Monday, December 26, 2011

REVIEW: 2011 Christmas Specials Doctor Who/ Absolutely Fabulous

Doctor Who - The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe 

In the latest Christmas Special, the Doctor crashes into Earth after escaping from an exploding spaceship. Madge Arwell happens to be nearby when she hears the crash and goes to investigate. It turns out the Doctor has landed during Christmas in 1938. After Madge asks if she'll see the stranger again, the Doctor answers to just make a wish. Three years later, when she finds out her husband, a bomber plane pilot, died during an attack, she does just that.

Because of evacuations Madge and her two children have to move and it just so happens that the caretaker is none other than our favourite Timelord. He does his best eccentric uncle act, decorating the house with all sorts of wonderful and crazy toys and ornaments and leaving a massive present under one of the coolest Christmas trees ever. Already intrigued, when Madge's young son Cyril goes down to check out the gift at night, he can't resist opening it when it starts glowing. What he finds inside can only be described as a magical winter wonderland. When the Doctor and Cyril's older sister Lily realize the boy has gone into the world, they follow him, only to find out that the world the Doctor assumed was harmless has a bit more up it's sleeve than snowy Christmas trees. Often in the Christmas specials, Doctor Who seems to go for homages to great, classic writers. Last year it was Charles Dickens, this year there were nods to C.S. Lewis' ever popular "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe".

"The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" was very cheesy and predictable. From the start it was clear they were going for heartstring-tugging fare and not what a lot of fans prefer, an action packed, alien-of-the-week story. I don't always think the CGI in Doctor Who looks that good, I don't generally enjoy watching stories full of computer effects anyway but I thought the show looked really good, the decorations, the winter world, even the special effects were a feast for the eyes. Although I do wonder how the Doctor always manages to get hold of all this stuff, but I guess the answer would simply be "timetravel". Another thing I wondered was what happened to the other guys on Reg Arwells airplane, we don't see them when he gets out to meet his wife and there's no mention of them whatsoever. Maybe because it was a Christmas special I'm more inclined to ignore these little details the show often fails to explain.

The story was sappy and I could see every plot twist coming for miles, but I did like that it had the feel of an old-fashioned Christmas story. There was not really any good or bad, just someone in trouble, a heroine and warm fuzzy feelings. Even though I felt like a sucker for tearing up at the sad bits, it did do just that. Even though I'm sure it wasn't many peoples favorite episode (neither did it come close to any of mine) I liked it. There's nothing wrong with a bit of sentimental, easily digestible fluff for Christmas day and I don't think it pretended to be much more than that.

Absolutely Fabulous - Identity

For something else entirely, there was the much anticipated Christmas special of Absolutely Fabulous. Six years since the show ended, the first episode of a new three-part series aired on Christmas day. Now, I have to say, I've not seen all of the previous series so it came as a bit of a surprise to see that Saffy had been in prison. Upon her release she asks Edina if one of her prison friends can stay with them for a while. It turns out that the girl coming to stay was Patsy's drug dealer and that Patsy still owes her a fortune. While they get the money together, Saffy gets put into the akward and uncomfortable situation of the drug dealers "wifey", a role she's not willing to fulfill much to Eddie's disappointment.

It was great to be able to see a new episode as it aired. I only really became a fan of the show recently, so it doesn't feel like they have been away for six years to me, but I couldn't really tell a difference in quality. All the regulars where there, the jokes were spot-on and even though they have all aged (apart from June Whitfield, strangely) the dynamic between the characters were exactly the same. Despite clearly deliberate references to trends that acknowledge the six-year gap, it just felt like it all fit. I liked the story a lot, it was fun to see Patsy give Saffy some credit for being "top dog" in prison, Saffy's drug dealer friend was appropriately arrogant and threatening, the scenes about Patsy trying to get her pension were really funny, especially the girl looking up her details had some wonderful lines and ofcourse the always eye-catchingly dressed Bubble had plenty of scene-stealing moments.The whole episode had that slightly uncomfortable but hilarious mood that makes Absolutely Fabulous such a great show. You could tell everyone involved was excited to do new episodes, it was very lively and vibrant. I'm very much looking forward to the next episode on New Year's day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The Snowman is a short film based on Raymond Briggs' picture book. It was first broadcast four years after the book was published and has been an annual staple of the British Christmas T.V. schedule ever since. As with "Father Christmas", this is the first time I've watched it.

It starts out on a winter morning when it has been snowing. James, a little boy, runs out and builds a snowman. At midnight, the snowman comes to life and James shows him around the house. Then, the snowman takes James on a magical journey where they fly over to the snowmen party where the boy also meets Father Christmas (the same one as from the other animation).

During the whole 26 minutes, not one word is spoken. The story is told by the visuals, orchestral music and the iconic song "We're Walking In The Air". The music is beautiful and the way it helps the tale along reminds me of "Peter and the Wolf". The animation look just like the books illustrations have come to life. I really like the hand-drawn quality of it. You can see all the lines and shadings move, making it look very lively and full of character.


"The Snowman" has a very different mood than "Father Christmas". While the latter is cheerful and cosy, I felt a kind of melancholy all throughout "The Snowman". I wasn't really quite sure what to think about it. I wasn't sure if I even liked the story. James seems like a sweet and lonely boy. When the snow comes in the morning he's playing by himself and has no friends there to have snowball fights with. Because of that the ending seems even more poignant and the whole story feels very bitter-sweet. Now James found such a wonderful friend, they only had so little time to spend together. I think maybe that's the reason why this story is so special to so many people. It shows that you really have to live in those magical moments and cherish the people you care about, whether as a child or adult, when they happen because they'll be gone before you know it. In the morning James still has the scarf he got from Santa, reminding him of his special adventures with his friend, just like anyone will have memories or even items left over from their childhood, their friendships to remind them of their importance and reality.

For myself, I'm still not certain whether I'd want to watch it every Christmas because it so much struck a chord with me, as I think it will do with anyone really. That is also the exact reason why this is such a good story, it tells a lot and makes you feel so much in such little time. Definitely one I think everyone should watch at some point, but maybe not make it the only feature during your celebrations.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


This beautifully animated short based on 1970's picture books written and illustrated by Raymond Briggs is a British Christmas classic. This is the first time I've seen it, but probably everyone over the age of 25 in the U.K. is familiar with it. Actually, this Christmas Eve it will be 20 years since it first aired.

"Father Christmas" shows us what Santa Claus does on his time off all the rest of the year. This year he decides to go on holiday. We follow him to France, Scotland and Las Vegas, until he has to go back to prepare for Christmas Eve.

What I loved about this story is that Father Christmas (voiced by British comedian and director Mel Smith) seems so human and real. He likes food, booze and girls. In Las Vegas he even gambles a little. While just stating it like that, it might sound a bit crude but it's quite the opposite. Santa is a sweet, cheerful old man who knows how to enjoy life. All his misadventures have cute and funny outcomes that both kids and adults will chuckle at. The hand-drawn animation is full of warmth and personality, everything look so cosy and Christmassy, it makes me want to put on a cheesy reindeer sweater and cuddle up on the sofa with a hot cup of cocoa.

 In the U.S. a sanitized version was released where all the smoking, drinking, show-girls and even Santa's bum was edited out. I can just imagine how much this will have ruined the movie. It erases all that Father Christmas is and enjoys and you're left with nothing. Well, I guess you're left with a typical American goody-two-shoes Hallmark postcard version, but who would prefer that? I doubt any kids will.

"Father Christmas" is a silly story full of heart that for the 28 minutes it runs, kind of makes you believe in Santa Claus again. So, if you're planning on watching it this December, make sure to get the original version and you'll be in for a treat. I loved it!

Next up: Another Raymond Briggs classic: "the Snowman". 

Monday, December 5, 2011

REVIEW: Lady Gaga - Marry the Night

Lady Gaga has released her latest video from the Born This Way album, clocking in at 14 minutes, it has already received nearly 10 million views in just four days. Gaga is wheeled into a mental hospital, starting the video of with a "Girl, Interrupted" theme and then taking us through another psychologically dramatic sequence, not dissimilar to "Black Swan", featuring Lady Gaga herself and other ballerinas in skin-colored latex dresses and fetish ballet shoes.

It's a lush dive into an aspiring stars madness with plenty of kinky outfits, exploding cars, shots of a wet, naked Gaga and Flashdance-esque dance school choreography. 
Marry the Night is one of the album's better songs, but it doesn't seem to be the main focus in this video. I don't think it's one of her best videos, but it shows her progress into a more all-round artist. I love that Lady Gaga is aspiring more and more to make short films that tell a story she feels the need to tell. Like she says at the start (in other words), so what if this isn't what it's really like? It's a fantasy, a fetishized version of herself and where she comes from. It's not an idealized version of the truth, but one that speaks to the imagination and grabs your attention.

The nods to popular movies about young women slipping into mental illness really strikes a chord with me. We all know Lady Gaga isn't your everyday girl-next-door and her need for attention and fame could be a sign that maybe she isn't all that stable either. Her portrayal in this video seems to ring more true about what she had to go through to get where she is now than what we already know. I loved her acting in this video, she's fragile and vulnerable. Whenever we see her in the public eye, she's strong-minded and opinionated. I think Marry the Night shows a more personal side of Lady Gaga and I really like that she's opened up like that. I look forward to seeing what she'll come up with next and where she'll take her visual art next. 

Watch here.