Tuesday, 26 January 2010


  (Two Amazon reviews)

Invasion of the Large Blind Alien Super Beetles from Outer Space

So, in Small City USA (or Bulgaria to be truthful) an accident wakens our unheroic hero from a cocoon where he'd been anaesthetised to keep fresh for later munchies by Large Alien (well, see my title to this review), along with, as far as we know, the rest of world. Along with a motley crew of people whom he wakes up (and they always throw up when first awakened -there's a lot of vomiting in this movie), he attempts to stay alive.

Although this isn't a comedy, there is as much humour as there is action and gore which is quite a lot, most of it (the humour) springing from the interaction of our slacker 'hero' and the prickly heroine he has the hots for. The small cast is largely well-characterised i.e. a mixed bunch and not the usual stereotypes. Any alpha males who get woken up don't last long mainly because they're stupid. Despite the various surprises along the way, the plot is fairly simple: get out of the city while trying to avoid the bugs, find our non-hero's military father while trying to avoid the bugs, then rescue a certain person from the bug's nest. There are lots of encounters with bugs, which are a creditable mixture of animatronics and cgi, and lots of splatter both bug and human.

This is a highly likeable and very entertaining creature feature from writer/director Kyle Rankin. A sequel with the same cast (well, the survivors at least) would be welcomed, Mr Rankin. Asap, please.

The greatest tv miniseries ever?

James Clavell's original novel is one of my all-time favourites, a magnificent epic tale packed to the gills with high adventure, the darkest deceit and treachery, tear-jerking love, nobility, and so much more. It's also a fascinating study of alien contact as Japanese society was so utterly different from that of Western Europe at the time and it is for a large part the story of an Englishman' growing understanding of his new home.

Even at eight and a half hours, a tv series couldn't begin to do more than scratch the surface of this massive and clever novel. That it does so as well as it does is little short of a miracle and it does so by focussing, albeit not completely, on the Anjin-san's story and his part in events. The script is good, the performances are good, the photography is good. Richard Chamberlain is surprisingly good, albeit less working class and gruff than Sean Connery (the ideal choice for the role, at the time) would have been. One the other hand, he's more convincing than perhaps Connery would with the more gentle side. But it's Yoko Shimada as Mariko who is the revelation and the best thing in it. Small and delicately beautiful, she exquisitely displays vulnerability but also the steel spine deep within. I defy anyone not to fall in love with her and it's the moving love story between Mariko and Anjin-san which is the core of this version of the story.

The presentation itself is nicely done. We have the opening credits at the beginning of Disc 1 and the closing credits at the end of Disc 4. None in between, no annoying recaps, just the full uninterrupted drama. Excellent. The behind the scenes stuff is also nicely done.

That said, it hasn't worn as well as it should. On a visual level, the background landscape is far from sharp though people are much clearer. John Rhys Davies as Rodrigues the Portugese pilot is as over the top as he always is (about one decibel below Brian Blessed), George Innes as Vinck also similarly stands out particularly in his excruciating going mad scene. Much of the subtelties of the novel are inevitably lost. And it just feels dated. It makes me think that it's time for a remake with all the sex and violence and cgi muscles that are available to today's audiences. There is certainly no shortage of decent macho alpha male actors available, though finding another Yoko Shimada might prove much more difficult.

But, in the end, is Shogun the greatest tv miniseries ever? Well, I watched the first two hours on Saturday evening and finished the remaining six and a half the following day. So, yes, it is, but of its time.

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