Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Angel: Tomorrow

"Mind if I join you?"

"On many levels, and with great intensity..."

Some season finales are dramatic. This one is just cruel, evil and, I admit through gritted teeth, perfect.

There's tension from the start as we, but not Angel or any of the gang, know that Connor has been tricked into believing Angel killed Holtz. The whole episode is one big trap as a very cold Connor gets his revenge with some splendidly ambiguous acting by Vincent Kartheiser.

But we feel sympathy for the young, innocent, manipulated Connor, even Justine seems to feel a twinge of guilt as Connor, believing Holtz to have been killed by a vampire, beheads the corpse and burns the body on a pyre; a warrior funeral, yes, but hardly what a loving son would prefer. Even Angel, at the end, refuses to blame Connor and declares his fatherly love. There is a poignancy here beyond the betrayal itself.

There's a lovely juxtaposition of scenes as Groo gently tells Cordy that Angel, not he, is the one she loves, as a departing Lorne tells Angel that Cordy's feelings for him are the same as his for her. They finally arrange to meet in a romantic location. Happy ever after, right? Hah! This is a Joss Whedon show. There is no such concept.

Less romantic is Wesley (oh, Wesley!) sleeping with Lilah. It was clearly hate sex, though, and when she tells him not to be thinking about her when she's gone, he delivers the most withering riposte ever in the form of "I wasn't even thinking about you when you were here." Ouch.

Naturally in Angel, as for the Manic Street Preachers, there is no true love. Cordy has to ascent to become one of the Powers That Be just as she's about to get together with Angel, and he will never know why he never turned up. And we end with Connor, assisted by an equally cold Justine, sealing Angel in a coffin which he deposts to the bottom of the ocean. Even more ouch.

This is the season finale most perfectly crafted to break as many hearts as possible. It's evil. It's brilliant. And so was this season. Angel has truly come of age.

So, time for me to briefly turn to a short season of nothing else, then I'll be back with the final season of Buffy and the fourth season of Angel.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

El Topo (1970)

"Who are you to judge me?"

"I am God."

I don't usually recite the plots of films for this blog- it's a pretty redundant thing to do- but I'll briefly do so for El Topo so as to underline the surreality: a mysterious gunfighter in black is riding around aimlessly with his mostly naked seven year old son for some reason, when he comes across a village which has been violently massacred with blood everywhere, and discovers that this is the work of the bizarre Colonel, whose reign of debauchery over a nearby monastery is both incredibly surreal and full of Catholic symbolism; this is the most Bunuelesque bit, I suppose, but there's an awful lot of vague counterculture Eastern philosophical symbolism too.

So suddenly there's a girl, and a kind of fairytale martial arts vibe as she pledges to love him only if he fights and bests four eccentric gunfighting masters. Then the two girls with whom he's having a relationship turn on him and shoot him. Then suddenly he's finding a way to release a large group of incestuous underground prisoners, only for them to be massacred in turn by the denizens of the not-very-nice local town. But long before the end even of the first act we reach a point where the very concept of narrative plot is very, very tenuous. There's lots of sex, violence and blood though.

What does all this mean? Buggered if I know. There's loads of symbolism, both Catholic and Eastern but, the 20th century having begotten Dada, surrealism, modernism, postmodernism and, indeed, the Sixties, I have no idea. But this is without a doubt the weirdest of the 455 films I've blogged.

IZombie: Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Brain

“You’re printing fake news...”

Another good episode, this, reminiscent of earlier seasons in its humour and fun, but also showing us how very, very wrong things are in New Seattle under Chase Graves’ tyranny. And tyranny it is; that's made clear by his shutting down, with violence, of a local newspaper for criticising his "judicial" murder of the good Mama. So far, so appalling but expected, and we duly hope for justice and for Graves to get his comeuppance.

However, what's truly disturbing is just how complicit Major is becoming; he seems to enjoy his violent exercising of authority and ends the episode as Graves' right hand man. This is how tyranny happens,of course- a genuine problem, in this case a shortage of brains exacerbated by the black market, leads to universal rights and liberties seeming inconvenient to those in power. Suddenly they are no longer universal, and therefore no longer exist. But it's doubly shocking to see a character we know and like dipping his hands in the blood. It it bitterness, his break-up with Liv, having to put up with all those accusations of being the Chaos Killer, as the dialogue implies? Either way, he seems to be an analogue, for this liberal American  show, of those friends and families of the crew and viewers who have voted for Trump and for the apparent normalisation of behaviour that used to be shocking so very recently.

In other, less tangential plot threads, Liv is throwing herself into her role as the new Mama with gusto and acquiring a new, more ethical boyfriend into the bargain. Clive is having difficulty adjusting to an open relationship, unable to hide his situation from any prospective date. Eventually he resorts to visiting an escort (illegal use of a prostitute in America, I believe; Clive is potentially open to kompromat). Only after this do we get the cruel twist that Dale has never gone as far as sleeping with anyone and it is he who has fully made the relationship an open one. Ouch, but clever writing. At least Ravi and Peyton continue to be a sweet couple.

Anyway, the plot; this week's murder victim is one of those loathsome pick-up artists, Rose McIver is brilliant as ever as Liv with douchebag brain, and a poisoned condom is an inspired murder weapon. All this combines to make an episode sufficiently fine that it could even have graced an earlier season. Finally!

Friday, 20 April 2018

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Grave

“Is this the master plan? You’re gonna stop me by telling me by telling me that you love me?”

The above quote hints at the flimsiness of the plot here; Giles comes back to Sunnydale, having borrowed a fair bit of magic from some old biddies in the West Country, but while trying to stop Willow he “accidentally” lets her borrow that power. Oops. Willow is this overwhelmed and decides to destroy the world and end its suffering, aided by an ancient pagan temple that conveniently appears. Except that, as Giles has apparently planned, Xander gets to save the day as per the quote; having spent the best parrot two episodes bemoaning his own uselessness, he saves the world.

And that’s it. Summarised like that it looks a bit pants and, if this were a series based on plot, plot, plot, it would be. Except the episode happens to be a bit awesome. That’s because the cheerfully rubbish plot is just something around which to hang the characters, who have always been the focus. That makes this an appropriate season finale.

We shall see how Willow heals next season, but so much else happens. The connection between Buffy and the prodigal Giles is wonderful, and joyous from the moment Giles starts laughing. They have a lovely father/daughter relationship, and father/daughter relationships are the best thing ever. It’s also lovely to see Buffy and a surprisingly capable Dawn fight zombies in a crypt, whereupon Buffy finally realised that her sister doesn’t need protecting; Dawn kicks ass. It’s also nice to see the season ending as it began, with Buffy crawling up out of a grave.

We end with loads of juxtaposed hugs- the Scooboies are battered, wounded, but together. And then, finally, we see Spike passing his trials- and having his soul returned..

A satisfying end to a season which, while not up there with the best, is on the whole rather good.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Wonder Woman (2017)

“They came to the conclusion that men are essential for procreation. But for pleasure? They are unnecessary.”

I thought DC Universe films are supposed to be rubbish? First Suicide Squad turns out not to be the turkey of popular opinion, then Wonder Woman turns out to be really rather good. I really ought to get round to the others.

I know very little about the Wonder Woman of the comics and am, I fear, reliant on popular culture for my knowledge of the character, although I’m vaguely aware of William Marston, his unconventional sex Life and his eccentric proto-feminist views. Both of those strands seem to be reflected here, with Diana originating from an island of Amazon warriors who seem to be ageless and are, of course, entirely female. And, while the film perhaps wisely steers clear of any overtly political style of feminism- that sort of thing tends to lead to preaching to the converted, and that would make this popular blockbuster a wasted opportunity; best to simply use humour and optimism to show a female hero kicking arse in a time (1918) when women were still a few weeks away even from having the vote. Yes, society has an awful lot of structural misogyny within it and, I have no doubt, my own consciousness of my male privilege doesn’t have much effect on stopping me from inadvertently contributing to it. After all, we live in a very misogynistic society in spite of some advances, and unconscious bias is a thing. It could hardly be otherwise. But sexual politics, like all politics, is the art of the possible and this is the age we live in. And a kick ass scene where Diana runs over the top and runs to the other side of the trenches to save an entire village is far better and more effective than preaching.

This film is fast-paced, exciting, full of witty lines and cool, likeable characters played superbly by an excellent cast, with a splendid villain to boot. But Gal Gadot is a true revelation, with exactly the right balance between innocence, heroism and wisdom. Hugely enjoyable.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

iZombie: My Really Fair Lady

"Mama was the railroad."

Thankfully it's a less intense and funnier episode this week as Liv, on luvvie brain, uses her acting skills, including an... interesting stab at a Kiwi accent- to pretty much take over from Mama as boss of the benevolent people smugglers, right up to the point of getting filmed committing a capital crime. There's no turning back now, and the stakes for her could not be higher.

Other stuff happens, mind; Ravi, it being that time of the month, survives a few days of junkie brain to reunite a kid with a dog and impress Peyton- and is rewarded with a snog. Is this them back together for good? Clive asks out the rookie cop girl without Liv's influence, only to have to explain to her his situation. Johnny Frost is back, and is hilarious. And Blaine finally finds out, dramatically, that this new zombie cult he's hearing more and more about is led by his own estranged dad, with whom he still has so many unresolved issues.

This is a fairly "meh" episode, I suppose; not as worryingly bad as the earlier episodes of the season, and no more than quite good. This season continues to be far poorer than any of its predecessors. But at least the recent upswing in quality is just about continuing. Let's hope we get an episode soon that's more than just adequate and perhaps a good run that can save this underwhelming season. We can only hope.

Pet (2016)

"Your life ends too..."

This may be n obscure little thriller with no real stars except for Dominic Monaghan, himself hardly an A lister, but it's nicely shot and very well acted by all concerns and, vitally, for a film that relies heavily on a pretty big plot twist, said twist is effective and leads to a gloriously twisted and highly satisfying ending.

At first the film seems to be about Monaghan's creepy Seth, a performance that reminded me at first very much of Robin Williams in One Hour Photo as Seth takes a life to Ksenia Solo's understandably freaked out Holly, kidnapping her and keeping her prisoner in a cage at his depressing little workplace.

And then, suddenly, things get more complicated as Holly turns out to be a serial killer, and the besotted Seth turns out to genuinely want to "save" her out of a twisted kind of  "love". He's still a creep, but it turns out she's a monster, and the balance of power gradually shifts and shifts until the delightfully perverted and appropriate conclusion. A deeply twisted film about the dark side of life, love, creepiness and turning the tables that is executed extremely well. Carles Torrens is a name I'll be looking out for in future. Worth a watch.

Jigsaw (2017)

“The game- it's started!"

 SPOILERS. You have been warned.

Well, that was unexpected. Seven years after this long-running and very gory franchise of clever whodunit/vigilante tale/squirm fest comes to an ignominious end with Saw 3-D it gets another sequel- this time, against all odds, a fitting, satisfying and genuinely clever finale.

I don't use the word "unexpected" lightly. After all, John Kramer has been dead for so many films now that it really is just stretching credulity to have his pre-planned "games" still playing out ten years after his death. It also isn't remotely credible to have him somehow not have died, although the film teases us with this possibility. No; instead, the film riffs on this very dilemma and finds a solution which is, yes, cheating a bit- this new set of murders exactly mirrors an earlier bunch of murders, and we aren't told until near the end that the scenes featuring Kramer happen years earlier- but it's genuinely clever. I like the inclusion of Jigsaw superfan Eleanor, whose gory collection makes her a splendid red herring, while our two police detective anti-heroes soon focus into our two main suspects for Jigsaw's heir. We also get some gloriously fiendish "games" and as clever and intricate a plot as ever.

So the franchise is right back on form at the last moment. But please: no more.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Emoji Movie (2017)

"Nobody leaves the phone! Delete them!"

Ok, let me make one thing clear from the outset; this film is pants. Oh, there are some films, such as Sausage Party, which seem at first as though they're going to be puerile and stupid but in fact turn out to be witty and clever. So I gave this film a chance. Don't make the same mistake; this film is half-arsed, boring and just plain bad.

It's hard to see whether the fundamental flaw is the concept or the execution. It's all set inside the phone of a kid called Alex, with emojis competing to be flavour of the month and the hero Gene, a "meh" emoji, gets into trouble for failing to always display a "meh" expression, only to save the day, predictably, for being in touch with the full range of his emotions and all that. Oh, and there's a token love story which, to be fair, has a genuine feminist subtext, and James Bloody Corden as the most annoying sidekick ever. We even get a deeply irritating dance scene purely for the purpose of letting Christina Aguilera do something.

The film is stupid, boring, feels over-long, and will inevitably look incredibly dated in not many years from now. And it gives rise yet again to that age-old question: why does America find James Corden funny?

Angel: Benediction

“Well, aren’t you just sneaky with the subtext?”

Such a tragic episode, this; we can very much see how, behind the endearingly awkward scenes of Angel slowly connecting with Connor/Steven, things are about to go horribly wrong in all sorts of ways. Connor is confused, bewildered, hostile to Lorne as a visible demon, torn between his two fathers. He may fight by his father, but growing up in a hell dimension (“Who hasn’t?” asks Fred) is in many ways a very sheltered upbringing.

I think we shall be charitable and ignore the deeply unconvincing appearance of Prosthetic Holtz, as he does die, after all. But he’s devious, later upon layer, every word and every action crafted for maximum revenge on Angel, and he just doesn’t care about the collateral damage to the boy he supposedly loves and whom he has raised for the best part of two decades.

Things get more and more arse-clenchingly awkward between Corey and Groo, with Groo very much aware of his status as pet more than lover. I give them about, well, an episode. lol ah so to use her highly entertaining  plot to corrupt the lonely, unloved Wesley. Ironically, though, it would probably be best for all concerned if Justine had indeed died, and it’s doubly ironic, given the ending, that it should be Angel and Connor who save her.

The ending is ominous indeed; Connor believes Angel has killed Holtz and is now under Justine’s baleful influence. This superb episode is both intricately crafted and full of deep foreboding for the finale...

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Two to Go

"She's like Dark Phoenix in there."

The fact that the episode begins with a recap of the entire season thus far alerts us to the fact that, structurally, this is the first episode of a two part finale. Hence, yes, plot-wise the episode is pretty much just treading water via some big set pieces, but there's a lot of valuable character stuff along the way and we get to see both how powerful Willow is and how nasty she can be- deliberately evoking the "bored now" Evil Willow.

The title, of course, is a rather nice pun; the penultimate episode consists almost entirely of Buffy, Anya and Xander trying desperately to stop Willow from killing Jonathan and Andrew before the cliffhanger and Giles’ surprise return. But along the way we have so many little moments. Yes, there’s the contractual Spike scene where he survives the first of his trials, yawn, but more interestingly there is also the clear sense that, while Andrew remains immature and unrepentant, Jonathan has come to terms with his responsibility for the terrible things that hVe happened and his need to atone. Willow mills that nasty magic/drug dealer after he tries to sexually assault her and, andway, its implied that he’s a paedo. Although that’s a nice Circle Jerks t-shirt on one of his junkie customers.

What happens next isn’t nice, though, as Willow says horrible things to Dawn. When all this is over that will cause her paroxysms of guilt. Buffy’s big talk with Willow fails, and a still understandably bitter Anya has another row with a notably useless-feeling Xander.

It’s all about this last chance to have these little character moments, really, and it works well. Next episode I’m sure we will have plenty of plot...

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

The Punisher (2004)

“Frank Castle is dead. Call me... the Punisher.”

Come back, Dolph Lundgren; all is forgiven.

The previous, straight-to-video outing for the Punisher may have been a bit silly, but it had charm and unwitting silliness beneath its po-faced veneer. This film isn’t and while, to those who are themselves po-faced, it may appear to be the better action film, it’s far more forgettable.

Oh, the set pieces are good; the big fight with the Russian, the opera scene, Howard Saint’s “Revenge” against his best friend and his wife; his fiery comeuppance. There’s lots of spectacular violence here. Trouble is, the film has three glaring faults.

The first is the casting. It’s harsh to say, but while Thomas Jane certainly has the acting chops he simply doesn’t have the charisma to be a leading man. Compare him to John Travolta, who does nothing but chew scenery all the way through but does so with real charisma- and in a role that sort of works when played as a cartoon baddie. There’s a charisma vacuum in the heart of the film.

Then there’s the fact that this is yet another bloody origin film, with far too much time spent on the deaths of Castle’s family including an interminable car chase. And that leads us to the third and most serious fault; by making this a film about Castle avenging his family, we lose everything about the Punisher as a character and his troubled morality as a bloodthirsty vigilante. The element of personal revenge takes this away and only at the end does he announce his “mission”. The film comes across as a generic revenge-themed action film and, when you play on this territory, there are better films around. A much more interesting film would have skipped the origin and addressed the issues around law and order vs. crude vigilantism that go right back to the Oresteia; this film fails to address that obvious theme at all.

A fairly decent action film, then. But a wasted opportunity.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Angel: A New World

"Tell me we don't live in a soap opera..."

Last episode ended with a massive twist, and this one certainly begins energetically, with lots of weird slow motion and bad CGI wooden crossbow quarrels. But we soon settle down into a surprisingly contemplative episode about LA, betrayal, fathers and sons.

Wesley gets a visit from Lilah, offering him the inevitable job and handing him a gift that twists the knife; an early edition of Dante's Inferno with it's ninth circle of Hell being reserved for those who betray. He turns her down this time but, of course, these scenes would not be there if that were the end of it.

Cordy and Groo's relationship continues to be awkward, with Groo being jealous of Angel and Cordy continuing to have no deep feelings for him.But the episode is mostly about Connor's discovery of LA through its lowest underbelly, seeming to have exchanged one hell for another. The one friendly person this innocent boy finds soon dies of an overdose in squalid surroundings, and violence is everywhere. Angel finds his suspicious son and slowly seems to win him round- has he? We don't know by the end of the episode, but it doesn't look promising that Connor is with a prosthetically aged Holtz, one presumably mighty enough to zap both Cordy and Groo.

An interesting change of pace which makes one wonder: where are the last two episodes going? Good stuff as ever.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Villains

"If I were you I'd worry about the witch..."

At last, in the twentieth episode, we get the real season Big Bad. She’s immensely powerful, she’s truly terrifying, and she’s Willow.

After last episode’s emotional power- the “previously on” reminds us not only of Tara’s devastating death but Spike’s attempted rape of Buffy- this episode is one of numbed shock.

Of course, no one initially knows about Tara as a scarily cold and vengeful Willow turns to the dark arts and goes single-mindey after Warren, saving Buffy’s life almost as an afterthought and using both her and Xander as pawns.

We see Willow, a character we know and love, utterly changed to become cold, ruthless, single-minded; she’s been this powerful all the time but that’s been ok because she’s lovely. Now she terrifies us, and it’s the emotional coldness that is the most chilling. But the slow torture and killing of Warren is what really does it- her “Bored now” obviously evokes the evil (and sexy...) Willow from the other reality, but worse; she actually flays Warren alive before burning him to death. It couldn’t have happened to a worse person but, as Buffy sort of explains to Dawn and Xander, Revenge is not justice. And her parting words are “One down”. What will happen to Jonathan and Andrew...?

Oh, and Spike gets a brief contractual scene where he has to undergo some trials to remove his chip or something. But right now I and most viewers side with Xander in being quite badly disposed to this attempted rapist.

Obviously a powerful and superb episode, notably with very little humour, unusually for Buffy. Outstanding.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

The Grudge (2002)

"They're coming for me!"

This isn't the Hollywood remake with Sarah Michelle Gellar- it's the Japanese original, the one Sam Raimi raved about. So is it any good? Well, yes, but it's a good film, not a great one, where some fantastic horror set pieces and very good direction save what is an over-convoluted narrative with too many characters.

Films in multiple acts based on different characters can work, and work well; see the entire career of Quentin Tarantino, the master of making a non-linear narrative comprehensible to the average person. But a narrative horror film, based on the ramping up of tension and ever-increasing shocks, in which the supernatural horror is held back but shown in terrifying glimpses? Here, where such a narrative is technically done very well indeed, the chosen narrative style serves to destroy the overall effect of what are truly superb individual horror set pieces.

That doesn't take away from the effectiveness of those set pieces, though, and it's the direction that truly makes this film shine. A very modern horror, eschewing all sense of the Gothic for modern white interiors and brutalist exteriors has a very different and very effective look. Worth a go but perhaps, in spite of some technical excellence, not quite as good as its reputation.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Paddington (2014)

“Um, you're not using those ear brushes to clean your mouth are you, Mr Brown?"

Ok, this isn't my usual type of film, but I happened to watch this on the telly with my wife and daughter. Any you know what? It's bloody brilliant, far better than, frankly, it needed to be, genuinely clever and witty, Little Miss Llamastrangler was glued to the telly, and I can't say enough nice things about it.

I have only vague memories of the books and 1970s BBC series, so I can't compare the film to Paddington's previous outings in other media. But this is a perfectly plotted film where all the characters, even the stuffy Mr Brown, are ether fundamentally likeable or splendidly comical grotesques or both, unless they happen to be the delightfully dastardly Miss Clyde. The film knowingly plays up all the London visual cliches for an international audience and, most heartwarming for these days of Brexit, tabloid stupidity and a worrying insularity, is fundamentally a positive story about an immigrant, an asylum seeker, who may look different from everybody else but is just as easy to love.

All this, and a cockney Peter Capaldi. The film is quirky, uplifting, gripping and frequently laugh out loud funny. It's a film that has to be seen, and not jut for those of us who can use our young children as an excuse. Brilliant stuff.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Angel: The Price

" Hi, Dad..."

Quite a very late season twist at the end of the episode here, but I suppose Angel has form for this sort of thing.

Before we get to the last few game-changing seconds, though, the episode concerns some horrible, moisture-devouring creepy-crawlies from another dimension that are the "price" (and yes, I'm sure the episode title also references Wesley) for the black magic used last episode by a desperate Angel. Most of the episode concerns an ever-deepening body horror threat posed by said beasties. But this is also a good excuse for some character stuff. So Fred lacks confidence in "hitting the books" and acknowledges that she lacks Wesley's skills. Cordy lacks any deep feelings for Groo, seeing him as a faithful "puppy" and faithful friend with benefits, caring far more about Angel. And Wesley is bitter, very bitter, and only agrees to Gunn's request to help because it happens to be Fred who is infected.

We also get some highly entertaining rivalry from Lilah and Gavin, and a subtle admission from Lorne that his nightclub days are over and he's on the team. And we also get a surprising resolution as Cordy's unexplained demon powers save the day.

It's a good episode. But what lingers in the mind s that last few seconds, with what looks like a terrifying stop motion monster, immediately followed through the portal by a young man who utters the above quote. That's quite the upending of the status quo...

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Supergirl (1984)

"I'm considering nothing less than world domination!"

I know that this film, well, isn't exactly good, but, I mean, come on- this is a delightfully quirky bit of '80s silliness which combines the style of the Superman films, generic '80s action films tropes, some delightful silliness and a completely random jolly hockey sticks, Mallory Towers side. It's gloriously bonkers. This is a film which has Peter Cook utter the line "Holy Cow!"- what's not to love?

Then again, so is the character, and I can't help reflecting that the film was made, in glorious Pinewood Studios, the very year before DC killed Supergirl off in Crisis of Infinite Earth, sentencing her to death for the crime of having an overly convoluted backstory. And, well, we see that here- Argo City is a bit of Krypton that survived the planet's destruction for vaguely unconvincing reasons, and all this is because of the new character of Zaltar- played with an acting ability far above the level that the character deserves by the great Peter O'Toole, who accidentally destroys the city (except, naturally, Kara) with the film's main MacGuffin only to die a predictable death and end up as Kara's very own Obi-Wan style British morale-boosting ghost. It was clearly in the zeitgeist.

Helen Slater is more than good enough as the goody two-shoes character she's playing, but is upstaged in the billing by the splendid Faye Dunaway, who is having much more fun chewing the scenery with delightful gusto with wicked witch and baddie Selena. Yes, there's a certain creepiness in the love narrative between the very adult Ethan and the very innocent schoolgirl Kara, which is definitely eeeurgh, but the film is far more fun than its reputation suggests,

Cult of Chucky (2017)

“You thought I was the only one?”

 I think it's well-established by now that this is possibly the most consistently excellent long-running horror movie franchise, given the high average quality of the seven films. And this film, by the same team as the superb and splendidly back-to-basics Curse of Chucky, is very good indeed, if perhaps slightly eclipsed by its predecessor. What a shame that both films were straight to DVD.

The film, unlike most modern Hollywood horror, looks superb, with the grainy picture quality avoiding the inappropriate glossiness that we so often see these days. The setting, too- a mental institution- is milked for maximum levels of disturbing horror. Mixed to the inherent and very deep darkness of the Catch-22 nature of having to prove your sanity in a world of straitjackets, sedation, electric shock treatment and absolute lack of freedom is the fact that the perverted Dr Foley hypnotises and rapes his horribly vulnerable victims. Even Chucky is not sure which of the two is the more evil, and that's saying something.

The conceit of the film is, of course, that the incanted spell can bring to life any Good Guy doll as Chucky, and on top of this he can now possess people, leading to a gloriously developing and fun slasher which ends up with three Chuckies, a possessed Nica, Andy in considerable trouble and a deliciously warped, silly, sequel-hunting final scene. This franchise is on fire, and is worth seeing for the skylight scene alone.

I have to single out Fiona Dourif for another outstanding performance, but the film as a whole is superb and deserves to be seen by far more people than, sadly, it will be.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

IZombie: Goon Struck

”Chinatown. The line speaks of the futility of obtaining justice in an inherently corrupt system.”

Wow. No episode of iZombie has packed an emotional heft like this one. Suddenly the season isn’t looking so bad. The episode is pretty much summed up by the line above, where Clive analyses Chinatown, as our friends discover that New Seattle is now fun by what has developed into a rather corrupt dictatorship where the crimes of Fillmore Graves are covered up and there is no justice- hence the barbaric judicial killing of Mama Leone. Chase Graves knows how evil this is, judging by all the drinking he does the night before and, like anyone who facilitated capital punishment, he is now no better than any common murderer.

Suddenly, New Seattle seems a deeply uncomfortable place where all sorts of riffs on contemporary demagoguery and paranoid style politics are possible. Especially as we hear more and more of this General Mills, in the “real” America outside of Seattle which is obviously not keen on zombies, who proposes to nuke Seattle.

So it’s a little awkward that, while Major and the ever-trustworthy Don E are escorting said general’s addict daughter out of Seattle, not only does Don E get caught on camera being naughty in full on zombie mode, but Major is forced to scratch her after an overdose to save her life.  Oops. The ultimate anti-zombie, it seems, has a zombie daughter. As Mrs Llamastrangler remarked, this is very reminiscent of a storyline on True Blood. And Major

On a less serious note, I love the Chase Graves Inspector Clouseau with the outrageous French accent, and the exchange between him and Ravi. But for once this isn’t an episode for so much humour, and for once that’s no bad thing.

Friday, 30 March 2018

IZombie: Brainless in Seattle, Part 2

“This place makes Freddie Krueger’s basement look like the Wonka factory.”

Now that’s a bit better.

This doesn’t really feel like a two parter, as time has passed between episodes, but it’s satisfying to see Liv and Clive painstakingly nail their perp with enough evidence. Ravi’s pretending to be a wealthy Etonian as bait is a highlight. But what’s truly significant is elsewhere.

Angus’ rabble rousing is truly bearing fruit at this point, and the whole plot line with Major and his protégés looking for the video footage takes an unexpected turn when the now zombified anti-zombie racist seems to take a 100 degree turn and start listening to Angus. Either humans hate zombies or vice versa; even Liv’s prospective boyfriend has been convinced by Angus that humans are just food.

Meanwhile, after much failing to tell him about Dale apparently cheating on him with another man, Liv learns that Clive, out of pure desperation, has accepted being in an open relationship. Ouch. This is only going to redouble Bridget Jones Liv’s attempts to set him up with that rookie cop.

More ominously, Blaine (loving his loose lips brain) captures poor Renegade and delivers her to Chase Graves. But we end with a heartwarming tribute to friendship as true love, and more hints that Peyton and Ravi are getting on rather well.

More like this please, and perhaps we can salvage the season.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Seeing Red

“Great love is wild and passionate and dangerous. It burns and consumes.”

Wow. This is a powerful episode, to put it mildly.

Things are not well with the Scoobies, to the point where the only people who can help Buffy trace the Three Nerds are Willow, Tara (finally, and ominously, Amber Benson is in the opening credits) and Dawn. Anya is off being quite rubbish at being a vengeance demon while Xander, Who needs an urgent cultural awakening in real ale, is drinking bad lager alone. Buffy and Xander have fallen out over Spike- although it’s nice to see them make up later, like true friends- and the awkwardness about what everyone saw last week is palpable.

All of which contrasts with the lovely, joyous, wonderful and loving scenes between Willow and Tara; sometimes it’s so lovely to watch scenes of nice people being happy that you forget that this is a Josss Whedon show, and Joss Whedon is evil. Dawn’s squeeing joy at their being back together speaks for us all. Love hasn’t gone very well in Sunnydale lately, but there’s hope.

It’s touching to see Dawn visit Spike, who is unlikely to be around much now; she misses him, but is quite rightly angry at what he did to Buffy with his moment of weakness. And it’s amising to see the Three Nerds again, complete with Jonathan wearing a fourth wall-busting rubber costume to get this week’s Charles Atlas MacGuffin so an increasingly disturbed Warren can again play at being the alpha male.

Then it happens. Spike comes to demonstrate with Buffy, demonstrate with her... and tries to rape her. The act isn’t trivialised or minimised; it’s allowed to linger in its full horror, with a traumatised Buffy and flashbacks. When I first saw this episode, more than a decade ago, I thought this scene was misjudged, and the character of Spike was tainted by this act. But this time it feels different, because this is what rape culture is like; men who know their victim, and rape from an aggrieved sense of enlightenment. This kind of rape happens all the time, by “nice guys”, and it’s good to make that point, however upsetting. It’s also good to see Spike’s confused feelings of both guilt and continued entitlement, sadly realistic, and inevitable after this that he rides off into the sunset.

Buffy finally confronts the nerds on a heist and beats them, capturing Jonathan and Andrew. But Warren is still loose, and the last few seconds of the episode are harrowing, even when you know what’s coming. Tara’s death is deliberately sudden, shocking, and out of nowhere, and Williw’s red eyes are terrifying.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

IZombie: Brainless in Seattle, Part 1

”And she gets to live another day!”

This season of iZombie has been a bit rubbish so far, and frankly I’m starting to get worried. Especially as this episode is somewhat meh and it’s the first of a two parter.

Rose McIver is of course fabulous as Liv on Bridget JonesDiary brain, but the murder plot- about “bad” people smugglers who promise to get people into Seattle but then kill and harvest their brains for, among others, Don E’s restaurant- is dull. Yes, it’s the harbinger of a crisis as zombies are facing a shortage of brains that is bound to lead to chaos, but the plot is dull.

The season arc continues to get into gear as Chase Graves sends Blaine to locate Renegade, while Peyton and aravi show signs of warming to one another again- and Liv sees that Dale is cheating on a live, no doubt for the sex. To tell or not to tell? But, regardless, this is awfully dull. What is happening to iZombie?

Angel: Double or Nothing

"He is fortunate to have such a woman looking after his weapon."

Breathe. It’s all been rather heavy lately, with Angel losing his baby to a hell dimension, presumably forever, and trying to kill Wesley. So let’s have an episode of healing. Cordy and Groo being back helps- well, mainly Cordy, who gently decides things while being lovely, although the hapless Groosalugg supplies the above quote.

So we get a Gunn episode to get away from all the tragedy. Yes, there’s tension and conflict; Gunn sold his soul seven years ago and it’s time for a demonic wide boy to collect, and he even tries to protect Fred by (unconvincingly) breaking up with her. But in the end it’s all a bit of fun, serving to show what a lovely couple they are, and cheer Angel up a bit. It’s all about slow healing.

I note there’s a bit of awkwardness about Gunn as a character, mind you. Narrative means we have to distance him from his old gang in favour of his new one, but this means we take away his hinterland and start to define him only in terms of his present, arguably necessary but not good for the depth of the character. I wonder if we will see much, or any, of his past again?

A fairly quiet episode, then. But a necessary one.

Monday, 26 March 2018

IZombie: Blue Bloody

”Would you rather stay in here with Ravi and talk about your genitals?”

A better episode this time, as we return to the traditional whodunit format, with the victim being a particularly obnoxious rich woman, killed, delightfully, by a golf ball to the eye- fired, of course, by a golf ball gun. Liv eats her brain, of course, and once again Rose McIver excels in one of the best starring roles on television.

This time the arc stuff is proportionate and watchable, too, with not too much overwhelming exposition and world building. Angus is hugely entertaining as a splendidly over-the-top zombie preacher, no doubt limbering up to be the season big bad. Clive confessed to Ravi in a brilliant scene that he’s getting, ahem, frustrated by the need to not have sex with Dale. And one of Major’s two recruits from last episode screws up in a big way.

The ending is unexpected, though. The whodunit plot is wrapped up, with help from the ever entertaining Vampire Steve, and we turn to the ethics of getting a sick child out of quarantined Seattle for an operation in Los Angeles. And so Liv and Major, who earlier had some creative and amazing rich bitch sex, have a big row and split up. Wow. Dramatic, but was this really built up to? It feels sudden.

Anyway, by no means one of the best episodes but back on track somewhat. Let’s hope the season stays that way.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Despicable Me 3 (2017)

"Oh, it is on like Donkey Kong!"

So we have another Despicable Me sequel and... yeah, this is one too many, isn't it, really? Don't get me wrong; the film isn't bad. But we're really getting to the point now where things are starting to feel a bit repetitive.

That said, I enjoyed it, even if I wasn't necessarily blown away. The characters are intrinsically funny, and the actors are all good, with Kristen Wiig in particular being outstanding. Bratt is an amusing villain, with his extreme eightiesness extending to a hairstyle which involves both mullet and spiky hair, constant use of Rubiks' cubes and bubble gum everywhere. Also, it's amusing to see Gru's twin brother, and the three girls are cute. But, well, the film comes in at less than 90 minutes and I think there's a reason for that.

Still, there is cool stuff, much of it revolving around Eighties references: "I love it when a plan comes together", indeed. "Monsieur Pompo" is a nice little dig at Trump. We get Minions, in prison, ruling the roost and being well 'ard. It's just that an awful lot of the character sub-plots (such as Margo's accidental "engagement") don't really go anywhere and it just feels as though the script could do with a couple of more drafts. Having said that, the film is worth seeing if you liked the others. Please, though, let us not have any more.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

"We’re gonna make you invulnerable. But first we’re gonna destroy you.”

Well, this film is ok, I suppose- it certainly looks good, and the montage at the start of “Jimmy” and Victor fighting in various wars is brilliant, but somehow it doesn’t quite catch fire and was ever so mildly disappointing.

Interesting start, though; we learn far more about Logan’s past than I’m sure the comics ever told us. He was a child in 1845, living in what we can loosely call Canadian frontier territory, and his name is James Logan- and the psychopathic Victor Creed (Sabretooth) is indeed his older brother- and they look out for each other, in war after war, for 130 years, until Vietnam, and Colonel William Stryker.

Stryker is, of course, a younger iteration of the baddie from X-Men 2, portrayed superbly by Danny Huston, and hires the brothers as part of a slightly rubbish gang of mutant agents, including a criminally wasted Deadpool, portrayed by Ryan Reynolds but certainly not in continuity with his later solo outing, a far better film than this one. Oh, and one of these mutants, for some reason, is portrayed by a surprisingly decent Will.i.am.

But Logan leaves, in final disgust at Victor’s bloodlust, and six years pass in which he settles down as a lumberjack in the native Rockies with the lovely Kayla Silverfox- until Victor arrives, and kills the woman he loves. The person who was taking him has gone, and he wants revenge against the brother with whom he spent thirteen decades.

And so we come to the pivotal scene, where he survives the agonies of having adamantium bonded to his skeleton. Only with his healing factor can this not kill him, and he seems to barely survive. This is an important scene, and it’s done well.

Except... from this point the film drags, and lots of random elements are included. Nice as it is to see Gambit and the Blob (in a particularly toe-curling scene), they are irrelevant distractions from the newly christened Wolverine and his revenge against Victor Creed, Stryker and their bizarre and vaguely purposed little Island of Dr Moreau full of kidnapped mutants- including, for no good reason, a young Scott Summers.

The last half hour is a mess, with even the revelation of Kayla’s duplicity lacking real emotional heft, although there is real pathos in someone so old and full of tears having his memory cruelly erased. And yet... the film is well shot, and would have worked well if better edited. Was there a clash between the director and the studio?

I’d like to see a director’s cut, but the film we have is unfortunately a bit of a mess, in spite of its good points.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Entropy

"You're lesbians, so the hating of men will come in handy!"

Anya's back, looking for revenge! And... actually we get a rather witty and thoughtful episode that mixes comedy with very good characterisation, hitting exactly the right tone in the way that only Buffy can.

Xander starts the episode in a terrible state, drinking bottles of awful, undrinkable American lager. Fortunately, Anya's return at least saves him from that awful (though perhaps deserved) fate, in spite of going terribly wrong.

Other stuff is happening, of course; Jonathan is doing some spell type thingy, while the rest of the gang (well, Warren) seem to have ominous plans for him. Spike is still threatening to tell everyone about him and Buffy. Buffy and Dawn are slowly reconnecting. But much of the episode, played for comedy and performed with superb comic timing by Emma Caulfield, consists of Anya trying to get each member of the cast in turn to curse Xander. Eventually she connects with spike, over a bottle of bourbon. Very well, in fact. To the point of doinky doinky. Unfortunately this happens right in front of one of many cameras installed by the three nerds, just as it's been hacked by the Scoobies- and everyone sees. Including Buffy and Xander, both heartbroken. And this time the anger between Anya and Xander is mutual. The whole fallout is simply brutal.

And then we get a final scene, perfectly scripted, where Willow and Tara, the sweetest couple ever, get back together. This is the perfect ending to an episode that really does demonstrate this programme's absolute mastery of tone. Magnificent telly.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Angel: Forgiving

"Oh. There is no happy for you."

And so we have the aftermath.

Connor and Holtz are gone, it seems for good: Quor-Toth is unreachable. Angel must deal with his loss, and he does so by getting back at those who dd this to him-making very clear from the start that this includes Wesley. But first, the puppet master: Sahjahn. plot-wise, this episode is primarily about Angel trapping Sahjahn in a jar, either for all eternity or until the writers want to bring him back. But the episode is, of course, about much, much more.

Fortunately, we also have Fred and Gunn, who manage to piece together why Wesley did what he did, and the terrible moral dilemma he laboured under- but Wesley, it seems, is dying or dead. We are shown this clearly as the camera dwells on him. We therefore know, from the laws of television drama, that he'll be fine.

The creepy little girl in the "White Room" at Wolfram and Hart is a nice touch, as is Lilah's keeping her cool. But best of all is the killer reveal; Sahjhan falsified the prophecy, moving back and forth in time to do so. It was in fact Connor who had been destined to kill him, and he wanted the baby dead.

The final twist in a horrifyingly gripping episode, though, comes at the end, between Angel and Wesley, good friends until so very recently. Angel understands, he genuinely does- and yet he wants Wesley dead, and has to be prised off him...

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Normal Again

"What, you think this isn't real just because of all the vampires, and demons, and ex-vengeance demons, and the sister that used to be a big ball of universe-destroying energy?"

Wow. This episode is right up there with the very best, with Hush and Once More with Feeling. It really is that good.

And the idea isn't even intrinsically brilliant. A demon that makes Buffy think she's in a mental institution and her vampire slaying life is just fantasy. It could have gone very, very wrong. Instead it's a real highlight of the series.

It all happens because Buffy gets a little too close to the Three Nerds, who panic and send after her a demon with a complicated name that is going to have her "tripping like a Ken Russell film festival". But her alternate reality is cleverly done; instead of playing up the horror of being stuck in a psychiatric institution we her her loving parents, Kristine Sutherland is back, and she gets the chance of a normal life instead of one from which she's recently become very, very detached.

It's fitting that we finally get an episode that's all about Buffy, although Xander somewhat sheepishly returns to slot back into his role convincingly enough, Anya is troublingly missing, and Willow continues to pine adorably over Tara. But we also get some superbly metatextual touches, as the doctor describes Buffy's delusion as "grand overblown conflicts against an assortment of monsters" and, in a nice touch, not only does Dawn not exist in the other world but the doctor refers to the "inconsistencies" caused by her being retconned into Buffy's reality. We even have it pointed out that, with all the gods and monsters that Buffy has faced and fought in the past, her current nemeses seem to be a trio of pathetic teenage boys.

It's all very real to Buffy, because she actually was briefly put into such an institution before, when she first encountered vampires. It's all very real how much she comes to question which reality is the true one and, by the time she is persuaded to lock Willow, Xander and Dawn in the cellar so the demon can eat them, the episode feels like a horror film with Buffy as the baddie. That's brilliantly done.

And yet the final scene is best of all, as the episode pulls back to suggest that, actually, maybe the institution was real...? Absolutely peerless telly.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Angel: Sleep Tight

"It sounds like a nice cult..."

Well then; there's a twist and then some. Everything has changed.

Wesley's agonising dilemma comes to an end as he finally betrays his friend, but by the end of the episode he has himself been betrayed, stabbed by Justine, and lies possibly dying as Holtz and Justine take Connor away to raise as their own at a ranch in Utah, although how they intend to  support themselves I've no idea. And yet... this is in itself a betrayal of Sahjahn, who has his own mysterious grudge against Angel. But the final twist is courtesy of Holtz, who runs with Connor right through the portal into Quor-Toth, the worst of all Hell dimensions.

A lot else happens, though. We have an ominous beginning, with Angel all cheery as he always is when something bad is about to happen, while the very stressed Wesley continues to be a dick about the lovey-doveyness between Fred and Gunn. It's noticeable, though, that Gunn is suddenly part of the gang here, in full. I suspect we'll suddenly see him now living at the hotel rather than just always visiting. Cordy and Groo are still off gallivanting.

We learn that devious old Holtz gets one thing right; he can't stand tea in styrofoam cups. But would he have much of a taste for Indian tea anyway, being a mid-eighteenth century chap? If Angel can wonder about whether the Flying Nun  can fly then I feel this is a legitimate question...

It's also an interesting chat between Angel and Lilah, who has had to be twice as good at as any man at Wolfram and Hart, is definitely evil and lives "dangerously and quite comfortably". There's a surprising amount of subtle and wellwritten character stuff in what is a pivotal and gripping episode. This makes you desperate to see what happens next. But I shall be patient...

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)

"Foursome?"

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.