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Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood (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.

Planet of the Ood originally aired in 2008.

How many Ood in total?

I’d say about two thousand, sir.

We can write them off. That’s what insurance is for.

– Halpen and Kess remind us that these are not nice people

Planet of the Ood is a bit blunt. And by “a bit”, I mean “a lot.” It’s an allegorical exploration of unchecked capitalism and slavery, using the science-fiction setting to tell a story with a familiar moral.Then again, Planet of the Ood largely works because that moral remains rather timely and relevant, but also because it’s a fantastically produced piece of television. It’s fast and pacey, it looks stylish, it has a fantastic cast and an efficient script. Sure, there are rough edges, but Planet of the Ood continues a fairly strong start for the fourth season.

Soaring...

Soaring…

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The X-Files – Eve (Review)

The X-Files owes a conscious debt to Twin Peaks, in quite a few ways. David Lynch’s landmark television series perfectly blended the mundane with the surreal, creating a world that managed to be both incredibly familiar and hauntingly ethereal. One of the hallmarks of Lynch’s approach to Twin Peaks – and of his work in general including, most obviously, Blue Velvet and Dumbland – was the sense that there was something quite horrid and rotten lurking beneath the flowerbeds and picket fences of those lovely suburban houses.

Eve is the show’s first real exploration of suburbia, hitting on all manner of rich Cold War anxieties and fears lurking just behind those neatly-trimmed hedges.

Breaking up families...

Breaking up families…

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The X-Files – Pilot (Review)

The X-Files is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’ll be spending Month X looking back at the first season.

There was a time, around the third season, when The X-Files became the show. It had grown from the quirky newcomer of Fox’s prime time line-up, through its status as a cult hit, into a bona fides pop culture touchstone. Looking back now, twenty years after the show first began, it is something entirely different. It’s weird to look back over a long-running television, divorced from the immediacy of broadcast, a sort of “if I knew then what I know now…” sort of thing.

However, looking back at The X-Files, it’s more than just knowing how it ends. It’s more than just knowing about the show’s slow and drawn-out two-year death. It’s more than knowing that the conspiracy plotline kinda (but not quite entirely) makes sense, if you look at it the right way and don’t over-think it. Approaching The X-Files now, twenty years later, is more like opening an old tomb, unlocking a time capsule. The musky smell of the past seems to seep out of the television screen, transporting the viewer to a time that really isn’t that far away, but feels like centuries ago.

The X-Files is, undeniably, a pop culture artefact from the nineties, a show that seems to slot almost perfectly between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror. It’s an exploration of a version of America that simply doesn’t exist any longer, the long and silent pregnant pause where the United States was the world’s sole unchallenged superpower. The X-Files really embodied that period of time, much like 24 managed to channel the anger and the rage of the post-9/11 era into piece of the zeitgeist.

And, to be fair, you can sense that sort of nineties existential anxiety even as early as The Pilot.

Beam me up...

Beam me up…

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Non-Review Review: Star Trek – Into Darkness

Note: This is a spoiler-heavy review. If you want a spoiler-lite recommendation, click here. If not, continue at your own risk.

Towards the climax of Star Trek: Into Darkness, Kirk and the Enterprise flee an aggressor by entering warp. At that speed, several factors the speed of light itself, they surmise that they must be safe from their pursuer. Of course, they prove to be wrong – brutally so. Everything in Into Darkness moves fast, so fast that the Enterprise’s top speed seems more like a casual jog than a breakneck acceleration. The plot rockets along with incredible speed, from plot point to plot point, counting on the momentum to sustain the film and carry it across the line.

There is enough material here to produce a trilogy of films. Indeed, cynics might suggest that a lot of the movie’s iconography and plot points are indeed recycled from the central “trilogy” of the original Star Trek films, running from the homages to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan right down a climactic visual reference to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Abrams and his team of writer continue their work from 2009’s breakout blockbuster Star Trek by putting the franchise’s most compelling images and cues into a high-speed blender.

Into Darkness just substantially increases the concentration.

Seeing red...

Seeing red…

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Non-Review Review: Star Trek – Into Darkness

Note: This is a spoiler-lite review. If you want a spoiler-heavy in-depth look at the film, click here.

Towards the climax of Star Trek: Into Darkness, Kirk and the Enterprise flee an aggressor by entering warp. At that speed, several factors the speed of light itself, they surmise that they must be safe from their pursuer. Of course, they prove to be wrong – brutally so. Everything in Into Darkness moves fast, so fast that the Enterprise’s top speed seems more like a casual jog than a breakneck acceleration. The plot rockets along with incredible speed, from plot point to plot point, counting on the momentum to sustain the film and carry it across the line.

There is enough material here to produce a trilogy of films. Indeed, cynics might suggest that a lot of the movie’s iconography and plot points are indeed recycled from the central “trilogy” of the original Star Trek films, running from the homages to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan right down a climactic visual reference to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Abrams and his team of writer continue their work from 2009’s breakout blockbuster Star Trek by putting the franchise’s most compelling images and cues into a high-speed blender.

Into Darkness just substantially increases the concentration.

Seeing red...

Seeing red…

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Watch! The Wolverine Trailer!

I’ve been a bit less than impressed with the publicity work for The Wolverine. A trailer for a trailer? Exclusive teaser footage released via two avenues? It just seems a little counter-productive and more frustrating than intriguing. Following the reaction to both X-Men III and X-Men: Origins – Wolverine, you’d think that the trick would be to offer as much proof that things had turned around as possible, and as quickly as possible. Suspense works if we’re already sold. It doesn’t work if we’re more cautious than curious.

And I say that with a hint of optimism for The Wolverine. I actually quite like James Mangold. I even sort of enjoyed Knight and Day, probably much more than I should have. Hugh Jackman is charming enough you can forgive him anything. And the movie is based on the character’s defining solo story. Plus, you know, the trailer looks to borrow that pulpy charm of inserting Wolverine into popular history (in this case, World War II), which as much Wolverine’s mutant superpower as healing or claws. So I’m still on board.

Anyway, check out the trailer below and let me know what you think.

House of Cards (US, 2013): Chapter 5 (Review)

Friends make the worst enemies

– Frank Underwood

There is a sense now that House of Cards has figured out what it wants to be and how it wants to go about being that sort of thing. After the first three episodes were surprisingly non-committal, the fourth and fifth episodes make it clear that Frank has a plan for revenge against those who betrayed him, one that stretches a bit further than scuttling Michael Kern’s chance to be Secretary of State. There’s a wonderfully understated moment in the middle of this fifth episode where it looks like Frank has finally figured everything out, the pieces have aligned in such a way that he is positioned to speed up what is likely to be a pretty far-reaching payback scheme.

A name you can trust...

A name you can trust…

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My 12 for ’12: Jeff Who Lives at Home & Living in Hope

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #9

The eponymous Jeff, from Jeff Who Lives at Home, feels like something of a cousin to the Judd Atapow “manchild” that we’ve seen popularised in films like Knocked Up of The 40 Year Old Virgin. He’s unreliable, lazy and smokes a not inconsiderable amount of pot. His mother can’t even count on him to fix a shutter door on her birthday, although he is quick to offer seemingly vacuous philosophical insights garnered from Star Wars and Signs. His brother Pat is hardly a run-away success, trapped in a failing marriage and prone to sit around Hooters all day, but at least he has thrived when compared to Jeff. Jeff is, by all accounts, a fool whose own naivety leads him to get beaten and mugged within the first half-hour of the film.

However, at the heart of Jeff Who Lives at Home, is a surprisingly romantic idea. There’s the notion that the universe is somehow a far more compassionate and understanding place than we might suspect. Jeff’s logic and reasoning might be far from convincing, and it’s easy to be cynical. However, Jay and Mark Duplass craft a story that suggests sometimes things work out just right.

jeffwholivesathome3

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My 12 for ’12: Skyfall & Balancing Bonds…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #11

The wonderful thing about a pop culture commodity like James Bond is the flexibility that the character affords those looking to tell stories using the iconic character. Want to tell a story about high-stakes gambling? We can do that. What about averting a war between China and Great Britain? We’ve got it covered. Want to knock off Star Wars? Why not? How about pitching the character against Fu Manchu? We’re way ahead of you. Bond is flexible, and it’s one of the strengths of the character. Don’t like Roger Moore’s interpretation? Here’s Timothy Dalton. Tiring of Pierce Brosnan? Daniel Craig will be along to kick things into action.

While this makes for a fascinating study of the flexibility and adaptability of a cultural touchstone, it does create a bit of a dilemma when trying to celebrate his fiftieth anniversary. Given that Bond is so many things to so many people, can he be everything at once? Skyfall does an impressive job balancing the old and new, while managing to focus on the character at the heart of one of the most enduring cinematic franchises.

skyfall15

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Non-Review Review: Paranormal Activity 4

I actually quite liked the opening set-up of Paranormal Activity 4. As far as horror franchises go, the Paranormal Activity series is still much more spry than most other long-running series, and there’s a certain charm to the opening hour of Paranormal Activity 4 that seem almost playful. It feels strange to talk about a movie featuring an ominous demon hunting a small suburban family in these terms, but there’s a surprisingly warm and endearing sense of humour to be found in the first two-thirds of the film. Things definitely come off the rails towards the finalé, as the movie (and the series) become too burdened down with mythology and story – and the last third certainly becomes a little over-crowded and generic, threatening to collapse under its own weight as so many modern horrors do.

While it’s nowhere near as innovative, clever or genuinely frightening as Paranormal Activity, Paranormal Activity 4 measures up reasonably well to the standard set by the sequels, ending up much stronger than Paranormal Activity 2, and about on-par with Paranormal Activity 3.

Something to watch over me…

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