Sunday, November 18, 2012


When I Googled images for 'Androids Of Tara', this is the
first thing that came up...Sigh...
"You can't trust androids, you know."
"That's funny, you know. That's what some androids say about people."

1) I think it's indicative of the Graham Williams era that one of its greatest serials is one which pretty much slavishly follows The Prisoner of Zenda, only with science fiction trappings like androids interposed within it. Hell, when one of your major actors seems to have been cast solely because of his resemblance to Ronald Coleman is uncanny and The Doctor tells another character that their plan has been done before...well, they're not even bothering to hide it.

2) But one of the reasons this story works so well is the way writer David Fisher finds a way to make the android tech critical to the story. There are certain ways that the plot would not work in this iteration without the presence of androids. And because we accept the use of android tech, the other weird tech aspects--like the electronic crossbows and swords--make a lot more sense

3) A large portion of why this serial is so much fun lies in the performance of Peter Jeffreys as Count Grendel. Especially given the pastiche nature of this episode, there was a need for a larger than life villain, and Jeffreys takes the opportunity to breathe life into a charming cad like the Count. And more importantly, Grendel is smart. He's never made to look the fool by the Doctor--something that will become a problem as we get deeper into Williams' reign--and bases his strategies on logic and a love of cunning. He's so fun that when he's allowed to escape, you almost wish they found a way to bring the Count back.

4) I find it really refreshing that Fischer gets rid of the whole Key To Time aspect of the story within the first ten minutes so he can then dive into the silliness and craziness of the actual tale. Yes, there are moment when the Key fragment becomes the focus of the scene, but usually it's there only to tell us more about the character who's bringing it up, as in the moment where we learn just how intelligent Lois Baxter's Madame Lamia really is.
"I am going to ask you to take your hand off my ass politely..."

5) I think I've mentioned how much I enjoyed it whenever Tom Baker took up a sword and got all Erroll Flynn, right? Well, this is manna for me, as Baker gets to ride a horse, and engages in a climatic sword fight with Jeffreys that is really cool.

6) Since I mentioned her before, I rather liked the way Lois Baxter found a way to infuse Madame Lamia with more nuance than she really needed. One gets the sense that Lamia is clever, maybe even more clever than Grendel, but allows herself to be used due to a combination of Tara's caste system and her own feelings for the Count. It's a pity that she's written out about halfway through the tale, because some of her interactions with the Count and Romana are pretty cool.

7) This is arguably the last time we'll see the Mary Tamm version of Romana being, well, a useful and willful counterpoint to the Baker Doctor. She's the one who sticks to the mission of finding the Key fragment, after all. But there's this tendency to the 'wailing frail' archetype, as she gets kidnapped not once, but twice, and struggles to ride a horse that's a sign of things to come. Hell, when we finally meet her in her dual role as The Princess Strella, we're rather struck by how much more proactive she's in.
"The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with
the pestle--the Hell you say!"

8) God, that freaking pig-midget monster thing. Thankfully, unlike the Shrivenzale of the first Key To Time story,it's only used once and glimpsed very briefly...but it still is an embarassment that points out the chintziness of the show's production at this time.

9) I do wonder if the story wouldn't have been more effective if the serial at the very least moved away from the very Zenda-esque trappings we see here. Because the costuming and sets are all reminiscent of that Ronald Coleman classic, we're constantly reminded of the source material. It's made even more peculiar given the rather fetching outfit Romana produces as 'what all the fashionable Tarans are wearing this year,' which looks nothing like the very Edwardian fashions we see on display here.

10) Even though Williams is very much enamored of K-9--hell, the little monster originated under his reign--it's interesting how they're already finding way to write it out for key scenes. While we do get a lot of K-9 making things easy for Baker, the climax literally dumps him in a boat in the middle of the moat...and it's just an echo of things to come once John Nathan-Turner takes over. of the better stories in the Graham Williams era in spite of its slavishly following the playbook of a classic film.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ten Statements About....SKYFALL (2012)

Yes, that is That Car...and this is That Bond...
"We are the last two rats. The question is do we eat each other....or eat everybody else."

1) Isn't it strange that we can see an out of focus man all the way down the hallway and instinctively know by the stance he takes that it's James Bond? While I'm still not decided on where I place Craig on the list of Bonds Through The Ages, you have to give him credit for creating a physicality for the character as distinctive as Connery's.

2) I love how, with the inclusion of one key item in the plot--an item that plays an essential role in the plot--director Sam Mendes gives us a way to work this film into continuity with the other ones, or to shore up the theory originally posited in the original, David Niven/Woody Allen/Peter Sellers starring version of Casino Royale.

3) Mendes, thank God, has chosen to buck the trends that previous film Quantum of Boredo--SOLACE! I Mean Solace! in its action sequences. The chase scenes, which are all innovative and fun in their way, eschews shakey cam, choosing instead to use unique color palettes and situations to make each one special....and indisputably Bondian.

4) While there may be some room for debate about whether Bond sleeps with the junior agent played by Naomie Harris (why she remains unnamed for the bulk of the film soon becomes apparent as the story develops), she's the first Bond Girl in a looooooooong time that I'd really just want to hang out with. She's loads of fun, very energetic and super-hot to boot.
I saw a super-villain drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's/
and his hair was....bizzare....

5) I am very glad that the franchise continues to acknowledge its connection to The Avengers with the inclusion of Ralph Finnes' Mallory...and I love how Mallory is set up to be that most awful of cliches for The Modern Action Film, the government dickwad, only for him to show a great deal more nuance than is originally thought. And it makes the transition that happens at the end all the more satisfying.

6) And even though we've got a really colorful villain in Javier Bardem's Silva, and a great Bondian plot that seems to channel at times both Goldeneye and The World Is Not Enough...this film is, at its core, a film about the relationship between Bond and Judi Dench's M (who--in what I have to assume is another nod to The Avengers--is given the first name of Emma by Albert Finney's Kincaid). This film firmly establishes what has been hinted at in the two previous Craig entries--for Bond, M is a mother figure, and the person who guided him into full maturity as an agent....leading to these moments where Craig, Dench and Finney are standing together and look for all the world like a family unit.

7) And speaking of Javier Bardem--in this film, he gives us what we've been missing in this present cycle of Bond films....a truly maniacal, operatic villain who acts like he's in a Bond film. Everything about him, from his abandoned island hideout to his insane predilection for weird ass assaults (like, for example, trying to squash Bond under a subway, really) to his hinted-at homosexuality and sadism towards his female companion seems straight out of the Ian Fleming playbook. He's so good there was a moment I almost wished we could see him escape.

(And there's no indication whatsoever that he's related in any way to Quantum--thank God the Broccolis abandoned the idea of this film being the end of a trilogy)
Not only is Naoimie Harris one of the sexiest Bond Girl of the
Craig era...she's the most fun!

8) I realize it's tough to replace Desmond Llewelyn as Q, but Ben Whishaw does an admirable job by blazing his own path...and it helps that the script by Bond mainstays Neal Purvis and Robert Wade along with John Logan manage to make Q (along with Mallory and Harris' character) active participants in the adventure proper.

9) But what is perhaps the biggest trick Mendes and the writers manage to pull is in making the bulk of this film take place in the most unlikely city of all--namely, London proper. I don't think there's ever been a Bond film that has taken so much advantage of Bond's homebase as a backdrop, and uses its unique qualities to fuel exciting action set pieces.

10) This also may be the one film that dig in the most to Bond's returning to the Skyfall of the title, we get some real info on Bond's history, although I would have preferred it more if so much of that history didn't reek so much of being borrowed from Christopher Nolan's Batman films. excellent return to form for a franchise which was on shaky ground with the generic, American Action Movie Manque of Quantum of Boredo--SOLACE! I Mean Solace!. Fun from beginning to end, setting up the new direction for the next batch of films and never lagging for a second. Need I say...recommended?

For this outing I visited the AMC Fresh Meadows, which was part of a new pilot program for AMC that is trying to create a much homier atmosphere for the theater experience, complete with overstuff reclining seats (I wanted to bring mine home!), and exceptionally friendly staff. We managed to avoid most of the AMC Firstlook. Of the trailers, the most interesting was for Steve Soderburgh's thriller Side Effect, which starts out as a relational drama only to slide into Rooney Mara going bugfuck and killing people thanks to pharmaceuticals. None of the others really engaged me, not even the one for the long-delayed Red Dawn.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ten Statements About....WOLF CREEK (2005)

This may not be  some caricature of a bushman....
"I'm going to do something now they used to do in Vietnam. It's called making a head on a stick."

1) This is a beautiful, beautiful film--director Greg McLean has a real eye for great compositions and in the first third of the film frequently cuts away to catch moments of amazing loveliness. And because so much of this first part of the film is steeped in beauty and wonder, it makes the rest of the film all the more frightening.

2) And there's also the fact that while McLean never makes any bones about this being a narrative film, there are long stretches that seem to ape a 'found footage' feel, especially in regards to the party in the pre-credit sequence and the actual visit to the titular Wolf Creek. It gives the film a weird and strange sense of veracity to it, drawing us closer to our trio of protagonists, and making what they're going to go through all the more harrowing.

3) I find it interesting how McLean's script seems to gleefully take horror movie conventions and just screws with them something fierce. And each of these genre-busting moments are so well spaced that you forget that all bets are off, making each of these moments truly shocking.

4) The last two thirds is an extremely intense experience...and it's all the more notable for how very little overt gore there is in the film. We see rather graphic after-effects of what our villain does, allowing us to run horrific scenarios concerning what he's going to do to Kesti Morassi's Kristy in the shed we find them in that are all the more horrifying.
This is may not be your final girl..

5) And speaking of the villain, this film is made by the performance of John Jarrett as Mick Taylor. The thing that makes Jarrett so terrifying is that his actual performance almost never changes. He is still the same goofy, caricature of a bushman he appears to be when he first shows up; only the context changes for his behavior. And that somehow makes him downright demonic. Granted, it doesn't help that McLean creates this coda that seems to imply that Mick is something akin to a supernatural force (the playing around in the first act with stories of UFOs and magnetic interference don't help much, either)....but Jarrett owns this movie.

6) And since we're on the subject, the one big weakness of the film is McLean's continuing to play around with the idea that our trio of travelers slip into another reality when they encounter Mick. There are specific moments like the ones cited above, and another one involving a shed full of cars, that just don't work unless you accept that Mick is more than human. And sadly, it detracts from the film's power, as Mick Taylor is far more frightening as a plain ol' evil human being and not a preternatural killer.

7) While I know most people would cite the 'head on a stick' as the most disturbing moment of violence--probably due to it being the most graphic and gory moment--my feeling is that the last kill is the hardest to take. Portrayed in long shot, with no musical accompaniment, the thing that makes it so horrifying is how detached it...and if that isn't enough, the close-up that follows of Mick, his expression so blank it invites you to figure out what's going on behind his head, just chills you to the bone.
This may not be an escape...

8) This is one of these films--and this may be more thanks to Jarrett than McLean--where a second viewing changes the experience. Watching it with the knowledge of Mick's true nature changes your attitude towards his interaction with our heroes, and makes you see them in a new light.

9) There is one moment in this film, where someone comes across a pile of video cameras and watches one of those videos that still chills me to the bone. There's no violence, no threats, but the sheer implications of what we see, the conclusions we draw, may very well be the most horrifying thing in the movie.

10) The ending is so bitter--it manages to thoroughly break the back of the hope that it might otherwise give. Part of it is the seemingly random nature of why the character survives, and part of it is what the character goes through after escaping his fate.

Overall...even though it's an extremely intense and ugly film morally, this movie is gorgeous visually and has enough going on under the surface that it achieves a certain haunting quality.