Sunday, 29 June 2008

Doctor Who - Series 4 Episode 12 - "The Stolen Earth"

He did it again. Russell T. Davies has again extended the boundaries of most infuriating cliffhangers.
The Stolen Earth saw the welcome return of the large, retro pepper pots, as well as another old enemy of The Doctor. This time the Daleks have stolen twenty seven planets, including Earth, with the intent of destroying them. To combat them, The Doctor must join forces with friends old and new, leading to many new acquaintances and one very jealous blonde unable to contact him.
The acting from the whole cast was top notch, bringing a whole new level of emotion to the series. The reactions of Captain Jack and Sarah Jane Smith when they first heard the terrible Dalek war cry brought tears to my eyes. The Doctor on the other hand seemed not to hear his friends’ warning about the return of his old enemies, he was far too happy to see the former alive. One quick video call soon changed that.
It is only appropriate that Rose should be the first to find The Doctor in person. Thankfully their reunion was saved from being a slow-motion run towards each other, with arms outstretched, through the meadow to the theme tune from Chariots of Fire by something lurking in the shadows.
I will not go into too much detail, only to say that the entire episode had me perched further on the edge of my seat than the Haas v Murray third round match at Wimbledon did only an hour beforehand. As for the cliffhanger, it is easily the most cruel in the history of television.
The shots of outer space are easily the most beautiful outside the Hubble telescope. There is also something wonderful about the Daleks. Their graceful movement, their efficiency, and their inability to die. Having lots of Daleks on set clearly brings out the best in the whole production team, from the camera angles to the lighting, everything is perfect to show the Daleks at their fearful best.
Davies is certainly keen to go out with a bang. From what we have seen this week the meeting of Rose Tyler and Martha Jones will surely match the fireworks that will explode in next week’s series finale.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Wimbledon second round: Eaton v Tursunov

Who would ever guess that the All England Lawn Tennis Club was so multi-functional? Not only is great tennis played there, it has also been the venue for an impromptu Cliff Richard concert, on Tuesday we were treated to the magic act of Santoro v Murray; and now it has played host to a pantomime set during the Cold War, only this time, the Russians won.
Six months ago, a British tennis player named Chris Eaton, ranked in the low 600s, began a journey in my home city which would take him all the way to Wimbledon. SR3 to SW19: talk about a good career move. After despatching Boris Pashanski of Serbia, Eaton then met Dmitry Tursunov, the straight faced, business-like 25th seed.
Although the crowd was not so cruel as to boo and hiss the bad guy, they simply transferred the energy they would have used to do that into encouraging their hero. Eaton’s (predominantly female) fan club and his newly acquired supporters were there to cheer on their man with huge smiles on their faces, regardless of the result.
Alas, the fairytale ending was not to be. After a closely-run first set which went to a tiebreaker, Tursunov took it 7-2, and once the first set was over with, the gap between them began to elongate. Tursunov won in straight sets, taking the second and third 6-2, 6-4 respectively.
Nonetheless, from the first point to the last, every Eaton winner, every Tursunov unforced error and double fault was met with such applause and yells of delight that one would think Eaton had already won the Championship. Any impressive Tursunov winners were greeted with respectful, yet somewhat disgruntled clapping.
In the first few games, the occasion of the event seemed to overwhelm Eaton, but he soon found his rhythm and began matching Tursunov point for point. While he still seemed in awe of his surroundings, now he has had a taste of what awaits him, surely he will be more determined than ever to play the show courts of Wimbledon again in the near future.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen

It’s hard to believe now, but five years ago I threw a Jane Austen book into a skip that just so happened to be across the road from my school after a GCSE Literature exam on Pride and Prejudice. Exactly why I gave it such a swift, strong, symbolic sending off is now a mystery to me, because it was not the torturous experience that my actions make it out to be.
Our teacher was a sweet, vivacious, humorous woman; with all of us being girls we enjoyed this 19th Century Bridget Jones inspiration, but what we especially enjoyed was seeing Colin Firth in the bath and emerge from the lake. Also my mark was an A* for the subject, so I had even less cause to complain.
Now I have made amends, and own all six books twice over, three times over in some cases. However one is the complete collection bound together in a book which is more likely to be used as a doorstop or step than to read, and is for display purposes only. My other collection, comprising six separate books, should also be for display only. They are hardbacks, and with beautiful covers depicting exquisite details in various articles of period clothing from the V&A museum. However they are readable, and I simply remove the covers to do so.
My first read was Northanger Abbey, the heroine Catherine Morland. Invited to stay with the Tilney family at their residence of Northanger Abbey, she eagerly accepts, being keen to explore the dusty old corridors and rooms. However her vivid imagination born of reading Radcliffe, pulls together a string of consequences that lead her to belief that the father, General Tilney, had committed some unspeakable act. Unknown to his son, Henry, who is very fond of Catherine, the General sends Catherine home in a very undignified manner. Will she ever see her beloved Henry again?
There are laugh out loud moments, my favourite being Austen’s cynical comment that “a woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can”. Two hundred years later, nothing’s changed. Austen dispenses pearls of wisdom such as “friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love”.
Yet it is also bittersweet to be reminded of women’s place in society. Austen notes that “Catherine did not know that…a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man, unless circumstances are particularly untoward”.
While it is refreshing to come across a likeable heroine named Catherine, unlike her namesakes in Basic Instinct and Wuthering Heights; Catherine Morland is rather unaccomplished for her time. On first meeting Henry Tilney I thought of him as simply a watered down Mr Bingley. However, in the final chapter, one sentence changed my perception of him completely, drawing forth a longing, romantic sigh from my lips and making me hope to meet my own Henry Tilney someday.
Austen’s novels are indisputably the original rom-coms. While they come without smutty jokes there is the confusion, mix-ups and hurt feelings that feature in every Notting Hill and Bridget Jones. Given the litigious nature of British society today, had Austen’s heroines been able to claim compensation for hurt feelings they would have substantially increased the size of their dowries, and their marriage prospects.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Wimbledon first round: Murray v Santoro

With Andy Murray up against a player nicknamed The Magician, his first round match was guaranteed to be one of all-round entertainment, and neither player disappointed. Murray’s match against France’s Fabrice Santoro saw a welcome return to Centre Court for the British number one.
Initially the tone of the match seemed to be anything you can do, I can do better. They were both wrong.
It took a worryingly long time before Murray stopped using lobs against Santoro, as the latter invariably won those points.
They were about equal on drop-shots, with Murray managing to pick up most of Santoro’s; and when they worked for Murray they looked brilliant, when they didn’t work they looked (and were) pointless. The one time they were fully engaged in a battle of the drop-shots, the crowd could not have been more ecstatic had Santoro produced a beautiful assistant and cut Murray in half before putting him back together again.
Although Santoro pulled out a string of varying shots from his sleeve as a magician would a chain of handkerchiefs, Murray was able to answer and stay in the point even when it looked lost to him. Santoro waved his wand and produced some wonderful, crowd pleasing shots, including a bullet-like forehand across court, and a backhand flick down the line similar to that employed by Hrbaty in his match against Federer; while Murray had his scorching backhand down the line, as well as some powerful forehands and passing shots.
His serving in the first set was impressive, clocking one at 134mph. Although he was broken after having his own break on the Santoro serve, he was able to break back and took the first set 6-3. However his opening service game in the second set saw him broken, but on the next he returned to good form, and normal service resumed. Murray took the second set 6-4.
In the third set there was a danger that the Frenchman’s habit of holding serve would frustrate Murray into a fourth set; but credit to the Scot for keeping his cool and his focus. He even allowed himself a smile during the tiebreaker following a point involving a Santoro drop-shot, a pick-up from Murray, a fall for Santoro, and intervention by the net in Murray’s favour.
Finally, after 2 hours 13 minutes, with the tiebreak score at 5-6, after another drop-shot from Santoro and a pick-up from Murray which landed mercifully on the inside line, Centre Court could breathe again.
It hardly seemed fair that the 35 year old Santoro (I’m sorry, following a recent Doctor Who storyline I keep wanting to call him Sontaran) could still get to and return shots that Murray constantly sent out wide with extra spin. The intensity and tightness of the final set was such that a British fan would be reduced to tearing their hair out, but be laughing while doing so at the sheer flamboyance and skill that went into every point.
The two players seemed to bring back the glory days of an all-court game, as opposed to a baseline battle. Santoro volleyed and came to the net a lot more than has been seen in recent times, and of course Murray was unwilling to stay too long at the baseline and get drawn into long points. Only once, during a 25 shot rally did it look like a modern tennis match.
Although the rousing, warm welcome that saw them emerge onto Centre Court over two hours ago was predominantly for Murray; the ovation that accompanied them off court was undoubtedly for the two of them.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Lego Indiana Jones - The Original Adventures - Wii

Having fallen for the quaint charms of Lego Star Wars and the rough charms of Indiana Jones, it seemed a natural progression that I invest in the Lego Indiana Jones - The Original Adventures trilogy.
I’m no pugilist, but not since Wii Sports boxing has fighting been so much fun. From ducking and diving to throwing the furniture and the bad guys around, it’s quite a lot of work for people who are only an inch tall.
At the beginning and end of each game stage, there are movie clips from the surrounding game, but of course, all the actors are Lego-people, and at times it is even more hilarious than having proper actors play the scenes out. Maybe instead of a fourth Indy movie, they could have done the Lego Indiana Jones Trilogy Movie.
It is not necessary to start at Raiders of the Lost Ark and work your way through to The Last Crusade, however the three have to be played chronologically within themselves. The controls are the same as in the Star Wars game, so for those already acquainted it is simple to master; but as for those not acquainted, it is still simple to master.
I must admit that some of the challenges had me befuddled for a while, but once in the correct mindset of the archaeologist it is fairly easy to figure out. Ask yourself: what would Indy do? Normally, the answer is shoot or blow something up. Problem solved. Don’t panic, it’s not all that simple.
The characters are adorable yet feisty. Marion Ravenwood joins in the punch-ups with gusto, and I never thought I would say this, but Henry Jones Snr is especially cute.
Almost everything lying around or hanging from a wall can be made use of. At one stage Indy can ride a camel if he so wishes, which probably explains that dream I had last night. Of course the famous whip can be put to good use, whether it be to swing across a crevice or grab hold of things just out of reach. However, as with the missed potential to use the Wiimote as a free-hand lightsaber in the Star Wars game, sadly it is the same case here with the whip.
Overall, though, it is an entertaining, laugh out loud, amusing game; and isn’t that what gaming is all about?

Top Spin 3 - Wii

I had it all planned out. By Friday night at the latest, Andy Murray was to have won Wimbledon before the tournament has even begun; and Roger Federer was to win the French Open. I even had my tagline prepared. Alas it was not to be. Finally, my near-perfect tennis game has arrived. In Top Spin 3 I am able to make Andy Murray hit the ball into the open court rather than yelling pointlessly at the television as the real Andy Murray does a volley which can easily be picked up by an opponent.
So why is it only near-perfect? I had hoped there would be an option where the Nunchuck would be immaterial, however it is needed to manoeuvre the players around the court, unlike the pure simplicity of Wii Sports tennis. I understand TS3 is meant to be more accurate and responsive, but surely for the energetic gamers amongst us the Wiimote could pick up and mimic our movements on its own.
However I had known about this previously, so was prepared. What I was not prepared for was to find that there is no Wimbledon tournament on it; which given the timing of its release seems like a bigger disappointment than Tim Henman’s 2001 semi-final defeat at SW19. Instead, the greatest, most prestigious Grand Slam Tournament in the tennis world has been given to… Dublin. Now I’ve got nothing against Ireland, the manager of my football team is Irish, and he’s doing a better job than his predecessors; but as a Brit, to have Wimbledon left out feels like a national insult. Are we really that unpopular? As for the rest of the Grand Slams, they have to be unlocked before you are even allowed to set foot on the hallowed hard courts of Flushing Meadows or the dirt of Roland Garros.
On the upside, the developer, 2K, has created the best likenesses of the players outside of PS3’s Virtua Tennis. With Andy Murray they have done a better job than Madame Tussaud’s. He may be maturing into a rather handsome young man, but he’s not that pretty (no offence to Andy or Mme Tussaud intended). I can also now understand why he likes the size of his calves on his video-game persona.
The controls are difficult to get to grips with at first: the Nunchuck is used both to move your player and to direct your shot, and the two can seem to blend into one another until you get the hang of it. A word of warning, though, to cut your fingernails as short as possible before playing, as your hands are rather close together and so can lead to some painful scratches.
Playing the game is as infuriating as watching the real thing on television, especially at deuces when advantage goes back and forth. Never have I felt the perspiration as much while sitting down moving just my right arm at the varying number of match points I accumulated. The frustration can be amusing as well as exasperating, as are the players’ reactions. I’m sure Gaël Monfils would have had a fair number of warnings for racket abuse by the time I had finished with him. The selection of players is good, I was even introduced to two British players I had never heard of before.
I do however, feel sorry for PS3 owners. They are paying an extra £20 simply for a player who grunts unnecessarily loudly, dresses like an extra in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, takes a siesta between each point and has a smaller range of shots than the tennis on Wii Sports. The best part about TS3 on all the other formats is that there is no Rafael Nadal in sight or within hearing distance. If only all tennis tournaments could be like that.
As I was deprived of watching Andy raise the Wimbledon trophy through the video-game, I’m afraid it’s up to him to do it for real.
Pros
Good player and venue likeness
Good control over movement and shot selection
No Nadal
Cons
No option for play without the Nunchuck
No means of muting Maria Sharapova’s shrieks
No Wimbledon.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Doctor Who - Series 4 Episode 11 - "Turn Left"

I hate Russell T. Davies. When he isn’t churning out absurdly contrived episodes of Doctor Who he’s throwing out the most frustrating cliffhangers and upcoming teasers for which we have to wait a whole week to see what happens next. The ending of an episode of 24 is nothing compared to the multi-part storylines in Doctor Who.
While on a distant planet inspired by Far Eastern culture, Donna is urged into a fortune-teller’s booth where she finds herself recalling the events that lead her to meet The Doctor. It all began at a junction near her house. Turn left, she meets The Doctor; turn right, apocalypse.
Donna is inexplicably transported back to that moment, and she turns right. Oh dear. After a good start with a promotion and Christmas with the girls, she finds herself standing on the sidelines of the events that have unfolded in the past three series.
When the star-like spaceship of the Racnoss is destroyed, a body is wheeled into an ambulance, the face covered. Donna watches as the trolley is accidentally jolted. An arm drops out from under the cover, and a sonic screwdriver falls inconspicuously to the floor. The Doctor is dead.
Of course Donna does not know him, but someone comes running up behind her who certainly does know him. It’s Rose.
She of the blonde hair and broad smile is back, having travelled through lots of parallel universes to find Donna. All that universe jumping must have affected her speech, as she mumbles her way through the whole episode. Donna may have a reputation for shouting, but at least we can understand her.
Rose refuses to tell Donna her name, but is more than happy to tell her that she is the most important person in the universe. Donna is sceptical to say the least, but takes Rose’s advice to accept first prize at her work’s raffle, despite being previously fired.
While Donna, her mother and grandfather are staying at a fancy hotel in the countryside over the following Christmas, the Titanic crashes into Buckingham Palace, and the City of London is destroyed. To Donna’s disgust she and her family are relocated to Leeds, where they share a tiny terraced house with two other families, one of them especially large.
Fed up with cramped conditions and strangers looking at something invisible on her back, Donna goes to Rose; she is ready to do what she must. Taken to a UNIT facility, Donna once again meets the Tardis, and Rose tells her that she has to go back to the junction and turn left.
She is successful, and finds herself back in the fortune-teller’s booth. The Doctor enters, and Donna tells him the two words Rose told her to say to him.
Bad Wolf.
Unfortunately there is not enough Doctor in this episode, but it’s one that has to be seen to lead up to the two-part conclusion; which looks set to be the most ambitious, emotional roller coaster of a finale of the new series yet.

Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell II - Back Into Hell

I listened to Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II yesterday, intending to enjoy and appreciate it as I always have done. The only distraction was that my mind kept drifting to how I was going to express my thoughts about the album on paper. Evidently that skill is becoming so engrained into me that I cannot even enjoy listening to my favourite album without dreaming up similes, metaphors, oxymorons, alliterations and onomatopoeias.
The first half of the album is a relentless, unprecedented assault on the hearing senses that makes me glad not to be deaf. “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” starts with a roaring guitar imitating a motorbike, rather like that in the titular song of Bat II’s predecessor; before a tinkling piano begins its now unmistakeable riff, and before long low drums and a wailing guitar join in, making the longest and most aurally astonishing intro in the history of music.
The instrumental in “Life Is A Lemon (And I Want My Money Back)” is one of thunder and lightning; while the instrumental in “Out Of the Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)” is one of fire and thunder. “It Just Won’t Quit” contains an interlude that always makes me feel as though I am about to be blasted off on the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland Paris, but without a safety harness.
Although “Rock ‘N’ Roll Dreams Come Through” is slightly toned down, like the rest of the songs that comprise the first forty five minutes of the album, it still contains a few moments of vocal majesty.
The second half of the album greets us with “Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are”; an epic tale of friendship, death, and love. The next is a spoken recitation from songwriter Jim Steinman that was taken from his solo album, Bad For Good, in which he explores the true spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.
Things are slowly brought to an end through the ultimate music-loving teen rebellion song, “Everything Louder Than Everything Else”. This is followed by the haunting “Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)”; and prior to the comparatively minimalist “Lost Boys and Golden Girls” which closes the album almost subtly, there is a short instrumental titled “Back Into Hell”.
Although some songs were taken from other Steinman projects, they were songs that cried out for the Meat Loaf treatment; indeed some were written for him just before he lost his voice in the late 1970s.
Verily, it is the voice of an angel (albeit an unconventional one) singing heavenly music that originated in Hell. If, as according to Pope Benedict XVI, I am to go to that unholy place of fire and brimstone for listening to this music, then I’ll go down with a piña colada in my hand and my iTouch plugged into my ears, singing it with gusto.
When he sings, it feels as though the universe is about to split in two from the pure, undiluted strength of his unique voice. For the most part he does not let rip, but when he does chills of excitement vibrate up the vertebrae.
Surely there never has been, and never will be, another artist with the same sheer, raw, unrestrained vocal power, emotion, volume and range that Meat Loaf is blessed with. I sincerely hope there won’t be.

Crowds and Power - Elias Canetti

I have read a few horror stories in my life. When I was young it was R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, and when I got older it was Stephen King and Jonathan Carroll. However the book that sent a shiver down my spine from the very first sentence came from none of these authors. It came from a Nobel Prize winning book written by Elias Canetti called Crowds and Power.
It begins: “there is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown”. Going on that one sentence alone, I decided to base my university dissertation on the book. Rash, it may have seemed, but I enjoyed it. Whether that enthusiasm has paid off, I still don’t know.
Crowds and Power describes the fundamental attributes of the crowd, and how they can be used by an individual who wants to gain power.
Canetti talks of The Survivor, a leader who will do anything to survive, who thrives on the knowledge that he is outliving those around him, even if he kills some of them himself. At the time of writing, Canetti had Hitler in mind; but for this generation, it fits Saddam Hussein like a glove.
What is really frightening does not come from various anecdotes of what seems to us to be strange and warped rituals or accidents, but from the fact that it is real. Canetti is not writing fiction, he is collecting his thoughts on crowd psychology, and grim though they may be, they are for the most part accurate. A reader can always relate a section of Crowds and Power to something that has happened to them; whether it be at a sporting event, the theatre, or a rally.
Not only can his description of The Survivor be attributed to Hitler and Hussein, but to many other dictators and rulers of the past, present and future. Instead of reading individual biographies of these people, read Crowds and Power and get them all in one go.
Aspects of Crowds and Power can be found in popular culture, from Doctor Who to The Simpsons; and Canetti is mentioned in Jonathan Carroll’s A Child Across the Sky, and has even inspired a video game.
Although I have only read the English translation of the original German, the poetry and eloquence in the language still shines through the bleak, gloomy subjects that it covers. Nonetheless it is a shocking, frightening read, simply because he is right.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

A Child Across The Sky - Jonathan Carroll

A Child Across The Sky is a somewhat morbid, yet subtle psychological horror story from Jonathan Carroll. It seems only fitting that the subject of my university dissertation should get a mention within its pages, as Elias Canetti has also wrote a morbid, psychologically horrifying book; only Crowds and Power is not a story.
A Child Across The Sky sees successful filmmaker Weber Gregston hearing about the suicide of his best friend, horror movie icon Phil Strayhorn. Gregston has been left three videos by Strayhorn, in which he tries to explain unaccounted mysteries and thoughts that have occurred and plagued them throughout their lives, seemingly from beyond the grave. Gregston is also charged with shooting a scene from an upcoming Strayhorn movie, the last in the notorious Midnight series. If Gregston can do it right, it will atone for the dead man’s sins, according to Strayhorn’s guardian angel.
Carroll examines seemingly innocent concoctions of human imagination and turns them into something dangerous. Here, he looks at what would happen if an imaginary childhood friend were to appear in physical form in adulthood. They’re not just here to play Snap or Hide and Seek. He also looks into what is evil, and whether evil can sometimes be good in its own way.
The tone of Carroll’s books is that of a dream within reality. Reading them is like having one of those awkward, uncomfortable, at times incomprehensible, yet intriguing dreams that simultaneously frightens and enquires; and that you want to know how it turns out but more often than not you wake up before it ends.
Unlike those dreams, however, on waking up you do not want to push the memories from your mind. A Child Across The Sky may be haunting, yet in a way it is also rather beautiful because of the intricate manner in which Carroll weaves his story and portrays his tortured, human characters.
Apart from one instance when the development of Gregston’s relationship with Strayhorn’s girlfriend could be seen coming a mile off, for the most part the story is undoubtedly fresh, as is the case with many of Carroll’s works.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Solar Lottery - Philip K. Dick

If you thought Celebrity Love Island was the ultimate low in reality television, give Philip K. Dick’s Solar Lottery a whirl. It makes CLI et al look as harmless and innocent as the children’s reality programme Evacuation.
In the year 2203 everyone in the solar system is allocated a card, giving them a one in six billion chance to become Quizmaster, to rule the universe. However the Quizmaster is constantly faced with challenges, at times deadly, and if he fails, the bottle of destiny shakes again and a new ruler is named. The whole process is watched by the realm on television.
Ted Benteley, unhappy with his job, swears allegiance to the Quizmaster in the hope that the position given to him there would be more agreeable and morally sound than his former career. Unfortunately, the Quizmaster is about to change, and Benteley finds himself sucked into a job that is even more corrupt than the one he left. Indeed, his very life is in danger.
The outgoing Quizmaster of ten years, Reese Verrick, is determined to kill his successor, Leon Cartwright; and offers a substantial reward to whoever does so. Ironically, in a book published in the same year that ITV came into being, there was contest rigging to find the perfect assassin. The victor is a synthetic shell which can be controlled from Verrick’s headquarters by his staff, the randomness of their switchovers making it difficult for Cartwright’s loyalists to track him.
This story of deceit and treachery is set against a background of hi-tech gadgetry, space exploration, and a health spa on the Moon. While the discovery of a tenth planet in the solar system does not seem as incredible to us now as it did in the 1950s, Dick still made it feel like a magical, mystical myth; and makes you feel as though Sedna is still light-years away from discovery.
Yet while all this is impressive, it is almost amusing to note that even Philip K. Dick was unable to foresee the evolution of CDs and a prohibition on smoking within enclosed spaces.
Solar Lottery feels like a combination of Orwell’s Big Brother and an even more extreme version of Channel 4’s Big Brother - if that is possible.
The only question remaining is: when will C4 get the contract to turn this reality show into a reality?

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is a Japanese animation epic telling the story of a young prince, Ashitaka, sent from his home to find the source of a boar-demon that attacked his village. On killing it, Ashitaka finds a small iron ball inside the carcass, and it leads him to a small town on the outskirts of a forest, inhabited by spirits and wolf-gods.
It is in this town that he meets Lady Eboshi. She has built the town on top of a field of iron, and its main industry is iron and firearm production. Her desire is to destroy the forest and expand her town, but the spirits within the forest are hindering her progress. Ashitaka learns of a child who has been reared by the wolf-gods, who Eboshi is determined to kill, and vice versa.
The wolf-child, Princess Mononoke, or San as she is known to the wolf who raised her, is ambushed by Irontown’s inhabitants, but Ashitaka rescues her, and she soon returns the favour.
Eboshi’s quarrel is not just with San, but from samurai who want her iron, unless she can give them the head of the most powerful spirit in the forest. Of course, taking the head of a god is never a good idea.
Princess Mononoke is written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, four years before he gave us Spirited Away. Much as I enjoyed the latter, Princess Mononoke cannot be beaten for the emotional chord it so firmly strikes. The angst and fury of all of the characters is well explored, whether they be human, animal or god.
The artwork and detail of the animation is quite simply unparalleled in its beauty. The scenery in particular brought a lump to my throat that I have not felt since I first gazed upon the Grand Canyon.
The character and culture of 14th Century Japan is exquisitely brought to life, and although it is easy to forget that this is animation, it would be a crime to do so. It would be a great shame not to appreciate the care and devotion that has gone into every frame, and Joe Hisaishi’s beautiful yet haunting soundtrack only adds to the magic of this Japanese mythology.
Yet it is not just mythology. The social, racial and environmental message that underlies this complex story is as relevant today as it will ever be. Let us hope that the Pokémon generation will be lead to Miyazaki’s work, as it does not simply tell a wonderful tale, but hopefully can inspire them for the better.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Doctor Who - Series 4 Episode 9 - "Forest of the Dead"

Having been on tenterhooks for a whole week we finally get some answers as to what The Library is in “Forest of the Dead”.
Donna finds herself in a dream-like parallel world where she quickly finds love with her perfect man and has two young children. Despite mind tricks from the mysterious Doctor Moon, she senses that all is not right. This is quickly confirmed by a meeting with Miss Evangelista, who Donna last saw as a skeleton picked clean of its flesh.
Back at The Library, having momentarily escaped the Vashta Nerada, Professor Song (Alex Kingston) convinces The Doctor to trust her by whispering something in his ear. Having previously been suspicious of her for owning a sonic screwdriver - his sonic screwdriver from the future - he believes her claim that he gave it to her, although he cannot for the life of him fathom out why.
Again having to run from their pursuing enemy, The Doctor learns the origins of the Vashta Nerada, and the significance of the little girl, who is also being watched over by Doctor Moon.
Without wanting to give too much away, it ends comparatively happily for a change. Donna is the only one to be “really, really not alright”, having been unable to find her dreamy husband in reality. The fact that her perfect man was gorgeous, adored her and “hardly ever spoke a word” did not help, and when she asked The Doctor what it said about her he mixed up his reply of “everything” and “nothing”, making her feel especially lousy.
This is evidently not the last we have seen of Professor River Song, and I look forward to The Doctor meeting her in the future. Kingston plays her as a likeable, intelligent, eloquent, headstrong, tenacious woman with a dry sense of humour and an intense love-hate relationship with The Doctor. As to the exact nature of this relationship, there are plenty of hints scattered throughout this episode to keep the online theorists happy for another 900 years.
With regards to the episode preceding “Forest of the Dead” and those which will follow, not since the evolution of the Daleks have I been so impatient to see what happens next.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Doctor Who - Series 4 Episode 8 - "Silence in the Library"

“There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown”, begins Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power. Perhaps Steven Moffat has read this, as the fear factor in his Doctor Who episodes derives primarily from this fact.
After turning the mundane to the terrifying through some angel statues and a little boy in a gas mask, Moffat pens another Doctor Who two-parter in which he does the same for the common library.
The Doctor and Donna arrive at The Library, the largest in the known universe, only it is completely devoid of life forms, of human life forms, that is. There they are warned by a pop-art like statue with a human face to “count the shadows”.
They find themselves being chased by an unseen menace, as one by one the lights go out. Forcing their way into another room and locking themselves in, The Doctor examines an airborne security camera, which is actually the subconscious of a young girl in another world.
Our heroes are suddenly happened upon by what can initially only be described as a group of the outer space cousins of Top Gear’s The Stig, only to learn that they are human archaeologists. Their leader Professor River Song (Alex Kingston), talks to The Doctor as if she knows him, although he has no idea who she is, and refers to him as “pretty boy”.
At first The Doctor has trouble communicating to the rest of her group just how much danger they are in, but River’s trust in him becomes contagious. While figuring out how to proceed, the nice but dim member of the crew, Miss Evangelista (Talulah Riley), has investigated a noise outside, and is consequently turned into a skeleton.
Having seen this, The Doctor can reveal their hunters as the Vashta Nerada, tiny particles of dust that hide in the shadows and can strip flesh from bone in a split second. On Earth, they can be seen floating in rays of sunshine.
They latch on to another crew member, and use him as the means to catch the others. The Doctor’s attempt to get Donna out of harm’s way goes wrong, and so we are once again left with a cliffhanger ending.
"Silence in the Library" is a welcome return to form in what has been a rather lacklustre series with storylines bordering on the ridiculous. Once again, as he did with the Weeping Angels in "Blink" and Jamie in "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances", Moffat plays on the primal human fear of the touch of the unknown, the unseen menace in the shadows and the darkness, and in my case, skeletons. It works much better than the six foot wasp in the previous episode.
As Moffat has now taken over as producer from Russell T Davies, let us hope that we are treated more frequently to Moffat’s superior storytelling and greater sense of what really brings fear to the human mind.
However, if your children were reluctant to go to a library before, "Silence in the Library" is hardly likely to change their minds.