Sunday, 31 July 2011

“From The Smell Of The Air..."

Is how Paul Cornell's Ninth Doctor determines where and when the TARDIS has landed in the Doctor Who webcast Scream Of The Shalka, he continues "...England, 2003."

This was the year that the war in Iraq began, the human genome was sequenced, the use of mobile phones whilst driving was made illegal in the UK, Beagle 2 attempted to land on Mars and the largest hailstone ever recorded fell in Nebraska.

In 2003, I was in Spa, WAR: RAW, e-Merge and Pyramus & Thisbe, and I directed Far Away whilst at university.

These are a few of my favourite things from 2003:

The Station Agent
I could wax lyrical about this film here, but I already have elsewhere, so I won't. Here's the trailer.

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
The final film of the trilogy that redefined the meaning of the word epic is a worthy ending. Amidst the grandness of the battles and the destinies fulfilled, this film is about the four Hobbits turning the tide in their own ways. In my opinion the epilogue is justly earned by now. Here's the trailer.

A Mighty Wind
Christopher Guest's touching mockumentary follows folk music groups of yesteryear reforming for a concert and has such a great ensemble cast: Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Paul Dooley, Fred Willard, Ed Begley, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Guest himself are all phenomenal. The 'six months later' coda is heartbreaking. Here's the trailer.

Anything Else
Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci star in Woody Allen's as a couple whose relationship is full of contradictions in a city full of character who are equally full of contradictions. Allen himself is great as Dobel, a Jewish Atheist comedy writer with an extraordinary vocabulary and a loaded gun in every room. Here's the trailer.

American Splendor
Lots of comic book adaptations try to feel like a comic book and fail. The movie version of Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical comic is a resounding success. This film is part drama, part documentary, but the result is a metafictional masterpiece. Paul Giamatti and Judah Friedlander are great as Pekar and Toby Radloff, but the presence of the real Pekar and Radloff is genius and gives the film a sense of authenticity. Here's the trailer.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Showtime; Potential; The Killer In Me; First Date; Get It Done; Storyteller; Lies My Parents Told Me; Dirty Girls; Empty Places; Touched; End Of Days; Chosen
The beginning of the end. The Slayer, the Scooby Gang and the Potential Slayers go on the offensive against The First in Showtime. Giles and Anya's negotiations with Torg and the telepathic conference scene between Buffy, Xander and Willow are great. For a while Dawn is a Potential Slayer and then she's not, Michelle Trachtenberg conveys Dawn’s initial denial of her calling, acceptance, then disappointment at not being chosen and Xander's last speech is beautiful. The Killer In Me sees both Alyson Hannigan and Adam Busch playing Willow and once again the former's tears almost reduce me to the same. Never kill a boy on the First Date is a lesson that almost didn't get learned twice as Buffy and Principal Wood go on a date that reveals a bit of the latter's backstory and D.B. Woodside is great, and unlucky-in-love Xander's dating efforts see a return to the demon magnet days of yore. Buffy's eulogy to deceased potential Slayer Chloe in Get It Done is fantastic and the last shot is epic. Storyteller is astonishing. Tom Lenk's central performance leaves you wondering how they managed with out Andrew for as long as they did. His revisionist history and daydreams are hilarious and his commentary on Buffy's current tendency to make speeches is very welcome. James Marsters and Caroline Lagerfelt are phenomenal in Lies My Parents Told Me which sees the creation of the Spike we know and love and his mother's post-death epiphany is uncomfortable. Faith returns from stint on Angel (see below) to lend a hand in Dirty Girls, an episode which is disturbing in so many ways. For a series that is about feminine power, the misogynistic preacher Caleb is the Big Bad the series always deserved and Nathan Fillion's performance is outstanding, but it's still difficult to listen to his sermons and his killing of potentials and mutilating Xander makes for a terrifying debut. The aptly-named Empty Places is bleak as Buffy pushes her army too far while morale is at its lowest and they turn on her, Spike and Andrew's road trip scenes, the Willow visiting the now-monocular Xander in hospital and Anya's "lucky" speech are the highlights. With Faith in charge in Touched the First appears to her as the Mayor and it's great to see Eliza Dushku and Harry Groener back together. End Of Days sets everyone in motion for the finale but along the way gives Anya some great lines while nursing the mortally wounded, Dawn's reaction to Buffy's letter is so unexpected and Anya and Andrew's wheelchair fight is hilarious. And so to the last ever episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, it's fantastic: Caleb's death, the Buffy and Angel cookie dough scene that succeeds in having its cake and eating it too, Dawn's kick, Xander's "Party in my eye socket" line, Dungeons & Dragons, Spike's drawing of Angel, the army of Turok-Hans, Willow's spell, the closing of the Hellmouth, Wood's surprise, the last shot, the Grrr Argh monster, all of it. In short, Chosen is perfect.

Angel: Habeas Corpses; Long Day's Journey; Awakening; Soulless; Calvary; Salvage; Release; Orpheus; Players; Inside Out; Shiny Happy People; The Magic Bullet; Sacrifice; Peace Out; Home; Conviction; Just Rewards; Unleashed; Hell Bound; Life Of The Party; The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco; Lineage; Destiny
The fourth season of Angel spring cleans as The Beast massacres Wolfram & Hart in Habeas Corpses and the bodies that litter their offices become an army of zombies. Everybody loves zombies. The Beast takes Los Angeles on a Long Day's Journey into perpetual night and Jack Kehler's Manny is very endearing. Awakening completely had me fooled and makes fascinating watching second time around. After three and a half years of alluding to the possibility, Angel is finally Soulless and it was worth the wait. Even from inside a cage he still manages to divide if not quite conquer the rest of Angel Investigations. Calvary has a lot going for it: Angelus impersonating Angel, the sight of apocalyptic Los Angeles littered with bodies and the ending is so shocking. After a great scene between Wesley and Lilah's corpse, Salvage sees the welcome return of Eliza Dushku as Faith, Angelus versus The Beast and builds toward another in a series of great shock endings. The supernatural soap opera continues in Release as Cordy manipulates Connor, Wesley tortures a witness for information and proves to Faith she can beat Angelus, yet another surprising cliffhanger ending and Andy Hallett is finally in the opening titles, about bloody time. Orpheus drags Angelus and Faith through flashbacks of previously unseen parts of Angel's past, the Angel versus Angelus fight is great and Willow's visit is delightful. Hope Shin is wonderfully sarcastic as Players almost makes Gunn an accessory to her kidnapping, and allows Team Angel to catch up to the audience that Cordelia is evil in a very theatrical scene. Inside Out drives a bigger wedge between Connor and the gang, leaves you questioning the events of the previous 82 episodes and destiny versus free will, brings back Skip which is always good and sees Cordelia give birth in another great cliffhanger. Cordelia's child, Jasmine, turns everyone into Shiny Happy People in an interesting variation on the apocalypse and when Fred becomes immune to the effects, her friends turn on her. Jasmania grips Los Angeles, with Fred as the only dissenter, The Magic Bullet is astounding, a view into a quiet revolution, Lorne's open mic night is hilarious and the reactions to the come down as Jasmine's true face is revealed to each member of Angel Investigations. They go on the run in Sacrifice, but Jasmine's eyes are everywhere. The Jasmaniacs speaking with her voice is very creepy and Jeff Ricketts is great as the demon. Peace Out sees Jasmine vanquished and it's interesting that since returning free will to the people prevents world peace, does that make Angel the villain of the piece? The Jasmine storyline has been a refreshing attempt at dramatising a philosophical argument. Wolfram & Hart is back in Home which feels like the pilot episode for a new show entirely as Angel Investigations debate whether or not to accept an offer to take over the LA branch of the law firm. Each member of Team Angel is tempted in a different way and Connor gets a fresh start. It's such a great idea that gives Angel a maxim. If Buffy was ‘High school is hell’, the new Angel paradigm asks: ‘can you stay true to yourself within the belly of the beast?’
The fifth and final season begins with Conviction and reveal show each of the former members of Angel Investigations is settling into the shades of grey of Wolfram & Hart. The teaser opening shows how much life has changed for Angel himself, Harmony's scenes are great, as is Fred's “work the problem” speech, but Gunn's legal downloading is a great development and J. August Richards makes the courtroom drama a joy to watch. Spike returns as a ghost and fits in remarkably easily as Just Rewards makes he and Angel a definite double act. James Marsters does a great job of showing his fragility in the light of his non-corporeal form. A werewolf is Unleashed in Nina and Jenny Mollen plays her uncertainty beautifully, John Billingsley is great as Royce and his comeuppance is harsh, if deserved. Hell Bound sees Spike haunted by Wolfram & Hart’s past while only Fred is fighting his corner, Marsters and Acker are great as usual and what is probably the most horrific episode of Angel ends with Angel making another very harsh call. Andy Hallett is wonderful as the put-upon Lorne who is the Life Of The Party, it's all too much for him and the rest of the company acting out his wishes are all very funny. The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco is a lot of fun and Los Hermanos Numeros are a very distinctive and endearing Mexican wrestling (and crime fighting) team with references to El Robotico Diabolo peppered through out are a lovely touch. Alexis Denisof gets another chance to shine in Lineage and Roy Dotrice is formidable as Wesley's father Roger Wyndam-Pryce. Destiny recorporealises Spike with a brilliant lack of fuss, sets both Spike and Angel vying for the Shanshu prophecy's attention and have a truly epic fight about it, the flashbacks are wonderful and ends with a great reveal.

Firefly: Trash; The Message; Heart Of Gold
Cancelled long before its time, the last three episodes of Firefly leave you wanting more. Christina Hendricks returns as Saffron in the aptly-named Trash. It's another great ensemble piece with a twist on the standard heist movie story. Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres are as great as ever as Mal and Zoë deliver The Message. From its bovine alien opening scene, to Jayne's cunning hat to a wonderful performance by Jonathan M Woodward as Tracey, this episode is touching and funny throughout. Heart Of Gold is Firefly at its wild westiest and it speaks to the morals of the show. I can't recommend this show highly enough.

Enterprise: Cease Fire; Future Tense; Judgment, Regeneration; Twilight; North Star; Similitude; Carpenter Street
The situation between the Vulcans and Andorians heats up and Cease Fire places humanity in the middle, but this is another chance for Jeffrey Combs, Gary Graham and Suzie Plakson to shine. Future Tense features a time travelling ship that is bigger on the inside, sound familiar? Everyone is fighting over the ship, time is ‘hiccupping’ and then it all turns out to be for nothing. Judgment is a slice of Klingon justice, sees a return to Rura Penthe and J.G. Hertzler being bloody fantastic. From a prequel to Star Trek VI, to a sequel to the eighth film as Enterprise takes on the Borg in Regeneration, darker in tone than most episodes and successfully turns the cybernetic organisms back into the implacable foe that they were before their over exposure on Voyager. The search for the Xindi superweapon begins and the series spends a lot of time in macho posturing. It's difficult not to see this as a reaction to 9/11 and feels like Enterprise trying to be 24. Strangely things pick up when all is lost and we get a glimpse at a future after Earth has been destroyed, sort of, in Twilight. Another episode which bucks the trend is North Star which concerns humans abducted from the wild west confronted with the truth of their existence three hundred years later. Similitude is an allegory for human cloning for medical reasons and stem cell research. Archer and T’Pol visit their most depraved planet yet and it turns out to be Earth in 2004. Prostitution, onscreen hypodermic injections and the wonderful Leland Orser as an American with a very casual attitude to getting paid by what he presumes are terrorists: Carpenter Street is definitely not what Gene Roddenberry had in mind when he started it all, but this is Star Trek at its grittiest.

Farscape: Terra Firma; A Constellation Of Doubt; Prayers; We're So Screwed; Bad Timing
After showing us how aliens react to us, Terra Firma and A Constellation Of Doubt show how we react to them. The optimism of Farscape's first episode has been replaced by post 9/11 paranoia while John has been away and we don't come off well. The search for Aeryn takes Crichton and Scorpius back to an unrealized reality in Prayers and then into Scarran territory in the We’re So Screwed three-parter which raises the stakes higher and higher until Bad Timing comes along and boldly ends the series on its best ever cliffhanger.

The Quite Interesting quizzing begins with a series that takes in Astronomy, Arthropods & Alans among others.

Peep Show
The first series of the sitcom made up entirely of POV shots is a real breath of fresh air. Highlights include Jez's tirade at his uncle's humanist funeral and Mark convincing himself he's “not a paedo”.

Star Wars: Clone Wars Chapters One to Ten
Genndy Tartakovsky's traditionally animated series of the events between Episodes II and III is better than the rest of Star Wars put together. It has a sense of style and humour. Highlights include Kit Fisto's underwater lightsabre duel and everything the Banker does.

Futurama: Kif Gets Knocked Up A Notch; Less Than Hero; Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles; The Why Of Fry; The Sting; The Farnsworth Parabox; Three Hundred Big Boys; Spanish Fry; Bend Her; Obsoletely Fabulous; Bender Should Not Be Allowed On Television; The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings
Amy struggles with the commitment when Kif Gets Knocked Up A Notch and the holo-shed scenes, Motherhood mode and the Grand Midwife are all great. Less Than Hero sees Fry, Leela and Bender becoming superheroes in an episode that is a lot of fun and features another great song. The Planet Express crew are youthasized and keep getting younger in Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles and Farnsworth, Zoidberg and Bender de-ageing is real highlight. The Why Of Fry is a brilliant sequel to The Day The Earth Stood Stupid and draws together several strands of series continuity to create another really touching episode. The Sting is an astonishing piece of work, a beautiful episode with a great twist. The many and varied parallel universes that The Farnsworth Parabox are fantastic. Nixon gives everyone Three Hundred Big Boys as a tax rebate and the ensuing and interweaving spending sprees are all brilliant. Spanish Fry gives us a great public information film about Bigfoot, another great instalment of The Scary Door and some great nob gags. Robonia’s National Anthem and Coilette’s soap opera goodbye to Calculon are fantastic when Bender switches gender in Bend Her. Bender’s downgrade in Obsoletely Fabulous is great and there’s another great twist in the tale. The almost prophetically-titled Bender Should Not Be Allowed On Television is fantastic, the metafictional announcement, the caption underneath a flaming Bender and his final speech to camera are hilarious. The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings, the opera Fry dedicates to Leela is wonderful as is the Robot Devil musical plea to get his hands back. The first last ever episode of Futurama was a beautiful send off until thankfully it wasn’t.

The Second Coming
Christopher Eccleston, Lesley Sharp and Mark Benton are all excellent in this story about the return of the son of God to Earth. As the unwitting messiah convinces the world with his Maine Road miracle in Manchester and asks for humanity to write a third testament, the forces of the devil move to stop him. Russell T. Davies’ script is bold and deals with such massive questions in such a convincing way.

Marion & Geoff
The second season of in-car monologues from Rob Brydon is as good as the first. Brydon's character Keith Barret works as a chaffeur, finds himself on the edge of an extra extra-marital affair and gives up on one happy ending for another.

The Polyphonic Spree: The Beginning Stages Of…
The relentlessly upbeat nature of Tim Delaughter’s cultish robed band is impossible not to like. The feel good factor of this twenty-something piece band is extraordinary.
Stand out tracks: 'Have A Day/Celebratory', 'It's The Sun', 'La La', 'Hanging Around The Day' parts 1 & 2, 'Soldier Girl', 'Light And Day/Reach For The Sun'

Relaxed Muscle: A Heavy Nite With…
The sound of young Doncaster has arrived. Darren Spooner and Wayne Marsden’s only album (so far) is brash electro-rock with a Jarvis Cocker-like talent for deceptively subtle lyrics.
Stand out tracks: '3 Way Accumulator', 'Billy Jack', 'Rod Of Iron', 'Tuff It Out', 'Sexualized', 'B-Real', 'Battered', 'Mary'

Placebo: Sleeping With Ghosts
A rocky and electronic sonic landscape with bleak lyrics predominantly concerning relationships in different stages of failure.
Stand out tracks: 'English Summer Rain', 'Sleeping With Ghosts', 'The Bitter End'

Eels: Shootenanny!
The fifth album is a beautiful slice of Americana that gets its title from a phrase coined by E defined as "a social gathering at which participants engage in folk singing and sometimes dancing, but mostly the shooting of guns." The influences lean more towards blues than the folkiness that the title implies, but the lyrics are as cynical as ever.
Stand out tracks: 'All In A Day‘s Work', 'Saturday Morning', 'Love Of The Loveless', 'Dirty Girl', 'Rock Hard Times', 'Restraining Order Blues'

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon
A murder mystery seen through the eyes of a fifteen year old boy with Asperger's Syndrome. A portrayal that is both very funny and very touching.

Y: The Last Man: Cycles; One Small Step; Comedy & Tragedy 1
The Amazons catch up to Yorick and friends in the idyllic town of Marrisville and the last man has a confrontation with his sister in Cycles. Yorick may not be the last man on Earth much longer as One Small Step concerns two more in orbit around the planet and changes the landscape. The first part of Comedy & Tragedy concerns the writing of a play about The Last Man and reveals that times may change but tastes remain constant.

Doctor Who: Oblivion 4-6; Where Nobody Knows Your Name; The Curious Tale Of Spring Heeled Jack; The Land Of Happy Endings
The TV show's ruby anniversary year is a tumultuous one for the comic strip, beginning with the latter half of Oblivion, which compares Izzy and Destrii's lives, notably in a beautiful double page 'telepathic conference'. This strip returns Izzy and Destrii to their own bodies and gives them both a great sendoff as Destrii and Jodafra head off in their own time machine, while Izzy is honest with Fey about her feelings and asks the Doctor to take her home in a beautiful ending for the longest serving comics companion. Where Nobody Knows Your Name is a nice little strip in which two old friends who’ve changed appearances sit and chew the fat without ever realising who the other one was. The Curious Tale Of Spring Heeled Jack is brilliant as it addresses the expectations of the reader and repeatedly confounds them. Dr Who and his grandchildren, John and Gillian, visit The Land Of Happy Endings with a script and art that evokes the TV Comic strips of old, very funny with a beautifully sad ending.

Fray: The Gateway; All Hell
The big showdown for Joss Whedon’s futuristic Slayer is every bit as epic as a TV season finale. Buffy Summers may have lived and fought demons above a hellmouth, but Melaka Fray is faced with a colossal demon whose womb is itself a gateway to a hell dimension. The emotional fallout of the manipulation of Melaka is huge and I look forward to seeing more Fray in the future.

Futurama: The Game
Play as Fry, Leela, Bender and briefly Zoidberg as you attempt to foil Mom’s latest evil scheme in this enjoyable 3D platform game with great cut scenes that really feel like an episode of the TV show (see above).

Doctor Who: Shada; Scream Of The Shalka
The fortieth anniversary of Doctor Who inspires a burst of creativity. Paul McGann is no longer 'the George Lazenby of Doctor Who' as the Eighth Doctor returns to complete Shada, the unfinished (and fantastic) TV script by Douglas Adams from 1979 as a webcast and the result is wonderful. McGann's performance is positively gleeful. Romana and K-9 are reunited with the Doctor and both Lalla Ward and John Leeson are marvellous. Andrew Sachs is delightfully evil as Skagra, Melvin Hayes is wonderful as Wilkin, Lee Sullivan’s illustrations are beautiful and the animation, although simple, really does make the most of them.
With the return of Doctor Who to TV screens looking unlikely, BBCi decided to regenerate the Doctor and make a fresh start. Richard E. Grant is the Ninth Doctor, albeit briefly, in Scream Of The Shalka, Paul Cornell’s dark and brooding Earth invasion story and the description of Kim’s demise is one of the most horrific things in Doctor Who dialogue. Sophie Okonedo is great as Alison and Derek Jacobi's Master is fantastic and I suppose the legacy of what turned out to be false dawn for the Doctor.

Star Trek - Fables And Folklore: The Young Hunter
A Klingon child on his first hunting trip and his grandfather recounts The Legend Of Gorath. On face of it, this parable is simply the Klingon equivalent of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but it paints a larger picture of Klingon mythology. The animation is simple, but the design is great. It's a shame this didn't lead to more of these Starfleetless tales.

Cockaigne by Vincent Desiderio
Named after a mythical land of plenty Vincent Desiderio’s Cockaigne beautifully illustrates the effects of a genuine land of plenty and the tangled webs we weave in clutter and stuff.

Recommendations welcome.


Anonymous said...

Today is good poorly, isn't it?

Dave said...

I'm going to go with...yes.