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Non-Review Review: People Just Do Nothing – Big in Japan

People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan has had an interesting journey to the big screen.

People Just Do Nothing began as an online video series, before transitioning to BBC Three and then to BBC Two. The mockumentary comedy accrued a cult following, and so it’s refreshing to see much of the cast and crew given the chance to take the concept to a cinematic adaptation. There’s something inherently charming in this comedy concept built around a bunch of unqualified (and perhaps even untalented) local pirate DJs getting to make their own feature film that takes the characters and the cast to Japan. (It is also, for example, fascinating to see the characters fronting an anti-piracy public service announcement.)

The band at a crossroads.

Big in Japan has a lot of work to do, both in appealing to fans of the series and in winning over potential new converts. The movie is designed to function both as a culmination of the characters’ journey and paradoxically as an introduction to the characters. It’s a lot to ask from a feature film, particularly a comedy, and Big in Japan occasionally stumbles under the weight of those competing demands. Big in Japan is at its weakest when it’s trying to craft a story that is at once a satisfying development for long-term followers these characters while also being universal enough to work for audiences new to this world.

Big in Japan works best in its smaller moments, when it commits to individual jokes rooted in particular character. It falters when it sacrifices those strengths in the hopes of advancing the big picture. Big in Japan is arguably at its best when it goes small, a lesson that the film tries to impart to its own characters.

Toasts of Tokyo.

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Torchwood: Miracle Day – Rendition (Review)

Rendition serves as a demonstration of the flaws with Torchwood: Miracle Day. While some of those flaws – the flaws inherent to the production between the BBC and Starz, the difficulty with scale – were built into The New World, Rendition hits upon quite a few more. Most obviously, it’s an entire episode dedicated to filler. Pretty much the only plot line that advances in a meaningful way is that involving Oswald Danes. Otherwise, Rendition feels like a bit of a holding pattern, a time-wasting exercise designed to pad out the season to ten episodes.

Dead on arrival?

Dead on arrival?

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Non-Review Review: They Shall Not Grow Old

They Shall Not Grow Old is a marvelous technical accomplishment, and an adequate if flawed documentary.

A lot of the debate and discussion around They Shall Not Grow Old focuses on the manner in which director Peter Jackson has “updated” or “remastered” existing archival footage of the First World War to bring the documentary to life. They Shall Not Grow Old features real footage of the conflict shot at the same time, albeit digitally manipulated do that it could be rendered in high definition, in colour and widescreen. There are certain segments of film fandom that view this as an act of cinematic vandalism, of destruction of the historical record in a desperate populist bid.

However, this overlooks the substance of They Shall Not Grow Old as an actual documentary, reducing Jackson’s attempt to craft a visceral and tangible record of the First World War to a piece of trivia or a cinematic novelty. This is both a disservice to the documentary itself and also something of a boon. The narrative that Jackson is attempting to reconstruct with the materials available to him is interesting, perhaps much more interesting than debates about one particular facet of the movie’s production.

They Shall Not Grow Old is an ambitious effort, but it is also a deeply flawed one. Its flaws are in many cases interwoven with its virtues, with everything that makes it so unique also serving to impose rigid formal boundaries upon the work that Jackson cannot escape simply by reframing his footage.

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Non-Review Review: Mindhorn

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

The first half of Mindhorn is a pretty enjoyable British show business farce.

Richard Thorncroft is a failed British character, struggling to keep his career alive following a run on the cult eighties television show Mindhorn. Throncroft made his name playing the eponymous detective with a bionic eye that literally allowed him to see the truth. Inevitably Thorncroft ended up washed up and forgotten, a failed star crashing to Earth. When he is offered one last job, he is forced to return to Mindhorn both literally and figuratively. It is a fairly standard set-up, with Mindhorn reveling in Thorncroft’s lack of self-awareness and decency.

Not a patch on Bergerac.

Not a patch on Bergerac.

However, the second half of Mindhorn is something to behold, as this familiar set-up gives way to a high-energy surrealist farce.

Around midway through the film, Mindhorn makes a sharp pivot into something altogether more outlandish than the familiar British “failed celebrity” farce and evolves into something much less grounded and familiar. The result is one of the most enjoyable comedies in recent memory, and a cult film in waiting. As Thorncraft finds himself wading deeper and deeper into the chaos and insanity, Mindhorn feels like a psychological horror played as absurdist comedy. The result is nothing short of astounding.

King of the Beach.

King of the Beach.

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Non-Review Review: Absolutely Fabulous – The Movie

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is that it feels very much like an extended special of the classic British sit-com. Sure, the film has an expanded budget that allows for some suitably glitzy location work. Of course, the film is stuffed to the gills with even more celebrity cameos than you could shake a stick at. However, there is very much a sense that Absolutely Fabulous has not been radically transformed in the transition from goggle box to silver screen. This is very much in the spirit and style of the source material.

That is perhaps both the best and worst thing that could be said about Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.

Saundering off...

Saundering off…

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Non-Review Review: High-Rise

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016.

Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is a beautiful ugly film.

An adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s surrealist novel, High-Rise fits rather comfortably within Wheatley’s aesthetic. There is an apocalyptic paranoia running through the film, which charts the social decay of the eponymous building over a three-week period. Class warfare is rendered literal in multiple senses, as the lower classes visit violence upon the wealthier inhabitants of the tower block. Even during the most peaceful and serene sequences of the movie’s first half, there is an underlying anxiety and dread bubbling just beneath the surface.

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High-Rise is disjointed and uneven, but that would seem to be something of the point. Amy Jump’s screenplay and Ben Wheatley’s direction eschew conventional pacing, with the world collapsing more in fits and starts than in a steady decline. Wheatley and Jump also edit the film, emphasising the chaotic nature of this collapse through jumps and montages that document the erosion of social order in a manner that ebbs and flows. It is disorientating and occasionally even frustrating, but one senses that this is meant to be the point.

High-Rise is a messy piece of work. But then, as the movie seems to suggest, things get messy when life is forced into a neatly delineated box.

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Doctor Who: City of Death (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

City of Death originally aired in 1979.

It’s quite good.

Quite good? That’s one of the great treasures of the universe and you say “quite good”?

The world, Doctor, the world.

What are you talking about?

Not the universe in public, Doctor. It only calls attention.

I don’t care. It’s one of the great treasures of the universe!

Shsh!

I don’t care. Let them gawp, let them gape. What do I care?

– Romana and the Doctor discuss the Mona Lisa

City of Death might divide fans of Doctor Who, with some regarding it as too silly or childish, but I think it’s easily the best Tom Baker serial the show produced, and probably the most entertaining serial for those unfamiliar with the classic show. It helps that the script combines some of the era’s best writers, with “David Agnew” serving to cover contributions from David Fisher, Douglas Adams and Graham Williams. I’ll concede that the farce tended to get a bit much towards the end of Adams’ tenure as script editor, but City of Deathpitches itself perfectly with some wonderful science-fiction concepts peppered over some fine location work, with a side of superb British wit.

From Paris with Love...

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Doctor Who: The Awakening (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Awakening originally aired in 1984.

The Awakening was the third and final of Peter Davison’s smaller two-part adventures, taken once in each of his three seasons in the title role. Much like Black Orchid and The King’s Demons, it feels like a light and refreshing breather, especially in a final season that was becoming gradually darker and more somber. While Black Orchid allowed the cast and crew to take a somewhat relaxing break before the tragedy of Earthshock, The Awakening feels conspicuously grimmer, but still seems a relatively casual affair when measured against the stories that were to follow.

Malus aforethought…

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Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe originally aired in 2011.

I don’t understand. Is this place real, or is it fairyland?

Fairyland? Oh, grow up, Lily.

Fairyland looks completely different.

– Lilly and the Doctor get their geography straightened out

The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe is, like A Christmas Carol before it, a rather wonderful idea. A Christmas Carol mashed up Doctor Who with one of the best-loved Christmas narratives of all time. The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe does something similar, substituting CS Lewis for Charles Dickens. It’s a fantastic idea, given that Doctor Who is the spiritual successor of that peculiarly British thread of childhood fantasy.

The only real problem with The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe is that it can’t quite stretch that good idea across an hour of television.

On the run again...

On the run again…

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Doctor Who: The Specials (Review/Retrospective)

In theory, the specials were a great idea. The BBC is in the middle of converting to high-definition broadcast. One of their best-loved and most respected dramas isn’t quite ready to make that leap, and will require extensive re-working in order to be sustainable for high-definition broadcast, which seems to be the future of home entertainment. It’ll be a year before the show can get back to churning out thirteen episodes and a Christmas Special.

However, the show runner who brought the show back from the dead and turned it into a highlight of your broadcast schedule, and the beloved lead actor who has become deeply associated with the lead role are willing to do a series of five specials that you can broadcast to fill the gap year. Producing a series of Doctor Who specials to tide over the viewing public and keep the show fresh in the public’s mind was a great idea. After all, you don’t want fans to forget about the show.

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The plan has the added benefit of allowing Russell T. Davies and David Tennant a bit more freedom to stretch their wings. Davies can work on Torchwood in a way that he was never able to find time before, producing the superb Children of Earth. Tennant can work with Royal Shakespearean Company, playing the lead in Hamlet. All this, and fans get their prescription dose of Doctor Who and the BBC has the time to upgrade the show so it can broadcast in high definition. Everybody wins! Everybody stays happy!

Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a catch. It turns out that these five episodes have to do more than merely “tide” fans over. These five specials are also the last episodes that will be written by Davies and that will star Tennant. So these five specials become more than just a way to stop the public forgetting about Doctor Who. They also have to close out what has been a phenomenal era for the show, and wrap up everything in a nice big bow. And this is where the specials don’t really work.

doctorwho-thewatersofmars19

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