December 21, 2011

Greyfriar's Bobby (1961)

Greyfriar's Bobby was a Skye Terrier that, upon the death of his master John "Jock" Gray in 1858, guarded the policeman's grave site at Greyfriar's Cemetary for the following 14 years. The dog is something of a local Scottish legend, inspiring a bronze statue by Edinburgh's George IV Bridge, a popular novel by Eleanor Atkinson and this 1961 feature film from Walt Disney.

It is likely that Greyfriar's Bobby was a hoax, established by 19th century Edinburgh shop owners trying to drum up some extra tourism. The truth has never been one to stand in the way of a good story, however, and so Bobby remains widely loved, and his statue remains a popular Edinburgh tourist attraction.

December 14, 2011

Babble On, part 6: "Infection"

An old acquaintance of Dr Franklin's arrives on the station with a mysterious set of alien artefacts, the investigation of which leads to quite possibly the worst episode of Babylon 5 so far.

I don't have too much to say about "Infection", the fourth episode of Babylon 5's first season, other than that it's a pretty awful episode. It feels rather like filler, or one of those off-the-cuff scripts written to demonstrate to a network how your proposed TV series is going to progress.

December 12, 2011

Homemade Rage #3: Clare and the Reasons, Nerina Pallot,

Another instalment of Homemade Rage, another three songs I like that you may not have heard of before. First up: Clare and the Reasons combine a lead singer with a beautiful voice and some lovely orchestral-style strings. This is "Alphabet City", which is a song I absolutely adore.

December 8, 2011

Babble On, part 5: "Born to the Purple"

Londo is in love, and his infatuation threatens a crucial negotiation with the Narn Regime. His newfound love, however, may not be what he thinks she is. Meanwhile Garibaldi works to track down a rogue signal in the station's communications network.

Only three episodes into the series and we already have a second episode based around Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari. I'm not certain whether this episode was shifted in the running order, the production team were infatuated with the chatacter, or if it was simply a coincidence. The problem is that while "Midnight on the Firing Line" had a relative amount of depth and character, "Born to the Purple" deals in stereotype and caricature.

December 7, 2011

Any Given Sunday (1999)

Another old review that I've posted elsewhere some time ago, but it's worth posting again here because it's such a criminally underseen and underrated film.

1999. Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, LL Cool J and Charlton Heston.

I’ve said this to people many, many times, but it is worth constantly celebrating: 1999 was the greatest year for American cinema in our lifetime. There were simply too many brilliant films released that year. It was actually impossible to keep up. It was the year of American Beauty, Fight Club, The Matrix, Being John Malkovich, The Sixth Sense, Boys Don’t Cry and Man on the Moon. It included great animated films such as Toy Story 2, Tarzan, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and The Iron Giant. It also included this: Any Given Sunday, an epic two-and-a-half hour love letter to American football from writer/director Oliver Stone.
It seemed such a lightweight film. This was the creative force behind Salvador, Platoon (both 1986), Wall Street (1987), JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995). A movie about professional football seemed ridiculous, almost comedic. The first time I saw it I was amazed to find it one of the best films he’s ever directed.

December 6, 2011

Babble On, part 4: "Soul Hunter"

The Soul Hunter (W. Morgan Shepard)
Commander Sinclair recovers a severely damaged spacecraft from Babylon 5's jump gate, but when Ambassador Delenn sees who the survivor is she immediately demands the alien be killed. Panic begins to spread on the station out of fear this new arrival - the mysterious 'soul hunter' - has arrived to steal the soul of one of the station's inhabitants.

Any hopes that I had completely misjudged Babylon 5 are shattered by "Soul Hunter". This was apparently the first episode  of the series produced, and it shows. The episode is weakly written and clumsy, and several of the actors (particularly Claudia Christian) feel like they haven't quite worked out how they're going to portray their characters.

December 5, 2011

Babble On, part 3: "Midnight on the Firing Line"

Londo (Peter Jurasik) vs. G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas).
An unprovoked attack on a Centauri colony by the Narn Regime leads to a threat of war between the two civilizations. Raiders are striking cargo ships near Babylon 5. The station receives its new telepath.

Produced and broadcast about a year after the 90-minute pilot, "Midnight on the Firing Line" is Babylon 5's first proper episode, and it represents an astonishing jump in quality.

The show feels tighter, better written and performed, and nuanced where the pilot had been fairly heavy-handed and stereotypical. It also smartly chooses to focus on its two strongest characters, alien ambassadors Londo Mollari and G'Kar.

December 2, 2011

Babble On, part 2: "The Gathering"

Michael O'Hare as Babylon 5 commander Jeffrey Sinclair.
Babylon 5's feature length pilot, "The Gathering", is a staggeringly uneven production. Every element that works seems matched with one that doesn't. The result is a viewing experience that lurches from good to bad like a listing galleon. I do remember being rather impressed with it back in 1993; a science fiction television drama, made in the USA, filled with spaceships, aliens and intrigue, and it wasn't Star Trek. (Don't get me wrong - I adore Star Trek. It was just lovely to get some variety.)

December 1, 2011

Babble On, part 1.

Of all the science fiction television that graced our screens in the 1990s, one of the most popular was easily J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5. Even at a glance it's not difficult to see why: it was a grand space opera featuring alien civilizations, intergalactic war, space combat and so on, but it also featured a pre-planned five-year story arc. I think it was Straczynski himself who described the series' aim as "a novel for television". Spaceships, story arcs, constant little Easter eggs that only science fiction aficionados or dedicated viewers would notice - Babylon 5 remains to my mind the most strategically directed show for hardcore science fiction fans ever produced.