BTB Awards: Best TV Show

We’ll admit we don’t watch much TV at Beyond the Bunker (we tend to catch this stuff on DVD – which this year would’ve led to reviews of Firefly and Battlestar Galatica) but we’ll try to make sure we keep up next year as best we can. Or review DVDs we’ve seen. Or get rid of it completely. Never-the-less here’s an attempt at the Best series of the year awards 2011 based on the buzz and our own personal choices.

Denied Winner – Game of Thrones (Season 1)

According to popular buzz surrounding HBO’s blood and thunder epic Game of Thrones, featuring LOTR’s Sean Bean, Conan’s Jason Momoa and Tesco’s ad’s Mark Addy in various roles we know nothing about, it’s an absolute corker and the best thing out this year. However, because of delays in releasing the DVD – causing online bloggers all over the web to declare that they’ve been left with no choice but to pirate it to get their fix in spite of wanting to support their favourite TV programme – we haven’t seen it. But we hope to. Oh yeah.

Based on George R.R. Martin’s epic series of novels the series has an enormous following and from what we’ve heard – rightfully so. As seven families fight to control the mythical land of Westeros, political and sexual intrigue is pervasive. In all of this chaos, clear and entertaining characters are struggling to gain increasing amounts of power – through savagery, skullduggery and sexual manipulation. Sounds great.

Winner – Sherlock (Season 1)

In spite of the fact that the decision by the BBC to produce a modern day turn for the world’s most famous detective, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as the titular detective and his now unwilling partner, Watson generated some concern regarding the dumbing down of a British classic, Sherlock proved to be one of the best series released in recent years for a number of reasons.

It proved itself so slick, challenging and interesting that even die hard fans of the original Sherlock were brought on board. Initially, a three episode series, Cumberbatch’s depiction of an ostrasised and maligned genius detective being followed by a beleagured and bemused hobbled war veteran turned journalist through his first set of cases wooed audiences and made Cumberbatch a household name, previously restricted to period costume and theatre performances that while no doubt engaging failed to reach so wide an audience.

Combining assured and intelligent scriptwriting by Dr Who and (in one one case) League of Gentlemen scribes Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss, BBC’s primetime production values and an award baiting turn from relative unknown Andrew Scott as Sherlock’s new found nemesis Moriarty – the game is very much afoot for Series 2.

With Season 2 starting on New Years Day on BBC1, now would be a good time to familiarise yourself with the return of the great detective in this assured, intelligent and gripping series.

Best Current Series – Walking Dead (Season 2)

Frank Darabont’s translation of Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead serialisation has been happily consistent with it’s source material. The bravery of focussing on the assembled survivors allows such a series to be created but the sense of scale that is realised – particularly in the devastation of Atlanta in the opening episode of Season 1 – gave the feel of the piece a much bigger scale than most American series. This was continued in Season 2 from the very first episode, featuring a debilitatingly tense scene involving ‘a herd’ and a plot point unexpectedly introduced from further through the comic book series.

It is a careful adaptation, using large swathes of detail from the original series – both following Sheriff Rick Grimes, his wife, child, best friend and a host of disparate survivors through a world now overrun by Zombies. But it darts and diverts from the original, allowing any devotees of the books guessing as to what is happening next an excellent and original experience. Developing its own storylines it remains rewarding both when it diverges from and converges on moments from the popular series.

The effects work is fantastic, easily on par – or beyond – work previously seen in various Zombie Movies. The presence of the Zombies is never lost, keeping tension in scenes where otherwise there may be none. This is also fuelled by the camerwork as the stark cinematography is deliberately sparse and simple, constantly making the viewer aware that empty space has the possibility of being occupied but most poignantly emphasising the isolation the central figures have found themselves in.

Effectively a survivors epic it has the added joy of the wandering undead to liven things up should the action become too leaden as it can at times in other long running series. Season 1 was only 6 Episodes long but with season 2 considerably longer it will allow central characters to develop in a way that will make the inevitable loss of them even more effective.

Epic scale narrowed to engaging character plots and the possibility of Zombies at every corner. The promise of this series based on events in the original books is potentially phenomenal and this series has to be seen.

Best Non-geek Series – Fresh Meat (Series 1)

The series follows a group of six students about to embark on the most exciting period of their lives thus far University (yawn, right?)! Away from home for the first time, on the brink of adult life, they are about to discover who they really are. From the moment they ship up as freshers at their shared house, their lives are destined to collide, overlap and run the whole gamut of appalling behaviour and terrible errors of judgement.

Sounds like every coming-of-age college series there is but this one proves itself different. The assembled characters move well out of their archetypal characteristics like students at their first university stand-up gig. Where similar series have relied on stereotypes and presumed reactions to arriving at university this one takes each individual and offers them realistic and familiar situations which they deal with in the way anyone else would. Quite badly.

The expected central figure Kingsley (Inbetweeners Joe Thomas) is sidelined pretty swiftly to share room with all his fellow housemates, in spite of a fantastic central plot involving a burdgeoning mutual attraction to fellow housemate Josie (Kimberley Nixon) which somehow always ends with them discovering the other has slept with someone else – sometimes hilariously audibly through their shared partition wall (while drunkenly arguing with each other at one point). Add to that the socially awkward Howard (Greg McHugh) who is pursued by a borderline psychotic classmate he developed a brief friendship with, straight talking hard-living Vod (the incredible Zawe Ashton) and Oregon (Charlotte Richie), desperate to be cool and terrified of being boring and you have a great mix.

But bizarrely, it’s Jack Whitehall’s character JP that walks away with the crown. A public school boy with an over inflated sense of entitlement, Whitehall manages to instill enough humanity into the prat that you do understand why the rest put up with him.

The jaunty and intelligent script bounds away through numerous scenarios, both realistic enough to be occuring but wild enough to be entertaining and the incredible cast bring it both harmoniously and raucously to life. An excellent series and well worth a look.

Most anticipated DVD – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Seasons 3 and 4

Unseen as yet and as I understand it ongoing at present – Clone Wars Season 4 is the continued influence of Star Wars on kids TV channels. Less engaging than the original 2 Dimensional seasons directed by Genndy Tartakovsky but offer more plot and development to the whole saga. With each season the CGI improves and more worlds are revealed in higher detail. Still 2 seasons behind at present however I (Steve P) have to put this on my guilty pleasures list because it expands the Star Wars Universe and is occasionally noticably created by true die hard fans who jump at the chance to develop part of the SW universe.

Most Cause for Concern – Dr Who (Season 6)

Matt Smith is an excellent Doctor, Karen Gillian is a great sidekick and we know that Steven Moffat is a great writer. However, somehow, indiscernably, the last series of Dr Who has lacked the pathos and light hearted touch that previously won it so many fans. No doubt a deliberate intention by Moffat to darken and broaden the Who, it appears to be beginning to lose it’s grip on plot this season. In spite of an introduction of The Silence, the scale and adventure wasn’t as bedded down in character and engaging emotional situations as it has been in previous seasons.

Upping the sci-fi quota, scripts have become slightly convoluted and less involving as a result. Matt Smith, while entertaining as the lithe and slightly dotty Doctor lacks the strength that the more seasoned Doctors had and while, initially, the scripts played with this they have now put perhaps too much emphasis on a young actor to imbue wonder and concern at every turn every time a ‘tree whispers’. Somehow less surprising than previous series, the science babble has gone up, the lunatic and dastardly alien beings have gone down and the geek wish fulfilment is beginning to become too visible.

I have loved Doctor Who but I am concerned that continuity is beginning to fray and that it needs a rest between seasons before it collapses under it’s own weight of expectation. Still excellent, it is however less excellent than it was, seemingly relying overly on emotional resolutions to tie up convoluted plots and slightly unoriginal concepts.

However, still excellent. Hopefully Moffat et al will see the slight error in their ways and get behind an excellent Season 7. God knows the BBC wants it!!

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BTB Awards: Best Film

Winner – Senna

ts limited release will mean that Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the life and death of Ayrton Senna is unlikely to be topping may film of the year polls and at face value that seems sensible. A feature length documentary about the career of a Formula One driver who died nearly 20 years ago doesn’t exactly scream ‘mass appeal’ but nonetheless Senna is easily one of the most remarkable films of the year.
Utilising only archive footage and Voice-over, Kapadia creates a narrative which manages to be stronger and more engaging than most dramas. The decision not to include any talking heads segments means that the film feels more like a story being told first hand than a reflection on past events and the in-car footage (which looks mind blowing on a cinema screen) enhances this even further.
While the insights into the notoriously secretive world of F1 will be a treat for racing fans, the film’s greatest strength is its ability to appeal to people who don’t have the first idea about the sport. More than anything else Senna is a heart stopping, tear inducing story about an utterly unique individual. Whether you spend weekends pouring over lap times or you’re someone who thinks pole position is a thing that strippers do, there is a tonne of things to love about this film and you will be doing yourself a genuine disservice if you don’t seek out the DVD.

Runner up – Drive

For the runner up we go from a real life man in a car who is unable to stop to a fictional man in a car with no choice but to go on. The stylish, neon lit, meticulously shot Drive follows the story of Ryan Gosling’s driver as he makes ends meet on the streets of Hollywood – beautifully captured in various skyline, helicopter and stylistically careful ground shots creating a fantastical, idealistic and visceral stage for the action to take place on. In many ways the cinematography is the story as the central character – known only as Driver – enters into a tentative and touching relationship with his neighbour Irene (a flawlessly American accented Carey Mulligan) and her young son, who’s husband is incarcerated. Lingering silences and long, unbroken takes give the scenes involving these characters an assured intimacy that lingers with the viewer and plays realistically.

This is punctuated by acts of unspeakable violence, some of which admittedly come close to destabilising the careful balance that Director Nicolas Winding Refn appears to be looking for. The film could have played out as successfully as a 15 certificate on first viewing making the violence seem gratuitous and unecessary, however, I suspect that on repeat viewings the brutality and ludicrous violence will permeate more strongly and be powerful reminders of a thoughtful and energised movie and certainly a step up into the big time for both Winding Refn and Gosling.

The involvement of Simpsons regular Albert Brooks as deceptively chipper gang boss Bernie Rose and Ron Perlman has his apparently more savage and sweary partner Nino doesn’t hurt either.

Effectively Tarantino-lite, this is much less cartoonish, stylised and self consciously scripted. It also seems, accidentally or not, to be lifting directly from the GTA game series – with the theme and the look harking back to both Liberty and Vice City. This only adds to the fun in this subtle shocker.

Best remake / prequel – The Thing (2011)

To the arctic circle now for the prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, The Thing. More than anything else it’s the choice to set the scene back in 1982 rather than reboot that has placed this film so high in our rankings. Following very much the same line as the original, it centres on the events leading up to the beginning of the first film in which two members of a Norwegian science team our found by an American research group.

The new film manages to mimic perfectly the light touch and claustrophobic lighting and setting, even going so far as to almost directly lifting moments from the original. But this is because the creature is doing what it did in the first place. The joy is in it’s appearance. The plot even deliberately curves at anticipated plot moments to both acknowledge and defy the original.

While it loses some of its appeal as the scale increases towards the end of the film, revealing perhaps a little too much of the origin this film scores highly for introducing a realistic female lead in Mary Elizabeth Winstead and tip toeing the line perfectly between homage and producing an original piece of cinema.

Best foreign language – Troll Hunter (2011)

Made off putting by the idiotic UK Trailer (below) this film by André Øvredal and Håvard S. Johansen (supporting writer) follows a group of hapless students in search of a hunter deemed illegal by fellow bear hunters. Determined to uncover who he is for the sake of an interesting film, they uncover a wide government cover up beyond anything they could anticipate.

Essentially, a Blair Witch Project that pays off the film manages to lull you into simply watching the ‘found footage’ of the students, constantly having to remind yourself that things are going to increase in scale exponentially at some point. And increase they do. However, the film maintains its roots until it’s finale on snowy Nordic tundra, maintaining a calm and careful pace that US blockbusters will never master.

The Norwegian mountains and countryside are really the great treat of the film at times (when there’s no monsters to hunt) as, for instance in one short sequence, sheer mountainsides and a glacial lake are filmed out of a car window as one of the students calls to another taking a whizz as nonchalantly as Sam Mendes filmed a brick wall with a plastic bag floating around in front of it. It becomes clear that what the world finds magnificent, Norwegians can take for granted and that the filmmakers are acutely aware that half their work is done merely filming on location in their beautiful country.

But it’s the monsters themselves that take centre stage. The decisions in the way that each is introduced is masterful, each uniquely different in pacing, reveal and environment. One is viewed finally from a great distance through a window of a shack which serves only to increase its impressiveness. With an enigmatic, monosyllabic central Troll Hunter, grimly wandering into harms way on behalf of the Norwegian government with the hapless batch of determined and stunned students along for the ride, it’s spectacular, engrossing and fun.

A stark change in tone in the middle of the film does threaten to scupper it slightly but the even pacing and anticipation of the unknown final Troll at the heart of the problem keeps things moving to impressive effect. They will try to remake it. I’m sure they’ll fail. Take the Norwegian out of Norway and it’s knackered.

Best Comic Book Movie: X-Men: First Class

In a year in which at least three highly entertaining and thoroughly exciting comic book adaptations were released it was the one not made by Marvel that edged it for us – however marginally. It was the X-Men that clinched the title.

Easily the strongest of the X-Men films, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman along with woefully under acknowledged screenwriters Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz brought the X-Men back to the 20th Century. Like Captain America, Vaughn and Goldman (the creative team behind Stardust and Kick-ass) the decision was taken to go to the roots of the title, seeing the original X-Men line-up changed to deal with those already revealed. Only, instead of merely laying comic book events over historical ones, Vaughn and Goldman interlace them directly with historical events.

We find an arrogant and slightly unlikable Professor Francis Xavier (played by James McAvoy) in the swinging sixties looking to extend his theory of evolution on to any girl with a discoloured eye or wonky toe. It’s clear that the X-Men are born from Xavier’s arrogance and it fills beautifully an absent detail in the inception of the X-Men. Brought into it is Erik Lenseherr (Michael Fassbender) who is hunting Jew killers and Nazi conspiritors around the world. Thinking that control of his power is fuelled only by anger and fury it makes Lenseherr – soon to become Magneto – a more well rounded character, as a cyclical psychology has formed in which Lensherr has to generate these feelings to tap into his power, only further perpetuating his anger and violent behaviour. All of the characters carry inherent (and human flaws) that make them accessible and offer a tone of inevitable doom to the proceedings.

Well realised set piece after well realised set piece is laced through the plot as the X-Men are pulled into conflict between both the Russian and US Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in a bid to avert Nuclear War. Something that could easily have been a cynical plot device is so neatly realised that it makes sense (and, winningly, illustrates the absurd nature of the Cold War in a language understandable to younger audiences).

So close in fact were the runners up for Best Comic Adaptation that featured below are the trailers for both Thor and Captain America. We thoroughly recommend both and can’t wait for the Avengers movie next year….

Runner-up – Thor

While pipped at the post by First Class, Thor was overwhelmingly the surprise of the year, guided effortlessly to be an entertaining romp by Royal Shakespeare Company founder, Kenneth Branagh, offering up laughs, pathos, energy and a star turn by Chris Hemsworth as the titular character. Tom Hiddleston as his half-brother Loki stood out only slightly among a frankly incredible cast featuring Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba and Stellan Skarsgard (most likely drawn in particular to Branagh’s banner).

Thor tips the balance beautifully between fish-out-of-water comedy, fantasy epic and Superhero movie. Marvel’s incredible run of success to the Avenger’s movie next year seems to be unstoppable and Thor, as a potential tripping point has proven a nice surprise as a watchable, stand alone movie.

Runner-up – Captain America: The First Avenger

After being deemed unfit for Miltary service, Steve Rogers volunteers fora top secret research project that turns him into Captain America. We all know the story, however old school Director Joe Johnston achieved the implausible and made Captain America cool again. Borrowing heavily from Mark Millar’s Ultimates (effectively, in hindsight, a love letter to Hollywood and a considered development of the Avengers brand to become more audience friendly outside of comics) Cap still retains most of his gosh, shucks charm.

The decision to set the entire film in World War 2 is a bold and clever move, giving the audience credit where there may have been none with a more cynical film company. Featuring Hugo Weaving as arch Nemesis, the Red Skull, Stanley Tucci as Cap’s creator Dr. Abraham Erskine, Toby Jones as Dr Arnim Zola and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Philips it has a touch of class as well as being a crowd pleasing actioner. It also has the best villain diversionary tactic gag in comic book history as a Nazi assassin (Richard Armitage) escapes across the docks from the newly created Cap, he grabs a young boy and throws him in the dock. Cap, stopping to help the boy in time honoured fashion is greeted with the sight of the boy paddling away, shouting ‘Go! It’s okay. I can Swim.’ A wry sensibility that runs through the whole film.

X-Men First Class: Meet the Class 1


Banshee: Sean Cassidy in X-Men (introduced as part of the second gen X-Men in Giant Size X-Men 1 along with Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Warpath and Storm). Banshee lived on in the comic books for some time, a stable, reliable side character and came into his own as leader of Generation X (alongside Emma Frost) in which he, Frost and Sabretooth kept the next generation of kids out of the way of the Phalanx. In X-Men: New Class he’s almost the only character placed pretty much in line with continuity in the books as his age in the sixties reflects the age he’d be now (relative to Prof X). A mainstay of the books for some time Banshee was killed trying to stop a plane crash.

Havok has occupied most of the theories surrounding the decision to start at the beginning. Havok’s most notable feature in X-Men is that he is brother to Scott Summers (Cyclops) and has always lived slightly in the shadow of his brother. That clearly isn’t the case here as Cyclops is part of the modern day canon of the previous movies. At the X-Men: First Class panel at MCM it was a question aimed squarely at the writers. All they could say was that Havok is related in someway to Scott. Hard to figure out where they’re going with this but if a franchise is built hopefully all will be revealed.

The inclusion of Mystique is an interesting choice. Most viewers of previous X-Movies’d be aware that Mystique has a very clear resolution to her plot line. Her association with Erik Lensherr in this adds a neat reference point to both sets of movies (with the Wolverine Origins franchise sandwiched in the middle).