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An archive of all the blog's reviews of TV programmes, films, DVDs, plays, audio plays and gadgets. There's also an A-Z index of all reviews.


July 21, 2015

Kneale Before Nigel: Quatermass/The Quatermass Conclusion (1979)

Posted on July 21, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Quatermass Conclusion

QuatermassStarring: John Mills, Simon MacCorkindale, Barbara Kellerman
Writer: Nigel Kneale
Director: Piers Haggard
Price: Blu-ray £29.99 (Amazon price: £21.75), DVD £19.99 (Amazon price: £14.75)
Released: 27 July 2015

In the last quarter of the 20th century, the whole world seemed to sicken. Civilised institutions, whether old or new, fell… as if some primal disorder was reasserting itself. And men asked themselves, "Why should this be?"

Professor Bernard Quatermass is one of the most important characters in TV history. Created by blog god Nigel Kneale back in 1953 for the BBC, Quatermass was the hero of The Quatermass Experiment, a ground-breaking piece of adult science-fiction television, created at a time when all the US had to offer the world was Captain Video.

The Quatermass Experiment saw Quatermass, the head of the 'British Rocket Group’, sending into space a rocket containing three astronauts, only for it to come back down again with two of them missing and the survivor strangely changed. What happened to the missing astronauts is for the coldly scientific Quatermass to find out and his investigations are set to change the way we think about ourselves.

The six-part serial was so popular that despite being broadcast at a time when very few people actually owned a TV, it was able to empty the streets. The result was not only a movie adaptation by Hammer Films, but a 1955 sequel appropriately called Quatermass II. If The Quatermass Experiment was “we go to them”, Quatermass II was “they come to us”, with Quatermass discovering that his plans for a base on the moon have already been put into practice… in England. But what’s inside these domes and how is it that no one’s noticed them until now?

The popularity of this new serial was again sufficient for both a movie adaptation and another lavish sequel, Quatermass and the Pit, to be approved, the latter being broadcast in 1958. This saw a WWII bomb discovered during building works in London. However, subsequent examination reveals that the discovery is a lot, lot older than anyone could have guessed.

“We go to them”, “They come to us” but now it turns out that they have always been here - and that we are the Martians.

However, that was the last of Quatermass for a while. Although Kneale was asked in 1965 to write a new Quatermass story for the BBC2 anthology series Out of the Unknown, he declined the offer, which meant that the first new Quatermass the 1960s got to see was a Hammer adaptation of Quatermass and the Pit in 1967.

The success of this movie prompted Hammer to ask Kneale to write a new Quatermass movie for them, but that got no further than initial negotiations, meaning Quatermass and the Pit was also the only new Quatermass story of the 1960s. But following the success of The Stone Tape in 1972, the BBC asked Kneale for a new Quatermass serial… and he agreed.

Kneale completed the script in February 1973, after which preliminary filming work began. However, for various reasons, the BBC got cold feet, and the serial was cancelled in the summer of that year.

The BBC's rights to the serial expired in 1975, by which time Kneale was working for ITV on projects such as Murrain and Beasts. Then, in 1977, Star Wars arrived on the scene and suddenly everyone was interested in science-fiction again. In particular, Euston Films, an ITV film subsidiary, became interested - perhaps, in part, because it was overseen by blog goddess and famous Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert. And Euston wanted both a four-part TV series and a movie.

Guess what’s going to be released on Blu-Ray next week. Yes, after the jump, we’re going to be looking at the forthcoming release of Quatermass and The Quatermass Conclusion - the final adventures of Professor Bernard Quatermass (almost)

Here’s a trailer or three.

Continue reading "Kneale Before Nigel: Quatermass/The Quatermass Conclusion (1979)"

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July 17, 2015

Review: Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll 1x1 (US: FX)

Posted on July 17, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll

In the US: Thursdays, 10pm, FX

What is the American Dream? To succeed? To be rich? To be famous? To have an enduring legacy? To do well by your family or community?

Arguably, it varies and has varied over the years and one of the main themes of FX’s lukewarm but amusingly titled Denis Leary comedy, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, is that not only has it changed, it can change for individuals, too.

Leary plays Johnny Rock, the lead singer of a 1990s rock band. The band never made the big time, having split up the day their first album was released, and 25 years later, Rock is penniless and still living with one of his backing singers, while his co-writer and band guitarist John Corbett (Northern Exposure, Sex and the City) is still estranged from him but playing for Lady Ga Ga.

Then into Rock’s life comes one of the band’s few fans, Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies). She’s an aspiring singer and wants to reunite the band to back her – and for Corbett and Leary to bury their differences and write her some new songs, with Leary relegated to a songwriter credit. Not only has she got plenty of money to entice them with, she’s also a pretty good performer.

The big catch? Gillies is Leary's estranged daughter – and Corbett has a thing for young women…

Much of the humour, if it can be described as such, in Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is about how the nature of ambition and fame have changed and change with age. When the band was young, they wanted to be famous for producing good music and to get all the sex and drugs they could. Now they’d just like to have some money to buy things with and to be remembered at all. Except now, to be famous, you have to be like Kim Kardashian or Lady GaGa and that, rather than the Beatles, is something people aspire to be.

There’s also the impending competition between Gillies and Leary, with the feisty, focused, sexting- and social media-aware Gillies liable to become more famous than Leary ever was and certainly now is.

The rest of the humour is standard Leary japes: swearing, pratfalls, taboo subjects (eg trying to French kiss someone who turns out to be your own daughter), group teasing, the occasional diatribe about the state of the world and so on.

And not much of it lands on the funny bone. Some does and you can see most of it in the trailer below, but it all feels as tired as Leary’s band, like it’s going through the motions. There’s a slight element of misogyny to the show, too, although to some extent that’s because of its setting and the show does a decent enough job of undermining it. All the same, you’ll probably feel a bad taste in your mouth as you watch the episode.

There’s also the horrifying inclusion of actual singing. True, Gillies is a singer in real-life, making her Broadway debut when she was just 15 and enduring 50+ episodes of Nickleodeon’s performing arts sitcom Victorious. But if she’d sung for just 10 seconds longer, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll would have been cast into the same bin I consigned Nashville and Empire. Tough on music, tough on the causes of music, me.

I do have a fondness for Leary from his stand-up days, but as with Rescue Me and the rest of his TV work, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll just felt like a sitcom written by someone who knows his star is waning and is desperate to keep doing encores until he can’t do them any more.

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July 15, 2015

Review: Glitch 1x1 (Australia: ABC)

Posted on July 15, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Glitch

In Australia: Thursdays, 8.34pm (no, really), ABC
in the UK: Not yet acquired

The dead are coming back to life and this time they’re Australian! Well, most of them are, anyway.

Indeed, ABC’s new Glitch is exploring a path that the likes of Les Revenants, The Returned, Resurrection, Babylon Fields, et al have already trod well, with a small isolated town shaken up by the return of people once thought dead - thought dead because they actually were dead. And indeed, tonally, it’s very similar, being slow, thoughtful, consumed with the emotional impact of such a miraculous event and its real-world consequences.

So is there anything that makes Glitch different? Well, it’s Australian. That’s a bit different, isn’t it? And they all had to claw their way out of their own coffins, rather than just appear out of nowhere (although that’s Babylon Fields, too, now I think about it).

It’s also got a variety of dead people, including an Irishman and an Italian, although how big a variety is a bit tricky to say at this point, given most of them can’t even remember their surnames, let alone details about their lives. But certainly, as well as the recently deceased, there are zombies who died during the Second World War and even one who passed away during Victorian times. Are they coming back at random or because of what they can say about Australian history (this is ABC, after all)?

There’s also some comedy, surprisingly enough, with the Victorian Irishman (Ned Dennehy) being something of an ‘hilarious', slightly racist alcoholic and getting into all kinds of scrapes with his new, teenage aboriginal partner in crime (Aaron McGrath from The Code, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, The Gods of Wheat Street).

And lastly, there appears to be a rule that if the dead try to leave town, their eyes start to bleed and they revert back to dust. Or maybe it’s if they return to where they were killed. The rule’s not yet clear.

But otherwise, if you’ve watched any of the shows listed above, you’ll know what to expect: a prestige production with some lovely filming in some lovely locations, with people really getting to act and do tragedy because their dead wife’s back and they just loved her so much.

The cast is strong, including Patrick Brammall (Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch War, Upper Middle Bogan, The Moodys) and Emma Booth (Underbelly). The central premise doesn’t quite feel like a retread of previous shows. There’s a slight tension from Brammall’s attempts to keep everything secret from the rest of the town, including his suspicious sergeant (Andrew McFarlane), as well as another character who doesn’t show until right at the end of the first episode.

And there are the central mysteries of who the remaining characters are and why everyone’s coming back from the dead - which the show’s characters do at least seem moderately interested in, which is more than you could say of Resurrection's.

Yet despite the short run (all six episodes are now available on iView), I’m not sure how tempted I am to watch the rest of it. There’s something of an allure to it and with Thursdays looking a little light at the moment, I might be tempted to tune in. But the whole thing lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Perhaps because what it’s offering just isn’t new any more.

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