Thursday, 31 March 2011

"To Take One Breath In 2007..."

"...and the next in 1920 is a strange way to start a new life, but a new life is exactly what I've always wanted" so says Kathy in Doctor Who's Blink (see below). Continuing my countdown: on to 2007...

This is the year that former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, the Writer's Guild of America went on strike and a 2,100-year-old melon was discovered by archaeologists in western Japan.

Workwise I was in General Strike 1926, the Autism ads, Dickens Of A Christmas 2007 and wrote and appeared in the first of the Behind The Bike Shed shows and Train Of Thought.

There Will Be Blood
Epic. A film about conmen. The oil man, the evangelical preacher and the long lost half brother are three men all trying to blag their way into money, with mixed success. Here's the trailer.

I was not expecting to love a film about teenage pregnancy. I was expecting a movie-of-the-week-style cautionary tale, but this film is different. It sets up a set of characters you assume you've seen countless times elsewhere: the disapproving stepmother, the quirky best friend, the apparently ineffectual boyfriend. You then assume you know how they'll react. You are wrong. Here's the trailer.

Following the Great Fire of London, several insurance companies set up their own fire brigades to mitigate future losses. Naturally they would only put out fires that affected buildings that they insured, presumably watching many a structure burn to the ground. So it is with the US Healthcare system. To the outside eye, it's terrifying. I should point out that there have been many criticisms of the information presented in this film, but even if only 10% of it were true, you would still have a problem. Universal healthcare can't come to the USA quickly enough. Here's the trailer.

Hot Fuzz
After the success of Shaun Of The Dead, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg could have simply given us a sequel, but instead we have a police procedural in which Britain's best kept village meets The Wicker Man with very funny results. Here's the trailer.

The Darjeeling Limited (and Hotel Chevalier)
Hotel Chevalier is a short film which precedes the main feature, a vignette of relationship awkwardness. Followed by The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson's tale of three brothers on a journey of forced spirituality across India which references the former throughout. Colours are heightened, the soundtrack is fantastic and the use of Anderson's 'repertory' company is oddly reassuring. Here's the trailer.

This Is England
With a uniformly great cast and soundtrack, Shane Meadows' portrait of skinhead culture in Thatcher's Britain is fantastic. Here's the trailer.

World Of Wrestling
Despite never having seen old school Big Daddy versus Giant Haystacks-style wrestling, Tim Plester's short film tribute to professional wrestling (and night buses) still had me in stitches. Here's a trailer.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Invasion Of The Bane; Revenge Of The Slitheen; Eye Of The Gorgon; Warriors Of Kudlak; Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane?; The Lost Boy
Sarah Jane Smith gets her own TV show. Again. This first series is the most consistent yet. Invasion Of The Bane shows the series arriving with a bang, the relationships between the characters are almost fully formed already and features great performances from Elisabeth Sladen, Yasmin Paige, Thomas Knight, Joseph Millson and Juliet Cowan. It takes the arrival of Daniel Anthony as Clyde in Revenge Of The Slitheen to give us the series proper. Slitheen in school and a wonderful turn from Ian Midlane. On the face of it, Eye Of The Gorgon and Warriors Of Kudlak are slight tales about killer nuns and aliens using children in to fight their war respectively. Both deal with the consequences of some adult themes in the perfect way for the target audience, namely Alzheimer's syndrome in the former, and the Iraq war and the families left behind in the latter. As the series gets better it gets darker, with the first appearance of the Trickster in Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane? The story deals with an alternate reality in which Sarah died at 13 year old and the chaos that ensues without her to protect the Earth. Crucially the price of getting Sarah back is still the death of a 13 year old girl, something that seems unlikely in Doctor Who itself. The season finale, The Lost Boy, systematically takes the Bannerman Road gang apart and makes their world a little bleaker. The TV appeal of Luke's real parents is a horrific sight on children's television, but with Alan wanting to move Maria out of harms way, Chrissie informing on Sarah, Mr Smith turning on Sarah and imprisoning Clyde, it seems like just as they are on the verge divided they fall K9 saves the day. I cheered.

Torchwood: Captain Jack Harkness; End Of Days
The first season draws to a close with this double bill. You might expect an episode called Captain Jack Harkness to enlighten us about Jack's past. Instead it sees Jack and Tosh travel back to 1941 where they meet the real Captain Jack Harkness, the man whose identity our Jack has appropriated. They have more in common than a name and there is a touching romantic encounter between the Jacks. Back in the present all hell breaks loose in End Of Days as the Rift splinters, Cardiff is the epicentre of the apocalypse and everything but the kitchen sink attacks. Murray Melvin's Bilis Manger is the making of these two episodes and it is bizarre that we haven't seen him since.

Doctor Who: Smith And Jones; The Shakespeare Code; Gridlock; Human Nature & The Family Of Blood; Blink; Utopia; The Sound Of Drums & Last Of The Time Lords; The Infinite Quest; Time Crash
David Tennant's second season begins with a trio of what could justifiably be described as brilliant romps. Smith And Jones ably introduces Freema Agyeman as Martha as very quickly asserts her as the new companion, The Shakespeare Code features some great Shakespearean references without excluding a mainstream audience and Gridlock eases us into more thoughtful territory. A run of six of the best episodes of television ever made begins with Human Nature and The Family Of Blood, Tennant, Agyeman, Harry Lloyd, Thomas Sangster and Jessica Hynes née Stevenson are fantastic in these beautiful Paul Cornell scripts about the Doctor living the life he could never have. Blink is a locked room mystery and a Chinese puzzle box of an episode with a great script from Steven Moffat, a lovely central performance from Carey Mulligan and capitalises brilliantly on something kids can be scared of in everyday life. Derek Jacobi is captivating in Utopia as Professor Yana and as...I did not see that coming. After fleeting mentions, Mr Saxon finally steps onto the world stage in The Sound Of Drums and Last Of The Time Lords and it brings out the best in Martha. Another season finale, another epic, but "the year that never was" is replete with great moments, from the reveal of the identity of the Toclafane to John Simm's absolutely priceless first reaction to the wizened old Doctor with his regenerations suspended. Fantastic. Meanwhile The Infinite Quest is a lovely animated treasure hunt/road movie. Time Crash is a gift to the fans, a multi-Doctor story with paradoxy wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimeyness.

The Thick Of It: The Rise Of The Nutters; Spinners And Losers
No one knows what's going on but no one wants to admit it. People position and reposition themselves as the political winds blow them around. The Rise Of The Nutters sees the espionage between the parties at its height and Malcolm Tucker risks becoming the story, but he finds himself usurped by the events of the cliffhanger ending. Spinners And Losers sees the posturing reach its height in the wake of the Prime Minister's resignation.

Life On Mars
To get the job done Sam Tyler finds himself acting a lot more like Gene Hunt than he did in series one, the will they, won't they? romance between Tyler and Annie Cartwright and Tyler's training of Chris continue, while the 'real' world impinges on Tyler in more surreal ways than before, Camberwick Green, and the test card girl. The last episode is nothing short of spectacular.

The 'E' Series takes in Eating, Espionage, and Everything, Etc and sees panellists searching for the Elephant-In-The-Room.

Family Guy: Blue Harvest
Now this was a really great idea. Recasting Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope with the Family Guy characters and somehow managing to ably tell the story of a two hour movie that I have seen several times in 45 minutes without me noticing any omissions.

The Worst Journey In The World
Mark Gatiss wrote and starred in this outstanding adaptation of Apsley Cherry-Garrard's memoirs of the Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole. As part of the scientific remit of the expedition, they collect penguin's eggs for the Natural History Museum. The tone of Barry Lett's narration is beautiful. The cost proves so high, that the epilogue is heartbreaking.

Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives
E's documentary about the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics of his father, Hugh Everett. His theories were unappreciated in life, but are now almost universally accepted by physicists.

Party Animals
Andrew Buchan, Raquel Cassidy, Shelley Conn & Matt Smith are fantastic in this story of the grubby business of oiling the wheels of government.

Summer Heights High
Chris Lilley's controversial mockumentary follows him playing a trio of characters throughout a year in high school.

Doctor Who: Blood Of The Daleks, Part Two; Horror Of Glam Rock; Human Resources
The Eighth Doctor and Lucie's adventures continue apace. The Daleks show that they make even deadlier friends than they do enemies in the second part of Blood Of The Daleks. They endure the Horror Of Glam Rock in a 1974 motorway service station on the M62 with Aunty Pat. The Headhunter follows them through time and space giving the season an overarching storyline which culminates in the two part finale to the season, Human Resources. It shows the strengths of juxtaposing the mundane with the extraordinary with fantastic success. It turns out that there is nothing scarier to the listener than the Doctor with a job. The real strength of this season has been the chemistry between Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency,
The 'other' character from the pen of Douglas Adams makes it to radio for the first time here and Harry Enfield, Olivia Colman, Andrew Sachs, Felicity Montagu, Jim Carter and Toby Longworth all give great performances in a story featuring electric monks, missing cats and almost prevents the beginnings of life on Earth.

Toby Hadoke's Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf
The story of my childhood, written and narrated by Toby Hadoke, but set a few years earlier, featuring things that may not have happened to me in the future and swapping my name for his own in an attempt to protect the innocent. Featuring Louise Jameson, a very literal minded continuity announcer and no less than five Doctors, but sadly not John Abineri.

The Chain Gang: Picture This
Rob Shearman wrote the first and last episodes with listeners encouraged to resolve the cliffhangers and write the next episode themselves in about 300 words. To say this took surprising twists and turns does not do it justice.

The Hoosiers: The Trick To Life
The public perception of this band probably comes from the jaunty nature of their singles, but tracks like 'Everything Goes Dark' and 'The Trick To Life' reveal a level of depth and complexity which sets them apart.
Stand out tracks: 'Worried About Ray', 'Goodbye Mr A', 'Cops And Robbers', 'Everything Goes Dark', 'The Trick To Life'

The Polyphonic Spree: The Fragile Army
The life affirming choir shun their robes and don black militaristic uniforms. The sound is a little darker but the core message of the Polyphonic Sprites remains the same.
Stand out tracks: 'Together We're Heavy', 'The Fragile Army', 'Younger Yesterday', 'We Crawl', 'Mental Cabaret'

Charlie Brooker's Dawn Of The Dumb
The second collection of The Guardian's Screen Burn column by Charlie Brooker is wonderfully acerbic and takes in a great many TV shows I didn't see at the time and it doesn't matter in the slightest. Brooker's style more than makes up for my missing out on Big Brother or Celebrity Love Island, but it's great to read his palpable joy at the 2005 return of Doctor Who.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home, The Chain Season Eight picks up after the TV show. The Long Way Home acts as a pilot episode setting up the new premise. Xander is co-ordinating an army of Slayers, Dawn is a giant, Willow is forced to use dark magic, Giles is one Watcher among hundreds of Slayers and Buffy needs decoys to protect her identity. Not afraid of referencing the continuity of the TV series and featuring many of its great supporting cast. This is epic in its scope as forces of evil gather in the name of something ironically called 'Twilight'. The Chain concerns the fate of one of Buffy's unnamed decoys and features a beautiful script from Joss Whedon.

Jump Leads: Training Day
The webcomic hits the ground running as Meaney and Llewellyn's journey starts here. Ben Paddon's script sets out the stall well with just the right amount of exposition and the style of Jjar's artwork is already confident. The use of diagrams within speech bubbles is a lovely device.

Doctor Who: The Warkeeper's Crown; The First
It's wonderful to see the Doctor and the Brigadier reunited in the comic strip in The Warkeeper's Crown. The Brig's characterisation is absolutely spot on, pairing him with the Tenth Doctor changes their dynamic as they are both old soldiers, the strip sees them both save the day and ends with a last panel that has taken on a new poignance since the death of Nicholas Courtney. The First sees the Doctor and Martha meet Ernest Shackleton during an Antarctic expedition and encounter the crystalline Skith. The Skith are both beautiful and hideous, complex and simple. They also succeed in feeling starkly alien in a way that many attempts in comics do not and the panels of the 'Skithself' Doctor are terrifying.

Sugarshock!: Battle Royale With Cheeses
Joss Whedon and Fábio Moon's first strip about a band sets up a great premise. Plus the robot wears jeans.

The Thick Of It: Opposition Extra
The events of Spinners And Losers (see above) as seen from the perspective of the opposition. Peter Mannion's contempt for his situation is wonderful and Roger Allam is fantastic.

The YouTubings of Graham Murkett on a myriad of subjects are always worth watching:

Recommendations welcome.

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