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5 improvements you would like to see on Ciao 03/04/2014

Ciao can be just a bit fiddly around the edges.

5 improvements you would like to see on Ciao Ciao is an excellent website that runs well and has given me enjoyment as well as a few pennies. There are some excellent writers on this site. So these recommendations are definitely more in the way of tweaks than major issues. 1. Slider buttons – I mostly write in the DVD review section and those slider controls at the side are completely unnecessary. I don’t know if many readers really notice those detailed ratings anyway, beyond the basic star rating. Futhermore the categories are frequently not relevant. “How does this compare to a director’s other work?” Unless the director is a famous one, this is a guess at best. “Special effects” are only relevant for certain genres. They just seem fiddly and it irritates me to have to use them when posting a review, because I’ve put all the relevant points into my article. 2. An editor containing basic formatting options like bold and headings, similar to eBay’s editor would be helpful and encourage contributors to format their articles in an easy to read manner. Adding the current codes manually belongs to an earlier DOS age. 3. The new flash menus are a bit fiddly. I usually want to click on See All Latest Reviews but unless I move the cursor slowly and deliberately, that option seems to flick away before I reach it. Could there be a more prominent link to the Latest Reviews section? 4. Advertising is a necessary evil but could I join other contributors in asking for no more expanding banner ads taking over the page. That ...

Dollman (DVD) 02/04/2014

Dollman is a low budget SF curio

Dollman (DVD) Starring: Tim Thomerson, Kamala Lopez, Jackie Earle Haley, Frank Collision Executive Producer: Charles Band Director: Albert Pyun Brick Brado is the toughest, most dangerous cop on the planet Arcturos III. When an old enemy called Sprug kidnaps him to enact a gruesome revenge, Brick soon turns the tables and chases the cyborg off-world, where both their spaceships are sucked through a wormhole and they end up on Earth in the East Bronx 1991. Unfortunately Brick finds that on our planet he is only 13 inches high but, armed with his extra powerful handgun, he still fights to protect a young mother and her son from the local gangbangers. Since the late 70’s Charles Band has been producing and/or directing low budget exploitation movies, nearly all of which have gone straight to video. Mostly SF and horror, with a smattering of other genres including family films and soft porn. Inevitably amongst the torrent of product he’s occasionally produced a genuinely good cult movies, such as “Re-animator”, “Trancers”, “Dolls” and “Puppet Master”. “Dollman” is far from great, yet it has some crazy ambitions for a low-budget movie, a handful of good jokes and generally has enough energy and cheek to carry me over its short running time of 78 minutes – 7 of those taken up with the credits. Charles Band was the producer on this one, with Albery Pyun working as the director. Pyun had a long career in low budget action movies, his biggest credit probably being the 80’s version of “Captain ...

Doctor Who The Legacy Collection (DVD) 31/03/2014

A Legacy Collection of Doctor Who DVD extras

Doctor Who The Legacy Collection (DVD) “The Legacy Collection” – because calling this the “Bits and Pieces We Had Leftover Set” would not sound nearly as good. On the first two discs we have “Shada”, the famous lost Tom Baker story which was abandoned due to strike action. Together with a flash animated recreation starring the Eighth Doctor, a documentary on the production and another on unions and industrial action at the BBC in general. On the third disc there is a collection of behind the scenes features, most notably “More That Thirty Years in the TARDIS”, the 1994 VHS documentary, plus features on Nick Courtney, Peter Purves and producer Verity Lambert and a light heated celebration of the programme’s villainesses. It goes almost without saying that this set is aimed at the keen fan rather the more casual viewer and that could explain why it has become cheaper fairly quickly. Shada Douglas Adams’ final contribution to Doctor Who before moving on to becoming a multimillionaire author and technology guru, has in an ironic way benefitted from being unfinished. It has made the story an exciting possibility, rather than an underwhelming reality. The film sequences and initial TV studio sessions have got plenty of good moments and trademark wit, but based on the script, I’ve a suspicion that the end result would have been badly padded out and the story’s monsters the Kraags would have been too slow and unintentionally funny. But at least we can now judge for ourselves. The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla ...

Doctor Who - 11 Doctors 11 Stories - Eoin Colfier, Neil Gaiman, Michael Scott 17/03/2014

11 stories that demonstrate the range of Doctor Who

Doctor Who - 11 Doctors 11 Stories - Eoin Colfier, Neil Gaiman, Michael Scott I’ve often been keen for the series to bring in a broader range of writers, rather than just the same old dozen or so names. So Puffin Books’ 2013 50th anniversary range of e-books, inviting a host of successful Young Adult authors to play in the Doctor Who universe seems a great concept to me. This trade paperback sized collection with a natty silver cover collects together the novellas for fans like myself who haven’t invested in an e-reader yet. A Big Hand for the Doctor – Eoin Colfer Sadly the opening instalment is also the weakest. Collier completely fails to capture the First Doctor, having him make pop culture jokes about Harry Potter and Blake’s 7 and generally he just doesn’t sound right. The story itself, with comic aliens living secretly in Victorian London and children being kidnapped by intergalactic pirates, feels too much like an Eleventh Doctor story, to the point where I wondered if that was how it had started out. As for the ending, is the Doctor Who story “Timelash” really a story to be copying? Eoin Colfer is best known for his Artemis Fowl series. The Nameless City – Michael Scott H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos of alien elder gods and troubled people investigating hideous mysteries is a natural fit for Doctor Who. Obviously Scott feels similarly by writing this enjoyable pastiche. I’ve come to think that the Second Doctor’s Yeti stories have something particularly eldritch about them, so having him and Jamie carried away to an ancient city filled with strange ...

The Kid Stays In The Picture (DVD) 28/02/2014

Robert Evans' life is stranger than fiction

The Kid Stays In The Picture (DVD) Robert Evans narrates the story of his remarkable life in Hollywood. A handsome young businessman who worked in a New York fashion company, he was discovered by Norma Shearer whilst sunbathing by a L.A. pool and cast as her late husband, Irving Wallace, opposite James Cagney in "Man of a Thousand Faces". Despite becoming a matinee idol he soon became dissatisfied with life as a movie star. He wanted real power and to become a producer. He bought the rights to "The Detective", which became a hit for Frank Sinatra and began to make a name for himself. Unbelievably he was chosen to revive the fortunes of Paramount Studios, then on the point of bankruptcy. Through the rest of the sixties and seventies he was involved in many of the most significant films of the day – "Rosemary's Baby", "Love Story", "Marathon Man", "The Godfather" and "Chinatown" amongst them. Behind the scenes he lived the quintessential Hollywood life, money, parties and beautiful women. He formed a golden couple with Ali McGraw during the height of her fame, before she left him for Steve McQueen. But the eighties saw him lose everything due to drugs, a murder allegation and notorious flops like "Popeye" and "The Cotton Club". An excellent documentary with a stranger-than-fiction story that begins in the dying days of the studio system, romps through the radical, confused days of the seventies independents and ends in the corporate world of today's movie scene. Directors Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan ...

Doctor Who The Web of Fear (DVD) 25/02/2014

London is wrapped in a Web of Fear

Doctor Who The Web of Fear (DVD) A frightened Professor Edmund Travers comes to collector Julius Silverstien, insisting he take back the Yeti robot he brought back from Tibet. The robot Yetis were created by an alien psychic force that calls itself the Great Intelligence and Travers has inadvertently summoned it back to Earth by reactivating one its control spheres. Elsewhere in space, the TARDIS is attacked by the Intelligence and by the time the Doctor escapes and lands in 60’s London, a fungus-like web has taken over the capitol via the Underground. Joining forces with a team of soldiers and scientists including Travers his daughter Anne and Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria must battle one of their most powerful enemies yet, and its Yeti warriors. Worse, the Doctor realises that the Great Intelligence has secretly possessed one of the people around him. It definitely felt uncanny sit down and simply watch “The Web of Fear”, a story I first encountered like so many fans did in the pages of Terrance Dick's novelisation. Then there was that wonderful first episode that has been released on VHS and the “Lost in Time” box set. Since then it's been a tale I've sought through publicity photos, CD, telesnaps, deleted film clips and finally an unofficial fan recreation. In fact fate has delivered us an unexpected link between those fan’s stirling work and the television original, with a revised telesnap version of the still missing episode 3 now sitting snugly on this DVD release. After ...

Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Movie (DVD) 21/02/2014

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 mines laughs out of turkeys

Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Movie (DVD) Starring: Mike Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy Director: Jim Mallon Mad scientist Dr Clayton Forrester has been trying to find a way to crush the human spirit by showing a human guinea pig called Mike Nelson the worst movies ever made. Imprisoned on the orbiting Satellite of Love, Mike retaliates by mocking the movies with the aid of his robot friends Crow, Tom and Gypsy. Today’s experiment is – “This Island Earth”. “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” is US comedy show that used to broadcast on the obscure UK Sci-Fi Channel back in the late nineties. It ran for ten years in America, first on a local cable station, then the Comedy Network and finally on US Sci-Fi Channel. In between the Comedy Network and Sci-Fi stints, the team tried to move the show to the big screen with this modestly budgeted film, but failed to reach a wider audience. And that’s a shame because it is an excellent introduction to the concept and certainly an ‘episode’ which I would show a newcomer. Trying to explain the appeal of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” on paper is a little difficult. I discovered it via my sister when she was living in the USA. I can certainly sum it up as: a comedian and two puppets provided a funny commentary to a bad film, but that doesn’t do it justice. Their jokes may sound improvised but they come from a tightly written script from a team of comedy writers based on multiple viewings of a film. The jokes range from additional dialogue to pointing out mistakes to odd ...

Casting The Runes (DVD) 20/02/2014

Casting the Runes is not as scary as you'd imagine

Casting The Runes (DVD) Starring: Jan Francis, Iain Cuthbertson, Edward Petherbridge Adapted from the M.R. James’ story by Clive Exton Directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark TV producer Prudence Dunning produces a damming documentary about modern occultists. Amongst the people it disparages is self-styled black magician Julian Carswell. Soon afterwards a series of frightening experiences begin to happen to her, including seeing an “In Memoriam” message dedicated to her and finding a giant golden spider in her bed. Her friend Jean tells her that something similar happened to a lawyer colleague called John Harrington who had crossed Carswell. He was soon found dead - hideously mutilated by something with giant claws. When she finds a slip of paper with ancient runes written on it, Pru knows she has been selected as the demon’s next victim. An interesting one-off supernatural drama, produced in 1979 as part of ITV’s long running ITV Playhouse anthology series. “Casting the Runes” had already been adapted as the well regarded horror movie “Night of the Demon” and later as part of ITV’s 1968 “Mystery and Imagination” series. It is one of many tales written by M.R. James, often hailed as England’s greatest ever author of ghost stories. This production was helmed by two regulars from BBC2’s fondly remembered “Ghost Story for Christmas” series, adaptor Clive Exton and director Lawrence Gordon Clark but this adaptation is not quite as successful as those period pieces. It’s a problem of pace I think, caused by ...

Doctor Who The Time of the Doctor (DVD) 14/02/2014

The Time of the Doctor is a good time for all

Doctor Who The Time of the Doctor (DVD) A message is chiming out from the planet Trenzalore across the universe. No one can translate it but it has attracted all the great alien powers to lay siege to the planet, amongst them the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, the Papal Mainframe – and the Doctor. Nipping back to Earth to help Clara with Christmas dinner, the Doctor ends up taking her straight into danger on Trenzalore, in Christmas Town where no one can tell a lie, and where a crack in the universe is asking the question which must never be answered – Doctor who? Above all, the Doctor and Clara know that this is the planet which will one day host his grave. Showrunner Steven Moffat had an ambitious plan when he began planning the Eleventh Doctor’s stories. That all through his era the Doctor would be faced with the fallout from a great battle he wouldn’t fight until the end of his life. It was a backwards story arc which ran from his debut story “The Eleventh Hour”, through his out of order romance with River Song, his conflicts with The Silence and the Weeping Angels and the reveal about his grave. More than anything else in the series it probably contributed the most to the recent accusations that the series is too complicated for viewers to follow. Now it reaches its conclusion in this adventure, which successfully ties virtually every dangling thread, from who destroyed the TARDIS in “The Pandorica Opens” to revealing what the Doctor saw in the room containing his greatest fear in “The God ...

Doctor Who - The Tenth Planet (DVD) 11/02/2014

The Tenth Planet brings about the end of The Doctor

Doctor Who - The Tenth Planet (DVD) The Doctor (William Hartnell), Ben and Polly land in Antartica 1986, at the International space control centre. Shortly afterwards a new planet appears in the solar system, draining Earth of its energy, whilst the base is invaded by emotionless cyborg aliens that the Doctor will come to know as The Cybermen. With the Doctor’s health failing and the rogue General Cutler threatening to unleash a doomsday weapon, it falls on Ben, Polly and two scientists to save the Earth. It’s one of the sad ironies in the history of “Doctor Who” that one of its key stories no longer exists in its complete form. In fact the very first regeneration, from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton would also have been lost forever if the children’s programme “Blue Peter” had not had a preservation order on it. Thus its 1973 anniversary feature on the show, including the clip of that moment, has at least enabled that milestone to be saved. Aside from featuring the first regeneration, this story also contains the first appearance of the Cybermen, now one of the Doctor’s most iconic enemies. There’s no doubt that had it been a complete story, “The Tenth Planet” would have been released years ago. As it is, it arrives almost at the end of the DVD range, with the missing final episode uniquely available in two forms – animated or photo montage. “The Tenth Planet” is a fine story to my eyes, combining base-under-siege action with a slice of philosophy about human nature and the strengths and weaknesses of ...

Haunted Double Feature (DVD) 07/02/2014

Ghostwatch and Stone Tape bring ghosts up to date

Haunted Double Feature (DVD) Back in the old days of VHS tape trading of television recordings, two of the most sought after and useful piece of swapping ‘currency’ were the BBC supernatural dramas “Ghostwatch” and “The Stone Tape”. Now here they are on a DVD at a budget price, available overnight from your favourite online seller. How times change. Ghostwatch Starring: Michael Parkinson, Craig Charles, Sarah Green, Mike Smith, Gillian Bevan, Brid Brennan Written by Stephen Volk It’s Halloween 1992. Tune in to BBC1 for an evening of live ghost hunting at a reputedly haunted house owned by single mother Pamela Early and her two daughters. There’s an outside broadcast team at the house and a phone-in discussion in the studio. As the evening progresses, what starts as a comfortable entertainment hosted by the familiar faces of Michael Parkinson and Sarah Green, becomes increasingly traumatic for everyone. Can you at home really see a scarred ghost called Pipes and what is he after? A drama which was way ahead of its time. “Ghostwatch” wasn’t the first fictional TV documentary, or the first “found footage” horror, but it predated the success of “The Blair Witch Project” by seven years. In fact the makers of that camcorder hit have acknowledged it as an influence. Whilst featuring most of the tricks of the genre, such as starting with the mundane, unreliable narrators, shaky camera movement and an authentic feel for the language of television reportage, it also uses a clever touch which strangely few ...

Doctor Who - Inferno (DVD) 06/02/2014

The Doctor tries to save two Earths from the Inferno

Doctor Who - Inferno (DVD) "Don't you understand? I don't belong here. I don't exist in your universe!" "Then you won't feel the bullets when we shoot you." Professor Stahlman is the instigator of gigantic British mining project to tap a new source of energy far beneath the Earth. But as the drill head approaches its target, strange events are happening. A green slime is emerging that mutates humans into primitive beast men. Stahlman himself is becoming increasingly paranoid and obsessive. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is on site conducting his own experiments, trying to get the TARDIS working again. Instead he is thrown into a parallel Earth where Stahlman project is further advanced and the UK is ruled by a brutal fascist government. If “Inferno” had been filmed as originally intended, as a four part story about a mining project gone horrifically wrong, I doubt it would be nearly as well regarded as it is now. It was the budget need to expand the story to seven parts which not only introduced a new race of monsters in the shape of wolf-like mutants but it gave the story space and depth to really explore its characters and ideas. It’s a little surprising that this is the programme’s first attempt at an alternative history story, something of a SF staple in many long running shows. A parallel Earth allows the story to have its cake and eat, to have the Doctor face the kind of worse case fatal scenario he usually averts in the nick of time, not to mention giving the regulars a chance to enjoy playing ...

Killer Gorilla! (Box Set) (DVD) 27/01/2014

No Killer, All Filler

Killer Gorilla! (Box Set) (DVD) Three vintage films which feature a man in a gorilla suit. “Gorilla!” (1944) – Buster Crabbe as a jungle explorer who goes in search of an embezzler who crashed his plane in the jungle years ago. He discovers the thief is long dead, but his daughter had grown up into a beautiful jungle princess with a loyal gorilla as her bodyguard. “The Ape Man” (1943) – Bela Lugosi plays a scientist searching for the elixir of life, who has only succeeded in turning himself into a half man/half gorilla creature. Only by murdering and stealing a human pituary gland can he hope to reverse the transformation. “The Ape” (1940) – Boris Karloff stars as a kindly mad scientist who is trying to cure a young woman’s polio. So he kills an escaped circus gorilla and dresses in its skin to murder “low class” women for their spinal fluid. The packaging for this box set promises lurid pulp thrills. In fact the synopsis of the films also suggests they are going to be outrageous and amusingly bad. Sadly the actual films, all transferred from grainy, murky public domain film prints, are uniformly tedious. “Gorilla!” aka “Nabonga” aka “The Jungle Woman” is probably the best of a bad lot. Whilst it’s filled with plenty of jungle adventure clichés such as crocodile wrestling, superstitious natives and stock wildlife footage, at least the plot has a bit of pace to it. It also benefits from the presence of Buster Crabbe. Whilst not the greatest of actors, he has an earnestness and physicality that suits him ...

Doctor Who Day of the Doctor (Blu-ray) 26/01/2014

The Day of the Doctor is one of his best times

Doctor Who Day of the Doctor (Blu-ray) Starring Matt Smith, David Tennant, Jenna Coleman, Billie Piper, Jemma Redgrave and John Hurt The Time War between the Timelords and the Daleks has raged for centuries and threatens the entire universe. In desperation the fearsome old warrior who used to be called the Doctor steals The Moment, a sentient weapon which will end the war by destroying both races. Meanwhile in the present day the Eleventh Doctor and Clara is summoned by UNIT to investigate mysterious happenings in the Royal Under-Gallery, a place to house art too dangerous for Britain’s safety. Unexpectedly a wormhole appears, bringing him face to face with the Tenth Doctor, two Elizabeth I and the secret incarnation he has always denied – The War Doctor. I’ll admit my feelings towards this blu-ray are warmed by my memories of watching this story for the first time last year. I went to one of the 3D cinema showings with my wife and friends and there was a wonderful party atmosphere. Quite a lot of people dressed up in costume, there were fez’s everywhere, the audience was lively but attentive and we even applauded at the end. It was of favourite nights of 2013. Watching the story again in my own house I still enjoy it though. It is a marvellous hour of entertainment, with spectacle like the Dalek attack on Gallifrey or the Doctor hanging onto the bottom of the TARDIS high above London, mixing with some very funny dialogue that good humouredly pokes fun at the modern series and some gripping suspense too. The ...

Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (DVD) 30/11/2013

The Doctor's double is the enemy of the word

Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (DVD) Earlier this year two long lost 1960's Doctor Who adventures were rediscovered as part of a collection of old BBC programmes in a television station in Nambia. “The Web of Fear” will be released in the Spring of next year but right now we can enjoy “The Enemy of the World” on DVD. The TARDIS lands in Australia 2018 and almost immediately the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are under attack from gunmen. After the glamorous Astrid has rescued them, she explains that the Doctor is a dead-ringer for Salamander, a scientist and industrialist, known as a great benefactor and humanitarian. However she and her boss Kent are convinced he is really a ruthless power hungry dictator in the making. They want the Doctor to impersonate him but the time lord demands proof and agrees to let Jamie and Victoria go undercover to find out the truth. Meanwhile there has been a series of unexpected large scale earthquakes and volcanos, which Salamander is using to his benefit. A clever fan writer once pointed out that “Enemy of the World” – which has often been described as James Bond meets Doctor Who – has in fact much more in common with the William Hartnell historical adventures like “The Reign of Terror”. I think they were absolutely right. With the Doctor and companions caught up in political events, surrounded by people who often forced to trust, an emphasis on assumed identities and escapes from peril, this story recalls the likes of “Reign of Terror” and “The Massacre”. It's a historical from ...
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