Possession (minor spoilers)

Possession – 8/10

possessiony

Some people will see this film and think it’s an amazing piece of cinema. Some will see it and find it dreadful. Both views are correct.

Depending on my mood when I saw Possession, I could find it falling anywhere between those two extremes. It’s… a difficult one. People throw around the term ‘mindfuck’ for films with clever twists or disturbing ideas – I think I will now ask anyone using the term how those films stack up against Possession, because I’ve seen few films as psychologically gruelling as this one.

Most of the characters in the film are unlikeable and strange. This is something I’ve complained about in other movies and yet here it is also kind of the point. Early in the film we get to watch to odd, troubled, and unsympathetic characters as their marriage disintegrates horribly. It’s awful in all the ways it should be and a very uncomfortable watch.

From there it spirals into madness. Hard to tell if it’s the film-maker’s or the characters’ or the breakdown of the universe. Despite the title, you’re (probably) watching allegory.

Full credit has to go to Isabelle Adjani for playing her part as the disturbed, and disturbing Anna, with such unflinching, unwavering, mania. There are long, long sequences where she will act out what must have been a truly exhausting scene, physically and emotionally, without the camera ever cutting away. The scene in the subway quickly gets past uncomfortable, moves on to gruelling, and keeps on going way beyond that. She won awards for this and other films, and I’m not surprised. She’s an amazing actress.

Sam Neill does a solid job too, as Mark, who spends much of his time broken and unlikeable. His mood and attitudes vary, but you’re never completely on his side even when his wife is cruel to him.

Credit too must go to writer/director Andrzej Zulawski for filming long unbroken takes which give things a visceral quality. It’s a bit like watching a car crash, you can’t tear your eyes away as events unfold infront of you in terrible and unexpected ways.

One of the things I like about it is that it doesn’t give you any answers. You can’t tell if it’s real, if the film is from the point of view of the madness of its characters, or all shot in Symbolism-Vision. It’s a film that more than earns its right to be called a mindfuck movie, and depending on your mood you’ll hate it or appreciate it, but you probably won’t like it. I’ve seen several reviews by people who said they felt violated by the movie. It’s a strong term to use, but I can see exactly where they are coming from.

It’s not a nice film, and it will likely stay with you. I could easily have given it anywhere between 9/10 or 6/10, in the end I settled on 8 because that’s what I feel at the time of writing. Ask me again tomorrow, it will probably get a different score.

I never want to see it again, and yet I will probably buy a copy because it truly is an amazing piece of cinema that, when I feel strong enough, I will certainly want to revisit.

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.
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Dagon

Dagon – 8/10

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The first third of Dagon is a little… unengaging. The protagonist isn’t very likeable, and neither is his girlfriend, though she is better than him. So I watched as it meandered along, waiting for it to pick up.

And pick up it did. Things quickly take on a surreal, creepy and dangerous bent, and to some degree, even with his irritating character, the protagonist starts to come into his own. He’s still not that likeable, but at least what is after him is even less likeable.

The film suffers in a few ways. I don’t think Ezra Godden, who plays Paul, is that good. The scripting of his character is variable, but even when it’s good it often feels like he plays it wrong. The best performance comes from Francisco Rabal, and it’s a testament to him as an actor that he’s so good even though he’s hard to understand as he struggles with the English dialogue.

Macarena Gómez is quite good. She has a nicely unusual face, and plays her part quite well. The film also uses computer graphics to achieve some moments, but sensibly uses them sparingly, and to good effect.

While it gets some things wrong, once it gets up to speed it does a fair job of carrying the audience along with it, even when it gets slightly silly. Bad things happen, and no-one comes out of it too well. There’s some gore, but it is nowhere near as horrible as the situation. Not to everyone’s taste, but certainly it captures the tone of hopelessness and and unknowable horror well.

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Adventure in Space and Time, and Day of the Doctor

After dreading The Day of the Doctor because of Steven Moffat’s highly variable writing, I have to say I was very happy with it.  It’s a solid 8 out of 10 from me, which means it’s good.  It was fun, and humourous, and not overwrought or full of false drama.

An Adventure In Space and Time is harder for me to rate.  I know the history of that period fairly well.  And I really know about how the role of the Doctor changed Hartnell, brought so much joy to him, and also how he struggled.  And all that is captured so beautifully by the writing of Mark Gatiss and the acting of David Bradley.

So it’s hard for me to rate because I had to, literally, stop the vid at least seven times as I bawled uncontrollably.  Seriously, I was a giant mess.  Most of that crying was at the sweetness and kindness shown to Hartnell, and a bit was at those heartbreaking moments when you knew an ill and insecure man was about to be hurt.

In all honesty, I have never had any film affect me as deeply as this one.  I typed the last paragraph and this one with tears in my eyes at the memory of it.

So, I think it may be a 9 or a 10 out of 10, but I’ll need to rewatch it first and I’m not sure I’m quite up to it again yet.

But I will rewatch both, because it’s become obvious I need to run through references and Easter Eggs for people.  Not sure when I’ll get them done, though I’ll try to get to them as soon as I can.

Here’s just a couple…

In The Day of the Doctor, when the character of the Doctor is getting described, there is at least one quote from the 1972 book, “The Making of Doctor Who” by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke – “He is never cruel or cowardly.”

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Glass Daleks, everlasting matches, and a car crash on a dark night – this book has it all.

Also, the very start of An Adventure In Space and Time has Hartnell pulling up on Barnes Common on a dark and foggy night, and pausing to look at a real police box.  In the very first Doctor Who book, “Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks,” David Whitaker tells a different version of how Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright meet the Doctor and Susan. And it all happens on Barnes Common, on a dark and foggy night.

The opening location from Adventure in Space and Time is also replicated for The Day of the Doctor.  It’s not the same location (I thought it was but closer inspection showed houses in the background of the Hartnell scene), but they’ve gone for as close a match as possible.  It’s way too close to be a coincidence.

There were many other references, of course, so I’ll get on it.  But until I do, I’ll try to finish my edit of the Series Six Moffat’s Master Plan article within the next few days to hold you over.

The People the Doctor is Building…

So two years ago I wrote this piece about the overall impact Doctor Who has had on my life.

I said most of what I had to say back then, but being a couple of years later, life moves on and there’s some new thoughts to add on the subject.  The link to Doctor Who this time may not be as immediately obvious, but it’s just as strong.

Verity Lambert - all it took was a little faith and belief, and 50 years on we're still reaping the benefits of her vision.

Thank you Verity – the show you helped create has made countless lives better and richer.

The education in equality I got through my time in Doctor Who fandom has stayed strong. My daughter has certainly been given the same opportunities as her brother, while being allowed to grow and develop as her own person.

So before she was three years old, she’d helped me change the headlights on my car, helped me saw, nail, and screw wood together, and has been up in the roof with me.  She’s no good at any of it, but she enjoys herself nevertheless.

I’ll come back to that attitude later.

She’s even more unstoppable than my son. A month or two back, while climbing along the log-pile after being warned that she could get hurt, but being allowed to do it anyway because kids should be allowed to take risks, she took a truly epic fall. It involved an accidental somersault, a falling log, and a hefty bump on the noggin.

Naturally I went to her, held her, and explained again as I have a few times in the past that sometimes doing the good stuff means risking harm. One has to accept that some things have the potential to come with a price we’d rather not pay, but it’s hard to live the life one wants, or become the person one wishes to be, without accepting the risks and inevitable damage that may sometimes occur.

After a couple of minutes, still crying a little, she disengaged my arms and climbed back up onto the woodpile at the point where she had fallen. I asked her what she was doing.

“I want to see if I can finish.”

And she continued her climb all the way to the end. There’s a reason I call her GodZoe. Like Godzilla, she’s more a force of nature than anything else.

My 5yo son is growing and changing. He loves learning for the sake of it, and testing himself, though he’s a lot more likely to give up on things than his sister. We’re teaching him it’s okay to ask for help, but you should be willing to have a good try too.  He’s starting to be able to read, and the other day he counted to a thousand, because he’d never done it before. I had to keep reminding him what number he was up to, but he got there.

He still likes his hair long, and he wears dresses occasionally, which naturally leads to some confusion as people mistake him for a girl. When this happens he politely tells them he’s a boy. He’s had one or two people tell him boys don’t wear dresses, or have long hair. His reply is very matter of fact.

“Are girls allowed to have short hair?”
“Yes.”
“Can girls wear pants?”
“Yes.”
“Then boys can wear dresses and have long hair.”

My post-stroke health continues to improve, mostly because I know my limitations.  What I mean by that is that I know there’s stuff I have trouble with, and shouldn’t do, and I regularly try to do those things anyway.

And I fail, a lot.

Knowing my limitations doesn’t means staying in my broken little box. It means that those times when I can’t function, or I try to push past the boundaries of the box and fail, that’s okay.  Most failure isn’t a bad thing unless you let it be, the rest of the time it’s simply another way of learning.

Knowing my limitations means I try to choose my battles carefully. I don’t mean I go for the battles I can win – where’s the fun in that?  I mean I choose the things worth fighting to achieve, no matter the odds, what value others assign to the goal, or how likely I am to fail.

It’s the trying that matters, not the success.

Accepting my failure to cope or succeed is only a problem if I let the lack of success define me and what I attempt to do.  As long as I keep trying to do the things that add to my life or the lives of others, that’s what’s important.  If I’m never be able to sing, or dance, or run, or write, or paint, or build, or do any one of a hundred other things as well as I’d like, so long as I want to do them, as long as I don’t hurt others, I should keep going.

Some folks find me confronting.   I’m not entirely safe.  I’ll get naked to dance in the outback or pose with a Dalek.  If I like people I don’t hold anything back in my love and enthusiasm for them, even if I’ve known them five minutes.  Male or female, I want to hug them, to let them see themselves through my eyes for a change so they can see how beautiful and amazing they can be.  I want to stretch them, show them the huge gulf between who they define themselves to be, and who they could be.  You don’t do that by being safe and comfortable. I want them to know their limitations so they can start kicking at them.

People are awesome.

Oh, there are always some individuals who aren’t, but the vast majority want to be better than they are.  They want to learn and grow.  Most only need someone to believe in them.  That can be me, you, or some random person they meet for two minutes at the bus stop.

We aren’t born afraid to try.  We don’t start out with a fear of failure.  As children we learn through success and failure.  And tears, and frustration, and joy, and because others encourage us.  We only learn to be afraid of what people think later, just as we learn to be afraid of how we perceive ourselves, or how others may perceive us.

Find the people who believe in you, and use that belief to fight for the things you want, for yourself and others.  Embrace the risks knowing full-well you are going to fail some of the time, but that that doesn’t matter because at least you’ll fail doing something that matters to you.

Life isn’t about reaching the destinations you’ve got your heart set on, it’s about how you live during the scary and fun-filled adventure on the way.  Embrace the fear, accept the detours, and just go with it.

We can all be somebody’s Doctor, just as we can all be somebody’s companion.  Both roles are equally important in finding out who we really are, and becoming who we have the potential to be.

Remember how to be that curious, delighted, and unafraid child once more.  Embrace it, start running, and don’t ever stop.

Cheers, my freaky darlings!

Mickey and Martha – a new angle that makes my skin crawl…

Talking with my lovely wife about some of the issues with New Who and the unlikely destinies of its companions, and Martha got brought up, along with the fact that she married Mickey.

Now it’s been well documented by many folks that it was an annoying thing to happen, partially because she already had the lovely Tom Milligan as her fiancé, but mostly because the only two black members of the cast got married off to one another.

However, talking about it just now Sharon mentioned an angle I hadn’t thought of and I haven’t seen mentioned before – Martha couldn’t get to be with the Doctor because, in her mind, he was still in love with Rose.

So then Martha went off and eventually got married to Rose’s cast-off.

You got rejected by Rose, I got rejected by the Doctor – Of Course we got married!

There is no way the internet can contain the level of ick I am currently feeling.

City of the Living Dead

City of the Living Dead (AKA Gates of Hell) – 7/10

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD-POSTER 3 BY SILVERFOX

My first Italian cosmic horror. It has some obvious Lovecraft inspiration, given the name of the main town is Dunwich, but it’s very much its own thing. Whether or not you’ll like that thing is really a matter of taste.

Probably the most problematic aspect of City of the Living Dead for many people is it feels very disjointed. Seriously, things occasionally seem to happen for no other reason than they do, which at times means you’ll get a scene like the one where a zombie gets stabbed in the stomach and dies. I love surreal film-making, but even I had some issues with this. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to a chunk of it.

That said, this aspect is sort of in keeping with one of the concepts brought up with cosmic horror – we don’t understand or know what’s going on. I think it would be up to the individual viewer to figure out for themselves whether Lucio Fulci understood the background logic to why things occur or not. I’m guessing not. And honestly, once you get used to the disjointed nature of the film, I’m not sure that matters.

For me, I found the chopping and changing actually started to make me feel uneasy. It was a good enough film that I was involved, but I had no freaking idea what was going to happen next. There are many films where this would annoy me, but somehow here it worked to build tension.

It’s also quite a gruesome film with sequences that are fairly over the top. As an ex-meatworker I know offal, so when a character starts to vomit guts and the odd internal organ, I can tell they’ve used the real thing. Also a scene with literally thousands of maggots makes no sense, but is a hard watch because it goes on way past where it would be comfortable, and they’ve obviously used real maggots for all of it, including the ones spirit-gummed to actors’ faces.

Full credit to the bleeding eye effect, too. Never seen it done before in the way it’s handled in this film, and it really is quite effective. Took me a few minutes to figure out how they did it.

Sound design is also a feature of this one. Being 80s Italian I’m assuming, and it certainly sounds, like all the audio is dubbed on later. This does two things. It makes everything sound just a little off, and it means that the howls, screeches, and sloppy, squelchy noises are very loud and distinct, only adding to the dream-like nature of things.

All up, definitely not a film for everyone. I’m not sure I’d watch it again, but it still makes me feel uneasy, surely the hallmark of a good horror film. The ending… is in keeping with the rest of the film. It may not be satisfying, but given some things stated within the movie, it makes a kind of sense, albeit in a disjointed way.

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

The Moffat Master Plan – Series 5

Warning – Some spoilers for Pyramids of Mars, Image of the Fendahl, Mawdryn Undead and Father’s Day. Major spoilers for City of Death, all of series five, and bits of series six and seven.

Steven Moffat’s first season, series 5, blew me away. I still think it’s his strongest by far and it seemed a very canny and clever beginning to his run. It was enough like Russell Davies’ era Doctor Who not to alienate the fans who had come on board in the last few years, while at the same time gradually shifting the mythos.

The theory I quickly developed, as I watched that season for the first time, was that Moffat was going to slowly remove the seeming godhood that had been bestowed on the Doctor. To take him back to being a simple wanderer who wasn’t known to absolutely everybody. I suspect he’s still heading in that direction, but it’s become more distorted with time, and Moffat’s admitted fear of the audience becoming bored, so he seems to keep straying back and forth.  I may well be wrong.  I hope I’m not.

After becoming disenchanted during series six, to the point where for the first time in my entire life I didn’t care about the show by the end of the season, I went back to look through series five again to get the taste out of my mouth.

While I knew it was not a perfect run, it was solid, held together, and made sense.

Or did it? Continue reading

The Moffat Master Plan – Prelude…

Since coming back in 2005, Doctor Who has become a show based firmly on the Buffy model. An over arcing story for the season, with episodes that build the arc peppered throughout the run, usually building up to a major conflict and/or big bad.

The original series had done arc story-lines before, but generally handled them differently. The very first Hartnell season when viewed as a whole is about the first Doctor learning to be a hero from his human companions. Other seasons had ongoing stories or themes. Season sixteen was all about the Key to Time. Season eighteen had the constant theme of decay and stagnation, and also incorporated two trilogies of stories before it put the universe itself in direct peril for only the third time in the show’s history.

For instance, the arc for season 8 was about how the Master loves being a complete dick to the Doctor. I didn't say it was a complex or clever arc.

For instance, the arc for season 8 was about how the Master loves being a complete dick to the Doctor.
I didn’t say it was a complex or clever arc.

Since coming back, the enforced arcs building to big end of season showdowns have given us the potential end of the universe five times in seven years. Where the original series was contented to simply try to end the series with a solid story, admittedly not always successfully, the new series by its nature has to try to give us a massive, ‘important’ story to finish the season with.

One of the problems with this is the perceived need to build-up to that finale. Russell Davies’ way of handling this was to have a word or phrase pop up throughout the season, keeping the audience guessing until the end where we would then find out what it referred to.

It wasn’t always successful, and as story or arc building goes, it really is a bit light on. It makes a show of knowing where it’s headed, while really not doing much in the way of work toward actually layering hints or clues. Indeed, the very first year Bad Wolf wasn’t originally intended to be anything special. Before the series aired, the fans went nuts over leaked pictures trying to figure out what the graffiti on the TARDIS meant, figuring it had a deeper meaning. Davies decided to start layering it in to bait them, without any real idea where it was headed. The truth is, Bad Wolf originally had no more importance to the show than than being a one-off piece of random graffiti on the TARDIS.

I am Bad Wolf.  I reached this conclusion in a completely illogical way, but I'm allowed to do that because I'm Bad Wolf.  So Blah!

I am Bad Wolf. I reached this conclusion in a completely illogical way, but I’m allowed to do that because I’m Bad Wolf. So Blah!

The problem with constructing an arc is, you have to be on your game. If you’re really going to build up an over-arcing mystery to a satisfying conclusion, one that will hold up to basic scrutiny, you need to think about where you’re headed and plan carefully for that future destination.

Instead of being a show about the adventures and the people the Doctor and his friends meet, it has become a series about the Doctor and his companions. Hence the continual need to have companions who idolise, fancy, or romantically love the Doctor, and the end of season stories often involving things that directly affect members of the TARDIS crew on a personal level, usually leading to unlikely destinies for those characters.

The destinies of the companions these days make some of the surprise sudden departures due to unforeseen romances and the like from the old series look brilliantly restrained.

K9 and Leela elope together leaving the Doctor alone once more.

K9 and Leela elope together leaving the Doctor alone once more.

Doctor Who as a series now isn’t about the stories, it’s about the season’s clues. Fans obsess over any little detail that might have something to do with that season’s arc. All too often stories are treated by fans a means to get the hints to the finale, rather than having a point in and of themselves. The fact that the story may be an excellent stand-alone is considered less important than the arc. Indeed, some stories are badly hurt by having aspects of the arc poorly grafted in.

Once Steven Moffat took over, he made a show of having a better idea of how to layer in hints and clues that would pay off. Certainly his first season had some very clever story-telling scattered and hinted at throughout. But for every bit that pays off and works, there are several other bits that don’t hold together.

Now, in fairness, virtually no series can hold up to close inspection. There will always be bits where things are a bit hand-wavey, or simply don’t add up or hold together. However, in turning Doctor Who into a show where the clues scattered throughout are meant to be of crucial importance, in actively inviting the audience to pay close attention and to treat all manner of things and moments as potentially being vital story elements, it also invites us to be more critical of when these things don’t add up.

Moffat’s storylines are full of glaring inconsistencies. While it’s painted as an incredible layered puzzle, in fact it’s even less well constructed than Davies’ run.

I’m usually the guy who is surprised by all the plot holes and such I haven’t spotted that my friends have. Minutes after watching something, when others are saying, “But what about the such-and-such?” I’m sitting there amazed that I missed the errors that seemed so obvious to others. In fact, it’s become one of my judging criteria – if I don’t spot an issue until after the film or episode is over, I figure they’ve done a good job. But if I spot it while watching it for the first time, if it’s something so glaring that it spoils my suspension of disbelief, then they must have been pretty bloody slack for someone as clueless as me to spot the issue.

I’ve spotted a lot of issues with Moffat’s seasons on a first viewing.

And in going through them to research for this little run of posts, I’ve found even more inconsistencies. So over the next few articles I’m going to run through the season arcs in detail, since the new series wants us paying such close attention.

I’ve suffered for my obsession, and now it’s your turn.

Here are a few of questions that have yet to be answered.

  • When will we see the fall of the Eleventh on the Fields of Trenzalore? Because surely the events in The Name of the Doctor don’t count as the fall…
  • The Silence wanted to stop the Doctor from answering “the question that must never be asked.” His name. But he didn’t answer that question at Trenzalore when asked it, so is that arc now over?
  • Why does the “Most Important Leaf in the Universe” change to a radically differently shaped leaf? (Actually I know the answer to this one, and it’s both really annoying and quite telling)
  • So who was it wanted to blow up the TARDIS in the first place in Pandorica Opens?
  • Who was saying, “Silence will fall,” in the TARDIS?

Except for the leaf, I can actually see a couple of ways to tie these questions together and give some satisfactory answers. And I really hope Moffat does just that. I’d love to have all those elements that have annoyed me be explained or retconned in a way that works.

It’d be nice to have faith in the writing again.

Altitude

Altitude – 2/10

altitude

What can I say about Altitude? Some of the cinematography was nice, and there’s an interesting twist I didn’t see coming around an hour in. Oh, and it’s in focus, and the effects are actually pretty good. And the acting isn’t terrible.

Other than that, it features three unsympathetic or unlikeable male characters, and two female characters who are passable. That’s probably its biggest flaw – the characterisation. But it’s a really huge flaw for a film of this type. Pretty much everyone makes at least one really bad decision, acts in a way that is horrible, and does something particularly stupid.  It’s not a case where they each do one of the previous things, they each do all three.  At least once.

Basically it’s bloody hard to care about any of these people, or indeed the film.

Purely by accident, I saw Cube, then this – and Altitude really highlighted the importance of decent characterisation.  They are essentially the same type of film – a group of people trapped in a confined, high stress environment in which they have little-to-no control.  The difference is with Cube we care about or understand the characters and their actions and motivations.  With Altitude, we don’t give a damn.

I can see how people would say it fits within the broad cosmic horror definition, but really, it’s just a really weak episode of Twilight Zone that’s been blown out to 90 minutes. Actually, as a 30 minute short film, I suspect it would have been much, much better since there would have been less of the characters.

I’d spoil this one something rotten like I did with The Forgotten, but except it missteps so badly right from our first introduction to these people, I really can’t be bothered giving it any more of my attention.

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Cube

Cube – 8/10

cube

What’s nice about the first film is we know nothing about the universe it’s set in. Yes we learn stuff as we go along, but it’s still a situation where we don’t know enough. This one fits the cosmic horror bill mainly due to the characters not having any control or ability to influence things. They don’t know the rules, though they do figure some of them out as they go. There’s other elements as well, but that requires spoiling the film, which I’m reluctant to do.

Cube‘s real strength is as a character piece. Throw a bunch of people together in an enclosed, high-stress environment, and watch them react and interact. They shift and change, have layers and secrets, and all these things make it an intriguing watch.

When characters are inevitably killed it’s gruesome and gory, but not too over the top. I get the feeling the main reason for the nastiness of the deaths is to sell the danger, and make those scenes where we know there’s a trap that much more tense.

16 years later, Cube is still a classic, and proves once again that flashy special effects can’t beat good writing and characterisation.

  

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.