Saturday, April 24, 2010

Daleks in the Wartime

So, that last episode of Who ... in anticipation of something better tonight when the Angels are back (wonder if they'll nick the Doctor's wheels again ...) some thoughts on last week's episode. Well it started well, is about the best I can say. The wartime setting was nicely handled, and even Churchill was a nice cameo - even though I find it hard to believe that Churchill would ring the Doctor and ask him to come and see a new weapon ... why would he do that? Unless of course Bracewell encouraged it as part of the Daleks' shaky plan. I loved the initial reveal of the Dalek in olive green, and the very 'Power of the Daleks' homaging of 'We are your ... Soldier!' I loved the Daleks gliding around the base serving tea and coffee, and the fact that only the Doctor knew they were a menace. But then it all fell apart. The nice sense of paranoia which the aforementioned 'Power' played on so well was missing and the Doctor started hitting a Dalek with a spanner! Then we go off into some technobollox about the Daleks having this cute little device (*1) which lit up and which somehow contained pure Dalek DNA ... we learn that Bracewell (*2) is a Dalek robot and has built the things on Earth - but where did he get the Dalek DNA from I wonder ... and then the Daleks, having had the Doctor identify them, can now get their little Dalek gadget to create some 'pure' Daleks ... ... and here they come now! Tinky Winky Dalek! Dipsy Dalek! La La Dalek! and of course not forgetting Po Dalek! The Dalek Tellytubbies roll out looking for all the world like giant toys (*3) and proceed to exterminate the other ones ... erm ... Then, realising that there's a lack of action, Churchill sends some Spitfires into space (erm ... OK ...) and they attack the Dalek saucer ... How on earth they 'flew' is anyone's guess - Bracewell's anti gravity wassname maguffin might have got them into space, but there's no gravity there so how did the craft actually manouver - propellors won't work (no air) and the wings are useless (no atmosphere) ... never mind. Bracewell turns out to have a Dalek bomb in him as well, and so the Doctor and Amy, accompanied as usual by Murray Gold's inappropriately loud and intrusive music talk him out of it! Didn't we see that before in reverse in 'Remembrance of the Daleks' where the Doctor talks a Dalek into destroying itself. It didn't work there either. At least this time we get some lovely performances from the leads, and Gatiss does his best with the dialogue. Then the Daleks escape. The End. It was all way too rushed for 45 minutes, and what there was made little sense even on first viewing. Interesting how Amy can't remember the (many) Dalek (and Cybermen) invasions of previous years at all ... and of course we get to see Amy's crack again on the wall behind the TARDIS as it leaves. It's a story which could and should have been so much better, even with a lot of the same elements. A wartime adventure where the Doctor finds that Daleks are being used and has to side with the Nazis to destroy them ... or even more of a skit on 'Power' with the Daleks plotting to destroy and no-one listening to the Doctor so he has to use his wits to get him through it all ... And the new Daleks - woeful. They're too big, wobbly and brightly coloured. Daleks should be tight, small, bundles of power and threat and paranoia. If these were 'pure' Daleks, then we should have seen original 1963 versions, or those from 'Genesis of the Daleks' ... but then maybe this is all part of this parallel world/whatever it is thing going on with Amy here ... maybe this is what the Daleks looked like in her world ... maybe they were kid's toys which took over when the time was right ... who knows. All in all a very disappointing third episode which perhaps tried to do too much but ended up collapsing due to the weight of the requirements put on it, and the need to try and bring the Daleks back as 'new and improved'. Why try and improve something which just doesn't need it ... we shall never know. PS: The little asterisks are my somewhat cynical way of highlighting the elements which were included because they'll make great toys rather than having any real relevance to the story.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Beasts and Tricks

The title of the second Who episode in the series has an intersting ring to it. 'The Beast Below' ... as others have stated, perhaps something of an euphamism there. I liked the episode overall, though it did leave me a little cold on first viewing. There's also a few loose ends which I didn't appreciate, having hoped that we had seen the end of this sort of thing in the scripts. The Smilers are a case in point. What exactly were they? Some sort of robots? But who was controlling them, who made them, and why do they sit in little fairground booths? And how could their faces spin *three* times to show, smiling, sad, and then angry. I know it looked great and spooky, but then it was unexplained, and I didn't like that. And Queen Elizabeth X ... I wondered when she got black and cockney? And was she supposed to be 100s of years old? I heard something about slowing time down but it didn't make much sense really. And when did Amy record that frantic warning to the Doctor on her voting booth screen? There weren't even any controls allowing you to do that were there? And then there's the elevator shaft of doom ... leading to the Beast's mouth. The Doctor makes it sick ... and they're back on the spaceship? Why weren't they vomited out of the creature's mouth into space then? It was suggested to me that maybe they wee ejected out of a blow hole back into the ship ... but that was never mentioned or seen. And come to that, how did that kid who was 'taken' at the start end up back in the ship - the space whale could tell the difference between a kid and an adult when they're in its mouth? I dunno, it all seemed to be hanging together by threads really, but as with the last 5 years of Who, it rattled along at such a pace that you don't have time to notice these things while you're watching it. I quite liked the ending with Churchill and the Dalek ... but I always cringe when I see impressions of real characters in Who, it just seems wrong somehow - the action should be alongside the events of history, not slap bang in the middle of them ... but we shall see ... In other news, watched a couple of films recently: Up was great fun. It's another Pixar piece and that company can really do no wrong. It had us crying in the first ten minutes, and then presented a very funny and fun journey to a wilderness waterfall for the main characters. All animated superbly, and on the blu-ray it looked awesome. Think we'll have to buy that one. Squirrel! The other film was a horror called Trick 'r Treat, a wonderful Halloween piece of the type which we all thought would never be made again. Someone commented to be that it was a film about Halloween, which celebrated it, and this is spot on. It's not a slasher or a gore film, but an intelligent portmanteau movie of four stories which all cross and intersect as the film progresses. There's the tale of four twenty-something girls out on a night out, looking for male friends to spend the evening partying with ... We have the local Principle, and how he spends his Halloween - preparing 'special' candy for the local kids, and then going out in fancy dress ... There's the couple who don't really like the holiday and who decide to dismantle it all before the night is over ... There's the story of a group of kids who decide to visit the site of a coach crash many years previously, and in doing so disturb something which should have been left alone ... And finally the tale of a Scrooge-like old man, and how he is visited by the spirit of Samhain before the evening is over. All the cast and performances are superb, the film is wonderfully directed and rich in imagery and idea, and the little Samhain demon creature is a brilliant creation, appearing in all the stories somewhere ... watching ... waiting ... and perhaps claiming more than just candy ... I loved the film, and can see it becoming an October 31 staple to rewatch.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Days and Weeks

I've just been watching the DVDs for the two Zombie films 28 Days Later and the sequel 28 Weeks Later. I'd seen the first one years ago, probably when it came out, but the sequel I'd not seen before. 28 Days Later is one of those films which gets a good rep from the mainstream, probably in part because the director, Danny Boyle, is seen as being cool and hip after films like Trainspotting. It's actually not a bad little film, with some awesome cinematography of a deserted London at the start. I do have a problem with the chief scientist guy as he's played by David Schneider, who I know from the comedy The Day Today. So I find those scenes a little hard to take seriously. Our Hero, Jim, awakens in a deserted hospital and then goes walkabout wondering what has happened. You can see parallels here with the old BBC series Survivors, and indeed that the remake stole some of the ideas and imagery from this film in turn. Unfortunately, Jim meets up with some fellow survivors of the virus - called the Rage - and they set off across country, ending up captives of a group of soldiers led by Christopher Eccleston in a great little performance. The problem I tend to have with all these 'post apocalyptic' films - and indeed novels - is that few have anything really interesting to say, and it's all down to the basics: how do the survivors get food, power, water, medical supplies and so on ... fighting against both themselves, and whatever random threat is 'out there'. The film ends on a sort of hopeful note with an airplane being spotted - signalling that perhaps there are others out there who survived the virus. It has been argued that the film doesn't have zombies in ... as these are just humans infected with the Rage virus which makes them get angry, vomit blood, get bad teeth and complexion and run after normal humans to eat them ... sounds like zombies to me. And if it looks like a zombie and acts like a zombie ... The sequel, 28 Weeks Later, follows a similar trajectory, although it focuses initially on the rebuilding of life in the UK once all the infected people have died of hunger. This time the 'hero' is a man called Don, who is reunited with his two kids after a horrific zombie attack at the start of the film. Predictably, the kids disobey the rules and go back to their old house to collect some things, and find that their mother is there in a crazed and animalistic (but not zombified) state. She is taken back to the labs (strangely housed in the same residential block where all the survivors have been placed as part of their return to the UK. A brilliant piece of tactical planning by the US army there). Of course she is still infected with the virus, though immune herself, and when hubby finds her and kisses her .... ten seconds later he has the Rage and escapes to infect the rest of the humans in the complex ... The film then descends into zombies versus soldiers ... and guess who wins? Unfortunately from a very well directed and exciting opening, and a good idea about how the infection takes hold again, the film gets boring quite quickly. It's the same as everything else out there unfortunately, but without a strong underlying plot or characters to drive it forward. One thing about it though - the music. During the opening sequences, as Don is running from the zombies, and again at the end of the film, I found that I recognised the music ... to the extent that I had to check. And yes, indeed it is, the music is all but identical to Murray Gold's music for the Doctor Who episode 'Doomsday' where Rose is on the beach at the end ... that haunting score which everyone loved so much. The scores are so similar, that I even played them together ... the Who one is a tad faster, but otherwise ... 28 Weeks Later was released in 2007, and the 'Doomsday' episode of Doctor Who was broadcast in 2006 ... so maybe the composer for 28 Weeks Later (John Murphy) is a Doctor Who fan? We shall never know.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Nothing Human Lasts Forever

Watched the film The Hunger (1983) on DVD last night. Another one that I'd never seen. This is the one with David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve as vampires, with Susan Sarandon as the human who stumbles into their world. I'd seen all the TV series of the same name, and the film does share a certain similarity in the editing and surreal nature of some of the filming. The film was directed by Tony Scott who was also behind the TV series, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. But the film ... what an interesting idea and way to discuss vampires. Deneuve was suitably icy and emotionless as Miriam the vampire, which is a little strange as it was all about her not wanting to be alone. Bowie played her latest companion, John, and was just brilliant. I loved him as the young man, and then when he aged to old man in the space of a day, he had the stance and performance down pat all the way through. I appreciated the conceit of him aging 50 years while waiting to be seen in a clinic ... something we have all felt! Kudos to Dick Smith for the brilliant old man make up as well - really superb - and I also loved the really really old make up effects too at the end of the film. The crumbling corpses were really creepy and well done, especially when combined with some great lighting and visuals on screen around them. It's a very simple film on one level, but leaves a lot to think about. Deneuve's companions never die, just suddenly get ancient in the space of a few days - and when they do she shuts their bodies in boxes in her attic. And as they also cannot sleep, this is an eternity of living hell. Which is really not a very nice thing to do to those you profess to love. But then when she herself dies, they too die, and she ages and crumbles to dust herself. So was she living off their everlasting life force in some way? The film suggests so, closing with Sarandon now taking on the mantle of female vampire, ever young, ever perfect and ever in search of companion after companion to share her eternity with. I found it a little languid in places, slow paced, and yet the film has a beguiling elegance which perhaps demands that it is told in a measured way. It doesn't lend itself to fast-paced action sequences at all. Overall a good slice of vampire cinema, taking a different tack - there are no fangs in sight here - and with much to consider past the closing titles.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Star Trekking

We watched the latest Star Trek film last night, and as I said when we saw it at the pictures - see the earlier post on that - what a cracking film it is! J J Abrams has managed to reinvent it so well. The plotting and characters are both new and yet seem to fit like a comfortable pair of shoes. Lovely performances from the main leads playing Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Chekhov, Uhura, Scottie and Bones, some great and awe-inducing effects pepper the film, and the intelligent plot is lovely to watch unfolding. We saw it on Blu-Ray and certainly the quality is there. It's also around 200 minutes long and yet never dragged or sagged. Testament to a good film methinks. Hopefully there will be more to come, but even if this stands as a one-off, it's a great little film, and sort of reaffirms ones faith in science fiction movies, especially after the exscrable Pandorium ...

Monday, April 05, 2010

Four Films

Easter is a time for films, and so courtesy of the local Blockbuster, we rented four for the long weekend. THE FOURTH KIND I'd read a bit about this one, and nothing was very complimentary. We got it because Zee wanted to see it, and, well, it has Milla Jovovitch in it. It's a fairly standard alien abduction story, with a conceit (which I don't believe at all) that it's all real. This exends to having supposed genuine footage in the film itself of the actual protagonists, while Milla et al act out what happened. It does have a couple of very nice sequences in it which are unnerving. When the chap has a fit on the bed around 100 minutes in, it's really quite creepy, as is the bit where the policeman sees the UFO over the house - and so do we for about 1 second. The ending however is totally spoiled by being 'seen' in fizzing and fuzzing camcorder tape while we hear the voice of the alien speaking to us in Ancient Sumarian (translation helpfully provided). I was impressed that they got through the whole film without ever actually showing the alien - the scene where it enters Milla's house and abducts her is very scary, and you never see a thing. But this is also the problem - these days we expect to see something ... and to have everything relayed to us during the exciting moments through a third person camcorder picture which is blipping all over the place making the picture unseeable was somewhat disappointing. Overall the film wasn't a total wipeout, and I'd give it maybe 5 or 6 out of 10. THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS I had no pre-expectations of this at all. I knew that Heath Ledger had died mid-way through making it and that as it was a Terry Gilliam film, I should expect something surreal. But it blew me away. The plot is fairly straightforward. Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer in best Dumbledore mode) has made a deal with the devil (Tom Waits) to see who can first get to 5 souls. Parnassus has a rickety sideshow trailer and through a cheap fake-glass portal on there, people can enter into a land from their own imagination. At some point they must make a decision, and if they choose wrong then the devil wins the soul. Travelling with Parnassus is his 15 year old daughter (Lily Cole) who will be forefit to the devil if he wins before she turns 16; a dwarf (Verne Troyer in a brilliant performance); and a young man in love with the daughter (Andrew Garfield). Into their lives comes con-artist Heath Ledger, on the run from the mafia for money owed. He manages to turn the sideshow around and to start to get what Parnassus wants ... but can it all be done in time. As with all Gilliam's films, the visuals are rich and amazing. Whenever anyone enters the mirror, they find themselves in some fantastic CGI land, but it's all so well done, and genuinely leaves you wide eyed in amazement. I loved the way the film all hung together, and appreciated the use of several London locations which are very familiar to me: Blackfriars bridge, Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral ... The acting is all top notch, and Ledger's death caused some rewriting where his character is played by three other actors when they go through the mirror at different times: Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, all of whom do a fantastic job at inhabiting this character through the adventures. I loved this film, and it's one I will buy for myself when I can find it cheap on Blu-Ray :) Probably 9/10 from me. NEW MOON Oh dear. We got this one because Zee wanted a laugh ... but it wasn't a laugh, it's possibly the worst thing I've seen on DVD for some time (and considering that we watched Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 the other night, that's saying something). The plot ... there isn't one. It seems to consist of sulky-faced teenager Bella being dumped by her sparkly vampire man Edward, and then moping about it for months and months. She is so joyless that I can't see why anyone would spend any time with her at all. And Edward is just as bad! We got about 45 minutes into the film, and the Blu-Ray player decided that it had had enough and started to slip and pause the film. We thought this was a sign and so stopped watching it. A dreadful, dreadful piece of cinema with no redeeming features that I can see. At least Twilight was fun to watch in some areas, but this, this is angst-ridden plotless rubbish. The makers should be ashamed at themselves. 0/10 from me on that one. Waste of film. DOGHOUSE I'd heard about this one, and even saw some of the preproduction images for it (We had dug them out for Telos' book It Lives Again! as Axelle discussed the film in there). It's a comedy Zombie film, probably most aligned to Shaun of the Dead, but in the mould of Zombieland too. A group of blokes, all having been dumped or in trouble with their wives and girlfriends head off to the deserted town of Moodley to get drunk and forget their troubles. One of their number is getting divorced and this is their excuse: to help their mate. When they get to Moodley though, they find it deserted except for hoards of zombie-like women, all insane and out to kill any man they find. Their mission is then to survive to the end of the film. I loved this. It's a great fun film with lots of silly moments - I laughed out loud at the Zombie granny with the Zimmer frame. The acting is strong - it has Noel Clark in it for that almost obligatory Who connection - and the set-up is very neat. It transpires that it's all a government test of some toxic weapon to turn women on men and thus win wars without needing soldiers ... nice. The effects are grisly and gruesome - I had to look away at the finger cutting scene - but the comedy is also played to good effect. The female Zombies, or Zombabes as they are termed, are brilliant. All with the tools of their trade: cleaver for a butcher, scissors for a hairdresser, dressed as a shopgirl, a hooker, a bride, a goth monstrosity, a huge hulking housewife with curlers ... and they move fast too, with intelligence to take an axe to a pole supporting a platform on which one of our heroes is hiding. It rattles along at a nice pace, and is a very good way to spend an evening. I don't think it's quite as good as Zombieland for entertainment value - but then that film is pretty amazing - but it does a very good job. 8/10 from me for that one. David

Sunday, April 04, 2010

End of Ten and Starter for Eleven

Hiya my little chickens (well, it is Easter after all) This is the annual 'David determines to write on his blog each week -athon' ... let's see how far we get. Honestly, I do often think that I should pen something each week, but every week there's way too many other things to do. But today, Easter Sunday, with the sun shining, Sam in bed with the baddest flu/cold I've ever seen, I have an hour or so to spare, so here I am putting some thoughts down. This year has been hectic already, and it looks like continuing in the same vein. We were out in LA for the annual Gallifrey Convention at the end of Feb, and it was a great event as always. Lovely to make some new friends there, and to catch up with all our old mates. Highlight was seeing Ben and Kim get married at the event, but there were so many wonderful moments. The costumes were again awesome, with everything from multiple Zoes to Sally Sparrow to White Robots and even the Ergon strutting the corridors. And best not to mention the soriority girl party one evening - about 1000 cloned 5 foot tall, skinny, blonde all-American teenagers in little black dresses and red shoes invaded the convention halls! Now there's a story to write about! After the convention we stayed on in LA to relax with Frazer, staying with mates Josh and Em. We got to visit Redondo Beach where Sam got a genuine rare black pearl from an oyster bought at a store selling them. We got to see the incredibly brilliant film Batch Slap for the first time - and this film is superb. Trust me. Get some mates together with some beers and wine and slap it in the DVD. A rollicking grindhouse release about three gorgeous girls with big boobs and big guns looking for diamonds in the desert. It's smart and sassy, violent and cheesy ... everything you need from a fun film. Check it out. Another film we saw at Josh's for the first time was Trick r Treat, a smashing little Halloween film about a town and what happens there one year. It's clever and thought provoking as well as creepy and scary ... what if Samhain really does come and visit ... another recommended DVD. Back from LA, and last weekend we were off to World Horror Convention in Brighton (which is probably where Sam picked up the sickness). The event was great, but the hotel was too cramped and way too airless and hot. Apparently loads of people got sick there ... not good. It was lovely to meet up with old friends Jim Herbert, Neil Gaiman and Graham Masterton again, as well as to make lots of new friends. Tanith Lee was beyond awesome and it was an honour to sit and chat with Chelsea Quinn Yarboro. Telos launched some brilliant books by Simon Clark and Vincent Chong, and all in all everyone seemed to have a great time. We managed to find a really nice gluten-free Indian restaurant on Saturday lunchtime and spent a quiet and relaxed time in the company of Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James which was an appreciated respite from the mania of the convention. And so to Who, the usual reason why I put finger to keyboard and muse on what's been going on. I realise that I never blogged on the last David Tennant special, and the reason is that despite watching it a couple of times, I really couldn't find the energy to write about it. It was big and bombastic, full of giant, crazy ideas ... and totally lacking in any depth or plot whatsoever. Every turn of the wheel brought more unexplained nonsense: the Master is dead but can be resurrected with some DNA from his human wife, who has a plan to stop him, but he comes back anyway as some sort of flying superhero who can burn people to death with electric bolts fired through his hands ... then there's a machine which can make everyone the same ... and aliens ... and a spaceship ... and then Time Lords who can somehow send a crystal back in time through a hologram, and who made the Master mad all along so that they could return ... only for them to be banished again ... while the Doctor goofs and gurns and ends up saving Wilf only to die himself - but not after he has time to re-visit everyone he has ever met ... I *still* have no idea what it was all meant to be about. And then the Doctor regenerates and the TARDIS explodes ... well that makes about as much sense as anything else we'd seen in the story, so why not. Which brings us sort of up to date and the debut of young Matt Smith as the Doctor. I had very few ideas as to what to expect - I tend to avoid spoilers and reading news pages - and so it was all pretty fresh and new to me. The one thing I *really* disliked was the incidental music. From the choral harmonies through the 'jokey music' as the Doctor tried to decide what to eat, through the bombastic symphonies and back to choral again ... Murray Gold seems to have no idea that drama should not need the music to tell you what to feel at every moment along the way. It was all too much. I wish that someone else had been brought in to look after this critical aspect of the show as Gold seems to layer everything with sledgehammer precision, and leaves no room for appreciating the acting and performances as his choir sings in the background. Other than the music, the other aspect which I find it hard to like, at least initially, is the title music, and the title sequence. Now Doctor Who has a long history in this area. Successive producers have tweaked both to try and keep it all up to date, and, more importantly, timeless. This worked just fine for the first 17 years or so, but then John Nathan-Turner decided that rather than creepy electronics and timeless graphics, he wanted the theme to be played on a kazoo, and the titles to be composed of starfields and a logo created from an old Letraset pack. This then got worse and worse until we ended up with the McCoy 'tumbling kid's blocks' logo, and music which was dated at the time. I don't know about you lot, but when I look back today at those stories, I *still* feel the same today as I did then, that the titles and music did the stories no favours whatsoever. And I feel the same about this new set. The theme seems to have lost all it's oomph, it's weak and spangly where it should be pumping and driving, and it's not otherworldly at all. And the sequence - well the last little bit is OK, when the 'DW' splits away from the logo, becomes a TARDIS and vanishes down the tunnel of fire ... but the first bit, with the TARDIS spinning along a cloud tunnel, being hit by bolts of lightning, is desperate. I am actually reminded of the C Baker sequence, where they added in lots of little wooshes and stuff to try and hide the fact that the music was so poor. I've seen this a couple of times now on YouTube and it's not improved for me. It seems very 'young' as well - maybe I'm just getting old - but Doctor Who should have a timeless appeal and not be rooted in today's CGI world. It is especially unfortunate that this is the case, as otherwise the episode was really good. Matt Smith seemed to grasp the mettle and made the Doctor his own, but Karen Gillan as Amy was just awesome. I guessed she was a strippergram straight off - no Policewoman would have a skirt that short - but she was sparky and endearing, and had the best backstory yet. The girl playing her as a young girl was also excellent, although she really needs a talking to about letting strange men into her house at night. All the stuff with the food was padding ... unnecessary, and strangely worrying to see the Doctor spitting out good food like that. There wasn't even a clever way that this was worked into the plans of the Atraxi (the 'Eyeballs in the Sky' from the old Perishers cartoon made large) later on. I liked the direction and the idea of the monster ('Prisoner Zero') being one or more objects ... the whole thing rattled along nicely, and I can't think of any annoying lapses in logic which threw you out of the narrative and rendered it all meaningless - something which tended to blight the last five years of the show. So for the moment it's a thumbs up from me for the new series. Steven Moffat knows what he is doing, and I hope and trust that the next few weeks will get better and better. There is a tradition of the opening episode being a little lighter in tone and content (New Earth, Smith and Jones etc) and so this bodes well for the rest of the season. I can only assume that Steven was on holiday when the title sequence and music was approved ...