Saturday, May 29, 2010

Walkabout

If cinema, at its core, is a visual art form, then Nicolas Roeg’s debut feature Walkabout is surely one of the greatest examples of filmmaking. The screenplay, written by Edward Bond, was allegedly only 14 pages long, and yet the movie has a 100-minute running time. It isn’t hard to believe that tidbit once you see the movie, as the dialogue is sparse, and yet it has the power to hold the viewer in its grip as effortlessly as something written by David Mamet. The characterizations, of which there are really only three, are as rich as the breathtaking scenery, which, when it comes down to it, is probably the real star of Walkabout.

The story begins with a father taking his teenage daughter (Jenny Agutter) and much younger son (Luc Roeg) into the Australian outback for a picnic. But something is wrong with the man, and while the girl sets up the lunch, the man pulls out a gun and starts firing at his children. They take cover behind some rocks, and soon enough the father just loses it altogether, douses the car in gasoline, sets it on fire and then takes his own life. It’s a horrific sequence, made vaguely palatable by today’s standards, only because we hear stories like this all too often on the news. Or perhaps that simply makes it more relevant. The girl does a good job of convincing the boy that they must go on ahead without their father, and that “he’ll meet them later,” as the boy doesn’t really understand what happened. And so the girl and the boy (we never do learn their names) are stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no idea how to get home or how to survive.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Doctor Who: The Vampires of Venice

I was sold on “The Vampires of Venice” (not “Vampires in Venice,” which is what I mistakenly called it at the close of last week’s recap) by its beginning – well, its second beginning, since there are two. In the first, we are in Venice of 1580 and Guido (Lucian Msamati) has brought his daughter Isabella (Alisha Bailey) before Signora Rosanna Calvierri (Helen McCrory). He wants for her to be a part of Calvierri’s school, so that she can have a better life. Since we’ve all seen plenty of Doctor Who at this point, we know this isn’t going to end well for Isabella, and since we’ve seen the previews we also know that Calvierri, as well as her son, Francesco (Alex Price), are vampires (or are they?). So there’s precious little that’s surprising or of interest about Beginning #1, although the sequence ends with a lovely little smash cut from Isabella screaming to Rory (Arthur Darvill) screaming at his stag party, which is Beginning #2, and the point at which I was won over. The two beginnings are also the jumping off points for what end up being the episode’s A and B plots, but more on that later.

Ah, the stag party! Drunken friends, cardboard cakes and the clich├ęd sound of “The Stripper” wafting through the proceedings. The Doctor may rescue the human race from all manner of grotesque alien creatures and life threatening situations, but this is the first time he’s rescued a human from this occasion that’s grotesque in an entirely different manner. From the moment Matt Smith pops out of the cake, he’s bloody brilliant, simply because he chooses to play it straight, in what’s a thoroughly absurd setup. Many actors would’ve mugged and tried to add to the already ridiculous situation, but Smith (or perhaps freshman Who director Jonny Campbell?) allows the scenario to happen around him, and in the process the joke becomes about five times funnier than it has any right to be. I’ve been trying to figure out for weeks now how to explain precisely what it is about this actor in this iconic role that I find so very appealing, and this scene offers up the best example yet of why this guy is the perfect Doctor for his time. Smith’s very much the anti-Tennant, which isn’t to bag on Tennant, but the series really needed this kind of change coming off Tennant’s tenure, and it’s a decision that’s shaping up to be the best one Steven Moffat made for his inaugural season.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Premium Hollywood.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

thirtysomething: The Complete Third Season

Jerry Stahl is a great writer who once upon a time had a very rough time of it while trying to write TV scripts in Hollywood. He became addicted to heroin and watched his career and life quickly spin out of his control. He mapped out these experiences in a grimly humorous tell-all called “Permanent Midnight,” which was later made into a rather tepid movie starring Ben Stiller. One of the shows Stahl worked on during his days and nights of near oblivion was thirtysomething. Here are a couple paragraphs from the book detailing his thoughts on the show:

“By the time I hit thirtysomething, I had this bad habit of spraying a bloody jumbo Z on the tiles of whatever TV show toilet I happened to be shooting up in. Kind of like an intravenous Zorro. It was my way of saying ‘Just because I happen to be here, writing an episode of thirtysomething, that doesn’t make me ONE OF YOU REEBOK PEOPLE!’

Maybe I did overreact, tweaked by that nasty, subconscious realization I just couldn’t shake: I was perfect for the show. The horror! Because I had the wife, the home, and there was probably a baby on the way. And some part of me wanted all that. I hated admitting the extent to which I could relate to the very things I considered most despicable.”

Now, I’ve never succumbed to heroin addiction, but I’ve been around a few blocks a time or two, and after watching three full seasons of thirtysomething, I can relate to Stahl. The kinds of lives these people lead aren’t what most people in my circle envisioned when they were young, and yet these are the sorts of lives that most of us inevitably end up living. Maybe we dream of climbing the mountain, but few of us ever actually get around to doing it. I should stop myself before I slip and fall into a full-on, Harry Knowles-esque recount of the first 30 years of my life, and just get on with the fucking review.

Read the fucking DVD review for the third season of thirtysomething by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye. (P.S. I really do like this show.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Doctor Who: Flesh and Stone

Now I’d had a little bit to drink – OK, a lot to drink – before I watched “Flesh and Stone,” and when it was over I swore it was the best episode of new “Who” ever. Upon sobering up, I watched it again. It was not the best episode of new “Who” ever…but it was still pretty damn great, and certainly both parts of this story combined make for one helluva sterling example of what makes the new series tick. Indeed, from now on, when I want to turn somebody on to this show, it may very well be through this two-parter.

I’ve written before about my theories of “Who” cliffhangers, which essentially boils down to “the resolve is rarely as good as the hang.” In this case that probably still holds, but Moffat came awfully close to equaling the hang by delivering a way out of an impossible situation that was surprising and fun. I’m not sure it made a whole lot of sense – the destruction of the gravity globe gave them an updraft? They must make this shit up as they go along (of course, how else do you do it?). The shifting of the camera turning around to show the group on ceiling was gorgeous and great little reveal. But the save is short-lived, and the Angels are restoring themselves via the power of the Byzantium. Everybody follows the Doctor into the ship, and once again, the camera has a lot of fun here – the shot of the Doctor standing upright as Amy looks down the hole at him.

Octavian: “Dr. Song, I’ve lost good Clerics today. Do you trust this man?”
River: “I absolutely trust him.”
Octavian: “He’s not some kind of madman then?”
River: (beat) “I absolutely trust him.”

Then the story shifts into an action flick.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Premium Hollywood.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora

The classic range of Doctor Who DVDs is in a weird area right now. Much of the good stuff has already been released, and so plenty of the mediocre material is currently making its way to the silver platter. There’s still a number of great stories that have yet to see the light of day, but since the goal is to finally get all of it out there and available within the next three or so years, the great ones are becoming fewer and farther between. The idea is to keep people interested in the range by not just releasing all the good stuff at once, and having some duff stories left over at the end that few will care about. “The Masque of Mandragora” is unquestionably one of the great ones, and an essential add to any serious Who DVD collection.

It begins with the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) wandering around the TARDIS corridors, engaging in delightfully witty banter. They come across the secondary console room, which is designed much darker and more intimate than the usual one; it’s covered with wood panels and has a considerably smaller console in the center. Before long, the ship lands, and they find themselves in a whacked-out void covered in giant crystals known as the Mandragora Helix. A ball of Helix energy attacks and they hightail it out of there, but little do they know, the energy has hitched a ride.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon & The Monster of Peladon

The bulk of Jon Pertwee’s first three seasons as the Doctor saw him exiled to Earth, but occasionally he’d find himself with a working TARDIS that whisked him away to another planet for the duration of a story. Such was the case in “The Curse of Peladon,” a sort of sci-fi Shakespearean mystery, which sounds like a pretty oddball collection of genres to cram together, and as a result the story is indeed fairly bizarre – sometimes in a good way, and sometimes not.

The backwards planet Peladon is attempting to join the Galactic Federation. David Troughton (son of Doctor #2 Patrick, as well as a guest star on the new series episode “Midnight”) plays King Peladon, who’s all for Peladon spreading its wings and becoming a galactic player. But others, such as the stodgy High Priest Hepesh (Geoffrey Toone) object, and feel Peladon should hang on to the old ways. Hepesh warns that if the plan moves forward, a curse will befall the planet, and the sacred creature Aggedor will return to wreak havoc and kill, kill, kill. The Doctor and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) arrive in the midst of all this, and are mistaken for the delegates from Earth, a confusion which they use to their advantage. Also present are delegates from Arcturus, Alpha Centauri, and Mars – the latter represented by the Ice Warriors, who previously had a villainous two-tale stint during Patrick Troughton’s era. Soon enough people start dying, and Aggedor returns. Are the Ice Warriors behind it, or is somebody else plotting behind the scenes?

Read the rest of the DVD reviews for "The Curse of Peladon" and "The Monster of Peladon" by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Doctor Who: The Time of Angels

After being so thoroughly underwhelmed for the past two weeks, “The Time of Angels” almost leaves me speechless. I wish I could just write, “Man, that was so fuckin’ cool” and be done with it, since anything I’ve got to say isn’t going to make it any cooler. With this episode, we’ve finally gotten to material with major promise – probably even beyond promise, but since it’s only part one of a two-parter, everything could fall apart in the second half. But man oh man, what a setup!

The opening sequence – which begins with a man tripping balls – sets the stage for a whacked-out adventure. He’s been dosed with hallucinogenic lipstick by River Song (Alex Kingston). Was the field he was standing in part of the hallucination, or was it a part of the spaceship Byzantium? Clearly River has been up to something on the ship, but we don’t find out what that is straight up. 12,000 years in the future, the Doctor (Matt Smith) is showing Amy (Karen Gillan) a museum, and pointing out all the objects he’s had in hand in saving, which is really quite funny, and vaguely romantic, but mostly just boastful and stodgy on his part, especially since what Amy really wants to see is an alien planet. They come across an ancient home box on which some Old High Gallifreyan is written – it amusingly says “Hello sweetie.” The Doctor steals the box from the museum, which leads him to a rendezvous with River right outside the Byzantium. River, on the run from powers that be, releases an airlock and flies straight through the waiting, open TARDIS doors, and lands on the Doctor. The Byzantium flies away, and River issues a single order: “Follow that ship!” It’s an exhilarating start and very James Bond-like, directed by Adam Smith with precision and thought, as is the rest of the episode.

Read the rest of this review by clicking here and visiting Premium Hollywood.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks

“Daleks. I sometimes think those mutated misfits will terrorize the universe for the rest of time.”

Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, following yet another skirmish with the cockroaches from Skaro, uttered the above quote near the end of his reign as the Time Lord. If he’d known then that he’d still be dealing with them in his Eleventh incarnation, he may well have decided to forego his impending regeneration, and just gone ahead and called it a millennium. Many “Doctor Who” fans would likely have sympathized with him had he done so. Having been writing these recaps for five years now, I am exhausted by Daleks as well. What else is there for me to say about them that I haven’t already said, or hasn’t been said by countless others time and again? And yet here I am, once again backed into a corner by some angry pepperpots demanding that I find something fresh to say on the subject. Of course, if the series can’t be bothered to do so, I don’t really see why I should, either.

Surprisingly, “Victory of the Daleks,” written by Mark Gatiss, is drenched in promise at its start. Surprising not only because all ground concerning the Daleks seems so thoroughly trod at this point, but also because the last thing Gatiss wrote for the series, “The Idiot’s Lantern,” was a forgettable misfire. The idea of subservient, benevolent Daleks isn’t a new one. It was first explored in Patrick Troughton’s first story “The Power of the Daleks,” but since that serial was junked by the BBC ages ago, only the most hardcore of fans are going to care about this. For all intents and purposes the idea is new, or at least new to us. And the show has a field day with the notion for about ten minutes. Professor Bracewell’s (Bill Paterson) Ironsides are going to win the war against the Nazis, and they’ll serve you tea as well. Just the notion that the Daleks will become this story’s Inglourious Basterds is a fun one, since the Nazis are what the Daleks were based on in the first place. With “Victory of the Daleks,” on some obscure meta level, the entire concept of the Daleks has seemingly come full circle.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Premium Hollywood.