Sunday, 31 July 2011

Opinion: The Harry Potter Film Series

As I've pointed out, I really love Harry Potter. The series is adaptive and challenging, taking a new generation of kids and exposing them to some brilliant writing. The series’ planning and forethought is often mindboggling to behold. However, like many children I didn’t start out reading the books – I grew up on the first three films in the series, directed by Christopher Columbus and Alfonso Cuaron respectively. I loved these films direction and their spellbinding worlds, as well as how the characters were portrayed by the ambitiously cast main actors. I started reading the books before the fourth film was released, and I was immediately hooked into this richer world. It’s no coincidence that I didn’t like the films afterwards as much, maybe because I now noticed the problems of translating the series from stage to screen.
     The first two films, directed by Christopher Columbus, had an eerie fantasy feel that reflected the relative innocence of the early books. The books here were only around 200 pages long, meaning that not a lot had to be cut out or changed to fit the new medium. Regardless, a lot of things were, but nothing that affected the story in major ways. Of the first three films, I prefer the second – it was the last on-screen performance of the late Richard Harris, whose performance as the earlier, more mystical Dumbledore fit that version perfectly. I also loved the chilling climax, where the threat felt very real.
     The third film, directed by Alfonso Cuaron took a more mature feel as the actors were beginning to out grow the ages of their characters. The film took a lot more liberties with the source material, especially in the omission of several key points affecting the series’ mythos that make certain scenes in later films more nonsensical. It also saw the arrival of Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, a character whose skilful introduction is carried over from the book. Most of all, I enjoy this particular film’s dealings with the book’s time-travel aspect, which really captured my imagination as a child. Michael Gambon’s new Dumbledore, while strange at this early stage, is better later on when Dumbledore takes on a darker persona.
    The fourth film was somewhat of a no-brainer for me, as it didn’t abuse the source material in any meaningful ways and actually introduced us to the film series’ badass version of Lord Voldemort. It was a more-or-less perfect translation from script-to-screen, helped no doubt by the book’s plot, which is pretty much a filler arc until the climax. The director, Mike Newell, was drafted in at the last minute and thus has no obvious grandiose takes on the series.
     The last four films were directed by David Yates, whose style took on a more adult and epic feel. After the fourth film, I became a lot more disconnected with the franchise. The seventh and final book came out just after the fifth film, meaning that all of the previous plot-significance that the previous films had omitted would hopefully be left in. The fifth film took a hell-of-a-lot of liberties – several major character arcs were omitted, making previous characters useless – an example here being Rita Skeeter, whose arc here in posting negative propaganda about Harry, as well as being revealed to Hermione as an unregistered Animagus, were left out. We never saw the character again, making her inclusion in Film Four a rather wasted opportunity.  
     The only Harry Potter film which has really disappointed me is the adaptation of Book Six, whose focus moved away from the mythos and more into an irritating adolescent drama filled with kissing, dating and other such trifles. I understand the desires of screaming fangirls and Shippers in the Harry Potter fanbase, but the film could have been so much better had it focussed more on the mythology set out in the book – one that examined not only our villain’s main motivations, but also shone some light onto Dumbledore. I was, most of all, worried for the adaptation of the final book – this film had been scripted with the final book in mind, and yet it leaves out so much that the final tale needs.
     A lot of fans were irritated when they learnt that the final adaptation, being around 5 hours long, would have to be separated into to two different films. I was intrigued and I had my hopes up – and I wasn’t disappointed, with a much more mature and considered directing style that perfectly captured the feel of the book. In places, the film was actually better – especially in the climactic battle, where the film did things that literature cannot, making it much more epic and exciting to witness. I also loved the final film’s treatment of Snape, who is the series’ true protagonist – the section where his loyalties were revealed was much more moving and poignant than I ever could have imagined.
     The all-star cast of the series help to cement its pedigree – among others, Alan Rickman’s Snape is a perfect translation and adds a new dimension to the character; Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid also fits his character very well. The three main leads, despite being complete unknowns, show a genuine growth in both their characters and their acting ability.
     The series’ fourteen year legacy ended this July with the release of the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. But despite the films’ (and the books’) problems, Harry Potter will go down in history as the first time that such an ambitious project was undertaken – the first time that Hollywood even tried to adapt a series like this to the big screen. Its effects are everywhere – the recent Avengers Series, for example, wouldn’t have been possible without the proof and long-lasting appeal that the Harry Potter series brought with it. The series, now on its deathbed, is already working its way into the history books.


Review: Torchwood 4.3: Dead of Night

This week’s episode of the Welsh drama was much an improvement, even if the only reason that I say so is that the episode felt a lot more like standard Torchwood fare. That does, however, include some of the old Torchwood’s issues, but overall it was more engaging than last week’s slow crawl. Dead of Night still has a lot of work to do, but it’s a step in the right direction.
     This week the main cast came together in a much more Torchwood-esque way, leading them from the corrupt Brian Friedkin to PhiCorp, a medical company. They track the company back to a warehouse where it turns out PhiCorp has been storing non-narcoleptic drugs (the painkillers that the Miracle needs) for over a year. Rex disagrees with Jack’s attitude and goes off on his own when they realise that everyone (including Rex’s ex-CIA mentor) has been poised against them.
     As armies of Anonymous-esque people wander the streets claiming to be “soulless,” Oswald Danes’ television career leads to him being beaten up by some policemen. Kitzinger is waiting for him and brings him to a PhiCorp conference – she works for the company. Rex by now has also rejoined the Torchwood team after bonking Dr. Vera Juarez, who’s also at the conference.
     Gwen uses the Camera Contact Lenses from Children of Earth to hack into Kitzinger’s PhiCorp computer while Jack faced Oswald Danes to try and settle his own guilt with killing his grandson last series. Turns out Danes is still a freaky paedophile and, as Jack reasons, is so self loathing that he wanted to be executed, and is now suffering because of the Miracle. Unfortunately Jack is escorted out by PhiCorp’s guards, who’ve now got a vested interest in Danes – PhiCorp is exploiting his new cult of personality to push through legislature to allow PhiCorp to take a monopoly over all pharmaceuticals and to allow all drugs to be bought without prescription.
     Part of the fun in this week’s team dynamic was the near-constant American-British discordance, almost as if the show is trying to translate the cultural differences across the audience. It really stands out and it isn’t very interesting in the long run, and on my end felt very condescending. For example; everything Gwen said Esther would “translate” into an American version. Also strange was that this episode cut out some sex scenes that were present in the American version – usually it’s the opposite. Not that those sex scenes were at all necessary – in any way. Maybe Rex bonking Juarez was important to the plot but I still don’t see how Jack picking up a barman did anything to advance the plot.
     The episode had a lot more ties to Children of Earth than we saw in episodes one and two, in ways that actually made some sense – Jack misses Ianto, is guilty over killing his grandson and has kept the only gadget they had left, the Camera Contact Lenses. It may not really gel with the new American audience, which is always a consideration now, but I liked the stronger continuity that went together with said references. One of the strongest points in the episode was a touching telephone call between Gwen and Jack, talking about the events of that storyline. As someone who thought that Jack’s actions at the end of Children of Earth were extremely out of character, I was glad to see (albeit after three hours) that the character acknowledges this.
     Now it seems we actually have a face behind the villains of this story (except for Danes, of course.) PhiCorp’s activities are perhaps more villainous to us here in the UK with Universal Healthcare, as the call for the ability to “buy whatever drugs you want” is nothing new to the American system (from an ideological point of view.) What an alien presence wants America’s money for I really don’t know, but it’s an interesting concept that I’d like to see developed.
     Overall this week’s episode felt like it actually went somewhere and it advanced the plot into unseen directions that were fun and gave us a lot to think about. There was still a lot of things going on that were unnecessary, such as random sex scenes and arguments for the sake of argument, but Dead of Night was a deeper exploration of our characters and a fun romp that showed that this miniseries is heading in a direction close to being to the right one.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Review: Torchwood 4.2: Rendition

Torchwood end their Rendition
After a premier that tried to reassure old viewers and drag in new ones, the second episode of this serial drama managed to paradoxically take a step back from the action and become much more exciting. While it wasn't as idea-focussed as last week, this often felt to its detriment as it was far too fluffy. The pace was the main issue, however, again not giving us enough tension or suspense until the last five minutes.
     Our main protagonists spent an inordinate amount of time this week on the five-hour plane journey across the Atlantic, a situation which provides the episode's best scenes when Jack, the last mortal man on Earth, is poisoned by a CIA agent working with a group of people trying to eradicate Torchwood and all those who know about them. Using Rex's contact to Doctor Vera Juarez, who's at a medical conference discussing the issues surrounding Miracle Day (which include peace in the east due to the Indians and Pakistanis no longer believing in an afterlife/reincarnation, and the increase of anti-biotic resistant bacteria), the team manage to create a makeshift cure for the arsenic poisoning. During this sequence, in which Gwen very much played the hero, the character ws very irritating, with shrill shreiks and unrealistic bouts of excitement. I don't know whether to blame Eve Myles' acting or the script itself. In better news, Arlene Tur's Doctor Juarez is still proving a more competent and compelling character than the rest of the main cast. 
     Back at the CIA, and Governer Friedkin was organising the cleanup operation, in conjunction with a strange third party sending him instructions via email. Esther, slowly getting closer to the truth, had $50,000 put in her bank account and her security card invalidated. This storyline didn't have much going on and it felt like a second player to the events on the plane and elsewhere - areal shame considering that the situation with Firedkin is probably one of this series' overarcing lines.
     A different storyline saw Oswald Danes, our series' antagonist, make a fuss on a chat show, where he broke down in an unrealistic fit of tears. For some reason, this actually made some of the characters feel sorry for the peadophilic rapist. Later on, Danes was accosted by PR manager Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose), who praised him for his excellent perfomance.
Lin acts as assassin to kill mortal Jack.
     What's pissing me off the most about Torchwood:Miracle Day is how slowly it's going. It's as if the show is treating its shorter run with the American mentality of a slow-burning drama. It doesn't work - we're one fifth of the way there and we've only just really sorted the premise out. I want conflict, I want tension, I want some genuine plot development beyond shuffling new characters into place and going on philosophical quandries about the implications of your premise that interupt everything else. Maybe this should have been a shorter series; the premise, which I doubted would stretch to ten episodes, has failed on the second week. 
     It's good to see a more character-focussed show but there comes a point where good characterisation doesn't make up for lack of plot development. It's enjoyable to an extent, but it's more of an intellectual exercise than I need from a show like Torchwood. I'll still be reviewing this next week, but if it doesn't get a move on I might have to reconsider.


Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Upcoming Break

From Sunday 24th July to 6th August, I'll be off on Holiday, as last year. Regardless, I'll still be writing reviews for Torchwood: Miracle Day, as well as anything else I see fit, all of which will be posted when I return.


Sunday, 17 July 2011

Review: Being Human 1.5

Mitchell meets old lover Josie.
"If you don't do this then you have done to yourself the one thing that Owen could never do; you have finally died." George to Annie.

In this first half of the Series One finale, the very tightly scripted series shows its salt, working purely on main character motivations and plotlines without going off into Freak-of-the-week tangents like Episodes 2-4. Everything from the past four weeks payed off in a spectuacular climax to the series, leaving an excellent cliffhanger leading into the sixth episode.
     Mitchell's storyline came to a head this week, having rejoined the Vampires after his experiences with Bernie. The Vampires are planning a mass-conversion, leading to a coup, and Mitchell is quietly refering influential people for Herrick to "recruit". While in the hospital, Mitchell meets the dying Josie, who was his lover in the 1960s. Concerned for her wellbeing, Mitchell refers her to Herrick. Josie is repulsed by the idea, and rejects his proposition. She later tells George, who along with Annie has been ignorant of Mitchell's activities.
Herrick reveals all.
    Back at the House, and Annie, after recovering last week from her existential slump, decides to haunt Owen. She starts out practicing with George, and when she tires it on Owen he is visibly shaken. However, once given a few moments to recover he simply belittles her more and finds the situation funny. Disheartened, Annie then goes and haunts Janey, Owen's new girlfriend. She warns Janey about Owen's abusive behavious, but before she is convinced Owen returns home and tells Annie about the fact that he was having an affair with Janey even before she died. She returns home, paralysed.
    Mitchell discovers an area of the undertakers' where the Vampires have been hiding humans in squalid conditions as food. Outraged by this, Mitchell confronts Herrick but he fobs it off with a, "Really?" speech. They prepare to kill one another. At the house, George returns home from the hospital and inspires Annie to help him raid the Undertakers'. They manage it pretty successfully, with the lecherous Seth weakened by George's Star of David. As Mitchell is about to start fighting, the two storm in and they all escape, thanks to Lauren, who stakes Seth.
Lauren dies.
     On the way back, Lauren asks Mitchell to stake her, which he does, saving her from losing all of her humanity. When the three retreat to the safety of the House, Owen comes round. Using their respective "talents" and Annie's knowledge of life after death, they scare Owen insane. After Owen is locked up, Annie's door finally opens, but a tearful farewell is interupted by Herrick arriving at the door and staking Mitchell.
     George, notably, didn't get a storyline of his own this week, which suited me fine as her stood as the human catalyst to the inhuman exploits of the other two. Nina was only in the episode for a few minutes, but again that didn't matter as at the moment she doesn't play a large part in proceedings. More notably, this is the true finale of Annie's storyline and character development - everything after this would feel slightly off pace with this very tightly-scripted journey presented in the first series. What else is there for her to do, after having accomplished her goals as a Ghost. The decision to keep her character on was ultimately to the show's detriment, as Annie's lighthearted attitude doesn't sit well with the later series' darker overtones.
The gang assembles.
     Mitchell's storyline had the potential to come off as an overarching dystopian path into villiany, but aside from voluntarily converting one man and a room full of five tortured people, the "takeover" didn't come across as well as it could have. It would have made much more sense to show the development of this over the series as a whole rather than trying to squease the arguments into one hour, as it comes across as far too dramatic and silly for purpose. Lauren's end, while flagged throughout the episode by a more sobre and sarcastic portrayl, came out of nowhere storywise. Her character, from the beginning, had been seen to relish her vampirism and had never shown any doubts about it. It was, however, a touching scene that no doubt enriched Mitchell's character - or it would have, had this not been the last ever mention of the character in the series.
     The trailer was very skillfully made, not providng any insight as to whether Annie, Mitchell or both would leave or not. Join me next time, as I look at the finale of Being Human Series One.


Friday, 15 July 2011

Alice Cooper was right

Yes, School's Out and I should now have much more free time in which to post for this site. While I make no promises, hopefully this will mean that I can post more. For the time being I'll be reviewing the finales of Being Human Series 1, Lost Season Four and week-for-week with Torchwood: Miracle Day, with my recurring Classic Doctor Who reviews.


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Keeper of Traken

Traken's eponymous Keeper
Doctor Who, Season 18, Story Six - 
The Keeper of Traken

Since I've nothing better to do, over the next week or so I'll be reviewing Doctor Who's "new beginnings" trilogy, three interconnected serials from 1981, covering the end of Tom Baker's Season 18 and the beginning of Peter Davison's Season 19. We start with the penultimate serial of Season 18, The Keeper of Traken.
     First, some backstory. In 1981 infamous producer John Nathan Turner took the reins of the program, turning it into a more serious, sciency fare after the absudity in the previous season. Notably, their aim was to create a show that had, "real science," and thus the entire season focussed on the idea of entropy. It had the E-Space Trilogy, in which Romana and K-9 were left in a pocket dimension and Four picked up the fan-hated Adric. The villian of this story, The Master, was last seen in 1976's The Deadly Assassin, in which Crispy!Master had been eaten by Gallifrey's equivalent of a nuclear reactor. This is perhaps one of the reasons why Traken is seen by many as a classic story, but does it really stand up to scrutiny?
     Four and Adric, fresh out of E-Space, argue about how much Four knows and then their controls are for some reason aimed towards Traken, a civilisation kept together in constant harmony by the virtues of being friendly to one another. They get a message from an apparition in the form of the Keeper of Traken (an old man in bad prosthetics). He tells them of a great danger threatening Traken, and employs The Doctor to help him stop it.
The Melkur
     He talks about "evil creatures" that land on the surface of Traken and are "solidified" by its Good Atmsophere, known as Melkurs by the royal gardeners. Eventually the creature will become soil, but the society doesn't like to see them suffer and so tries to respect their passing. In particular Kassia, a girl who respects one particular Melkur all her life, even up the present day where she is a consul, married to their leader Tremas (Anthony Ainley) and with a daughter, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton). When, upon this marriage, she is released from her duties to the Melkur, she is noticeably upset. Tremas is named as The Keeper's successor.
     The Keeper is more mysterious and disappears, and Four and Adric pop along to Traken. We learn that now that she's married, the Melkur has started speaking to her and killing the gardeners. Four and Adric arrive in Traken, where Kassia is asking for the Gardeners to be armed as they summon The Keeper to discover the reason behind the murders and other "evils" leaking through. The Doctor arrives and is blamed for the "Evil", with the Melkur now walking and hiding the TARDIS. They summon The Keeper to prove The Doctor's innocence or guilt, and as they are brought forward the Melkur enters and The Keeper declares Doc to be evil.
Councillor Seron.
     Tremas isn't too sure, and saves the day by putting The Doc and Adric into his personal protection. After a night's rest and a slap-up breakfast, Tremas and Doc search for the invisibled TARDIS while Nyssa and Adric mingle. They get to work on doing some mathey analysis while the Council of Traken, minus one, discuss Tremas and their new "disharmony". Seron, one of the more intelligent of the bunch, settles things by offering himself to the Keeper's judgement because of he and Tremas' so called crime of hiding the worrying data readings.
     Melkur gives Kassia a special mind-controlling brooch (how thoughtful) as Tremas and Four are forced to take a secret entrance into the Gardens. Adric and Tegan, having found some strange readings, wander off to find them.With Nyssa solving the problem blocking the Gardens' front gate swifter than a politician tells lies, Adric sneaks in and shows The Doctor the readings, which indicate that there's another TARDIS in the grove. Meanwhile, Kassia oversees Seron's "rapport", and after The Keeper declared him "innocent but doomed" a brainwashed Kassia kills him with laser beams coming out of her eyes. Everyone else wanders in and Kassia blames Tremas and crew, forcing them to run away and hide in the newly visibled TARDIS. Brainwash!Kassia manages to knock out Tremas before they get there, and the trio are trapped by netting.
Doc, Adric and Tremas wake.
     Halfway though, now, and the story is gathering some pace (although I say that lightly.) The three, having been knocked unconscious and taken to a cell, conveniently awaken as Kassia informs the council that a new successor must be named. The Melkur tells Kassia that The Doctor must die for him to succeed, and that Kassia must take the succession. She captures Nyssa spying on the encounter and sends her away. She then goes to the Council, who elect her as successor. as her first act, she demands The Doctor's death.
     Nyssa pops down the prison and uses an energy weapon to break out The Doctor and company. Kassia is understandably pissed and sends the guards after them, but they outrun them. The Melkur tortures Kassia for her failure and increases her mind control. The four fugitives arrive in Tremas' office and The Doctor pushes Tremas to give him the blueprints to the Source. Upon receiving the blueprints, The Doctor figures out a way to trip the Source should it be taken over. They head back to the TARDIS, where they're ambushed by the guards. Luckily The Keeper is dying, so Traken is beginning to physically collapse because he's disturbing the "goodness field". The Melkur possesses Kassia and she takes the role of Keeper. Everything seems to calm down a bit. The Melkur is revealed as the Master's TARDIS. When Kassia accesses the Source, she disappears, to be replaced by the Melkur.
The Melkur appears.
     Melkur pretends to be a Keeper, with The Doctor's cynicism on high alert. Adric and Nyssa head back and work out what the Melkur is, while Tremas throws insults at it. Locking themselves in, Adric tells Nyssa about how the Melkur, like the TARDIS, is bigger on the inside. Melkur confines the consuls to quarters but then disappears, leaving The Doctor and Tremas confined to quarters. They plan to trip the Source using the blueprints, which the Melkur is savvy of, sending the guards to retrieve it before Tardis-ing in there himself and lasering Tremas into giving him the plans, to then destroy. Melkur beamed out, The Doctor nuts the guards and the two escape to the Source.
     In what appears to be a ridiculously big circuit board, Adric makes a device in the TARDIS to destroy the Source. Tremas helps The Doctor get to the Source but without all of the consul rings The Doctor has to decode it manually. Melkur appears, nearly killing them. He hypnotises everyone there, forcing Tremas to kill the Guard leader in front of The Doctor. Adric connects his whatsitmachine to the Source while The Master gloats with a typical villian speech about ruling the universe. The Master sucks The Doctor into his TARDIS. With the entire Source system becoming explosive, The Doctor escapes just in time, with Traken becoming all stormy again. He fixes the Source and one of the last remaining Consuls takes up the Keeper helm. The Doctor and Adric pop off in the TARDIS, the day saved again, with The Doctor planning to fix the TARDIS. Back on Traken, Tremas notices a Grandfather clock that was not there before. The Master paralyses him and takes his body, with the Ainley!Master walking away.
Tremas is possessed.
     Traken creates such a thick mythology so quickly that it's difficult to keep up at times. The idea itself is very high-concept - a world in which peace and harmony are so prevalent that they supposedly calcify any creatures deemed to be evil. As the Keeper says, "the legends do not exaggerate," and this presentation of a world in which the laws of nature are ruled by subjective morality presents a message about our own lives, as every good Who story should do. What's more, the science isn't just shoehorned in; from the second episode we get a half-decent explanation of how Traken, its Keeper and the whole calcifying thing, actually work, and that sci-fi plays a crucial part in the solution.
     What Traken is not, however, is energetic; there are often periods where it turns into a shoddy political thriller as the parliament of Traken dispute amongst themselves; there are few twists or turns that particularly excite or move. There's simply too much mythos and backstory, too much pretention and dilly dallying. The story only gains momentum in its second half, as Melkur/The Master take centre stage.
     There are quite a few interesting new additions here. Anthony Ainley doesn't get much chance to portray his Master here, but his portrayl of Tremas is believeable and sympathetic. Nyssa, originally here as a guest and soon to be companion, is a character that by-rights should be more interesting than as she arrives. The Melkur itself at the beginning is a ridiculous monster; a bumbling walking statue, although the interior set is great and The Master's new prosthetics are much better.
     Kassia is by far the most irritating character in this serial, her melodramatic pandering becoming increasingly tedious by the beginning of the second episode. While she does show some regret here or there, her character is one dimensional for no good reason; her obsession with the Melkur may be a result of The Master's mind control, but he doesn't reveal himself until now and her ownership of the creature seems on-par with other cases. It seems strange that Traken assigns specific people to "care" for Melkurs anyway, when it'd be much simpler, and psychologically safer, to leave the Gardeners to do it. Also, Kassia's special effect is quite blunt; two pieces of coloured paper stuck onto closed eyes. I suppose they mde do with the resources they had, but a few red CGI flashes in the right place (as they were clearly capable of making) would have made it look a little less tacky.
     A pet peeve is that Tom Baker doesn't really get a lot to do in this story; he has quite a few good lines here or there, but really he's on autopilot and the main drama is played out by the supporting characters. It may be a symptom of JNT's serious approach in Season 18, but the character feels empty without his characteristic energy. I admit that, yes, Tom was getting on in life, having been the youngest ever Doctor upon hiring (a spritely 40) and now weary after a seven year run on the show. But it would have been so much better if The Doctor's influence here was more memorable.
     The Keeper Of Traken is story that runs more on its ideas than its plot. Its plot runs on its supporting characters and taken on its own merits is a decent twist on the idea of the corruption of a Utopian society. It doesn't have anything too memorable about it though; the performances are... not bad. There's nothing wrong with them, but they're still not noteworthy. Traken is a "classic" story, but only for its grand ideas, its place in the mythology (especially in the Master's Timeline) and its quiet nods to the end of Baker's reign.
    Join me next week, when I'll be looking at the end of Tom Baker's seven year run, Logopolis.


Monday, 11 July 2011

Review: Torchwood 4.1: The New World

Forenotes: 1.) The official publicity gives the official name of this series as "Torchwood: Miracle Day." For the purposes of simplicity, I will be reviewing it as "Torchwood 4". 2.) There are intense spoilers for a program that has, as of the time of writing, not yet aired in the UK. 

Gwen acts badass to protect Anwen.
So; after managing to watch the premier of this new, Americanised series of the cult hit, what can I say about it? Well, surprisingly little. The show tempted me in with a trailer that promised a high-action adventure with all of our favourite Torchwood stars; instead, we got a slow-moving investigative thriller with a few Welsh overtones. Despite the fact that there are less episodes here than in Series One and Two, it still feels more serialised. The question being, then: Can Torchwood 4 support its premise over the course of ten weeks?
    Our main focus for this particular episode was on our American brethern; CIA analyst Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) investigates Torchwood, a message about them having appeared on their databases at the exact same moment that everyone in the world stopped dying. Agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) initially dismisses her concerns, but decides to follow the lead when he, as par "Miracle Day," survives being impaled after a road accident. Flying over the Wales, Matheson comes into contact with Gwen Cooper (a tired Eve Myles), her husband Rhys (Kai Owen) and their baby, Anwen. Both Esther and Rex end up bumping to Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), culminating in an action scene in the finale where Jack, Gwen and Rhys escort Rex away from a mysterious helicopter gunman who was trying to kill Gwen.
    Along the sidelines we saw the effects of "Miracle Day," notably the spread of the phenomenon (in which no one has died, no matter what injury) and the failed execution of convicted peadophile rapist Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman), whose repellent personality paints him quickly as the villian of the piece. The episode expored the concept with some gusto, I thought; not only explaining the base aspects of Davies' premise but also its ramifications. Especially gruesome was the example of a terrorist who had blown himself up, leaving his charred corpse fully conscious afterwards. Like Children Of Earth before it, this series of Torchwood has so far earnt its "adult" rating with more adult themes about death, rather than the more childish examples seen prior.
Rex Matheson finds Gwen in Wales.
     The American involvement certainly has had an effect on the show past locale and character nationality. Its production values are much, much slicker and the escapade resembles more of a Hollywood blockbuster than usual Torchwood fare. Despite British director Bharat Nalluri's (of Life on Mars alumni) best efforts, the episode had much more of an American atmosphere that made even the Welsh hills more spectacular.
     The New World wasn't as fast paced or gripping as its publicity had suggested but it did run well on its central premise, one that is interesting enough to stay the course. I'm a little worried about some of the characters and how Davies will manage to balance their writing with his more familiar creations, but for now I think it's safe to say that Miracle Day is off to a good start.


Saturday, 9 July 2011

Films I Saw Recently, Volume One

Das Leben der Anderen
The Lives of Others is a 2006 German Language film covering the experiences of people living in the GDR (or, as we know it here in the West, East Germany) in 1984. The film specifically follows the path of State Security worker Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (hereafter HGW) as he listens to the bugged home of playright Georg Dreyman, who State Security (or "the Stasi) believe is a Western sympathiser. Over the course of the story we witness a chilling series of events as HGW begins to sympathise with Dreyman's ideas as the Stasi grow ever more suspicious.
     The film's sense of tension is masterfully done, steeped in irony for all major characters as HGW goes out of his way to protect Dreyman and his lover, the actress Christa-Maria Sieland, who HGW discovers is being regularly raped by the leader of the Party, Honeker. The characters, having been extrapolated from real stories, are three-dimensional and believable, as are the props, which create a brilliant atmosphere from the beginning.
     Regardless of one's interest in the German Language, the film's moving portrayl of humanity makes it great to watch. While in reality no member of the Stasi ever regretted their actions, this films' otherwise realistic atmosphere and strict adherance to Rousseauism can really warm the heart, despite the bittersweet taste of its historical echo.

Das Leben der Anderen, 2006, Deutch, 137 mins, Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Certificate 15.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World
On the other side of the realism battle, this quirky 2010 comedy comes from director Edgar Wright, known for ventures with Simon Pegg like Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Here he's adapting a comic book series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. A world where video game physics apply, Scott (Juno's Michael Cera), a selfish and somewhat bumbling band member is forced to come to terms with his life when he falls in love with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In true video-game style, it turns out that her exes have formed a "league", headed by the mysterious "Gideon," to control her love life and thus destroy Scott Pilgrim.
     What follows is an exciting 90 minutes of straight-up video-game inspired action inpregnated with nerdy references and complex comical love triangles the likes of which not even Coronation Street has ever seen. This film is modern, and carries the weight of 40 years of nerd history without flinching. The actors, all young, get the chance to surge into the market, and there isn't one dud performance in the piece. 
    Perhaps the best part of SCVTW is its refusal to admit reality; its laws and idiosyncrasies are tuned firmly to pop culture. This is what some people wish the world was like; a place where vegans gain super powers, where enemies explode into coins upon death. This film is nerdy escapism at its very, very best. 

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, 2010, English, 112 mins, Directed by Edgar Wright, Certificate 12.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Review: Lost 4.11: Cabin Fever

Richard Alpert observes Baby Locke.
"...destiny, John, is a fickle bitch". Ben

After the banality of last week, we return to the core storyline with a Locke-centric episode that sets the ground for the finale. As this season's penultimate story, it feels like a fitting tribute to a character whose signficance is set to rocket in the succeeding two seasons. Elsewhere, the episode finally knuckled down and got moving.
     Since Locke doesn't get off the island (not yet, anyway), we have a long series of flashbacks for this episode. First we see his birth; his teenage mother gave birth to him prematurely after a road accident and then subsequently gave him up for adoption. The immortal leader of the Others, Richard Alpert, is watching, and arrives at his foster parents' house a few years later, claiming to be from a "special school." He presents Locke with a number of island related items - a vial of the Island's sand, a knife, a comic book talking about other lands, and so on. He asks Locke which of the items "belong to [him] already." When the five-year-old boy picks the sand, the compass and then, in particular, the knife, Alpert storms out, claiming Locke isn't "ready".
     Later, in middle school, a science teacher releases a 16-year-old Locke from a locker. The science teacher tells him about a program for gifted students up in Portland (where we know, from Season Three, that Alpert's off-island company is based). Locke refuses, saying that "science camp is what gets [him] put in lockers." The science teacher offers him some advice, telling Locke that he is a certain type of person and no matter what he wants, he will never be the "popular kid". Locke rebuts him with his catchphrase, "Don't tell me what I can't do." Thirty years later, after Locke is paralysed by his father, the mysterious Abbadon poses as a hospital porter and tells Locke to go on a walkabout in Australia to clear his mind - the same walkabout that led to him being on flight Oceanic 815 in the first place.
     These examinations of Locke's past feel sporadic and out of place, despite how much they key into the character as a whole. They were edited well into the other sections of the episode but ultimately they were distractions from the rest of the action.
Keamy's device.
    In the present, two yarns were unfolding. We once again followed Locke, Ben and Hurley in their quest to find Jacob's Cabin, the home of the island's legendary deity. Ben, who is supposed to be Jacob's intermediary, admits that he has little to no idea where he is going, and has simply been following Hurley. They camp for the night, and Locke has a dream where 70s DHARMA member Horace Goodspeed tells him to find his corpse. The next morning, Locke leads the others to the DHARMA mass burial, where Ben dumped their bodies fifteen years prior. In Goodspeed's corpse's pocket lies the cabin's schematics, with which they then locate the cabin. Locke goes in alone, finding an eerie Claire and Jack's father, Christian Shepherd, who appears randomly about the island. Christian gives Locke "Jacob's message," which he then relays to Locke - "We have to move the island."
    Meanwhile, on the boat, Martin "Obvious Villian" Keamy and what remains of his mercenary troupe return. He finds out about Michael, but leaves him to prepare for his final assault on the island - his "Secondary Protocol" to kill everyone on the island. He has a strange device strapped to his bicep. The Captain is wary of Keamy's plans and knows that he will mutiny, and thus conspires with Sayid and Desmond for them to use the freighter's Zodiac Raft to begin ferrying people from the island, where Keamy intends to go, to the safety of the Freighter. Just before Keamy and his troupe set off for the island, The Captain confronts him with a gun, but is shot before he can work out what Keamy's device is for.
See quote.
    Unlike last week, where things dragged a little, Cabin Fever kept up the pace and moved everything into placein a compelling way. A lack of anything to do with the Quadrangle certainly helped in matters, with conversation here more stimulating that trite. My favourite exchange cmes from the Locke storyline, where Ben warns him about the dangers of being "chosen," digging at the philosophy that seems to keep Locke standing. It adds another dimension to both characters - emphasising Locke's idealist stubbornness and Ben's frustration with his current situation. Meanwhile, on the Freighter, we got yet another glimpse (as if The Shape of Things To Come wasn't enough) of Keamy's destructive tendencies - notably in his killing of the Doctor, who because of the time differential between the island and the outside world has already washed up on the beach back in that earlier episode. All good Time Travel fun.
     Next week - the first part of the three hour finale, There's No Place Like Home!