Archive for May, 2012

The Grind

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Like many a genre defining movie, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels has a lot to answer for, because it has inspired not only a huge box of rip-offs, most of them have been terrible. Sad to say, low budget feature The Grind can be added to the list of gritty, London based dramas that promises much but fails to deliver.

It stars Danny John Jules, an extremely fine actor who is best known for his role as The Cat from Red Dwarf, but is one of those incredibly talented types who shines in many roles. If you’re very old, you may remember him from Scum, a much better gritty British b-movie that I was really hoping The Grind would be. It also features actress Zoe Tapper, who should be familiar to fans of Demons1 and Survivors, though she’s almost criminally underused in this. The film’s star is Freddie Connor, who turns in a credible performance as a man who’s in over his head. Connor carries the story as best he can, but it’s clear that there isn’t much to carry.

It’s main selling point is “some bloke from Eastenders.” I’m sure the Jamie Foreman fanclub is delighted with The Grind. And by fanclub, I mean his mum.

The Grind is well named; it takes about 90 minutes to tell a half-an-hour tale, and though I’m typically loathe to be overly negative about a small-budget movie, its biggest flaw is that the story isn’t that good. The production is fine (though obviously on a budget) and it has a great supporting cast. It’s just a huge pity that the central premise has been done to death, and adds nothing new to genre.

There’s very little here for any sort of fan; fans of the Danny John Jules are better off watching him in Red Dwarf or maybe Maid Marian and those who love gritty, cockney based dramas have much better things to choose from. There just aren’t enough dans of boring, low budget trash, I suppose.

1: By fans, I mean Stephen Smith in Burnley, and his cat.

Categories: Reviews

Rose Tinted Sci-Fi

May 18, 2012 Leave a comment

So I was rewatching a chunk of Babylon 5 recently, and it struck me how dated the special effects now are; back in the day, Babylon 5 won awards for its starship battles. I shrugged and thought “Ah, but it’s been around since the mid-nineties, I shouldn’t be so harsh”. And then something else, perhaps a clumsy piece of dialogue or poorly realised plot point came up, and immediately, I began to raise the same excuse. It’s at this point, I realised that really old shows (such as, say, 1960’s Doctor Who) have become bullet-proof in the eyes of the fans.

The past, they say, is another country, and by extension, one that’s pretty hard to get to. Unless of course, you’re a geek. We obsessive types love our nostalgia, and the constant reliving of things we enjoyed in our childhoods is part of what it is to be a geek. So we give the old stuff a bit of a free pass.2

The Myrka. It looked rubbish back then. It looks rubbish now. Let’s not pretend it’s age that has made it rubbish, it’s a pantomime horse covered in gunge; it’s totally bobbins.

A show that gets to a level of popularity and notoriety, it becomes a ‘classic’1, and all the flaws that caused it problems when it was new now become funny little quirks of its age3. This is a problem, however. Because in forgiving the flaws, we take something away from the experience.

Take Blake’s 7, for example. Great show, ground breaking. Wonderful ideas, interesting acting, top stuff. Also a show I remember watching from when I was small, so watching it again is like giving sticky sweets to my inner child. However, the production quality dips as the show progresses. It’s a real shame, and you can chart the collapse of show against its mismanagement. Should I give it a free pass then, because it’s old? Or should I get angry because a great idea with an amazing cast got fumbled? By forgiving it for its flaws, I also run the risk of ignoring its depth. I may, for example, decide that an episode which only has two sets was done for budget reasons, rather than the creative challenge.

A good story can be told in any way it needs to. Quality is nice, a super huge budget is lovely, but without a solid story, it will fail. Is the Tom Baker story Ark in Space any less of a great tale about humanity and survival because the monsters are made out of bubble wrap? Does it’s pacing, which was designed for the audience of the time, make it less valid than it is today? Of course not. Let’s enjoy things for what they are and forget terms like nostalgia; good is good, regardless of age.

1: Classic has been long over used, of course,I blame Coca-Cola myself. It’s really just a way of saying ‘old, but don’t let that put you off’. However, because it has the word ‘class’ in it, we assume to also means high quality, as if everything made back in the day is somehow better than now. If that was true, I’d be writing this on my ‘Classic’ BBC Micro Model B computer, or perhaps a ZX81. I’m not, there’s a good reason for that.

2: Which also explains the obsession with time travel.

3: If you don’t get a following though, you’re screwed. Poor Andromeda. Forever judged as Hercules in space. It has a small following, but not enough to give it sort of passionate armour that comes with nostalgia.

Categories: Rants, TV


May 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Has anyone else seen Scandal? It’s an American TV show which seems to be illegitimate lovechild of The West Wing and Hustle. It’s not as good as either, but it could well grow into the role. The show has only turned up recently, mostly to fill in between releases of other shows. The very short first season (7 episodes) implies that the network wasn’t that confident it would work, and I can see why; this is a strange little show, but also gearing up to be a big wodge of fun.

Scandal revolves around former presidential aide Olivia Pope; she and her team of mostly lawyers who don’t practice law but do get things done. They’re sort of like the A-Team, but instead of making a fully functioning air craft carrier out of a battered Ford Fiesta, they instead use a variety of skills to fix things for people who can’t get help in the usual way.1 Clients may be super-rich or super-poor, it doesn’t matter; every week a new challenge. What does the team actually do? They stop people from getting their lives ruined by bad choices. They fight scandals, but in an LA Law sort of way.

Hard to be subtle when you have the words SCANDAL on your face in big red letters…

Well sort-of. You see, in addition to court-room, law dodging shenanigans, there is also an arc-plot involving the President of the United States, his aides, his ex-lover and this is actually where the show gets a bit interesting; it starts off fine as a series, though a little gutless and pedestrian, when then suddenly, about halfway through, the whole thing dips into real darkness. I like a good poltical conspiracy, and though the show may be biting off more than it can actually chew, it is fun to watch it try.

What began as a ‘scam of the week’1 style show looks like it will quickly shift into something that is actually about the collapse of a government, and possibly a nation. Scandal has the potential to deliversomething rather unique. Let’s hope it does.

1: They couldn’t build an aircraft carrier, but they could certainly get it out of jail if it got arrested for speeding.

2: Similar to monster of the week. Basically, the sort of show where the main draw is the monster, or the heist, or what have you. This is a pretty typical format, though with Scandal, it does just seem to be the minor-plot. It’s almost a bait and switch, though if it does go very weird later on, I may well become hooked.

Categories: TV

The Voice

May 8, 2012 3 comments

I usually don’t get on well with reality TV. Typically because the only real thing about them is that they feature someone in a position of authority bullying some sort of supplicant, be they a jungle dwelling media-idiot, a fat person trying to lose weight or some sort of awful parody of a businessman. I especially dislike X-Factor style shows. Not only does it reinforce the myth that everyone in arts wants to be a superstar1, it’s actively cruel, and is mostly an exercise in cramming square pegs into round holes.

So it was with some reluctance that I turned on BBC’s The Voice, expecting it to be yet another bit of awful exploitation of people’s hopes and dreams. Still, I thought, it’s got Tom Jones in it. He tends to be a sane voice when it comes to talking about music, and entertaining in general. Maybe it’ll be okay. I was wrong, of course. It’s not just okay, it’s remarkable.

The format, for those who’ve not seen it, begins with blind auditions of those who want to boost their career as singers. They are four judges, two of whom you’ve heard of, one of whom you’ll recognise when you check out his profile out and go “oh, the Black Eyed Peas” and Danny O’Donoghue.3. They listen to the artist, and only turn round if they’re willing to put them on their team.

The show’s logo, however, is less than good. It’s like all the pop-stars formed a red army or something.

Once the four judges have assembled a team of artists, they then put those artists in a boxing ring, where they sing at each other, in a surreal (yet entertaining) version of a gladiatorial match. Finally, after all that, the artists are thrown to the wolves. By which I mean a public vote. Because it’s a reality TV show and they have to make money from it somehow.

The novelty, however, is not the format. (Which comes from the Netherlands). It’s the fact that the show does not pretend that most of these artists have been pulled off the streets and thrust into stardom. Instead, almost all of the contestants have had some level of experience trying to become singers; these are people at the start of their careers, who are getting a massive boost by appearing on national television.

The show isn’t about selling you a dream of having superstardom thrust upon you, rather it’s about talent and hard work, as well as public participation. Whereas similar shows claim to be about training the next generation of artists (but are actually about letting the public throw peanuts at aspiring artists), The Voice is about the music, rather than the fame, and not only raises the bar for reality TV shows, it actually raises the bar for being a person, if only by a little bit. Let’s hope it stays this positive in future series.

1: If you sing, write or dance for just the money, it’s highly likely that you’ve chosen poorly. None of these things are easy, though of course, the professionals make it all look effortless. To encourage someone to get into the arts in order to be a superstar is the wrong approach entirely.
2: Seems to me that the general public has finally noticed that Simon Cowell really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Possibly this is that he’s very good a playing the role of someone who can talent spot, even though the results of his talent spotting where incredibly pedestrian. The current gossip about the man is all sex scandal, which tends to be death rattle of the talentless.
3: Honestly, who? I mean he seems nice and his heart appears to be in the right place (by which I mean I don’t think he’s a Timelord), but seriously, who is he?

Categories: TV

Star Wars Clone Wars (2003)

I am a great lover of puns, so naturally, I have no problem with people using today’s date, May The Fourth, as an excuse to make sneaky little Star Wars references to each other. It’s also pretty fun that others wave their geek flag around by throwing in other sci-fi references , random quotes and the like1. So really, I should talk about Star Wars again.

As I’ve stated before, I don’t think the movies are anything terribly special. To me, it’s the shared universe and the fact that it’s given various arty types an excuse to produce epic, space fantasy style tales that matter. One fantastic example is Genndy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars2. Set between Attack of The Clones and Revenge of The Sith, this is short cartoon series produced by the same guy who brought us Dexter’s Laboratory, The PowerPuff Girls and of course Samurai Jack.

Jedi versus Sith; Six movies worth of conflict summed up in one frame.

Of these, the Star Wars cartoon most resembles Samurai Jack; itself a series about a swordsman fighting futuristic creatures. In Star Wars: Clone Wars, we get a series of short stories, each one a snap-shot of an epic inter-galactic war. The focus of many of these tales are the Jedi. The animation resembles Tartakovsky’s previous work, whilst maintaining the iconic Star Wars look. So for example, Padmé Amidala looks both cute and exotic, whilst also cool and deadly. Emotion is conveyed in a very simple, easy to comprehend style, and because it looks so simple, we accept it, move on and thus allow the story to draw us in deeper. (It would be unkind to point out that the cartoon version of Anakin Skywalker is more expressive than the live action version. It’s also true, sadly.) It’s also filled with visual reference to previous Star Wars cartoons, and lovingly crafted cues and homages to the broader franchise.

As Star Wars is so ingrained into the culture I’m a part of, I have no idea if it works out of context. I think it would; warriors doing cool things are a pretty easy idea to get a handle on and enjoy, after all. Star Wars: Clone Wars, really is the best thing to come out of the prequels, and is the closest thing to the promise of a War in the Stars that the Lucas franchise has come up with thus far.

1: It’s also a little dull, which is a sad and inevitable consequence of something becoming part of the background culture. For some, there’s a fine line between liking something because it’s fun, and liking something because everyone else does. Once the line is crossed, there’s a chance people will simply repeat the same lines and make the same noises simply to have something to say, rather than out of a sense of joy. Inevitably, the thing becomes mundane.
2: Not to be confused with the CGI series of a similar name, which came later.

Categories: Geek, TV