Sunday, 31 October 2010

Review: Merlin 3.8: The Eye of the Phoenix

Merlin's recent quality is consistant. The Eye of the Phoenix is another decent episode, but it does have a few rogue elements that could have been streamlined out to change this from a decent story to a great one.
     As Arthur's quest to earn his place on the throne, he is sent off on the most dangerous of them all - to journey to the Perilous lands, a place of magic where very few ever get out alive. Merlin is obviously worried for his safety, and when Arthur sets off with a life-draining amulet from Morgana, he sets of with Gwaine to rescue the Prince.
     This episode is stuffed to the brim with cliche; it turns out that the whole thing had been organised by the leader of the realm to get Merlin to kill him, after giving him some magic water (don't ask me, how am I suppose to know these things?). It also had Merlin using his Deus Ex Dragonspeak, something I deteste with a passion. However, the episode flows well and has another unique story structure, which is good for the series overall.
     So overall, not a bad episode, but one that certainly has a lot of faults. Next week looks suspiciously like pointless filler. Oh joy.

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SuperSunday: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight (2008)

Why do I love this film? Why do so many people love this film? Why was the third highest grossing film of all time about a man in a Bat costume? Well, my dear reader, welcome to the well-directed and well-written world of The Dark Knight Saga... (Warning, this review assumes you know a little bit about Batman.)
     After the horrific Batman and Robin in 1997, effort was made to seperate the franchise from the light-hearted attitude that led to that fiasco. One director decided to give it a go; Christopher Nolan (One of the best directors in the business) released Batman Begins in 2005, with a star cast consisting of Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Cane (Alfred the Butler), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), and many more. That film was a roaring success, updating the concept of the Masked Vigilante for the modern era and firmly stamping a serious take on the series. It didn't, however, use the franchise's most popular villian, The Joker.
     The Dark Knight's strength lies in two things: The seriousness of how it deals with the concepts, and the performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. His incarnation of the character is a chilling psychopath, in direct contrast to the consistantly comical depictions previously. I wouldn't, as other have, call it truly frightening, but it certainly is chilling just because of how convincing and madcap the character truly is.
     Elsewhere, the strong story and character development stands out; particularly in the transformation of the character of Harvey Dent: A shining, perfect politician who slowly takes on more of a negative outlook on life until his girlfriend is seemingly left to die by Batman, and he finally turns to a path of retribution.
     Really, I'm just gushing about the film, as so many others hav done. Go and buy this DVD. You won't be disappointed.

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Happy Halloween!

It's that time of year again, and have I got some treats for you, my pretties!

Later today, we'll look at Merlin 3.8: The Eye of the Phoenix, followed by SuperSunday:The Dark Knight. If you can't wait for those, why not take a look at my reviews of Sweeny Todd and Shaun of the Dead?

Happy Halloween.
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Saturday, 30 October 2010

Review: Sweeny Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

It doesn't usually work when someone tries to convert a Victorian tale for modern viewing. Often the sense of morality is much less liberal, and so unidentifiable for modern audiences. When, however, you have one Tim Burton on board, and when the morality in the story is clear enough, one can make a stirring and powerful tale.
      As it stands, Sweeny Todd (2007) is a chilling adaptation of the book/stage show that stands out on its own with its share of excellent direction, acting and cinematography. It's more or less faithful to the original, complete with appropriate musical numbers. Yes, that's right. Musical.
     Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) returns to London a broken man. A former barber, he was ripped away from his family when the envious Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) and his sidekick the Beadle (Timothy Spall) have him locked up and sent to Australia. Barker now goes by the name of Sweeny Todd, and returns to his former barber shop over Mrs. Lovett's (a wonderfully gothic Helena Bonham Carter) pie ship. Lovett helps Todd to regain his spirits and open up his barber shop, while telling him that his wife his dead and his daughter is Turpin's ward.
     The two attend a fair where Todd humiliate flamboyant Italien Signor Pirelli. Pirelli then visits Todd's barber shop, where he tries to blackmail him. As a survival instinct, he kills Pirelli and hides the body, while Lovett looks after his assistant Toby. Later, Lovett has an idea - seeing as the price of meat is so high, they might as well use the corpse to make tasty pies for her customers.
      It plays out like a true Victorian tragedy, with Todd killing Turpin, his now-insane wife and then Lovett, before then being killed himself. Luckily, his daughter is fine. It's all done very melodramatically, with good turns by Bonham-Carter and Rickman, while Depp just comes across as a moody (and evil) Captain Jack. The excessive blood-spurting (un-convincing in some areas, brilliant in others) doesn't negatively effect the story, and I think it highlights the absurdity of the tragedy.
      In conclusion, Burton's adaptation is loyal and respectful to the original while bringing the tremendous acting talents of Depp, Bonham-Carter and Rickman to the table, with a great musical score and visual feel. It truely deserves its awards and while it may be in an outdated setting, its messages ring true - vengeance always falls back upon the avenger.

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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Review: Merlin 3.7: The Castle of Fyrien

We take a more straight-laced approach at the mythology than last week, with the episode presenting an new sort of format. While The Castle of Fyrien wasn't perfect, it was still a great episode in context with Series Three, and fully exercised its characters.
     Cenred (our gruff enemy-type bloke from The Tears of Uther Pendragon) has Gwen kidnapped as part of a plot by Morgause and Morgana. He's also got her brother, and offers her a deal - get Arthur to come to his hideout, Castle Fyrien, or her brother dies. Predictably (to the villians) Arthur organises an attempt to rescue her brother and stop Cenred. They do so, but Morgana comes along for the ride.
     The Castle was really a character piece for both heroes and villians. The extent to which Morgana was fully on the Dark Side was exposed, but there were some good moments where she was confused by Merlin about loyalty. We also saw that Cenred was fighting Camelot sheerly to please Morgause, who he seems to have fallen for. On the other side, we look at the extent to which Arthur will now go both against his father and for Gwen, and there were also some nice quick bonding scenes between Arthur and Merlin.
     On the whole, Castle excelled more on Character than it did on its Plot, but this is never a bad thing. It was enjoyable, well-written and didn't fall back on any of the conveluted plots that we've come to expect from Merlin so far in Series Three. I'm glad that by this half-way-point, the quality has taken a turn for the better.

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Review: Sarah-Jane Adventures: Death of the Doctor

It's a well known fact that I'm not a big fan of Doctor Who's Softer and Lighter spinoff Sarah Jane Adventures, whose childish and light take on the Whoniverse really fails to connect with my age group. Coupled with RTD's inferior writing, this series' repetition and laziness means that I try to avoid it when I can. However, I only seem to sniff quality wherever the series crosses over with its parent programme, as here, and so I'm going to review the Series 4 episode Death of the Doctor.
     For the first time with SJA, I actually enjoyed the episode to a degree. The main reason for this was the overwhelming amount of fanwank involved with the process - an appearance is made by the Third Doctor's assistant Jo Grant (Jones now, apparently), leading to minutes and minutes of stock footage from the Classic series. There are also plenty of jabs at the fanbase, such as The Doctor ensuring everyone that the story is "neat and tidy" and mentioning in passing that he can regenerate "507 times" (Bollocks of the purest degree, of course.)
     The plot, of what remains after you strip away all of the fanwank, is that The Doctor has been dicovered dead by a race of Vulture-Undertakers called the Shan-Sheeth, who send the body back to Earth for his funeral. SJ and Jo Grant were invited, and neither seem to believe that he was dead. Sure enough, Eleven managed to swap bodies with SJ's companion Clyde (prompting an unfortunate instance of, "my hand isn't white!"), quickly explaining his regeration. You see, the Vulture people (very expensive animatronics) were trying to use the TARDIS to end death. Luckily, Eleven helped to save the day.
     While Russel's add-ons to continuity (Mentioning that Ten went back and visited all of his companions and not just the 2005-9 lot, explaining that some of the old series companions had very happy endings.) may have felt heartwarming, his misunderstanding of Eleven's character was quite irritating. RTD had a habit of treating his Doctors as Jesus himself, and under Moffat that just doesn't apply. Also, some of the jabs were a little petty, in particular his use of Eleven as an Author Proxy to appeal to the fans ("Nice and neat!").
     So, while overall the episode was easy to follow and contained some fun and heartwarming continuity, the cracterisation was totally wrong, the enemies were ridiculously made and the whole excercise had far too much fanwank to be a cohesive story. I'm sorry Sarah Jane. But you'll have to try again. Or not at all.

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Monday, 25 October 2010

Review: Shaun of the Dead

I had intended to do this as part of Super Sundays in December, but it's just too good to resist. My previous Blood and Ice Cream review, Hot Fuzz, explains how their films tend to be genre-busting but still well written as well. While SotD may not be as fully laughter-centric as its spiritual sequel, it's just as strong if not more.
     Spoilers follow. Shaun (Pegg) has a problematic life; his job is annoying and repetitive, his flatmate Ed (Frost) is a lazy slob and he is having relationship trouble with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashworth), her friends Dave and Diane, and with his mother (Penelope Wilton) and step-dad Philip (Bill Nighy). One day, after being dumped, he decides to get his life back together. There's one problem - he decides to do this on the cusp of the Zombie Apocalypse.
     What follows is predictably a cauldron of comedy, horror and tragedy, well done everywhere with subtle but stark transitions between them. It helps that the two genres (Comedy and Horror) so naturally compliment each other - one can easily flash between hilarious, over-the-top Zombie ("Don't say the Z word") whacking to David unsuspectingly being ripped into pieces. The film's reliance on running gags and Brick Jokes, as in Hot Fuzz, also help because of their different contextual meanings (e.g. Shaun's old friend Yvonne converse at the beginning and end of the film, with it going something along the lines of, "How are you?" "Surviving".) This depth means that it has plentiful rewatch value, and can still be enjoyed on first viewing.
     In summation, Shaun of the Dead is a well-written blend of Comedy and Horror with a brilliant script, cast and overall tone. Its depth means that it can be enjoyed many times and continually reinterpreted without making it any less funny or scary. As an homage to Romero zombie films it stands out as an excellent and logical extension to the concept. I look forward to the third and final installation in the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy in 2011.

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Sunday, 24 October 2010

SuperSunday: Spiderman 2

Spiderman 2 (2004)

If Superman is the leader in the D.C. collection, then Marvel's poster boy is definitely Spiderman. The teen infected by a radioactive spider bite, he stands as an identifiable role model to preach the rights and wrongs of society. They also made some films, and if this is news to you than you're either deaf, blind or both, in which case you have no way of understanding this article in the first place.
      The first Spiderman movie in 2002 was ok; it was a decent origin story for the character, as well as using his iconic villian The Green Goblin to great effect. I remember liking it as a kid, as we all did. It was so popular, they made a sequel, which was insanely popular. Then Spiderman 3 came around. We're not talking about that today. No, I'm reviewing the first film I ever got on DVD, Spiderman 2.
     Tobey Maguire (Pleasantville, one of my favourite films) stars as the eponymous hero Peter Parker, along with Kirstin Dunst (Jumanji, Wimbledon, many other films) as the Mandatory Love Interest Mary-Jane Watson and that guy off the perfume ad as Harry Osbourne, Peter's pal and love rival. Maguire's acting is very samey to me; light. sensitive, and very unrealistic. It isn't bad acting but it certainly isn't appropriate for a character like Spiderman, who's usually much more headstrong and cocky.
     We pick up two years after the first film, and Peter is having trouble keeping up with both his life as Peter and Spiderman - losing his job, forgetting his birthday, and having Spiderman turned into a public enemy. He's also madly in love with MJ. As usual. This early part of the film has a few OK scenes, but everything is played very lightly, and when it jumps into serious relationship territory the move feels jarring and awkward. Maguire's acting really doesn't help here, as his thoughtful, stoic figure just doesn't fill the gaps. He's often like a small child, and the script doesn't do him any favors.
     The main subplot early in the film, apart from an intoduction of the villan, is that Peter has to go and see a play that Mary Jane is in, and cannot make it because he's too busy Spidermanning. The whole thing isn't very interesting. Oh, and he loses his powers. For some reason.
     Peter's writing an essay on Doctor Otto Octavius (totally a villan name). He's played by excellent British actor/comedian Alfred Molina, who's quite charming early on here. Otto has been working on a form of atomic fusion to create renewable energy, but he needs a four-armed steel structure around his waist to help his control the reaction. In an accident, the fusion fails and he becomes fused to the arms, turning him instantly into a Supervillian.
     While its not necessarily a bad thing when a film's strongest character is its villan (see The Dark Knight for a good example) you need to have at least an interesting set of events for your protagonists to go through. That isn't apparant here; all of the main scenes are either boring or romantic mush, with such a light-hearted tone that it's lethal to Care Bears.
     Spiderman 2 is an enjoyable movie once it gets underway, but the constantly schizofrenic flittering from interesting to dull means that there are huge chunks where you'd rather not be watching. Having the main character as perhaps the most unlucky person in the world is never a good move unless you're a pure comedy; moving into tragedy every five seconds makes for an unpleasant experience. You can't define the film by one level of quality, because it shuffles itself too often.

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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Review: Hellboy

When I wrote the schedule for SuperSundays, I regretted not being able to review Hellboy and Fantastic Four. I felt that I needed instead to cover Superman, Spiderman and Batman, by far the three biggest Superheroes in fiction. First, I review Hellboy.
     The titular character (Ron Perlman under heavy makeup) is a devil from Hell, who escaped as a child through a dimension-gate opened by para-normal obsessed Nazis (aided by the immortal Rasputin) in rural Scotland at the height of the Second World War. Adopted by the proffessor (I can't remember his name, so hereon he's John Hurt), he grows up to be part of an elite paranormal group that fights other demonic creatures. Yes, this thing is epic. Introduced to this team is John Myers, an FBI agent asigned to "look after" Hellboy after repeated public sightings. He's the audience proxy, of course.
     The nature of the comic means that the colours and designs are very cartoonish, and the characterisations and ideas serve to lay a childish bed for the film to lay in. But somewhere just under the surface lies a complexity that outshines its simple nature. The film's structure doesn't help - it spends half-an-hour throwing background at the viewer, then serves up a few excellent action scenes before settling down and churning a mixture of the two. The film is good at each different tone, but it doesn't flow very well between them.
      Ultimately, director Guillermo del Toro has done very well to match the comic's style and colour scheme, as well as its general themes, but in some places adapting the comic-based slapstick is a little weak. Otherwise, the camerawork is fine. The film's other main issue is that when the focus isn't on the paranormal/scientific, it's relationship based, and the script doesn't do well to make us empathise with Hellboy.
    In summary, Hellboy is a fun demonic romp that while sometimes being cartoonish and over-the top with it's mythology, actually has some very strong moments and is overall quite powerful and thoughtful. It just needed that little bit of toning down during its lighter moments to fine-tune it into an efficient and more watchable experience.

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Sunday, 17 October 2010

SuperSunday: Superman Returns


Superman Returns (2006)

Superman is the superhero. He embodies everything in the genre, its fantasticism and its range, and how the exploits of the superhuman can affect the human. In short, the Superhero Genre would be a vast empty space were it not for Christopher Reeve's Superman.
     The 4 original Superman films of the 70s and 80s mirrored the Batman films; a decent original, followed by a stronger second, and then the last two taking turns for the worse. Superman Returns decides to ignore those last two, explaining that Five Years have passed, and not explaining why all of the characters look younger than when he left. New boy Brandon Routh is a dead ringer for Reeve and yet offers his own sensitivities and quirks to the role. This incarnation is certainly more benevolent and believable. Our villian is of course Lex Luthor, played here by the brilliant Kevin Spacy, with a scheme that puts quite of a few of his originals to shame.
     The basic plot is as follows: Superman has been away from the Earth looking for the remains of his home planet. The world has learnt to live without him, and some have begun to even resent him - Lois Lane has recently won the Pulitzer Prize for an article titled "Why the world needs Superman". She has a husband and a four-year-old child (no prize for guessing who the father is.) Superman returns, as Lex begins to put into action his plan to create a new supercontinent out of Kryptonite - killing millions, including Superman.
     I'm simplifying things here. The plot does work well within the confines set for it; it remains cohesive and fluid while still allowing for well-excecuted action scenes and satifying call-backs to the original films. However, there are quite a few issues. The direction is mostly ok but there are some moments where it's a tad dodgy. A lot of the script relies too heavily on the references to the part and there isn't enough advancement with the concepts to make them more interesting.
     There's also a problem with the scale of the film. Luthor's plot is supposedly going to destroy the entire North-American continent, and yet we only witness destruction in the relatively small area of city around the offices of the Daily Planet. There are Earthquakes and power-outages for crying out loud, and Superman only had to save a street-worth of City. In New York. The younger cast, working on older material, means that the sense of sentimentality feels alien and undeserved.
     Ultimately, Returns is a light-hearted return to the franchise with a firm grasp on the previous films but with a new cast and a more modern outlook. It could have been great, but its overreliance on the past, as well as unnecessary sentiment, means that it can feel like a bit of an interloper in Superman's history. As a Superhero film? It's perfect. Not too edgy, nor too childish, but still maintaining a family atmosphere and a coherant plot.

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Saturday, 16 October 2010

Super Sundays!

Super Sundays is a new feature on my blog. Every month will have a theme, and every Sunday I will review a piece of media (mainly films) related to it. Here's the remaining year's schedule:

October - Superheroes

- 17/10/10 - Superman Returns
- 24/10/10 - Spiderman 2
- 31/10/10 - The Dark Knight

November - Africa

- 7/11/10 - Goodbye Bafana
- 14/11/10 - Last King of Scotland
- 21/11/10 - Blood Diamond
- 28/11/10 - District 9

December - Great British Comedy

- 5/12/10 - Monty Python Mega-Review
- 12/12/10 - Sean of the Dead
- 18/12/10 -The Boat that Rocked
- 26/12/10 - Love Actually

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Review: Merlin 3.6: The Changeling

While not as clear-cut as last week, The Changeling is a good episode that manages very well to mix good-natured comedy with adult questions of love, destiny and duty. It's a good sign that Merlin is getting these issues covered, and there's finally some firm momentum with the mythology. This week's story saw Arthur set to marry Princess Elena, because Uther wants to ally with her kingdom. There are two things getting in the way, however - Elena is a clumsy, rude girl possessed by a Pixie, and Arthur loves Guinevere.
     Yes, the basic premise has been done before, in both Series 1 and 2, but this time its done a lot more realistically. More reference is made to the general problems behind these sorts of marriages - as if Merlin is finally beginning to deconstruct its more cliched plots. Merlin and Gaius managed to work out the plot in five seconds flat, and find a solution pretty easily - bettering their track record so far this series.
     The episode really reaffirms the Arthur/Gwen relationship after it's lax in the earlier episodes, and it also sees a good deal of character development for Arthur, taking him forward from Series 1's jackass to Series 2's mature prince. Uther is becoming quite a schizophrenic chararacter; last episode, he was begging Gaius to save his daughter, and look after his children. Here, he doesn't give a rat's ass about how Arthur feels about the marriage, much less cares about this emotion you call "love".
      This episode also had a guest role by Patsy Byrne, of Blackadder Ilumini (Nursie in BAII and BA:BAF). She is so far I believe the only woman on television to try and seduce Richard Wilson*, and I really didn't mind her rampant flirting (she was a Pixie in this story, if you were wondering) because in the end it actually had an effect on the plot - letting Gaius trap her so they could give the antidote to Elena. It's this type of cohesive and innovative plot structure that really revitalises an otherwise over-used story type like this, especially in a series that reuses its plots incessantly.
     Next week we actually use this series' main villians, and I'm hoping we'll make a hat-trick of decent episodes.

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*EDIT: My apologies. Elena's servant/pixie was instead played by the very similar Miriam Margoyles,who also had several roles in Blackadder such as the Spanish Infanta, Lady Whiteadder and Queen Victoria.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Review: Blackadder: Back and Forth

A veritable masterpiece. A mediocre attempt at comedy. A steaming pile of horse manure. All of these descriptions come close to describing Blackadder's Millenium Special, Back and Forth. I simply can't decide whether to love this special or hate it, because despite it's rather simple premise it manages to be incredibly devisive in quality...
      The modern-day Blackadder is hosting a Millenium dinner party for his friends (of course played by Richardson, Fry, Laurie and McCinnery). As usual, he intends to scam his guests, instructing Baldrick to create a fake Time Machine from some plans by Leonardo Da Vinci. He bets his guests that he can get several items from history, and, using props, plans to reap in £30,000.
     However, Blackadder's plan doesn't go quite right and it turns out that Baldrick has constructed a working time machine. In their attempts to get home, Blackadder meets dinosaurs, gives Elizabeth I a Polo mint, punches William Shakespeare (Colin Firth, everybody), kills Robin Hood (wooing Maid Marion - played by model Kate Moss), accidentally kills the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, and then visit Hadrian's Wall in the Roman Period. When they finally return home, they find that no-one has heard of Shakespeare or Robin Hood, and that the country is French. Blacky goes back and fixes all of his mistakes, and then changes a few more things to become King Edmund III.
     Everything is done with a good sense of fun to preceedings, with a jolly few references to the original series, but it's not as interconnected as I would have liked. The Duke of Wellington, for example, is a vastly different character to the Wellington satirically portrayed in Blackadder III - it would have been so easy to insert a quick "Baaugh!", as is characteristic of Fry characters, just to have a slim connection to that earlier portrayl.
     The humour also seems to have jumped down a notch. Scatological and rascist humour in the original series was done with some historical context in mind, and things were usually kept as realistic as was possible on the budget. Following the Inverse Law of Budget and Quality, the jokes regarding Baldrick's disgusting habits (his revolting underwear and Tony Robinson's bare arse) and the constant bashing of the French ("They call us pansies, and whoopsies, and big-girl's blouses!" "But we are, Monsieur President. We will be killed the moment we mince up the hill") feel a little tasteless and wrong, if the latter are a little entertaining.
     Nevertheless, it does a decent job of bringing the series to a final and satisfying end, and for that I must give it credit. Blackadder has been one of the greats in British Comedy, beaten only, in my opinion, by the likes of Monty Python and in some places Red Dwarf. I've enjoyed my Blackadder marathon, and I hope you have too. Thanks for reading.

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Monday, 11 October 2010

Opinion: Blackadder Ramble

I just thought I'd have a little ramble about Blackadder. Do excuse me.
    After doing a Marathon, it's resoundingly clear to me that Blackadder III is by far the most refined and thus funniest of the series. Hugh Laurie is a much better third man than Tim McCinnery was previous, as well as this being the most ruthless Blackadder. It's also the only "lucky" Blackadder - in the end, he becomes King.
      The Black Adder is funny but in a far different way, relying more on Atkinson's comedy tropes to pull the laughs. The characterisation wasn't that slick and there wasn't a consistant stream of laughs as their is in later series, but I suppose the higher overall budget means that there's a good aesthetic.
      Blackadder II was a vast improvement, but his pandering to Queenie kept some of his more pathetic and petty nature. This made the character of Queenie far more interesting in the long run. Nevertheless, Ben Elton's fast-paced scripts make it the second-best.
      Blackadder Goes Forth borders at times on Anvillicious propoganda; released, of course, on the 70th Anniversary of the Armistice, its jokes on the First World War feel somewhat bittersweet and distasteful, especially when one considers how close the subject is to a great many people, and the number of deaths involved. Despite this, the areas where it isn't hammering down anti-war sentiments are just as fast-paced and witty as before. One noticable problem is a little bit of self parody; a new over-reliance on the similie gag, as well as slapstick, that begins to tire. The supposed educational value of Goodbyeeee..., and thus its overuse in the classroom, means that I can't watch it any more.
      Moving on to the Specials, and the shining lead is Blackadder's Christmas Carol, which captures the fun spirit of Blackadders II and III in a topical mood. The Cavalier Years is fun, and Steven Fry is especially good, but it isn't overly interesting. Back and Forth, on the other hand, is a bastardisation of the series. The rule that states Higher Budget = Lower Quality certainly applies, with more focus being placed on scatological and generally racist humour than to any sort of vocal wit.

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Saturday, 9 October 2010

Review: Merlin 3.5: The Crystal Cave

Now that's more like it. Finally, an episode of Merlin that actually comes close to the standard that we've expected since the Series Two finale. Yes, it had some flawed scenes, and I was disappointed by the resolution, but its a definite step in the right direction. The Crystal Cave further developed the characters, as well as Merlin's predicament, and gave us some genuinely touching moments unlike anything in the previous episodes this series.
     While running from a group of bandits, Arthur and Merlin escape through the cursed Valley of Fallen Kings. Within, Arthur is shot and falls unconscious, leaving Merlin to try in vain to help him. Luckily, a mage comes across the crying servant and heals Arthur, and then shows Merlin a cave full of magical, prophetic stones. The acting is actually ok here, and for the first time Merlin's anguish is believably done. The crystals show Merlin a series of images which he interprets as Morgana being given a blade with which she then kills Uther. I got excited.
     Merlin worries about Morgana's plot, and, seeing as it is her birthday, tries to stop Arthur from getting her an ornate blade - inextricably causing him to. Morgana makes her move, but she falls down a set of stairs and has a head injury. The castle waits, and Uther is particularly distraught at the thought of losing her, who it turns out is his daughter (He doesn't want her to know, because then she has a right to his thrown and has already shown murderous tendencies. She somehow hears him through her sleep though.) Merlin, seeing Uther, Arthur and Gwen's pain, goes to ask the Dragon for guidance on whether to save his enemy. The Dragon isn't happy, but is forced to oblige; Morgana is healed, and awakes with a vengeance - as she goes to kill Uther in the night, Merlin only just manages to stop her.
     Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Anthony Head (Uther) really shine here. They're believable and adaptable, and now the writing is strong enough for them to show off. The only thing I was annoyed at was the fact that it returned to the status quo when it came literally seconds away from making a positive story move - killing Uther and revealing Merlin's magic. I don't think the BBC realise that a lot of people are actually gunning for Morgana to win at the moment, just to get away from the obnoxious filler. Next week's episode looks like more filler, but it also features the Lake where Excalibur lies, so I mustn't worry.

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Review: Hot Fuzz

There's a reason that I love British comedy; it's often more thoughtful and deep than the American equivalent. The creative team of Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost in particular have produced two (so far) of the best comedies, in my opinion, ever made – Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Both are powerful, well-crafted stories that are not only hilarious but act as a fun, bloody satire on a particular genre.
            The funnies in Hot Fuzz are more subtle than in its predecessor. This film takes on the genres of Murder Mystery and then Action, and succeeds brilliantly at both while injecting some of their characteristic charm. Shaun of the Dead's popularity also means that it is stuffed full of big names, from Jim Broadbent to former Bond Timothy Dalton.
            Most of the humour is derived from the absurdity of the setting and characters, but there's also a lot of sarcasm and irony. Most jokes are also referenced throughout the movie and run parallel to the plot, which in itself is strong.
            Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is the best officer in London; so good, in fact, that his superiors (Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy) send him off the country for making the rest of the team look bad. He becomes Sergeant in the small, idealist town of Sandford, which is controlled by the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance. While the subtly controlling Chief Inspector Butterman (Jim Broadbent) and his na├»ve son Danny (Nick Frost) insist that the village has the lowest crime rate in the country, a series of deaths alerts Nicholas to the possibility that the village isn't all it seems.
            Fuzz manages to make the rare accomplishment of combining gags and plot in one fluid motion – there isn't a single scene that doesn't later pay off somehow, and the twists and turns that the story takes, as well as the literally explosive changes in tone, make it a both funny and thrilling ride.

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Thursday, 7 October 2010

Overview: Blackadder Goes Forth

"I, on the other hand, am a fully rounded human being, with a degree from the University of Life, a diploma from the School of Hard Knocks, and three gold stars from the Kindergarten of Getting the Shit Kicked Out of Me."

1988 was a sombre year. The 70th Anniversary of the Armistice of WWI, and the nation was focussed on the War. So what better era for the fourth series of Blackadder to cover? Blackadder Goes Forth is very strongly written, with powerful satire and near-constant gags. However, the rather sombre, and recent, nature of the war makes the whole thing a bit bittersweet...
     Captain Blackadder heads a small area on the Western front. He's bitter, slightly twisted and a genius realist. He's fought in wars before, and seems to recognise early on the stupidity and pointlessness of Trench Warfare. This disdain is furthered by his two lower ranks, George (Hugh Laurie, playing a toned-down version of his Prince) and Baldrick (even more stupid, but in a seemingly recognisable way - a bit more genre savvy.) Heading up the ranks, in an office 30 miles from the front, are General Melchett (Steven Fry, again a toned down Wellington) and Captain Darling (Tim McInnery, from TBA and BAII).
     What with the closeness of the subject matter, nearly every gag is a push on the First World War. And it does start to wear down - my favourite episode of this series is General Hospital, which relies less on these types of jokes. It is no doubt well-written, stirring stuff; a piece of art in itself, but for me it doesn't spring towards to fun mix that Blackadder has always had. It's funny. It's very funny. But it's a little bit of an aquired taste.
     The thing most remembered about this later series is the ending, which was broadcast on November 11. It was very sombre, ending on a field of poppies. It's considered one of the most touching endings to a series in British television history, but I don't agree. It seems a little bitter to me; I find the end to be clumsily done and so far away from what this series represents - taking a satirical but poignant look at the First World War, while advancing the characters to their most powerful.
     But fear not, dear gentlemen, for the story of the dynasties of Blackadder is not yet finished. Next week I make one final review, to the Millenium special, Blackadder Back and Forth.

Review: Blackadder's Christmas Carol

"Going to buy some cake for your silver haired mother?"
"Nah, sod that. I'm off to the gin shop."
AND
"What can I do with a girl that I can't do with you, Blackadder?"
"I cannot conceive, sir." 

B'sCC is a subversion of both the traditional Christmas Carol and of Blackadder itself. The series' works well to skew the concept into something funny and thoughtful, as well as adding an outing for some excellent guest stars. It's the total opposite of what Christmas should be, and that's why is is absolutely perfect.
     Ebenezeer Blackadder has reached the lowest point in the dynasty - a small shop owner, and the nicest man in England. He gives droves of money to charity, and at Christmas he gives away everything he has to the people around him, who abuse his generosity. For example, all of the "orphans" are obese, and "Tiny Tim" weighs fifteen stone. Baldrick serves, as always, and seems to have a little more common sense than usual in acting out the real problems with Ebenezeer's giving nature. In the night, Blackadder is visited by a spirit, played by Hagrid from the Harry Potter films.
     After realising that Eb. doesn't need any help to be good, he become curious. Reluctantly, the Spirit shows him Christmasses from BAII and BAIII, giving us welcome cameos from Miranda Richardson, Steven Fry and Hugh Laurie, as well as Atkinson getting to stretch his acting muscles again. Eventually, we get to see the future - if Blackadder remains good, then his family will become slaves to the Baldricks. If he becomes bad, his ancestors will rule the universe.
     It's a lovely look at the nature of Series II - III, and its lovely. It's a Christmas staple now, and good for it. A strange time of year to review it, for sure, but it takes place in a chronological order. Very soon (as in, just after this review) I take a look at the much deeper and darker tale told by Blackadder Goes Forth.

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Sunday, 3 October 2010

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Dimensions in Time

1993. The thirtieth anniversary of Doctor Who came, and the show had been off for 4 years. A Children in Need special was the only thing for it, something mad, bringing back all remaining Doctors - 3 to 7. And it was bad. Oh so very bad. But it was also quite fun, if you accept that it's just a dream or something, and you really get a good look at the different Doctors and how seriously they're playing the part.
     What little of a plot there is might make for a decent program - The Rani (much more devillish here) abducts the Doctor's forms, companions and several of his enemies and locks them in a small dingy area of London, ready for her to remove from Time. Oh, and that area of London is Walford. From Eastenders. I'm serious.
     While horrifically badly directed, it's good fun and cringing in places. It dates really quickly due to the Eastenders aspect. Jon Pertwee is having a blast, Tom Baker is rambling on a bit, Peter Davison is deadly serious, and the Sixth and Seventh are laughing it up. It just seems so shoddily thrown together (a lot of fans were amazed to discover that this actually had a script) that there's no point in taking it seriously.
     It was part of the actors' contracts that the episode never be shown on television again, and now no official copy exists. Luckily, people did record the episode and now it's on YouTube. Hurrah?

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Review: Eliza Doolittle

Eliza Doolittle, Eliza Doolittle (2010)

Eliza Doolittle is an interesting album in many ways. It isn't powerful, or potent. It doesn't have anything particularly deep to say about the world. It doesn't even ramble on about the power of love, or how relationships are unfair. No, the album before you is, I believe, the thoughts of a quirky person. That quirky person is Eliza Caird, a Londoner with hints of Lily Allen about her.
     The similarities with Allen are what initally drew me to this act. Both are nifty urban albums with a floaty sense of fun and a light, London sound. However, Dootlittle is so much lighter and less profound - and in some places is a more enjoyable listen because of it. In other areas, I was sad to find tht a lot of the songs can be a little repetitive, but in an endearing way rather than an annoying one.
     As you would expect, Doolittle's relationship songs go about the matter in completely unconventional fashion. Either she's (politely) telling a boy what's wrong with him and then complimenting him, or thinking of weird ways to love people. The whole thing is cutesy and a little charming, in stark opposition to some other female singers out there. (Yes, Beyonce, I'm looking at you.)
     Picking out a few singles, Pack Up is a nice Caribbean-themed cover, Mr. Medicine embodies what I said in my last paragraph, and Empty Hand is an eerie lullaby that just comes out of nowhere. Eliza Doolittle is an album that you should at some point have a listen to, whether its to pass the time or simply as a look-in. It's got some charming songs and a nice aesthetic, and a sense of weird realism that is absent in modern music.

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Review: Merlin 3.4: Gwaine

Both this episode and Merlin's third series are irritating me. While this episode had a small number of good moments, the rest was unoriginal filler that, while beinjg entertaining, was none-the-less predictable and of very little relation to the overarching plot. It feels overwhelmingly like a Series One episode, not helped by the mix of Series One plots and the instant comparisons to that first series' fourth episode, Lancelot.
     Merlin and Arthur are out-a-riding when they stop off at a local tavern. The landlord is a scar-faced brute, and when he threatens the barmaid, Arthur steps up to protect her. It turns out that Scarface (my nickname) has a whole posse, and so he and Merlin don't have much chance. Luckily, a handsome stranger by the name of Gwaine appears and they fight off the posse. Scarface is put in stocks and Gwaine falls unonscious. As a friend of the prince he is brought into the castle.
     Scarface escapes, however, and with one of his posse he gets two crystals with which he can disguise himself as a Knight to take part in Arthur's melee tournament. They also have... blunt swords that are magically sharp. Don't really see the reasoning here, but hey, what do I know. Meanwhile, Gwaine is being all anti-king and chatting up Gwen. The two kights arrive and treat Merlin like a jerkass, who quickly learns their secret. Instead of telling anyone but Gaius, however, he instead decides to wait. Don't ask me why. When trying to steal the swords, Merlin gets in a brawl with the two knights, and Gwaine comes to his rescue.
     Exiled for this, Gwaine leaves, but not before saving Arthur's life in the guise of a mysterious knight in the finale. Overall, the two plots - A.) Angry people use magic to disguise themselves and kill Arthur/Uther/Merlin and B.) Handsome stranger helps out - aren't very original within the series, having been done time and time again. To make up for this, the characters actions become even more nonsensical, including breaking really common sense boundaries just to hold up the thin excuse for a plot. It was predictable every step of the way, and it annoys me that this even has a place in Series Three. Despite this, the episode was fun and entertaining, just not in any way which would make you want to watch the episode again.

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Overview: Blackadder III

"I don't know what went wrong. I lied, bribed the press and threatend the electorate. I don't know what else a good politician can do." - Pitt, the Even Younger

BAIII is a tad darker than its previous incarnations, although it still keeps the firm sense of comedy about preceedings. The comedy delves further into more intellectual comedy, covering more gritty situations with deeper themes and a more ruthless Blackadder. It also featured several cast changes in the main trio, as well as an advance of setting, to the more advanced Napoleonic Era, covering many historical topics such as: Rotton Buroughs, the War with France, the First Dictionary, the Scarlet Pimpernel and Duelling.
     Hugh Laurie plays a stereotypical Prince George (III), cared for and often outwitted by his butler E. Blackadder Equire. This Edmund is ruthless, witty and sometimes murderous - he has killed at least five people by the series' end. Baldrick is mostly the same as his predecessor, except his "cunning plans" are even more insane. In the supporting cast, Mrs. Miggins is a nice addition and balances the males.
     It's strange in that the more ruthless approach and sophisticated comedy actually makes Blackadder III funnier; the comedy here balances on Blackadder's reactions to the world rather than what cause those reactions, as in Blackadder II. The characters are deeper and the comedy more advanced for it.
     Coming to the guest stars this series, and I was very happy with Episode 3, which featured a cameo from CHRIS BARRIE. Anyone at least familiar with this blog will understand Barrie's skillful voice and delivery, and he steals the episode. Note that this was a year before Red Dwarf - Barrie shining through to BBC Comedy before Dwarf had begun. Elsewhere, there are cameos by TimMcinnery (Percy Percy from TBA and BAII) and Steven Fry as Waterloo.
     This is an oddity, as one of the two-out-of-six Blackadders that actually win. A moral of the series on the whole; the most ruthless Blackadder of them all becomes King of England. Next week I go on a festive outing in Victorian England, with Blackadder's Christmas Carol.

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