Monday, January 31, 2005

Battlestar Galactica: Kobols Last Gleaming

Galactica comes to the end of a fiery first season in style, in this dark two-part offering. As Galactica discovers the home of the 12 colonies ancestors, the fragile relationship between military and government finally collapses.

As the final episode of season 1 came to an end I was struck at just how deep and intelligent this show really is. If you compare this grand remake with the original show, the differences are mammoth. The original show suffered because Galactica was supposed to be a movie and as a result, didn't have a cohesive storyline planned out for the first season. Ron Moore, however, hasn't made the same mistake.

The complex relationships and backstory of every character are cleverly woven into each episode, while the slow buildup of the Cylons grand plan has been subtly concealed. As the final episode finished, the reasons for the Cylons not having destroyed the rag-tag fleet seem clear. The plan, while not original, is well scripted and smartly brings together the various characters.

Of course the show has its weak points; Predominately, the early season Baltar/Number Six relationship. Don't get me wrong, the concept of the Cylons selecting someone like Baltar for their plan is sensible, as has been the way in which they have slowly detached him from reality. Unfortunately, too much of the early relationship focused more on trying to appeal to the sex-starved fanboys, with Number Six appearing in more and more provocative visions. However, the last two or three eps have seen this take a back-seat as Baltar has begun to accept his role within the Cylons plan.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the show has been the ongoing religious undertones. The differences between the Cylons Monotheism and the Colonials Polytheism is a throwback to the real dilemma that faced our race many years ago. Also, the struggle between the 'true' believers and the pragmatists in the Colonial Fleet is superb and, in the final episode, the spark for all the tension.

The tension has, of course, been building since day one, and central to this has been Roslin, Adama, Apollo and Starbuck. The sides that these people have chosen will, I would assume, resonate throughout season 2. It is this tension that makes the show believable. Times of crisis do bring people together, but it is only temporary. That it only took a few weeks for the many different voices within the fleet to resume their arguments is testament to reality. No 'for the good of humanity' Starfleet bollocks here!

The two-parter finale is very well scripted and the performances of the actors is fantastic. There are some OTT fight scenes (one in particular which, while brutal, is a little too Die Hard), but these are just plot filler. The final twist, caught me completely by surprise and leaves me desperate to hear the news that season 2 has been greenlighted.

When I look at the modern Sci-Fi shows I've watched with eager anticipation, very few can claim to offer such a diverse first season as Battlestar Galactica. In the 20 years since the advent of modern Sci-Fi television, only Firefly has offered a first season of this kind of quality.

After all my misgivings, Ron Moore (alongside his partner-in-crime David Eick) has finally emerged from the shadow of his years on Star Trek to produce a show that deserves its place alongside the Deep Space Nines, Next Generations and Babylon Fives of this World.

At the time of writing, BSG had just launched in the US. Its ratings for the first two weeks not only gave the SciFi Channel some of its highest ratings in years, but also beat Rick Bermans Star Trek: Enterprise, despite being available in far fewer homes. For Ron Moore, that must be the sweetest news of all.

Kobols Last Gleaming: 9/10

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Never again?

Has the World learned from the Holocaust? Has our vow to never let genocide happen again been kept? 60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz the World community seems more obsessed with commemorating Holocaust Day than actually trying to make the World a better place.

With genocide still being committed in Sudan (the nation everyone seems to have forgotten about in the wake of the Tsunami disaster), the leading nations still seem incapable of coming up with a solution to the crimes being carried out by Janjaweed Arab Militias.

We must never forget what happened through the 1940s, but rather than spend all our time looking back at the horrors of Auschwitz, it would be a far more fitting tribute if we, as an international community, concentrated our efforts on truly ensuring that these heinous crimes are never committed again.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Aviator

Continuing Golden Globe weekend, next on my list was Martin Scorceses 'The Aviator'.

7 years since the crazed media scrum of Titanic pigeon-holedLeonardo DiCaprio into an actors worst nightmare - that of being famous for your looks rather than talent - the young Hollywood kid seems finally to have completed his rehabilitation. After hiding away for 18 months his return in The Beach was a tremendous failure, damaging him even more amidst rumours that script changes were down to the actors own selfishness. However, with three successful movies in a row under his belt, maybe it's time to reassess the boy who emerged from River Pheonix's shadow. After all, he is now 30 years old!

The Aviator is the story of Howard Hughes, or rather, the story of Howard Hughes from 1925 to 1947. The decision to avoid detailing the final reclusive years of Hughes' life is a sound one, as through careful and poignant scripting Scorcese and John Logan has been able to capture the slow descent of the titular character into obsessive compulsive disorder.

As a movie, The Aviator is remarkable, kicking off with the story of the infamous Hells Angels shoot. Hughes redefined the movie industry with some of the most thrilling aerial combat scenes ever witnessed. Here they are marvelously reproduced and spliced in with original footage, to give an almost documentary feel to the films early stages.

The success of Angels saw Hughes propelled into the Hollywood elite, and as a result, into the arms of a string of Hollywood actresses. Cate Blanchett is remarkable as Kathryn Hepburn, coping well with re-creating one of Hollywoods most eccentric leading ladies. Hepburn was undoubtedly one of the great driving forces behind Hughes, although the film occasionally stutters when trying to deal with the relationships rather than the more thrilling business in the air.

Meanwhile, DiCaprio gives a meteoric performance. Easily his best since The Basketball Diaries, he is in almost every scene, which is a feat in itself for any actor. The obsessiveness in his characters personality is subtly covered until, inevitably, the story moves on to Hughes' first breakdown. Locked in his screening room, alone, trapped by a fear of everything, DiCaprio paints a haunting figure.

Amongst the co-stars, John Reilly and Ian Holm deserve special mention for their roles as two of the few friends Hughes has amongst thousands of hangers on.

Culminating in the one and only flight of Hughes' infamous Hercules (otherwise known as the Spruce Goose), the movie finds a fitting finale, offering us foreboding for what is to come, rather than showing us those final drug-addled years. Arguments will rage over how little DiCaprio looks like Howard Hughes, but in the end, it is the performance that counts. In Howard Hughes, DiCaprio has finally found his maturity.

The Aviator: 9/10


It was Golden Globe weekend at the cinema for me and Holly, as we caught up on all those films that lit up the Foreign Press Association.

First up was Mike Nichols brutal study of relationships, 'Closer'. This is a movie that draws mainly on raw emotion. Relationships, in my opinion, are rarely like the endless stream of hollywood romances we see from across the pond. When they end, they do not end amicably; they are harsh, raw and destructive. What we do to keep doomed relationships going can be deceptive and malicious.

Closer deals with the reality of men and women. The ease at which people find themselves deceiving those they love; the obsession men have with the question "was he better in bed than me?"; and the endless need that some have for revenge.

Central to the plot are four characters played by Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. Obituary writer Dan (Law) has fallen for photographer Anna (Roberts) and seems unperturbed by the small matter of his girlfriend, former stripper, Alice (Portman). Things become more complicated after Dan accidentally sets up Anna with Larry (Owen), a Doctor with a penchant for adult chat rooms.

Through the excellent performances of the actors, and some superbly scripted dialogue you get a sense of chemistry that only exists in real relationships. The four only share one scene in the entire movie, and its a superb set-play of emotions, with each character hiding something from the others.

Despite, Jude Law and Julia Roberts being first billed, their performances are outstripped by the truly wonderful Portman and Owen. I really believed Portman had missed her chance after a string of terrible roles, however, the little girl from Leon acts with such maturity that it is easy to forget about those embarrassing Star Wars movies. Clive Owen meanwhile, continues his rise to stardom. I was spared his performance in King Arthur, so can happily say that the British actor has quickly become a favourite of mine. His dark and perverse role in Croupier is mirrored here as the sensitive soul lost in a manipulative mans body.

The stream of profanity may not be everyones cup of tea, but in a movie that spends a great deal of time talking about sex, it was pleasing to find that there wasn't a single sex scene in it. Great film, Portman and Owen fully deserve their Golden Globes and I sincerely hope this sleeper movie gets a chance in the Oscars.

Closer: 8.5/10

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The changing face of evil

The World is a complex place. Full of intricate cultures and deep-rooted prejudices and allegiances based on history. Many people in nations once controlled by the French and British Empires still hold deep-seated fears about working with such countries, half a century after they withdrew.

Despite this knowledge, the US government has followed bleakly in the footsteps of every empire before it. Theirs may be an empire based on economic strength and insidious business practices, but all of this is still backed up by a simple principle; military power.

For 40 years the US positioned itself as the guardian of the free world. Across Africa, Central Europe, East Asia and South East Asia the US created an image of a vanguard standing firm against the spread of Communism. By creating the illusion of an almighty power struggle, the US gained allies around the globe and planted the seeds of its business and economic empire everywhere it went.

The fall of the Communism changed everything. Without the threat of Soviet expansion, nations around the world no longer needed an occupying US force to 'protect' them. Despite attempts to keep nations under their control - through careful manipulation of the IMF and World Bank - the US has over the last decade lost control of many of its former 'protectorates'.

Allegiances shift. People strive individuality. When that happens, there is only one way to control a nation... through the threat of military force. However, as history has taught us, military force in a nation only leads to eventual defeat as the people rise up to take back their countries.

In 15 years the US has gone from self-professed leader of the 'free World' to the most feared and dangerous threat to World peace. As George W Bush prepares to be sworn in - this time as the legitimate winner of the US election - a poll has shown that 18 of 21 nations around the World feel that President Bush will have a negative impact on peace and security. The list of dissenting voices includes the UK, Australia and Italy (the 3 remaining staunch allies of the US), as well as South Korea (despite having been under the protection of the US for 50 years).

As the US continues its new crusade to spread democracy in the places it feels are dangerous, they have only succeeded in compromising their own. With hundreds of thousands dead and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, the US have only the pretence of elections in Iraq and the puppet-leader Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan to hold up as examples of their great vision.

It is a sad and embarrassing state of affairs when people feel that the new 'democratic' process in Iraq is no fairer than Saddam Hussein's previous 'elections'.

Meanwhile in the US we find a split between the moderates and the extremists becoming wider. The coastal and northern states tend to be against Bush, while the southern and central states are staunch supporters. With all the talk of wars abroad, this second term President finds he has more divisions to heal at home than at any time since the American civil war.

Of course, all of this is irrelevant. It is the continuation of empire that matters. And whether through the use of military might or its floundering excuse for a World leading economy, the US will continue on its current course through history.

In their quest to find a post-Communism enemy, the US has become that which it seeks. The only question that remains is, will the rest of the World stand up to this new menace from the West?

Monday, January 17, 2005

Battlestar Galactica: Colonial Day

Politics returned to the forefront of Galactica in this superb ep that sees representatives of the 12 colonies meeting to debate the future of 50,000 people left. The main plot surrounds the return of political prisoner/terrorist Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch). Selected as Sagitarrians representative, he eyes a chance to dislodge the "illegitimate" President Roslin.

This is one of the best scripted episodes yet, with some fantastic chess moves between Zarek and Roslin. The politics of BSG may sound boring, but it's actually the strongest part of the story, mainly because the lines between good, bad, morality and equality are so messed up. When you hear Zarek speak he makes sense, which makes it harder to dislike him.

This episode is also surprising for pushing a deep undercurrent of racism to the fore that had so far only fleetingly been mentioned. The fact that the Sagitarrians were viewed more as the worker colony, and as such, less equal was one of the sharpest ideas Ron Moore has thrown into the plot. With people from all 12 colonies meeting for the first time, the old prejudices resurface and, in one scene in particular, show up a very unlikely character for his strong dislike of the Sagitarrian people.

This episode twists and turns and offers yet more intrigue as the election of a Vice President takes place. The fact that the whole event is covered by a newly formed civilian TV and radio network (headed by the only 3 journalists left alive) is another sublime move that allows for some lighter moments amongst all the politics.

Colonial Day: 9/10

Iran - the new enemy

It's 2005, G W Bush is the legitimate President this time round and it's time to select a new target for America and its allies to liberate... US-style!

According to Seymour Hersh - the journalist who cracked the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal - senior US officials have already made their choice. In a report in the New Yorker, Hersh claims that US special forces are operating inside Iran selecting targets for air strikes.

Whether the intelligence the commandos garner will be used by the American military or the Israeli, remains to be seen.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Battlestar Galactica: Hand of God

After weeks of paranoia and character development, we finally get an episode with some Cylon bashing. Hand of God, sees the brave Colonials launch a daring mission against a Cylon base to secure a supply of fuel. In many ways this ep is a classic example of first season TV. One of my big fears about this show was that every ep would have lots of battles with the Cylons (just like early Buffy had monster-of-the-week eps), culminating in lucky, last minute escapes.

Thankfully, this is the first ep in 10, so it's a welcome break from all the politics of recent stories. It's very much a character-driven story with lots of characters having to come to terms with their new roles in the 'rag-tag' fleet. Lee Adama is having to deal with being the new CAG, despite knowing that Starbuck is by far the better pilot; Starbuck is still recovering from injury, so must take up a role in Ops; and Baltar is still coming to terms with his new found religion and role as an apparent instrument of God (or is it the cylons?)!

The ep is reasonably formulaic, but contains enough surprises to interest the viewer. The b-story of Boomer and Helo on Caprica is getting very interesting with Boomer suffering from what appears to be morning sickness.

In many ways this is one of those 'put your brain on hold eps', but don't take that to mean it isn't enjoyable. The ongoing Baltar/Number Six storyline is perhaps the one thing that truly gets to me, but it's predominately in the background.

Hand of God: 7/10

Battlestar Galactica: Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down

Running behind with these review so will try to catch up.

One of the biggest problems when your basic premise for a show is that your entire race has been virtually wiped out, is that there isn't much room for comedy. It doesn't matter if your show is sci-fi, drama, thriller or western, you need those light-hearted moments to help you relate to the people a little more.

With BSG, we are further hampered by the fact that each episode only progresses the story by a few days, so by episode 10 it we had only moved on about a month since the apocalypse. All of this might explain why the few comic moments have been isolated to Baltars continued descent into madness because of the voices in his head. Of course, this backfired in the recent 'Six Degrees of Separation', which was by far the worst offering yet from Ron Moores team.

However, with Tigh Me Up, we are offered a light-hearted look at the reasons behind Colonel Tighs destructive tendencies, as his alcoholic, bed-hopping wife returns from the dead. Of course, it's the b-story that really appeals as Adama, Roslin, Baltar and Tigh all get a serious case of paranoia over who could be cylons.

It's not polished, and some of the comedy feels forced, but this is common in first season runs. In the end the ep is a light-hearted look at McCarthyism and nothing much more. Number Six still grates me, but it's livable atm.

Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down: 6.5/10

Harrys blunder

So, Prince Harry has been snapped wearing a Nazi Costume to a fancy dress party. This was always a story that was going to spark outrage. The difficulty in being a royal or member of govt is that scrutiny is far higher than that of any other celebrity. However, we still need to ask the question, is it really that bad?

Only recently, I had a row with some friends over an inappropriate comment made concerning Indians. Now while I know he didn't mean to cause offence, I was still offended and so can totally understand where the people demanding punishment of Harry are coming from.

However, I do find a certain level of hypocrisy when it comes to these scandals. More often than not the fascist era of the 1930s and 40s are viewed with a 'walking on egg shells' stature. Would there have been a scandal if Harry had worn a Roman Centurion costume? The Roman military was responsible for the massacre of millions and subsequent destruction of countless cultures. What if he'd worn a late 19th British army uniform. You know, that famous red tunic that didn't show up the blood of the hundreds of thousands of African and Asian people slaughtered in the name of Empire?

The guy is young and wore something to a fancy dress party. He's apologised for making a poor judgment call. Can we let it go now?