Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Smoking is bad m'kay

What is it with the government atm? They try to force through a deeply unpopular bit of anti-terror legislation and get humiliated; then they start to backtrack when trying to push through deeply unpopular school reform. Yet no matter how many ppl scream at them to ban smoking fully in pubs and clubs, they just turn the other cheek.

From MPs to Doctors to independent reports to public opinion polls... they are all saying the same thing. The current plan for banning smoking is a joke and will not work. Now is the time to be tough and to take smoking by the balls. Ban it completely in all pubs, clubs etc. It's the only solution.

Ireland did it... why can't we?

Review of the movie year 2005

Last year I completely forgot to do my top 5 movies of the year. I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would probably have won, but I've slept many times since then so I've probably forgotten most of the movies I saw.

I sat down the other day to write down all the movies I've seen this year and was pleasantly surprised to find that my UGC Cineworld Unlimited Card is still worth the money.

Despite the constant supply of sequels and remakes I actually found a lot more enjoyment in the cinema in 2005. While I have endless debates about how Hollywood is imploding there are still enough good films coming out of the big studios to keep me entertained. 4 out of 5 of my top films this year are from Hollywood, though I would argue that only one of them is totally mainstream. While I would like to think that the works of Frank Miller or Joss Whedon are mainstream, the truth is, that they aren't.

But I digress.

Out of the 30 or so films I saw for the first time this year I didn't have too much difficulty choosing a top 5. Despite late challenges from the likes of King Kong, my top 5 this year had all booked their places by mid-August.

Top 5

5) The Aviator
The most 'Hollywood' of all my selections, it was way back in January when I saw this Scorcese/DiCaprio opus about the early life of Howard Hughes. If you like biopics, then you should love this film because it is done superbly. I make no apologies for being a fan of DiCaprios work and here he gives one of his most powerful post-Titanic performances.

4) Sin City
Oh if only all comic book screen-adaptaions were like this. Three stories, all shot in digitally rendered blacks, whites and yellows. This one is a comic book geeks wet-dream and leaves me in no doubt that Robert Rodriguez is one of the most talented directors on the planet. Hell if he can make Josh Hartnett look and act cool, then he can do anything. Some guy called Tarantino did a small directing cameo too.

3) Batman Begins
For years and years I laboured under the impression that Tim Burtons Batman was a truly superb opening to the dark knights world. I was wrong. Christopher Nolan brings Batman into the 21st Century with a movie that delves deeper into the psyche of Bruce Wayne than any before it. The only thing that could top it now, was if Nolan agreed to make a movie adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns.

2) Downfall
Adolf Hitler with feelings. Downfall portrays depserate people in truly desperate times. That many of these people are responsible for some of the worst atrocities known to man make it all the more poignant. "It is quite simply, the most important movie to ever come out of Germany and possibly the most significant war movie ever made."

1) Serenity
Was there ever any doubt? It almost feels wrong to call Serenity a Hollywood movie, but it is. A movie so great I paid hundreds of pounds to take my girlfriend to Edinburgh for the World Premiere. Joss Whedon is a fantastic writer, and proves his raw talent as a movie director too with a film that crosses the rigid boundaries of science fiction into comedy and drama. If you have only a day to live, spend it watching this movie, over and over again!

Best of the rest

Put simply, the movies that when joined with the top 5, would nearly make a top 10!

King Kong
Peter Jacksons post Lord of the Rings labour of love so nearly made my top 5. It was a superb movie. If you can ignore the fact that the film is just a tad (30 minutes) too long you should love it.

The Brothers Grimm
Poor Terry Gilliam. The audiences really don't seem to appreciate him. But hey, you keep making 'em, I'll keep watchin 'em. Superb fantasy comedy mixing more fairytales than I would have thought possible, and teaching us all the real reason why you shouldn't go into the dark woods.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Oh how many more adaptations will this one get? How about a play on broadway? Despite initial fears that this would be awful, I was really impressed with this latest interpretation of the Douglas Adams story.

It seems like an age since I saw this movie but it really did strike a cord. Superb movie about the seedier side of relationships with strong performances from Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.

Special mentions

Errr, the movies that while they wouldn't have made the top 10, still deserve a mention for quite random reasons (i.e. I wanted to mentioned them some how and this was the only way I could think of doing it).

Superb puppet movie fantasy. Rather than try to avoid the fact that all the characters have strings, the director makes them an integral part of the movie. I don't really know what else to say, except that it was absolutely fantastic.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
This was the year that Tim Burton proved that you could remake a still superb movie and do it well enough to not get lynched. Aside from some sickly moments, this adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic is worth a thousand Harry Potters

Harry Potter 4
Which brings me nicely onto the final special mention. I've never really got into the Potter hype. I found the early books a little too childish for my liking and ditto with the movies. The third movie in particular had me wincing in pain as the director felt it necessary to explain every little plot point for the little ones in row L. Then along came Mike Newell and with him a crew that has produced the first truly accessible Harry Potter movie. It offers something for the kids (although young ones should stay away) while not insulting the intelligence of those in the audience over 12! I was genuinely impressed with it and very happy to see that Newell had done what was needed and cut large sections of utter dross from the book.

The Turkeys

The movies that quite simply wouldn't make it into my top 5, even if the films in the top 5, best of the rest and special mentions did not exist.

Fantastic Four
OK, was it really that bad? Well, yeah actually. It is symptomatic of the problems with all these movie adaptations of comics. The bad guy was dull, the conclusion contrived, the heros boring (except The Thing who was pretty cool). And don't get me started on FlameBoy... aka, most annoying man on the planet ever, whose jokes were only beaten for crapness by the leads in the turkey below.

The Legend of Zorro
OK, forgetting for a second that I think Catherine Zeta Jones is the most annoying actress ever to grace the screen (maybe her and FlameBoy above should get together for a Gigli style flop), I still hoped that Antonio Banderas could make Zorro watchable. Alas, the result was an awful comedy action reminiscent of the worst parts of Romancing the Stone. Banderas looked old, very old. And as for the jokes? OH MY GOD... they were worse than I could ever have imagined.

Not worth the Hype

These are the movies that I quite simply had to mention because even though they didn't get in the top 5, nearly top 10, special mentions or turkeys, they involved people or franchises that I just had to mention even though I shouldn't because all it leads to is me ranting about the problems I have with the said people and franchises.

Said people and franchises include, but are not limited too:

  • a) Steven Spielberg
  • b) Star Wars
  • c) Tom Cruise
  • d) Both a) & c)
Can anyone guess what's coming next?

Star Wars: Episode 3
Despite my previous positive review of Ep3 it still doesn't mean that this film deserves the massive attention it receives. In the end Ep3 appeased me after the true horror of Ep2, but even at it's best it was still a long way off the magic of the original trilogy. Lucas is a hack and despite a thoroughly enjoyable final hour of Ep3, should never be allowed to go within 50 miles of a movie set ever again.

War of the Worlds
Yet another film of thirds. The first third was ok, the third... er third was awful... the middle third was superb. But one good middle section does not a great film make. I just don't get Spielberg. He has made some films I love, so I am not beyond praising the guy. But he just seems to have found a formula for endings that are so unoriginal I am thinking of leaving his next movie 10 minutes early!

Friday, December 16, 2005

King Kong

It's hard to believe how far Peter Jackson has come. Only a few years ago he was a little known director of some classic cult movies. Now, he is one of the most successful directors of his generation and following Lord of the Rings it was only fitting that he be given the chance to remake the movie that first got him interested in the business.

For a remake Kong is VERY true to the original. In many ways the movie is an expansion on the classic story, delving deeper into some of the characters while exploring Skull Island far more than was ever possible in 1933.

For those not in the know Kong follows the adventure of film-maker Carl Denham (Black) as he recklessly sails into the unknown in search of a mysterious island on which to shoot his make or break movie. Joining Denham on the appropriately named tramp steamer, the Venture, are talented writer Jack Driscoll (Brody), B-movie film icon Bruce Baxter (Chandler) and unknown actress Ann Darrow (Watts).

In a very bold move, Jackson chooses to dispense with the action for the first hour, instead expanding on the growing relationship between Darrow and Driscoll. While in theory this is a good idea, in practice it does make the first hour seem laboured. However, we all know what is coming and when it does, oh boy!

It must be love

Despite being pounded by high sees and jagged rocks, Denham takes his filming party ashore, driven only by a desire for fame and fortune. Of course, he is in well over his head and even as his friends begin to lose theirs he remains on a determined course. I have to say that Jack Black is superb as Denham. He is the bad guy of movie, yet it's impossible to hate him. He's just an opportunist who does not see what Darrow sees.

Now entrenched on the island, we finally get our first glimpse of Kong. And he is beautiful. Having snatched Darrow, the adventure can really begin. The crew of the Venture join forces with the film crew to rescue the young actress, although it could be argued that Denham is still far more interested in shooting his picture than performing heroics. What follows is over an hour of tense jungle horror as the team are picked off one by one in increasingly gruesome fashion.

While dinosaurs and other monsters take care of the Venture crew, Ann Darrow begins to strike up a relationship with the big ape. This is where Kong is truly magnificent. Watching the growing bond between them only makes what is to come all the more heart-wrenching. Which of course is the idea! Like all good movie relationships the two also find time for a lovers tiff, before Kong proves his position as ultimate king of the jungle by kicking some serious T-Rex ass and rescuing Darrow from certain a certain munching.

Kong takes on T-Rex

However, this ain't no happy love story and as such it couldn't be called King Kong without that ending. Jackson remodeled New York to look exactly how it would in 1933 and the attention to detail is stunning. Like the original, it is hard not to feel something for the poor doomed 'beast' as he scales the highest point in New York just to keep Darrow 'safe'. Ironically, I actually found his capture on the island more heart-wrenching than the finale, perhaps because it was the moment that the King truly died in my eyes.

All in all It is a fantastic film to watch and I would recommend it to just about anyone, although perhaps not little children.

On the downside though, the film is overly long. At over 3 hours it is billed as an epic but in truth it is relatively light on material. While Jackson had stated he wanted to give the characters more depth, he seems to ignore most of the human characters once they reach the island. The hard work spent building up the Darrow and Driscoll relationship just disappears during the 90 minutes on Skull Island.

Perhaps the most grating thing though, was the way Jackson builds up Jimmy the cabin boy (Bell) before casting him aside without a mention. Despite my usual hatred for plucky, youthful characters with a lot to learn, Jimmy is actually a superb addition to the story. Having been given an extraordinary amount of screen time, on par with that of Denham and Driscoll, his character is dropped the moment they've escaped the island. Of course, you could argue that as he's a member of the Venture crew there is no need for him to appear in the final acts. While that is certainly true of the other crew members (including Captain Englehorn), Jackson has invested considerable time in Jimmy and it seems wasteful that this buildup is predominately for nothing. It may not bother everyone, but for me (and Holly) it felt like a very sloppy piece of scriptwriting.

As I mentioned earlier, the film does feel too long and I think this is down to Jackson wanting to ensure he did so many classic scenes justice. Unfortunately, some of the scenes are just OTT. Don't get me wrong, the drama and suspense on the island are fantastic, but at times it felt like some of the more extravagant scenes were put in for the sake of showing how cool the guys at WETA are. A good example of this is the giant creepy crawly scene - resurrected from the original movie - that sees some of the remaining survivors being picked off by various giant leeches, spiders, and all manner of bugs. The funny thing is, that this is a superb set piece, but by now I had actually begun to get a little bored of watching the 'red shirts' die. They had already been trampled by a dino stampede, chased by Raptors and mashed by Kong himself. It just felt like overkill for me, despite being a loverly shot piece.

My final gripe is one I didn't expect. First let me say that the special effects of Kong himself are truly remarkable. Every scene with him in is gorgeous and the WETA peeps have done a stunning job. That aside, it surprised me that some of the none Kong CGI elements were quite poor in places. To be fair, some of the scenes are very complex and it may be a case of them being a bridge too far for current CGI techniques. The stampede is a good example of this which, while tremendously intense, just looked too clean and 'fake'. However, the biggest issues were, by todays high standards, relatively simple pieces of CGI. In particular, many of the scenes involving the CGI lifeboats were awful and reminded me of the poor fx in parts of Narnia.

To be honest I came out with the same feeling that I have had after seeing the recent Star Wars movies; that an over-reliance on green-screening is not always a good thing. Merging CGI with traditional techniques can produce far more fluid films, a la Jacksons previous epic Lord of the Rings.

Phew... okay, for those still with me, let me just apologise for perhaps focusing too much on the negative elements in the film. If I could re-iterate... IT IS A GREAT FILM. It's just not the best of the year.

King Kong: 8/10
In summary, a stunning, if flawed, fantasy epic that again illustrates that remakes can work. However for all it's flaws nothing can change the utter beauty of King Kong himself. Every scene he is in is superb, from the poignant to the tragic to the horrifically violent. Empire recently stated that if the Academy had any balls they'd give Serkis an Oscar for best actor. For once, I agree with them.

Directed by Peter Jackson

Naomi Watts .... Ann Darrow
Jack Black .... Carl Denham
Adrien Brody .... Jack Driscoll
Andy Serkis .... King Kong/Lumpy the Cook
Jamie Bell .... Jimmy
Kyle Chandler .... Bruce Baxter
Thomas Kretschmann .... Captain Englehorn

Thursday, December 15, 2005

BSG: Pegasus

The final episode before the mid-season break sees homage being paid to the classic show, in a big way.

Believed lost in the initial Cylon attack, the Galactica comes face to face with the brand-spanking new Battlestar Pegasus, commanded by Admiral Helena Cain (played superbly by Star Treks Michelle Forbes).

Michelle Forbes as Cain

While initially jubilant at the thought of a fully manned, fully armed battlestar joining the fleet, things soon take a turn for the worst as Cain initiates sweeping changes; transferring key crew members to the Pegasus. Events are complicated yet further when an incident involving Helo and Tyrol leaves a Pegasus crew member dead.

After a short break from serious hostilities, the tension is definitely back. Having Cain as a woman (in the original show the character was played by the late Lloyd Bridges) is a masterstroke as it only heightens the tension between the old warhorse (Adama) and his superior.

Again, Ron Moore and David Eick push the boundaries of mainstream sci-fi by highlighting some harrowing events on board pegasus. The sight of a Cylon prisoner, battered and motionless, after suffering months of physical and emotional abuse, is quite shocking and gives Tricia Helfer (Number Six) and James Callis (Baltar) a chance to break from the mould we have seen them in over the previous 18 months. Although only short scenes, they include some of the best performances by both actors.

A brutally tortured Number Six

If I have a criticism, it is that the story feels rushed. While things are brought to a head by a serious turn of events, Adamas crucial choice at the end of the ep, does seem hasty. I've since discovered that the 45 minute ep was originally shot as a 90 minute TV-movie and as such, vast sections have been cut out. Rumours persist that the full-length ep may find its way onto the DVD release.

In summary, a classic cliffhanger that deals with some pretty heavy issues. Sometimes it really is hard to believe Ron Moore once worked on Star Trek.

Pegasus: 9/10

4 years detention and no questions

OK. So would someone explain the point of arresting suspected terrorists and then holding them under house arrest for 4 years without questioning them?

Maybe it truly is a case of see no evil, hear no evil!

And don't get me started on CIA torture flights around the World.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

BSG: The Final Cut & Flight of the Phoenix

More rushed reviews of BSG eps.

The Final Cut
After the long story-arc previously, I found it refreshing to see a relatively standalone story. A journalist, who has been nothing but stinging in her reports on Galactica is invited on board by Adama to shoot a documentary about everyday life onboard the only surviving Battlestar.

The episode gives us a rare glimpse into the lives of the people on board Galactica. It's shot in a traditional docu-drama way and while some might find the plot a little 'cheesy', I found it a welcome relief from the usual depressing tone.

That's not to say there isn't any drama. What with Sharon being rushed from her purpose built cell with a near miscarriage; two cylon raiders attacking the fleet; oh and the small matter of one crewman wanting Tigh dead! The glowing final cut may feel like military propaganda, but it is explained away with a final twist about the journalist.

In summary, not a bad ep. It offers some much needed humour and gives us a chance to catch breath before the next onslaught from the Cylons.

The Final Cut: 7.5/10

Flight of the Phoenix
A common point made by fellow fans of Galactica is "are the makers keeping count of the many ships lost etc?". In a slight piss-take out of Star Trek Voyager*, this ep sees Tyrol turning his skills onto a project to create a new Viper out of spare parts. After several months of fighting losing battles, Galactica is now very low on fighter craft with no hope of a re-supply.

It's a morale boosting episode more than anything, that slowly sees everyones skepticism turn around. In war, people need to have something to believe in. Building a new fighter becomes that thing to believe in.

Meanwhile, a virus left over from a previous cylon attack begins putting the lives of Galacticas crew at risk. Adama again has to turn to the captive Cylon, Sharon in order to save the ship.

Another fun episode, which means that the depression must surely be due to return in the next ep. It is a strong performance from Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), whose obsession with building a new Viper captures the hearts and minds of everyone on board Galactica.

Flight of the Phoenix: 7.5/10

* On Voyager, no matter how many shuttles Chakotay crashed into planets, they always seemed to have a few spare!

BSG: The Farm, Home pts 1 & 2

Given my crapness when it comes to updating my blog I figured I'd better catchup with my BSG reviews. Season 2 has almost finished its mid-season break, so if I don't do this now, it ain't ever gonna happen.

The Farm
The Farm is the final ep dealing with the trials of Starbuck & Helo on Caprica. The previous ep saw the introduction of a resistance cell, which quite frankly left a lot to be desired. Having joined forces with the gung-ho cell Starbuck is injured and wakes to find herself in a Caprican hospital being tended by a mysterious doctor.

Naturally, things aren't what they seem as we begin to learn that the Cylons are impregnating human women in 'farms' all across the colonies. This plot point isn't a bad concept, but it struggles to keep any cohesion (a bit like this blog), as too much has to happen in a very small space of time. Perhaps if the writers had given this plot a few eps to develop it would have seemed a little more interesting.

Again, the more interesting action is going on within the rag-tag fleet. Adama has finally emerged from his coma to find the fleet in disarray. Roslin and Lee Adama have fled Galactica in an effort to form a splinter group. Their aim? To return to Kobol in order to find their way to Earth. This is actually a pretty gripping storyline as it again illustrates the role religion can play in society. Roslin has now emerged from her role as a weak President into that of a spiritual leader, and her support is far greater than ever before.

The episode is probably the weakest of the season so far. The titular plot is very contrived, mainly due to it being rushed far too much. The interest levels are kept going only by the return of Adama and the rise of Roslin as a religious icon.

The Farm: 5.5/10

Home parts 1 & 2
As the title suggests, this two part ep deals with the re-unification of the characters trapped on Caprica with the two splintered fleets. It brings to an end a nine ep story arc that began with the previous seasons cliffhanger 'Kobols Last Gleaming'.

A still recovering Adama, takes stock of what went wrong while Tigh was in command. Rather than allow the divisions to grow, he chooses to take the fleet back to Kobol in an effort to find Roslin (and his son, Lee). Meanwhile, Starbuck returns to the fleet with Helo and a pregnant Sharon. As expected, some pretty serious tension ensues.

While I do feel that this story-arc has been a couple of episodes too long, the conclusion does not fail to deliver. Adama is a proud man, but he is never more than slightly willing to move on without the third of the fleet lost to Roslin. The eventual discovery of the Tomb of Athena does not offer easy to follow directions to Earth, thus ensuring the show lasts a little longer than 2 seasons!

Some very good performances from Almos (Adama), Park (Sharon) and McDonnell (Roslin) ensure a gritty finale to the very depressing (albeit entertaining) story-arc.

Home part 1: 7/10
Home part 2: 7.5/10

Monday, November 28, 2005

Superman Returns

Am a little late with this one, so apologies. Finally got round to seeing the Superman Returns teaser trailer.

I have to admit, that about a year ago I was predicting that this movie would probably spell doom for the recent spate of comic book movie adaptations. It's taken over 10 long years since this movie was first announced and the only stories from the studio in those 10 years have been predominately negative. Yet, now I can't help but feel a warm buzz about it. The trailer may only be a teaser, but the classic music, combined with Supermans Daddys narrative does it for me.

So what has made a real difference in the last year? I'm guessing it's Bryan Singer. The moment he was poached from the X-men, things have seemed far rosier for the man with a penchant for red undies.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The knives are out for Bush

It's taken far longer than I'd hoped, but people are now turning on Bush and his illegitimate war in their droves. Latest on the list is former President Bill Clinton, whose words still carry considerable weight around the World.

With 2,080 US soldiers dead and about two thirds of the US population opposed to the war in Iraq, it is hard to see how Bush can press forward with any legacy reforms. Iraq is his legacy.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A victory for common sense

Finally! After 8 long years Tony Blairs government has been defeated in a parliamentary vote. It's ironic that Blair seemed to be pushing the 90 day element of the anti-terror laws through so quickly because he was worried his 'legacy' reforms might struggle.

In the end he has made a serious error of judgement. He will and can take the moral high ground, but anyone with any sense of realism will understand that there has never been a need to hold suspects for 90 days. In all of the major (by this I mean hyped by the media/govt/police) cases like the Ricin plot (in which there wasn't ever any ricin) and the Old Trafford bombing plot (in which there was never a plot to blow up Old Trafford) suspects have been released well within the current 14 day maximum period. Yet these are the same cases being used by the government and senior police officers to justify a need for 90 days detention.

Whether this defeat proves to be the first of many remains to be seen. One thing is for certain. Blair is a fighter and will not go easily. Like Thatcher, the only thing that will remove him before his planned retirement is a senior member of his cabinet challenging his authority. Step up to the plate Gordon Brown. Your time is well overdue!

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Interesting article about religion and its origins. It offers some lessons about the dangers of orthodox religion, although I think a lot of us knew about them already!

Iraq the Project is over

It has always been the case that it is difficult to know what to believe when your media is so close to government. This is especially true in the time of war.

I guess I'll leave it with you to decide whether you believe that Iraq is a country full of men and women discussing the upcoming referendum on the constitution, going about their daily lives and enjoying their new freedom; or a country beyond the brink, where insurgents (I love that word) are pretty much in control of vast swathes of the land.

Friday, October 07, 2005

I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar.

It's six weeks since I saw the Serenity premiere in Edinburgh and last night I finally got to see it again. This time with loads of friends which gave me a chance to talk about what is easily the best Sci-Fi film since Donnie Darko.

I can't remember the last time I was as affected by a movie as I have been by Serenity. That I was even more affected by the repeat showing really took me by surprise. It was perhaps partially due to the fact that I knew what was going to happen and indeed for the ten minutes leading up to the final battle my heart was racing. I'd forgotten that movies could do that to you.

Serenity is not without it's flaws. There is one major continuity error right at the start of the movie that might annoy some fans, but in truth it can be explained away if you're geeky enough... and I am. After 10 years of Berman & Braga destroying Trek continuity I think I can live with this one 'mistake' in Serenity.

Anyway... I've seen it twice and intend to see it a lot more before it disappears off our screens. If you like SciFi, watch this movie. Don't worry if you haven't seen the show, one of the guys I was with last night hadn't seen it and he got the film completely and loved it.

Serenity is the finest piece of science fiction I've seen in years. It makes Star Wars look like it was written by an untalented hack (oh wait... it was), while making Star Trek (the self-proclaimed grandfather of science fiction) look outdated, unoriginal and totally lacking in depth. For me to say this, particularly about Trek, is no small thing.

Go watch this movie.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Peak Oil

I know, I know. Warnings of impending doom when the oil runs out are ten-a-penny. However, the following site is a very compelling breakdown of the problem and what options remain for our society.

For those who don't know what peak oil (or Hubberts Peak) is all about, it is the point in which global production of oil hits its highest point before declining due to lessening resources. In other words, the problem is not when oil runs out, but when it can no longer be produced in enough quantity to meet demand. Demand for oil has increased every year and will continue to do so, but if production reaches a point were it can go no further, then we really are in trouble.

Few can realistically argue that peak oil doesn't exist, as it has already happened in a number of places around the World. The US hit its peak oil production levels in 1970 and since then has seen a decline in production to about 50%. Russia hit its oil peak in 1987, North Sea oil in 1999. In fact 24 of the Worlds 44 oil producing nations are now producing less oil despite a constant increase in demand.

In the past, I've alway shook off the peak oil argument by saying that it won't happen in my lifetime because there is still oil out there waiting to be discovered. Plus there are untapped resources in places like the Falklands and Alaska. However, as Mattthew Savinar explains in his article, oil production now far outstrips the amount of new oil being discovered, with 6 barrels of oil being consumed for every barrel we find.

While I don't agree with everything in the article it is compelling and well researched. I'm not convinced that the peak of oil production will happen in 2007, although you never know. Indeed, OPEC admitted in June 2005 that it would struggle to pump enough oil to meet demand at the end of the year. Add to this fact the increased pressure on other nations following the loss of Gulf Oil due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and it all leads to one thing; an end to cheap oil.

Whether our oil dependent society can handle oil prices in the $100-$200 per barrel price range is dubious.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Serenity, no spoilers I promise

What a night! Joss Whedon and UIP could not have wished for much more. Tickets for Whedons debut film had sold out within 60 minutes of going on sale and on turning up at the CineWorld multiplex the atmosphere was buzzing. Outside, a crowd had been swelling around the red carpet for hours, while inside some hardcore film buffs started queuing fully 4 hours before the scheduled start time.

Once comfortably seated in the packed Screen 7, there were jokes about how the people at the Edinburgh Film Festival had 'discovered' this young writer/director and that while we probably hadn't heard of him, he was a real up and coming talent. On that note Joss Whedon and cast wandered on stage to the first of many standing ovations. Cue more jokes from Joss Whedon about not wanting the film to stand on its own merits, until finally, it was time for the lights to go down.

The first 20 minutes of Serenity move along at a startling pace and it really attacks the senses in a audacious display of effects, action and wise cracks. Yet these opening minutes maintain far more coherence than you may imagine given that the viewer is forced to take in a lot of information in such a short space of time.

If I had one fear prior to seeing Serenity, it was that Firefly would not travel well from the small screen. For the film to be a considerable success it needs to reach an audience beyond the fans of the original show. This simple fact was always going to fuel a need for the movie to explain much of the back-story, potentially leaving the fans upset at having to sit through explanations of things they have already seen. However, Whedon is a master at creative storytelling. Throughout the film he works to immerse the viewer in his vision of the future. There is plenty of new plot points to keep the fans happy, while the backstory is woven into the dialogue in a way that avoids patronising the die hards. Obviously, being a fan this is easy for me to say, but I feel confident that someone who has never seen the show will be able to follow Whedons story without confusion.

For those familiar with Whedons previous work, you will already have witnessed the mans ability at mixing genres. Episodes of Buffy would often merge teen drama, horror and black comedy; all set against a fantasy background. The characters had depth, perhaps more than in any other science fiction or fantasy show. With Serenity, Whedon diverges from the traditional mould of Hollywood sci-fi, to bring us a film that will make you laugh, cry and jump out of your seat. It is as much a psychological thriller as it is a sci-fi; as much an black comedy as it is a thriller. Weave into this complex story, characters with real life and you have a winner.

As with his previous shows, Whedon delivers characters that rarely fit a hollywood type. It would be unfair to call Mal Reynolds the flawed hero of Serenity, because his character is so much more than this. As in the series, there are times when you think to yourself, 'Mal, you are an absolute bastard!'; yet you still love him because he represents reality. His flaws will not be 'fixed' in the course of an episode or a movie, he will live with them and those around him will have to tolerate them. The same can be said of all the characters, and because of this you care about them.

So how does Serenity hold up against other sci-fi, action or fantasy offerings? Well the last few year has offered much but delivered little in my opinion. For me War of the Worlds, Fantastic Four, Star Wars and the many others follow the age-old Hollywood formula. They do this because the studios know what makes money; a lot of people (myself included, from time to time) like movies where they can put their minds on hold and just enjoy a basic plot with some fun action. And this is perhaps the mountain that Serenity must climb. There is no putting your brain on hold with Serenity.

Without a doubt, this is one of the best sci-fi films I've seen in years. It wipes the floor with Star Treks formulaic storytelling and makes the awful Star Wars dialogue and wooden acting look even more laughable. The action, meanwhile, is as good as any superhero movie. However, the question remains as to whether it can break into the mainstream. It couldn't have been put any better, when it was mentioned that the Edinburgh Film Festivals mission is to showcase brave and different movies. And Serenity is very brave. The characters are unconventional and the differences between good and evil more clouded. If the masses in the USA can give this one a chance, then Serenity could well be the surprise package of the year.

In summary, Whedon takes science fiction into a deep new realm of realistic characters who, when they aren't pulling heists, are spouting witty dialogue. Dark and brooding in some places, wrapped up with sexual tension in others, Whedon even finds time to reference Buffy and take the piss out of the formulaic plot devices used in other sci-fi films. The performances (particularly of Fillion, Baldwin and Ejiofor) are fantastic. Perhaps the only downside for me was that some characters had only limited screen time. You will struggle to see a better film come out of Hollywood this year.

Following the film, there was an excellent Q&A session with the cast and crew. Joss Whedon escaped doing the 'dance of joy' due to his recent knee surgery, but passed the honour onto Nathan Fillion, who did superbly. There is some footage from the premiere now online. The first four links are footage from the red carpet, while the last two are links to footage from the spoiler-laden Q&A session. The quality isn't great, so if I find any better footage I'll be sure to post it. Thanks to scifiheaven.net.

Serenity (UK release October 7th)
Written & Directed by Joss Whedon

Nathan Fillion .... Capt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds
Gina Torres .... Zoë Warren
Alan Tudyk .... Hoban 'Wash' Washburne
Morena Baccarin .... Inara Serra
Adam Baldwin .... Jayne Cobb
Jewel Staite .... Kaylee Frye
Sean Maher .... Dr. Simon Tam
Summer Glau .... River Tam
Ron Glass .... Shepherd Meria Book
Chiwetel Ejiofor .... The Operative

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

BSG: Resistance

After Colonel Tighs decision to impose martial law on the fleet, things were always going to get a little hairy. Tighs position is by now untenable. The combination of the pressure of command, too much alcohol and his sniping wife have left him making one bad decision after another. In this episode, we see him finally begin to lose his crew.

After the drama of Kobol, this latest installment is somewhat weaker, mainly due to the events on Caprica. Starbuck and Helo are taken in by a bunch of resistance fighters who survived the initial Cylon attack. It's a fine concept, but it's execution feels a little too gung ho and hollywood.

The excitement is again within the fleet as ships begin to refuse to re-supply Galactica until the Government is restored. Tigh sends in marines to secure supplies, which we all know is never a good thing. Meanwhile poor Tyrol - having just survived the trauma of Kobol - returns to find Tigh accusing him of being a Cylon because of his relationship with Boomer. This has always been an interesting story for me and the relationship gets some much needed screen time as Tyrol is forced to share a cell with Boomer.

In the end it falls on Roslin to make a stand. However, it will have lasting consequences for many of Galacticas staff who are forced to choose between their imprisoned President and Colonel Tigh. The consequences, meanwhile, of Tighs poor decisions may finally come to the fore as we finally see an old friend get back on his feet.

In summary, not so polished as recent eps; I feel this one is let down by the introduction of the resistance on Caprica. There are some superb moments between Baltar and Boomer, while having Roslin join forces with Zarek is a master-stroke. However, the scene-stealer is undoubtedly Adamas appearance in Tighs quarters.

Resistance: 7/10

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

BSG: Fragged

tr.v. fragged, frag ging, frags
To wound or kill (a fellow soldier) by throwing a grenade or similar explosive at the victim: "He got fragged. Blown away" (Bobbie Ann Mason).

And there I was thinking 'fragged' was a term coined for FPS games! The term was popularised during Vietnam, when discipline lagged and a few officers got grenades in their bunkers or caught "friendly fire" during a skirmish.

After watching episode 3 of this new season of Galactica I got into a conversation with some friends about just what this show is. Sure it is science-fiction; as my mate Mike pointed out, it retains many sci-fi elements, particularly with regards to the Cylons. But, perhaps more than anything Galactica is a political, wartime drama set against a sci-fi backdrop. It does not offer the optimistic visions of Star Trek or Stargate; nor the happy endings to every situation.

DS9 was very much the bastard child of Trek; hated by many of the star trek execs for messing with the optimistic vision. It was a brave change of direction for a franchise already showing signs of extreme tiredness. Ron Moore was one of a number of talented writers and producers who fought to give DS9 the edge that made it easily the most compelling trek story to date. Galactica is perhaps an example of Ron Moore let off the leash. With his associate David Eick, and writers D Weddle & B Thompson (both DS9 old-timers), we have a show that has broken the traditional bonds of sci-fi, much like Trek did decades ago and Bablyon 5 did in the 1990s.

Galactica is about normal people dealing with impossible situations. All are flawed, and none of them will deal with their flaws within the 45 minutes of an ep (a la Trek). It has been only 2-3 months since the children of humanity came home to destroy their creators. The people are in a mess. None of them have been trained to deal with this kind of situation, and in 'Fragged' things finally come to a head.

First to Galactica. Having finally driven the Cylons off the ship Tigh is forced to face the consequences of both his and Adamas actions in removing President Roslin from power. The Quorum of Twelve (the newly elected government of the fleet) want answers and Tigh is not about to be bullied.

The episode is a testament to the adage 'better the devil you know'. In Adama, the fleet had an old warhorse as military leader. He was dangerous and would not be undermined, but he respected the need for the people to have a government, even in their current dire circumstances. With Tigh now in command, things could not be worse. He is a military lifer, who has had little time for politics. He is weak, prone to flying off the handle and likes drinking on duty far too much. He wants to calm the situation, as Adama would, but does not have the strength of character to pull it off. As such, when things get too much for him, his decisions can be catastrophic.

The interplay between Tigh and the government is superb. His attempt to portray Roslin as a lunatic backfires because of his refusal to even talk with her. Now the government not only see her as their leader, but as their spiritual martyr, destined to lead them to safety. Some may find the way in which the Colonial religion has begun to take hold of so many people a little annoying, but personally I find it all the more realistic. After such a tragedy it is only natural that many people will turn to their religion to help them through; even more so when their leaders preach it so readily.

For Tigh though, the entire episode is an affront to his authority. He wants to be Adama, but cannot, and his petty actions at the end of the episode will have far-reaching consequences.

Meanwhile, things also come to a head on Kobol. Crashdown is a prime example of great characterisation. For a whole season he did his job in tough conditions; you never suspected he could ever struggle purely because he hadn't been thrust into a situation he couldn't handle. Now trapped on Kobol, he is out of his depth. As commanding officer, his decisions have indirectly cost at least one life and now he wants the remaining 5 of them to launch an attack against a Cylon anti-aircraft battery. Baltars visions tell of one person betraying the others; Tyrol is a loyal soldier but knows that the plan is flawed. Something has gotta give, and it finally does.

The consequences of the Kobol mission will, I imagine, be everlasting. In Galactica, there is no reset button at the end of each ep.

In summary this is the best episode of the season so far. The interplay between Number Six and Baltar, so often the low point of season 1, has been vastly improved; and all they had to do was remove the OTT sexual references! The discussion about what defines humanity is interesting as is the mystery surrounding the Cylons clear hatred for Kobol. The performances, meanwhile, are stunning. Tigh, Crashdown, Tyrol, Baltar and Roslin all steal some dramatic scenes. Oh Ron Moore, why can't you come back to Star Trek and make it better?!

Fragged - 9/10

Thursday, July 28, 2005

One campaign ends as another begins

Today marked an historic moment for Britain and Northern Ireland. Following the release of IRA bomber Sean Kelly, an IRA statement declared an official end to the 30 year campaign that has seen thousands killed. All IRA units have been ordered to dump their arms and to work towards a political and diplomatic solution to the conflict.

Of course, only time will tell if the statement holds true. There is always a risk that splinter groups (such as the Real IRA) could derail any progress. However, this is certainly a cause for hope.

The irony of the timing of this announcement could not be more stark. As one military campaign against Britain ends, another is in its infancy. We can only hope that our leaders learn the lessons of 30 years of bloodshed and prevent this new threat from dominating our lives for another 30 years.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

BSG: Valley of Darkness

Following directly on from the events of Scattered, the crew of Galactica have little chance for a breather. The joy at having relocated the fleet is short-lived as a Cylon virus completely knocks out the ships power. With Cylons having infiltrated the Starboard hanger bay, the episode becomes a race against time to stop the Cylons getting to vital systems and turning the Battlestars powerful weapons on the fleet.

The a-story, while exciting, is certainly not what draws the attention this week. The events on Caprica and, in particular, Kobol continue to intrigue. Having come under fire from an unknown force (presumably Cylons, but maybe not!), Tyrol and Cally make it back to the others with another med-kit. The events on Kobol are becoming more frantic every episode, and I think it's only a matter of time before Tyrol comes to blows with his inexperienced superior officer; Crashdown. Tyrol seems to be very much in the mold of Deep Space Nines Chief Engineer O'Brien; a man who has seen the horrors of war but is inevitably never the commanding officer.

Early on there is a truly shocking moment as Baltar, who's delusions are becoming more frequent, sees a vision of Adama taking his baby away. It is a superb bit of self-referentialism to a scene in the pilot and is so twisted that it further adds to the strength of this show both as a sci-fi and a psychological drama.

The only calm moments are to be found, of all places, on Caprica. Helo and Starbuck are searching for a ride off their former home. Despite the dangers Starbuck insists on popping into her apartment for a break. It may seem crazy but it actually comes across as quite poignant and surreal, that in the midst of this tragedy these two people can sit and just relax.

Some may find the action on Galactica a little OTT and un-original. A lot of the common plot points are there. Apollo and his team are the only ones left standing in the way of the last Cylons - check; they are low on ammo - check; the only way out of the battle for President Roslin takes them right past the point where Apollo is to make a heroic final stand - check. However, it's still good fun and it's great to see the CGI cylon centurions finally spilling a fair amount of blood.

The final scenes offer some superb dialogue between Tigh and Apollo; both men who are, by their own admission, not fit to wear the uniform.

In summary, not as polished as 'Scattered' but full of action and intrigue. As much as I love the darkness and the trauma, I have to admit that there is a danger of 'war fatigue' setting in if the rag-tag fleet don't get a breather soon.

Valley of Darkness - 7/10

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

BSG: Scattered

How long have I waited? It seems like an age. Yet in truth the first season of Battlestar Galactica finished only 6 months ago. Now, Ron Moore and David Eicks terrifying vision of apocalypse has returned to my plasma screen and all is good.

Well, it's good for me, but not so good for the Colonial Fleet. In fact it's very baaaaaad for the handful of human survivors. Season 1 left us with an almighty cliff-hanger and for those hoping for a nice and quick Star Trek resolution, you'll be disappointed. Season 1 only covered about 60 days and this new season looks set to follow that similar pattern, meaning that wounds that are fresh at the end of one ep, may take a good long while to heal.

In 'Scattered' all eyes are on Colonel Tigh, who has taken command of the fleet while Adama is incapacitated. He is given little time to settle in before a Cylon base star attacks. In the confusion of the escape jump Galactica becomes separated from the fleet without a clue how to locate them. Meanwhile the President remains locked in the brig with only Apollo for company. On Kobol the battered and bruised survivors of the Raptor crash struggle under the command of the ranking officer, Crashdown; Baltar is little help either, due to him now spending most of his time in a delusional state. Back on Caprica, the bloodied Starbuck now has to deal with a slightly love-sick Helo and Sharon the Cylon.

So all in all, the Human race is pretty screwed.

Yet again, Moore and Eick have given us an episode that offers little comfort. The victories are minor, but are made to feel huge because they are the only thing giving people hope. The truth is that the by the end of the first episode they are no better off than at the start. But sometimes, just keeping the status quo against overwhelming odds feels like a victory.

There are some good flashback moments which give us a brief insight into the mind of Colonely Tigh. He's a man at odds with himself; a man that very probably shouldn't be serving in the Fleet. Now he's in command, and that is potentially a very scary prospect.

What can I say, I love this show. It is dark, gripping and (for a Sci-Fi) very realistic. Not one of the people could be considered model citizens and that shows. Again, the performances are superb with the Tigh, Boomer, Crashdown and Tyrol standing out in particular. BSG is back, my summer is saved!

Scattered - 8.5/10

Monday, July 25, 2005

Double standards.

On friday the police shot and killed a man at Stockwell tube station. They had followed him from his home along his journey before challenging him to stop. The officers were in plain clothes and armed. The man (Jean Charles de Menezes) ran into the tube station to evade the police. He boarded a train, was cornered, tripped and shot five times in the face at close range.

Debate has raged for days over whether a shoot-to-kill policy is right and just. I have to say that if the police have a substantial reason to believe a suspect is about to cause harm to others then there is little choice, however this incident has left me shaken as to how the police came to the conclusion that de Menezes was about to cause harm.

We have been told that de Menezes was being watched on suspicion of being linked with terrorists; while being followed it was reported that he was acting suspiciously; he was wearing a large coat which may have been concealing something; and, of course, when challenged he ran away.

This latter fact seemed to have sealed his fate. But it was a judgement call that led to an innocent man being murdered in cold blood. Which leads to the question, how did the police make such a mistake?

The police seem to have based their pursuit of him on assumptions and the climate of fear that has gripped our nations capital. In the last few days I've been astounded at what seems to be the majority clearly supporting the police on this issue. Some point to the fact that the man was suspected of being linked to terrorists. My only response to this is that thousands of suspects have been arrested in this country since the anti-terror laws came in and all but a few have been released without charge. Being a suspect does not make one guilty.

Neither does the fact that someone is acting suspiciously. It might make you want to arrest and question them, which seems to be the case here, but unfortunately the police didn't arrest him; he ran. So now there are many people saying that running into a tube station in the 'current climate' is idiotic and therefore the police did what was necessary. It now appears that de Menezes was in Britain on an expired visa.

Why, if the police were so concerned about this man, didn't they surround him and arrest him? Why did they shout at him from a distance that allowed him to run? Seems tremendously unprofessional to me. Also, if you are challenged by several armed burly men in plain clothes to stop then what is your natural response? If the police had been watching this guy for some time they would known that he was from Brazil and grew up in a neighborhood where gun violence is high and when someone comes up to you wielding a gun and says stop you run like hell. Basic profiling would have made this clear. Don't the police profile their suspects and work out how best to approach them?

If they were so worried about this man, why didn't they challenge him when getting on the bus? Haven't there been two attacks in as many weeks on buses in London?

Of course I sympathise with the police. They had a difficult job to do and had to make a tough call. Unfortunately, they based that call on an assumption. For me that is not acceptable evidence. If the police have evidence that this man was actually involved in terrorism, rather than a hunch, then that would change things. But, it would appear that they don't.

To hear educated people saying that the police did the job they had to do and we should support them smacks of double standards. How many innocent Iraqis have died at the hands of US troops at checkpoints in Baghdad? Too many, and when it happens the US say that they were worried that the victims might be suicide bombers. Many people who are angry at the US for such actions in Iraq are throwing themselves into the ring to defend the police over the killing of de Menezes. I fail to see the difference here.

People are saying that anyone in their right mind would know not to run into a tube station like de Menezes did; not after what has happened in recent weeks. Does the same hold true for innocent Iraqis then? Surely all of the ones in Baghdad are well aware of what is going on around them and should know better than to ever get on the wrong side of the Iraqi police or US military? Yet somehow the innocents in Iraq keep dying at checkpoints and in their own homes; killed by those who swore to protect them.

There are those who argue that the police in this country are not used to dealing with such things. The moment you use that argument you are admitting that the police have made a mistake because they aren't equipped to deal with the situation. If they aren't equipped to deal with the situation then a shoot-to-kill policy seems fucking stupid imo.

A few months ago an Italian agent was killed in Iraq protecting a freed hostage. He was killed by US forces who wrongly thought the agent was a threat. The World was outraged; Britain was outraged. Yet for some reason, we are happy to turn the blind eye when an innocent is murdered in our capital by people who are there to protect.

Of course I support the police in what is a difficult job; but I expect a police force that is reasoned an measured. The actions on Friday were that of an overzealous mis-informed police force. Putting guns into the hands of such people will not stop this crisis; it will make it worse. This tragedy could have been prevented if proper processes and procedures for dealing with this situation were in place. They weren't; or if they were, they weren't followed. For that, questions must be asked and a proper system put in place. To blindly say "it's a shame but the police did what they had to do" completely validates what has happened and does not even go one step towards preventing it happening again.

This is a fucking tragedy, both for the police and the family of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

RIP Jimmy Doohan

James Doohan, the man made famous for his quite appalling Scottish accent in Original Series Star Trek, has died aged 85. Never met him on the con circuit, but his characters onscreen battles with the ever-breaking warp drive ("cold start the engines... ya must be maaad!") will be long remembered.

"Scotty, beam me up!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fight terrorism with knowledge not ignorance

Superb article in the Guardian that confronts the real questions coming out of the attacks on London. While I recognise that it is only 5 days since the terror attacks the initial shock amongst many people is turning to anger and unreasonable hate.

We all deplore terrorism (even liberal lefties like myself). I cannot imagine the pain and suffering that the families of the victims must be going through. However, as a nation there are two directions we can go in. After 9/11 the American government took a radical right-wing step and launched a war on terror. In it's name they have invaded 2 nations, killed hundreds of thousands of people (predominately innocent civilians) and cost their economy hundreds of billions of dollars. After 11th March 2004, Spain took a radically different step. The Madrid train bombings occurred only days before their election. The people ousted the pro-Iraq war government and elected an anti-Iraq war government.

The choices are simple, we can continue to 'fight' this war on terror or we can actually try to get to the cause. If the 30 year conflict in Northern Ireland has taught us anything, it is surely that you cannot fight terrorism by simply resorting to the same tactics. Has the war on terror helped to prevent terrorist attacks? Have the number of terrorist cells decreased? For every man and woman killed in the war on terror there are families that grow up resenting their killers. Only through knowledge and understanding can we prevent terrorism.

When Tony Blair next makes a rousing speech about how we must stay the course, ask yourself this question. If Tony Blair had not led us into a war in Iraq, would the attacks on London have ever happened?

Thursday, July 07, 2005


London was rocked today by a series of co-ordinated bomb attacks by terrorists. Coming only a day after the jubilant scenes in Trafalgar Square (following the Olympic decision) the contrasts are stunning. While I'm sure it will take time before it is officially announced who is responsible, a group linked to the Al Qaeda network has claimed it carried out the attacks.

It is a shocking and deplorable act that has left the city in turmoil and presumably cost many lives.

We can only hope that as the days and weeks pass, our government responds in a calm and patient manner. I hope that they work together with other nations both to find those responsible, but more importantly to try to gain an understanding as to the causes of these and other attacks. And only then, to take action that can help to prevent future attacks, rather than make matters worse by rushing into a retaliatory stance.

My thoughts are with the families.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Am I in an alternate universe?

What is going on? I checked the interweb this morning to see what the newpapers had to harp on about today and what did I find? Well amidst the rubbish about JFK Jr and Diana there was an entire front page devoted to the plight of 100 Zimbabwean asylum seekers who have been threatened with deportation, despite the considerable risk of their persecution at the hands of Robert Mugabes thugs.

Was this 'campaign' to let these poor people stay in Blighty on the front cover of the Independent? No. What about the Guardian? Afraid not.

No, the new crusader for Zimbabwes poor refugees is none other than the Daily Fascist itself.

Wonders never cease ;-)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Doctor Who: season review

Before I get started, I should point out that I am not a long-time Doctor Who fan, although I watched it as a child. As a result, this review does not compare new to old, but rather holds this show up against the many other science fiction shows out there atm.


Viewing figures
I think I approached the new Doctor Who with trepidation. Returning to a cult classic is always a risky business. you may create something that hits the right notes with a new generation, but risk alienating the fans who have campaigned for years to bring the show back.

With this new show, it would appear that the makers have succeeded in keeping both groups happy. While there has been a drop-off in viewing figures (from 10.8 million in ep 1 to just over 6m in ep 13), the average is still very good for a saturday night show and clearly seems to have hit the right notes with the family audience it was aimed at. However, I would air a note of concern at the final eps low ratings. Often final eps on both side of the atlantic tend to see a ratings boost because of their prominence. This did not occur here. This probably points to the split in viewers. While there is probably a key majority who will watch every episode, there may be a fair percentage that see the show as something they can 'take or leave', resulting in fluctuating viewing figures.

I'm sure I wasn't alone in my concern about Billie Piper taking up the role of the Doctors companion. Well, after 13 episodes I can honestly say the concern was very much misplaced. From the first episode the show was clearly more about Rose Tyler and her role in life, than it was about the Doctors. Pipers performances rarely faltered, even when the dialogue, plot and other actors seemed to conspire against her. Her recurring trips back to her Eastenders-esque existence worked well against the drama of life travelling with the Doctor.

Meanwhile, Christoper Ecclestone rarely disappointed. His upbeat assessment of every situation cleverly masked a tortured soul. As the season progressed we saw his guard slip to reveal a man full of hate, fear and vengeance, predominantly focussed at the infamous Daleks.

While his quirky style was occasionally annoying, I was saddened to learn he was leaving after season 1. I feel we had only scratched the surface of a tremendously complex character, one that would have surely grown even more in season 2. I do feel that David Tennant will have his work cut out to emerge from the daunting shadow cast by his predecessor.

The remaining cast were predominantly forgetful. Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) wasn't really given enough development, although he did get a few good one-liners. The hideous super kid (Adam) who lasted all of two episodes (Dalek and The Long Game) was pretty unrealistic and it was good to see him go. There were one or two superb guest stars, most notably Simon Callow playing Charles Dickens in what was one of the strongest episode (The Unquiet Dead).


I've been trying to get out of the habit of giving stuff a rating out of 10, but I just couldn't help myself. On the whole, I felt the season was seriously pegged back by the writing. While there were some very well written eps, there was probably a similar number of poor ones.

Rose: written by Russell T Davies
A very average start. Piper and Ecclestone put in good debuts which set the tone for the season. Unfortunately, they were let down by a very poor script and some unrealistic performances by the characters around them. Many American shows get feature length pilot eps and I feel that this episode was probably in need of more time to set things up. There was just too much to cover in 45 minutes and it came across as tremendously disjointed.

The End of the World: written by Russell T Davies
A reasonable ep which saw Rose transported to a truly alien future. This really gave Ecclestone a chance to shine and gave us our first glimpse of the many colourful characters in the Doctor Who universe. Let down in the last third by some laughable plot devices and a weak conclusion, it was still a massive improvement on the opener.

The Unquiet Dead: written by Mark Gatiss
Really strong sci-fi ep, which draws on thriller, period drama and even a bit of horror to keep the viewer glued. Not that I remember much about Doctor Who from my childhood, but this is what I've told myself it was like. Fun, freaky and scary enough to make a child hide behind the duvet. Ecclestone and Piper are strong again, but the show is completely stolen by Simon Callow, as Charles Dickens. Only just bettered by 'The Empty Child'.

Aliens of London: written by Russell T Davies
Oh dear. When I reviewed this on a forum I believe I used the words 'screaming pile of dog turd' to describe it. Battlelines were certainly drawn over 'Aliens of London' and to this day I honestly can't see why, because it was so not worth expending that much effort on it. For me, this was the worst episode in the season. It was hard to understand how a show could slip from such a high the week before to this. The opening minutes, which offer a rather intriguing setup, are the only thing that prevents this ep from getting one out of ten!

World War Three: written by Russell T Davies
Part two of the 'Slitheen invasion' story was always going to struggle to climb from the gutter that part one had left it in. To their credit, the actors did try. There were some good moments involving Mickey and the Doctor, but these brief scenes could not escape the appalling plot that had me in hysterics for all the wrong reasons. A few of us had a bit of an argument about whether it is ok to have dumbass storylines cause it was aimed at children. I've gotta say it certainly isn't. A story aimed at children, can still be intelligent, witty and compelling, even for adults. This one was not.

Dalek: written by Rob Shearman
Oh thank god for the Daleks. This episode of a captured Dalek struggling with it's new found emotions was compelling predominantly for Ecclestones gripping performance. He was so full of hate it actually shocked me. The story was quite unoriginal but this did not detract from just how moving it became in the final third.

The Long Game: written by Russell T Davies
I don't think it helped that I was quite optimistic about this ep after learning that Simon Pegg (of Spaced and Shaun of the Dead fame) was appearing. In the end, Pegg is pretty wooden as the villainous henchman, while too much time is taken up with ill-fated side-kick Adam and his quest to have a hole drilled in his head. This ep had its moments, but they were far too few.

Father's Day: written by Paul Cornell
Like 'Aliens of London', this episode had a really compelling setup involving Rose wanting to return to see her father on the day he died. Unfortunately, like 'Aliens of London' it also descended quicker than a stone off a tall building. This time it was the cliche-driven hollywood-isms that just had me wincing in my seat. Each character felt like a caricature of 1980s London. While some people may have found this endearing, it put across a very skewed perspective of the World imo. The final scenes (which should have had us reaching for the hankies) involved some of the most intense melodrama I've seen in recent years. It wasn't emotional, it was like bad Eastenders.

The Empty Child: written by Steven Moffat
Probably the best episode of the season and like 'The Unquiet Dead' draws brilliantly on the audiences fears. Ecclestone seems in his element when all hell is breaking loose and it shows. Florence Hoath is superb as the homeless guardian of dozens of children in wartime London. The ep also contains some of the best special effects in the season as the Luftwaffe relentlessly bomb the capital.

The Doctor Dances: written by Steven Moffat
Luckily the second part manages to live up to first as scary dead people run amok determined to find their mommy! The cliffhanger from the previous ep is dealt with a little quickly but in such a funny fashion that I can let it go. This ep sees Captain Jack Harkness join the Tardis, and he's a significant improvement on the irritating Adam. Sadly his character is often underused which is a shame.

Boom Town: written by Russell T Davies
Finally, an episode by the series head honcho that delivers something. It's ironic that it should be the return of the 'Slitheen' from 'Aliens of London' that sees Davies post a good ep. The episode is relatively low on action as the Doctor and his team are forced to face up to the moral choices they make. It is a decent story with some superb scenes between the Doctor and Margaret (Annette Badland). The b-plot lets the ep down though as the Mickey/Rose relationship takes on a rather inconsistent direction.

Bad Wolf: written by Russell T Davies
The big two-part ending is sadly little more than a damp squib as Davies again returns to what he seems to do best (or should that be worst?); cliched plots driven by stereotypical characters, with a liberal sprinking of referential humour. Get past the first 15 minutes and the ep isn't too bad. The mystery surrounding 'Bad Wolf' is pretty interesting, as is the cliffhanger. However, the final morale boosting speech from Ecclestone is just too long and seems forced.

The Parting of the Ways: written by Russell T Davies
The followup to Bad Wolf, failed to deliver a fitting finale imo. It had some reasonable moments, but was again let down by the almost incessant use of Hollywood cliches. It is rescued by the final 10 minutes which, for me, offer a pretty deep insight into humanity. Some may think I'm reading too much into Roses actions, but for me it helped redeem the ep. Ecclestones departure is also quite poignant and laced with humour. What the future holds, though, is anyones guess.

Episode average: 5.4/10

The numbers aren't exactly glowing, yet while I know a lot of my friends will undoubtedly disagree, I feel I've given an honest assessment from the POV of a guy who loves and watches a helluva lot of sci-fi.

I think this season of Doctor Who is pretty average and probably quite in keeping with many first seasons of TV sci-fi. It's probably on par with the first seasons of Dark Angel or ST:Voyager (shows that I quite enjoyed but often infuriated me by their lack of consistency).

Ironically, when I look back I feel that the thing most hampering the show is actually the person responsible for bringing the show back to life; Russell T Davies. Only once in the 5 eps that Davies did not write did the story feel too cliched and formulaic. (Fathers Day). The remaining 4 eps were easily the best of the season and stood out from the whole show. If I look at the 8 eps written by Davies, 6 of them are littered with cliche-driven plots, stereotypical characters and inconsistent storytelling. Of course this is only a matter of opinion, and I realise that a lot of people out there may like those eps, but for me I felt Davies' writing was carried by Ecclestones and Pipers performances on far too many occasions.

Which brings me to the future. I said I'd give Doctor Who a try, and I have. I'll certainly give season 2 a go also, but I need a marked improvement in the writing to keep me watching. The most sensible thing, would be for Davies to concentrate more on his role as Exec Producer (a job I think he is doing well) and cut down on the writing. However, I gather this is unlikely.

Of course, it is very likely that I am not a key demograph for the makers. I am neither a fan of the earlier shows nor a child, so it's highly plausible. However, I still feel that a show aimed at a younger audience can be scripted in an intelligent and funny way. Some might say that if the family audiences love the more puerile episodes then Doctor Who is a success. That's true, however Doctor Who has the advantage of mainstream appeal and thus has the opportunity to tell powerful stories to a wide range of people, rather than to stoop to lowest common denominator storytelling.

I still love Roald Dahl books, and their film adaptations, while I think that the Lemony Snicket stuff is some of the most intelligent and witty storytelling aimed at children in years. It can be done, and eps like 'The Unquiet Dead' and 'The Empty Child' prove it, but there needs to be more like this.

In summary, if you're a kid or a fan, you'll probably love Doctor Who season 1. Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper are superb, while the tone of the overall series is well structured and quite compelling. About 5 or 6 of the eps offer some quite exciting stories which should appeal to everyone. The remainder of the season offer little if you are over the age of 14 or a non-fan. There is definite potential, but for me Doctor Who must improve in season 2 and hopefully it will.

UPDATED 21st June, 11:21pm
Pretty surprised to hear that Doctor Who season 1 cost a whopping £1.2m per episode! This is only a few million less than a season of Trek (which is heavily overpriced anyway) and far more than shows like Galactica and Firefly. I've gotta admit, that despite my enjoyment of a number of eps, I don't feel that the show was worth this much money. The sets, costumes and effects are not that spectacular when compared with much cheaper shows and you've gotta wonder where all that money went.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Batman Begins - for real this time!

For over 10 years I remained a loyal fan of Tim Burtons original Batman film. Having grown up on films like Superman, Captain America and Flash, the sight of this dark and brooding Batman was the perfect antidote to years of camp latex.

However, for the last few years, George, has been trying to convince me that, despite her own love of Tim Burton, the Keaton film is a poor and unrealistic portrayal of the Dark Knight. Not being a comic afficionado I had difficulty seeing her point, until she lent me 'The Dark Knight Returns', a gritty comic by Frank Miller (Sin City, Daredevil).

It isn't an understatement when I say that this comic changed the way I view not only Batman but all superheroes. Superman is the golden one, a product of middle-American upbringing and thus easily manipulated by the American President; Spiderman is the confused kid who struggles from crisis to crisis only wanting to help (and impress the girl while he's at it); while Batman is the stubborn, detached vigilante cut off from society both because of his mission and equally due to the billionaire status of his alter-ego.

We've been lucky in the last few years to see a clutch of movies about superheroes that actually have a level of depth to their characters. It started with X-Men and reached full speed with Spiderman 1 and 2. With Batman Begins, the juggernaut looks unstoppable.

Christopher Nolan has produced a film that is as much about the inner demons of Bruce Wayne as it is about fighting crime. It is fitting that it takes a good hour before we actually see a fully costumed Christian Bale bringing down Gothams bad guys.

As the title suggests, this movie is about origins, and a lot of time is given to how and why any man would choose a path like Batmans. In Tim Burtons 1989 film we are given an insight into how the death of his parents led Bruce Wayne into a quest for vengeance. However, with Batman Begins we see a more complete story, one that paints a picture of a tormented young man who has to go through anger, fear and self-loathing before he can ever find the focus to don the cape.

I should have expected nothing less from Nolan, the man who brought Memento and Insomnia to the screen. Both are films that deal with the dark side of the human psyche, and with Batman Begins, Nolan completes a superb hat-trick of psychological thrillers.

The central figures all play their roles well, with the relationship between Bales rebellious Bruce and Michael Caines loyal Alfred a particular high point. Even the obligatory love interest, in the form of District Attorney Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), is handled with great subtlety so as not to detract from the main story of Bruce Waynes journey from a lost boy to a legendary hero.

Amidst all the darkness, there is still time for some comedy. Waynes attempt at counteracting his alter-ego by creating the persona of a billionaire playboy is wonderful, while Gary Oldman offers up some subtle one-liners as one of Batmans few allies; honest cop Jim Gordon.

The flaws in the film are few and relatively small, the main one being the rather implausible 'super-weapon' that is used to set up the final confrontation. When you consider that Nolan spends 2 hours creating a World not that far removed from our own (a feat in itself for a movie about a superhero) it is an unfortunate oversight. Personally, I also found the final fights, while well choreographed, a little poorly shot. I think this has a lot to do with Nolans own claustrophobic style of directing, which works very well when delving into the psyche of a tortured soul, but less so with fast paced action set pieces. It's an issue of personal taste though, and I'd be surprised if anyone found their appreciation of the movie significantly lessened by it.

When I left the cinema I was surprised to find that only 2 hours had gone by. Nolan has managed to fit a significant amount of backstory, character development and kickass action into Batman Begins, while ensuring that the central story does not lose its way, even briefly. This is, after all, Bruce Waynes story. A story that, for me, doesn't disappoint.

In summary, Nolan delivers a sublime cross-genre movie which draws on everything that is great about action, martial arts, horror and psychological thrillers. Batman Begins is not just another movie version of the origins of the Dark Knight, it is the only movie version. I'll always have fond memories of Tim Burtons Batman, but I think I finally have to admit, that it was but a poor imitation of a Bob Kanes tremendous legacy. With Batman Begins, we finally have a movie worthy of the comics.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


About a year ago I remember reading (as many people did) all the rumours on the internet about Michael Jackson. They said that he was a sick, twisted deviant who seduced families with his money and manipulated children into his bed. I remember people harping on about the wealth of evidence picked up at the Neverland Ranch which clearly proved Jacko was guilty.


3 months after the start of 'The Trial of the Century', Michael Jackson has been found not guilty on all counts. Regardless of peoples opinions of Jacko, something has never felt right about this entire media circus.

Firstly Tom Sneddon, the man who has relentlessly pursued Jackson for over 10 years, comes across more and more like a man with a vendetta, rather than a sound case. In the latter months he reminded less of a man who wanted to do good and more of a Ken Starr type figure, the man who relentlessly pursued Clinton for years with little cause and next to no evidence.

Secondly, the mountain of evidence that websites across the World claimed would destroy Jackson turned out to be nothing more than "eyewitness" accounts from former staff members, whose own testimonies were refuted by the alleged victims throughout the trial. Can it be that after 10 years, this is all Sneddon could come up with?

I dunno, clearly there is something abnormal about Michael Jackson and the way he conducts his life. Whether he is a threat to children I don't think we'll ever know, but on the basis of this trial, justice has been done. You cannot convict a man of anything based on hearsay.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

War of the Worlds

No, not the horrendous looking Spielberg flick but a new CGI version based on the original book.

I know what you're thinking, yet another hack is trying to peddle one of the most peddled sci-fi stories of all time without even the slightest inkling of knowledge or talent.

Well this ain't no ordinary peddler.

When Jeff Wayne released his 1978 musical it instantly became a classic that still draws a huge following. A couple of months back, while wandering around a Sci-Fi fair in Milton Keynes (well I suppose the place has something going for it!), I stumbled across a stall with some tremendous War of the Worlds artwork. Turns out, that in late 2004 Jeff Wayne commissioned some CGI test sequences for a possible feature length movie. He has since released this news story confirming that his own movie version will finally see the light of day in 2007/8.

a martian fighting machine

Of course the jury is still out on whether Wayne can transfer both the vision of the book and his own musical onto the big screen, but I live in hope.

The test footage can be seen here.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Liverpool: European Champions

I don't know what it is that makes being a football fan in England a trying time. For some reason English teams are incapable of winning competitions without putting their fans through every emotion. But then, if they didn't, victory wouldn't taste quite so sweet!

Liverpool, rich in history but without any significant success in over a decade, returned to the top of World football on Wednesday night with a performance that belied the 100-1 odds placed on them in December. Both Liverpool and AC Milan played a part in the most astonishing final in footballing history.

Trailing 3-0 at half-time to one of the most experienced Italian teams ever assembled, bookies started offering odds of up to 350-1 on Liverpool fighting back to win. Italian teams NEVER surrender such leads. No team ever comes back from 3-0 down in crunch games.

As the second half kicked off my only thoughts were that we didn't get humiliated. What followed though was more akin to something out of a Rocky script. First Gerrard fired in a header from range. His response was to run to the fans and urge them to get behind the team. Then Hamman set up Vladimir Smicer. So often a pariah, he hammered the ball into the bottom corner of Didas goal.

AC Milan had collapsed. Every pass, every 50/50 ball, every move went Liverpools way. On 60 minutes Gerrard latched onto a pass that split the AC defense. Bundled to the ground, Gerrard won Liverpool a penalty. Alonso, seeing his effort saved, pounced on the rebound and hammered it into the net.

Nobody could believe what was happening. It had taken only 6 minutes for Liverpool to humble a team that in the first half had taught them a footballing lesson. A team that had won this trophy only 2 years previous.

The match moved into extra-time with AC Milan laying seige to the Liverpool goal. Minutes from the final whistle, Jerzy Dudek, pulled off two stunning point blank saves. That Dudek, a player whos inconsistency has cost Liverpool many matches this season, should be the hero seemed pre-ordained, and as the game entered penalties he etched his name into footballing legend. He turned back the clock to 1984 and mimmicked that other great Liverpool eccentric Bruce Grobbelaer. Dancing and clowning around on the goal-line, Dudek succeeded in putting off the AC Milan spot-kickers. One miss and 2 saves later, Liverpool were champions.

It's two days ago now, and it still hasn't sunk in. I realise that people who don't understand what it is to support something like a football team can never understand, much as I cannot understand peoples faith in their religions. However, this event is the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed. That I was helped through the trauma of penalties by several Man Utd fans, further illustrates that every once in a while football can bring people together.

"How can I think of leaving Liverpool after a night like this?" - Steven Gerrard, plays his part in 'Liverpool: The Hollywood Story'.

When I look back at Wednesday night I honestly can't believe it happened. If it had been written by a Hollywood scriptwriter, it would have been laughed out of the studio. This was Rocky 1-5 and The Great Escape rolled into one. The sequel though, is already being penned as Liverpool fight to be given the chance to defend their title next year. Their poor league performance has meant that, regardless of playing a part in what was arguably the greatest sporting comeback in history, they do not merit a place in next years competition.

"Should Uefa prevent Liverpool from defending it next season, it would be a denial of everything that is great and important about football. All of which we witnessed last night." - Independent

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Kingdom of Heaven

Great thing about Star Wars opening weekend is that all of the other films are empty!

I'd heard several mixed reviews about Kingdom of Heaven; Ridley Scotts epic followup to Gladiator. Confusion reigned when one reviewer labelled the film an incitement to racial hatred due to its somewhat anti-Islam stance, while another reviewer said it was the exact opposite. So I entered the cinema somewhat unsure which of the two reviewers had actually seen the movie!

My low expectations probably helped here, for this is no Gladiator. The story, while disjointed is quite strong and gives tremendous sense of scale as men from all over europe flock to the Holy Land to 'do Gods Will'. However, very early on we see the Directors intention is not to criticise Islam, but to squarely point the finger of blame at Rome, and the extremist followers who did the Popes bidding.

"To kill an infidel is not murder"

Balians (Orlando Bloom) reaction to such lines is one of disdain. He is the protector of people, not religion; a lesson passed down to him by his father (Liam Neeson).

How Balian comes to be in Jerusalem is a largely uninspiring affair. His wife, having committed suicide is damned to hell, while Balian himself has become the man that God has foresaken. Luckily, his father, the Baron of Ibelin, arrives just in the nick of time to whisk the young elf blacksmith off to the Holy Land where he can seek redemption both for himself and his wife. Naturally fate intervenes, leaving Balian with the title of Baron of Ibelin and the duty of protecting the ailing King of Jerusalem(the superb Edward Norton).

This is were the movie earns its wings. Despite being sold as the action-packed followup to Gladiator, KoH is surprisingly low on sword wielding antics until the final third. Instead it chooses to focus on the fragile peace between the Christian rulers of Jerusalem and the majority Muslim inhabitants of the land. The political interplay between the central figures is superb. The King maintains an open dialogue with the leader of the Muslims, Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), working hard to enable the two religions to live together. Jeremy Irons puts in a solid performance as Tiberias, the man who believes that all denominations must live together regardless of whether it goes against the Papal doctrine.

Of course, for every peace loving Knight there are hundreds of warmongers, and none greater than Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), the Kings brother-in-law. Through his henchmen, he intends to start a new war; a war to wipe out the Muslims, for they are the enemies of Christianity. There are shades of the powerhungry Commodus here, but none of the brilliance. Too often does Lusignan resort to snarling, in an effort to look evil, to ever be credible.

When the shit hits the fan, we just know that everyones favourite elf will come to the rescue. Balian has vowed to protect the people, be they Christian or Muslim and this is how he remains. Unfortunately, Bloom lacks both the charisma and gravitas to pull off this role. While I enjoyed his performances in Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, he was very much a co-star in both. It is a real shame, because for the majority of this film there is an epic story trying to run free, only for it to be constantly held back by Blooms impotent hero and Csokas' snarling villain. For all my dislike of Russell Crowe, the man had tremendous stature in the role of Maximus.

In the end, the best performances are those of the underused Irons, Norton, Massoud and Alexander Siddig (playing the brilliant Nasir). Meanwhile, the least said about Balians love interest Sibylla (Eva Green) the better.

In summary, a terribly disjointed film that is let down entirely by the lead actors. It has moments of genius and beauty, while the poignant message about religions living together in peace echoes long after the movie has finished.