Sunday, December 24, 2006

DJ Santa on the wheels of steel

I don't watch telly any more.

I haven't really watched telly in about a year, not conventional telly that you turn on and absorb.
These past months I've been picking and choosing, taking in morsels of programming like flotsam and jetsam, thanks to the TV-on-demand service I get from my internet peoples.
It's down to this that I get to see stuff I might otherwise have missed, like the excellent State of Play, watching the first episode to see what it was like and then ending up watching every episode back-to-back until four in the morning.

Just tonight I caught Born Equal, an excellent ensemble drama dealing with the highs and lows of life in London, from City boy to down-and-out, every word and performance ringing true. But damn is it depressing.
A world of bleak hopelessness and washed-out colour, all of the characters are trapped no matter what their circumstances.
All the locations are recognisable whilst staying away from postcard London, the grime and the drab straight out of reality.

It was a little anticlimatic, then, to have a teaser after the credits rolled telling us that Dracula is back, and he's a buffoon - clicky for duh
Marc Warren? Cuh.
I mean, I don't really care about how the legend of Robin hood gets portrayed, but where will it all end?


The aforementioned TV-on-demand thing is how I keep up to date with Torchwood, never having watched it at the same time as your common or garden viewer.
The second to last episode was unbelievably awful, based around a corny voice-overing dead moron like some twisted sci-fi Starter for Ten, almost vaporising the very idea of entertainment for good.
Then in the last episode they bring out a mostly well-written and acted episode of genuine warmth and free of the 'adult timeslot' bombast of some of the other shows (apart from a bit of sex, which in this case is wrapped in a love story), completely throwing the quality curve of the show, peaks and troughs like the ocean floor.
A fairly unoriginal tale of people from the 50s getting stuck here and how they cope offers only a few glaring "isn't it funny how things change?" and instead goes for the feelings, looking at how people deal with being lost and alone and doing it in a much more successful way than, say, that one with Mel Gibson.
A new angle comes from Captain Jack, ideas of loneliness and immortality - again nothing new but thankfully well handled.
Along with the recent episode dealing with ex-Torchwood member and incredible criminal mastermind this episode is an example of what could have been, had the show not become bogged down in the need for an alien that kills through sex and the "terrifying" stilted movement of a half-cyberwoman who happens to look a lot like the iconic Metropolis Maria-bot. But crap.


You can take the horror director out of the genre, but you can't take the genre out of the director.
This can be shown time and again, as the creators of little indie gore-fests become recognised for their flair and vision and are recruited to helm the studios' latest blockbuster franchise.
Sam Raimi went from the Evil Dead to the international 12A hit Spiderman series, but his roots show through in the octopus arms sequence in number 2, a horror scene to its very pores.
Peter Jackson started out on Bad Taste and the spectacular gunge fest that is Brain Dead, so it's little surprise that his uber-epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy featured a fair few fang-tastic moments, the death of Boromir springing to mind.

Guillermo Del Toro, on the other hand, has never really left horror.
Starting out on his quirky Mexican vampire flick Cronos, Del Toro went on to a typical piece of Hollywood horror fluff, Mimic, which he managed to raise above the average premise (the old chestnut of man-meddling-with-nature) into something halfway decent.
Then entering franchiseland proper, he got to hold the reins on Blade 2 which again, despite being a bit of throwaway action/horror, showed quite a bit of flair hither and thither especially with the hideous new vampire strain unleashed on Blade.
At this point Del Toro felt a little chafed by the restraints of the studios that led to the glass ceiling of above-average films, and produced the Spanish Civli War ghost story The Devil's Backbone, proving that Cronos was not a fluke by filming a picture of remarkable tension in the Old Dark House vein.
After flexing his cinematic muscles, Del Toro returned to Lalaland to take on a new comicbook franchise, Hellboy, whose supernatural origins perfectly suited his genre leanings. Hellboy is one of the better of the recent rash of comicbook adaptations, managing to juggle character development alongside the spectacle as well as bringing the sumptious art of Mike Mignola to life, which for some reason makes me wish it had been Del Toro at the helm of the dire League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

His most recent film, Pan's Labyrinth, comes before the Hellboy sequel and is another marriage of horror and the Spanish Civil War. I'm going to assume you've seen it so spoiler alert.
This time around the fantastical elements of the film do not sit as well with those of the 'real world' of the civil war. With little integration it is easy to believe that the stranger moments of fantasy are all in our heroine Carmen's head, which may help to explain the brutal violence which often is a part of the reality. With the ultra-fascist captain Vidal such an evil baddie, the threat of the fantasy characters is lessened, and the case for the fantasy being just that is strengthened all the more due to the unbearable nature of reality.
Having said this, Pan is still a decent film with some strong ideas and lovely images, not to mention cringeworthy violence and body-horror; the bottling still remaining lodged in the mind, so to speak, with the spectacle of Vidal stitching his own face shut seeming tame in comparison. The fantasy world is suitably earthy, scenes of Carmen squirming in the mud of the bowels of a tree and Pan seemingly hewn from rock and bark himself, the images here all have an edge to them down to the fairies that begin as Del Toro's trademark insectoids. The fantasy of the Labyrinth is a foreboding place but is still preferable to a world where the adults are all mad and no-one listens to little Carmen.
One niggle I can't get over, though, is when Carmen sets off to retrieve the knife and is warned not to touch the food. Of course she can't resist a grape and escapes in the nick of time, but it was maddening to see the rubbish temptation get the most of her. Yes, she'd gone wihtout supper, but she had been warned in no uncertain terms and then had seen the horrible post-liposuction beast at the table, followed by the numerous paintings of it chasing and eating babies. After all this and the fairies desperately warning her, she goes for a grape. So, she's too hungry to be scared, which is bollocks as she's the type of girl to sneak to the kitchen, but even accepting that she doesn't go hog-out and grab a side of beef or handful cake, but risks her neck for a couple of fat grapes. Pah!
Worse than this, perhaps, is the underlying message of the film - to avoid fascism, not take orders blindly but to think for yourself, as pointed out by the couragoeus doctor and Pan himself. This is fair enough, but crazily for a film which unashamedly supports the rebels in the Civil War and their struggle for socialism against the ruthless fascists, the dream end for Carmen is that of the princess of the underworld, ruling her subjects as a monarch.
Unfortunately Pan fares better on the spectacle rather than the content, but is undoubtedly worth watching.


Latest publications include contributions to the Sci fi London anime reviews for November and December and the Big Boss Platinum Edition review for hkcinema. Have a look!


Being a regular reader, you will of course remember my incoherent rant about Hollywood remakes a few months back. With a heavy heart I point you in the direction of the Hitcher trailer, from the producers of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Amityville Horror remakes indeed!
Replacing the more or less everyday looking actors from the original with a bimbo and himbo, and the otherwordly menace of Rutger "Guiness" Hauer with the pie and chips grimace of Sean "Give Blood with 02 in Somerfields" Bean, it can only hope to scale the giddy heights of bearable. God help us all.
Makes the new Die Hard trailer look like a project of breathtaking invention.


You may have seen the advert "Christmas designed by Debenhams" in amongst all the other desperate, screaming snippets urging you to part with cash. Featuring a younger, hipper santa, what once may have sounded like a good idea has turned into some bizarre sub-Aphex Twin clay-faced nightmare. Run Away!

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