(Retro) Review round up: Avatar (2009), Best of Bowie (2002), The Warlord (1998)


Somehow, I had not seen Avatar in the thirteen years since its release neither do I really know that much about it which is curious for such a popular movie. So just before the sequel is released Avatar is back in cinemas and so I finally got to see it this week. While the digital effects look more commonplace now than they would have done in 2009 this only serves to enhance the urgency of the story. An allegory for colonialism in the past and imperialism today as well as ecological issues the subject matter is unfortunately just as relevant if not more so in 2022 even though it is set two centuries from now. There is a righteous anger that permeates the movie especially after we spend an extended period exploring the world of Pandora. It’s a beautiful planet full of jaw droppingly exotic creatures yet also the source of a much sought-after mineral. Tasked with getting to know the native Na’vi in order to persuade them to move, paralysed marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) becomes an `avatar` inhabiting a full size genetically produced Na’vi which he controls while asleep in a tank. However, he is working to double agendas. While ostensibly helping a team led by Doctor Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) to further the scientific knowledge of the planet, he’s also tasked with deadlines by the hawkish General Quaritch (Stephen Lang). Inevitably these priorities clash when Sully falls in love with the planet and with the Na’vi girl Netyri (Zoe Saldana) who shows him it’s wonders.


Top of the Pops 27 Aug and 3 Sept 1987

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. 
Gary Davies: “Hi, good evening. I hope you're well. We have a superb show for you tonight. In the studio we've got Wet Wet Wet, we've got Black, we've got T'Pau, we've got Rick Astley but first we start with a mega-band at number twenty three, Then Jerico, The Motive.

 [23] THEN JERICO: the motive. A mega-band? I vaguely remember them. The song is pleasant enough but I spend most of the performance worrying why the guitar player has a jumper wrapped round his shoulders when he's already wearing a jumper? Also, shouldn't it be spelt “Jericho”? BBC camera operators can be spotted in action as the first chorus kicks in. There's a wide camera shot of the stage which slowly pans round from stage left to the front. At the extreme left of the picture there's a hand held camera operator in a blue shirt who dashes along the front of the stage to change position. His camera cable nearly gets snagged on the head of another operator who is there capturing profile shots of lead singer Mark Shaw.

“Their first appearance on Top of the Pops,” says Gary Davies, “but be sure it's not going to be their last.” He's right. Then Jeric(h)o will pop back eighteen months in the future to perform Big Arena on an edition hosted by Gary Davies and... Anthea Turner? Oh no. Stop the world I want to get off.



Film Review- Moonage Daydream


Great clips- shame about the presentation

The only likely way anyone could satisfactorily encompass the length and breadth of David Bowie’s career is a ten- part documentary series. Moonage Daydream is a two and a quarter hour long montage of some of his best bits albeit with notable omissions. The clips are great and like many a modern documentary you wish we could just watch them in the best quality possible but as ever we have a director with some ideas of his own. Brett Morgen appears to have been inspired by Bowie’s own preference for cut up imagery, mixing and matching material to create something new. It worked so well for the singer, less so when it comes to a film about him. The results are a bit of a cheat- yes you get to see some rare footage but you also have to sit through increasingly irritating visual gimmickry that makes even the `Little Wonder` video seems normal. I suppose you could say that it is an achievement to make Bowie seem less interesting than he was!



Review - Titans Season Three Eps 1 - 4

 First shown a year ago, season three finds the series re-locating to Gotham

One of the more fascinating aspects of US episodic shows is their ability to morph into something different. Ostensibly a series about some super heroes ought to be repetitive and focussed mostly  on action but the season three opener Barbara Gordon, shoehorns most of its fight scenes into the opening section.  Now back in Gotham and Robin once again, Jason remains as hot headed as ever plus he appears to have cooked up some sort of mega inhaler of yellow stuff. Yet for all his bravado in defying Batman to confront the Joker, he falls woefully short. Flinching from the first body he finds and some manic laughter he’s easily taken down and, it seems, killed by the villain whom we only see in silhouette. This contrast vividly with the very cool re-introduction of the Titans as they take out another villainous brigade with supple skills all to the soundtrack of `Ca Plane Pour Moi`. It’s a great sequence, perfectly directed and edited. As a season opener you couldn’t ask for more.



The Queen's Funeral


Pomp meets circumstance

We're watching and making history all the time of course, in small ways, and sometimes bigger ones. These past six years we’ve been privy to rather more history than most people get what with Brexit, Covid and a seemingly endless cycle of recessions. So, the death of a Queen, however long lived, may appear to be a smaller affair. Not a bit of it. Even the television coverage of Covid did stop sometimes for other matters but ever since Queen Elizabeth the second passed away BBC and ITV have had virtually non stop Royal programming. If you really wanted to you could even watch a live stream of the lying in state of the coffin, surely of all things this is something that if you wanted to see it the preference would be to actually attend? The big day though was today. Why is it even in this blog, you're asking? Simply because it is the largest event any of us are likely to see this year.


Top of the Pops 20 August 1987


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Steve Wright: “Hello!! Good evening and welcome to another Top of the Pops!! I'm the one who's not pregnant!! This is the one who is!!”

Janice Long: “Lots and lots of things to get in tonight. We've got Sinitta. We've got Spagna coming on the show. Bon Jovi are here. Loads and loads of stuff and this is Wax. They are Building A Bridge.”

[20] WAX: bridge to your heart. The keyboard player is doing more than 50% of the work in this two - person band. He plays the keyboard, obviously, but he also plays the saxophone and does all the singing. He's also found time to work out little illustrative hand gestures to match the lyrics. On the line “I don't know what the future's going to be,” he looks all around with one hand shading his eyes. When he sings, “written guarantee,” he makes a signing-the-cheque motion. The other bloke doesn't bring anything to the group except guitar playing, vocal counterpoint, and a faint resemblance to Howard Stableford from Tomorrow's World. (John- The keyboard player is the genius Andrew Gold, multi- instrumentalist, producer, singer -`Lonely Boy`, `Never Let Her Slip Away`-and the son of Marnie Nixon who used to secretly provide the singing for actors such as Natalie Wood in West Side Story. The guitarist is Graham Gouldman from 10cc)


Film Review: a-ha The Movie


Documentary shows the serious men behind a-ha’s skyscraping music

Given how majestic and serious a-ha’s music often seems it’s no surprise to discover it’s creators were serious young men back in the day and now over thirty five years later they are serious older men! It’s possible there were moments of unbridled joy during the band’s imperial period – there is definitely smiling and laughing in the old clips- but this interesting documentary suggests the trio have spent much of their career getting on each other’s nerves. That is when they’re not liking the band as a whole.


Top of the Pops 13 August 1987


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. “Come on don't forget that applause.” It's BBC master tape shenanigans again, as the picture rolls in on a wide shot of the Top of the Pops studio with Five Star on stage; they seem to be dressed in Blake's 7 series four jump suits. The voice of God booms through the studio speakers while the crowd whoop and applaud, “come on don't forget that applause, more more!” Who is this cruel taskmaster? It could be Floor Manager Hilary Bevan-Jones but I think you can hear Hilary just off mike carrying out the traditional Floor Manager duty of giving a ten second countdown. So, who is this voice roaring like a lion? Could it be Producer and Director Brian Whitehouse himself? Whoever it is, they whip the crowd to a frenzy, and Five Star launch into a performance of Whenever You're Ready. The show proper follows afterwards.

Peter Powell: “Hi it's Thursday night! We're happening again! It's hit after hit! It's Top of the Pops!” Simon Bates: “I'll tell you what we have got. We've got a first time which is incredible for a band of this qualidy with this number of hits Def Leppard. On the Pops for the first time with Animal here.”

[9] DEF LEPPARD: animal. Excuse the odd typography but I've decided to copy Top Of the Pops's preferred caption format this week. It looks stupid. Will I continue with it? Who knows. Meanwhile, admire Simon Bates' ability to spout words which form sentences but need two or three attempts to parse. He's like a Chatbot jammed on stream of consciousness. And yes, he did say “qualidy”. I didn't think much of Def Leppard first time round, but time has softened me. I quite like the structure of the chorus, “an I want, an I need, an I lust, animal.”



The Queen


People are often cruel, judgmental or dismissive about the Royal Family in a way that they would never be about anyone else almost as if they didn’t think they are people. I’m not a Royalist nor anti- Royals it but the Queen has been a presence throughout my entire life in such a way that I feel like I know her even though I obviously don’t. Yes, I can smile at the number of times in the past twenty four hours the BBC has deployed their stock phrases (“mother of the nation”) in sombre tones and the way websites have unveiled their black livery but I do feel this all misses the sense of fun that the Queen herself preferred. After all, one of the last pieces of footage we have of her is tapping along on a teacup to `We Will Rock You`, the Queen playing along with Queen! Or the way she gamely engaged in a little James Bond fun a decade back for the Olympics. I reckon she’d prefer to be remembered like that.


Review Round Up- 13 Reasons Why S1, Kill Ben Lyk, Muse


One of the things of starting to stream stuff is the abundance of material available and though I subscribed to Netflix to finally see Stranger Things (some inevitable reviews will appear!) I’ve found some other gems knocking around including a series I’d always wanted to see 13 Reasons Why. Running from 2017-20 across four seasons this dark glimpse into the bruised psyche of American youth won many plaudits during its run and it’s easy to see why. While a lot of dramas take easy options when it comes to issues like mental health and suicide this is a programme that attempts a more grounded, less sanitised portrayal. It centres on the aftermath of the suicide of a girl called Hannah Baker. Her legacy is a series of cassette tapes, each one addressing the behaviour of one of the people she blames for her ultimate act. The accused have to listen to these tapes and the ramifications both of what she says and what people think happened runs across the whole season.


Top of the Pops 6 August 1987


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Gary Davies: “Hello again. Welcome to Top of the Pops. Something of a girls night out on the show tonight because we've got Sinitta, we've got Samantha, and we've also got Spagnia, but first we start with a song at number seven in the charts. Not only singing live but also playing live, here's New Order, True Faith.”

[7] New Order: True Faith. Now this is odd. Last week Gary Davies didn't mention who was hosting the show. Now, here he is again, but BBC Genome (who draw their information from the relevant issue Radio Times) describe tonight's show as “introduced by Peter Powell and Simon Bates.” They'll actually do the 13/08/1987 edition which the Radio Times describes as “introduced by Gary Davies”. Last time there was a short notice change of host it was because Janice Long cancelled because of her pregnancy. Here there's no obvious reason for the change apart from a brief game of musical chairs.

New Order are back singing live and playing live. Do you think that's wise? Remember what happened last time? Actually, this performance is fine. The only real point of interest is the mannequin set up at the back of the stage for some reason. Gary Davies claims it's a bloke called Terry, from France, who is also in the video. Gary, I think the band have been pulling your leg.