strange_complex: (Invader Zim globe)
Watched because shingles, and because magister noticed I had not seen it, and therefore lent me the DVD. It is a pastiche story about a washed-up super-hero, who was America's golden boy in the 1940s, but then fell foul of McCarthyism and ended up drinking meths in the gutter. When his arch-nemesis, Mr. Midnight, makes a re-appearance, steals a government-developed hypno-ray and uses it to gather all of New York's ethnic minorities into a new housing project so that he can blow them up, Captain Invincible has to be brought back into shape to save the day.

It's quite funny, and a perfectly acceptable way to spend an hour and a half, but I think there's a sort of cap on how funny feature-length pastiches can be - generally the joke tends to wear thin after a while, and this is no exception. There are hints also that the script aspired to being more bitingly satirical than it actually is, but that the ideas weren't followed through. This applies especially to the notion of the US government developing a hypno-ray, and Mr. Midnight's declared belief that the 'pure genetic Americans' will applaud his ethnic cleansing of New York and carry him into the White House as a result. Obviously both of those ideas are scathingly critical of America's government and its voting public (the film is Australian, BTW), but they aren't really worked through properly, so that the critique fizzles out rather than hitting home, and the eugenics project in particular just feels weirdly distasteful. In the end, the plot boils down to a standard good vs. evil story, with Captain Invincible saving the day and getting the girl.

Lee plays Mr. Midnight, of course, doing exactly what he normally does best in this sort of role - playing the villain with deadly serious professionalism, yet with a little twinkle in his eye that lets us know how much he is enjoying pushing the performance just as notch or two over the top. He also gets to sing, as the film is a musical comedy. On the whole, the songs aren't up to much, and have that quality of feeling like they are just interrupting the story which is the hall-mark of a weak musical. But Lee's turn close to the end in the alcoholic pun-based 'Name Your Poison' is justly famous, and this Youtube video (which also includes a minute or so of confrontational dialogue between Mr. Midnight and Captain Invincible) captures pretty much everything which is worth seeing about his part in this film:


In short, once you've seen that video, you can safely skip the rest of the movie.

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strange_complex: (Sebastian boozes)
I get the impression it is more of a north American than an English thing. Our trans-Atlantic cousins' equivalent to mulled wine, I suppose. In fact, the only time I can recall actually drinking any was at a Christmas party hosted by the lovely [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23, who is indeed American. It seemed OK, but I haven't felt inspired to track any down since.

In the course of a quick Google to remind myself of what is in it, though, I stumbled across something called the Eggnog Riot, which was apparently sparked off in 1826 after some hot-blooded young cadets smuggled whiskey for making eggnog into an American Military Academy. I do feel that knowledge like that ought to be shared.

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strange_complex: (Miss Pettigrew)
This was the latest Cottage Road Classic, which I went to see on Wednesday with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy and [livejournal.com profile] big_daz. The cinema had really gone to town on creating an appropriately festive atmosphere: not only was the film itself a Christmas classic, but they had also put on mulled wine, mince pies and Christmas cake, as well as making sure that the usual prelude of vintage adverts, public information films and cinematic announcements included clips wishing all patrons a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. We weren't wished a Gay 1964 this time, as happened at the December showing last year, but we were apprised of the benefits of smoking Grandee cigars, and of making sure that we took food with us on a day out.

We also enjoyed a ten-minute silent 1920s comedy short about police cars rushing to the aid of a child who had wandered out on a beam balanced precariously on the edge of a cliff. It involved a lot of slap-stick stunts along the lines of cars getting stuck on train tracks, people being repeatedly run over, people trying to clamber onto moving cars, cars falling to bits while people were driving them, and so forth. As far as I could tell, most of this must have been done by using old cars which nobody minded damaging, practising all the timing very, very carefully, and (in the case of running people over) taking advantage of the fact that 1920s cars had quite a high ground clearance, so that you could actually run someone over quite safely as long as you made sure that the wheels went either side of them. It was also obviously filmed at less than 25 frames per second, so that it looked like it was all happening incredibly quickly, which made it all look a lot more alarming than it probably was in real life.

The main feature is obviously a great classic, but I had never seen a single second of it before, so it was all new to me. I enjoyed it, and thought that it did what it was setting out to do very nicely. But I think it can probably only really enchant those who believe quite genuinely and wholeheartedly in the values of small-town American life, complete with the designated roles for women and ethnic minorities which that demands. It reminded me rather of Pleasantville, except without anyone ever turning into colour - which is no surprise, really, given that it idealises the very values which Pleasantville sets up and then deconstructs.

Funnily enough, after having had that thought I was rather surprised today to see on TV a clip from the film in colour, which was not how we saw it on Wednesday. In fact, according to Wikipedia no less than three colourised versions have been produced. It's almost as though people were retrospectively trying to help poor old George Bailey (the hero) finally realise his dreams and escape from drab old Bedford Falls into a better, brighter world after all.

As for me, I was obviously watching it all with too cynical a head on. In particular, I found it next to impossible to swallow the scenes in which George manages to talk his customers out of a bank run, magically acquires a dream house by moving into a run-down wreck in imminent danger of collapse, and is finally saved from financial disaster by everyone from the town coming round and 'chipping in' to cover his partner's absent-minded loss of $8000. I know that the whole point of the film is meant to be about how setting out to help other people rather than exploit them for personal gain brings its own rewards, and that it isn't trying to set out a realistic alternative model for ethical economic prosperity. But I'm afraid I just found myself sitting through those scenes and thinking "Oh, please!"

Still, the clothes were nice, the scene at the dance where everyone ends up jumping into the swimming pool was fun, the crow which randomly lived in the Bailey family's bank was cool, Henry Travers as the angel was lovely (and reminded me quite a lot of Derek Jacobi), and at least I will properly know who people mean when they talk of James (or 'Jimmy') Stewart now, instead of having to just nod and smile vaguely. So I'm glad I went, but I don't think I'm going to be joining the fan-club for this film any time soon.

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strange_complex: (One walking)
So this one is from the same hand as The Myth Makers (Donald Cotton) - and to me, that means: Do. Not. Underestimate. On one level, Cotton does here what I thought he was going to do in The Myth Makers (and which was really pioneered by Dennis Spooner in The Romans, anyway) - that is, he gives us a story which draws broadly on the Wild West films and TV series that the audience will have been familiar with, serving up a sort of pastiche while showing scant regard for the real history of the era. But I don't think what's going on here is quite as simple as a case of just ignoring the real history of this era (this time known, of course, with a security that was never possible for The Myth Makers) and having a laugh. To me, this story also demonstrates much the same kind of knowing commentary on what he is doing that Cotton presented in The Myth Makers.

A fancy dress party gone horribly wrong )

Lyrical narrative )

Comments on the Doctor Who format )

The Doctor's double (again) )

The Doctor out of his depth? )

The Doctor's new ethical stance )

Audience reaction )

Heh - it's been a busy weekend, during which I've done virtually nothing but watch and write about Doctor Who. But that's pretty much my ideal weekend anyway. As a result I have at least got myself into a situation where there are only two of the early, 'pure' historicals left for me to watch - so it is perfectly possible for me to do that (though probably not also to review them here) before leaving for the CA on Wednesday morning. OK, so there are also four other stories in between them which I really ought to watch for total familiarity with this era. But I think I can hold my own now.

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strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
Seen last night at the Cottage Road cinema with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy.

I didn't expect to be so absolutely gripped by this, but it really was enthralling. At micro level, it focusses entirely on the preparations for and recording of the series of interviews which Nixon gave to David Frost in 1977, but in the process it casts a very searching light indeed over the nature of politics and the media and the relationship between them.

Martin (oops!) Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are absolutely brilliant as the nervous young Frost and the ageing and embittered Nixon respectively, managing to capture the mannerisms and speech patterns of their subjects beautifully without ever coming across as slavish impressionists. And I very much liked the device of having most of the major secondary characters appearing not only within the story itself, but also in 'talking head' guise, looking back on their experience of the interviews from a perspective in what appears to be something like the early '80s. It was a great way of allowing the interviews to be commented on from a position of hindsight at the same time as presenting the unfolding process as it occurred, which was important given that one of the main things the film wanted to do was emphasise the contrast between the eventual success of the project and the risk of total failure which had been run along the way.

That said, I think it would also be incautious to be too easily swayed by a film which demonstrates so clearly the persuasive and distorting power of the screen (small or large). It's fairly clearly mythologising both Frost and the interviews, and it presents Nixon's final confessions about Watergate as a crushing and unexpected defeat for him. But I find it hard to believe that so canny and manipulative a politician as Nixon would really have allowed himself to be pushed by Frost into saying anything he didn't entirely want to say anyway. And then again, we do in fact see Nixon's Chief of Staff looking back on the interviews a few years later on and saying that he felt they had been a success - so maybe the possibility that Nixon knew exactly what he was doing is allowed for as well.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed the close treatment of such a fascinating moment in the history of both television and politics. I'll be looking out to see how this one does at the Oscars.

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Ook!

Thursday, 5 May 2005 12:53
strange_complex: (Penelope Pitstop)
Apparently, the UK consulate in New York has been bombed. (Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] rentaghost31 for the tip-off). Nothing too serious, but erk!

It's fairly obviously election-related, but I suppose in a way we can be paradoxically reassured. It suggests that whoever is behind it (presumably al-Qaeda or similar) doesn't have operatives capable of doing the same in the UK itself, and, at least on this occasion, wasn't able to mount a particularly effective attack.

I mean, these are still only small comforts, but you know... I'm just sorry that the attackers obviously do have operatives in the US.

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