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Azumanga daiô (2002)
The simplicity of plot-less perfection
The conventions of anime (and there are many) become, over time (and that is 17 years in my case) rather tiresome. All the shows start to look the same and you become disillusioned.
The sense that, something which could be "great" is being squandered, enters your mind and you start to tune out to new product. This is what happened to me at the start of 2002 when I saw the first production pics for the series Azumanga Daioh. "Just another show about schoolgirls", I thought. "Seen a lot of those. Bleh...."
These thoughts persisted until I saw my first episode. Actually, it was episode 2, but it concentrated on a character who has haunted me ever since with her ever so cute, and occasionally scary, vacuous smile.... Kasuga Ayumu, aka "Osaka". The moment she failed to cross the pedestrian crossing in time because she was thinking too hard about it convinced me we were in the presence of _genius_. :)
I gobbled up this show like no other, basking in the airheaded glory of Osaka, wishing a painful death upon Tomo (preferably at Yomi's hands), waiting for Kamineko to (inevitably) chomp Sakaki's fingers, nodding sagely at Yukari-sensei's contempt for her students, wondering (like Osaka) whether Chiyo-chan's ponytails were, in fact, distinct entities of their own and wincing at Kimura's one-way journey to an inevitable police raid. And then it finished.... leaving me feeling more empty than I have felt at the ending of any other TV show.
Yes, I might not have much of a life.... But I defy anyone to watch the Hitchcockian moment in episode 22 where Osaka wakes Yukari-sensei.... with a knife.... and NOT fall in love with this show and its characters. ;)
The animation work is surprisingly sparse and cheap (the budget for the show wasn't huge) but somehow this really doesn't seem to matter, as the show doesn't rely upon its spectacular visuals. Yet the show has a "style" that is quite original. A later series, "Sensei no Ojikan -Doki Doki School Hours", tried to emulate the style and look of Azumanga, and failed (rather spectacularly), which just goes to show that, no matter how simple or unplanned Azumanga appears, quite a lot of thought has gone into making it work.
9.9/10.... As long as I can have an Iriomote Mountain Cat as a pet, too. :)
The best music video show on Australian TV, until....
....The Top 50 comes on. Then it becomes seriously bogged down with banality. Wipe that smile off your face, you!. ;)
Whilst Rage's quality control, on what ends up on the screen, isn't exactly "controlled", it at least provides one with a heads-up on music that might actually be good out there (just not frequently played). Until the Top 50 starts.... Then we're given a view into the minds of Ritalin-munchers. ;)
Besides, this thing runs from midnight to dawn. Normal people are in bed, sleeping or doing other things that run under the category of "having a life", as difficult as that is for people who have a "left" or "right" wing media mentality to understand.... ;)
The end of Quatermass, from the man who sets his scares on slow-burn
You have to hand it to Nigel Kneale.... Even after all these years, his works still have the power to leave you feeling just a bit disturbed. Not in the out and out conventions of most horror/sci-fi titles, but with the underlying neuroses and paranoias that afflict all societies, regardless of culture.
All of the Quatermass serials contained these elements, so much so that they were practically strip-mined by The X Files. And so, regardless of the quaint anachronisms that they contain, they still, somehow, manage to retain something for the modern viewer.
The 1970's Quatermass series is the most anachronistic of all, because it is so unlike the earlier serials (produced in the 50's and 60's, as were the film versions of said series). This makes the aesthetic of the series so much more nihilistic. Made under the backdrop of the (then) rising punk scene, the random violence and criminal behaviour that is portrayed must have seemed entirely topical. Even the relative cheapness of the production adds to this aesthetic: so very 70's Brit sci-fi.
But the series was written back in the late 60's, originally intended to be the 4th film in the movie series (especially with the relative success of the "Quatermass and the Pit" film). This is why we have the strange interbreeding of hippy culture and guns....
As such, you have to say that Kneale was certainly visionary in that oh-so grim British way.... And the concept that human beings might be hardwired to seek out destructive (even genocidal) religious ideals (by unseen, advanced intelligences), capable of being intensified remotely for "harvesting" (for reasons unknown), certainly has a lot of resonance in today's world.
The acting in the series was variable (understandable for a TV series). John Mills is capable as the aging and (initially) confused Quatermass, desperately seeking his granddaughter in a world that seems to be falling apart. Once the threat is recognised, the scientist in him takes over, leading to a slow and tragic conclusion.
Simon McCorkindale, an actor who seemed to be on top of his game at this time, ably plays Quatermass's sidekick, Joe Kapp. Never the safest thing to be in any Quatermass serial, Kapp is taken through the emotional wringer in ways too horrible for a husband and father to bear, before facing the fate of sidekicks before him.
Bruce Purchase and David Yip provide temporary interest (never destined to be long-lived in a Quatermass serial).
On the flipside, Ralph Arliss is quite painful as the murderous (and annoying) Kickalong, whose fate is far too kind (and long in waiting). There is an earlier scene where a group of the planet people are massacred whilst walking between rival gangs having a shootout. Something like that would have been more appropriate for Kickalong, but it was, sadly, not to be....
The effects are of a pretty low standard, but given everything else, this doesn't really seem to matter. Given the cheap, 70's budget the producers had to work with (we certainly aren't looking at a Space: 1999 cashflow here), they managed to perform miracles.
I remember first watching this some time in the 80's (I'm not sure when precisely) on late-night TV. The darkly-nihilistic atmosphere of the series attracted me to it, then, because it was so different to other sci-fi shows going around. Years later I still find it strangely appealing, even with the faults of its age.
The Deliverance of Elaine (1996)
Whilst I understand the psychology behind this TV movie....
....I still found it irritating in a way I find difficult to express.
Maybe it was the way the actors performed, but almost everyone in this film irritated me, in the way characters in M. Night Shyamalan films irritate me (albeit on a lower and less thought-out level). Their personalities are the type that engender more homicidal tendencies than sympathy, but conversely the character who was supposed to be the most unsympathetic, Elaine's father Addison, was played with a curious geniality by Lloyd Bridges that belied the lines he was given to deliver. Maybe I just have a hard time in seeing Bridges as the scum Addison is supposed to be. Elaine, a total mess as a person, stumbled around for most of the movie, waiting for a reason to kill her father (as if she really needed any) and Charlie is the kind of person whose "help" should have been met with a shotgun, rather than fondness. It might hurt to set things right, but sometimes just coming out and saying what the hell is going on can save on a lot of needless pain (especially for the viewers).
Not a total loss of a movie, but certainly not one I'd go out of my way to see again.
Haibane renmei (2002)
The last genuinely "great" anime of the 1996-2002 Era of Great Anime
This series was one I stumbled upon fairly late in the day.... Not until well into 2003 before I decided to see any of it. I was stupid not to have followed it from Day One.
With the 2003 run of anime being so banal (and with 2004 being several magnitudes worse) I was forced to look back on shows I'd missed, and found an anime I now rank as one of my favourites.... Actually, a show I rank as one of my all-time favourites, anime or not.
It isn't some explosive action-fest, or some great triumph of animation work and cg. What it is is a series made simply, with sympathetic characters in a strange yet familiar setting. When they go through pain and angst, you actually _feel_ for them. They are not ciphers to plot. In fact, there is very little plot to Haibane Renmei, so everything relies on the character interaction. The world of Limbo is going to elicit a lot of emotions from those who have arrived there in order to be judged worthy of moving on to Heaven (or wherever it is the Haibane go upon their Day of Flight). Even the loss of those Haibane who have moved on is keenly felt (the collapse of Rakka's state of mind after the disappearance of Kuu) and the ending, even if some people feel it wasn't quite up to the rest of the series, leaves this reviewer quite haunted. Reki was my favourite character from the show, and her relationship, and eventual redemption, with Rakka was quite powerful for me.
For some, this may seem a dozy exercise in drama. For some who are munching on ritalin, that is. Haibane Renmei is a labour of love for its creators, and I've done my damnest to spread it round to even those who don't watch anime.
Space: 1999 (1975)
The greatest thing on tv.... when you were eight years old....
I have intensely fond memories of this show. I always seemed to associate it with some of the best memories of my childhood, although sometimes I wonder if those memories were so good because I had a show I was so fond of to relate to in my memory.
As such, my expectations of this show were abnormally high. Years later, when I finally got my hands on the box sets of both series, I was destined to be.... disappointed? Not really. After all those years I'd come to understand that nothing my child's mind had interpreted as "great" was ever going to meet the standards of my adult point of view.
As with everyone who has commented on this show, it is almost impossible to watch S99 as a combined 48 episode tv show. The differences between the seasons are far too great. Season 1 is marvellously primal and epic in its intentions, earnest in its realisation and grim and depressing in its reflection. It was also class ham, far more 1960's than were most shows made in 1974. The characters were all a pretty grim lot, but after 24 episodes you start to warm to them, feeling for their predicament. The individual episodes really stood out, especially Dragon's Domain, The Infernal Machine, Black Sun, Force of Life, The Last Sunset, Earthbound, Mission of the Darians, The Last Enemy, Space Brain and End of Eternity. Season 2 was a necessitated shift away from this grimness, because without it there wouldn't have been a season 2, for better or worse. It doesn't have the same epic feel or the sense that things are quite as desperate for the crew of Moonbase Alpha, and carries with it a greater sense of character, without the sense of depth. It was too far in the other direction, in my opinion, which was why we didn't see a season 3. The producers just never managed to settle the show down into something that would both be dramatic and acceptable to the casual viewer.
But this was the first show I ever followed, in my memory, week after week without fail, and so I love it to bits, even with all of its faults. If made today, I wouldn't be anywhere near as forgiving for those faults. Times have changed, for everyone, I suppose.
Adventure Island (1967)
So many episodes, and yet it seems to have disappeared from the memory....
I remember watching this as a child. So many years ago, now, my memories of the show are incredibly vague. So much so that, until hearing a radio special about the program a couple of years ago, I almost believed it was just one of those false memories of the past you seem to have about childhood.
But it did exist, and according to IMDb, there was a hell of a lot of it, most of which has probably been scrapped from archives (which is probably why we've not seen hide nor hair since). It was probably very bad, but I'd still like to see an episode today, just to see what it was _really_ like....
Phoenix Five (1970)
Another show from my childhood barely remembered
There are very few things I remember about this show. One of the things was the theme.... Which stuck in my head for no readily apparent reason. I can still hum it today, even though it has probably been 30 years since it has ever been seen by the public. Another was the apparently sparse sets requiring a lot of metaphorical plots.... Which they probably weren't, but that is all that still exists in the old brain.
I'd like to see this again, even if it is probably creakier than Doctor Who at its low-budget 60's zenith. I really want to know if these few scraps of memory were right.... It still exists in its entirety in the Australian Archives....
I, Claudius (1976)
How can I even begin to comment on this series....
....When so many people have done a better job than I ever could?
When I rented this on video, a few years ago, my mother (who has passed away since) commented on how she would watch this back in the 70's, absolutely fascinated by it. I'd rented it because I'd seen it during its replay in the 80's, and was equally fascinated. It was rare to see a historical drama with so much lurid character detail.
What fascinates me today is the sheer number of character actors who appear in it.... Most of which were little known then but have since gone on to become better-known. Everyone from Brian Blessed, John Hurt, Sian Phillips, George Baker, Patrick Stewart and John Rhys-Davies to lesser-known actors like Kevin Stoney, Bernard Hill, Christopher Guard, Fiona Walker, Stratford Johns, Sam Dastor, Guy Siner, Darien Angadi, James Bree, George Pravda, Simon MacCorkindale, Sheila Ruskin, Bruce Purchase and Denis Carey. And they were _all_ good, no matter how small their roles were. Where the Brits find actors of this caliber, I'll never know.
Dave Allen at Large (1971)
The show still had punch almost 20 years after it was made
It was amazing, when I first started watching this show, how funny it was. This was the mid to late 80's, and even then I remarked on the show's vintage. Most comedy shows of that age would barely have raised a smile: times had changed. But somehow Allen's humour seemed as fresh as it had been when it was made. Lord knows how it must've gone down in the 70's, I certainly couldn't see it ever having been broadcast any earlier than 10pm....
Allen lived near here at some stage, in a sort of retirement. It didn't seem to matter what age he was, though, he always bore an odd resemblance to my old man (and they were about the same age)....
R.I.P. Dave Allen. You left many fond memories for this viewer.
A fine addition to Bad Movie Nights....
....Which is pretty much the only occasions I'd watch this film.
Honestly, this film is one long collection of laughable clichés. More than Star Crash, and that is a feat of some magnitude.
The incredibly poor special effects. Yes, it was 1979 and this film was a low-budget spaghetti sci fi flick, so I suppose we could forgive it for this. Almost.
The incredibly laughable reuse of models and costumes from other sources which shall remain nameless to protect them from comparison.
The painfully repetitive soundtrack, more like a collection of notes strung together.... I can't believe Ennio Morricone was responsible for it.
The stunning range of Richard Kiel's acting. He must have been getting mightily sick of playing the invincible, monstrous giant by this stage. Normally nobody would play the role better, but his rampage through various faceless soldiers is so stupid as to elicit more laughs than fear.
And then there is Marco Yeh as Tom Tom.... It doesn't come as any surprise to me that this is the only production to feature him listed on IMDb.... At least he didn't have to wear the stupid costume Ivan Rassimov was made to suffer.
But gawd is it funny as hell....
Seven Keys to Baldpate (1947)
The seventh Seven Keys to Baldpate: Another midnight special
You wouldn't be seeing this film at any other time other than the midnight to dawn schedule. A relatively effective start leads to a runaround that could very nearly have been farce. Its length denotes its depth: fairly clichéd characters stuck together in a remote country hotel, dying one by one in ways that surely must have been groansome even in 1947.... But at the time of the day I was watching it, my brain wasn't exactly working on all cylinders, so it amused me.
Of particular note is Phillip Terry, whose acting is nothing short of woeful: he is clearly not suited to the type of character he is playing here. The fact that he is playing the main character makes it stand out terribly, and it isn't improved when the tone of the film (and the role) changes as the film goes on.
The Big Chance (1957)
Entertaining short British film
This film, which usually pops up in the midnight-dawn slot on the local ABC network, like a lot of the old Rank, Gaumont British and Gainsborough films tend to do, is interesting for the performance of William Russell, better known to most as Doctor Who's Ian Chesterton, back in the days when his movie career seemed to be a going prospect. He's perfect for the role he takes in this film, as his fairly straight-jawed demeanor makes him look altogether too uncomfortable for the situations he finds himself in.
Not the greatest film in the world (nor the longest) but solidly entertaining for the timeslot it finds itself in, especially if you're an insomniac like me. :)
The Ghost Train (1941)
The ghosts of Askey's past
The question of whether or not one likes this film version of "The Ghost Train" invariably depends on one thing and one thing alone: your reaction to the performance of Arthur Askey.
He tends to steal almost every scene he's in, and not always in a good way. Sometimes you wish he'd settle down or back off just a little, to allow the plot's many characters to feature and develop (which they do to some extent). But somehow everything keeps pointing back to Askey's Tommy Gander character.
Personally I like the film, and even like Askey to an extent. I always seem to plonk it into the vcr at those odd hours of the early morning when I can't sleep and really can't find the energy to watch anything else. There is something about watching old b/w movies in the quiet dark of pre-dawn that I find appealing....
Mr Bean for Idiots....
Not a patch on the tv series, in which Mr Bean had a penchant for petty nastiness and childishly knowing humour. Without these aspects, the character is simply an idiot, stumbling through the plot like a clueless dolt who is in a situation that is way over his head.
And that seems, to me, to be another problem with the film.... It has a plot (albeit not much of one). The original never needed a plot, being a collection of skits that just happened to involve the same character. It might have been nice for the film to be a big-budget version of this (and I seem to remember there being a filmed version of the "Bean meets The Queen" sketch) but, well, we weren't given it. Pity, really. *shrug*
Welcome to Woop Woop (1997)
There is a good reason why Australians hate this movie....
....Because it takes everything modern Australians despise about this country's past (most specifically its rural past), expands upon it in a manner almost perfectly designed to make us feel humiliated by it, and then packages it neatly in widescreen.
Well, maybe not. The fact is, WtWW is an oddball film, with a range of rather unpleasant characters in an equally unpleasant setting. Peter Weir's "The Cars That Ate Paris" took the same scenario and managed to turn it into a watchable, if not entirely likable film (best remembered for the spiky VW beetle).
But director Stephan Elliot isn't known for his directorial subtlety, and as such, WtWW treats the subject with all the vulgar caricature we've come to expect. He'd wanted to capture the last vestiges of "Old Australia" he'd encountered when he'd filmed "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" in various outback towns. \ But the majority of Australians are urbanites, many of whom seem to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to live down their past. As such, when this film was released in Australia, it reopened all those wounds of low cultural self-esteem and died the death of 1,000 bad reviews. Quite apart from being an intrinsically bad film, that is. ;) Elliot, in a TV special about the making of "Eye of the Beholder", said he felt he'd been well-sufficiently punished for it....
Over time, WtWW seems to have found itself a following, mostly amongst non-Australian viewers.... But considering it is an hour and a half of my life that I desperately want to take back, I'm certainly not amongst them. A pity really, for, as unpleasant as Daddy-O was, Rod Taylor's performance really is something to see....