Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Gallery

Well, I'm been quite in to film reviews at the moment, so I've set up a new blog for that purpose. This blog will still be used for Stargate updates, but any film stuff will be posted at The Gallery. Check it out!:)

The Gallery

Friday, 11 April 2008

Rules of Engagement

Stargate SG-1 Season 3 Episode 9 - Plot: SG-1 discover an off world camp used by the Goa'uld to train young Jaffa how to be human in order to infiltrate Earth.

The Camp

SG-1 meet Captain Rogers, who believes them to be under the command of Teal'c and part of an inspection team. Captain Rogers and his men were training to fight for Apophis, it's clear that they've been abandoned by their Jaffa masters since Apophis death. Rogers and the trainees refuse to believe that Apophis is dead.

Problems arise as SG-1's real weapons get mixed up with the 'Intar' training weapons, that stun but do not kill. As SG-1 work to find the weapons in the middle of a war game, Rogers is shot by Teal'c's staff weapon.

Gods Cannot Die

Rogers is taken back to Earth for treatment. He refuses to accept that Apophis is dead, until he is shown a video of his death in the SG-C. After this, he helps SG-1 to plan a mission to prevent the trainees engaging in the final test, in which the Intar weapons are replaced with real weapons. The trainees are to battle to the death, with the survivors being taken on as Apophis' personal guard.

Going Home

SG-1 return to the planet with Rogers and use a device to broadcast a large image of Apophis' death to the trainees. They reluctantly accept that their God has in fact passed on and realise that they can return to their homes.

The Review

An interesting concept, reminiscent of those supposed American towns set up in Russia as Communist training camps for a Soviet invasion of the suburbs. I think a bit more could have been made of this, rather than focusing so much on trying to prove to Captain Rogers that Apophis is dead.

This episode was fairly well paced, with transitions between the off-world camp and the SG-C helping to keep things fresh. SG-1 get roped in to a number of battles using the Intar. The Intar itself seemed to shoot a bit like a BB gun, which made me think that some SG-1 themed Airsoft battles could be pretty awesome.

Not much more to say apart from that.

6 out of 10

Friday, 4 April 2008

Flash Gordon Cancelled

So I just found out that Flash Gordon has been cancelled and will not be returning for a second season.

I'm not especially surprised, though a little disappointed. As I mentioned in my review of the first season, I always felt the show had potential and certainly improved in response to the negative criticism following its launch last Autumn.

It was at Sci Fi's upfront presentation that David Howe (Sci Fi Channel President) lumped Flash Gordon in with the likes of Painkiller Jane and The Dresden Files, both of which were similarly unsuccessful and similarly cancelled. Howe cited failings in the development process and it seems that he'll be seeking to ensure that new shows are more thoroughly developed before being debuted.

This seems sensible as Flash Gordon suffered from a slow start out of the blocks and never really recovered after being pretty universally panned by the critical media.

Howe closed by saying that the channel may try again with Flash Gordon in a few years time. For now, I think its best just to ensure that development of new shows go forward with lessons learned from this particular failure.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

All Along The Watchtower

I'm personally very excited about BSG returning. It's verging on a year since the climax of season 3 and I really think that a good job has been done in hyping up the show's return in the last 6 weeks or so.

From web adverts, to Letterman, to TV spots and documentaries, it seems that everyone has gone frakking nuts about BSG.

In preparation for the premiere, I thought I'd take the opportunity to re-watch season 3's 2 part finale. I can safely say that it really overwhelmed me on a second viewing.

The main plot of the finale focused on the trial of Gaius Baltar. Baltar is surely one of TV's most fascinating characters. Plagued by hallucinations of his Cylon lover, he could be considered responsible for the genocide of the entire human race. In this trial, he faces charges that he was responsible for the deaths of 5,000 people under his regime on New Caprica. That 5,000 people made up some 12% of the remaining human population. With this in mind, it's understandable that temperatures run high as the prosecution and defence make their case. It's a fascinating trial, dramatic in its own right, but delivered with a real theatrical atmosphere. It's taut and tense and you never really know which way it's going to go. In the end, Lee Adama - Baltar's co-council - is placed on the stand to testify against Admiral Adama for pre-judging the defendant. He gives a speech that could easily have bordered on the cheesy side, but is instead impassioned, honest and from the heart. It gets Baltar off the hook to plague another season with his arrogance and eccentricity.

For me though, that really takes second fiddle to the events that lead to four of the Galactica crew realising that they are, and always have been, Cylons. Since the beginning of the finale, the four had been hearing a melody throughout the ship that seemed to disappear before they could quite figure out what it was or where it was coming from. It was really subtly handled as you never quite knew what it all meant. Possibly a Cylon weapon, possibly something wrong with the ship. I, personally, didn't put it together that it was only happening to the four of them until quite late on in the second part. Indeed, with the dramatic events of Baltar's trial, it seems forgivable that less attention would be paid to the strange song coming from 'the frakking ship'.

Those four are Chiel Tyrol, Sam Anders, Tory (Roslin's Assistant) and, most notably, Saul Tigh. I won't go in to the ramifications of this now, but it seems clear, for the moment at least, that they want to carry on as they were. Serving the fleet.

That song that they'd been hearing was a version of Hendrix's/Dylan's All Along The Watchtower, which plays out in the final scene. It really added something special to the final scene, something that I can't quite put my finger on, but it made me feel something in the pit of my stomach. It was a deep resonance with the events that had just unfolded and were currently playing out. It was perfect.

The final scene had the fleet in a spot of bother. They'd jumped to a key landmark on the road to Earth, only to find power going out across the fleet and multiple DRADIS contacts. Vipers are scrambled, with Apollo chasing a contact away from the melee. The bogey is right on his tail and seems to have the better of him, before it's revealed to be another Viper that pulls along his side. The pilot is Kara Thrace, presumed dead, but here telling Apollo that everything's going to be alright. Perhaps her special destiny has finally come to fruition. She's been to Earth and is going to show everyone the way there. With that, the shot pulls out of the nebula, the system and the galaxy, before crashing back in on Earth, the goal and surely the final destination of this fourth and final season.

BSG has always succeeded in making plot events feel monumental, like they were moments in history documented for us to learn from. Crossroads really brings all of those moments together, to produce a masterpiece in every sense of the word. I'm not sure how the show could improve on this, but after reliving this episode and getting swept up in the hype of the past few weeks, I feel that a very special second coming may be on the horizon.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Grizzly Man

Plot: Werner Herzog presents a documentary detailing the life of Timothy Treadwell, a man that spent 13 years living amongst Grizzly Bears.

I suppose there's two things to cover here. Treadwell himself and Herzog's documentary.

It's clear that Treadwell had a troubled past. Drugs and alcohol supposedly leaving him to suffer a near fatal overdose. It's not a stretch to assume that this may have caused some form of mental break down, requiring him to leave the evils of society that had hurt him in such a way. He finds solace in the wild, companionship and friendship from the bears. A unique connection that no one else on the planet could experience, which is something I feel drove him to continue returning to the Bear Sanctuary year after year.

It's remarkable that he lasted through 13 summers in the way that he did, though I feel that this was more through luck than any great judgement. Treadwell seemingly meant to leave the bears earlier in this final summer, like he did in the years before. An altercation at the airport led him to return to spend extra time at the end of the season. Seemingly this was the most dangerous time as desperate and hungry bears were more abundant as food became scarce. His death is made to seem inevitable by many people in the documentary, but it seems to me that had he followed his usual pattern, he may still be visiting the bears today.

Although it is important to consider that he carried a dark side with him. The curse-laden rant is a clear example of the fact that he could become very negative at times. Negative against the world that had hurt him, certainly, but it's not to say that negativity towards the natural but imperfect actions of the animals around him wouldn't eventually lead him to do something stupid.

I didn't know much of Timothy Treadwell before this documentary, but he was certainly shown to be a unique and fascinating individual. Whether he was right or wrong to do what he did, he did it with a conviction and died doing what he loved.

Herzog's documentary is put together well to really let the audience connect with the person. It's a unique documentary because it's rare that a person would leave so much of themselves on film, creating a character of themselves that could later be cut and edited as a character to suit a biographical narrative. Herzog clearly treats this with respect, showing a deep range of the character's emotions and his soul, as well as the extraordinary beauty that the character managed to capture.

Interspersed between the camera footage are interviews with Treadwell's friends and family. Here, Herzog allows the audience to get a sense of the effect that Treadwell had on the people's world around him. How people talk of him with God-like reverence, grand speculation and sad disdain.

Herzog subtly gives his conclusions, but not in a way that interfered with the audience's own and that's a real gift in documentary film-making.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Death Proof / Planet Terror

I'll get this out of the way now, since I find the Grindhouse 'play them together/separate' debate ____ing tedious. Grindhouse was split in two for the UK release, with both films enjoying separate and extended releases a couple of months apart. So I saw Death Proof on DVD a couple of months ago, and watched Planet Terror last night.

I've slated Quentin Tarantino in the past for being an unoriginal hack. In this case, I think he really hit the nail on the head and produced the smarter, funnier and more entertaining of the two films. Snappy dialogue was employed to great effect, letting the plot build on two occasions to a climactic scene. A little unorthodox to utilise two completely different casts, but it's been done before to a similarly good standard, such as in Chungking Express. Indeed, it's typical of Tarantino to reference other work in this way.

Planet Terror on the other hand suffers from having too many characters to develop within the first 45 minutes before the action really starts. Four concurrent plots is a bit much and makes the film loose, rather than tense and claustrophobic, like it should've been. When the action does start, it's very satisfying. Freddy Rodriguez as Wray is a true, badass Grindhouse star, secret past and all. He, with Sheriff Hague, works to really end some zombies, as blood, flesh and bones fly. There's plenty of gut munching goodness and then there's Cherry.

I guess the thing that you know going in to Planet Terror is that a chick ends up with a machine gun for a leg. I thought it sounded pretty cringeworthy, but it works impressively well to add to a frantic, and explosive climax to the film.

Stylistically, both films work well, with scratched, dusty, broken and even missing film stock creating that effect of an overused and poorly kept film in a run down theatre. Again, I'd say that Death Proof used the effect more subtly and with greater results.

I get the feeling that this kind of thing might be tried again. I just hope that directors and producers remember that re-creating quick and dirty shock cinema doesn't have to be at the expense of good film making techniques. Keep it simple and keep it fun.

Death Proof: 7 out of 10 / Planet Terror: 6 out of 10

Tuesday, 25 March 2008


Stargate SG-1 Season 3 Episode 8 - Plot: SG-1 encounters a Christian civilisation that is being terrorised by an Unas under the command of Sokar.

Playing Devil

As SG-1 speculates that a Goa'uld is playing God, they discover that the village Canon is sacrificing villagers to the Unas, posing as a satanic demon. The Unas is doing the bidding of Sokar, who is in this case posing as the devil. SG-1 offer to assist the villagers, but the Canon believes that Teal'c is possessed by a demon and submits him to a witchcraft test.

The Tests

Teal'c is first submitted to the 'Mark of the Devil' test, in which a part of his body believed to have been marked by the devil is tested. The belief is that if it has been marked by the devil then it should feel no pain. Teal'c fails this as the Canon burns his brand with a red hot poker, but feels no pain. Next he is submitted to a drowning test, in which he is tied to a rock and thrown in to a river. If he floats then he will be considered a demon, if he sinks then he will drown in an honourable Christian death.

Teal'c drowns and is cleared of being a demon. As SG-1 mourns his death, he rises during the burial ceremony. He reveals that he entered a meditative state and allowed his symbiote to breathe for him to survive.


SG-1 are sacrificed to the Unas following this, but they are able to get the upper hand on him with the help of a villager, Simon. Simon mortally wounds the Unas, but its parasite escapes in to the Canon. Sam is able to detect his presence and SG-1 quickly dispatch him, leaving Simon to bury the Gate upon their departure.

The Review

It's curious that this is the kind of episode that I crave as a fan of SG-1, but so often they don't deliver. This is certainly the team at their best, out exploring the galaxy, discovering new cultures and helping them to better themselves. There's no need to worry about military politics, IOA interference or any of that stuff, just honest to goodness exploration.

So it's a shame when it doesn't quite come off, such as in the case of this. Teal'c's witchcraft trial felt rather tagged on and it was patently obvious that he was going to rise from the dead at some point. The fact that there were only two trials made the concept feel yet more shallow. The Unas' appearances were bookended and negated any possibility of some decent action, except for when Simon shoots him three times with a staff weapon.

Simon was played by David McNally, he starred previously in SG-1 in the episode 'Cor-Ai', in which Teal'c is put on trial for his crimes as a Jaffa. He also starred in one of my favourite episodes of Atlantis, 'Epiphany'. That's the one where Sheppard falls in to a time dilation field on a planet.

Jack kept the humour going throughout the episode to good effect, the Christianity puns and references were appreciated in particular. Still, it wasn't enough to save a poorly executed and somewhat dull episode.

6 out of 10