Monday, December 31, 2012

Raking up the past

Moonraker: Entertaining but derivative late-Seventies Bond film, mainly being a mashup between Thunderball and The Spy Who Loved Me.  The villain and the Bond Girl are both entertaining, and the contemporary mania for all things space shuttle makes for good nostalgia. On the down side, the fashion design is disastrous, and the sequence involving a  hovercraft gondola in St Mark's Square, while strangely hilarious, lacks even the slightest veneer of credibility. Movie count for 2012: 80!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Total Recall (2012): Disappointing remake, lacking the grotesque humour, believability, and contemporary social satire of the original. Even more disappointing as it did have the potential to be a good contemporary social satire-- a setup where Australia is a client state of Europe, importing cheap labour, could have provided a nice riff on the modern dependency on East Asian factory workers, but unfortunately too little is made of it. The is-it-all-an-illusion aspect was also disappointingly played down, and there were distracting visual homages to better movies which mostly just served to remind me that I was watching this one. Some very nice vis-FX work and action set-pieces though.

Movie count for 2012: 79

Monday, December 17, 2012


Inland Empire: Over three hours of strangely hypnotic David Lynch.

District 9: South African SF fable about prejudice and violence, as a spaceship full of aliens arrives in Johannesberg and the inhabitants are forced into shanty-towns, excluded from society and dehumanised in horrible, but entirely predictable ways. Told as a mock-doc about an incident where a middle manager with a defense contractor, charged with clearing an alien shanty-town, is infected with a mystery substance, the CGI is the best I've ever seen in a SF film.

Superman II:  Better than the rest of them, mainly by virtue of having some good lines and some of those Eighties visuals that are heavily Expressionist-inspired. But really, both Superman and Lois Lane are so amazingly thick you wonder how they remember to keep breathing.

Movie count for 2012: 78

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Well played, Mayans.

Skyfall: Definitely the best James Bond film since On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Goldeneye: Hailed upon release as a return to form for the franchise, mainly because the 1980s had been such a terrible time for Bond films. Stripped of that context, it's not bad, but it's also rather dated (sometimes ironically so-- the villains didn't need to take down the European banking system, they could just have waited twenty years) and Pierce Brosnan is really rather boring.

The Spy Who Loved Me: Stylish and Seventies, with my favourite Bond car, and Roger Moore looking amazingly good for fifty. Also fun to play spot-the-Canadian-actor-playing-an-American. Let down by some nasty business in which a perfectly innocent Bond Girl gets used as a bullet shield for no good reason.

The Magical Mystery Tour: My general thesis on the Beatles is that they weren't innovators, but were very good at picking up on, and popularizing, coming trends, and this film supports that. It's a Sixties avant-garde movie, but made for people who had yet to discover avant-garde film, introducing the population at large to concepts like the nonlinear narrative, the lack of an ending, improv and surrealism. To watch alongside The Prisoner.

Blade Runner (Final Cut, and yes, again): Everytime I see this movie there's something new to discover. This time, it's architecture.  Watch the film again thinking Mayans and industrial sectors, and see what you think.

Donnie Darko: Another rewatch, but this time with the director's cut. While it clarifies a lot of things, I think it's actually a more beautifully surreal movie without the extra material. Watch both.

Valkyrie: Docudrama about one of the many assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler. It's well made, but how they managed to make it as boring as this is completely beyond me.

The Man Who Never Was: Unintentionally hilarious docudrama about Operation Mincemeat, the WWII British scheme to plant a corpse containing false information for the Nazis to find. As Enigma was still classified information at the time the film was made, they have to concoct a bizarre scenario involving a perfidous Irish spy probing the veracity of the corpse's  identity to show how the British knew the Axis had taken the bait, which just gets more and more preposterous.

Movie count for 2012:75

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Repeated Meme 2012: The Power of Five

Asylum of the Daleks
Central Premise Recycled From: "Planet of the Daleks", mostly. And "Dalek", and one particular bit of "Revelation of the Daleks".
References to Moffat's Back Catalogue: The Doctor fixing up the Ponds' relationship again. White rooms on space stations. Ginger-haired Moffat Moppets. Oswin as an adult verison of the little girl in "Silence in the Library". Space zombies. Nanogenes with magical powers of handwavium. How is it that the whole population of Earth has not been turned into Dalek dickheads?).
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Apparently it has the power to stop her from getting turned into a Dalek dickhead.
Gratuitous Plot Hole of the Week: Why don't they just drop a bomb down the great big hole in the planet and have done with it? Also, how did a spaceship crashland on a planet with an impenetrable force field?
Cliche of the Week: Bisexual girl hacker genius. Willow Rosenberg and Lisbeth Salander would like a word.
Nostalgia UK: More like a sort of nostalgia cocktease, as the Doctor Who publicity machine spent months telling us about how there were all these original-series Daleks in the show, where they were sourced from, etc., etc., and then we barely see any of them at all.
Continuity Frakups: How is there still a Skaro?
Gratuitous Hymn to Motherhood: Apparently the whole reason the Ponds are at outs is because Amy can no longer have children. Couldn't they adopt?
The Pond Relationshipometer: Sharp swing from "getting a divorce" to "madly in love," via "Rory gets passive-aggressive."
Amy's Job This Week Is: Model.
Doctor Who!: Exclaimed by the Daleks.
Hats! Not on the Doctor, but some people have the Daleks eyestalk coming out of their foreheads.
Small Child! OK, it's a Dalek really, but Amy thinks it's a small child.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Well, actually, they've already released "Death to the Daleks"-style toys. They're inaccurate and say the wrong things, though, so something tells us they won't sell all that well. How about some of the Dalek dickheads?

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
If the Doctor took the Queen of Egypt back along her own timeline, so she could meet herself, would he get a pair of Nefer.... oh, I'll get me coat.
Central Premise Recycled From: "The Ark," and Space: 1999's "The Taybor". Crossed with "42".
References to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Gratuitous parents (Rory's not Amy's this time), random pterodactyls.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: No, just a lot of parental bonding from Rory.
Gratuitous Plot Hole of the Week: What's the value of a ship's control system that has to have two operators who are genetically related? Seriously, like, what?
Cliche of the Week: Nefertiti. Come on, people, other Queens of Egypt are available, and ones that did a damn sight more than she did. What about Hapshepshut, who actually ruled Egypt as Pharaoh in her own right?
Nostalgia UK: The British Empire! Full of jolly, handsome explorers! Who go about shooting elephants and shagging natives, but somehow that's OK, because they're jolly and handsome and things.
Continuity Frakups: Oh no! It's the return of the Silurians with Hooters and Honkers!
Gratuitous Hymn to Motherhood: At least we're spared that this week.
The Pond Relationshipometer: Set firmly on "domestic", with a couple of swings to "flirting with the guest star when the Pond of the other sex isn't watching".
Amy's Job This Week Is: Holder of stepladders.
Doctor Who!: Not actually stated, but plenty of people don't know who he is.
Hats! Nefertiti is wearing a silly-hats giant version of the crown in the famous bust of her.
Small Child! Well, there's some Eggs! anyway.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: You don't actually need one this week. The whole story is like something a child would make up using his Doctor Who action figures, his toy dinosaurs and robots, a couple of great-figures-from-history action figures from some worthy educational playset bought by a faintly misguided relative, a toy spaceship oh, and including his Dad because his Dad's the best Dad ever. A little hunting around in Tesco's and the British Museum gift shop (or, perhaps, the Argos catalogue), and you've got the set.

A Town Called Mercy
Central Premise Recycled From: Red Dwarf, and The Three Amigos.
References to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Moffat Moppets, hymns to motherhood, fetishization of the USA, the Doctor traveling alone for too long, hats, narrators. The original name for Captain Jack was Jax.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: She plays Doctor's conscience all episode.
Gratuitous Plot Hole of the Week: Not really, but there is a great big plot convenience in Jex deciding to blow himself up rather than forcing the Gunslinger to confront a basic moral issue. Also, if your afterlife involves carrying the souls of everyone you've wronged, won't the people you're carrying also be carrying other people's souls, who they've wronged in turn? Perhaps even your soul, considering that people are quite capable of wronging each other? Think your metaphors through, Kahler People.
Cliche of the Week: Ah-merrah-cuh! The land of second chances! Actually, social mobility is harder in the USA than in the UK. And this particular town is way too racially egalitarian to be credible. But never mind.
Nostalgia UK: Is there anyone under the age of forty who actually played cowboys as a child?
Continuity Frakups: Although it's deliberate, it's worth noting that this story actually takes place in the middle of the one which follows it, since they've recently visited Henry VIII and had to leave hastily.
Gratuitous Hymn to Motherhood: Apparently you can tell Amy's a mum because she has kind eyes. I would suggest that her hair-trigger temper is probably a better indication, but maybe I'm being cynical.
The Pond Relationshipometer: Stagnant. Seriously, you'd never even know they're married. I'd be worried.
Amy's Job This Week Is: Companion. She asks the questions, holds the screwdrivers, and tells the Doctor he just can't do the unethical thing.
Doctor Who! No, but plenty of tedious the-Doctor-has-a-dark-side stuff. Seriously, this is the episode the Nineties forgot.
Hats! Get shot up a lot, again suggesting that Stetsons are still not cool.
Small Child! And a pretty useless and gratuitous one.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: This is another episode allowing the viewer to source their action figures from elsewhere; buy a few cowboy toys and a Palomino horse to scale, and one of those Terminator action figures of Arnie with half his face off. A few hours customising, and you have your own set. Recession-conscious Doctor Who for the win!

The Power of Three
Central Premise Recycled From: Most of the Davies Era, but I'm thinking mostly either "The Sontaran Strategem" or the one with the Adipose. Also "Terror of the Autons," but given that the Davies Era recycled it repeatedly, that's a given.
References to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Amy and Rory getting all domestic and the Doctor getting all patronising. Fish fingers and custard. The Doctor, as in "The Lodger," trying out real life for a while. Creepy zombies with gas-mask-like faces which hang around with a creepy small child.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: There's a lot of buildup about Amy and Rory's wonderful relationship which, along with the title, suggests that their being together with Brian or with the Doctor is somehow going to save the day. Huge big letdown when it doesn't happen.
Gratuitous Plot Hole of the Week: If all those people have been clinically dead from heart failure for more than five minutes, how is a defibrillator going to help (as even if you could get the heart restarted, irreparable brain damage would have set in)? Is the writer aware that defibrillators aren't automatic magic heart-restarting machines? Why did the Doctor leave all those people on the spaceship to die? Why were the ventilator-faced creatures kidnapping people anyway? What was the point of having the little-girl android monitoring things when the Cubes are supposed to be monitoring things? Why have we never heard of this alien race in the past if they're such a big deal (and the fact that this keeps happening in Doctor Who is no excuse)? Wouldn't preventing humanity from spreading out into space frak up all those fixed points in time that result? Wouldn't creatures which exist "throughout all time" know that?
Cliche of the Week: Kate is a "scientist." Like every TV "scientist," she doesn't seem to have a specialty like real scientists do, though at least we're spared the TV-"scientist" cliche of having her turn out to be an expert chemist, physicist, microbiologist, geneticist or whatever the script demands.
Nostalgia UK: Not much for the UK generally, though obviously there's a lot of UNIT-era referencing going on for the fans.
Continuity Frakups: Although, as noted, last week's story takes place in the middle of this one (unless they've visited Henry VIII twice), we still get images from it in Amy's opening-narrative montage.
Gratuitous Hymn to Motherhood: Well, actually, fatherhood this week, as the Brigadier's daughter finally becomes canon.
The Pond Relationshipometer: Apparently they have to choose between Doctor-life and real life. With the implication that real life is somehow not particularly exciting. That's your fault, Ponds.
Amy's Job This Week Is: Travel journalist.
Doctor Who! No!
Hats! Surprisingly, no.
Small Child! One which sits around an emergency room for over six months without getting noticed. Possibly a pointed comment on the state of the NHS.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Character Options are missing a real trick if we don't get novelty desktop Cubes by Christmas.

The Angels Take Manhattan
Central Premise Recycled From: "Blink", mostly, with a certain amount of "Dalek" and "Doomsday".
References to Moffat's Back Catalogue: How many more Weeping Angels stories are we going to have? Cherubs = Weeping Angels crossed with Moffat Moppets, the Moffat Bifecta of Evil. River Song getting all domestic with the Doctor. Obsession with spoilers.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Deciding to Stand By Her Man in the end rather than run off with the Doctor.
Gratuitous Plot Hole of the Week: So, there's some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey reason why the Doctor can't visit Rory and Amy again (not even by virtue of parking the Tardis in Newark and taking the bus, or inviting them for a weekend on Rhode Island), but apparently that doesn't preclude him visiting Little Amelia in a timeline that now hasn't happened, because it was rewritten two seasons ago. OK, whatever. And the other big question is, how does the Statue of Liberty actually move, given that in a city like New York, the amount of time where absolutely no one is looking at it is going to be infinitesimal? And how does River get to hear the detective's story-- the obvious way would be for her to go back to Winter Quay in 1937 and interview the old man, but if Winter Quay's been erased by the paradox, she can't do that, and there's no reason for her to do it in the first place.
Cliche of the Week: Kind of excusable actually, as the Raymond Chandler cliches turn out to be justified by the story.
Nostalgia UK: Chandleresque detective stories, The Maltese Falcon.
Continuity Frakups: The Angels used to look like statues, now they apparently take statues over.
Gratuitous Hymn to Motherhood: River keeps calling Amy and Rory Mother
and Dad.
The Pond Relationshipometer: Throwing themselves off buildings for each other.
Amy's Job This Week Is: Book publisher.
Doctor Who! River Song gets to say it.
Hats! On River Song, for a change, and of course pretty much anyone outdoors in 1938, though that hardly counts.
Small Child! There's one in the windows of Winter Quay, just for atmosphere. And of course the Angels now come in creepy-small-child form as well. Guest appearance by Little Amelia at the very end.
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: More Weeping Angel variants to go with the several dozen already out there. Though Melody Malone: The Angel's Kiss has
apparently been released as a tie-in e-book already.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Softly softly

Killing Them Softly: One of the genre of philosophical-gangster movies, with Brad Pitt as a hit-man sent to resolve a local conflict with extreme prejudice and, in doing so, ruminating on the nature of American society and the difference between business and community. Set during the 2008 election campaign but based on a 1970s novel, and it did have that 1970s things-falling-apart feel, as well as a 1970s tendency to ultraviolent scenes. The fact that both fit so well with a modern setting probably says something.

Movie count for 2012: 67

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Load of Old Tati

Catching up on the holiday viewing.

Jour de Fete: Tati's earliest feature, already showing a lot of his signature themes: the tension of modernity versus tradition (symbolised here by a traveling fair coming to a little French village), the wise-idiot protagonist (though Francois is a more aggressive character than Monsieur Hulot, and more easily seduced by the attractions of modern living), the vast number of small human dramas interweaving within a simple storyline. It's like Playtime for a small town.

Les Vacances de M. Hulot: Largely what it says on the tin: M. Hulot goes to a Breton seaside resort, has a good time, goes home. Though Tati himself points out that there's a more subtle idea working there: everyone else may have an agenda, political, social, economic or otherwise, but Hulot just wants to have a holiday, and so should we all.

Mon Oncle: Back to the tradition/modernity theme, as we get a glimpse of M. Hulot's home life; he lives in gleeful traditional ramshackleness in a rundown but friendly quarter of Paris, while his sister, living in a gleaming but cold new-built suburb, despairs of him.

Parade: Towards the end of his career, Tati did a rather strange film for Swedish television themed, apparently, around the idea of a circus where the audience are participants as much as spectators. The result is car-crash terrible, as it becomes pretty obvious that the audience is salted with acrobats, stuntpeople and magicians early on, most of the acts are either dull or inexplicable (for some reason, a team of acrobats keeps coming on in different costumes and doing very similar bench routines) and other sequences contrived or misjudged (the end of the film has a rather long bit of two small children playing in the circus ring which is supposedly drawing a link between children's play and adult performance but just looks like someone's home movie of their sprogs). Some of Tati's own vaudeville routines are funny, though, and so is one involving an incompetent magician being upstaged by the scene-shifters.

Horse Feathers: Marx Brothers comedy in which Groucho is the head of a university who has to improve its football team in order to keep the institution afloat. The potential of this is unfortunately largely wasted, plus there's a tedious attempt to plug what the studio clearly intended to be a hit single. There's also a strange bit about Harpo having a job as a dog-catcher which is never really paid off. Still funny, though, with jokes about speakeasies (during Prohibition, naturally) and polygamy which have a pre-Hayes Code cheery wickedness.

Monkey Business: Patchy Marx Brothers comedy, let down by an attempt at working in a serious gangster story and a romantic subplot for Zeppo, though the early scenes in which they stow away on a transatlantic liner in four barrels are really quite funny.

Duck Soup: My favourite Marx Brothers comedy-- no romances for Zeppo (polygamous or otherwise), no attempt at a serious or dramatic story-- just the black humour which results from Groucho becoming dictator of a small country and Chico and Harpo being employed as spies by his political rival.

Blithe Spirit: Noel Coward fantasy sex-comedy, in which a man is haunted by the spirit of his dead wife. Very funny, and hugely influential on pretty much any film/TV series involving a character being followed by an invisible companion.

Gideon of the Yard: 1950s detective piece. The story and characters are fairly weak and stodgily patriarchal, but this is still worth the time for the delightful location shots of postwar London-- bomb sites, tenements, Fitzrovia and all-- and the candid period detail, e.g. the problem of unlicensed Soho clubs.

Idiocracy: Two average people, frozen for 500 years, wake to discover a world in which the average IQ has dropped to submoronic levels and they are now the smartest people on the planet. This leads to a surprisingly biting satire of corporate control and the way in which businesses will sabotage their own survival in pursuit of short-term profits. It's a lot of fun.

The Outrage: Inexplicably overlooked 1964 remake of Rashomon as a cowboy movie; as with a lot of Kurosawa, the translation reads well, and it's more or less done straight (for the curious, an Indian shaman takes the role of the medium). A young unknown called William Shatner plays the town's preacher and does it well.

The First Men in the Moon: 1960s film of Wells' novel. The Harryhausen effects are good, and it has the rather optimistic (for the early 1960s) idea that the first modern moon landing would be a UN expedition (including people from both sides of the Iron Curtain). The script is let down, firstly, by the clearly studio-driven need to include a female character as well as the two male ones in Wells' story, meaning that one character out of the three inevitably winds up being sidelined at various points in the action, secondly by the fact that the storyline of Bedford's villainy never gets an onscreen resolution (it's implied that his girlfriend dumped him after the moon landing, presumably fed up with his financial shenanigans, but we never actually find out the specifics), and thirdly by some rather unnecessary anti-working-class material. Plus some of the slapstick is a little annoying. Still worth it for the rather cute Selenites.

Movie count for 2012: 66

Friday, August 31, 2012

Movies for Republicans

American Graffiti: Baby boomer Fifties-nostalgia piece about a group of teenagers driving around in cars the night before they go off to university, work, etc. To be honest I just found the lot of them annoying, and the sheer amount of petrol being consumed in the making of it probably sparked the fuel crisis. The diner is rather pretty though.

Million Dollar Baby: Simultaneously uplifting and depressing film about a female professional boxer, her coach (Clint Eastwood in his current angry-old-man persona) and Morgan Freeman (as the narrator).

The Hurt Locker: Film about a bomb squad in Iraq, and the personal conflict which develops between a by-the-book soldier who's counting the days until his term is up and his show-off NCO who's an eccentric with a death wish and a developing persecution complex, with the third member of the team, who appears to be about 17 and suffering from advanced PTSD, caught between them.

Restrepo: Feature-length documentary about the Afghan War, specifically about a unit of soldiers spending a year manning an outpost in an isolated valley. They don't know why they're here; the locals are understandably more inclined to trust their cousins and brothers in the Taliban over a group of strange interlopers who keep killing their livestock and arresting their village elders; the officer in charge appears to be hanging on to sanity by a very thin thread indeed. Sort of like a modern Full Metal Jacket, without actors.

Starship Troopers: Watching it the first time, I did get the twist that we have been watching a propaganda film for a fascist government of a future society. This time around, though, the film is scarier as the propaganda seems closer and closer to the sort of things one actually sees and hears in film and television, like the patriotic phrases desperately spouted by the dazed and traumatized soldiers in Restrepo. Nineties fashions are also starting to hit the 'naff' phase of the cycle (contemporary --> naff --> retro), with all these grey long-pointed, wasp-waisted suit jackets. Also slightly jarring to realise that the drill sergeant would go on to be Brother Justin in Carnivale.

Movie count for 2012: 54

Thursday, August 16, 2012

This year's airline-film roundup, plus badflicks

The Hunger Games: Surprisingly good updating of The Running Man and The Year of the Sex Olympics via Starship Troopers. In a future America, the one-percent keep the ninety-nine-percent suppressed through televised gladitorial combat which, as its President notes, gives them simultaneous fear and hope (and also, of course, the titillation of watching various attractive teenagers killing each other). And, in the tradition of the abovementioned films, the viewers themselves become implicated, as we are encouraged to buy into the romance narrative the protagonists construct as a means of attracting audience sympathy.

The Adventures of Tintin: Had one or two entertainingly postmodern moments (plus one very tedious inside joke right at the start), but mostly impressed by its ability to take The Secret of the Unicorn and make it boring. Snowy was pretty cute, but they left out his continued fourth-wall-breaking meta-commentary, which for me was one of the highlights of the comics. Not looking forward to sequel.

Fractured: Anthony Hopkins plays a man who murders his wife, makes no effort to conceal his crime, confesses to the cops... and then, when he reaches the courtroom, promptly pleads not guilty, to the bafflement of intrepid state prosecutor Ryan Gosling. Having spent all its intellectual energy coming up with that premise, the film then spends the next two hours fizzling and finally expires in a vague anticlimactic cough.

Nazis at the Centre of the Earth: It's got Nazi! Zombies! At the centre of the Earth! Plus UFOs! Abortions! And giant mechaHitler! Makes Dead Snow look like Schindler's List.

Movie count for 2012: 49

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Road Trips

The Road: Depressing, but not unrealistic, film about survival in a nuclear winter scenario, reminiscent of Oryx and Crake in terms of pointing out that, action movies to the contrary notwithstanding, this wouldn't be terribly exciting and would mostly involve fear of death by starvation, death by cannibal gang, or death by perfectly treatable infection. Nonetheless manages to suggest some hope for the survival of the species.

Magnum Force: The original Dirty Harry film was like a right-wing revenge fantasy: this one is similar, but making the point that Harry has his limits. Also entertaining for hitting every single Seventies trope you can think of (hijackers, Jimmy Hoffa, pimps, homosexuality, swinging...); if this weren't a contemporary film, you'd accuse it of exploiting cliches.

Total Recall: The general sense of Philip K Dick's exploration of reality versus fantasy is there-- however, since Dick's story was less than 30 pages long, this film expands it out with almost Peckinpahesque sequences of ultraviolence, which, given the "fantasy" theme, actually works surprisingly well. The other surprising thing was how retrofuturistic it all looks, which is a weird experience, because I consciously remember when it just looked futuristic.

Movie count for 2012: 45

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Fascism and Feelgood

The Dictator: A biting, pull-no-punches satire on dictatorship, democracy, management, neo-liberalism, the other sort of liberalism, conservatism, anti-Semitism, Judaism, racism, tolerance and refugees. No wonder the Guardian was completely confused by it.

Iron Sky: Nazis-on-the-moon crowdsource film. Very funny, with some good performances and some nice satires on the US and the UN, and riffing pointedly on the similarities between neoconservatism and fascism and on why both appeal to politicians and people. Let down a bit by some bad performances (mostly the Sarah-Palinesque American president), but don't let that put you off. A region 2 DVD is £10 from; buy it and keep these people making movies.

Prometheus: Hard to review this one, since Scott is visibly setting up for a series of movies here (you don't cast a young guy in makeup as an old character unless there's going to be some sort of payoff later on). I will say for the moment, though, that it's rather like a big-budget version of Terry Nation's pilot for a Dalek TV series, 'The Destroyers', albeit with dodgier characterisation. Michael Fassbender's worth the price of admission alone, though.

Singin' in the Rain: A movie about two gay men making it in the late silent/early sound era. Although Debbie Reynolds does turn up to provide an ostensible love interest for Gene Kelly, she's actually just a metaphor for his relationship with Donald O'Connor.

Quantum of Solace: Just boring.

Movie count for 2012: 42

Friday, May 11, 2012

What I Saw at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival, by Fiona Aged 37 1/2

Clone: Explores one of the logical, if disturbing, results of human genetic engineering: a woman whose boyfriend dies suddenly in an accident arranges to give birth to his clone.... with the inevitable disturbing possibility of incest emerging as the child grows up and starts to resemble the man she knew. Stars Matt Smith just before he took over the role of the Doctor, and showing why he was a good choice for the role.

Robo-G: Probably my favourite film of the festival (and that's a very tough choice indeed): a Japanese comedy about a team of robotics engineers who "cheat" and hire a septuagenarian to pose, in costume, as their robot at a technical expo, but the stunt rapidly gets out of hand. Definite proof that the Japanese can laugh at themselves-- taking in robotics, cosplay, strange fetishes, gerontology, and mecha-- but also touching on a lot of themes that everybody can relate to.

Shuffle: Sort of like Slaughterhouse 5 crossed with The Time Traveler's Wife, as a man finds himself unstuck in time, traveling through his life in a series of seemingly random jumps, knowing he has to save someone's life-- but who that someone is, and how they need to be saved, is not entirely what he thinks it is.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction: A subtly revealing documentary about Joseph Campbell, editor of Astounding, exploring his positive role as a nurturer of talent and exponent of good SF stories, while not sugarcoating the fact that he was a casual racist, sexist and anti-Semite.

Exit: Strange and beautiful Australian film, portraying modern urban life as a kind of nightmarish maze, and following a group of people who become convinced that one of the doors in the city is an exit. Partly an exploration of fanaticism and obsession, and how half-remembered childhood beliefs can drive us as adults without our realising it, but also a meditation on what exactly is an "exit" in such a context.

Ghosts with Shit Jobs: I was really looking forward to this and wound up being slightly disappointed by it. It's got a great premise (the "ghosts" are Canadians, in a future where China is the dominant power, and all the shit jobs are outsourced to North America), some good acting (the woman who did piecework assembling robot babies was scarily convincing as a frustrated talent about to go postal), and makes such clever use of its small VFX budget that you don't actually realise how small that budget is. My problem was mainly that it carried on longer than it should, and in particular the ending wound up being dragged out to the point where my disbelief started to un-suspend. Good effort though.

Great Masters in Short Form: An unusual take on the short-film anthology, gathering a set of short films based on great works of SF. All were good, but the standouts were "Impossible Dreams" (an Israeli comedy), "The Other Celia" (a masterpiece of non-explanation) and "A Piece of Wood" (about whether war is inevitable).

Other Short Films: As always something of a mix. Standouts include this year's short film competition winner, "Believe the Dance" ( seriously, you need to see this),  "Lucky Day Forever" (a Polish animation about predatory capitalism), Error 0036 (a satire on the annoying nature of helpdesks), Decapoda Shock (about a mutant man-lobster who... a postmodern satire on... um... OK, just see it), "This is Not Real" (about children and their imaginations) and "How to Kill Your Clone" (Mad Men meets the Tyrell Corporation). The winner of the 48-hour film challenge, "Future, Inc.," also deserves a mention for being hilariously twisted.

Movie count for 2012: 37

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New short story in BFS Journal

Quick note: the British Fantasy Society Journal for this quarter has a short story by me entitled "The Kindly Race." Interested? Check it out here:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rocket Science

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (in 3D!): Silly animated comedy, aimed at kids but with plenty to amuse adults (e.g. references to The Elephant Man, or Queen Victoria as a ninja), and with so much background detail I may have to buy the DVD just to get more of the jokes. Kind of anti-Darwin (presumably in a misguided attempt to appeal to a certain tranche of American society), but not anti-evolutionist (presumably on the principle that those same Americans aren't bright enough to figure that out).

Pinnoccio: A story about a wooden boy with an unhealthy obsession with 'real boys', who is seduced by a couple of tramps to take up acting, which leads to him being imprisoned and exploited by a big-nosed, long-bearded impresario out of the pages of Der Sturmer; escaping, he is seduced into going to Pleasure Island, along with a load of other boys, by Charles Laughton. Arguably Disney's most offensive film yet: anti-gay, anti-gypsy, antisemitic, and, somehow, anti-whale.

Lady and the Tramp: Short but sweet film about animals, instantly recognisable to anyone who's ever had a pet.

Spartacus: Yes, I know it's a classic of the genre and yes, it has a lot to say about human nature, liberty, society and idealism, to say nothing of McCarthyism and politics, but to be honest, this time around I found it difficult to get into.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Still my favourite Bond film; however people feel about Lazenby, he was just fine in it, the supporting cast were well chosen, and the soundtrack was good even before we get to the James Bond Novelty Christmas Hit, which gets points for sheer chutzpah.

 Hitler: The Last Ten Days: Terrible Italian historical starring Alec Guinness doing a subpar Hitler impersonation. Slightly saved by being indirectly responsible for this parody of Downfall parodies.

The Shining: Despite what everyone thinks, this is actually a film about alcoholism. No really. Watch it with that in mind, and it all makes sense.

Movie count for 2012: 31

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Edward Cullen? Never heard of him.

Cronos: Early Guillermo del Toro interpretation of the vampire mythos. Basically about the fear of aging and death, and resisting the temptations of power.

Let the Right One In: Applies the Scandinavian genre of films about creepy dysfunctional children to the vampire mythos. Mostly a poignant and disturbing meditation on psychopathy, sociopathy, deviant sexuality, exploitation and enabling, but somewhat let down by an inadvertantly hilarious scene involving CGI cats.

Thirst: Gory Korean gangster-flick take on the vampire mythos. The general message is, never piss off either a) your daughter-in-law, or b) the village priest.

Movie count for 2012: 24

Sunday, March 04, 2012

French leave

La Regle du Jeu: Apparently a classic of 1930s French cinema, exploring bourgeois social mores. I was kind of bored by it. Apparently the story involves a cat getting shot, but since the cat in question runs to the left of the picture and the actor fires his gun to the right, it's hard to tell.

Movie count for 2012: 21

Catching up

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada: Story of one man's quest to piss off another.

Cronos: Early Benedicio del Toro film; the body horror is less understated than in his more recent material, but it's still a disturbing and strangely touching take on the vampire theme.

Barton Fink: A tale of creativity, hypocrisy, and why it's not a good idea to get on the wrong side of an insurance salesman.

The Reader: Better-than-I-expected adaptation of the book. An intelligently ambiguous story about the German people's difficulties in coming to terms with the Nazi past.

The Ladykillers: Saw this right after seeing the West End play version of it. The film is less laugh-a-minute, but has more in the way of sinister atmosphere and visual humour; it's also really interesting to see what the King's Cross/St Pancras area looked like in the 1950s.

The Time Traveler's Wife: Somewhere, there's a plagiarism lawsuit waiting to happen involving this film, and everything Steven Moffat's written for Doctor Who.

Movie count for 2012: 20

Think of the children

M (ein Stadt sucht ein Moerder): Fritz Lang's first (partial) sound film. Draws disturbing parallels between police and criminal organisations, while also managing to condemn vigilantism.

If...: A good counterargument to anybody who claims that all these teenage rioters need is strong authority figures and military discipline.

Beguiled: Proof that it's not just male schoolchildren who can go, homicidally, off the rails.

Baader-Meinhof Complex: Scary docudrama about the German terrorist organisation, providing context for their actions while also revealing the brutal infighting within the group. Also draws disturbing parallels between police and criminal organisations, while managing to condemn vigilantism. Costarring the ubiquitous Bruno "Hitler" Ganz.

Movie count for 2012: 14

Friday, February 10, 2012

Oscar material

The Artist: "Silent" movie, which actually makes quite clever use of sound. The period detail is fantastic, but the show is completely stolen by a wire-haired terrier.

The Iron Lady: Controversial Thatcher biopic, which was a lot more even-handed than I was expecting; it doesn't condemn her, but also makes it quite plain that even before the hubris began to sink in, her policies did as much damage as they did good, if not more. I also thought the dementia aspect was sensitively handled.

Come And See: Nightmarish Russian film about war. Brilliant and uncompromising, but a single viewing is likely to induce post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gunfight at the OK Corral: Average Western. The casting is good and there's an interesting subtext to the general effect that the lawmen and the various factions of criminals are all playing each other off against each other, but it made for pretty tedious viewing, there's a romantic subplot which is built up hugely and then hastily abandoned, and, oh yes, it is one of those Westerns with an annoying song running through it.

House of Flying Daggers: Beautiful period martial-arts piece which has a) probably the best use of colour I've ever seen in a movie, and b) also one of the most stunning plot reversals, with information revealed in the final third of the story completely rewriting the viewer's percetion of the relationships seen in the first two-thirds.

Movie count for 2012: 10

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Between the Head and the Heart

How to Get Ahead in Advertising: Surreal comedy, a scathing indictment of 1980s selfishness and greed which is, if anything, even more uncomfortable viewing today as so many of its predictions have come true.

The Prestige: Fantasy about rival magicians and Nicolai Tesla, which conceals under a steampunk exterior a tragic story about the cost of obsession, and how it blinds its protagonists to love, human kindness and the genuine miracles around them.

Devils of Darkness: Sixties vampire badflick. Hilarious if you're in the right sort of mood, but massively derogatory to Gypsies, the French, Americans, lesbians and beatniks, as well as containing some of the most inept day-for-night filming I've ever seen.

I Heart Huckabees: Returning to the surreal comedy theme, this one is a psychological farce about an environmentalist and a corporate executive who are connected on the existential level.

Movie count for 2012: 5

Monday, January 02, 2012

Over the Rambow

Son of Rambow: A story about the dangers of personality cults, revolving around two eleven-year-old amateur filmmakers? Yes, it works, and the result is a cross between Lord of the Flies, Oranges are Not The Only Fruit and Bowfinger, with an exciting plot reversal approximately every fifteen minutes.

Movie count for 2012: 1

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Wrapping up the 2011 capsule movie reviews

E.T.: Visibly from Spielberg's postmodernist period, as he inverts the tropes of 1950s alien-invasion B-movies in both plot and visual terms, with the alien as childlike and vulnerable, and the Earth authorities portrayed as invading, faceless spacesuits. Detracted from by the annoying squeaky voice of the hero child, the product placement, the shameless underuse of Peter Coyote, and the climax of the film, which went on way too long, was far too maudlin, and was, frankly, hackneyed.

Sarah Palin: You Betcha!: On-the-fringes documentary as the filmmaker, failing to get an interview with Palin herself, constructs the process of trying to do so into a sinister portrait of the failed Governor of Alaska as a bullying, selfish creature not above backstabbing those who helped her get into power. At the time of writing Gingrich has just declared that he would like her as a running-mate.

Dancer in the Dark: A film which breaks every single rule of filmmaking, and makes it work. Tragic, yet somehow also beautiful and uplifting.

Dorian Gray: Takes rather a lot of subtext and, unfortunately, makes it text. With a tragically uncharismatic Dorian and a curiously unhomoerotic Henry.

Movie count for 2011: 128