Sunday, 23 April 2017

Grimm: Blood Magic

“I suppose if any place is gonna have a giant assassin bug, it’d be Portland.” 

I suspect (and hope) that this is Grimm's last ever story-of-the-week, what with three episodes left, but it's a good one, and addresses both the real life issue of euthanasia and the in-world question of what happens to Wesen if they get dementia which would mean, of course, uncontrolled and violent wogeing. It's a difficult one, and Nick and Hank end the episode with no alternative but to let the Gevather Tod do his thing. It's a truly heart wrenching episode, although Mrs. Llamastrangler would like it to be known that she definitely didn't cry. Heaven forbid.

We also get Sean, who's been strangely detached and sulky lately, demanding answers about the tunnel from Nick, but at least the only way forward, plot-wise, is surely for the two of them to latch up their differences and collaborate. But what makes it certain, I think, at the very end, is where Eve, alone, practised some "blood magic" and strides determinedly into the mirror to the plane of those nasty demon things. I suspect there won't be time for stories of the week from now on...

Bring on what must surely be the concluding three-parter...

Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment

"You could roll this out worldwide..."

There hasn't been a bad episode of Black Mirror so far but, well, this is the closest we've come. While a collaboration between Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker may seem attractive it's nevertheless true that this is a script from (the excellent) Nathan Barley that didn't make the cut. So alarm bells are ringing already. And yet... the roots may be showing, and the message may be verging on mere "all politicians are corrupt, duh" fatuous nihilism, but this isn't a bad bedrock standard for a relatively poor episode.

The conceit- perhaps influenced by Ali G, H'Angus the Monkey being elected Mayor of Hartlepool and, less blatantly, by all that UKIP silliness that, in a rare positive consequence of Brexit, seems no longer to be a thing- is a rude cartoon bear (think the teddy bear Ronnie Corbett character from Bo Selecta) running in a by-election. There's a smarmy Tory, a sympathetic but careerist New Labour lady, and a lot of the cheap gags at the Lib Dems' expense that were fashionable in 2013. It's all very scattershot and isn't saying anything very deep, but it's watchable.

What elevates it, I think, is the eventual message (signposted by a sinister American from "the Agency") that political cynicism can be harnessed for authoritarian purposes and that things can get very, very dystopian. But such a thing could never happen in real life. Right?

Doctor Who: Smile

"Who needs loos? There's probably an app for that.

After the somewhat cheaply made In The Forest of the Night we get another script from the well-respected Frank Cottrell-Boyce and it's an excellent one, as well as the sort of intelligent and lightly satirical (Black Mirror satirical) script that feels as though it's written by someone who doesn't often get to write science fiction and is jumping at the chance. Wee also get more very good banter between the Doctor and Bill with a fantastic dynamic already evident between them. And it seems that Moffat is wisely following the RTD template of showing a new companion an example of both the future and the past as their travels begin.

Yes, the conceit- be happy or die- recalls The Happiness Patrol, but this time it's just machines gone wrong who, in the big reveal, are just AI that are learning and trying to be helpful. They want you to be happy, grief makes you unhappy, so why not put the grieving out of their misery? It is, as the Doctor says, grief as plague, and it's both a splendid concept and a nice little riff on both our over-dependence on technology (very much described in contemporary terms) and the forthcoming Singularity. I love the emojis.

Actually, this whole concept of what is called the "early days" of human space exploration reminds me of the Spacers on Isaac Asimov's robot novels. Except... I think this is supposed to be the same time period as The Ark in Space, which is set in the much further future?

We begin though, with more exposition about the mysterious "Vault" on present day Earth that the Doctor is supposed to be guarding- clearly a big season arc thing. Nardole seems to be mainly concerned with that- he doesn't come along traveling with the Doctor and Bill. And it's nice to see a Hartnell-style cliffhanger before the next episode. This is splendid stuff,

Great to see Ralf Little in Doctor Who, but Mina Anwar gets an oddly small role...

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Black Mirror: White Bear

"I think this is my daughter."

Wow. It's hard to discuss this without revealing the twist so, if you don't want to know, look away. SPOILERS. Lets just say that this seems a fairly anodyne episode until the point where the revelation of the huge twist alters everything. Charlie Brooker has done it again.

The episode is, in retrospect, extremely well-constructed but also hugely evocative of the dark, fearful power of the mob, from the writer of Daily Mail Island. Lenora Critchlow plays, in effect, Myra Hindley and her punishment is to have her memory wiped and relive the same day for the rest of her life, as we eventually discover- the moment where everything collapses into a clapping crowd is deeply surreal, and the ride of shame in front of a baying crowd is truly horrific. But Victoria isn't going to her execution but to something worse, from the deepest tabloid id of the British population.

It's clever. So clever. It's eve signposted early on with Victoria's "Mystic Meg" predictions, but I defy anybody not to be surprised.

I've missed this.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

"Mr. President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap."

This isn't the first time I've seen Dr. Strangelove, which is probably a good thing: this time I was able to look past the hilarious script and superb comic performances from, yes, Peter Sellers but the whole cast to Kubrick's superb direction and, perhaps, a slightly deeper context.

Still, it's worth emphasising that not only is this one of the funniest films ever but Sellers is utterly, utterly outstanding in all three of the parts he plays. Sterling Hayden deserves a mention, though, as does the utterly hilarious George C. Scott. And yet.... the Cuban Missile Crisis is less than two years ago and the film was made at what must have been the absolute peak of absolute nuclear annihilation. Strip away the comedy and this is a bleak and terrifying film (the concept of the Soviet doomsday device alone is existentially fearsome) which ends in absolute nuclear holocaust to the strains of Vera Lynn. And yet I think that both the humour and the underlying bleakness owe much to Catch-22 (the extraordinary novel: I haven't seen the film), another example of absolutely dark and horrible subject matter being leavened by a very mid-twentieth century absurdist style of humour which brings us back, again, to the existentialism which underpins this film, one of the greatest ever made.

Oh, and it's great, if weird, to hear the imperial tones of James Earl Jones in a film thirteen years before his signature role!

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Crown: Gloriana

"You have more freedom than any consort in history. And you repay it by scowling and sulking like an adolescent."

As ever, the title of the episode is clever. It's interesting to consider it alongside the final scene, with Elizabeth dressed up all regal and told to be Elizabeth Regina, most definitely not Elizabeth Windsor. This is both the theme and the tragedy of both the episode and the series.

Elizabeth Windsor has her interests- keeping her husband happy with the man she loves and maintaining a happy marriage with her increasingly petulant husband (Phil ends the series being increasingly unlikeable, beastly to both Elizabeth and Charles without sufficient motivation). But it's in the interests of Elizabeth Regina to ruin all this in the name of a glorious yet powerless monarchy and an uncaring Church which seems to exist only to cruelly police people's sex lives. What happens to Margaret and Peter is unspeakably cruel and I can see how Margaret sees the chance to renounce her titles as a liberation- the chains may be made of gold but to be royal is to be enslaved, with no agency, privacy, dignity or power.

And it stays with you. In a powerful scene a desperate Elizabeth asks for advice from her uncle David, the only person alive who knows how she feels- and for once he drops the cynical mask and speaks honestly; there is no escape from these conflicts between person and monarch, not even abdication. These are complex, abstract themes, handled well in a strong finale.

There's another strand to the episode, though. The new PM, Sir Anthony Eden, at first seems much younger and more vigorous than his predecessor, but we gradually see the pills he's taking, the pain he's in and, in the final scene, the recreational drugs he's injecting; is he any more fit for the job than his predecessor was? The trippy final scene makes it clear that Suez is coming.  This veteran foreign secretary has been reduced to a drug-addicted shadow of a man just when it's all about to kick off.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

"I'll use your law."

This film is also known as Monster but there was no way I wasn't going with Humanoids from the Deep. I set about watching this Roger Corman-produced monster flick starring a rather old-looking Doug McClure expecting a bit of silly lightweight fluff and ended up getting exactly that; it's not a good film, exactly, but it's watchable enough in its highly predictable way. Except... it's more than a little uncomfortably rapey. You can sort of tell that just from the poster.

The first part of the film wisely keeps the monsters hidden, but even early on it's obvious that we're just looking at men in rubber suits. There's a nice subtext about corporate greed and racism against the token Native American in the early scenes but, after enough people (and dogs) have been picked off by the beasts it's time for our hero Jim (McClure, naturally) and his gang to go a-monster hunting.

The scientific explanation for the monsters- products of scientific experiments to speed up evolution getting accidentally applied to coelacanths- is cobblers, of course; evolution is  not a movement towards becoming intelligent, bipedal humanoids but natural selection of whatever characteristics are likely to increase survival. Plus coelacanths are not native to the coastlines of the USA. Oh, and apparently they all want to rape women because they are like humans and want to mate with us. Er, right. Are there no female monsters or something? Essentially we have the rather silly monster movie you might expect from the title but with a not-very-subtle misogynistic subtext. Only for hardcore Doug McClure fans, if such people exist.

iZombie: Zombie Knows Best

"Well, you look like a black Tony Stark..."

We're back to the usual format here, with a murder mystery and some brain eating to be done, except this time it's done with Clive's full knowledge and with both Liv and Major partaking of the victims' (conveniently there are two, a father and a teenage daughter) brains. What makes this iteration particularly hilarious is that it's Liv who gets to be Embarrassing Dad while Major gets to spend the whole episode as a teenage girl, wherein there is much merriment. Both Rose McIver and Robert Buckley show, once again, how they are both excellent comic actors.

But there's another strand to this episode, a much more tragic one told in flashback, as Clive slowly reveals his connection with the murdered little Wally and his family- and, as a light little bonus, exactly how he got into Game of Thrones. So, while the murder mystery is a good one, with an unexpected twist, Clive's parallel investigation of the family's murder ends up unearthing something truly horrible; conspiracy theorists (already not my favourite people, to put it mildly; they can all bog off and take their alternative facts with them) have message boards and, indeed, an entire online infrastructure for the "outing" of zombies; almost one tenth as evil as Breitbart and 4chan, or whatever the neo-Nazi yoof are logging on to these days.

This is all clearly foreshadowing of "D-Day" and, I'm sure, this season will see the secret slowly seeping out. I suspect it's rather clear which side Clive will be on. Excellent episode.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Doctor Who: The Pilot

"Why do you run like that?"

"Like what?"

"Like a penguin with its arse on fire."

Well, that was an unexpectedly fun, and genuinely scary, season opener from Steven Moffat. You'd be forgiven for expecting his last season of Who to be somewhat tired, but there's life in the old Doc yet. This is a genuinely creepy episode, with the central idea- a sentient puddle that doesn't show your mirror image but your real image- being so very Moffat in the best possible way. The episode is shot like a horror film, with plenty of shocks and scares. And Bill is a superb character- likeable, superbly portrayed by Pearl Mackie and, in a nice meta touch, as sci-fi literate as we are.

Despite the Daleks and, indeed, the Movellans (these aren't Destiny of the Daleks models, but who's to say it's the same Movellan War?), the season opener wisely eschews continuity, rather heavy of late, in favour of a new start. Some time has passed for the Doctor, who has spent the last five or seven decades doing a Professor Chronotis at a fictional university in Bristol. The introduction to this is wonderful; Bill enters an office, complete with sonic screwdrivers in a cup like pens, and photos of Susan and River Song. The Doctor then proceeds to handwave this young person with a dead end job into a place at the university and a possible future; social mobility in action at a time when we need it most.

I love the way Bill's sexual orientation is handled- mundane, normal, some people are gay, move along. This kind of subtle kick against heteronormativity can be just as radical as anything that seems to shout more loudly. Bill's home life, with her mum Moira's various lovers, is nicely sketched with a similar subtlety.

The way the adventure follows Bill's POV obviously calls to mind Rose, but then this sort of companion introduction story has become almost a trope in itself. Certainly Bill's introduction to the TARDIS's dimensions is the most fun iteration yet, but this is something that will never get stale. It's a nicely balanced episode with pace, wit, scares, action and, well, Bill gets a Dalek on her first go. And heartbreak. And the only exciting time she's ever had. And, eventually, the promise of more. I can't wait.

Friday, 14 April 2017

IZombie: Heaven Just Got a Little Bit Smoother

"You really should tan and dye. We're trying to keep a secret here."

Season three at last; it's been sooooo long. It's good to have the old gang and the old narrative tropes back. But we have a slight change of format after last season's dramatic finale: I'm sure we'll still get lots of murders (and brains) of the week, but the season subplot seems to be the gradual realisation by the people of Seattle that zombies walk among them, and how to manage that. There's an obvious civil rights subtext here, the same one that is used to such powerful metaphorical extent in the X-Men of various media; can humans co-exist among undead brain-munching fellow citizens?

I'm sure it'll all be fine. It's not as though humans have a long history of discrimination and violence based on race and/or sexual orientation, right? Besides, there's an awkwardness in arranging for them to legally eat brains without technically violating the dead. As it is, the episode sort of fudges this issue by dodging it completely when Clive sees Liv and Major munch on cerebellum for the first time.

Things follow directly on from last season's finale, and we learn just a little bit more about the mysterious Vivian Stoll and her league of military zombies, but just what is this "zombie homeland" to which she refers? It all sounds a bit Marcus Garvey, but there's no Zombie Africa. But she has a good point about the likely human reaction to "D-Day". I'm not convinced that her "Zombie Island" in the Puget Sound is a very good solution, but we'll see.

On a more personal note, there are worrying signs that Peyton may have feelings for bad boy Blaine rather than the lovable Ravi because, hey, that's what women in TV dramas do. We're reminded that Major may be dying, and Ravi needs to find a cure pretty sharpish.  Oh, and Don E is casually resurrecting Blaine's dad.

By the end of the episode, though, the secret is slowly circulating, and even Clive has a personal reason to be emotionally invested. Most of all, though, it's so good to have iZombie back.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Grimm: Tree People

"Please tell me we're not going Deliverance on this..."

Oh dear. This is an episode where a blood-eating magic tree and an Ent (only token efforts are made to link any of this stuff to Wesen lore) kill anyone who tries to dump rubbish and/or poach in a forest. It really is as silly as it sounds; the season is clearly treading water now until we can properly start the concluding arc. This is the most awful story-of-the-week for ages. It reminds me of the Buffy episode Go Fish for similar reasons. It's not unusual, I suppose, to find an episode like this in a position like this.

Moving swiftly on, then; after last week it's a relief at least to see a full cast of regulars, with Adalind and Diana both back, although Sean plays only a token role as he continues to talk meaninglessly dramatic crap about Diana with his Russian friend, who unaccountably switches to English halfway through the conversation. Even the arc stuff is badly written this episode.

We get a bit of investigation into the beast from the mirror, but even that is inconclusive. Definitely one to skip and almost certainly written in a hurry.

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 9- Assassins

"I'm not sure I could trust a Modernist with an English name..."

There's a lot bubbling away in that troublesome marriage between Elizabeth and Phil- not least that, as he gets sloshed with his ra-ra mates, she's hanging around with her friend (and old flame), Porchy, who shares her interest in horses, an interest which Phil does not share. Things are clearly building towards a head next episode, But this episode is all about Winston.

It's November 1954, and Winston's 80th birthday is coming up, an age that suggests retirement may not be far off; Gladstone may have become Prime Minister for the fourth and final time at 83, but that's not how things are done in the twentieth century. No; we get modernist artists to do a portrait, and so the episode hangs mainly around Churchill and Graham Sutherland's conversations as Winston sits for his portrait.It's a very character-based episode, filmed largely on location at Chartwell, which gets inside the head of this gruff, eloquent, stubborn and deeply emotional man, suffused with greatness, grief and the black dog.

Churchill's pride is greatly wounded by what must feel like a personal betrayal from his protege, the ambitious and frustrated Sir Anthony Eden, as he delivers an obviously pre-prepared and deeply tactless speech urging Churchill to step down, almost openly accusing him of staying on through nothing but personal pride. The effect is precisely as you would expect.

The unveiling of the painting is the disaster we all know, but the painting has "truth" and is the ultimate catalyst of the wounded Winston at last deciding to step down. We end with scenes of the Queen speaking at a dinner for him juxtaposed with scenes of the painting being burned. The episode is a fine farewell to Churchill whom, I suspect, we shall not see again. But these scenes are also juxtaposed with scenes of Elizabeth and Phil rowing, and I suspect the finale will show a lot more of this...

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 8- Pride & Joy

"The banger is falling apart!"

This episode was, perhaps, inevitable given the way this series is structured; a long and demanding Commonwealth tour between Liz and Phil serves as a nice contrast with her less dutiful sister Margaret, who duly makes a hash of standing in for Elizabeth during her absence. Just as interesting, though, are the deepening cracks appearing between Elizabeth and a husband who sees the farcical side of using pomp and circumstance to hide the fact that the once-mighty British Empire is slowly dying with a whimper.

We also get a nice bit of character development for the Queen Mother, too, as she disappears away to the Highlands to get away from it all, be anonymous and endear herself to us viewers in a way she hasn't so far.

This is, I think, presented as a pivotal moment for Elizabeth as Queen as she literally follows Churchill's advice to "never let the cameras see the real Elizabeth Windsor". Just as symbolic, I think, is how she charmingly intimidates a group of photographers into destroying the evidence of her row with a somewhat mardy Phil. The tour is deeply punishing, as shown by some nice directorial tricks, but Elizabeth endures it all for duty.

The ending, where the Queen bollocks Margaret and they proceed to get philosophical, is perhaps a microcosm of the whole show; it's well-made, well-acted and watchable, but it is lacking in the profundity that would make it truly great, and I suspect that is in no small part down to the subject matter.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Grimm: The Son Also Rises

"I have this feeling that something is starting..."

So Grimm does Frankenstein, to the point of the monster being created by a "Victor Shelley" (see what they did there?) in the process of reviving his dead son. At its heart, in what is a very rare event, this episode isn't technically Wesen-related. But there is, of course, a nice little Wesen-related touch in that the various body parts were all Wesen, with inevitable results.

This is, of course, yet another story-of-the-week, although its nice to get an episode where, with Nick somewhat sidelined, the case is handled by the pairing of Hank and Wu, both witty in their own way, who turn out to be the double act from hell as two actors with great timing devour a sizzling script. It's such a shame that we've seen so little of these two solving cases together.

There is arc stuff, too, of course, in spite of the absence of both Adalind and Diana and the sidelining of Sean (discovering potential but vague ominousness about Diana- told you). The looming catastrophic event is still a thing, and there's a hint at a possible extra-terrestrial origin for Wesen which, along with the Frankenstein stuff, gives this episode an oddly science fiction tinge. We also get a rather obvious dream for Monroe as he imagines an early birth and no fewer than six babies and counting before waking; a sign of nerves?

Meanwhile, Eve is recovering from another attack by that skull thing which attacked her through the mirror and is clearly going to connect in some way to Diana as Big Bad. Nick, weirdly, sits out the episode by her bedside.

Why do I get the impression, after a surprisingly enjoyable story-of-the-week showcasing Hank and Wu where most other regulars get a bit of a rest, that the next episode  is going to be big, arc-wise? Perhaps because there are only four episodes to go...

Friday, 7 April 2017

Clue (1985)

"Husbands should be like Kleenex; soft, strong and disposable."

"You lure men to their deaths like a spider with flies."

"Flies are where men are most vulnerable..."

Clue: a film so good that even the episode of Family Guy based on the film is one of the finest ones. I remember seeing and liking this film since before I was truly old enough to understand the style of humour but, frankly, as soon as I realised that this was a film by Jonathan Lynn of Yes, Minister fame I knew I was in for a good time.

Is it the first class comedy performances from the likes of Tim Curry (he may be even better here than in Rocky Horror) and Christopher Lloyd? Is it the abundant wit of the film, one of the wittiest ever? No; I think it's the plot, a gloriously meta exploration of how silly the whole country house murder mystery is. The fact that there are three different, equally plausible endings is a perfect deconstruction of the genre; after all, who cares about the arbitrary identity of the killer when we're having this much fun? It's true to say that the structure of this film is as witty as the dialogue.

But as good as the film is Tim Curry, whose performance in the final minutes of the film is exhilarating and extraordinary. One of the great comedy films of all time.

Monday, 3 April 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 7- Scientia Potentia Est

"No one wants a bluestocking or a college lecturer as Sovereign!"

One of the better episodes, this, making the point that not even all the privilege in the world can save one from 1950s misogyny and stereotyping- and, make no mistake, today is much the same but with the rough edges taken off. Women's rights may have advanced from the Paleolithic to the Mesolithic but they are nevertheless in the Stone Age.

Back in little Lillibet's childhood, for example, even after she became heir presumptive, her education consisted solely of the Constitution, Bagehot (So that's how you pronounce the name! I had a similar epiphany with "Lascelles".) and all that. Nothing else. No history, literature, science, philosophy; and yet, her brief expert discourse to the professor hired to tutor her on the finer points of horse racing is clearly meant to imply that Elizabeth, so self-consciously uneducated and intimidated by all these successful and educated men (yes, men) who surround her, is not so much unintelligent as untested.

The other main strand to the episode is, of course, the astounding fact that Churchill had a couple of minor strokes during 1953 and that not only the Press but also the Queen was kept in the dark; no wonder that we Brits have since preferred our leaders to be rather less gerontocratic ever since. Worse, Churchill is only buggering on so that his preferred successor, Eden, can recover from crippling gallstone surgery. And the poor heath of both the prime minister and the foreign secretary is seen, especially by the Eisenhower era Americans, as a metaphor for national decline. Awkward.

We also get a disturbing clash over the choice of his replacement as royal secretary between Elizabeth and the forces of ossified conservatism in the shape of Lascelles; he seems to see anything other than bland, passive conformity as a slippery slope on the way to Abdication. But Elizabeth is clearly no Edward VIII.

We end with Elizabeth giving Churchill a delightful bollocking and Phil, hitherto unseen all episode, turning up as pissed as a fart having spent even more time away from his wife. All is not perfect in that marriage...

Good stuff.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Legend of the Werewolf (1975)

"We do not cater for unusual tastes in here!"

This looks and feels like a Hammer horror film, is directed by Freddie Francis and stars Peter Cushing, but technically it isn't- it's made by Tyburn Films, a company specifically set up to continue the Hammer tradition after the Hammer horrors sadly came to an end (well, if you ignore To the Devil... a Daughter). Sadly, Tyburn only made three further films before giving up the ghost in 1975, and this is the last of those; very much the end of an era.

This is, essentially, a bog standard average Hammer horror in both style and quality. It's hard to gauge how dated this would have felt, if at all, in 1975, but the quality is certainly good enough, if not great. The script is ok, Cushing carries the film with his usual charisma and there's a delightful performance by Hugh Griffith early on. And the rather poor werewolf make-up is more than compensated for by some extremely clever effects and direction.

The setting is mid-nineteenth century France, a time of brothels (Ron Moody plays the very dirtiest of dirty old men), daguerreotypes and Napoleon III; a little later in time and a little to the west of the usual setting for these films but suitably atmospheric as far as Hammer goes. The script may be predictable, David Rintoul may be an average actor but, as ever, the film is carried by the splendid Peter Cushing as a pathologist who constantly solves cases for the inspector.

Not a bad film, then, and perhaps quite fitting that (and yes, I know this technically isn't a Hammer horror film, and that there would be one more such film to go, but...) it's a suitable closure for an era of which I am very fond.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

"There's no horror here we don't create ourselves."

Every so often I have to watch a trashy-looking genre film with quirky casting and this Roger Corman-produced piece of '80s sci-fi schlock, featuring the splendid Sid Haig and a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Englund, seems to fit the bill. The experience has been... interesting.

There's an obvious Alien influence in the bickering, working class crew of an alien spaceship but none of the visual grittiness and the plot, once you get past the awful cliched dialogue, is really rather different. There's a fair bit of world building with humanity enthralled by a mysterious "Master" who eventually even becomes relevant to the plot and it eventually becomes clear, after a series of increasingly gory deaths by '80s special effects including a suspiciously rapey-looking incident including a giant worm, that the planet's monsters are simply the crews' fears made manifest. So far, then predictable.

Then we get the ending, where the film really tries hard to be something more than a B movie by attempting to be all metaphysical and philosophical. It's a good try, it really is, but there's no escaping the fact that this is, well, a B movie, and strictly one for those of us who like that sort of thing.

Grimm: Blind Love

"You know, I hate to admit it- but you are one damn fine-looking man!"

At last we get an episode that isn't an episode of the week- hallelujah. Yes, we end with the reset button being pressed and no deeper character changes as a result- that would have happened in a superior show like Buffy- but who cares? Grimm gives us A Midsummer Night's Dream, and it's perfect, with all the star-cross'd lovers and... Hank. Oh, Hank.

The script and the cast are clearly having a lot of fun here, and it's infectious. There's a bit of arc stuff, too, seemingly presaging Diana's surely inevitable slide into darkness as Sean quite happily allows her to have fun torturing her foolish and unfortunate kidnapper. And she misses her Grandma Kelly- how much longer can she go without understanding what is going on? And I note that she casually slips to Sean that the symbols she's drawing are from the basement.

But all that's for later. This is a last chance to have some real fun with this bunch of characters and is no doubt the precursor to things turning very dark indeed from next week onwards (five episodes to go!) but it's such a joyous thing that this episode exists.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Labyrinth (1986)

"It's only forever. Not long at all."

This film is all about two departed individuals- Jim Henson, the creative mind behind a fantasy film whose fantastic beasts are, in the best possible way, Muppets; and the similarly missed David Bowie, arguably the greatest solo artist who ever lived and a true genius right up until the end. I can't help observing, though, that this major Hollywood starring role came at a time when his career had entered it'd mid-'80s slump, having failed to match the commercial success of Let's Dance and not really to experience a sustained career renaissance until (unorthodox opinion alert) Earthling. In this film he's the same age I am now, a sobering thought.

But what of the film? Well, it's '80s Hollywood fantasy in the best possible way, redolent of both Time Bandits and The NeverEnding Story in that it plucks a child from the world of the mundane and plucks them into a world of fantasy and adventure. Indeed, the first two thirds of the script bear the indelible imprint of the great Terry Jones, however much his contribution may have been changed. Certainly, the great Sir Didymus, a part of popular culture whom I am now finally able to know, reminds me of nothing more than the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail which was, I believe, a Jones/Palin scene.

Jennifer Connelly is splendid as the teenage, fantasy obsessed lead and Bowie is, well, magnificently himself as the Goblin King, with plenty of musical numbers to match. I suspect the fantasy world is based on items within Sarah's bedroom; certainly the Escher painting finale is. And my fellow Doctor Who fans will be reminded not only of Castrovalva but, because of a certain riddle, Pyramids of Mars. It's a picaresque, absurdly humorous little movie that channels Alice in Wonderland in the most splendidly '80s way possible. Not to be missed.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 6: Gelignite

"There's no such thing as a blameless party in a divorce!"

So this is the one where Margaret isn't allowed to marry the man she wants because he's divorced (his wife left him) and, frankly, because he's a commoner. And all because the Queen is allowed, through the Royal Marriages Act 1772, to veto any of her relatives.' marriages before they're 25. It's hardly fair although, of course, the same could be said of hereditary succession. Being in the Royal Family is a (very) gilded cage. To be royal is not to be free. We end with the two sisters very much estranged.

That takes up most of the episode, but we also get some foreshadowing of Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal courtesy of Ed Stoppard, who played Brian Epstein in Cilla; Stalin dying in the background; and Princess Margaret delivering a speech in Rhodesia at the end which is staggering in its casual racism. And it seems that Philip is spending less and less time with Elizabeth.

Dramatic and unusually self-contained as the episode is, it feels very much like foreshadowing...

Monday, 27 March 2017

X-Men (2000)

"Well, what would you prefer- yellow spandex?"

I've blogged so many Marvel films but, Deadpool aside, no X-Men ones. The reason is simple, of course: my film-watching life didn't start when I started doing films for this blog back in 2011, and by that point I'd already seen the first three. But I now remember very little of them and it's time to go back to what was arguably, with Blade not being seen by the general public as a superhero film, the beginning of the Marvel cinematic age we live in.

And it's good, faithfully showing both the premise and the characters from the comics  Patrick Stewart is an obvious choice for Professor X, although it's odd that he doesn't adopt an American accent, but Ian McKellen was born to play Magneto. But what really works, I think, is the decision to use Rogue and Wolverine as POV characters to justify all the exposition, odd though it is to see a very young Anna Paquin as another Southern belle so soon after marathoning True Blood.

The film keeps the plot simple and allows the characters to breathe, benefiting, I think, from the fact that Chris Claremont's run on the title set a style of almost soap opera, with characterisation a strong point. In that sense, I suppose, you can argue that the franchise is more suited to TV than film, but the richness of the characterisations cannot be other than a benefit. Wolverine and Rogue are well-sketched here, and it's noticeable that there's only time to hint at the depths of the likes of Storm or Cyclops.

It's an interesting choice for Magneto's character to have an early Holocaust flashback, evoking Schindler's List by use of monochrome, but it adds texture. And the treatment of bigotry against Mutants is designed well to evoke homophobia rather than the original Civil Rights era metaphor for racism. It's gruesomely fascinating to see Senator Kelly get his heavily CGI comeuppance, mind, and turning him into a kind of mutant evokes the creepy conclusion of Freaks. But it's a solidly constructed film, with a suitably visual finale at the Statue of Liberty and a sequel-hunting coda with Xavier and Magneto. It's a fine beginning to the franchise.

Oh, and on an actor-spotting note... the Toad is played by the same actor as Darth Maul!!!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Grimm: Breakfast in Bed

"He won't let you sleep."

Hmm. Nice central idea- a Wesen that's a kind of cross between the Sandman and Freddy Krueger, that eats your sleep and drives you mad; potentially a ripe grounding for a good horror tale. But it never quite comes off, and the episode just ends up being a rather predictable whodunit with a fair bit of CGI. With this season I'm getting less and less tolerant of the stories of the week, especially mediocre ones like this. Still, I liked the literal red herring.

Arc-wise there's not much going on. Most interesting, probably, is Sean saying straight up that "I'm done with Black Claw". This leads to Meisner's ghost later saving his life because "This time you chose the right side, Sean". That Anselmo Baledin bloke looks a bit miffed, though. I'm sure he'll be back.

The only other event of any interest is the gang managing to decode those strange makings that Eve put in the basement; it's a kind of astronomical calendar and it points at a date: 24th March- in the future...

But, aside from those two things and the red herring joke, this episode is eminently skippable.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Genghis Khan (1965)

"It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."

Oh dear. This film is not very good, Where to start? Well, how about with the arse-clenchingly awful fact that all but a very few characters are played by white actors in yellowface, with James Mason's jaw-droppingly stereotyped performance as Kam Ling being quite something to behold. No amount of accounting for the different social mores of 1965 can let us escape from the fact that this is all incredibly racist.

Oh, the location filming looks impressive and epic, and you can tell that the film is trying to be Lawrence of Arabia. But this is somewhat undermined by the fact that this is a film about Genghis Khan that focuses mainly around inter-Mongol squabbling, the extensive interlude in China doesn't particularly involve him conquering the place, and there's a general lack of conquering going on. In fact, late on in the film, a quick burst of narration jumps smoothly over the conquests of China, Russia and India and jumps unconvincingly into the conquest of Khwarezm. Where's all the stuff we want to see in a film about Genghis Khan?

I accept that a film like this has to show a certain amount of historical inaccuracy, but making the film mostly about the rival between Temujin and his Mongol rival Jamuga is such a waste. And so, ultimately, is the film.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 5: Smoke and Mirrors

"Borrow it, Ma'am? From whom? If it's not yours, whose is it?"

And so we come to the coronation, that watershed in British television history where a ceremony both elitist and inclusive (Phil let the TV cameras in) finally made telly a true mass medium. It was also, as we see here, a battle of wills between, inevitably, tradition- the Dukes of Norfolk have arranged all coronations since James II- and the radical modernising zeal of, er, Prince Philip. In 1953 he was very much the outsider, and has the fear of revolution of a continental royal..

It;s nice, then, that we begin with a flashback to 1937, as George VI lets little Lilibet help him with practising for his big day. It's also a brilliant showcase for David as a character- forbidden from the event, he may host a small party in Paris, mocking the ceremony as it is screened, but he is not so cynical as he seems; he is wounded that he never lasted long enough to have a coronation of his own.

This is also the point where Queen Mary dies, a very present link with the Victorian past. The same could be said of Churchill, who now sits during his audiences with the Queen. But the centrepiece is the ceremony itself, much of which is simply shown as was, complete with the Archbishop of Canterbury (Ronald Pickup) fluffing his lines. It's a deeply moving and powerful piece of mumbo-jumbo. But we end with Elizabeth and Philip's marriage in an awkward place.

More very good drama, as we can expect from Netflix. The Crown is, perhaps, in the "very good" caegory rather than being one of the all-time greats, but at the halfway point I'm very much enjoying it.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 4- Act of God

"Be careful out there. It's a real pea-souper!"

This episode is interesting in that it deals with the great smog crisis of 1952, where a mixture of weather and pollution caused 10,000 deaths and the elderly Churchill, interested only in foreign policy, showed no more ntetest until his job was seen to be in peril; this isn't widely know today, much like Churchill's second ministry as a whole.

In other news Phil takes flying lessons with the man who's shagging his sister-in-law- Elizabeth manages to get Churchill to agree to this as a quid pro quo- and Queen Mary is dying. This shouldn't be surprising; after all, she was born in 1867, the year of the Great Reform Act and the Ausgleich, but for Elizabeth it's a race against time to speak as much as she can with the person who seems to have formed her ideological view of monarchy.

We get to know Clem Attlee a little in this episode, no longer prime minister yet, next to Churchill, seeming to be relatively young. And, most heartbreakingly, Venetia develops her hero-worshipping crush on Churchill to a peak, only to be killed by a traffic accident in the smog. So that's why the character has been so heavily emphasised.

Interesting that Elizabeth's view of monarchy is extremely conservative, an updating of the Divine Right of Kings to the context of parliamentary democracy, whereas Philip is much more modern, believing in such radical concepts as the separation of church and state. It's inter sting, too, that the constitutional question of whether she is able to sack Churchill on grounds of age and irrelevanc is never really resolved in theory; even Tommy Lascelles leaves the question open. Only Queen Mary is there to give a firm answer, and she won't be there for long.

More fascinating, cerebral stuff that avoids Daily Mail-style fawning in favour of ideas and characters. This is good telly.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 3- Windsor

"I know he's Winston Churchill and all that, but remember who you are!"

This episode plays a clever trick in constantly juxtaposing Elizabeth's first baby steps as monarch with the abdication, in flashback, and present day waspish emptiness of David, the former Edward VIII, with the now dying Queen Mary standing in judgement over everything. Alex Jennings is perfectly cast.

Elizabeth is now faced with the full weight of being Queen, dealing with her first red box still marked for "the King" and feeling nervous about her first audience with Churchill, who soon puts her right about how such things are done. But she's under pressure to ensure that the kids keep Phil's surname, and to stay in Clarence House rather than Buckingham Palace, both to please Phil and smooth her marriage, and both doomed, as we see.

It's interesting to see the character of Ernst Von Hannover, a reminder of the family's German roots who happily chats in German with Queen Mary. And it's ominous to see that Townsend's wife has left him; the affair between Margaret and himself, in the 1950s, is another thing that can only be doomed.

The unpopular David manages to do a little deal with his old friend Churchill, breaking the bad news about the surname and palace to the Queen in exchange for no cut in his allowance. Phil is not happy, feeling emasculated; these are days long before feminism. But most interesting is the chat between Elizabeth and David. He may have apologised to Albert for denying him an "ordinary" life, but Elizabeth has been denied one too. Although her definition of "ordinary" is not how most of us would use the word.

Good, well-constructed drama, and still gripping.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Grimm: The Seven Year Itch

"Check to see if there are any reports of a naked man in a park sometime last night."

"Uh, this is Portland; I might have to narrow that down."

Another story of the week and, while not as good as last week's, it's an interesting idea; an immortal Wesen, 200 years old, who only awakens every seven years to eat a fat person. Lovely. I suspect that this pattern doesn't apply from birth, as that would lead to an awkward childhood. At least this week I was a little less crushingly disappointed to be getting a story of the week. And there's a nice, trope-bending moment at the end when the baddie's putative female victim turns out to be a Wesen and eats him instead. Reminds me of the first ever scene of Buffy. Not sure it's nice to make a larger lady into a hippo though.

There's still good arc stuff, though. Meisner is seemingly determined not just to give Sean a "half-assed haunting". It's confirmed that Rosalie is carrying triplets ("I love you and we can do this" says Monroe), which made Mrs. Llamastrangler cry. And Nick is still tempted by his precious; we all know where that subplot is going.

More disturbingly, it's only Diana's intervention that saves Eve, trapped below the house, seemingly by all the writing that seems to be down there. There's clearly a big reveal coming about the writing, but there's also an interestingly simmering tension between Eve and Adalind.

We end with Sean using his engagement ring as part of a test to see if Meisner's ghost is indeed real- and the results are explosive. Literally.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Yellowbeard (1983)

"Three farthings for a lump of shit please..."

This film is, well, not all that good which, considering that two of its three writers were Peter Cook and Graham Chapman, is rather bewildering. But it just isn't much good. And it killed Marty Feldman.

That isn't to say that there are no laughs at all, of course, nor that it isn't a pleasure to see the talents of those in them tags down there, plus Spike Milligan, Nigel Planer and even an eyebrow-raising from a very Let's Dance era David Bowie. But the whole thing never really takes off, perhaps partly because the script isn't great but in large part, I suspect, to a rather flat directorial style with no comedic timing or flourishes. Also, I have to say, the constant rape jokes don't exactly make for comfortable viewing.

Still, Graham Chapman is good, as is Marty Feldman in his last film, although Peter Cook is somewhat wasted in a straight man role. And the character of El Nebuloso is superb, with the scenes of Cheech and Chong, the acid pool and the torture device being the closest the film gets to being Pythonesque. But the film as a whole is a bit of a damp squib and worth seeing only for Monty Python or Peter Cook completists.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 2- Hyde Park Corner

"I thought we'd have longer."

This second episode is a superbly crafted piece of drama, significantly better than the last one, entirely concerned with the slow but inexorable demise of George VI, the race to tell Lilibet and Phil- stuck in Kenya many decades before mobile phones- what has happened, and give us our first glimpse of the changes that must happen now that she is Queen Elizabeth II. Earlier this episode Lilibet curtseyed to her grandmother, Queen Mary; now, Mary curtseys to her.

Oh, and I've just realised why I recognise Pip Torrens, who plays Tommy Lascelles; he was Mr Cholmondely-Warner in Harry Enfield and Sons. It was the scene where he speaks sternly to Townsend about what he's up to with Margaret that made me realise. Blimey.

We also get the first of no doubt many scenes of Phil being vaguely racist as the royal couple touch down in Kenya, we get introduced to Churchill's new secretary Venetia, who will no doubt play an important role later on, and we begin to see both how Churchill is slowly losing it (except for big set-piece speeches, of course) and how frustrating this is, despite royal rebukes, for Anthony Eden, perpetual heir to the premiership and the Prince Charles of the 1950s Tory party.

But the episode centres around the urgent yet calm, uneasy yet rehearsed flurry of activity that follows the King's sudden death one morning; we see as the news slowly circulates and plans spring into action. Amongst all that are small character moments, though, with Phil facing down an elephant and Elizabeth showing her war mechanic skills. And there are hats everywhere. Lots of hats.

But there's no denying that this is a very impressive piece of telly. More please.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 1- Wolverton Splash

"I've signed myself away."

"Or won the greatest prize on Earth."

Yes, I know: yet another TV series on the go and so very many plates spinning. I eventually finish them all, you know me! Everything will be followed to its conclusion at some point. Well, perhaps not Detectorists...

Anyway, let's turn to The Crown, a new-ish (I'm slightly behind the curve, as usual) Netflix drama which has gleaned quite a lot of critical acclaim and stars Claire Foy as a young Queen Elizabeth II from the time when a pubescent Paul McCartney used to perv over her and Matt Smith as everybody's favourite casual racist, Phil. Both are rather good. The script takes an interesting tack, though: the era depicted is staid, with rationing, pre-'60s stultifying puritanism and a truly crap popular culture, but the script plays against this. King George VI in his first scene- which shows just how mollycoddled by servants monarchs are,-drops the C bomb quite casually. That's an interesting choice and drops a hint that this programme may be a little interesting to someone like me who isn't exactly an ardent royalist.

(There. I've said it; not really a royalist. That isn't to say that I want a republic right now- I don't think our age has the appropriate regard for constitutional propriety or civil liberties for such major constitutional surgery and I think we should carry on, ideally with some Scandinavian-style reform, with some kind of constitutional monarchy. But if you were making a new country from scratch then of course you'd have some kind of republic and it's silly to pretend otherwise.)

But perhaps the most interesting piece of casting is John Lithgow (the baddie from Santa Claus: The Movie!!!) as Winston Churchill. He's far from obvious until you see his extraordinary performance which strikes that difficult yet perfect balance between impression and performance. Ben Miles is good too as  royal equerry Peter Townsend, so very proper as he secretly shags Princess Margaret.

Anyway, Phil and Lilibet are getting married. It's all very grand, especially for the austere 1947. She says "obey", which raises eyebrows. The Tories "win" the 1951 election, and Churchill gets to recycle his famous line about Attlee and the empty taxi. But this episode is essentially about the warm relationship between Lilibet and Phil, his difficulty- '50s gender roles being what they are- in adjusting from naval life to the life of a royal "wife", and how the  news of the King's cancer is so slowly kept from him but how, in spite of the denial and the stiff upper lips, it's killing him.

This is actually rather good.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Grimm: El Cuegle

"We live in a world full of, you know, people with shoes."

As stories of the week go, this is a good one: a baby-eating Wesen that sees the future and only eats future Hitlers and serial killers. It's just that the last thing we want after the last few episodes of high excitement is to go back to another story of the week. Perhaps, in fact, this isn't a good time for one of the better stories of the week to happen as it's likely to be unappreciated although, I suppose, I can hardly argue for a bad one.

On to the arc stuff, then. Sean gets bollocked by his Black Claw bosses and he takes it out on the newly reinstated Nick, Hank and Wu. This new working relationship is going to be awkward. But Sean is being visited by the (literal?) ghost of Meisner. There are also some awkward explanations to a rather powerful Diana (my money's still on her for the season Big Bad) about the change in domestic arrangements (it's lovely to see Nick and Adalind back together, unless you're Eve/Juliette...). There's also a big reveal: Rosalie is carrying more than one baby. Twins? Or a litter?

We get further development of how Rosalie and Monroe are determined to up sticks to a safer place to raise their children; by the laws of TV this is bound to happen at an awkward moment. Monroe displays, with some help from CGI, his new protective fatherly urges when he discovers that this week's baddie seems to be a baby eater.

That's it for the arc stuff but, to be fair, I would have enjoyed the story of the week stuff a lot more if it hadn't been shown at this point. A good episode on its own terms but not necessarily what we want to see at this point. I suspect next week will be similar, though.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

"Do you know where you are, Bartolome? I'll tell you where you are. You are about to enter Hell, Bartolome, HELL!... The netherworld. The infernal region, The abode of the Damned... The place of torment. Pandemonium. Abbadon. Tophet. Gehenna. Naraka. The pit... and the pendulum!"

One of the first films I did for this blog was Roger Corman's House of Usher; I didn't expect it to be quite as long until the next one of his Edgar Allan Poe films which happens, coincidentally, to be the second one made. I seem to have accidentally managed to do them in order so far.

This is a far superior film to its predecessor, with the use of a blurred and tinted picture for the flashbacks being a particularly inspired directorial flourish and Vincent Price being superb. Only the very end of the film is faithful to Poe's (very) short story with a plot invented to sound vaguely Poe-like, utilising many of his tropes, not least of which is premature burial. It works, and the plot is superb with a fantastic twist.

This is a profoundly gothic film in which the sins of the past- both before and after the twist- threaten to destroy the well-meaning but helpless present generation with the sheer weight of their evil. In this case it is the tortures of the recent Spanish Inquisition which weigh oppressively on the present, and the acting and superb direction Jane this a genuinely powerful and disturbing film. I'm left to ruminate that gothic horror is fundamentally progressive: it is fascinated by the past but all too aware that bad things happened there.

I was expecting a bit of campy fun with this film but instead, in spite of John Kerr's dodgy acting, I found a genuinely excellent film. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Game of Thrones: Season 1, Episode 2 ("The Kingsroad")

"A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone."

I blogged the first episode of Game of Thrones on 18th September 2015 so... yeah. There won't be quite as long before episode three. Promise.

I'm still getting a handle on the setting; this is a fantasy world with only light fantasy elements- so far we've seen dragon eggs but dragons appear to be semi-mythical, and dire wolves seem not to be overtly supernatural. It's a gritty, realistic mediaeval world which is obviously going to focus on the power games surrounding the eponymous throne, and I've heard that this is based on both the Wars of the Roses and the Anarchy of the twelfth century. But Robert Baratheon is certainly no Henry VI; I'm not sure how strong a king he is but he appears laddish yet weighed down by kingship. I suspect he's not all that long for this world, given the apparent premise of the series.

Daenerys is interesting in the sense that she's getting a lot of screen time and her situation- marital rape in the context of semi-forced marriage- is horrific and surely would not be depicted so prominently if she were not eventually to end up powerful and fortunate in spite of it. Her brother claims Robert's throne. Hmm.

Meanwhile, Robert's only son Joffrey is a right little sod, as his behaviour towards Arya and her poor friend illustrates. Sansa is happy enough to marry him, but then she'll be queen. She's so motivated towards this that she's ready to lie under oath about her sister. But I suppose that being queen- a glorified womb- is the best a woman can hope for in this society. Certainly Arya's tomboyish ways are a fascinating way to explore the theme of what we can't really call feminism.

And then there's Tyrion. He's still a sot and a shagger, but there's a more intellectual side, too; he may be a semi-outcast just because he's a dwarf but, crude and direct though he is, he isn't shallow. And his relationship with the literal bastard Jon Snow (not yet a Channel 4 newsreader) is interesting. Jon, a very naive bastard, is off to devote his entire life to guarding the northern walls from whatever lies beyond, which none of his legitimately born relatives would presumably stoop to. Ned is proud but, when he says That "When we next meet, I'll tell you about your mother" I'm left suspecting that, one way or another, they won't ever meet again. Let's see if I'm right.

Meanwhile Catelyn Stark is keeping watch over the thankfully not-dead Bran but, after being attacked, she's off to tell her husband about her suspicions regarding the Lannisters. And, while she's away, Bran wakes- and he knows too much. Why do I get the feeling that the immediate future of the Stark family is not set to be a happy one?

Absolutely superb telly, this.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Legion: Chapter 2

"We're having a romance of the mind."

More non-linear narrative and superb acting this week as Melanie and the mysterious Ptonomy begin to uncover the secrets of David's past through "memory work". It's already clear that something big is being repressed. What isn't clear is what Melanie wants, but she's insistent that David is not mad and that everything that's happening is a manifestation of his mutant powers.

The "memory work" is both fascinating and probably a literal iteration of an unreliable narrator; I hardly think a real small child would be read such a terrifying bedtime story. And it's interesting that David's father, even in memories, always has his face in shadow.

The romance between David and Syd becomes sweeter, despite the tragedy of her being unable to be touched. We see that odd creature again. But most disturbing is what happens to David's sister Amy, the stuff of nightmares; insisting in spite of what she's told that David was indeed held at the institution, she is locked up for "paranoid delusions", bait for an obvious trap. This is good stuff- weird, but good weird.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Legion: Chapter 1

"How does that make you feel?"

I haven't read a lot of Marvel stuff concerning Legion, or David Haller, but I know he's supposed to be the mutant son of Charles Xavier whose many personalities each have a distinct power. But he's a pretty obscure character, and at first glance an odd choice to be lead character for a new TV series.

The premise, while seemingly not hugely  faithful to the source material, is intriguing: we begin with David, seemingly  suffering from disassociative personality disorder, in the Karkaesque world of a TV mental institution where trying to prove that you're sane is, as the cliche goes, a paradox. The love interest is, of course, called Syd Barrett, an appropriate nod to the crazy diamond and, with the '60s rock soundtrack, in keeping with the vaguely '60s aesthetic where it is not even clear whether all this is happening now or back in said decade, further disorienting the viewer in this intriguingly on-linear and creatively shot show. I don't know where this is going but it's cleverly done, intriguing, and has more than enough human interest to balance out its somewhat abstract visual and narrative style. David Haller's experience of the world is not straightforward, and writer-director Noah Hawley doesn't seem to see why ours should be either. I like that.

You've got to love Lenny, and although she's literally dead by the end of the episode I'm sure she'll remain a fixture. Things are getting intriguing already, too; it's quite a bombshell when we learn that the authorities know perfectly well that David is not mentally ill but does, in fact, have considerable mutant powers- is this set in the same universe as the X-Men films? What's society's attitude to mutants? Who are Melanie and all of her friends? What's the story with Syd? I'm sure we'll have fun finding out.

Grimm: Oh Captain, My Captain

"You're not my Daddy!"

Such a brilliant episode for most of its length, this. The asymmetrical battle between Nick's little gang and the all-powerful Renard, backed by Black Claw, seems to be continuing space, with desperate measures being taken against him and both Hank and Wu adapted to life among the unemployed. What a crying shame, then, that all this is so suddenly and unconvincingly overturned at the end, by deus ex machina, to restore the status quo. I hate reset buttons, especially when they come from out of nowhere like this. Looks as though we can expect a few stories of the week, then. How very disappointing.

It's a good episode while it lasts, though. And an early flashback of Nick's mother remind new us that Diana has enormous powers, for good or I'll. I still have my money on her for the season's big bad. Nick's being made by Eve to look like Renard so he can publicly resign as mayor is clever plotting, a superb piece of acting by Sasha Roiz, and a great opportunity for character moments- it's hard not to notice Eve perving at the naked Nick. And it's clever that the two are adds are wearing different coloured ties until the fight at the end, when only Roiz's performance shows us which Renard is which.

So, a good, exciting episode, with one more surprise at the end. Will Renard now reconsider whose side he's on? But it's so very deflating to face more episodes of status quo and one-off tales yet again.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Grimm: Trust Me Knot

"Whatever happens to Nick is gonna happen to you!"

Wow. Firstly, that was awesome. Secondly, it was clever, with a last minute twist that upends everything. Thirdly, as I suspected, this final short season is blowing apart the tradition of epic stuff for a season's first two episodes and then the arc plot taking a back seat to stories of the week; this episode's climax utterly blows apart the status quo.

The "previously on", by emphasising the fact that Rachel Wood's room had Renard's fingerprints all over it, sort of gives away what Hank and Wu are going to do; dramatically arrest Renard for her mirder and use him as a bargaining chip for Nick's seemingly inevitable reinstatement into the police, with all charges dropped. That this doesn't happen, and that Renard ends up free, powerful and with everything he wants, is deeply unexpected. And the question of how Hank and Wu can continue to work under him is suddenly answered; they're fired. It seems that Grimm is no longer a police procedural.

There's some interesting stuff about the stick, too, and hints at some unholy origins, whether from the symbols hidden on the cloth or the fact that Nick seemed reluctant, Gollum-like, to part with it. More is clearly set to be revealed about the season's MacGuffin. Diana is scary, too; she may be a sweet little girl but she's powerful, and it's only a matter of time until she surely ends up as the season Big Bad. Oh, and Rosalie ends up publicly announcing her pregnancy, in typical TV fashion, at a moment of high danger.

There's a long way to go, though; Nick is still on the run, Hank and Wu are no longer cops, Trubel has buggered off, and the city's establishment is right behind Renard and Black Claw...

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Grimm: Fugitive

"You chose the wrong side, Sean."

Things keep on moving fast with no sign of a new status quo emerging; normally we can expect things to settle down after the first couple of episodes of a new season, but this season is both much shorter than usual and the final season. Anything can happen.

Nick is a fugitive with Sean using the full weight of the Portland police force to "shoot to kill". Things don't look good for Nick, especially after the cliffhanger, and a big question mark hangs over both Hank and Wu; how can they carry on as cold when their boss is such a blatant baddie? And yet... there are signs that Sean isn't really sure that he's on the right side. One thing is sure; Adalind is definitely still with Nick.

There are other curiosities; Eve is still Eve but is losing her powers and seems to be getting more and more Juliette-like. And why did Renard shoot Bonaparte instead of Nick at the end of the finale? Could it have been Diana controlled by her own father? That little girl is getting creepier and creepier. And this is a compelling start to the season.

Although apparently the artist formerly known as Bitsie Tillich is now going by "Elizabeth". That's buggered up all my tagging...

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Friend Request (2016)

"Why did you accept my friend request?"

I wasn't expecting much of this film; it's part of what seems to be establishing itself as a new genre of horror film based on something evil in social media. It seems to be evolving it's own tropes- dead people maintaining an active online presence, not being able to turn things off onscreen and, of course, rather blatant social commentary. All this is predictable. What's less predictable is how good and genuinely scary this film is.

Our protagonist, Laura, begins the film normal, popular and happy until she befriends the awkward loner Maria, fatefully accepting a friend request yet not treating this very odd girl as her friend. Maria, unfortunately for her, is descended from a long line of witches who use "black mirrors" (no Charlie Brooker connection other than an interesting search engine result onscreen) to wreak terrible revenge on those that wrong them. This makes for a surprisingly good film.

Let's start with the cinematography and the direction; nearly all modern horror films are overly glossy, which robs them of atmosphere. This isn't. And, just as rarely, it relies on suspense rather than gore, finding new ways to do this with the social media conceit and managing to be genuinely scary in a way few modern films are. If I was twelve this film would have scared the pants off me. There's a clever ending too; I can honestly recommend this as one of the best recent horror films out there.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Dark Knight (2008)

"Let me get this straight, you think that your client, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante, who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands, and your plan is to blackmail this person?"

I may have changed my mind about this film a bit. I first saw it about eight years ago (in Los Angeles!) and my impressions were that it worked well as a film but not so well as a part of the Batman myth is, being more interested in pursuing the then-contemporary themes of terrorism, civil liberties (which are, don't get me wrong, important) and surveillance, hence the rather. crowbarred-in scene with Batman and Lucius Fox monitoring the people of Gotham on a bunch of monitors.

That's still, I think, a concern. But eight years on it seems not to loom so large, and the film seems a much better experience. Heath Ledger is a magnificent Joker, intelligent in his madness and articulate in his pursuit of chaos. It's perhaps a very idiosyncratic take on the character, but just about close enough to the original. Again it's a complex plot, weaving the tragedy of Harvey Dent into a tale of how the Joker grows from minor sideshow beside the important work of going after the mob to existential threat to Gotham itself. All this and we find time for a trip to Hong Kong just to find a mob boss. A lot gets packed into these Christopher Nolan Batman films.

It's odd to see Maggie Gyllenhaal as the recast Rachel, but she does a splendid job. Christian Bale is adequate as always and Gary Oldman was still born to play Jim Gordon. Aaron Eckhart and Michael Caine are superb but, yeah, the film belongs to Ledger. It would even if he hadn't died so shortly afterwards. He's the James Dean of our generation, but it would be much better if instead of that he was still around.

I enjoyed the film this time around, and felt as though it respected the characters rather better than I previously thought. Behind all the spectacle there's some real depth to a film that really seems to have divided the fan from the general viewer..

Monday, 6 February 2017

Batman Begins (2005)

"What chance does Gotham have when the good people do nothing?"

Yes, it's odd to see Ra's al-Ghul used in this way, conflated with Henri Ducard from the Blind Justice arc back in '89 and bearing absolutely no relation to the character we know and love to the point that he doesn't even seem to be an Arab; Ken Watanabe's decoy character seems to hail from much farther east. Still, there are hints as to the Lazarus Pit, perhaps. And, more to the point, this is a brilliant film tacking Batman's origins and a triumph for both the fan and the general audience.

Essentially this is because of both David Goyer's perfectly judged script and the always impressive direction of Christopher Nolan; Christian Bale is a perfectly good Batman, although no more than that, and the film is very well cast indeed, with Michael Caine being a particular master stroke. Still, were I an American I'd probably raise an eyebrow at the suspiciously high number of Brits in this film based on an iconic American character and directed by a Brit; I'm surprised this isn't more often commented on. It would be a reasonable objection in my British eyes. Still, Gary Oldman is the perfect Jim Gordon.

I can't fault the film though. Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow is chilling and brilliant, with that mask and some splendidly trippy direction making a hugely effective villain. And the time and thought given to Batman's origins is clear; it is both faithful and innovative, with a focus on Bruce's relationship with his philanthropist father and his childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes, a new character. This, as well as the more jovially sarcastic edge to Alfred, works very well indeed. The theme of fear is developed throughout, with the figures of Ra's, the Scarecrow and Batman reflecting different uses of it, for good or ill. And I like the way Batman's moral scruples against killing are contrasted against the gang 'em flog 'em stupidity of Ra's and his gang, the Daily Express of terrorist organisations.

Yes, there's also a fair bit from Batman: Year One, but that's no bad thing; it's nice to see Colin McFarlane as Commissioner Loeb. And, on the subject of actors, we even get an appearance by the great Shane Rimmer! This is a long film, yes, but a dense one, with a lot going on from the evolving relationship between Bruce and Rachel to Bruce's takeover of Wayne Enterprises. It's one of the finest superhero film ever and almost (but not quite) makes me rethink my opinion that superhero films should eschew origin stories.

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 9: Triggerfinger

"Rick? I keep you safe!"

These last episodes are a contrast between Rick and Shane as rival alpha males; Shane as the volatile and guilt-ridden disturbed individual who would do well as an analogue for Trump, and Rick as the decent man burdened by a conscience, honest enough to try and reason with a bunch of hostile gunmen having killed their friends in self-defence, sympathetic to Herschel and willing to save the life of an injured man whose friends had tried to kill him. It's a straight choice between them in a world where other humans can be as deadly as zombies. So far Dale is definitely for Rick but Andrea, horrifyingly, is under Shane's spell. Lori is coming to see through him very easily by now, but he wants her and is convinced the baby is his. I have a good idea where the season is going.

Meanwhile Glenn continues to be horribly immature about Maggie declaring her love for him, and Herschel is beginning to return to his old self, although he's certainly no friend of Shane's.

This is an episode of foreboding-laden set-up for Shane doing something bad; it's clear that he's the big bad of the season. This is the best episode in a while.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Class: The Lost

"I would quite like to kiss you now."

Here we go then: the season finale. Hope it's not the last ever episode. I came to Class with middling expectations but have been pleasantly surprised by just how good it is. And the season (series?) ends on a high.

The gang are all dysfunctional with each other after the last episodes' argy-bargy, and this is naturally the time that Corakinus decides to come back and get revenge on April on all her mates. And then there's the tension about what the newly freed Quill will do when she wakes up. Oh, and she appears to be pregnant. And Quill young eat their mothers. Lovely.

Things get very serious when Tanya's mother is shockingly killed, followed by Ram's dad; these events will have consequences. And the pressure keeps growing on Charlie to use the Cabinet. Cue much arguing. It's all well written, though, and catharsis brings the gang together a bit. But good old April saves the day. Phew. But not all is well; it's too late and Charlie has used the Cabinet of Souls.

Dorothea has therefore failed. And we see through that mysterious door to where the school governors dwell. In an entertaining scene they do that super villain thing of killing Dorothea for failure. And the big boss is revealed to be played by Cyril Nri in a moment that leaves you wanting more. This was a brilliant bit of kids' telly.

Class: The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did Next

"Coal Hill provides. It always provides."

So here we have an episode that takes place simultaneously with the last one, give or take some timey-wimey strangeness, as we find out what Quill was doing (the kids hardly appear) to regain her free will at last, albeit painfully. We know from the start that this unlikely occurrence is going to happen as we saw the Arn die last episode; we don't know how.

I'm not entirely sure this episode works; there's an awful lot of padding. It's interesting to get more background on Quill and her species, and even more interesting to get more hints about the mysterious Dorothea, but I never really invested much in the shape shifting alien Ballon, who is far too removed from normal human reality to be at all relatable without a hell of a lot more introduction than he gets in this short episode. The episode drags at times and is the first real misfire for Class.

It's an odd lead-up to the season finale. Still, the first five episodes of the season were superb and I'm confident we will end on a high.

Class: Detained

"Sometimes action isn't pretty, you big Polish giraffe!"

Interesting bottle episode, this one. It's obviously the season cheapie, with a tiny cast, no location filming and limited sets, and Miss Quill is clearly off having her own simultaneous adventure elsewhere- obviously involving the removal of the creature from her head. Isn't detention a wonderful plot device?

Essentially the classroom is moved to nowhere and no time, a bit like The Mind Robber except the nothingness is black. This is a harsh alien prison but, more to the point, it revolves around a MacGuffin which causes people to be both angry and uber-honest, thus getting the gang to say loads of hurtful things to each other which give the episode it's emotional beats and break up the team somewhat. Thus we learn that Matteusz may love Charlie but is also a little bit scared of him, that Tanya fears insecurity from being so much younger than the others, we get a bit of valid criticism of C.S. Lewis for his authorial agenda in the Narnia books, and Ram feels that he loves April more than she loves him back, which is devastating.

As a bottle episode it works, and genuinely advances some character stuff, but bottle episodes always show their working a bit and so does this; it may shake up the format a bit but this is by necessity rather than creativity, and the limitations, well, limit things. This is not one of the greatest episodes. Still, it works well within its limitations while not quite transcending them as the best bottle episodes (Midnight) often do.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Class: Brave-Ish Heart

"How do you have an army?"

Unlike Buffy I don't think we can say this increasingly awesome series uses monsters as specific metaphors for aspects as teenage life, but it's hard not to see April's huge responsibilities here- conquering an entire world of Shadow akin and usurping their king's throne, and she's a being a whopping great metaphor for how being a teenager is hard, especially if the challenges of school, puberty and romantic feelings are made harder by family problems. And April's family problems are enormous.

It's tempting to say that this episode is, to a large extent at least, about April's relationship with her mother and the beginnings of reconciliation with her father, who has truly sinned. Then again, it's also the episode where Ram describes the Lord of the Rings trilogy as "some old movie" so, you know, I feel awfully old watching this.

Meanwhile, our mysterious new headmistress gives Miss Quill a bit more exposition about the equally mysterious board of governors. Oh, and that creature will be removed from her head if she forces Charlie to use the Cabinet of Souls against those nasty otherworldly petals. This leads to the inevitable row between Quill and Charlie, as the petals begin to attack people. Fortunately April is able to return to save the day before the Cabinet has to be used... but Quill has still fulfilled her part of the bargain; it looks as though she will get what she wants...

Yep. This is still far better than I ever expected it to be.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

"Curiouser and curiouser..."

Alice in Wonderland was a very Tim Burton film, and Tim Burton is a director with a very distinctive individual style. It's extremely odd, then, that this sequel should have gone ahead without being directed by him. It seems somewhat humiliating to ask a director (James Bobin is best known for the recent Muppets films) to adopt the style of someone else. The result is perfectly diverting but not entirely successful.

Like its predecessor, this film is entirely original, with only nods to the source material in scenes involving chessboards, Humpty Dumpty and the love me while essentially telling a tale about Alice travelling back in time to save the Mad shatter, who's feeling a bit down. It's a visually arresting film, as you'd expect, but it tends to drag somewhat. Johnny Depp's relative lack of screen time doesn't help, and nor does it help that in those scenes where he does appear the plot doesn't really allow him to be entertaining. Still, Mia Wasikowska is again superb as a splendidly feminist Alice, and the moral of the film is that women can indeed be sea captains, patriarchy be damned.

Highlights are Sacha Baron Cohen as Father Time, a rare example of his playing a character not created by himself, and Andrew Scott as a sinister Victorian doctor obsessed with locking women away because of "female hysteria", reminding us of the dark realities of the time. But best of all is Helena Bonham Carter as the gloriously mad Red Queen. Her eventual reconciliation with the White Queen may be absurd and corny, but it's supposed to be.

This film is uneven, mildly disappointing and nowhere as good as its predecessor. But in spite of this it remains a glorious visual spectacle with a splendid cast and is worth watching in spite of it all.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Class: Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart

"Have you noticed no-one under the age of 35 is called John?"

Poor April has to share her heart with a bloodthirsty alien shadow king thingy. Being a teenager is certainly complicated. Add some lethal pink flower petals and the return of April's dad (played by Con O'Neill who was the lawyer in Cucumber) and you've got another splendid bit of telly. Mrs Llamastrangler and I are well and truly hooked by this intriguing cross between Buffy and Torchwood.

We also get a replacement head for Coal Hill in the person of Dorothea, who seems to know an awful lot and is working for the school's mysterious governors, adding another nice little intriguing arc thread. We also have Miss Quill overhearing Charlie talking about the Cabinet as a weapon of mass destruction; by the iron law of Raymond Chandler, a gun seen on the table in an early scene is bound to go off. This weapon is going to be used before the series ends, I'm sure.

Anyway, the script keeps shipping April and Ram to the point of April's mum catching them having sex(!), and Ram loves April enough to follow her through the wormhole on an apparent suicide mission at the end. Aww. Meanwhile those innocent little flower petals threaten to wipe out humanity but Miss Quill can apparently help Dorothea to avert this- and have that creature out of her head which is restricting her free will into the bargain. She's understandably both sceptical and tempted.

So, yes; really rather good.

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 8: Nebraska

"Get him off my land!"

It's the morning after the night before, and the shocking events, as the second season recommended in sober mood- although not necessarily with literal sobriety in the case of Herschel. Carol mourns poor Sophia, with Daryl also pretty damn upset. Shane continues to be a dangerously arrogant twat whose presence Herschel cannot tolerate, yet Herschel is desperately needed so that Lori's pregnancy can not be a death sentence. Fortunately Rick connects a little with Herschel in a bar; the formerly teetotal farmer has fallen off the wagon with the realisation that zombies are, in fact, not curable people but monsters, and that there is seemingly no hope.

Interestingly (foreshadowingly, perhaps, if that's an adjective), the main threat here is not from Zombies at all but from two random blokes in a bar and, of course, from Shane. Civilisation has broken down, a terrifying thing in itself.

On a more pleasant note Maggie declares her love for Glenn, but the young man seems not to be mature enough to deal with this. I expect that, after the birth of Lori's baby, she'll choose to leave with the gang. But Fort Benning is gone; where can they possibly go to?

We're clearly leading up to a massive showdown with Shane, who surely cannot survive the season. I fear, though, for Dale. I also wonder, well-written though the characters are, how we can possibly fill another four episodes before this happens.

Class: Nightvisiting

"Do you often see your parents after sex?"

This time the spotlight falls on Tanya as her late father seemingly returns to her, in her bedroom in the night, with a long, long stalk erupting from his back for hundreds of metres. Less foregrounded are others in the same situation- including Miss Finch, all experiencing the dangers of temptation. This is a good 'un.

Obviously we get to know Tanya much better, beginning with a montage of her growing up; now the entire ensemble cast has been well fleshed-out and are good, strong characters. We also learn more of Miss Quill ("Andrearth") and her very non-human species and this is all mixed into a somewhat metaphysical tale of "souls" and what looks awfully like the offer of Faustian pacts. Meanwhile April and Ram get to know each other better, reminding us that this is not exactly a gang of close friends to begin with. April's mum is paralysed because her alcoholic dad crashed the car- and he's coming out of prison soon; April shares some very personal stuff with Ram- and they kiss.

It's a nice touch that the Lan Kin are only on Earth because of the cracks on Amy's wall way back in The Eleventh Hour, connecting things to the parent programme. But Class is shaping up to be an unexpectedly superb bit of telly in its own right.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Class: The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo

"He's from Ofsted. Of course he's evil."

Still no subtitles. Grr. Still, it's the last time I'll be watching the programme by means of Sky catch-up. Murdoch hates deaf people, folks.

Anyway, on the surface this is a fairly ho-hum tale about a PE teacher of little brain who gets a sentient dragon tattoo, thereby annoying its rather big and powerful beloved. But beyond that it lets our newly established team bond a bit and gets us to know Ram, not a focus for the first episode, much better. He's good at football but far from what Il Duce Trump's new subjects call a "jock", being intelligent, sensitive and, indeed, mourning the deaths of both his girlfriend Rachel and his original not-alien leg.

Once again the episode is well-written, shot and acted. But Katherine Kelly is particularly superb with some brilliant material about a sinister Ofsted inspector who turns out to be a robot in the most obvious metaphor ever. I already love Miss Quill.

We get to know Tanya a little more, too, and learn that she's only 14 but three years ahead because she's very bright, and that she sadly lost her dad to a stroke two years ago. Oh, and Mr. Armitage dies; I wonder how the headmaster survival rate in Coal Hill will compare to Sunnydale High? This is already showing distinct signs of being very good telly. Two episodes in and I'm gripped and invested in the characters.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Class: For Tonight We Might Die

"Look at you all. The cream of the crop. High achievers. No wonder this country only exports Downton Abbey."

I must begin this enthusiastic review, I'm afraid, with a condemnation of Sky; their catch-up feature does not include subtitles and this is NOT even remotely acceptable.

More happily, though, this is an effortlessly brilliant first episode, introducing us to April, Tanya, Ram, Charlie and the mysterious Miss Quill while also benefiting from an entertaining and well-judged appearance from Peter Capaldi as the Doctor encourages them to act as a Scooby gang. This is appropriate; the script even references Buffy by referring to the rift at Coal Hill as a "Hellmouth". First impressions are that it is well written, well shot, has a banging title sequence and is centred around a strong cast of characters, with the awkward relationship between Charlie (interesting Jane for a prince) and his pretty-much-slave (and physics teacher) Miss Quill, who is cool. Both, interestingly, are the last of their kind. This episode focuses mainly on Charlie and April, though; I hope that Tanya and Ram get some attention too before long.

This debut episode is a very nice interweaving of exposition and death at the school prom (an American import that was only just starting over here in my day) at the hands of the Shadow Kin. I'm intrigued and want to see more.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sherlock: The Final Problem

"I wrote my own version of the nativity when I was a child. "The Hungry Donkey". It was a bit gory. But if you're gonna put a baby in a manger, you're asking for trouble."

I've not been quick in blogging this episode so I've not failed to notice the divided reaction which seems, anecdotally, to be more negative than not. And one of the main criticisms I hear- that this is yet another non-whodunit- is a valid one in that Moffat and Gatiss are certainly not writing what their audience wants and expects from Sherlock. But here lies, I suppose, the question: are writers mere hacks hired to give an audience what they want, or are they artists who may transcend such considerations? There is, of course, no easy answer, and I do not claim to be firmly on either side. But I will make the obvious point that giving the audience what that want connects very awkwardly with giving them surprise and unexpected events. I will also note that I enjoyed this episode very much. And that Mrs Llamastrangler was deeply affected, to the point of tears at the end.

This episode is a series of interlocking puzzles and fun little intellectual games, all with a touch of the macabre, but it is of course really about the character stuff, an excuse to explore the psyches of not only the fascinating Eurus but also Sherlock, John and the pleasingly foregrounded Mycroft.

If there's a disappointment it's the relative lack of Moriarty, whose games from beyond the grave do not come close to living up to expectations and whose screen time is painfully limited. But Eurus is a superb creation and Sian Brooke gives an incredible performance. It's so very clever that, after all the misdirection hinting at a third Holmes brother called "Sherrinford", this is simply the name of the prison where Eurus does her Silence of the Lambs stuff.

There are clever nods to The Musgrave Ritual and The Three Garridebs, but here we are quite moving away from a Holmes canon that the series may have outgrown. Certainly, each character- including Mrs Hudson, Molly and Lestrade, gets what would work as a final scene, suggesting that this may have been intended as a possible finale. I suspect no one connected with the show really knows whether or not Sherlock will ever be back, what with everyone being so very busy, but that this was designed as a fitting finale if need be. I hope it isn't, and I'm sure the creators do too. After all, we end with Sherlock and John both back in 221B Baker Street, and The Dancing Men...

And yeah. Mrs Hudson vacuuming to "The Number of the Beast". Awesome.