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Review: Doctor Who And The Daleks

Doctor Who And The Daleks
Doctor Who And The Daleks by David Whitaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second Doctor Who book I’ve ever read – the first was Genesis of the Daleks when I was about 10 years old. It’s based on TV episodes from 1963 and originally published in 1964, though there was a film version starring Peter Cushing and Roy Castle which I vaguely remember as well!

It’s not a bad book, though it lacks the flippant comments and off-the-cuff humour that The Doctor has taken on over the years. It’s quite a simple story and for someone who really jumped onto Doctor Who at a late age, raises more questions than it answers. I won’t mention them here for fear of spoilers.

Still, a nice small book that I could blast through quickly and which will find itself being donated to the school library at the start of term.

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Drive / Red State

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsTwo grisly action-ish films this weekend, both quite different from each other.

Drive

“There are no good sharks?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: quiet guy gets involved in a crime to help out a friend and it all goes pear shaped

See it if you like: shocking, grisly violence with a dash of pathos

If you’ve seen Shoot ‘Em Up, this isn’t a million miles away as far as the basic plot goes. However, the out and out bullet-fest of Clive Owen‘s effort is instead drawn out and played in a much quieter – though no less lethal style – by Ryan Gosling.

The plot is fairly simple. Gosling plays a part-time stunt driver, part-time mechanic (and part-time getaway driver) who says very little. He gets to know his pretty next door neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and offers to help her husband out when he’s released from prison with a ton of “we stopped you getting knifed inside” debt. Unfortunately, the job goes belly-up and our lead is left trying to figure out what went wrong and why.

Cue bad guys hunting him down, and a sudden surge of protectiveness welling from our quiet yet violent hero.

The pace of the film may be too slow for some – certainly this was Gillian’s main complaint and I can see what she means. However, I personally thought it was well done. There are periods where little happens, but it’s a reflection of the character himself. He’s not impetuous. He’s careful, patient and plans well. Even the opening sequence is a mixture of short adrenaline bursts and stomach-clenching tension during long moments where nothing happens. It’s a bit of a gamble by director Nicolas Winding Refn, but it pays off.

As the film goes on, Gosling’s character reveals more of the bastard he really is – both verbally and in his actions. From virtually mute, his spoken scenes get longer but almost always when he’s threatening someone. And when those threats are followed through… yow.

The splatter scenes aren’t for the faint of heart. One scene was – according to the director – cut quite drastically as it was too much for the MPAA. What remains is predominantly off-camera, but still grisly. The guy sat next to me was a giggle. Every time something violent occurred 0n-screen, he sat with his hand clamped over his mouth and his eyes bugging out! I hate to think what he’d be like in a screening of a Final Destination movie.

A bit slow going, as I said, but worth the effort. Nothing hugely original, but very well acted and filmed.

Red State

“Simple just shit itself”

Plot-in-a-nutshell – a mad-as-a-box-of-badgers religious sect kidnaps three teenagers. Coincidentally, the ATF turn up at their doorstep to check on a few alleged firearms irregularities. Comedy does not ensue.

See it if you like – seeing an established director take a fresh direction

Funnily enough, I’m enjoying this film more on reflection than I did at the time. Part of this is down to the fact that I’ve just found out that the special effects budget was only $5000 and the entire thing was shot in 25 days, in order and with a cast partly including family members of the crew to keep the costs down.

If you’re expecting a gross-out comedy along the lines of Chasing Amy or a film full of Clerks-esque monologues then you’ll be disappointed. The longest monologue in the film goes to Michael Parks who plays Abin Cooper, insane leader of a small cult which may or may not be based on the real-life Westboro Baptist Church ( sadder, more pathetic bunch of fuck-rags you’ll be hard pressed to find in the western world). Sadly, this monologue is just a load of Christian claptrap and drags on far too long. Yes, we gathered he’s a nut-job. Yes, we know he’s using the Bible to justify his hatred of gays. We don’t need ten minutes of bonkers preacher man to prove it.

Other than that one segment, the film moves along at quite a pace. However, at times it doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. Or what is it. Or where it was when they finished filming the day before. A case in point is just after the introduction of John Goodman‘s ATF agent. The screen goes black with a caption: “4:27am”. Yes, fine, but why tell us the time at that point in the film at at absolutely no other? Unless it’s one of the ten “Easter eggs” that director Kevin Smith says are hidden in the film.

Given the amateur status of so many of the cast, their performances are pretty damn good and the story is an interesting one – disjointed though it may be. There are some laughs, mainly of the darker variety, and don’t get too attached to any of the characters…

The ending is also rather sudden and does smack of “we’re running out of cash… how can we wrap this up?” syndrome.

At the time, we both came out of the cinema thinking “Well… that was OK”. Looking back, though, there are some good moments and it’s worth considering.

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Bridesmaids

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAnd a week after I saw it I finally do a blog post. Sorry about that. Things have been hectic with the end of term, extra-curricular activities, buying a car, moving house and so on. So without any further ado, the only film I had a chance to catch last week:

Bridesmaids

“I’ve seen better tennis playing in a tampon commercial.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: aging spinster is chosen to be head bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding – a friend who has recently garnered a new “best friend” who tries that bit too hard to impress.

See it if you like: A bit of off-colour humour in an otherwise by-the-numbers rom-com.

Basically, this was the only film left that I’d not already seen. The trailers make it out to be The Hangover with fallopian tubes and in small segments, it’s getting there. However, overall it’s far closer to being a standard chick-centred rom-com, only with some bad language and fart (and shit and vomit) jokes thrown in.

As a result, it was actually a bit better than I expected but still had issues. It’s got quite the running length and, frankly, could have done with a bit of a pruning. A couple of scenes are uncomfortably annoying to watch, the joke in them being stretched that bit too long. Key amongst these is the scene where Annie (played by co-writer Kristen Wiig) discovers that her childhood friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) has a new “best friend”, Whitney (Jessica St. Clair). Their back and forth attempts to get the last word in pass “humorous” after the second bout. By the fifth, it’s just plain annoying.

This is typical of a couple of the scenes, and it’s a shame. With a bit more judicious editing, the film could have been that bit better and those sliced segments would have bolstered a “director’s cut” on DVD.

The performances are pretty good across the board and it’s got some really good laughs. Definitely better than I expected it to be, but nowhere near as gut-bustingly funny as the first viewing of The Hangover with which it is trying so hard to be compared.

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Kung Fu Panda 2

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsYet another sequel this weekend (there seem to be a staggering number of them out and upcoming right now), this one more for the kiddies.

Kung Fu Panda 2

“This could be the end of Kung Fu.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A threat to kung-fu is unleashed by a scary peacock. Only the gang from the first film (who else?) can stop it.

See it if you like: CGI cartoons with decent humour, great visuals and a developing story.

Like the Shrek series, Kung Fu Panda takes the events of its first film and starts to add more detail, fleshing out the characters. In this one, we focus on Po‘s past. After all, did you really thing a panda was fathered by a stork?

Surrounding this extra level of characters detail is a story about a terrifying force which could destroy kung fu as we know it. Po and his cohorts are charged with hunting down the source of this evilness and destroying it. This is done in a very visually pleasing way with some good gags and great voice acting from a superb cast.

I confess, however, that I never really warmed to it in much the way the first one never really got my imagination going. I much preferred the original on DVD after a couple of watches – I didn’t think that much of it in the cinema either. No idea why not – they’re both my kind of film – but something just didn’t hit home for me.

At least it’s a more original sequel than Hangover 2, and it kept all three kids who were with us entertained. Little Mister was so enraptured he forgot to drink his Capri-Sun for about 20 minutes.

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Scratch-ing an itch

Scratch logo
Image via Wikipedia

Sorry for the awful pun. It had to be done.

For those who don’t know, Scratch is a programming language geared primarily at younger children. We use it with our S2 classes (around 12-13 years old) although I am aware of many primary schools who also introduce it to children at a younger age.

Frankly, after a bit of struggling to begin with, I’ve found it to be a great language. Sure it doesn’t have a solution to every problem and yes, you often have to fiddle around a lot to get it to do precisely what you want but for the level it’s aimed it, it’s a fantastic tool.

The best thing is the layout. It’s bright, clear and gives very fast results. The colour-coding of different data types makes it easy for children to spot how the programs are put together. There’s no typing necessary (other than the occasional number) as the programs are built using jigsaw pieces with code on. The pieces change shape dynamically as code is formed into loops and the like. All very pretty.

Over the holidays I spent an hour or two with Little Miss (aged 10) who was very impressed with the simplicity. She managed to create a couple of short animations on her netbook. I went into full-on geek mode and created the attached Ghostbusters game (no copyright theft intended – it just seemed like a nice name).

Use the mouse to point your gun in the right direction and the space bar to fire. There are seven levels, on each of which you have ten bullets and have to hit the ghost five times. Clear a level using exactly five bullets and you get a bonus.

You can download Scratch from http://scratch.mit.edu/ for free. There are versions for Windows, Mac and more penguin-oriented operating systems.

My ghost-busting title is available as a single file here: Ghostbusters (ZIP file, 2.8Mb)

UPDATE: you can play the game online here!

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