26 March 2015

The campaign begins, fully

So, Parliament has sat for its final session ahead of the dissolution on Monday, after which there will be no MPs, only candidates vying for re-election.

A lot is going to be riding on Ed Miliband's shoulders in the next few weeks, especially in his television appearances. He has to convince the undecided and wavering voters that he is not the caricature that the right-wing press portray him as. If he does that, he will go a long way to winning this election.

For there is more to 'winning' than just getting most seats; Labour must win the popular vote to have any chance of legitimacy in a minority government. With the polling averages showing things neck and neck between the two biggest parties, every vote for Labour will matter.

16 March 2015

Thoughts on the SNP

It's looking increasingly likely that Labour will have to do some form of deal with the Scottish Nationalists after the election.

Do you know what? I'm not too upset at the idea. We agree on a lot with them and having to rely on them for key bills might prove to be a useful left-wing restraint. I would favour "supply and consent" over full coalition, mind you.

As for Trident? Just get it through with Tory votes.

15 March 2015

The big red boring light is flashing (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.6, "Mudd's Women")


Most US "hour long" shows ran to about 42 minutes today. Back in the 1960s, it was around 50... and to be honest, the increase in commercial time for American does have some advantages...

This episode begins with a space chase that showcases a big red light on the helmsman's console that flashes when the Enterprise overloads its engines to save the ship that it is pursuing from a killer asteroid field. It should have frankly been flashing up for writers when they made this dragged out mess of an episode.

The ship is destroyed, but the crew manage to rescue the 'captain' of the vessel and his 'cargo', three women dressed like they're going to a party at a Bond villain's mansion. The late William Theiss (who, I've discovered, actually died of AIDS, a truly horrible way to go) is well known for his half-way-to-a-Janet-Jackson designs for female guest characters on Star Trek, but he also gives us this Space Oddity:

http://tos.trekcore.com/hd/albums/1x06hd/muddswomenhd294.jpg
The captain is a con artist (something we learn via a hilarious scene with a computer lie detector that reminded me of a scene in The Simpsons) by the name of Harry Mudd. He looks like he's going to a 70s disco night on a cruise ship... my own ancillary research confirms the term 'disco' was already in the English language by this time.

The women turn out to have a strangely hypnotic effect on nearly the entire male crew of the ship (the good old lack of focus trick appearing again), bar Mr Spock and it's clear from the get-go something is dodgy.

The recovery of the crew has resulted in the ship wrecking its "lithium crystals" (something that will later get a retcon to the fictional 'dilithium') and needing to go to a mining colony to get some more. Unfortunately we then proceed to get some dragged out scenes involving some very boring miners (no pun intended) and some bad orbital physics... unless the transporter can't work very high above a planet's surface.

I'm going to devote my last comment to the Captain's Log. A great tool for exposition, but sometimes it seems that there's no conceivable way Kirk would have time to make the entries.

Conclusion

There's a well-worn plot here that's for sure, but it's packed with more padding than my Warhammer 40,000 miniatures. There's not a great deal good in this episode and I was bored by the end of it.

4/10

 

12 March 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett 1948-2015

The massively renowned fantasy author has died aged 66.

I first encountered the brilliant Discworld series at school - initially via Guards! Guards! Since then, I have read nearly all of that series and a few of his other works. A superb and highly influential writer for many, including myself, the world of literature is much poorer for his passing.

Rest in Peace.

Daughter of International Conspiracy (Review: 'The Blacklist' 2.9/2.10, "Luther Braxton")

Ah Silent, a pleasure to meet you at last. I understand that you're a fan of my little escapades with Agent Keen. I recently had a rather thrilling adventure in the Bering Sea with her and would really like to know what you think. Now be nice... but also be honest. Your life may depend on it.


http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/blacklist/images/9/99/The_Blacklist_Season_2.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20140715155638
It is said that demons run when a good man goes to war. They also run when Raymond Reddington is in town.

****
For those of you not familiar with the show (which this two-parter allows for) let me give the general gist of it:

For over 20 years, one of the FBI's most wanted men is one former US naval officer by the name of Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader). Known as the "Concierge of Crime", he is a master criminal with a fine line in fedoras, snappy suits and dark humour. One day, for some unknown reason, he suddenly walks into FBI headquarters and surrenders himself. He then proposes the immunity deal to end all immunity deals: he will give them information on a 'blacklist' of criminals that they don't even know about and help bring them to justice. There's one condition: he will only talk to rookie profiler Elizabeth "Liz" Keen (Megan Boone), who he seems to have some mysterious connection with. A special task force is set up to work with Reddington, who as each of the Blacklisters rears their (in some cases seriously messed-up e.g. The Stewmaker) head in some form, assists them in stopping them; a move that more often than not results in said crook ending up dead. As Liz Keen heads into the darkness (and gains several levels in combat skills in the process), other questions emerge:

  • Is Raymond her dad?
  • What is going on with her husband?
  • What's Raymond's real agenda?
  • Whose idea was that, now mercifully consigned to whichever foetid hole it came from, wig?
****
In this two-parter, the first part of which aired after this year's Super Bowl, Reddington is suddenly captured in Hong Kong, which allows for a brief info-dump via news reports of this for those just tuning in after the Patriots won 28-24. He is then taken to a CIA black site in the Bering Sea known as The Factory, where detainees trained to resist torture are 'broken'. Now, Reddington doesn't do things for no reason - and the reason he's allowed this to happen is because the facility holds one Luther Braxton, a master thief who has crossed elegant swords with Red before... and is after something else the facility prevents. He breaks out of his cell and takes control of the facility, just before Liz and two of her colleagues arrive. Things are about to get very shooty-shooty.

****

It's entirely fair to say that this show wouldn't be anywhere as good as it is without James Spader, a man with three Emmy wins and three Golden Globe nominations (two of the latter for this show). He imbues Red with a considerable charm - and also a considerable ruthlessness; in one case in this episode, he casually shoots a guy dead without compunction because of his cartel's actions against him. And that's not even the most dark thing he does, oh no. Do not hold him up unnecessarily - he does not like that at all.

Liz Keen is, if we're being honest here, your fairly standard Action Girl (she's kicked more backside than she's done profiling by a long chalk) with a Mysterious Past. She's not a bad lead (Boone is very much a Marmite actor among the fandom - I'm on the 'like' side) and serves as audience surrogate well here. In the second half, Boone gets a chance to show off her range a bit more via some water-boarding and hypnotherapy to attempt to recover some massive key piece of information that is possibly buried in her subconscious. This type to Bad Convulsive Fits results in some more answers about said Mysterious Past (but also far more questions) and some general trippy stuff. Must say that Keen rocks the black leather jacket well too.

The FBI Task Force of course consists of other people, most notably fellow Fed Donald Ressler and Mossad operative Samir Navabi, who with the departure of Ziva David from NCIS, along with the cancellation of Covert Affairs, takes the title of "Best Current Israeli Character on US Television" quite easily. Ressler's job is general suspect intimidation, but we get a rather jarring moment when he reveals knowledge of dipole antennae. Samir spends much of the first episode literally hanging around and doesn't do much of note in the second.

Luther Braxton is played by Ron Perlman, best known for his role in Sons of Anarchy, which I've never actually seen. He does a decent enough job as the titular villain in this two parter, but as Blacklist members go, there have been considerably better. I wouldn't want a return for him anyway.

We do get some good support - the members of an international sinister group do well, but best guest performance goes to Janel Maloney (aka Donna Moss from The West Wing) as a rather callous government official willing to let people die in the name of plausible deniability; not to mention kill a few as well.

The action is largely confined to the first half of the two-parter and if we're being honest, is by far the best thing of a rather dull episode. Reddington is very much a silenced pistol kind of bloke and Liz spends most of episode two tied to something, so we don't get much action out of those two.

One final note - obvious CGI in the cliffhanger. Seriously, with few exceptions, model making for television is a lost art...

****
Conclusion

A rather dull opener is made up for by a well played second half that moves along the overall arc nicely. Hopefully the rest of the run is a bit better, but this is still a good show - it has been renewed for a third season and the Syndication Gods Rule (every US network TV show at 66 or more episodes at close of its third season has gotten a fourth) means we'll be seeing a good deal more.

7/10

Bravo, Mr. Hunter. Bravo. For that, I won't kill you. I'll have to take a rain check on the Pop Tarts though, they smell delicious.

11 March 2015

Jeremy Clarkson

I am a fan of Top Gear. While I'm no car expert, I enjoy the challenges, the humorous banter and of course, the Stig.

However, it is entirely right that a person accused of what is a sackable offence should be suspended (with pay) until an investigation can establish the facts. If Clarkson attacked a producer, he needs to be sacked - he was in the Last Chance Saloon as is. He may be the BBC's equivalent of J Edgar Hoover i.e. someone you want in the tent rather than outside it, but an example needs to be made.

The show is bigger than him - if he goes (and it's a question of when, rather than if, considering his big mouth), he can and should be replaced.

05 March 2015

TV Debates

They're dominating the news again.

I don't think that the DUP really have much of an argument to take part in the debates - they're a very small party unlikely to even win a majority of seats in Northern Ireland. Inviting them means that you have to invite the other four parties in NI with seats.

Personally, if we're going to have the debates, let's limit it to those polling more than 5% nationally - Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems, UKIP and the Greens.

Also I think Cameron is running scared - every incumbent PM except for Brown has frustrated debates as they'd had too much to lose.

03 March 2015

Danger at the sign of the One-Horned Dog (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.5, "The Enemy Within")

Between watching the first part of this episode and watching the rest of it, the world lost Leonard Nimoy. He definitely lived long and prospered; his contribution to sci-fi in general through his role as Spock cannot be underestimated.

This watch-through will be tinged with a lot more sadness as a result.

Rest in Peace.

****
When watching the original series, I frequently encounter sights so ridiculous looking by modern standards that it causes me to actually burst into laughter. In this case, it's this little puppy:

http://media.tumblr.com/910350fbdacfdc52b2fd3686c91b2c2a/tumblr_inline_mk7eocAOfz1qz4rgp.jpg 



He's both adorable and ridiculous. Shame he's not in Star Trek Online.

"The Enemy Within" sees a freak transporter accident split Kirk into "good" and "evil" versions - and as a result, Sulu and the rest of the away party are stranded on a planet where the temperature is rapidly plummeting.

Good and evil versions of a character are a much mined sci-fi plot and Star Trek provides another classic example of it; but with a good twist not done by most of those that have followed - they can't kill the evil version. Also, the lack of a 'darker' part in the good version slowly saps Kirk of the decisiveness a commander needs to function. Both elements remind me of Red Dwarf episodes - also, those are very clean engineering decks. We also get to see some more Shatner ham as his moodily lit bad version gets to sweat and yell a lot.

McCoy says "He's dead, Jim", one of the classic Trek lines, for the first time and Spock gets some very good stuff; acting as the 'logical' counterpoint to Kirk's very emotional side. This is also the debut of the Vulcan nerve pinch, much imitiated in playgrounds, I'd imagine.


The final confrontation between Kirks on the bridge is definitely in line with the plot; but there's some bad editing with the "evil" Kirk getting his image reversed. In a time where the "final cut" literally involved scissors, it's understandable, but still...


Something that needs particular attention is "evil" Kirk attempting to rape Janice Rand. It's a shocking scene by any standards, but what surprises me most (and it probably shouldn't do) is the way it's handled. Rand is interviewed about her attack by three male officers (including "good Kirk" and not provided with any support for what must have been a highly traumatic incident. In fact, Spock later makes a rather distasteful joke about it.

Conclusion

Another good episode, but docked down a point for some bad editing and some dodgy attitudes to sexual assault.

7/10