Monday, 16 October 2017

Superman IV; The Quest for Peace (1987)

"No pain, no gain..."

 You know those "bad" films that are actually fun to watch and sort of entertain you in spite of everything? Well...

I mean, I can see why this was the last Superman film of its series. The special effects are endearingly crap. The script is cartoonish. The whole thing is very silly. And yet the whole thing remains eminently watchable.

It helps that the characters are well-established, and that Reeve,
Kidder and Hackman are as excellent as always; this film isn’t big, it isn’t clever, it isn’t particularly well made. But it’s fun. So let’s ignore the silliness and the plot holes, including the one where the superpowers don’t seem to resent Superman for throwing billions worth of expensive nukes into the Sun in a scene which harms back to the left-wing wish fulfilment scenes of the early comic books. Let’s not study the political message of the film too closely, though; this is not exactly a detailed philosophical examination of nuclear disarmament.

So, yes. The film is silly, shoddily made and killed the franchise. But it’s also perfect light viewing after a two hundred mile round trip.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

It (2017)

“Wait, can only virgins see this stuff? Is that why I'm not seeing this shit?”

Well, that was unusual. A modern day horror film that eschews all the usual glossy music video tiresomeness in favour of being genuinely excellent. I’ve never heard of anyone involved with this film but they done good.

It’s instructive to compare this, perhaps, to the 1990 two part telly adaptation; we get the same rough plot, except that the film is only the first half, during the principal characters’ childhoods- updated from the early ‘60s to the late ‘80s, with lots of pop culture goodness including both the Cure and Anthrax in the soundtrack. Like the original, and the novel, we get a bunch of white boys with a token girl (Beverly) and black kid (Mike). Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis are particularly excellent as the main characters- author substitute Bill who is mourning his little brother and poor Beverly, whose father is a nonce and gets a pleasing comeuppance. This, along with Henry Bowers’ tragic cycle of abuse, means that this film plays up the child abuse theme somewhat, something which is probably wrapped up thematically in the idea of Pennywise as the sum of all childhood fears.

The film excels as drama, with well-developed characters and good acting from some superb child actors. That is the basis of any film reliant on traditional narrative, regardless of genre, but this film
managed to scare me, and horror films don’t, as a rule; I’m far too conscious of that fourth wall. But here, unlike almost all modern horror films, we get a lot of genuine suspense at the centre of done superbly conceived and executed set pieces, and it helps that the direction is excellent. All that, and a solid script, makes for an excellent film.

Even the famously hard-to-please Mrs Llamastrangler is extremely impressed. Highly recommended. Coulrophobes beware, though!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Django Unchained (2012)

"Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?"

This is, to date, the only film by Quentin Tarantino that I've seen since Kill Bill. It is, like all his films since then, removed from his particular strong point of witty, pop culture-peppered dialogue by being set in the past. It's as though Tarantino likes to challenge himself, but then that's what he does. He's doing a Western this time- well, a Southern- complete with classic style opening and Ennio Morricone opening tune.

He may deny himself the indulgence of cool dialogue here, but he delivers a hugely entertaining, gory and beautifully shot film as he always does, giving us the full graphic detail of slavery in the antebellum south. This is a refreshing antidote, brutal though it can be to watch, to the whitewashed Gone with the Wind version of the south. Before 1865 the place was backwards, feudal, pre-capitalist, savage. And it wasn't even that long ago.

Jamie Foxx is great as Django, a freed slave with a mission to save his wife who grows throughout the film from enslaved beginnings to the assertive badass hero he was destined to be. Leonardo Di Caprio is superb as the slaveowning baddie, the kind of part he should play more often. Samuel L. Jackson is deeply disturbing as the collaborator, Stephen. But it is Christoph Waltz, as Dr Schultz, the educated, witty German bounty hunter and the only civilised white person in the film, who steals the show, oozing coolness at all times.

Tarantino seems incapable of anything short of brilliance. This film is so good we can even forgive his brave attempt at an Aussie accent...

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Fists of Fury (1972)

“We are not sick men!”

This is my first ever Bruce Lee film, and only my second martial arts film not directed by Quentin Tarantino, unless you count all those straight-to-video ninja films I saw as a kid in the ‘80s, so go easy on me!

I enjoyed the film, although it will never be one of my favourites; it’s a mildly entertaining revenge melodrama/tragedy with a token romantic subplot, but Hamlet this ain’t. The fight scenes are first class, but I’m not hugely engaged by fight scenes, much though I appreciate Bruce Lee’s skills, and he can act too.

What struck me was the surprising tone of Chinese nationalism; the film is set in, I think, 1910, during the Century of Humiliation with the Japanese as antagonists and constant emphasis of how the international city of Shanghai is no longer truly Chinese territory, although the brief shots of westerners with their very contemporary cars and clothes destroy the eff t somewhat. But this is nicely handled, the grievances of a “small” country, and does not come across as overly aggressive.

I’m not sure when, or if, I’ll try another film in this genre. But at least it’s light, easy viewing, just the thing for a knackering week like this.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 10: 18 Miles Out

“This is so pointless!"

This may be a quiet episode focusing on character- albeit with lots of exciting zombie action, and may have an unusually limited cast of characters, but that is a strength here, allowing us to focus on the relationships between the characters.

Firstly we have the macho alpha male contest between Rick, giving up perhaps too much ground under pressure on being repeatedly told by the psychopathic Shane that his conscience is a liability. As well as lots of arguing, fighting against zombies and themselves, and of course clearing the air over Lori, they have the dilemma over whether they should kill the kid they caught last episode who, it turns out, knows where Herschel's house is. Rick, arguably, ends up ceding the argument to Shane but he will at least have the decency to sleep on it before killing the boy.

Meanwhile, back at the house, a row between Lori and  Andrea pretty much centres on how Andrea, in standing guard against zombies, is getting out of the drudgery of the more traditional woman's work, a feminist subtext if ever there was one. But the main focus is on the hereto background character of Beth, who seems to be set on suicide, seeing no point in living post-zombie apocalypse, and the ethics of suicide and what to do with her are explored well and at length, with the pragmatic Andrea perhaps alienating herself from Maggie permanently. Beth lives, though.

This episode is well-written, compelling, and makes me certain that the main arc of this season is the conflict between Rick and Shane, and will end in Shane's death. We shall see...

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Chinatown (1974)

"Middle of a drought and the water commissioner drowns..."


Best film about utilities and nonces ever. Ironic, seeing as it was directed by a man who urgently needs to get on a plane to the very city that this film is about to face the charge of being a nonce himself. But let's not get distracted by a certain heinous event in 1977 for which the perpetrator has yet to face justice...

Annoyingly, even nonces can direct films which are exquisite works of art. It's a film noir, it's a whodunit, it's an early '70s auteur film in the same vein as Scorsese and Coppola's stuff. The 1930s as a setting is glorious, the whole fictionalised history of the Los Angeles Water Wars manages to completely avoid being, ahem, dry, and Jack Nicholson is the best Philip Marlowe ever as he plays Jake Gittes. Faye Dunaway also impresses as the femme fatale who turns out not to be that at all, and John Huston(!) is suitably evil as the rich old corrupt nonce who causes so much misery.

One thing, though: why does Katherine pretend to be her mum/sis and hire Jake to expose the rather nice Hollis as an adulterer? If it's a hint at getting him to find out about the conspiracy then it's a rather odd one. But the film is a triumph, and reminds us of just how much Los Angeles is a desert city, unnaturally watered. Ironic that the Los Angeles Aqueduct was designed by William Mulholland, and that I would have watched Mulholland Drive tonight if Amazon Prime had been civilised and had subtitles...

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA Top Shelf Perverts

"We both know you don't own a vacuum cleaner...”

Wow. Jessica has really hit rock bottom after last week; Luke’s stinging rejection has really affected her. We know that, narratively speaking, there’s no way she’s going to get locked up in Superman for the rest of her life for a trumped up crime of her own devising in the middle episode of the season is dark, dark, dark. Jessica is a very damaged person.

And the reason for that damage is as foregrounded as ever as we finally get a personal confrontation between Jessica and Kilgrave in which both Ritter and Tennant are magnificent. Kilgrave is the textbook abuser her, entitled to have Jessica just because he thinks he loves her. She’s the object of his “aff futons” and thus an object, to be allowed no agency at all. He’s refusing to use his powers directly on her but that doesn’t mean this is about anything other than a disturbing need to control. All this is every bit as disturbing as his murder of Ruben.

We also see Trish’s mother, and apparently Jessica’s adoptive stepmother, as we begin to get some backstory regarding Jessica’s childhood. And Will is going off the rails, tracking Kilgrave without being honest to Trish about what he’s doing. Here’s my prediction; he’s going to get himself killed.

Hogarth’s ex blackmails her for 75% of her assets; this means war, and brings this plot thread from
The background to the fore. I’m sure something will snap soon. It’s a decisively eventful middle episode, ending with Jessica seemingly helpless in Kilgrave’s orbit.  This is brutally good telly.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

White Zombie (1932)

"I'm too old to go all the way with you!"

Oh dear. I was all set to watch Brighton Rock with Richard Attenborough but, due to a disappointing lack of subtitles on behalf of Amazon Prime, I thought I'd watch this instead. Not my best decision; it's a plodding, dull, poorly shot melodrama that may only last 70 minutes but feels much, much longer. Not very good, to put it mildly, and you can sort of see the slide in Bela Lugosi's career starting here, in a performance that is just repeating Dracula.

Still, bad film though this is, it remains an interesting cultural artifact and not only because it was the name of Rob Zombie's band for a few years before he found himself having far more success with his solo career and sacked the band. It's set, like the later I Walked with a Zombie, in Haiti and sees the zombie entirely through the prism of Haitian voodoo legend. Even the title of the film suggests it was widely seen as a Haitian or, at most, West African thing. The zombie at this point owes very little to the post-Night of the Living Dead concept; here it is implied to be the result of a drug that mimics death, allowing the voodoo baddie to "resurrect" the body as his docile servant. No biting or brain munching here. Indeed, zombies are said to be worked for long hours in plantations and sugar factories, and it's impossible not to see this, in the Caribbean of all places, in the context of slavery. This isn't the apocalypse; it's abuse of workers' rights.

None of that makes this film worth seeing, though. You have been warned!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

"You're my favourite person. But every so often you can be a real c***."

And so we come to the second part, with Elle unexpectedly killing Budd with a hidden black mamba while the Bride plucks out Elle's remaining eye, leaving her blind and thrashing around.

Only Bill is left. But the story is fleshed out, with a monochrome flashback to the wedding and an extended heart to heat between our two protagonists at the end, with Bill's monologue about Superman finally giving us some proper Tarantino dialogue but also allowing the film to end with fully explored characterisation. There's plenty of aestheticised violence in this second part but this time around we get the characterisation and backstory. We also have a name: er, Beatrix Kiddo.

We also get a proper visual tribute to Chinese martial arts and, it seems, to Monty Python and the Holy Grail with the very silly character of "Gordon" Liu's Pai Mei, the bushy eyebrowed and delightfully rude ancient martial arts master with a beard to marvel at. All scenes featuring him are comedy gold. He's rude, sadistic, bigoted and easily the most likeable character in the film. Oh, and on the subject of cameos we also get Sid Haig as a barman and Samuel L. Jackson as... could it be an older, wiser Jules?

It's a satisfying ending, perhaps more so than expected, and the two parts together make a more balanced and fleshed-out film than the pure fetishised violence of the first half. And the direction, of course, is equally magnificent. I'm so glad I've finally seen this. More Tarantino before too long, methinks.

Anastasia (1997)

"That's what I hate about this government. Everything's in red."

 Ok, let's forget historical accuracy. Rasputin died in December 1916, a full two months before the revolution, yes. And Anastasia was killed with the rest of her family in Yekaterinburg in July 1918 along with the rest of the former imperial family. But let us forget such things, much as we forget how silly it is to travel from Germany to France (by map, naturally) by sailing round Denmark. Why? Because artistic licence, because this was Mrs Llamastrangler's favourite film when she was younger, and because it's an entertaining and kid-friendly piece of superior ersatz Disney.

The plot is predictable; Anastasia survives in defiance of the historical record and heads to Paris to find her grandmother and validation, all the while falling gradually in love, screwball comedy style, and ending up happy if no longer royal- who needs those useless Romanovs anyway?

It's a superb cast, with Christopher Lloyd superb in a rare villainous role as the surely too scary for kids ghostly Rasputin, but Meg Ryan and John Cusack (the most '90s stars ever) steal the show. The animation, still hand-drawn, is gorgeous, and I appreciate the various nods to contemporary art and especially the Toulouse Lautrec version of the Moulin Rouge. Yes, it's for kids; yes, narrative rides roughshod over historical accuracy; but there are far worse ways to spend ninety minutes.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

"Well... the television said that's the right thing to do!

Yes, I know, you were expecting Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Over the weekend, I promise! In the meantime, this: the first modern zombie film, establishing all the tropes of the genre as we know it today. From this point onwards zombies are no longer portrayed in terms of their Haitian origins- no voodoo dolls here: compare this to Hammer’s The Plague of the Zombies from Just two years prior. Fitting, then, the film should have a black lead in Duane Jones, although his eventual fate is so depressingly 1968 America.

The film is superb, in spite of its cast of unknown; brilliantly shot in glorious monochrome with fantastic camera angles and magnificent use of shadows. The musical score is highly effective, too. This is a proper horror film that does that old-fashioned thing of making you jump. The whole thing reminds me of the base under siege stories that were being done in Doctor Who at the time, complete with the small cast of flawed characters.

But this film, of course, establishes the tropes of the newish genre it’s creating. Everybody dies, of course, although it isn’t made explicit that civilisation is doomed, with some semblance of state authority remaining at the end. I suspect it is indeed doomed, though, in a world where anyone who dies for any reason will be almost instantly reanimated. Interesting, though, that the plague is said to be caused by mysterious radiation from a returning probe to Venus; it’s all very atomic age.

I can understand why this film is seen as such a horror classic. It really is that good. I only regret that it took the unfortunate death of the great George A. Romero to drive me to watch it

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

"Your instrument is quite impressive..."

I saw this film at the pictures back in 2003, when I was still in my twenties. I enjoyed myself, but never somehow got round to seeing part 2, something which will, I assure you, be remedied within the week. I liked the film then; I like it just as much now, having seen it for a second time.

It's often said of Quentin Tarantino that his main distinguishing feature is the aestheticisation of violence. This film could be said to be the purest expression of that, jettisoning Tarantino's trademark dialogue for an entire film's worth of beautifully shot ultraviolence. The film takes its time in showing us what is really a very simple plot: the Bride, in revenge for the deaths of her new husband, the baby in her belly and everyone present, sets out to kill the first two of five people responsible for her wedding day massacre.But this film is all about form- aesthetics- over content in the best possible way.

Forget realism. This film takes place in a universe where, even post-9/11, planes carry holders for passengers' samurai swords and there exists no pesky law enforcement institutions to rudely interfere with one's mission of revenge, Thgis is Tarantino's tribute to both Japan and to the Hong Kongmartial arts films from the '70s, beginning the film with an explicit tribute to Shaw Brothers and casting Chia-Hui "Gordon" Liu. Most of the film consists of the Bride's meticulous yet fantastical assassination of O-Ren Ishii, a delightfully entertaining baddie who, in a film chock full of superb female roles, assumes the role of main baddie with aplomb, vying well with the Bride in who can generate the biggest jets of CGI blood via the severing of various major body parts.

The direction is superb, with cam era angles to dies for and flashbacks marked out both by use of monochrome and animation. The multinational cast hints heavily at the film's Eastern origins and, while the lack of flashy dialogue or, indeed, of flashy narrative, makes this no Pulp Fiction, I look forward to the second part...

Friday, 15 September 2017

The BFG (1989 TV Film)

"I think, on the whole, I prefer the bagpipes."

This magnificently quirky (and somewhat druggy feeling) animation from Cosgrove Hall of Dangermouse and Count Duckula fame is obviously a superb and enormously fun rendering of Roald Dahl's wonderful novel, well cast with the BFG being rather predictably played by a rather good David Jason, although I have no idea what accent that is supposed to be. Still, it's wonderful, superb, excellent. Watch it now; it was a British TV movie in 1989 so relatively few people worldwide will have done so.

It would be churlish, therefore, to sit here and poke holes is the plot of a film (and novel) which is truly wonderful and has brought joy to millions. Unfortunately, I'm a bit of a churl.

So, firstly, how on Earth did the BFG get started with all this psychedelic dream stuff? Why is he the only giant to have a job, for which he seemingly isn't paid? Why do the other giants not know about the dreamland and how is he managing to keep the secret? Why are there only nine of them? How do they reproduce, as they all seem to be male? How does their economy function to keep them in nicely furnished houses?

And then there's the constitutional scandals. Queen Elizabeth II is seen directing military activities without Parliamentary oversight! The head of Sophie's orphanage is subjected to cruel extra-judicial punishment by the monarch in direct contravention of both Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights! And Sophie is released into the custody of some strange tall bloke who had made no provision for either her education or health needs. Have social services been informed?

This may be a charming if somewhat druggy film that is justifiably remembers with much fondness, yes. But wait until Charter 88 hears about this...

Monday, 11 September 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA You're a Winner

"Of course they're ok. I don't hurt dogs."

Narratively in the context of the season, of course (SPOILERS!) this is The Episode Where Luke Finds Out. It's halfway through the season so naturally it's time to build a big wedge between the two of them. But the way it's done is devastating, a massive blow that someone decent like Luke, whom she cares about, should be so disgusted with her. Yet this, like everything, is the consequence of that abusive relationship with Killgrave, who spends the episode carefully, and legally, with minimal use of powers, acquiring ownership of Jessica's childhood home. It doesn't get much creepier than that.

What gives the ending its punch, of course, is that Jessica and Luke end up working together and, after Luke hears the gist about what happened with Killgrave from Malcolm, he thinks he knows why they split up, and it doesn't take long before they sleep together. It's clear from these brief scenes just how much she likes him, and how much his rejection of her must hurt.

Elsewhere, Hope gets herself an illicit abortion as there's no way she can stomach giving birth to Killgrave's child, a foetus conceived by rape. We get the eye-opening revelation that Pam won't sleep with Hogarth before marriage because "I'm Catholic"- people who refuse to make sure they're sexually compatible with you before getting married are not taking the marriage seriously, and I'm not sure what Pam's agenda is here.

One other weird thing- Hogarth wants Hope's dead foetus. Why? A solid episode, though, in a series that continues to impress.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Apocalypse Now (1979)

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning..."

 I may have waited until I was forty but at last I can claim to have seen this troubled yet magnificent and iconic film, and now at last I know where the phrase "Charlie don't surf" comes from. But there#s so much more, and not just the well-known set pieces with eccentric warfare, surfing chat and Ride of the Valkyries.  No; this modern take on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (which I read long ago, in Florida, when I was nineteen) doesn't just transplant the events from the Belgian Congo to Vietnam but imparts added meaning. There's far more going on in this film than a single viewing can pick up, but there's the barbarity and ethics of warfare, misogyny, mortality and so much more, and it all feels so much more profound for the extraordinary skilled direction from Francis Ford Coppola.

It doesn't feel over-long; yes, Kurtz (a magnificent Marlon Brando, always filmed in some degree of shadow as metaphor for the character's ambiguity) is held back to the end, being built up slowly until his final, iconic appearance, but the film is equally about the events that happen to Willard (an extraordinary and very young Martin Sheen) along the way, alongside such characters as Chef, Clean (a teenage Laurence Fishburne) Dennis Hopper's nameless fawning photojournalist and the unforgettable Colonel Bill Kilgore. There's more than a hint of Aguirre: Wrath of God in how the journey along the river is shot, but the characters feel real and human; this isn't some aloof art flick.

There's a surprisingly small part for Harrison Ford but the cast as a whole is magnificent and entirely worthy of what must surely be one of the finest films ever made, however difficult it's creation.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978)

"The tomatoes are coming!"

Oh my. That's... quite a cultural experience. What have I just watched?

So very low budget; totally devoid of stars (the most "famous" person in the film seems to be Gregg Berger, who would provide the voice for Grimlock in the Transformers cartoon the following decade), and many of the big roles are played by people with no other screen credits. And yet... this is absolutely wonderful.

There isn't so much a plot here, or at least no more so than there is in the first two Monty Python films; instead we get a series of linked sketches, all showing us some very Pythonesqye humour; indeed, the whole thing reminds me of the tennis-playing blancmange sketch. The film is chick full of brilliant sketches, including an interesting precursor of the Two Ronnies' famous "crossed lines" sketch. And it's all so splendidly '70s, with a superb skewering of the advertising agency, although with a very jarring bit of anti-Japanese racism near the start. And the tomatoes themselves... words fail me.

The conclusion is, of course, both random and inspired, imparting the important moral message that chart pop is evil, and the final scene with the carrot promises, or threatens, a sequel. I'm, well, defeated by this film...

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)

"It's a bit like one of those old houses in horror films."

"I see what you mean. It's like Boris Karloff's going to pop up any minute..."

Wow. A late '60s horror film with a very genre cast (what a cast though!) that manages to be not at all kitsch as its Hammer and Amicus cousins usually are but, in spite of being very much full of the usual cliched tropes, is actually a film of genuine quality. Then again, it's scripted by the two men behind The Web of Fear.

Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff both excel in roles that suit their perspective brands of silky, sinister charisma, although sadly Barbara Steele's role is too small to be worth much comment. Mark Eden does well as the hero, although it's a shame that Robert gets such a tiresomely and predictably rapey scene with Virginia Wetherell's Eve, something that dates the film every bit as much as the '60s fire engine at the end.

The true star is the script, though- this tale of a witch burned unjustly at the stake under Cromwell and seeking bloody revenge over the centuries involving violence, fear and, er, a fair bit of BDSM from the very start, and centred around an old house with a hidden past may be typically gothic fare with a huge number of horror film cliches all present and correct right down to the petrol pump attendant warning us off the house in question, but the execution is undeniably superb. Don't mistake it for one of the many films of a similar type with a similar cast at a similar time; this one is well worth watching.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Terror (1963)

"Mark you, you are getting yourself into things beyond your understanding!"

Roger Corman, O Roger Corman, you have your tropes. I mean, this film isn't even based on a Poe story but it might as well be. It's all typically gothic, set in "the remains of a noble house" and full of the sinister suggestion that the sins of the past may come to find us. Oh, and we have Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson in the same film, a witch, a bloke getting his eyes pecked out by a bird, and Nicholson being delightfully excessive throughout in really trying to find motivation in the cipher of a character he's playing; he actually manages to imbue his shitty lines with some depth. Wow.

But let's not be too harsh; this is a fun film and exactly what you'd expect from Corman. It's a precious artifact from those last few years of Boris Karloff's life in which he was again fashionable, and both he and Nicholson are excellent in a competent film, if a cheap one and formulaic in the best possible way. This is pure distilled Corman, with two excellent performances from its leads, so much so that we can avoid the unfortunate continuity error about when Ilsa is supposed to have died, and the frankly implausible twist about the Baron that comes at the end. What counts is atmosphere, and Karloff, and Nicholson. Typical Corman in the best possible way.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

"Polite persons do not take their supper in the nude!"

 Well, there's a surprise. Oddly enough this is quite a departure from Tim Burton's usual directorial style, even if the subject matter is very him, but it works. The very English early twentieth century fantasy feel- never mind it's based on a series of American novels whose author is younger than I am- is a perfect fit for him and is done well, even if it doesn't necessarily feel very Tim Burton. And it's most odd to see neither head nor hair of either Helena Bonham Carter or Johnny Depp.

The cast is superb, though. Eva Green is the obvious highlight but Samuel L. Jackson deserves particular praise for portraying a fantasy villain very much out of his normal kinds of parts, and doing it with aplomb. Even the many child actors are at least ok, but Ella Purnell is a revelation.

Mostly, though- and I haven't read the novel and so cannot comment on how it's been adapted- the film succeeds because of the superbly imaginative and original fantasy world it presents to us from the pen of Kick-Ass' Jane Goldman, a kind of wartime X-Men with magnificently imaginative powers, extra timey-wimeyness ( I love the loops) and some particularly fearsome monsters and fantasy creatures that are superbly recognised, in some cases by mock stop motion. Very much an enjoyable film and one much better than its puzzlingly mixed reputation.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Godfather (1972)

"He made him an offer he couldn't refuse..."

There's a school of thought, one I'm sympathetic too, that says this is the greatest film ever made, and that's a heavy burden to bear. Can any film survive such expectations? Best to ignore the whole question, I think, and just say that the film is superb.

Few films are as well directed as this, with every shot framed beautifully, and incredible cinematography. Marlon Brando and Al Pacino are both, of course, sublime. And the script is the perfect take of both the Mafia and of the Italian (or Sicilian) immigrant experience in America.

There are so many iconic scenes, from the infamous horse's head to the moment when the murders of all Michael Corleone's enemies are juxtaposed with him affirming his Catholic faith at his nephew' christening. But the scenes hang together perfectly in a tale of how war hero Michael, at first intended to be kept away from the business of the family, is slowly drawn in and takes over from his imposing yet declining father and his fatally hot-headed brother Sonny. The change is convincingly and carefully shown, with a brilliantly inscrutable performance from Pacino. The film pretty much centres on the tension-filled scene with Michael slowly retrieving the gun from the restaurant toilet, ready to Kill for the first time out of family revenge. A film right up there with the very best.

So, yes- this is quite the contrast from Barbarella!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Barbarella (1968)

"Decrucify the angel!"


"Decrucify him. Or I'll melt your face!"

What the Hell have I just watched?

This is quite possibly the weirdest film I've ever seen, pleasant though Jane Fonda is to look at; a bizarrely kids' TV looking futuristic sci-fi sexual fantasy that features an angel, a villain called Duran Duran, a character called Professor Ping portrayed by Marcel Marceau, a pink girly spaceship, and a ship computer that says "confirmed" a lot and is a blatant influence on Zen from Blake's 7. That's a lot to take in. There's a sort of main plot but it's all very picaresque, moving from one set piece to another with our heroine managing increasingly random escapes from increasingly bizarre perils. Highlights include being pecked to death by budgies, death by orgasm and being bitten all over by creepy kids' dolls with sharp metal teeth. Ouch.

It's all exploitative stuff for the lads, of course, with Jane Fonda being somewhat comely, and you can hardly deny the blatant sexism that's everywhere, but it's hard to mind; it's all so good-natured, stoned and innocent.

There's little point in critiquing the acting, effects or decor and, not being stoned, I'm not sure I'm entirely qualified to give an opinion or, indeed, to know what to think. The music, the sparkliness, the clash of kids' TV and free love- wow. But what can you expect of a film featuring a major character called Duran Duran? I am bamboozled by Barbarella.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

"You always were a cunning linguist, James."

I know, it's been a while since GoldenEye. But it took a while before I could face another Bond after that, and it was with all due trepidation that I sat down to watch this. It's a relief to say, then, that Brosnan is better, if still hardly my favourite Bond, and that this is a good if not great Bond film- it says a little in the middle, perhaps, and the whole thing is an extremely formulaic Bond-by-numbers but done well enough, and I think that's what's required at this stage. This is only the second film after a large gap, and there's a need to re-establish all the many tropes.

So we get a notable return to tradition after GoldenEye's sometime iconoclasm, with a notably less spiky relationship between Bond and Judy Dench's M. But we get a decent pre-titles- the Russians are goodies; it must be the '90s- and a mildly disappointing theme tune from Sheryl Crow, and off we go.

This film's Bond villain is the media mogul Eliot Carver, played with splendidly scenery-chewing relish by Jonathan Pryce as he arranges conflict between the UK and China purely to make money. He gets lots of zeitgeisty speeches about the power of the media that date the film enormously; it won't be long until the Internet starts to topple the likes of him off their perches. And I notice that Bond has his first mobile phone, although from the dependably sarky and now octogenarian Q, who has been there since From Russia with Love.

We get a splendid cast as usual, even with the likes of Jason Watkins, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Gerard Butler and Hugh Bonneville with small parts as naval officers. This is hardly one of the greats, but Bond is back on track.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Punisher (1989)

"Who sent you?"


I was pleasantly surprised by this film, I have to say. Not that it's any good, of course; it's a trashy '80s action film starring Dolph Lundgren and is neither big nor clever. What it is, though, is highly entertaining in all it's glorious trashiness throughout. A melodrama may be all it is, but it works.

The film starts with a crude but efficient combination of set piece and exposition which introduces us to Frank Castle, what he does and his backstory. The character isn't very deep, so an actor like Lundgren is all that's required and, moreover, the opening set piece features a doomed baddie who is portrayed with enormous quantities of ham. But the film soon settles down into it's entertaining Mafia vs Yakuza plot, with a bit of buddy buddy cop stuff thrown in there too. The film is well enough shot in its Australian locations and Jeroen Krabbe is also good enough as the mob boss forced to work with Castle. Even the child actors are mostly adequate.

It's all very late '80s, of course, from the music to the hardline attitude to crime, and one thing that really dates it is the subtext (probably not intentional; the film isn't that clever) of Japan gradually overtaking the USA economically, as everyone seemed to think was happening at the time. There's lots of martial arts action, with even the opening titles looking a bit like a martial arts film.

I like Snake too, a much needed comedy character and someone there to remind us of the extremely dodgy ethics of vigilante murder and how it's victims are not only the guilty; the film is hardly philosophical but it avoids presenting the Punisher as a hero, and I like that. The film is what it is, but for me it was both enjoyable and, ignoring small details, a more or less faithful rendering of the comic book character. This is more worth watching than you probably thought.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017


It's my brother's wedding at the weekend and I'm currently writing a best man's speech, so don't expect much (if anything) in the way of blogging until Monday onwards. Then the usual pace will resume...

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Day of the Jackal (1973)

"How did you know whose telephone to tap?"

"I didn't. So I tapped all of them."

 I read the novel in my teens, and very quickly. It's not just that it's a somewhat unputdownable thrilller with no pretensions to literary ambition, but the prose was extraordinary basic: bare, functional, impossible to praise or criticise. Indeed, probably the best adjective for Frederick Forsyth's prose is "absent" but it does its job for what is probably Forsyth's best novel in a series of ever-diminishing returns.

I mention this because the film is an extraordinary faithful adaptation. Fred Zinnemann shows admirable restraint in following the style of the book and allowing the narrative to do its natural job with no unnecessary directorial flourishes to take us out of the style. He's unafraid to have long periods of silence if that's how best to tell the story and ends up producing a film that is slow, unhurried yet pacy. That's as much of a talent as any directorial trick.

Edward Fox is superb, of course, playing his rather flat cipher of a character, and the same is true of the impressive cast of largely British character actors. But what makes this film is the story- a slow, methodical look at how a high profile assassination is carried out in a pre-digital, pre-surveillance age that is little more than a decade before my time; I can still remember those French bank vans from trips to France as a young child in the early '80s. This is an age where it is relatively easy to fake documents yet the French state still practises both torture and judicial killing. Social attitudes may have improved since 1963 but it's easy to be jealous of the privacy that could be enjoyed back then.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

"I hope you're not a sore loser."

"That depends on how hard you spank me..."

I've already gone into detail about my misgivings about the abusive relationship at the heart of this trilogy- and again, it isn't the BDSM part that's dodgy- and nothing has changed on that front. But this film, admittedly, is less dull to watch and somewhat more entertaining, not that it's particularly good.

On the positive side it doesn't feel so much like a sequel as the middle portion of the story, and one which doesn't have to introduce any of  the characters and can just get on with it, avoiding the common fate of sequels. The directorial style, too, is different; James Foley hasn't quite given us the stylishness of Sam Taylor-Wood but the colours are not so washed out, which is definitely a good thing.

It's still a bit problematic to have a rich man as a wish-fulfilment figure, though, even if the BDSM takes a bit of a back seat in favour of a mild kinkiness- but it's disturbing to hear Grey state that he's not so much a dominant as a "sadist" who had a dodgy childhood and gets off on hurting women who remind him of his mother. In fact I'm not sure that this kind of background is at all conducive to being a suitable dominant. In real life I'd have a hard time seeing a relationship with any such figure as anything other than decidedly dodgy, however much money was sloshing around.

The film is well-acted. especially by the extra star wattage of Kim Basinger as Elena, however shocking her plastic surgery may look. This is not exactly a film with a great deal of intrinsic merit, but at least it's made well and is a marked improvement on its predecessor.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA The Sandwich Saved Me

"Patsy taught me to hold the remote with one hand and box the bald-headed bishop with the other."

Narratively there was always going to be an episode at this vague point where Jessica and Trish try and fail to capture Killgrave; what's more interesting is what it reveals about the characters in another excellently written, acted and directed episode.

I really haven't given enough credit to Krysten Ritter as Jessica, playing a complex but likeable character. This episode, with flashbacks showing a pre-PTSD Jessica before she met Killgrave, shows the subtleties of her performance.And, of course, we see the moment when briefly superheroic Jessica first meets the man who will ruin her life as with so many others.

One of these lives is Malcolm's; it has become horribly apparent that this man we have dismissed as a junkie is only that way because Killgrave needs to keep him dependent in order to spy on Jessica for him. The junkie isn't who he is. It turns out we don't know him at all. And there are signs of hope that the cold turkey may actually work.

The episode shows us how Jessica, a self-doubting Trish an a newly initiated Simpson work together, giving us hints that Simpson may be prepared to go too far. Mostly, though, this episode more than any other shows us how evil Killgrave he is and how he ruins lives, including a horrible scene of Hope being beaten up in prison.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA 99 Friends

"You are coming across as distinctly paranoid."

"Everyone keeps saying that. It's like a conspiracy."

No Luke this episode,  and no Killgrave, although he pervades everything. No; instead Jessica gets a divorce case that isn't a divorce case, showing us the hostility that there is towards "gifted" people following all that CGI in The Avengers, and perhaps more importantly how easy it is for people to blame easy targets for their loss. Jessica distracts herself from guilt over Luke by setting up a support group for people controlled by Killgrave in the past, while Trish grows reluctantly closer to Simpson, the guilt-ridden cop who thought he'd killed her.

It's a quieter episode where the characters get to breathe, so we get to more fully explore the effects of PTSD on both Trish and Jessica, who are both very different, while we get out first
inklings of just how messy Hogarth's divorce is likely to be. The slow pace suits the style, and direction and narration style are, as ever, excellent in what is shaping up to be a very promising Chandleresque tale of domestic abuse.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

"I'm having woman cramps..."

Meh. Is that it? That was decidedly, boringly average, but then this is 2012 and Sony have to crank out any old Spider-Man film every few years. Still, those of us who have seen Fox's 2015 Fantastic Four know it could be much worse.

Not that this is a bad film, you understand. It's well-shot, adequately plotted and scripted, Andrew Garfield is a good-enough Spider-Man in spite of being blatantly too old, and the whole "cross-species" thing is a clever way of tying together the origins of Spidey and the Lizard. No; what's annoying is that they're doing that damn origin again, and Sam Raimi made that film in 2002.

Oh, they try to make things different- there's an emphasis on Spidey's dead parents. We get Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane and there's a twist at the end where he seems to decide not to dump her for her "own safety" after a promise to her dad in which two men agree her future between them. Patriarchy much? Still, at least this time it's subverted, even if the trope of Peter Parker's girlfriend always being a character integral to the plot is becoming a little groanworthy. We also get a more streetwise, skateboarding Peter whose academic geekery is downplayed, in spite of the fact that this time we get actual web-shooters. But we still get that damn origin story again, and the whole thing feels so uninspired that even a hilarious Stan Lee cameo can't save this film from mediocrity.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

"Can't you just be a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man?"

Hmm. Well, let me first emphasise that I liked and enjoyed this. All Marvel Cinematic Universe films are fun, have a real wit and lightness of touch, and give a real sense of the wider universe. All of that was present this time and, for what it's worth, this is now my favourite Spider-Man film. But it doesn't quite reach the heights of Marvel's best.

Still, it's a bloody good film. Tom Holland is already cinema's best Spider-Man- a real and believable teenager, young and enthusiastic. Michael Keaton makes a magnificent villain as the Vulture, drawing out Adrian Tombs' depths as a genuinely nuanced character with some rather superb facial acting. Cinema's best Batman turns out to make a rather good baddie for the competition.

And then there's the plot, the script, and the excellent and highly relieving decision not to spend any time rehashing that bloody origin story again. We get only a brief mention of the spider bite and no mention at all of Peter's bloody Uncle Ben. Good. A Spider-Man film should start with ol' Web-Head up and swinging.

But I thought there were nevertheless a couple of misjudgements, not least that excessively Iron-Man-like suit which just isn't very Spidey. And then there's the use of Tony Stark as a mentor figure which gives the feeling that Spidey is a minor offshoot of a very Avengers-centric universe. This feels wrong, perhaps as a consequence of integral parts of the Marvel Universe having been deplorably and immorally pilfered by Fox; the Marvel Universe should not be Avengers-centric. It has no centre. But here we are constantly defining Spidey in terms of the Avengers, which we shouldn't be. It's nice to have a street level story, but the Avengers connections threaten to overwhelm. That's a shame, because the film is otherwise very good indeed.

A good film, then, although perhaps not without flaws. Still, it can surely boast the best Marvel post-credits sequence yet.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Lifeforce (1985)

"Columbia, they're all dead!"

 Well, this certainly isn't the sort of film you'd expect of Tobe Hooper, he of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist fame. Oh, it's well-directed and acted, with horror-like touches, but it's an oddly straight piece of very British alien invasion sci-fi, stuffed with British character actors such as Frank Finlay (always the Witchsmeller Pursuivant to me), John Hallam (Forget Light- he'll always be Sir Wilfred Death to me), Patrick Stewart, Aubrey Morris and even John Woodnutt.

The script, to be frank, is British sci-fi by numbers and nothing special, a very well-made film but with an average script. It's like an episode of Doctor Who with a Hollywood budget and more nudity, right down to the suspiciously large influence plot-wise from The Quatermass Experiment, only without any of Nigel Kneale's characteristic pessimism.

Still, the film is acted well and looks good, with some truly magnificent examples of stop-motion animation which seemed to reach a real peak in the immediately pre-CGI era. Steve Railsback and Peter Firth make decent if rather unhinged-looking stars and it's fun to revel in the '80s-ness of the space shuttles, computer screens and obsession with the return of Halley's Comet. It's odd that a contemporary film should feature such suspiciously advanced space tech, but heigh-ho. Arguably beginning to fade into obscurity from its cult status, Lifeforce is definitely worth seeing not only because it's a fun bit of '80s nostalgia but because it's actually quite good, although I wouldn't put it more strongly than that..

Sunday, 16 July 2017

It's Jodie Whittaker!

So the new incarnation of the Doctor under the Chibnall era is to be Jodie Whittaker. I'm not too exercised by her gender- it's a positive step, yes, but "generic female" was never going to be on the audition list; it has to be the right individual, regardless of gender. And on that criterion, well, I've hardly seen anything with Jodie Whittaker in. So I'm afraid that, other than to register my equanimity at the prospect of the Doctor being a woman, I've little much to say other than a vague intention to see her in something soon.

We know little of the Chibnall era of Doctor Who yet. Writer's rooms? Season-long stories? Let's see what emerges.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

"I'm gonna get mediaeval on your ass!"

This is, quite alarmingly, the 384th film I've done for this blog. Just as alarmingly, it's the first of those 384 films to have been directed by Quentin Tarantino. The odds were against this- I'm quite a fan of his, and this is THE film for those of my generation- but here we are; I've finally got around to blogging the finest film of the '90s.

So what makes Pulp Fiction so superlatively good? Well, part of it is just bloody good directing- take the syringe sequence- but there's more to it than this. Tarantino famously appeals both to the Cannes-attending intellectual crowd and to those who just like to be entertained by a couple of hours of violence and cool, two things which Tarantino is very good at. How does he keep both groups happy?

Well, I tend to say that Tarantino is the Jimi Hendrix of cinema- a true virtuoso, but you could never call him pretentious. Clever though he is, he always retains that lightness of touch. There's a line he doesn't touch. So Pulp Fiction may have a non-linear narrative and a complex ensemble plot with multiple perspectives, but at the same time it manages to be easy to follow, an achievement in both scriptwriting and directing which is not easy. Also, the allusions to cinematic history may be many, but they never overshadow the film itself.

But, I think, what Tarantino does with Pulp Fiction in particular is to use dialogue differently. It's not just that the dialogue is cool and quotable, although it's both of those things, but that it is allowed to breathe. Conversations are allowed to meander and reach a natural end, as per real life, from that first conversation between Jules and Vincent about Amsterdam through the entire film. They are not truncated to fit the narrative and rhythm of the plot; rather, the dialogue sets the rhythm and is used to make sudden moments of action more dramatic.

So many performances deserve praise- Uma Thurman as the tantalising Mia, Samuel L. Jackson as the compelling Jules, comeback kid John Travolta actually being quite good (and getting top billing after all those years of obscurity), Harvey Keitel doing the cool character that probably inspired those recent insurance adverts (something I've only just realised). Not only that, but even Bruce Willis manages to be more-or-less acceptable.

This is one of the greatest films ever, end of. It shouldn't be so long until I blog my next Tarantino film...

Saturday, 15 July 2017

My Girl 2 (1994)

"It's not easy being a woman!"

It's sometimes good to see and blog a film not in the usual genre, without all the explosions and CGI I'm used to, and see a nice little 90 minute drama about our old friend Vada and her dad, stepmum and soon-to-be baby sibling. No Thomas J for obvious reasons, so no Macauley Culkin to provide a big name '.this time; we'll have to make do with Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd. Still, I'm not sure Macauley Culkin was still a thing in '94 anyway.

It's interesting that this isn't, given the absence of Thomas J, really a direct sequel at all but rather a tale of Vada, a couple of years older, travelling to Los Angeles to research her late mother and to undertake a sort-of romance with the awkward and very teenage Nick. In its quiet way it's a nicely done drama, with Vada's search for answers providing a nice structure to it all.

The script and acting are both superb, and there's just enough wallowing in the fact it's 1974 to be fun without overdoing it. There are some nice cameos with Aubrey Morris as a jaded, elderly poet ("Don't be a poet. Be a TV repairman.") and Keone Young as a nerdy cop. A quietly satisfying sequel that's just as good as its predecessor.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Blair Witch (2016)

"The Sun is not coming up!"

I wasn't expecting to like this film. I really wasn't. After all, both The Blair Witch Project and its somewhat unloved sequel are quite good but hardly seminal films and the law of diminishing returns did not seem to bore well. So I was surprised to find myself watching a fairly standard but well-scripted and directed found footage movie which, again, will grace no "Best of" lists but is rather good and, arguably, superior to its two predecessors.

It help that one of the protagonists, James, is the younger brother of Heather from the first film, and that we are restricted to a small cast of two sympathetic couples and another couple who are somewhat dodgy, a dynamic that works. The storytelling beats and plot structure are formulaic but done well, and there is just enough characterisation. No new ground is broken here but it's a solid example of the genre which the first film popularised.

It's nice to get the modern touches such as social media and drones, and to get some more historical backstory for the Witch. Best of all though is the interestingly directed final sequence in the house. An unexpectedly good sequel, then, which doesn't try to be clever but delivers exactly what is wanted.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Circle (2017)

"Secrets are lies!"

It's a surprise to see that Netflix are making films (and this is a film, with a cinematic release) with such stellar casts; here we get Tom Hanks, Karen Gillan, the late Bill Paxton and John Boyega, although Emma Watson, playing American, underwhelms a little as Mae. Still, the film, an adaptation by Dave Evers of his own novel, is superb and thought-provoking.

Mae takes a job at "The Circle", an organisation that seems to be inspired by Apple, Google and Facebook in its culture, employment practices and messianic leader Eamon (Hanks), clearly based on Steve Jobs. At first things are great, with a high salary, a friendly culture on "campus" and plenty of fun and ties. Then we get our first sign of the company being something of a cult, with compulsory "optional" recreational activities and an expectation that employees will maintain a heavy presence on "TrueYou", a thinly veiled Facebook analogue. Mae realised things have gone too far with chips being planned to go into children's bones so they can be monitored and connects with reclusive and disillusioned TrueYou inventor Ty Laffitte (Boyega). Yet her ill-advised cry for help has horrific circumstances.

Mae's persuasion by Eamon to go "transparent", to have her entire life broadcast to the online public on the grounds that "secrets are lies", privacy is bad and we need to be watched to stop us doing bad things is deeply, deeply sinister. Things go predictably wrong very quickly but Mae has her revenge on Eamon- yet it isn't a happy ending as the onward march of social media to trample over our right to privacy is unimpeded, with the Circle able to track down any person for any reason and, now compulsory, delivering electoral information and public services in the ultimate corrupt privatisation. Even the Circle's claim to oppose tyrannical regimes is somewhat undercut by the fact that sending "frowns" to a dictatorship is a pretty impotent thing to do, just like all forms of clicktivism.

The film is marred, perhaps, by a strange blandness on the part of Emma Watson, but the ideas played with in this film are superb. It's worth seeing this script being performed in spite of the film's faults.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

An Update...

Let's just say I'll be rather busy in real life until 25th July, hence the reduced frequency of posts lately. Things are hectic, but there's a definite end date; I have a rather big exam coming up, and at 40 I have to actually revise properly. Plus Mrs Llamastrangler isn't well and someone has to look after Little Miss Llamastrangler. Rest assured things will soon be back to normal, and in the meantime there will still be the odd post.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Theory of Everything (2014)

"While there is life, there is hope."

I'm quite familiar with Stephen Hawking's career from reading both his biography and A Brief History of Time, both a considerable number of ears ago and t was inevitable, I suppose, that a major film should be made about his life and relationship with Jane; as we can see from A Theory of Everything, the events of Hawking's life are extremely well suited to being dramatised; it's not surprising that the film is bloody good. But what is surprising is that the performance from then-newcomer Eddie Redmayne is so utterly transcendent. At last I can see what the fuss was about. The Oscar is well-deserved.
Redmayne excels both as the awkward young man and as the older Hawking in his iconic chair.

The film starts with a shot of said iconic wheelchair and then immediately flashes back to the young Hawking riding a bicycle through the colleges of Cambridge in 1963- quite an effective contrast- on the day he meets Jane, and the film shows the development of his relationship with Jane, his meteoric career and the terrible gradual progress of his motor neuron disease. He's given two years to live, and that seems normal for the condition; I'm led to wonder why it is that he's fortunately survived for all these years.

The film shows us Hawking's stubborn, ambitious, attractively humorous and non-self-pitying personality but also the awful pressures on Jane of looking after Stephen with three small children in tow. The pressures on their relationship are shown with sympathy. It's also wonderful to see his colleagues treating him as normally as possible, a real sign of respect.

There are some nice directorial touches, with a cup of coffee symbolising a black hole, but the film rightly stands on its performances and the emotional heart of its story. This is a superb film.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

"They call me... Swamp Thing!"

I looooved this. Am I allowed to say that? In fact I, er, actually prefer it to the first film.

It's interesting to see a sequel made in 1989, after Alan Moore's acclaimed run on the comic book and even opening with some of Steve Bissette and John Totleben's more famous panels to the splendid and inevitable tones of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Would this film reflect that justly famous run? Well, there's a scene where Swamp Thing feeds Abby a suspiciously phallic seed from a certain part of his body. But, er, no. This film doesn't at all try to be poetic but goes full on B movie and isn't afraid to be silly. Thing is, it works.

I've seen this film described many times as overly silly, which puzzles me; wit and humour are part of life, and are well balanced here. Many potemtially po-faced and dull action films would be improved by this sort of humour. And, er, it's funny. Even the casting of Heather Locklear as a very valley girl Abby works somehow. It isn't just that though- the direction is technically inspired, the casting may be eccentric but we get entertaining performances just the right side of camp, Sarah Douglas is in it, and Swamp Thing gets his own little '80s fanfare. We even get some very '80s porn-loving kids as the chorus. What more do you want?

Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls

"Is it wrong that I..."

"Yes, very!"

Wow. That was an emotional rollercoaster and no mistake, and probably the best Doctor Who season finale since the institution started back in 2005. It's also an episode chick full of fan lore, Moffatisms and, well, stuff. There's a lot to talk about.

We begin with a typically Moffat pre-titles with fields, skies, farmhouses and horse-driven carts all inside the same spaceship (a Moffat trope right from The Time of Angels), and the terrifying spectacle of partly cybernised people being used as scarecrows. The Doctor, Nardole the Master and Missy share a few witticisms before they, and Cyberman Bill, end up together in the farmhouse where the two Masters exchange some glorious dialogue in some truly joyous scenes while Bill (shown as she sees herself) comes to terms with the awful body horror of what she has become. These two sequences showcase two separate types of superlative writing prowess from the Moff.

There's a superb reason why they can't all return to the TARDIS- time dilation; if they travel the full 4,000 miles then the Cybermen will have had millennia to prepare, so there's nothing for it but to sit and wait for the inevitable assault, and for the Doctor to be heroic for the sake of it- "without hope, without witness, without reward." The Doctor gets another one of those magnificent soliloquies that Peter Capaldi first showed himself to be so good at with The Zygon Inversion, and it's interesting to see that the Master doesn't care but Missy is, at least, equivocal.

So the Doctor and Bill, who knows her humanity is slowly being eroded and doesn't want to live without being her (there's a thought, and a horribly modern one- Cybermen as a metaphor for dementia), agree to the suicide mission of staying behind to blow up with the Cybermen while Nardole gets everyone away to survive for a while until the next attack.

The Masters get a delightfully mad ending as Missy fatally stabs the Master with a hug and he shoots her after she reveals she's off to join the Doctor. The Master is off to his TARDIS to regenerate; she is apparently too dead to regenerate, as some ways of being killed, apparently, just arbitrarily do that. This is fooling no one, of course; the Master's been deader than this. (S)he'll be back.

So we come to the Doctor- also fatally wounded, although we saw a flicker of regeneration energy even earlier- and Bill in their last stand against the Cybermen, some of whom, disappointingly, have "evolved" to be more modern like and use the existing costumes. But we get a moment of pure fanwank as the Doctor names "Telos, Voga, Planet 14". There's also an earlier bit of retcon that makes me uncomfortable while we're on the subject of fanwank; the Doctor seems to say that the Cybermen arose independently on "Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14" and, yes, Marinus, in a bizarre and gloriously fanwanky reference to the DWM comic strip The World Shapers, penned by Grant Morrison, no less. Not sure I like this suggestion that not all Cybermen are fundamentally Mondasian, and the idea seems to contradict dialogue in Tomb of the Cybermen anyway.

Still, Cyberman Bill dies and... Bill still exists, because of some clever and retrospectively well-seeded long term plot cleverness from way back in The Pilot meaning Bill gets to be herself again and travel the universe in a puddle with the girl she loves. It's clever, it's superbly written, it made Mrs Llamastrangler and me cry and it's essentially brilliant. But, well, it feels like a cop out. After Clara this is twice in a row that Moffat has stepped back from properly killing off a companion at the last minute and it feels like a lack of bravery. Perhaps I'm being unfair; it's still rather brilliant, and would probably feel different if it wasn't for Clara, not to mention that a companion dying would have overshadowed a busy episode. Nonetheless, there's a slight feeling of cop out.

And so we come to what all the signs are telling us is a regeneration; the Doctor recites his predecessors' last lines, he's lying in the TARDIS as he was at the end of The Tenth Planet, the Cloister Bell is sounding. And yet the Doctor is resisting regeneration through sheer willpower and has, I suspect, been doing so for quite some time. And then Moffat throws a curveball as (in the Doctor's head?) the bloody first Doctor appears, played by David Bradley. This is, to put it mildly, hugely exciting, and may indicate that the Christmas Special may be a leisurely examination of the concept of regeneration, i.e. mortality, casting the Doctor as a kind of Scrooge figure? Whatever, I can't wait.

And yes, I know I have a couple of little criticisms, but they in no way detract from the sheer brilliance and genius of one of Moffat's finest pieces of writing. Yes, like all prolific writers he has his tropes, but that's a strength, not a weakness. Steven Moffat is right up there with Whittaker, Holmes and Davies as one of the finest writers ever to grace this programme.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

iZombie: Looking for Mr. Goodbrain, Part 2

"Well, at least it's not just us with our wangs hanging out..."

Oooh boy. This is quite the eventful finale. Hard to believe this all managed to fit within 41 minutes. Where to start...?

It's a downbeat beginning as Major and Justin briefly (41 minutes!) mourn their dead friends and Liv's confession to Justin about sleeping with Chase Graves leads to him, quite reasonably, being very upset and dumping her, knowing full well that resisting the urges of a particular brain is far from impossible.

But there's scarcely time to breathe before we get straight on to the web of intrigue and revelations that pretty much defines this episode and which I'm certainly not going to summarise; this is not a synopsis.Suffice to say there's been skulduggery within the ranks of Graves' underlings, Baracus was always a red herring and what seemed to be a nefarious genocidal plot turns out in fact to be a plot to seize control of Discovery Day so that humans and zombies can live together in (theoretical) harmony; scenes towards the end indicate that reality is not quite so idyllic.

The role of Johnny Frost in all this is both hilarious and inspired- I love how he uses the fact he's reporting on live television to jump the queue and get vaccinated- and it's heartwarming that Clive is finally able to be fully truthful to Dale, and equally heartbreaking that he's just too late to stop her being infected. But a short, silent scene shows that they're together, and he's staying with her, even though sex is now seemingly out of the question.

But nothing is more moving than the final scene, as Liv sees the final stages of Ravi's truly splendid lab experiment with many vials of bubbling liquid all connected intricately. It seems Ravi has concocted a vaccine and is testing it on himself. Liv is quite moved by this and the two of them have a deeply moving conversation in which they each declare their (platonic) love for each other. And Liv scratches him...

Wow. THAT'S how to do a finale. And tonight it's Doctor Who's turn...

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

iZombie: Looking for Mr. Goodbrain, Part 1

"It was a grudge boink."

Into the two-part season finale, then. We begin with Ravi admitting to Liv that he's the source for the story with the big front cover photo of her in full-on zombie mode on the cover and getting away lightly. He gets less lenience from his old boss Katty Kupps. That's his last ever such bollocking, though, as Katty is promptly murdered and Liv spends the episode on what turns out to be her rather promiscuous brain. For this late in the season the form of the episode, at least, is closer to story-of-the-week than one might expect.

It's bizarre to see Liv made up to look human, at last worried about her anonymity; she looks so unlike herself. But the investigation proceeds as usual, with a nicely written scene where Ravi discreetly calls out a witness for her racism. Liv's flirtiness is anything but, though, and we're left feeling a little uncomfortable about what this means for her relationship with Justin.

Most tragic, though, is Major's rekindled relationship with a besotted Natalie, who invites him to Italy to live happily ever after. This automatically means that everything has to end in tears, and the episode ends with an explosive finale as the zombie Harley Johns kills everyone at Major's goodbye party except for Justin and Major himself. Dramatic stuff, and there's still the finale to go...

Monday, 26 June 2017

IZombie: Conspiracy Weary

"Did we just have a three-way?"

It's a dramatic opening, as both Liv and Blaine rescue Ravi and Don E from the zombie truthers while Fillmore Graves clear up; that's one problem that seems to be well and truly solved. This leads to a hilarious scene with Liv, Blaine and Don E all munching on truther brain and proceeding to spend the rest of the episode as wild conspiracy theorists.

Meanwhile, Peyton continues to investigate the dominatrix killer's death and makes some interesting deductions, not least that his daughter Tatum is a zombie. And what's up with Shawna, putting her sex life with Major all over social media?

The episode climaxes with Liv and Clive investigating Harley John's cabin where they find a secret underground hideaway- and the deep irony of a zombified Harley. But worst of all is that Ravi's apparent friend from the zombie triggers turns out to be a reporter and she has a full expose, and the photo is Liv in full-on zombie mode. Is the secret out?

This is, again, superb. At this stage of the season it's all arc, arc, arc but the show is never too busy for wit and fun.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Doctor Who: World Enough and Time

"Hello. I'm Doctor Who."

Wow. Not sure what the Andrew Marvell quote has with anything, and I did English at uni, but this episode is extraordinary from the initial teasing (apparent) regeneration sequence, with us knowing full well that Peter Capaldi is around until Christmas, to the final, utterly wrenching body horror of our discovery that Bill has been turned fully into a Tenth Planet Cyberman.

The episode starts, though, with a few minutes of fantastic dialogue between a TARDIS crew that has never had such chemistry, and the addition of a seemingly reformed but utterly magnificent Missy is the icing on the cake. Her dialogue is witty, metatextual and glorious. But then the storytelling is equally and non-linearly magnificent as the Doctor tests out Missy's Doctoring skills with a distress call from a 400 mile long ship falling into a black hole, where time passes more slowly at one end of the ship than the other. We get alot of necessary exposition, Bill fulfilling the companion's narrative role here, as the Doctor explains his history with Missy in flashback, Bill gets shot, and... for those of us who've listened to some Big Finish, it all goes very Spare Parts, in the best way possible.

This is, of course, revealed to be a Mondasian ship, and the (ahem) genesis of the Cybermen, as it's very nicely put by John Simm's Master, superbly revealed after having played a friendly character in prosthetics all episode long without fooling me. It's all done quite brilliantly, and John Simm's Master looks positively Delgado for the first multi-Master story. The implausibility of Mondas being Earth's twin planet is nicely glossed over too. Thi is an episode to truly remind us of Steven Moffat's considerable talents.

All this and we get Venusian Aikido too. We're being spoiled. This is, and I know I keep saying it, extraordinary even by the very high standards of what we can surely start calling the best season since Season 27.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

iZombie: Return of the Dead Guy

"So, you know, discipline me!"

I know I've been away a bit; I moved house last Tuesday. But last night I binge watched three iZombies and it's Doctor Who tonight. I'm back, even if we are all surrounded by boxes. Myself, Mrs Llamastrangler and Little Miss Llamastrangler are all loving the new house, even if our conveyancer has been an absolute tit throughout.

Anyway, iZombie is already moving away from the stories of the week as the finale approaches. The zombie truthers have Don E, whom they plan to starve into Romero state while torturing him, all live over the Internet. Meanwhile, Ravi is trapped while Major spends the entire episode having sex with the somewhat odd Shawna. In other news, Blaine speaks fluent Bengali(!) and we get an interestingly kinky scene between Liv and Peyton. But the whole episode is about the zombie truthers and what Liv discovers from eating the brain of the dominatrix killer; it seems it was indeed him after all, but the hanging was murder and not suicide.

We discover that Clive likes Dark Side of the Moon and, it seems, does not share my opinion that, after The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Syd Barrett's solo career was far more interesting than that of Pink Floyd, who became cold and impenetrable when then abandoned their whimsical English psychedelia phase. Ooh, controversial.

The return of Mr Boss, and Blaine nonchalantly turning the tables, is fun. And the end, with Liv and Blaine going full on zombie mode to rescue Don E, promises more fun to come.

This was good. More than usually good.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light

"Death by Scotland!"

Usually my Doctor Who blog posts are fairly long ones as there's always something fannish for me to carp on at length about, but for once this time there isn't: we have a proper story of the week with very few returning elements, which is nice. It's often, as here, the stories that aren't trying to be "big" or "epic" that are, quietly, often the best ones. Instead we just get some bloody good writing from the only real returning element, Rona Munro.

Munro is, of course, the only writer to have written for Doctor Who, on proper telly, in both this century and the last, and after the 28 years(!) since Survival she again delivers a mystical, feminist, magnificent piece of writing exploring the themes of colonialism, gender, and sexuality in the rich historical setting of first century Pictland, where there's the mystery of the 9th legion and the temptation to quote Tacitus' famous "They make a desert and call it peace" is simply impossible to resist. We are shown proud, thoughtful and very young warriors on both sides and given a beautiful fairytale touch as we learn why crows make the sound they do. This is, quietly, one of the best episodes of the season. Even the CGI monster is brilliant.

Once more the chemistry between Bill and the Doctor is wonderful- I love Bill's explanation that the Doctor "always ends up being the boss of the locals"- and Nardole is as entertainingly sardonic as ever. But most intriguing is the sexual tension between the Doctor and a Missy who may actually be a reformed character, something which desperately needs to be explored in depth.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

"He would have an enormous Schwanstucker!"

Ok, so Gene Wilder excels, in the best performance I've ever seen by him, as Victor Frankenstein's grandson Frederick, who he plays in a delightful pastiche of Vincent Price. Gene Hackman is great too, and ends his scene with a splendid ad-lib. But the film is really about Marty Feldman, whom we must all worship. I mean, one of his ad-libs even caused Aerosmith to write their most well-known song. That's impressive.

The film- in monochrome, utilising the same sets, using deliberately similar opening titles- is a superb pastiche of James Whale's two Frankenstein films. The humour is classic early Mel Brooks, but the sense of a cast having fun, and the ad-libbing, make the film. Marty Feldman, though, shows again what paragon of comedy he is.

There aren't as many laughs per minute, perhaps, as later Mel Brooks films, but the jokes are funny, and just as gloriously Jewish. This is a pastiche specifically of the Universal Frankenstein films by James Whale, in monochrome, using similar opening titles and even using the same lab equipment, with riffs on several scenes. But this is a world where you can get on a train in New York and get off at a "Transylvania Station" where things are still very Mittel-Europe and Ceaucescu's regime is nowhere to be seen. It's the world of Mel Brooks at its very best.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA It's Called Whiskey

"Ok. So there's you, me, the big green dude and his crew."

It's an eventful third episode as Jessica and Luke bond over their superpowers, taking the chance to give us a bit of exposition on what they can both exactly do in between extremely frequent bouts of the kind of sex you get between a woman with super strength and an invulnerable man. That bed stood no chance.

Jessica half-tells Luke about Killgrave before mutual lust interrupts. And we get our first "Sweet Christmas!". But the set piece is Trish arranging a phone in from prison with poor Hope, believed by no one, in which the idea is thrown out that Killgrave exists in a hope that other victims come forward. But the whole thing comes to a distinctly menacing end as Killgrave himself Rings in with threats.

Trish, incidentally, is Patsy Walker, not (yet?) Hellcat but with a comic and fans, although it seems Killgrave "always thought her television show was shite". That's quite a revelation. After a significant alteration with a mind controlled cop, though, Jessica manages to trace Killgrave to the luxury apartment where he's staying in the inevitable early confrontation that the rhythms of storytelling require. She looks through a window and sees Killgrave- and that's when we see: it was Jessica who pushed Luke's wife under that bus, killing her, at Killgrave's order. Not wonder she breaks up with him at the end. Awfully, though, he thinks that she just simply can't deal with being with a widower.

Creepier than all that, though, are the many stalkery pics of Jessica, put there for her to find, with "See you later" written on one to make it clear that the whole show was for her benefit. Killgrave has plans for her. This is gripping telly.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Doctor Who: Empress of Mars

"We're British! Mars is part of the Empire now!"

You can always rely on Mark Gatiss to bring a good bit of fanwank, but this time round he does a splendid tale of post-colonialism in the format of a mummy film (shades of Tomb of the Cybermen crossed with Zulu) which has things to say about the colonial Victorian mindset, war, and more about the Ice Warriors than we've ever seen. We even get Alpha bleeding Centauri back, played by your actual Ysanne Churchman. And, just to rub in that this is written by an uber-fan, we get a delightfully gratuitous rehash of Mike Yates' "RHIP" line from Day of the Daleks.

It's so delightfully steampunk, so very Space:1889, for a bunch of Victorian soldiers from the First Boer War in 1881 to come across a Martian spaceship and be taken to Mars by an Ice Warrior whom they nickname "Friday". There's plenty of room for some fun with the tally-ho Victorian attitudes contrasted with the Martian martial attitude. The happy ending for the dishonoured colonel is positively heartwarming.

The Doctor and Bill continue t have excellent chemistry too, and I can't believe they have so little time together. I loved Bill's referencing of both The Terminator and The Thing (she's one of us) while the Doctor, in a move my two year old daughter would approve, instead chooses Frozen as his obligatory pop culture reference. But the dialogue sparkles and the chemistry between the two of them is a joy to behold.

But, for this old fan, the real meat of this episode is that, however much they may have appeared five times before, we've never before seen the Ice Warriors in their natural habitat, on Mars, or had any real reference to their history or culture. But this time we meet an Ice Queen, learning of how the whole race has slept for 5,000 years (linking nicely with The Ice Warriors), and how the oxygen is now escaping and the planet will soon be lifeless. It's a splendidly fanwanky moment as Alpha Centauri, last seen in, er, 1974 in Monster of Peladon, who welcomes the entire population of Mars into the Galactic Federation, a "New Golden Age", and presumably a New Mars.

But the end, with Nardole having to enlist Missy's help to pilot the TARDIS back to Mars, ends with a hint of sexual tension between the Doctor and a reformed/reforming Missy. What's happening here...?