Monday, 20 July 2009
The Harry Potter series grows darker with each consecutive entry as its ambition and scale widens. However, despite the foreboding atmosphere and gothic vibe created by both the sets and cinematography, the events of the film all feel a bit hollow... a simple prelude to the events of the final entry, the two part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. An atmosphere is created but the plot doesn’t have any real momentum. This is one of the fundamental problems of the film. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince ends with the death of one of the most beloved characters of the series and shouldn’t feel like mere set up for the grand finale. It should pack a punch, not only for killing a major character but for killing the only character the series villain, Voldemort, is afraid of sending it spiralling toward the epic conclusion. Instead this death feels as empty as the death of Sirius in the previous film, an important event only because of knowledge of the books.
Some of the problems with the character’s death lie with Michael Gambon’s performance; he remains even in this entry a little too measured, too detached from the loveable Wizard of the books, you can’t really imagine his Dumbledore being delighted to stumble upon a room full of toilets. It doesn’t help that he shares the majority of his scenes with Daniel Radcliffe who delivers the same stuttering performance, seeming constantly constipated beyond relief. But for the most part the blame lies with the writing. Dumbledore of the movies seemingly only drops in and out to drop some handy exposition and a perfunctory wrap up at the end of each film, like the annoying voiceover man from Big Brother who informs of you precisely what you can see is happening on screen. The films needn’t rely on this; the majority of the audience already knows the plot of this series inside out anyway.
Bizarre narrative choices drag the film further down. This entry should revolve around the mystery of the "Half Blood Prince" and despite some half-baked relevance this aspect is barely explored. The question of who the author of the mystery potions book leading Harry astray isn’t even asked rendering the reveal of this in the climax utterly without punch. It was much more important to devote time to Harry’s raging erection every time Ginny entered the room. Further, a great deal of time is spent creating a tense atmosphere, the film even opening with an attack upon a well known London landmark. However the rest of the film fails to deliver on this initial promise of a palpable threat, focusing instead on the romantic entanglements of the characters much as the previous film did. Indeed, even a set piece in the middle of the film against the villainous Death Eaters is more about further establishing a romantic pairing than the fact the characters could die. This is truly at the expense of the more interesting character developments in the book, such as the increased focus on Malfoy and Snape. Malfoy could be a fantastic, tragic character, the anti-Harry Potter, a chosen one himself but for much more sinister purpose. But he is wasted, barely shown to be struggling with the burden upon him. It is a major blunder that Rickman gets so little screen time as Snape, more so that what he does get he spends glowering sternly yet silently (which admittedly Rickman is master of). It seems to have been forgotten that it isn’t only the climax of this film intricately tied to Rickman’s character and the events at the end of this film, but the climax of the Harry Potter series as a whole, rendering this probably the most glaring omission from the films to date.
Of course, there are many things I do like about the film. The sets are fantastic, with a great gothic influence; although there are a high number of scenes based at one balcony for no discernable reason other than it looks cool. The cinematography is accomplished and fits perfectly with the tone of the film if never being particularly ambitious. The special effects are, as always, quite spectacular and the young actors for the most part do a good job aside the veteran British actors. In fact the only particularly awful acting moment I can pinpoint is when Harry, under the influence of a luck potion, is played as though Radcliffe blazed a joint before arriving on set. It’s a bizarre choice that, while funny, makes absolutely no sense. But the humour of the film overall is spot on and really helps to make the friendship between the young characters believable, in particular the core three.
It wasn’t a terrible film. But the blatant disregard of the title rendering this aspect of the film not so much as beside the point as more or less missed entirely renders the whole thing a placeholder until the final two films. Unless of course you really give a damn who the characters end up with at the end of the series. And if you still care about that after the god-awful epilogue at the end of the final book, you are an idiot.
(Feel free to tweet how wrong I am at http://twitter.com/stuthorn or in the comments here. I'm happy to elaborate on any points. And tell people that they are wrong and/or stupid.)
Monday, 3 November 2008
From now on those applying for asylum shouldn’t have to prove that their lives are in danger in their home countries. Rather they should be subjected to grueling talent checks at border control, ascertaining whether their individual skills have a place on our plethora of talent shows. Unsuccessful applicants will be promptly directed to ape the mentally ill/retarded and apply for The X Factor where “acting like a mental” typically precipitates generous screen time for applicants in the early audition phase. Those who fail to even achieve this will be sent to build the Olympic village or to wander the streets unchecked until ID cards come in, at which point they will magically disappear. Or so the government seems to think anyway.
(published in an edited form in the Epigram 3rd Nov, issue 206.)
Thursday, 23 October 2008
Audience reaction on internet forums has been overwhelmingly negative, tending to question Peaches Geldof’s suitability for the role of editor-in-chief of a magazine. Many viewers noted that her only real experience of journalism was a short-lived, poorly written column for the Daily Telegraph, which she used as a mouthpiece to slag off fellow socialites and those who unlike her, actually possess some kind of talent. Like when she branded fashion gurus Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine “upper-class bitches with no fashion sense.” Which she’s allowed to say because she dresses great and is really quite working class.
Peaches only real talent is for becoming famous off the back of her one-hit wonder, wallet-bothering, foul-mouthed father. Unfortunately for Peaches you can’t really stick “I possess the presenting skills of a mould-ridden bath mat, the journalistic ability of a dyslexic four year old and I have dated a couple of lead singers from crap, derivative indie bands” in the skills section of your C.V. Well at least she will soon be able to put “In 2008, I edited the first and last issue of Disappear Here magazine.”
The MTV show depicts Peaches as some kind of noble gadfly, pricking the egos of the pompous and the self-important. In actuality she’s a tedious little moron, about as suited to edit a magazine as Sarah Palin is for the US presidency.
Disappear Here? Please do.
Friday, 17 October 2008
As previously mentioned on Cultural Wasteland our very own James Morgan is the entertainment editor.
The website revamp has been in the works for the last couple of months. While there's a few teething problems yet to be ironed out plenty of fresh content will be uploaded in the coming week.
So get on over to www.thetartpaper.com for some tasty satire.
Thursday, 9 October 2008
But now, as the yellowed autumn leaves fall, so must my unfettered, unencumbered love affair with America. I am now an opponent of all things American, a rabid Gaullist, an opponent of America as fierce and outspoken as Hugo Chávez. For they, as a nation have gone too far – they’ve only bloody gone and started remaking loads of British television shows again.
Top Gear – this one may actually work, given that the show’s driving ethos is a thoroughly American one of rampant, blind individualism. They also like pretending that global warming is a myth, in order to keep driving big cars - which I'm sure will resonate with a large enough element of the American public to maintain a regular audience. Don’t be surprised if the hosts are even more afflicted with abject cretinism than Jeremy Clarkson, but without half his talent for sarcasm.
Life on Mars – if you bought into the critical hype this was the nearest thing we have produced that rivals the elite of US television (The Wire, The Sopranos etc) in recent years.
I just spent a month travelling around America, and to be fair to them none of them could understand a word I said in my accent, inflected as it is with a delightful south-east London twang. It’s easy to forget that we Brits are infinitely more exposed to the various American regional accents, than they are to ours. So their common complaint that they simply cannot understand the accents in British shows may hold some truth. But other than that, is there really any legitimate reason to remake all these shows?
So forget universal healthcare, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the financial crisis, the real issue in November’s presidential election should be which one of the candidates will put a stop to this remake business.
Monday, 22 September 2008
Abrams new science-fiction series, Fringe, premiered in the US on August 8th. It is set to hit British screens soon, on Sky One. The show unites what we are to assume Abrams intends as wildly opposed characters – an FBI agent, her sullen boss, and a young, troubled genius - who tackle something called “The Pattern.” The Pattern is a series of seemingly unrelated strange happenings, that will obviously align into some inter-connected pattern by the season’s end. We are informed that they are caused by people toying with the so-called “fringe sciences”: pseudo-sciences like telepathy, reanimation, cryogenics etc.
The 80 minute, $10m pilot centres around a terrorist attack on a transatlantic flight involving some kind of weaponized biological agent that makes people’s skin go juicy, then transparent, and then kills them. Viewers are invited to accept many implausible scenarios - the Department of Homeland Security allows a young F.B.I. agent to investigate a case almost single-handedly that involves the aforementioned weapon. She chases after wild leads on a whim and cuts through red tape, waving the Patriot Act about with practically no supervision or backup. Given that it’s a science-fiction series, viewers will be more than willing to suspend disbelief for all the vaguely paranormal, pseudo-scientific elements, but the naïve depiction of the bureaucracies becomes irksome quickly. They are presented fallaciously as bottomless pits of manpower, resources and financial backing, a poorly-conceived crutch for the fantastical plot to lean on. Some political context and exposition would be welcome, but perhaps this will follow in future episodes.
The cast is predictably, uniformly attractive. Anna Torv, an Australian, plays Special Agent Olivia Dunham, a former investigator for the Marines now assigned to interagency liaison work. Other than her accent, which appears to be stuck somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, her performance is competent enough. Furthermore, she looks great in her underwear, which is convenient because the plot calls for her spend half her time in it. Joshua Jackson, as the science genius Peter Bishop, isn’t stretched much, as he’s simply asked to play his character from Dawson’s Creek, only less thick, and slightly more angry. Dunham’s boss is played by the shrewish, but handsome Lance Reddick. Last seen as Lt. Cedric Daniels in The Wire, the pilot episode of Fringe seemed to employ him in much a similar role (essentially using his piercing stare to cut down those under his command), except embodying a far lesser character, with a far inferior script.
Fringe is far from awful, but it is incredibly dull. You can only assume that most of the $10m budget was spent on cocaine for Mr. Abrams, because they certainly didn’t get their money’s worth from the special effects or the “star” cast. The plot is more pedestrian and linear than exciting and labyrinthine, planting few seeds that could invite viewers to return for future episodes. The interplay between the characters grows tedious quickly, and you can easily plot the course of the relationships from their initial dalliances and conflicts. Sadly, the most inventive, original thing about Fringe is the way in which they employ the intertitles explaining where the action has shifted to.
In a world with a million possible distractions, and several far superior shows (for instance The X-Files, which Abrams has so obviously plagiarised), Fringe really doesn’t warrant your attention. Unless of course you’re are a big fan of Lost. In other words – a complete moron.
(Published in a heavily edited form in the Epigram, 1 Oct, Issue 204).
Monday, 1 September 2008
The CW has decided that what sells is money and sex after the success of Gossip Girl. Of course they seemed to have missed the point that while GG gained a lot of buzz this didn't translate into actual ratings. Because the show is aimed at young people who download their TV, rather than watch it. As Dirty Sexy Money was taken as a title one such new show gets the boring title Privileged, about two little rich girls and their poor tutor. From the previews available the tutor looks like she will be as whining and neurotic as Dawson’s Creek's Joey Potter. She comes with the obligatory male best friend completely in love with her, yet as per usual she remains completely oblivious to the raging erection he gets every time she so much as breathes near him. The actresses playing the two rich girls are attempting a mediocre impression of Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls yet only ever achieve a substandard Marissa Cooper, which is never a glowing commendation. The other big new show on this network is the much lauded 90210 spinoff/remake/revamp. About a group of rich kids... but everyone knows this premise already. Somehow the casting department managed to snag the actor that played Michael on The Wire, who will no doubt enjoy his new gritty material on the streets of
Fox has Fringe, the new show from J.J. Abrams, about investigators into the paranormal with an overriding conspiracy built in. Basically it looks set to be a mash up of the elements of J.J.’s previous shows, mystery (Lost), silly spy antics (Alias), angst, angst and more angst (Felicity), it is overall and most importantly a completely blatant rip off of the X Files. With the failure of the recent feature film you have to wonder if there is still a viable market for this. Still, the fanboys will lap it up making it at least a moderate success as J.J. Abrams can seemingly do no wrong, despite abandoning most shows he produces to the ether as soon as he spots something new and shiny. As an aside another Wire veteran turns up here, Lance Reddick. He played Cedric Daniels in The Wire and here he also plays Cedric Daniels from The Wire (not typecast at all then). Dollhouse, from Joss Whedon is coming next year starring Eliza Dushku as an agent for a company who pulls off assignments varying from crime to sex fantasies for high paying clients/perverts, her mind being wiped and freshly imprinted with a new personality for each mission. It does sound rather like Alias, except with the useful happenstance that being an undercover spy created tension. It sounds like it will play more like a brunette Buffy being put into a variety of invariably tiny costumes designed to send the males in the audience into salivating fits of joy. Since the network already commissioned another brand new pilot for Dollhouse it may soon be sitting on the scrap heap beside Firefly. At least it can’t be any worse than last years Bionic Woman.
Speaking of Bionic Woman, NBC apparently did not learn their lesson in how to remake an old show. Not least another bad old show. The network doesn’t seem to understand that what made the remake of Battlestar Galactica a success was that it is completely and radically different to its original namesake. This season Knight Rider drives on to the airwaves and the showrunner promises that it will be like watching The Fast and the Furious every week. The only film I’d like to see even less week in week out is Van Helsing and I regularly thank God that didn't happen. To pair with this NBC also has a remake of Top Gear, which you can bet will feature generic, square jawed bland hosts and a whole bucketload of product placement. Afterall why give a fair critical review of something when you can get given a ton of money to give an entirely biased one, if you need a case in point simply pick up a copy of Empire, the magazine seemingly incapable of giving an average rating in a review.
CBS has Worst Week, a remake of a thoroughly pedestrian British sitcom. The plus point here is they couldn't really make it worse and can only really improve; however the only recent remake of a British show that has worked is The Office and that is mainly due to some fantastic casting, amazing creative team and a strong finished product to draw inspiration for. That an executive can think that The Worst Week of my Life was successful and creative enough to remake simply illustrates the dire state of the British sitcom at the moment (Peep Show excluded). A remake of My Hero can only be on the horizon and if the thought of that doesn’t chill you to the bone I don’t know what will.
Friday, 15 August 2008
The Wedding Planner – This movie had Jennifer Lopez as a wedding planner (the title isn’t exactly misleading) who “breaks the most important rule of all: she falls in love with the groom”. Let’s take this to the next level. Re-establish the premise as a reality show where Jennifer Lopez plans a wedding for a random lucky couple (read: desperate fame seeking morons whose marriage will likely last as long as their 15 minutes of fame) all the while secretly trying to steal the groom for herself. Jennifer Lopez is perfect at the actual planning of a wedding since at this point she has said “’til death do us part” at least as many times as Pete Doherty has stated he’s clean. The finale should feature the wedding and Lopez making a grand attempt to ruin it,
steal the sap from his unsuspecting bride and score ratings success win her man and find true love. And of course, edit the show so that Lopez looks heartfelt and endearing throughout, not like the fickle, heartless whore that she is.
Anaconda – In this film Jennifer played a director (laughable in itself) caught up in an attempt to catch an anaconda. As a TV show, J-Lo and her crew travel around the world, finding rare and dangerous animals, especially anacondas, and wind up in a variety of perilous situations. An anaconda on a plane, for example, that’s not been done at all. Shoot it like a documentary, handheld camera, Cloverfield style. This way you stand a chance of hiding the dodgy CGI snake and also if the camera is shaky enough then it might disorient people so much they are so busy vomiting they are unable to change the channel. Instant ratings smash.
Gigli – Simple one this: find some contractual obligation that requires Ben Affleck to return and play out the movie on a weekly basis: the same flimsy plot, same awful dialogue and the same terrible acting. But with Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck having to perform love scenes together now as exes the awful onscreen chemistry would create a new apex of cringe comedy. It could even surpass the level of awkward Showgirls managed to create by having Jesse from Saved by the
The Cell – The film is about a child psychiatrist played by Lopez who has developed a technique that allows her to travel through the minds of her patients and uses it to go into the mind of a serial killer. The show could be a decent twist on the standard procedural. Each week simply unveil a new mystery and have Lopez enter the mind of a killer to find clues so that she can solve it. Each mind could be vastly different and the concept leaves huge room for creativity, to create amazing, imaginative sets and worlds ruled by clever conceits such as a mind ruled by OCD or an adult with the mind of a child. It could create some interesting drama and raise intelligent questions. What makes a man kill? What happens when you begin to understand the motive for murder or even begin to empathise with a murderer?
Okay, so the last one could actually work. But the overall point is clear: Jennifer Lopez makes bad, trashy movies; we really don’t need her to start making bad, trashy TV too. We have The CW for that.
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
The incessant growth of the Charlie and Lola collection is driven purely by parent's inexplicable attraction to hilariously ungrammatical titles such as ‘I’m Really Ever So Not Well’ or ‘I Completely Know About Guinea Pigs.’ That and a shameless television show based on these hilarious adventures. It seems kind of ironic that the humour and appeal of the cute picture books is lost on the target audience, who, in their impressionable state, are presented with bad grammar and giggling parents who probably indulge in it. Perhaps then credit is due to the author (yes, the title of authorship is definitely earned, because these books are supposed to take a lot of thought,) Lauren Child, for not continuing these bad examples inside the covers.
The Charlie and Lola books aren’t the end of humanity as we know it **cough** Angelina Ballerina **cough**, but their biggest crime is a simple lack of imagination. If you ever wanted to pick one up, as I did out of curiosity, this step-by-step should be a spoiler: Charlie usually wants to do something (the boy seems to have an anachronically active social life for someone his young age) and Lola, ever the contrarian, needs/wants to do something else. Charlie, with his infinite brotherly patience and wisdom, ends up spending his time with Lola, and all without any amount of resentment for the lessons he has to give to his little sister in the place of absent parents. A metaphor for the child-parent dynamic when actually reading a Charlie and Lola book, of course.
Eric Carle and his mastery of this fiction should make Lola just not very keen on not spiders, especially not the ‘Very Busy’ ones. The protagonists of Carle’s books are remnants of a Disney untainted by adult in-jokes and innocently touching on the child’s fascination with the unknown world. Always accompanied by beautiful illustrations, Carle’s characters play on the colourful imaginations of their audience and subtly teach them simple lessons. The Very Busy Spider, The Bad-Tempered Ladybird, The Mixed-Up Chameleon and The Very Quiet Cricket each hold their own moral problems and resolutions. This is all without the questions being blatantly asked by an annoying little girl whose condition many of us wished had worsened after she exclaimed “I’m Really Ever So Not Well.”
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the perfect example of how modern children’s picturebooks lack the simplicity of a past time. He was just hungry.
Friday, 8 August 2008