Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

"What you make of another's kindness is up to you."

Let's get the obvious comments about this being a blatant influence on Star Wars out of the way quickly, shall we? The directorial style, with the wipes; there's a princess, who gives out a medal at the end; Tahei and Matakishi are C-3PO and R2-D2, and their squabbling at the start of the film is awfully similar, as are all their early scenes. That's enough to be blatant, and I suspect the great Toshiro Mifune's General Matakishi is a big influence on Obi-Wan. Will that do?

But as an Akira Kurasawa film, shockingly only the second I've blogged although I saw a fair few in my pre-blogging days? Well, it's not his best; perhaps it lacks the thematic or aesthetic depths of his best work. But it is nevertheless awesomely made even if the script is odd; shorn of anything more than superficial themes of honour and vague spirituality, it contains Mifune being Mifune, an awesome duelling scene with lances on foot(!), and of course a comic chorus in the form of Tahei and Matakishi, who are rather interestingly foregrounded from the very start, the film being more or less their POV. They also, however, highlight the oddity of a film which is classily directed and made in a modern manner, with a new script, but set entirely within an early modern value system of feudalism, where peasants are simply rude mechanicals, crude and greedy as opposed to the noble behaviour of the posher characters.

It's a brilliant film for all the usual Kurosawa reasons, though, even if it probably would have ended up as one of his lesser-known works if not for George Lucas.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hell's Bells

"Nothing on Earth can stop this wedding now...”

We all know what television wedding episodes are like- Light-hearted, funny, relaxing, with a little bit of drama but everything turning out ok in the end. Except this is a Joss Whedon Show. So we get most of the above aside from the ending, which takes your heart and repeatedly stomps on it.

Still, most of the episode is fun, witty, and let’s the characters breathe in contexts we don’t usually see, with Buffy as best man while Willow and Tara bond again, and Spike brings some ransomed as a date to get at Buffy, except that this ends up in the kind of bizarrely heartwarming conversation between the two of them that few lesser shows would do. We finally get to see Xander’s family, and they are every bit as awful as we might imagine- and his parents’ marriage is a big part of why we get the ending we do.

But then it ends, and Xander can’t go through with the wedding, not because of the token baddie but his own innate, pathetic, yet very human fears and, having seen his family, we are horrified but can sort of understand. Like Willow, we feel we should hate him but can’t. Anya, though? It’s heartbreaking how her loving monologue is juxtaposed with Xander’s doubtful body language, and the blow is utterly devastating in a brutal piece of televisual excellent. In the end she’s back with D’Hoffryn- to be a vengeance demon again? Heart-wrenching telly.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Conformist (1970)

"I want to see how a dictatorship falls.”

I’ve always hated unthinking confirmity so, as you can imagine, I found this film rather satisfying. It may be adapted from a novel I don’t know, but it’s rare to find a film that feels so much like literary fiction in its treatment of theme and inferiority, an impressive achievement when one must use visuals and acting as a substitute to being privy to characters’ thoughts.

Marcello Clerici is cold, reserved, not given to easy display of feeling, perhaps because of sexual abuse in his youth, and self-conscious about this, as well as secretly not being quite unambiguously heterosexual. But this very self-consciousness makes him anxious to fit in, to be “normal”, an attitude he shares with his blond friend Italo.

So he conforms. Even his marriage to Giulia, while he sees as rather simple and with whom he has no real connection as a person, is done so he can appear normal. The trouble is, of course, that confirmity can be a particularly terrible thing if you happen to live in an oppressive society such as, say, Fascist Italy in 1938, and the film centres on a moral dilemma; will Marcello get his hands dirty by assassinating an old anti-Fascist professor? In the end he does, of course, and he conforms to Fascism and tyranny in all of its openly evil aspects.

His relationship with Anna is interesting, too. The professor’s wife, yet also attracted to both Marcello and the innocently oblivious Giulia, she seems to offer her body as a peace offering to Marcello in a doomed attempt to stave off the inevitable. Yet she is attracted to the man she hates, accepting sex and comfort from him even as she confronts him with human rights abuses under Mussolini.

And yet, five years later, as Mussolini’s regime falls, Marcello is able to conform once more without a qualm, denouncing his former Fascist beliefs and even his old friend Italo, no doubt set to thrive in the new democratic Italy. Such conformists surround us, their potential for evil often latent, but they are monsters. This is a fine film.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

"Oh, my stars and garters!"

You know how a film gets critically acclaimed, you're aware of this, and so when you come to see said film, however good it may be, it inevitably disappoints next to the Platonic ideal of cinematic perfection you were expecting? And you know how, when everybody tells you a film is pants, you can be pleasurably surprised? I call that Howard the Duck syndrome, and it definitely applies here.

Syndrome or not, I found this film to be far from pants. It's entertaining, well-acted and deals with the characters well. Yes, Vinnie Jones is Vinnie Jones, but the use of the character of Juggernaut I found to be fine. Yes, the direction is unshowy, but it does the job. Yes, the Phoenix saga is squashed into a film that's really about a mutant "cure" that works as a semi-metaphor for those awful gay conversion therapies that are still legal in certain barbaric areas of the world. But it's an action-filled film, if a simple one, and the characters ring true, even if Wolverine inevitably dominates. Some characters die (Scott is a shock, but the cinema version was always quite dull), but we get a cool, recast Kitty Pryde; Colossus doing the good old fastball special with Wolverine; Angel with daddy issues; Rogue getting cured and, let's face it, getting banged by Bobby after the credits roll; the genuine grief when Charles Xavier dies; the post-credit scene; the Beast as a successful politician; Madrox.

All this, and we also get an early cameo from both Stan Lee and Chris Claremont. Ignore the critics; this film is much-maligned.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Baywatch (2017)

“You got your beef and your biscuits stuck down there...”

I know. What can I say? It was a moment of madness. I can certainly reassure you, though: I certainly won’t be blogging the TV series. No one wants that.

Well, let’s make clear from the outset that, a few good performances aside such as, yes, Dwayne Johnson, Mrs Llamastrangler and I are both united in the view that this film is, unsurprisingly, pants. The plot is as predictable as clockwork, with cartoon baddies and a secondary hero who has to prove himself, and there are the obligatory knowing winks and amusing cameos from both Pamela Anderson and a shockingly old-looking David Hasselhoff. Mercifully unexplained is why both mentor and protege are called Mitch Buchannon.

We have a nerd character (we know at the start he’s a nerd because he wears a Donkey Kong t-shirt) who ends up getting the sexy chick and, yes, you’re not going to get a movie like this without, well, not so much the male gaze as an awful lot of perving on scantily clad women by both the camera and the script.

There are some funny one liners, especially at the start and end, but unfortunately the middle of the film is all plot and action and this is really rather dull in the way rubbish films tend to be. Yes, this film is done with a knowing wink, the fourth wall is somewhat unstable throughout, but let there be no doubt that this film is utter, absolute pants.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

iZombie: Are You Ready for Some Zombies?

"All bulls' pizzles hit the road..."

Before I get started... fear not, iZombie is current. I'm still very much committed to finishing Buffy and Angel aside from current TV such as this, plus films. I still may do stuff that's currently on my Sky Plus in addition, and will probably slot in finishing a season of Game of Thrones between seasons of Buffy/Angel, but fear not!

Anyway... this opening episode isn't that good, is it? The wit doesn't sparkle like it usually does in spite of the funny scene with Shakespeare luvvie brain, the post-zombie apocalypse setting leads to a lot of exposition, and the trinity of Liv, Ravi and Clive don't even get much screen time what with how much of an ensemble cast this show has slowly developed.

Anyway, four months have passed. Seattle is all walled off, so MAGA and all that bollocks. Everyone knows about zombies, although there is much seething resentment, and "Z"'s painted on the doors of households known to hold zombies. There's a nice scene, though, as Ravi and Clive exchange a brief acknowledgement of the irony when Liv, the only white person present, has to deal with the social awkwardness of casual racism. Brains are rationed, but Chase Graves are more equal than others. Blaine is an informer to Chase Graves, and there's the spectre of a zombie guillotine. Oh, and there's a token murder and a token quirky brain, but the whodunit really doesn't feel very important here.

Ravi is getting zombie "periods" once a month, which will be interesting, and Major is now going back to his roots and counselling teen zombie delinquents, except it seems to be for the purpose of recruiting more soldiers. Worryingly, we seem to have two extra young members of an already-large cast at the end of the episode. Weirdly, Clive can now be open about the way Liv gets visions from eating the victim's brain.

But it's all rather over-complicated, with two many characters, too much exposition and too many plotlines. Here's hoping things improve.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Schindler's List (1993)

"The party's over, Oskar. They're shutting us down. Sending everything to Auschwitz."

This is, to put it mildly, not an enjoyable film. But it is a necessary one, and one of the greatest and most devastating films ever made.

It's fitting that a film about the Holocaust should not feature Hitler, that dull, bigoted, pathetic man whose place in popular culture as the embodiment of evil troubles me. Because unloading the unspeakable evils of the Nazis on to one lazy, useless, banal man is a cop out. The Holocaust is the worst thing the human race has ever done, and to emphasise the man in charge is to downplay the evil of the many soldiers, bureaucrats, functionaries and accountants who murdered six million Jewish people- individuals, with lives, hopes and fears- and so many others.

Worse, I can't blame it on anything intrinsically German (much as such racism would entirely miss the point) as I am an Englishman, with partly Anglo-Saxon and so ethnically German blood flowing through my veins. No; it is a profound human darkness that must never be repeated, and it is a profound worry that, as these events fade from living memory, the inoculation is fading. We already see the symptoms: people who use such stupid terms as "SJW" and "snowflake"... both my grandads used to shoot people like you, and I'm proud of them for that.

Schindler is no saint. He's a dodgy businessman, an adulterer, fond of the good life, not a good Catholic. But put him next to a psycho like Goeth, perhaps the most evil character in all of cinema. The contrasting scenes of both of them with Helen Hirsch show that. Liam Neeson is amazing, of course, and Ralph Fiennes is the most evil presence in all of cinema. But the real revelation is Steven Spielberg, whose usual didactic filmmaking gives way to a devastating, monochrome, handheld documentary style that clearly portrays the horrors of the Holocaust. Scenes are etched into your mind, which is a good thing: never forget.

A cathartic and profound work of art which dwarfs anything else that Spielberg has ever done, and a film which has made the world a better place by hopefully preserving the memory of the Holocaust for another generation.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Angel: Loyalty

"Simple mortal, your pain is just beginning!"

Wow. Who thought a statue of a cartoon hamburger could be so scary?

This is both a superb piece of writing and a superb performance from Alexis Denisof as poor Wesley is driven to the end of his tether by the most agonising moral dilemma at a time when he's just had his heart broken anyway and, deep down, beneath appearances, he isn't so mature as he appears to be.

We begin with nice scenes of lovely doting father Angel, fitting in with the young mothers in the waiting room and being touchingly anxious at Connor's medical check up. But we soon meet a client who is soon revealed to be reconnoitring the team for Holtz and his ever-expanding squad of badass(ish) underlings. They lure Fred and Gunninto a trap just to test them and certainly have plans.

This isn't proceeding quickly enough for our old friend Sahjahn, though. So, with a little freelance help from Lilah- seen on the phone with her dementia-suffering mother in a tragic human touch- he sets a trap for Wesley, arranging the prophecy of "earthquake, fire and blood" that Wesley is told about in that incredible, perfect, inspired scene that changes everything. It seems the father will indeed kill the son, and Wesley can't bear the pressure.

Wesley, already a little distanced from Gunn last episode, manages to alienate Fred a little, too; he's not very good at hiding his jealousy, while both Gunn and Fred manage to be both decent and gracious. Even at a deserted pier, at night, surrounded by vampires, which says a lot.

There's an interesting chat between Wesley and Holtz piling up the pressure, too. And it seems that Holtz knows about the gypsy curse. He just doesn't care.

Wesley ends up hysterical near the end, but then it happens; earthquake, fire, blood. What's a chap to do? This is a brilliant character piece, as well as a straightforwardly gripping bit of telly, that is surely one of the finest episodes of Angel.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: As You Were

“My hat has a cow.”

Riley’s back. I bet that was a surprise. Let’s face it, Buffy is known for its well-rounded characters but Riley, well, he’s a bit of a cipher, isn’t he?

But at least he’s got his life together, with a cool job and a fulfilling marriage. Buffy has none of that. In fact, her future looks extremely bleak, and she’s only 21. Stuck in a dead end job, with even vampires complaining about the smell, she's getting increasingly isolated with her friends, has no time to look after Dawn, and her only outlet in inevitably meaningless sex with Spike. Although it certainly sounds like rather good sex...

So when Riley turns up and whisks Buffy off on a fast-paced mission it's a welcome distraction, and the sexual tension is certainly there. Until Riley's (pretty cool) wife Sam  turns up. Oops.

(Incidentally, it's both interesting and odd to see Riley and Dawn "remember" each other although they have technically never met. It's only moments like this that you realise how short a time Dawn has existed.)

But my, it's embarrassing for Buffy to be caught in bed with Spike by Riley and Sam. Especially as Spike seems to be the villain of the piece this week because, you know, still evil.

It's an awkward parting with Riley, yet also a sweet one, and one with closure. And, of course, Buffy finally breaks up with Spike, albeit in a way which feels contrived. An episode full of stuff, but perhaps one that could have done with a bit more polish on the script at times. Good telly, but not as good as we usually see on Buffy.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Angel: Couplet

“Relax. If there’s one thing Groo knows, it’s how to handle a weapon.”

So, after last episode, it’s Jealousy, Part II, again with both Angel and Wesley. There’s some wit and some fun. And there is also, I gather from the final scenes, a hint of some impending darkness.

Angel’s jealousy of Groo is played largely for laughs. Angel is jealous, yes, and amusingly childish about it, but he’s old enough to have perspective, and is much reassured both by a nice little pep talk from Wesley and by saving the day from the rather token evil tree demon of the week. Wesley is less so; Gunn and Fred are in the cute early throes of love, and he feels it. And behind the learned exterior he’s young and less mature.

So their reactions are quite a contrast; Angel helps Cordy to get a potion allowing her to have sex with Groo without losing her visions, and ends the episode by paying for them both to have a holiday somewhere for a couple of episodes- a little strange from a father who wants to save for his baby son, but honourable. Wesley, meanwhile, strikes the wrong tone in a conversation with Gunn, until now his closest friend, and is beginning to look a little isolated. Not a good time, then, for him to find a prophecy that “the father will kill the son”...

An excellent episode, even if evil Cordelia does want her man to cut his hair short. No woman is ever getting rid of my flowing locks...!

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Older and Far Away

"We do not joke about eating people in this house!"

It's the "Buffy's birthday" episode (Buffy is now 21, which means she can now legally drink in the United States: hallelujah. How on earth do young Americans put up with that?) and so, as tradition dictates, it all goes horribly wrong. There's humour, there's character stuff, this isn't a particularly standout episode but it's all rather good.

So the party is planned, and there is awkwardness: Willow and Tara are both invited, as are two non-Scooby "friends"- I wonder if there will be any follow-up to the weirdness that they witness? Spike turns up with his poker-playing demon friend Clem, who is explained away as having a "skin condition". This is all mined rather nicely for humour. I love the bit when Willow explains all about her present for Buffy, a "massage device", and then Buffy and Spike exchange a naughty look...!

And then the magic happens; they are all trapped in the house forever, including the two outsiders, as part of a wish that Dawn was trapped int making and the consequences of which are obviously not going to do her any good. It soon becomes obvious that it was Halfrek who, in a nice touch, is a vengeance demon specialising in bad parents. The resolution is neat and funny, but unfortunately in the process it's revealed that Dawn has been shoplifting...

Oh, and Halfrek and Spike know each other, it seems. I wonder if anything will come of this...?

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Eastern Promises (2007)

"London is a city of whores and queers."

I confess that I need to see more early period avid Cronenberg for his trademark body horror, and I will. Yet up to now I've only seen some of his late period non-fantasy stuff- Crash and Cosmopolis, both excellent. So what will I make of Eastern Promises?

Well, the directing is excellent, of course, from the framing of the first shot onwards. This is Cronenberg's London film, a tribute to what remains very much an imperial capital long after its empire has gone, a melting pot, a metropolis and world city far out of proportion to the nation of which it is capital, and a city which now, alas, faces the catastrophe of Brexit.

And yet... despite the excellence of Naomi Watt and the superbly ambiguous Viggo Mortensen, this is a very good but hardly superlative gangster film with both a conscience and an aesthetic for violence (which is excellent throughout). The famous twist is... fairly predictable, and what we have is a film about the Russian mafia, albeit a perfectly good one, and fascinating about the context with the tattoos and that depressingly prevalent Russian homophobia, but this is less good than either of the other Cronenberg films I've seen so far.

What it does show, though, is how many in less fortunate parts of our continent still see London as being paved with gold, so they come, and are abused and disappointed, hopefully not to the extent of poor Tatiana. But what we have here is a good film that, while well-directed, feels more like television than film.,

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Angel: Waiting in the Wings

"We all know you've got a thing for ex-cheerleaders..."

Here we have an episode both written and directed by the man himself, Joss Whedon, which immediately tells us that it's special episode. What we get, though, is surprisingly subtle; a meditation on jealousy and unrequited love, where both Angel and (especially) Wesley take rejection much more honourably than the villain of the piece. It's also about ballet, of which I know nothing, and has a young Summer Glau in a guest role; I never noticed her before.

It is, of course, an episode all about relationships. Yes, there's a plot with a baddie- this is the exact same ballet troupe that Angel(us) last saw back in 1890, as the rather sulky Count Kurskov, a wizard, has reacted rather badly to his prima ballerina wanting to be with another man by cursing her to do the same performance every night for more than a century. Rather spiteful of him. And this petulance of a Russian aristocrat contrasts with Angel's disappointment when a suddenly deposed Groosalugg arrives just as he's about to declare his feelings for Cordelia.

More heartbreaking, though, is how we're shown the extent that Wesley has his heart set on Fred, only for her to fall hard for a newly ballet-loving Gunn. This is all the crueller for the fact that Gunn is such a good friend and hasn't done anything wrong. Our team ends the episode very much still friends and as strong a unit as ever, though, because they're all good people and better than the likes of Kurskov.

Having said that, though... this is an excellent episode, and a brilliantly well-constructed drama about jealously and heartbreak, but it's not quite as much of an "event" as you'd expect from a Joss Whedon episode.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Dead Things

"I love you."

"No you don't."

"You think I haven't tried not to?"

Wow. That was... dark.

We begin with Buffy and Spike having some sneaky, kinky and, it's heavily implied, very good sex where she is extremely rough with him... and then things get post-coital, for once Buffy doesn't leave immediately and Spike is moved to ask "Are we having a conversation?". It may be good sex, but the ambiguity over whether it's hate sex or even a "thing" makes it problematic.

There are no such nuances in the next scene, though, as Warren, Jonathan and Andrew plan to use magic to make a woman their sex slave: that isn't just a bit rapey, it's literally rape, and right from the go these are dark waters to be swimming in. So when Warren finds his ex Katrina and argues with her, only to use the magic and have her instantly say "I love you, Master"... that's seriously dark. So when we next see her dressed as a French maid, waiting on all three of them and expected to service all three of them, and she even drops to her knees in front of Warren... that's incredibly dark for a fairly mainstream TV show, and one of the most uncomfortable scenes I've ever seen on TV. I'm glad she comes immediately to, and she calls them out as rapists and sets out to report the crime to the police; not to have had that happen would have been appalling. But I can't imagine such a scene being written in such a blatant way today. 2003 seems so long ago. The intent is, of course, clearly to call out rape culture, but it's done with a certain insensitivity.

So, once that has happened and, worse, Katrina is killed, all three of them are beyond redemption. Narratively, they have to pay for what they've done, even if Warren is both the ringleader and shows clear psychopathic tendencies, referring to Katrina's body as "it".

Meanwhile, Buffy is filled with guilt. Everyone understands, except a neglected Dawn, that the reason they no longer see her is because she works at the burger bar on top of a busy slaying schedule. But only she knows that she also spends a lot of time having guilty good/bad sex with Spike, the forbidden fruit. She is female, we as a society have double standards, so Buffy feels sex shamed.

This only intensifies, of course, when she again neglects her friends for Spike, so our already guilt-ridden Slayer is well-primed for being made to believe that it was her who accidentally killed Katrina. And the suffering this added guilt causes her is heart-wrenching to see, especially when she confesses to Dawn and explains she will need to confess and go to prison, causing a horribly teenage reaction.

Fortunately Spike, sheer chance, clever Scoobies and a busy police station allow Buffy to work out what appened, and I think we can forgive how convenient this is as it's good sleight of hand. Besides, this episode is powerfully and brilliantly crafted.

Meanwhile we get an awkward meeting between Willow and Tara, and Tara reveals to Buffy that she really, truly, didn't come back wrong at all. But even without Katrina's death on her conscience a tearful Buffy is wracked with guilt, telling an understanding Tara that she lets Spike do these things to her because it's the only time anything feels real. And she realises she's "using him", that that's wrong, so we have even more guilt. If only society made men feel such scruples...

So yet, bit of a feminist subtext there. And a powerful, harrowing, amazing episode.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Angel: Provider

"Just don't lose sight of the mission!"

There's no denying it; there's definitely some mid-season water treading going on here as a light-hearted and fairly inconsequential episode plays out, the nearest the season has come to a disposable episode. Still, it has its moments.

The conceit, played for laughs but not really written with the polish to really convince (as we might expect from a Joss Whedon show) is that Angel is a father now and the mission takes a back seat to making money, with lots of advertising ad lots of cases going on simultaneously, only one of which makes any money, albeit a lot. It's fun, but not as fun as it seems to think it is.

We get an appearance from a young Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a guest role but, in an episode otherwise with relatively little arc stuff, we get a rather interesting, twisty and kinky relationship between Holtz and Justine, whose name is certainly intended to evoke De Sade: why else would Holtz insist on her spending hours with her had stuck to a table with a knife through the fleshy bit? This is surprisingly edgy stuff.

We also see more of how both Gunn and Wesley fancy the pants off Fred, while Cordy is still waiting for the inevitable price to be paid for being part demon. And an example of what zombies are like in the Buffyverse, with no munching of grey matter. But it's an episode that won't particularly come to mind when I think of the season.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Doublemeat Palace

"You're better than this!"

Yes, I know: it's been far too long. But from now on, aside from a mini-break between seasons, there'll be no non-current TV in this blog that isn't Buffyverse. Promise. I'm going to finish this marathon and enjoy myself in the process.

Anyway, this is an intrinsically depressing episode about the awfulness of fast food and the sheer soul-destroying and profound bleakness of working in such a restaurant, with its crushingly monotonous processes, made much worse by the fact that, as Dawn insightfully points out, Buffy is the Slayer and will therefore be doing such soul-crushing work for the rest of her short, violent life. So let's get Jane Espenson to write it and leaven all this with wit and humour, although I suspect I may see a moderately subtle vegetarian subtext here. But it's a nice little one-off tale, with a nice twist, and shows us the depressing economic reality of being the Slayer.

Oh, and this is the first episode of Buffy I ever saw, at uni, courtesy of my housemate. It kept my attention, although I took a while to become hooked.

Sub-plots include Willow's cold turkey from magic, this season's rather strained metaphor for drugs, with Amy as her bad influence friend whom she finally rejects- yay Willow- and Anya's and Xander's festering doubts about their upcoming nuptials. Anya's old demon mate is fantastic; I don't usually single out guest stars but Kali Rocha is brilliant.

This isn't, perhaps, a particularly great episode to return to, and there's a certain hint of mid-season treading of water. But even a mediocre episode of Buffy is superior to most other telly. It's good to be back.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Severance (2006)


My, this is brilliant. A superb script from James Moran and excellent direction from Christopher Smith of Creep fame give us a hugely entertaining comedy slasher- which is, of course, always the best kind of slasher.

Danny Dyer is, well, Danny Dyer. But it's a shock for this fairly regular EastEnders viewer to see him looking so bloody young. The film is really carried, though, by character actor stalwarts such as Andy Nyman and the superb Tim McInnerny.

The film oozes confidence and fun, beginning in media res with some unfortunate Hungarian employees of the same weapons company  employing our mainly British cast getting a foretaste of what we will soon be seeing. We also get enough time to get to know our engaging and well-scripted characters before the carnage begins, and I mean it entirely in a good way when I note that this film dates from a time when The Office was firmly part of the zeitgeist. Noughties office humour and the slasher genre mix very well indeed. This is a bloody good film and more people should see it.

The best bit, of course, involves a decapitation and the few seconds thereafter...

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Angel: Birthday

"Well, as much as I enjoy this forced death march down memory lane..."

I know. It's been a while. But now I'm back and determined to finish Angel. (And Buffy.) The delay was caused by, er, a scratch in a DVD, but said DVD has now been replaced and the Buffyverse marathon resumes.

So Cordy's visions are finally catching up with her; in fact, they're killing her. On her birthday. Which is rude. Hence a splendid Cordy-centred episode full of typically superb dialogue and Charisma carpenter being awesome.

So many moments: Dennis' aborted birthday party, Cordelia's theme tune, the first appearance of the excellent Skip. It's all a cheat, of course; Cordy's visions are killing her because she's human so she finds a loophole of becoming part demon, like Doyle, with no ill effects apart from a silly punchline. But who cares; this is first class telly.

The alternate reality is interesting, though; this one-armed Wesley is rather badass. Foreshadowing? And it's instructive that the visions send Angel to pieces but Cordy handles them like a woman. Most importantly, she really does make a difference. Also, I like Skip. A lot.

I've missed this. I'm looking forward to proper re-immersion into the Buffyverse...

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

"The bastard son of a hundred maniacs."

Well then. You can tell from the staggering number of years since I blogged the second film in this series that, as I said at the time, I was less than enthused by. I'm now far less likely to wait so long until the next one. This was bloody good.

We get lots of splendid visual horror from the start, well directed and making you jump, and this continues all the way through. But what really makes the film work is a solid plot based around a mental institution and fear of sleep and, in a film where Freddy Krueger is ever-present but appears surprisingly little- a successful formula- but the only disappointment here is that nasty Dr Simms doesn't die. And likeable characters do.

So what are my highlights? A very young Patricia Arquette? An early appearance by a young Laurence Fishburne? A rare Hollywood example of D&D being played? The delightfully '80s metal soundtrack by Dokken? The skeleton of Freddy Krueger resisting burial by means of stop motion? Probably the latter, but there are many. And the plot is actually quite gripping, and as twisty-turny as it is suspenseful.

Fellow Doctor Who fans: I believe that this is the earliest Hollywood film credit of one Rachel Talalay...?

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Jabberwocky (1977)

“Rat on a stick!"

 This is a very funny film, make no mistake about that. But it's also an interestingly placed one- Terry Gilliam's first non-Python film, or not, depending on your point of view, and moreover its use of so many well-known character actors in a comedy echoes Ripping Yarns. It can't really be seen in isolation, especially not if one happens to be a massive Monty Python geek.

All of which is to say that it's all very Python in its humour, and in a good way; this is no Yellowbeard. And it's wonderful to see the likes of John Le Mesurier and Harry H. Corbett getting to work with this kind of material. It’s also a treasure trove for the actor spotter, with a young Annette Badland as Griselda and a huge number of cameos.

But Michael Palin, as always, puts in a superb comic performance as our innocent and gloriously boring hero, a cooper’s apprentice turned hero who should have been a management consultant. Max Wall and John Le Mesurier are also superb, but it all hangs upon the brilliant Palin, whose working relationship with his fellow Python Terry Gilliam would of course go on to further great things. And it’s fascinating to see this as Gilliam’s first solo directorial credit for a full length film.

Python-connected films are always worth watching. But few are as brilliant as this one.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Elektra (2005)

"They say Elektra whispers in your ear before she kills you."

Meh. Thing is, this isn't an awful script, not really. There are some nice directorial touches in places, although there are also moments of, well, meh. But the main reason why this is Marvel's notorious flop, a spin-off of the already underwhelming Daredevil, is that Jennifer Garner is just phoning it in and offers up no charisma whatsoever. She simply sucks the energy out of the film whenever she's on screen.

Not that there aren't some positive points- it's good to see Terence Stamp, General Zod himself, appearing in a Marvel film, even if he is woefully miscast as Stick. The main baddies are good acting-wise, although I'm not familiar with the Hand from the comics. And the opening sequence establishing Elektra as the assassin she isn't going to be for the rest of the film is well done.

But... Jennifer Garner. And the film, frankly, flags once you're an hour in, not a good thing for a film that isn't really all that long. There are lots of action sequences, many of them good. Tattoo is a cool character. It’s good to see Typhoid Mary on screen. But... Jennifer Garner.

This film really isn’t worth seeing except for us Marvel completists. Meaning, sadly, that Marvel has yet to release a decent film with a female star, in the Cinematic Universe or elsewhere. I hope they do so by the time my daughter is old enough.

Friday, 9 February 2018

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 13: Beside the Dying Fire

"This isn't a democracy any more..."

So that’s the explosive finale all done and dusted; after so many episodes with Herschell’s farm as a sanctuary it’s all over, just like that, and just because an unstoppable herd of zombies happens to pass by. So now I’ve finished Season 2 I can go back and finish other series where I’m midway through a season before blogging any other non-current telly- namely Buffy, Angel, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and Game of Thrones.

What an episode, though, truly drawing a line under the season just gone while also pointing forward- who was that hooded figure with the two pet zombies who saved Andrea from certain death by zombie in the woods? What is that massive complex of buildings just behind everybody at the end?

But this is zombie action from the get go and it’s clear that this is it: Rick doesn’t even have time to answer Carl’s awkward question about how Shane died before zombies try to overrun them. There are confused scenes as people fight, panic, don’t know who’s alive and dead, and finally flee. All the minor characters, predictably, die. Herschel tried to go down defending his farm before Rick saves him and there are a number of superb set pieces in the best zombie action we’ve seen all season; can we have more of this in future please?

Glen finally mans up and tells Maggie that he loves her, predictably in a moment of brief respite from the peril. Everyone manages to rendezvous successfully, with Darryl being as competent, gruff and casually racist as ever. But what do they do now? This is made worse by Lori’s reaction to Rick’s confession that he kills Shane. This later leads to an extraordinary outburst from Rick to the whole group, openly telling everyone what he did, how he feels and exactly what they can go and do if they disagree. It’s an acting tour de force from Andrew Lincoln.

The season ends on a high. But I’ve mixed feelings about The Walking Dead. It’s well-written, shotcand acted, but by its nature it’s a format with limited scope, and I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed it all that much, as you can see by the slow pace of how I’ve watched this season. Will I return to blog future seasons? Let’s see.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

"I haven't poisoned it..."

"It's always good to know that."


Well, that was very good indeed, and not at all what you'd expect from what on the surface of what looks like a typical late 1950s low budget horror flick which does, after all, star Vincent Price at his camp best. Instead we get a fourth wall-breaking, immaculately plotted (well, there are a few holes on reflection bt let us not be churlish: how did Annabelle and Trent know that Loren would hand out guns?) and, above all, gloriously witty.

This is, in the end, a murder mystery without any supernatural elements. Well, other than the heightened sense of reality, but it just about manages to skirt the line. In the Lorens we have one of cinema's most gloriously acidic couples, appropriate considering where one of them ends up, with each cheerfully wanting to murder the other. There's what looks like an unpleasant note of feminine hysteria in the treatment of Nora but this is partly explained. This is far from the square-jawed 1950s Hollywood I'm used to seeing.

Most refreshingly surprising, though, is the witty fourth-wall breaking and the cheerful use of haunted house tropes throughout to heighten the atmosphere and drama. A gloriously fun way to wind down of a Tuesday evening and the best Vincent Price performance I've seen to date.

Monday, 5 February 2018

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 12: Better Angels

"This was you, not me!"


It's the penultimate episode, and we begin with Dale's funeral oration. Dale was the group's heart, and is a true loss. He had a complex relationship with many- Glenn, certainly Andrea, and of course Carl, racked with guilt over his part in Dale's death, but he was in many ways the antithesis of Shane who, of course, shows his true colours and dies this episode. Yay!

Everyone is moving inside the house; at last the two groups are one. Lori has one last heart-to-heart with Shane, revealing that the baby she is carrying could be his; she just doesn't know. In hindsight this conversation could have hinted to me that Shane would die now, and not in the finale, but I remained oblivious.

We have a father and son talk between Rick and Carl that is simultaneously heartwarming and incredibly bleak: what kind of childhood can Carl expect, waiting until his parents probably die, and himself probably unlikely to survive to adulthood? It's symbolic when Rick hands him back the gun; he must put away childish things and be a man.

And so we come to Shane's devious yet probably opportunistic plot to kill Rick, and the final standoff where Shane pulls the gun on Rick and calls him a weak husband and father. And yet it's Rick who finally has the guts to kill, stabbing Shane with a knife. Not coldly, though; it upsets him to have to kill, but he does what he must.

The final scenes feel exactly right; Carl has secretly seen what happened, and pulls a gun, saving Rick from zombie Shane. This is a superb episode in which we wave goodbye to a superb villain, brilliantly portrayed by Jon Bernthal. Roll on the finale...

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

"Dr. Manning, suck my ectoplasmic schwanztucker!"

It’s unusual to see the combination of auteur director and a Hollywood comic book blockbuster, but the first Hellboy film gave us that with Guillermo Del Toro. Now, though, we have a sequel, without anything like the need for exposition, and it feels as though Del Toro has been released by the success of the previous film from the studio’s constraints and can truly put his stamp on the film.

This is clear from the start, with a John Hurt-narrated flashback from what looks rather like Middle Earth is done in the style of a Tool video, and is the first of the film’s countless visual triumphs, ranging from “tooth fairies” to a psychopathic beanstalk. All this is sufficiently done with sufficient awesomeness that you barely notice the main baddie is played by... Luke Goss from Bros. Yes indeed.

It’s not all visual awesomeness, though; solid plotting, superb characterisation and splendid central performances from Ron Perlman and Selma Blair are also essential ingredients as, bizarrely, is the comedy German accent provided by none other than Seth MacFarlane. Similarly awesome is the psychogeography in which, beneath the surface of New York's boroughs, there lurk troll markets and other such things. This evokes Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, China Mieville and, indeed, points towards Doctor Who's Face the Raven but, more to the point, is awesome to see being handled by Del Toro.

There's a moral here; be brave, get a good director and let them do whatever the hell they want.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

I’m Back!

Right. The real life stuff that has consumed all of January is now over. Normal blogging will now resume...

Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

"What is the password?"

"Iron Man sucks!"

It's New Year's Eve, the little one is in bed, and it's my last night of freedom before a month of intense real life stuff that is likely to preclude pretty much any blog stuff happening between now and 30th/31st January because of some pretty intense real life stuff. Be reassured, though; normal blogging frequency will be resumed. Meanwhile, I'll do this last blog post of 2017 as several pints of Boddingtons go down.

This movie is awesome, the kind of knowing but very silly and very meta film that the Batman mythos was just crying out for. I knew it was going to be fun as soon as the Batman monologue over the opening titles started, and I knew it was going to be awesome as soon as the bloke started singing "Nothing bad ever happens to me".

I love the deliberate usage of all of Batman's rogues gallery from all media, including Egghead, Killer Moth, King Tut, Gentleman Ghost, Crazy Quilt and, er, Condiment King. Even better, there's a Chief O'Hara. This film has a huge amount of knowing fun with the whole mythos, including jokes about how Batman has been fighting crime in Gotham City for 78 years.

Things enter an extra level of awesome, though, once the Joker brings back his mates from the Phantom Zone including Godzilla, King Kong, Sauron, Voldemort, the Wicked Witch of the West and various other big bads that Warner Bros has the right to. And, er, certain nameless pepperpots that it blatantly doesn't. And the running romcom joke about the relationship between Batman and the Joker is genuinely funny. The most fun film of 2017 so far, without a doubt.

As You Like It (1936)

"He that sweetest rose will find / Must find love's prick, and Rosalind."

Well then. This saucy, decidedly queer play, new to me, is not what I expected from Shakespeare, and the fact that this is a post-code film from 1936, subtitles for YouTube provided for cultural reasons by the US Government (I bet Trump has put a stop to that) only serves to show how intrinsic to the play this queerness is.

I know Shakespeare, I flatter myself to say, better than most. I have a mere undergraduate degree, from Nottingham uni, but before tonight I knew 22 Shakespeare plays to varying extents, now 23. And until tonight I have given no more than perfunctory acknowledgement to queer theory in relation to the bard. I am, of course, aware of the trope of women dressing as men in such plays as Twelfth Night, but have accepted this as early modern LGBT (let us not forget the T) only in the generic way that one must accord to all cross-dressing. And yet... here Rosalind calls her male disguise "Ganymede", Jove's eponymous catamite. It's hard not to see deliberate, glorious, authorial queerness here. And that's before considering the wonderful sexual ambiguity of pretty much all of Rosalind's lines once she takes on male guise. It's doubly wonderful that this happily queer character should be played here, with a noticeable accent but a great deal of charm, by Elisabeth Bergner, a Viennese Jew who had fled Hitler's Berlin.

Ok, queerness aside this stuck me as a relatively ho-hum Shakespeare comedy with moments of lyrical genius, not quite up there with his best, but that's a relative statement. But there's much to marvel at with this somewhat ancient artifact. My reason for watching this was the presence of Henry Ainley, father of the actor Anthony Ainley, well-known to us Doctor Who fans and subject of a splendid biography. Ainley, though, turned out to be the exemplar of something truly fascinating; the theatrical delivery of Shakespeare of a certain era, still "traditional" although pretty much beyond living memory, against which the more "naturalistic" delivery of actors such as Lauence Olivier.

Also notable are the presence of John Laurie (Private Fraser in Dad's Army) as a young heartthrob and a young Peter Bull- the Soviet ambassador in many James Bond films- as a young yokel. This film is fascinating, in the public domain, and on YouTube with proper subtitles.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

"If the good Lord had intended us to walk, he wouldn't have invented roller skates...”

It’s an alarming thought that this film was made when Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a recent children’s novel. But 1971 was a long time ago, and inevitable comparisons with Tim Burton’s 2005 adaptation (not a remake; merely a different imagining of the same source material, so I haven’t broken my rule by blogging that film first) must reflect that.

This film may not have Burton’s remarkable visual style, striking though it is on its own terms. It cannot quite live up to the vivid and wonderfully surreal chocolatescapes of the novel; instead it has Gene Wilder, not an actor I have always admired, in the role he was born to play. He is extraordinary. His Willy Wonka is wry, highly intelligent, fatalistic about being surrounded by unkind, uncultured, venal fools. This is one of the most charismatic, and quotable, characters in the history of cinema.

There is much else to enjoy, though, such as Tim Brooke-Taylor’s comic cameo and, for us Doctor Who fans, recognising Bill from Day of the Daleks. The Oompa-Lookpa songs, while much truncated, are still entertaining, and most of the songs are not annoying. Most of them. There are lots of nice little comedy scenes surrounding the search for the golden ticket to raise a titter from the adults watching. The film is a triumph, hugely entertaining and, in spite of yielding to reality at times, surprisingly faithful to the book. If only there’d been a sequel with Vernicious Knids...

Friday, 29 December 2017

X-Men 2 (2003)

"Bobby, have you tried not being a mutant?"

It's rare for a sequel to outshine its predecessor; X-Men 2, helmed again by Bryan Singer (whose reputation has suffered post-Weinstein, as have many, and such behavior in this and all other industries cannot be tolerated, but let us not derail ourselves) may well have achieved it with this adaptation of God Loves, Man Kills.

As per the comics, the film gives us a well-rounded and well-written set of characters, all well-acted and many of whom, handily, have already been introduced. Good writing means that the sheer number of characters does not feel excessive, although I wonder if someone less familiar with the source material would say the same.

While Wolverine is still prominent- and hints are dropped about his origins- there is a much more equal treatment of the characters this time around. Nightcrawler is introduced, and in many ways true to form, but it's a pity that the character's sense of humour is so downplayed. Rogue is more peripheral this time, but the love triangle of Scott, Jean and Logan is very much still there.

Magneto is magnificent and, while allied with the goodies for much of the film, gets his chance to be evil for a bit near the end. Xavier is shown as reasonable and charming, and once again we forgot just how bloody terrifying his mind control powers are. Bobby Drake is well-developed, wit the pathos of his brother betraying him just after he outs himself to his parents. Pyro, of course, joins Magneto's lot. And, of course, Jean dies at the end just as she did in the comics a few issues before returning as Phoenix.

Among all the action and set pieces- I love the epic fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike- there are also plenty of character moments, and the film is gripping throughout. This instalment will be hard to top.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

"She offered me free love. At the time it was all I could afford.”

Wow. That was bleak. More so, in fact, than the BBC’s superb version of Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which I am certain to blog at some point. And that Richard Burton is awfully good at this acting lark.

I was twelve when the Wall came down; I remember the Cold War. But the world of half a century ago seems a strange place in many ways. The leading man can sneeringly refer to a “queer”, labour exchanges advertise “jobs for men” and even a bibulous fellow like myself raises an eyebrow at the sheer amount of alcohol consumed. And Nan refers to her Hungarian goulash with Portuguese wine as a “Communist dish with a totalitarian wine”; no one seems to regard the tyrannies of the Eastern Bloc and Salazar’s fascist state as equally vile. It’s all a game and, as Control says, while one side supports freedom and the other does not, the methods used by both sides are equally abhorrent. No wonder it’s so easy to become burnt out and turn to drink.

(“Control”- I now get certain sketches from A Bit of Fry and Laurie more than I did...)

This is a thriller, of sorts, but one uniquely suffused with a profound sense of moral disillusionment and ennui. Leamas is younger than I am now but certainly doesn’t feel it. The final twist is clever but morally bankrupt and the unhappy ending, when it comes, is not unexpected. An excellently downbeat counterweight to the sort of spy film we usually see and a real acting triumph from Richard Burton.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017)

“I have sensitive nipples!”

Yes, the Guardians of the Galaxy are back. Wisely, James Gunn is also back to write and direct, and the soundtrack plays just as part a role. What we have is more of the same, which is no bad thing. This sequel may not be quite as good as the first film but it has the same humour, the same relatable characters in a very cosmic setting, and the same sense of style.

It even has a heart, with the message that men like Yondu who bother to raise children are proper fathers, whereas giant planets like Ego who bugger off to destroy all life in the universe are not. We also have a touching and hilarious romance of sorts between Drax (who gets the best lines, again: “I have famously huge turds”) and the innocent Mantis. The reconciliation between sisters Gamora and Nebula is heartwarming, and we are told the horrible truth that Thanos (Not in the film but ever- present) used to make his daughters fight and Gamora always won, and each time he would replace a part of Nebula’s body with machinery for losing- truly horrific. Baby Groot is cute. And Rocket Raccoon is everybody’s favourite arsehole.

Ego, of course, can’t always be shown as a giant planet on the screen, so Kurt Russell plays his human avatar, although we certainly get to see Ego as we know him, a living planet with a face. Mantis is as we know her from Steve Englehart. And the Stan Lee cameo is intriguing as we briefly catch him reminiscing to Uatu, suggesting that all his cameos may have seen him working undercover for the Watchers. Ego is a Celestial, apparently; they obviously look quite different in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Howard the Duck gets another cameo, played by Seth Green. And the ending seems to hint at the creation of Adam Warlock, no less.

We get a dramatic and very sad ending bringing everything to a splendid confusion, and some properly cosmic post-credit scenes. I’m glad it won’t be another three years until we see these characters again.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time

“You’re the first Dalek that ever got naked for me!”

It’s a brave move to start the Christmas special, where a greater number of viewers than usual are watching, many of them digesting large late lunches and just a little bit on the merry side, with “Previously on Doctor Who...” and a load of monochrome clips from 1966. But Moffat, in perhaps the last script he will ever contribute to the programme, dares to do it. Right after bringing back the Cybermen from The Tenth Planet he shows us bits of the story. Then William Hartnell morphs into an outstanding David Bradkey and, for the next hour, everything is brilliant.

There’s a lot more going on than a multi-Doctor story, of course, but it’s a joy to see one from the man who penned Time Crash. The repartee between the two Doctors is magnificent, and the running joke of the new Doctor’s admonishment of the old Doctor’s casual sexism is both nice social commentary and a nifty bit of foreshadowing. Yes, I raised an eyebrow at how the old Doctor- refusing, like the new Doctor, to renew himself- had a flicker of modern day orange regeneration energy, but some things are inevitable. But there are things to squee about- the old TARDIS, inside and out, “the Ship”. And, after all these years of Doctors with a number as a prefix, it’s great to see the Doctor again.

It’s an indulgence, perhaps, for Moffat’s old mate Mark Gatiss to be cast in his swansong, but appropriate; he excels as a man snatched from the point of death and knowing he must return. And it’s inevitable, appropriate and cleverly done that Bill should return. And the seeming enemy is linked to the Weapon Forgers of Villengard- a lovely little reference to The Doctor Dances and Moffat’s first ever story for Doctor Who. Then again, I’m tempted to see the plot resolution- there’s no real baddie, just a rather nice scheme to duplicate the Matrix on Gallifrey and ensure the memory of everyone who has ever lived is uploaded just before the point of death- as being a call back to the sort of plot Moffat used to write in the early days.

It’s nice to see the Doctors discuss their mutual fears of their impending regenerations, and it’s great to see the truly wonderful chat between Bill and the old Doctor; never mind what he was running from when he stole the TARDIS; where was he running to? The answer is that he wanted to find out why it was that good prevails, and he doesn’t understand that the reason is him, the wandering God, the perfect encapsulation of the outgoing showrunner’s philosophy.

We also get the return of an old friend from Into the Dalek, references to RTD’s old stomping ground of New Earth as a nice little tribute to Moffat’s predecessor, and of course a great big tribute to the Hartnell years to make clear that Moffat is in no doubt as to what he is; a custodian, standing on the shoulders of others, making his own huge contribution, and handing the show on to others. He’s undoubtedly a name to be spoken of on a par with Robert Holmes. If we never see him on the programme again, we shall miss him. And let us not forget the sheer personal sacrifice of dedicating seven very busy years to Doctor Who. Steven Moffat, we salute you.

There’s a nice further twist, of course- the Captain is one Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart. But then it’s on to the regeneration- with touching goodbyes from the uploaded memories of Bill, er, Nardole, and Clara, who manages to restore the Doctor’s memories. It’s a nice little update of the farewells from a Doctor’s companions prior to regeneration that was so fashionable in the ‘80s.

But the Doctor must die alone. And, ancient though he is, and weary of mourning so many friends and loved ones, he convinces himself that the universe sort of needs him and, after a brief farewell speech that owes a fair bit to Terrance Dicks he finally regenerates. The regeneration itself is awesome, but so is Peter Capaldi. Magnificent, and one of the great Doctors. And then... Jodie Whittaker gets to utter just two words and her first thirty-odd seconds are very, very Matt Smith.

Magnificent. Truly magnificent. Although I have no idea what the slightly sozzled not-we made of that...

Sunday, 24 December 2017

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 11: Judge Jury, Executioner

"They're gonna kill me, right?

Spoilers. You have been warned.

This is one of the best types of episodes of The Walking Dead: all about a big ethical dilemma now that civilisation has ended. Randall is a threat, as Daryl discovers by, er, torturing him. He has thirty well-armed rapist mates. So should the group kill him for the sake of their own safety?

Dale's view is a principled "no". Everyone else's view consists of multiple variations and degrees of "yes" because the group must be protected from the threat. My own view is, perhaps, more nuanced; in any civilised society, Dale would be right. But civilisation has literally ended; humanity is literally now living in small, palaeolithic-type bands, struggling to survive and struggling, beyond that, to pass on any inkling of modern tech, knowledge and philosophy. The aim is therefore not to behave according to a state of civilisation that no longer exists but to survive, and do what you can to contribute to the hopeful rebuilding of a civilisation where such acts are not done. For now, though, the group probably need to kill him, as quickly and humanely as possible. And feel awful about it, because to feel ok about it would be inhuman.

This is also a huge character episode, of course. Dale dies, courtesy of a lone and foreshadowed zombie, thinking the worst of everyone. There's a touching scene where Herschel shows Glen that he accepts him as his daughter's partner. Daryl hints gruffly to Dale that he doesn't much approve of Shane's psycho tendencies. The female characters are all a bit disappointingly passive in this testosterone-fuelled episode. Carl's behaviour is getting to be a bit of a worry. And the subtle joshing between Rick and Shane for the position of alpha male is getting close to a climax. Shane admits to Andrea that he wants to be boss, and Rick has lost face by not going through with shooting Randall.

A definite uptick in quality, then, although next episode could do with a bit more oestrogen.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA Smile

"You really are an anal crumpet, aren't you?"

So this is it, it’s over, and somehow it all fits into fifty short minutes.

It’s interesting to have the finale be the episode in which Rosario Dawson guest stars as Claire, providing the rather necessary plot function of nursing Luke to health while Jessica has her final confr with Kilgrave. But she also acts as a link to Daredevil and a nice person for Malcolm to chat to about being a “sidekick”- he ends the episode as Jessica’s self-appointed employee, a former social work student finally finding a way to help people.

After a tense set piece with Kilgrave getting everyone in the hospital to want Jessica dead, and an injection into Luke’s optic nerve that we thankfully don’t see, it’s time for the final showdown, and the unhinged Kilgrave has managed to increase his powers even more, even at a 60% risk of death. David Tennant is outstanding for this finale, but Krysten Ritter is extraordinary. Her monologue to the unconscious Luke is quietly devastating. She can’t be with him because, essentially, her self-Loathing means she sees herself as not deserving happiness.

The final showdown- a horribly injured Albert has time to warn Jessica before dying- sees a much more powerful Kilgrave. But a clever bait and switch between Jessica and Trish, and Trish allowing herself to be bait, allows Jessica to trick Kilgrave that he can indeed control her. And it’s when he’s at his very creepiest and his very rapiest that Jessica is able to quickly snap his neck. Visually it feels sudden and even anti-climatic, but thematically it’s satisfying. Kilgrave dies at his most unrepentant.

Hogarth gets a nice little coda to begin her atonement by saving Jessica from being tried for Kilgrave’s murder, but Jessica ends the series still consumed with self-loathing. A magnificent end to a magnificent series, and a character I want to see again.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA Take a Bloody Number

"Please! The chemistry was jumping off the two of you."

Nearly there. The penultimate episode and, while the plot is all about tracking down and killing Kilgrave, this seems to be an episode all about Jessica reconnecting with Luke, at last able to understand and forgive her after himself being controlled by Kilgrave to destroy his likelihood. Perhaps, as Trish urges, Jessica can finally find some happiness with him? No. Of course not. Because this is television drama, and a late twist tells us that this isn't what the episode is about at all.

Kilgrave, meanwhile, is getting his terrified dad to find ways of increasing his powers, in the process giving Jessica (and Luke) the chance to do all that PI stuff and track him down. Trish, with help from her mother and her agenda, may have found clues as to how Jessica got her powers in the first place, but it seems for the moment that it can wait; one big bad at the time. Simpson may or may not be dead.

After a rather distressing scene involving secateurs Malcolm, in a role reversal from early in the season, despairs of Jessica's addictive behaviours and instead rather patiently sets out to help an increasingly disturbed Robyn who, alone, seems unable to function in society. But, after a terrifying scene involving Albert and a blender, Kilgrave's trap snaps shut; Luke has been under his control all along, very unwilling though he is, and Jessica has to shoot him (with his quickly uttered permission) to save herself. It's a devastating ending to a powerful hour of television, and the finale is sure to be more dramatic still...

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Back to the Future (1985)

"You space bastard! You killed my pine!"

Two points before I start, ok? One: 1985 is further ago for us than 1955 was when this film was made. Two: look, this is Back to the Future. I realise that reviews are supposed to express an opinion as to the quality of the film or whatever, yes, but can we just cut the crap, acknowledge that this is a bloody great film, and talk about things that are more interesting?

I've seen this film many, many times but, barring the odd snippet, not for twenty years or so. That makes this reviewing an odd experience, with odd memories unexpectedly returning, and I'm finally getting the pop culture references such as Doc's "Devo suit" and Chuck Berry hearing Marty playing "Johnny B. Goode" over the phone, proving that I . The intricacies of the timey-wimey plot are truly to be admired, although, if I were to be churlish, I'd have to question the treatment of the butterfly effect. Marty has inadvertently changed the circumstances of his parents' meeting, and made his dad much more confident. Surely, then, history has changed in all sorts of chaotic and unpredictable ways so that the same sperm would not have fertilised the same egg at the same time  and Marty would not have been born? Still, I'm no churl.

There are so many clever little things to admire- Marty's straitlaced mum being a rather normal teenager, jailbird Joey in the playpen, the little riffs on '50s sci-fi magazines. And then we have the Libyan terrorists in their, er, camper van. And Doc, just prior to being shot, intending to visit the distant future of, er, 2010. And how the film blatantly compares 1955 favourably to the Reaganite 1985, but not in a reactionary way; the first thing we see when Marty returns to 1985 is a homeless man.

The script is brilliant. Michael J. Fox is brilliant. Christopher Lloyd is brilliant. And James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland) is a cinematic legend. This is an awesome film.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA I’ve Got the Blues

”What about nuns?”

“They still make those?”

It’s the morning after the night before, a symbolic hangover following the dramatic events of the last episode. It’s also a time to breathe before the final two episodes so it’s a more relaxed pace and a secondary villain in the shape of a drugged up Simpson. Jessica even gets hit by a truck due to tiredness, but it’s clear how single minded she is about killing Kilgrave, whatever the cost.

We get some nice flashbacks of Jessica and Trish in their youth, and we are shown Just how a musics “Patsy’s” mother was, forcing her into a showbiz career to the extent of compulsory bulimia. It’s Jessica saving her from this abuse, and Trish’s early accidental knowledge of Jessica’s powers, that forges their deep friendship. It also adds extra meaning to Trish’s druggy heroics later on as she gets to be the hero for once. A Hellcat indeed.

The confrontation between a physically weakened but mentally sharp Jessica is compelling as she reveals she’s worked out that it was him who killed Clemens. The ensuing fight and its consequences define thecepisode, with Trish being lucky to survive.

But we end with a splendid cliffhanger as texts that can only be from Kilgrave lead Jessica to Luke Cage’s bar just before it explodes. Lucky his power is to be invulnerable. What will happen now? How will Luke react to her? Here we go...

Monday, 11 December 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA 1,000 Cuts

"I'm a man of my word. If I feel like it."

Now that changes everything.

The whole series up to now has been based around the central plotline of Jessica having to provide evidence against Kilgrave so that Hope, an innocent young woman, doesn't spend her life locked away for something she didn't do. There are, of course, as a drugged up Simpson points out, a few problems with this, not the least of which is how can Kilgrave ever plausibly be imprisoned? If he can get Hope freed on a whim then the answer is surely "never". But the dramatic final scene removes this imperative. Jessica, both freed of her obligations to Hope and freed of Kilgrave's control, can now set out to kill him.

So much happens, though. A crazed Simpson suddenly murders Detective Clemons. Robin tries to kill Hogarth and is accidentally herself killed by Pam, who ends up disgusted with her (former?) fiancee. We learn that Killgrave has no power over Jessica any more, and that his power is a virus that can potentially be cured. Most horrifyingly, like any abuser, Kilgrave still has no conception of having done wrong, and continues to believe that it is Jessica who has wronged him.

Mostly, though, it's an episode about character, in spite of the sidelining of Simpson's no longer nuanced character, with some first class acting from both Ritter and Tennant as the series disposes of a fair bit of ballast so it can move towards its end. Bloody good telly, yet again.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Ant-Man (2015)

"How's retirement?"

"How's your face?"

This is probably one of the less good Marvel films I've seen; there was a certain lack of polish and there's an unevenness that makes it very noticeable that Edgar Wright was replaced as director. And yet it shows the Marvel benchmark that we nevertheless have a thoroughly enjoyable film that isn't going to garner many negative comments. It helps that Paul Rudd is so excellent.

You can sort of tell, in spite of the different genre (a heist movie within the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and very different setting that the script is from the same source as a certain three films starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, in spite of the lowered humour quotient. But this is very much a Marvel film, complete with Stan Lee cameo and gratuitous reference to Tales to Astonish. It's interesting that Henry Pym was a superhero, as Ant-Man, back in the '80s here, but that Janet Van Dyne, a character I remember so well from Secret Wars, is dead. my Marvel comics knowledge is pretty thorough up to about 1993 and pretty hazy after that; is she dead in the comics?

It's nice to have someone released from prison (admittedly for a pretty Robin Hood crime that doesn't lose our sympathy) as a hero. This film believes in rehabilitation, which is a big reason to like it. The character stuff s good too- Scott being cruelly kept from his daughter (my own little girl is not much younger) and the dynamic between Hank and Hope. The most emotive scenes are all about fathers and daughters. It's a fun film to watch, and even has a giant Thomas the Tank Engine. It's well worth seeing, and don't be put off by the fact that there are better Marvel films. It would be a shame to skip this.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Behemoth the Sea Monster (1959)


In thought I'd announce the end of that mini-hiatus and the return of normal blogging with a true cinematic classic but, er, something went a bit wrong. Sorry.

Still, this film may be a typically melodramatic Fifties monster movies and oh-so-very-atomic age, played dead straight with dramatic musical stings in the right places, but there's some real quality here. Gene Evans may be a token piece of plywood to draw in American cinemagoers, yes, but Andre Morell, fresh from Quatermass and the Pit, gives a performance that is far more nuanced and charismatic than it needs to be, and the film is well-directed in a way that belies its tiny budget. Best of all, the elderly Willis O'Brien, he of King Kong and The Lost World fame, handles the monster effect and does so with real aplomb.

Mind you, Jack MacGowran's comedy paleontologist is the best thing in it, a welcome piece of comic relief. But, for all its straightforward genre plot, the film allows the tension to build until we have a massive and radioactive dinosaur-cum-plesiosaur in the Thames next to Tower Bridge, and what's not to love about that? I care not that the beast rampaging through London reminds me uncannily of a 1980s Chewits advert; this is a genuinely well-made film and worth seeing if you happen to be fond of this splendid genre.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

A Quick Update...

It’s unlikely that there will be much blogging, if any, between now and the middle of next week as real life is busy at the moment. Fear not, though; normal activity will soon resume...

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA Sin Bin

"Killgrave? Think about obvious! Was 'Murdercorpse' already taken?"

Jessica is playing for high stakes with Hope's freedom, not her own this time. She may have Kilgrave where she wants him, but does she have enough evidence for a conviction? It’s a high tension episode as a desperate Jessica cuts all sorts of corners for Hope, but may just make the situation worse.

I have to say I think the whole concept of plea bargaining is just awful. It isn’t justice, and I hope we never bring it to this country. But it certainly provides a good dramatic device. We also get to see a resilient Kilgrave where he isn’t in control, and he’s quite the match for Jessica. It also seems that Simpson survived the explosion, and has a part still to play.

Most ominously, though, Jessica isn’t the only one who is desperate. Hogarth faces ruin from her vengeful ex, and seems tempted by the prospect of Kilgrave making her problems go away.

Jessica shows us her true skill as a detective by tracking down Kilgrave’s parents, showing us that beneath the alcoholism and PTSD is a brilliant mind. They turn out to be much closer than expected, and it seems that Kilgrave’s side of the story isn’t exactly correct.

The family reunion is as grimly compelling as you might expect, and ends in chaos as an angry Kilgrave makes his mother stab herself to death and nearly does the same to his father, escaping in the confusion. But does Jessica have the evidence she needs? It’s an extraordinary episode, at once fast-paced enough to be exciting and slow enough to give the characters real time to breathe.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

The Trollenberg Terror (1958)

"His head! It was torn off!"

Oh my God. Those special effects are... somewhat vintage. You can see why Mystery Science Theatre:3000 chose this almost-Hammer to start off with.

It feels uncannily like a third Quatermass film, with the plot and the character being played by Forrest Tucker both being very much in that lineage. Yet the original TV series upon which this is based (now sadly lost) was not penned by the mighty Nigel Kneale, and the whole effect is somewhat more light-hearted. And, yes, those monsters are... unique. Not for nothing was the film, under its US title of The Crawling Eye, used by Stephen King for an, er, tribute in It.

It’s fun and entertaining from the unconvincing matte paintings of the first scene to the realisation that the balding scientist with the balding late is being played by Alf Garnett. It’s formulaic, feels exactly like a sort of late Fifties Hammer monochrome sci fi film in spite of not technically being one (although it is from
Jimmy Sangster’s pen) and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. You can sort of tell it’s a truncated version of the lost six part telly series but it isn’t badly paced. And with that monster I think I may actually prefer it to either of its two Quatermass bedfellows.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

“Somebody's shoved a red hot poker up our ass, and I want to know whose name is on the handle."

 This is where it all began for Quentin Tarantino, and the first of his films I watched, rented from a video store in Barwell, Leicestershire in about '94ish. I enjoyed it just as much now, but the passing of a couple of decades has added quite a bit of context.

What makes this film stand out from all of Tarantino's other films is the fact that he made it before he had a reputation; it's much cheaper, with an obviously limited number of sets and locations, shorter (definitely a big difference!) and Tarantino himself, while his direction is superb, is not able to show his flashier directorial side with such a low budget film. He excels, much more obviously, with the phenomenal script, filled with all the joyously cool pop culture-related dialogue of his early period, yes, but also masterfully plotted and structured. Famously a heist movie that doesn't show the actual heist, it actually feels an awful lot like a stage play, not something you could often say for a Tarantino film. But there are masterful directorial touches in that we are shown the plot with the minimum of exposition.

The plot is simple, elegant and, while non-linear, has a clarity that belies its complexity- a sign of very good writing. We're left guessing as to the identity of the traitor right up to the unexpected reveal, the violence is cool and stylish, and the cast is perfect. Not even that annoying song from Stealer's Wheel (featuring the late Gerry Rafferty, who would later inflict on us the AOR awfulness of "Baker Street") can spoil it. The first of many Tarantino classics.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

“Well, the first symptom would be flames out of his anus...”

 Ok, I admit it- I'm finding it difficult to watch Eddie Redmayne in anything without thinking of The Theory of Everything, and Mrs Llamastrangler concurs. But that's no reflection on him as an actor, and his standout performance here simultaneously reminds me of Matt Smith in Doctor Who and something entirely new. Not only that, but this is a splendidly entertaining film full of magical beasts, imaginative concepts and fast-paced excitement from the pen of J.K. Rowling.

The Doctor Who connection extends, perhaps, to Newt's wonderful suitcase being bigger on the inside, with one of the funniest scenes being Jacob trying to force his portly frame inside it, but then I'm a Doctor Who fanboy. If I were a Harry Potter fanboy, on the other hand, I'd be squeeing over this look at the world of magic in 1920s New York, where Muggles are "no-maj" and there is a new witch hunt from the "New Salemers", with that song from the little girl being the creepiest thing in the film by far.

But we also see the different ways wizards organise themselves in America, and still have time to namedrop both Hogwarts and Dumbledore, although the mythology is never allowed to overshadow the tumultuous events, where even the baking of a strudel involves some awesome CGI. It's a film that triumphantly mixes the epic, the cool, the funny and the tragic, with budding lovebirds Queenie and Jacob forced to part, with his muggle memories having to be erased. Still, there's a hopefully ambiguous ending and there are many reasons to await the sequel. Good, exciting, fast-paced fun.

Monday, 20 November 2017

The Shining (1980)

"Come and play with us, Danny. For ever. And ever. And ever..."
Wow. It seems some things really are as good as their reputation. The Shining is a beautifully shot Stanley Kubrick film, and has a towering, perhaps career-defining performance from Jack Nicholson at its centre, but at its root it's a slasher film with supernatural elements. Yet here we have an auteur director like Kubrick, a serious mainstream Hollywood cast, and we find that a slasher film can be elevated from the genre ghetto to become a mainstream classic.

It is, of course, a Stephen King adaptation, and the cast is ably supplied with excellent performances from Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers, who would go on to become the voice of Jazz in the Transformers cartoon. The plotting is masterful, if not unusual for the genre; the idea of "shining" is interesting but oddly peripheral to the plot. But essentially this is a masterclass in acting from Nicholson and a timely lesson in how the normal tropes of horror- the hotel is even built on the predictable Indian burial ground- can be transmuted into gold by a genius like Kubrick. The only disappointment, I suppose- and I'm clutching at straws here- is that the concept of Tony, the boy who lives in Danny's mouth, is somewhat undeveloped, which I suspect not to be the case with the novel.

Also interesting, to me at least, is how very 1980 the hair, the clothing and everything looks; I'm 40, albeit British, and this is how I remember the world of my earliest memories. But there's no doubting that this is a fine film, possibly Kubrick's finest.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Dune (1984)

"He who controls the spice controls the universe."

Wow. That... was weird.

This is, I’m told, David Lynch’s least loved film. It certainly isn’t well regarded by fans of Frank Herbert, whose work, alas, I have not read. But it’s still cool, flawed though the film is, how David Lynch handles a sci-fi epic which, like Star Wars, has fantasy tropes underneath. I'm glad he got to make one, and that something akin to a David Lynch Star Wars exists. The world would be a worse place otherwise.

It's oddly paced and awkward, of course, Lynch is on record as saying that studio interference moved the film away from his vision, and I'm told that the extended TV version  is even worse. But I find this to be far from a bad film, flawed though it admittedly is. And how can you hate a film that has music by Brian Eno and, er, Toto, together at last?

The cast is superb, with Sian "Livia" Phillips as a kind of futuristic Pythia type, glorious performances by the likes of Paul L. Smith and Patrick Stewart that never tip over to parody but portray their characters with appropriate gusto. The design is superb; two years after Blade Runner establishes that future fashion can be cyclical we have a 110th century aristocracy which dresses like that of the 19th, something which works well and gives us an excellent shorthand for the kind of society this is.

The film doesn't only look good, either (well, some special effects may not have aged well); it's beautifully and druggily shot, as is Lynch's wont,  and there are glimpses of what Lynch intended in moments of excellent, if weird, storytelling.As things stand this is a curiosity rather than a masterpiece, but I'm left fervently hoping for a director's cut.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA WWJD?

"I care if you die. The rest are fungible."

This tour de force of a two hander between Krysten Ritter and David Tennant is easily the most significant episode yet. And the best.

The fifty minutes consists mostly of Jessica and Kilgrave together in Jessica's childhood home, which Kilgrave has rather creepily decorated, right down to the CD's in her bedroom and the Green Day and Nirvana posters (nice!). We learn many things about both their pasts and get to know them both much better. Kilgrave won't control her as he somehow imagines that it's possible for her to fall in love with him of her own free will. Yeah, right. He's not above using others to manipulate her though, reminding us that the character is of course a metaphor for controlling, abusive men.

We learn, through an early flashback, that Jessica's younger brother is long dead. Jessica can put away an awful lot of wine. And there's an early clash as Kilgrave denies responsibility for Reva's death, saying that he only told Jessica to "take care of her". Worse, he denies the fact that he repeatedly raped Jessica while he controlled her because, hey, he bought her dinner.

There's a brief interlude as we see just how ruinously horrible Hogarth's divorce is going to go, and Will Simpson is trying to blow up Kilgrave. But then we hear about Kilgrave's horrid childhood- abused and experimented on by scientist parents, hence his powers and, no doubt, his sociopathy. And it seems he's a Kevin. Well I never. Worse, Jessica lost her parents in a car crash as a teenager because she was being a dick to her little brother in the back.

But it's when Jessica persuades Kilgrave to use his powers for good- defusing a hostage crisis, and not even making the hostage taker kill himself- that the big piece of misdirection occurs. She even goes AWOL to chat with Trish, and we're left convinced that she's considering trying to use Kilgrave for good. But it's all a trap, and we en up with Jessica in possession of a drugged and unconscious Kilgrave- but too late to save Will, who is, er, blown up by his own petard.

Now THAT is a bloody good episode.