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Game, Sett, match. Badger is genius.
Badger is the greatest tragedy to exist. An eternity of people will only ever prey watch to the three wonderful episodes of this intolerably underrated series. Badger isn't just a classic police drama, it marked a defining moment in my life. The first time I sat down and watched the pilot episode, Setts, Lies and Videotape, directed by the wonderful Paul Harrison, I knew that I was watching something special.
Reminiscent of early Starsky and Hutch, crossed with the Scouse edge that made Z-Cars a classic, Badger had it all. Auntie provided the story, then took it from us. Typical of the cruel ways that the BBC thrive on.
The writing team for Badger clearly were all geniuses. Puns a plenty, like in the title of the pilot episode, "Setts, Lies and Videotape". It being a play on the classic Steven Sodenbergh film, the film had a cosmic humour, like watching a De Palma film with your feet up, a bottle of orange squash, a glass and some water. It's the simple things that make the best. With the mental horizon of a two legged unicycle, the British public needed simplicity. Twin Peaks had left us confused and agitated. Cube left us dazed and confused, Dazed and Confused left us with twin peaks. All these factors combined to produce the necessity for a show, a show to make the British public, and even perhaps the world, believe again.
The second episode, titled It's a Jungle Out There is possibly the series defining moment. It is impossible not to notice the subtle use of the word jungle in not one, not two but in three different contexts. The jungle, firstly being reference to the Urban jungle. The backdrop. Northumberland. The playground for these badgers to run and play and do their thing. Secondly is the irony that badgers lift in Setts, not jungles. The writers clearly knew this and tried to add some complexity into this masterpiece of observation. And finally, the opening theme music. "Badger Ass my Bitch Up" by Judd Judderson and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. The opening music is Jungle. The moment I realised this connection I felt a deep empathy with everyone involved with this short lived work of art.
Sadly, no story this good can have a happy ending and badger is no exception. Straying away from its usual Northumberland backdrop, the producers changed setting for the final episode, "Under My Skin". Clearly high on their own egos, knowing that the previous two episodes were above and beyond anything they could have dreamed of, the writers made a mockery of what could have been a defining moment in all of our lives. I'm sorry to say this but an episode that incorporates talking badgers, acid trips, and people being run over by skateboard chain gangs is not my idea of entertainment. Granted the Gary Sinise, John Malkovich cameo was genius, however, could not make up for the utter tripe that was "Under My kin"
In reflection and summary, one should not dwell on the mistakes, but embrace the fantastic emotion and gripping tension of Badger. While 33% of the episodes were poor, 66% were life affirming. I felt like I wanted to run through field of poppies with N.W.A. music as my backdrop. Singing. It made me feel that good.
In a perfect world, we'd all have "Badger" in our front rooms, day and night, for ever and ever. Sadly though, this world isn't perfect.
9.5 out of 10.
All hail, the NEW king of animated series.
While the later episodes of The Simpson's have suffered, Futurama has matured, far more quickly than the Simpson's did, into a fantastic work of animation.
The similarities between the Simpson's are obvious and not to be ignored. A show as good as The Simpson's was is ripe for theft and Futurama, the brainchild of Matt Groening, borrows well from the former show. Bender is the Homer Simpson, devoid of responsibility, yet, as this lack of responsibility is placed in a robot, we do not have to feel anger at his wayward ways.
Leela is the far less annoying Marge. Less annoying for the simple facts. A) She has something resembling a personality, something that Marge definitely suffered from. and B) You can listen to her speak without wanting to kill yourself.
Fry however grounds the show with the emotional base that made the Simpson's great. A Pizza delivery boy from the 20th century transported forwards in time 1000 years into a world that he knows nothing about. While our imaginations might find it a little too easy coming to terms with the future and all the few new inventions that go with it (Perhaps a nod to how poor an inventor Farnsworth is that there seems nothing overly unusual about this future), we forgive this minor blip and embrace Groening new world vision.
As with The Simpson's, Groening has given us a host of superb background characters. Zoidberg the lobster Doctor, Amy daughter of money, Hermes the Jamaican limbo champion who keeps the business together and of course Zap Brannigan, the genius of lacklustre. All of these characters are easily the match of Chief Wiggum, Smithers, Krusty, Frink, etc.
Groening, clearly by taking the best writers from the Simpson's with him when he jumped ship, has done the impossible and found an animated series that is superior to the unsurpassable Simpson's. Groening's world is a good one. And so is his show.
One should really mention the plot...
To give you an idea of how utterly dull and lifeless this movie is, I will tell you now that the last word of this review is going to be the film title used in a humorous and non too obvious fashion. OK?
So, to the film. Some films do exist that make Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars look like a masterpiece....... I have yet to see one yet and this doesn't even come close. Even though it is awful. And by awful I mean dull, lifeless, cricket, dire, boring. Dave Stewart, as the guitarist and co songwriter has had to put up with Annie Lennox for a good 2 decades so lets not be too hard on him, the film does have its moments. They cost 90p each on a £3.60 ticket. (Or about $1.25 in America on a $5 ticket.) Yes, two of the girls appear topless in the film and while this is no bad thing, I can't see them being given another movie anytime soon.
Mel Blatt is good in the film. She appears natural to this business we call SHOW. Nicole also has her moments (90p remember). Natalie however, the eldest of the two sisters isn't that great in the film. In fact, I'm being kind. A blind monkey with a badger strapped round it's head could have pulled a better performance. Reminiscent of an early Turtletaub or a late Howard.
Unfortunately, the casting is where the movie fails. While 66% of the All Saints are good in this film, 33% aren't. A better idea would have been to cast 3 of the S Club 7 girls in it (Tina obviously getting the boot). Because S Club 7 exist in farce, their cheeky smiles and mischievous ways would have blended perfectly with the Honest backdrop of Cockney England.
Anyway, in conclusion, I can't really recommend this film enough. 90p a nip is a bargain in today's climate. I just feel that S Club 7 would have made a far superior film to the one that we were given. Honest.
The Cardinal (1963)
A MUST SEE FILM
The genius of this film lies just after half way. If you ever watch any film for one moment, then, hold the phone, because this is the one.....
Some bloke jumps out of a window, you don't see it coming and you don't think it'll happen but it does. It's hilarious. I laughed all night long.
He's sitting at dinner one minute, then he jumps out of a window.
Great line. Great stuff.
Watch this film.
The Green Mile (1999)
In a Word...
Very similar to Shawshank Redemption.
Very Frank Darbont.
Final Destination (2000)
Oooh, suits you.
In the wake of the post modern teen slasher blood fests that were Scream 1, 2 & 3, I Know What You Did Last Summer, H20 and the other million, it is rare to catch a Late 20th Century, Early 21st century horror that seems up to the task of the genre. That is creating tension and scaring the bejesus out of its audience. Final Destination (Aside from the very lack-lustre title sequence that has been done to a death) succeeds on almost every level.
Wonderfully acted by a cast of relatively unknown actors, (Kerr Smith of Dawson's Creek and Aly Larter of House on Haunted Hill being the only real known stars) the story is tried and tested, what Wong has to do is tell it in a new, better way.
The opening 25 minutes, right up to the planes explosion, are adrenaline packed and succeed in drawing you into the spiders web that is the story. A guy who predicts a plane crash and saves the lives of six people only to then realise that you can't cheat death, it will come back and get ya. The little details make the film good, the silhouetted toy that appears to be hanging (a la Bone Collector), the cameo by Tony Todd (a la David Warner in Scream 2), the subtlety of the gusts of wind (a la Twister), all add up to create the environment that we desire.
The film does have its shocks and its scares but on the whole isn't a film about trying to physically scare its audience. The outright scare sequence are few and far between. Instead of physically scaring his audience, Wong strives to create dramatic and uneasy tension. The fate of the seven people has already been written, the question is, can they change the script?
One criticism of the film would lie in its traditional 'pre-ending-ending' Seemingly wrapping things up, then stopping, looking around and saying, hold up, there's more. The film could and probably should have had the conviction to stray away from this cliched finale and come up with something new and original. This minor quibble however does not detract from the overall greatness of this film.
Final Destination? The cinema, to watch this film...
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Timeless magic of warped genius.
Most films age over time. In 20 years will Titanic still be as amazing as it was in 1998? Will Jurassic Park still have people gawping open mouthed at the cinema screen? I think not. Its a rarity, but sometimes, just sometimes, there comes a movie that is timeless, magical and eternal, one such film is Alice in Wonderland.
It seems to me, when watching most Disney films, that Walt Disney had an evil masterplan to mess with the minds of children, young and old. Dumbo is a film about an outsider, Pinocchio is a film about a freak child who cannot stop lying. Walt only made these films family viewing through constantly having a moral ending. Dumbo can fly and Pinocchio is rewarded for risking his life to save another, however, these moral endings do not disguise the fact that, at times, Disney films were quite peculiar.
Alice in Wonderland on the surface is a dreamlike fantasy about a child nodding off and visiting a wonderful wonderland where flowers sing, caterpillars smoke and rabbits talk. However, similarly to Blue Velvet, this film is not about the surface values, its is about the dark, seedy undertones that exist beneath the aesthetic surface.
Below its surface lies a wealth of wholly unlikeable and unhelpful creatures. Aside from the King (Hooray) of Hearts, each character only serves to hinder Alice in her attempts to come to terms with her warped dream. The Cheshire Cat is responsible for putting Alice in court, the White Rabbit wants to have Alice destroyed when he finds her at his home, the flowers shun Alice when they incorrectly perceive her to be a common garden weed, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare also shun Alice for no reason whatsoever, this list is as long as the tunnel that leads Alice into her Wonderland.
To look back at the film nowadays, one could surmount that the ending is nothing more than a cop-out (these thoughts were true for Lynch's Boxing Helena). She dreamt it all along is nothing more than saying, here, we'll give you licence to create a magical world, no boundaries because it all exists inside a young girls mind.
I'll admit this review might seem overly critical of the film, but it is for these warped reasons and the context of what the film represents or least what it should represent that I absolutely adore it. Walt Disney might have had a masterplan to screw with the minds of his children, but I say, good luck to him. A subtle undertone to the magical shell of the movie shows that the yolk is in fact sour. I daren't but will compare this movie to Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, another film about a false surface level and the warped undertones of life and death.
Sleep is only a state of mind, it's what happens in this state of mind that really matters. Or at least, what mattered to Walt.
Dawson's Creek (1998)
What TV should be.
Dawson's Creek is by no means a realistic portrayal of teenage angst. I'll admit this. The power of the series and what, in my view, makes it far and away the best thing to happen to TV in a long, long time, is that is it a realistic portrayal of teenage emotions...
The characters in Dawson's Creek may only be 16, yet as Eve said to Dawson (early Season 3) they are all 'old souls'. The emotions in the series are real, the emotions felt by the characters are real, yet, the fact that Kevin Williamson has allowed the characters a vocal outlet for these emotions is the genius of the show. My So Called Life was a brave attempt to do this, but fell short through its pretensions of grandeur. Dawson's Creek embraces the fact that the vocabulary spoken is fake and because of this, is entirely forgiven. This is why we watch television, to feel and see emotions that we cannot or do not feel in our own lives.
As Dawson once said, "Movies (And TV) by definition are escapism, if you want reality look out of the window." Dawson's Creek knows what it is. A fictional television show about high school kids and the emotions they deal with. By admitting its falseness, yet retaining its warmth, humanity and heart, we are able to witness characters that we know aren't real, that we know in real life wouldn't have the vocabulary that these kids possess, but who we believe in and we root for.
Not only emotionally is Dawson's Creek superb, but technically, the series is faultless. Musically, artists like Sarah Mclachlan and Jewel fit snugly into the feel of the series, while artists like New Radicals and Semisonic serve to enhance emotions. The choice of song in Dawson's Creek is rarely wrong and often perfect. The music does not lead the scene into the direction of the song, but serves to reinforce and enhance the emotion that the scene portrays and requires.
Visually, the gorgeous backdrop of Wilmington, North Carolina is fitting as the small American village that is Capeside. The scenic beauty of the Creek, the coast, the woodland, the foliage. Everything visually about the show is in keeping with the emotional context of the show.
Camera work is also faultless. When presented with a difficult emotional scene, we usually pull away from the action at the end of the scene, not judging the characters for their mistakes and allowing them the right to deal with it on their own, without our interference. Only rarely do we judge the characters and when we do, the characters themselves have already beat us to it. (Dawson and Andie getting drunk)
I'd like to thank Kevin Williamson for allowing me the chance to fall in love with the town, the people and the life. These emotions are real. The vocabulary, is just a way of allowing the emotions to have a voice.
The Antz are Back in Town
In the wake of Toy Story, computer animation had a new path open to explore, the only problem was, making a film better than Toy Story. The charm of the characters and the simplicity of the story made it a film that could not only be enjoyed by children but by adults too. This is where Antz comes in. While Toy Story only existed on the one level that could be enjoyed by all, Antz exists on two levels, one level that can be enjoyed by children, aswell as a completely different level that can be enjoyed by adults. While only one of these levels may be universally transcendent, it does not take away from the overall enjoyment of this film.
On the first level is a simple story. Hitchcockian simplicity placing an ordinary character in an extraordinary situation, sees ordinary Ant worker Z foiling General Mandible's evil plans to take over the ant colony and getting the girl, Princess Bala. On a more adult level are the subtle movie references that range from the dance sequence inspired by Pulp Fiction, to the war sequence inspired by both Starship Troopers and The Killing Fields. Perhaps the best way to read this movie, however, is as a self referential gag fest about Woody Allen. As it is Allen who voices the main character Z, one can only assume that he knows that his character Z is an utter send up of his on and off screen persona. Any opening scene that borrows from Manhattan but is actually a decent from silhouetted grass stems into a psychiatrists room, where Z is telling his psychiatrist of how he feels inadequate and a nobody is totally sublime. The fact that the reply from the psychiatrist that he is a nobody also makes you wonder if this is more than just a cartoon and more of a social commentary on communism and capitalism. By the end of the film we realise that the capitalist ideal has won over the communist ideal first seen in the opening sequence where every ant knows its place and is working for the colony. This contrast between capitalism and communism continues as a motif throughout the film.
Rarely does a film contain all the elements that one desires on a film but Antz is different, combining the politics of war, the cross class love affair, the down and out looking for inspiration and a reason to carry on and most importantly, a story about humanity and the human condition. Beneath the surface of Antz lies the struggle of an ordinary Ant who wants something more and fights, albeit quite humorously, for his place and fights to be a better ant (read person). One touching scene has Z and his new friend Barbados meeting for a final time after the battle. Barbados, now being only a head, asks Z how bad it is. Touching and charming this is what the film is all about.
Another welcome idea in the film is the casting of two former A-list stars who have 0more or less become B-list stars, in the form of Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone. Both give underestimated performances as Z's buddy Weaver and Princess Bala respectively. Gene Hackman mirrors his tights and ruthless performance in Crimson Tide as General Mandabal and Christopher Walken is also at his usual best as Cutter. It is however Woody Allen who makes this film his own. The send up of himself as the neurotic ant who is trying to find a better place and a better life until he realises that he already has it has a knowing warmth and charm to it.
Comparisons with Toy Story, A Bugs Life and even Toy Story 2 will always detract from just how good a film this is and in fact is probably the only criticism one can find with the film. Toy Story had the novelty of being the first, A Bugs Life had the plain simplicity of story and entertainment, Toy Story 2 had a previous fan base, already known characters and a better story than its predecessor. Antz however has everything, drawing together, aside from the familiarity of the sequel, all of the different elements that made the others good, aswell as adding a few elements to a fastly growing genre of digitally animated, clever, cartoons.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
The genius of a legend
Many people dismiss Plan 9 as useless and meaningless science fiction fodder. This is not the case. What Edward D. Wood Jnr has produced is the masterpiece of his unmistakable genius.
A fitting end for horror legend Bela Lugosi, who famously died early into production, the film is a classic A-class, B-Movie. The ingenuity of Wood to cast a look-alike in the role that Lugosi held before his death shows the ingenuity and tact possessed by Wood.
It is fitting also that in Ed Wood (1994) Tim Burton's homage to the director, the film is heralded as Ed Wood's Citizen Kane, for this is quite simply everything you could hope for in an Edward D Wood Jnr movie. Simple story and simple people. Granted in some places the special effects are dubious at best, but consider the budget of this, a then mainstream movie, and consider what little money Wood had to work with. Science Fiction has always been one of if not the most expensive genre to make movies in, but this does not stop Wood from making a classic, low budget Science Fiction / Horror movie.
Sadly, this film will be remembered for the negative attitudes of would be film critics, however, the film, for me, will always rank up there with Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Critters 1 and 2 (3 was a bit poor y'know) and of course the classic Tremors. Plan 9 From Outer Space. The Citizen Kane for a forgotten genius.