04 November 2017

Discs' Champion | Cinema Paradiso: Even Better Than LOVEFiLM?

On Halowe’en night, as the clock struck midnight, LOVEFiLM quietly disappeared. Another victory for streaming, and perhaps the heaviest loss yet for physical media. 

Now my position on the old, “Why do we still bother with physical media?” debate is quite complicated. On the one hand, I concede that it’s moribund – and deservedly so. Some people might still like tangible things, but downloading or streaming digital media is faster and greener than purchasing it on disc, and obviously it takes up negligible real-world space. It didn’t really hit me until I moved house in 2012 just how many shiny discs and plastic cases I owned - I’ve since eBayed the collection down to just three titles, all of them Blu-ray steelbooks, and two of them still in their shrink wrap as I can watch their digital counterparts on Apple TV. There’s simply no need in this day and age to deliver digital media by disc – not when video can be downloaded and streamed in glorious 4K HDR. I’ve even given up fully on printed books, now, having recently read a number of DC graphic novels on the iPad in the iBooks app with no more difficulty than I would the trade paperbacks. Less, in fact, as this way I can read in bed again without having to disturb my wife with a bedside lamp.
 
On the other hand, though, subscription streaming services are all lacking in content, and it’s here that the apparently black-and-white issue becomes cloudier for me. Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, et al are so convenient and relatively inexpensive that people are now content to just lazily watch whatever old shite is offered up, provided that once in a while a decent original series comes along to justify keeping the subscription. They might as well watch live broadcast television, as crazy as that sounds. Why go to the trouble of sourcing the 1970s Famous Five TV series on DVD for an Enid Blyton-obsessed daughter, when you can just bombard her with three of five Peppa Pig seasons on an endless Netflix loop? Why take out a loan from the Iron Bank to fund a Game of Thrones purchase, when you can just watch Breaking Bad for a ninth time? 


LOVEFiLM survived and thrived for as long as it did because its content library was vast, encompassing almost all mainstream movies and TV shows, and quite a few niche selections to boot. Yes, the content wasn’t available on demand, but it was worth waiting for – it was part of the fun, really. My eldest daughter used to get quite excited when she’d hear the letterbox go and the discs land on the mat. That’s much healthier, in my view, than having her stare blankly into an iPad. I’ve just cancelled my free Netflix trial with a fortnight left to run because, beyond the exclusive Star Trek: Discovery, anything else on there worth watching I’ve either seen through LOVEFiLM or own in my iTunes library. Amazon Prime Video didn’t even last that long in our house. 

And, as much as I champion iTunes and Apple TV, they don’t always have the content that I want to buy. Mostly they do, in fairness, and almost always before the physical releases arrive - this year all the CW’s superhero shows hit the iTunes Store several months ahead of their physical releases, for instance, and almost every major motion picture is released a good few weeks in advance of its various discs hitting stores. However, a popular show like Gotham, which had its highly-regarded third season released on Blu-ray and DVD in August, still hasn’t been released in the iTunes Store because it’s yet to air in the UK. Similarly, while some older shows may be available, they are not in HD despite having had a Blu-ray release – the 2005-2008 seasons of Doctor Who are cases in point. And, of everything that I do buy, I normally have to re-tag it as the metadata is riddled with typos or other errors, and the cover art has often been clumsily adapted to fit Apple’s size requirements or simply doesn’t measure up to the physical media’s artwork. I get the impression that printed sleeves are carefully designed, proofed and vetted by media distributors – uploaded files clearly are not. When I purchased Transformers: The Last Knight from the iTunes Store recently, even its title wasn’t correct – it had a superfluous “(Digital)” at the end, as if this wasn’t the norm. Worse, if you purchase a bundle of movies without numbers in their titles like, say, the Star Wars six-movie collection, the films don’t automatically show up in your library in the correct order. It may be easy to remedy (simply change the “sort as” field in iTunes to “Star Wars 1”, “Star Wars 2” etc), and indeed to forgive (particularly now iTunes are offering free 4K HDR upgrades of movies to customers who bought them in 1080p), but it’s still sloppy and would not have passed muster on disc.

In short, then, the technology is wonderful, but the content platforms that utilise it are not. To bend what’s available to my requirements, then, I have needed to buy what we want to keep from iTunes and rent things that I think we’ll only watch once through LOVEFiLM (and if I’m wrong, and they do warrant a repeat viewing, use the superb CheapCharts app to price-watch them on iTunes so that I can nab them when they’re more reasonably priced). But with LOVEFiLM now gone, I’ve had to scour the market for a replacement service, and it seems that there is only one: Cinema Paradiso, which is basically a better version of LOVEFiLM.

Yes, better

https://www.cinemaparadiso.co.uk/

Cinema Paradiso offers tens of thousands more titles than its erstwhile Amazon-run competitor did, and allocates them more specifically. There are no “High” and “Low” priority titles with Cinema Paradiso – you rank your titles in the order that you want them posted out to you, and in my case I’ve had the top two titles on my list with every despatch thus far. And they weren’t mainstream picks either; my first two discs were the incredibly rare Droids and Ewoks DVDs that Lucasfilm released about forty-three copies of back in 2005 (and which iTunes don’t offer a digital version of). These were on my LOVEFiLM list for six years as “High”-priority titles, yet I was never sent them. 

So far I’ve had fewer problems with unplayable discs too – the discs that I’ve received have all been pristine. How much this is to do with the soft material (instead of plastic) slipcases that house the discs, I don’t know, but the end result is ideal The discs aren’t even branded with bulky Cinema Paradiso stickers the way that LOVEFiLM’s discs were, and as a result you can actually read all the information on the discs, which is more important than you’d think in the absence of the cover, particularly with TV series. 


The return envelopes provided are exactly the same as LOVEFiLM’s, bar the printing, though there is one key area where Cinema Paradiso could learn a little from LOVEFiLM: provide an app. The Cinema Paradiso website may be stylish and easy to navigate, but an app would still be welcome as, if nothing else, it’d avoid the need to log in every time I need to add or remove a title from my list. 

So, in an imperfect world full of wondrous platforms that continue to pedal utter shite, clunky old physical media still has a champion: Cinema Paradiso, where the content comes first, not the platform. And after all, isn’t it the content that matters? People seem to be forgetting…

Cinema Paradiso are currently offering a fourteen-day, no-obligation free trial.Prices thereafter are almost identical to LOVEFiLM’s.

31 October 2017

Rotherham Advertiser | 31st October 2017

The latest Wolverson (or, at least, former Wolverson) to throw her hat into the literary arena, and get a bit of decent press coverage to boot:

http://www.rotherhamadvertiser.co.uk/news/view,rotherham-teacher-victoria-is-now-a-published-author_24397.htm

Well done R Vicki!


Worlds Away is available to download from the Amazon Kindle Store for £2.99. A paperback edition is also available from Amazon for £8.99 plus postage.

You can also check out Vickis profile on Author Central.

17 July 2017

Rants | Unlucky for Some

Well that’s that, then. This has been in the post for a long time – I’m just glad that the Doctor got to play out what originally would have been all of his lives in guises that I could identify with. Splendid chaps, all of ’em. Steven Moffat even unwittingly did me the favour of showing “all” thirteen incarnations of the Doctor together in “The Day of the Doctor”, allowing those like me who won’t be following the TV series from here to infer that the Time Lord’s story ends with the so-called “Twelfth Doctor”, otherwise his as-yet unseen future incarnations would have been on hand to save Gallifrey too.


To a certain extent I was prepared for this news. I was planning to grieve for the show that I’d once loved and move on; keep quiet and let those who want to watch it and enjoy it, watch it and enjoy it. After all, nobody can make me. What has aggravated me though has been the militant chorus that has taken to social media to crow about their “victory”. These are predominantly people who’ve never had any real interest in the show or its lead character until it occurred to them that they could use it to score a few equality points in the media spotlight. Someone even remarked some nonsense about finally having a woman escape from the role of “assistant”. That’s a term that hasn’t been used in a long time, and even back when it was it was largely inappropriate. The Doctor’s companions are exactly that, companions, and today more than ever they drive the show – there is a reason that Russell T Davies entitled his first episode of the series “Rose”. Season-long, sometimes seasons-long, arcs are built around these characters – the Doctor dances round assisting them, not vice-versa. It’s hardly an insult to womankind to play a character the likes of Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, Clara or River Song. Try calling her an “assistant” or suggesting that she’s second fiddle to her husband.

These same people claim to have “taken” superheroes (by which they mean DC/Warner Bros have made a long-overdue Wonder Woman film); “taken” the Ghostbusters (by which they mean Sony made a reimagined Ghostbusters film with four female leads); and even “taken” Star Wars though the introduction of strong female protagonists in The Force Awakens and Rogue One (which means that they haven’t seen the other Star Wars movies. Carrie Fisher’s turning in her grave).

Needless to say, I’ve welcomed all of these things, the awesome Rogue One in particular, but what’s markedly different, and I dare say unprecedented, here is that the female Doctor will become part of a fifty-odd-year-old canon. Rogue One doesn’t stick a pair of tits on Luke and Han, or a cock on Leia for that matter. Rather, it introduces a new principal character who happens to be female. Ghostbusters doesn’t see Egon Spengler and company castrated and given HRT - it creates four new female ’Busters. Wonder Woman, as you might have guessed, is based on a character that is - and has always been - female and has always “belonged” as much to women as she has men. Here though, Chris Chibnall and his incoming production team aren’t merely mounting a remake or introducing a new female character. They are making a permanent, irreversible change to the largest tapestry in television; a tapestry treated by some with great – albeit probably undue - reverence. They’d probably have faced less of a backlash presenting Christianity with a female Jesus to venerate from hereon in.

And woe betides any long-standing fan who’s openly taken umbrage with the casting, particularly if they are male – they are immediately and aggressively shot down in flames as sexists and misogynists. But objecting to suddenly having one’s hero become transgender is not sexism. It’s not chauvinism. It’s not misogyny. I can see how it might look that way, but that’s because of the widespread public misapprehension that a “Doctor Who” is somehow a class of thing, like a superhero or a Jedi. It isn’t. If it were, then to say “you can’t have a female Doctor Who” would be sexist/misogynistic/chauvinistic/insert-insult-here. But the Doctor is one person, one being, one man. However much he’s changed, he’s always been the same at hearts. I’m one of the few who’ve always refused to even capitalise the number put before a particular incarnation of a Doctor, because that’s just an adjective, not part of the proper noun – The Doctor is the Doctor; a one-off, unique. Not a class of thing, not even a collection of things, just one man who happens to be able to change his body. His different bodies are all just aspects of the same being. And as such, a convincing argument cannot be made to say that to have him retain his gender is the same as saying you can’t have a female Jedi or superhero.

This being known to those who make the show, if not necessarily the decision-makers within the BBC, it was eminently foreseeable that those who’ve identified with an iconic character for years, some of whom helped to keep Doctor Who alive in the sixteen years that it was off air through purchasing countless books and audio dramas, would feel betrayed and be saddened by their hero’s gender swap. It doesn’t mean that they don’t respect and admire strong female characters both in and out of the Whoniverse – hell, Supergirl is one of my favourite TV series at the moment – it just means that they don’t like the idea of their favourite hero becoming one.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-bfonRyiXOSo/UpijFIFT4hI/AAAAAAAABts/EODz70ICAbg/s1600/Beyond+History%27s+End+-+The+Day+of+the+Doctor+(5).jpg
 
As I went through in my post yesterday, however much we might protest about how Gallifreyan gender and regeneration were portrayed prior to Steven Moffat’s time at the series’ helm, Doctor Who is science fiction and so, with a little technical jiggery-pokery, a gender swap – like anything - can be made to work on a plot level. Of course, that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. I can’t categorically say that it is the wrong thing to do – all I know for sure is that, rightly or wrongly, I have absolutely no interest in watching a female Doctor, or indeed any of the fluid-gender Doctors that may succeed her (assuming that the series survives the next few years). For someone who used to love the show as much as I did, that’s very sad.


I’d hoped that at least my feminist sister and eldest daughter, both of whom love the programme (my eldest daughter even spent the better part of June making a talking Dalek scarecrow alongside the Mr Men’s fourth Doctor), would be pleased, but my deflated sister just texted me a single word -“Gutted” - and when I told my little girl the news, she cried. Actually cried. I wished I’d have filmed it. “But he’s a boy. That’s silly!” she shouted, stomping her right foot theatrically, as young children are prone to when irate. “That’s really, really, really silly!” Cue tears. And just like that, there goes my silver living.


Out of all of this though, one thing does make me smile – the outspoken young man who in the mid-1980s took to television to lambaste what he felt was the declining quality of the series has now inherited it in its worst state since that date, give or take a year, and then made a creative decision that could kill it beyond its capacity to regenerate. If nothing else, that’s ironic.


As such, I’ve taken The History of the Doctor down – it only serves as a painful reminder of the rich history that’s now been lost. Fortunately the Whoniverse is a big place and Big Finish Productions will continue to produce adventures for the Doctor’s first thirteen incarnations long into the future, so there’s plenty of new stories out there to enjoy should I ever feel the pull of the Whoniverse again. Right now though, I just feel like sitting with my head in my hands – as if terrorism, Trump, Brexit and potentially five more years of austerity weren’t enough for one calendar year, now I can’t even escape from escapism gone mad.

15 July 2017

Rants | Unlucky for Some?

http://tim-42.deviantart.com/art/Doctor-Who-13-Doctors-498476887
There was once a time when the prospect of a new Doctor in Doctor Who sparked great excitement in me. Now it’s more like dread. With the media and bookmakers seemingly intent on the Time Lord becoming a Time Lady, the series finds itself on the edge of a precipice even more precarious than the one from which it fell in 1989. Only this time, I fear that there may be no clawing its way back from the wilderness pit – not with its thirty-five-season legacy in tact, anyway.


I couldn’t disagree more with those such as Billie Piper, who claims that it would be a “snub” for another man to be cast as the Doctor, or particularly Supergirl star David Harewood, who has recently said that the new Doctor “has to be” black or female. Such comments only serve to fuel positive discrimination – as always, the best actor for the role should be cast. And here’s the thing: the best actor for the role “has to be” male, because the Doctor’s male - despite Grand Moff Steven’s subversive attempts to lay groundwork to the contrary.


Now back in the bad old, good old days, Doctor Who always drew an unambiguous line between Gallifreyan genders. The Doctor had a granddaughter – one with an unmistakably female name – and later another Gallifreyan female companion. Every Time Lord that appeared in the classic series regenerated into another Time Lord, and every Time Lady into another Time Lady. During his tenure as script editor, the late great Douglas Adams even distinguished the two Gallifreyan genders’ methods of regeneration, penning a scene in which Romana casually tried on bodies before finally settling for one that looked uncannily like actress Lalla Ward, suggesting that Time Ladies possess a far greater degree of control over their carefully engineered biology than their male counterparts. Fair dues, Adams was ripping the piss out of how some women might agonise over what to wear, which certainly doesn’t make him the greatest authority to quote in support of what I firmly believe is a non-sexist stance (sexism has nothing to do with this - it’s about fundamentally and irreversibly changing an iconic character for all the wrong reasons), but, like it or not, it still counts.

http://www.doctorwhoreviews.altervista.org/5J.htm

Yet during Steven Moffat’s shark-jumping time at the series’ helm, the pre-existing lore has gradually been overwritten, culminating in the arrival of Michelle Gomez’s Missy – the latest incarnation of the once (and hopefully future) Master – in Peter Capaldi’s first season and then the Time Lord general’s male-to-female regeneration at the end of his second. In-canon, this paves the way for a glut of transgender regenerations going forward. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall and his successors will run with the notion; they might ignore the concept altogether, leaving fans of the show to theorise about the bewildered looks on the faces of the Time Lord general’s colleagues who witnessed his bizarre renewal (which suggest that what just happened really shouldn’t have), and they won’t need to scratch their heads too hard when it comes to the Master. That renegade has, and always will be, a law unto himself when it comes to surviving beyond his twelfth regeneration. The trouble is, you could now say the same about the Doctor too now he’s already one regeneration past his allotted twelve.


Those in favour of a female lead tend to stress the success of Missy, and I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about her character. But there’s the rub for me: it’s her character. She is not the Master. Not anymore. Even the name has had to change in her case. And so whilst Missy is a entrancing character, an oncoming storm with her very own umbrella, and Michelle Gomez’s performance is nothing short of phenomenal, all that links her to the scoundrel first played so very well by Roger Delgado are her feelings towards the Doctor - feelings that could quite easily have been transposed onto another, hitherto-unseen Time Lady without trashing the Master’s legacy.


But, of course, it’s Doctor Who, and whatever argument I or anyone else might make against the fluidity of Gallifreyan gender, its paucity could be exposed by anyone who’d care to point out that the show has always thrived on change, particularly changes that mirror ever-changing times and attitudes, and it’s never let little things like contradicting its first few decades get in the way. In the end, it’s all made-up, and as such can change as much it needs to stay fresh and retain its audience. The question is, then, would a female Doctor be a change too far for lifelong viewers like me? Remember, we wouldn’t be merely talking about creating a Euros Holmes, here - we’d be talking about making Sherlock Shirley. About Captain Jane T Kirk. About Clara Kent / Superwoman. About Opti-miss Prime. About Janet (“Jan”) Solo.

You get the idea.


As you might guess, I think it would be fatal. I don’t think that the Doctor - a fifty-something-year-old character in real world terms - could go through such a fundamental reimagining and still be the same character that we know and love. As different as his thirteen lives have been (his recently discovered “War Doctor” incarnation in particular), they are nonetheless palpably the same man; the so-called “Ninth”, “Tenth” and “Eleventh” Doctors particularly so. Detractors are quick to point out that the Time Lord’s first thirteen iterations have all been white Brits, as if it’s some vast bigoted conspiracy on the Beeb’s part, but it’s simply because white Brits tend to fit the part. The Doctor is cups of tea and jelly babies; he’s cricket, fish and chips. He’s not handbags and gladrags – that’s Iris Wildthyme’s remit, and any attempt at a female Doctor could only ever hope to be a poor but mainstream imitation of her.

When it really comes down to it though, my anti-female Doctor sentiments are really borne of two completely illogical feelings, and I suspect it’s the same for many other long-term followers of the show. The first is that, lack he is for a lot of fans, the Doctor’s something of a role model for me – a wacky, zany, dazzling figure to idolise and aspire to. And, whilst there’s nothing to stop a man having a female role model, I really couldn’t imagine switching my brown pin-stripe suit or black leather jacket for a frock or a blouse. You may scoff at such sentiments in a near-middle-aged man, but transpose that onto the playground level: thousands if not millions of disenchanted, confused little boys wondering what in the blue hell has happened to their hero. Yes, many little girls might be drawn to the show as a direct result of having a female Doctor, but far fewer, I reckon, than the young boys that would be driven away.

The second reason, as silly as it sounds, is that I’d be profoundly uncomfortable if the actress cast was hot. Having watched an eclectic assortment of predominantly old men play the role throughout my life, the prospect of actually fancying the Doctor is too much to get past for me. I would imagine that this feeling cuts both ways, too – fans who’ve lusted after Tennant and Smith, even the more weathered Capaldi, might balk at the notion of a sudden sex change for the exact opposite reason. The fifty-something solicitor that I share an office with certainly does – she rants about this “ludicrous” female Doctor notion more than I do (though she will chunter about anything given the chance. You should hear her do half an hour on Taylor Wimpey’s Grount Rent Review Assistance Scheme.)


I do think a Doctor of any colour could work well, though, but the actor would need to possess that innate, unfathomable “Doctorishness” that’s commensurate with the role. Readers of my old website may recall that I championed Patterson Joseph as a potential David Tennant replacement back when his departure was announced, because he has that very quality with a touch of steel to boot. David Harewood, on the other hand, whose abovementioned statement foreshadowed his throwing his hat in the ring, doesn’t have that elusive “Doctorish” quality in my view – he can thoroughly convince as a kick-ass Friar Tuck or a big, imposing Martian Manhunter, but I can’t see him at the TARDIS’s helm. When I think of the next Doctor, I think of actors like Endeavour’s Shaun Evans (brilliant – and ginger); Death in Paradise’s Kris Marshall (fantastic – and ginger); Versailles’ mercurial Alexander Vlahos (could dye his hair ginger); even Rowan Atkinson (peerless – not ginger; not all that much hair at all nowadays, really). To those who scoff at the suggestion of the Comic Relief’s Doctor canonical casting, watch Maigret. The former Blackadder and Mr Bean star has definitely got the acting chops for the part. He’d be insanely good.


And so, as open-minded as I’d like to think I am, I don’t think that I’ll be able to bring myself to watch the series again should the Doctor turn into a woman, let alone write about it. The prospect of a heavily-bearded Susan turning up as a bloke with her mate, the moustache-twirling, former Time Lord president Romano would just be too much. I would perhaps consider watching a completely new, “unbound” reboot of the show with a female Doctor from the start (it’s been done before in the audio medium), maybe even one that hits the ground running without showing a Capaldi-to-female regeneration that there’d be no retconning, but I’m of the firm view that the Doctor in the series that’s been running on and off since 1963 should remain inviolate - it’s fans deserve that much. I fear that if the incoming production team have indeed succumbed to what must have felt like overwhelming media pressure to cast a woman as the Doctor, I won’t be the only one tuning out. For every new fan they’d gain, I reckon they’d lose at least a handful of long-standing ones.


Tomorrow we find out.

21 February 2017

Film Review | The LEGO Batman Movie directed by Chris McKay

I never reviewed 2015’s LEGO Movie as, shortly after its release, I read a review that quoted the writer’s child, whose one-line offering encapsulated my own views far more concisely than I could have. As a huge fan of Batman and DC as well as LEGO, though, I’ve got plenty to say about this year’s LEGO Batman Movie. Truth be told, I’d been looking forward to it as much as T2 or even The Last Jedi.


The LEGO Batman Movie is far from being the brick-built Caped Crusader’s first on-screen outing, though. Since the original, straight-to-home video LEGO Batman movie (DC Superheroes Unite), he’s made countless home video appearances, mostly alongside his Justice League compatriots (and all conveniently to be found on DVDs displayed at the end of most supermarkets’ aisles, right next to The LEGO Batman Movie sets and minifigure packets), before playing a major – and arguably show-stealing role - on the silver screen in The LEGO Movie. Yet The LEGO Batman Movie is the first not only to properly showcase the ninety-year-old DC icon, but also to celebrate him, and everything that he is – and could never be. It’s as if all the triumph and tragedy of the Dark Knight has been distilled and exaggerated to such a degree that everyone from the three-year-old moviegoer to his reluctant granny will instantly connect with the character.

ROBIN: Wow! Does Batman live in Bruce Wayne’s basement? 
BATMAN: No, Bruce Wayne lives in Batman’s attic!

This movie’s Batman is, as he should be, a one-man crime-fighting machine. It’s also implicit that he lost his parents in his youth, but without LEGO having to terrify its youngest viewers with unnecessary flashbacks to their murder. The film even buys into the old DC conceit that “Superman is just Clark Kent in a cape, but Bruce Wayne is Batman’s mask” by literally having Batman don the cowl throughout the movie (unless Alfred forces him to take it off in order to masquerade as a playboy billionaire). Where the LEGO Batman differs from his comic book and counterpart though is in his attitude. For a man who “gets up at four in the afternoon every day to pump iron” so that he can keep the city safe, he’s bombastically selfish and arrogant – traits upon which most of the movie’s comedy is built. From his opening voiceover dissing Superman to his (priceless) claim of having nine abs and his willingness to use Dick Grayson as “expendable” cannon fodder, Will Arnett’s heavy metal, beat-boxin’ Batman is a study in narcissism. The man’s in the wrong trade - he’s practically a walking WWE promo.


Yet inside, he’s still the child that lost his parents. He throws actual tantrums rolling around on the floor (his “No, no, no, no…” perfectly in tune to the old TV series’ famous theme), gets put in time-out, makes himself laugh with childish passwords (“IRONMANSUCKS” and “ALFREDDBUTLER”), and eschews any meaningful connection to anyone to avoid the pursuant hurt. I love in particular the humorous insight that the movie offers into Batman’s – not Bruce Wayne’s, mind, Batman’s – home life. He gets in from “work”, slips into something more comfortable (still wearing his cowl, obviously), then sits down to laugh at a romantic film, which he seems to genuinely believe is a comedy. It’s brilliant. The film straddles the fine line between tragedy and humour dexterously, somehow portraying a tragic character as a hilarious one without really altering any of his core characteristics.

ROBIN: Kids call me Dick.          BATMAN: Kids can be so cruel.

On the hero side of the divide, most of the heart and humour is borne of Batman’s relationships with his bumbling ward, Dick Grayson (Robin), his loyal butler – and surrogate father – Alfred, and the newly-minted Commissioner Gordon… Barbara Gordon. The first admires him, the second loves him, and the third thinks that she’s better than him (and what’s particularly funny is, she actually is – just look at the stats she’s got to prove it!) Every scene manages to be both witty and insightful, making the audience laugh while progressing the narrative and, more often than not, making light of hitherto inviolate comic book lore. Take Batman telling Robin to use the “dark parts” of his [bright yellow, red and green!] costume to blend into the night, for instance - it leads into Barbara promptly spotting them both, reinforcing Batman’s ineptitude in her eyes. Similarly, Batman’s aggressive, unforgiving “encouragement” of Robin as he infiltrates Superman’s Fortress of Solitude leads into a delectable scene in which a devastated Batman finds the entire Justice League – not just the big guns, but Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, the whole lot of ’em – having a party without him.


Villain-wise, Seth Grahame-Smith’s narrative blossoms out of Batman’s crippling limitations as a human being – he’s even an inconsiderate adversary, it seems. Poor old Joker, who wants nothing more than for Batman to just acknowledge his status as the Dark Knight’s foremost foe, finds himself casually spurned in favour of the likes of Bane and Superman –“He’s not even a bad guy!” protests the Clown Prince of Crime – as the Caped Crusader likes to “fight around”. So unfurls a plot that sees the Joker willingly committed to the Phantom Zone so that he may return with a legion of horribles, all intent on putting Batman and his precious Gotham City to the sword.


An action-packed but thoroughly riotous mêlée ensues, and so Batman has to turn to his accidentally-adopted “son”; his war-dog of a butler dressed as the 60s’ Batman; Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon; and, best of all, all the scum and villainy of Gotham City in order to battle the Joker’s forces of darkness. And what a force they are - Voldemort, Sauron, King Kong, the Wicked Witch of the West, even the Daleks. Watching The LEGO Batman Movie made me realise how fortunate the kids of today are – they’ve got it made built. Yeah, they might have to put up with populism gone mad (specifically Brexit, Trump, and the wacky notion that a female Doctor Who is not merely “OK”, but somehow inevitable), but on the flip-side they get to see Batman fighting Daleks and enjoy some mind-blowing merch. The movie’s tie-in sets are impressive enough (my eldest daughter opted for set 7092: Catwoman Cycle Chase - not to get the Catwoman and Batgirl minifigures, but for the hilarious and endearing Robin, whom she seems to be half in love with), but the twenty-strong minifigure series is something else altogether. Lobster lovin’ Batman and Catman are joined by allies and adversaries both obscure and nefarious; like the film, it’s a celebration of ninety years of Batman – even the camp and concealed bits. The LEGO Batman Movie is less a film, more an event.


Building upon the spirit of 2015’s LEGO Movie, 2017’s LEGO Batman Movie takes the franchise to a whole new level. Photo-real animation brings to life a story that’s as surprising as it is funny, and as emblematic of both the LEGO and Batman properties as anything possibly could be. ’Twas surely for this film that the phrase “best of both worlds” was coined…

16 February 2017

Rants | The "News About Your Ticket" E-mail from the National Lottery's Cruelty Department

Waking up on a Sunday morning to an e-mail telling us that we’ve won the National Lottery is a surprisingly common occurrence in our house. Yet here we are, still not millionaires.

Rather than simply sending players an e-mail to advise them that they’ve won a £25.00 prize (just think what dastardly cyber criminals could get up to were they to intercept an e-mail telling you that you’ve got that sort of dosh on its way into your bank account…), instead the National Lottery send their players a cryptic message telling them that they have “some news” about their ticket from the previous evening’s draw, and that they are advised to sign in to their accounts as soon as they can for more information.

The first time this happened to us, I was convinced that we’d hit the jackpot. I spent hours trying to log into our account, but for some reason the page wouldn’t load. Eventually the penny dropped that the lottery is - technically - gambling, albeit gambling of an unrealistic sort, and as such the site was blocked by our parental controls, the password for which eluded me for a microcosmic eternity. Later that day, I finally managed to log in to our account to find out about our £25.00 prize. I was actually annoyed – no, incensed – that we were £25.00 better off. This preposterous, nonsensical, needlessly clandestine National Lottery notification system had left me beside myself with rage about actually receiving a minor windfall – something that’s almost universally considered to be “a good thing”. What should have been the cause for minor celebration soon became “another Cineworld”.

Since that day a few years ago, we’ve had around £200.00’s worth of £25.00 wins, the most recent of which followed last Saturday’s draw. Overall, that’s the equivalent of a week’s food and warmth for a family of four, a decent little smart TV for the bedroom, a top-tier LEGO set, a large Transformers Masterpiece or – if I were a smoker – three packets of cigarettes. And yet, every little win has felt like a digital slap in the face; it’s as if each £25.00 prize came attached to an invisible clown, whose mocking laughter drowned out anything positive that we could possibly have done with the extra cash.

National Lottery, you don’t need to e-mail me the details of the account that you’re paying our £25.00 into. You don’t need to include any information that could lead to any sort of cyber security breach. All you need to say is “We’ve got some news about your ticket from the draw on [date]. Congratulations – a prize of £25.00 has been paid into your bank account.” My reaction to such an e-mail would be along the lines of - “Get in!”, “Nice one!”, or - if I were feeling even remotely Alan Partridgey - “Back of the net!” To be clear, and for the avoidance of any doubt, that would be infinitely preferable to my involuntary response to your current e-mail.

Larger prizes, such as those with four figures before the decimal point, as opposed to overall, then yeah – a login might be prudent. But please, please, please - stop making us think we’ve won the damned jackpot when in fact we’ve not even won enough to pay for a modest meal out, because no matter how many times I get your accursed e-mail with its “news”, and no matter how absurd the odds of us hitting the jackpot are, there’s still always an unwelcome little pang of excitement that follows receipt of each cruel little e-mail – a pang that quickly blossoms into unbridled fury once I login and realise that you’ve done it to us again.

LEGO Ideas Review | 21304 Doctor Who

Many of the sets released under the LEGO Ideas umbrella have been exactly that - LEGO ideas dreamt to life by imaginative builders at home. They’ve uploaded their ideas to the LEGO Ideas website, gathered support, and then, upon gathering a quorum of supporters, LEGO designers have turned their idea into an on-shelf reality. However, when it comes to certain sets, “LEGO Ideas” is a misnomer. Every builder who follows Doctor Who has had the same impossible idea of making a LEGO TARDIS - but only one has managed to make the dimensionally-transcendental time and space machine materialise in building block form. This set is less a “LEGO Idea” and more a “LEGO Bloody Miracle”.


Subject as they are to the physical laws of a non-fictional universe, I’d always failed to shape LEGO pieces into a model bigger on its inside than its out. A labyrinthine, scaled interior could easily be built inside a blue box the size of most LEGO cities, just as easily as a minifigure-scaled police box could comfortably house a brace of minifigures - but little more. This left only a bitesize version of the TV producers’ approach: shove your minifigures into a tiny LEGO blue box, suspend your disbelief and pull ’em out again, finally setting them down in a separate interior. Not much fun, and not at all marketable.

An exercise in compromise as much as anything else, Andrew Clark’s wonderful creation stretches each of the above techniques as far it can to create a stunningly detailed hybrid model. The premise is inspired: you build a police box shell and a separate console room, opening out the former and attaching its sprawling form to the latter to create the illusion of a cavernous interior stretching out from the outer shell. Deft little flourishes like the inverted police-box detailing on the reverse of two of the TARDIS doors and the late Smith / Capaldi-era TARDIS wall on the opposing pair conspire to make the brick trickery pleasing, if still imperfect.


As I expected, the TARDIS exterior is my favourite part of the set - principally because it makes for such a stunning LEGO ornament. No part of the design has been fudged; each door panel is a separate component, there are no cost-cutting stickers to be applied, and two of the doors even open. Fair dues, they open outward, rather than inward; you have to take the top off and lift up at least two hinges to get them open; and, most significantly, they’re the wrong doors. Overall, though, it’s an acceptable trade-off when considering that the fully-opened capsule clicks comfortably onto the end of the console room’s ramp, giving us at least the illusion of being able to pass through the police box doors into the ship. As I can’t suggest a better alternative, it’d be more than a little churlish to complain.


The console room itself is just as well-thought-out and detailed, though inevitably it lacks the forceful impression of the iconic exterior, which, save for the addition and removal of the odd accoutrement has remained much the same for more than half a century. Again, for me it’s the little touches that sell it: a working lever, custom pieces printed with Gallifreyan symbols. The design even reflects the current console room’s multi-level layout, with stairs leading down to the rest of the ship.

The minifigures are a mixed bag, though. Matt Smith’s Doctor is the obvious standout as not only is he the spit of Eleven, but he also comes complete with a sonic screwdriver and fez. The latter doesn’t really work on his head, though, as it makes him look bald and leaves him with his alternative-expression face showing on the back of his head. This is especially frustrating as a custom-moulded composite hair and hat piece (as seen on many of the recent Disney and LEGO Batman Movie minifigures, for instance) could have remedied this. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is less recognisable, clad as he is in an awful shade of purple (I’d have preferred him in a dark hoodie with a guitar), and whilst Clara’s outfit is convincing, her hairpiece is anything but. The Weeping Angel, however, is sublime in its terrifying simplicity, and the Daleks are nothing short of perfection. I’d had reservations about their design before I’d built them as I’d thought that a custom mould would have been in order for creations of their calibre, but that would have been at the expense of the sheer joy that comes with putting a couple of Daleks together out of nothing but existing bricks.


Another delight of this set is its packaging. The glossy box, whilst still cardboard, is sturdy and can be opened and closed without ruining it - it’s clearly intended to be a keeper. Similarly, the instructions are far from flimsy and are adorned with facts and features about the TV series as well as the set’s designer. The only flaw is the lack of numbered piece bags, which is most unusual for a set of this size and makes the build more laborious than I’ve become used to.

This mostly enchanting set’s greatest weakness, though, is its timing: it’s very much a Capaldi-era set, just as you’d expect it to be as he’s the incumbent Doctor. For me, this is a real put-off as, despite a Herculean effort, I’ve been unable to find any love for the TV series since The Day of the Doctor aired. I’d have been much more thrilled with a “grunge phase” interior and the Russell T Davies Doctors than I would those I associate with the new series’ nadir, and I dare say that there are those who’d have opted for white roundels and long-scarved minifigures, given the choice. This isn’t a criticism of the set per se; rather an acknowledgement of the fact that it really only serves to whet the appetite for a fully-fledged LEGO Doctor Who range: incarnations of the Doctor alone could sustain a decent minifigure series, never mind the various alien ships and structures which have the potential to rival the standard-setting Star Wars range. Watch this (time and) space...

This set has now been retired, but can still be found online and in stores for as little as half its original RRP - which I why I finally gave in and bought it.