Monday, 27 December 2010

Review: Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

The Doctor takes Kazran and Abigail on a sleigh-ride.
The basic plot of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is the one of the most used plot in fiction, equalled only by "It's A Wonderful Life" in terms of frequency. Three ghosts, of Christmases past, present and future, with an old miser and a city of the poor around him. Some will cock it up, others will tell a more or less consistant rendition and then there are those like Steven Moffat's interpretation, a quirky and warm sci-fi adventure that feels like a "companion-lite" episode (like "The Lodger", etc.). Christmas specials under Russell T Davies often felt like over-the-top bonanzas, with Christmas symbols but none of the usual themes or ideas. While you might argue that this episode is too "subdued", that's not necessarily a bad thing in the intended Christmas atmosphere.
     Our story looks at Scrooge-like Kazran Sardick (Sir Michael Gambon), miserly controller of a human colony called Sardicktown, founded by his abusive father. He keeps control over the colony through use of a machine invented by his father - one that controls the icey storm clouds around his world. This world has a few curious inhabitants - fish that can live in the world's fog. Including, of course, sharks. Flying sharks.
Abigail sings to a flying shark.
     A spaceship containing 4003 people (including the "honeymooning" Amy and Rory) is out of control, having headed into the storm clouds around the planet. The Doctor can't materialise the TARDIS on the hship but does manage to land on the planet, and tries to convince Sardick to let them go. He isn't impressed. So, in a truly spectacularly manipulative act, The Doctor uses time-travel to make a young Sardick into a better person, making him a better person and accidentally making him fall in love with beautiful opera singer Abigail Pettigrew (real-life beautiful opera singer Katherine Jenkins), who was one of the people frozen in suspended animation by her father as "insurance". Unfortunately, they use up her allowed time and she ends up with one day left to live. Along the way, they have many adventures with the TARDIS, including one in which The Doctor marries Marylin Monroe and one in which one half of the Sonic Screwdriver ends up inside a flying shark.
     Steven Moffat is exceptionally good when it comes to complex time-travel affairs, having said in the past that he did things like it "when in a hurry". The expertise on display here is what really seperates it from other interpretations of the tale, a characteristically Doctor-Who-like take on a classical idea. I don't even need to say that this script is incredibly well-written and that's what make this otherwise tangled plot into a really potent and watchable hour.
     One of the biggest things this story has going for it, as far as the press is concerned, are its celebrity guest stars, especially major Hollywood actor Sir Gambon. Both actors fitted seamlessly into the main story and felt as if they'd been in the cast forever. Jenkins was a big surprise, in her first major acting role, and brought a fresh realism to her role.
Kazran (Sir Michael Gambon)
     I think its a sign of just how big the change in era this has been that the first Christmas special not written by RTD has, in my opinion at least, exelled all those previous. It's just written and shot with a much more emotive theme in mind, giving Christmas a focus in the story instead of having it as just a background. The use of the Dickensian structure hasn't done any wrong to the story, and if the terms associated with the story weren't present, I probably wouldn't have noticed the comparison. Overall, very good. Well Done, Moff.


Friday, 24 December 2010

Review: The Fool

The Fool, Warpaint (2010)

Set up in 2004, Warpaint have by this point made their name on the indie scene. They came to my attention due to their inclusion in this year's BBC Sound of... Competition, and I immediately fell in love with their hypnotic style and potent lyrics. The Fool isn't exactly revolutionary; it's too subdued for that, too layed back. A silent revolution, then, because this is like almost nothing that has come before.
     The band's main hallmarks, immediately noticable in their first single, "Set Your Arms Down", are a complex bassline, 70s-style psychedelic guitars and strong, floating vocals. The first single throws us into this world from the word go, drenching us with its calm but driven attitude. This is followed by the self-titled "Warpaint", which has a more distinctly Eastern feel to it and picks up on those military connotations using marching-drums and a faster tempo. 
     I've got a soft spot for the next track on the album, "Undertow", which you'll remember from the BBC Sound of... review. While the dreamy, rustic bassline is interesting, the lyrics here are the main attraction - memorable and catchy without losing any of their meaning. I also simply adore the vocals.
     "Bees," as one would expect from the title, is a little more busy, with over-layed basses and a dreamy vocal. This is also the first song on the album to use rather obvious synth. I don't like this as much as the others, because there's too much going on and it feels a little shoddy. Decent guitar work though.
    The next single is the quiter "Shadows", siren-like vocals floating over a simple, rustic bassline on guitar. I notice at this point that each song has a lot of emotive character to it. "Shadows" is dissapointed, tired. Worn down. After that, "Composure" displays some faintly African influences with a light chanting that soon becomes irritating, after which it develops into a slow 80s ballad. Too repetitive for my liking, unfortunately.
     "Baby" feels more like a traditional ballad, with a slow guitar in the back and vocals slightly more akin to Dido (and in my book, that's not a negative.) Penultimate single "Majesty" is more of the same. Final mention goes to "Lissie's Heart Murmur", a nice piece with a piano and a very hushed vocal.
     My problem with slo-core is that the song manages to get its points across in a relatively short space of time and can only repeat that later on. It may just be my attention span, but for some reason the slow, melancholic drawls don't manage to entertain me for the amount of time I feel forced to listen.
    So, to sum up, The Fool is an enthusiastic excercise of the slo-core concept with quite a few decent ideas and songs, but it suffers from the issues inherant within the genre. A couple of songs also just amplified these issues with their repetitive lyrics and basslines. So; buy nor not? I personally wouldn't buy this album, but I would take a quick look at some of their music on Youtube because it is at least notable and interesting.


Thursday, 23 December 2010

A Few Words: "All I Want For Christmas Is New Year's Day", by Hurts

Hurts - All I Want For Christmas is New Years Day (Official)

A big part of Christmas is the music, especially for taking a look at years' past. Christmas music, for me, has exposed me to greats like John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Slade from an early age, helping me to at first understand the great music of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Noughties attitudes mean that Christmas music is rarely written. Hurts, however, disagree with this sentiment.
     And, to be honest, the song is standard Hurts fare - a melancholic drawl with optimistic lyrics that sort of flies by without much notice. The song has a lot of warmth and definitely fits the seasonal theme, but it blends in too well with the rest of the songs in their ouvre. So; worth a listening - if you like Hurts.


Review: GHTTB: LoM 1.7 and 1.8

To finish off Series One of the Bonanza, two very strong episodes.

Life On Mars, Series One, Episode Seven

Regular readers may be aware that I'm not Chris Chibnall's biggest fan, particularly of the work that he's done for Doctor Who. Chibnall, however, made his name as a writer on Life on Mars, and this was his first contribution. How, then, does it stack up?
     Well, to my enormous relief, it is perhaps the strongest episode of the series so far, managing to meld tense drama and an enviable formula shakeup. It felt so refreshing not to have the usual state of affairs, something the Bonanza rarely does. It also provided everyone with excellent character moments and depth that they just haven't had up to now. Chibnall, not exactly an expert when it comes to character development, managed to in a single hour out-do six hours worth of material.
     The lineup manage to bust a flasher-turned-drug-dealer Billy Kembel, who Sam doesn't believe is a large-scale dealer - he wants to find the source of the drugs, and so requests that Kembel be held in overnight. Gene, tired and anxious to get a result, locks him in the same cell as a psychopath, entrusting Ray to get a result while he and Sam go to an Indian restaurant (it makes sense in context.) When the two return, they discover that Kembel is dead, and the team isn't talking.
     Sam takes this oppurtunity to try and escape the dreamworld, by running a personal enquiry into the death - hoping to "bring the walls crashing down". Along the way, Gene exploits his curiosity and gets Sam to really flush out the details, going so far as to ban him from the station just to make Sam rebel. Sam eventually discovers the truth - Ray, to get results from Kembel, gave him the overdose of Cocaine that led to his heart attack. He has firm evidence - a tape - and while Gene publically demotes Ray, he still isn't happy. When he goes to see the Superintendant, he simply laughs in Sam's face.
     Chibnall's masterpiece both exites and disappoints me. If only he could have produced something of this quality for Doctor Who, instead of writing such mush... . This was the most tense and, while not lighthearted, enjoyable episode so far this series. Well done.

Life on Mars, Series One, Episode Eight (Final)
Our first finale comes courtesy of long-time series co-producer and writer Matthew Graham, who I find is particularly good at writing for Sam - often at the expense of the other characters. This episode gave us a very interesting role change, with Gene sticking to the book while Sam felt forced to rely on his natural instincts, or, in this case, family values. It delivered on everything that the series promised and is perhaps the most memorable episode of the series simply in the way it wraps everything up.
     The team are chasing a pair of gangsters called the Norton Brothers, who are spreading crime throughout the city in an attempt to fill the power vacuum left by Steven Warren. Evidence leads them to find and arrest Vic Tyler, Sam's father who abandoned him that very year. Understandably awed, Sam goes out of his way to try and find Vic innocent and, in an attempt to get home, persuade him to stay home. Slowly the evidence mounts up, until it is revealed that Vic is the Norton Brothers - they were his charade, his cover. Despite Sam's attempts, Vic runs away, and Sam doesn't wake up.
     An aspect often used in the Bonanza are near-psychedelic dream sequences that drop subtle hints about characters and plot. In LoM Series One, the recurring element was of a girl in a red dress, blurredly running through a wood, and is fulfilled in this episode. While it works here, the sequences tend to get vaguer as time goes on.
     As an episode of Life On Mars, the finale was perfect in its structure and emotive punch. As a finale, it only very loosely tied up the ends from this series, leaving it wide open for a sequel. I suppose at this point the writers didn't expect to be renewed, and so had to make a compromise between tying everything up and leaving it on a cliffhanger.

That's it for Life On Mars Series One. Rejoin me in the New Year, when I take a look at the more developed Series Two.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

End of Term Roundup

It's that time again, folks - Audenshaw Reviews is going on a holiday break. This doesn't of course mean that there will be no new updates, but don't expect anything daily.
     Coming up during the holiday period we can look forward to the final review of Life On Mars Series One (Episodes 1.7 and 1.8) which I'm sure I'll get round to before the new year. We can also look forward to reviews of Doctor Who (Classic and New) as well as Warpaint - The Fool. The next two Super Sundays (actually written this time) will be Love, Actually and Catch Me If You Can.
     In the New Year, I'll be starting review of Misfits Series One to fill in the gaps, and hopefully (although I make no promises) continuing Life on Mars and Lost Season Four. Hopefully I'll manage to fit in some Spotify music reviews along the way, most probably of Muse - Black Holes and Revelations and Foals - Total Life Forever.


Monday, 20 December 2010

Review: Misfits 2.7 (Christmas Special)

"Jesus" uses a bought power to walk on water.
"I'm Jesus Christ, and I've been reborn."
"Nice he came back for Christmas..." 

After a few duds, Misfits returns to form with an episode that shakes up the formula considerably while also standing on its own merits, here specifically making an excellent parody of the Church. Unlike previous episodes with a satirical spin, the japery ran with the actual plot and (unlike the attack on video games in 2.4) actually relevant.
     Indeed, this week's tight plot tied together many different strands to great effect, most of them dependant upon the other. It helped that the main plot managed to touch all of the group at once, as well as adding specifics for each character. A main issue with Wednesday's episode was this sheer lack of plot.
Potestas est Pecunia
     We join the group three months later - their community service over, leaving them having to work basic jobs just to get by. A super with the power to carry other powers appears and starts exchanging them for money, a sort of "dealer". The whole gang (minus Simon) all go and sell their abilities, while Simon is persuaded by Alisha. Meanwhile, a disgruntled priest makes a pact with the dealer - give him powers to make people revere him, and pay him back with the money extracted from his followers. One follower, a converted mugger, tries to rob the gang at the Pub (where Alisha and Curtis work) and kills Nikki. They try to get their powers back but don't have the money.
"I'm going to kill Jesus"
     We must presume that the plot developments in 2.6 happened despite the time reverse, as Simon is trying to become Superhoodie and is in a relationship with Alisha. When "Jesus" uses her own power against her, Simon finds out and makes possibly the best quote Misfits has ever given us. (See Image). Other relationship developments include Nathan and Marnie, a pregnant girl who he falls in love with. He becomes attatched to her and the baby and it becomes a really heartwarming moment at the end where the baby is born and they all sing "Little Donkey". Jesus was killed in spectacular fashion (by his own petard) and the gang were able to use the money he collected by buy back some powers (although we don't know what powers they got back.)
     I'm glad that Misfits had an extra episode this year, a sort of redemption after the dud of 2.6. It was, excuse the term, a real present to have a fun formula mixup with strong writing and a brilliant turn back to the Arc that made 2.3-6 so interesting. The barefaced parody of the Church (e.g. "Jesus" forgiving the mugger of his sins with a few rushed words) really sharpens the series' comedy to a euphoric extent. Wonderful.


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Review: Misfits 2.6

"I call it... Lactoknesis"
"That's the Mozzerella, tightening itself around your brain stem." Lactokinesis Boy

Dear oh dear. Having trailed off course last week, Misfits comes crashing into its finale with the same gay abandon it did last year - an episode that had little to no bearing on the series' actual arc. Instead, we got an hour of the usual Misfits' plot - Misfits are haunted by a superpowered killer, only to be saved by a rewind from Curtis. It really does surprise me that in a drama as fresh as Misfits, and as brief, that Overman even dares to reuse that form of plot. The all-important arc, the one we'd been working up to for some time now, was left as a footnote.
     A cantine worker (Brian) is affected by the storm, given the power to manipulate dairy products. He is swept up by Lauren Bailey, a PR manager working with Supers to basically further her career (and, they hope, theirs.) Probation worker Shaun sells out the Misfits to the press and leaves, the country, catapulting them into the limelight. They end up staying at the Grand Hotel, where Nathan engages in hedonistic and frankly irritating displays, trying to get a healer to cure him of an STI and blowing his brains out on television. Meanwhile, Brian feels neglected and so uses his power to murder people (through choking and other means).
Nathan wakes up after his first night of fame.
     I would be talking about how the episode advanced some parts of the Superhoodie plot ot their logical conclusions, but then one remembers that this episode used a reset device, wiping all that away in an instant. It's a real shame that the show bookended Series Two with the same plot told twice.
      The episode had all of the Overman staples - strong characterisation, realistic dialogue etc. but this time it felt more splintered and forced. Nathan was especially grotesque, his actions crossing the line so many times I was downright embarrassed, something the Misfits, while offensive, usually avoids.
     Luckily, Misfits has a chance to redeem itself between series. This Sunday, we witness the Christmas special, which is apparently going to bridge together Series 2 and 3. I'm looking forward to it.


Review: Oliver! 2010

"The best production I've seen in 30 years" Mr. Ward

It was Lionel Bart, in the 1960s, who decided to translate one of Charles Dickens' most scathingly satirical books into a stage musical (and then a major film). It softened the lengthy and often conveluted plot from the book and gave it an overall more optimistic spin, while retaining enough of the orignal satire to encourage a morbid feel. Oliver is a story of corruption and innocence, taking centre-stage in the depths of the London Underworld. Perfect, then, for a school production.
     This year saw a large number of Year 10s come to the front, most of whom especially were excellent character actors - injecting some much-needed realism into preceedings. The Sixth Form filled in the other gaps, as last year, but this year they were generally stronger. The chorus this year were still as distracted and juvenile as one can expect when attempting serious drama, but there were some strong players that really knocked it up a notch and the energy on the stage was simply amazing. This was no doubt helped by the two Sixth Form choreorgraphers, Laurens Power and Haigh.
     The director this year was Mrs. MacFarlane, assisted by Miss. Urwin, and they took a different approach then previous years due to the less aesthetic nature of the production - Grease got it's points across (the few it actually had) using song and dance, while Oliver! is a bit more cerebral.
     As expected in a school production, the cast brought their own eccentricities to the fore to make their characters more interesting. The almost obligatory "Panto Dame" was Old Sally, played by a disgruntled (but clearly very brave) Year 10. Irregularities in the scripts provided also gave birth to entirely new characters with their own histories and characteristics (e.g. Reg the Undertaker, who was invented when a cast member was needed to bring on a coffin).
     Much credit must also be given to the other aspects of the show. The backdrop this year took on a more consistent style in the form of a London street, in contrast to the gaudy tableaus of previous years. Costumes were a great challenge, but Miss Ainscow managed to bring along an outstanding array of outfits for all of the characters - the most notable being Nancy's stunning red dress, Fagin's hat and wig, and Sikes' imposing green coat. Finally, the music was spot on and well-worked by Mr. Jones and his Year 11 assistant Stephen Scott.
     Now all is said and done, I'd like to thank everyone involved in the production and especially everyone who paid to come and see it. As a cast member, I had a lot of fun and I sincerely hope the audience did too.


P.S. My reviews of Misfits 2.6 and Life On Mars 1.7/1.8 will be up later today, Sunday at the latest. Also, this week will have no Super Sunday, like last week.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Review: GHTTB: LoM 1.5 and 1.6

Another two episodes this week, with a similar set of themes.

Life on Mars, Series One, Episode Five
"This is how it starts!!" Sam Tyler

If I'm honest, I found it difficult to connect with the issues in this episode, which were surrounding the sport of Football, something particularly prevalent around the Manchester area due to its two world-famous teams. From a less biased standpoint, the episode's main problem is its longwindedness and how it tries (and fails) to spread what should be a simple plot into an hour. It has some good moments that really stand out, but ultimately it's a very forgettable experience.
     A Manchester United supporter has been murdered and it looks like the death will ignite violence between fans of United and City. In an effort to discover who would kill such a well-loved family man, Gene, Sam and Annie go undercover at the victim's local pub, before Sam strings together some clues and finds the two men responsible - United fans spoiling for a fight with the opposition.
     This episode also dove into Sam's history and in particular his father issues - his father was a travelling salesman who used to take him to the matches, but abandoned him and his mother in 1973. This really works in parallel with how Sam tries to help the son of the victim come to terms with his father's death and not be influenced by the football hooliganism surrounding him.
     1.5 has some interesting themes but at the end of the day it's too convaluted to stay memorable for long.

Life on Mars, Series One, Episode Six 
"Nobody dies today."

A much more tense scenario, our obligatory Hostage Situation episode really pulled out all the stops in terms of emotional drama, with the hostage cut-off point corresponding to Sam's loss of Life Support. It had a bit of unneccesary baggage around the edges, but 1.6 kept its main focus well and didn't stray too far, while advancing the characters of Sam and Gene.
     Sam hears in his dreams that the doctors have found no signs of Brain Activity and so are planning to shut off his Life Support at 2:00. Back in 1973, and a hostage situation has arisn at the offices of a local newspaper where the hostage taker promises that "someone dies at 2." Sam is of course intrigued, and using 2006 police procedure manages to accidentally get him and Gene captured within the offices. The Hostage Taker is Reg, The Janitor, an unappreciated ex-soldier who feels like a coward after not killing anyone in Korea. Luckily, the Armed Ops save them at 2.00, as in the real world Sam's mother notices him smiling and stops the pull.
     Much more developed and driven than previous episodes, this episode really knows what it's doing with the material. There isn't any hesitation or filler - everything counts, and there are strong bonds between what's happening in the dream and what's happening in the real world.


P.S. For some reason I don't seem to be enjoying these reviews as much as I should, and thus my lack of posting. Also, this week's Super Sunday has had to be cancelled after unforseen circumstances made it impossible for me to write it. 

Saturday, 11 December 2010

A Few Words: "1962 - 1966" and "1967-1970"

The rock band. The ultimate in the history of British music, of all music. The Beatles are, quite simply, the best band in the world. Their success was first captured in 1973, when their self-run business Apple Corps released the two albums covering the entire 50 song singles chronology from 1962 - 1970, in which they rose to stardom and eventually split up. Why then, am I even mentioning these two albums here in 2010?
     Well, this year Apple Corps finally gave in to consumer pressure and released their songs on the completely unrelated Apple iTunes. In anticipation of this, the two albums were rereleased. And I bought them. These two albums showed me that The Beatles weren't just an old relic, weren't just a museum piece. They showed me the great talent and care put into their music, how the music took influences from the surrounding world but kept a firm grasp on its own intentions
     Wednesday was the 30th Anniversary of the death of one of the band's main figures, John Lennon, who was shot and killed in 1980 by a mad Christian, possibly angered by his blasphemous attitude. Monday two weeks ago was the 9th Anniversary of the death of George Harrison, another member with less publicity. RIP John. RIP George. Long Live The Beatles.


Friday, 10 December 2010

Review: Misfits 2.5

This episode's promotional image.
Nathan dies. Again.
Ok. I'll admit that most writers have thier off days, and this is Howard Overman's. A Misfits equivalent to "Goblin's Gold," perhaps. The truth is, this lumbering hour of character drama only really worked on a higher level, and lost it in the detail. It was slow, redundant and left a lot to be desired regarding not only its content but its placement in the series. Regardless of that, the story was character-driven if not anything else, an area in which Overman always exells.
      The main plot this week surrounded Jessica, a charity worker who Nathan suspects brutally killed him after he watched her getting changed. She gets friendly with Simon an they start a relationship, to Nathan and Alisha's anguish, for various reasons. This plot provides a lot of well-deserved tension throughout the story, but it quickly becomes predictable when one considers the cameo made by her protective father, who turns out to be a storm-psycho bent on killing any man who gets close. It turns out she's acting suspicious because she's a virgin and felt embarrissed. Then, as mentioned in Episode 3, Simon does the deed before being quite anti-climactically saved by a barrel-wielding Alisha.
I have nothing to say.
     Elsewhere, and the main subplot showed Kelly start a chance relationship with strange, near-autistic Bruno (mostly sexual, of course.) He has singular thoughts and is running from the police after a fight. He attends the fancy-dress party (where the main plot fizzles out as well) and in the episode's climax climbs up a building with Kelly and is shot. It turns out that Bruno was a gorilla in Bristol Zoo who got made into a human by the storm.
     Excuse me for a second, but WHAT?! The idea itself is not only inane, it's also something that Misfits has covered before, most notably in the second episode of the first series. Person becomes young/human, has a relationship with one of the misfits and is then revealed in their true form before dieing. The worst thing, however, was the shitty, shoddy animatronics that were less convincing than a face drawn on a piece of wood. Amusingly, many episodes from the first series were referenced here, in Misfits' first instance of minor fanwank.
The fulfillment of 2.2's flashforward.
     However, there was some good among this mess. The acting, as usual, was superb; Jessica's nervous mannerisms felt natural and helped to stir some plot confusion, and Bruno had... erm... the mannerisms of a Gorilla? Moving on, the direction was excellent as always and so were the exquisite character moments, of which everyone in the group were afforded (apart from Curtis, who as usual was off shagging someone.) This was especially noticeable at the beginning between Alisha and Simon. You know, before the fucking GORILLA. Yes, I'm still hung up on that.
     To sum up, 2.5 really lacked any of the drive pushing previous episodes, and sauntered through its (mostly) predictable plot carrying the burden of unresolved tension. The subplot was frankly ridiculous and while I'm all for developing Kelly as a character, this did absolute fuck all and made as much sense. The episode had all the hallmarks of Misfits - strong characterisation, great direction and a firm sense of gritty urban humour, but it had none of the usual pace and tight plotting that make Misfits so watchable.


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Opinion: BBC Sound of 2011

I've realised over time that the BBC Sound of... competitions actually do have some thought behind them, and they've guided many of my purchases. If it weren't for this competition, I wouldn't have bothered to listen to Florence + The Machine, Little Boots, Plan B, Ellie Goulding, Marina and the Diamonds or Hurts. So, for the first time, I'm actually paying attention. These are my three personal favourites from this year's Top 15.
(Link: here.)

1.) Clare Maguire ("Ain't Nobody")

Maguire's been working on debut album Light After Dark for two years, and while it hasn't yet been released, its lead single "Ain't Nobody" is already getting critics excited. Mixing powerful, baritone vocals with near-perfect use of synth, the track may seem a little repetitive in places but ultimately provides a unique and moving experience. I'll definitely be buying this album.

2.) Warpaint ("Undertow")

With an already firm reputation for weirdy post-Punk, Warpaint stand to further cement it this year. They've been working since 2004 and already have an EP and LP release. I like "Undertow" for its eerie, dreamlike flow with firm 80s undertones. Moving but slightly conspicious, there's a confidence overlying everything that reassures and the excellent vocal and guitar work seals the deal.

3.) The Naked and Famous ("Punching in a Dream")

In a similar vein to the above, The Naked and Famous give us an energetic synth flow with high-pitched ramblings. It's a little brash; a little gaudy, but at the same time it's powerful and modern with a lot of spunk to back it up. The Kiwi quintet have certainly left we with a good impression.

So there we have it; those are my picks. What do you think about this year's contest, and which do you think will be successful artists in 2011?


Review: Bright Lights, sort of Revisited

 Note: For more information, see here.
(Bright) Lights, Ellie Goulding (2010)

I don't know whether to be disappointed or enthused. Ms. Goulding joins a long line of artists who, for whatever reason, decide that instead of releasing their new material on a new album, simply tack it onto a rerelease. Admittedly this was probably Polyor's decision and not hers, but it does make buying such an album a little less cost-effective than one really wants. (I'm using Spotify to review it, for anyone wondering.)
     Now that little tirade is out of the way, we have to look at the seven new tracks that constitute this rerelease, with the added burdon of context. I'm glad that Goulding has taken her six months to really fine-tune her style to create catchy, interesting pop melodies that still hold as much brilliant vocal work as I've come to expect from her. The only problem I have is that she seems to be now aiming towards a more mass-market audience, perhaps in reaction to her poor chart performance. Not that this is a necessarily a bad thing, of course, but at least two of these seven tracks just collapsed into high-tempo club music that really stuck out in Goulding's otherwise recreative ouvre.
     Now, the original Lights had a few varying styles, but the sudden quality/genre shift provided by the new material marks a clear distinction between that and Bright Lights. Of note is her cover of "Your Song", which I quickly covered a while ago, which is the only ballad on the album that isn't sprayed with techno bullshit, and stands out as superior because of it. Now, for the first time, she's also produced a song that I just can't listen to, "Animal", which is the aforementioned high-tempo fuckfest.
     Overall, the new tracks on Bright Lights are of generally higher quality than the ones on the core of her fledgling first album, but none of them really justify buying the first ten singles again. Goulding is starting to show her new experience with music, but is drifting into the world of cheaply produced trash-pop that I just can't abide. It's really up to you whether you want to buy this rerelease; if you're not too sure, I'd leave it. You're not missing much and if it's just Your Song you want, there are many other sources.


P.S. A Happy Birthday to Asher Ahmed, who is 15 tommorrow! If anyone else has any more birthday requests, feel free to mention them on the Audenshaw Reviews Facebook Page.

1st Anniversary and 200th Post!

The immortal Audenshaw Reviews Logo.
Well, I made it here. The one year mark. One year since I made my first review, of the Gorton centenary celebrations, and posted it to Facebook. 200 posts on this blog, since February 4*.
     I must thank my parents for taking me to the Gorton 100 celebrations, an event so badly handled that it inspired me to write a satirical, scathing review and post it on the most vocal forum ever. That review led to my critical review of the School Play, which then led to my next reviews in the new year, Royal Marine Band and Halle for Youth. Constant heckling by my peers led to me to, using my little-used Blogspot account, create a website. That website is called Audenshaw Reviews.
    I didn't review much until 17th May, which is when I reviewed Calvin Harris' Ready for the Weekend, which erupted a daily stream of reviews. Once I'd worked through my music collection, my focus widened to books and, very importantly, television (I recently had my 100th Television Review.)
     This continued until a certain smeggin' idea of mine, to review every episode of Red Dwarf. This leaked over into the Summer Holidays; a holiday that changed my stlye of reviewing due to a change in my style of computing. Instead of having my laptop on the move, it was immobilised in my room. I began to review out of boredom; Classic Doctor Who and Survivors especially so. When I returned to School in September, I had no timetable, and very little to review.
     The extra pressures of GCSE work meant that the only reviews became constricted to Merlin and Blackadder. Soon Blackadder ran out, and I was stuck. It was at this point I invented Super Sundays, which has seen me venture into film, and I'm now able to review the weekly episodes of Misfits. Also on offer is the Gene Hunt Time Travel Bonanza, which by my reckoning should be completed in August 2011. In the New Year, I'll also resume the aborted reviews of Lost's Fourth Season, as well as getting round to reviewing the heaps and heaps of Classic Doctor Who.
    I want to thank the following people: The organisers of Gorton 100, for putting on such a bad event; Calvin Harris, for making such a bad album; the makers of everything I've ever reviewed here; my sister, for encouraging me to carry on; and finally I thank all of the readers of this blog (however many there may be).
    To finish, I want to know what you want on the blog in the New Year, and I'll be able to consider them. Comment on this article, and give me your ideas!

For the 201st time**, Thanks.

*I began the blog on 4/2/10, but I'm really honouring the first review rather than the creation of the site.
** This might explain.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

SuperSunday: Monty Python Films

From left: Top Row: Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam. 
Bottom Row: Terry Jones, John Cleese and Micheal Palin
Monty Python. One of the best, if not the best comedy troupe in the world. Four television series, four films, many stages shows and even a few singles have marked them out as witty, satirical and very, very weird. It's this strangeness that tends to ward away most newcomers, as at first it takes a certain frame of mind to comprehend the level of humour on offer here. Nevertheless, the Pythons are a national treasure that really set the bar on the standard of British comedy. This, the first of my Mega Reviews, will cover the four Python films in all their flexibilities. Think of it as four reviews for the price of one.
     I'll also be looking at the group dynamic and how it affected the course of their comedy style. Monty Python were half-oddballs, half-products of their time. The four films are very different in style, and I'll be giving some insight as to why that is...

And Now For Something Completely Different (1972)
In between their penultimate and final series, the Pythons were advised to make a film composed of the best sketches from the show. They did so. And Now For Something Completely Different is the oddball in the Python film series in that it contains a scarce amount of new material.
     In all honesty, this film is more-or-less just a cash-in on the phenomenal success of the series. That isn't to say that the film isn't of very high quality; it just dampens the spirit of the film. Regardless, you can tell that the troupe are giving it their all.
     As mentioned in my first Rhineland post, this was the film that introduced me to Python. What I originally saw didn't impress; in hindsight it seems that most of the funniest sketches were left until the end. Indeed, the missed shots come to a nadir in the centre of the film, with Conrad Poohs and his dancing teeth...
     The film has, however, a wonderful atmosphere that encapsulates not only the general feel that the troupe were going for but also a strange sense of absurdity along with it. This is of course helped in spades by Terry Gilliam's masterful animation.
     At the end of the day, there isn't a lot to say about ANFSCD; simply a summation of the best three series of Monty Python's flying circus. It can be a little uninteresting in places due to its sketch nature, but where it is funny it excels in Python's usual absurdist commentary.

...and the Holy Grail (1975)
Ah, my favourite of the films. Holy Grail takes the pure, unadulterated spirit of the Pythons and channels it seamlessly into a well-researched and hilarious story set around the myths of King Arthur. Directed by the two Terry's, Jones and Gilliam, it often strikes a contract between their two very different styles of direction. 
     Using a (seemingly) rich set of environments, the film shows Arthur's (The great Graham Chapman, who plays it totally straight.) quest to gather his knights (played by the other Pythons), and then, by virtue of God, find The Holy Grail. Eventually, they find the grail in the hands of those filthy heathens, the French.
     The film's intense amount of research and thought only improves the comedic value, as it is able make implicit and explicit statements with every action. The peasants eating mud, for example. A funny gag, or a realistic one? Does their talk of repression refer to the Middle Age despots, or to the problems going on with Communism in the 1970s? There's so much to read into. Too much, one would think. But with all of that, it still remains an excellent piece of work.
     As aforementioned, everyone has a chance to shine. Chapman plays a straight-man Arthur which makes everyone else funnier. Micheal Palin and John Cleese get to play a myriad of characters throughout the film, the former having over 10 to chew on.  The two Terries have fewer roles, because they understandably had their directing duties, but they still make a big impression - Jones with his great Sir Bedevere and Gilliam with his near-random animated shorts.
     Of all of the Monty Python films, this one has had the largest effect on both British and sometimes American culture. Mentioning the troupe in public will often provoke a hail of lines from this film - too many to mention. In filming terms, the film's use of coconuts to jokingly imitate horses has been referenced all over the place, as well as references to Swallows (African or European.) The culture around this film is insane and for very good reason.
     Ultimately, this is Python at its pure, unadulterated best. The film stands as an iconic piece of British culture and set down the basics for almost all modern British comedy. It manages to take the sketch format and run it along a straight enough track to form a basic narrative while still delivering its wonderful randomness. An excellent film. 

 ...'s Life of Brian (1979)
The most controversial Python film (and probably the most controversial comedy) ever made, Life of Brian is surprisingly light and fluffy in comparison to its literally devillish reputation amongst the ignorant. The mere fact that the film was set in Biblical times was enough to cause a storm in a teacup, and many councils around the world banned the film before it was even screened...
     Graham Chapman (again, another brilliantly humourless protagonist) plays Brian Cohen, a boy whose life runs in parallel to that of Jesus Christ and who becomes caught up in the fight against the Roman occupation of Judea. The film, while seeming to satire only religious concepts, was in fact more focussed towards British Left-wing movements in the 1970s. Regardless, it's a film with many, many layers, as well as balancing out a sketch format.
    This time, however, the sketch format is (almost) thrown out of the window, as Brian's story is told more or less in a purely narrative form. This certainly improves both the story and the fluency of the messages they're trying to get across, but it does somewhat constrain the Python's usual creativity to a strict timeline of events.
     Many religious people prop up their criticism of the film on the assertion that Brian is an allegory for Christ, ignoring the fact that Christ appears several times in the film and is perfectly respected. I try not to get religious on this blog, but my anti-religious tendencies were in fact the very reason that led me to watch Life of Brian and properly discover Monty Python.
     Inevitably, the film's slightly anvilicious nature and lack of sketch-format makes laughs a rarer commodity, but where it is funny it strikes into new, much fresher territory that the Pythons tend not to wander into: political satire. And I love political satire. Life of Brian isn't my favourite Monty Python film, but it's certainly a strong one and deserves its place in the public spotlight.

...'s Meaning of Life (1983)
I thought that ANFSCD was the epitome of Pythonesque weirdness, but they really excel themselves in this final, more disjointed effort from the early eighties. By this time the group was becoming tense and their writing a lot more unfocussed. The Python equivalent of Let it Be, Meaning of Life is a last swansong for the group to work their comedy muscles in many ways. As John Cleese once noted, "[The Meaning of Life] contains some of our best and worst material."
      Unlike the previous two films, which were worked on together, each Python worked on their sketches independently - so very rarely did they actually meet, that the development took many wild turns before they settled on the neat framing device the gives us the film's title - sketches examining different areas of "life". The group tension really shows, as the incredibly disjointed sketch structure can be a little jarring. Of particular note in this regard is the expansive short at the beginning of the film (which I could review on its own merits) created as side project by Terry Gilliam. While a fine piece on its own, its unfortunately necessary placement at the film's beginning robs the beginning of the actual film of any gravitas.
     Meaning of Life takes its chances and ups the controversial content to absurd degrees, giving us such gems as "Every Sperm is Sacred", "The Penis Song" and "Wafer Thin Mint" (look it up). This is, however, what Python has always been about - an uncanny ability to shock and teach at the same time. The team manages, through their sketches, to put across their opinions on society, while still being so absurd as to entertain and to offend.
     In hindsight, I'm not too much of a fan of Meaning of Life in comparison to the two previous films because of its last-ditch attempts to retain some fun factor, but really my problem is with its regression from their highly political style into inane sketches. There's a lot to like here, things that will stay with one for a long time after viewing, but there's also a lot to feel a little awkward about.

The last full group photo before the death of Graham Chapman.
The Pythons were anything but predictable. Their styles of both writing and comedy changed over the years, as did their attitudes towards each other. Eventually these attitudes broke the group apart, each going on to do their own thing (with the sad, sad exception of Graham Chapman, rest his soul). 
     The noticeable differences of course stem from who was in charge of direction. Holy Grail was directed by the very much differing Terrys Jones and Gilliam, whose styles clashed frequently. Life of Brian and Meaning of Life were solely directed by Jones, and it shows (the directing is generally more straightforward, and there is less animation.)
     Monty Python are a fine institution that while completely absurd and offensive, were also breathtakingly witty and funny. They my have had a lot of extremes when it came to quality, but with their happy-go-lucky approach that was always going to be the case. Three cheers for Cleese, Idle, Jones, Gilliam, Palin and Chapman (r.i.p).


Review: Merlin 3.13: The Coming of Arthur (Part Two)

Because that outstretched hand doesn't look silly at all.
This is it, folks. The end of Merlin's very turbulant third series, at which point we turn around and look at the mess we've left behind. The finale this week was similar in quality to it immediate predecessor, but unlike that it benefitted more from the obvious change in status quo. The episode seemed to focus most of its effort on leeching as much as it could from the original legend, leaving quite a few plot holes and some other unsavoury aspects that made the otherwise strong episode into a narrative minefield.
     Gwen, rather predictably, rebelled against Morgana's regime, to the delight of Morgause who used this to track down Arthur. Meanwhile, Merlin found that his plot device reward from the Fisher King was in fact a spectral message from his one-time love interest from a filler episode in Series Two, a girl named Freya. She turned out to be the Lady in the Lake, and Merlin (with help from The Dragon, of course) popped over to retrieve from her animated corpse the magical sword Excalibur, from back in Series One. This proved especially effective against the immortal army, whom it violently explodes into pieces of paper (a CGI nightmare.)
Medieval firing squad.
     So the Immortals attack, with Morgause in tow, and the group of stragglers (now, after some adittions, consisting off all the men in the upper right picture as well as Gaius and Gwen) have to hide in some ruins. There, they find a table. It's sort of circular... a Round Table, perhaps? Yeah, this whole ruins bit is about finally tapping into some of that juicy mythology, and so all of the able fighters are made Knights (presumably of The Round Table.) Merlin has a plan, and realises that the deus ex machina solution to their problem is to empty the blood within the Cup of Life. So, the gang bravely wade in rescue Uther (helpfully too weak to stay as King for long) and Merlin (with help from Gaius) kills Morgause and saves the day. He then takes the most powerful sword in existance and, I dunno, sticks it in a rock. A Sword in a Stone. It'll never catch on.
     Because of the level of mythological wow, the solution felt very rushed. This is supposed to be the resolution to an hour and a half's worth of drama, and it consisted of knocking a cup over. It also fell into a lot of pits already well dug by fantasy - army of immortals invade a castle using a magic cup and are defeated by a sourcerer and his entourage, one of whom is wielding a magical sword. It made good television, yeah, but there's nothing new here. Nothing exciting. The fun, innovative stuff shouldn't be kept to the sidelines - it should be the main focus of the damn story.
      The momentum of this episode was what really sealed the deal for me, taking a decent pace that nicely pushed along the plot without lagging or leaving Merlin's comfort zone. It was certainly nice to see some of those well-known features of Arthurian legend, but they felt more like a footnote to the main plot rather than a main feature. It's been an inconsistant year for Merlin, but I feel they managed to combine all of the great television and absolute swill from this year into 45 minutes of entertaining fantasy.


Friday, 3 December 2010

Review: Misfits 2.4

The (frankly frightening) video-game gunman, Tim.
This week's eerily perfect episode was great in many areas, but perhaps the best aspect was that it managed to transform a basic Freak of the Week plot into a vital step in the series' mythology. It took a smorgesboard of ideas and crafted them into an enjoyable and thrilling hour of drama that blew me away and gave me plenty to chew on afterwards.
     The main plot this week was that of the group's encounter with a man whose fascination with a Grand-Theft-Auto-Style video game had led to him seeing the world around him as the game, hereafter refered to as Tim. Unfortunately, this means that he thinks and acts like the protaongist of the game, a gun-obsessed gangster just ouit of prison with matters to settle...
     Around this madman's travels across the estate, there were other important developments. The gang was intorduced to a "new boy", Ollie, with the power of teleportation, who was quickly killed by the gunman. Being a peace-loving hippie, his heart went immediately on the donor's list - and into the waiting body of Nikki (Future Girl from Episodes 2 and 3, if you remember. Had to look that one up on Wikipedia.) who gained her benefactor's power. Elsewhere, and Curtis and Alesha broke up after a heated argument while running from Tim.
Cocky environmentalist Ollie.
     After introducing the new boy, the episode took now qualms in immediately throwing the group into the action. Tim is an incredibly effective villian visually, possessing a strange form of the Uncanny Valley effect; something just wrong, like in an overly realistic video game. This set of unnerving mannerisms, combined with his relative mental illness (the now-infamous "This is not a game - this is my life") make him the first really frightening villian. He thinks like a demented child but he is prepared to kill anyone who gets in his way. In a way, it seems to be a strange sort of anti-gaming Anvil, but it comes off more of a parody of such materials.
     There was a real sense of momentum here, with the ominous threat of Tim hanging over the group's backs wherever they went. Eventually it came to the pivotal moment, where Future Simon revealed his purpose; saving Alesha from Tim's threats. Now the team no longer has Superhoodie looking out for them, and Alesha is left with knowledge of the future.
Nikki teleports into the morgue.
     I just love this episode. There isn't a dull moment, as it weaves between tense drama and intriguing plot developments, all the while managing to fit in great character pieces and awesomely fluent power useage. Tim's visions in particular held their own Uncanny Valley tones, with renders of everyone in the cast. The episode also took time to connect some of the strands left by Episode Two, such as demonstrating Nathan's ability to see the dead. Series Two of Misfits has got really strong writing, and I'm left waiting inpatiently for Episode Five.