August 28, 2014

Over on FictionMachine...

This is just a reminder that The Angriest is not my only blog. Over on FictionMachine I engage in longer-form critical writing about films, researching the origin and production of interesting movies and trying to work out what makes them tick. Since June this year I've added more than 27,000 words of critical writing on seven different films.

My most recent piece is on Michael Clayton (2007), Dan Gilroy's exceptional legal drama starring George Clooney and Tilda Swinton. You can head to that particular piece by following this link. Other recent pieces focus on Dominion: The Prequel to the Exorcist (2005, link here), Unbreakable (2000, link here) and Danny Boyle's Sunshine (2007, link here). If you're keen to read some free filmmaking stories and criticism, head on over and check it out.

FictionMachine is also the subject of an ongoing Patreon campaign. Patreon is a crowd-funding website that allows you to pledge regular micro-payments to artistic pursuits, so for as little as one dollar a month via Paypal you can support the writing of the FictionMachine essays into the future. Check it out and pledge a buck if you want to see me continue blogging. The Angriest will continue in its present form alongside FictionMachine regardless.

Doctor Who: "The Rescue"

With the Doctor and Susan still captive, the Daleks prepare to launch their neutron bomb and destroy the Thals once and for all. Meanwhile Ian, Barbara and a small group of Thals work their way through the caverns in a desperate attempt to reach the Dalek city in time.

Just to clarify I'm talking here about "The Rescue", the seventh and final part of Terry Nation's original Dalek serial, and not "The Rescue", a two-part serial aired in Doctor Who's second season about a year later. Using correct terminology in early Doctor Who episodes can be tricky, since internal documentation at the BBC referred to this Dalek serial as "The Mutants", which is of course the name of a six-part Doctor Who serial made a decade later that starred Jon Pertwee. So just to confirm: we're talking Daleks, and not Koquillion or Solonians.

To be honest there's very little you can do wrong with this kind of an episode. It's the last part of an adventure serial, so the difficult is never in ending it but in keeping the story interesting on the way there. Now that they are there, there's little else to do but defeat the Daleks, save the Doctor and Susan and move on to the next adventure.

Wolverine: Old Man Logan (2009)

"Old Man Logan" was a story arc that ran in Marvel's monthly Wolverine comic for seven months in 2008 before being concluded - somewhat tardily I recall - in a giant-sized final issue about a year later. It was written by Mark Millar with art by Steve McNiven. I never read it at the time, mainly because I've traditionally been more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan, and certainly never read Wolverine. I have, however, now read it in a collected edition, as part of the fortnightly Marvel Graphic Novel Collection to which I have been subscribed these past few years.

The first thing I wanted to note is that McNiven's artwork is great. He's a stunning comic book artist and packs an extraordinary amount of realistic detail into each panel. I'm not surprised there were delays in completing this arc: McNiven's work must take him an absolute age to finish.

That out of the way, it has to be said that this is an appallingly poor comic book. It is pretty much a poster child for Mark Millar's writing in general: great high concepts saddled by adolescent execution.

August 27, 2014

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Damage"

The Enterprise is all-but crippled after its devastating encounter with the Xindi. While Captain Archer may have forged the beginnings of a peace deal with members of the Xindi Council, the Enterprise needs to get to a secret rendezvous as soon as possible. The warp drive is beyond repair, however, unless Archer can convince a passing starship captain to trade one. The problem is that the alien captain isn't willing to trade.

"Damages" is an episode that would have had Gene Roddenberry rolling in his grave. I say that in a good way: it pushes the overall ethical framework of the franchise to breaking point, and then sails right through the wreckage at warp speed. If Archer is going to save the Earth, he's going to have to undertake a violent raid on an innocent third party, steal their warp core and leave them stranded at impulse speed in the middle of deep space. It's the sort of challenge other Star Trek captains never faced, because they were never written into an ethical corner like this.

Mary Poppins: 50 years on

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Mary Poppins. Not the character, you understand, nor the novel by Australian author P.L. Travers. Today is the 50th anniversary of the feature film adaptation, produced by Walt Disney, directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and David Tomlinson.

It was a contentious film at the time, since it took fairly serious liberties with Travers' novel, and generally against her wishes and better judgement. The historical setting was changed. Mary herself was made a much less authoritarian character. On the other hand, Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi took a beloved but rather simplistic children's book and transformed it into a heartfelt story about a father who properly discovers his children for the first time.

This, to me, is the genius of Mary Poppins. It's pretty much the most nuanced and melancholic of all the classic Walt Disney productions. Sure it has cartoon penguins, rousing musical numbers and comedy chimney sweeps, but Mr Banks' slow night walk to the bank in order to be fired - his ordered life in utter disarray - is one of the most emotionally effective scenes to ever come out of the company.

Babylon 5: "Grey 17 is Missing"

A missing maintenance worker leads Garibaldi to discover an entire secret level buried within Babylon 5's Grey sector. Delenn is invited to lead the Rangers, sparking a fresh conflict with her former Grey Council rival Neroon.

"Grey 17 is Missing" does not have the best of reputations. Like a lot of Babylon 5 episodes it is a story with two halves, one of which is broadly satisfactory, the other of which is tedious in the extreme. The better half focuses on Neroon's veiled threats towards Delenn: Minbari have a very strict moral code about murdering each other, and this code has been well emphasised through earlier seasons. As a result Neroon's murderous plot brings a lot of dramatic weight. It seems that Minbari society may be hovering on the edge of collapse. This is a revelation that the series fully earns, because it's been simmering away in the background for some time.

The storyline allows the series to showcase Delenn's faithful aide Lennier, who is a badly underused and underrated character, as well as Ranger Marcus Cole. I'm not a very big fan of Marcus. He hasn't really been used that much in the series, and when he has he's been saddled with some fairly excruciating self-aware dialogue. I've spoken in the past about Babylon 5 characters speaking dramatic dialogue rather than simply speaking - Marcus is one of the worst culprits. It's not helped by Jason Carter being a relatively limited actor; if he were more accomplished, like Peter Jurasik or Andreas Katsulas, he'd probably be able to draw mileage out what he was given on the page.

The other half, however, with Garibaldi becoming trapped within the previously undiscovered Grey 17, leaves a lot to be desired. He is ambushed, shot by a dart from a ventriloquist's dummy, lectured to about religious by a scatty madman (Robert Englund) with some vacant-faced henchmen, and then defeats a giant monster using some old-school bullets he happened to have been playing with that morning. This is dreadful writing. This is absolute ham-fisted amateur hour stuff.

August 26, 2014

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Azati Prime"

The Enterprise finally reaches Azati Prime. While Archer heads off on a one-way mission to destroy the Xindi weapon, the Enterprise - under T'Pol's increasingly erratic command - is attacked by a group of Xindi starships.

Wow. It's taken Enterprise an interminable number of episodes to reach Azati Prime, the home of the planet-killing Xindi weapon that's about to destroy Earth, but once they reach the Azati system it's a non-stop explosive drama every step of the way. This is season finale-level drama and peril, and it's only two-thirds of the way through the season. To say I was enormously impressed with this episode would be to understate my response. This is a stunning hour of SF television.

Babylon 5: "Walkabout"

Dr Franklin wanders the corridors of Babylon 5 on a spiritual journey. The new Vorlon ambassador arrives to replace Kosh. Sheridan decides to test the Shadows' vulnerability to telepaths first-hand.

I honestly don't know what has made Franklin such a dull character to watch. Is it just Richard Biggs' performance? He certainly has a very limited range. Is it the dialogue that J. Michael Straczynski gives him? In most episodes he works like a bizarre form of cliché magnet, dragging in and grabbing onto the most tedious of plot threads and the the most trite and obvious dialogue. In this episode he goes wandering in "Down Below", meets a sultry African-American lounge singer, with whom he falls in love, has sex and then discovers she only really wants him for his prescription pad. No, wait! She's not a drug addict - it turns out she's actually terminally ill and has months to life. It's all so ridiculously banal and predictable. There's a galactic war going on, alien conspiracies coming from all directions, countless lives in the balance but by all means let's suspend all of that because Franklin needs to learn to embrace life again via a bundle of stereotypes. It's all just utterly dreadful.