shooting, plus the plant labourers come across as a slightly cute collection of regional types rather than the rather scary oppositional force they were in the TV serial.

Quatermass and the Pit: In colour! And with an expanded role for Barbara Judd as she takes over most of James Fullalove's part from the TV series, which is generally a good thing (not that the TV version is problematic, but she does get sidelined a bit sometimes). Where the TV Colonel Bream is a scared, blustery, ignorant man dragged into the discovery of the prehistoric alien capsule by Quatermass, the film version is much more in-control and sympathetic (if no brighter), and is instead the one who drags Quatermass into the situation-- indeed, their relationship seems to presage the Doctor and the Brigadier in 1970s Doctor Who. Although the alien spacecraft is more beautiful and there are some wonderful claustrophobic scenes of panic, here I think the film's production actually lets it down vis-a-vis the series: the TV serial's archaeological dig was much more like a real dig site of the time, and the aliens much more convincing. Plus it's a shame the film version of Prof Roney couldn't have been a Canadian like the TV version.

The Quatermass Conclusion: Doing this one for completism, though one can't make much of a comparison as the film version is literally the TV version cut down to 100 minutes and topped and tailed by film-style credits. This is actually my favourite of the Quatermass stories; I like the poignancy of having Quatermass as an old man who's just trying to find his missing granddaughter in a world which largely doesn't care, and the backdrop of a Britain in a state of social collapse through privatisation and capitalist overexploitation has a lot more resonance now than in 1979. It also, weirdly, anticipates furries.

Movie count for 2011: 93

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Aladdin: Early Eisner-era cartoon, and a good example of that period's key traits: postmodernism (between the heavy borrowing from The Thief of Baghdad and Robin Williams' potrayal of the Genie as a 1990s standup comic) and casual multiculturalism. Arabian mythology is given the same playful treatment as classic Disney gave European mythology-- and as such, I would argue that the film tacitly acknowledges that Muslim identity has as much place in American culture as any other. Critics have argued that the fact that the central couple have conventional Western good looks while the supporting characters are paunchy, big-nosed caricatures is racist, though I think that is a slightly problematic claim as the pretty-leads-caricatured-supporting-cast is a staple of all Disney fairytale movies (q.v. the near-contemporary Beauty and the Beast); however, context is everything, and it does have to be said that some of the descriptions of the fictional Arabic kingdom as being barbaric, and the guards' gleeful focus on corporal punishment, are not exactly striking a blow for tolerance and understanding. The sad thing is that, flawed or not, I can't see them making a cartoon even this sympathetic to Islamic cultures now-- however, the good thing is that it's out there, and maybe they'll do a better one someday.

Movie count for 2011: 89

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Adventure Movies

Leon: Brutal but charming Luc Besson tragicomic thriller about an assassin who finds himself, through a strange chain of events, the custodian of a twelve-year-old girl out for revenge on her parents' killers. The whole story is strangely credible, with Natalie Portman having IMO thus far never bettered her performance as the girl in question.

Les Aventures D'Adele Blanc-Sec: Besson in considerably more playful mode, a slightly silly steampunk comedy about an Edwardian adventuress on a quest to find and revive the Egyptian mummy who she believes can save her sister's life, complicated by the intervention of the police, a pterodactyl and Rameses III. Gets a bit annoyingly slapstick at times, but it is saved by a rather biting sense of humour and the fact that the heroine is rather obviously a sociopath.

The Hidden Fortress: Kurosawa/Mifune classic, featuring a bearded general's attempt to get a rebel warrior princess to safety in enemy territory, as witnessed by two foot soldiers (George Lucas, in the intro to this DVD, tries very hard to downplay how influential all this was on the Star Wars franchise). While Mifune is great as the general, the plot is gripping, and the themes touching on the meaning of loyalty and honour, the brilliant touch really lies with the foot soldiers; cowardly, venal, greedy, stupid, cunning, loyal and affectionate by turns, and always utterly believable.

Life Force: Faintly misguided mid-eighties attempt to revive the British horror-SF genre, ripping off Quatermass, Blake's 7: Killer, various episodes of Doctor Who and arguably The Satanic Rites of Dracula by turns. Which should have been a lot better, but the problem is that it's a) humourless and b) pointless (as in, it's not actually about anything bar looking cool). Still, there's some very good animatronics.

Black Sheep: Not the New Zealand horror(bad?)flick, but a low-budget Russian drama about a group of criminals who escape during WWII and find themselves in a tiny peasant village, fighting off the German army on the one side and the Russian army on the other. With a setup like that it could have been a pointed satire, a tragic drama and/or a witty black comedy, but unfortunately it's just a bit unengaging.

Movie count for 2011: 88, and still haven't got onto the Tati boxset yet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

8 1/2 movies

Watchmen: The 3.5-hour director's cut version, with The Black Freighter running through it, and believe me it didn't feel anywhere near that long. While the theatrical release was good, it really does benefit from the extra time, which allows for more worldbuilding and layers of detail (and don't miss the "Under the Hood" DVD extra, featuring a "Where are they now?" profile on the Minutemen). Anyway, it does for the superhero movie what Watchmen did for superhero comics twenty-five years ago, and the world needs it.

Castle Keep: Another Vietnam-through-the-allegory-of-an-earlier-war movie, and like M*A*S*H* ultimately about the blackly hilarious pointlessness of it all. But it's grimmer and more surreal than M*A*S*H, acknowledging the strange beauty of war, with Major Falconer, on his pale horse, becoming an allegory of Death leading the youth of the nation to their collective demises, and presiding over the destruction of Western culture.

Nobel Son: Black comedy about a sociopathic academic and his dysfunctional family. Starts well and carries on being great for about two-thirds of the film, but the final bit feels seriously rushed, with a lot of necessary character development and narrative progression being ditched in favour of a quick voice-over and a resolution that consequently doesn't feel properly earned. It would actually have made a pretty good six- or twelve-part TV series, a sort of Six Feet Under for the Ivy League set perhaps, but 106 minutes wasn't really enough to allow the sort of tension and ambiguity the narrative needed.

The Black Hole: An underrated hybrid of Fifties and Seventies sci-fi; the use of greenscreen, computer graphics, animatronics and some really well-staged weightless sequences form the backdrop to a deeply Freudian story about the fear of female and gay sexuality (represented by the Black Hole itself). It's like Forbidden Planet crossed with equal parts 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Psycho.

Bambi: Seen right after the Adam Curtis documentary All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, which lent a strange subtext to the experience of watching a balanced ecosystem of herbivores in a mechanistic steady state, intruded upon only by the occasional intervention of humans. Also, continuing the theme from the previous entry, there are some strange Freudian messages to the story, with every single character apparently having a distant father and close-bearing mother. Despite that, the forest is beautifully realised, and the death of Bambi's mother genuinely tragic even for a non-child audience (and, really, how many other cartoons seriously address the inevitability and finality of death in terms that a child can absorb and understand?).

Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides: Really a lot better than I was expecting, given the lukewarm reviews. It gained points in my mind for a surprisingly subversive approach to organised religion (with the religious characters being either vandals or deluded), for excellent casting (Ian McShane FTW) and for some lovely surreal uses of voodoo-inspired magic. The set pieces weren't as much fun as those in the second PotC film, but I'm willing to overlook that for a good piece of storytelling that didn't bore me.

V for Vendetta: I remember really disliking this when I first saw it in the cinema, but was willing to give it a second go. The first half-hour or so, I thought I'd changed my mind, but it sort of went downhill from there and wound up a curate's egg. Good points: Natalie Portman was better than I remembered her being, and a Britain in the grip of right-wing demagogues stirring up fear of epidemics and hatred against Muslims and gays has if anything only got more relevant. Bad points: John Hurt as one of the most boringly one-note dictators in cinema, Stephen Fry somehow managing to play an embittered, suicidal closet homosexual celebrity as a cosy, cuddly uncle, and an ending which is too stylised to be credible, but not stylised enough to be postmodern. Still, the mask is cool.

Kick-Ass: Noticing a theme here? Anyway, this is another film based on a subversive alternative comic, which is pretty good up to a point and then compromises itself. The story is, effectively, one about the dangers of fantasy: a lonely, inept teenager starts to live out his daydreams of being a superhero only to discover that in fact that's a really stupid idea; unfortunately the film provides a justified revenge plot and a happy ending which are all out of keeping with the original comic's downbeat tone. Oh, and the Daily Mail as usual has the wrong end of the stick about the portrayal of Hit Girl, the 11-year-old assassin: it's not exploitative, it's tragic.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 Remake): Pointless and tedious. And an insult to the original.

Movie count for 2011: 83

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Repeated Meme: Cry me a River!

Idea Proposed and Used to Death during the New Series: Monster mashups which, as Arthur Darvill notes in the "Confidential", look sort of like an enormous game of action figures.

Central Premise Recycled From: "The Pandorica Opens," only in reverse (The Pandorica Closes?)-- instead of having a Tesco toy-departmentsworth of monsters ganging up on the Doctor, the Doctor gets a Tesco toy-departmentsworth of monsters to gang up on someone else.

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: It'd be easier to spot the things that aren't references to Moffat's back catalogue. Small children who are special, timey-wimey, the Doctor meeting yet another small girl who will grow up to get jiggy with him, everybody in the universe knowing who the Doctor is, creatures in monks' robes with funny heads, girls with guns, militant Anglican monks, parenthood/couplehood issues, a nursery-rhyme-style poem...

Amy Screws Up the day with Wuv: It's true; those Flesh copies are so good even a mother can't tell the difference.

Joss Whedon Called...: He'd like you to know he's got the corner on Blake's 7 references. Also Rory remembering his time as a Centurion even though it didn't happen in this universe is far too much like Xander's having memories of serving as a soldier even though they didn't actually happen.

And from Lawrence Miles: UNIT-type military organisation with a thing against the Doctor, the idea that time travel affects people's DNA, struggle by various groups wanting to weaponise a time traveler who can't really fight back.

Murray Goldwatch: Much as usual.

Nostalgia UK: The retro Doctor Zhivago-style outfits on the future soldiers.

Inside Jokes: One of the many abortive Doctor Who movies had the Doctor dressing as a woman to defeat Jack the Ripper. The Doctor is also evasive as to whether he's had children.

Teeth! And Hooters! And Honkers! All on the Silurian!

Hats! Sort of, mostly Hoods! though.

Fish! No, they're taking a break this week.

Small Child! Um... pass.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Eyepatch Lady of course, though while you wait you can go buy some desert-camo Action Men and make your own militant Anglicans. And I'm still holding out for a nine-inch River Song with her own line of outfit and accessories, and adding to that a cross-dressing Silurian with Hooters, Honkers and her own lesbian lover for accessories.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Repeated Meme: The Almost People

Idea Proposed and Used to Death during the Classic Era: Doubles. Particularly of the Doctor. The Chase, The Massacre, Meglos, Mawdryn Undead (sort of), Black Orchid (sort of), Arc of Infinity...

Central Premise Recycled From: There's one hell of a lot of Alien: Resurrection in this one; the monster-Jennifer chase down the corridor is pure homage, but the tough female leader with a secret terminal illness and the whole alien-or-human identity crisis. Setting it in a monastery also recalls the religious subtext to the story (when properly done, that is, not the bowdlerised cinematic version). Androids, or something like them, which are indistinguishable from humans. Plus the idea that the Company is up to something deeply unethical that needs exposing.

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Small child, asking "where's my father?"

Amy Screws Up the day with Wuv: The last five minutes are one serious Screwup with Wuv, though how, and what the Wuv involved, are for the cliffhanger.

Joss Whedon Called...: He wants back his surprise twist where it turns out one of the main characters isn't who or what you thought they were (q.v. Dollhouse, or am I stretching this one too far? Don't answer that).

And from Lawrence Miles: A woman who drops her jaw and swallows a man? Sort of like the TARDIS in Alien Bodies.

Murray Goldwatch: Strike up the bland!

Nostalgia UK: That mock-regeneration sequence bit, arguably.

Inside Jokes: Ben Aaronovitch once wrote a Virgin novel called The Also People. The Doctor's greatest-hits riff on his own past incarnations mirrors Logopolis; although "Reverse the polarity" and "would you like a jelly baby" are too cliched to be inside jokes, Hartnell's "one day we will return" is just obscure enough to count.

Teeth! Jennifer's got quite the mouth on her.

Hats! No, shoes! are cool this week. Also eyepatches are undergoing a revival.

Fish! No, though the fish and chips remark from last week gets a revisit.

Small Child! Wee Adam, the five-year-old boy who is willing to spend ten minutes on the phone waiting for his Dad to get done murdering himself. Plus an incipient Small Child in the last five minutes of the story.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: I was originally going to predict a limited-edition Amy Pond Possibly Up the Duff (same as the regular Amy Pond figure, only it comes with one of those little red-blue positive-negative icons), but now it looks like we just might get the Amy Pond in Labour playset, so I take that back.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Repeated Meme: The Rebel Flesh

Idea Proposed and Used to Death during the RTD Era: Seriously, doesn't this feel like the distilled essence of RTD-era Base-under-Siege stories? It's equal parts "The Impossible Planet," "42" and "The Waters of Mars," plus echoes of the Master duplicating himself endlessly in the Era Finale. Also the Sontarans apparently got hold of some of that Flesh stuff.

Central Premise Recycled From: "The Impossible Planet," as mentioned. More philosophically, there's bits of The Thing, Blade Runner, Alien and The Death Guard in there.

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Surprisingly little this week, though we do get a quick Moffat Moppet, and surreal zombie creatures in spacesuits.

Amy Screws Up the day with Wuv: After the last two episodes, it's probably not surprising that Rory seems to be getting a bit up-close-and-personal with Ganger-Jennifer.

Joss Whedon Called...: He wants the philosophical concepts behind Dollhouse back. Oh, and Bioshock claim we've stolen their suits.

And from Lawrence Miles: People being reconstituted from a magic vat of fleshstuff, like in Interference.

Murray Goldwatch: Hits the heights of banality this week, with a distinctly Muzaklike tone to some of the non-leitmotif pieces. Or perhaps it's a comment on the alienating nature of manual labour?

Nostalgia UK: Casting Marshall Lancaster in a story about industrial unrest is just going to make everyone think of Life on Mars, you know.

Inside Jokes: Marshall Lancaster, above. There's a quick visual reference to Lady Cassandra in the sequence where Ganger-Jennifer emerges from the Flesh, and the Doctor shows his RTD-era fondness for climbing up spires. A monastery with an anachronistic record playing in it appeared in "The Time Meddler."

Teeth! More freaky-mouth action as a full-blown set of lips sprout out of the Flesh

Hats! None, but the suits have nifty Helmets.

Fish! The Doctor thinks Amy and Rory should go out for some. With chips.

Small Child! Ganger-Jennifer holds a picture of herself as a small child and reminisces about her early memories.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: The Gangers of course.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Alice and Wonderland

Temple Grandin: Biopic of the genius autistic animal behaviourist, which uses clever editing and animation sequences to convey how she perceives the world. Two takeaways: 1) it's amazing how much autism has normalised in the last thirty years, and 2) I'll never look at a cow the same way again.

A Town Like Alice: War-Britflick about a group of female British POW's, wandering around Malaya looking for a Japanese prisoner camp that would take them and dying of various tropical ailments and stress-related illnesses along the way. I know it's a classic, but I found it pretty unengaging.

Eyes Wide Shut: A film about a man who is convinced the world revolves around him, and then is extensively confronted with the fact that it doesn't. Slow, but also very beautiful and compelling, with Cruise and Kidman impeccably cast, and a haunting use of Christmas tree lights to convey atmosphere.

What a Whopper: Adorable teen comedy from an era that tends to get forgotten by popular culture, i.e. the early 1960s, when Britain was in transition from Austerity to Grooviness. Where else would you find a romantic subplot involving a radiophonic musician, Charles Hawtrey and Sid James before they got typecast, girls in underwear which contains more fabric than most modern outer clothing, Spike Milligan as a tramp on the Serpentine--and a couple of postmodern touches to remind us that the mad self-referential films of the late Sixties are only a few years away? Plus, it was written by Terry Nation. If you're feeling down, go buy it on Amazon and enjoy.

Movie count for 2011: 74

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Repeated Meme: The Doctor's Wife

Idea Proposed and Not Used During the JNT Era: The Doctor's Wife. Look, JNT was just baiting the press with that one, stop taking it seriously.

Central Premise Recycled From: "Edge of Destruction." No, really, think about it. Also quirky malevolent aliens naming themselves after family members is straight out of "The Family of Blood."

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Doctor having romantic relationship with woman who Understands Him Like No One Else Does, but is doomed, and gets his companions out of the way to do it. Rory makes yet another reference to his now-nonexistant life as a Nestene. Also, from this season (already), companions going all timey-wimey and graffitiing messages as a consequence.

Amy Saves the day with Wuv: Actually the theme this year seems increasingly to be Amy Failing to Save the Day with Wuv, as the incident with Rory aging to death seems to indicate that Rory's got a few abandonment issues.

Joss Whedon Called...: He wants his patchwork people made out of bits of demons/aliens back.

And from Lawrence Miles: The TARDIS is a human girl. Plus Idris says "it's About Time" at one point.

Murray Goldwatch: The "Da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da" theme comes in about 26 minutes in, and we also get some Carmina-Burana-by-way-of-The-Phantom-Menace choir action during the running around corridors.

Nostalgia UK: Neil Gaiman counts, unfortunately. But apparently Tardis consoles include a "retroscope."

Inside Jokes: The Doctor's Wife, and "it's About Time!" see above. The episode starts off with what sounds like a reference to "The Androids of Tara," but it turns out to be a fake-out. The Doctor asserting that he's rebuilt the console before is probably a Pertwee Era reference. There's a shaving mirror on the jury-rigged console, and a reference to the Eye of Orion as a holiday spot. Idris' babble is taken from Dalek Sec, which is itself taken from Ghost Light (which is a clear massive influence on this story). The original Celestial Toymaker story featured a malevolent Aunt and Uncle. Opening a door through telepathic visualisation is from the novelisation of The Doomsday Weapon.

Teeth! Idris is bitey.

Hats! Some pretty good examples on Auntie and Uncle, plus Idris' wig.

Fish! "Like fish fingers!" "Oh, do fish have fingers?" Idris taking the mick.

Small Child! Not a literal one, but the Auntie-Uncle-Nephew setup has a metaphorical one in Nephew.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Idris, naturally. Though you can already make your own custom Nephew figure by painting the eyes of an Ood figurine with glow-in-the-dark green paint.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Worst Episode of Deep Space 9 Ever

Fight Club: Another of these Generation-X-defining films, about young men feeling alienated by the postmodern, post-ideological, consumer-driven zeitgeist of the late 1990s, spending too much time on airplanes and, with no ideological cause to rally round bar self-help groups, becoming drawn into an anarchic rebellion-as-therapy movement, with boxing clubs and bombing raids becoming a kind of self-actualisation process. Although some of the film feels a bit pre-September-11th, unfortunately a lot of the alienation and consumerised stagnation it portrays are still with us-- and indeed, now that the credit bubble has burst, in need of urgent resolution.

Waltz With Bashir: Animated film about post-traumatic stress syndrome, as the filmmaker/protagonist attempts to recapture his blocked memories of the 1982 Lebanon War, and in particular his witnessing of a massacre at a refugee camp. The nature of the animation and the soundtrack of frenetic electronica gives it a suitably nightmarish feel, while the climactic account of the massacre is a case study in how atrocities start and then keep going because nobody has the nerve to say "stop!"

Brideshead Revisited: A why-bother film. Pretty much all of the good bits were the ones which most resembled the TV adaption, and pretty much all of its problems were things which the TV adaptation was able to resolve (the short length of the film, for instance, meant that interesting characters like Anthony Blanche only get a spit and a cough, the casting of the Flyte siblings was all wrong, with Sebastian too uncharismatic and camp and Julia too beautiful and confident, and the frame story of Ryder's military service contributed nothing). This is a story which needs slow development, not the blockbuster treatment.

Movie count for 2011: 69

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Repeated Meme: The Last Saskatchewan Pirate

Idea Proposed and Used to Death by Walt Disney: Pirates. Look, anything you do will be compared to Pirates of the Carribbean one way or another, so either a) roll with it and get as silly and "arr me hearties" as you can, or b) go against type and play it nasty, gritty, and filthy, sort of like The Oneidin Line with more gore and grime.

Central Premise Recycled From: "The Stones of Blood." Only Cessair of Diplos was at least more camp.

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Moffat Moppet aside, the idea of a spaceship whose crew are dead and one of its computer routines is kidnapping random people is pure "The Girl in the Fireplace," while the purpose behind the mermaid's activities is from the resolution to "the Doctor Dances." Plus, there's a Black Spot on people's hands exactly where the Red Spot was in "Day of the Moon"-- couldn't they have waited a bit before recycling?

Amy Saves the day with Wuv: Rory, despite his medical training, is convinced that Amy's Wuv will be enough to allow her to do competent CPR. Mind you, since it seems working as a kissogram girl has qualified her to do competent swordfighting, he might not be far wrong.

Joss Whedon Called...: No, actually, he didn't.

And from Lawrence Miles: The eighteenth-century setting, arguably. A more likely candidate is the Doctor's remark about "alien bogies" (as a pun on Alien Bodies).

Murray Goldwatch: Nul points for the "ahahahahaaaaaa" siren chorus, sort of like "The Phantom of the Opera" without the tune.

Nostalgia UK: Pirates. Who did once used to be a real problem for the British Navy, but by the time of Gilbert and Sullivan, J.M. Barrie etc., were panto-fodder. Like these ones.

Inside Jokes: More "Warrior's Gate" references as regards mirrors being used as transdimensional gateways.

Teeth! On the mermaid! Whenever she goes to red.

Hats! Tricorns are cool.

Fish! The Doctor describes the mermaid as "a green singing shark in an evening gown" (they should have gone with that image, not Lily Cole).

Small Child! Toby. The least said, the better.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Wouldn't a glow-in-the-dark mermaid be cool? Unfortunately we're probably just going to get Hugh Bonneville with a small child instead.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Funny Pages

Enchanted: Enchanting. Outrageously cute Disney self-parody which affectionately takes the mick out of princess films, featuring a cartoon fairytale princess who finds herself, through a malign enchantment, in modern New York-- and yet still retaining fairytale-princess traits like the ability to summon cute animals (cue Snow-White inspired sequence where she cleans up a flat with the aid of pigeons, rats and cockroaches) and inspire musical set-pieces (there's a production number in Central Park which manages to be funnier than the dancing cutlery number from Beauty and the Beast). But while it has the obvious Disney message that everyone needs a "bit of fairytale magic" in their lives, there's a less-obvious message that fairytale people also need a dose of reality.

Superman Returns: Continuation, or possibly greatest-hits compilation, of the 1970s/80s Superman films (and sharing their slight confusion over when they are set, featuring as they do a strange mix of Seventies and 2000s aesthetic features). It's more in the serious Richard Donner than the silly Richard Lester mode, but this isn't really to its credit, as it's overlong and boring, with Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor lacking the sense of OTT fun of the Gene Hackmann version.

Movie Count for 2011: 66

Saturday, April 30, 2011

What I saw this year at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival

Remember, people, support the festival. In these days of arts funding cuts, great things like this are vulnerable.

Your Days Are Numbered: The Maths of Death: Not actually a film, but a stand-up comedy show about mortality statistics. Which is audacious enough, but the show itself was both informative (most deaths in airplane crashes are actually from smoke inhalation, who knew?) and a laugh riot. They're on tour right now, check and see if they're visiting your area.

Robotica: A short film compilation by the One Dot Zero art collective, on the theme of robots, ranging from the silly to the surreal. My favourite was a steampunk Russian fantasy piece-- sort of like I Robot crossed with Grant Morrison-- but there were also some great music video pieces and animation tests featuring giant mecha.

Gantz: One of the two standout features this year. A Japanese superhero film, which uses the idea (a mysterious entity seemingly kidnaps people at the point of death and uses them as an army to combat a series of aliens) as a jumping-off point to ask what it is to be heroic, and how we can all be heroes. Features an attack on Tokyo by a giant statue of the Buddha of Compassion, and gets away with it.

We Are All Cylons: Clever documentary on Battlestar Galactica fandom, and how they use the series not just as a form of escapism, but to inform the moral codes of their everyday lives in a world where the boundary between human and technology is increasingly vague.

Sharktopus: So-bad-it's-good Roger Corman badflick in which a Mexican resort town is terrorized by a CGI monster shark/octopus hybrid. Visibly paid for by the local chamber of commerce (as the film not-so-subtly highlighs the vacation fun opportunities in the area while cheerily dispatching as many tourists, preferably attractive ones aged 18-35, as possible), and starring Eric Roberts, who quite visibly gets drunk during the filming.

Dinoshark: Variation on the above theme, also by Corman and involving a revived pliosaur terrorizing the same Mexican resort town. More of an effort went into making this a serious film than "Sharktopus", which is mostly to its credit (there's a subplot involving the corrupt local police chief which is absolutely sparkling and could have come out of a much better Third World crime thriller), but occasionally to its detriment (the attempts to give "characterisation" to the main players are just boring and pathetic). Some lovely CGI of the dinoshark (sic) coursing along under the surface of the water, and a hilarious sequence involving stunt surfers.

You Are Here: The other standout feature, a surrealist Canadian piece (shot, and set, in Toronto, hooray) which, I suspect, is about the human brain and the question of what consciousness is. Cleaning up at film festivals worldwide-- go see it, it defies description.

Short Films: Standout pieces this year were "The Interview" (pointed topical satire in which the last man on Earth goes for a job interview), "Virus" (cute animated short about computer viruses in love), "VortX Inc" (clever low-budget take on literal technological wizardry), "Death of the Real" (just a lot of evocative shots of a deserted New York), "Once Upon a Time on Earth" (a couple split up, then the Earth is invaded... will they get back together in time?), and "Goodbye Robot Army" (a charmingly ironic take on the mad-scientist genre).

Other Stuff: The freebies are back in spades this year-- I scored five magazines (including SFX's True Blood special, hooray!) seven books, one DVD (albeit of an anime series that looks dreadful) and a couple of inflatable swords promoting a new fantasy RPG from EA. Plus we got to play with the new 3D portable game player from Nintendo.

Movie Count for 2011: 64

Red sails

Sunset Boulevard: Satire on the entertainment industry which is, if anything, truer today than in the 1950s. Norma Desmond serves as a metaphor for the whole of the commercial film industry, a fame-addicted creature making a devil's bargain with creative talents-- feed my ego with facile celebrity-focused tat and I'll reward you, try to be your own person and you'll wind up dead in the swimming pool-- who collude in their own subjugation even as they resent it.

Movie count for 2011: 60

God bothering

The Day the Earth Stood Still: Fifties take on Christianity for the Cold War, as Jesus comes to Earth in the form of the alien Klaatu to try and save humanity from itself. In keeping with the dominant memes of the era, the proposed solution to human aggression is essentially authoritarian (a kind of robot police force which act to forestall any act of externally-directed violence). Not sure how well that would really work in practice. Also visually beautiful, with that kind of clean, spare austerity one associates with the early 1950s.

Dogma: Nineties take on Christianity for the postmodern era, as a group of Generation Xers take a road-trip to try to stop a pair of disillusioned angels from destroying all of creation. The message throughout being that legalism, doctrine and even belief are to be rejected, that grand narratives are generally false, and that what ultimately matters is being good to others, forgiving people and having ideas. Oh, and that Alanis Morrissette is God. Apparently more people were offended by this than by Jay and Silent Bob's continued existence.

Movie count for 2011: 59

The Repeated Meme: Day of the Moon

Idea Proposed and Used to Death in the Virgin Books Era: ...the above theme continues, with a trip to actual Area 51.

Central Premise Recycled From: "The Invasion of Time." No really, think about it. Also the Men in Black (who can, of course, wipe people's minds... and who inhabit a universe where aliens have walked among us for centuries).

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Leaving aside the kids, the spacesuit, the catchphrase, wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey etc., we have magical Doctor-induced TV images saving the day, Amy-loves-the-Doctor-really action, "silence will fall" and about a million references to last year's season (celebrity world leaders, phantom pregnancies, Rory's past as a Nestene....).

Amy Saves the day with Wuv: Well, she makes Rory feel better with Wuv, but considering that her getting pregnant with Schroedinger's Child is going to be the catalyst for the action all season, I'd say she's got a lot to make up for.

Joss Whedon Called...: ...he wants his Ben and Glory bit back (remember how, in Season 5, anytime anyone found out that Ben and Glory were the same person, they immediately forgot it? Course you don't. Think about it.)

And from Lawrence Miles: Someone falling off a building and landing in the TARDIS pool.

Murray Goldwatch: In the very first scene, he manages to give us yet another musical theme consisting of a single percussive phrase repeated over and over with no variations. This wouldn't matter if we didn't know he could do better.

Nostalgia UK: And the Mad Men meme continues as River and Rory cosplay as Joan and Pete.

Inside Jokes: Dwarf star alloy, plus the Doctor tells Nixon to tape record everything, plus yet another trip to Manhattan (complete with confrontation in a partly-finished block of flats, Empire State Building prominently visible in the background). River cements her position as the female Captain Jack by making the exact same joke Jack does in "The Empty Child" about the lack of utility of a sonic screwdriver outside of the putting up of shelves.

Teeth! Still the anti-teeth!

Fish! Missing! this episode.

Hats! No, though River has a new hairdo! every five minutes.

Small Child! Who might well be looking for its Mummy.

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: See last post.