30 August 2011

Your existence will continue (Review: 'Doctor Who' 32.8, "Let's Kill Hitler")

Well. Well well well well.


That was not your usual episode of Doctor Who, to put it mildly. You don’t usually get that many revelations in a single episode.


Shortly after Steven Moffat won yet another Hugo,  one approaches “Let’s Kill Hitler” looking forward to an excellent romp with a very interesting title. We got a romp alright, but it was rather a lightweight one. The fact that the story hung together at all was because of the chemistry of the three leads and Alex Kingston.


The pre-titles sequence is classic Moffat-era. Amy and the Doctor creating a crop circle to call the Doctor is something that wouldn’t have happened in the RTD era, let alone the pre-1989 show. Then having their sparky naughty best mate Mels show up and comment that “You never told me he was hot” adds another strange dimension to things, as after the titles we look back at the past of Amy, Rory and Mels.


Crashing in Hitler’s office in Berlin in 1938, where they stop a robot full of tiny people from killing the Fuehrer, things then starting getting very arcy. Mels gets shot – and then regenerates into everyone’s favourite time-travelling archaeologist – River Song. Then the robot decides it’s going to kill River/Melody for the crime of killing the Doctor. Cue some fun in miniature, River stealing people’s clothes and some very polite homicidal security robots.


Alex Kingston is great in this episode. Time Lords do tend to go a bit funny post-regeneration and she is very funny after this one; demonstrating a woman who ultimately is changed for the better by a “good man” (I can see some feminists having a go at the entire River Song arc now).


Gillan and Darvill just go with the flow of the crazy story and demonstrate that they’ve thoroughly settled into the TARDIS by now.


Matt Smith manages to get upstaged by Alex Kingston and to be honest spends much of the time gurning. While he’s certainly proving to be a superb Doctor, this isn’t one of his finer performances, especially nearer the end.


While there are certainly some very interesting science-fiction elements in the plot and the comedy stuff is a treat, there’s a good amount in the episode. Hitler only serves to appear for five minutes and get shoved into a cupboard – this episode could have worked without him and it’s clear the title was just to draw people in – many of whom were going to turn up even if this was called “Tiny People in a Robot”. The whole thing seems to be a mishmash of popular Moffat and even RTD elements, trying to play to the crowd without actually providing a good story. It’s got to rate as one of the Moff’s worst eps.


It’s not to say it’s not good; it definitely creates some interesting plot points and it’s definitely entertaining. It just could have been better – Steven Moffat can do so and has done so. The show will survive at this standard, but it is capable of much more and hopefully we’ll see that.


One last thing – I really like the Doctor’s new coat.



21 August 2011

Number, number, weight, division

It seems that Gaddafi's rule in Libya is heading very much into its final days. If he had any sense, he'd flee into exile. Sadly, I doubt he'll do that.

(the title is from the "writing on the wall" part of the Book of Daniel - a Middle Eastern ruler is killed the night after he finds out what the writing means)

19 August 2011

In which Tokyo gets blown away - literally (Review: 'Akira')

I don't think irony is the correct word for starting to watch a film that features a Japanese city getting blown up in the opening scene on 6 August. If anyone can help with this, please let me know.

Japan has a rather different attitude to the animated medium than "the West". In the latter, animation is viewed very much as a medium for children, with what adult-orientated stuff there is tending to be things like South Park and Family Guy.

The Japanese medium of anime demonstrates a rather more "mature" way of doing things. Seeing that Syfy was showing 1988's Akira (dubbed into English, BTW), considered one of the classics of the medium and a good introductory work, I taped it*. Let me be the first to say that this film is definitely not for the kiddies - the BBFC rated it a 12 in 1988 and you can make a very good case that it should actually be a 15. Strong language, some nudity and a lot of bloody violence dominate the film.

So, onto the plot, an adaptation of a 2182-page six-volume manga that does make some major changes to condense the story into two hours. In 1988, World War Three broke out and in the process Tokyo was destroyed. 31 years later, Tokyo, now Neo-Tokyo, has been rebuilt. However, it's a city very much on the edge. Riots are frequent, as are terrorist attacks. Motorcycle gangs (they're called bōsōzoku in Japan) openly fight each other in the graffiti-covered streets. You wouldn't want to visit there for the upcoming Olympic Games, let alone live there.

A pair of gang members, Kaneda and Tetsuo, are engaging in a running street battle with some clowns (literal clowns, not what Don Flack from CSI:NY would call "clowns", so not one for those with coulrophobia), when Tetsuo sees a mysterious grey kid and crashes his bike. The military arrive and capture the pair of them.

Tetsuo starts developing mysterious - and destructive - powers, such as blowing people away. He escapes and goes on a very violent rampage. Kaneda and his friends, as well as some terrorists he's met along the way, have to stop Tetsuo before it's too late.

The film is a deeply complex one, with dozens of layers and a plot that you really need Wikipedia to fully get to grips with. At times highly trippy (Tetsuo sees some truly weird hallucinations at one point), at others, it is extremely dark. We see Tetsuo, who had been bullied when younger and has an inferiority complex, turn into a truly nasty being, literally and metaphorically. The government of Neo-Tokyo are venal and corrupt, the security forces highly brutal nearly to a man (it's worth noting that the Colonel is the only military character who emerges with any real credit). The word "dystopia" genuinely applies here. The ending is fully understandable, if not necessarily entirely morally justifiable.

The English language voice acting is of a high quality, but special attention must be directed to the animation. With a budget estimated to be over a billion yen (about $11m), a record for a Japanese animation, production was done by a special committee called the AKIRA Committee. Every sen of it shows on the screen. The climax itself features detail in an animation that would be impressive in a Pixar film today.

Problems with Akira? Mostly minor ones of sufficient magnitude when taken together, dock this down a point. I also get a feeling the version I watched got edited a bit for commercial presentation.

However, none of these are sufficient to ruin what is a superb film, which I would highly recommend if you're at all interested in Japanese media. Or just great film in general.


* Mind you, if you're a member of Generation Y, chances are you've watched some anime without knowing it. I'm talking about Pokémon.

14 August 2011

Going beyond the Fringe

I recently purchased the first season of Fringe on DVD and I intend to review every single episode of it on this blog.

Having heard good things about it and being a fan of Alias (the only multiple-season show I own in its entirely on DVD), also by JJ Abrams. I tried out an episode from Season 3. It was very confusing and this show is clearly going to need me to have my brain in gear.

Reviews will be done when I actually watch the episodes, so it might be a while yet.

Also, I'm not going to do a full review of Carte Blanche now. I'll just say that it was very average and while the opening premise was good, it lacked something in the execution.

08 August 2011

London Riots

Please can someone tell me what these people think their actions will achieve. Riots didn't bring down Thatcher, that's for sure.

06 August 2011

Ratings agencies

Standard and Poors have downgraded the US debt rating to AA+ with a negative outlook.

I find myself increasingly wondering how on earth these unelected bodies gained so much power in the global economy.

Message to governments everywhere: act in the interests of the people, not the ratings agencies.