Unordered List

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Doctor Who 7x05: The Angels Take Manhattan

Previous reviews can be found on the Doctor Who tag.
Maybe it was a bad idea to watch Doctor Who on the same day as going to see Looper, because Looper was so goddamn amazing that most other time-travel stories pale in comparison. But Looper issues aside, this episode still wasn't terribly impressive. I avoid Doctor Who spoilers as much as humanly possible, but if you live in the UK it's very difficult to ignore widely-reported information such as the departure of the Ponds. All the coverage seemed to focus on "This episode is a real tearjerker!!" which annoyed me because a) you're not my dad, Steven Moffat, don't tell me what to do, and b) show don't tell, for god's sake! Surely it's enough that most viewers already knew that this would be the Ponds' final episode -- why bother hammering home all the stuff about how upsetting it's going to be? Let the story tell itself.
The end result was one of those TV moments that made me feel like a sociopath -- ie, a screen full of people crying hysterically to an overwrought orchestral soundtrack while I sat there, utterly unmoved. I find it increasingly disappointing that while Moffat's episodes were some of the very best in previous seasons, now that he's the showrunner I find myself practically groaning out loud when his name comes up on the credits. Of the five episodes we've had this season, the two that were written by Moffat have been laden with speedy emotional conflict/resolution subplots and the kind of sudden U-turn revelations that are beginning to remind me of M Night Shyamalan.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Bletchley Circle, Part 2: Costume Design.

Previously: The Bletchley Circle.

Historical dramas have a symbiotic relationship with costume design, with the clothes in high-profile shows like Downton Abbey receiving almost as much coverage as the stars. I suspect that this is one of the contributing factors to the popularity of historical movies about aristocrats, since it's a lot easier to interview Keira Knightley about corset logistics for the fiftieth time than it is to publicise a bunch of photoshoots of people wearing muddy pinafores and staid woollen caps. I love a good crinoline as much as the next girl, but sometimes movies about The Poors can be just as visually interesting because the costumes can illustrate more than just a statement of expense and luxury.
Downton Abbey is the reigning queen of costume-design coverage because it just entered the 1920s, and fashion magazines looooove the 1920s. Downton is in an enviable position, costume-wise, because several of its main characters are real clothes-horses and are rich enough that it's believable for them to be agonisingly on-trend as the show inches forwards into the first years of "modern" fashion. Once you reach the mid-20th century, popular fashions begin to move fast enough that most viewers will know the time period without much need for scene-setting, whereas it would take a historian to tell the difference between, say, 1830 and 1850 based on visuals alone. The problem is that it's easy to get carried away with year-by-year trend accuracy, and forget that not everyone could or even want to be up-to-date with the very latest styles.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Bletchley Circle

This may seem like an idiotic complaint coming from someone so obsessed with costuming and appearances, but one of the reasons why I'm so judgemental about historical dramas is that they're often so much more concerned with style than with substance. Not that style's necessarily a bad thing, since if historical dramas were actually "accurate" then it'd be damn near impossible to write them for a modern audience. A tremendous amount of research and effort goes into making things like Downton Abbey and Titanic into glittering caricatures of a particular time-period, but it's less common to see that same effort go into the non-visual aspects of the setting, mostly because very few people want to watch a movie that directly reflects the culture of actual real-life humans in the 17th century. You know, back when everyone was stunningly racist, people had wooden teeth, and public executions were the popular equivalent of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
The Bletchley Circle is one of those rare historical dramas that combines modern writing styles (in this case, a murder mystery) with real emotional and psychological fidelity to the time-period. British television is unwaveringly obsessed with the two World Wars (as evidenced by the simultaneous popularity of Downton Abbey, Upstairs/Downstairs and War Horse, not to mention Doctor Who's unerring ability to end up in 1940s England at least once per season), but I can't remember having seen anything that illustrates the post-war period as well as this show does. The protagonists are four women who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park during WWII, but following the War found themselves falling into dull and disappointing routines either as housewives or in jobs that failed to measure up to the excitement of foiling Nazi spies. When we first meet these women they're in their element, working diligently to break German codes and help the men stationed overseas, but the moment the show skips forwards to 1952 it's immediately obvious that things have changed for the worse.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Honour Among Punks: Sherlock Holmes like you've never seen her before.

Did you know that I quite like Sherlock Holmes? DID YOU ALSO KNOW that there's a comicbook where Holmes and Watson are both women and it's set in an alternate-history 1980s where Victorian society continued on throughout the 20th century because World War II never happened? And Holmes (Sharon) is a punk who solves punk crimes that are ignored by the police? And she has an angry punk girlfriend named Sam, who lives with her and nerdy American med-student Watson at 112 Baker Street? THIS IS SO IMPORTANT, YOU GUYS. So important.
I had a couple of long train journeys today, and found myself reading the entire run of Baker Street by Gary Reed and Guy Davis (two full story arcs, "Honour Among Punks" and "Children of the Night") from cover to cover. And now I'm passing on the love, because a) the premise is so evidently super-awesome that everyone should at least give it a try, and b) more selfishly, I want people to write fanfic about it for Yuletide. If you haven't heard of Yuletide before, it's an annual fanfic festival for people who want there to be fic for something reeaaaally obscure like a yogurt advert or a song by The Supremes or, say, a now-defunct queer lady punk Sherlock Holmes comic. Many Yuletide participants are have little or no previous experience with fandom or fanfic, because Yuletide is for EVERYONE and you can request anything. Seriously, there are multiple Kierkegaard fanfics out there, all thanks to Yuletide. But I digress from our main focus: Sharon Holmes: Punk Crimefighter.
Sharon and Watson.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Elementary: characterisation, the unaired pilot, and its relationship to Sherlock Holmes canon.

Previously: From Arthur Conan Doyle to New York City's "Elementary": The Costume Design of Holmes and Watson.

Given the nature of Sherlock Holmes fandom, it's not entirely surprising that people were forming their opinions of Elementary and arguing about it before anyone had even seen the show. Some Holmes canon purists hated the fact that it was set in America; some fans of BBC Sherlock hated the idea of "another remake" so quickly on the heels of the British series. And people from both groups seemed irritated by the concept of a female Watson, prompting the first wave of backlash from pre-emptive Elementary fans who were determined to love it because Lucy Liu is awesome and sexism is bullshit. My own reaction to the early Elementary announcements was trepidation, partly because I didn't trust American network television to make a crime drama centering around a male/female relationship not be a romance. But since the showrunners had expressly put out statements to counteract this worry among Holmes fans, I decided to give it a go.
I should mention now that this post will contain some spoilers, although they won't be connected to the crime plot. The main focus of the episode was the fledgling relationship between Holmes and Watson, and to be quite honest the mystery/crimesolving aspects were not good. Even by the standards of long-running formulaic crime dramas like Bones or CSI it wasn't particularly interesting, and the vast majority of deductions made by Holmes were ones that could well have been made by the police. Not to mention the fact that it fell for the old crime-TV problem of there only being one believable suspect, ie "that one actor you kinda recognise". Which isn't to say that I'm giving the episode a negative review -- I just feel like the detective work never really approached the quality of the deductions in Holmes canon, or indeed in BBC Sherlock.

Friday, 14 September 2012

New York Fashion Week, spring 2013: Proenza Schouler, Ralph Lauren, and more.

Proenza Schouler
The close-up shots from this show are far, far more interesting than the overall effect of each individual outfit. The silhouettes were boxy but chic, as I'd expect from any season of Proenza Schouler, but this kind of unique design detail is one of those moments where you can really understand why these clothes are so stupidly expensive. (Something that I don't alway believe when it comes to -- totally random example here, guys -- Calvin Klein's neverending supply of knee-length white dresses.)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The new Judge Dredd movie is a great chick-flick.

Most people have a favourite genre of fiction, one where they'll watch or read any old crap as long as it ticks the right boxes. For my mother, it's those crime novels that always have a dark picture of an alleyway on the cover and a blurb including the phrase "web of deceit". My friend Alex is a great aficionado of any and all vintage SF/F where the sets and costumes look like they were made out of cereal boxes. My own speciality is dystopic sci-fi/action movies, meaning that I got near-equal quantities of entertainment from the truly brilliant Children Of Men as I did from the baffling cinematic fart that is The Spirit. (For those of you who haven't seen The Spirit, it's basically what would happen if someone tried to remake Sin City while tripping balls. And allowed Samuel L Jackson full creative control over all of his and Scarlett Johansson's costumes. Seriously, ask me about The Spirit sometime. It has a bellydancer/Nazi/dentistry scene that you would not believe.)
My point is, you could not pay me to watch a three-star movie about a middle-aged white guy angsting over his divorce from Kate Hudson, but a three-star movie where the exact same guy duels a malfunctioning android in a city made entirely from neon striplighting and concrete rubble? I'm sold.

The problem is that my own outlook on the world often seems to clash with that of the filmmakers I love, ie: I generally view women to be people, and the creators of the films I watch give every impression of disagreeing with this viewpoint. Of course, I could try watching nothing but feminist documentaries and serious real-life dramas about women overcoming personal tragedies, but quite frankly those kinds of movies don't fulfill my needs vis-a-vis mutant zombie hordes, improbable leather body-armour, and soundtracks that sound like twelve-ton steel girders being banged together by Skrillex. Sadly, if I want to sit down and watch some ridiculous bullshit about a bunch of murderous idiots rappelling down the ruins of a post-apocalyptic megacity, then I generally have to put up with the only female characters in the movie either being Lara Croft clones, or a roomful of strippers who get gunned down in the second act.

Monday, 10 September 2012

From Arthur Conan Doyle to New York City's "Elementary": The Costume Design of Holmes and Watson.

(This post is spoiler-free for CBS's Elementary.)

Like many Sherlock Holmes fans I had mixed feelings about the BBC's plan to make a modern-era Holmes adaptation, and was once again rather doubtful when CBS announced that they were going to film what sounded worryingly like Sherlock: New York City edition. But since BBC Sherlock won me over within about five minutes of its first episode, I decided to keep an open mind when it came to Elementary. I can understand people who don't like the idea of a US-set Holmes (particularly one that exists within the strictures of an episodic crime procedural), but I have no worries whatsoever regarding the casting of Lucy Liu as Watson. If Holmes and Watson are still platonic friends -- which the Elementary showrunners have already assured us will be the case -- then in a 21st century setting, it shouldn't matter that Watson is a woman. Will this be a close adaptation of Conan Doyle's vision? Probably not, but it isn't as if the existence yet another Holmes can retroactively damage any of the hundreds of other versions we have to choose from.
I was impressed to notice that even though all we've seen of Elementary so far are a few publicity shots and (in some cases, anyway) screener DVDs of the pilot episode, Holmes and Joan Watson already have very distinctive costuming styles. Most of the costume-related fan-commentary I've seen so far, though, is people expressing irritation at the apparent similarities between BBC Sherlock's famous coat and scarf, and the costume worn by Jonny Lee Miller during some scenes in the Elementary pilot. The two outfits are, I suppose, quite similar, but in general Elementary Holmes' styling couldn't be more different from BBC Sherlock's. And it's worth noting that Elementary takes place during autumn/winter in New York, so a thick coat and scarf aren't exactly out of place.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Doctor Who 7x02: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

Can you get high from watching Doctor Who? Signs point to YES because right now I'm sitting here giggling to myself because this episode was just. So. Delightful. After last week's rather patchy season-opener I had my doubts, but episode two was an absolute slam-dunk, incorporating just about everything you could possibly hope for from a standalone hour of Doctor Who: silly jokes, exciting space adventures, cool side-characters, poignant Doctor/companion moments, a handful of adult jokes for the grown-ups, DINOSAURS, and an old-school Doctor Who moral underlying the whole thing. They even managed to include a couple of funny talking robots who miraculously didn't annoy the crap out of me, which is well-nigh impossible. (Funny talking robots: not for amateurs. They're the Jar Jar Binks of Doctor Who.)
(source unknown)
During the opening scenes I was concerned that the spirit of Moffat was lurking in the form of a flirty girl hitting on the Doctor for audience laughs, BUT NO -- Nefertiti turned out to be awesome, and provided an excellent foil for the other characters. Really, all the companions were brilliant this week! Dinosaurs On A Spaceship definitely falls into the category of lighthearted, non-plotty episodes, but that didn't make it bad. The tone and pacing were perfect -- funny and fast-moving enough that there was no real need to explain anything, especially since Rupert Graves' character seemed to have traveled with the Doctor before and Nefertiti had just had a run-in with another set of aliens. As for the dinosaurs, they were an ideal choice for this type of episode. Gimmicky cameos and ideas like "dinosaurs on a spaceship" can often be too flimsy to hold up a full episode, but in this specific case? Not so much. Firstly because the storyline (such as it was) had enough separate components that it wasn't just relying on the draw of dinosaurs on spaceship, and secondly because, well, everyone loves dinosaurs. If Doctor Who had 2012-quality special effects in previous decades, you can damn well assume that they'd have been making at least one dinosaur special per season, because dinosaurs are in the near unique position of appealing to kids and adults on exactly the same level, ie, "OMG dinosaurs!!". 

Friday, 7 September 2012

Spring 2013 at NYC Fashion Week: Duckie Brown, Zac Posen, Gary Graham, and more.

Duckie Brown
Containing enough plaid and denim to clothe several platoons of stereotypical lumberjacks (or, more likely, rich hipsters), Duckie Brown's latest collection was not for me. Having very little patience for double-deniming in general and catwalk fashion "explorations" of the ubiquitous jeans/plaid combination in particular, my favourite looks from this show were the weirder ones such as strangely-tailored mess of wrinkles and ruffles, which would have looked more at home at a Yohji Yamamoto show. The most memorable trend of the collection was the plethora of long strips of leather looped around the models' torsos (shoulder belts?), a non-functional accessory that I highly doubt will catch on.
pics from

Gary Graham
My love of short, bloomer-like pantaloon trousers is partially responsible for my love of Gary Graham's latest effort, but even beyond that one appealing component this collection is an intriguing combination of floaty weirdness and more down-to-earth hippie styles. The colour scheme and styling are distinctly earthy and unglamourous, which only serves to highlight the numerous details that are clearly founded in high-end craft fashion and impracticality.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Star Trek's original 1965 pilot episode: The Cage.

If you haven't seen Original Series Star Trek, you are missing out, dear readers. This may sound counterintuitive, but I love it so much that I... still haven't seen all of the episodes. I have to keep something for my old age, you know? But the other day I did watch the original pilot episode for the first time -- the pilot pilot, back before James T. Kirk was even a twinkle in Gene Roddenberry's eye, and the captain of the USS Enterprise was still Christopher Pike.
The premise of the unaired pilot is similar to a typical seek-out-new-worlds Trek episode, but the cast and overall tone is fairly different. The main trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy plus crewmembers Sulu, Uhura and Scotty didn't settle down until halfway through the first season, but the pilot episode featured the rather dour and worn-down Captain Pike backed up by first officer Number One (we'll get to her later), a surprisingly emotional Spock, and a crew of mostly interchangeable American men. Kirk's absence is significant, highlighting how gosh-darn serious the pilot is when compared to the rather jokey, colourful tone of "real" Star Trek episodes. I mean, there's still a hell of a lot of campy stuff to laugh at in The Cage -- angry humanoid pig-bear alien, anyone? -- but it was surely a good decision to replace the cynical, world-weary Pike with the more youthful, ridiculous Kirk and his love of doing forward-rolls in the middle of fight scenes for no apparent reason. (Sorry, have I mentioned yet that I LOVE CAPTAIN KIRK? I love him.)

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Doctor Who 7x01: Asylum of the Daleks. (SPOILERS!)

Is it bad that I'm now kind of wishing that Jenna Louise Coleman (Oswin) isn't the new companion? Not because I disliked her or anything like that, but purely because I'd find it funny if the entire photoshoot/announcement/etc turned out to be a complete fake-out. The Doctor Who team tried to do that with one of the previous companions (Donna, maybe?) but in reverse, although the casting info got leaked early so everyone knew it was her anyway. I just enjoy the idea of them being able to pull one over us, although of course there have been tons of photos of JLC in the newspapers and so on so I can only assume that she'll be playing a different character (Oswin's... identical twin...?).
As for the actual content of the episode... I have mixed feelings. The latter half of last season was kind of a mess, and starting off this season in what felt like the middle of another storyline may well have been a mistake. Amy and Rory's divorce, an adult and complex topic, was handled and wrapped up in one episode, with the entire problem being solved purely by the Doctor leaving them alone together to talk it out. I feel like we've already been through this kind of conflict several times with Amy and Rory, and it seems pointless to rehash yet another variation on the same old song right at the beginning of a new season. The issue of Amy's infertility was handled convincingly by the actors, but the fact that it was introduced and then cleared up withing about ten minutes cheapened it entirely. As a card-carrying sap I was 100% onboard with every hackneyed emotional cue when Amy and Rory predictably reunited at the end, but up until then I was unimpressed by the decision to throw in a break-up subplot for what may or may not have been no good reason at all.

Links post: The Creature from the Black Lagoon, literary bathing costumes, 2500-year-old tattoos, and more.

Behind the scenes of "Creature from the Black Lagoon", 1954. 

Kate Imbach matches famous book covers to bathing costumes. How do you even come up with an idea like that?? I love the human mind. (Matchbook)