Sunday, 20 January 2019

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

"What happens if a psycho wanders in?"

Sigh. That was boring. It may have had a slightly more famous cast than usual, with Corey Feldman and the always bizarre sight of a hound Crispin Glover not playing George McFly, and have been helmed by Chuck Norris’ favourite director to boot, but this dragged more than any other film in the franchise.

Oh, it starts well, with Jason apparently dead until he comes to life for no apparent reason, and the first deaths are rather amusing. But then the rest of the film goes on to spend too much time following some rather dull teenagers with their romantic escapades punctuated with a series of random deaths which are gory, yes, but have no build-up, no tension. The film isn’t even trying to be scary, and comes across like a half-arsed romantic comedy for far too long. The gory killings, many of them visually impressive, are brief and followed by cuts to more teenage japery.

For the fourth film in the series- with a massive “previously on”- thus offers nothing different to the format except for not even trying to be scary. And I have no idea what they’re trying to do with little Tommy at the end- set him up as another killer? Disappointing, and not helping with my determination to finish them all.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Pet Semetary II (1992)

"You bury your own."

This film is supposed to be awful. It is, or so I e found, perfectly adequate as a serviceable sequel to a quite good film which deals well with the fact that no actors recur from the first film by simply depicting further shenanigans with that Native American cemetery. It’s a perfectly ok film, and an interesting early starring role for an immediately post-Terminator 2: Judgement Day Edward Furlong.

If that sounds like faint praise then it sort of is, but the film is genuinely adequate rather than bad. I liked the bait and switch film-within-a-film opening, and the plot works well at least until the point where people start being resurrected, where things go a bit mad and we end up with a full three resurrected people. Still, it’s an entertaining watch, with Gus the sheriff being an entertaining cartoon baddie in a solid performance by character actor Clancy Brown, a familiar face from so many character roles.

It’s solid, but not really scary. There’s a nice little electrocution scene at the start (“Oh yummy, beef jerky” said Mrs Llamastrangler. She’s a somewhat twisted individual, but that’s why I married her.) but not much else in the way of set pieces, and perhaps a lot of that is down to the solid, competent but unexceptional directorial style. It’s a film that neither sparkles nor stinks, the epitome of averageness.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

“There’s an Ant-Man and a Spider-Man?”

At last I can stop dodging spoilers. I’ve seen it, at last. And it was bloody good. SPOILERS, mind.

Big, epic films are usually rubbish. Going epic tends to mean you can’t avoid being a bit po-faced and pretentious. This avoids that triumphantly by peppering the film with both humour and poignant character moments- so Thor gets to open up to, er, Rocket Raccoon about all the people he’s lost recently and, hilariously, Tony Stark and Doctor Strange spend the entire film in a willy waving contest while Bruce Banner spends the whole film dealing with what Mrs Llamastrangler described as “symbolic erectile dysfunction”. Peter Quill and Thor are also hilarious together.

The whole thing is structured, shot and acted superbly by the usual suspects, and it’s extraordinary how so many characters can be given meaty stuff to do in a little under two hours, although perhaps Captain America could have had some more screen time. I notice, of course, that Hawkeye and Ant-Man are described as inactive in dialogue. Of the few new faces, Joan Brolin is superb as a faithfully rendered Thanos while Peter Dinklage also turns in a good performance and, indeed, accent, as a dwarf who forged great weapons out of stars- I like how the film is very cosmic but how it all has a fantasy flavour, cut from the same cloth as Asgard. The film is superb, and the only reason some other Marvel films probably better is because they don’t have so many narrative jobs to do.

But the deaths, ah, the deaths! I somehow suspect that the half of the universe who died at the end won’t stay dead but, alas, I fear that may not be true for Loki, Gamora or the Vision...

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Gifted- Season 1,Episode 6: got your siX

" Nothing says father-son bonding like breaking into a federal building."

Six episodes in and the subplots are all interacting nicely. We also seem to have got to know all the main characters now and things are moving noticeably faster. Revealingly, there’s a longer “previously on”.

We begin with a flashback, though, to four years ago, as John experiences anti-Mutant racism in the wake of 7/15. Interestingly, too, we’re told he was chosen to lead the Mutant Underground by the X-Men, and that the X-Men are expecting a war. This is interesting wider world building, and only the second and third mentions of the X-Men.

We also learn that other Mutants beside Pulse may be working with Sentinel Services, an escalation, and John in turn decides to up the ante with a raid on a mysterious facility at Baton Rouge. Much of the episode revolves around this but a lot of character development happens. In particular, Clarice confronts John on his acceptance after the fact of what Dreamer did to her- and leaves. I’m not sure whether, next time, she will be friend or foe.

Then there’s Jace again, back at work after mourning his child a second time and cutting legal corners in a disturbing pursuit of revenge. He’s now willing to accept the help of Doctor Campbell who, in true TV drama cliche style, he turned down in a previous episode- and Campbell shows a particular interest in “the Strucker children”.

We also have both Andy and Lauren going on missions and developing their powers, both with the reluctant consent of their parents, who are both doing well under the circumstances but struggling to adjust to the harsh new reality. We’re also introduced to Wes, with his power for illusions, who connects with Lauren and proves his usefulness at the dramatic episode ending. But we end with Marco’s being summoned by Carmen to do nefarious things...

A good episode, and one with many moving parts. The Gifted may not be the stuff of greatness, at least not yet, but it’s the stuff of very good indeed.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

The Three Musketeers (1973)

“You cannot go to the Queen with dirty legs...”

I hadn’t seen this before, amazingly, so I certainly raised an eyebrow when the opening credits revealed this film to have been scripted by George MacDonald Fraser. This gives certain expectations and, true to form, the film turns out to be a highly entertaining and rather bawdy comedy that has a lot of fun with the culture of realpolitik and duelling that prevailed in the France of Louis XIII. This is a rather straight adaptation of the novel, albeit one in which Faye Dunaway as Milady gets oddly little screen time, but one that adds a splendidly comical gloss to what was hardly the most serious novel to begin with.

This is a decadent France reigned, but not ruled over by the feckless Louis XIII, not half the man his father was or, indeed, his son will be, leaving a vacuum to be filled by the ambitious Cardinal Richelieu, a competent but oddly miscast Charlton Heston, with the far more suitable Christopher Lee in a lesser role. Perhaps they just needed a big Hollywood name, but why hardly use Faye Dunaway?

Regardless, the whole thing looks gorgeous, odd though the Hong Kong martial arts opening may be, and the cast is quite magnificent. Michael York is the perfect bumbling D’Artagnan for this film,  Raquel Welch is the perfect sultry Constance, and Christopher Lee mystifies is all A’s to why he isn’t playing the Cardinal. The film is pretty much stolen by the splendid comic acting of Spike Milligan though, who shoes us what a bloody comic genius he is.

I don’t think I’ve seen a finer version yet than this.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

First Blood (1982)

"We ain't hunting him- he's hunting us!"

Appallingly, I'd never seen this '80s action classic until now. First impressions are that, yes, it's a superb action movie, crammed with sizzling set pieces, yet I came expecting a B movie, and what I got was unexpectedly full of pathos. It's 1982; the Vietnam War ended nine years ago for America. But it seems the returning soldiers were shockingly neglected, materially and emotionally, by their country. And, while this is often seen as a right-wing taking point, Rambo's sobbing breakdown before Colonel Trautman seems to be a rebuke at America's individualistic lack of social democratic institutions.

Anyway, this is an awesome film, and cleverer than it  looks. The initial scene establishes that his only purpose is to find his old friends from the war,  it now the last of them is dead, and he’s alone, alienated, in an America with no place for him. And when Will, a two bit sheriff of a shitty little town in Washington state (those accents are a bit southern, though- is this really accurate?) starts to persecute him for no reason it escalated into a war with a trained and flawless killing machine, leaving things to escalate and escalate with each set piece topping the last and every single minute being utterly gripping. And yet Stallone, playing the macho and taciturn Rambo, never loses sight of the character’s pathos.

The whole thing is brilliantly made, from the brief but shocking Vietnam flashbacks during the early police brutality scenes to the Dukes of Hazzard car chases, and the ever-escalating stakes are completely believable. A much better film, and one with much more of a heart, than I was expecting.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The Gifted- Season 1, Episode 5: boXed in

“This is the best terrible meal that I’ve ever had!”

This is just as gripping as the last episode as The Gifted slowly burrows its way into my brain. The mutants and the Struckers are all free and all together- although not without tension as Reed’s last actions are revealed- and chief baddie Jace is pulling out all the stops to find their HQ, rounding up all sympathisers.

Except our view of Jace as a straightforward black hat is now challenged by the revelation that he lost his only daughter in a 9/11 analogue event that, in a nice bit of world-building, seems to have been the cause of all these repressive policies. He’s given a motive and, in a subtle touch, a multi-racial family to challenge our seeing him as a straightforward racist.

The Mutant Underground is under real pressure and in real danger of their base being found and, lovely though it is seeing Lorna and Marcos together again and taking some time to be excited about their baby despite everything. But Reed makes sure that his operational knowledge is of use and, at no small risk to himself, puts Sentinel Services off the scent. Meanwhile Caitlin again shows her use as a nurse, although not without considerable help from Lauren’s powers. But the Struckers are together, and all agreed for now to stay and help. This feels like the end of the origin story bit so the main stuff can begin, but it’s all very well plotted out. And all the characters are becoming subtly more and more developed. The confrontation between Blink and Dreamer, who violated her memories, is powerful.

More powerful of all, though, is the ending- Dreamer has messed with Jace’s memories, he’s forgotten his daughter is dead, and must mourn her all over again, the worst torture imaginable and one that makes it impossible for us kid to sympathise with the antagonist. Superb stuff.

Monday, 7 January 2019

The Dead Room

"When were you born?”



This is an admittedly cheap but well cast attempt in BBC Four where Mark Gatiss (naturally!) writes and directs a deliberately modern slant on M.R. James style ghost stories for Christmas. It’s a very good piece of drama with excellent dialogue, a superbly characterised central character, and yet... it isn’t eerie or scary. And it’s not immediately obvious why.

Simon Callow is, inevitably, spellbinding in the central role of Aubrey Judd, veteran radio teller of horror stories, while Anjli Mohindra alsonimpresses as his obscenely young producer in what is essentially a two hander on two similar sets and could easily have been a stage play. This isn’t the 1970s M.R. James adaptation so no sumptuous location filming please; we’re BBC Four.

The script is in many ways superb and literally gothic in that a sun from Aubrey’s past literally comes back to haunt him. Yet, in the wake of A Very English Scandal, there are many poignant reminders of the real dangers of being gay in the 1970s, something which works well. I also admire the light breakage of the fourth wall as Aubrey eloquently deconstructs the modern ghost story; it can’t be too modern, requires a certain distance, more or less within living memory, and a certain old-fashioned reticence in holding back the nature of the horror. You can, he claims, base a horror tale on a horror from as recently as the ‘70s!

And yet, good though this is as a little piece of drama, it doesn’t quite work. I’m not sure the script is to blame, or indeed Gatiss’ direction; I suspect it’s the case that limited resources are the culprit here, and the play just isn’t scary. And that’s a shame.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

“Where do all these guys come from?”

The critics didn’t like this film; I went in knowing that. So I’m left wondering what parts low expectations had in what I made of the film, but I liked it; perhaps more so than Spider-Man 2, and that certainly isn’t what you’re supposed to think.

We’re told this film is an overcrowded mess with too many villains. Well, it isn’t. Both Sandman and Venon are tied in well to Peter Parker’s character development and play important roles, as does Harry Osbourne.  Gwen  Stacy plays an important role too; the film packs a lot in but doesn’t feel rushed. Instead, it actually justifies its long running time.

The core of the film is, of course, the symbiote as a symbolic representation of Peter’s dark side- the arrogance, the selfishness, the temptations that lurk within us all. From a situation of seeming perfection at the start of the film- things are going well for Peter in his love life, studies, work and Spider-Man is insanely popular- we immediately know that the bubble is bound to burst and, importantly, Peter starts to show some neglect for MJ’s work problems before the symbiote even affects him, but as soon as he puts in the dark costume (it’s a shame they didn’t use the proper version of the costume, as Benom looks pretty similar, but heigh-ho...)

Yes, Venon gets relatively little screen time, but a version of Eddie Brock is well used, Harry (whine, conveniently, we already know) is well used and Flink Marco (Sandman) is given a tragic backstory and an important role into being (rather crudely) retconned into Ben Parker’s killer. He’s well portrayed by Thomas Gaden Church and, while both he and Venom have limited screen time, I liked the way both were used. This isn’t a Joel Schumacher Batman film; all the characters are properly developed, however minor, including May, Jonah and the rest of the supporting cast.

So ignore the criticisms; this is a fine film. It also has a top cameo by Bruce Campbell as a snooty French maitre d’, and the CGI with both Sandman and Venom deserves an awful lot of praise. It’s sad that this is the last of the Sam Raimi films; I wish they had more of a wisecracking Spidey, but the trilogy is excellent on the whole, and ends on a high.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

The Greatest Showman (2017)

"They're laughing anyway, kid. So might as well get paid."

This is notorious, of course, for being the film that critics utterly despised yet going on to become a massive word-of-mouth hit. Having now seen it I can see why; it’s very well-shot and choreographed. I didn’t like the songs at all as they sound like contemporary  chart pop with all the unlistenable production that implies, but some people must like chart pop.

This is a musical about Phineas T. Barnum, a figure whose life I know only in broad strokes and who is famous these days mainly for the apocryphal “there’s a sucker born every minute”. But the film presents him, Hugh Jackman’s charm and his being a good family man aside, as a deeply exploitative bastard who exploits those with actual talent- even if the “talent” is to be a dwarf or bearded woman- in order to make himself rich. He’s no better than Simon Cowell, a deeply unpleasant individual who uses, abuses and discards people and is a morally disgusting beast of a human being. When he finally abandons his “freaks” for a night, not wanting them to be seen by his posh mates as he puts on a big opera do, we see how little they mean to him in spite of giving him his fortune, and the bearded lady gets an uplifting song. Yet later on, in a perverse type of Stockholm syndrome, when Barnum nearly loses everything they insist on staying as part of the “family”. This is very uncomfortable to see.

And perhaps that’s it; it’s superbly directed and very well made, and well acted in spite of the central character’s surprising blandness, and I suppose the songs are aimed at people who can stand modern chart pop- they certainly aren’t show tunes- but I’m not sure what the script is trying to do. It seems to want to be a simple, escapist melodrama but you can’t really deal with the theme of “freak shows” without having something coherent to say about them, and this film doesn’t. It’s very well made by it’s largely Australian crew, but in the end it’s a largely empty experience.

Friday, 4 January 2019

The Ash Tree

“Cut it down!”

An obscure little gem, this; a thirty minute BBC drama from 1975 and the first of the legendary screenplays based on the ghost stories of M.R. James (who, alas, I have not read) that I’ve seen, courtesy of BBC 4 on Christmas Eve.

It’s well-made on location, superbly acted with a role by none other than Lalla Ward as the not-to-be Lady Fell, and uses good, economic direction to tell a rather complex, non-linear story very quickly. You have to pay attention and, I suspect intentionally, not everything gets explained- what are the creatures in the tree? What’s the connection of the tree to the witch trials of a century earlier? We get only a general gist of what’s going on, but a bit of mystery is good. It’s refreshing to watch something from a time when the audience wasn’t talked down to, earlier. We aren’t spoon fed; the only clue to Sir Richard’s time period is the clothing and the fact that Tom Jones is a current novel, and the switch between time periods is narrated visually rather than overtly signalled. Edward Petheridge, whom I know best as George III in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell, is superb both as Sir Richard and the hypocritical Sir Matthew, who directly causes an innocent woman to be hanged as a witch.

This packs an awful lot into thirty-odd minutes and is a nice little curio from the BBC of the ‘70s. I shall certainly try and watch more of these M.R. James Christmas ghost stories.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Doctor Who: Resolution

“I always think I’m rid of them. I never am.”

This episode was written by Chris Chibnall. It is genuinely superb. Those two sentences don’t feel right together but, incredibly, they belong together on this occasion. This is a brilliant piece of telly, with a genuinely superb dramatic scene between Ryan and his father, and the best use of the Daleks since, well, Dalek, using the threat posed by one Dalek to banish all memories of recent years to re-establish them as the ultimate baddie to be feared.

The set-up is superb; narration, a mediaeval fairytale backstory and a mythical tale of an ultimate monster split into thirds and buried in far-flung places. A pair of archaeologists established as real characters through good dialogue before one of them is put through the wringer. And yet the true brilliance is in the basic plot- a naked Dalek without its casing reassembled after twelve centuries and forced to manipulate humans slowly into building it a makeshift casing out of available materials like an episode of the A-Team. This is brilliant not only because it's a fresh and superb take on the Daleks but because we are establishing that not only is one Dalek an unimaginable threat but that it doesn't even need any weapons or equipment or anything other than, well, a bubbling lump of hate itself to come damn close to annexing this planet.

Even better, the reveal of the Dalek casing is quite rightly held back, and the Heath Robinson nature of this Dalek has us clamouring for us to see how they actually look in the Chibnall era. No doubt we have that to look forward to. Next bloody year.

If I may nerd out a little more, though, it's great to have the little fan nods ("I wish I could remember exactly how long a Rel is") and the firm statement that there is no Kate Stewart and no UNIT in the Chibnall era; the Doctor and her friends are on their own. UNIT has been mothballed, it seems, for pettifogging and deeply shortsighted financial reasons, as happens in politics all the time, and the UK has decided to leave an international organisation which is vital to its security and prosperity and bugger the frankly terrifying consequences. It's good that nothing analogous is happening in real life, right?

This is also a much better episode for the Doctor and her by now very well-knit crew; right from the tour of the universe's best CGI for New Year at the start they're a united and supportive bunch, although Yas yet again seems to get the least to do. It's a phenomenally strong Ryan episode, of course, introducing us to his dad Ryan after a lot of set-up over the last season. The result is an extraordinarily written scene in a cafe between father and son, and a masterfully written arc for Ryan, Aaron and Graham. I like the nuances of Aaron's character; far from being a cipher of a deadbeat dad he's a highly competent and able engineer, and while no excuses are made for his past behaviour he's shown as genuinely wishing to feel his way towards redemption. And Chibnall should be praised for resisting the easy cop-out ending of having Aaron sacrifice at the end; instead his near-death helps him with beginning to re-connect with his son.

Come to think of it, not a single named character dies- in a Dalek story.

I can't really fault this. I spent the whole of Season 37 waiting in vain for Chibnall to wow me, and at last he's done it. For the first time he's written a story for Doctor Who that is worthy of debate as to whether it deserves classic status. What took him so bloody long?

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Black Panther (2018)

“It's hard for a good man to be king."

This is a hard film to review objectively. It's clearly a significant cultural artifact, far more so than a normal MCU film, and has connected with the African diaspora worldwide for its Afro-Futurism, a big part of a cultural movement that includes works such as Janelle Monae's ArchAndroid, and which constitutes a positive look at the potential of African achievement in spite of a background of colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade.

The central conceit of the character of T'Challa has been, of course, for 52 years, that he's the king of a fictional African nation- Wakanda- that secretly defies all African stereotypes to be the most technologically and socially advanced nation on Earth. It's an African paradise, yet the cause of a central debate between the traditional view of the late T'Chaka- Wakanda is for the Wakandans, not for all Africa or the world, and it must be protected; and the view-,expounded with militancy by Erik Killmonger, that Wakanda must share its bounty with the world. This is an interesting central dilemma, but one fundamentally divorced from real world concerns. And, while it's good to see a positive portrayal of Africa and Africans, it's also a little disturbing to see Wakanda presented as a mish-mash of various West African, East African and South African cultures, not all of them Bantu, as though they were the same- and they are not; sub-Saharan Africa is huge and impossibly diverse. I'm not sure that the message that African cultures are pretty much the same is fundamentally a positive one, whatever the merits of the film's upbeat message. Is it only white and Asian people who are allowed to have distinctly different ethnic identities?

Still, the film works as entertainment in the traditional Marvel mould, and Chadwick Boseman's lack of charisma is well compensated for by an awesome and largely female cast. Ryan Coogler has made a film that looks superb in every way, with nothing in the visuals that I can fault. But, much though I enjoyed the film, with its black female Q, its James Bond pastiche antics and the big final battle with war rhinos(!), the film is merely good, not great.

Fantastic Stan Lee cameo, mind, though obviously bittersweet...

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Scrooge (1951)


Mrs Llamastrangler suggested that, as Gremlins counts as a Christmas film only on a technicality, I ought to do one (interpret that how you will) before the Chrimbo Limbo concludes. I think she had Jack Frost in mind, but heigh-ho...

Anyway, this is bloody good. Alastair Sim proves that actors associated with comedy can be truly arresting at straight drama- although his comic side is of course very much on display at the end..The entire cast is magnificent, though.

While bits are expanded from Dickens’ original novella, chiefly concerning how Scrooge got his wealth, this is a faithful adaptation, on the whole. The film deserves top marks, in particular, for taking care to include Dickens’ social commentary; the unreformed Scrooge refuses to forgive a debt, potentially forcing his unfortunate debtor to spend Christmas in a debtor’s prison, and announces that prisons and the Poor Law, cruel though they are, are a suitable response to poverty. Also it’s clear, in what we see of Scrooge’s past, that his hardness is a response to a perceived hardening of the world from the ore-factory age, when money wasn’t everything, to now (1843-ish?) where money is progress and traditional considerations for the less fortunate have fallen by the wayside. It’s very much about the problems of industrialisation, but it has much to say to That her’s children in this new age of austerity. And it’s heartening to see Christmas being set against all this, rather than as another commercial pressure.

It’s all full of Dickensisms, of course, from those inimitable character names to the poor working class family that inexplicably speaks RP, but that’s all part of the fun. This is the finest adaptation of A Christmas Carol that I’ve seen, very much including those with Muppets in...!

Friday, 28 December 2018

Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962)

"I have only one ambition at the moment: to see you hanged."

Christopher Lee playing Sherlock Holmes; sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Thorley Walters as Watson? Terence Fisher directing? Why, that sounds amazing, right?  What could possibly go wrong?

What we have here is essentially The Valley of Fear with a bit of Moriarty stuff and a heist tacked on the end. It's an odd approach but it could have worked. Thing is, though, this was filmed in West Berlin with a German cast, and dubbed back into English so we don't even get Lee's voice. We see him playing Holmes... but we don't really experience it. It's so frustrating.

Worse, all the dubbing is awful, with ridiculous trans-Atlantic accents; the first thing we hear is a bunch of very American-sounding kids. And then there's the setting, and especially the cars- this seems to be set in about 1914 when the novel was written, whereas in fact Holmes was pretty much active (barring the very specific circumstances of The Lion's Mane and His Last Bow) from the early 1880s until about 1903. The cars feel wrong and jarring.

Lee's physical performance is ok, from what I can see; Walters is, I'm afraid, the bumbling type of Watson. The plot is engaging enough, but the whole thing is shot very flat and often feels am-dram with much of the acting. But the dubbing, in the end, makes it impossible to take the film seriously. You thought Dick Van Dyke's cockney accent was bad? Wait until you see Holmes in disguise here...

A real shame.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

"I've got a bad feeling about..."



I really am a long way behind on the Star Wars films considering I claim to be a fan. This is actually the most recent I’ve seen and I only saw it last night; I really need to get a move on, especially as this is really quite superb.

Part of what makes this film so good is a combination of a fast, action-filled plot that never feels slow; this is a fast-paced action film in the Star Wars universe. But there’s something else, too; all the “main” Star Wars films up to this point, good and bad, and including the prequels that I will blog one day, may have been full of droids and starships but we’re essentially stories told within the fairytale mode. This is not.

Hence we have characters, with arcs, but they are secondary to the plot, and there’s a constant mood of grittiness and a focus on just enough downbeat realism. This is the Star Wars universe, and the theft of the Death Star plans is pretty damn pivotal, but these people lead hard lives based in the reality of resistance to tyranny, not myth. So Jyn- a very different part for Felicity Jones after playing Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything- has had a harsh life, and her character arc is to reconcile with her father, who had once seemed a traitor, and lose her apolitical cynicism to risk everything in getting the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance. Wonderfully, the blatant weakness in the Death Star which allows one hit to destroy it is a deliberate piece of sabotage by her father Galen. But there’s never much hope; idealistic, good people can be heroes without being fairy tale heroes.

Take Cassian; a hero of the rebellion, certainly, but one characterised by the kinds of difficult moral choices that always define resistance against tyranny in a world that is real, not fairytale. When we first meet him he shouts a man in cold blood for the greater good. His mission to kill Galen is secret and cynical, although in the end he doesn’t shoot. And his big speech, where he agrees to join Jyn in her mission, is about how he and his mates have done terrible things, but all in the name of the empire.

We also have K-2SO, the Marvin the Paranoid Android of Star Wars, voices admirably by Alan Tudyk; the blind warrior monk Chirrut, a standout performance by Arizona Ahmed as Bodhi, and a few other heroes who undertake a deeply entertaining, exciting and doomed mission. This isn’t a fairytale and no one is getting out alive. A brilliant film.

Except... well, the CGI resurrection of the late Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin just looks weird, and is a troubling can of worms to open. And the CGI restoration of Carrie Fisher just looks wrong. But these troubling aspects can’t take away from the fact that Nuneaton’s own Gareth Edwards has given us something very special. The codder done good.

Friday, 21 December 2018

The Gifted- Season 1, Episode 4: eXit strategy

"Call me Polaris. You're sending me to Hell; I think it's the least you can do."

So this introductory arc is over as this episode sees the springing and ultimate freedom of both Reed and Lorna as they are transferred to what we’re told is a helkush ultra-secure prison for mutants; I’m sure we will be seeing this place later but for now the good guys have won. For now. Now they can spend some time interacting with each other, the Mutant Underground and the Struckers together.

We get an interesting and charged chat between aliens and Reds while they’re in separate cells, reminding us that he has done reprehensible things and ruined a lot of lives, coming to an epiphany only when his own children were affected. This reminds us to pause before considering him a hero since his conversion. He has a lot to atone for; families torn apart and children separated from their parents forever, for no reason. His actions are as evil as those of Trump.

Last episode was about moral compromises; this time Marcos gets his turn as he finds out what is needed for the rescue by visiting his ex, Carmen, who proves to be the head of a drugs smuggling gang- and agrees to do morally dodgy stuff for her. Yet another character, in a world full of terrible moral dilemmas as happens under tyranny, dips his hands in the blood. Caitlin also learns that she has to let her children take some risks, and to be fair she is pretty badass herself.

We also have troubling scenes of Clarice dealing with the emotional after effects of her newly planted false intimate memories with John, but most of the episode consists of the rescue, with plenty of rather gripping action- not least due to the presence, on the Sentinel side, of Pulse, whose powers can among other things disrupt mutant powers. It’s an exciting and entertaining episode, but the end of an arc. So what next...?

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The Gifted- Season 1, Episode 3: eXodus

“And you can shove that deal up your ass!”

I know it’s been a while since I blogged the first two episodes of this season; suffice to say this is me finishing it, and see the Marvel index for the previous two blog posts.

Anyway, where were we? We have the Struckers, a family thrown out of complacency by the revelation that their children are mutants in an America that’s very Days of Future Past, except with much cheaper Sentinels and obvious contemporary resonances in Trump’s land of the not-so-free- much of the harshness of the US law and justice system is from real life, and it’s not hard to see the allegories  in a real world America where the tiny children of othered immigrants are inhumanly ripped from their parents. The mutant underground is even likened to the Underground Railroad of slavery days by dialogue.

There are Marvel resonances- I know Polaris and Thunderbird from the comics but none of the other mutants, and the Strucker name is of course quite resonant, significantly or not- but for now we have the mutant underground, desperate and reactive, and the X-Men seem to exist but are nowhere to be seen. Other mutants include Eclipse, Dreamer and the powerful butcrecently awakened Clarice, who can make portals. Interestingly, we are told that mutant abilities first assert themselves during adolescence when the person is highly upset, and it takes a while to control them.

This episode is about the trade-offs and compromises of living under tyranny, resonant of a Milan Kundera novel; Lorna refuses to compromise, not betraying her friends at the cost of harsher treatment for herself. Her bid to escape, using her powers to destroy the door in spite of the extreme pain, is tragic, especially as an early flashback shows her to be rather lovely. Reed at first agrees to betray his family but changes his mind when he sees the moral consequences. Caitlin learns a harsh lesson that she cannot use the law in her favour, as even her own brother refuses to give any real help in order to protect his own immediate family.

But Dreamer makes a big moral compromise, controlling Clarice’s mind by implanting a false memory so she can produce a portal and save the day, the only compromised decision all episode. I’m sure there will be consequences.

This is all good so far, if dark, although leavening all this darkness with the odd bit of humour would be good.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Legion: Chapter 8

"Are you threatening the entire human race? Do I have that right?"

This season finale feels different, perhaps; relatively functional by the standards of Legion and unfamiliarly neat in how it ties up everything it wishes to tie up in a satisfactory but unexpected manner. Oh, there’s some directorial weirdness, but the whole thing feels almost linear. Heaven forbid.

It’s interesting, then, that the first few minutes are given over to the disfigured baddie who appeared at the cliffhanger- Clark- and takes time to establish how his painful disfigurement has affected his life and relationships, all of which is far more interesting and important than the casual and predictable resolution of the cliffhanger. He isn’t a threat, or so least not now. But, as dialogue later establishes, he represents the institutions and governments of homo sapiens, a seriously long term threat if mutants don’t succeed in getting along with those who fear and probably want to exterminate them. But that’s for the long term.

The episode is mainly about expelling the Shadow King from David, and how this is only possible because of Syd’s love. It’s about reconciliation, such as between Kerry and Cary. And it’s about the possibility of healing old wounds- Oliver may not remember Melanie, but he’s happy to agree to a date.

David gets an interesting few lines to Syd; he’s self-conscious enough to accept the possibility that, although his powers may be real, he can’t be sure that he doesn’t have schizophrenia. And he’s so tired of talking to various shrinks that he’s absolutely sick and tired of talking about himself; he wants all this to not be about him.

The ending is neat and satisfying, except where it chooses not to be; David is free of the Shadow King but it has moved on to Oliver, and then there’s the sequence after the main credits. It’s been a very different but extraordinary series, one with understandably limited appeal but one to which I shall return for the next season, late as I am. First, though, there’s some other unfinished business...

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Gremlins (1984)

“Now I have another reason to hate Christmas!"

I’m 41 and I’d never seen this film until now. Yes, I know. And, er, I still haven’t seen The Goonies, which Mrs Llamastrangler tightly rebuked me for last night. Sometimes I’m not a very good ‘80s kid.

At least I’ve seen it now, though, and obviously it’s awesome. The Mogwai and Gremins look ok and are delightfully animatronic and stop motion, the script is fun and the cast (made up almost entirely of character actors rather than stars) is rather good. I do rather wish Spielberg hadn’t used his name to promote films he didn’t direct, but this at least feels like his “brand”. It’s a fun little tale and passes quickly and enjoyably, although for me what really lingers in the mind is poor Kate’s horrible childhood Christmas tragedy. Because this films is a classic Christmas movie, just like Die Hard.

Mind you, this whole thing of “wise old stereotypical Chinaman in his little shop with his vague Eastern Wisdom” would probably raise more eyebrows today than it did in 1984. The whole casual attitude towards getting a pet for Christmas is also perhaps a little dodgy. Drink driving is treated as a little joke. And yes, things do get a bit silly towards the end, with the Gremins smoking and drinking and enjoying Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But the film is fun enough and plays things real enough to get away with it.

What’s really weird, though, is this is 1985, my childhood, and that can be eerie st times. The kid Pete looks and dresses much like I did, and everything was “neat”- never cool. This film, then, is very, very neat.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Batman & Robin (1997)

"This is why Superman works alone!”

Oh dear. What an absolutely terrible film. Incoherent, full of meaningless bangs and explosions, and with ridiculous overacting from Schwarzenegger and Thurman in particular, and a bafflingly miscast George Clooney who plays Batman as a generic superhero of the sort you simply can’t imagine beating up criminals for information like he used to when he was Michael Keaton.

Indeed, Clooney seems to be channelling Adam West as a goody-goody Batman but with absolutely none of the camp humour that was the whole point. And, after largely ditching Tim Burton’s moody darkness reflective of the ‘80s comics, this film drops it entirely. We may have the same Alfred and the same Jim Gordon, but this is otherwise unrecognisable from those distant-seeming Tim Burton days.

The whole thing is just cartoonish and silly. Arnie hams it up as Mr Freeze (always a rubbish villain) from the start, and those constant terrible puns completely erase any possible pathos that could potentially be supplied by his motivation to cure his wife. But even worse is the appallingly silly performance from Thurman, an otherwise talented actress, who completely sends up the character of Poison Ivy, although of course the script does that anyway. Bane is wasted as a generic henchman and Jason Woodrow just gets to be a generic mad scientist to twirl his moustache for a bit and get killed. The whole movie is a tick box exercise of featuring various characters for the sake of it and just wasting them.

Perhaps the worst case of this is Barbara Gordon, although for some reason here she’s Alfred’s niece instead of Jim’s daughter- she unexpectedly turns up from England without telling anyone, for some reason wearing her school uniform, and claims to be English although Alicia Silverstone isn’t bothering with the accent. And then plot convenience let’s her discover the Batcave and a costume that Alfred made for her on the off-chance(!), and she duffs up Poison Ivy in spite of having no apparent combat experience or athletic prowess. This is all just very silly.

And I haven’t even mentioned THOSE nipples, and the scenes with Batman and Robin bidding in the millions for Poison Ivy. Can we just end the franchise now? Oh.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Legion: Chapter 7

"On the chest of a barmaid in Sale
Were tattooed all the prices of ale
And on her behind
For the sake of the blind
Was the same information in Braille"

This episode is, of course, hardly linear; there’s an extended silent movie sequence, complete with intertitors and to the sounds of Ravel, in which Lenny tries to kill our heroes; there’s a scene in which David is spoken to by his “rational mind” who is, in a fourth wall-breaking nor to Dan Stevens’ origins, British. Yes, incredibly, we get the exchange “What, you’re British” / “Well, as I said, I’m your rational mind”, and this in a TV programme made after June 2016 when we Brits lost any such claim.

Anyway, after a surreal start, the mental home illusion of last episode is shattered and everyone (although Ptonomy is oddly silent all episode) more or less understands the situation- they are in the astral plane because of the Shadow King (we hear the name from Cary, as well as the name Amal Farouk, but no context yet), suspended in time just before they’re about to be shot. There’s a lovely scene where Cary innocently tries to mansplain all this to Syd but she pre-emotes him, confirming she’s worked it all out because “I’ve been paying attention.”

We also have the still-quite-surreal Oliver finally interacting with everyone- including, tragically, Melanie, whom he no longer recognises. Her resultant distress is not overdone, and all the more effective for it.

David, with help from his rational self, works out that his birth father must have been a powerful psychic mutant who defeated the Shadow King and quickly had David adopted to protect him, but the weakened Shadow King still managed to infect him as a parasite, blighting his whole life and drawing strength from David’s power; at last we begin to get a straightforward explanation as to what has been going on, albeit with gloriously creative visuals based on animated blackboard stick figures.

David ultimately saves the day in the real world, diverting the bullets and seemingly with everyone (including Amy and Oliver) sage- although didn’t Lenny/the Shadow King briefly do something to Oliver?

All this is shattered, though, as the real world baddies arrive and prepare to take David alive- and everyone else dead. And we end with an echo of last episode, with the Shadow King inside that coffin. But there’s a gap...

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Legion: Chapter 6

“Deja vu, but not?"

Legion is already pretty damn experimental and avant-garde for prime time network telly, but this is a specifically experimental and avant-grade episode. Gulp.

The whole thing is set during a frozen moment in time as the bullet hurtles towards David and co. David, Sid, both Loudermilks and Ptonomy are in a mental home run by Lenny; it’s uncertain whether this is a shared dream reality or just David’s, but the set-up gives a good opportunity to give a bit of character background for everyone before the focus turns to Syd and David. Incidentally, Ptonomy mentions that his mother died while loading the dishwasher; this is the first inkling that the series is set in a post-60s time frame.

At first it’s all played straight, albeit with Lenny coming across like a bit of a Freudian quack, until suddenly the fourth wall smashes into a million pieces as she does a music video dance routine to Nina Simone.

But there are little kinks in this reality- Sid starts to remember things and notice a kind of Schrodinger’s door that is sometimes there, sometimes not. And so things finally collapse until the point where Lenny (briefly appearing as that demonic figure that I’m sure is the Shadow King) Who is sonehow orchestrating all this for the purpose of using David’s power in some way.

We end with David, in a box, falling in the dark, and two episodes to go. This is powerful, non-linear, weird, wonderful telly.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

“An unfortunate misnomer for I am the mildest of men...”

This is the first of the Amicus portmanteau horror films from Freddie Francis and Milton Subotsky, and the pieces are already in place- a number of vignettes of varying quality, An overarching framework that looks gradually more sinister as the film progresses, a troupe of British character a tor’s including some quirky choices, and of course the ever-splendid Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

The overarching framework is that Dr “Schrek” (Nosferatu reference alert) uses Tarot cards to predict the bleak future of each of the very male occupants of a railway compartments. Yes, compartments and, indeed, a steam train; 1965 feels so very long ago sometimes. It’s an odd structure plot-wise, as each character is told their ghastly tale of what awaits them only for none of that to happen and all of them to die in a train crash, but it’s a suitably atmospheric framework and Cushing is superb.

The first vignette, a Gothic take of a werewolf in the Hebrides, is probably the weakest. But the second, where a vine takes over the world(!) features a rare acting role by none other than future Radio 1 DJ Alan Freeman. Not ‘alf, pop pickers. And we get the interesting sight of him interacting with Bernard “M” Lee as a vine threatens to kill them all.

The third tale, with Roy Castle as a jazz trumpeter, is much stronger, as musician Biff steals the time of a Voodoo god that he finds in the Caribbean, with ominous consequences. But the absolute highlight is Lee’s snobbish and conceited art critic who gets his revenge from being humiliated by an artist he dislikes by running him over so his right hand is lost, only to be pursued by the disembodied stop motion hand until, poetically, he loses his hand in a car crash. I suspect an influence on Evil Dead 2 here, but Lee’s very real performance hopes the main thing work. The silly last vignette, with a young Donald Sutherland and  a very Bram Stoker take on vampires and an interesting effect of a bar, can’t follow this but nicely rounds things off.

The vignettes are variable but the Roy Castle and Christopher Lee segments are particularly superb, and the whole thing is atmospheric, fun and entertaining in equal measure in spite of the plot holes and the variable quality of the vignettes. Worth a look.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Doctor Who: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

“Don’t aliens ever bother with doors?”

Sigh. That was a season finale?

It’s the moment of truth; the season has fully unfolded in all of its dubious glory and, well, aside from It Takes You Away it’s been good but hasn’t wowed me. And this episode- penned, fittingly, by Chris Chibnall himself- is the perfect illustration of why this season is often good but hardly ever more than that, and I expect more from Doctor Who.

This episode gets the usual things right, of course. Jodie Whittaker is a deeply promising Doctor in the vein of a Davison or a Tennant, in spite of being worryingly underwritten as a character who just does Doctorish things but isn’t given an inner life. Graham, Ryan and Yas are a strong TARDIS team, making a crew of four work as it did under Hartnell, and the characters are all strong- but let’s see a bit more development of Yas in particular. The show also looks awesome. It’s a good set-up.

But the problem is that Chibnall just isn’t that good a writer, either of episodes or of season arcs. I mean, this is the season finale and, yes, it pays off the death of Grace and features the return of Tim Shaw. Even the Sniperbits are back. But, well, really? That, and Graham’s predictable revenge sub-plot, is enough meat for a finale? This is thin stuff.

Then there’s the basic plot. I’ll forgive the steal from The Pirate Planet as the mood is so different, but the whole set up- the idea of the Ux as a species of two, the engineering, the faith; it all feels sonehow like the early New Adventures. Like all the Chibnall-penned stories set in space it’s grim, joyless apart from the TARDIS crew’s banter. In fact, that’s a big part of the problem; under Chibnall, Doctor Who is hard science fiction instead of the whimsical science fantasy we’vecall Known and loved for the best part of 55 years. Perhaps that’s why lastcweek’s talking frog had me grinning; Paul Cornell used to talk about frocks vs guns. Well, give me frogs over po-faced witless plodding plotting any time.

I never thought I’d be the “x must go” type of fan, but this season has me concerned about the programme in a way I haven’t ever been before, and I’ve been a card-carrying fan since Part Two of Remembrance of the Daleks. I’ll never stop enjoying Who, even if not as much as I’d like, and I’ll never stop watching it, blogging it or being as much a part of fandom as work, fatherhood and caring for my disabled wife allow. But I will say one thing.

Chibnall must go.

Fifty Shades Freed (2018)

"So why do you defy me?"

"Because I can!"

 This is only the second film I've seen that was made in 2018. Right now it seems very possible that it may ultimately end up being the worst. It's that bad. In fact, Mrs Llamastrangler has just described it to me as being akin to "a disappointing fart. I concur.

So what is so deeply disappointing about this, the third in a series of films that, it's now clear, are all pants? Well, many of the same things. Let’s face the horrors, shall we?

Christian and Ana get married in a posh ceremony and then they do that bizarre and rather rude thing where they leave the ceremony that everyone had made such an effort to attend to drive off, cold sober, to a honeymoon by montage in Paris and the French Riviera. We get a few scenes reminding us what a control freak Christian is, presumably meant at least partly to humanise him, but in fact just making him look like a controlling twat. Some arson at home by nasty old Jack draws them both home early where married life begins properly.

Christian has an extraordinarily childish reaction to the inevitable conversation about kids but, well, why on Earth did they not have this conversation before trying the knot like all sensible people do? And, frankly, I don’t care about Christian’s poorly defined mother issues- he’s a billionaire. Why is parenthood an issue where money isn’t? Then there’s that ridiculous throwing of his toys out of the pram because Ana prefers to use her maiden name professionally, as that’s how she’s already known, which seems rather sensible. He seems to think he’s entitled to expect his wife to take his surname, which is frankly a load of misogynist bollocks. Yes, Mrs Llamastrangler ended up taking my surname, but it was entirely her decision and I made it very clear that I didn’t feel entitled to any such thing and, frankly, in her position wouldn’t have done the same. For a bloke to simply expect it to happen is a bit of a warning sign.

But then he does the other thing that emotionally abusive partners do, and buys her stuff, namely a new home to her tastes. It’s good to see Ana asserting herself against the flirtatious architect, but she’s very much living a life circumscribed by Christian, with him even controlling what she hears about the danger to her from Jack. There are disturbing hints of gaslighting here, and when she deviates from his plan to guarantee her safety by- heaven forbid- having a few drinks with her best friend. This leads to a bit of a kerfuffle with Jack and, more disturbingly, with Christian having another massive sulk because Ana has the temerity to show a little bit of independence. And so what could have been a rather erotic little kinky scene of him teasing and denying her just turns outvtonbevhom throwing a strop like a complete and utter child. But then none of the sexy scenes are sexy, and none of the kink is allowed to be just kink.

Incidentally, one of the many things that ruins this awful film is the constant use of unlistenable, badly produced, horrible chart pop which, with all its autotuned awfulness,  actively subtracts atmosphere and sexiness from every scene. The only decent bit of music in the whole film is Grey playing Macca’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”, which isn’t saying much.

Anyway, Christian’s reaction when Ana tells him she’s pregnant is utterly pathetic, and the perfect reason to leave him. He reacts like a proper child, sulks and confides in Mrs Robinson; no wonder Ana is disgusted. Yes, it’s wrong to spring a pregnancy on a man without his consent, but accidents are accidents, and any woman has an absolute choice on whether to keep her baby; making her get rid if it is just as immoral as being one of those anti-abortion zealots. And none of this matters much, anyway, if money isn’t an issue- why not just have the child? Bringing up kids is fun.

So we end up with a bit of climatic action between Ana and nasty old Hack, and she ends up still trapped in what she sees as a healthy relationship with Christian, and thinking the fact he’s into BDSM (she isn’t, not really, so it’s disturbing that he’s foisting it on her, and controlling how she perceives it) means he can get away with controlling her without her informed consent. She ends the trilogy still trapped in a relationship with this controlling man-child, and that is truly tragic. Poor Ana. But far more tragic is the thought that this film may give many people the idea that BDSM makes this kind of behaviour ok.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Legion: Chapter 5

“You know, they say the brain is the largest erogenous zone.”

More glorious conceptual weirdness this week, but as ever you have to pay attention. And as ever the cinematography is glorious, visually signalling this as art telly if the script wasn’t already making that clear. It’s weird, it’s non-linear, it’s magnificent.

So last episode Cary and Kerry weren’t killed; she was just badly hurt and it affected him. They’re fine. So is David, seemingly much more confident and together after his sojourn in the astral plane, even using his new abilities to find a way for he and Syd to touch each other and make love in some genuinely lovely, if surreal, scenes in a white room that must surely be meant to evoke the video for John Lennon’s Imagine. And yet, as the couple make love, the camera pans to some strawberries being crawled over by wood lice, a canker in paradise..

There’s some discussion of Oliver; he’s Melanie’s husband, trapped in the astral plane for 21 years because, essentially, he became addicted to being a god in his own world- both a mind-blowing concept and a cautionary tale for David, as well as an explanation for Melanie’s possible partial ulterior motive for helping him.

Then things start to get scary. A hugely powerful and scary David goes on an unstoppable mission to rescue Amy, killing all his enemies without a passing thought. And this leads Cary to theorise; is he genuinely schizophrenic as well as being a mutant of the mind? And is there some kind of malign parasitic presence within his conscious, editing his memories to hide itself? This is at one a brilliant concept and, well, this series clearly isn’t much interested in Marvel continuity and characters but... it’s the Shadow King, innit?

Then we get weirdness, disturbing things with Lennie/Benny, and David not responding well to being told by Amy that he’s adopted. Stuff happens in the astral plane, and then suddenly they’re all in a mental institution. This is absolutely brilliant.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Doctor Who: It Takes You Away

“I see the sheep have moved on. Probably off plotting.”

You know how I’ve spend the whole of the season so far whingeing that yes, many episodes are good, but none of them have wowed me? Well, with one episode to go, this season has finally gone and bloody done it. Ed Himes, you can write for Doctor Who again. This is a splendid fifty minutes of television. It still doesn’t mask some underlying issues with Chibnall’s reign, though; still no arc beyond very basic character stuff, leading to a sense of drift. And, while Jodie Whittaker is excellent as ever, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that her Doctor isn’t getting any character development.

Still, bravo. Big sci-fi ideas, for a start; a sentient universe that just wants to be friends but isn’t very good for the health of reality, and the subject of a bedtime story from one of the Doctor’s seven grandmothers to boot, plus of course the whole scene with the frog. It’s also about something; Hanne’s dad is a parallel bad dad to Ryan’s father at first glance, although he’s addled by grief and sees the error of his ways. And Graham’s own grief gets played with horribly by the “resurrection” of Grace. Yet the whole thing brings Graham and Ryan together sufficiently for Ryan to call him “Grandad”, an earned and powerful moment.

All this, and the lines about the sheep. And the flesh moths. And Kevin Eldon A’s a nasty, duplicitous demon. And the whole concept of “antizones”. And so much subtext I’m sure I’ve not even noticed half of it.  I don’t know if we’ll ever see another Neil Gaiman episode, but this is pretty damn close, and just as good.

And yet... it’s a one off episode, full of one off brilliant and a Doctor Who does Doctorish things but isn’t written with any inferiority. Sometimes it’s the exceptional episodes what make you worry about where things are headed.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996)

 "Are you threatening me? My bumhole will not wait!"

 I last saw this in, well, the '90s. On a VHS videotape that was my prized possession. It’s brilliant, of course, and a style of humour (“Heh. You said ‘anus’!” that has lasted.

I suspect Mike Judge is no metalhead, and this fan of heavy guitar riffs is a bit suspicious that people like my young ‘90s self should be portrayed as such thickos. Thing is, though, it’s funny.

It’s weird seeing Beavis and Butt-Head in a whole movie, doing no less than a road trip with Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, instead of just watching the telly as is their wont. But it works, thanks to good old puerile humour done with an evil wit, and Robert Stack is superb.

It’s also very, very ‘90s, though, from the perspective of 2018- teenage Chelsea Clinton’s braces, teenagers actually watching the telly, a very ‘90s kind of youth culture-focused nostalgia for the ‘60s and ‘70s leading to that glorious Robert Crumb psychedelic bit in the New Mexico desert. One could almost say that bit was genuinely cinematic.

Well done, Mike Judge and co; cavity searches all round. The campaign for a sequel with middle-aged Beavis and Butt-Head starts here!

Monday, 26 November 2018

Doctor Who: The Witchfinders

If I was still a bloke, I could get on with the job and not have to waste time defending myself!"

A very good episode but, par for the course this season, lacking in the stuff of greatness. Still very good, but no more. And it’s becoming worryingly clear that the series doesn’t seem to aspire to that under Chibnall. But is this just my expectations, having come in recent years to appreciate the depths of writing of an RTD and a Moffat, while Chibnall is focused on creating a family show that appeals to kids, and successfully at that? Am I, a 41 year old fan, the target audience, as I was for Moffat? Should I be?

The episode is genuinely good and the new writer- Joy Wilkinson- is one I’d be happy to see again. The history is a little vague (characters called “Willa” and “Becca”?) and suggestive of a younger audience than we were used to in the recent past, but the plot is solid, even if the resolution is rushed; Pendle Hill being an ancient prison for some rather well-realised alien villains is a fun concept. And the of course there’s Alan Cumming’s superb performance as King James VI and I, a portrayal that rings very true for this highly intelligent, intellectually lazy, psychologically damaged king who took refuge in absolutism and boys. Oh, and in not suffering a witch to live. Especially that.

Jimmy One is clearly well-researched; indeed, we get a whole scene with Ryan (naturally, Jimmy takes a shine to him) comparing their hard childhoods which shows off the research splendidly. And I also love the big chat he gets with the Doctor just before she faces the ducking stool.

It’s perfect that a story about witch hunts- the ultimate in misogyny- should be the first to really explore just how different things are for the Doctor when stripped of her male privilege. She is patronised, disbelieved, her very title mocked, with Graham having to stand in as figurehead. Yes, on the whole it’s rather good. But yet again it stops short of wowing me and the season so far is no better on the whole than “good enough”. I like the new Doctor, the new format, the new characters. I approve of the reorientation towards a family audience. And this tabloid nonsense about “PC plots” is just silly. But can we have some brilliance in the writing please? So far, every season since the show returns, I’ve liked some series more than others, and not all episodes have been good. But you could always be confident that an episode of sheer brilliance would turn up soon-ish. Is that still the case?

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Batman Forever (1995)

“It's the car, right? Chicks love it."

 Incredibly, I've never seen this until now, after 23 years.After the two gritty Tim Burton films, which I'd seen at the cinema and enjoyed, I wasn't impressed by the prospect of a film that dialled down the atmosphere and just tried to tell an exciting story.

So did I enjoy it? Well, yes, it's a fairly good Hollywood blockbuster action film, and it's even pretty good with the Batman mythos- we get a pretty good Robin origin with the Flying Graysons and the character is made not to look silly, which is no small achievement, even if the fact that the Flying Graysons all wear costumes while performing that Dick's eventual Robin costume will pretty much mirror means that it's pretty obvious who Robin really is, so Bruce's secret is shot too. But then, in this film at least, it pretty much is anyway.

I also like both Tommy Lee Jones' performance as Two-Face and the fact they only did his origin in flashback. But the Riddler, well, Jim Carrey is really annoying and the riddles are a bit perfunctory, the character seemingly being really about those silly brainwave machine thingies; this doesn't really feel like the Riddler.

Also, Joel Schumacher's directorial style is so very generic Hollywood compared to Tim Burton's unique and very fitting style, and even Gotham itself suddenly looks just like an ersatz New York, complete with Statue of Liberty, rather than the Gothic, Expressionist nightmare we've become used to. This is connected to the first two films only by Pat Hingle, Michael Gough, and the design of all of Batman's stuff. And Brude actually gets a girlfriend and still has her when the film ends- what's going on?

Plus Val Kilmer is, if not awful, not great either, and not a patch on Michael Keaton. This just isn't the same introverted, brooding character. But then this isn't really part of the same series of films in any meaningful sense. It's pure Hollywood spectacle, done well but with no real depth or meaning.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Pet Semetary (1989)

"Sometimes dead is better."

Another Stephen King film, then, and one in which he gets a cameo as a vicar... and I still haven’t read more than one obscure novella by him. I must remedy that.

This film is rather good, but a curious beast; there are no stars, unless you count Herman Munster and Lt Tasha Yar. And it doesn’t really feel like a horror film until the very end where a zombie toddler is running riot, being far more of a drama about what it’s like to lose a child- an unthinkable thing for any parent- much though the whole thing is tinged with a palpable sense of the macabre which feels, well, Stephen King.

The conceit is (cliche alert) that behind the burial ground for pets of the misspelled title there lies that old horror standby, the old Indian cemetery. This allows Dead things to be brought back to life, and be brought back to life wrong so, after an initial and fairly harmless first attempt with a cute little cat which proceeds to get all creepy and animatronic (is that a 1989 thing?) things start to get serious as the fanily’s little boy gets run over by a lorry. And presumably, this being Stephen King, this all happens in the state of Maine.

It’s a nice little understated film that chooses, I think rightly, to emphasise the mood of the macabre over shocks. One think is truly shocking, though- Jud drinks that undrinksble horse piss Budweiser and forces poor Louis to drink the foul liquid. Have neither of them heard of actual beer? And why does Louis pronounce his name “Louis” but pronounce it “Lewis”? It’s most odd.

But all is forgiven as the end credits roll and we hear the splendid sound of the Ramones, everybody’s favourite all-dead New York proto-punk band. “Pet Semetary” is no “Judy Is a Punk” or “53rd and 3rd” but it does the business.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Legion: Chapter 4

"I was a woman who couldn't be touched, in love with a man who wasn't there."

Legion just gets weirder and weirder; among other things, this episode features a girl living in a bloke’s head as his imaginary friend and getting out in to the world, and when she dies, he does.

It’s all very fairytale, which brings me to the opening. We meet the mysterious and stentorian Oliver, player by that bloke from Flight of the Conchords and a splendidly surreal individual with his discordant jazz and pronouncements on literary theory. He lives, it seems, on the astral plane, where David’s consciousness has become stuck from excessive dreaming. That’s the sort of thing that happens on this show.

Through Ptonomy we, and Syd, begin to realise that David’s memories may be partly false and are covering something up, and indeed that he may not be as nice as he seems. Certainly it’s evident, after the two of them make enquiries, that all old memories featuring Lenny reflect the reality of a big man called Benny, a bad influence.

The whole thing is as well directed as ever, which is good, because this sort of telly relies on that. The “real” world still has a stylish ambiguity between ‘60s and modern styles. And motifs recur- Syd keeps seeing the Hitler-like Angry Boy from the storybook while out and about.

I hold my hands up; I have no idea what’s going on at this point. But I’m enjoying the ride.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Legion: Chapter 3

“Could you maybe not break everything this time?”

Before I get to the final series of Angel it’s about time I finished something I started a while ago- this first season of Legion, that very strange and independent riff on a Marvel character. It’s an odd beast, non-linear and full of symbols which we can interpret as we wish; this week’s opening dream sequence is based around a fairy tale.

The whole thing is dreamlike, though. Perhaps it’s because this episode the A plot- David’s sister Amy having been kidnapped by the nasty shrink baddies- is put to one side for an episode of “memory work” with Melanie and Ptonomy, hinting at blocked memories and a nasty monster lurking within David’s subconscious. A lot of the time I have no idea what’s going on, although it always entertains. You really have to pay attention; this is brave, difficult telly.

Amy gets blatantly told that her brother is not schizophrenic, just a powerful magic being, as he is slowly learning himself. He’s also developing his sweet little relationship with the literally untouchable Syd. But something is wrong with his memories, and as we can see something is very wrong indeed with that storybook, and we get a very odd cliffhanger ending.

This is weird. At the moment I simply couldn’t tell you whether it works or not.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Doctor Who: Kerblam!

"Have you smelt her?"

"Oddly enough, I haven't..."

Terrible title and, I was confidently expecting from the preview, terrible episode. Turns out I was wrong; along with last week's episode this heralds what's looking like a definite upswing in quality with a thoughtful bit of what science fiction was made to do- satirical extrapolation of current trends to the nth degree.

What we have here is a bit of a cross between Doctor Who Discovers the Effect of Automation on the Workforce and Doctor Who Discovers the Appalling Working Conditions in Amazon Warehouses, a very topical bit of telly that will be very relevant to many viewers. The satire is simultaneously made blatant- the ancient junk robot seems awfully like Amazon, and the degree of employee monitoring that goes on is truly terrifying, although not as terrifying as automation itself. Just how many of us, even in professional jobs, will not have our livelihoods threatened by automation in say, twenty years' time? How will we pay our mortgages? Will it be a dystopia or was the great John Maynard Keynes right to expect increased leisure time? Somehow I expect neither will happen, but those of us with mortgages and dependents can be forgiven for being nervous.

Political though he episode is, mind- the working conditions on show are genuinely horrifying- the baddies are not the bosses but a protester- yet the system exploits him as surely as he exploits the system; capitalism is and is not the villain here, which is nicely nuanced.

The robots are splendidly creepy, too, and the reminiscence to the robots in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy parallels the similar opening scene in the TARDIS - is the deliberate implication that the delivery robot in both stories is from Kerblam? On the subject of continuity I liked the fez from when the Doctor was Matt Smith, and the shoutout to The Unicorn and the Wasp. And we can't not mention The Robots of Death either- we even get "robophobia" referred to. But this is, at its heart, a welcome piece of contemporary sci-fi which addresses major issues of the world we live in and gets away with doing so at prime time by having robots in it. Brilliant.

Damien: Omen II (1978)

"Damien Thorn is the Antichrist!"

It's been quite a while since I saw The Omen, but it lingers in the mind somewhat, mainly because of the set piece deaths. This sequel follows a similar pattern; Damien is now thirteen, adopted by his aunt and uncle, and forced to attend one of those awful military schools to which the more abusive type of American parents send their children. There are the same types of people protecting him, the same types of people discovering what he is and trying to stop him, and of course the same types of grisly deaths for the latter.

Except... while still a pretty good film, it doesn't compare remotely to its predecessor. Partly this is because, although some of the set piece deaths are rather good, they don't begin to approach the spectacle of the first film. And the cast, while solid character actors all, lacks the charismatic star presence of a Gregory Peck.

That isn't to say that the story doesn't grab the attention, that the central conceit doesn't work as well as before or, indeed, that there's much wrong with the script; I suspect that a better director could have improved the gory set pieces which, while a decent enough spectacle, don't anchor this film as they did its predecessor. But it certainly has its moment- I enjoyed the reporter's death my raven and lorry, and the film has a bi of fun with the fact we all know where it's going. It's a solid but fairly by-the-numbers early example of the type of Holywood horror sequel that would become so fashionable over the following decade.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Doomsday (2008)

“In the land of the infected, the immune man is king."

 This s easily the greatest Scottish post-apocalyptic Mad Max movie with mediaeval knights and steam locomotives ever made. Bar none.

Yes, the start is perhaps a bit ropey, very exposition-heavy and quite blatantly nothing but exposition, exposition, exposition as it gives us a backstory of a Scotland (well, Britain north of a reconstituted Hadrian's Wall- that would be just south of Wallsend's high street, a bizarre way to think of Mrs Llamastrangler's home town) quarantined because of a nasty virus, causing the British government to abandon and brutalise people in ways that probably mean Nicola Sturgeon died crying "I told you so" although, to be fair, the PM's Glaswegian functionary is just as evil to Londoners later.

But then it gets good. Really good, proper B movie fun. Proper Mad Max aesthetics and car chases, cannibalism, Molotov cocktails, glorious ultraviolence, Siouxie and the Banshees, loads of gore, not a lot of sentimentality in spite of  Major Eden's potentially tear-jerking backstory, and Malcolm McDowell holding forth speechifying splendidly in a mediaeval castle, presiding over a medieval society. In the twenty-first century. This is top B-movie stuff. And very well-directed too. There are Roman echoes, with Hadrian's Wall and some of the Mad Max lot evoking painted Picts.

The cast is superb, from Sean Pertwee's horrible end to David O'Hara's cynical baddie to the ever- sublime Malcolm McDowell, but the badass Rhona Mitra holds it all together. A film most definitely worth watching.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Dark Season: Episodes 5 and 6

Episode Five

"A ventilation shaft. Marvellous. I’m a cliche.”

The middle episode, and we discover that Pendragon is digging not for Celtic archaeology but for an old MOD building beneath the school, and the Behemoth is an AI war machine that she once created. In spite of her cod-mysticism she’s actually a scientist, but so mad and melodramatic that only Jacqueline Pearce could possibly have played her: a genius scientist sacked for being a Nazi and prone to lots and lots of speechifying.

Elsewhere, Miss Maitland fails as an English teacher as she “corrects” Reet’s grammar to end a sentence with “and I”, failing to understand the difference between the nominative and the accusative.  Don’t you just hate that? But at least she begins to overcome her scepticism and get stuck in. Thomas, in spite of some more terrible acting from Ben Chandler, has some amusing scenes with Pendragon as it turns out his Aryan looks come mostly from hair dye.

It’s a rather cool ending as the Behemoth awakes and it’s revealed that the “chosen one” is in fact needed to sit in the chair and be subsumed into the machine- a sacrifice which now suddenly falls to a bizarrely ecstatic Pendragon. This is brilliantly mad chikdren’s telly.

Oh, look. There’s Mr Eldritch.

Episode Six

“There will be now new age. Only a dark age.”

A rather excellent finale as Marcie exploits the differences between the Nazis and the chaos-loving Eldritch, Lawful Evil vs Chaotic Evil. There’s a debate between Marcie and Eldritch to persuade the fully sentient Behemoth, and arguably a debate about whether it’s Miss Maitland with her bulldozer or Marcie with her words who saves the day.

All this stuff about the end of a century being an important time (it’s only 1991, kids) feels quaint from the vantage point of today, but it works. And Grant Parsons’ Eldritch is a splendidly melodramatic villain. And best of all is the scene where the increasingly cool Miss Maitland gives the Nazis a right good bollocking.

It’s a nice upbeat ending, Marcie is blatantly the Doctor as always, and this is a brilliant bit of telly. But I suppose it had to end; there are only so many sci-fi thrrats that could threaten a school. But that young RTD, the Why Don’t You bloke who wrote this- he’s going places, I tell you.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Dark Season: Episodes 3 and 4

Episode Three

"If I was here to give answers, I'd open an answer shop!"

A satisfying conclusion to the first three part story here, with a nice little twist as it’s revealed by the old man that “Professor Becjinski is my wife!” using Mr Eldritch’s casually misogynistic assumption that the man must be the professor as a trick. Of course, this means that Marcie and her mates don’t actually save the day, but it’s a nice way to end. I also like the way Mr Becjinsky tries to persuade Dr Osley to turn on Eldritch, giving Osley his big speech about the world deserving what it’s going to get.

Also interesting is Eldritch’s motive; although he intends to ensure all computers are networked and under his control, he doesn’t want control; no, he wants to create chaos.

Marcie gets some heroic stuff to do, and there’s a countdown (why do baddies never just press a button that does things instantly?). And, of course, Eldritch vanishes. It’s a big, satisfying ending, although Marcie, Reet and Thomas are perhaps a little sidelined. In fact, things would have pretty much unfolded much the same without them.

Episode Four

“Liberty Hall!”

Don’t imagine I didn’t spit the blatant reference to The Three Doctors up there. Anyway, Marcie, Reet and Thomas are back, with hesitant help from Miss Maitland, as Jacqueline Pearce turns up and steals every scene she’s in with aplomb. She was a force of nature and she will be missed.

Miss Pendragon is an eccentric baddie with a mysterious agenda and, quite rightly, the manners of Servalan, who is conducting a sham archaeological dig in a quest to find the “Behemoth” of Celtic legend. As Thomas notes, her commitment to diversity is less than ideal as all of her underlines have a suspiciously Aryan look. Indeed, she seems to have hired the handsome but dim Luke just to stand around being Aryan and unblemished, and suddenly abandons him when he gets slightly hurt. Nazi much?

Marnie spends the episode being splendidly moody mixed with bursts of Doctorish activity. We’ve established the format in the first three parter; now we can just get on with the adventure, and it appears the Behemoth may now be emerging...

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab

”You know there are aliens, right? In Punjab, during Partition? And you're worried about me being gobby?"

At last, an episode that's more than quite good and actually both moving and interesting. And it's written by Vinay Patel, who is 1) the first non-white person to write for Doctor Who, which is quite awful at this late date; 2) new to the series; and 3) not Chris Chibnall, thank the gods- indeed, this is the frst episode of the season where Chibnall doesn't have a writing credit.. This script is assured, thoughtful and moving.

Moreover, after Rosa, it's tempting to muse on the possible return of the near-pure historical. In that story the only science fiction element was timey-wimey stuff; here the aliens merely observe, and mourn. They seem a little metatextual, although subtly done, and if anything they represent us as viewers. They are not the titular demons of the Punjab; that would be humanity.

Partition happened only in 1947. Back in the monochrome era this was both far too recent and too close to the bone for a British programme, it being no longer ago to them than the New Labour years are to us, and there being no serious view of Partition, and its millions of deaths, that doesn't largely blame the British. This is skirted over here, but it is there.

The plot s simple, really; Yas wants to find out her grandmother's mysterious past so persuades the Doctor to take them back in time to the Punjab during what turns out to be Partition, and there ensues a tale of genocide and star cross'd lovers as she sees her Muslim grandfather marry Prem, a Hindu man who is not her grandfather. If you're used to stories about time travel- and many viewers may not be- it's straightforward stuff, but full of potential for drama and pathos as we see the inevitable tragic events play out.

It's worth emphasising again how much I like this TARDIS crew. They have fun, they have heart, they have a real developing bond; I love that brief scene between Yas and Graham about what she must be going through, yes, but also how great their lives are. And Jodie Whittaker is brilliant again. Chibnall has got so much right about the shape of the show. But there's definitely a pattern developing where the ones he doesn't write are the better ones.

The Princess Bride (1987)

"Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?"



It's a genuine mystery: This Is Spinal Tap is one of the funniest films ever. How, then, can pretty much the same team- Rob Reiner directs, Christopher Guest has a major role- produce something so unfunny as this.

I can see what it’s trying to do- play with the silliness of the tropes and cliches. Hence we have exaggerated tropes such as a princess with absurd faith that her ridiculously heroic man will save her, and a Spanish swordsman who lives to avenge his father’s death. But none of this is addressed with any real wit, and it’s obly the names (Prince Humperdinck) and cameos from the likes of Peter Cook and Mel Smith that tell us this is intended to be a comedy.

All this is narrated by Columbo to his annoying, sport-obsessed grandson for no apparent reason, in a framing sequence that has no obvious reason to be there. It describes a weird mediaeval word where fictional countries mix with real ones and people seem to have heard of Australia. And where there are, er, “rodents of unusual size” which look awfully like a man in a suit. It’s clearly meant to be funny. It isn’t. An odd misfire.

I very strongly suspect, mind, that the “battle of wits” scene strongly influenced the first episode of Sherlock.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

"You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry..."

Well, that was a bit disappointing. It wasn't awful, not quite; I'm glad they didn't just do the bloody origin. But, I mean, come on- Edward Norton has no bloody charisma. And, in spite of lots of CGI action, the direction just isn't that exciting.

I mean, it's nice to hear the telly theme tune as incidental music. It's nice to see a CGI Abomination. It's nice to see a sort of origin for Samuel Sterns becoming the Leader but with literally no climax; the actual cinematic equivalent of bad sex.

I suppose the treatment of the origin during the opening titles is neat and, as with Iron Man, it doesn't bother with any of that secret identity nonsense; everyone knows Bruce is the Hulk, so has to wander the western hemisphere like it's the '70s. Plus Liv Tyler, Tim Roth and William Hurt are all ok.

But, CGI spectacle aside, this film is boring. A good Hulk film needs a charismatic lead actor, and Edward Norton is no Mark Ruffalo. And no, a cameo from Lou Ferrigno doesn't make it right.

So the second ever Marvel film is a proper misstep. It's not surprising how little influence this film has had on what came after. Eminently skippable.