Thursday, 28 April 2011

Review: Being Human 1.3

Gilbert helps Annie find out her Unfinished Business.
We're at the half-way point in the first series, and the character arcs are developing nicely. This week is mainly Annie focussed, and she quickly proves to be one of the series' more interesting characters - assisted, this week, by the appearance of an interesting guest who helps make a big revelation about her storyline. Similar to last week's storyline, perhaps, but does it work?
    In an attempt to help Annie cheer up, Mitchell introduces Annie to 80s Guru Gilbert, who's been a ghost for 20 years. For a while his old-fashioned and alternative attitudes simply bore Annie, but he soon helps her to realise that she has unfinished business to resolve. She interprets this as trying to do the things for Owen, her fiancee, that she was unable to do due to her death - notably, being his wife. She helps out around his house but he doesn't notice, and is visibly shocked when Annie leaves him a message on a mirror. Following Owen on his private visit to the flat, she watches as Owen retreives a thong stuck in the piping system - and suddenly Annie remembers why she fell down the stairs. Owen had found the thong and accused Annie of adultery; he pushes her in a fit of jealous rage. After Annie discovers this she goes into a quiet depression. Gilbert comforts her and reveals that he now knows that his unfinished business was having never loved, and now he has fallen in love with Annie. He notices his Door to the afterlife, and moves on.
     Gilbert (Alex Price, who has made appearances on Doctor Who and narrates Doctor Who Confidential) is an interesting character to witness on screen; a sort-of satirical parody of 80s music snobs; notably scoffing at a DJ on an 80s night for playing something released in 1990. His character, and its subtle complexity (albeit not a subtle parody) are a demonstration of how seriously the series takes character at this point. By the end, I cared for Gilbert, and was glad that he passed in peace. Yes, he's probably just a plot device to introduce the concept of the Door, but that just further illustrates my point.
Nina and George share a kiss.
     This plotline also saw Owen's transformation from distressed everyman to creepy murderer, a change carefully choreographed throughout the episode and building up to the reveal. Again, it's nice to see such complex character work - a few words here or there change everything.
     The other main plot was George's ongoing relationship with Nina. He invites her back to his flat and they have a tense date before moving upstairs, where George feels unable to "perform" for fear of hurting her with his pre-werewolf agression; something she interprets as a different problem. The day after, on the actual full moon, he avoids Nina. When she corners him, on his way to transform, and starts discussing ways to get around what she perceives as his "problem," he takes her and they have sex before he runs out to transform.
     Aside from a few snarks from Annie and Mitchell, this subplot provided most of the episode's comedy; George at this point designated the series' comic relief character, mainly because of Russell Tovey's passion for melodrama. The main jokes in this episode were based on jokes about comparing werewolf-based-fear to premature ejaculation; the humour may have just worn off over time, but I didn't find it that funny when I viewed it yesterday; it seemed a bit juvenile.
     Once again left on the back foot, Mitchell's plotline saw him try to help Lauren. He confronts her about the tape, confessing that he liked it a bit, and after a blood-filled sex party he talks her through trying to give up blood; vampires require the life from the blood, so blood from other vampires, and from hospitals, won't work. After feeling rejected, Lauren runs into Seth and goes back to Herrick. Annabel Scholey's performances are consistantly zany and interesting, but the subplot on the whole wasn't as active as the others. It did, however, flow into the others in a cohesive and funny way.
Gilbert sees something nice through the Door.
     So; from a technical point of view, much the same as last week - a character meets someone who helps them to work out the wrinkles of their condition while revealing something fundamental about what caused it in their individual circumstances. Aside from Mitchell, there's a comic-relief plot lumbering along n the background All good. But, of course, this week the contrasts at play were much sharper - the main plot had a more sombre edge to it and the comic-relief seemed more garish as if to compensate.
     1.3 is a showcase for the series' complex characters, and portrayed a somewhat chilling portrayl of an abusive relationship being held from public view. On the other hand, its subplots were extravagent and over-the-top in an attempt to keep the series to a comedy focus, something that I think is unnecessary. A good episode, all in all, but don't hurt yourself on the sharp edges.

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New Timetable

Since I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things, I'm going to be changing my review schedule. I'll be resurrecting my Super Sundays feature, this time mainly written and/or posted on Saturday. The weekend will also have a review of that week's episode of Doctor Who, and I'm planning on reviewing some of the classic serials when that half-series is over. Lost will be reviewed on Fridays and if I get the chance, Being Human  will be reviewed on Mondays.
    May's Super Sundays will be on the topic of Life Stories; inspirational stories that look at people's lives, however extraordinary (or fictional). Films covered this month will be Big Fish, about the adventures of Edward Bloom, Catch Me If You Can, the true story of con-artist Frank Abignale, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the curious case of Benjamin Button, Riding In Cars With Boys, based on the autobiography of Beverly Donofrio, and The Aviator, the story of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes
     I hope that you'll enjoy the next six weeks of my lineup. As usual, my posts will be posted on the Facebook page and @AudenSReviews on Twitter. 

Thanks.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Review: Lost 4.9: The Shape of Things to Come

Ben confronts Keamy over the phone.
After last week's exposition hoedown, we return to the action with a Ben-centric episode. Ben is one of the show's greatest anti-heroes/villians, his marvellously scheming ways hidden behind a somewhat pathetic exterior. This episode takes a look at his role in the island's power-struggle, while reducing him down to his bare, human core. It also returns to the flash-forward device, here used to forshadow the finale.
     The mercenaries take their hostage, Ben's daughter Alex, to the Sonic Fence around the Barracks where Locke's group is staying. In dearming the fence she sends a signal to Ben, who immediately barricades his house with everyone except Sawyer and Clare inside, telling them that they're coming. The mercenaries start by showing the barracks with bullets and bombs; Sawyer only just manages to save Clare and get her back into the house. They send in Miles with a phone connected to mercenary leader Martin Keamy, who gives Ben an ultimatum. After Ben uses the knowledge he aquired from Michael on the boat, Keamy threatens to kill Alex if he doesn't come out. Trying to bluff him out of it, Ben claims that she is nothing to him before Keamy shoots her in the back of head. Shocked at what he considers an act of war from his enemy, Charles Widmore (the owner of the Freighter), Ben summons The Monster to destroy most of the mercenaries, before going off with Locke and Hurley to find the Cabin, where the Island's mysterious leader Jacob is said to live.
The group watch The Monster at work.
     Our flashforward starts with Ben waking up in the Tunisian desert, wearing heavy Arctic gear. After an encounter with two angry natives, he steals a camel and checks into a nearby hotel. Seeing the death of Sayid's wife Nadia, he goes off to Iraq during her funeral to track down her murderer, an agent of Charles Widmore. Sayid confronts him, at first believing him to be paparazzi. Ben tells him about Widmore's agent, and later on Sayid kills him. In a neat lead back into The Economist, Sayid swears to kill the rest of the Widmore agents involved in Nadia's death and in the faked ruins of 815. Later Ben travels to London and confronts Widmore in his penthouse apartment, saying that he has broken the rules of their conflict and that his daughter, Penny, is going to die.
    In Jack's camp, the body of the Freighter's doctor washes ashore and Faraday sends a telegraph asking what's going on. They reply that the Doctor is fine, and when an ill Jack questions Faraday he admits that it was never his intention to help them leave the island. Ok; boring. We did this a few weeks ago. It was just as fun.
    I've said for a while that the scene, from this episode, leading up to Alex's death is a great example of a man breaking down. This was the first time that things really went against Ben's plan, and it's immediately visible in simply his facial expression; for the first time he is feeling a deep-seated grief, and an unexpected one at that. In past weeks I've said how much I admire Michael Emerson's acting, but here he really goes above and beyond to present a very three-dimensional human being. Everyone else just seems exemplary; other notable turns come from Jake Holloway as Sawyer, who takes the action of the episode well, and Tania Raymonde does a nice breakdown. The Jack storyline, meanwhile is getting a little tired and trite at this point. Nothing of real interest is happening, and the exciting time-travel aspects of that plotline are almost punctuative. 
Ben awakens in Tunisia
     While I love Emerson's acting and the episode's examination of his character, the episode needs that something extra to keep it on top. Ben was forced to play both adventurer and exposition, with other characters reduced to question-asking blanks. I think it's yet another testament to Emerson that he can hold up an episode like this and I'm still draw back to watch it again and again.

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Review: Doctor Who 6.1: The Impossible Astronaut

The Eponymous Astronaut
Doctor Who returns with an episode with as many faults as it has highlights, a somewhat tangled mess of ideas that won't really pay off until next week; for the first time in NuWho the series is starting with a two-partner. Steven Moffat throws us another timey-wimey plot with some weird aliens, but certain sensationalist and blatantly promotion-based sequences ruin it. Spoilers follow.
     The Doctor, through a series of envelopes, invites Amy, Rory and River to the middle of Utah in 2011, several months after the last episode. They chat and have a picnic, during which a spaceman walks out of the nearby river and kills this Doctor stone dead. After mourning, the companions burn his body on a pyre and go back to the nearby diner, where they find that the Doctor also invited his younger self in an attempt to save himself. Having already seen an old man named Canton Everett Delaware III, who was invited to the "wake," they head back to 1969 with a mistrusting younger Doctor in tow. They end up landing in the Oval Office with the younger Canton, who is being briefed by President Richard Nixon about phone calls he is receiving from a creepy little girl.
      Meanwhile, Amy goes to the bathroom feeling queasy and finds a horrific alien that she finds she can't remember if she looks away (having seen it at the wake). It kills another woman (who we learn from the alien was called Joy) and it tells Amy to tell The Doctor her message. Leaving, she forgets. Returning, the Doctor traces the phone call and the companions, plus Canton, bundle into the Tardis and end up in a warehouse near Cape Kennedy. Having far too many companions with far too little to do, Rory and River go off through some tunnels, discovering (and forgetting ) more of the aliens and then finding what looks like the attempted Tardis from The Lodger. (Same prop/set? I don't know.) Upstairs, the astronaut appears, Amy reveals that she's pregnant and then shoots the intruder, who is shown to be the creepy little girl.
A "Silent".
     The episode's characterisation efforts were mainly companion based, developing River, who has some sad suspicions about her death (which we've already seen) and Amy, who after regaining her parents is a little more psychologically stable. This left our semi-eponymous hero a little out of it, what with his death in the first ten minutes. He came off a little smug and manic at times, and never got a chance to put his skills to good use. Matt Smith was trying his best, however, especially in the scene where he questions his companions on their sudden sadness at his appearance.
     Canton Everett Delaware III is an interesting side-character in that for some reason he's treated like a one-off companion, something we really could do without when The Doctor's got three in tow already. Canton's few moments for characterisation paint him as a stereotypically smarmy US agent, thrown out of the FBI for wanting to get married. Mark Sheppard plays him to perfection, and on his own is an exciting addition to the cast.
     This episode's villians, The Silents, have been argued over since the beginning of Series Five. Here they present an interesting idea for a villian, but it all feels a little samey when compared to Moffat's previous evils - creatures that do things when you're not looking, and things that affect one's memory
President Nixon takes the phone call.
     The whole timey-wimey death sequence is rather painful to watch; akin to watching a bear try and swim up a waterfall. You know that what's happening is wrong and will be undone eventually, but it's presented as a remarkable spectacle that is to be taken with with the utmost seriousness (this is where my similie breaks down, I'm afraid.) It's something that Moffat keeps doing and while the ideas were fresh five years ago they're quickly beginning to stale - and I loved the last two episodes, both of which went mad with the idea.
     The first half of this promising open left me more with a deep-seated feeling of ambiguity about the series' future. No doubt this was intentional, but as a series opener the episode failed rather spectacularly and as an episode on its own it felt quite empty without its second, concluding half. Thus, I look forward to next week, where we can sort out the mystery of the Silents once and for all... .

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P.S. This week's episode had a tribute to the recently diseased Lis Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith in the program from 1974-6 and then made some appearances in NuWho as well as in her CBBC spin-off Sarah Jane Adventures. A lot of fans were irritated, however, when no memorium appeared for Nicholas Courtney, who died a few months ago. He was involved in the Doctor Who Universe throughtout its Classic history, first staring in the First Doctor serial The Daleks Master Plan in 1964 and making his final appearance in Battlefield in 1989. My condolences go out to both of their families.

Monday, 18 April 2011

A Few Words: The Hotel

Not since Airline has real life so reflected fiction. In this eccentric Channel Four show, we take a fly-on-the-wall look at a real hotel (the Damson Dene) in the Lake District, where characters are seemingly around every corner. The "manager" Wayne, whose work consists of shifting tables and whose residence is a small caravan outside the hotel where he lives with his dog. The kitchen staff, composed almost entirely of full-time Eastern Europeans, and the Manuel-like Amos.
     These people couldn't get closer to a Fawlty Towers type farce if they tried, and yet every second of it is real. The editing is a tad manipulative, perhaps, but the fact is that this is relaity TV - no constructed environments, no "challenges," etc.: the perfect Car Crash TV. The Hotel takes real, ridiculous characters and slaps them on our screen. Essential Sunday viewing.
     Well. Better than Lewis anyway.

Thanks.

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I can't make any promises about scheduling, but I'm hoping to have Lost 4.9 out tonight and Being Human 1.3 sometime later in the week. Thanks for your patience.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Review: Being Human 1.2

"It's a chicken on a piece of string."

Second week, and Being Human is already delivering on its premise. This week took a focus on George in particular, and his vicious backstory provided the fuel for the episode's main conflicts. At times it did rely a tad too much on its main guest, but said guest provided some excellent character development for George and Annie. The Vampire storyline, meanwhile, rumbled along nicely.
     Our main man was Tully (Dean Lennox Kelly), a brash womaniser who meets George in the forest, aware of and empathising with his condition and willing to help him prepare for his monthly changes. He's soon invited to move in, and starts taking over the household - George begins to idolise him, and he has Annie under his thumb. Tully outstays his welcome, however, when an altercation with Annie forces Mitchell to evict Tully and make George realise what Tully's been doing to him. Before they transform in the woods, Tully lets slip that it was he who originally converted George two years prior, and that he's been mentoring him. Angry, George makes it up with his friends and then goes back to the woods, facing Tully and warning him away.
     Another instantly interesting appearance was that of Nina (Sinead Keenan), who as my regular readers will know goes on to feature in the rest of the series. Nina's characterisation was very well done from the start, and her interactions with George felt natural. There was a moment of cringe-comedy as George tried Tully's masculinist charms on her, but by the end it felt as if they both had a natural chemistry.
Lauren tempts Mitchell.
     Annabel Scholey played another slightly awkward performance as vampiress Lauren, who this week arrived to give Mitchell something to do, tempting him with dirty talk and a vampire porn video. I feel as if Mitchell's storyline works better on the sidelines like this, especially when there's so little going on at the moment. The more condensed feel of this six-episode series means that everything flows more easily, so I guess I can pass this once. 1.1 was very Mitchell-heavy anyway, and this episode allows us to neatly focus on the other characters while he's resting.
     1.2 is predominantly a male-bonding character exercise, and the writing is superb. The vampire subplot was rather lacking, but all of the strands held together and ultimately all characters came out a little more three dimensional than they had in the premier. As a second episode, 1.2 does what it needs to do - develop character - and more so, taking on our heroes, and their pasts, with impressive gusto.

Thanks.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Review: The Family Jewels

The Family Jewels - Marina and the Diamonds (2010)

Hmph. Another one I've been holding off. I think I've just come to the conclusion that reviewing Music isn't my forté - people like to read about bad music, and I only review things that I listen to. I should have reviewed this album around the same time as The Defamation of Strickland Banks and Eliza Doolittle, but I just couldn't make myself do it.
      True, Marina Lambrini Diamandis has a unique take on pop music that makes it a little difficult to review on casual listenings. Her improvisational and often absurd methodology seems to have cultivated a more sincere and honest album than most of the things on the modern market, and yet it's never boring. Surprise always lies behind the next corner as her highly charged and spontaneous lyricisms present a convincing image of modern life.
     What amazes me, perhaps more than anything, is the subtlty with which Marina throws across many of her worries about the modern world while still producing what, at first glance, look like perfectly average pop songs; "Hollywood" is the perfect of this, a biting satire of the eponymous industry. The song that really stands out for me, however, is "Obsessions," an emotive ballad with absurd lyrics that serves not only as a pessimistic love song, but also as an attack on the modern perception of celebrity and brand.
     The Family Jewels is one of those marvelous albums that appeals to both the general and specialist markets - catchy pop songs with absurd lyrics, coupled with satire and an ever-present emotional vein. Diamandis, as a musical outsider, has given her own take on that world and of the world around us. A good listen and a gem of 2010.


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Sunday, 3 April 2011

Change of Layout!

Yes, I've decided to modernise the site so that it meets up with Blogger's standards. I hope you like the new layout design, which I think is a little sleeker than my old one. If you have any problems or suggestions on how I could tweak the design, comment on this post and I'll get back to you.

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