DVR Full Fail Friday: Geek Love on TLC

When the newly re-branded TLC (not that there’s anything we can possibly learn from that channel any more, full to the brim with shite as it is now) played the two half-hour episodes which explored the obviously ridiculous notion of geeks finding love with each other, I admit I had to record it; mainly so I could skip all the ads for Mob Wives and Honey Boo Boo (both of which I’ve heard all about from listening to the TESD podcast and do not wish to pursue further).

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DVR Full Fail Friday: Sunshine (2007) review

Danny Boyle’s sci-fi thriller Sunshine kept me hooked until the last act.

Still hovering dangerously at 10%, I finally managed to watch a Danny Boyle film on a day off work; as you do when you don’t really care for the rest of his work. Except A Life Less Ordinary of course; that was ace. I’m not kidding. I liked it a lot.

There really aren’t that many actors or directors whose work I will automatically watch just because they’re involved. John Cusack is a rare one off the top of my head, while I’ve also seen most of Kevin Smith’s films on purpose. However, I’m just as likely, if not more so, to avoid things based on who’s involved. Danny Boyle is one of those people.

It’s really just a question of dodging hype. No, I don’t care that he did the one with the Scottish junkies, or the one with the Indian kid who wins the quiz show. I’m not interested in seeing either of them and am conversely tempted not to just because I’m awkward like that. But Sunshine is really a different beast just because it got my interest from being a spooky-looking sci-fi epic.

Sunshine

 

And it is bloody good. Well, to begin with anyway. The crew aboard Icarus 2 are on a mission to the earth’s Sun to fire ‘the payload’ at it – a collection of the planet’s rarest materials which can hopefully re-stoke the dying flames which, if unsuccessful, will go out altogether and eradicate life in the whole solar system.

On the way there, a critical error of maths committed by crew member Trey (Benedict Wong – not only one of the ‘company men’ from Moon but also Prime from the Countdown episode of ‘The IT Crowd’) results in a much-needed detour to what turns out to be the previously-doomed Icarus 1 – and from there things only get worse.

I was far happier with this film when it was a bit of a spooky and ethereal mystery incorporating religious aspects and the whole ‘life beyond Earth’ thing – so imagine my disappointment when it inexplicably descends into a crappy slasher-type film during act three when it turns out there’s something aboard Icarus 2 with a sinister motive.

A most disappointing effort indeed from that point on, but up until then I thought the rest of the film was brilliant; from its cast – Chris Evans seems to be on a mission to prove me wrong since I ragged on him in Fantastic Four, which was probably a team effort fail rather than just him – to the visual effects and soundtrack, the latter of which was beautifully done by Underworld and John Murphy.

It’s a shame the story tailed off so badly with the extra crew member on board because I think Boyle was doing a cracking job until then of showing viewers the despairing and unforgiving bleakness of space, and even that saving mankind comes at a price. I’d give it another watch though just to enjoy the strong cast effort and gorgeous effects.

And this tune:

DVR Full Fail – The Mindy Project

We’re hovering dangerously at 8% on the Sky+ box this week, but have managed a good few episodes of the first season of this rather good sitcom.

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If pushed to name my least favourite regular character on The American Office (and I don’t know why I should, it’s just mean), then I’d probably have to go with…hmm, probably Ryan actually. He’s a bit inconsistent and always pretentious for no logically funny reason. Above him I’d put Meredith simply because my favourite bit of the programme involving her was when Michael ran her over in his car – again, not really through any fault of her own, but there are a lot of characters I like better.

But definitely low down there somewhere would be Kelly Kapoor, the role played by creator, star, producer and writer of The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling. That being said, Kaling did write two of my favourite episodes of The Office – ‘Ben Franklin’ and ‘Golden Ticket’ – so when she created her own programme for NBC which was eventually picked up by Fox instead, I was definitely interested to see what she came up with.

It’s shown here in the UK on E4 after New Girl, the one about the Zooey Deschanel character who’s kooky and wacky and all the guys love her (from the ads I’ve seen it looks like a reverse Bechdel test – even when she’s not on screen the guys are talking about her and how zany and kooky she is). So I wasn’t expecting a lot, to be brutally honest.

It did take a few episodes, but I’m in. Not so much for Mindy’s own acting – although she performs very well under a more intense spotlight – but for the other great cast members; my personal favourite so far being the nurse Morgan played by Ike Barinholtz. (“I could spend the rest of my life in jail, if I so much as KILL someone.”) Kaling plays an OB-GYN doctor at a practice staffed by a number of diverse characters with differing amounts of charm and snark. Eventual love interest Danny provides much of the professional and personal conflict in Mindy’s life, while she tries to live her life like a romantic comedy, name-checking so many of her favourite films from which the show’s postmodern style lampoons. Mindy’s ditzy and naïve like so many of her favourite leading ladies, but the programme does a great job of bringing home the awkward truth for her, her colleagues and friends.

I dunno if it is anything like New Girl to be honest, but I’m certain that The Mindy Project benefits greatly from having Kaling’s own hands on most aspects of the production. Give it a go if you’re not sick of single-camera sitcoms yet.

#DVRFF – The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret

After two series (and we can call them series, not seasons – this is a British programme) and twelve episodes, we waved goodbye to poor Todd Margaret earlier this week on FOX.

(Warning: spoilers, probably)

Todd Margaret

How is it possible for one man’s life to descend so quickly into madness and prison? That’s what the American supposedly born in Leeds, Todd Margaret asks himself at the start of every episode as a list of his criminal charges is read out in court. All he wanted to do was head up the Thunder Muscle marketing campaign in the UK; a promotion which neither he nor his new boss Brent Wilts saw coming. As things begin to take a strange turn in England, Todd must power through to get the cans sold assisted only by his sole employee, Dave; his unrequited crush Alice and…Steve Davis.

In Todd Margaret, David Cross has created an absolutely ruthless and unapologetic farce; Cross clearly has some love for the English style of twisted storytelling given the plot’s setting here. While not a huge fan of farce, I do recognise that the suspension of disbelief can be ignored if you’re invested enough in the characters – or at the very least, their actors’ performances. And that is exactly what makes Margaret great.

When there are so many plates in the air close to falling at any time, you really need that cast to hold them up – and they’re held up brilliantly by Cross and his co-stars Will Arnett (both appeared in Arrested Development, but you knew that already), Sharon Horgan – whose take-no-prisoners attitude drops only and brilliantly at the right time for Margaret to be at his most pathetic – and Blake Harrison who is brilliant as Dave; a simple bloke with a slow-burning secret.

‘Snucker’ player Steve Davis is also fantastic as himself, the celebrity endorser of the weaponized energy drink Thunder Muscle – while Jon Hamm of Mad Men pops up for a couple of cameos as an associate of Dave’s, which were probably my favourite scenes of all.

Oh, and – Spike Jonze! The weird goofy-looking bloke from that Fatboy Slim video where they’re dancing outside the cinema? You probably know him better as a film director, but it’s his performance as nosy investigative employee Doug Whitney which bring the plot strands together which are crucial and so well-played. I didn’t even realise it was him until I looked it up after watching the final episode!

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret is definitely one I’d recommend thanks to its brilliant cast and increasingly brilliant comic moments.

DVR Full Fail – Pearl Jam: Twenty

A Pearl Jam documentary celebrating 20 years of the Seattle sound.

Whenever a band reaches such a significant milestone as twenty years together, fans will ask, nay, demand that the occasion be properly celebrated. Pearl Jam’s biggest celebrity fan Cameron Crowe duly obliged by filming and archiving twenty years of their history in Pearl Jam: Twenty, released in 2011.

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From the band’s very beginnings as part of a different group whose local fame grew into legend before the sad passing of singer Andrew Wood on the eve of their debut album, to their celebrated European tour of early 2010, the story of the band is told through a mix of personal recollections from band members and archive footage from the PJ camp, mixed with news stories and other cultural happenings of the time. Told through the eyes of Eddie, Jeff, Stone, Mike and several drummers (they themselves make reference to the Spinal Tap-esque amount of drummers they’ve gone through over the years), the film tells the story of how the music endured from their heady fame at the forefront of grunge to their modern-day maturity.

I used to really like Pearl Jam (and I’m one of those weirdos who likes their other stuff more than Ten), having watched their Touring Band 2000 video at least once a week for a full year shortly after it came out. Songs like ‘Better Man’, ‘Given To Fly’ and ‘Daughter’ are beautiful, heartfelt pieces as played on that film, while the likes of ‘Lukin’, ‘Even Flow’ and ‘Rearviewmirror’ are prime examples of how they can just flat out rock when called upon. It played a huge part in determining my music tastes during those all-important formative years, but all this time later and I struggle to relate to them as much as I used to.

This was probably decided after I’d watched this documentary, to be honest. They’re rightly regarded as cultural icons, but…man, do they whine a lot! Fame will affect you in all kinds of negative ways, but there was something very unsettling about seeing the disregard they had for their own lives. There’s a montage of all the early gigs where singer Eddie would climb the side of the stage and hang off the lighting rig, before dropping down to be caught by his fans in the pit. Many, many different instances of this. Forget how dangerous it was for him (as the other members said over and over again), what about the people he was dropping on?

And so it was this overriding attitude – not exactly cavalier but not entirely sincere – of the band which hangs over the film and leaves a bad taste for me. The tunes are great, and the film is extremely well put together – as you’d expect from Cameron ‘Singles Say Anything Almost Famous Jerry Maguire’ Crowe, but its sense of over-honesty doesn’t paint the positive picture of Pearl Jam I was hoping for.

Oh yeah, and Chris Cornell is in it. Fuck that guy.

DVR Full Fail: Star Trek (2009)

I didn’t make much of that Star Trek remake.

(This film was recorded on my Sky+ box on Christmas Eve, 2011. I watched it yesterday. Yes.)

I tried so hard to enjoy Star Trek, really I did. It’s not that I was particularly invested in its success; though I’ll admit to a fanatical young love for all things Starfleet, I wasn’t really looking to the new film to bring back the respect not warranted since Picard hung up his bald cap. Star Trek is Star Trek – a sci-fi phenomenon that will continue to attract fans for years to come. The reason I didn’t enjoy the film is, quite simply, that it pissed me off.

First things first; Chris Pine made a pretty decent Captain Kirk. Sylar from Heroes made a good Spock because Vulcans are good at keeping emotions in check, as are bad actors. A perfect match. The bloke who played McCoy – I’ve just realised it’s Karl Urban – was fucking brilliant though. It’s only a shame that the focus in this one was squarely on Kirk/Spock rather than Kirk/Spock/McCoy as it used to be.

What really irritated me were all the oh-so-clever nods and hidden references to past Trek; as a former obsessive it irked rather than delighted me. For me, the worst offender was Sulu’s volunteering for a mission as an expert in hand-to-hand combat. (Incidentally, and because I can be equally snarky, I called this ‘nod’ way ahead of time. As I said to my poor unfortunate co-viewer, “if Sulu does something clever in this next fight and mentions that it’s because he does fencing, I’m done here.” Clearly, all the offending nods came during the set-up of the film as I was already about to give up on it.) I can imagine now that at least fifteen die-hard Trekkers urinated in their cinema seats upon hearing this little gem, but it really had quite the opposite effect on me. (Whatever the opposite of pissing is; taking in fluids I suppose.)

I know that Scotty is always the one to get the ship out of a jam at the end, but the fact that Simon ‘sounded like Shrek’ Pegg’s character got the crew out of three separate and unconnected jams in ten minutes – having only been in the film at all for the past five – was another bone of contention for me. Even more irritating was the cynical struggle to fit four hours of character setup into three scenes, through clumsy dialogue and too-tightly-condensed thought/action processes.

“Ha, Spock’s mum is human! Let’s pick on him to see if he displays some of that famous human emotion we hear so much about at the science academy. Also, Spock is unpopular here at the Academy at which we all study despite his genius-level intellect. Also, his dad is Vulcan and it’s not customary for Vulcans to marry humans.”

“I am James T. Kirk, and my stepdad is angry with me because I am driving his antique car despite my ridiculously young age. Also, I am a daredevil and so I must almost drive myself off a cliff after police pursuit just to feel the thrill of being alive that will shape my experiences in later life. Maybe before I hit puberty.”

There was just far too much stuff to fit in to their early lives; assuming the main characters are 18 or 19 when joining the Federation – oh jesus, that line where Pike dares Kirk to sign up – it needed so, SO much more exposition considering that the producers had themselves thrown the 50-year-strong canon out of the window.

Once they’d finished cramming in all the worthless back-slapping references, there wasn’t enough of a story there to hold me. Not one I’d recommend.

DVR Full Fail: New Order Story

An interesting if not slightly jarring account of one of Manchester’s most famous bands.

I’m trying to have these written as regular Friday features, thus adding to the wonderful acronym of DVRFFF; however, sometimes I’ve got nowt else to post so you’ll just have to make do. I should actually have another one ready for Friday considering I’ve finally got through a big backlog of Daria.

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In the seventies there was this really good band from Manchester. They released one of the most perfect pop songs of all time and, on the eve of a big American tour that would’ve made them all stupidly rich, the singer killed himself.

To the credit of the remaining members, they stuck to their word that they wouldn’t carry on with the same name, and went on to produce a good few albums as New Order. It’s very hard to separate the band from the label – Factory Records only really stayed afloat thanks to the contributions of the band in return for their founder membership – equally so to acknowledge the good fortune that made them one of the biggest bands in the world in the early 1990s.

This documentary makes no such effort to redress the balance; with label impresario Tony Wilson’s constant presence in the faux-TV studio discussion show NO Time NO Place and the band’s half-arsed quiz show The NO Show, there’s very little in the way of extricating just what it is that gave New Order – and Factory Records – the thick skin that so many bands these days desperately try to shed to win fans and make money. I can’t imagine, for example, New Order drummer Stephen Morris having a Twitter account; the bloke’s entertaining enough to listen to in person but he doesn’t feel duty-bound to tell you what he had for breakfast.

And nor should he; in an age where you couldn’t necessarily get so up close and personal with your favourite band (1993), it’s part of the whole New Order package. Tony Wilson and his Factory cohorts – including producer Martin Hannett and graphic designer Peter Saville – did such a sterling job of building up the layer of mystique – around the band, the label, just the whole Manchester thing – that to try to unravel it might spell disaster. (Which it did, sort of; Peter Hook’s eventual willingness to put his own name about at the cost of the whole group is what’s led to their current relationship – the band minus Hook is currently active after a very long break.)

So with the strange cutaways, odd interview formats and eyewitness testimony from a great many people who were there, what you end up with is an entertaining but not entirely solid hour-long documentary; by no means a bad thing, but fuzzy around the edges – just how Wilson would have wanted it.

What I liked: Snippets from the shy and retiring, late great manager, Rob Gretton. The informative and in-depth interview segments with most of the key personnel. Everything Stephen Morris does and says.

What I didn’t like: the unnecessarily purred voiceover from actress Jenny Seagrove; I’ve never heard of her but the fake Yank accent gets irritating. The fact that Paul Morley had anything to do with this documentary; there’s perpetuating a myth and then there’s trying to take credit for it.

If you’re really bothered, you can watch it yourself on Youtube. (Trigger alert: this documentary contains Bono.)

DVR Full Fail Friday: Zack & Miri Make A Porno

Sky+ box status: now 83% full. Remind me next time that films in HD generally take up more room.

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Without sounding clichéd and like I’m just looking for some preamble to justify the heavy criticisms that are coming, I’m trying to think of the best way to say that Kevin Smith wrote and directed four of my very favourite films (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Clerks 2), and his films got me through some very very shit times, and I think that Kevin Smith is as talented as his work is – on the whole – intelligent, refreshing and hilarious.

So I won’t. I’ll just get straight on with the knee-jerk bashing that paragraphs like the above usually precede.

First off. There’s a clip from a BBC sketch show called Big Train where something supposedly impressive is being shown off to a group of people in a town hall, and a man at the back of the room shouts “but WHAT…do they DO???”

And that’s how I feel about Seth Rogen: what does he do? I just don’t see the appeal. I get that he’s the scrappy underdog in a room full of success stories; the kid who got picked last in PE; but maybe I didn’t hate getting picked last in PE as much as I thought. He’s obviously a talented bloke, I like his timing, whatever else in this film – and I’ll admit I’ve seen him in nothing else (because…what does he do?) – but I just get narked off about any actor who gets work off the fact that he’s “dorky” or whatever, when anyone who’s actually that dorky wouldn’t be in a film in the first place. Maybe I’m just too far through the looking glass here. I dunno.

And – again, very stupid-sounding pre-qualifier coming here – I’m no prude but I’m not generally interested in seeing sex comedies, or rather comedies based entirely around the concept. Maybe I’m more repressed than I thought I was; all I need to know is that seeing people waving dildos about doesn’t automatically tickle my ribs. (Unless I’m literally having my ribs tickled by the dildos; then it’s all good.)

There were parts I liked, though. Craig Robinson’s in it. And Jeff Anderson. And even Jason Mewes keeps his clothes on long enough – oh, except that bit at the end where he doesn’t – to have some good jokes.

Tough one, this. I really love Kevin Smith’s stuff in general so I’m not about to bash his work. This film had Seth Rogen in it and was about making porn: therefore, I’m not the target audience. Unlike the supposed fans Smith keeps alienating every time he tries something new, I’m not offended by that fact. I just didn’t like it much.

DVR Full Fail Friday: Nosferatu (1922)

With the Sky+ box holding steady between 88 and 90 per cent full, we watched Nosferatu on Wednesday night and, unfortunately, found it a bit dull.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

Yes, we’re philistines. Yes, we’re uncultured. No, we’re not taping this weekend’s Geordie Shore marathon. (We’re watching it live. I jest.) But I could argue that what was beautiful and aesthetically pleasing and sophisticated when it was made in 1922 is not necessarily the sort of thing that will still hold an audience today. And no, I haven’t read the Twilight books so cannot appreciate what a rip off they are of Nosferatu.

Except that Nosferatu itself is a rip-off – an unauthorized film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel. Film producer Albin Grau decided to seek permission from Stoker’s estate to make a film based on the book, and was flatly refused. Pressing on with production all the same, Grau, his writer Henrik Galeen and director F.W. Murnau decided merely to change character names, locations and plotlines.

According to Plagiarism Today the Stoker estate saw the finished article and decided to sue for copyright infringement. The most damning evidence against the film-makers, even more than their earlier correspondence, was that an initial print of the film retained some references to “Dracula” in the title. Grau and his film company were bankrupted, and a judge ordered all copies of the film be destroyed.

However, one copy found its way to the United States, where Dracula was in the public domain.
The production company Prana Films could finally make some money from their efforts; the film has gone down in history as a true classic.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s all shiny-looking and whatnot – the film score was actually pretty sweet without dialogue to ruin it – but unfortunately I’m exactly the sort of inverted snob who can’t sit through an hour and a half of silent horror without my mind going for a wander.

And it’s that same inverse snobbery that means I have to give Nosferatu the highest degree of respect. Without it I wouldn’t have seen all the other vampire stuff (like…Buffy and…I think I watched half of Interview With… once); it gave the single biggest contribution to what we now associate with vampire films; tropes and mises-en-scene: the frightened villagers, the ruined castle, the fact that daylight would kill a vampire – even though the original Dracula text says it only weakens them. Stylistically too Nosferatu made a big contribution to early German cinema; two years after Das Kabinet and five before Metropolis, it’s a huge landmark. But just not for me.