Friday, November 30, 2012

Opening Credits Sequence Theatre: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I always wondered why those llamas never directed any other movies.

Random Who Report: The Mind Robber (1968)

Doctor Who often straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy; current showrunner Steven Moffatt enjoys invoking a fairy tale feeling, and it's a tradition that goes all the way back to the show's misty black-and-white beginnings. "The Mind Robber" is an especially bold step outside the show's traditional trappings of alien monsters and invasions from space, a piece of metafiction taking us into the land of make-believe as if the show didn't exist there already. The fourth-wall breakage may be in the tradition of Sixties surrealism, but it manages to do this without actually shattering our suspension of disbelief. In the end it does some amazing stuff.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Random Who Report: Delta and the Bannermen (1987)

Delta and the Bannermen DVD cover and Amazon link

The 24th season of Doctor Who was produced under trying circumstances. The BBC held off on formally commissioning the series until the last minute, giving producer John Nathan Turner and new script editor Andrew Cartmel very little time to select and prepare scripts. The sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, had been unceremoniously sacked, and BBC head Michael Grade was still leaning on the staff to make the show less dark and more kid-friendly. And to top it off, they were stuck with a season of fourteen twenty-five minute episodes, meaning very little time to actually tell stories.

"Delta and the Bannermen" is not a particularly bad story, but is brought down by a number of problems. It's too short to ever properly explain itself, too chintzy to really resonate, and unabashedly embraces a pantomime feel that, well, is an acquired taste. At the same time, there's a surrealist charm to parts of it, and perhaps we sci-fi fans are a little too sensitive to our media not taking itself seriously enough. If nothing else it is unique.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Favorite Movies: Phantom of the Paradise

Poster and link to the French blu-ray

When people talk about the great movie musicals, there's usually one glaring omission. Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise is a cult classic that, while it's inspired a loyal fanbase, hasn't managed the pop culture prominence of similar offbeat rock musicals like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Little Shop of Horrors. But it deserves better; while comparable to those classics, it's also unique. While De Palma has often gotten flak for imitating and ripping off his forebears, in Phantom he manages to synthesize several classic stories and images into a blistering satire of the music industry set to a truly killer song score. It's one of the most purely cinematic musicals ever made, not only original to the medium but dependent on its tricks. And at the core of all the craziness is something heartfelt.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why You Should Be Watching... Part 3: Underrated Sitcom Round-Up

The cast of Ben and Kate

The current TV season is an embarrassment of riches, and the downside of this is it's easy for good shows to fall through the cracks. There are a few sitcoms struggling in the ratings that I'd like to entreat you to check out, especially if you're a Nielsen family. It's all in the name of good television, I'm sure you'll understand.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

In Theaters: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas poster

Cynicism results when we don't see just consequences to our actions, when crimes go unpunished and good deeds seem to be in vain. Cloud Atlas, a staggering epic of multiple stories and people reborn in era after era, is about a lot of things, but I think it's mostly an argument against cynicism. It posits that all of our actions matter, that every gesture has some impact, if not in our lifetime, then in the next, and in ages afterward. But it's as much a work of pure cinema as a philosophical statement; working from the novel by David Mitchell, Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski have created a film that's wonderfully alive and agile. It's fun and surprisingly lightweight for a three-hour epic, a series of well-spun yarns that work on their own as well as together.