Monday, 19 December 2011

Best of 2011

 Best Films

The Tree Of Life- Amazing style and complicated emotions.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Terrific reworking on a great story
Living In the Material World – A terrific 4 hour documentary by Scorsese (his best film for years) on George Harrison.
Inside Job - A horrifying look at the financial meltdown. Very well-researched and put together.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – Great suspense and action scenes, some decent humour and a game cast, make this the most enjoyable entertainment of the year.
Super – A twisted tale of a wannabee super-hero with a religious edge. Very funny and dark.
Attack The Block - Energetic, fun pulp, done the way it should be. Fun characters, a defined space, and a story that flows logically from one situation to the next, with an emotional resolution. So few modern films can do that.
Good entertainments

Fast Five – Was simply stupid entertainment of the highest order. A simple heist that’s a backdrop for over the top- action. A bank gets dragged through a city and destroys most of it. No explanations necessary.
Thor – An entertainment that’s more character-based than most superhero films. Nothing original in it but the execution was consistently engaging and the story moved forward with pace.
The Fighter – Shallow Rocky-type story that is predictable in every story beat but the director gave it a solid world to build from, giving the film a pleasing feel. Not a world-beater
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Over-long, and not quite as smart as it thinks it is, (I spotted both twists halfway through). Yet the atmosphere and pleasing grumpiness of the lead characters, as well as the sense of a corrupt world choking itself, keep the story working.

Worst Films

Suckerpunch- Probably likely to be the worst film of the decade. Sexist, tawdry, idiotic and boring.
Super 8 & Source Code – Were fine and over-done in style/acting for a time then the films got into the third act and got stunngingly/insultingly dumb. Annoying waste of potential.
Green Lantern - Was fun in a laugh at it way but was also really stupid in basic plot and character. It had a finale that lasted about three minutes and made little sense, had a dumb finale twist, and generally felt like it had been put together without any real care. A real waste of time and money.
Pirates Of The Caribbean 4: Whatever The Hell Its Called - Boring, repetitive, with a plot that should take up about ten minutes of screen time. For every decent idea, there's about three bad action scenes to drag you down.


I’ve been watching a lot more TV than films. A great year for that.
Dr Who Series 6, Breaking Bad Season 1 & 2, Party Down Season 1 & 2, Community Season 2, Mad Men Seasons 2 & 3, Sons of Anarchy Season 1, Generation Kill, Treme Season 1, Chuck Season 4, Lost (all seasons), Wonders of the Solar System & Universe, Monty Python - The Truth - The Lawyer’s Cut, Star Wars Clone Wars seasons 1 & 2

Best films seen from previous years

Alice, The Gorgon, Hell Comes To Frogtown, Privilege, Piranha 3-d, Coraline, Lilo & Stitch, Only Angels Have Wings, The Smashing Machine, Spellbound.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Another bloody Star Wars controversy

The Star Wars films have a new blu-ray release, a few changes, and of course, whining fans in their forties.

The problem? The addition of two subtle "no's"in the Darth Vader Bobble-head emotional scene at the end of Return Of The Jedi, before he kills the emperor. Now this is not the "nnoooooooooo!!!" like the end of Revenge Of The Sith. Its a simple no. Its quiet. It helps take your attention to the bobble-head movements of David Prowse in the scene. It kinda helps an unfortunately directed end scene to be honest. I kinda liked that one of my least favourite scenes in all six films was improved. Now apparantly people have had enough. Jesus.

Am kinda bored with this. Essentially, despite what geeks may protest, there have not been many changes to Star Wars over the years. The Greedo thing was the most controversial. I wasn't very impressed with the room full of storm-troopers as I can imagine something better (and the added Jabba scene slows down the pace a bit) But who cares. I've seen worse in movies I respect. (Come on, let's complain about all the plot holes in Blade Runner). But over-all, I've never been that bothered. Its not changing plots or doing much damage. The films still work. They're still fun. Its a few minor edits. But for some, ye gods!

An article is on-line suggesting that some people show grow up and I think that's fair.

As I am going to now write about Paul, I should add that, as usual, the most unintenionally funniest hissy-fit came from Simon Pegg. He was going on about the Greedo scene (we got a compromise, give it a rest)  and Hayden Christiansen being at the end of Jedi as a ghost. So instead of some old guy that no-one has any connection to, from a very weak, tacked on Darth Vader death scene, who that you see for about a minute as a ghost, and who looks different, we get the guy who played this central character for teh series for two entire movies, and had most of the main dramatic moments. If they hadn't changed it, I would have thought it odd and unsatisfying. So its nit-picking for the sake of nostalgia.

But I am going to be nice about Paul. It was funny. It worked, was a good minor comedy. As with Hott Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, there are good little running jokes and character beats. The stories are constructed to be more like 80's Robert Zemckis films than the obvious Speilberg- Romero influences, especially in this case Used Cars, which had a similar accumulation of crazies and whackoos in central and supporting characters in backwoods America. The director Greg Mottola, was the strongest part of this set-up. He kept the film balanced so it was never too over-the -top in the wilder parts nor too slow in character parts. The main flaw of the film is the usual Pegg weakness, that he's too tied to the past and doesn't manage to find new ways to look at the set-ups. In Shaun Of the Dead the way the zombies mixed with the London urban surroundings  and dysfunctional character set-ups made it work and not be a problem but in this one there was less character invention, scene to scene invention beyond relying on actor quirks, and the film at times had the feeling of a collection of I loved that from other movies, especially ET, replaying images without enough tweaks to make it interesting or memorable. By the end it was kinda getting annoying that so little effort had been made to step out of fanboy mentality and try and have an idea of its own. So the film was good but not stellar.

Seen some other films. The best one was by far I Sell The Dead, a low-budget grave-robbing/Burke And Hare derived horror comedy, set in the 19th century, where the bodies dug up turn out to be real monsters. The movie has a lot of charm and invention, has little stories and adventures within the central one, which is of a grave-robber telling a priest of his wrong-doings. It is proud to be a horror movie, to have joy with twisting convention, keeps using its structure and monsters in an intriguing way (one of bodies dug up turns out to be an alien, which is funny considering its time-period setting). It stars horror director Larry Fesseden and former hobbit Dominic Monaghan, and both seem to be enjoying themselves.

I've seen Super, with Rainn Wilson as a crazy wannabee superhero. Its not as good as I hoped, feeling a little over-long even at one and a half hours but does have a lot of good elements that makes it worthwhile. It puts the recent Watchmen and Kick-ass to shame in regards to invention regarding DIY superheroes and how crazy they must be, as well as detailing the levels of nuerosis and weakness that propel them to the need to stake out something for themselves. I especially like the link of pulp morals to Christian fundamentalism and how that can warp someone who a few problems to go absolutely beyond the acceptable. Its low-budget intenionalyl schlocky feeling is sometimes a good thing, when it comes to the nromal part of the film, to character beats, to how fantasy affects people in a the normal world, but can be a limitation as the film moves on, as the film can sometimes feel unintentionally cheap. But its a minor flaw in a fun film.

I also watched MacGruber, which is a fun if slightly over-long 80's pastiche. Its a film that needed a slightly more inventive plot to string the jokes through but soem of the jokes are brilliant so you can't complain too much. Its a fun movie with a good cast hamming it up.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Breaking Bad and Tron Legacy

Have been watching Breaking Bad Season 2 and Tron legacy.

Breaking Bad has had a lot of praise and its wonderful. The writing is in character and plot is excellent and surprising, is always intrigued by its world, which is important for a TV show. The acting is terrific, especially in small details and looks that often propel the narrative, character weakness in these looks, in small narrative loose ends, always seeming to lead to bad ends.

The fun of the show is watching the incremental details and blind spots that a person has will lead them to staggeringly awful decisions. The choice of a terminal cancer patient Walt saying to himself I'm doing this for a good reason, to give my family money when I die, even though creating pure crystal meth, starts off disturbing, and gets increasingly twisted, as the details of how to set yourself up as a supplier is far more work than imagined, leading to lies, death, a need to feel important. Walt's pride is horrific, as he refuses help that would have stopped the dealer sitution from occuring, or given him an early out, then increasingly pushes his dealer partner Jesse into darker dealer enforcment situations, which Walt refuses to get involved in directly, leading to many deaths and ruined lives. And so many lies.

The irony of the characters keep coming up. Walt's wife, Skylar, who he lies to keep his business from, is as proud, annoying and as headstrong as he is, is a very funny take on the normal character. Watching these two fight is always fun as neither of them are capable of backing down, only beatign a tactical retreat, and they tend to be in action showing the weakness of the other. the weakness of both is rage that the world seemingly doesn't live up to their warped standards, adn that they both feel left behind by the world. Both always act as if they are the rational ones but neither truly are.

Jessie, Walt's partner, begins to slowly become the sympathetic character of the show. He's a weak man, addicted to crystal meth, trying to survive, not that ambitious and initially annoying. But he is driven by Walt to succeed, being pushed into increasingly awful situations by the partnership until he's a shell of a man by the end of season 2.

The show si terrific in all these details. And its has Danny Trejo's head but on top of a tortoise.

I've also been watching Burn Notice. There's not much to say about that beyond its loads of fun. Well-written acted and engaging entertainment, with no pretensions.

Tron Legacy is a fun, silly movie that's far better directed than it is written.

It was written by two guys who wrote for Lost and shares with Lost the useless hero and the attitude of we don't need to answer many questions raised, if in fact any. The crippling aspect of the film is in its story beats, which rips off Matrix Revolutions consistently and badly (a virtual world under threat causing problems for the real world, machine evolution, everything ultimately is tied to duality of a soul and finding purpose from that).

Tron Legacy takes place about 30 years after Tron and is about the mystery of the Jeff Bridges character disappearing from the world and his son trying to find him. After an appalling first few minutes of info dump to link Tron to its sequel, the story of the son searching for his father settles down to the the most solid aspect of the film, taking us from the real world, to the world of Tron, its battles, its power structures. All those elements, even if startlingly unoriginal in every plot point, are solid. Even as the film goes a bit crazy, after the son finds Jeff Bridges in Tron, this element remains solid.

Not that its well written in character. The lead actor Garret Hedlund, who plays the son, struggles with some appalling character work inflicted upon him by the writers. His character is pouty, more than a bit dumb, never listens, never has any real plan, leading to a lack of direction for the film. Its a staggeringly awful peice of writing development scene to scene but the actor, while not able to make the character unique, manages to at least overcome the writing and make the character work within the film. But its leaves the film stranded in a set of sequences without any narative momentum or core, without an interesting goal. Jeff Bridges isn't given much interesting scenes to play either, as the mysterious lost father, who is found and who changes his mind about every ten minutes but being a terrific actor, hides it with eccentricity. So the lack of centre for the film is a major problem. That's the downside. Plus the plot of the virtual characters getting ready to come into the real world to kill us all. That's a dumb plot device that's difficult to overcome.

And yet I like the film. The director Jospeh Kosinski has a good eye, is the main power behind keeping the film working. He seems to be aware of the flaws in script and tries to sell the concepts visually, to use images and cinematic technique to sell the simple idea of a magic techno world. Despite Tron being almost one-note in visual idea, a computer world always stays a computer world, he kept the visuals intereresting and varied by changing perspective, by revealing the Tron world and shadings slowly, knowing to use a strong series of images when there's a dodgy plot turn coming (such as the end and the army of Tron soldiers, which looks so good you forget the dumbness of the idea behind it). He sold the real world and the world of Tron as related to each other in interesting ways, liking architecture, the villains in almost CEO type glass guildings compared to dungeon-like dwellings of the creators of the technology in both worlds. The lack of directoon within the characters is made interesting by how he frames them, making their confusion seem more interesting within the world than it should be. Despite there being no real plot or character development in this area, the journey the lead character takes is sold beatifully by visual information, by the changes in location, pacing of scenes, styles of landscape. The idea of Jeff Bridges fighting another younger version of himself within Tron, of being a soul cut in half, is a non-event narratively, as not much time is spent with either Bridges character but Bridges and the way Kosinski shoots Bridges throughout suggests an intriguing connection and disaffection, a lack of centre to both characters. The finale to this beat works only visually, as the plot reasons seem dull but the idea of a person inegrating two parts of his soul are fascinating.

Tron Legacy almost works as a silent movie. None of the dialogue is worth a damn but the visuals are always intriguing and suggest a more developed and fascinating world beyond the limits of the writers. Its best to view it the way you would view the theatrical cut of Fincher's Alien 3. (the Alien 3workprint cut solves many of these problems but elaboration and detail) Yes there are lots of problems, the narrative starts and stops but lok at how the director sets up shots, places people within landscape, is in love with the visual aspects. So I recommend it, but be aware that its more about the start of a promising director rather than a successful film on the whole.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Lost & Caprica

I've finished watching the final seasons to Lost and Caprica, finding that both could be fascinating and exasperating, and that they were effective in very different ways. The reason that I combine the shows in one post is that I saw their conclusion within a  few days of each other and their respective success/failures interest me in response to one another. Do you want well-done character beats that mean little  as it is a genre exercise ultimately or crazy idea-led stories with real-life ties.

In my experience its usually one or the other. The set-up of a complex series of characters tends to make development tricky, with a lack of idealisation in characters redemptions, actions multi-layered and difficult to take a side on, leading to what is in most cases is inertia. Pulp tends to pop along with bells and whistles, is fun. On Lost was that no matter how complex they tried to make the story it was ultimately safe and very unthreatening in ideas, being the hero's journey, which is a cop-out for ideas as its based on a sentimental lie that people rise to the occasion no matter what, rather than conmpromises and inertia leading to actiosn that can take on a positive or negative state. In Lost no-one was ever going to be confonted with anything too complicated. The characters could go dark but there was ultimately a mysterious reason, that could serve as a cop-out to some degree. It never quite got as ambitious in character or situation, or as feral as I would like.

Caprica, like Battlestar Galactica, had a more complicated take to life, to fate, even to the great narrative cheat, divine intervention, where the divine is an ultimately psychotically destructive and disgusting, used when a society has broken down with no chance of escape, the intervention lead on from the insanity of the characters that lead to destruction. It was ambitious but with Caprica the drama was less than involving. A show like Deadwood or Caprica's sister show Battlestar Galactica can have stories of complex ideas and emotions, as well as defined characters that can be linked to genre, can be out of control, so the prinicpal drive is the chaos but the genre brakes are there but can be used carefully, as safe elements for the audience to hook onto, such as characters like Adama.  The Sopranos and Mad Men have these safer elements. There is traditional elements in any long-running drama that are always fake, sentimental, that create a sense of life that is not entirely true, that make the more difficult elements easier to take, even if they can be subtly subverted, to tie into audience projections on a character. But characters are the glue to be worked from in television, and tend to be the thing that sinks a show, as the characters get to be too idealised and sentimental. Caprica never really mastered character involvement week to week.

Lost lasted for six seasons, had advantage in being a complete series arc, as well as having stronger dramatic characters, while Caprica was complex, grown up, had superior ideas, and was linked to the story of Battlestar Galactica, a show that Lost never truly could compete with in quality. If I were to be honest, Lost was the more enjoyable show, but it could also be by far a worse show than Caprica ever managed.

Lost started strong, sagged in the middle of season 2 to the later parts of season 3, recovered and was at its peak until the end of season 5 then had an interesting but very confused final season. It was a fantastical suspense show that wasn't always very good at suspense, as it relied heavily on idiot plot, where character have to be idiots for the plot to work. Its strength was in its fantasical set-up and some of its characters, its weakness was in it could be deeply unimaginative on plot solution, on variation of story beats, and had bad instincts on its central characters, making them dull in ways that sentimental deands on characters can be on TV shows.

I'll start with the negatives because I'd like to end on the positives. The central character Jack was meant to be a hero but was a self-righteous moron, a surgeon with a severe impulse control problem. The writers at least recognised this about the character and did increasingly interesting things with it, expanding it around its weird contradictions. The female lead Kate was dumb, a self-destructive loser, was the world's worst fugitive, who was set up to be a kind person with a mysterious past, the ultimate TV cliche. Alas in plot she was always making things worse for herself with entirely useless actions, her reasons being a fugutive was selfish and unforgivable (and very stupid). the character was a disaster of smugness and bad writing and plot movements, working always on the wrong side of playing audience needs to play on underdogs. She only became reasonable halfway through season 5, when she became a little more selfless and self-aware of her own basic stupidity, like the Jack character. The actors playing these parts did a good job but they were acting the dregs when it came to characterisation, with pitiful attempts to play on genre expectations that always seemed to lack any real human tocuhes. The creators seemed to have a blind spot when it came to realising how much these characters were failing.

The mysteries could also be annoying in that I ultimately it had the internal logic of an episode of The Magic Roundabout, and was under-cooked. The writers set things up and generally didn't know how to resolve them dramatically, so moved on to the next idea and explained it away as being mysterious. That's acceptable a few times on a show but occured about five times a season at best. There were many episode of Lost that felt like a how not-to write a TV show in regards to its mythology. The suspense beats could feel the same way. Again its flaws went back to basic takes on genre expectations done badly.

On the other hand, much of the pleasure came from the wonderful situation, of the mysterious island, the Jules verne meets The Shining set-up, with eighties tech, creepy monsters, a thirst for killing off characters once they had served their purpose. It was an infallable set-up that the writers kept finding fun ways to add to, from the crash survivors investigating the island, the ghosts on the island, the hatch, the others, with flashbacks, flashforwards, time travel where the characters set-up some of their future, and even the sideway alternative universe. All of these were intriguing situations that had great moments of pulp character and suspense. As stories expanding from a genre base, the show made strong ties between the character's past, from before they ever met, which gave a feeling of further complexity. The show kept being inventive and atmospheric, having mysteries that worked for weeks or years as suspense tools, which is one of the main needs of a long-running show. The shame came in the reveals, such as in season three, where the others weren't as interesting as the two season set-up had promised. This type of weak ending to mystery is always a dissapointment and was a genuine repeating flaw of the show, suggesting a fatal lack of imagination in details beyond a genre-influenced point. But the show continually built well from its pulp origins, and did a lot around its flaws.

The supporting characters really made the show work. There were many but these characters had very well developed growth, had stages, where the characters were always spiky and intriguing. Lost had some terrific points of interest week to week away from the leads, in Sawyer, Locke, Desmond, Ben Linus, and Hurley, all of whom had continually added complications, who created the sense of depth in the world, all of whom would have worked better as the leads and who were spared the hack-work by not having to be the sentimental projections to the intended audience.

Sawyer started out as a con man, had a very good reading on people, could be guarranteed in early seasons to be sarcastic, selfish, offensive, then selfish some more. The character, who never got off the island until the ending, managed to have growth under constant duress to become the leader over the years, to overcome a horrifying back story  with a great pay-off (which felt nasty and had a damaging effect on him, and always made the Kate story look whiney and annoying,), and had the most affecting love story of the series with Juliet, who along with Sun, was one of the few well done female characters. The nastiness of his character at the start allowed the rest of the story to play intriguingly. The writers of this show had trouble when you were meant to like a character instantly but give them a damaged character needing development, they worked wonders.

Locke was a sad story, a man who ruined his life due to delusional behaviour, who had a blind spot when it came to how much he knew, a faithful believer who thought he was asking the right questions but who never understood people. He was a driven character, restless, always pushing ahead. The strength of this character was that it allowed the writers to get their awe of the situation of the island, to personalise it and to keep it to character, to allow it to develop in human touches, as well as to show failure and the darker side of faith and the magic. Even within the genre restraints of the show, Locke always gave hints of craziness, of a series ready to go interesting and beyond its limits.

Desmond was an intriguing figure in that he started off a minor character that the writers obviously liked, who started to develop as a man tortured by the island, by his fate, being being able to see through time, when he wanted a simple life. It was actually a very simple short story planted in the middle of more complex arcs which made it always stand out, as a simple beat that could come in every so often to clarify. He was also the character that allowed the show to have complex plots within a flawed human figure, as Desmond was always a little weak but determined. It was good used of a character adding background detail without a lot of obvious effort.

Ben Linus was a terrific villain in this story in that he was written as an all-out villain but was always human and vulnerable. He was the face of the island at the start, who was forced to do horrible things to protect it, who was always manipulative and dangerous to ftriends and enemies. But his arc, following the death of his daughter in season 4, become one of the more emotional beats in the story, far stronger than the central character dynamics, leading to a great episode where he confronts why he killed his own leader, the effects of his daughter's death, and the rage that followed that, as well as seeing what his life could have been like without the island. The finale gave him a few lovely scenes where he starts to come to terms with his past. It was a character that worked best on the idea of what fate or other influences make you do, and was a great example of a show working aginst the limitation of a genre base.

Hurley was probably the least complex character in the series, in that he basically a decent guy given some very bad luck, but like Desmond, when placed against the other characters, he worked, and deepened with careful handling, year by year, so that the revelation that he was destined to become the Island's protector succeeded beautifully, as it kept the emotion simple. Essentially you gotta love a show where the studly hero's fate turns out to be cannon fodder for the fat guy. Again it was a genre base, the nice fat guy, but it was done with sensitivity as Hurley never had to carry the series.

So Lost was a show that's base idea and supporting characters created a sense of complexity. It never was genuinely complex but gave the illusion of being so at times. But the entertainment was consistent. Like many a good TV series, the strengths of a show tend to make you overlook the weakness that it builds.

Caprica was a crazy show that wasn't quite sure of itself at times, that wasn't always set-up well, could be paceless, that it had a couple of characters that it never had a clue what to do with who could drag the show down, but it had some wonderful moments with terrific sci-fi ideas, was starting to develop itself into a strong show, and started to push its stronger characters in interesting directions.

The pilot is a very good set-up to a series, and highlights its best set-up, the father-daughter dynamic, using the idea of AI and robots as a way to play the frankenstein idea against real-life home tensions, by making the monsters an already living daughter who has died and been brought back to life. The Daniel and Zoe Graystone characters were where the story was strongest continually, in that it used technology to play around how parent-offspring relations can be difficult, emotional and twisted on both ends, in what both sides want, in how selfish both can be. In the first half of the series it was the dominant focus, then lost its way as other elements came into play before returning for its finale.

Some characters who started a bit vague and could be not very bright who started to develop once the writers started moving the story forward so the flaws of the characters in the start-up of a series could be forgiven. Characters like Joseph Adama, a lawyer with mob connections who slowly becomes involved in the creations of the cylons (and is the father of the lead of Battlestar Galactica), Clarice, the head of the terrorists, who is vain, vicious but with emotions that get complicated, and Lacey, the best friend of Zoe who gets trapped into the machinations of the crazy religious terrorist cult were made interesting. Characters like Graystone's wife and an agent investigating the terrorists, depsite have decent actors playing them, never got interesting because the characters were not developed in detail and had little internal drive in character interaction beyond where the story placed them. These two characters tended to sink the show whenever they had focus.

The show was frustrating. It never fully got going but had terrific moments of father-daughter consuion and dysfunction, some creepy highlighting of religious madness and myopia among seemingly rational people, and had some good mob stories. It was a show with everything there but it never quite came together. And yet its characters are more complicated than  anyone in lost. its sitution is more intriguing than the games and overdone/kinda silly metaphors of Lost. The first half was too slow and was about ideas and a second half with better pacing that tended to have less emphasis on ideas. But despite all of this, its more unique than Lost.

Both of these shows are recommended but have deep flaws. But what one is more worthy of your interest?

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Well Well Well

So Dr Who series 5 part 1 is finished. Figured I'd watch them all before posting, as it was half a season really.

Essentially its four very good stories, one pretty good story and a dud. Not bad for Dr Who. At least the dud was a one-parter and was fairly painless.

The best stories were fairly obvious. The three Moffat entries and The Gaiman story.

The Moffat stories could be seen as maybe a little too fast on first viewings, beginning with the death of the Doctor and unravelling from there, into the story of the Silence and its invasion, the first moon landing, haunted houses, subliminal images, rage-filled rescues and horrible mistakes, leading up to the revelation of who River Song is, which, while not a suprise, at least is consistant and has excellent internal logic in regards to what has come before. The stories make more sense on re-watch, have a wonderful take of fantasy and humour, of odd, scary moments. They also have terrific side characters, like the Victorian era Silurian and her lesbian maid/lover, or the woman soldier who has been looking for the Doctor. The weakest parts are in the first half of "The Good Man Goes To War", which is a bit busy and could have been tightened a little but the pay-offs in this episode are terrific (even if I'm not writing what they are, as its not been shown in other countries as of yet).

The Gaiman story, of the Doctor leaving the known universe, ending up confronted by the Tardis' soul in the body of a woman, was a simple fairystory idea that worked, as these ideas resonated, were properly worked out but kept visually simple, focused the pace but allowed for breathing room to get into the ideas. The story was directed upon the scary aspects of the ideas, of leaving the universe, of a graveyards of Tardis', of the Tardis being under the control of an alien, malignant creature, and of the Doctor confornting his oldest ally. It was a terrific story that also kept the resolutions affecting.

As for the other two stories, the Matthew Graham ganger story, set in an old castle, may not have had the out of control buzz of the half-season highlights but was a genuinely solid old-school two-parter, with a strong set-up of clones becoming self-aware, had some fun moments of identity-crisis (in a b-movie way) with images of flesh against stone that was lovely, in a sick sci-fi way. It also had some good supporting character turns in Raquel Cassidy's sarcastic boss and Sarah Smart's crazy ganger, and of course had Matt Smith versus Matt Smith, as the Doctor being delighted by his clone. It's one of those stories that may be appreciated a bit better as time passes, as its pleasures were traditional.

The dud was the pirate story. I don't have that much to write about it because it was so badly directed, making it difficult to judge anything else. The writing seemed decent if unexpectional in the mystery and conclusion but it had some momentum, with the black spot curses, the crazy creature coming from the sea, the mystery of the water/mirrors. It could have been at the level of the ganger story with a little added care, with a director with a feel for atmosphere and horror/sci-fi staging, or for modulation of scenes. Alas it was hobbled by this poor choice, which left the the story weakened to a point where interest failed no matter what was thrown at the audience in imagery or twists.

On other things watched in recent weeks, there's Lost, which I'm up to Season 5 in (more on that later, once I get to the end) and a few movies of differing quality.

There's Machete, a gleeful b-movie of many great guilty pleasures, the main one seeing a Danny Trejo starring-movie. This movie also has as highlights DeNiro as a supporting snivelling villain who gets more and more pathetic the further the film goes on (one of his better recent parts) and Jeff Fahey as a truly sleazy businessman (whose daughter is Lindsay Lohan- his interests in her are unhealthy to say the least, she ends up as a crack-addict, an on-line porn star and a nun) Best of all is a one-eyed Michelle Rodriguez leading a gang of illegal immigrant Mexicans to mow down some white racists with a wide range of weaponry. Stellar cheesy stuff.

Then there's Green Hornet, which is the exact opposite of Machete. It's pretty much Michel Gondry's worst film (yep, I've seen and liked Human Nature). It's just so lazy. In the writing, in the acting, in the action, its just fairly dull. Basically no-one involved could be bothered to think up cool things for the chracters to do, have unique or unsual action, or to have a series of inter-connected plotted events that would give the film any momentum. Instead its a dull buddy movie where the buddies have no real chemistry, nor motivation, where the jokes aren't remotely funny, nor are the gadgets interesting or amusing. Gondry shoots the movie like its an 80's era TV show. You start to wonder where is David Hasselhoff and Jan-Michael Vincent. Its a Joel Schumacher Batman-era event I'm afraid. And the Green Hornet tune plays for like two seconds.

Finally there the 5-hour cut of Until The End Of The World. I'll go into it in more detail probably in a serperate post but its one of those films, like Alien 3, where the longer cut feels shorter than the theatrical version. This is because the film is allowed to breathe, to have its pace dictated by the characters and atmosphere rather than thundering through with the plot (which isn't the film's strong point anyway). The female lead is still a little weak but the final half of the film in Australia, where the world may have ended, is fantastic, and a lot of the build-up now has a relaxed charm.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Best Of 2010



Best Films (Not a very good year for films. Most of the best are comedies.)
Four Lions - Chris Morris’ first film is a twisted take on movies and point of view, taking suicide bombers with every cinematic empathetic cliché you could imagine, with a parody of the “documentary” movie fad. Plus there’s the dialogue, which is wonderfully, intelligent and inventive look at stupid men arguing.
The Other Guys - Another terrific Adam Mackay -Will Ferrell collaboration, which is a twisted take on the cop buddy movie genre, but here every cop is a step away from the looney bin. Ferrell is odd and twisted as the repressed “sane” cop who slowly loses his calm (and has a repressed and funny
relationship with his wife) while Mark Whalberg starts his career rehab with a really funny, prissy take on a typical Mel Gibson character, who has learned dancing sarcastically. Best of all is Michael Keaton as the over-worked boss, with two jobs to pay for his “DJ son who’s exploring his bisexuality”, who has some truly strange lines. Also Steve Coogan finally has a good American part as the white collar villain. Its kinda brilliant while having a seemingly traditional narrative.
The Informant – Matt Damon in one of his best parts for Steven Soderbergh (in Soderbergh’s most Richard Lester film), playing a delusional corporate whistle-blower, who’s actually more of a crook than those he’s selling out. Layers upon layers of lies are laid out, while Damon gets more and more pathetic, as basic reality and interaction is mocked. Funny as hell, slightly chilly but over-looked film.
Scott Pilgrim Versus The World – A stylish look at a man trying to get over the idea that his girlfriend has dated other men. Its enjoyably OTT in editing and reactions, very old-style in script, visually having 80’s style shallow expressions mixed with older-style framing in direction. Not as original as some reviews suggest, but a hell of a lot of fun. Michael Cera beating people up never stops being funny.
The Hurt Locker – This one works great as an eccentric character story, of a man mad defusing bombs in Iraq, addicted to the rush that comes with the job. It focuses completely on the job and psychology, on the actions to illustrate character, ignoring the politics, as the characters seem to. A terrific film that seems cultish but somehow won the Oscar.
Inception – This one is lots of fun, has some great visuals and ideas, interesting layers between different worlds, dreams, memories. Has good character and performances, has terrific visual ambitions. The downside is its too long, with too much action that doesn’t relate to the central idea. Still a terrific film.
Not Perfect But Fun
The Expendables - Not as good as the latest Rambo, which is old-style 80’s action done to perfection, but is a very entertaining action ensemble. Stallone directs pretty good but has the grace to give the best stuff to his other cast members. Statham gets to have fun with the action moments while
Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren get the eccentric speeches. A bit cheesy but so what.
The Slammin Salmon - Another Broken Lizard film that is ignored by everyone, a funny take on Glengarry Glenross, as a group of waiters compete for the most sales in a Miami restaurant. A slowburn comedy plot that has tons of crazy characters that inject some truly wayward moments. Best is Michael Clarke Duncan as a crazy ex-boxer who is now the boss, who punches a swordfish. His words of wisdom.“First you dominate the swordfish! Then you can sortie it!”
Iron Man 2 - Yes the plot is a mess. It goes on for a bit without finding a narrative centre. It could lose twenty minutes quite easily. The central drama is a bit unfocused. On the other hand, Downey is still fun in the lead, there’s some nice bits of comic book action, Mickey Rourke is a crazy Russian with lots of tattoos who pines for his pet bird, and there’s lots and lots of killer robots. Sometimes looking at the positives makes you realise what’s truly important about certain films.
The Wolfman - An old fashioned Wolfman movie. And that’s it. Of course, there’s nothing new here but its just fun to enjoy the atmosphere, the actors doing some crazy acting, characters wandering around a cold English landscape. And of course there’s the wolfman going on the hunt every once in a while (especially in an insane asylum and through London). Casting Benecio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins as wolf men did not hinder the wonderful craziness one bit.
Burke And Hare - John Landis’ comeback film, which was unfortunately ignored. A shame as, like The Wolfman, it’s a fitting tribute to an older era of film-making, to the early seventies eccentric hammer movie, with lots of gore and silly jokes. There’s some nice murders, dark humour, and a nice line of equating body-snatching to capitalism.
Predators - The pulpiest movie you could ever find. Its stupid, under-produced, has many wayward narrative moments (anything that’s not part of the hunt is pretty stupid), doesn’t really have an ending. And still it works. Should have a health-warning to the amount of brain cells that will commit suicide while watching the film.
The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus - Expected more from this. It’s not bad but Terry Gilliam never came up with anything new. The idea of the traveling show through modern times was terrific, the cast were good, there was a lot of potential in the images, but the direction seemed to throw a lot at the screen without variation. It’s a minor film by a director who I like a lot, who’s done a lot better work in the past.
Clash Of The Titans - This one is the front-runner for worst of the decade. Only one moment is at all competent, going to the underground. Which lasts about ten seconds. The rest is a lot of fights that mean nothing, with dull characters and no atmosphere. Worst of all, they waste some truly great myths on their way to incomprehension. Yes, there’s a sequel to dread.
The Girlfriend Experience - The direction is interesting, the acting fine, the idea pretty good. But it has the worst screenplay ever. This film has plenty of dull dialogue (which is worse than bad dialogue, as it drains you as you watch) and never knows how to place its intentionally vague characters in any interesting or potentially revealing situations. Instead it meanders on, testing your patience, as you wonder why the writers are incapable of writing even a basic scene. This is like a short film stretched to ten times its natural length.
Best Films Not Seen Until This Year
Petulia, Up, Alice In Wonderland, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Blood On Satan’s Claw, The Box, The Vampire Circus, Theatre Of Blood, Count Yorga, Funny People, Observe & Report, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Fast And Furious, Trick R Treat, Ninja Assassin, In Bruges, The Hangover, Halloween 2.
Most Cliched Film Seen This Year
Michael Clayton – No cliché goes unturned. Self-tortured scumbag lawyer/bagman forced to re-assess his life. Corporations are corrupt. Life is awful, people die. Yawn. Can’t it just go into knowing self-parody and ease the pain. Such a dull, bloody smug and lifeless movie.
Best Direct To DVD
Universal Soldier: Regeneration - Didn’t expect much from this one but it was great. Vane Damme versus Lundgren at Chernobyl. Crazy genetically engineered fighting machines wandering around killing soldiers. Sure its clichéd but is also very enjoyable. One for a Friday night. Best Universal Soldier movie ever. (Practice makes perfect)
Dr Who Series 5 – A brilliantly inventive reboot to the show. It has a great new eccentric lead, a terrific companion, and some wonderfully odd stories and villains. Especially the Smilers and Weeping Angels. The finale is brilliant, twisting the usual end of the world story into an epic but intimate fairy story. This is how you do pulp.
Sherlock – Terrific, funny, spiky reworking of Sherlock Holmes, done with great pace, pulling together lots of great Sherlock Holmes stories from the past. Best of all is the pairing of Holmes and Watson, a mix of affection and real frustration on both sides.
Caprica – It was flawed, had some boring parts, has been dumped by the network. On the other hand it is brilliantly ambitious, crazy, has given Eric Stoltz his best part in years, and makes robot evolution and religion very interesting. Like Dollhouse, its crazy ambition makes its flaws not worth caring about.
Community – Probably the least ambitious TV show premise ever, seven odd friends at community college, somehow works due to great casting and crazy humour. The stories develop at a moderate pace but that’s not ever a problem, as it allows for odd character beats and lines. High-light, a paint-ball Mexican stand-off in the men’s toilets.
30 Rock & Chuck - Old reliable shows that I keep on watching. Have good episodes and weaker ones but the casts work well and the peaks make following the shows worth it. High points were Alex Baldwin as a muppet (30 Rock) and Morgan Grimes, now the world’s most incompetent spy, who has to arrange the rescue all the competent people (Chuck).
Good TV Shows Seen This Year (I have been catching up on a lot of old shows this year for various reasons)
Breaking Bad – This one is all crazy. A man dying of cancer becomes a meth dealer to provide for his family. It’s twisted, vicious and funny, with its central characters becoming trapped very quickly in the choices closing down due to dealing. Lots of gallows humour and moments of oddball humanity. Consistently brilliant, with great acting.
Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy and Smiley’s People – John le Carre adaptations, with Alec Guinness as Smiley, master spy in the body of an old, tired man. Both are terrific in that the world is full of compromises, odd character details and subtle betrayals, all of which feel relevant to real life interaction, not that of a spy world. The tiredness informs the worlds. Great work from a terrific cast throughout.
Carnivale – The fight of light versus darkness, set in the American Midwest during the 1930’s great depression, in a carnival. This is a terrific slow-burning show, set over two seasons, with characters progressing, showing kind and selfish sides, unfortunately cancelled before it could reach any sort
of conclusion.
Mad Men Series 1 – This one is odd in that it’s exactly the show you expect from the trailers. The cover of the 1960’s sophisticated world hiding darkness. And that basic simplicity does hobble it a bit at times. But it also has some great characters and dialogue, situations that go in unexpected directions for some great moments, with a terrific set of central performances. But it still doesn’t feel as smart as it thinks it is, needs a bit more crazy.
The Office: American Version – I have to admit to preferring this to the original British version, which I liked but found to be over-rated and dark for the sake of it but without depth at times. The American version is broader, less consistent in tone but also funnier and more interesting in character, has character depths being slowly revealed, and finds more life, kindness and eccentricity in the situation than the British version.
Psychoville – A twisted whodunit with a very strange conclusion, which is more fairytale the further it goes on, and is full of wonderful oddball characters and ideas. Best bit is clown court, with the hunt for the dinosaur soft toy coming a close second. It also has a great one-shot episode ala Rope.
Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett version) – A terrific moody series of adaptations, with Jeremy Brett being a wonderful, moody, twisted but sensitive Holmes, wondering through a supernatural twinged series of stories. Highlights include “The Final Problem” and “The Sign Of Four”.
The Day Of The Triffids - The original BBC version, made in 1980, which had a great mood about the slow fall of civilization, as the population goes blind and plant-creatures start to eat them. While it sounds pulpy, the story and characters are placed within realistic reactions and motivations, and the darkness comes from how mankind reacts to one another.
Coupling & Jekyll – Two terrific Stephen Moffat series, the first being an energetic comedy on dating, which gets twisted due to basic stupidity and repression of the characters, the second being a sci-fi-focused take on Jekyll & Hyde, which continually builds and focuses on character rather than effects.
Dr Who old stories – The War Games, Inferno, Carnival Of Monsters, The Ark In Space and Revelation Of The Daleks –These are all great old-school Dr Who stories. The War Games is Patrick Troughton’s final story, a ten part epic through various wars, leading to his regeneration. It’s terrifically moody and eccentric, in black and white. Inferno and Carnival Of Monsters are Jon Pertwee, Inferno an alternative world story with evil versions of companions that’s tense and moody, while Carnival Of Monsters the best of this bunch, a terrifically eccentric tale of worlds within worlds, entrainment as sport, and odd dialogue. The Ark In Space is Tom Baker fighting for the future of humanity, against some truly dodgy effects, but it works due to some terrific ideas, character momentum and dialogue “You’re getting smarter. Probably entirely due to my influence.” Revelation Of The Daleks is a Colin Baker story, set on a planet of the dead, which is very slow moving and twisted in character interaction. Unfortunately also saw Time And The Rani, Sylvester McCoy’s first story, one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.