Author Archives: CZombie

Bigger on the Inside: Why I Love Doctor Who

The TARDIS. Iconic!

There are some things that you bring with you from childhood, some things that you just never grow out of. Tantrums, laughing at farts and pulling stupid faces, to name but a few. But for me, and for many of us Brits, there is also Doctor Who. The 50th Anniversary of this very British sci-fi show is fast approaching (okay, it’s still two years away, but when you’re nearly 50 that isn’t very long). With such a lengthy life there are very few these days who didn’t grow up with this unusual, time-travelling alien forming part of their childhood, and for many their adulthood, too.

For those of you who have no idea who or what I’m talking about, allow me to illuminate. The Doctor, as he calls himself, is a member of an old and significantly advanced race known as the Time Lords. Disgruntled and bored with the Time Lords’ policy of observation and non-interference in the affairs of the universe, The Doctor ‘borrows’ a TARDIS (a vessel for travelling through time and space) and roams the cosmos righting wrongs, fighting evil and generally poking his nose in where it doesn’t belong. The TARDIS is bigger on the inside, almost infinite, and is supposed to be able to change appearance to match its surroundings. However, The Doctor’s TARDIS is stuck in the shape of an old police phone box (something that was a common sight on the London streets when the series first aired in 1963). You with me so far? Excellent.

Dalek. Iconic!

When I was a kid, back in the seventies and beyond, Saturday nights were all about the next episode of Doctor Who, of that glorious half-hour spent cowering behind a cushion as the renegade Time Lord faced down Cybermen, Sontarans, Autons, Zygons and, of course, the iconic Daleks. Those must have been more innocent times because my son now finds it incredible that entire generations of children could have found moving pepper-pots with wobbly protuberances scary. But hey, we also though the Atari was the coolest piece of technology known to science. Trust me, when you’re that naive there’s nothing scarier than a wobbly protuberance. Stop sniggering at the back. Anyway, now I’m an adult (probably) and I must confess that, while I no longer find the Daleks scary, Saturday nights are still defined by the next episode of the show. I don’t know why it has endured the way it has. That is the secret formula that TV producers have always been searching for (and if I knew that I’d be watching Doctor Who while cowering behind a huge pile of cash). However, I can tell you what I love about it.

Doctor Who was always a masterclass of writing over production. Perhaps not so much these days, since it has returned with a much increased budget, but back in the day the show consistently overcame its meagre means with razor-sharp scripting, great performances and an abundance of creativity. So what if the sets were often flimsy and some of the monsters looked like they were created for a local school pantomime. It didn’t matter because with the boundless conviction of Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee at the centre of events, delivering superlative dialogue, you believed it completely. Yes, even the Daleks and their wobbly protuberances.

70s Title Sequence. Iconic!

Doctor Who is just a little bit offbeat and there is something quintessentially English about it. The central character is eccentric, well-spoken and, with his peculiar taste in clothes and often quirky features, far removed from the conventional image of a hero. Time Lords have the handy ability to cheat death by regenerating their bodies, resulting in a change of appearance and, to a degree, personality. There are certain traits that always remain the same, however. The Doctor is extremely intelligent, slightly unhinged, scientifically gifted and passionately opposed to violence. He abhors weapons, refusing to pick up a gun and preferring instead to use his brain as his most effective attack. It is an amazing feat that so much action and adventure has been consistently created around a character who is essentially a pacifist.

Anti-authoritarian and rigidly individualistic, here is a champion for misfits everywhere. The Doctor is a rebel with a brain, bringing down tyrannical governments and seemingly invulnerable despots for fun. He is always the smartest man in the room (and the first to point that out) and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to be in that position whenever possible?

Perhaps it is these qualities that have made Doctor Who so popular for so long. He is certainly the kind of role model you would want your kids growing up with and I’m forever grateful to have grown up with him myself.

Splendid chap. All of them.

Of the eleven incarnations of The Doctor so far, here are my top five. Are you a fan of the show? If so, who are your top five Doctors?

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5) Patrick Troughton – The 2nd Doctor

1966 – 1969

“Your leader will be angry if you kill me. I’m a genius!”

Scatterbrained, fretful, mercurial and manipulative. When William Hartnell, the 1st Doctor, quit the role the notion of regeneration was introduced into the character to keep the popular show going. Enter Patrick Troughton who, while retaining the character’s core identity, delivered a very different personality. The 2nd Doctor was the classic hidden genius, an inter-galactic Columbo masking his great intelligence beneath the facade of a bumbling fool. It became a defining trait for The Doctor, adopted by many of the subsequent actors.

Trademarks: Playing the recorder, the woolly coat, ‘Oh, my giddy aunt’.

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4) Sylvester McCoy – The 7th Doctor

1987 – 1996

“Anybody remotely interesting is mad in some way.”

Enigmatic, dark, brooding and something of a clown. Sylvester McCoy brought an air of mystery back to the character, with his story arc often hinting at untold secrets in The Doctor’s past. You could say he put ‘who’ back into Doctor Who, while contrasting the gloom with sudden outbursts of circus trickery. McCoy got a raw deal when the show was cancelled in 1989, only to make a brief appearance when it returned for a one-off movie in 1996, and he was regenerated into Paul McGann. A shame because there were still depths to mine.

Trademarks: Question marks everywhere, rolling R’s, juggling and magic tricks.

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3) Jon Pertwee - The 3rd Doctor

1970 – 1974

“What’s wrong with being childish? I like being childish.”

Suave, avuncular, petulant, haughty and dependable. The show’s first Doctor to be seen in colour was the one that you would probably choose to travel with. You would always feel safe with Jon Pertwee, who delivered the character at his most heroic and dynamic. Swordplay and Venusian Aikido ranked among the many skills in this Doctor’s repertoire and no other incarnation was quite this dashing. Pertwee was the Time Lord as a perfect gentleman, impeccably attired and mannered but with a razor-sharp tongue for those who earned his ire.

Trademarks: The cloak, frilly shirts, various gadgets and his car, Bessie.

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2) Matt Smith - The 11th Doctor

2010 – Present

“I am a mad man with a box.”

Gangly, energetic, childish, bewildered but confident. The current Doctor has brought the character back to his outlandish best. At 26, Smith is the youngest actor to take on the role but has all the natural personality quirks to portray the Time Lord the way he should be. After years of David Tennant’s often overplayed and forced eccentricities, Smith makes it all look so easy and is the most assured and funniest Doctor to come along for years. Some actors are just a natural fit for the character, getting it right from episode one. So it is with Matt Smith.

Trademarks: Bow ties (are cool), Jammie Dodgers and a Fez.

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1) Tom Baker – The 4th Doctor

1974-1981

“First things first, but not necessarily in that order.”

Slightly insane, irritable, stubborn, unpredictable and hilarious.  For almost everyone of my generation Tom Baker is the quintessential Doctor. His unhinged, effortless and often improvised portrayal of the Time Lord was helped in no small part by the fact that Baker is just as eccentric in reality, perhaps even more so. Baker set the standard by which all other incarnations are measured, with ‘not as good as Tom Baker’ an overused judgement of subsequent actors. Who else has ever disarmed their enemies by offering them Jelly Babies?

Trademarks: Long scarf, Jelly Babies, K-9 and that toothy grin.

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Review: The Tunnel

Starring: Bel Deliá, Andy Rodoreda, Steve Davis, Luke Arnold

Director: Carlo Ledesma

A journalist and her team descend into the labyrinth of abandoned tunnels underneath Sydney to investigate a series of disappearances and discover why a planned government project which would have used the tunnels was called off. Deep into their journey, with light sources running out, the group discover that something is hunting them.

Forget 3D. Could this be the future of movie-making? The Tunnel was financed using a crowd-funded scheme, the 135k project, with people offered the chance to purchase a frame of the movie for AUD$1. Everyone who purchases a frame, and either helped finance the movie or help it now make a profit, has their name woven into the movie poster (click on the poster to see it in more detail). But the truly revolutionary aspect of The Tunnel is the manner of its release. Rather than try to combat the peer-to-peer networks and illegal downloading industry, The Tunnel has embraced them with a simultaneous release through DVD, TV and peer-to-peer. Just as some recording artists have released albums and asked the consumer to pay what they will, so now finally a group of movie-makers have woken up to the potential of the internet’s new avenues. It is a risky, but admirable and brave move onto new ground, and I’ve already purchased my frame (waiting to see if my name appears on the poster).

So, to the movie itself. The tried and tested formula for many low-budget horror movies these days is the ‘found footage’ approach. The rise of the digital camera has made these types of movies more prevalent and, of course, more practical in that they require far less in the way of crew and budget. They also remain the most effective in delivering the shocks and atmosphere that make a great horror movie. The Tunnel, however, presents itself as a straight documentary, mixing footage shot during the incident with interviews given by some of the characters in the aftermath.

Making superb use of the remarkable, disused tunnels beneath the Australian capital, The Tunnel takes its time to set the scene and characters before they embark on their investigation. Natasha (Bel Deliá) is the driven journalist who stumbles on the story and decides, fatally, to lead the four-strong team down into the dark without telling anyone else they are going. Deliá is engaging as the flawed, ambitious journo, struggling to keep it together as she and her male colleagues realise that there is more to the subterranean maze than they bargained for. Wisely, whatever it is that lurks down there is glimpsed rarely but suggested often, leaving the imagination to play its tricks. It is an effective approach for the most part, and while there is an excellent atmosphere, the occasional chill and a few scares, you are left wishing that the horror had been amped up slightly more.

Where The Tunnel suffers the most is in its decision to include the after-the-event interviews. For while they lend proceedings an agreeable authenticity, they interrupt the action somewhat and, of course, give away from the outset who is going to make it out and who isn’t. This inevitably reduces the tension, which is a shame because the solid performances, perfect location and half-glimpsed creature add up to something worthy of more focus. These things aside, however, The Tunnel is a well-acted, well-crafted horror movie which deserves to be successful not only on its merits as an original and subversive film-making project, but also simply as a film in and of itself.

If you want to download The Tunnel, or buy your own little piece of the movie and support the efforts of the film-makers, then go to the official website here for details.

Rating – 3 Stars

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Review: The Way Back

Starring: Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell

Director: Peter Weir

It is 1941 and Polish political prisoner Janusz leads an escape from one of Josef Stalin’s Russian gulags in Siberia. The eclectic group go on the run and begin an epic 4,000 mile walk to India and freedom, determined to survive both the rough terrain, harsh elements and passage through the vast Communist territories ahead of them.

Director Peter Weir has often shown a fascination with tales of mankind against the elements, be it the Central American jungles of The Mosquito Coast or the unforgiving seas of Master and Commander, and he continues his theme with this, his first film for nearly eight years. The Way Back is based on the book The Long Walk by former Polish prisoner Sławomir Rawicz, who claimed the events were true, only for those claims to be later refuted, and someone else come forward and declare that the story was his. Whatever the veracity of the source material, The Way Back remains a fascinating tale.

Weir wastes no time in illustrating just why anyone would be driven to attempt such a journey. The gulags of Siberia were terrible places, where ‘enemies of the people’ were placed for the most arbitrary of reasons. Cold, dirty and ruthlessly run by criminal inmates, it is little wonder that Janusz, imprisoned on the basis of a confession from his own wife, decides to make a break for it. Enlisting the aid of several fellow prisoners, including Ed Harris as the American Mr. Smith and Colin Farrell as Russian thief Valka, his small band escape during a blizzard and, with little in the way of provisions, begin to head South on a journey that takes in the snows of Siberia, the Gobi desert and the Himalayas.

It is in capturing both the stunning beauty and cold disregard of these landscapes that Weir, with funding from National Geographic, exhibits his greatest strengths. This is a movie that, while celebrating the exuberance and determination of the human spirit, reminds us that we are very much at the mercy of the world we live in, passers-by in landscapes that can grind us to dust. As the group progress and fight starvation, exposure and exhaustion, it becomes clear that not everyone will make it to the end. But those that don’t are celebrated for dying as free men.

The sudden outbreak of vomiting left Ed glad he hadn’t had the fish course

As leader of the group by default, Jim Sturgess’ Janusz is a solid central presence, the will of the group when they falter. Ed Harris brings his usual gravitas and quiet dignity to proceedings and Colin Farrell finds the endearment in his violent, loutish Valka. Saoirse Ronan is perhaps a little underused as another Polish refugee the group pick up along the way, and there is sometimes a general lack of exploration of the characters on the whole. But when you have the land itself as your lead performer, this is understandable. The power of the story doesn’t suffer too much from it.

The Way Back seems like it was rather neglected on its initial cinema release. Hopefully with its DVD release it will pick up more of an audience. It deserves to.

Rating – 4 Stars

 


Top Ten: Movie Fight Scenes

Violence is a funny thing. Few of us actually enjoy participating in it, but most of us will at some point thoroughly enjoy watching it in a movie. Ah, the magical catharsis of cinema!

The movies are replete with scenes of battle. Fight scenes are the meat and potatoes of the action genre, and most thrillers will either end on one or throw a couple in somewhere. Picking only ten was always going to leave this list with a whole heap of contenders unfairly cast aside, but there’s no way I’m going to sit here and write fifty of these bastards.

So here are my favourite ten. For the sake of making the choice easier, I’ve left out battle scenes between entire armies. Perhaps another time. Please feel free to add your own top ten, if you have one, or simply chastise me for omitting your single favourite. Maybe we can settle it outside.

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10. John Smith v Jane Smith

Mr & Mrs Smith (2005)

After five (or six) years of a slowly stagnating marriage, John and Jane Smith discover that not only are they both secret super-assassins, apparently using the marriage as cover, but they are also each others’ next target. Possibly the most contrived set-up in this top ten, but who cares? The resulting gun-play, fist-fight and kitchen utensil carnage as the Smiths (the couple, not the popular 80s band) do bloody battle in their big, suburban house is great fun.

Probably Jennifer Aniston’s favourite movie scene ever, as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie convincingly beat the crap out of each other. I wonder if they’re like this in front of the kids.

And the winner is: There’s make-up sex. Everyone’s a winner with make-up sex!

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9. Channel 4 News Team v Evening News Team v Channel 2 News Team v Public News Team v Spanish Language News Team

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy ( 2004)

Legendary news anchor Ron Burgundy and his team are out on the town, on their way to cheer themselves up by shopping for suits, when they find themselves confronted by several rival teams, all looking to take each other down. In the world of syndicated news broadcasting it’s best to be armed. Clubs, chains, machetes, hand grenades and even tridents can be the divide between life and death. Just don’t touch the hair or the face.

Featuring more cameo appearances than an entire season of Saturday Night Live, the news team street fight proves that even clueless, musky-smelling morons can be heroes.

And the winner is: Burgundy and his Channel 4 News Team are gonna straight up murder your ass.

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8. King Arthur v The Black Knight

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

During his noble quest for the Holy Grail King Arthur encounters the dread Black Knight, guarding a bridge (or a small plank of wood over a pathetic stream). Refusing to allow the King past, a mighty battle ensues. Well, mighty-ish. Actually, it’s just silly.

Arthur severs the Knight’s arms, only to be told that it’s just a scratch as the undeterred Knight then resorts to kicking the King’s ankles. Even having both his legs lobbed off doesn’t dampen this warrior’s ire and Arthur eventually gives up and leaves the wriggling torso of his foe behind, crossing the plank to cries of, ‘Come back here you yellow bastard! I’ll bite your legs off!’

And the winner is: Arthur, of course, although the Black Knight is having none of it. ‘Let’s call it a draw’. Loony.

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7. Ripley v Alien Queen

Alien (1987)

A classic bitch-fight and one of those David and Goliath moments when you know you should put your money on the smallest. Having escaped and nuked the planet LV421, with all its nasty little xenomorphs, Ripley returns to her ship to find a very pissed Queen has hitched a ride and is looking for a rumble. Never one to shy away from an invitation, Ripley grabs a mechanical power loader and gets busy.

Limited by the effects of the time, much of the action is seen only at head height, but it’s still one if the coolest, and most original, brawls in cinema.

And the winner is: I’ll give you three guesses, and since there’s only two participants, if it takes you three guesses you’re a moron.

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6. Léon v Half the NYPD

Léon (1994)

Having seriously pissed off both the Mafia and a corrupt New York cop in his quest to avenge the murder of 12-year-old Mathilda’s entire family, hitman Léon and the girl find themselves besieged in a hotel room with half the city’s police force trying to find a way in. Luc Besson’s perfectly choreographed scene sees the wily Italian allow a group of officers into the room, only to shut the door behind them and take them all out, unseen.

When the door reopens, the next group of hapless cops find themselves face-to-face with the slippery assassin, as he hangs upside down in the doorway. Inspired!

And the winner is: In this particular round, Léon. But give the guy a break, there’s a lot of people out there.

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5. Neo and Trinity v A Small Army

The Matrix (1999)

Keanu Reeves may not be the greatest actor in the world, but at least he looks good running in slow motion with a machine gun. And Neo and Trinity may have stupid names, and rarely crack a smile, but when it comes to tearing up a building lobby full of security guards and a SWAT team, they don’t even have to take off their cumbersome long coats or remove their sunglasses indoors. Oh, to be so cool.

With lots of slow-motion gunfire, running up walls and picking up M16 rifles while performing cartwheels, this was one of the most refreshingly executed fight scenes for years.

And the winner is: Never underestimate people who dress only in black. Neo and Trinity don’t even get a scratch on their sunglasses.

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4. George Nada v Frank Armitage

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter’s last great movie contains a strong contender for the longest fist-fight (outside of a boxing ring) in any movie. Ever.

After discovering that the American elite are all aliens in disguise, controlling a docile population with consumerism and subliminal messages, Nada is understandably keen to share his revelation with someone. Unfortunately, the aliens can only be seen with special sunglasses and George’s co-worker Frank isn’t feeling particularly co-operative. Cue a hilarious, brutal, six-minute brawl in a back alley as George and Frank bludgeon each other to bloody pulps.

And the winner is: Let’s just say Frank ends up wearing the damn glasses.

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3. Indiana Jones v Big Nazi Guy

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

He’s already been through the mill and has a gruelling truck chase to come, but first our intrepid archaeologist has to deal with the imposing Nazi mechanic who stands between him and the Ark-carrying plane. Tired, dusty and visibly fed-up with throwing punches, Jones proceeds to get the shit kicked out of him.

Clearly not a student of Eastern combat philosophy, Jones is a brawler and has no qualms about using wrenches and a little arm-biting in an attempt to overcome the German behemoth. All to no avail. Not even a sudden flurry of professorial jaw-socking is going to slow down this Teutonic brute.

And the winner is: Indiana Jones, with no small help from a whirring propeller blade. Look out, behind yo…never mind.

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2. Yu Shu Lien v Jen Yu

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee’s sumptuous epic features a whole bunch of fantastic fight scenes, but the greatest is the lengthy dust-up between Michelle Yeoh’s noble Yu Shu Lien and Zhang Ziyi’s angry young Jen Yu. Jen is armed with the indestructible sword, Green Destiny, and Shu Lien breaks an insane array of different weapons against the sword in an attempt to defeat the petulant child.

The breathtaking scene is so beautifully choreographed it’s more akin to a dance than a battle. And, let’s face it, there’s nothing sexier than watching two graceful women locked in passionate combat. Or is that just me? Whoops.

And the winner is: Jen does a runner eventually, so we’ll give it to Shu Lien by default. Yay!

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1. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn v Darth Maul

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

This is what we turned up for. The single greatest lightsaber fight in the entire franchise. Having sat through two hours of trade disputes, Natalie Portman’s clown make-up, petulant little Anakin’s feeble attempts to endear himself to us, and Jar Jar Bloody Binks, die hard Star Wars fans were treated to this triple-header between Jedi and Sith.

Horny badass Darth Maul takes on two Jedi with the aid of his indescribably cool double-ended sabre. The glowy blades whirl around like the original trilogy’s fight scenes on fast forward. This was the moment when cool got a little bit cooler. Magic!

And the winner is: Having dispatched Jedi Master Qui-Gon, Darth Maul gets his ass handed to him by a mere apprentice. Fail!

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Review: Julia’s Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia)

Starring: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar, Pablo Derqui

Director: Guillem Morales

“He knows how to be a shadow. He has no light. Nobody looks at him.”

Astronomer Julia suffers from a degenerative condition which is slowly blinding her. Her twin sister, Sara, is already blind and when Sara commits suicide Julia begins to suspect the involvement of an unknown man. With her eyesight diminishing by the day, Julia tries to solve the mystery of her sister’s death. And someone is watching.

Made in 2010, this Spanish gem reaches the UK with little fanfare and only the name of producer Guillermo del Toro to make anyone take notice. Hopefully that will be enough because Julia’s Eyes is well worth any attention it gets. Del Toro and actress Belén Rueda worked together previously on the 2007 ghost story The Orphanage, and continue that successful partnership with this taut and well-executed thriller.

With more than a passing nod to the movies of Dario Argento, Co-writer and director Morales’ second feature is certainly a slow burner, running to just under two hours, but it rewards your patience. It keeps you guessing for a while, gradually revealing its hand as it draws toward a gripping final act as Julia discovers the truth and finds herself trapped in a terrifying situation.

Rueda delivers another great performance as the grief-stricken Julia, determined to unravel the circumstances of her sister’s suicide while struggling to cope with her own failing vision. As the hub around which events revolve, Rueda is completely believable, conveying much with the simplest facial gesture and navigating the changes in Julia’s condition well. It is also to Morales’ credit that Julia’s blindness never feels like some contrived gimmick around which cool set pieces and a sense of urgency can be deployed. And while the twists and turns are not always remarkably clever, they are honest and not overblown so you don’t end up feeling cheated.

The NHS continues to make budget cuts, but at least waiting times are down

Julia’s Eyes could have lost twenty minutes of running time and not unduly suffered, but that isn’t to say that it drags at any point. It is one of those movies where you get out of it what you put into it and those looking for a thrill-a-minute ride may get fidgety. However, stick with it and you will find yourself pulled along, gripping the arm of your chair and gritting your teeth in a few places. Julia’s Eyes is another example of how Spanish cinema is more than the equal of any other.

Rating – 4 Stars

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