Monthly Archives: November 2015

Tv review: Payne (1999)

PaynePayne (1999)

[Published on IMDb, 2005)

The US has a history of lifting successful comedy formats from the UK, some of which have proved as successful – and occasional more so – than the original templates. Steptoe and Son became Sanford and Son, Till Death Us Do Part begat All in the Family, Man About the House mutated into Three’s Company. Payne is not one of those shows.

Much as the US version of Coupling appears to have surgically sliced out the sex and sarcasm which made the original so funny, the team behind Payne seems unable to grasp that none of the characters in Fawlty Towers are meant to be likable, with the possible exception of Polly. Basil acts superior but has deep insecurities, Sybil is a self-centred bitch, Manuel is an idiot, even the guests are barely coherent.

But that’s what makes them human. And funny. And whilst we bemoan the fact that Cleese & Booth produced only a dozen episodes of Fawlty Towers, we can sit agog that Payne made it as far as nine.

DVD review: Lover’s Concerto (1995)

BallerinaLover’s Concerto (aka The Ballerina, 1995)

[Published on IMDb, 2005]

This film was released as a UK DVD release in 2001 by Prism Leisure, under the title The Ballerina; as an indication of the company’s shoddy handling, Shelley Michelle and Lisa Marie Alach are credited on the sleeve as Sally Michelle and Lisa Marie Alachi.

Much of Ms Michelle’s screen time is taken up by her dancing, accompanied by what appears to be her personal quartet; the supporting cast-members are only slightly less convincing as musicians than she is as a prima ballerina. When not providing background classics (wouldn’t a decent CD player have been cheaper?), the quartet hang around the pool and sauna, swapping partners and bodily fluids, whilst ‘Katya’ (Michelle) gazes from afar and longs to join in. The ambiance is very much of late-night tv erotica, but paced more slowly: Red Shoe Diaries after a large mug of Horlicks.

New horror group rises from the slab

A new monthly gathering for horror and dark fantasy fans in Solihull and Birmingham will be launched next month at the Spread Eagle pub in Acocks Green. British horror author Ramsey Campbell has agreed to be the group’s honorary president, and plans to attend the inaugural meeting via videolink. For full details, please contact me via steve.green@ghostwords.co.uk.

Edit 1/12: The initial gathering will be held from 7pm on Saturday, 5 December. The group’s website will be launched very shortly.

Schmaltz Wars: Force awakens, kills Xmas

Even if you aren’t a fan of the Star Wars franchise, there’s much to enjoy in Jeff Bennett’s Empire Strikes Back-themed send-ups of the saccharin-saturated glitz pumped out by Thomas Kincade, so-called ‘artist of light’ (or something like-sounding, anyhow).

You can see more of Jeff Bennett’s work at his Devianr Art page.

The past is a different country

XeroxferoxIt’s hard to believe now, but there was a time, just a couple of decades ago, when British horror fans risked criminal prosecution simply for possessing videotapes of movies which are now readily available on Blu-ray from reputable high street retailers. The sheer absurdity of this draconian clamp-down helped fuel an explosion in the number of small press magazines devoted to the genre, many of which crossed my desk during the years I produced my monthly ‘Fanzine Focus’ column for The Dark Side.

One of the other magazines I wrote for back then was Headpress (“The Journal of Sex Religion Death”), whose publishing wing eventually grew to incorporate a range of film guides and cultural analyses. Among 2013’s releases was John Szpunar’s Xeroxferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine, a selection of interviews with key players on both sides of the Atlantic — myself included, although that hasn’t biased my favourable opinion of its value as a revelatory window into social attitudes during a particularly oppressive period in this country’s cultural history.

DVD review: Dark Matter, Season One (2015)

Dark Matter, Season One (2015)Dark Matter

[First aired on Syfy, the opening season of Dark Matter is currently available from Acorn DVD. This review appeared in The Dark Side #171, December 2015.]

 

A dysfunctional ragtag band of interplanetary mercenaries and political exiles, forced to scratch a shadowy existence on the fringes of known space, continually facing conflict both within and outside their no-frills starship… No, Joss Whedon hasn’t quit the Marvel sausage factory in order to reboot the Firefly franchise, despite that show’s clear similarities with the Syfy Channel’s homegrown thriller Dark Matter, which has just been renewed for a second season and is now available on DVD for those who missed its inaugural 13-episode run.

Co-created by Stargate writers Joseph Mallozi and Paul Mullie, who adapted their unsuccessful initial tv pitch into a well-received Dark Horse graphic miniseries before Syfy greenlit a weekly show, Dark Matter adds to its air of mystery by opening with its half-dozen human characters awakening from stasis aboard the freighter Raza to discover their memories have been wiped (the ship’s title is a homophonic in-joke, ‘tabula rasa’ being Latin for ‘blank slate’). Nor has the Raza’s resident android (Zoie Palmer, Bo’s lesbian lover Lauren in Lost Girl) escaped the saboteur’s interference, leaving all but one crew member in the dark as to his or her true identity and motivations.

For convenience, codenames are allocated in the order they left stasis: One (Marc Bendavid) seems to be the nearest to a reluctant hero among them; the feisty Two (Melissa O’Neil) swiftly becomes his second-in-command, taking the teenage Five (Jodelle Ferland, Mary Jensen in Kingdom Hospital) under her wing; Three (Anthony Lemke, another Lost Girl alumni) is the ship’s muscle, a role reminiscent of Firefly’s Jayne; Four (Alex Mallari Jr) and Six (Roger R Cross, Reggie Fitzwilliam in The Strain) are soon unmasked as killers on the run, but nothing in this series is quite as it seems.

Filmed, like Lost Girl and the Stargate conveyor belt, in Canada, Dark Matter has much to recommend it, not least the central story arc which underpins the first season and builds to a terrific reveal in the closing moments (none of the actors was tipped off ahead of the scene being shot). True, certain elements are less than wholly original, but there are plenty of twists along the route, buoyed by excellent performances from the regular cast, and I for one look forward to stepping back aboard the Raza when it relaunches next summer.

 

Extras: In addition to a photo gallery, each of the episodes has its own short featurette, focussing upon the individual characters, clues to their backgrounds and elements of the Dark Matter universe.