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View From The Brig(gs): Episode 14
(“Co-incidentally, The Same Number Of Possible Bravais Lattices That Fill Three-Dimensional Space”.)

The Doctor Is In. Again

Hurrah! Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor Who!  I’d heard rumblings about Capaldi a week or so before the announcement, so it’s clear somebody at the BBC blabbed loudly this time around.

The BBC’s revelation was accompanied by a live broadcast TV show, and on the run-up to the announcement I was heard mumbling “Please Capaldi…please Capaldi ” over and over.

From the jubilant reaction of (admittedly, and thankfully, older) friends on my Facebook page, at least, I know I wasn’t the only one.

I’ve enjoyed Capaldi’s performances immensely over the years, and not only is he the only bona-fide Oscar winner on the Who production team (for his wonderful short film Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life, which I have on a VHS tape somewhere), but I was surprised and delighted to discover what a deeply entrenched old-school Doctor Who fan he was.


The mournful lamentations of pathetic little fangirls decrying on their loss of baby-faced crumpet was deeply satisfying to me: at 55, Capaldi is the same age as the first Doctor, William Hartnell, when he opened the Blue Box.

I’m relieved to see there’s a role-model Doctor that’s actually older than me back at the Time Rotor helm again.

“In Hollywood, no one knows anything.” ― William Goldman

My co-writer on a movie I once had my name on a poster of, just directed one of the more expensive movies of the summer, so I figured I ought to lend my financial support. Pacific Rim (surely one of the worst titles conceived for a summer tentpole flick) pits giant robots against giant monsters (or “Jaegers vs Kaiju” as the flick would have it), and on that level it’s a lot of fun. In fact, it’s one of the more fun movies of 2013 so far (currently occupying the Number 6 slot of the 40-some new films I’ve seen this year), and made me grin like a ten year old boy frequently, largely due to the absolutely astonishing production design and visual effects work.

This is at least a movie where it looks as if the budget is on the screen.

There’s not a great deal to the plotting, and a lot of it seems awfully familiar from other movies. (When it came to the nuke-the-bad-guys climax, and our hero goes through organic V’ger portals to meet aliens who observe the shenanigans with an Independence Day “WTF?!” moment, I was running out of fingers for the purloined plot-points I’d seen before.) Plot rationales are conveniently forgotten left, right, and center; and laws of physics are either discarded or don’t make a whole heap of sense.

Visually, I was frequently disappointed at the failure of scale overview: in Cloverfield the beast is huge, and we never forget its menace as the camera is locked to a “real world” camcorder perspective.

In Pacific Rim the creatures are just as large and cause the same damage, but the sense of scale jeopardy feels frequently dramatically unsatisfying, as our viewpoint is too-often pulled-back to “fantasy” camera angles.

There are a couple of “scale gags” that “Do Cute”: a Jaeger skids back to a harborfront metal bollard and gently heel-taps it to dislodge a seagull, while in another scene a Jaeger fist slams through an office building to set a metal Newton’s Cradle clacking.

In both cases, I wanted to see human interaction within these scenes: where are the vehicles that are caught on the hop and evacuating the harbor area? Where are the office slackers to give some sense of peril to the proceedings?

The last Transformers movie at least added some humanity to its real-estate demolition.

More troubling to me than plotting in Pacific Rim, was the question of “tone”.

Look at The Matrix: it’s played straight, but with occasional moments of humor. That’s fine. Even the entrenched darkness of Alien had Ridley Scott let its crew loosen-up here-and-there. Perfectly okay. But filmmakers often seem to let their “goofy” out of the box, and just can’t wrangle it back again.

Roland Emmerich is another example of this: his films would be arguably more engrossing if their protagonists didn’t shriek and crack cute one-liners right out of an NBC sitcom while battling planetary disasters that devastate major landmarks.

And here, Pacific Rim takes Emmerich’s precedent even further, with ridiculous supporting characters gurning like tiresome loons and bringing the movie crashing to a wincing halt (Charlie Day’s Dr. Newton Geiszler was out-there but tolerable, although his colleague Gottlieb, played by Burn Gorman from Torchwood, was excruciating from the outset).

My favorite moment in the film is actually the television insert takedown in Sydney of a Kaiju by the Australian team (although I’d have enjoyed Aussie pilot Herc Hansen’s character considerably more if the actor playing him hadn’t mumbled his lines). I’ll look forward to seeing Pacific Rim again on smaller screens, but I’ve a feeling watching it likely going to involve a fast-forward button.

Also up on the watch-list was the Kiwi-shot post-WWII movie Emperor, which just had a limited theatrical run in the U.S. in March.

Based upon the book His Majesty’s Salvation by Shiro Okamoto, and starring Matthew Fox (somewhat M.I.A. since J.J. Abrams’ Lost went off the air) as real-life military attache Bonner Fellers, the story explores “Operation Blacklist”, a General MacArthur (played here by Tommy Lee Jones, who sadly makes the strongest impression in the movie just by playing himself) instigated operation to exonerate Emperor Hirohito and the members of his family in the wake of the Japanese surrender.

The film was a little dry, but did tell an intriguing chapter of the War I was hitherto unaware of. The Australian VFX company Iloura provided about 140 quite impressive shots of war-ravaged Japan. Fox isn’t usually asked by the filmmakers who use him to expand his range, and unfortunately this one is no exception, but he’s a lot better here than he has been elsewhere.

More impressive as a WWII movie, but with barely a digital shot to its name, was the Norwegian/Swedish indie film Into The White.

Rupert Grint (yes, he of ginger Potter fame) is the most notable member of the cast of this very nice little character study based on a true story, playing a Liverpudlian RAF crewman who with his commanding officer ends up spending the winter with the crew of a German Heinkel bomber when the two mutually shoot one another down.

All of the various winter survival and prisoner-of-war tropes are on full display as the two foreign crews attempt to survive, yet the story never feels forced or boring. I enjoyed this greatly, and it serves as an example to today’s filmmakers in what you can do with limited budget without resorting to zombies and vampires.

Well worth a look, and a thumbs-up.

Next up on the chopping block was The Croods, a CG-animated movie from Dreamworks, which marks a new chapter from them as 20th Century Fox replaces Paramount as their distributor.

The movie boast vocal talents from (a very obvious) Nicholas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, and Emma Stone, and actually originated at Dreamworks from a John Cleese adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Twits. I have to wonder what that version was like, as despite making a colossal 600 million dollars so far at the box office I felt this was pretty boring stuff. A family of Cavemen leave their home when a volcano threatens their “head in the sand” (or, in this case, cave) existence; teaming up with more advanced (Cro-Magnon? It’s never really explained) plains-dweller. There’s an inevitable sequel and spinoffs on the way. This didn’t do it for me.

Last offering was Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England, which was released simultaneously (in England, natch) on the cinema, television, and other ancillary markets.

Critics were mostly falling over themselves to say nice things about this British Channel 4-generated film, as it’s a period movie (set during the English Civil War in the 17th Century), and filmed in black-and-white. I love both criteria, but in this instance Wheatley struggled to put together a barely coherent film. The plot (such as it is) has a bunch of battle-fleeing misfits set down in a field and begin to dig for a hidden cache.

Before you can say Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, they’re all at each others’ throats…oh, and did I mention that there’s some sort of hallucinogenic mushroom factor involved, just so the director could toss Ken Russell-esque visuals into the mix (the best of which involves a giant sphere formed of black broiling clouds)?

There’s some nicely eerie sound design, and Amy Jump’s script is surprisingly literate, which makes it even more of a shame that Wheatley has made such a random hodgepodge of it. I had a hard time not switching A Field In England off during the final thirty minutes, but finally made it.

A movie to recall afterwards, rather than give repeat viewings, I think.

The Art Of The Written Word Is Not Dead…

It is summer, which means lounging around. Not because I want to, but because most of the people who I deal with are similarly forced by annual vacation time to lounge around.

Like (I suspect) a significant chunk of British manhood (and ladhood), I’ve ploughed through a Jeremy Clarkson book this week.

Actually, if I’m honest, they were akin to Chinese food and I ended up ploughing through eight (The World According To Clarkson; For Crying Out Loud; And Another Thing; Don’t Stop Me Now; Born To Be Riled; Clarkson On Cars; Motorworld; and I Know You Got Soul).

I like Clarkson; I suspect because in some ways he’s an over-exaggerated version of myself. (For those of you who don’t know, alongside James May and Richard Hammond, he forms the reviewing trio on Top Gear, which is apparently the most internet-pirated and watched show IN THE WORLD (and one which I have to admit to avidly watching myself.)

Clarkson’s books are mostly compilations of his weekly columns in The Sunday Times newspaper, but that’s fine as you can digest each snippet fairly quickly. Mostly they take the form of a rant about any subject under the sun, and those ones are the most consistently entertaining; it’s the car review books with their time-and-model specific pieces that, off the boob-tube and divorced from Clarkson’s physical personality, tend to have you glazing over a bit.

I Know You Got Soul did toss a bit of an atypical fanboy curveball at the reader: Clarkson (unusually) expressed his love for the Millennium Falcon, and announced firmly that in a fight between the Falcon and the U.S.S. Enterprise, the Federation would be on the losing side. I reckon even Spock might raise an eyebrow to that.

Having spent too much time yucking at low-brow prose, I brought it back a tiny notch by venturing once more into a wacky Carl Hiaasen Everglades yarn, this time with his 2006 Nature Girl.

The plot here involves a fruitcake named Honey Santana (supposedly the heroine of the piece, although I found her character to be intensely annoying) who one day decides to get revenge on an irritating telemarketer by inviting him to a fake real-estate promotion in the Ten Thousand Islands in order to teach him a lesson.

This novel wore its welcome out quite quickly, and was a bit of a chore to get through. I wouldn’t recommend it in a pantheon of far-better Hiaasen books.

Far, far better was the third installment in Peter Clines’ marvelous Ex series.

This postulates a world in which super-powered superheroes team up with military forces guys, operating out of a refuge for humanity at the former Paramount Studios (where I once had an office, so I felt quite wistful turning the pages), as they struggle to survive in a zombie-ravaged world.

Clines’ prose, dialogue, and plotting are all fun and snappy, and I love the hell out of these books. (Reading this one, in fact, made me so happy I felt compelled to track Clines down online, and I’m pleased to report he’s one of the nicest fellows I’ve ever conversed with.)

I can’t recommend these books highly enough. They’re a breath of rejuvenating fresh-air in a genre of shambling tomes.

Buy them today: this guy’s an original and exciting talent, and he deserves your support.

Meanwhile, In The Funny Papers…

All-Star Western hardly EVER gets a look-in, in this column, so I was very pleased that Justin Gray’s issue #22 delivered in rootin’-tootin’ spades. Jonah Hex has time-travelled forward (thanks, apparently to interference in his time from Booster Gold) to Gotham City from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight watch. After escaping from the asylum he’s been tossed into, Hex sets about cleaning up the mutant-infested streets.

So nice to actually enjoy reading this title for a change, rather than just turning the pages.

Still in Gotham, I’m enjoying the current storyline in Detective Comics #23 very much. There’s a new billionaire technologist in town: C.D. Caldwell. And encased in his own fighting suit, he seems intent on taking down the Gotham P.D. and defeating Batman.

Oh, hey. And if the “A” storyline wasn’t enough for you, there’s a “B” backup filler story best described as Bride of The Man-Bat. And it’s actually good! This whole issue was a fun read.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention China Mieville’s Dial H For Hero #15, which features the apocalyptic showdown of the various bizarre Dial Heroes against the Operator.

This is going to be one of those runs that is going to be “discovered” and hailed once collected in graphic novel form. This is a truly, truly bizarre title, and I love it. The only way to describe it, is “The Tick, Directed By David Cronenberg”. A good climax for a totally out-there story.

Robert Venditti’s Green Lantern #23 has Hal Jordan still putting the Corps together in the aftermath of the Battle for Oa, and off on the trail of a Star Sapphire lantern who is wanted for just about everything in the book. And she uses her ring’s abilities to kick Jordan where it hurts. This was actually a fairly dense issue, with a nice space-opera “bounty hunter” feel to it, and fun art from Billy Tan.

In Animal Man Annual #2, Buddy Baker finds himself going up against Ananansa The Spider Queen, who is kidnapping people and taking them off to be cocooned in her underground lair. But, handled deftly by Jeff Lemire, this isn’t some sub-par “Alien” ripoff, but rather handles quite touchingly the ongoing torture Animal Man feels at the death of his son. I’ve been consistently surprised with what D.C. have been doing with Animal Man. Highly recommended.

Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato pull Dual Art & Story duty in Flash #22, and do a great job with both.

There’s a killer on the loose in Central City, taking down people connected to “The Speed Force”. I don’t think I’m ruining anything if I say that it’s the latest incarnation of Reverse Flash, and it’s a good one. I enjoyed this issue immensely, but at 16 pages it all seemed to be over in…well. A Flash?

There’s a double-whammy of eerie with Swamp Thing #22 & 23. Swampy travels to a remote Scottish village where a tree is emitting…whisky. Which obviously means an out-of-control Scottish populace. Constantine is here, too…and he seems to be under the influence of a character called “Seeder”, who has a score to settle with Swamp Thing. I enjoyed the story, despite the lack of complexity to the artwork.

Joshua Hale Fialkov’s Hunger #1” might be my title of the week.

Why? One word. One name.

Galactus!

And this story is a doozy. A parallel universe Rick Jones has been transformed into a Silver Surfer-esque champion by The Watchers. And…he wants a burger. But before he can achieve this one simple goal, he’s torn away and tossed into the middle of a Kree/Chitauri battle…and in the center of it is the Ultimate Universe Gah Lak Tus Energy Cloud Swarm (likely the villain the Fantastic Four were pitted against in the marginally-better Fantastic Four movie sequel, if we’d have gotten a better look at it…)

That plot strand alone would have kept me happy, but then some time-space anomaly thingie occurs…and before you know it, the “Prime Universe” Giant Purple Humanoid Galactus rips through from an adjacent dimension and promptly merges with the Swarm! Some fanboy “Squees” were emitted from my direction, although if I have to nitpick, I’m not sure I’m crazy about the newly sleekly designed ’80s-looking Galactus. Issue #2 has the Silver Surfer turn up to rescue Rick Jones’ bacon. Looking forward to seeing where issue #3 is headed with this…

One of my other big loves is Beta Ray Bill, so I continued to enjoy Kathryn Immonen’s Journey Into Mystery #654, although perhaps not as much as last time around. This time (shades of “Star-Lord”, perhaps a tad too much?) Bill’s Galactus-created dead-girl companion seems to have merged with Skuttlebutt and become…a walking girl-ship with a case of the cutes for Bill (much to the chagrin of Sif, who has a teensy case of the cutes for him herself).

Great artwork from Valerio Schiti, although something of a “waiting for events to kick-in” issue, but it’s always nice to see Bill in the funny pages.

Having taken-down Ultron, Hank Pym and his newly-formed Artificial Intelligence team are having to deal with the ramifications of the A.I. they loosed to achieve that task in Sam Humphries’ Avengers A.I. #2. This time around, it’s a rampaging 50 foot Kilgore Sentinel, built in secret by the U.S. to attack rival Mutant Nations and currently stomping around Washington D.C.

If you’re in the mood for an “Iron Giant” variant, give this one a look. I enjoyed it a lot, and André Lima Araújo’s art (with great colors from Frank Darmata) was a treat.

Superior Spider-Man #14 was packed to the gunwales with action, as body-swapped Doc Ock/Spidey decides to take a taskforce into Hell’s Kitchen and bring down the Kingpin’s headquarters. Which he does. And allows the Goblin King to step into the power vacuum and become the new crime lord ruler of New York. If action’s your thang, this is your issue.

Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four #10 was a solid offering which has Reed Richards finally admit to his team-mates that they’re all beginning to exhibit a degenerative condition that affects their superpowers individually (Sue is becoming a “Visible Girl”, complete with icky internal organs on display, while Ben’s rock limbs are beginning to physically crumble.)

And all this is happening while they’re on a time-travel jaunt to confront some Skrull who are posing as key historical figures during the formulation of America’s Declaration of Independence. Good fun.

In Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye Annual #1 (Fraction, again!), Kate Bishop (“Lady Hawkeye”) throws a hissy fit with mentor Clint one day, and promptly stomps off to Los Angeles. Unlike most penniless ingenues who hit town, she runs into a rich and helpful sponsor. What Kate doesn’t know, is that said sponsor is her nemesis Madame Masque, and Kate’s in for a thumping. Javier Pulido’s flat and (ahem) “cartoonishly” stylized artwork style isn’t normally my bag, but it works marvelously in what is one of the more fun titles this month.

As we established earlier with Pacific Rim, I’m pretty much there for Giant Stompy Robot-Things, and so I have to approach Kieron Gillen’s Iron Man #13 with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I really don’t care for the whole “Stark: Galactic Messiah” setup this run of comics is setting up via an outer space robot character called Recorder 451; plus having Tony in Outer Space extends the character out of his comfort zone. (Largely, it seems, so he can interact with The Guardians Of The Galaxy in order to give them free publicity for their upcoming movie.)

But, the comic book does feature an enormous golden pilotable Celestial Robot called the Godkiller, so…yeah. I enjoyed it. Bah!

Paul Cornell’s Wolverine #7 was interestingly low-key. Wolverine has been made…mortal. No healing factor. And, he’s learning to cope with this. Which means getting drunk with Thor, getting into alley-scraps with muggers, and even morning shaving are all imbued with a new human perspective. And Logan’s not liking it one iota. A bit of a more thoughtful issue than usual.

There can be a lot of “sturm-und-drang” in the X-Men Universe, but the time-travelling All New X-Men #15 went for fun-and-frothy this time around. A young Jean Grey discovers from an older Beast that the younger Beast has her crush on her, and decides to do something about that.

Meanwhile, Junior Cyclops and Iceman are out cruising for Mutant Superstar-struck girls at the local fairground. This one is a feel-good issue, so buy it if you need a healthy dose of that. I know I did this week.

I’m not the hugest fan of Daredevil, but Mark Waid’s #29 is a decent and mostly Matt Murdock-oriented issue, as the blind lawyer finds the courthouse his current trial is running at has been taken over by minions from The Serpent Society. Next time around promises an appearance from The Silver Surfer, so I shall look forward to that.

I AM, however, a huge fan of The Rocketeer, and that means a rare sojourn into the world of more “Independent” comics! In “The Rocketeer Vs The Hollywood Horror #1, we have the setup for what I hope will be some Jetpack vs Lovecraftian Tentacle Action in further issues.

This is mostly exposition: some henchmen (who we infer from those very first Dave Stevens “Rocketeer” adventures were Doc Savage’s sidekicks) are back to retrieve Cliff’s rocket pack, while a mad-scientist chap named Rune is summoning up Dark Forces at his mansion. J. Bone’s “Cartoony” (there’s that word again!) style sits awkwardly with me, but for The Rocketeer I will forego such minor quibbles.

As this seems to be the “Battling Kaiju” installment, I have to end with an “Honourable Mention” for IDW’s Godzilla: Rulers Of Earth #2.

This was cool for one really fun, really big reason: it pits the Godzilla of Roland Emmerich’s (often slighted) American remake, against the classic Japanese Godzilla. Come on: you know you want to see that…

See you in the Drift, Kaiju-hackers…

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