Monday, 29 August 2011

HYPNOBOBS 44 - The Black Cats of Poe Part III


After something of an enforced break, we're back with a full length episode, concluding our Black Cats of Poe series! But we saved the best for last! For this episode is a veritable who's who of horror maestros with the legends Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, George A. Romero and Stuart Gordon all bringing Poe to the screen!

Direct Download - HYPNOBOBS 44 - The Black Cats of Poe Part III

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER

The fine podcasts mentioned in the show can be found here -

Better in the Dark
Views From the Long Box
The Gentlemen's Grindhouse
The Twilight Zone Podcast



   HYPNOBOBS is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.


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Saturday, 27 August 2011

DOCTOR WHO 6.08 - Let's Kill Hitler

Scanners indicate an absence of spoilers

So then the long wait is over! The summer break wasn't so bad was it? Positively flew by didn't it, well apart from the millennia waiting for something to happen in bloody Torchwood of course... But that's not important right now, as the Doctor's back!

And that's not all, head honcho Steven Moffat is back on script duties for this outing... And once again, I'm in the position of loving him as a viewer and absolutely hating the tricksy git for delivering another episode that is a bloomin' tall order to review without giving any of the many surprises away. 

So I'll pop a Metebellis 3 crystal on my bonce and attempt to answer the burning questions in your mind! 

And away we go...

Question 1 - Is this a series opener style kind of thing? Well, Let's Kill Hitler certainly gets the second half of the season off with a bang. But it is also very much the eight episode, picking the plot lines left dangling in a juicy fashion at the end of the first half. 

Question 2 - Isn't there anything you can tell us without spoilers?  Oh alright - there's time travel shennigans, a crashing TARDIS, robots and Nazis. Do you honestly need to know anymore?

Question 3 - Yes, you fool - is it any good? Well, yes it is! It's Moffat in full bouncing along in Tigger mode, serving up a rather delightful cocktail of thrill, human and stupidly fun concepts. It's the perfect counterbalance to the dark and spooky two parter he served up to kick this series off. Nearly perfect, possibly a little too bouncy for its own good in places but you'll have to wait for the Spoilers Sweetie review for the minor quibbling...

Question 4 - Alright, we don't except any details but are there any answers forthcoming? Yes, there bloomin' well are. Some long standing questions are answered - there is timey wimey stuff going on but this time we're at the joining-the-dots end of the curve. There are quite a few biggies answered and some more fannish queries clarified. In shorts lots of thread tying together nicely... Of course this being a Moffat story there's new questions arising but in raising them they are taking us closer the plot rather than just further clouding the issue.

Question 5 - Is there a cool Rory moment? Yes, there is. Several in fact, Rory has become a very solid character over this series and this opening story see him finding the perfect balance between this tough action side and his comedy chops. Listen out for his homage to Tommy Cooper!

Question 6 - Is Karen Gillan in a short skirt? Yes, now stop that, it's bad for your eyesight...

Question 7 - Matt Smith on form? Of course he is! Although at times he seems to dangerously close to the gurning territory of Pertwee and McCoy - which you'll either find funny or a bit annoying. But in the main, he the Eleventh Doc you know and love, landing the cool and comic lines to perfection and sporting some natty new outfit! 

Question 8 - Is this in any way connected to last season's World War Two set story? Nope, sorry Dalek fans. Though there might be a subtle link.. .I'll get back to you on that one after I've watched it again. 

Question 9 - How does the review of next week's episode look? Bloody scary! Wear two pairs of pants for that one I reckon...

Question 10 - Can you sum the episode up in, oooh let's say three words? Bonkers, bold and brill! 








Friday, 26 August 2011

HYPNOBOBS - A Very Special Episode...


Before our next proper edition, a brief, highly excitable mini-cast in which Mr Jim Moon makes a very important announcement!

CLICK TO LISTEN

Short version - we're moving hosts to Geekplanetonline - which means you'll have to resubscribe...sorry about that!

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER

Where you can find the all new introductory HYPNOBOBS #0 (whose lovely cover art you can see here) which features a review of Italian zombie nonsense Burial Ground (1981) and some reading from Lord Halifax's Ghost Book...



   HYPNOBOBS is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS

Thursday, 25 August 2011

TORCHWOOD:MIRACLE DAY - Episode 7 Immortal Sins

546 Classification - Sensitive Information Revealed

Well now, I can see this episode being perhaps the most divisive of the series so far. However for my money, I'd peg it as perhaps the best chapter of Miracle Day so far. For a kick-off, I'm not sitting here with a list of niggles as long as the Fourth Doctor's scarf and wasn't shouting at the telly by the time the credits rolled... which was an exceeding pleasant surprise after the the last few weeks. 

For rather than a protected run-about revolving around the handing over of Jack to the mysterious Triangle, what we got was basically a flashback episode. While Gwen drives Jack to the hand-over, we get to see what the immortal Captain was up to in the late 1920s. And at first, this seems like yet another ruse by the writing crew to pussyfoot around the Miracle storyline.

Let's face it, much of this series has dithered around its big storyline, generally failing to explore the concept and consistently focusing on the wrong areas of the story. And on reflection, it has reminded me of that old trick employed by students everywhere when faced with a 2000 word essay on a subject they know less than 500 about - namely 'write down absolutely anything to expand what little you do know to an acceptable length'.

And so, at first the returns to days past which make up the bulk of the running time, appear to be the latest trick employed to pad out the under-developed Miracle storyline for another episode, an ill-timed sidestep away from the main plot.
 
However as this week's instalment unfolds, it becomes clear that what we are seeing is not actually just a late-in-the-day character study of Jack. For although Immortal Sins does fulfil this function, finally bringing the much side-lined Jack into the spotlight, the second half of the episode reveals that what we are seeing is actually the origins of the Miracle. 

Now as I said, I reckon this episode will prove to be somewhat divisive. Undoubtedly the 'gay agenda' brigade will be up in arms over the explicit relationship that develops between the '20s Jack and Angelo Colossanto (Daniele Favilli). So whereas I can understand the concerns over the portrayal of sex in its parent show Doctor Who, which is aimed at a family audience, and I can appreciate that some parents don't want a Saturday tea-time slice of scifi raising awkward and embarrassing questions from their little ones, Torchwood is made for adults. And hence to those 'gay agenda' people I say 'oh get over it!'.

However other folks may have be levelling what is rapidly becoming a standard accusation for every episode in the series - 'all of this could have been done in half the time'. Now unlike the previous episode Dead of Night whose graphic scenes felt tacked on to up the 'mature' content levels, the sex in Immortal Sins was relevant to the plot. Furthermore the emotional, social and dramatic aspects of the Jack/Angelo  relationship were properly explored and discussed, but more importantly it turns out to be the source of the Miracle. And I have to say it was very refreshing to find Miracle Day at last treating a subject in-depth and with intelligence.

Of course, in doing so Immortal Sins is looking very much like the odd man out in the run so far. However ironically it was the episode that most felt like old Torchwood. And that's not just because we got references to the Doctor Who
 universe, a space monster and  having Jack to the fore, allowing Barrowman to do some proper acting rather than being relegated to hollow action man and camp quip modes. While all these elements helped, what made this outing feel like a return to the show's past successes was the sense of magic and darkness that it brought to its intelligent explorations of its themes, something Torchwood has been sorely lacking in this series. 

However I am not confident that the strength of this episode signals that they've saved the best for last and the remaining episodes are going to match it. Rather giving the meandering that has passed for series structure so far, I rather think the opposite is more likely. Basically the previous instalments have neither created an effective narrative or laid the foundations for a high octane climax. To put it bluntly, the storyline of Miracle Day is just plain broken - the road leading up to this point has been too pitted with plot holes to convince me that the story can pull its threads together in a merely effective way, let alone a satisfying one. And even if the remainder of the series is solid gold, it will still be tarnished by the botched first two thirds.

And I can't help wondering whether this episode which finally reveals Captain Jack's character properly is coming far too late for those viewers who aren't familiar with his history and origins in Doctor Who. Certainly this series has been content with rather lazily throwing in the odd reference to his long life span, and largely keeping Jack in the background. So while this episode sets up the background and genesis of the Miracle, the preceding episodes haven't really been working to build up to the reveals in this one. 

Plus considering that it is looking increasingly likely that this whole Miracle business is just a massive ploy to get Jack, I can't help feeling the storyline has completely muffed its focus throughout. I suspect I won't be alone in feeling somewhat cheated if the grand scifi concept of nobody dying is just window dressing for the tale of a spurned lover. Not to mention the fact that making everybody on the damn planet  immortal is one helluva long way to go about getting hold of one man. So I'm sincerely hoping that there's more to the Miracle scheme than just an overly elaborate global game of bloody Mouse Trap !

So then while I really enjoyed Immortal Sins, I tend to think it may well be a blip. For while it told it own story well and delivered a very good episode, it's not enough to fix the problem's in the series' narrative which I am increasingly convinced has not focused on the elements the audience finds most interesting and is heading in entirely the wrong direction.


Reviews of previous episodes can be found here


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

B MOVIE HEROES - Roger Corman



Read my salute to the sultan of schlock Roger Corman over at THE DAY HOLLYWOOD STOOD STILL


If I didn't exist, how would you invent me?


Hmm, tough one!

Well, years of watching horror flicks have informed me that the primary way to create life is sew together corpses and bring the resultant new person to life with the power of what Catweazle used to call 'elec-trickery'.

Now many variations on Baron Frankenstein's methods have been presented over the years, but I'd definitely go with the classic Ken Strickfaden equipment - all whirling dials and Tesla coils and harnessing the power of lightning. There be none of that arsing about with electric eels as seen in Cuddly Ken's mendaciously titled Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) - it's be the power of heavens all the way baby!

What? You don't want to be a suture covered, mute, violent, hulking patchwork beast? Now that's a surprise!

Well, we could use the alternate process of life creation developed by Frankenstein's one-time collaborator, Dr Septimus Pretorious. On the plus side, you'd be fully human, looking normal and have some power of speech. The downside is you'd be only several inches high and have to live in a bell jar...

What? That's a no-no as well? Just think how cheap accommodation would be! No? Still not convinced?

Well, the modern digital era does allow the creation of people with a few mouse clicks. I could very easily make up an entirely new person by opening Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages... However, you would of course just be what techies call 'a sock puppet' under my control. Not exactly ideal, as I can barely run my own life, let alone some one elses!

And just to be clear, we are ruling out actual physical sock puppets aren't we? That's a shame... I have some nice bits of felt and some natty buttons in my craft box...

Well then, I'm out of answers... Oh hang a minute though... There is this old Arabian style lamp I picked up the other day... I'll just give a rub...

Bingo! One puff of smoke and a big blue fella doing a poor Robin Williams impersonation later, and now you exist! Hurrah!

Hope that is satisfactory! Right must dash, this hyperactive bugger wants another two wishes from me...

Friday, 19 August 2011

Your Stars for the Week...


As it's a Friday, it must to be time to see what the Mystic Ones reckon the next seven days has in store for us...




Thursday, 18 August 2011

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY - Episode 6 The Middle Men


456 Classification - Sensitive Information Below!

Yes folks, from here on in all Torchwood reviews WILL contain spoilers! Mainly because as the show moves closer and closer towards its final death throes, I'm sorry, exciting climax, it going to be increasingly hard to keep these little reports spoiler-free. And partly because I figure if you're reading this you're either a) already watching or b) don't give a toss. So then what does Episode 6 - The Middle Men bring us?

Well, we have an intriguing and surprising opening sequence which neatly set-up a fresh plot strand for this outing. However in the bulk of the episode is largely resolving the action from last week. Yes, around three quarters of this episode is Escape From The Overflow Camps. In the US, we have Rex and Esther attempting to get out with a minimum of fuss, while back in the UK Rhys and Gwen are still attempting to rescue her father. Meanwhile Captain Jack is seeking to have a quiet word with the fellow from the pre-credits sequence, a PhiCorp exec who has been getting a wee bit suspicious himself about what his company is getting up too.

And to oversee these spookshow shenanigans we have John Shiban on script duties again. Much like the last episode he was involved with (Escape From LA), this chapter of the Miracle Day storyline is tightly focused on the espionage operations and features an fascinating incidental character portrayed by an '80s pop culture icon. For the afore-mentioned PhiCorp suit, Stuart Evans, is played by the great Ernie Hudson - yes, it's Winston from Ghostbusters! And I'm happy to report that Mr Hudson is excellent and his scenes are some of the best in this instalment, partly because they deliver some tantalizing hints about what is really going on behind the Miracle but mostly because Evans doesn't turn out to be the face of corporate evil you're expecting.

Also on good form this episode is Eve Myles as Gwen, with the script giving her a winning combination of drama and action. Now amid all the nit picking over the last few weeks, I have been sadly neglecting to praise  Eve Myles, as hands down she's been delivering the best performances in the team, and the character of Gwen has easily been the most consistently written too. Also in Gwen, the spirit of what I'm thinking of as  the original Torchwood lives on; embodying the quirky humour and the down-to-earth human reactions to extraordinary events that were a much bigger part of the show than it is now.

In fairness however, we have Captain Jack appearing more like his old self in this episode, and the script makes good use of Esther and Rex. Now Alexa Havins has been fairly consistent throughout this series and proved to be an interesting character as the team member who is new to all this cloak and dagger stuff, however Rex has been mainly stuck on barking and shouting duties. But in this episode, while we don't exactly get masses of character development for him, Mekhi Phifer does at least get to extend his range beyond 'gruff'.

Now then, we have no appearance from Bill Pullman this week, which on one hand is a shame as his performances have been excellent. But on the other hand, the absence of Danes removed a major thorn in the side of the show's credibility (see previous reports for my troubles with this character). However that's not to say there weren't still niggly annoyances with the plot.

For while this episode clipped along nicely a decent pace, in terms of the overall series, shouldn't things be moving along a little quicker? I can't help thinking this part of the story should have either happened around episode 4 or been done in half the time. I mean we've only four episodes left and the team has actually learnt very little and took an awful long time to discover it.

However sensible plotting isn't proving to be this series strong suite. Last week I mentioned the increasing fuzziness over the rules of the Miracle and this continues to be a problem. Firstly we get a throw away line explaining that actually people can die if they are totally incinerated, so then no sentient ash clouds on the horizon then. But as this is a Davies masterplan I still wouldn't rule out a budget-blowing horde of cinder spectres appearing out of nowhere to smother the bad guys in the last episode...

Now this loophole in humanity's new immortality I could forgive if the concept of death only occurring in cases of 'complete cellular destruction' had been bedded down in the plot earlier. However as presented here, the explanatory line this week comes across as a quick fix because the writers forgot the rules. And indeed this is isn't the only instance of writers fudging the Miracle rules. To begin with the opening scene where the Hong Kong investigator throw himself off the roof makes for a dramatic opening but is undercut when you remember that no one is supposed to die.

Admittedly that may seem like typical fanboy quibbling, but there's more serious questions hanging over the battle between Esther and the stressed to insanity camp boss, Maloney. For a start, throttling someone in a world where no one dies makes little sense, but the fact he is conveniently gunned down into submission seems like a direct contradiction of what we've seen before, as neither Rex nor Vera slipped into  unconsciousness when seriously injured; indeed the the former made an explicit point about it when the team were talking about the Miracle a few weeks back - that whole 'forced into life' business. Plus in Rendition, we had the character who Miss Emma Lou of The Blue Box Blog wonderfully renamed The Lady Who  Startlingly Resembles A Siamese Cat happily playing with the traffic with her head on backwards.

Then again in the last Shiban episode, we had C Thomas Howell's assassin handily flaunting the rules too and also conveniently collapsing. Now considering he would actually die, I have been wondering why the team just left him there - after all he was just about to spill some vital information shouldn't they have captured him for interrogation? Admittedly his wounds may have prevented him talking but he could held a bloody pen!

I don't know about you, but I'm getting the impression that generally the writers are really struggling with this no one dies business. While a certain amount of thought has gone into the effect such a scenario would have on society.... ok, ok, well alright.... just the healthcare system really, no one has carefully thought through the implications for plotting in action orientated narratives, namely that it becomes a bit of a sod if you can't have victims and bad guys biting the dust.

And so we have these logic gaps, opening the way to the dark dimensions where the cynical questions bubble and blaspheme at the centre of the universe of audience disbelief. Now a good writer should fear above all else accidentally opening one of these unhallowed portals... However if you fumble your dramtaic incantations, armchair smart arses like me start wondering about things like...

Why the hell is there a solider subservient to a civilian bureaucrat in the first place?

And while I enjoyed M*A*S*H as much as everyone else, is Torchwood really the right venue for a character that is clearly ripping off Radar?

And although it was great to see Ernie Hudson, did Jack really need to speak to him? Couldn't they have got most of his information from that server they nicked?

And is it just me or is the main tactic of this new Torchwood team what I believe to be called the Mrs Doyle Stratagem in intelligent circles - simply sidling up to the target and saying 'Ah go on! Help us out! It'll be grand! Ah go on , go on , go on, go on, go on!'

...I'll stop there before I get to speculations about the effects of Botox on John Barrrowman's performances, but you get the idea.  If you leave holes in your plot, your viewers will be down them quicker than Alice after a white rabbit and the show won't be holding their attention. And if you're careful, like the wooden men on the chess board in the Carroll inspired Jefferson Airplane song, they be getting up and telling you where to go...

Now generally I was being moderately entertained by this episode, but much like the rest of the series, all these little niggles kept nudging me out of the show. And while much of the time these are are minor points, the fact is Miracle Day has been consistently riddled with such little irritations week in and week out, I am getting to the point where it's becoming exceedingly annoying.

Of course that's not to mention the massive hairy cock-ups the show insists upon periodically waving in our faces. However, showing that some one in the production team has some grasp of pacing, this is the second week in a row where they've saved the most egregious plot idiocy for the end of the episode.

This week the story closes with Rex's footage being released to the world and what happens? Bloody nothing that's what. It's bad enough the revelation is tossed away in a few lines, but what's unforgivable is that it doesn't seem to matter. The governments and PhiCorp just carry on burning folks tra-la-bloody-la! To quote Jefferson Airplane again - "logic and proportion have fallen smartly dead".

Plus in combination with the cliff-hanger, I'm now convinced that this whole Miracle business is an idiotically complicated plot just to get at Jack and hence the majority of the plot of Miracle Day may well be a  colossal red herring, and if that is so, a massive waste of our time.

I sincerely hope that this isn't the case but at the same time my expectations of getting any meat on the bones marked 'geography', 'families will rise' and 'the blessing' next week are exceedingly low... Instead  I predict more dashing around that will seem entertaining enough but with a moment's thought will become irritating and unfulfilling...

Reviews of previous episodes can be found here





Monday, 15 August 2011

CAPTAIN AMERICA - THE FIRST AVENGER


Truth, justice and the non-spoiler way!

As his old theme tune goes 'When Captain America throws his mighty shield, All those who chose to oppose his shield must yield!'. However I must confess that as a kid just getting into comics, the Cap didn't exactly grab my attention the way Spider-Man, Batman, Judge Dredd and Dan Dare did, and this mighty shield business was part of the problem. Why did he have a shield but no sword? The two go together like Laurel and Hardy, fish and chips, Frank and Stein... And of course, being in the UK, I was naturally more interested to find out what this Captain Britain bloke was all about. 

Now appropriately enough this childhood reactions to Captain America actually neatly sums up the two biggest challenges for bringing one of the most venerable heroes in the Marvel Universe to the big screen. A shield doesn't have the same cinematic cool as a Batarang, and chucking it about possesses a risk of looking daft that web-slinging does not.

However this is small potatoes compared to the issue of the character's inherent patriotism. Given the somewhat, shall we say, mixed opinion of America on the modern world stage, there was a big danger of alienating audiences outside of the US. Now admittedly, in his comics the Captain has frequently seen taking a critical stance of jingoism and where national pride slips into aggression and greed, but as movie versions of superheroes tend towards presenting simplistic versions of the comics characters, there was a danger of the silver screen Cap becoming a parade of super-powered flag-waving.

But fear not true believers! Joe Johnston's take on the classic character artfully handles both these issues beautifully, bringing us a Captain America who symbolising good hearted values that everyone can identify with and making that shield action truly mighty! 

Now Joe Johnston has garnered a reputation for being something of a journey man director, however it has to be said he did a marvelous job with The Wolf Man last year. Yes, Universal's reboot of Larry Talbot's tale wasn't a perfect movie, but considering the mangled and troubled production Johnston inherited, it's remarkable the film turned out so well. Similarly Captain America: The First Avenger has been through the fires of development hell, however this time the behind the scenes problems appear to have been resolved by the time Joe first called 'action!'. And the resulting movie is simply so entertaining and loving crafted, I think we may well see Johnston shaking free of the journeyman tag and a reassessment of his past movies. 

The film tells the tale of the transformation of Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) into the titular shield-slinging hero and his attempts to thwart the plans of world domination by rogue Nazi deep science division HYDRA led by Johann Schmidt aka The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Yes folks, this is an origin story but it is to the movie's considerable credit that you hardly notice - as the character of Rogers is so appealing even before his transformation, with Evans being supremely likeable in the role. And the plot delivers enough action before he truly becomes the Captain that you're never sat there thinking 'just get on with it!'. 

In many respects, it's a classic David and Goliath style story for even after being supercharged by the super solider serum, Roger is still the archetypal little guy making a stand against the bullies of the world. Of course as an offshoot of the Nazis, HYDRA provide a villain everybody across the world can hate, but it's the presentation of the Captain as a true everyman that neatly transcends the potentially troublesome patriotic boundaries.

But like many of the better superhero flicks, the Red Skull, as another product of the super solider serum, provides a villain that mirrors our hero but is also his polar opposite - Rogers wants to save the world while Schmidt wants to crush it, which further underlines our hero's humanity and virtues.


Now Schmidt is brought brilliantly to life by the ever reliable Hugo Weaving. And while I have some misgivings over the look of the Red Skull in this movie - the classic incarnation in the comics is alot more bonier and craggier - I can live with the fact that he has the same colour and texture as tandoori chicken as the make-up work allows Weaving facial acting to show through. Heavier prostheses and/or more digital make-up could well buried the performance. 

And as well as good performances from Evans and Weaving, we have fine support from the rest of the cast. Tommy Lee Jones is marvelous fun as Col. Chester Phillips - a craggy military old man figure which steers clear of the expected stereotype by giving him some of the funnier one liners in the script. Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter makes a refreshing female lead who proves she can hold her own against the boys, sporting more character and getting far more action than the usual ladies in a superhero flick. Dominic Cooper gives a great turn as Howard Stark and although his mannerisms recall his onscreen son Robert Downey Jr, he gives the character an individual spin that make him more than just a 1940s Tony Stark. Plus we have Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones putting in scene stealing performances are Dr Erskine and Dr Zola. 

Overall the movie looks the business too - the Captain America costume evolves nicely throughout the film and its final form is both true to the original design yet manages to look realistic. And at this point I should mention the shield work - the story rather nicely explains why the Captain has it and how he discovers its many uses in combat.

As you'd expect from a director who cut his teeth in FX work, the action and big set pieces look fabulous. However what really makes Captain America: The First Avenger stand out from all the other superhero blockbusters is the period setting. Now there's great sets and retro tech props that bring the world of the '40s vividly to life, but the real fun comes from the fact that as well trading in the expected four colour fisticuffs of the comics, this film also makes great use of the WWII setting and so we have a host of scenes that recall war movies of the past. Hence we have chases through misty Germany forests, snowy action at a compound in the Alps, prisoners of war staging a break out, and even aerial pathos as a doomed airman has one last chat with his sweetheart over the crackling radio. There's even a cheeky line that sound suspiciously like a reference to the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark

Speaking of references, there's plenty of connections to the other movies in the Marvel franchise. I've already mentioned the Iron Man link, but also there's also strong connective tissue to Thor and The Incredible Hulk. Yes folks, this Avengers business is all tying together rather nicely! And make you stick around for the now traditional post credits bit which sets the scene for what is coming next summer when all these heroes share a screen.

But how does Captain America - The First Avenger stack up against his Avengers brethren? Well, obviously it's far better than the obviously born of a troubled production Incredible Hulk, and also it's far leaner than the somewhat rambling Iron Man 2. However where you place it next to the original Iron Man outing and Thor will largely depend on which hero best fits your taste. Certainly these movies are three of kind, delivering the same brand of superhero spectacle with plenty of wit and a warm heart. 

And  it's definitely a close run thing between the three - which itself is a testament to the quality of Captain America -The First Avenger. Now for me, Thor still has the top spot but then I have long standing love of Norse mythology. Iron Man loses a few marks for having a weak final villain, whereas if I have a criticism of Captain America, it's the fact that I felt we could have done with just one more sequence with showing the Cap and his commandos battling HYDRA before the final show-down.

However considering the movie already has a two hours plus running time, another dust-up may well have spoiled the flow of the narrative.  For as it is the film flies by, which is the mark of perfect pacing. And also this niggle is perhaps more reflective of the fact that I simply enjoyed the movie so much I just want to see more of the Cap doing his stuff. And very tellingly, especially that throwing his mighty shield!



Thursday, 11 August 2011

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY Episode 5 - The Categories of Life



456 Classification - No sensitive information revealed

So then, what does Categories of Life bring us? Well, after a decent third part and a solid if run-of-the-mill follow-up last week, the fifth episode of this latest incarnation of Torchwood hits the ground running then promptly falls flat on it's arse.

 Last week's episode left us with the first passable cliff-hanger, and after some promising running about the story wades into yet another monstrous tar-pit of exposition. Yes, we've more clunky dialogue clanging like cracked bells, clearly feeding plot points to the audience rather than portraying a conservation between real people. 

While still on the Dark Side, in the same scenes we have yet more tedious gay jokes between Jack and Rex. Now I'm not one of these homophobic idiots who gets all hot under the collar and spouts nonsense about Russell T Davies using his shows to further a 'gay agenda'  however I do strongly object to the way our long lived omni-sexual Captain is  often been reduced to a comical camp figure. 

Yes, Jack's always been ready with a saucy quip but in this series he's lost his dark and brooding side and I feel is danger of becoming a comedy sidekick in his own show. Mind you, the characterisation of Rex is still paper-thin obnoxious shouting. And the running gay jokes  aren't exactly helping to endear him to me, as he's coming across as a bit of bigot. 

However thankfully after this info dumping, the episode does get back on track, with the team mounting their biggest and boldest operation yet. We have the action unfolding in three different locations culminating in a triple climax that will have many of you shocked and surprised.  Obviously I'm not going to reveal any details but let's just say it gets very, very dark.

However despite this the episode still manages to blow it's own toes off and if you want to know why by the end of the episode I was shouting 'bullshit!' at the screen, you'll have to brave the spoiler zone below.

So then it is something of a mixed bag this episode, as have many of its predecessors. But here we have a startling range from some of the better scenes we've had so far to some of the worst. Yes, we are certainly getting to the meat of the story now after weeks of hors d'oeuvres, with some proper big dramatic developments but I now have serious doubts about Miracle Day, and even if the second half sorts out its problems, on the evidence present in this instalment, I suspect it will continue to be a very bumpy ride.


456 Classification Revised - Spoilers Ahead

Well, as promised last week, it's half time report time! So how's the first five episodes gone? Well, it's been a bit choppy hasn't it? My polygraph machines monitoring script, acting, plotting and direction have been scribbling wildly throughout this opening half of Miracle Day despite gradual week by week improvements. But basically Torchwood is so far scraping by rather than soaring as it should be.

Now viewers from whom Miracle Day is their first exposure to the world of Torchwood may chalk these imperfections done to the usual teething troubles and weaknesses that are found in most first seasons. However for those of us who are counting this as Series 4, it's a disappointing follow-up to Children of Earth. Of course that five part series was so exceptional I doubted that Miracle Day would equal it. However what I didn't expect was that this series (at least so far) wouldn't be as solid as Series 2.

And up until this week, the intriguing concept and well executed moments had enough strength to get me over the flaws, though not necessarily forgive them. However Episode 5 has seen the show hit the skids and wheels come off the Torchwood jalopy. 

So far I've been very patient, allow the show a good deal of leeway as a slow burn story, but  I am coming to the conclusion that the plotting is just a dog's dinner. The concepts haven't been properly thought through and there looks to be alot of padding where there should have been plot developments and drama. 

Now I discussed last week my doubts about the character of Oswald Danes and how credible is it that  a man who has raped, tortured and murdered a child could ever become a media personality. So far I managed to just suspend disbelief, but in the latest episode the story assumed the mass of a small singularity and not only fell from my straining arms but ate through multiple floors like xenomorph blood. Sorry but I don't buy that, even in the altered world of the Miracle (where remember the other week he was pursued by the public and beaten by the police), such a vile monster could become a charismatic leader, whooping up a stadium of people.

And if that wasn't ridiculous enough, Jack's whole cunning plan with Oswald was frankly ludicrous. For him to think it was remotely possible, they really needed to have met and verbally crossed swords several times before and at length rather than the single brief meet we did get to see.

In short, these scenes at the rally really tipped the scales for me - it was hard to believe that you could have someone of John Wayne Gacy's ilk shilling pharmaceuticals but Ted Bundy as Jesus? For Chrisssakes! Get a fucking grip! Danes' storyline is no longer just unbelievable, it's now bollocks so badly conceived it borders on the offensive. 

Less annoying but just as muddled is the Miracle itself. Ok, so no one dies and eternal youth isn't part of the deal. But for example would Rex's chest wound start to heal? What if the brain is destroyed are people still conscious? Now we've had yards of exposition over the past five weeks but the rules of the phenomena are still fuzzy. Hence this week's big reveal - that the evil plot is to burn folks in the camps - was somewhat undercut by the question of are we going to have clouds of sentient ash swirling about?

And that's another thing - I presumed that those sent to the camps would be shipped off and used as an ever living food supply for something... But no, PhiCorp are torching those who are supposed to be dead. Why?  I mean presumably they, or rather their mysterious triangle masters, have engineered the Miracle in the first damn place, so what the hell is the point? Everyone who is being exterminated in the stealth concentration camps would have died anyway if they hadn't let loose the Miracle in the first damn place.

Even for Russell T Davies, who engineered many a stupid story than delivered spectacle but not coherent plotting in his tenure on Doctor Who, this plot twist is a new low - it makes not the slightest sense and left me with the impression that this whole Miracle business is a massive waste of time. Which would account for the fact that the whole unfolding situation has been consistently badly explained and explored over the past five weeks I suppose.

Also, I'll say this now, Mr Davies: if you're really expecting that forthcoming reveal that it's aliens behind it all is going to wow us all, you are sadly misguided. This is a scifi series and we're all expecting aliens anyway. So if space monsters are the only secret behind the Miracle, Mr and Mrs Kick will be paying a swift visit to Bollock-town!

And, apologies for turning into Columbo here, but one more thing... Wouldn't it have made more sense to kill off Rex rather than Vera? Who's going to attend all those talking head exposition sessions now?

Now admittedly there's still half a series to clarify and make sense of the current state of play. However there appears to be a key problem that everyone I've spoke to about the show seems to agree on - that it doesn't feel like Torchwood anymore. And indeed in the latest episode, Rex spells it out by saying 'Torchwood is just a name, a code word'. And it's not just all the background of old Torchwood that has gone, the show now has a very different tone.

Now yes, continuing shows need to keep tweaking the format and set-up to provide fresh platforms for new stories, but so far, there's little reason for the Miracle Day story to involve the Torchwood team at all. Indeed this tale could easily be told with completely new characters replacing Captain Jack and Gwen as there is so little connection to its previous incarnations. Indeed it's not like Jack is being particularly well handled at all - in avoiding any awkward references to the character's past that might alienate new viewers in the US, we're left with a hollow man.

Certainly as so much in terms of both style and setting that has been jettisoned, again presumably for the benefit of the new stateside audience, it might have made more sense to launch this as stand-alone series. For a start, all those unwelcome comparisons to Children of Earth would disappear. But on the other hand the plot developments of the most recent episode appear so imbecilic that they would damage even a stand alone show.

Having come this far I'll keep watching, if only to enjoy the most consistent and true to what has gone before element, Gwen. And while I still want to see how it all turn out, I don't have high hopes of them getting out the daft corner they seem to written themselves into. Consistently throughout his career, Russell T Davies has proven that satisfying conclusions aren't his strong suite, and I fully expect that Miracle Day will end in the usual morass of papered over plot holes that he has often served up in the past. However he's usually very good at set-ups and frankly this first half has been more clumsy and dithering rather than confidently building.

As I said I'll keep watching and even entertain increasingly faint hopes that the show is going to properly find it feet, but seriously it's truly galling seeing an excellent concept being mangled, and on the most recent evidence, being just pissed away. I suspect I'll be more watching out of completism than being genuinely captivated...

Reviews of previous episodes can be found here



Wednesday, 10 August 2011

SUPER 8 - The Goonies Have A Close Encounter With ET in Cloverfiled?



There's production value but no spoilers!

Already being proclaimed in many quarters, and indeed on many posters here in the UK, as 'the best blockbuster of the summer', Super 8 comes to us with a considerable weight of expectation in tow. Many are hailing it as a modern great, a Goonies or a Gremlins for our times.  However the chorus of praise has not been universal; a quick trip to IMDB will show you a considerable numbers of reviewers having an Emperor's New Clothes moment. There's a host of few star reviews out there pressing charges of being derivative and careening through the plot holes on the wings of indignation.  

So then is Super 8 a welcome return to the family friendly magic of the legendary '80s blockbusters; a perfect summer storm generated by the meeting of two generations of masters of cinematic fantasy? Or is just Abrams plagiarising all those classic movies that bear Spielberg's name with the old boy's blessing?

Well firstly, to lay my cards on the table, I'm not in the Abrams is God camp - while I greatly enjoy his Star Trek reboot and Fringe, Alias never really grabbed me and Lost, well, lost me somewhere in the morass of flashbacks in Season 2. And I've a bag of similar mixed reactions with Mr Spielberg's oeuvre - obviously Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark are classics, but the last time I attempted to rewatch ET, I ended up thrashing about on the floor with a bad case of saccharine poisoning. Now, to be clear I'm not saying either are necessarily patchy in terms of quality, more that what they produce doesn't always suit my tastes. And so, despite it's pedigree, Super 8 wasn't guaranteed an instant pass from me.

Now,for those of you who don't know, the plot goes something like this. A bunch of kids in one of those archetypal small American towns, are making a zombie movie and while out filming, they witness a spectacular train crash. However if all that weren't exciting enough, there was a mystery cargo aboard which escapes and very soon the little town of Lillian is best by twin plagues of weird goings-on and unhelpful US Air Force troops. I'm sure you can all guess the kind of thing that was lurking in the sealed crate, and equally it's not a huge spoilers to tell you that the kids investigate and of course end up saving the day. A classic scenario or clichéd cobblers? 

Well, let's cut to the chase here, I really enjoyed this movie; it's heaps of fun and boasts many merits - more of which later. However, is the praise/buzz/hype (delete as personal cynicism about blockbusters deems applicable) garnered by Super 8 justified? Well, yes and no - it is a very fine movie in many respects but there are some weaknesses that mean it just misses the classic mark for me. 

It breaks down like this. Firstly, despite numerous comparisons to The Goonies and Explorers, make no mistake this isn't a tale of a band of kids, it's really one boy's story, Joe played by Joel Courtney. Now many of the negative reviews point out that most of the band of young movie makers have paper-thin characters, but in fairness if you accept that this is not a gang of kids tale, this is less of a problem. Firstly, because we are seeing the story unfold through Joe's eyes and secondly because the peers he has the closest ties to to Charles (Riley Griffiths) and Alice (Elle Fanning) are decently fleshed out. 


And while we're challenging the received wisdom, let deal with the accusations of being unoriginal. Now the lazy way to sum up this movie is to slap a label on it marked  'Cloverfield Meets ET' and walk away smugly whistling. Now superficially that all looks very big and clever but on poking it with sharps stick this observation very quickly deflates leaving the air full of the unpleasant whiff of smart arsery. For the crashed train train doesn't contain a cute secret pal from outer space or a giant beast that stomps the town Godzilla style. The only real parallels with Cloverfield are we only see glimpses of the cargo until the final act and Abrams name is prominent on the credits and similarly it only really resembles ET in the fact that we have Spielberg's name and some common scifi tropes. In terms of tone and narrative direction, Super 8 is very different to either of these movies.

Now armchair witticisms masquerading as critical opinion aside, there are more credible accusations that Super 8 is just a patchwork of elements drawn from The Goonies, ET, Explorers, Gremlins, Close Encounters, Poltergeist etc. And yes there is some truth in these claims - films buffs can have a field day identifying cinematic ancestors for many scenes and elements of Super 8. However if you;re going to play this game properly and intelligently, you have to look back further than the 1980s and widen your trope taxonomy further than just movies. And if you do, you'll discover firstly that yes, Abrams is drawing alot we've seen done before in all those well loved '80s flicks. However you'll also find that Spielberg, Zemeckis and Dante weren't exactly dealing with original concepts in the first place - all three directors were drawing upon their own childhood favourites - from TV, comics and books as well as movies. The Goonies are just the 80s generation of a long line of adventuring kids such as the Hardy Boys, the Famous Five, the 3 Investigators - which stretches back to the Bastable family of E.Nesbit and the birth of children's literature.

Gremlins is firmly in the tradition of '50s B-movies like The Blob and Invasion of the Saucer Men in which small towns are overrun by monsters but vanquished by teenager power. And as for ET, there are countless stories of small children who make friends with an otherworldly being, be it an alien, monster, faerie or ghost - for example Spielberg's fable is very similar to Raymond Brigg's The Snowman, which also includes magical flying sequences and a tear jerking ending. Indeed originally the short animated feature, now a Christmas TV classic, was going to be shown in cinemas as a supporting feature for ET until someone spotted that the storylines where uncomfortably similar and didn't want audiences thinking that the genius Spielberg had ripped off Brigg's book and just made it's icy hero a talking turd with special  light-up action (TM) who turned out to be Space-Jesus.

The simple fact is that all those directors of 80's classics were just repacking even then very elderly tropes and the fact they they a) did it well and b) gained huge box office success and a place in popular memory still doesn't make them creators of original concepts. And even in terms of directorial craft, they were pulling on age old Hollywood story telling techniques. So then if we are excusing Spielberg and co. from plundering their childhoods for both concepts and craft, then it seems churlish of beating Abrams with that stick.

Yes, it's soaked in nostalgia, but we forget that all those '80s classics were too. Essentially Super 8 is drawing on a collection of age old tropes and classic techniques of screen story telling just as much as Spielberg, Zemeckis, Dante and Lucas were - the different is that his immediate reference points in the past  are far more better remembered by the general audience than the trashy '50s drive-in fodder and episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits his forebears freely pillaged.


So then the afore mentioned weaknesses aren't the fact that much of this movie evokes the same warm glow as the summer blockbusters of my youth. Where Super 8 loses those crucial marks that would put in on par with those movies of yesteryear is that in the last act there are several scenes where the details of the plot get somewhat fuzzy. Now many are calling out this instances of plot holes, but I tend to think it's more of a case of exposition being missing  in action as I could surmise what was going on well enough but a few lines at certain moments would have meant I wasn't nudged out of the movie by these little questions popping up.

Now if there's a longer cut coming on disc, I would at all be surprised to find that the scenes and lines currently on the cutting room floor will turn out to be the bits that fix this issues. On the other hand however, it may well have been a case that Abrams just wasn't keeping an eye on the devil in the details, because the omissions/failing in the narrative are related to the scifi and action mechanics. For in terms of the personal and emotional story - which in fairness is as much of the focus as the fantasy adventure side of things - the movie's last act round up everything very nicely. So then we have an ending that I will freely admit had me going misty eyed but afterwards did leave me with a few minor 'what exactly was going on there' queries.

Another area where Super 8 is weak is the Cargo itself. Now I loved all the hints and glimpses throughout the movie; it was pitch perfect movie monster handling, teasing the audience and not allowing us too much of a grasp on what it is or looks like, so we cannot easily diminish it in an 'ah, it's just a big tortoise' fashion  (note for the hard of thinking: it's isn't a big tortoise - that's just an example).  However, when we do get the big reveals in the last reel, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the design. While the effects and camera work were good, I just felt that the Cargo wasn't quite iconic enough.

Now none of the above are exactly a deal breaker but they does make the difference between Super 8 being merely a very good movie and a classic. However, there's far more positives than negatives here, and its strengths easily put it head and shoulders over most other blockbuster fare. For Super 8 relies on none of the usual standards of populist summer flicks - there's no over paid, over weight, and over the hill big name stars running about with guns, no pretty young pin-ups earning mega-bucks arsing about in front of green screens, and everything doesn't explode in a welter of CGI every ten minutes.

There are big action sequences; for example the train wreck, that comes very early on in the movie, is magnificently spectacular. However after this impressive devastation, the thrills are of a much smaller scale and Abrams wisely leaves all the massive carnage until the climax. And so for the majority of the film, instead we have a proper story, packed with suspense, drama and some good laughs too. But as well as the thrills and a decent pace, Super 8 has bags of emotion to touch the heart - it may be sentimental but it never tips into the cloying saccharine syrup that rots a film's teeth.

And this is pulled off not just with good scripting and direction, but some very fine performances. Not only are the kids likeable rather than bratty, but the acting talent displayed by Courtney and Fanning is highly impressive. In particular, the complex and powerful performance Elle Fanning gives not only eclipses her more famous sister but outshines the acting not only in other blockbusters but in many an arthouse and indie movie too.

The great irony of Super 8, is that while Abrams has been served a good deal of flack for mimicking Spielberg, because it delivers some real emotion power rather than overly sweet contrived confections to attempt to warm the heart, he's actually makes a better job of the material than his elder would. For there's in many of the most emotional scenes there's a rawness and darkness that Spielberg would overly balance with sweetness and light. And yet, it is in the action and scifi departments which are Abram's metier that he slightly fumbles.

However the strengths do considerably outweigh the weaknesses. Despite the *ahem* gremlins in the final act, I gasped, I laughed and, to complete the cliché, yes, I damn near well cried too. It may not be perfect but I had so much fun, I am considering a second visit to see it. And to put things in the broader context, too many blockbusters can only offer fumbled plots riddled with holes they hope to fill with a torrent of equally mishandled effects work set-pieces. So then to receive a movie like Super 8 whose story telling places the human drama rather than mindless CGI and explosions at its heart is something to celebrate.

Also if you do go - and I would recommend you do - be sure to stick around for the credits, when in a lovely touch they show the movie the kids made.



Sunday, 7 August 2011

HYPNOBOBS 43 - The Black Cats of Poe Part II



Continuing our exploration of adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat, Mr Jim Moon first dissects in depth Roger Corman's Tales of Terror (1962) starring Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone and the patron saint of Hypnobobs Mr Vincent Price. Then in an unplanned tangent, rambles about the history of Italian cinema and the birth of giallo, before getting stuck into Sergio Martino's catchily titled Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (1972) and tries not to drool over Edwige Fenech.

Direct download - HYPNOBOBS 43 - The Black Cats of Poe Part II

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Thursday, 4 August 2011

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY - Episode 4 Escape to LA



456 Classification - No sensitive information revealed


So then, what have the newly minted Torchwood crew been up to this week? Well, Escape to LA briskly continue the pace set last week, delivering more espionage action and solid plot developments. And like the previous episode we have another US genre TV alumni on script duties, this time John Shiban, veteran of The X Files, Supernatural, Breaking Bad and many more, at the helm and with co-writer Jim Gray turning in a solid episode. 

Now it's not exactly a stellar instalment, and by that I mean there's no huge turning point revelations in the plot or massive chunks of the series' budget blown out on big fireworks set-pieces. However it goes a cracking job of moving the story onwards, and that's no bad thing at all. It's tight, fun and intriguing, unfolding with a confident stride and largely free of the info dumps that have irritated in the preceding three episodes. Yes, there's plenty of exposition flying about but it's far more artfully executed in proper dramatic scenes rather than the previous over reliance on anonymous talking heads in meetings and on TV news inserts. And it does solid work in raising the stakes with the mysterious threat behind the Miracle beginning to emerge from the shadows, but more importantly consolidating what has gone before.

With the machinations of PhiCorp taking centre stage this week, the decision to focus so heavily on the effects of Miracle Day in Dr Vera's hospital at the expense of showing us the wider ranging  impact on the rest of society is now making more sense. I still feel that the focus in the early episodes was not always centring on the most effective targets but as the shape and thrust of the story is becoming clearer, I can appreciate the narrative decisions somewhat better. Of course this doesn't exactly clear the charges of heavy handed exposition and this week's script does highlight the instances of clumsy writing in the early episodes but now in hindsight we can see plot threads laid out that are being pulled together this week. 

Now aside for the bigger picture, this episode we have the team embarking on a major operation that doesn't exactly go to plan ... not a great result for our heroes but excellent fun for the viewers at home. But as well as some good old fashioned covert spookshow action, we have some interesting character developments - we get a brief glimspse of another side to media manipulator Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose) and at last we get an insight into Rex, revealing more there's more going on beneath the shouty brash exterior and possibly giving us a key to understanding why plays hardball so much. 

The introduction of a new character, the Palinesque Ellis Harltey Monroe (Mare Winningham) gives us a welcome dose of social satire. The script and Winningham wisely underplay the character without descending in cheap caricature; capturing perfectly the all too familiar friendly face of sociopathy that too many politicians are sporting these days i.e. trying to appear thoroughly respectable, ordinary and decent yet actually proposing heartless draconian measures. However this episode's real star turn comes from C. Thomas Howell. I can't say much about what his role involves, but let's just say you'll never see Soul Man in the same way again!

Bill Pullman's Oswald Danes continues to impress. However again I have to question the plausibility of a child rapist and murderer being embraced as a spokesperson for a major pharmaceutical company. Yes, PhiCorp appear to be a front for mysterious and nefarious agencies, but still their public face is one of smiling benevolence. And although there may well be a public fascination with him, as we saw demonstrated in a very physical fashion last week, many ordinary folk still revile him - he is, in modern parlance, a toxic brand, that no business, no matter how shadowy and powerful would want to be associated with. Just ask the Murdochs...

Now other plot implausibilies such as non-narcotic painkillers not being anything new or revolutionary in the real world, or questions such as where are all the other big pharma companies are in all of this (has PhiCorp swallowed them all?) I can overlook for the sake of the narrative. However I do wonder about the reasoning behind making Danes a murdering child molester; it seems to serve no other purpose at present than to flash the show's 'adult' credentials. However rather than giving this incarnation of Torchwood a hard, gritty edge, it's actually undermining the believability of the plot. 

Obviously I'm prejudging this matter at before the halfway mark, however I am beginning to think that the plot would have been better served if Danes had been a more run-of-the-mill killer, one sentenced to death for murdering several adult women but who had always protested his innocence (in the same way as Ted Bundy did). That we could have had a character that credibly could win public favour, playing on the doubts he was wrongfully convicted, and providing a more chilling contrast between his newly forged media image and the private face he revealed to Captain Jack. 

But while I still have such niggles, it has to be said that in this episode they are more legacy issues than elements in the script  by Messers Gray and Shiban. And I'd have to stress that overall I am enjoying this new series of Torchwood, and this latest episode, while not the flashiest, is certainly the most accomplished in many respects.  It confidently balances plot and character and delivers some rather neat action. And there's several particular lines in this episode that are highly tantalizing - brief sentences that are typically cryptic but massively intriguing as to who or what is behind behind the Miracle. It looks like at long last we're over the steep set-up hump at last.  

And while it's safe to say that Miracle Day is not going to achieve the heights of Children of Earth, it is delivering intrigue and entertainment in equal measure and seemingly becoming more sure footed with each passing week.  So while this series has had a somewhat plodding start - Miracle Day may well appear in next year's dictionary under 'slow burn' - I suspect the second half of the series may well prove stronger than the first...
  

Further reports to follow. And as next week we'll be hitting the mid point, the spoiler gloves may have to come off for a half time report.


Reviews of previous episodes can be found here