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BD review: Australia

Those already acquainted with Baz Luhrmann’s “Red Curtain” trilogy should know what to expect from Australia, a bold, sweeping epic that tugs shamelessly at the heartstrings and celebrates a type of filmmaking that has long since gone out of fashion. Fox’s BD release may seem a little limited in terms of extras but scores points for its impressive A/V presentation.

Sweeping epic melodrama or over-long sentimental tripe? I head off into the outback with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman and review Baz Luhrmann’s Australia at DVD Times.

Posted: Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 4:16 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews

Australia BD impressions


My review of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia will be going live at 6 PM tonight, so I won’t repeat myself here by going into depth about what I thought of the film. Therefore, I’ll just provide you with the short version: I thought it was great.

As far as this BD is concerned, the film looks very good from start to finish, although it doesn’t look quite as crisp as some titles I could mention. While far from unpleasant to look at, a very slight hint of softness lingers throughout, although I’ve no idea whether or not this was digitally induced. There is certainly nothing processed-looking about the image, barring a couple of shots that appear to have been artificially sharpened (for instance, shots of Nullah climbing on the water cooler at 00:04:25 and again at 00:30:12 appear to have been manipulated in this way and as a result suffer from some pronounced ringing), and the grain is nicely rendered throughout. In addition, despite the lengthy running time and fairly average bit rate, compression artefacts are never an issue. It may not reach the dizzy heights of the absolute best the Blu-ray format has to offer, but the image is very nice indeed and is unlikely to cause any significant complaints. 9.5/10

studio: 20th Century Fox; country: UK; region code: B; codec: AVC;
file size: 33 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 28.57 Mbit/sec

Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia

Posted: Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 4:13 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews | Technology

Just arrived…


The Red Riding Trilogy (DVD, Optimum, Region 2, UK)

I missed this trilogy of made-for-TV films when they aired on Channel 4 last month, but decided to pick up the DVD after reading an excellent review of it written by my fellow DVD Times reviewer, Mike Sutton.

Posted: Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 6:13 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: DVD | Reviews | TV | Web

BD reviews: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum

Blu-ray Blu-ray Blu-ray

A little while back, Universal sent me check discs for their recent UK Blu-ray Disc releases of the three Jason Bourne movies, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. They seem to want the discs back but neglected to provide me with a return address, and in any event, they’ve been available on store shelves for long enough for me to suspect that there’s not much point in them having them returned.

That’s what I’m hoping at any rate, because the image quality of all three films have been improved over their HD DVD counterparts, and it would suit me very well to be able to hang on to them. The Bourne Supremacy sees the biggest improvement and The Bourne Ultimatum the least, with The Bourne Identity lying somewhere in the middle. In each case, the improvement seems to have come from the improved disc capacity and bandwidth of Blu-ray over HD DVD, resulting in fewer compression artefacts and a more natural reproduction of the film grain. The Bourne Identity is still the weakest-looking overall and The Bourne Ultimatum the best, but all three are a testament to the improvements that can be made when a studio harnesses improved technical specifications to provide the audience with a better viewing experience. (Warner, take note.)

The first two films also gain a lossless audio track each (The Bourne Ultimatum’s HD DVD had a lossless track to begin with), and while I couldn’t discern any difference between the lossy HD DVD and lossless BD tracks for The Bourne Supremacy (despite several blind tests), The Bourne Identity seems to get a little moore “oomph” in the bass. It’s extremely difficult to objectively compare sound, but as you probably know, I’m more than a little suspicious of those who claim that the difference between lossy and lossless audio is “night and day”, believing that it’s far more important to get yourself a decent sound system (well, okay, I have my brother and his meaty speakers to thank for that). I’m not saying I don’t think lossless audio should be used whenever possible - just that I think some people have a tendency to claim they hear a difference when there isn’t one there.

Anyway, check out the links below to read about each disc in more depth.

Posted: Monday, April 20, 2009 at 6:00 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews

Film review: Twilight (long post)


Note: I was originally planning this to be a review for DVD Times. As it progressed, however, it became clear that its tone wasn’t entirely appropriate for that site given that it’s less a critical review and more an uncontrolled rant.

I should state upfront that I haven’t read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books. I gather they are quite the sensation, particularly among the teenage girl demographic. I am neither a teenager nor a girl, which some might suggest ought to preclude me from appreciating them. Personally, I don’t go in for that sort of compartmentalisation, and have enjoyed a great many books and films that are supposedly aimed at people who don’t possess the same set of genitalia as me. That said, I’ve never felt particularly compelled to delve into Meyer’s four-book saga. I picked up the first volume one day at the library and gave it a quick flick-through, but came to the conclusion that the material was too trivial to justify its length, and that its length was too great to justify my time.

However, something about the media phenomenon surrounding the book and its big screen adaptation piqued my interest, coupled with the widely differing reactions to it. On the one hand, you’ve got the legions of adoring fans who swoon at the very mention of its title. (If you want some idea of just how scary these people can be, head over to the movie’s IMDB board.) On the other, you have unprecedented levels of vitriol being hurled in its direction, mainly from people who consider it nothing more than a self-infatuated author’s overblown wank fantasy, and one with a very dubious moral at that. More often than not with such cases, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I wanted to know more and swiftly came to the conclusion that it would be easier to do this by watching a two hour movie than by reading a 500-page book.

[Continue reading "Film review: Twilight (long post)"...]

Posted: Monday, April 13, 2009 at 1:44 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | Reviews | TV

Two Evil Eyes BD impressions


Rewatching the Dario Argento/George A. Romero collaboration Two Evil Eyes again tonight for the first time in a few years, I was struck by two things. First, Edgar Allan Poe had a tendency to repeat himself. Secondly, the Romero segment isn’t as plodding as I’d remembered. True, the Argento half is still the better by a considerable margin, but I’m slowly coming round to the notion that Romero’s The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar has been unfairly maligned. Actually, at the same time, I’d even be tempted to suggest that Argento’s The Black Cat has been slightly overrated by some. I’ll hopefully be putting together a full review before too long.

As far as the transfer goes, I’d suggest that this is one of those rare instances where the screenshots shouldn’t necessarily be taken as an entirely truthful representation of how the disc looks in motion. Quite a few of them look rather “smudgy”, but in actual fact during playback it looks extremely crisp and film-like. Of all the Argento films released in HD so far, this is by far the best-looking - although, as far as Romero is concerned, I’d edge towards Optimum’s Region B Night of the Living Dead looking slightly better. I was extremely satisfied with how this disc looked on the whole, with only the optical shots (which aren’t exactly numerous) showing reduced detail. 9/10

Two Evil Eyes
studio: Blue Underground; country: USA; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 39 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 46.66 Mbit/sec

Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes

Posted: Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 11:49 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Reviews | Technology

DVD review: Baba Yaga: The Final Cut

What transpired in 1973 means that any presentation of Baba Yaga was always going to be severely compromised. As such, Shameless are to be commended for taking the time and trouble to involve Corrado Farina and attempt to restore the film to its intended state. The audio-visual shortcomings of this release mean that those who already own the Blue Underground DVD are going to want to hold on to that version, but this new version represents a valiant effort to bring the film closer to how it was originally meant to be seen. As such, and for the insightful new bonus features, this release gets a thumbs up from me.

Originally hacked to bits by its producer, Corrado Farina’s trippy Baba Yaga has been granted a second chance courtesy of Shameless Screen Entertainment. I review the Final Cut at DVD Times.

Posted: Sunday, April 05, 2009 at 11:05 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews

BD review: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

As far as the transfer goes, this BD release of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a superb example of how to properly treat a catalogue title. In terms of audio however, the lack of the original mono mixes is a grave oversight and one that sullies this release considerably. It’s a delight to see Dario Argento’s landmark first film released in high definition and looking this good, but without it’s original sound this release can never hope to be considered definitive.

Dario Argento’s landmark first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, arrives on BD courtesy of Blue Underground. I crack the case over at DVD Times.

Posted: Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 5:51 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews

DVD review: Four Flies on Grey Velvet

While the very fact that we finally have an authorised copy of the film with reasonably good image quality is a cause for celebration, Four Flies on Grey Velvet’s official DVD debut is, alas, far from the unmitigated triumph for which many of us were hoping. On the one hand, it’s probably a minor miracle that the film is available and looks as good as it does. The missing footage and audio problems, however, are significant enough for me to suggest that Mya should strongly consider a recall to correct, at the very least, the sound pitch. This disc gets a relatively tepid recommendation from me: it is, on balance, the best release of the film to date, but it is my firm hope that either Mya or another company revisits this title in the future and does it proper justice.

Pigs take to the skies and Satan ice skates to work as Dario Argento’s long-lost third film, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, finally gets an authorised DVD release, courtesy of Mya Communication.

Review at DVD Times.

Posted: Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 2:01 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Reviews

BD review: Bolt

The lightweight nature of the extras and the elevated price resulting from the inclusion of two additional throwaway discs aside, this BD release of Bolt is impressive. While I would have liked to see a little more meat in terms of bonus content, the audio-visual presentation can’t be faulted in any way, and the film itself, although occupying the middle ground in terms of the quality of Disney’s animated features, certainly hits all the right spots as far as humour and emotion are concerned.

I review Disney’s Region A Blu-ray Disc release of Bolt, which hits shelves today, just ahead of its standard definition DVD counterpart. Has this film relit the Disney flame, or is it another damp squib? Read on and find out!

Review at DVD Times.

Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 5:01 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews

The Butterfly Effect BD impressions


Isn’t it funny how the ravages of time can completely change your opinion of something? The other night, we sat down to watch the Canadian BD release of The Butterfly Effect, a film that I rated rather highly when I originally saw it back in 2004. Five years on and, while I can’t say I hated it, I was struck by just how inferior it was to how I’d remembered it. I still maintain that the premise itself is a rather good one, but it’s clumsily handled by first-time directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber (who also wrote the script and were, apparently, given the chance to get the film made on the back of the success of Final Destination 2, which they wrote). Furthermore, the internal logic is filled with inconsistences and nonsequiturs: for instance, if, going by the logic of the Butterfly Effect of the film’s title, a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas, why does Evan (Ashton Kutcher - yeah, him) continually going back in time and altering fundamental aspects of his past appear to have no effect on the world beyond his immediate circle of friends and family? Most criminally, though, the performances are, across the board, pretty damn poor, with Ashton “if I frown really hard people might mistake me for a competent actor” Kutcher taking home the top honours in this field. Ultimately, we ended up being entertained by the film, but I suspect not for the reasons its makers intended.

Anyway, let’s talk about the transfer itself, because I assume the reason you’re reading this post in the first place is because you want to know how it looks. “Pretty good, for the most part,” would be my response. The Butterfly Effect is a fairly stylised film with a lot of digital manipulation and a variety of different looks for the various “realities” in which Evan finds himself. His frat brother incarnation, for example, exists in a world of eye-searingly oversaturated colours and some pretty heavy grain reduction. This is all, of course, completely intentional, even if it’s not particularly pleasant-looking. At the same time, however, some shots have been digitally processed for no apparent reason. For instance, take a look at Example 7, which takes place in the “original” reality - I don’t think there are words in the English language to describe what has been done to this shot. The upside is that, barring these instances, scenes that are meant to be grainy appear to have been left alone, the prison sequence being a case in point. A handful of scenes have also been over-sharpened (see, for instance, Example 6), and, after doing some research, I’ve come to the conclusion that these instances seem to correspond with scenes that were deleted from the theatrical edition but re-instered for the directors’ cut, which is the version presented on this BD. Some dicey compression also crops up occasionally, generally in the form of grain being affected by mild artefacting, with some more noticeable blocking in the shadows (there’s some particularly nasty blocking in the scene where Evan meets Kayleigh outside the diner where she works). Perhaps the film would have benefited from a BD-50? (Although there’s actually a lot of unused space on this BD-25.) 8/10

The Butterfly Effect
studio: Alliance Atlantis; country: Canada; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 17.2 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 20.65 Mbit/sec

The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect

PS. Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I’m up to my neck in work for my PhD, and while I discovered the other day that I actually have a week longer to complete my chapter than I previously thought, I’m still having to dedicate nearly all my time to it.

Posted: Friday, March 06, 2009 at 4:12 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews | Technology

The dead will continue to waken

Waking the Dead

For various reasons, one of which is the total sense of apathy I’m feeling after completing Series 6, my Waking the Dead project has stalled. I intend to get back to it before too long, but for the time being I direct you to the web site of my good friend the Baron, who offers his take on the pilot episode and Series 1.

By the way, once I’ve finished the Waking the Dead project (or, I should say, taken it as far as it can currently go, given that Series 8 is at this very moment in production), I’ll be turning my attention back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and attempting to write a proper review of the series as a whole. I won’t be watching all 144 episodes again (I think that would be enough to finish me off completely), but rather providing a summary of my thoughts on the show aimed at those who haven’t necessarily watched it themselves - a definite failing in my Buffy project from a few years back.

Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 11:26 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead | Web

Blu-ray review: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Charming and unabashedly entertaining, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist may seem like an unexpected choice for one of my favourite films of 2008, but, truth be told, it made more of an impression on me than many of the year’s supposedly more “important” contenders. Sony’s Blu-ray release is largely excellent, with a decent A/V presentation and a fine array of extras.

I review the recent Region ABC (US) release of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Sony Pictures’ latest celebration of illegal music sharing.

Review at DVD Times.

Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 7:00 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews

In the end, we’re all just puppets


So Joss Whedon’s new TV show, Dollhouse, began airing on Fox this Friday, and if viewing figures for the series premiere, Ghost (written and directed by Whedon), are anything to go by, it may very well end up being yanked before completing its initial 13-episode run. Which would be a shame, because, while the episode suffered from some pretty significant problems, what I saw did leave me with some hope that the Joss Whedon in charge of this project is the one who produced the first five seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer rather than the one who oversaw its final two seasons on television and subsequently the dreadful comic book-bound Season 8.

Basically, the premise is that a shadowy organisation rents out young men and women whose minds have been erased to those who can afford to pay for them - whether so they can engage in a bit of hanky-panky, negotiate a hostage release, or even use them for something downright illegal. Basically, these “Dolls” or “Actives” are blank slates who can be imprinted with any persona, and following successful completion of their assignment, their minds are erased once more until their next mission. One of these Actives is Echo (Eliza Dushku, who played the recurring role of Faith in Buffy and its spin-off, Angel), who, following a cock-up which occurs during one such assignment, begins to develop a degree of self-awareness. A maverick FBI agent, meanwhile, seemingly the only person to believe that this “Dollhouse” actually exists, is hell-bent on infiltrating it and apprehending the perpetrators.


There’s a heck of a lot of potential in this concept, given that the programme essentially serves as a showcase for Eliza Dushku’s range as an actress. Put simply, each episode stands to present us with a completely different scenario and Dushku with a completely different character to play. In this opening episode, we see three basic personae: the go-getter party girl glimpsed in the pre-credits teaser (who arguably has the most in common with Faith), the more or less blank slate that is Echo herself when not programmed with any personality, and the slick, efficient hostage negotiator whose identity she adopts for the kidnapping narrative that forms the main thrust of the episode, in which the young daughter of a rich Mexican businessman is abducted by a gang of unsavoury sorts, one of whom is a child rapist. The latter of these assumed identities is not all that convincing, as Dushku’s style of acting doesn’t really go with the primly-dressed, spectacle-wearing agent she ends up playing here. Then again, maybe it’s my fault for not being able to get her Buffy days out of my head.

The rest of the cast, unfortunately, are neither here nor there. They exist, but nothing about them really makes them stand out - shades of the Initiative from Buffy’s fourth season, I fear, where the various cadets and commandos did nothing to distinguish themselves. Compare this first episode of Dollhouse to the first episode of Buffy, where Willow, Giles, Xander et al immediately conveyed their personalities through their characterisation and dialogue, not to mention the performances of the actors. The same was also true of Angel, which, in its first season, had a minimal cast comprised of three diametrically opposed characters - Angel, Cordelia and Doyle (the latter being replaced part-way through by Wesley). There’s precious little of that here: broadly speaking, you could replace Dollhouse’s supporting cast with that of any police procedural and no-one would be any the wiser. Case in point: I can’t actually remember the name of the male lead (the aforementioned FBI agent), whom I suspect is being set up to be the yin to Echo’s yang. I wonder to what extent this has to do with the almost complete absence of Whedon’s traditional “peppy” dialogue: by and large, the characters here talk like normal people. On the one hand, it’s actually somewhat refreshing to see Whedon varying his style a bit; on the other, what we’re left with is fairly generic and forgettable. There are a few good lines here and there (for instance, our FBI agent, after accosting an informant in the process of making use of the facilities, tells him “Remember to wash your hands… and your shoes”; another good one is “We said no strings,” “We also said no ropes, and look how long that lasted”), but again they’re largely interchangeable with any number of other shows of the ilk. I got more than a few hints of Alias (which featured Jennifer Garner trotting about under a variety of assumed identities, working for a shadowy organisation which hadn’t told her the whole truth about what she was doing… albeit without the memory loss aspect), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but does show that Dollhouse needs to do something more to distinguish itself.


Ultimately, I suppose what excites me about this project is where it could ultimately end up going if the network gives it the opportunity. At its most basic level, we have a fast-paced and varied show featuring a charismatic actress assuming a vast array of different personae. On a deeper level, however, we have what essentially boils down to a story about people trafficking and the suppression of free will. We’re told, initially, that the Actives are essentially volunteers who knowingly submitted themselves to having their minds wiped and being turned into what are ultimately prostitutes (both literally and, on occasion, figuratively). However, one has to wonder to what extent any of these people actually knew what they were getting into when they signed up. (It’s a bit like in The Matrix, where Neo is offered the choice of the red and the blue pill. I’ve always wondered if he would really have chosen the red pill had he known what he was letting himself in for beforehand.) The way the B-plot featuring the FBI agent is developing also leads me to suspect that we are in fact headed for a revelation that at least some of the Actives have in fact been abducted and mind-wiped against their wills.

This is quite a potent cocktail of thematic concerns, and the extent to which they are allowed to be played out will, I suspect, be determined by whether or not Fox opts to pull the plug on the show, as they did with Firefly. On the one hand, the Network seems to have really got behind the show and is marketing the hell out of it, as well as using it as a pilot scheme for its new “Remote-Free TV” concept, where shows air with half the usual number of commercials, resulting in an extended running time. According to Eliza Dushku, Whedon already has a five-year arc planned for the characters and storyline. Whether he’ll get to follow it through is, currently, in the lap of the network gods.

Oh, and just in case all that text was beginning to bore you, here is a Dollhouse promo pic of Eliza Dushku with her bum out.

Eliza Dushku
Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 11:34 AM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema | Reviews | TV

Blu-ray review: Domino

While the film itself is, to put it politely, an acquired taste, Warner and New Line have served up a better package for Domino on Blu-ray than we had any reason to expect. A solid package all round, it trounces the previous DVD release in terms of audio-visual quality and matches it as far as bonus content is concerned.

Prepare to have your eyes seared and your eardrums perforated in glorious HD as I review New Line and Warner’s recent Region ABC (US) Blu-ray Disc release of Domino.

Review at DVD Times.

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2009 at 10:58 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews

A very bloody Christmas


I’m afraid there won’t be a DVD review this week. I’ve simply been too busy, both with PhD work (I need to turn in a draft of what will eventually become my first analysis chapter before the end of March) and with the day job (since the beginning of the year, I’ve been getting sent on relief to various libraries around Glasgow, with the travel cutting into my “me” time). Rather than post nothing, though (which would be bad manners after I promised a review every week), I decided to dig up a piece I’d previously started and polish it up to a standard fit to be seen by other eyes. It’s a review of the 2-parter Barbara Machin wrote for Casualty during Christmas 2006. As such, it’s a bit late coming, and it’s a little on the long-winded side, but hey - at least it allows me to avoid breaking one of my New Year resolutions.

Killing Me Softly and Silent Night
Series 21, Episodes 15 and 16
Written by Barbara Machin; Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence
Originally aired December 23rd and 24th, 2006

It's been too long.

It’s been too long.

A normal Christmas Eve shift in Holby City Hospital’s Accident & Emergency department: patients suffering from various ailments, minor and major, are waiting to be treated, and the staff are knuckling down while each having to juggle the demands of the job with their own personal woes. However, unbeknownst to them, two members of the team are about to come face to face with death in a very literal sense as what seems like a bog standard day turns into anything but. Nothing will ever be the same again come the end of the shift…

I’ve probably watched this two-parter more times than any other episode of Casualty made in the last decade, and with good reason: as far as I’m concerned, these are the best episodes that have been made at least since we entered the twenty-first century, and you have to go back to, oh, say, Series 12 and Love Me Tender to find an episode of comparable quality. That’s not to say that there haven’t been any great episodes between “Love Me Tender” and this two-parter - there definitely have, but the calibre of these episodes is such that they eclipse everything else made in recent years.

I think that part of what makes these episodes stand out is that they fall bang in the middle of a very rough patch in Casualty’s history. Series 21 is, as I’ve said a few times now, in my opinion the absolute worst series of all time, due to a combination of lazy writing, inconsistent characterisation, unbelievable storylines and a genuine sense that no-one on the writing staff knew or cared what they were doing. It says a lot about how bad things had got that it took an outsider to turn the show on its head and, arguably, show the regulars how it should be done. That someone, of course, is Barbara Machin, who, along with the likes of Bryan Elsley (Skins), Bill Gallagher (Lark Rise to Candleford) and Peter Bowker (Blackpool), was part of a bold, daring team of writers that joined the show when it was in the early stages of becoming Great Television (™) and helped lead it through its golden age period. Machin left Casualty after writing Series 13’s excellent episode One From the Heart, and from then went on to do Waking the Dead, of which I’m a massive fan, as you probably know.

[Continue reading "A very bloody Christmas"...]

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 12:13 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: General | PhD | Reviews | TV

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 11 and 12: Yahrzeit


Written by Declan Croghan; Directed by Tim Fywell

We finally come to the final episode of Series 6. It’s been a long trawl, and at times has felt like a chore, but at least we get a half-decent episode to finish off the season. This one finally brings to a head the “Mel’s bracelet” plot that has been simmering in the background throughout the series, and it does an interesting job of finally bringing Boyd to properly acknowledge her death, while as the same time concocting an interesting tale around the murder of a young girl in a London backstreet in 1945. We kick off with a ceremonial Nazi dagger being delivered in a package addressed to Mel at CCHQ, with the plot thickening when it is discovered to have originated from a derelict house once occupied by the Dusniaks, a family of Polish-Jewish refugees who settled there at around the time of the young girl’s death. The dagger is discovered to be the murder weapon, and as a result Boyd launches an investigation into the Dusniaks, unearthing a whole lot of secrets that certain members of the family would prefer to remain hidden.

I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out why it is that this episode works better then the rest of series, and the best explanation I can really come up with is that it presents us with a tangible idea. Most of the cases this series have been rather oblique, exhibiting a strange ethereality and dealing with vague ideas, more often than not focusing more on trippy hallucinations and flashbacks and less on deduction. Yahrzeit’s story is not only a concrete one but a deeply emotive one, using the backdrop of Josef Mengele’s experiments on children under the Third Reich and spinning a complicated web involving subterfuge identity theft. The puzzle at the heart of the episode isn’t particularly hard to work out, though. Once an elderly man in the throes of dementia who is supposedly a Polish Jew starts wittering away in German and calling his grandson by the wrong name it’s pretty obvious what’s going on, and this is only compounded when his daughter begins waxing lyrical about her life in Panama and attempts to spirit him away there, before admitting defeat and providing him with a cyanide pill when the police start asking awkward questions. Still, the plot is at least well-concocted, and, as is often the case with Waking the Dead mysteries, the fun lies in trying to work out the specifics of who did what to who and why rather than the broad whodunit.

Not that I’d class this as a particularly “fun” episode. Indeed, given the subject matter, it’s understandably bleak, albeit ending on a note of optimism that I must say feels a tad forced. Much of this has less to do with the central mystery itself and is more concerned with Sarah (Michelle Forbes), a mysterious American woman who enters the picture as a nuisance and ends up canoodling with Boyd in front of an uproariously unconvincing blue-screen New York backdrop. Sarah is in fact a Mossad agent, and was communicating with Mel just prior to her death. To go into specifics would be to give the game away, and would probably be rather boring to read, but it’s not spoiling too much to reveal that, despite Mossad being illegal in the UK, Boyd allows her to swan around with the rest of the team, make key decisions as regards the investigation and generally act like a snotty bitch. Michelle is a rather loathsome character, and it’s a little too much to swallow that the thoroughly dictatorial Boyd would tolerate her, let alone enter into a relationship with her. (I also have trouble processing the image of her and Mel being friends, but there you go.)

Incidentally, in this episode, we are told that Mel was attempting to trace her Jewish roots prior to her death. Given that Mel was almost certainly not Jewish by birth (as revealed in the Series 4 episode Fugue States, she was born Mary Price and adopted as a baby), I’m not entirely convinced by the use of the word “roots”, but then again, I suppose you can argue that it fits with the “you are who you choose to be” message that the writer clumsily shoehorns into Boyd’s dialogue towards the end. Personally, I’m more content to see this as nothing more than a continuity gaffe, albeit a minor one compared to the clunker the writers drop in the next series in the form of Boyd’s son.

“Yahrzeit”, by the way, is a Hebrew word, meaning the anniversary of a relative, commemorated by the lighting of a candle for the deceased and the reciting of religious text. Thematically, it’s a very appropriate title for the episode.

Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 10:06 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

DVD Review: Trial & Retribution: The Fourth Collection

With this fourth collection, essentially all the Trial & Retributions that are worth owning have been released on DVD. The subsequent 2008 series really wasn’t much cop at all, and, going by what has aired so far of the 2009 series, things are unlikely to get any better. Perhaps the time has come to put Trial & Retribution to rest: as it stands, it has now completed its de-evolution into another run-of-the-mill police thriller and is therefore serving no particular purpose in a schedule already jam-packed with run-of-the-mill police thrillers. What started out as a unique and inventive take on the investigative and judiciary processes is now left with precious little sense of its own identity, and while the three episodes included in this set are all of a decent standard, all but one of them are a far cry from what was being produced in the series’ heyday. At least the relatively agreeable price tag - less than £15 at our cheapest affiliate - helps cushion the blow somewhat, with Curriculum Vitae coming close to justifying the cost alone.

With the latest series of Trial & Retribution currently airing on ITV1, I examine the fourth volume of the series on DVD, which contains the final three episodes from the 2007 season. Review at DVD Times.

Posted: Friday, January 23, 2009 at 8:37 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: DVD | Reviews | TV

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 9 and 10: Double Bind


Written by Richard Warlow; Directed by Andy Hay

Confession time: the first time this episode aired, I gave up on it at the end of the first part. That, for me, is incredibly rare. Generally, if I start watching a show, I stick with it, especially if it’s part of a long-running series I’ve been following since the beginning. For whatever reason, though, something about this episode served to distance me from it so much that I just couldn’t continue with it. Maybe it was the dizzying jump cuts, time lapse photography and clumsily “trippy” scenes. Maybe it was Miles Anderson running around gurning like a ninny and doing a piss-poor job of portraying a man off his face on LSD. Maybe it was the fact that Grace barely appears in the episode. Or maybe it was because I was feeling under the weather at the time - I can’t actually remember.

The point is that something about this episode was so unpalatable to me that I did something I almost never do. What makes this double strange is that, watching it for a second time, and actually watching both parts instead of just the first, I didn’t get the same feeling of revulsion or apathy (whichever it was). For reasons that I’ll go into in a moment, this is not a particularly good episode, but it’s far from the worst of the season or indeed the series as a whole. Basically, the story goes that, as a teenagers, Daniel Lennon (Miles Anderson) stabbed both his parents to death and has spent his entire life since then incarcerated in a psychiatric unit. One day, on the way back from a trip to the ophthalmologist with his psychiatrist, Dr. Caroline Ritter (Jill Baker), he forces the car off the road and, in the confusion, escapes. The first thing he does is to log on in an Internet café and send an email to the owners of a house in Hampstead, telling them to dig up their flowerbed. Surprise, surprise, there’s a body buried there, and a post-mortem reveals that the death is likely to have taken place weeks before Lennon killed his parents. Is he another of Lennon’s victims, or is (in Waking the Dead tradition) more going on than meets the eye? Meanwhile, Grace has had enough of Boyd’s erratic behaviour and, declaring that she can’t work with him any more, walks out on the team.

I’m still not entirely sure why Grace was all but written out of this two-parter. In terms of characterisation, it makes sense for her to walk out, and it actually comes as something of a pleasant surprise to hear her finally telling Boyd that enough is enough. The problem is that it’s never resolved. Grace leaves, comes back briefly (in Part 2) to interview a key witness, then leaves again, but come the next episode, it’s as if nothing ever happened. As someone who stuck with the show for so long because I enjoyed the characters and their interaction, this feels like a complete slap in the face. Okay, I’ll grant you, there is some nice writing here and there, with the team’s discussions often petering out or reaching dead ends because, without Grace there to provide the psychological perspective, a vital component of what makes them work is missing. It’s also mildly amusing to see Boyd rooting around in Grace’s office, pouring over some of her textbooks and trying to figure out the psych angle himself, but, bereft of the character, the show feels remarkably empty.

The central mystery that is the focus of the episode can’t make up for this lack either. While it starts out reasonably promising, with Part 1 raising numerous questions and the web of clues and suspects suitably tortuous, the pay-off simply doesn’t justify the setup. To be blunt, the explanation to the mystery is utterly mundane, meaning that the journey to get there hardly feels worthwhile. Oh, and a certain character’s identity, a major issue particularly in the second part, is staggeringly obvious you wonder why the writers even bothered trying to set it up as a puzzle.

On a side note, my reviews have now caught up with my viewing. Now I just need to watch Yahrzeit and Series 6 will be done and dusted. I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see the back of it.

Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 1:48 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 7 and 8: Mask of Sanity


Written by Laurence Davey and Declan Croghan; Directed by David Thacker

James Jenson (Nicholas Beveney) is released from the secure psychiatric unit in which he has spent the last 20 years. Prior to being incarcerated, he was the prime suspect in the murders of three men connected to the children’s home in which he grew up, but was deemed unfit to stand trial. On the day of his release, however, the widow of one of his victims receives a package containing the wallets belonging to each of the three dead men. Boyd reopens the investigation and, in the process, digs up a veritable hornet’s nest in the form of a catalogue of abuse surrounding the children’s home, of which James was but one of many victims. Were the murdered men the perpetrators of this abuse and were their killings acts of revenge carried out by their victims, or is there more to the case than meets the eye?

Mask of Sanity is far from the worst episode of Waking the Dead, but it is an incredibly derivative one. The theme of the institutionalied abuse of children was already handled with far more panache, and indeed by the same director, in the Series 3 episode Breaking Glass. Here, we have an unusually generic tale that essentially plods from plot point to plot point, and not always particularly convincingly, offering up a portrait of cruelty that somehow manages to be both quite harrowing and utterly mundane at the same time. None of the various characters paraded before us, or their tortuous web of relationships, are particularly interesting, and the unravelling of the mystery itself is played out in such a way as to leave this episode virtually indistinguishable from that of any other halfway competent detective drama.

I should probably also mention that, in this episode, Boyd’s behaviour towards the rest of his team, particularly Grace, becomes utterly despicable. In the early years, Boyd’s temper was like an ever-present fuse just waiting to be lit, and his flare-ups were generally interesting to watch. Here, however, there’s no rhyme or reason to the way he treats his colleagues or his suspects, repeatedly undermining Grace in incredibly demeaning ways and, early on, deliberately goading a clearly frightened and mentally deficient suspect into committing an act of violence. This sort of behaviour has gone beyond ever being charming and now just seems mean-spirited.

Oh yeah, and, with this episode, my dad, who is suffering through this project with me, commented: “Is it just me or are they [i.e. the writers] trying to make Spence look as stupid as possible?” I think he may be right. By this stage, the character has all but stopped ceased to function as an actual person and is now relegated to merely being the dim-witted, bumbling plod who constantly loses suspects he’s supposed to be tailing or gets himself beaten up by thugs when he blunders into their path.

Holby connections: until recently, Richard Dillane (Ricardo Rivelli) had a recurring role in Casualty as orthopaedic consultant Sean Anderson.

Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 5:35 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

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