Saturday, 29 May 2010

Dr Who - first dull episode of the series

It started at a good pace. The first episode, The Hungry Earth was fun, had a good set-up and many nice character moments. It delivered efficiently, was not the best Dr Who but was enjoyable.

And then Cold Blood, well, people were captured, escaped, captured, escape, sit and talk for a while, are captured and escape. It just felt like a lot of running around for no real purpose. There is twenty minutes of running around at the start of the episode, everyone is where they would be if they hadn't done anything. Then there are lots of dull talky scenes where the direction of every conversation was obvious and telegraphed by the situation, without any real character work. Ultimately, there was not enough story here for two parts. The writer and producers never found a way for the narrative to kick up a gear for the second half. Victory of The Daleks needed that kind of space as it had too much story for one part. For capture and escape you need dread, surprise, ingenuity to get out of peril. Here people got out of trouble because the other side wasn't very good, or backed away, for no solid reason. Repeatedly. As this is something that hasn't happened this year under Steven Moffat's command then it felt like a cheat, as the show has been intelligent in the get-out-of-peril situation. So putting all the lazy escapes into one episode is angering.

Worse was the dialogue, which felt in style like the Russell T Dvaies era, as if the story was written for Tennant. But not done very well. It felt like first draft, we'll write vague cover dialogue and then work out the real talk later. But then the filler was shot. As the first episode was good yet the second so dull, the reason for the extreme quality drop is confusing.

The direction in this second story was pedestrian. The script never gave the director much room but all the camera moves and set-ups seemed samey, and the actors never were directed towards sharpness of intent. Everyone seemed to wander through the episode.

So this was the duff one. There was some interesting moment about the over-all arc at the end and a companion died but the death should have had impact but didn't (odd, as the character was good). Next week looks moody and odd, so hopefully this is a one episode blip.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Changing your opinion on a film.

Its a funny thing with the Coen brothers. A year or so ago a friend of mine rewatched Intolerable Cruelty, having hated it before. On rewatch he found it to be a lot better, funnier, not the disaster he initally felt in first viewing. Yesterday I rewatched Burn After Reading. I remember seeing it with friends and being in a rage for some reason about it. Don't know why. I found the story dull, the dialogue pedestrian, the acting obvious and one-note. Basically not in the same league as Old Country For Old Men, one of the Coen's best films. Not even at the same level of Intolerable Cruelty or The Ladykillers, two of the least-loved Coen films (which I have a soft spot for). On the rewatch it improved quite a bit. It is still not among the Coen's best (its dialogue still lacks the weirdness and precision of their best), and slight compared to No Country For Old Men, but a lot better than I thought it would be. The aimlessness I hated in the first viewing seemed more interesting, as these idiots squabble and fight, ego run amuck as everyone is terrified of being found to be old and useless, now seemed interesting and true to life. Funny that.

Also watched that great old Chris Walken b-movie The Prophecy, about an attempt to stop a second war in heaven, placed against the backdrop of the American west. Watching Walken as the angel Gabriel rant about killing thousands and turning towns into salt does wonders for your mood. Eric Stoltz, always an under-rated actor (see him recently keep the annoyingly bitty but fascinating Caprica moving forward) is terrific as a lone angel trying to stop armaggeddon, getting killed half-way through. (the film is vicious in this way) Best of all was Viggo Mortenston as Satan. He out-evil's Walken, which is an achievement in itself, and is one of the better devils in recent years, just subtle and malicious, only needing words and gestures to get his point across.(But is also very good at eating angel's hearts, eating petals and placing his hands on people's shoulders in very creepy ways)

I have essentially gone through the Blackadders in the past few weeks. Wonderful comedies.

To end, Steven Moffat's take on Dr Who is still going strong by the series mid-point. The last two episodes were high-level entertainment. Vampires In Venice was more of a romp while Amy's Choice was more psychological horror with fun monsters. Of the two I preferred Amy's Choice, although Vampires In Venice had a lot of entertainment value, with the Doctor's reactions to meeting vampires "Oh this is like Christmas!" to his showdown with the sympathetic villlainess, as well as being told that he looks like a nine-year old. And of course his library card with the picture of William Hartnell on it.

Amy's Choice had fun villains, whether it be crazy old folk to an ice sun that the tardis is floating towards slowly (used two top-class villain ideas in one episode) but also had a bit more dramatic meat. Two realities, which one is real (turns out neither are), one representing the fears of the Doctor (his tardis slowly dies and gets cold, trapping him and his friends on board to perish) of that or Amy's boyfriend Rory (that his ideal village life goes insane, with all that he helps trying to kill him). Its good stuff, especially as we find that the antangonist is the Doctor's subconsious, so he's the villain.

So the series is gearing up to be the best of the relaunch for me. Hope it keeps going this way.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Director's Cuts

I'm doing another blog on this as I've seen two in the past week that make we wonder why studios butcher their own films so badly.

I've seen Kingdom Of Heaven and Dark City Directors Cuts and wondered why in hell they were not released in these versions initially. In both films the films are longer but feel shorter to watch, as they are paced properly, so you don't look at your watch, wonder why the stories feel like they have bits missing from them.

Dark City suffered from a terrible introduction in its original theatrical form, that took all the mystery out of a mystery noir film, meaning that you were always watching, impressed by the atmosphere but knowing where it was going. So it was marking time and then whatever they threw at you as an image made an impact but made the film seem disjointed and unsure of itself. This new cut allows the film to be a mystery, seems to have had a few more additions but importantly allows you to enter the world as it was originally intended, meaning that the film feels myserious and interesting, engaging you to follow the images. I hadn't seen it for so long that I'd forgotten some of it. It felt likea  proper story for the first time, and its strange ending worked, in a way that was clunky and odd before.

Kingdom Of Heaven, meanwhile, lost about fifty minutes of story. Not sub-plots, not just character bits but mostly actual story and character elements that make sense of what is going on. Its original cut felt like an epic ruined. It aspired to be epic but had a TV-movie feel to its story-telling. No-one had weight. Now adding the rest of the story, all the characters have interesting motivations that cannot avoid causing disaster in response to others, the fights now mean something, the actual story means something. Its one casting flaw, Orlando Bloom, in the lead, remains. He feels too young and there are times when you know there's more in the set-up than what we see. But its director's cut is still a real epic and one of Ridley Scott's best films. (I've recently seen Body Of Lies, one of Ridley Scott's worst, most boring films, which had so many problems, including beign too long)

I still don't get why studios butcher their own films. People watch films for stories. They may like the story of not but why butcher the chance of people seeing the actual story, instead making it alieanating by strange tactics. All it does is make you lose money. Both of these films were financial failures. I can't help but think they would have done better if they were released the way they were meant to be shown.

The Election Polls

After checking in with the Election Polls and all the back and forth with debates, it turns out that they haven't changed at all. I think its now just best to wait until Thursday and ignore them. No-one has a clue the exact make-up. It seems to still be hung parliament, which seems to be the best thing as not one party seems to have enough of an idea how to get out of this mess to deserve a true win.

Dr Who Series 5

Its five episodes in and the new Dr Who series is looking very good. Funny, eccentric, with quite a bit of old-fashioned technology design. Its a terrific reworking of the show.

Earlier posts show that I was getting a bit annoyed with the increasingly tired specials but this series has gotten the series back on track. I don't think its had this type of purpose since the Ecclestone year, which was Russell T Davies' first year in charge and had a similar energy in set-ups and making an impression with the set-up.(I think the series got a bit too variable in quality following that first year).

What's especially interesting is the a slight Avengers influence and the new show has a bit more of a fifties/sixties sci-fi movie feel (including the Peter Cushing movies), has a new team, and a surer feel to what its about in regard to its world. Matt Smith has energy and is pretty odd as the Doctor, the weirdness of the world working better in reaction to his strangeness, especially when talking to a giant eye, done intentionally as a 50's sci-fi giant eye, as if its normal. Its one of the interesting elements of casting and mood set-up. Get it right and everything clicks, as if the world is there and ready to be explored, (and allows for weaker plot elements) but get it wrong there is a widening gulf of interest in story that can't be successfully covered, as the internal pacing of all the small details of that world is all wrong.

The first episode, The Eleventh Hour, had a terrific first half, as good as the show gets, then got a slightly obvious plot resolution, and a finale that brought it all together beautifully. But the charm and atmosphere carried everything, the out-there visuals bringing it all toghether. Best moments were Smith's Doctor talking to the little girl post-regeneration. Best joke is that for the entire epsiode Smith's Doctor has not seen what he now looks like but keeps on getting recognised due to a time travel twist, then an alien imitates him, which doesn't work on him because he still hasn't looked in a mirror, saying "That's rubbish, who's that!"

The show truly kicked into high gear with the atmospheric The Beast Below, full of glasses of water, masks, crazy smilers and a joke about democracy, which had another one of the great early Smith moments "I'm going to stay out of trouble... badly." It also had a great moment with him revealing his past to his companion, done with power and precision within ten seconds. It's end may not have had a twist to rival its build but its ending worked and it's an excellent illustration on how to put together a story for a 45 minute running-time.

Victory Of The Daleks was the weaklest of the bunch so far, being a little short, needing a little bit more at the front end of the story, had the fun idea of the Daleks playing nice (taken for an old lost story Power Of The Daleks) and annoying The Doctor, goading him to make a series of bad decisions. Into that we have a series of world war 2 moments that don't feel as interesting as the rest of the plot. There was also a Dalek win and a redesign of the daleks, which apparantly annoyed a lot of people by changing the daleks to colourful 60's style designs, which I of course loved.

The Time Of Angels and Flesh And Stone were a weeping angels two-parter, probably the strongest story of the series so far, definately the most atmospheric, even if the dire circumstances meant less humour at times, although there are subtle jokes that might not be appreciated. (Priests being killed off by going into a giant white light.). The story was very interesting, paying up a wider story arc while keeping to the threat, playing up the terrific visual idea of people fighting for their lives in a tomb, priests fighting images of godhood and losing their lives and past existance because of it. It had a great openign gag, with Smith moving through a museum saying "Wrong!" to almost eveyrthing to keep score and also had a terrific cliff-hanger moment, with Smith facing off the angels with a great speech, and a funny resolution, that's hilarious because it buys them about ten seconds before the next attack.

Three great dialogue moments:

That's not the plan.
There's a plan?

I dunno yet - I haven't finished talking.
Then there's-
Bishop: "Doctor Song, I've lost three clerics today, you trust this man?"

River: "I absolutely trust him."

Bishop: "He's not some kind of mad man?"

River: "... ... I absolutely trust him."
"Amy, listen to me; I am 907 years old. Do you know what that means?"
"It's been a while."
So its been great so far. Other terrific elements are Amy Pond, a companion who doesn't take any of the Doctor's rules as something to be followed in any way, a sense of excitement of the universe at large, and an emerging threat that wipes out events from history, that's tied to the companion in ways that are not yet obvious.
So its a great new series.
Other new series I've been watching are Ashes To Ashes, which is better than it has been during its run, now having a real threat, but still isn't up to the standard of Life On Mars, as it heads for the series end (I don't think the end will be that clever. It's red-herrings feel a little too clear). Also Burn Notice, a terrific, light spy series that keeps things fast-paced and has a solid set-up of a CIA forced out and now has to find out who set him up while making a living as a freelance problem solver.
Finally I saw Iron Man 2. Its fun, pretty good, if a little slow at the start. I like the first one better. This one never manages the character/plot balance of something like The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens or Superman 2 but is still well worth a look. It has some funny character beats and situations, even if Mickey Rourke isn't used as much as he should. Nor is Downey Jnr's "I'm dying " dynamic worked as cleanly as it could have been. But can't complain as its good entertainment that sets up a wider world that could be interesting to see in future films.
So there we go. Back to the batcave.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

More Election Nonsense

Actually I was thinking how exhausted Gordon Brown must be. He's been at it for 13 years solid, plus the 1997 election campaign for Blair and its build-up. Then working under Blair for so long (I don't think Blair would make an easy boss). The guy must be so tired.

Its one thing I notice in the debates. The other two leaders have the natural advantage of no real experience, just what they could do. They really have not had the kind of disaster that affects any administration, nor the building of programmes that don't work, funding short-falls, dealing with not alienating voters while doing what you think is best long-term. Not that I'm saying he's right all the time. I don't think he is. But he definitely has the disadvantage in that distinctive "no, that's impractical" knowledge that becomes a hinderence after a while, especially while trying to get people moving behind your ideas.

I think he's doing okay. He was stuck with Blair's legacy, a worldwide financial collapse as soon as he took office, and general media love of seeing him fail. While he made some bad mistakes, I don't think he had a chance ultimately.

Every so often you see a change coming. I don't like the change, think its a disaster in lots of ways, but am stuck with it, hoping the liberals can make a dent now.