Welcome to the third of my semi-regular Content Sponge! posts where I write about the telly, films and (sometimes) books I have ingested lately.
Doctor Who (Seasons 1-4)
I have deeply disliked Matt Smith as the latest Doctor and his poorly conceived adventures (Spitfires flying in space, multi-coloured Daleks, various stupid hats, pointless babbling) so much, that recently when ABC 2 replayed the seasons 1 to 4 (from its relaunch in 2005 to 2010), I decided to have a look to see if something was off with my sensors. For those playing at home, this was the era of Doctors 9 (Christopher Eccleston) and 10 (David Tennant).
On a second viewing, I still didn’t like the egregiously cute Adipose, the sonic screwdriver that can fix or break anything (except wood), the Doctor’s use of what is more or less magic and I remained unconvinced by the usually excellent John Sim as The Master. (Crappest. Master. Ever.) Seasons 1–4 saw the new Doctor(s) under the aegis of showrunner Russel T. Davies (QUEER AS FOLK, TORCHWOOD). He reconceived The Doctor as a casualty of war who found it difficult to make friends or form relationships. This was the best and effectively most adult part of the show. (3/5)
The show’s creative team changed in season 5. All the touchy-feely stuff has been shorn off in favour of the boys’ own adventures of L’il Matty and his hot girl companions (apologies to the excellent Arthur Darvill). To me, this feels like a retrograde step and an obvious shift back towards DOCTOR WHO’s original young demographic. Clearly relationships in TV science fiction are only for women, gay showrunners and grumpy old Gen X-ers like myself.
Sherlock (Seasons 1-2)
Speaking of the new DOCTOR WHO, current showrunner Steven Moffatt (PRESS GANG, COUPLING) is also responsible for the new Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. Working with Mark Gatis (THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN) the pair have brilliantly re-imagined the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories in modern London. Not only does this television adaptation blow Guy Ritchie’s silly version to smithereens (yes, I like Downey as much you do, but the character is BS), it also makes the 1980s telly version with Jeremy Brett seem rather staid by comparison. Martin Freeman makes a convincing modern Dr Watson and most of the updatings (mobile phone communications, genetic engineering, Watson’s blog) make perfect sense. The first season was good (3/5), the second was even better (4/5).
The Artist (2012)
The 2012 Oscar winner for Best Picture is a funny, dazzling achievement that borrows heavily from many old movies, especially SINGING IN THE RAIN (1952) and A STAR IS BORN (1937). Jean Dujardin, who won a Best Actor Oscar, is perfectly cast as a silent film actor who loses everything. The film can be faulted for being overly sentimental, melodramatic and not really being about anything much. However it makes a modern audience concentrate on silent filmmaking in black and white in 2012 and for this audacious move, director Michel Hazanavicius deserves at least an elephant stamp and a gold star. The Academy went further and gave him the Best Director Oscar. (3/5)
Attack The Block (2011)
Some critics and audiences disliked this sci-fi comedy horror because they felt it glorified criminals. However, I found Joe Cornish’s directorial debut somewhat more subtle and clever than that. Aliens attack a council estate in South London and a street gang have to defend “The Block”. The setting is unusual, the characters atypical and the dialogue is unlike anything most of us have ever heard at the movies. This fast moving action film has the scariest, cheaply-made aliens I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks to excellent post-production and top notch cinematography these monsters are the stuff of childhood nightmares; indistinct, many-fanged creatures waiting to tear you apart. (3.5/5)
John Carter (2012)
During my sci-fi geek childhood, I knew John Carter of Mars as an heroic Edgar Rice Burroughs character. JOHN CARTER OF MARS is also the title of the eleventh and final of Burroughs’ chronicles of life on the planet that we call Mars but the natives know as Barsoom. Over the years, many have been captivated by these sci-fi adventure tales, among them Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (FINDING NEMO, WALL-E etc). Stanton wanted to make a big budget version of the Carter story A PRINCESS FROM MARS in time for its centenary. He succeeded in this but critical and audience opinion has been split on how good the new movie is. The big theory on the Internets is that this 100-year-old tale has inspired so much later science fiction that it now seems derivative of its imitators. Certainly it is easy to watch the film and find ideas later swiped by STAR WARS IV, FLASH GORDON and DUNE.
I thought the movie was intermittently exciting, had stunning art direction and effects and some good performances from an excellent cast: Ciarin Hinds, Dominc West, James Purefoy, Willem Dafoe and Lynn Collins. One of my movie buddies said it could have had more joy about it; at times it WAS a little po-faced. I think its biggest weakness was the casting of Taylor Kitsch as John Carter. Although a number of fans have been thrilled by his strapping beef-cake-itude, he was unable to bring much charisma or indeed joy to the central role. (2.5/5)
Phil Jeng Kane