Sunday, 28 October 2012

Next Week or So....

I'm moving to a new place on Monday afternoon with my lovely lady, so internet access will be limited until we get our broadband sorted. Blogging will resume soon...

Angel: First Impressions

"Somebody better attack me soon. I can't take much more of this."

At last it begins. This feels like Angel has finally finished evolving and embraced its destiny as a fast-moving, arc-heavy mix of plot threads that weave themselves around the action and give the sense of there being no status quo. Suddenly, there seems to be an awful lot going on.

It's good to see the Host again, and also David Nabbitt, a handy excuse for how Angel is able to buy such a swanky old hotel on the earnings of a not exactly money-grabbing private eye. But it's shocking to suddenly see how Darla is occupying Angel's dreams, seducing him in increasingly erotic ways and gradually encouraging him to look to his own needs instead of helping others. She inhabits his sleeping hours like a drug, and already it's being noticed that he's sleeping longer. Worse, this is probably connected with the fact that he has an "off day" fighting the vampires that initially attack Gunn. The implication is that this has been going on for a while, too. This sub-plot clearly has a long way to run.

The episode manages to nicely establish a bond between Gunn and the increasingly brave Cordelia- although not Wesley, at least not yet, from a position of awkwardness between him and "C-3PO and Stick Figure Barbie". We get a lot of subtle allusions to the gulfs of race and class that separate Gunn from the other regulars, but he and Cordelia also get to know and care about each other in spite of their very different backgrounds. We get a fair bit more depth to Gunn's character, too. His responsibilities are huge. He puts the weight of the world on to his shoulders an a way that is ultimately self-destructive, and being so defensive when others try to help him isn't helping. Cordelia's right to call him self-destructive, yet he's also right to call her out for several ill-judged stereotyping comments as he shows her all around the world he lives in.

There's a definite social commentary to this episode. As with War Zone, we get to see a lot of working class LA locations and a lot of the side of life we don't usually see on Angel. Indeed, this episode is set almost entirely within that world, and we're given quite a tour. It's interesting that uber-billionaire David Nabbitt should appear at the beginning, too, and be given dialogue paralleling Gunn's. The comparison we're being invited to make is clear, but it's done with subtlety.

There's humour here too, though. I love Angel and the girly helmet. Although I had to raise an eyebrow at Wesley calling Angel a wanker, which most definitely would have had to have been censored when shown on British TV. Note to American TV scriptwriters: the word "wanker" is a rather strong swear word, not some quirky thing that British people say. Wesley calling Angel a wanker is about on a par with calling him a prick. It is not a friendly insult.

This season is getting very, very exciting, and it's only been three episodes.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Nosferatu (1922)

Might as well review Nosferatu now; hopefully I'll get a good few pageviews after Mark Gatiss' documentary is screened on BBC 4 on Thursday...! My version has a rather splendid electronic / industrial soundtrack which suits the mood of the film superbly, although the death metal growling after an hour and seven minutes is somewhat unexpected! There are some wincingly bad translations of some intertitles (and there are a lot of intertitles) but the picture is excellent, and it's good to see the sepia tint.

I'm surprised that this is only the third version of Dracula that I've reviewed- not, of course, that F.W. Murnau or anyone making it at the time would have admitted any such thing. The film is blatant version of the novel and, in particular, the stage play: Count Orlok is Dracula, Ellen is Lucy, Hutte is Harker, Knock is Renfield, and so on. Transposing the action to Germany in 1838 doesn't change any of this. There are differences in emphasis combined with other versions, perhaps, and the ending is unexpected, but there's no mistaking this as anything other than a version of Dracula.

This is a film very much in the German Expressionist style, although the style does not dominate as it does in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; for the most part there is realism, with Expressionism being used only to emphasise the evil and sinister, notably in the depiction of Knock's office, a distorted room with along-legged chair and wring proportions, accompanying the deeply sinister and melodramatic acting and make-up through which the character is shown. Nosferatu is shown through bizarre camera angles- one shot from below, on the ship, is particularly effective, as is a scene towards the end where we see his distorted shadow attacking Ellen.

Max Schrek gives us a deeply unsettling and nightmare-inducing Count. His performance and appearance alone makes this one of the most frightening movies I've ever seen. The appearance of Count Orlok is far more terrifying to me than any amount of gore. The flip side of this, of course, is that the monstrously ugly Count is de-sexualised. The erotic subtext of the novel and most adaptations is pretty much discarded in place of chills.

There is some impressive special effects work here for 1922- Orlok's lack of any underlings whatsoever is compensated for by magic, as his coffin loads itself on to a cart and a shop sails as if by magic. The emphasis on "plague", with much Black Death style imagery, and the extended, claustrophobic sequences on the ship are highlights, and a nice change from the more traditional adaptation that we would later come to expect.

Nosferatu looks great, as we would expect, and is probably the only film I've reviewed for the blog so far that I've found genuinely scary. I recommend it hugely.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Replacement

"If Xander kills himself, he's dead!"

I suppose we can say that the four core characters of this show are Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles. All other characters are to some extent secondary. And yet, of those four, Xander arguably has the least depth by some way. His role is of the archetypal clown, the comic relief, and as the other characters become ever more superpowered and uber-cool, it's becoming increasingly urgent for the character to get some development beyond his well-established self-doubt, notwithstanding Nicholas Brendon's superb performance.

Convenient, then, that Brendon should happen to have a twin brother to share on-screen duties, because this episode may be a first step in exactly that direction. The conceit is quite clever; we're led, by misdirection, to suppose that a demon imposter has stolen Xander's life and is humiliating him by living it better than he can. Yet it turns out that both Xanders are real, it's just that one has all the confidence. But it's Xander, not one particular half of him, who gains the promotion and gets a really, really nice apartment. He's moving up in the world.

Incidentally, this is an interesting time for me to watch this episode; I've recently found a new flat myself, and on Monday I'm going to move in, along with a certain lovely lady. I have to say that the viewing went a lot more smoothly for me, but my place is about a tenth the size of Xander's palatial luxury penthouse! I suppose that's the difference between the USA (population density 89 people per square mile)) and the UK (population density 663 people per square mile). Land is much cheaper over there./ Although I'm still not sure that a construction worker would really be able to afford a place like that.

Anya, too, gets a modicum of character development; she's becoming aware of her own mortality, and wants to settle down and do stuff. Meanwhile, Giles is now running the magic shop and Willow seems to be puzzlingly Tara-less. Spike's anger at Buffy continues to fester while his lifestyle gets grubbier and grubbier. Oh, and Riley gets the best line in a sparkling Jane Espenson script: "Doesn't it make everyone want to lock them into separate rooms and do experiments on them?"

But the main concern is the appearance of obvious cracks in the Buffy / Riley relationship; the line "Shall we split up?" is uttered at one point, which seems ominous. And the episode ends on Riley confessing how much he loves Buffy but admitting that "She doesn't love me." They're going to split up next episode, aren't they...?

Monday, 22 October 2012

Angel: Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been

"It's all just blood…!"

This splendid episode from Tim Minear is just a story of the week, sort of, with no allusions to Wolfram and Hart or any great degree of arciness. I suspect it tells us an awful lot about the season's upcoming themes, though. Plus it gives our heroes a swanky new base.

It's the 1950s. The first thing we see after the opening titles is a news report about the House of Un-American activities. Seconds later we see a black family being told by the hotel manager that there are no vacancies, although there definitely are. This sets the tone; prejudice and paranoia are this episode's social evils, complete with a metaphorical demon (with an accent from vaguely south of the Mason-Dixon line) to represent them. Guests at the hotel call each other "pansy" and "red". Angel gets lynched for being a bit odd. It's a strong cocktail of prejudice, although I'm slightly uncomfortable with the implicit assumption that all this sort of prejudice is safely in the past. It isn't, not be a long shot.

The episode focuses mainly on Judy, a mixed-race lady who's "passed" for white for most of her life but has been found out, sacked, and dumped by her fiancé, leading her to steal a load of money and ruin her life forever; she effectively does spend the rest of her life in prison, burdened by guilt. It's arresting to be reminded of how 1952 is not that long ago. Silly prejudices had- and have- the power to destroy people arbitrarily and waste their lives.

Interestingly, the Angel of 1952 starts out fairly indifferent to the evils around him. He gets slowly dragged into helping Judy, but after she betrays him (not her fault) he washes his hands of the whole affair, something which shames him up to the present day. So… we have an Angel who retains his soul but loses his ability to care about people through loneliness and isolation. Foreshadowing, do you reckon?

Back in the present day, not much happens aside from a neat little structural trick in which Cordy and Wesley get to narrate events from a vantage point fifty years later. We also establish a slight bit of friction between Wesley and Gunn, who appears for the first time without reference to his dependents.

That's two episodes, and two excellent scripts. Can Angel keep this up?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Lost World (1925)

Again, no quote, what with this being a silent film. Like all silent films, it's from sufficiently long ago as to come from another age entirely: this is a film in which cars have to share the London streets with horses and carts. It's an arresting thought that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have conceivably see this film, if he'd managed to teat himself away from all that spiritualism stuff, being fooled by little girls with their unconvincing photographs of "fairies",  and cultivating that bushy moustache. I haven't read the original novel; like many people. I've read absolutely everything Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes, and absolutely nothing else he wrote. He's probably turning in his grave.

I'd be surprised, though, judging by the film, if this was one of the "literary" works that Doyle was forever going on about. It's a fairly straight early twentieth century pulp adventure story, and a rather fine example, but the film, at least, gives no indications of any loftier ambitions. Essentially, we get an expedition by some explorers, some set pieces of dinosaurs fighting and doing cool stuff, and a sauropod rampaging through London. This is, of course, an extremely cool set of stuff, but that's it. There's not really any subtext. Even the love triangle, such as it exists, is very British and stiff-upper-lip. I'm reminded of Frau im Mond, a German silent film from four years later with a similar plot, but with the expedition (similarly including a token woman) being to the Moon rather than to a plateau full of dinosaurs. In that film the love triangle looms much larger in a very un-British way.

The dinosaurs are, if you consider the context, amazing. Yes, the slow-motion animation isn't exactly Ray Harryhausen. The dinosaurs look like plasticine, and move sparingly and stiffly. But this whole style of admittedly primitive animation seems to have survived in popular culture for a long, long time. The Chewits adverts I remember from my 1980s childhood didn't look too different. Mind you, I had to raise an eyebrow at the fact the only dinosaur species encountered by Professor Challenger and his motley crew were the well-known ones such as triceratops and, er "brontosaurus", most of which are not exactly native to South America. Still, best not to think too deeply about such things. After all, we also see some brief stock footage of a cheetah, a suspiciously African mammal.

Of course, this being the 1920s, there are rather a few things to raise the eyebrow. I don't think I can exactly be accused of political correctness gone mad for suggesting that the portrayal of Jacko is, er, really quite racist. I'm half-convinced that he's portrayed by a white actor in blackface. It's also interesting to see how much respect is accorded to a big game hunter, and how no one shows any regard whatsoever for conservation or the fact that these dinosaurs might be somewhat dependent on the ecological conditions that nourish them. Health and safety standards appear rather lax, too. I mean, felling a conveniently placed tree to cross a gorge and make a bridge is, you know, a bit dangerous.

But, you know what? This film is fun. I loved it. Who cares if it's never explained how they managed to get the dinosaur to London, or that the costumes for the early hominids look rubbish. This is a film in which London landmarks get trashed by a brontosaurus and, believe me, it gave me great pleasure to type that.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Bufffy the Vampire Slayer: Real Me

"She and Willow are both witches. They do spells and stuff, which is so much cooler than slaying. I told Mom one time I wish they'd teach me some of the things they do together. And-and then she got really quiet and made me go upstairs."

It was sooooo hard to settle on a quote for this one. The dialogue sparkled, especially with Dawn narrating much of the episode. This is one of the most fun episodes ever, and probably the biggest, best and most in-your-face retcon of all time. The character is likeable and fun from the start, and Michelle Trachtenberg (immediately in the opening titles, which are more crowded than ever) is fantastic. David Fury's script is superb, managing to be funny and ecomomically told while having to put across an awful lot of exposition. The device of Dawn narrating how she feels about all the regulars is a hugely efficient shorthand, as well as being fun and nicely metatextual.

There's absolutely no explanation as to how or why reality has shifted; Dawn has suddenly been there all the time, and Buffy's life is even more complicated. This is starting to have consequences; her University studies are starting to suffer, and so is her doomed relationship with Riley. She seems to be living at the family home now, a worrying indication of distance from her studies. And her new Slayer studies with Giles are one extra thing to add to the mix.

It looks as though Giles may be staying after all. He has a flashy new car, for one think. And the convenient death of the magic shop owner, along with the apparently huge profit margins, lead him to take over as manager, even though, as Buffy points out, "Most magic shop owners in Sunnydale have the life expectancy of a Spinal Tap drummer." I'm not sure how, legally and financially, he's in a position to but the business, and from whom, but let's not ask such awkward questions.

Oh, and Harmony as a Big Bad with minions is great. I love Buffy's reaction!

Other characters have interesting moments, too: Tara still feels herself to be a non-Scooby. Xander now has a steady job in construction, and is still a little plagued by his ongoing self-doubt issues, which were emphasised last episode. But the focus, obviously, is on Dawn, establishing who she is and how she relates to everyone. Some mystery is established, too- we learn that Dawn has a secret. And who is this dishevelled man who tells her that she doesn't belong here? It's only the second episode, and the season arc is well under way.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Spaceballs (1987)

"There is only one man who would dare give me the raspberry: Lone Star!"

There was bound to be a proper Star Wars spoof sooner or later, and always a fair chance that it would be Mel Brooks who did it. It's a fairly straight spoof, really, with counterparts for every major character aside from Luke Skywalker. But then Luke Skywalker is incredibly boring, so who cares?

The characters generally pass muster; Bill Pullman makes a good Harrison Ford and a good star. It's fun to see Rick Moranis as the Darth Vader character, and even more eyebrow-raising to see Joan Rivers, of all people, as the C-3PO equivalent. There are lots of amusing digs at the original movies, of course- we get a gangster called Pizza the Hut and an amusing sight gag at the start as the camera pans across a long, long, long Star Destroyer. Still, these things are funny, but this is no Airplane.

I liked the metatextual bits, mind: Barf comments on a "nice dissolve" at one pont, and I love the moment where the Spaceballs reach into their home video collection (all Mel Brooks movies, naturally) to play the movie they're currently making, in real time. There are loads of little touches like this (I love the moment where Dark Helmet accidentally kills a cameraman during the lightsabre fight!), and they're my favourite thing about the film. There are some nice pop culture references, too, including a Transformer(!) and a cameo from John Hurt reprising that scene from Alien. And I loved the name "Prince Valium". Although not as much as "Colonel Sanders"…

I was perpetually amused at how similar to Earth this far, far, far, far away galaxy was; on Druidia they even conduct their weddings to a blast of Wagner's Wedding March, apparently. They have bumper stickers in the future. The telephones, videotapes and headphones are all very '80s, and characters are heard playing Bon Jovi and Berlin. They even have Jewish humour and loads of it- the Schwarz is Yiddish slang for, well, er, what gets implied at the start of the lightsabre fight. And we get lines about a "Druish princes" and how "she doesn't look Druish". Still, I'm sure there was a lot more of this that went right over my head.

Spaceballs might not be the greatest comedy ever made, but it's a fun way to spend an hour and a half. It's a deceptively clever spoof with a lot to say about the media and how merchandising is taking over popular cinema, to the point of Dark Helmet playing with Kenner action figures. I enjoyed it a lot, and I intend to do some more Mel Brooks stuff soon. I haven't seen any for ages.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Juno (2007)

"Thundercats are go!"

OK. I'm a little biased. I was all snuggled up with my loved one when I watched this film and that's probably biased me in its favour a bit. (She doesn't even mind me taking notes for my blog when we watch films together, or even watching with subtitles- she's one very special lady!) Still, about the actual film.

It is, obviously, brilliant. Juno uses humour to fully explore the very serious subject of teenage pregnancy and all the stuff that surrounds it. It doesn't shy away from big emotional moments, and works superbly as a drama, but it leaves you smiling, and not only because of (SPOILER ALERT!) the happy ending. The humour really works in counterpointing the serious themes, and the whole thing is perfectly judged.

The film is full of wickedly wonderful dialogue, most of it from Juno herself (the excellent Ellen Page) and sounding almost Whedon-esque in its wit and pop culture savvy. It's also a brilliantly shot and structured movie; fast cutting is often used to advance the story or reveal a character point. The camerawork is as witty as the dialogue, and the seasons are used nicely to indicate the passage of time without being too heavy-handed.

The whole look of the film is great. There's a definite '90s slacker vibe in the clothing, general attitudes and pop culture references, which extends to the brilliant animated opening sequence and the amazing soundtrack. Everything oozes class, in a very Douglas Coupland sort of way. If you read and enjoyed Generation X, this film should be right up your street.

I suppose it can be said that Mark's reluctance to be a father, and his basic incompatibility with Vanessa, is pretty much obvious from the first scene (although the pregnancy fetish, er, isn't!!!), and it's no surprise when he bails out and rejects his marriage, the chance of fatherhood and adulthood itself for a Bohemian lifestyle that he's too old for. Also, his sell-out job pretty much tells us that he's a wrong 'un. I don't think the film means to imply that loving rock 'n' roll (especially Sonic Youth and the Melvins- cool!) makes you immature, mind. Plus, the Stooges, the Runaways, Patti Smith and Mott the Hoople seem to be endorsed by no less a figure than Juno herself. Let's just say that '77 and '93 were both excellent years for music. Who'd like to choose between Marquee Moon and In Utero?

Juno is very, very, funny, not too heavy, but managing to put across its central message without too much soppiness. It's always the women who are literally left holding the baby, and all too often this biological fact leads men to deny their responsibilities; not exactly something my own gender can always be proud of, sweet though the rather dim Beeker is here. Perhaps the film, with its supportive male characters, is a little rose-tinted in this regard, especially when it comes to teenage pregnancy. But it's a wonderful, wonderful movie.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Angel: Judgement

"Are we tracking a real tunnel, or symbolic?"

The first thing we see in this new season is the face of a nasty looking demon, accompanied by a sinister musical cue… then he starts singing and giving of vibes of being rather camp, and a thoroughly nice chap. A nice bit of misdirection, although it probably works better on first viewing, as I immediately recognised Lorne, as we shouldn't yet be calling him, and having sad thoughts about Andy Hallett's untimely death. It'll be interesting to see how often he appears during the first part of the season and when we can start thinking of him as a regular.

Speaking of new regulars… J. August Richards has been promoted to the opening titles, and gets to meet Cordelia and Wesley in a splendidly awkward scene that speaks volumes about the sort of instinctive racial stereotyping that sometimes happens even amongst the most liberal of us. But the opening sequence of this semi-relaunch episode also re-establishes the existing trio. Cordelia, after last season, is now so committed to the cause that she abandons a very promising audition at the beep of a pager (how quaint!), while Wesley is, er, good at darts, and by now a very different character from the klutz he used to be.

There's a little Wolfram and Hart stuff, with a bit of Darla and an introduction to Lindsey's new hand, but this episode is focused more on a weird, extra-dimensional mediaeval court. Interestingly, Angel seems to be moving away from straight horror fantasy to magical, extra-dimensional weirdness with demons that might as well be aliens. It's a distinctive style, very different from Buffy, and I like it, in spite of the occasionally dodgy costumes.

This brings us rather nicely to Lorne's karaoke bar, with its extremely diverse clientele, and the interesting conceit that Lorne can read the emotions and, up to a point, the fate of people when they sing. Already, on his first appearance, he's a great character. Also, we get to see Angel massacre Barry Manilow although, sadly, I don't mean that literally.

Most interesting, of coursed, is Angel. He's brought down from the highs, and possible hubris, of the Shanshu prophecy when he makes a mistake. And yet he redeems himself by literally taking on the role of a modern day knight errant to make amends. A deeply chivalrous man in twentieth century California… again, echoes of Raymond Chandler.

It's deeply satisfying, too, and deeply thematic, to see Angel bonding so well with Faith, in prison. The two of them have so much in common. It's the perfect place to end.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy vs. Dracula

"You are strange and off-putting. Go now."

A new season, then. There's no need for things to get going immediately, so we need a fun episode to start with, perhaps setting in motion a few minor plot arcs. At first sight these seem to be the tension between Giles' need top return to Blighty and Buffy's need for him to help her, again as Watcher, with her newfound suspicions of "darkness" within her role as Slayer. Oh, and Buffy and Riley are drifting apart; the pre-titles sequence confirms this in the blatant contrast between the speedily shot scenes of her "hunting" and the slow, peaceful scenes of her in bed with Riley. The subtext seems to be that he really isn't her type.

There's another arc thing at the very end, but… let's leave that for the moment.

So, Dracula. To show the most famous vampire in all of fiction, and use the character to make loads of metatextual points about the tropes of the vampire in fiction, is a sign that the show is really riding high with confidence. Obviously, there are parallels with the novel, and early twentieth century stage play but, in a nod to those early episodes which homaged universal movies, the main influence is clearly Tod Browning's Dracula, right down to Xander as Renfield, although there are also nods to the Hammer version in the ridiculously strong erotic charge to the scenes of Dracula feeding on Buffy. Best of all, of course, is the fact that Buffy knows he always comes back and makes sure she kills him properly; she's seen the movies.

There's also something else going on, though: Dracula, with his slow, seductive sexual ways of sucking blood from his invariably female victims almost seeming to imply that all other vampires in Buffy are bloody awful lovers, his unexplained turning into a bat, his three concubines, and his fancy home, simply doesn't fit the definition of a Buffy vampire. We're clearly intended to see him as a vampire from another fictional set of rules (everyone is star struck, which hints at this, and is funny to boot) and, I think, we're intended to see the influence of Anne Rice as well as Bram Stoker. This is Buffy, upholder of the old fashioned evil vampires, taking a dig at the whole vampire romance genre that has since become so ubiquitous. I rather suspect that we're supposed to agree with Spike. A show which mentions the Count from Sesame Street is not a show which means to take Dracula seriously…

So, it's an episode that had to happen, and a rather entertaining bit of meta-textual, and really rather erotic, fun. But what's this? Who's this young girl who everyone seems to think is Buffy's sister…?

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Pandora's Box (1929)

No quote, alas: this is a silent film, albeit one of the last. Like a rather large proportion of the silents I've reviewed, it's German, despite having an American star. The Weimar Republic seemed to have so many of the best directors on the planet during the 1920's and, in a time when films were without sound and consequently language didn't matter, it was able to compete on a global stage, in a way that hasn't been possible since the Tower of Babel that was the onset of sound. Nevertheless, it's tempting to imagine what German cinema would still have been capable if only it had not completely abandoned civilisation, and all its trappings, in 1933.

This is a superbly made and directed film, and Louise Brooks gives a sublime and outstanding performance of a type which simply can't be seen these days. Without the option of speaking, she has to convey some immense subtleties by gesture and expression alone. This naturally leads, up to a point at least, to a "big" performance, and yet there's a lot of naturalism there too. It's a real tightrope, and Brooks walks it with aplomb.

This is also a fascinating film from an historical perspective; it's the 1920's, the flapper generation. And yet these flappers, with their bobs, their cigarette holders and their loose, boyish, semi-revealing clothing, are just one generation away from corset-strapped Edwardian ideas of sexual mores and gender roles. It's tempting, and perhaps not entirely inaccurate, to compare the flappers of the roaring '20s to the mods and hippies of the swinging '60s, although in both cases we should remember that to a large extent we're talking about a relatively small number of young, wealthy urbanites. Also, in the 1920s, there is as yet no contraceptive pill, so the sexual liberatedness of the younger generation tends to stop short of penetrative sex. And, whatever the parallels of flappers to hippies, the general public in the 1920s, well within living memory of Victorian times, was far more socially conservative. Yes, the likes of the Bloomsbury Group, a rather posh bunch of people, may have shagged indiscriminately, enjoyed modernist art and talked about Freud a lot, but in the wider world things were rather different. Case in point: women only gained the right to vote on equal terms with men in 1928 in the UK. In short, the gap between the Bohemians and the majority is rather wide.

We can see this gap rather clearly in the film. For all that Lulu is bobbed, liberated and uber-modern (look at the art in her apartment, and the interior décor), she's a character in a highly moralistic and conservative melodrama which purports to show that such behaviour leads to tragic accidents, imprisonment, gambling, cheating at cards(!), alcoholism and prostitution. It's only the superb quality of the film that prevents it from being the Reefer Madness of flapperdom.

Also interesting is that this film should be not only from the Weimar Republic but set, interestingly, in Berlin, notorious for its licentiousness in Germany at the time. It's all very Cabaret. This film is part of a general mood in Weimar Germany that decadence and loose morals have gone too far, and we all know where that will eventually lead.

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Simpsons Movie (2007)

"I can't believe we're paying for something we get on TV for free. If you ask me, everybody in this theatre is a giant sucker. Especially you!"

See? Told you the blog lives! And it's way past time I did another movie. So, er, here's one.

Let's not pretend: this is The Simpsons, so obviously it's brilliant. Let's just take the gushing as read. I'm not going to pretend to not like 83 minutes of The Simpsons: that would just be silly. Also, I'm trying not to just make this review a list of funny bits from the film. Well, maybe a bit. I love the Green Day cameo, with band going down with their ship like the band on the Titanic, the "latest rock band to die" in Springfield. I love the fact that Springfield borders Ohio, Nevada, Maine and Kentucky. I love the tasteful sex scene with the adorable Disney-style animals, which is not as addled with bestiality as it sounds. I love "Why does everyone I whip leave me?" I love… that'll do.

There are lots of nods to the fact that this is a movie, of course. The opening titles are much swankier. The animation is posher, and the credits reveal that an army of South Korean animators was hired for this. The stakes are higher. The opening sequence with itchy and Scratchy makes a nice metatextual reference to the fact that this is a movie based on a TV show, and the Simpsons themselves talk over the closing titles. Maggie's first word is "sequel". But, in spite of all that, this is basically just a really long episode of The Simpsons. It doesn't look particularly different from the TV show, at least on the small screen. And that's no bad thing.

Of course, boring old politics rears its head a bit. America's indifference to the Environment gets a bit of a dig, as does the Big Brother surveillance society that's popping up everywhere these days. But this is essentially just 83 minutes of sheer fun, that throws a countdown in at the climax for the sheer Hell of it.

Thursday, 4 October 2012


Apologies for the low pace of postings, but I'm househunting at the moment, which is rather time-consuming! I'll be posting less often for a bit, but I'll still be posting. More Buffy and Angel coming soon...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan

"He went to get coffee, and turned up in a book. How does that work?"

"I don't know. We're in New York."

Damn you, Moffat. You sadistic evil genius, you. You distract us with scares, timey-wimey cleverness and a story title that makes us think of Muppets, and then you go and make us have all these damn feelings, damn you. Even those of us who like to think we have hearts of stone. The Angels Take Manhattan is twisted, evil, and possibly the best thing in Doctor Who since, well, the last story you wrote with the Weeping Angels. Once again: DAMN YOU!!!

Let's leave Amy and Rory until we've talked about the other stuff, because I won't be able to talk about the other stuff otherwise. Bloody feelings…

This is a much, much better use of New York than the last time. We get iconic locations, including the Statue of Liberty being used as a Weeping Angel (!). Everything looks great. There's a definite Raymond Chandler / Dashiell Hammett influence, what with the private eye in the opening teaser and, ahem, "Melody Malone", whose identity, I'm sure, was never intended to surprise anyone.

Speaking of River, she and the Doctor are, of course, married, meaning that the heroes of the episode are two married couples. And it's fun to see River and the Doctor acting just like a married couple. There are the witty lines alluding to this, of course ("Sorry I'm late, honey. Traffic was Hell"), but there are also fault lines in this very strange marriage. River loves the Doctor, which is why she slaps him for using his regenerative energy to heal her broken wrist. But she's terrified of his seeing her aging and becoming aware of her mortality. The Doctor hates endings, and is therefore unlikely to be keen on commitment, hardly a deep observation given his lifestyle.

Oh, and River alludes to the long-running season thread, namely that the Doctor has been deleting all records of himself. It means that the man she's supposed to have murdered no longer exists, so she's been freed and made a professor. There's one ripple from the Doctor's "absence": what about the others, I wonder?

The Angels are horribly scary, too. The baby Angels, with their terrible giggling, are well scary, especially when Rory is trapped alone with them in a darkened cellar with a match. And all throughout the story the set pieces, and the excellent direction, keep making you jump. Scares along with heartbreak- damn you once again, Moffat!

The typically Moffat-esque timey-wimeyness is gobsmackingly clever here, probably the cleverest we've seen since Blink. The concept of the Doctor and Amy possessing a book, from their personal future, recounting the adventure they're having now, is devilishly clever. And the fact that they can't read ahead without fixing their futures is even more so. It's hard to talk about the way this is used without getting all emotional about Amy and Rory, but the bit where the Doctor accidentally sees the last two chapter titles ("Death at Winter's Quay" and "Amy's Last Farewell") is a hugely clever moment, as well as being pure evil.

But let's get back to the elephant in the room, shall we? There are all sorts of ominous signs. It's constantly reiterated that the Doctor doesn't like endings, hence the fact that Amy and Rory are still around even after being officially dumped in The God Complex. This is where he has to face up to what he doesn't like.

Of course, Moffat being evil, he tortures us with three endings, all of them heart-breaking. First, we're told that Rory is fated to be sent back in time, to spend the rest of his miserable life in a little room, without Amy. Worse, the only way out for him is to destroy the Angel by creating a paradox, and he can only do this by jumping off a building to his death. This sequence just breaks your heart, and then Amy goes and jumps too because she can't bear to be without him. DAMN YOU, MOFFAT.

Except there's one more, equally evil, timey-wimey twist. All of that has been un-happened, everyone's ok, and they will all live happily ever after. Except they won't, because the one remaining Angel sends them back in time, one by one, with lots of tears. The Doctor has to face it: this is an ending. It's also unbelievably good telly. But still evil.

We end with a final message from an unreachable Amy to the Doctor: don't be alone. As Donna once said, he still needs someone to stop him. As for who that someone is, and how we resolve the puzzle that was set by Asylum of the Daleks… we have to wait until Christmas. Damn you, Moffat.