28 August 2016

Orange is the New Red (Review: Star Trek 1.25, "The Devil in the Dark")


When I wanted my pizza zapped... I didn't mean it like this

I had hoped to get the entirety of the original series watched by 9 September - the show's 50th anniversary - but I'll just have to make do with Season 1 instead. So, after a long break, we go back to the 23rd century...

****

The Enterprise crew answer a distress call from a mining facility that has had a large number of men killed by a mysterious creature that burns them to a crisp... as they investigate, they also have to find a missing element of the reactor to prevent the colony's destruction.

****

I'm going to start by commenting that this is a particularly good episode for red shirt deaths - and also orange shirt deaths - most of the miners wear orange and the first to die in the pre-credits teaser, which is of a variety you frequently find in modern day Doctor Who, is indeed wearing orange.

Kirk has a strong episode; for a start he doesn't get distracted by any scantily-clad women in this one. I'm sure I've said before that Kirk is far more than just a Zap Branigan; he is a thoughtful and authoritative commander, who feels genuine sadness at the death of yet another redshirt. Shatner's father died during the production of this episode; he insisted on continuing filming until the episode wrapped before departing.

Spock also does well, but gets a bit inconsistent with this views towards the creature in question - going from hoping to capture it to telling Kirk to kill it when he encounters it a tad too quickly for my liking.

This is a great McCoy episode as well; he's wonderfully grumpy but improvises brilliantly at the end; we even get an 'I'm a doctor, not a X..." line from him.

The miners (all men - there is no female character with a speaking part in this episode with Uhura absent along with Sulu - the sole case of this in the entirety of TOS) are your standard sort, none of whom are particularly memorable in any way.

For an episode entitled "The Devil in the Dark" this is rather over-lit and clearly done in a studio - the floor is too flat for one thing. Having just watched an episode of Killjoys with a similar setting, I can safely say things have improved in that department.

Lastly, onto the creature itself... I laughed when I first saw, because it resembles a giant overcooked pizza. It turns out that the creature itself is very intelligent and has a good reason for acting this way; the story is a well worn trope and pretty obvious to modern viewers, but it still holds up well. I also realised I've seen it elsewhere - in the Trexels mobile game in fact!

Conclusion

While not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, this is an enjoyable slice (no pun intended) of Star Trek.

8/10

22 August 2016

Rio 2016

While not exactly the greatest Games ever - there were a lot of issues with attendances and the cost of hosting this thing really needs to be looked at (get the sponsors to stump up more cash or cut the event numbers down) - the Olympics were by no means a total disaster and Rio de Janeiro can be pleased with what was put on.

A spectacular performance by Team GB, beating our own 2012 performance - who would have thought we would have beaten the Chinese on the medal table? This is the result of 20 years of hard work and heavy investment in elite sport. However, many of these wins were people retaining their titles from 2012 and we need to make sure that we have good enough people coming forward for the future.

Also, the New Year's Honours are going to be very interesting this year. Sir Mo Farah? Now that's as far away from his Somali origins as you can get.

Well done to him and all the others.

16 August 2016

Bring Back British Rail?

Today we learn how much regulated rail fares are due to go up in January. The rise in fares has led to calls for renationalisation.

Rail use has doubled in the last twenty years, but the infrastructure hasn't kept up with it.

I am not sure that renationalisation is necessary the best way to do it - considering the experience of British Rail.

I must admit I am too young to remember much of it - my commuter experience began well after privatisation. So I can only go from what I have read and my own experiences on c2c, TfL Rail, Abellio Greater Anglia and the London Underground.

So here are my thoughts/observations
* I have experienced far worse overcrowding on the London Underground than on any of the privatised lines. In particular, the Central Line is a living argument for Crossrail.
* My recollections of the Class 312 were that is was rather grotty. The Class 357 Electrostar (and the other trains in the family) may be a bit boring, but at least it is clean.
* No-one seems to ask regular users of SNCF and DB what they think of their services.
* Many of the safety issues over Driver Only Operation are addressable with improved technology. That said, I would prefer to have a second staff member on a train.
* In the twenty years before privatisation (1975-1994), 150 people were killed in train collisions and other accidents; not counting 'one under' suicides. In the twenty years since (1995-2014), it was 85 and the last ten years has seen a number of years with no deaths whatsoever.
* BR did many good things, but the Beeching Axe was definitely not one of them - they were continuing to cut lines and services into the 1980s. Our capacity issues would be a lot easier if the Great Central Railway was still open; alas there is now too much of Nottingham in the way now.
* Dining services have reduced massively, but the railway operators have caused that by the proliferation of shops on the stations themselves, which sell food at cheaper prices.
* Yes, there needs to be an increased emphasis on passenger service over profit.
* A nationalised system would be far more subject to political whims than the current system. What interest does a Labour government have in rural Norfolk or Cornwall?
* The much-maligned Pacer was a BR product.
* Rail subsidy has gone up since privatisation; private companies do need to make a profit - we are now having problems with getting bidders for franchises. The Big Four had to rely on newspaper traffic to break even.
* Under the proposed Labour scheme of taking each franchise into public ownership, only four would go back by 2025. With Labour's current leadership, getting into power to do even that is unlikely.

If nationalisation could be made to work in a way that didn't see cuts in services as happened under BR, I would favour it. But I need convincing.

15 August 2016

An update

I've not disappeared - just had a lot on lately. I'm currently working slowly on a review of the Caledonian Sleeper train; this will appear hopefully by the end of the month.

15 July 2016

Nice

At least 84 people have been killed in a terrorist attack in Nice involving a truck being driven into a crowd.

Can we please stop killing each other for stupid reasons?

14 July 2016

Well, I won't be calling the refund department (Review: 'Ghostbusters', 2016)

Now I've made my moans about remakes in the past and I'm going to take them back. While some remakes are unnecessary wastes of time, this one most certainly isn't.

****
When a female-led remake/reboot of the 1984 comedy classic Ghostbusters was announced, it was controversial to put it mildly. I won't go into all the sordid details here; Google will be able to help you.

I decided that I would wait until the reviews came out and decide whether to see it at the cinema or wait for a video release. The reviews have been pretty positive from many quarters, so I made my way to my 'local' (Vue Cinemas in Romford) on Wednesday to see it.

****
Ghostbusters revolves around Erin Gilbert (Kirsten Wiig), a professor who discovers that her old friend Abigail 'Abby' Jones (Melissa McCarthy) has published a book that they wrote five years earlier on ghosts without her permission. When she goes to confront her about this  she finds herself teaming up with Abby and her nuclear scientist friend Jillian to investigate a haunting at an old mansion. The trio, teaming up with a subway worker, find themselves facing the threat of a paranormal invasion of New York.

****
One thing that went through my mind while watching this movie is 'this is a femcom'; the film does feel very much aimed at women in its overall tone and depiction of the male characters. It also might explain the gender divide in the reviews.

Anyway, the plot is rather different from the original as the Ghostbusters find themselves having to deal with internet trolls, bureaucrats a hostile media and sky high property prices. Not to mention a crazed man out to unleash chaos on the city.

The movie in itself takes a little while to get fully going, but once it does, it's a real (proton gun) blast. I had a big grin on my face throughout much of the film, especially the action packed finale, which features stuff that wasn't possible effects wise back in 1984. There are also a set of wonderful cameos from the surviving leads of the original film; as well as a nice tribute to the late Harold Ramis (Egon) who died in 2014.

The four leads are not carbon copies of the original team; each is their own original character.

Erin is the 'straight woman' of the piece; managing to keep her cool despite everything that gets thrown at her, including a large quantity of slime. She also wears the world's smallest bow tie. Bow ties are cool and I like her hair as well.

Not being familiar with Melissa McCarthy's work, I found her pretty funny in this film; she handles the physical comedy very well and has just the right amount of frustration in her performance.

When I saw the first promo picture of Kate McKinnon (currently on Saturday Night Live where she does a great Hillary Clinton) as Jillian Holtzmann, with a shock of blonde hair and chewing gum, I thought 'I'm going to like her'. Looking like Egon, but acting like a crazier version of Venkmann, the gun-licking bit from the trailer isn't the goofiest thing she does in the film; she's a scene-stealing ball of irrepressible adorable energy and Jill is my new favourite Crazy Lady of STEM. Sorry, Root, please don't taser me.

Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) is the weak link in this film. Criticised for being a black stereotype (although the role was originally intended for McCarthy), she's the 'street smart' member of the team with a strong knowledge of NYC history, but to be honest, I just found her character too shrill for my tastes.

Finally, there's Kevin, the ditzy male receptionist played by Chris Hemsworth, known for playing Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He's really good here and if it wasn't for the presence of McKinnon, he'd steal the show.

Conclusion

While not exactly an Oscar-winner (although you never know, it may get nominations in the technical categories), it really doesn't matter. This is 116 minutes of great fun.

And I mean 116 minutes; make sure you stay right to the end of the credits.

8/10

13 July 2016

Prime Minister Theresa May

A very interesting speech; now to see if her words on social injustice are matched by her actions.

Her time as Home Secretary wasn't great, but she may have been constrained by others. Now she has no such constraints.

The state of the Labour Party

Is, simply put, a complete and utter mess.

We have a leader who lacks the support of even 20% of his own MPs, a set of rules for the contest that are effectively forcing new members to pay twice and a culture in which those who voice genuine disagreement are accused of treachery.

In fact, I am at the moment not planning to renew my membership when it expires later this year because I am sick of the whole thing.

The Labour Party is long ceased being a party of actual labour; where are the factory workers, the call centre staff, the train guards in our Parliamentary party? Labour does not listen to its voters (who are more right-wing than some members think) anymore; it arguably hasn't since the 1980s.

One blogger, TSE from Political Betting, has said in his normal cutting way, that Labour couldn't "organise a pregnancy on a council estate".

To be honest, a council estate has fewer arguments.

Please, please, sort this out; the only people this ultimately hurts are the ordinary people of this country.