Monday, February 27, 2012

Vincent Price Presents



MASTER OF HORROR VINCENT PRICE’S NEW COMIC BOOK SERIES HAUNTS THIS MAY

One of classic Hollywood's most famous scary men, Vincent Price made a name for himself in classic mysteries and thrillers throughout the 1940's, 50's and 60's.

A brand new Vincent Price horror limited series comic book to debut from Bluewater Comics in May; Vincent Price’s “House of Horrors”, will be a four issue mini series. This series is spinning off from the Rondo Award nominated, “Vincent Price Presents”.

“This new series will focus on one shot stories that will have you at the edge of your seat,” said President of Bluewater Comics, Darren G. Davis. “The stories are all new and have a certain horror element about them that hasn’t been seen before.”

The very first issue starts off with the debut of new writer Jay Katz of the energetic and wildly popular web site InvestComics (www.investcomics.com). With art by a Bluewater mainstay Stefano Cardoselli, and colors by Industry star colorist Jeff Balke. It features a painted cover by LP Dopp.

“I am very proud to have this new Vincent Price series for everyone to enjoy”, said Daren Davis. “It’s going to be a spine tingling experience, so get ready for some great horror stories!”

The comic will be available through comic book stores only and other fine established comic book ordering web sites. Check with your retailer and ask about Vincent Price: House of Horrors #1.

About Vincent Price:

Vincent Price was born on May 27, 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri. His father owned the National Candy Company. His acting career began onstage in London in the play Chicago. He also performed with Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre. Actor Vincent Price starred as the villain in the 1953 film House of Wax. It was one of the first films shot in 3D and revitalized the horror genre.

About Bluewater Productions

Bluewater Productions Inc. is one of the top independent production studios of comic books, young adult books and graphic novels. Its extensive catalog of titles includes the bestsellers 10th Muse and ³The Legend of Isis Bluewater publishes comic books in partnership with entertainment icon William Shatner (TekWar Chronicles), legendary filmmaker Ray Harryhausen (Wrath of the Titans, Sinbad: Rogue of Mars, Jason and the Argonauts, et al) and celebrated actor Vincent Price (Vincent Price Presents), Additionally, Bluewater publishes a highly successful line of biographical comics under the titles Female Force and Political Power.

Bluewater aims to unite cutting-edge art and engaging stories produced by its stable of the publishing industry¹s top artists and writers.

For more information, visit www.bluewaterprod.com

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar the grouch

Well, with the tired bunch of earnest nominations for Best Picture this year, this is the least interesting Academy Awards in some time. I’ll miss out on the live broadcast of the part I’m most interested in: the technical and craft aspects like Film Editing.

I should be home in time to see the twee elegiac styling of The Artist be declared the Best Picture over a bunch of other smug crap. Yippee.

Below, I’ve picked the likely winners in each category. Where I felt I had sufficient information to judge, I have also picked the best candidate of those on offer in each category.

Best Picture:
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Predicted winner: The Artist
Should win: The Descendants

The Artist won Best Motion Picture: Comedy or Musical, at the Golden Globes (The Descendants won for ‘Drama’ category) and hasn’t looked back since then in terms of the sort of mainstream awards that generally predict Oscar success. There’s virtually no doubt that it will pick up the Best Picture Oscar.  Who should win? It’s hard to care much about the category this year, with such a lacklustre line-up. The Descendants was pretty good, so I’d like to see that win.


Best Directing:
Michael Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”

Predicted winner: Michel Hazanavicius
Should win: Payne or Malick

Despite generally promoting the idea that modern films are ‘authored’ by their directors, there are occasions where the Academy separates its pick for Best Director from its pick for Best Picture. This will not be one of those occasions.


Best Adapted Screenplay:
Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, “The Descendants”
John Logan, “Hugo”
George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, “The Ides of March”
Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin; story by Stan Chervin, “Moneyball”
Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Predicted winner: The Descendants
Should win:  
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The late Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan did an exceptional job of converting John le Carre’s dense, convoluted spy-drama into something that could be shot as a single feature film. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is far better than any of the Academy’s list of Best Picture nominees. Still, I don't hold out any hope that even its taut screenplay will do better than a nomination.


Best Original Screenplay:
Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig, “Bridesmaids”
J.C. Chandor, “Margin Call”
Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation”

Predicted winner: Midnight in Paris


Once this vote goes to the wider Academy (as it does for the final “winner is” vote; the relevant subsection selects the nominees) I doubt the majority of members will be able to bring themselves to vote ‘Best Screenplay’ for a movie that has no spoken dialogue. ‘But no one says anything!’ they’ll puzzle, and move on down the alphabetical list. Mainstream comedies are at a disadvantage in the credibility stakes, and “Margin Call” has been too low key, so they will stop at “Midnight in Paris”.

Best Actress:
Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”

Predicted winner: Viola Davis
Should win:
Rooney Mara, although I’m not too fussed on this one.

Best Actor:
Demian Bichir, “A Better Life”
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

Predicted winner: Jean Dujardin
Should win:  
Gary Oldman


Best Supporting Actress:
Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

Predicted winner:
Octavia Spencer


Best Supporting Actor:
Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

Predicted winner: Christopher Plummer

Best Art Direction:
Laurence Bennett, “The Artist”
Stuart Craig, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″
Dante Ferretti, “Hugo”
Anne Seibel, “Midnight in Paris”
Rick Carter, “War Horse”

Predicted winner: Hugo

They’ll want to give “Hugo” something – this could be it.

Best Cinematography:
Guillaume Schiffman, “The Artist”
Jeff Cronenweth, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
Robert Richardson, “Hugo”
Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Tree of Life”
Janusz Kaminski, “War Horse”

Predicted winner: The Tree of Life

The Academy can be a bit myopic when it comes to the semi-technical/semi-artistic categories like cinematography and film editing. The cinematographers, for example, pick their nominee list, but the whole Academy votes for the winner, and they gravitate towards the one or two films in the running to win Best Picture. But that’s not an insurmountable bias, and I think Emmanuel Lubezki's sublime cinematography should stand out in this case.

Best Original Score:
“The Adventures of Tintin,” - John Williams
“The Artist,” - Ludovic Bource
“Hugo,” - Howard Shore
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” - Alberto Iglesias
“War Horse,” - John Williams

Predicted winner: The Artist
Should win:  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

As per the bias mentioned above, with Iglesias’s film not even in the running for Best Picture, I expect The Artist to come through here, despite the score for TTSS being superior.
.........

Here's my picks for the rest, sans any further pontificating.

Best Film Editing: 
Anne-Sophie Bion & Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Kevin Tent, “The Descendants”
Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
Thelma Schoonmaker, “Hugo”
Christopher Tellefsen, “Moneyball”

Predicted winner: The Descendants
Should win:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Best Sound Mixing:
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
“Hugo”
“Moneyball”
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
“War Horse”

Predicted winner: War Horse
Should win:
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Best Sound Editing:
“Drive”
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
“Hugo”
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
“War Horse”

Predicted winner: Hugo
Should win: Drive

Best Original Song:
“Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets,” Bret McKenzie
“Real in Rio” from “Rio,” Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett.

Predicted winner: Bret McKenize

Best Foreign Language Film:
“Bullhead” (Belgium)
“Footnote” (Israel)
“In Darkness” (Poland)
“Monsieur Lazhar” (Canada)
“A Separation” (Iran)

Predicted winner: A Separation

Best Animated Feature Film
“A Cat in Paris”
“Chico & Rita”
“Kung Fu Panda 2″
“Puss in Boots”
“Rango”

Predicted winner: Rango  

Best Costume:
“Anonymous”
“The Artist”
“Hugo”
“Jane Eyre”
“W.E”

Predicted winner: The Artist

Best Visual Effects
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″
“Hugo”
“Real Steel”
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”

Predicted winner: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Documentary Feature:
“Hell and Back Again”
“If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front”
“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”
“Pina”
“Undefeated”

Predicted winner: Paradise Lost 3 

Best Documentary (short subject):
“The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement”
“God is the Bigger Elvis”
“Incident in New Baghdad”
“Saving Face”
“The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom”

Predicted winner: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Best Makeup:
“Albert Nobbs”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″
“The Iron Lady”

Predicted winner: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Best Animated Short Film:
“Dimanche/Sunday”
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”
“La Luna”
“A Morning Stroll”
“Wild Life”

Predicted winner: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Best Live Action Short Film:
“Pentecost”
“Raju”
“The Shore”
“Time Freak”
“Tuba Atlantic”

Predicted winner: “Raju”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: Part 4: Earth Strikes Back

As last we saw, Manuel O'Kelly Davis (computer repairman and reluctant rebel), and Professor Bernando de la Paz (amateur revolutionary and rational anarchist), were sneaking onboard a rocket to get them back to Luna after their attempt to bring their case to the people of Earth. Both men are disappointed; Manuel because the Federated Nations refused to recognize their independence; Prof because they were in the city of Agra twice during their trip and he never got a chance to see the Taj Mahal.

But Prof does not see their trip as a failure. He never expected recognition from Earth; in fact his greatest fear was that the FN might offer a compromise that would satisfy most Loonies but which would neither grant full independence, nor (most importantly) solve the problem of Luna shipping its resources to Earth.

(Here's another, more subtle, parallel with the American Revolution. Although the American Patriots talked a lot about "No Taxation Without Representation", their leaders didn't really want seats in Parliament, where they would always be out-voted by the majority).

Prof apologizes for not explaining to Mannie sooner; the true purpose of the trip, he reveals, was to be divisive; to create a diversity of opinions on Earth. They didn't have to convince a majority that Luna deserved independence, but if they could sow enough doubt, convince enough people that Luna had just grievances, convince enough people that war with the Lunar colony was more costly than it was worth, convince enough nations that they could profit more from dealing with an Independent Luna than by backing the FN; then they might stay the FN's hand, limit their actions, and create an environment where the nations of Earth might be persuaded to back down.

Another parallel: General Gates, who commanded the British forces during much of the American Revolutionary War, was a member of the Whig party, which actually opposed the War. Gates was by no means sympathetic to American Independence, but he disliked warring on those he considered fellow British Citizens. Early on, he had numerous opportunities to crush the rebellion which he let pass because he felt that too-bloody action would eradicate any hope of a more peaceful resolution.

Mannie and Prof are welcomed back on Luna as conquering heroes and Prof makes a stirring speech; "...one short on logic, loaded with ringing phrases. "Love" was in it, and 'home' and "Luna" and "comrades and neighbors" and even "shoulder to shoulder" an all sounded good." During the American Revolution, John Adams guestimated that a third of the colonies wanted independence, a third was indifferent and a third were actively against it. Prof realizes that a sizable group on Luna will be opposed to independence too, particularly the farmers who will take a big economic hit when grain shipments to Earth are halted. Another purpose for the trip to Earth was to help solidify support on Luna.

Once they can extract themselves from the reception, Prof and Mannie, along with Stu, meet with Wyoh to discuss things with "Adam Selene." Stu still doesn't know about "Adam's" true identity, and so they are still going through the charade of the Chairman who teleconferences but doesn't appear in person.

While Mannie and Prof were gone, some changes have been made. The Ad-Hoc Congress Prof set up to keep the yammerheads busy has actually called for and held elections. This distresses Mannie, but Prof assures him that all will be well.

"In each age it is necessary to adapt to the popular mythology. At one time kings were anointed by Deity, so the problem was to see to it that Deity anointed the right candidate. In this age the myth is 'the will of the people' ... but the problem changes only superficially.

Prof and "Adam" have already anticipated the election and set things up so that the candidates they favored would have an advantage over other candidates in terms of a head start on petitions and the tacit endorsement of "Adam Selene" himself, (officially non-partisan, of course, but...). The polling was held at banks and the votes were tabulated by computer.

Suddenly a light came on in my skull and I decided to question Wyoh privately. No, not Wyoh -- Mike. Get past his "Adam Selene" dignity and hammer truth out of his neuristors. Recalled a cheque ten million dollars too large and wondered how many had voted for me? Seven thousand? Seven hundred? Or just family and friends?

...

If was one thing all people took for granted, was conviction that if you feed honest figures into a computer, honest figures come out. Never doubted it myself till I met a computer with a sense of humor.

In last week's reading, Prof commented that Mike might be their worst enemy because of the way all communications goes through him and can be controlled through him. Mike's control of elections is pretty darn scary too.

Although public support on Luna for the Revolution is currently high, it could fade quickly; especially once economic hardships begin to be felt. The conflict between Luna and Earth must be turned to open war as quickly as possible. But Prof is adamant that they must provoke Earth into striking the first blow; "the classic 'Pearl Harbor' maneuver of game theory, a great advantage in Weltpolitick." The danger of this is that the first blow may be the last; as Mannie observed earlier, all it would take to wipe out the Lunar colony would be one ship and six H-bombs.

They launch a new propaganda offensive: "In essence it called for us to behave as nastily as possible while strengthening impression that we would be awfully easy to spank." In the meantime, they prepare as best they can for the inevitable attack; staging pressure-suit drills, forming defense militia groups, reconfiguring the large industrial lasers used in ice mining as anti-spaceship weapons.

Then, an unexpected crisis emerges. While Prof is busy with war plans, the newly-elected Congress convenes a Constitutional Convention to formally establish a government. Anarchist that he is, Prof would prefer no government at all; but being a Rational Anarchist, he does what he can to cast doubt on the whole proceeding.

"Comrade Members, like fire and fusion, government is a dangerous servant and a terrible master. You now have freedom -- if you can keep it. But do remember that you can lose this freedom more quickly to yourselves than to any other tyrant."

He goes on to pick at some provisions of the draft proposals and offer alternatives.

"[Congressional districts determined by population] is the traditional way; therefore it should be suspect, considered guilty until proven innocent. Perhaps you think this is the only way. May I suggest others? ... Suppose instead of election a man were qualified for office by petition signed by four thousand citizens. He would then represent those four thousand affirmatively, with no disgruntled minority, for what would have been a minority in a territorial constituency would be free to start other petitions or join in then. All would then be represented by men of their choice."
"But in writing your constitution let me invite attention to the wonderful virtues of the negative! Accentuate the negative! Let your document be studded with things the government is forever forbidden to do.... Comrades, if you were to spend five years in a study of history while thinking of more and more things that your government should promise never to do and then let your constitution be nothing but those negatives, would not fear the outcome."

Which, if you think about it, is pretty much the whole purpose of the Bill of Rights of our own Constitution.

Of course, true to Heinlein's libertarian credo, Prof finishes his advice with a strong exhortation against Involuntary Taxation.

"Comrades, I beg you -- do not resort to compulsory taxation. There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him."

Afterwards, Manuel calls him out on this. "...about taxation aren't you talking one thing and doing another? Who do you think is going to pay for all this spending we're doing?"

Prof is forced to admit: "You know how we are doing it. We're stealing it. I'm neither proud of it nor ashamed; it's the means we have. "

Mannie is upset about this hypocrisy on Prof's part. Prof neither admits to nor denies the charge; but he reminds Mannie of Mike's projection of food riots in six years and cannibalism in eight.

Meanwhile, Earth has not been idle. Terra has sent a fleet of ships to Luna to pacify and retake the colony. It's using a long orbit so as to approach the Moon on it's far side where the radar used to track incoming ships is blind; a trip which takes two months instead of the couple days of a normal Earth-to-Luna trip, but one which catches the Loonies off-guard.

In the two months the Loonies have been waiting for the hammer to fall, preparedness has become lax. In the early days of the embargo, everyone kept their P-suit handy, carrying their helmets under their arms; but this proved awkward and inconvenient. When the taverns started putting up signs saying NO P-SUITS INSIDE, people started leaving their pressure suits at home or in work lockers.

Then comes the attack.

The Terran ships bomb key transportation links between the domed Lunar cities; then send troops on the ground to enter the airlocks and take the cities.

Was a mob, not a battle. Or maybe a battle is always that way, confusion and noise and nobody really knowing what's going on. In widest part of Causeway, opposite Bon Marché where Grand Ramp slopes northward down from level three, were several hundred Loonies, men and women, and children who should have been at home. Less than half were in p-suits and only a few seemed to have weapons -- and pouring down the ramp were soldiers, all armed.

Six H-bombs would have done it; but Terra wanted to re-take the domes, not destroy them; they wanted to subdue the populace, not exterminate it. That meant they had to put boots on the ground; and the best-trained, best-armed soldiers Earth had to offer found themselves walking into a hornet's nest.

Most Loonies never laid eyes on a live invader but wherever troopers broke in, Loonies rushed in like white corpuscles -- and fought. Nobody told them. Our feeble organization broke down under surprised. But we Loonies fought berserk and invaders died. No trooper got farther down than level six in any warren.

In the middle of the chaos, Mannie calls "Adam Selene" trying to co-ordinate what he can in the fighting and gets a message that Adam was in one of the domes which lost pressure in the initial attack and is presumed dead. Mannie quickly switches to a private line and asks Mike what's going on. "Adam Selene had to go someday," Mike explains. "He's served his purpose." Having Adam "die" heroically in the invasion will save them from having to continue the charade that he exists. Then follows a poignant exchange between Manuel and Mike:

"Personally, I always preferred your 'Mike' personality anyhow."

"I know you do, Ma my first and best friend, and so do I. It's my real one; 'Adam' was a phony... Man, when this is over, are you going to have time to take up with me that research into humor again?"

"I'll take time, Mike; that's a promise."

"Thanks, Man. These days you and Wyoh never have time to visit ... and Professor wants to talk about things that aren't much fun. I'll be glad when this war is over."

The fighting is all but over in the warrens. The invaders have been decisively beaten. Now it's time to execute Operation Hard Rock.

"Do it, Mike, throw rocks at 'em! Damn it, big rocks! Hit 'em hard!"

NEXT: Operation Hard Rock; Mannie vs. the Yammerhead; and the Price of Liberty. TANSTAAFL!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

DITKO

For the last couple years I've struggled to get people to respond to interview questions, interview requests, and the like. I used to do a lot of interviews and it was much more rewarding in many ways than the present. I am not stopping doing them, I am just saying, people don't much like reading promo, and that is all creative sorts seem to want to do.

One of the interview ideas I had was a massive tribute to Steve Ditko, as he is around my mother's age (85 or so) and has a huge legacy of work, he is loved by many. But rather than receive responses, only Mike Grell, God bless him, wrote in response. My fear was, and still is, that we have talented creators who are perhaps not active in the field, but still read online, still live life, still work on their own, and we might lose them. And Steve Ditko has such a great amount of talent, I thought he, or his fans or family, might enjoy hearing what the creative world thought of him.

Mike Grell's response was that the greatest legacy of Steve Ditko was Spider-Man, and that without his work on such, the non-iconic sort of hero might have taken much longer to appear. Ditko's characters embodied the intelligent but normal hero, not a God but a working man in costume.

So, absent of words about Ditko's work, or person, here are some images of him, his self portrait and his many creations.

(All images copyright their respective owners)













CLICK THIS







Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Knock knock...


A local TV station’s marathon of the first half of Doctor Who series six prompted me to get around to my promised commentary, so now is my chance for a review of each of the full 13 episodes. (I have brazenly copied the format of the reviews from SFX magazine.) Ratings are out of a possible 'five stars’.
Oh, and yes, spoilers...

The Impossible Astronaut  (Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: Toby Haynes)
The future Doctor calls Amy, Rory, River Song and his past self to witness his death, and to 1969 to investigate the matter of President Nixon getting mysterious calls from a child.

The first episode of the new series launched us into the next set of adventures thick and fast, with a bit of all the things that make the show work at its best: a playful mix of ideas, adventure, a touch of horror, and humour. It had a more cinematic, less claustrophobic look, was witty as ever, and had great villains. A new character, FBI agent Canton Delaware (Mark Sheppard) is introduced and is well realised. As part one of a two part story, it was difficult to judge its weaknesses, as a lot would depend on how things resolved (or not) after part two. Even at the time, however, I hated the over-dramatic slow motion scene at the end.
Rating: 4 out of five.
Particularly enjoyed: character interactions, pace and intrigue, and the look.
Shame about: the rushed-seeming cliff-hanger ending.
Best comback: President Nixon: "You were my second choice for this, Mr. Delaware."
Canton Delaware: "That's okay. You were my second choice for president. Mr. Nixon."
-

Day of the Moon  (Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: Toby Haynes)
The team, including agent Delaware, investigate the Silence, the aliens who have surreptitiously taken over the world. The Doctor turns their power of post-hypnotic suggestion against them.

The second part of the opening story starts, unexpectedly, three months after the first. There’s a great pre-credits sequence, and plenty more excellent visuals and set pieces. It resolves the immediate threat (of the memory wiping aliens running the world) satisfactorily, while leaving most of the other plot threads dangling intriguingly. Overall, this two-parter gets the new series off to a good start, while also demonstrating Moffat’s main flaw as a showrunner: over-ambition. The Silence were here for all of human history? That raises a number of issues, including the implications for all the other Doctor adventures that happened on Earth while presumably ultimately under the control of the Silence. And really: the Silence orchestrated the Moon expedition because they needed a spacesuit? Really?
Rating: 4
Particularly enjoyed: the visuals and set pieces; the sequence in the TARDIS where the Doctor demonstrates the use of the hand implants.
Shame about: Moffat overreaching in the construction.
Line: Amy Pond : [tied to a chair] "Is this really important flirting? Because I feel like I should be higher on the list right now."
-

The Curse of the Black Spot  (Writer: Stephen Thompson, Director: Jeremy Webb)
Doctor, Amy and Rory appear on a 17th century pirate ship, where a magical Siren entrances and then disintegrates anyone with even a slight injury or illness.

The most underrated episode of the series. Black Spot had a vaguely Scooby Doo plot, whereby the ostensibly magical threat turned out to have a rational (in context of the DW universe) explanation after all. I liked the way I was wondering where the story was going, and by the end it had smuggled in some interesting science fictional and philosophical concepts. 
Rating: 3.5
Particularly enjoyed: The critique of the Doctor’s usually near infallible powers of induction.
Shame about: The unnecessarily cheesy ‘Pirate Amy’ and other shinnanigan’s at the beginning.
Line: The Doctor: "I suppose laughing like that is in the job description."
-

The Doctor’s Wife  (Writer: Neil Gaiman, Director: Richard Clark)
The team travel to some kind of rift ‘outside the universe’ to answer what appears to be a distress call from a time lord. A sentient planetoid being with a taste for TARDIS energy hijacks the TARDIS, with Amy and Rory in it, when it finds out that the Doctor and his TARDIS are the last of their kind.

Gaiman writes Doctor Who like Moffat on valium. His episode is similar to a Moffat story: it’s witty and reasonably ambitious, but calmer, less kinetic, less frenetic. In some ways less ambitious and brazen than the opening two-parter, but more polished, with fewer faults. The TARDIS personified was a risky idea, handled well. 
Rating: 4
Particularly enjoyed: The portrayal of the TARDIS in the human form of Idris (played by Suranne Jones).
Shame that: The Deus ex (or should that be in) machina climax was a bit average: not bad, but probably the weakest part of the episode.
Line: Idris: "Biting's excellent! It's like kissing. Only there's a winner."
-

The Rebel Flesh  (Writer: Matthew Graham, Director: Julian Simpson)
The team visit an island on earth in the 22nd century struck by solar storms, where humans are accessing and pumping a valuable type of acid. They work safely due to using remote controlled ‘Gangers’ of themselves, made of a replicating fluid, to do the dangerous work. After a particularly violent storm, the Gangers gain an independent existence.

This episode, along with its second part, The Almost People, I enjoyed a little more on second viewing. The “what makes something human?” is a theme sf is well suited to examining. But, perhaps because that theme has been done so often, and sometimes so well (eg the Philip K Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or movie version Blade Runner) this competently made two-parter felt rather stock-standard, and spending two episodes on this one idea felt unnecessary. Also, the ease with which one incident caused complete distrust and war between the two groups seemed contrived.
Rating: 3
Particularly enjoyed: Nothing especially, but it held up to a second viewing better than I expected.
Shame about: the excessive foreshadowing of the cliff-hanger ending.
Line: The Doctor: "I've got to get to that cockerel before all hell breaks loose. {he stops} I never thought I'd have to say that again."
-

The Almost People  (Writer: Matthew Graham, Director: Julian Simpson)
Wherein we learn that the Almost People aren’t almost people, but people.

Basically same thoughts as for the previous. I had problems with the incongruities between the personalities of the ganger in comparison to the person they were based on, but the second viewing helped explain some of that
Rating: 3
Particularly enjoyed: again, nothing stands out much – good performances all round though, especially Raquel Cassidy as Cleaves.
Shame about: the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ cliff-hanger.
Line: Amy: "Okay. Well I'm glad you solved the problem of confusing."
-

A Good Man Goes to War  (Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: Peter Hoar)
The Doctor calls in some debts and raises an army to rescue Amy from Madame Korvarian’s forces and The Order of the Headless Monks.

A classic example of what I like least about Moffat’s writing on the series in particular. I liked the episodes episode's segments just swell - that is, the set pieces, sequences and story brushes – and the dialogue, and the characters. Nevertheless, the whole was less than the sum of its parts. It felt rushed. I’d like to have seen more of some of the characters (most of whom were throwaways for the story) and the ideas. For example, the idea of the Doctor calling in a number of debts collected over the last couple of series was great, but ultimately felt rather wasted here.
Rating: 3.5 3
Particularly enjoyed: The support cast, especially the Sontaran nurse and Silurian crimefighter Madame Vastra and her human assistent.
Shame about: the throw-a-way nature.
Line: "We're the Thin Fat Gay married Anglican Marines. Why would we need names as well?"

Showrunner Steven Moffat decided to split the sixth series of the new Doctor Who into two parts: the first of seven episodes with a cliff-hanger, then six more episodes. I don’t think that experiment was successful in itself – it added little beyond the need for a slightly contrived mid-season cliffhanger. I hope that the next season of 14 episodes is played in consecutive weeks. Anyway, I have not yet had a second watch of part two of the series, so my thoughts below are based on the single viewing.


Let’s Kill Hitler  (Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: Richard Senior)
The Doctor, Amy, Rory, and their friend Mels, interupt a chameleon robot run by miniature humans from the future trying to kill Hitler. Then things get a bit nutty.

Yeah, it’s that kind of episode; it has all the hallmarks of the sort of thing I was just complaining about with regards to Moffat’s staccato storytelling. But I didn’t complain too loud, and this is why. I wouldn’t quite give it the perfect ‘five star’ rating SFX gave it, but I thought it was a very good episode. Again, good ideas and great set pieces are thrown at the audience in a cavalier fashion, and it mostly works. I’d have to watch it again to figure out the differences that make this episode so much more complete than episode 7.
Rating: 4
Particularly enjoyed: the messing with expectations of where the episode is going, in a way that works.
Shame about: somewhat overwrought climax with Doctor ‘dying’ again. Though it does explain why River Song doesn’t have any regenerations, I suppose.
Line: "Welcome. You are unauthorized. Your death will now be implemented. You will experience a tingling sensation and then death. Remain calm while your life is extracted."
-

Night Terrors  (Writer: Mark Gatiss, Director: Richard Clark)
The Doctor seeks to help solve the mystery of the 8-year-old boy in a council estate with perpetual fear of monsters in his bedroom. Meanwhile, Amy and Rory explore the building only to be chased by life-sized peg dolls.

As with Gatiss’ previous episode, last season’s Victory of the Daleks, I was surprised how cheesy this ended up. Apart from that, it was a perfectly serviceable episode, without much to remark upon as being especially good or bad.
Rating: 3
Particularly enjoyed:  The look and atmosphere.
Shame about: Somewhat soppy resolution.
Line: Doctor: "That's what it's called. Pantophobia. Not fear of pants though, if that's what you're thinking. It's the fear of everything. Including pants, I suppose. In that case... Sorry. go on..."
-

The Girl Who Waited  (Writer: Tom MacRae, Director: Nick Hurran)
The team attempt to have a nice holiday, but due to an unforeseen medical emergency, Amy gets separated and caught in an accelerated time stream. When the Doctor and Rory get to rescue her, she’s 36 years older, and really, really cranky.

Black Spot is the most underrated episode of the season, and this is the most overrated. Largely well received by fans and critics alike, I found it mostly annoying and kind of depressing. (I mean really, hadn’t Amy gone through enough already?) The resolution has an unsatisfying re-set feel about it.
Rating: 2.5
Particularly enjoyed: It started off very, very well. MacRae can write, and had an initially intriguing idea.
Shame about: That they expanded that idea to make “the girl who waited” notion even more literal than it was.
Dialogue: "Will you be visiting long?"
Rory: "Good question. Bit sinister. What's the answer to not get us killed?"
-


The God Complex  (Writer: Toby Whithouse, Director: Nick Hurran)
A Minotaur-like beast chases Amy, Rory, the Doctor and some other captives around a Hotel-like environment.

The best stand-alone episode of series six along with The Doctor’s Wife, it works on pretty much every level, and is a marked improvement over Whithouse’s season five outing (The Vampires of Venice). Okay, once AGAIN the relationship between the leads, especially Amy and the Doctor comes to the forefront of the story – an aspect of this series I’m critical of – but at least it’s done with relative subtlety.
Rating: 3.5
Particularly enjoyed: the overall balance of Doctor Who traits.
Shame about: again making an internal relationship matter fundamental to the story, furthering the sense that this series has been too angsty/soapy.
Line: Gibbis: "I'm in town planning. We're lining all the highways with trees so invading forces can march in the shade."
-

Closing Time  (Writer: Gareth Roberts, Director: Steve Hughes)
Believing he’s about to die (as per the first episode of this series), the Doctor pays what’s intended to be a quick visit to his friend Craig, and incidentally runs into a problem with the Cybermen.

I’m a fan of the first appearance of James Corban as Craig, in Doctor Who series 5 ‘The Lodger’. So I was looking forward to this reprise, especially as the season could do with a little light relief at this point. While most of the episode was okay, I’m not a fan of introducing the baby factor as a complication to domestic situations, and the way they defeat the Cybermen was hokey. After a second viewing of The Lodger I realised it was a better episode than I’d given it credit for, and the ending worked a lot better than I had originally assessed. Not so with Closing Time. I’m afraid this one really is a ‘meh’ episode.
Rating: 2
Particularly enjoyed: The Relationship between the doctor and Craig still worked well.
Shame about: the baby; the turning into soppy nonsense.
Dialogue: The Doctor: "Oh, you've redecorated! I don't like it."
Craig: "It's a different house. We moved."
-

The Wedding of River Song  (Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: Jeremy Webb)
Time is stuck and reality on the verge of disintegrating because River Song won’t accept the ‘fixed point in time’ at which she kills the Doctor. In this melange of time, the final confrontation with Madame Kovarian and the Silence takes place.

A largely, but not entirely, satisfying conclusion to the arc Moffat had developed this season.
The In medias res construction worked well, it was appropriately fast paced and epic feeling, and had nice “little resolutions” such as Amy getting revenge on Koravian. The explanation of how the Doctor survived his own death was serviceable, but a long way from inspired
Rating: 4
Particularly enjoyed: the character interaction, such as the Doctor & eye-patch Amy.
Shame about: the overstating that occurred earlier in the series (off screen also) of the ‘real’ death of the Doctor.
Dialogue: The Doctor: "And they want me dead?"
Maldovar: "No, not really. They just don't want you to remain alive."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: Part 3 Visit to Earth

As last we saw, Professor Bernando de la Paz, elderly subversive and amateur revolutionary; Wyoh Knott, the Lovely Lady of the Left; and Manuel O'Kelly, computer repairman and mostly innocent bystander; have succeeded in overthrowing the Warden of the Lunar Penal Colony, with the help of Mannie's best friend, the Authority's super-computer, Mike, who just happens to be sentient and have a sense of humor.

Now the tough part begins...

My dinkum word, preparing a revolution isn't as much huhu as having won it. Here we were, in control too soon, nothing ready and a thousand things to do. Authority in Luna was gone -- but Lunar Authority Earthside and Federated Nations behind it were very much alive. Had they landed one troopship, orbited one cruiser, anytime next week or two, could have taken Luna back cheap. We were a mob.

To buy themselves more time, the Revolutionaries enact a strict communications embargo, with Mike sending false messages to Earth to preserve the illusion of normality. The Terrans currently on Luna -- for the most part scientists working short-term at one of the observatories and research installations -- are prohibited from calling home.

The Warden survived the coup; although cutting off the oxygen to his living quarters left him in a vegetative state. The rapists whose assault on a Looney woman triggered the uprising are stripped naked, bound, and handed over to women of the Complex. "Makes me sick to think what happened next but don't suppose they lived through as long an ordeal as Marie Lyons [their victim] endured."

The question of what to do about the Warden's network of informants is a tricky one. Wyoh doesn't quite have the stomach to have them all executed, but Prof disagrees. "A man who finks on his friends once will do it again and we have a long period ahead in which a fink can be dangerous. They must go. And publicly, to cause others to be thoughtful." In an earlier argument on Capital Punishment, Prof claimed that all moral responsibility devolved on the individual and that if a criminal needed to be executed, he would do so himself. When challenged on this point now, he admits that he will bear the moral responsibility for the decision, but the actual sentence will be carried out by others. He simply has Adam Selene publicly announce the names of these informants and their addresses. And lets nature take its course.

Isn't this a little bit disingenuous? Hell, yes. But remember, Prof calls himself a "rational" anarchist, meaning he sticks by his principles... except when it's expedient for him not to. Prof justifies using the mob as an arm of public execution by saying it will send a sharper message to those who might be tempted to betray Luna in the future. And it probably will.

But now another problem comes up, one which unfortunately reminds the reader that the book was written nearly a half century ago. So far, "Adam Selene", the Chairman of the Revolution, has spoken to people over the phone, but never in person. Now that the need for secrecy is over, people are going to want to meet their leader. Mike claims that he can create a convincing video image of his alter ego. Although Mannie is at first skeptical, Mike proves that he can do it. Mannie's objections seem a little silly today, when computer generated images are a part of practically everything we see in movies and TV, but in the 1960s the idea was outrageous enough that Heinlein felt a need to hang a lampshade on it to get his readers to accept it.

So Adam Selene addresses all of Luna in a televised speech in which he urges calm, forbearance and co-operation. He urges people who were working for the Authority providing essential services to stay on the job and promises they will be paid. Ice will continue to be bought and grain shipments to Earth will continue for the time being. He begs the citizens of Terra caught up in the uprising to be patient. And he tells the citizens of Luna that he is going to be busy working to turn over leadership to a government of Luna's own choosing. "Expect me to be as hard to see as Simon Jester!"

In order to facilitate this last point, Prof has set up the "Ad-Hoc Congress for Organization of Free Luna" to which he has invited all the self-professed political experts and armchair Hamiltons who have come out of the woodwork now that the bloodshed is over. Mannie attends a few of their sessions and is dismayed.

With me breaking heart trying to round up heavy drills and men who could treat them as guns these idlers had spent an entire afternoon discussing immigration. Some wanted to stop it entirely. Some wanted to tax it, high enough to finance government (when ninety-nine out of a hundred Loonies had to be dragged to The Rock!); some wanted to make it selective by "ethnic rations," (Wondered how they would count me?) Some wanted to limit it to females until we were 50-50. That had produced a Scandinavian shout: "Ja, cobber! Tell 'em send us hoors! Tousands and tousands of hoors! I marry 'em, I betcha!"

Was most sensible remark all afternoon.

Prof reassures him. "My dear Manuel, I was simply putting all my nuts in one basket. I know those nuts. I've listened to them for years." He has engineered the group to ensure that they will quarrel amongst each other without actually accomplishing anything. The purpose of the congress is to keep these idiots busy; but it does have one important role to perform. They need the Congress to ratify something.

"One man will write it -- a dead man -- and late at night when they are very tired, they'll pass it by acclamation.... The dead man is Thomas Jefferson -- first of the rational anarchists, my boy, and one who once almost managed to slip over his non-system through the most beautiful rhetoric ever written. But they caught him at it, which I hope to avoid."

Prof gives them the Declaration of Independence.

He presents it almost word-for-word with only the changes necessary to update it for their situation and rams it through the Congress using expert parliamentary ju-jitsu learned from a lifetime of dealing with committees. He even manages to have it signed on July 4, 2176, a coincidence that strains the Willing Suspension of Disbelief almost past SOP tolerances, but the moment is presented so beautifully that I can forgive Heinlein.

Having officially declared Independence, another piece of business must be dealt with. The Loonies need to send someone to Earth to officially present their Declaration to the Federated Nation and make their case before the People of Earth. Prof foresaw this would be necessary from the beginning, and he, Mannie and Wyoh have all been training, wearing weights under their clothing, to prepare. Prof is the logical spokesman for the group, but he is an old man and might not survive the trip. Mannie has been to Earth before, when he was studying to be a computerman, and is the logical choice to accompany Prof. Mannie isn't crazy about this idea, but when Prof reminds him that if he doesn't go, Wyoh is the only other possible candidate, Mannie agrees.

Since the Loonies have no spaceships of their own, and no spaceships have arrived since the Revolution, they plan to send Prof and Mannie in a specially-designed compartment in one of the grain shipments sent by Luna's "catapult". The accommodations are beyond spartan -- the bare minimum necessary to keep them alive. Mannie does not expect either he or Prof to survive.

The night before the trip to Earth, Mimi Mum calls a Family Meeting. Mannie has been so worried about the trip, he is completely surprised by the reason. Wyoh is opting in to the family and Mimi has assembled the whole clan to vote on the matter. Here we get a glimpse of the Line Marriage at work with a combination of tradition, ritual and informal democracy. Whatever you might think of the Line Marriage in practice, this scene is a warm and moving one. (One writer describes the Davis family as like "the Waltons, squared").

Wyoh is welcomed into the family. According to tradition, the new bride spends her first night with the Senior Husband; but Grandpaw Davis is getting on in years. With the knowledge and consent of both Mimi and Greg (the next husband in seniority), Wyoh comes to Mannie's room once Grandpaw falls asleep to spend the night with him; by implication, the first night they spend together.

The trip to earth in the grain canister is every bit as nightmarish as Mannie anticipates. The only good thing to be said about it is that he spends most of the voyage in drugged unconsciousness so that his pressure suit's oxygen supply will last him the two-days they'll spend in transit. He wakes up shortly before the canister enters Earth's atmosphere and has a devil of a time unfastening his safety harness because someone removed his prosthetic arm before packing him into his suit. He can't tell through Prof's suit whether Prof is alive or dead. He endures the hammer jolts of acceleration and deceleration as the canister goes through atmospheric entry, splashing down in the Indian Ocean; then the completely unfamiliar experience of waves as it bobs on the surface of the ocean.

He wakes up in a hospital. Stu is there, and cheerfully tells him everything went according to plan. Prof is alive and well and as chipper as ever. Mannie is boggled to learn that Prof wanted to come to earth by this risky means rather than by a conventional spaceship. Not only was the stunt great publicity, it also got them on Terra before the Federated Nations could figure out what to do about them. If they had waited for a spaceship, the FN would have arrested them before they set foot on Earth.

Stu takes Prof and Mannie to Agra, the headquarters of the Federated Nations, to present their credentials as Official Ambassadors of Free Luna. Prof hopes to address the FN's General Assembly publicly, but they best they'll permit is a private meeting with an "Investigating Committee." Prof, speaking from a hospital bed, as he is too frail to sit up in Earth's greater gravity, eloquently requests that Luna be recognized as a sovereign state. The Committee insists that Luna continue to accept new prisoners, which Prof is willing to do -- with the understanding that as soon as they set foot on lunar soil the prisoners become free citizens of Luna. The debate becomes heated and Prof, in his excitement, half-rises from his bed and then collapses. (Real or fake? With Prof it's probably mostly political theater). A second meeting goes no better, although Mannie is able to smuggle recordings of the proceedings out by means of the same mini-recorder he used in Stilyagi Hall, hidden in his prosthetic arm.

But Prof hasn't pinned his hopes entirely on persuading bureaucrats and politicians in the FN. He and Mannie go on a full media blitz to take the Loonies case to the public. Much of the media is hostile: several New York newspapers regard the Loonies as unruly children deserving a spanking and the newspapers in India, where rice imports from Luna is a major source of food, are even more hostile. Prof's main talking points are that Luna doesn't want war; that friendship and co-operation between Luna and Terra will be beneficial to both worlds; but that if Earth is determined to insist on war, the Citizens of Luna will fight for their freedom.

"Do you gentlemen remember the Pathfinder? How she came plunging in, out of control?"

They remembered. Nobody forgets greatest disaster of early days of space flight when unlucky Pathfinder hit a Belgian village.

"We have not ships," I went on, "but would be possible to throw those bargeloads of grain ... instead of delivering them into parking orbit."

That's the stick. But Prof emphasizes the carrot. He wants to promote the idea of building an Earth-based catapult to make shipments to Luna as economical as shipments from Luna to earth. This may be difficult, he concedes, but not impossible. "When something must be done, engineers can find a way that is economically feasible."

Someone at the press conference asks Mannie if it's fair that the people on the Moon enjoy the benefits of living on colonies established using government tax money, when they don't pay taxes at all. Okay, listen carefully, because here we're getting to key Tea Party territory.

Mannie turns the question around. "What is it you want us to pay taxes for? ...I don't know much about your government... What do you get for your money?" The group throw out some of the standards: Free hospitals, libraries, roads, public schools, Social Security; in each case he shoots it down saying either that they don't have it, or they already pay for it through other means. Actually, Mannie's waiting for someone to bring up a key talking point: Police protection and armed forces. "Can you tell me how F.N. peace forces protect Luna? I did not know that any of your nations wanted to attack us... Now about those so-called 'policemen.' They were not sent to protect us.... They went mad and started raping and murdering! And now they are dead! So don't send us any more troops!"

But let's back up to the rest of the list. Mannie insists that either they didn't have it, or they already paid for it. But Mannie's fortunate enough to live in a world where the author makes the rules. Is Luna's tube system 100% subsidized by user fares with no government money whatsoever? Mannie says he doesn't need health insurance because he's healthy and he doesn't bet on his health, which is pretty big talk from a man who lost a limb in an industrial accident. Tea Party advocates would love to use a variation of Mannie's argument against government spending, but in truth it only works in Heinlein's Libertarian Utopia because he says it does.

But back to the PR blitz. Prof and Mannie travel all over the world, pushing the Loonie cause and also Prof's idea for an Earth-based catapult. Mannie has a conversation with a Chinese delegate who was present at their original meeting, who is intrigued by the idea, but cautious. Stu has great hopes that Dr. Chang will be an ally for Luna; Mannie is more dubious. Mannie visits the sites of Lexington and Concord to lay a wreath at Concord bridge; he gets a chance to see a ball game in Yankee Stadium; (he decides it's much better on video). Sometimes their press is good; sometimes not so good. After once incident Prof tells him:

"A managed democracy is a wonderful thing, Manuel, for the managers ... and its greatest strength is a 'free press' where 'free' is defined as 'responsible' and the managers define what is 'irresponsible.' Do you know what Luna needs most?"

"More ice."

"A news system that does not bottleneck through one channel. Our friend Mike is our greatest danger."

"Huh? Don't you trust Mike?"

"Manuel, on some subjects I don't trust even myself. Limiting the freedom of news 'just a little bit' is in the same category with the classic example 'a little bit pregnant.' We are not yet free nor will we be as long as anyone -- even our ally Mike -- controls our news."

While on Earth, Prof buys a brass cannon. A "signal gun" from the old days of sailing, much like one that Heinlein himself owned and would fire on his property on ceremonial occasions. Mannie thinks it's rather pointless and silly, but Prof wants it.

"Manuel, once there was a man who held a political make-work job... shining brass cannon around a courthouse."

"Why would courthouse have cannon?"

"Never mind. He did this for years. It fed him and let him save a bit, but he was not getting ahead in the world. So one day he quit his job, drew out his savings, bought a brass cannon -- and went into business for himself."

"Sounds like an idiot."

"No doubt. And so are we, when we tossed out the Warden."

In Kentucky, Mannie and Prof are making a public appearance. "Remember... to most people we will be as weirdly interesting as strange animals in a zoo. Do you remember that turtle on exhibition in Old Dome? That's us." In the Q & A, the topic of marriage on Luna comes up, and Mannie starts talking about his own family and shows a picture of them. The next day he is arrested for bigamy.

The charges are almost immediately dropped, but Mannie is angered and humiliated by the whole experience. It takes him a while to cool off and see the PR benefits of the incident; it made a lot of people on Earth more sympathetic towards the Loonies; and it also helped public opinion back on Luna, where Mannie's arrest was seen as an affront to Loonie pride.

Finally, Mannie and Prof are called again before the F.N. Committee. The claim of independence are rejected and the F.N. has resolved to re-assert it's authority and extend it's control not just over the prison itself but over all Luna. Grain quotas were to be quadrupled, and private farms will be absorbed into more efficient Authority-run operations. To Mannie's surprise, Prof doesn't argue, he doesn't talk about blood from a stone or throwing rocks. He just asks to be allowed to go home.

The Committee denies his request.

Afterwards the Chairman of the Committee meets with Mannie in secret and offers him the position of "Protector Pro-Tem" -- essentially the new Warden -- if he will sell the Committee's five-year plan to Luna. Mannie would much prefer to smash the guy's teeth in, but he is guarded in his replies, recording everything said.

Now it's time for Plan Scoot. Prof and Stu have been planning for this moment. They sneak Prof and Mannie out of the hospital by disguising them and having them simply walk out. Both of them have been training for this for months; although it will be a tremendous strain of Prof, he manages to walk from the hospital to a waiting car. They've lined up an old rocket whose owner is willing to go to Luna on a "humanitarian mission" to rescue the Terrans stranded there. Stu comes with them. The work he's done on Luna's behalf has left him broke and deeply in debt. Going back with Mannie and Prof will spare the Authority the trouble of transporting him.

NEXT: Earth Strikes Back !