Jessica Jones: Why Kilgrave is Marvel’s Best Villain

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In some ways, it’s simply the character himslf – his attributes as a villain. In the early episodes, there are plenty of examples of his petty sadism, and his childlike desire for retribution (consider when Patsy insults him on the radio, and his response to that) which becomes genuinely quite terrifying when he uses his powers to enact his every impulse. At the same time, though, David Tennant imbues him with a sense of charm and charisma – there’s almost a desire to like him. This is perhaps in part because he’s so well known as the Doctor; there’s time when I do think he channels his previous performance here, to great effect – the fact that we do, at times, like him and think he’s approaching normality makes the character far more insidious. In that way, then, he becomes an even more apt metaphor for rape culture, and the manner in which those sort of toxic attitudes are so pervasive, yet also hidden.

With everyone getting ready for Luke Cage, I thought it’d be a good time to look back on Jessica Jones, with an article about what made the odious Kilgrave such a fantastic character.

(I think I expressed the above poorly in places, particularly that bit about liking Kilgrave, because that’s not really the right way of putting it.)

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Star Trek Review: TOS – The Naked Time (1×04)

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Attention cooks, this is your captain speaking. I’d like double portions of ice cream for the entire crew.

This episode has something of a reputation, I suppose, as being a bit of a weird one. It is, after all, remembered primarily as the episode in which Sulu dances around shirtless, because they’re all space drunk. That is pretty much the long and the short of it, so I was expecting this to be quite poor. (I was also, I suppose, a little worried, given quite how bad that The Naked Now is – my fear being that the original would be as bad as its sequel was.)

Having watched it now, though, that was perhaps unfair. If nothing else, The Naked Time is actually pretty entertaining, Sulu and all. (Mind you; all the recent controversy about his sexuality, but by his third episode he’s asking his friend to come to the gym and do some workouts to relieve stress together? Interesting.)

What stands out about this episode is that it is actually… reasonably funny. Not in the regards that it wants to think it’s funny, of course; Kevin Riley singing and blathering on about ice cream wasn’t particularly amusing, but it’s Kirk’s exasperation that’s entertaining, or Spock sighing when he sees “Love mankind” scrawled across the walls – that sort of thing. It’s the moments where the episode reaches for humour that’s a bit more self-aware that the episode works; the rest of it is just a bit inconsequential. Perhaps it would have been better had it been a little bit more conscious of some of the implications of this virus; after all, the first person to come down with Psi 2000 is driven to madness and kills himself. We remember this episode as a bit of a camp runaround, but in places that’s quite dark – I can’t help but feel as if, had the episode been a bit more willing to take itself seriously at times, it might have been a little stronger.

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A question that is worth asking, though, is just how appropriate this episode is for when it is. I don’t mean 1966, of course, but rather the episode’s placement in the season. I can’t help but feel that this should have been something closer to the 15th episode, as opposed to the fourth; it feels very much like mid-to-late season filler, as opposed to the sort of thing you show when you’re still trying to define the concepts and characters of the show.

The idea, I think, is to explore the characters when they lose their inhibitions. Which is… a good idea, to an extent, though I would question just what some of these things are supposed to tell us. It does feel a little as though the choices were made on the basis of being entertaining rather than about their characters in some cases, though. And in many ways that’s the problem with this episode – because it happens so early on, the majority of the characters aren’t really fully formed yet. But here we are, starting with “this is what these guys are like when they’re not acting normally”. In a very real sense, we’ve ended up defining some of these characters in the negative. To some extent, it works, but it’s quite a misguided choice – we can appreciate it in hindsight because to us these characters are archetypes we’re quite familiar with already, but I can’t help but feel that this was a bad idea back in the 60s.

Spock is really the only character for whom this works, and there’s two reasons for that. The first is the simplicity of it; we’ve already been able to get a pretty firm handle on his personality, because it’s easy to understand. He lacks emotion. The opposite to that is also clear – when Spock loses his inhibitions, he has emotion. Makes perfect sense. And so, with this now, we actually are learning about Spock and about his character, and that’s a pretty cool thing to have here.

It really works, though, because Leonard Nimoy is a very skilled actor. When Spock is having his meltdown here, it’s absolutely note perfect; it would have been quite easy, I think, for this to slip into melodrama, but it’s actually quite well done. In all fairness, despite my reservations about defining the cast in terms of what they’re not, this sort of emotional turmoil and the battle to keep his human side in check is actually going to be quite important for Spock. Here is where we get perhaps the first glimpse of what lies beneath the surface, and it is really effective.

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The only other thing I have to say, really, is something that keeps occurring to me. Each of these episodes feel quite… strangely paced. To an extent, this is presumably just the fact that I’ve been trained on a much faster moving style of television, but I’m not actually so sure that they’re slow moving as such – rather, the scripts are all low on incident. Not much is actually happening, which means we take a lot of time to do not a lot at all.

It’s probably not so fair of me to single out The Naked Time for this, because it actually handles things far better than Charlie X or The Man Trap did; when we realise the virus has got out, there is a decent amount of tension as to the potential for the spread of the disease. (There’s an interesting moment where Kirk and Uhura start shouting at one another, clearly having lost their tempers; it feels like a hint that the virus is now airborne, and has got to them too, but this isn’t really explored further. It’s just a weird little moment there, that felt like something more.) But outside of that, I don’t really know that the script justifies a fifty-minute runtime. There should have been more of a focus on McCoy developing the cure, for example, alongside the rest of it. Much like the rest of the episodes I’ve seen so far, there’s a real lack of a B plot, and rarely enough exploration of the A plot. It’s all a little thin on the ground.

That’s not the biggest problem – I realise to an extent that’s just the style of the episodes, and it’s easy enough to tolerate. But it is a clear sign of the manner in which these episodes are still, to an extent, quite of their time. (To say nothing of the casual sexism that still permeates episodes; however, it was definitely nice to see both Uhura and Janice Rand taking on the conn at different points.)

Ultimately, The Naked Time was alright, actually. Undoubtedly it’s pretty naff in some places, but it’s got a fair amount of decent stuff too. I still just can’t help but feel it would have been better off had it been done a little later in the day.



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Could the BBC make their own Bake Off replacement?

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Ever since the news that The Great British Bake Off would be moving from BBC One to Channel Four, there’s been one question raised – could the BBC make their own, very similar, replacement? The question has only been strengthened with the news that Sue Perkins, Mel Geidroyc, and Mary Berry won’t be returning to the show; why not bring the three of them together once more, for The Great British Cake Off, perhaps?

What Channel 4 bought was the broadcasting rights for the concept – essentially, they paid £75 million to be allowed to show people baking in a tent. It’s not exactly the most innovative and unique concept, though; television is proliferated with talent shows and competitions, linked to a variety of different idiosyncratic skills, with a lot of crossover between them. MasterchefThe Great British Menu, and so on and so forth have all been able to meaningfully co-exist, so presumably another baking show could be thrown into the mix.

I’ve written a new article for Yahoo, with a bit of analysis about whether or not the BBC could make their own Bake Off replacement, looking at various precedents, the relationship between the BBC and Love Production, and a little bit of wild speculation too.

(I wrote this pretty much entirely because of the frankly bizarre about of hate comments my original Bake Off piece garnered.)

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Corbyn’s Cinema Club: What I learned from my evening with the Labour Leader

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It sounded a little bizarre at first.

A screening of Pride – a movie chronicling the work of LGSM in the 1980s – doesn’t, on the face of it, seem to have a particular amount to do with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Leadership campaign. In some respects, it seemed like a slightly cynical attempt to tick boxes, in an attempt to garner votes from LGBT individuals, miners, and, presumably, movie fans. But given I tick at least one of those boxes, it did catch my attention; further, I’d wanted to take a little bit more of an active interest in politics for a while now, and this seemed as good a place to start as any.

If nothing else, I’d wanted to see Pride for ages, so whatever happened, it wouldn’t be a complete waste of an evening.

It’s worth noting, perhaps, my mindset when going in; aside from the underlying confusion about the event, and the excitement about seeing the film, I naturally had a few preconceptions about Jeremy Corbyn. Generally speaking, I fall quite squarely into the demographic that he’s most popular with – young, left wing views, so on and so forth. Certainly, during the early period of Jeremy’s leadership, I was a fan; in recent months, I’ve become far more sceptical of him than I once was. So while I was still, broadly speaking, a supporter of his (albeit with a few caveats and reservations), I certainly wasn’t approaching this event as a diehard fanatic.

The event took place at the Phoenix Cinema, in East Finchley, and began at 6pm; I arrived a little early, and took a bit of a look around the place before going into the cinema. (There’s a great bookshop up the road, if you’re ever visiting.) Upon entering, I was given two pamphlets; one drawing attention to the Orgreave Campaign for Truth and Justice, and another advertising a demonstration on the 5th November for libraries, museums, and galleries, proudly bearing the legend “I give my 100% support to this demonstration – JEREMY CORBYN.” In many ways, those pamphlets set a precedent that could be observed throughout the night, representing a certain dedication to social justice and to greater public sector investment.

Dave Lewis introduced the evening, and acted as something of a moderator throughout; Lewis was one of the founding members of LGSM, and currently also acts as their press secretary. He’s not in the film, though, and made a few jokes about that. Following his brief introduction, the film played – and it was an absolutely stunning movie. I’m going to have a full review on my website later in the week, but while watching Pride it became quite clear why it did actually make sense in the context of a Corbyn campaign evening: the movie touches on the ideas of equality and worker’s rights that Jeremy Corbyn is so keen to espouse, and many of the original members held socialist beliefs. (Indeed, while LGSM itself has largely minimised its active role as a fundraising & pressure group, they do still occasional speak out in support of Jeremy Corbyn.)

After the movie, there were a series of short speeches from Mike Jackson, Gethin Roberts, and Jonathan Blake (all original members of LGSM, who were portrayed in the movie by Joseph Gilgun, Andrew Scott, and Dominic West respectively) and actor George McKay, who played the character Bromley in the movie. It was clear enough – as you’d expect, obviously – that they were all big supporters of Corbyn; Mike Jackson, for example, drew some interesting parallels between the “demonization” of Corbyn in the media, and the misinformation that was spread about LGSM in the 1980s, while Jonathan Blake called it a “huge honour” to be there in support of Corbyn. George McKay was the final person to speak, and thus gave something of an introduction for Corbyn, commending him for being dedicated to achieving the ideals put forward in Pride – those ideas of support, community, and the “joy of unity”.

It was then time for “Mr JC himself”, as Mike Jackson referred to Corbyn earlier in the night, to speak. While it’d be inaccurate to say the speech wasn’t political, because it obviously was, but certainly Jeremy didn’t particularly discuss policy – the event could be considered a “tone meeting” more than anything else, dedicated primarily to discussion of ambition and hopes for the future, as opposed to a concrete plan for how to get there. (Which is fair, of course; it was a night out to the cinema, I doubt anyone was expecting Corbyn to break out an Excel spreadsheet and show everyone his budget plans.) Said tone could be summed up quite well with one word, which all the speakers kept returning to – this idea of “solidarity”. Solidarity between the unions and LGBT people in Pride, solidarity between different communities, and ultimately solidarity as a country. It was a good message, and a strong one, that everyone there delivered wholeheartedly.

Corbyn’s speech did, I think, give something of an insight into the man himself. He began by talking about his own recollections of the miner’s strike in the 1980s; how he was proud to have raised £100 000 for the miners in his Islington constituency, how horrified he’d been at police brutality, but also how, despite the actions of Tory government at the time, the miners were able to stand strong because of – and here’s that word again – their solidarity with one another. Corbyn is clearly quite proud of his history of activism and going to rallies, as well he should be, but it also became clear that he’s approaching his leadership campaign from a very similar perspective. He spoke not only about mobilising the people, and building a grassroots campaign, but also put forward an answer for why he was giving a speech to a group of people who already supported him – “to build a movement, to build a union, to build a political party.” It was the word “movement” that interested me most; Corbyn has a very particular style of conducting his politics, viewing his work as a continuation of the struggle of “those who went before us”, and he’s not likely to change that any time soon. To some extent, it seems to work for him – he was saying that he’d been to 56 campaign events in the past month and a half, amassing 30 000 new supporters, and I do think he’s a more effective as an orator in public than he comes across on television.

Certainly, though, I liked a lot of the content of Corbyn’s speech. He brought out a lot of his usual policies, referring to combatting austerity, increasing council housing, and taking better care of the NHS; each was met with successively louder applause, clearly popular amongst the audience he’d amassed. Personally speaking, I was particularly fond of the emphasis he placed on arts funding within schools, and the need for a “cultural space” to encourage “artists and writers” – for obvious reasons, of course. Corbyn also emphasised a desire to “invest in the people of the future”, and move away from what he called “the miasma of nastiness”, which dominated the current politics, but ultimately wouldn’t “build one school, or train one doctor”. I would say that I left with a more positive impression of Corbyn than when I entered, primarily on the basis of this speech – he came across as a principled individual, committed to enacting a real, positive change. I would, I think, be more inclined to support him now than I was previously.

And yet the evening did, in many ways, embody what I find to be the central tension of Corbyn’s leadership. I like a lot of his ideas, and he appears genuinely committed to a form of social justice I admire; at the same time, I have some doubts as to his efficiency and competency as a politician, and to what extent he can meaningfully enact these policies. Certainly, his critics who believe he’s stuck in the past, or can only engage with politics as a protestor, would have a lot of ammunition to attack him with based on this event, with its focus on events like the miners’ strike, or the Orgreave campaign; while I’d argue it was actually entirely appropriate to pay heed to these issues, given the context of the event, it’s also easy to understand someone wanting Corbyn to put more focus on current affairs, particularly while campaigning to be party leader.

Moving forward from today, when Corbyn has reaffirmed his position as Labour leader with an even stronger mandate than before, that is the most important question – can Corbyn bring about the change he’s campaigning for?

Honestly, I genuinely hope he can.

Note: When I wrote this, I pitched it to a couple of different websites (to no avail, the lesson being not to bother with student politics websites and just go straight for the Guardian, probably) and I did, rightly or wrongly, tone down my own opinion and try to be a bit more measured in places. (And, come to think of it, I played down quite how much fun the evening was too. Still one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at the cinema.)

That said, two years on and uploading this to my website for the first time, I actually can’t tell which bits are the moments where I’m trying to be measured in place of my own opinion, or where it is my own opinion. Go figure. Anyway, I’d just like to note now that while then I was positive-but-tentative about Corbyn, I’m now tentative-but-positive, for all the clarity that deliberately unclear statement offers.

Alexis, my friend who’s also pictured above (or was, until I felt uncomfortable about the picture of the two of us with Jeremy and took it down), says “I’m only letting you put the Corbyn pic up on the one condition that you make it clear that I think he is bossman no longer (while actually also making sure I don’t come across as a Corbyn/socialism hater because, well, I’m not)”, and a few days later emphasised “Corbyn’s not the shit”.

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Why Patrick Ness is perfect for Class

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It started around two years or so ago, with a refusal: Patrick Ness was asked to write an episode of Doctor Who, but declined, on the basis that he was writing a lot for other people, and wanted to devote more time to his own projects. Fair enough, as I’m sure all would agree. Not long after, though, the BBC re-approached Ness with a new pitch: they were planning a school-based spinoff of Doctor Who, and wanted to know if he’d be interested in running it. The answer, as you can imagine, was a resounding yes.

Which is, in fact, rather fantastic, because Patrick Ness is the perfect candidate for this series. He’s got a long and established history of writing for YA properties, and can be considered one of the foremost authors within the genre – his Chaos Walking trilogy is quite highly regarded, as is his novel A Monster Calls, a movie adaptation of which, starring Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones, will be released later this year. However, it’s one of his more recent novels that makes it really clear how apt a choice Ness was to spearhead this spinoff, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Class shared more than a few similarities with said book…

I’m indulging in a little bit of clickbait with this one, admittedly – you can’t see which book it is unless you click the link! Still, though, I imagine it’d be easy enough to guess for anyone who’s reasonably familiar with Ness’ works.

(With a degree of hindsight, having now seen Class, I think it could have done with being a little bit more like The Rest of Us Just Live Here, and actually maybe a bit more like Release as well.)

(Oh, that undoes my clickbait. Whoops.)

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Star Trek Review: TOS – Where No Man Has Gone Before (1×03)

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Of all else, a god needs compassion!

Part of what got me into Star Trek was this big folder full of magazine pages that I got from the charity shop for a fiver once. I’ve just done a bit of googling, and found the Memory Alpha page for them; they were the Official Fact Files, apparently. I collected a few more editions over the years – also from the same charity shop, and I eventually figured out who my local Star Trek fan was – and I re-read that particular first set several times over the years.

The relevance of this, outside of my own Star Trek history, is that for whatever reason, the articles about this particular episode made a pretty big impression on me. I think they were probably just near the top of the folder, but also that there were simply a lot of articles on this episode; on Gary Mitchell, on Elizabeth Dehner, on the ESPers and the galactic barrier, and so on and so forth. I’d also ended up with the impression, somehow, that this was the first episode of TOS, and in 2011 had been rather hoping Into Darkness was an adaptation of this story to some extent. (It wasn’t.) Where No Man Has Gone Before occupied something of a unique status amongst TOS episodes for me – the episode I was most familiar with, of the series I was least familiar with.

This was still the first time I’d watched it, mind you. I’ve never really had access to all these episodes in one place – I was pretty much at the mercy of the repeat channels, and again, whichever VHS tapes I could find. (This is probably making me sound older than I am; I was just quite low tech, back in the day.) So it’s nice then, to have seen this episode – and frankly even nicer to be able to report back that it’s actually very good. I think it’s possibly the best of the season so far, although given how early on we are at present, that’s something of a case of damning with faint praise. Where No Man Has Gone Before is a really well put together piece of television, that I’d argue is actually far more entertaining, and in some regards more coherent, than its predecessors.

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A lot of that comes down to quite how impressive Gary Mitchell is as an adversary. Especially considering, actually, that broadly speaking he’s a repeat of Charlie X, just one episode later – omnipotent being as bad guy. Thankfully, though, Gary Mitchell is so vastly superior to Charlie that you don’t really realise this until after the episode has finished.

The reason for that is that Gary Mitchell has a far more substantial character arc than any of the villains we’ve seen thus far; with Charlie (who remains a good point of comparison) we become wise to the fact that he’s evil and threatening from the beginning, and then there’s just sort of a lot of nothing. Here, though, it’s built up slowly; you’ve got these long scenes in the sickbay between Gary and Kirk, or Gary and Dehner, where there’s a real sense of gradually rising malevolence. We really get to see his mental decline and fall from grace, and I think that this really shows an important strength for Star Trek, and indeed all of science fiction – you have to focus on having good character work for the science fiction aspects to resonate properly.

I’d also like to highlight the music for a moment. The background music in Star Trek doesn’t really have a reputation for being subtle, and rightly so to be honest; it is often very of its time, and that can be a little offputting on occasion. Mostly it’s just sort of “lovably ridiculous”, like that crash zoom on Gary Mitchell that wouldn’t have felt out of place in 1980s Doctor Who. It’s often still effective, but as I said, no one could ever really accuse it of being subtle.

In this episode, however, there’s this one really impressive detail that I thought really added to the presentation of Gary. During his sickbay scenes, there’s this metronome running underneath the scene. I thought it was part of the instrumental, at first, but it actually wasn’t; it’s revealed that this metronome is actually the sound of nearby medical equipment, which Gary is controlling subconsciously. You can interpret that, to some extent, as a metaphor for Gary’s powers now beginning to change the diegetic and extradiegetic nature of the narrative – that’s really godlike power.

(But, you know, even outside of my English Literature student nonsense, it’s actually a really well-done aspect, because it does make these scenes far tenser, and adds to the aforementioned sense of rising malevolence for Gary.)

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Also worthy of note is Kirk and Spock. Since this is the pilot (in a roundabout way, anyway) there’s still a lot of early episode weirdness – it is deeply unsettling for some reason to see Spock in yellow but Sulu in blue. There’s also a few moments regarding Spock and his emotions, or lack thereof, that irritated me; “ah yes, irritation is one of your Earth emotions” or words to that effect. I suppose at that stage it was a bit more “I don’t have emotions”, rather than “I carefully suppress and control them”, but still, it was a little weird as a line.

Nonetheless! Despite this early episode weirdness, Where No Man Has Gone Before does a really great job on the relationship between Kirk and Spock, and I think makes a compelling argument for its longevity. It’s clear that the pair of them work well together, not just as characters but from a dramatic standpoint; Spock’s ruthlessly logical solution to the problem presented by Mitchell is a great counterpoint to Kirk, who’s inclined to try and find the best solution to help everyone, not wanting to be quite as utilitarian as Spock is. (Gary Mitchell again is a great character, because his relationship with Kirk and their easy camaraderie makes for a nice contrast alongside Kirk’s relationship with Spock; interestingly, it’s the moment when Gary begins to agree with Spock, saying that they should kill him, that we see he’s essentially gone off the rails. That loss of humanity is a bad thing; the difference with Spock is that he’s employing this cold logic for the needs of the many, as it were.)

Again, I’m inclined to say that part of the reason for Trek’s longevity was the early performances of these actors, particularly Nimoy and Shatner; they’re quite charismatic, and they do a great job of making these characters feel a little bit deeper than just what’s happening on screen at that particular moment. Their relationships with one another feel quite fleshed out already, in terms of how they joke together (or more accurately, how Kirk jokes at Spock), but also how they make a particularly effective team when working together.

Ultimately, I think Where No Man Has Gone Before is a very strong episode, and definitely the strongest of the three I’ve seen so far. In a way, it’s perhaps the most obviously Trek-y so far, with a rather fantastic thematic throughline about just how humanity is meant to develop, and the fact that even as we go further, it’s not the technological developments that matter most, but our cultural and philosophical ones. After all, a god needs compassion.

I’m hoping that this level of quality can be maintained, though… well, we’ll see.



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Primeval: The show that kept evolving

primeval series 2 itv impossible pictures nick cutter douglas henshall stephen hart james murray connor temple andrew lee potts abby maitland hannah spearitt hd

Created in 2007, Primeval was ITV’s answer to Doctor Who; a high concept programme incorporating time travel elements. Portals through time, known as anomalies, were opening across England, and allowing all many of prehistoric creatures to roam free – the series began following the work of Professor Nick Cutter as he attempted to solve the mysteries of the anomalies, a matter of both scientific curiosity and personal concern. It was described as being more “realistic” than Doctor Who – debatable, given the time travel and dinosaurs, but, in any case, it was clear that a closer comparison was perhaps the one made by Douglas Henshall (Nick Cutter) himself; Primeval was akin to The A Team, with an ensemble of specialists having to work together to achieve their aims.

Over time, though, the show began to change; the second series saw our team go from a ragtag group to a fully-fledged secret organisation with the backing of both the government and the military, as well as having to face a larger threat for the first time. The third season brought with it another near-reboot, as Douglas Henshall decided to leave the show; gone was our professor of zoology, replaced with an ex policeman played by Jason Flemyng, and the show gradually became more action oriented. It grew grander in scale, too, and saw the team coming up against potentially world ending threats.

A recent article about Primeval – which, somewhat surprsingly, I’ve never actually written about on the blog before! I was quite a fan of the show back in the day (although I’ve not seen it for a while, and I can’t imagine it aged particularly well), so it was nice to take a bit of a look back and see how it changed over the years.

In some respects, it’s one of the most interesting things about Primeval – which admittedly is not a comment that says a lot about the quality of the show. It seems a little less remarkable now, when the cancellation of any show could be followed by it being picked up by another network, or revived 15 years later, but when Primeval did came back from the dead (and got an American spinoff!) it was more than a little atypical. To be honest, given its track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ever popped up on Netflix with a new series a few years down the line…

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Film Review | Anomalisa (2015)

anomalisa film review charlie kaufman duke johnson tom noonan david thewlis jennifer jason leigh

I think you’re extraordinary. I don’t know why yet. It’s just obvious to me that you are.

This is something of a difficult movie to review, I think; in some senses, it’s a difficult one to watch. And I don’t (just) mean how awkward it feels to see stopmotion sex.

Charlie Kaufman has something of a reputation of being, to put it bluntly, a genius. This is the first film of his that I’ve ever watched, so my expectations were high; particularly so, given that the praise for this movie was just through the roof. I mean, take a look at the soundbites on the film’s poster – it isn’t just “perfect”, it’s “a rare sliver of transcendence”. It’s a “rare and haunting marvel” that, apparently, changed someone’s life. So, you know, that’s an astonishingly high bar to set.

Particularly I was drawn to the line that says “the most human film of the year”; not least because that was the only tagline I was aware of before I saw the movie, but there’s something about that which is just so… enticing, to me. I’m quite interested in drama (obviously) and I want to get into writing myself someday, so there’s something about “the most human film of the year” which sounds to me to be a ridiculously high piece of praise to level at something.

Watching the film, though? Hmm. I’m struggling to properly put a pin in what I actually thought of it.

It did feel quite real, right from the off, beginning with the banalities of plane rides and hotels. (It’s possible this resonated with me moreso because I was watching the movie on a plane, having recently left a hotel.) I think in some ways this sequence was made more effective because it was done in stopmotion; it’s the juxtaposition between the very “true” feeling dialogue and the obvious-yet-uncanny-valley-esque puppets that really highlights the more human side of this movie, I think. It draws it into much sharper focus, and I think the film benefits from this throughout; Anomalisa is tied quite closely to its stopmotion format, really availing of the medium in such a way that it wouldn’t work otherwise.

The stopmotion, incidentally, is fantastic. I have some experience with that medium myself, having made a few shorts over the years – but we’re talking weeks’ worth of work, to produce fairly simplistic videos of a minute and a half tops. Anomalisa is so advanced as to be nearly incomparable to what I did, though, and it’s frankly a work of art in itself. A stunning accomplishment, really, which would have taken a hell of a lot of effort; it paid off, in any case, because Anomalisa came out looking absolutely gorgeous.

I just don’t know that Anomalisa was actually as smart as it thought it was, or as smart as it wanted to be.

Anomalisa is about loneliness, to some extent; David Thewlis’ character, Matthew Stone, clearly feels quite isolated and spends the runtime of the movie desperately searching for some meaningful human connection. When he does find it, it’s so fleeting as to barely last at all. In a lot of ways, the depiction of loneliness here is quite well done – the dialogue is fantastic, the feeling permeates the movie, and there’s an aspect of it that seems quite true throughout. Stone repeats with Lisa what he did with the other woman; the irony is that she isn’t an “anomaly Lisa”, she’s just the latest in a long string of women he does that with. He’s sad and lonely and a little pathetic, and he can’t connect with people, because he gets so caught up with the romantic ideals and doesn’t consider the person behind the idealised fiction version. It’s a well-presented story, and in many regards it’s quite clever.

It’s not that clever, though. Because Anomalisa doesn’t really say anything about loneliness, and I don’t feel it presents anything particularly new or all that interesting. The high concept, essentially, is “let’s tell a story about a lonely middle-aged man who has an affair… except it’s stop motion!” and then that’s just sort of the extent of it. There’s a rather out of place, yet wholly predictable, dream sequence; it adds little, feeling largely superfluous, and you can sort of guess what’s going to happen in it from the first time you see the stop motion models. Towards the end of the movie, we’ve even got Stone saying “sometimes there is no meaning, and at times that’s a meaning in and of itself”; this feels rather like a cop-out, to be honest, as if the movie itself is rejecting the idea it needs to have some level of substance. It’s taken the simplest representation of loneliness you can have, and presented it in an interesting way – that’s not enough to make the heart of the movie feel anything other than quite superficial.

I’m quite frustrated, really, that I feel this way. Primarily because I actually did, generally speaking, enjoy most of it; it was reasonably clever, and entertaining enough, despite feeling terribly lacking in a few key areas. More than that, though, I want to understand why everyone else loves it so much, and what they took away from it that I didn’t. While I’m not exactly disinclined to go against the critical consensus, I do feel like “yeah it’s just not that great” isn’t really a strong enough argument in the face of such significant praise. There was a distinct feeling that I’d missed something about the movie; I did some more reading, and I did pick up on some more nuanced ambiguities before. The Japanese sex doll, for example, wasn’t quite as gratuitous as I thought and did open up some questions as to whether or not Stone’s night with Lisa was hallucinatory; I was also able to clarify a few points regarding the voice work and the impact of it.

Ultimately, though, none of what I’ve read actually made me feel any the wiser. Anomalisa feels like a movie that needs a rewatch to fully appreciate it, but there was little about it that made me think it deserved an immediate rewatch; I suspect I’d only be watching it to keep searching for some deeper meaning that I’m just not going to find. If you’ve got any clever comments on it, or you can link me to a great essay about the movie, I would love to hear from you; I get the sense that I’m going to be trying to make Anomalisa into something it’s not for quite some time.

I’m going to eschew a rating for this movie, in part because I still don’t feel that I “get” it, but also… well, sometimes there is no rating, and at times that’s a rating in and of itself.

(See? Such a cop-out.)

Note from Alex of 2018: I’m inclined to tell you to disregard most of the above, though I’ve not actually rewatched Anomalisa since writing this. It’s going to be near the top of my list, though, because I still think I’ve missed something.


I’ll add this bit in later.

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Star Trek Review: TOS  – Charlie X (1×02)

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There are a million things in this universe you can have and a million things you can’t have. It’s no fun facing that, but that’s the way things are.

What becomes evident, even as early as this second episode, is how important the actors were to the success of Star Trek, particularly William Shatner. I must admit, I’ve always been a Picard guy (with a great deal of appreciation for Sisko, of course), but I’m absolutely starting to look at Kirk in a new light. Shatner does a great job portraying Kirk as a calm and easy going individual, but at the same time there’s a firm and assured sense of authority to him. He’s not really the immature, womanising scoundrel that pop culture seems to paint him as – or at least, not yet. Kirk has, thus far, come across as an entirely able Captain, and indeed quite a good one too.

I’m also growing quite fond of Dr McCoy, in no small part because of DeForest Kelly’s performance; he’s charming and charismatic, and it’s a pleasure to watch him on screen. You can clearly see the chemistry he shares with Kirk, we’re also starting to see some of that infamous banter between McCoy and Spock. Spock, incidentally, has long been a favourite character of mine, so it was nice to see him in a slightly expanded role, following on from last week.

It seems to me, then – and I imagine I’ll be throwing out a lot of hypotheses like this over the coming weeks – that part of the reason for the longevity of Trek is these actors, and the life they imbued in their characters. Clearly, it’s still early days yet – we’re yet to properly see Scotty, for example – and certain aspects are still being worked out, but it does seem to me that this was a fairly important part in securing the future of the franchise.

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Certainly, though, while I might point to the performances of our regular cast as being one of the reasons why Star Trek proved to last so long, I’m not all that convinced that anyone would be pointing to this episode in particular. The fact of the matter is that it’s… well, it’s not great. It’s okay, I guess, but while The Man Trap suggested a reasonably entertaining space navy television show, this was… just kinda meh.

The problem is most evident in terms of the pacing, I think. While the mysterious Charlie X is a decent hook, there isn’t really a lot being done with said hook; it becomes quite obvious to the audience quite early on that Charlie has mysterious powers – it’s heavily hinted as soon as he arrives, and confirmed not long after – so it’s not exactly accurate to say there’s a building tension across the episode. In a way, it’s almost frustrating that it takes the crew so long to cotton on to what we already know, and indeed somewhat aggravating that when they do find out, they don’t really do much about it. I found that particularly odd, actually, in light of the previous week – Kirk placed a lot of emphasis on protecting his crew, and was clearly quite angry about their deaths. That was, in the end, why he killed the Salt Vampire. Yet here his actions don’t quite seem consistent with that, as Charlie is making crewmen disappear (we don’t really get any confirmation as to whether or not the majority of them return, only Janice) and Kirk essentially just takes it all in his stride. You can fairly easily make the argument that he was just trying not to provoke Charlie, of course, but it remained just a little weird.

One thing I did appreciate, mind you, was Kirk’s talk to Charlie about love being a two-way street, and how it’s important to pay attention to what both parties want. It’s a pretty basic message, which should be obvious, but given the fact that it isn’t – even today – I was glad to see it there. That was far more in line with the progressive Trek I like to remember.

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Other than that? Well, there were a few little things that stood out to me. I found the interactions between Spock and Uhura to be quite interesting, actually; I’ve always felt that the relationship between the pair in the new series movies was a tad superfluous, and more than a little out of nowhere. Watching these early episodes for the first time, though, and you can see that there may well have been more to the Spock/Uhura relationship in the original series than we tend to credit it with. Certainly, it was there in The Man Trap (albeit in something of an egregious manner) and here again you’ve got Uhura and Spock singing to one another. So, that was interesting to note.

I also want to just point out, by the way, that Kirk totally shouldn’t have won that game of Chess. He was, after all, in Check; any move he then makes would first require him to move out of Check. I suppose it’s possible for him to do that at the same time as checkmating Spock, but from looking at the pieces, that didn’t really seem to be the case. (Then again, I don’t really know much about 3D Chess.) I find it entertaining to think that Spock’s general exasperation wasn’t at losing, it was at Kirk getting it wrong – or perhaps at Kirk deliberately getting it wrong, so he could go away and leave Spock with Charlie!

Ultimately, this was… it was okay. The main crew were decent; Charlie far less so. In terms of the actual plot, it was lacking, and I think it’d be quite easy to get bored if you’re not already invested in it to some extent. Certainly, I’d never show this to a friend in the hopes of getting them to appreciate Star Trek, because frankly it’s more likely to lead them to dismiss the show entirely.

But, you know. It’s fair enough to just have “okay” episodes.



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The Great British Bake Off Disaster, and what it means for the BBC

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Bakexit means bakexit, or so they’re currently saying.

By this point, we’ve likely all heard the news – the BBC’s popular teatime show The Great British Bake Off will be moving to Channel 4 for its next season, and in the move it’s going to lose presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc. At time of writing, there’s no news as to whether Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood will be making the move – the new deal with Channel 4 didn’t include them, and so their contracts will need to be renegotiated – but it’s already becoming clear that The Great British Bake Off, when it does return next year, will be returning in a significantly different capacity.

This speaks of a larger, systemic problem in terms of attitudes to the BBC, though – the manner in which it is so criminally underfunded, and the lack of care given to it. In 2010 we saw the licence fee frozen; the television centre in London was closed not long after that; earlier this year, BBC Three was forced to become an online only platform. Most pertinent in terms of Bake Off was the regime change instituted recently, stating that 25% of the BBC’s content has to be guaranteed to independent companies, and a further 25% open to competition between independent companies and BBC producers. It’s essentially this stipulation – and further meddling from the current Conservative government – that leads to the BBC losing programs such as The Great British Bake Off or The Voice.

Tragedy struck yesterday, as no doubt everyone heard. Bake Off is moving channel! Mel and Sue are leaving! It’s the end of the world! More importantly, though, it reveals something worrying about how the BBC is treated…

(“Criminally underfunded” is probably a bit much, and I suspect I was reaching for things without the fullest understanding of the bigger picture. Still, though, I am very pro-BBC.)

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