Friday, October 29, 2004

The outrage continues.

100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the onset of war in March 2003, according to a reliable study.

Given that it is believed that Saddam Hussein killed somewhere in the region of 250,000 of his own people during his 25 year tenure as President, it doesn't take a genius to work out that perhaps some other world leaders should be joining him in Prison.

Hussein was a tin-pot dictator; a survivor who ruled through fear and murdered so many. I can't ever support a government that thinks slaughtering 100,000 civilians in 18 months is a worthy level of collateral damage.

I hope these figures haunt Tony Blair until his dying days. So many, will never forgive him for this injustice.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

It's cold outside...

The BBC are no strangers to controversy, and their latest documentaray series about The War Against Terror (TWAT)is no exception.

Episode 1 of The Power of Nightmares delved into the evolution of two radical groups, the Neocons of the US and the Islamic Jihad. What was striking about this show was how the two groups were forged out of the same feeling that liberal america was destroying society. The Neocons blamed all of the social problems of the 1960s on the liberals while the radical muslims of the Middle East were disgusted at the insidious effect the american culture was having on their own countries.

There is too much to detail here, but needless to say the show is an important piece of television, that strives to put the fear of impending doom into context.

However, there still remains an important question who is the biggest threat? The Neocons or Al-Qaeda? Only time will tell.

Episode 2 airs on Wednesday night at 9pm on BBC2.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Battlestar Galactica: "33"

"God is punishing you Gaius"

Ten months ago a relative sleeper 3 hour miniseries hit the SciFi Channel in the US. It was a re-imaging (to borrow a Tim Burton quote) of the original 1978 film BattleStar Galactica. Amidst the cries of "Heathen!" and "WHAT?! Starbuck's a girl!", Ron Moore brought us a polished epic that dared to challenge established canon while remaining true to the spirit of the original.

It was little wonder that the stunning success of the remake led to a full series being given the greenlight.

Last night, with the airing of "33" the show started in earnest.

For Ron Moore and Galactica, this is their big chance. The original was never meant to be a series. The decision to turn a 2 hour movie into a fully fledged series was perhaps it's biggest downfall. The series became a repetitive series of events, often capped off by a lucky escape from the cylons.

The early signs show that this time, things will be different.

In "33" we rejoin the rag-tag fleet pretty much where we left off. Just over 50,000 humans remain; an exact tally scribbled on a white board on the Presidents makeshift flagship. The cylons have been relentlessly pursuing the fleet, and each attack has left the refugees increasingly more exhausted and desperate.

It's this image of a desolate race that makes the show instantly compelling. Here the full magnitude of what has happened is beginning to sink in. But there is no time to grieve, for the survivors new lives are constantly in the balance. It's dark, gritty and realistic. With the original the sheer scale of the event failed to sink in to the writers. They seemed to forget that all of these characters would have lost most of their family and friends and, as such, suspended any notion of realism.

Another refreshing point is that this first episode did not veer off to tell us the background of characters. Rather, it is slowly being built up over time. Indeed, the screentime for such heavyweights like Starbuck and Boomer is relatively limited. There is much more of an ensemble feel to the show, as there should be.

While most of the characters are busy trying to deal with both the cylon attacks and their personal grief, we are treated to some time inside the mind of Baltar. His recurring visions of the cylon infiltrator 'Number Six' offer some fantastic monologues on religion and serve to push Baltar closer to brink. The fascination that the cylons have for their 'fallen gods' makes for good television and I hope to see more of it.

Again, the docu-style direction works well, with the camera moving in and out of focus to give you the feeling that you are caught up in the event, as it happens.

Plot-wise the script is solid and feels more like a continuation rather than an episode that stands alone. There are some interesting twists... particularly concerning the now cylon occupied planet of Caprica. Again, areas that were not addressed in the original show.

It's early days, but the signs are good. Maybe SciFi isn't dead afterall. 8/10.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Money talks

With the American election approaching its endgame it is refreshing to know that while Kerry and Dubya argue over the best way to help the needy, their campaigns have racked up more money than the GDPs of over 30 countries.

When it's all over Bush and Kerry will have spent over $1 BILLION on slurring each another.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Sci-Fi Movies Episode 3: Nice Wookie, Shame About the Fairytale

31 movies entered the arena. 22 remain. In round two we remove another 6 to set up a thrilling finale.


Round 2

The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Brazil (1985)
The Matrix (1999)
Mysterious Island (1961)
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Tron (1982)

Ooooh, it's getting serious now. By the second round I was pretty exhausted. In Civ, the Egyptian capital of Thebes had proven hard to defend after my ill-planned two pronged assualt on the nation stalled. In the world of Sci-Fi some real biggies fell to the Light Sabre of criticism. No I'm not talking about Star Wars... but Tron. Surely the biggest movie in this rounds cut!

In many ways Tron and that minnow Star Wars are quite similar. Both follow a pattern of good vs evil, with the hero being a nobody at the start, but... aaaw shucks... you just know he'll come good in the end!

But seriously, I don't doubt the revolutionary effect that the original Star Wars had on the film industry. It created the modern special effects industry. It created the movie merchandising industry (not a good thing). But neither of these things make the movie great Science Fiction. If we look not too closely at A New Hope (Or Episode 4, or just plain Star Wars, or whatever the hell Lucas chooses to call it this week), the story is derived from quite basic plot lines.

First and foremost, it is a fairytale. Luke is the lowly farm boy, unaware of his destiny. Obi-Wan is the aging Knight with a secret past. Together they elicit the help of the loveable rogue Han and off on an adventure they go; an adventure to rescue the Princess from the clutches of an evil King (Emporer). The story leads our motley crew into the heart of the evil Kingdom, where our brave old Knight will face his destiny and do battle with the Kings evil Dark Knight (Vader). His death will pave the way for our farm boy to join other peasants in a rebellion against the Kingdom.

For that reason, it could be argued that Star Wars is not really Sci-Fi, and that in truth, Lucas' earlier film THX 1138 is a far better example of Science Fiction.

For similar reasons, we say goodbye to The Matrix. While, in my opinion, another example of revolutionary cinema in terms of technique, the movie leaves a lot to be desired in it's plot. A collection of stories pulled predominately from the New Testament, The Matrix offers a wonderful Sci-Fi edge to the story of Christ, but lacks the true brilliance to make it to the final round.

Mysterious Island, is another film from my youth. More adventures of Captain Nemo, as a motely group of Yankies and Confederate do battle with giant Crabs, Bees and Volcanic eruptions.

Brazil and The Andromeda Strain proved the hardest cuts. Brazil is a masterpiece of cinema. Both comic and tragic in equal measure, that it leace you unsure whether to laugh or blow your brains out in the end. It remains one of my favourite movies, but in the end there is just too much competition. As for The Andromeda Strain, here is a movie that illustrates Crichtons brilliance. Long before the CGI glory of Jurassic Park the young man sat down and penned one of the finest Sci-Fi mysteries in cinema history. Sadly, it is let down by an unhealthy dose of ham.

Only 16 left.

Coming soon - Round 3: Filthy Apes and Sentient Computers

Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow

I love B-Movies. So when the first shots of mechanical monsters invading New York appeared on my PC screen, I was already hooked and determined to see this weird Sci-Fi movie from debutante Kerry Conran. As more footage leaked out, my anticipation grew higher. The announcement of Jude Law in the lead, only added to my excitement, so much so that I was able to ignore the potentially devastating news that Gwyneth Paltrow was going to be in it.

In the end I was saved from over-hype by the first of my friends coming into work saying the film was crap. This was followed by another friend saying it was just mediocre and the reviewers in the US saying it sucked.

So to the cinema I went, expectation back to a healthy low. And? I left the cinema in a happy mood.

Sky Captain is no masterpiece. It is exactly what it says on the tin; a movie that draws on the ideas of square-jawed heroes, implausible situations and fiendishly devilish plots about wiping out humanity. It is a throwback to the B-movies of the 1950's and I cannot fault it for that.

The film is set in an alternate 1939 and charts the adventure of the Worlds greatest hero (Jude), and his annoying ex-girlfriend reporter (Gwyney). Not to go into too much detail but the plot is tremendously basic and involves robots, dinosaurs, submersible planes and flying aircraft carriers.

The cinematography (which is entirely CGI) is jaw droppingly stunning and does a fair job at detracting away from the lack of detailed story. While I should be disappointed with the very basic plot I find it hard to criticise because it's not claiming or trying to be anything other than a b-movie. It's a full-on 1950's style action/adventure/Sci-Fi with an implausible plot and characters that are low on back-story. I read somewhere that this is a fan-boys movie and I'd have to agree. Being a lover of b-movies I instantly understood this film and the newbie writer/directors motivation.

The biggest flaw is the acting. While I can accept a lack of back-story I can't stand poor acting and this has it in abundance. Gwyney in particular suffers from the 'Star Wars Syndrome' of not being able to act against a blue-screen. Angelina Jolie appears briefly as a quite random choice for a stiff upper-lipped Brit.

In summary, if you don't like b-movies, you probably won't like or get this film. And to be honest even if you are a b-movie lover you might still find the lack of plot and poor acting a bind. However, for me this delivers. I'm a b-movie fan-boy and mister Conran clearly knew how to push my buttons! There's even a surprise cameo.

Score: 6.5/10

Monday, October 11, 2004

RIP: Christopher Reeve

Just a quick goodbye to Christopher Reeve. He was a true icon. Both for his determination to walk again and his performances as Superman/Clark Kent. He made the role his own.

Hopefully his legacy will live on through the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.

Sci Fi Movies Episode 2: Too many movies.

Following my eagerness to slag off an 'expert' panels fave Sci Fi movies, I was left with the realisation that I should at least publish my own top 10.

So, ignoring advice from the ever shrinking intelligent part of my brain, I opened up the can of worms that is the Sci Fi genre... and... got very stuck. After a brief brain dump, I managed to cut my shortlist down to 31 movies. Realising that this was going to take longer than the 10 minutes I had allotted I locked myself in my office turned the Donnia Darko soundtrack up loud and promised myself I wouldn't emerge until finished.

6 hours later, My glorious Japanese Samurai had conquered the Romans, Egyptians, Aztecs and Germans. With only one superpower left (plus the minnows of England and Zululand), my strangle hold on Civilisation: Conquests was all but complete.

But I digress... rather than jump straight in and just tell you my fave movies, I thought I'd drag this out as long as possible in an effort to get my blog count up. Shameful... but hey, I'm low on inspiration.

So, in the first round I managed to axe 9 movies from my shortlist of 31. They are listed below.

Round One

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Alien (1979)
Dune (1984)
Event Horizon (1997)
Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Logans Run (1976)
Pitch Black (2000)
The Terminator (1984)

Possibly the most notable casualty here is Alien. The movie that launched Sigourney Weavers career deserves its place in everyones DVD collection. However, every movie has its genre. And this one belongs more on the Horror shelf than the Science Fiction one. It may be set in the future, but change the backdrop to the modern day and make the alien a monster on a deep sea oil rig and it would still retain it's essence.

The same could be said of, the under-rated, Event Horizon and Pitch Black.

Meanwhile, the likes of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage and Forbidden Planet will always be viewed by me with a certain sense of wonder. They where amongst the first to stir my love of Science Fiction. Long before the advent of CGI and $100M budgets, these were films that explored the impossible and the magical, but in the end just cannot justify a place at the top table.

Coming Soon - Round Two: The Curse of the Black Knight.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Blair comes clean

Tonight, Tony Blair finally drove the nail into Gordon Browns coffin. Announcing that he was going into hospital for a routine operation to fix a heart 'flutter', the PM said he planned to serve a full third term, but would not serve a fourth.

This means that we can expect to see the removal vans, sometime around 2009!

This really is Gordon Browns last chance. He cannot afford to wait 5 more years for his shot at Number 10. The 5 year plan gives Tony enough time to train his own protege Alan Milburn to take over from him. If Brown has even the slightest hope of becoming PM he must make a challenge before the next election.

But does he have the guts? I and I know a fair few others, will be hoping he does.