Wednesday 22 May 2024

The Sweeney: Queen's Pawn

 "I'm not a gentleman. And I don't like losing."

Oh, I like this episode: hard boiled and clever. It's a simple premise: arch robber Johnny Lyon gets off at court and Regan is given free rein to bring him in by any means necessary, working on his two associates playing clever, amoral mind games- this is personal, and Regan will do absolutely anything. He's a moral man, in a way, but the ends justify the means.

Yes, like other episodes, this is policing from another era, and it's fascinating seeing the nation as it was half a century ago, shortly before I was born. The social mores, the gender roles, the conventions are all subtly different. But the scene where Johnny (Tony Selby is superb here as Regan's ever-more-desperate prey) loses at chess to his lawyer (a typically suave Julian Glover) in a fool's mate serves as a microcosm for the entire episode which consists of Regan playing ten dimensional chess. Even the title is a clever pun- it;s just a matter of which of Johnny's cronies will end as Regan's pawn, and turn queen's evidence.#

The twist at the end is shocking... and Regan's fault. But this is a hard world. One fascinating to watch, if not to live in. And Regan's bosses... such cynical ***s. This is good telly.

Monday 20 May 2024

Echo: Maya

 "You must not run..."

Well, I suppose this is a satisfying finale. Fisk and his subordinates infiltrate the Choctaw pow wow and he sets out to kill Maya's family asa revenge for her abandoning him, which, wow, and she defeats him by channeling te energy and talents of all her female ancestors, seeded throughout the previous episodes. It work well... but isn't it, well, exactly what we expected to happen?

Still, there are highlights. The flashback to the CGI woodpecker is nice, and the scene with Maya meeting her mother's spirit for a spot of heartwarming exposition is nice. It's cute to see Chula and Skully reconcile and hold hands, and, in the end, Maya reconnects with her family properly. All the character threads are more or less resolved. The visuals of Maya (and Bonnie, and Chula!) being infused with their ancestors' power is pretty damn cool.

And Fisk- Maya seems to try to heal him of those deep seated childhood "cycle of abuse" scars... but perhaps it's simply that such trauma can't be waved away. The Kingpin is who he is and, judging by the mid-credits sequence, he has big plans for New York City.

This is, I suppose, good stuff, well executed. But the plot, for me, was ultimately a little too neat and predictable.

Sunday 19 May 2024

Doctor Who: Boom

 "Keeps you dying. Keeps you buying."

Phew, I've finally seen this, after twenty-four hours of feeling like I'm in that episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? that everybody remembers. This may happen a few more timnes this series but, well, let's just say that Doctor Who may be vastly important, of course it is... but some things matter musch, much, more.

Anyway, Steven Moffat is back and this episode is a thing of wonder. It's very high concept- the Doctor saves himself, Ruby, the Anglican Priests around them and indeed much of the planet- all whuile standing on a landmine and incredibly close to death- and, incidentally, Ncuti Gatwa's performance here, the right, Doctorish type of fear, is acting perfection. Yet, by Disney standards- there's a lot of CGI- this episode, with its small cast and small stakes, feels like it was the season cheapie. But then so was Blink, and, well.

This is Moffat at his very best- not spread thinly as showrunner but able to focus all his Moffaty goodness into forty-four minutes. As we expect, the plot works like clockwork and has a highly satisfying resolution. Yet, in other respects, this is different, and perhaps deeper. And everybody does not live.

It's 3,082 years after Ruby's birth (Late 51st century? Time agents, Boeshane Peninsula and Magnus Greel?) , a timeframe Moffat likes to play with.The Anglican priests are back... but this time there's an attempt to almost explain them with the line that priests not being soldiers isan unusual "blip". There's an ambiguity about religious faith- on the one hand, it can dull sceptical thinking, yet on the other it can comfort- which doubtless reflect's Moffat's own thoughts, an atheist, but certainly not a "New" one.

Yet the central conceit here (SPOILER KLAXON!!!) is deliciously and unashamedly political: an arms corporation that keeps casualties at the most proftable level, and a war against a phantom enemy purely so that said corporations can supply weapons. The ultimate end result of unregulated corporate greed run amok. 

There's not much arc stuff here- Villengard and the Anglican soldier priests aside, both Moffat creations of old- but we get that snow with Ruby again: all very "Bad Wolf". And it's good to see Varada Sethu from Andor. But sometimes a good standalone episode, or indeed a great one such as this, is just what the Doctor ordered.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

The Sweeney: Thin Ice

 "I merely strangled the hound with my bare hands..."

This is the best episode yet. Oh, the plot is clever and entertaining, and we're getting to know Regan, Carter and the rest of the Flying Squad, but more than anything else this is just bloody good writing.

This episode is basically ten dimensional chess between three parties. Bishop (Alfred Marks is a splendid presence) is a criminal  mastermind on the run to France, and there's a rivalry between Regan and one Superintendent Pringle (a perfectly cast Peter Jeffrey) on how to deal with him, and how. It's fun to see how things play out, with Regan ultimately outsmaring both his adversaries.

Yet it's more than that. It's dialogue that is witty but also very real. People talk at cross purposes, there's wordplay, there's perfectly played cynicism. These characters feel real, despite us not knowing them much, purely because of the deftness of the words and the performances. Little things, like the unfriendliness of the local constabularty or the dark hints of domestic abuse at the end.

Yes, this is certainly the quintessential showabout maverick '70s cops who cut corners to get results. But damn, it's clever.

Tuesday 14 May 2024

The Pit (1962)

 "Morte!"

This is a fascinating litle curiosity, a short, thirty minute film made for the British Film Institute as an artistic experiment, one which leads me to wonder whether much else like this may exist from the period. It is, of course, an adamptation of Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum. And, while short, it is perhaps the finest I've seen. Roger Corman this is not.

Aside from the wonderfully darker ending, this is actually a pretty faithful adaptation of the short story. The film abounds with disturbing sounds and screams, but dialogue is almost non-existent. Monochrome, textured, the extraordinary setting shot with great atmosphere from such brilliant angles, with wonderful use of light... we really feel the prisoner's terror, as every night he sleeps in his cell to await to further fear and peril, knowing that, ultimately, he's just being cruelly toyed with. Ultimately, he is doomed. Brian Peck conveys his understated sheer terror to perfection.

The visuals are superb, the inquisitors utterly, existentially terrifying, and those horrible bells are still tolling in my mind. Short this may be, but it's well worth a look. this is the perfect encapsulation of why short films need to exist. Who has time for too much plot when you can have sheer, atmospheric terror?

Monday 13 May 2024

Schalken the Painter (1979 TV Film)

 "The darkness is unsafe..."

This is an intrertestying little curiosity, a one-off Christmas ghost story broadcast on the BBC in late December 1979, on the surface feeling very much like the many M.R. James ghost story adaptations that were made at the same time. But, in reality, this is very different.

It's a ghost story, yes, this time from a short story by Sheridan Le Fau, and a rather chilling and atmospheric on, with a deathly, ghostly suitor that a man give his ward's hand in marriager to him in what we would, today, call a forced marriage... and there are terrifying hints that this many may be something undead or unholy, and that the poor girl is perhaps damned forever because "She is your property. She will become mine...".

The main character, Gottfried Schalken, is a very real, albeit relatively minor, Dutch painter from the late 17th century, and the period is shown perfectly in terms of cinematograpjhy, texture and direction. The actors are shot superbly,in an age where blocking was still a thing.

And yet, it's more than that. The slow, langorous pace, unthinkable nowadays, is essential to the creation of atmosphere. And the useof light echoes Schalken's paintings themselves, everything liyt by candlelight, strangely loveless, with something perhaps lurking in the darkness...

This is quite a wonderful little gem

Better Call Saul: Winner

 "I mean, four or six nipples. That's interesting..."

This is, of course, a truly astonishing finale, based around two shocking moments. The long pre-titles gives us some very bad karaoke and a flashback reminding us of the dynamic between Jimmy and Chuck, with Jimmy, even back then, as shallow and self-centred as ever. But then we get to the two contrasting narratives that define this finale.

Werner is going to die. We know this from the start. He's been too indiscreet, and attracted the attention of Lalo. The final scene between him and Mike is as inevitable as it is harrowing. The scene is utterly masterful, with Werner slowly realising wjhat has to happen, and accepting his fate with calm resignation. Yet the shot itself is not the worst part. It's that Werner, sothat his wife may live, has to phone her one last time and break her heart.

Throughout it all, we see Mike's pragmatic efficiency. He lies well, yes, but not like Jimmy- for him it's a job. And he has his ethics. He goes as far as he can in trying to persuade Gus to show mercy... but Gus's face is chilling. Giancarlo Espososito is a true master of facial acting.

And then we have Jimmy's hearing to be readmitted as a lawyer, an operation planned with the same military precision as the hunt for Werner. Jimmy's cynicism is a sight to behold. Visiting his own brother's grave only to be seen, performing as the good and dutiful man. His performance, in the end, is extraordinary... but it is just that: a performance. There are, perhaps, signs at the very end that Kim may be beginning to understand what Jimmy really is.

And the final lines, that Jimmy is not going to be practising under his on name and "Good, man"... oh my.

And yet... none of this is the most revealing thing about Jimmy.It's how strongly he identifies with a former shoplifter who is fated never to be accepted because of one mistake in her youth, how much he projects himself on to her, his own demons, how his rant supposedly in support of her is... not a good thing. Even in empathy, Jimmy is a selfish monster, one of the most fascinating characters of all television drama.

Saturday 11 May 2024

Doctor Who: The Devil's Chord

 "I thought that was non-diegetic".

The above quote says it all, and the song at the end even more so: this episode has a delightful relationship with the fourth wall. Some will hate this. Personally I love it.This episode is wonderful, witty, crammed with ideas, far more than a mere "celebrity historical" about the Beatles would have been.

The pre-titles is wonderful, establishing the Maestro as a terrible, Godlike figure who emerges out of piano lids and seems beyong the laws of reality. This is a nicely written scene, establishing the awful alternate history that we see.And the Devil's Chord... ah, Black Sabbath.

Ruby is excited to see the Beatles recording Please Please Me in her first tripminto human history... and it's hugely amusing, as well as cleverly avoiding copyright issues, to see the Beatles performing songs that are... rubbish. As has been all music since 1925, causing all sorts of consequences, hence Khruschev threatening Finland, which didn't happen in our timeline. A world without music, the highest art form, inevitably ends in the coldness of nuclear winter.

One may quibble over the mechanics of alternate history. If all good music ended in 1925, that creates many ripples. 1962 is decades later. The world should, perhaps, be different. The Beatles may never have met, or theor parents never met, meaning they would not be born. But... let us not quibble, for alternate histories traditionally fail to consider such things, and the scene where Ruby sees a devastated London in 2023, redolent of Pyramids of Mars, is chillingly effective.

But there's also time to reflect on the fact that the Doctor, in an earlier incarnation, is also here. We get a mention of Susan, the Doctor's grandaugher, to Ruby's amazement... and, heartbreakingly, we learn that she may have died in the "genocide". This is how to use continuity: this is a powerful character moment, not a random bit of fanwank.

And new mythology is being created. Maestro is the Toymaker's child and, like their father, one of the "Pantheon", a series of capricious beings, reminding me of the old Indo-European gods of Olympus or Asgard. I suspect more is to be revealed, but there is an "Oldest One" present at Ruby's birth, and "The One Who Waits" is coming. This, I suspect, is a season arc.

Overall, this episode is a joy. Playful, creative, respectful of the programme's past while looking ahead to its future. And that future appears to be in safe hands.

Doctor Who: Space Babies

 "Is vthat, like, a matter transporter, like in Star Trek?"

Here we are, at last, at the start of a proper full run of episodes with RTD at the helm and Ncuti Gatwa's new Doctor. So we begin, with the iconography of the new era in the shape of the Whoniverse logo and a nice little reprise for the new viewers.

This shows just how bloody good RTD is at the nuts and bolts of storytelling. After all, this is Ruby's introduction to the TARDIS and what it does, so why not use this as a pretext for a bit of exposition for viewers jumping on right here? So we get a nice, concise little precis of the premise of the show, but framed in a fascinating way: the Doctor, like Ruby, is a foundling, adopted by "posh people" on a fancy planet that is now gone because of "a genocide"- surely not an accidental choice of words to be spoken by an actor of Rwandan birth. There are non-diegetic hostorical echoes here.

The Timeless Child stuff is reframed here. It's not presented as a puzzle, but as part of the Doctor's background andhis depth of a character: he's alone, yet free, far more than just a Time Lord, and Gatwa plays the depth of the character superbly. I love the way he does comedy, too. Only RTD can give us a hugely expensive scene with CGI dinosaurs (thanks for the budget, Disney) just to make a fourth wall-brreaking little joke about the butterfly effect, but both actors play it superbly. And the joke is a statement of intent: that isn't how time travel works in Doctor Who

So we reach the main story, with space babies, a nanny, capitalism causing child abandonment and, er, a literal bogeyman. There's lots of nice, subtle political commentary here, not least with the fact that refugees can claim asylum, but only if they can find a legal route in, which they can't, because none has been providefd, Catch-22 by design. Quite. Small boats, anyone?

It's a delightfully weird, awfull clever story and, although RTD was criticised of old for his plots not quite working, this is like clockwork. The chemistry between the Doctor and Ruby is joyous. There are echoes of the Ninth Doctor and Rose, of coiurse. Instead of farting bins we get a snot monster and a space station which is lierally powered to move across space by baby poo. And the Doctor rejigs Ruby's phone to call her mum... and says "Tell your mum not to slap me".

This is all just there as a jumping on point, to introduce the show to new viewers, which it does superbly. But there's a deep orphan vibe here. The Doctor, Ruby and the space babies are all orphans. This is certainly pointiong somewhere... aspecially as the Doctor warns Ruby that they can't visit the time of her birt and do a Back to the Future, Part II, lest they cause a paradox.

In short, quite wonderful. I expected no less.

Total Recall (1990)

 "Hey, I've got five kids to feed!"

Yes, I know. I'm exactly the age and demographic to have seen this film close to when it came out, but have somehow contrived not to have seen it until I'm tantalisingly close to forty-seven years old. Well, I've seen it now. And, well, it's fascinating.

I mean, obvioudsly, it's an Arnie film and does all the Arnie stuff, but it's also fascinatingly conceptual hard science fiction, based on a story by Philip K. Dick. Admittedly, the only novel of Dick's that I've actually read is The Man in the High Castle, but I've seen enough film adaptations to recognise his signature themes of memory, identity and reality in play here- and the film is conceptually fascinating.False memories of great experiences being marketed to the public; false memories of an eight year marriage; the sheer bloody cldeverness of the plot when revealed at the end; a sex worker with three breasts; the question of, if you have amnesia, would you lose your new identity if you had your old memories back?

Arnie is gloriously Arnie, Sharon Stone has a nicely subtle little role, and you can always rely on good old Ronny Cox to play a damn good baddy at this time. And the effects- not CGI but real effects- are a joy to behold. That thing with the eyes when people are exposed to the Martian surace, though... urgh.

The end may be a bit of a cop out- surely Quaid and Melina would have died long before Mars was fully terraformed by the alien magic button? And would the alien device really terraform the planet with the exact amount of oxygen needed by humans? But these things don't stop Total Recall from being an absolute joy.

Thursday 9 May 2024

Echo: Taloa

 "I suspect you've come to kill me. Again."

For the most part, Maya is likeable, despite how brurally direct she can be at times. She cares, and she tries tyo fdo the right thing. But... pouring good wine away? Outrageous.

This is a rather gripping episode the finest yet, a tale of three tense conversations. The first, between Maya and the Kingpin, is the best: Vincent D'Onofrio, as ever, is simply extraordinary The two of them debate, often bitterly, but Fisk has no ill will for his surrogate daughter and insists he still loves her in spite ogf the minor incident surrounding a certain eye. Indeed, he has a proposition. Joi  him, and they can rule the galaxy as father and daughter. Or words to that effect.

Yet the calm confrontatiin between Maya and Chula is gripping too. Yes, their meeting has blatantly been delayed for plot reasons as they mutually realise they've been having the same visions of their ancestors. But, truth to tell, Chula really was neglectful because she couldn't bear to look upon the grandaughter who reminded her of her dead child.

So then we have the final confrontation between Maya and Kingpin, wherre Kingpin pours out his own abusive past... and Maya can't bring herself to kill him. He thinks he's persuaded her but, in an extraordinary piece of acting, he erupts in rage when he hears she's not going to join him. He's a dangerous, volatile man. But he really does love her...

Good, suble, character stuff.

Monday 6 May 2024

Peeping Tom (1960)

 "Whenever I photograph, I always lose..."

This film, by Powell not Pressburger, was apparently considered so shocking back in 1960 that Michael Powell's reputation never really recovered, but in more recent decades it's been recognised as a superbly conceived and shot examination of the psyche of a murderous voyeur... and that it certainly is.

The direction is utterly superb from the start, full of tension and playfully, visually, using the concepts of cameras and points of view. I can think of no film for which the phrase "male gaze" is more apt. All the murders of the women are superb pieces of drama.

Yet the characterisation and performances are also on point. Karlheinz Bohn, despite his accent often slipping (he was German), is very good as Mark, our creepy protagonist. Yet Maxine Audley is also superb as Mrs Stephens, blind, depressed, self-medicating on whisky, who ironically almost sees through Mark. Yet the character of Mark is well-observed. We see just enough of the childhood abuse he endured, and some to understand this twisted and damaged individual.

This is also a film unusually filled with granular detail of everyday life in the UK in 1960, a fascinating little time capsule in that sense. Most of all, though, it's a real triumph both visually and conceptually.

Sunday 5 May 2024

Mulholland Drive (2001)

 "You will see me one more time, if you do good. You will see me two more times if you do bad..."

This is, of course, an interesting film to watch while I'm one season in to Twin Peaks. The directorial style, obviously, is very much going for the same thing, and I don't just mean that it's directed by David Lynch; the colurs, the lighting, it's all going for a riff on small town homeliness, but with something not quite right. This is very much a film about Los Angeles, of course, but this is perhaps appropriate as for much of the film we see the city through the wondering eyes of Betty from small town Ontario, who initially can't stop smiling.

The film constantly exists on the edge of realism. For most of its length there's a mystery plot that makes sense if you squint a bit, only for realism to break down at the end of the film as paradoxes abound. Artistically, it's quite wonderful, perhaps about what Hollywood ultimately does to people's dreams. They arrive hoping to make it... but the city is chaos, and nothing makes sense. The film looks like a dream, but perhaps the prospect of making it in Hollywood is no less so.

People don't quite behave realistically. It's 2001, but mobile phones don't exist; the film is and isn't quite set in the present. There are dreams, states of waking... it's very Lynch.

Regardless of meaning, though, the film is a joy to watch, with fascinatingly weird set pieces and visuals which, again, skirt the edges of realism. Is it my favourite David Lynch film that I've seen? Hard to say. But it's certainly an extraordinary piece of art.

Saturday 4 May 2024

Passport to Pimlico (1949)

 "Blimey! I'm a foreigner!"

It's ridiculous that I hadn't seen this iconic Ealing comedy until last night but, well, now I have. And it's brilliant, obviously. But it wasn't quite what I expected. And I'm not just talking about the scene with a pig in a parachute..

This is very visibly and very deliberately set in a post-war London of rationing and bomb sites. An unexploded bomb looms large. There are constant references to the privations the characters all went through a few years earlier. In the late 1940s, this is what it means to be British... and yet, the characters are all fun, quick-witted, likeable and enjoying life regardless. This is not the privately educated England of the stiff upper lip, but the real England of beer and belly laughs.

...Until it isn't. The central conceit is that, suddenly, this little street on Pimlicois in fact, legally, a random surviving remnant of the Duchy of Burgundy, with a descendant of Charles the Bold as its sovereign. The film plays, for laughs of course, all the difficulties ofva community finding itself as a microstate, with no pre-existing law, government, police, armed forces or foreign relations. Indeed, the film gets surprisingly abstract and philosophical as it humorously examines the very concept of nationhood. It's a nice touch that the microstate enjoys a massive heatwave while it's Burgundyy but, as soon as it's British again, the heavens open...

The cast is superb. Stanley Holloway is perfect, a strikingly young Charles Hawtrey has a memorable role, but for me it's Margaret Rutherford's eccentric professor who stealds the show. This is a fine little comedy but also quietly intelligent in its themes, and a fascinating little time capsule.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

The Sweeney: Jackpot

"There's got to be a perfectly logical explanation for all this..."

Another excellent episode to follow-up the pilot, perhaps no surprise as it's scripted by Troy Kennedy Martin. Realistic characters, naturalistic dialogue- a very hard thing to do- naturalistic action and naturalistic, shaky camerawork, surely an even harder thing to do with the size of TV cameras in 1974.

The plot- a bag with £35,000 goes missing after some villains are apprehended after a robbery, and it's suspected that Regan or one of his men may have nicked it- is conceptually simple. But the resolution is quite clever, and the conceit works quite well in drawing out the characters and relationships between Regan's men. I wonder if we'll get a proper ensemble feel, looking ahead. And the main villin, a man universally despised and looking at a fourteen year stretch, looks a truly tragic figure by the end. That's good writing.

Again one has to raise an eyebrow at the casual attitude to warrants and waiting for the suspect's solicitor before interviewing him.. but this is the Dark Ages, before 1984. Waterman is superb, and so is Thaw... and that's his natural Mancunian accent, isn't it?

I'm already enjoying this a lot. It's much more serious than it's popular reputation so far. Let's see if this continues.

Monday 29 April 2024

Echo: Tuklo

 "If the offer still stands... I'm helping you."

This is the best episode so far. Of course, it centres on Maya, Bonnie and their Uncle Henry being kidnapped and waiting for the Kingpin's goons to arrive, including a rather awesome big set piece to Rob Zombie's "Dragula".

But, of course, the episode was about more than that.

Bonnie's Choctaw ancestry continues to be important, and not just in the decoration of the new artificial leg for her made by Skully. Delightfully, we have a pre-titles sequence set in the Old West in the style of an old silent film, complete with intertitles, about another kick-as female ancestor whose skill Maya seems to have... somehow inherited? The character from the comics is well after my time; perhaps this is her thing.

But, even more, it's really about character. Henry, despite his annoyance at what Maya has brought to him, choosing to side with her regardless. Bonnie meeting Maya, in awkward circumstances, and her bitterness about Maya not getting in touch just once. That Skully urges both Maya and Chula to reconnect. That last bit of misdirection at the end, where we think Maya is going to see Chula.. and she sees someone else entirely.

I still don't quite know where this is going, but there's a nice unity of styler, motifs and tropes. This is very good.

Sunday 28 April 2024

Inspector Morse: Deceived by Flight

 "You can't arrest a man because his wife won't sleep with him."

This is,perhaps, not as good an episode as some, and it feels for much of its length as though it's drifting somewhat aimlessly... but then, very late, we get the resolution, and it's all damnably clever, the clues all hidden in plain sight.

There's lots to enjoy here, even if we get the hoary old trope that the woman Morse fancies is inevitably the killer. Lewis gets to be good at cricket, and we get to learn Morse's old uni nickname of "Pagan", so-called because he wouldn't reveal his Christian name! I'm not sure that Lewis agreeing to use his leave to go undercover while the DIY was taken care of is at all realistic, but then Colin Dexter always did cheerfully refuse to do any research on police procedure.

There's an ugly look at how rampant homophobia was in 1989- and it was- but the script makrs very clear whose side it's on. Once more we get to see what a different world it was- the cars, the fashions, the technology- despite it being a time I very much remember. Sigh.

Zen philosophy is discussed, and of course E.M. Forster. But there's alsothe philosophy of cricket... and there, I suppose, I'm with Morse.

Thursday 25 April 2024

Comments

 Annoyingly, for a while I've only been able to respond to comments as "Anonymous" because Blogger makes me "sign in"... but then once I come to comment I'm still "Anonymous". But now it seems I have to "sign in" to repond to comments at all, which I can't because I'm me. Any other bloggers know a way round this?

Grr. I've used Blogger for 13 years, but it's creaking a bit, and so much of my stuff is on here. But there are lots of little things that don't seem to work as well. Should I be worried? I'm noticing the tags later in the alphabet don't work once you reach a certain number...

Wednesday 24 April 2024

The Sweeney: Ringer

 "Who's Godot?"

"Plays full back for QPR."

I knew of The Sweeney, of course. I certainly knew the theme tune, one of those based nicely around the syllables of the name of the programme. I knew "get your trousers on, you're nicked". I knew John Thaw was in hisearly thirties, looking somehow much older... but then, everyone seemed to in the '70s. The endless nicotine and the Lutwaffe, no doubt. 

And yes, I knew it was incredibly laddish, about the Flying Squad, the East End, and policing in a world before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, a very different world. So... is the first episode what I expected?

Well, yes. It is. This episode is a nice little opener, establishing what Regan and Carter are like, whata maverick Regan is, how his strai-laced superintendent can't stand him. It shows us a vanished East End underworld not long after the Krays. It shows us a world, not long agos, when photographs needed to be developed. It establishes that this is going to be great actor spotting fun- we have Brian Blessed and Ian Hendry as gangsters, and June Brown as a little scrote's mum. 

It also shows us the '70s, though. The clothes, the different values- Life on Mars for real- and the cars, oh the cars.

I think I'm going to like this...

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Echo: Lowak

 "You seem to have forgotten that the people close to you are the ones who get hurt..."

The strong start continues; I'm enjoying this. Maya is home in Oklahoma, slowly gearing up for a war with the Kingpin about which she seems methodicallyorganised and VERY confident.

Yet it's not all war; there'sa lot of good character stuff here. She's amongst her family... and is she exploiting her naive cousin Biscuits in bringing a war from New York to those she loves? Why is she avoiding her grandmother (Chula) or her childhood companion Bonnie? Is old, delightfully cynical Skully also being drawn into danger? It's a nice bit of moral ambiguity. Is Maya really a hero, or just one side of a gang war bringing chaos and death? Her cousin Henry seems to think so. Then again, it seems he has openly divided loyalties...

But what adds depth here is the thoughtful scenes about Choctaw history and culture, the "first Choctaw"- clearly paralleled with Maya- and the fascinating lacrosse(?) game in 1200 BC at the start that will no doubt resonate later. It's a fascinating reminder to this Englishman that Anglophone North America may superficially seem a culture similar to ours, with a shared language and history... but not really. In truth, it is a faraway land, as old and deeply rooted as anywhere in the "Old World", a patchwork of human cultures all but destroyed by the diseases of we Europeans. I'm not sure of the subtext of all this yet, but I'm certain that one will emerge. I ceertainly loved the scene with the tourists in Skully's shop and their cultural ignorance.

We get an opening titles this time, with the Yeay Yeah Yeahs and an image of Wilson Fisk! I didn't fail to notice the throwaway reference to Madripoor either. But this is pretty continuity-lite, and it's own thing. Good.

Sunday 21 April 2024

The Cruel Sea (1953)

"You know, when you lose a ship, it's like losing a bit of yourself."

I'm becoming increasingly fascinated by British war films made in the decade or so after the Second World War, after a few years had passed and there had been time for reflection on this extraordinary event that had twisted everybody's lives out of shape for six long years, with unimaginable pressure and stress. There's a lot of action, yes, but also a lot of inherent philosophical musing, humanity, and deconstruction of the "stiff upper lip" trope, which never was straightforward.

On the surface, this is the saga of a ship- well, mostly the one ship- and it's crew, as they live and develop over the six years of the War on an Atlantic convoy, protecting the merchant navy from u-boats. There are bit action set pieces- rescuing mainers whose vessels have sunk, chasing u-boats and, indeed, abandoning ship and trying to survive overnight on a tiny little raft.

Yet this is, more than anything, a film about people, in all their complexity. One of the crew hopes to marry his shipmate's sister, only for her to be killed in an air raid. An officer dies a watery death, knowing his wife is sleeping with another man. The first officer wonders whether proposing to his partner is the right thing or not- is there a place for permanence among the uncertainties of war?

This is by no means one of the very best of its genre, but the cast is solid and the script, if not quite first class, is raised up by its themes and subject matter. And, if nothing else, it taught me how to pronounce "coxswain".

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Batman: The Doom of the Rising Sun

"I assure you I'm no footpad!"

The finale starts off with a fascinating, and rather good, cliffhangerresolution. Last episode we saw Batman bundled into coffin and said coffin fed to the crocs. This resolution isn't the first to resolve the cliffhanger by editing in some extra footage- but it really owns what it's doing, and I admire that. There's quite a lengthy sequence of Batman using Morse Code and Robin coming to his aid, revealing that it's not the Batman in the box but Wallace, one of Daka's anonymous and expendable henchmen.

I suppose it's a cheat, if you see re-editing as that. But I really admire the fact that it takes the episode six and a half minutes to get to the point where the coffin is fed to the crocs. For a movie serial cliffhanger resolution, this is positively avant-garde.

The rest is as one would expect, I suppose; Batman and Robin infiltrate Daka's hideout, there'sa fight, there's the obvious racial slur, Daka is fed to the crocs, the zombies are cured and Martin exonerated. But it's all very nicely done, and I love the scene where Captain Arnold finally meets his unofficial best officer. There's some nice comedy stuff with Alfred, too.

Overall... well, it's a movie serial. We know what we're getting. But this is rather better than most. It's just unfortunate that the blatact racism, even taking full account of historical context, is just so very far beyond the pale.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Echo: Chafa

 "You have greatness in you..."

Bear with me; Robin of Sherwood will follow in this blogging "slot", then more Twin Peaks, but first I need to catch up with the MCU; I'm well behind.

Already this is different, with a warning about "mature content" and the Marvel Spotlight logo. I'm avoiding online spoilers as far as I can, but Bob Iger's changes at Marvel Studios are clearly under way, with this the first truly street level series under the Disney Plus imprint. Hawkeye came close, but we haven't really seen anything like this since the Netflix shows.

And this opening episode is, basically, superb, Indeed, all the more so for much of the first half being a recap of Maya's backstory that we've already seen in Hawkeye. There's greater depth, though. We see more of Maya's family, her childhood in Oklahoma, her identity as Choctaw. I love the riffing on what I assume to be Choctaw mythology.

All of the backstory is in greater depth, though. This time it is Maya Lopez, not Clint Barton, who is the star. It may look like a recap, but it works. Plus we get a nice little Daredevil cameo.

It's all extraordinarily shot, too. The many fight scenes are truly cinematic. I'm one of those people who are easily bored by fight scenes, and I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. And then we learn (well, we suspected, but...) that Wilson Fisk, just as Maya determines to take over his empire, is alive. I'm hooked.

Sunday 14 April 2024

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeouisie (1972)

 "Unbelievable what they smoke in the army..."

It's about time I watched and blogged another of Luis Bunuel's extraordinary late run of films, made in his sixties and seventies, and this one in particular is as good as its reputation, irinically winning an Oscar while satirising the lifestyle it represents.

The direction is, as one would expect, both superb and multifaceterd. It's all very surreal, of course, but the surrealism is not quite meaningless here, and I suspect it would reward multiple viewings very well. The surrealism is constant, but it never crosses the line into something which could never happen in real life, just skirting that line between the unlikely and the impossible. An exception is in dream sequences, which abound here, revealed to be so at the end of the scene and dreams nested within dreams. The dream sequences at their modst absurd- the sergeant's night walk in the street, the lieutenant's childhood trauma, the dinner party suddenly revealed to be on stage before an audience- are truly dreamlike in how they feel, an extraordinary achievement.

Yet this is not simply surrealism for its own sake. The central conceit is of six wealthy individuals, one of them the ambassador of a fictional South American dictatorship, are repeatedly thwarted in their desire to have a dinner party. Snobbery is a constant theme, with constant commentary on how food should be cooked or carved, or how a spirit should be prepared or consumed- at one stage a chauffeur is mocked for not sipping his drink properly. These concerns are meaningless, existing only to add artificial meaning to the lives of the privileged who are apart from the cares of the world in their aloof world of affairs and dinner parties.

The film is a visual treat, but it is certainly no "difficult" arthouse film. It is darkly funny throughout and the perferct combination of art and enjoyment. Truly one of the greats of cinema.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Twin Peaks: The Last Evening

 "One can never answer questiions at the wrong moment..."

And so the first season is over, rather satifyingly. Of course, not all threads are tied up, but we have a certain amount of closure. And that's quite the cliffhanger at the end, foreshadowed by the Log Lady's introduction at the very beginning.

It's a superb episode full of shocks. James and Donna finding the necklace initially seems important, but Dy Jacoby getting attacked and killed by a masked man. Then again, Leo is eventually killed by Hank before he can kill Bobby; Jacques Renault is smothered to death by Leland, presumably as revenge for Laura, and then there's that final shooting of Cooper himself.

I've no idea what's going on. After all Catherine and Pete have plotted, it's Leo who sets fire to the mill. Why? Ironically, Catherine and Pete may die as a result. Did Leo have the missing ledger too? And poor Shelley.

So much else, though. Agent Cooper is superb in One Eyed Jacks, showing us what a subtle performance Kyle MacLachlan is actually giving. Cooper is at once folksy, steely and badass, a unique combination.

Then there's Hank's trying to win back Norma, and his "arrangement" with Josie. There's Nadine's attempted suicide. There's Laura's "mystery man", who she fancies despite him possibly trying to kill her, a rather intense kind of kinky.

This is all, of course, just plot. But it's more than that. It's mood. It's carefully cultivated weirdness. Yet it's character too. Twin Peaks is truly unique.

Wow. I'll switch now to the second season of Robin of Sherwood, but after that I'll be back to Twin Peaks.

Monday 8 April 2024

Batman: The Executioner Strikes

"Looks like a trap..."

"'Course it is. But we won't get caught in it."

Of course you won't, Bruce. Although I suspect you fell for it far too easily and there's something afoot. Were you really in that coffin that got fed to the alligators in their little pit at the end, you know, that pit of alligators that is getting suddenly emphasised in this penultimate episode, almost as though it may have a role to play in Dr Daka's fate in next episode's finale?

But I get ahead of myself. The opening cliffhanger, I have to say, was superb, and the resolution to the spike trap is pretty damn good. Linda actually does get zombified, and used as bait in a trap for Bruce Wayne who, of course, Daka and his hoodlums seem to know is Batman when the plot requires but not when it doesn't, such as when they see Robin in the back of the car but are thrown off the scent by the sight of Bruce Wayne. But let us not be churlish about these things.

Things are actiually pretty exciting at this point. No more random fights and set pieces... well, a few... asit seems that things are actually happening.

Sunday 7 April 2024

Better Call Saul: Wiedersehen

 "We should only use our powers for good..."

This is a fascinating penultimate episode. An awful lot happens, and there's so much character development... but it's still not clear how the finale is going to shape up. Well, aside from Werner escaping and trying to go home because he misses his wife. This is nicely done, and logically follows on from subtle hints that have been recently dropped. The lab is progressing, and starting to look like the lab we know from Breaking Bad.  Morale with the other Germans is high. There's a cool sequence with the demolition.

But then there's new guy, Lalo Salamanca, who we (and Nacho) first saw last episode. Suddenly he's in charge, using a clearly annoyed Nacho as an underling and throwing his weight around. He visits his "Uncle Hector, now disabled as we knew him in Breaking Bad... and, in a bizarre little mini-origin story, gives him the bell. This is a symbolic changing of the guard from one Salamanca to another. He's smarter than Hector, confident, and I love his comment that his uncle is  "Same old Hector... just wants to kill everybody".

He's going to annoy a lot of people, of course. His confrontation with Gus, two intelligent alpha males sizing each other up, is fascinating. But I rather fancy Gus' chances. Lalo isn't long, I suspect, for this world.

We start the episode with Kim and Jimmy on another scam, Kim by now absolutely a natural at the lying and all that comes with it. The two of them are on exactly the same page. Jimmy confidently expects to be reinstated as a lawyer... and he now has a new potential clientele, who know him as Saul Goodman. It looks like the future is being set up...

But he fails his reinstatement hearing.

And Jimmy doesn't take it well. The mask slips. Jimmy, a selfish, malevolent, entitled *** behind the surface charm, lashes out at Kim, who in turn tells him some home truths: she always comes running to him.

They seem to reconcile, but... what now? I don't know, but this is extraotrdinary television.

Saturday 6 April 2024

Morbius (2022)

 "I'm going to get hungry. And you don't want to see me when I'm hungry."

I'm not too familiar with the Morbius character; he tended to not really be around when I was reading Marvel comics in the '80s and very early '90s, when I stopped due to shiny covers, too many crossovers and too much indulging of arrogant star artists. Anyway, here we are, and I believe (although there may be one or two TV movies and the like) that this is as of now the last Marvel film of any kind that I hadn't seen...

Oh. I still have to see Madame Web. Gulp.

I'm well aware of this film's... mixed reception, shall we say, but I rather enjoyed this rather straight riff on Michael Morbius' origin story, despite the modern directorial techniques as seen in the overly CGI'd action bits and the literal darkness pervading everything. I mean, can't they turn the lighting up a bit, just occasionally? But the script is solid and, while I wouldn't use a stronger word, so is Jared Leto. The character of Morbius is nice and nuanced, despite Martine, Nicholas and even Milo being a bit one-note.

The highlight of the film is, of course, Matt Smith making the very wise acting choice to chew as much scenery as possible while having fun as the baddie, as without him the film was threatening to be far too po-faced. There's not a lot of humour in the rather straightforward, competent yet workmanlike script, so this redresses the balance a bit.

The film, then, is quite good. No more than that: it's an unusually expensive looking B movie. It's fine. It's fun but doesn't pretend to have any depth.

That post-credits, mind... the Vulture is in the Venomverse (are we saying that?) and... he's doing a Nick Fury and assembling a super team of Spider-Man adversaries. Er, that's bonkers. Which is excellent. Bring it on.

Wednesday 3 April 2024

The Amazing Digital Circus: Pilot

 "Do you like adventure, activity, wonder, danger, horror, pain, suffering, agony? Death, disease, angel food cake?"

I don't usually watch online animations made by younger creatiions, to put it mildly, but this one is splendidly disturbing and crammed with brilliant ideas... and it was introduded to me by Little Miss Llamastrangler. Who is nine.

Yes, Exactly. 

Circuses are, of course, nightmare fuel, so this pilot episode to what I  hope will be a series quite rightly leans into that. The existential horror is exquisite. Our POV character, Ponmi, puts on some headphones and finds herself stuck, seemingly forever, like her predecessors, in this circus-themes digital hell. Her predecessors are various degrees of insane, having slowly and painfully come to terms, of sorts, with their terrible fate, although some better than others. The cynical Jax, the meek Ragatha, the unconfident Kinger, the utterly broken Zoobie. 

The perfect touch, though, is that their captor and ringmaster, Caine, is not even malevolent or evil, but has no conception of the pain he's suffering, always maintaining the air of the cheerful and, indeed, family-friendly compere. This is far more effective than having a malevcolent antagonist would have been. Cruelly, the idea of an "exit" is dangled in fromt of our poor Ponmi, only to be cruelly taken away. She, like all of them, has forgotten who she was in her "real" existence... but, of course, as with The Matrix and Roger Zelazny's Amber series... what is "real" existence anyway?

If, like me, this isn't normally your thing but you like the sound of it, check it out for free on YouTube. It's only twenty-five minutes long, and it's brilliant.

Sunday 31 March 2024

Batman: Eight Steps Down

 "Stop at the first police box you come to."

That line was, to put it mildly, unexpected for this serial made in 1943 and set, I believe, in Los Angeles (Gotham City? What's that then?) but, well, diddy-dum. Although said police box is just really a payphone-like contraption for Batman to ring up the police captain and scold him for being "not very clever!.

Anyway, our heroes naturally escape the latest of several burning buildings as cool-looking 1940s US fire engines congregate. But Linda Page has been kidnapped! She meets Daka... yeah, that racial slur happens, of course it does, but Linda is stoic, refusing to betray Bruce even if it means being zombified- does she actually fancy Bruce, whom she naturally sees as a lazy cowards, rather than wanting his money? She's actually rather admirable here, social attitudes aside, especially after seeing what was done to her Uncle Martin.

Daka, meanwhile, is no fool. On being told, yet again, by an overconfident underling that no one could have survived that fire, he gives us a wry "another Batman killed, eh?". And his plan to use Linda as bait make it clear that he's worked out that Bruce is Batman. It is, after all, rather obvious.

Incidentally, the new radium gun is nearly ready...

Batman and Robin are cool here, efficiently investigating the baddies' known haunts, finding secret passages and getting close to Daka's hideaway. Alas, they're caught, and we end with the most splendidly movie serial double cliffhanger ever. Will Batman, having fallen down a trap door into an unecessarily elaborate deathtrap, be crushed by the spikes? Will Linda be turned into another zombie? I'm loving this.


Tuesday 26 March 2024

Twin Peaks: Realisation Time

 "Once a day, give yourself a present!"

Oh, whetre to start? There's just so much going on in this penultimate episode. I can't keep up with you, neither can you or anybody else, but it's all so compelling and immersive. The direction, the cinematograpjy, the weirdness... the characters.

We begin with Agent Dale Cooper finding Audrey in his bed... and acting the perfect gentleman, refusing to take advantage, making it clear that he does like her but has principles, getting her something nice to eat and drink, and makes time to listen to her. Unsurprisingly, she fancies him even more.

Cooper is a nuanced character- strait-laced, moral, weird, eccentric, trustworthy, competent, several contradictory things, but he fees coherent, a testament to the writing and acting. He's the still point around which all revolves, disliked by no one. 

But so much else happens! Leo survives his shooting, and has Shelley terrified. Bobby is determined to kill him (and James!), yet Leo manages to shoot the mynah bird... but not before a recording of its voice suggests Leo hurt Laura. Leo, Laura, Ronette and Jacques Renault were all in that room from last episode? This calls for an incognito visit to One Eyed Jack's... yet Cooper is in his element even playing blackjack.

So much else. Audrey scheming to get into One Eyed Jack's. The plot to burn down the mill. The Icelanders. The plot to get the tape from Dr Jacoby. I have no idea what's going on. But damn, this is good.

Monday 25 March 2024

Batman: Embers of Evil

 "That's the way with me- always late..."

Yes, I know: the cliffhanger resolution isrubbish, re-editing things so Batman and Robin can nip down a conveniently-placed trap door, emerging next to a conveniently placed Alfred in his conveniently placed car. Not only that, but the ending cliffhanger is also Batman and Robin in a building about to face a fiery doom.

And yet... this episode is actually pretty good. And you know what? I know it;s a movie serial, but this episode is genuinely all actual plot advancement. Yes, I know, unheard of.

It's amusing how Daka is getting increasingly exasperated by his underlings' failures, but his thinking is sound here- hearing of Marshall talking to Chuck White and arranging his murder by the splendidly outre means of a poisoned cigarette. Marshall is discovered dead just as Bruce happens to be at the station to identify Marshall, hearing the Captain ruefully describe Batman as his "best detective". Hilariously, Bruce steals some evidence, test it in his lab and then, as Batman, rings up the Captain to tell him. I like this Captain much more than Jim Gordon.

We even get Daka using Linda as bait for Batmam, ad Martin as bait for the, er, bait, actually developing existing plot threads. This is a rather striking upswing in quality, and the racism is, well, no worse than the usual baseline. Can they keep this up?

Sunday 24 March 2024

Better Call Saul: Coushatta

 "Yes, well, I got my crawdads in my pants."

Another subtle little character episode here, setting things up for the final two episodes, in which, Ive no doubt, a lot of dramatic stuff is going to happen. As is often the case, though, the episode essentially being set-up doesn't make it any less gripping.

We haven't seen Macho in a while, but here he is, taking Hector's place at the back as each dealer comes in with the money. It's fascinating seeing him violently assert himself- he's clearly playing a part, effectively, yes, but with such visible discomfort that he has to be reassured. Nacho is a man trapped in a life and a role he does not want. He has too much self-awareness, too much decency, to tolerate this existence.

Yet at least he seems to have stability... until the end, where another mewmber of the Salamanca clan, Eduardo, introduces himself.

Mike, meanwhile, is supervising Werner and his underlings at a rather unpleasant little strip club. They are, inevitably, indiscreet, including Werner. Mike realises the implications, and so does Werner by the end. A brief but chilling pefrformance by the estimable Giancarlo Esposito makes it very clear that Gus does. Given Werner's little speech to Mike on his love for his wife... I don't see him getting out alive.

And there's the fun little Slippin' Jimmy trick to get Huell off that gradually unfolds throughout the episode, from the bus-based letter writing montage to the exasperated judge. Jimmy's plan is brilliant, underhanded, discraceful, inspired... and very, very Jimmy. He may start the episode on very thin ice with Kim, but the scheme ends with her spontaneously kissing him... until, in the cold night of day, it becomes clear just how unethical it all was. Poor Kim. Helplessly ensnared in the web of a self-centred man who destroys every life he touches. But then, aren't we all, watching this exquisite little character study of a show?

Generation X (1996 TV Pilot)

 "No one's touching my butt!"

So this is a very, very obscure '90s TV pilot for a vaguely X-Men-themed series that never led to anything, mainly because the pilot is so awful. But it's fascinatingly awful.

I stopped reading Marvel comins around '93-94- I was sixteen, turning to other things, plus in hindsight I wasn't quite as enamouredwith how things were going, the shiny covers, gimmicks, endless first issues, the lack of respect shown to writers as opposed to big name artists who promptly sodded off to Image Comics anyway. But apparently this is based on a title from after my time, where a bunch of new mutants (no, not those ones) are taught at a secong, spin-off mansion by Banshee and Emma Frost, who is apparently a goodie now.

Apparently some of the characters are based on equivalents from the comics, although only those whose powers are easier to do on television. The only characters I know are Emma, Banshee and Jubilee... who, incidentally, is played by a white actress. Yeah.

What's frustrating here is that this is a concept that could have worked. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the format or characters. There's some nice world-building, with the Mutant Registration Act, the lack of civil rights for mutants, and the sheer injusticeof it all, although it's not entirely clear to me whether or not Emma's "Xavier school" is known and sort of tolerated by the authorities.

No, it's basically just a really bad script for this pilot that makes it fail. The baddie, Russell- played by Max Headroom himself- is not related to mutants at all but just wants to control people through their dreams. Oh, and dreams exist in a "dream dimension" which is a real, physical place. And mutants have a particular sensitivity to said dimension for reasons of plot convenience.

Matt Frewer chews the scenery with aplomb as Russell, and is the best thing in this, at least being entertaining. But the tone is all over the place, as is Banshee's accent. None of the other characters are remotely likeable. There's a scene where a whole board of directors have a simultaneous fart and... yeah, it says a lot that this is probably the best scene.

Still, bad though this is, it's fun to watch, in a car crash sort of way.

Saturday 23 March 2024

The Unknown (1927)

Up until yesterday, I'd never heard of this wonderful late Hollywood film, directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney Sr and Joan Crawford, together at last. And it is a thing of dark beauty.

Sadly, ten minutes or so of the film are apparently missing; given the poor survival rate of films from this era, I suppose we're lucky to have it at all. Because this isa deliciously dark bit of black humour that's recognisably Tod Browning and certainly has DNA in common with the great Freaks. Set in a circus in "old Madrid", at first it seems to concern a love triangle between Alonzo, a man with no arms who uses his feet to shoot bulletsand throw knives at his beloved Nanon, who is also loved by Malabar, the kind strongman. At first it seems as though this is to be a straightyforward love triangle... but all is not what it seems.

Slowly, we learn of Alonzo's secret, and his true nature. We learn the extremes he will go to in order to win his lady's love, with body horror and cruel irony played on that very edge between tragedy and comedy.

The three main performances are superb. Lon Chaney is, of course, magnificent, but so too is the very young Joan Crawford. I particularly love how Alonzo is seen doing all sorts of things with his feet- smoking a cigarette, drinking a glass of wine, playing the guitar. 

This is, in short, superb. I have perhaps neglected silent cinema a bit lately. This sort of film is the reason why I shouldn't.

Thursday 21 March 2024

Twin Peaks: Cooper's Dreams

 "My log does not judge."

Wow. Where to start with this one? There's so much going on.

So let's see... the Norwegian investors sent packing by Audrey have been replaced, much to the chagrin of Agent Cooper, by a load of boisterous Icelanders. And Cooper and his police posse explore two log cabins, the second of which offers lots of tantalising clues (I'm not following the facts around Laura Palmert's death very well at this point, of course, but that makes me no different from all the other viewers), but the first of which is the highlight of the epidsode.

It's the Log Lasy, for a sustained period of time, and the Sheriff and his deputies clearly respect her, gloriously and magnificently weird though she is. She gets all the episode's best lines, all within this one scene.This scene alone makes the episode a triumph, and is wonderfully David Lynch.

Yet there are so many other plot points. Audrey blackmailing her way on to the perfume counter. Hank coming home to Norma from prison, being nice... but still secretly involved in crime. The Log Lady revealing a third man besides Jacques Renault ad Leo. Bob's weird confession to Dr Jacoby that "Laura wanted death", and her bleak phiolosophy that people only end up doing evil despite trying to do good. Hell, that's dark.

But what en ending, with Shelley, scared, shooting Leo. And a certain lady in Cooper's bed. This is sizzling stuff indeed. I can't wait to devour the rest.

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Batman: A Nipponese Trap

 "I got out at the last minute..."

Eleven episodes in, and I really must praise the music. The opening music is pretty good, and I love the "sting" when the title is shown. I also have to praise the attention to detail with the "ghost train" into Daka's lair, with glimpses of exhibits showing Imperial Japanese troops up to various nefarious things. I say "praise", of course, but perhaps it's fortunate that said displays are not clearly lit, as the chances of them doing a racism are quite high, I'd say.

We don't start well: Batman escapes from the car by jumping out of the car, unseen, at the last minute. Not only this, but Bruce disguises himself as "Chuck White" again to trick Marshall, in jail, into revealing the location of another safe house... and also escapes being crashed into by a lorry at, you guesses it, the last minute. The concluding fight is a bit rubbish, too, with some hoods defeating Batman and Robin too easily before the inevitable explosion.

Still, Daka has the radium and we have some actual plot, as he's about to start constructing a mysterious weapon. Could stuff actually be... happening?

Monday 18 March 2024

The Way: The Wait

 "It affects everyone in a family, doesn't it? When one person is suffering."

Well then. Where do I even start with this materpiece?

Obviously, on the surface at least, this is all about the small boats, the obsession of those of a certain ilk who, you know, don't want to do the obvious solution of just bloody processing refugees properly. And, of course, it's a simple role reversal, that obvious satire trope that we know so well, with Owen wryly asking Anna what the Poles will make of all these Welsh people going over there, taking all their jobs.

And, of course, the episode really runs with this, with a refugee camp on the Kent coast, trying to get to the Continent. It's very well done. And yet... there's far more subtext than this.

Slowly, over the course of the episode, the character arcs resolve. Dee and Geoff reach a mutual understanding and closeness, Geoff finally realises that he has ironically done to his son what his own father did to him. Owen is no longer emotionally numb, and he and Anna are in love. He forgives Thea.

And Geoff, of course, redeems himself in the inevitable way.

Yet even this is part of a deeper subtext. Oh, there's the irony of the Welsh Catcher being himself Welsh- plilosophical, no fool, but disdaining the luxury of principles. There's the worrying idea of AI being used for "predictive policining". But, deeper than this, there's the need for new stories, not the same old tired ones that have the glitching Internet revealing that the human imagination is stuck on nostalgia, stuck in the past. Huimanity cannot keep reliving old stories. It must throw away the weight of history, of old tropes, and live in the present. 

This is inspired... and very, very Adam Curtis. And so the various Arthurian and mythical references are pointedly thrown back in the sea.Wow.

I understand this wasn't a hit. I don't care. It's genius.

Thursday 14 March 2024

Batman: Flying Spies

"A pity Marshall was killed in that mine disaster instead of you!"

Yes, the above quote is how Daka speaks to his main henchman in this episode. In fact, he's pretty rude, uncaring and horrible to literally all his minions. This is, toput it mildly, a very toxic working enviroment. I strongly advise all Daka's minions to speak to their union rep. Bullying, toxic behaviour... and the place is a health and safety nightmare, let me tell you.

Anyway... again, no more racism than the usual, which is nice, relatively speaking. We've been strung along for a while now with Daka's need for radium, so now, suddenly, a plane is coming to deliver it, just like that. We have a blatantly rubbish cliffhanger resolution. Linda is pretty upset with Bruce for standing her up. Oh, and Bruce is pretending to be a hood cxalled "Chuck White" again, as a ruse to discover Daka's hideout.

It's all pretty good, to be fair, considering. The cliffhanger is excellent, although one can't help but remember the rubbish resolution at the top of the episode.

Next time, though, can we expect some slight plot advancement? Or is it too soon...?

Tuesday 12 March 2024

The Way: The Walk

 "Am I going mad? Or is it the world?"

After a first episode, highly impressive in itself, setting up this new dystopia, now we get to explore it. The Driscolls (and Anna) are refugees in their own land after Thea, putting family before Fascism, organises an escape for her brother, and the Driscolls are on the run in what is suddenly a bleak exercise in the picaresque, complete with surrealoism and family drama.

And it's brilliant. The Driscolls have been framed by an establishment which uses its client ,media, and deepfakes, to scapegost not just Owen but all of them. And yet, with the conceit of Qwen's withdrawal from drugs, we have surreal moments like the talking teddy bear, tempting him not to go to tomorrow but to come to the safety of yesterday. Again we have Simon, the homeless, riddling savant, getting drunk in a bleakly disused holiday camp- andthe brief footage of the cheery advert is a stroke of real genius.

Equally fairytale is the Welsh Catcher, a villain from the Brothers Grimm. Fitting that the escape into England should be via Hay-On-Wye, town of bookshops. Then there's the motif of the underwater bell, a nod, like last episode with the sword in the stone, to Welsh folklore, the many lands said to have fallen beneath the water.

Yet the realism is superb too. We think, in our first world comfortds, that we will never be refugees, on the run, with nothing. Yet, as Anna says, "It happens. All the time. All over the world". There's the GCHQ helper who helps because "First they came for...".

And there will always be those who not only conform but do so with enthusiasm. The English volunteer border guards are truly chilling. The deep irony of one of them cheerfully and casually uttering racist slurs against the Welsh to a Black man he sees as English is nicely done. But sois the whole thing, the directing and cinematography remaining utterly sublime. This is superb telly..

Monday 11 March 2024

What If... Strange Supreme Intervened?

 "Right.So you're here to narrate."

"It's my job".

Nice little bit of forth wall breaking in the quote there. It's one of many witty little lines in this perfect, epic season finale starring Peggy from last episode plus a few episodesearlier; Kahhori from a couple of episodes ago; and Strange Supreme from last season. Yep, What If? is doing a tangled web of sequels. It really shouldn't work, but it does.

This is truly epic. Spoilers: there's a bit of misdirection early on, but of course Strange is the baddie. We get action, loads of cameos from the likes of Surtur, Hela, Killmonger, Thanos... and, briefly, the Two Gun Kid. Oh yes. But that's not what this is really about. It'sabout Strange wanting to destroy untold multiverses to bring back Christine, whereas Peggy knows Steve would never want her to do that for him. Both are denied love, but they deal with it very differently. That, as much as anything- and the scene where she resists temptation- is what makes her a hero.

This is an epic,perfect gfinale, with characters- even cameos, like Hela- whom we've really got to know, and that makes all the difference. Roll on next season... but Echo first. One I've finished a certain movie serial from the Distinguished Competition...

Sunday 10 March 2024

Batman: The Sign of the Sphinx

 "It's Batman!"

More of the same here, really, from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, beginning and ending with the perilous aftermath of a fistfight.

The cliffhanger resolution is a bit of a cheat- Batman, Robin and Linda just happen to survive the explosion, but the plot actually progresses a bit. The radium mine is ruined, Colton is dead (aww, I liked him, he was fun) and... Bruce gets Linda to think he and Dick were asleep throughout it all. He seems to go out of hisway to convince his girlfriend that he's utterly lazy and cowardly, safe in the knowldge that she won't dump multimillionaire Bruce Wayne for some reason.

So we move to a new subplot, with Bruce dressing up as a hood to try and find Daka's actual hideout. I suspect this mini-arc will basically be over by next episode, but it's mildly entertaining. And, Daka's presence aside, there's no visible added racism here, which is a bonus. Although once again I'm a,mused with how rubbish the Batcave set is.

To be fair,though, this is episode nine, and I'm not actually bored...

Richard III (1955)

 "Conscience is a word that cowards use..."

Ah, Richard III. Maybe he killed the princes, maybe he didn't. Maybe he was a tyrant, maybe he was a decent bloke and a goodand poular king. Certainly the Tudor propaganda- Shakespeare very much included- doesn't help his reputation.But one thing must be said: Laurence Olivier's mullet here is utterly horrifying. And on the evidence of portraits this is one crime of which Richard III is assuredly very guilty indeed.

This film, though, is as superlative as one might expect, given the director and the cast crammed with first class classical actors, including Claire Bloom, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and at least one Thorndike. Not that there isn't actor spotting fun to be had, of courdse. We get John Laurie of Dad's Army fame, plus Michael Gough as a murderer gets a line or two.

The sets are, perhaps, rather more dated than the acting. This is a very brightly coloured, Adventures of Robin Hood take on the late Middle Ages. The direction and cinematography are deliberately conventional and unexceptional, despite some creative use of lighting. Yet the performances and, of course, the words overwhelm everything. And Olivier's Richard, caricature though Shakespeare's Richard always is, remains utterly captivating throughout. Throughout all three phases of the play- the disturbing wooing/gaslighting of Anne, Richard's plotting, and his speedy unravelling and downfall to "despair and death"- Olivier';s Richard is superlative and,perhaps, definitive.

Thursday 7 March 2024

The Way: The War

 "What is it that rises up the moment it falls?"

I was made aware of this series the other day at work, I looked it up... and not only is it scripted by James Graham, he of This House and Brexit: The Uncivil War, but it's co-directed by Michael Sheen and the one and only Adam Curtis, whose uniquely philosophica; and visually extraordinary documentaries have made a huge impression on me and my world view. Watching it immediately became imperative, and I care not that I'm juggling so much other stuff on this blog.

The first thing to note is that it's shot beautifully, cinematically, artistically, exquisitely. The acting, from a fairly unknown cast aside from Sheen, is extraordinary. The cinematography is perfect too, reflecting the dull, hopoeless world of those dependent on the ever-moribund steelworks in Port Talbot. In today's world, globalised yet beset by populist nationalism, the industrial working class lives in ignored despair.

We have two viewpoint figures. One is Own, emotionally numbed, mentally ill and seeking human connection in the most literal way possible, sex, yet without meaningful communication with the lady concerned. Connection, and yet not connection. And then we have Geoff, alienated from the militancy of his family and community because he recalls how a strike destroyed his father, the ghost of whom is played by Sheen himself.

The pllot unwinds masterfully, introducing so many characters and allowing things to get out of control as the strike unfolds and draws support from across Wales. I'm not sure the conceit quite works of the national strike ending at Offa's Dyke, and Wales being cut off from the rest of the UK and put under martial law, but at the same time this is a scenario pregnant with so many allegories in our scary modern world, from the nature of power to the right to protest to borders and migration.

Throughout there's this very Adam Curtis sense of hopelessness, that politics has long since lost its power to change things and that fight is mere expression of despair, yet perhaps worthwhile just for that.

We have,of course, some nice little moments that ouncture realism. The red monk, Geoff at the end with the sword from the Port Talbot stone... Arthurian allusion? 

This is spellbinding telly. Superb.


Tuesday 5 March 2024

Batman: Lured by Radium

 "Hey, Sitting Bull..."

Yep. The above is how one of the baddies addresses a Native American gentleman in this episode. Racxism again, although in this case iyt's just depicting the attitudes ofthe time. At least Bruce is polite to said man. Although one does wince at the broken English.

Anyway, after Batman is saved by certain death by... Robin, er, flicking a switch, the plot moves onwards. I like how Colton (still a great character) pretends to lead Daka's hoods to his mine, only to give them the slip. I love how Linda continues to be disgusted by Bruce's laziness, but for some reason still refuses to dump multimillionaire Bruce Wayne. Even better, I love the crap special effects as the "countryside" whooshes by the car windows.

The plot here is genuinely cleer, with a nice set of sets connecting Colton's cabin to his mine by an underground passage. And the mine is about to be blown up with Batman, Robin and Linda still inside...

This episode was acrually quite good. For a movie serial, that's high praise.

Monday 4 March 2024

What If... the Avengers Assembled in 1602?

 "We never get our happy ending..."

I read Neil Gaiman's limited series of 1602 a couple of decades ago, but I fear I remember little. I recall the throwback from the future being the same as here, but the 1602 of the limited series was much more rooted in real history, Old Queen Bess with her old rotting teeth and all that. This is a very different beast, but fun just the same.

We have rifts in time causing this universe to end. We have a very ungrateful King Thor- he's had Wanda Maximoff kidnap Peggy from her own reality (and her own Steve Rgers) to help save their universe... only to exile her when she initially fails, still exiled to a doomed world. Yet Peggy is truly a hero, refusing the Watcher's offer to take her "home."

Indeed, I love the metatextuality with Peggy being very much aware of the Watcher's presence and the two ofvthem interacting. But then, of course, this is an episode which opens with Tom Hiddleston playing Hamlet (a recent play by some lad from Warwickshire) and which is delightfully crammed with deliberately absurd olde worlde insults.

The character stuff is cool too, though. Once again, Happy Hogan becomes the Freak. Yet, at the core of things, behind all the fun, is the deep, tragic heartbreak of Peggy and Steve never getting to be together. Here's hoping that the finale puts a stop to that...

Thursday 29 February 2024

What If... Hela Found the Ten Rings?

"I have not survived a thousand years of war to die at the hand of foliage!"

Once again we have a superb episode of What If?- this season really is proving to be far superior. Hela, portrayed superbly by your actual Cate Blanchett, is hugely charismatic and engaging here in a rare starring role where she gets all the best lines and, best of all, gets to truly grow as a character in an arc that dovetails beautifully with the plot and works perfectly.

The episode impresses from the start, with Odin exiling Hela to Earth, removing her powers and her helm, of which he says, brilliantly, "Whosoever wears this crown, should she know mercy, shall possess the power of Hela".

Yet i't s also wonderful to see characters and concepts from Shang-Chi again, as that's one Marvel film that hasn't been followed up for far too long. Despite the odds, Hela and Wenwu find happiness and wisdom together. But we Ta Lo too, and it's fun seeing the culture clash between Hela's Nordic cynicism and the Eastern philosophy she is taught. It is, at once, profound and hilarious.

This just may be one of the best yet, and two to go...

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Batman: The Phoney Doctor

 "I know you're sorry. You're always sorry. You're the sorriest man I ever knew."

We begin with an outrageous cheat of a cliffhanger resolution, and we end, inevitably, with another one, as Batman is about to be crushed. In between we get more of the Tim Colton radium mine plot, with Daka and his goons determined to find the location of the claim.

And... it's actually really fun, mainly because Colton is such a fun character, a walking stereotype of the drawling, gun-titing man of the West, but at a time when such types all voted on mass for FDR and would have very little time for orange con men from New York.

He's pretty gullible, though, falling for that phoney doctor very easily. And that clue with the "Japanese laundry" found by Bruce is mighty convenient. Still, it's great to see Colton after he's taken to Daka's lair, dismayed at what's been done to his friend Martin but not giving up. Here's hoping he sticks around for a while: right now he's the best thing about this movie serial.

No more than the usual underlying racism this time, mercifully.

Sunday 25 February 2024

Better Call Saul: Something Stupid

 "Dude, I don't need to be a lawyer, all right? I'm a magic man."

It's a nice little trick, to allow at least four months to pass between episodes. It gives us the nice little split screen montage at the start with Kim and Jimmy. Both go through their everyday lives, their very different jobs, Kim's arm slowly heals (it's a nice touch later on when we see her nervously driving), and the two of them slowly drift apart, failing to communicate as their relationship deteriorates. In bed, they lie in opposite directions. They don't talk at mrealtimes. (Incidentally, why is it that every single evening meal on an American television show inclides a bottle of wine, even if it's just a random Tuesday?).

We also have the future meth lab develop, albeit problems. And, of course, we have Hector regain consciousness to the point at which we know him in Breaking Bad. And then we get the scene, in Gus' lovely kitchen, where bhe and the doctor discuss Hector... and he makes it clear, with a subtle sadistic grin, that he wants treatment to end here, and we know why: Hector's body is a prison, he's fully conscious, and his life is a living Hell.

It's a dark episode. Jimmy has an unfortuate run-in with a pretty damn reasonable and upstanding cop, with Huell ending up assaulting a police officer. Jimmy is not yet reinstated... although we get to see him picking a location for, surely, the premises we know from Breaking Bad, with an office which Jimmy works out will be smaller than Kim's. Ouch.

Awkwardly, it falls to Kim, in denial about the fact she's channeling her inner Jimmy, who needs to wheel and deal and help Huell. We end on an intriguing bit of uncertainty. This is a fascinating dark episode. But not a happy one.

Visitor Q (2001)

 "What do you think of such wonderful bullying?"

Oh my. I knew this film would be weird, and I knew it would be disturbing. But I didn't expect... this. So many things I can't even directly allude to. Let's just say there's incest, violence, drug abuse, rape, murder, and milk. Lots of milk. In quantities requiring an umbrella...

The film is very interestingly shot, with a hand-held camera, deliberately given a grainy, low budget look. It's a very deadpan dark comedy, amusing us at times while making us uncomfortable about our amusement. It belongs, I suppose, to a genre where a dysfunctional family is visited by a stranger who patiently "fixes" their problems sothat, as the film ends, the family are happy and united in their extremely twisted way.

The father, mother, son and daughter all do morally repugnant things, but it is the neglect of the salaryman father that is clearly the root cause, filming life instead of living it and accepting his responsibilities. His sexual problems are a metaphor for this. He ignores his son's abuse of his wife, and passively films his own son's bullying. Only a renewed bonding with his wife, in the most twisted circumstances possible, leads to the moment of catharsis as the couple briefly pause their dismemberment of a woman's body to chop the bullies to pieces. Ah,it warms your heart, doesn't it?

There's clearly a subtext here, and a view is being expressed about the percieved woes of Japan. Perhaps one theme is about what it means to be a man- to have integrity, to be a decent husband and father. Twisted though the film is, it makes one think. A worthwhile film, then... but watch it at your peril.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Antony and Cleopatra (1972)

 "I must from this enchanting queen break off..."

I've read Antony and Cleopatra, but this is my first time seeing a production on either stage or screen. The play is, of course, magnificent, as are all of Shakespeare's later tragedies. It is at once a love story and a tale of politics at its most raw and brutal, with legendary characters including the young Octavian Ceasar, played superbly by John Castle as an upright, disciplined young man, exemplifying all that Rome stands for and who very much feels like a younger version of the future Augustus.

This is also a play about two worlds- masculine, martial, relatively puritan Rome versus the feminine weakness and decadence of Egypt and the east... yes, that dodgy trope is old indeed. But one can't deny it's handled well here by the Warwickshire lad.

The film is nicely shot, by Charlton Heston himself, on location in Spain. Half the cast are Spaniards, yet to their credit you wouldn't notice. This may not be right up there with the greats of cinematic Shakespeare, but there's little to criticise... although, superb though Roger Delgado may be as the soothsayer (sadly, one of his last roles), one has to wince at the obvious brownface.

Hildegard Neil is very good as Cleopatra, but Heston is magnificent as Antony, a difficult role. Yet he handles the duality of the character with aplomb, believable both as the great Roman general and the besotted lover of Cleopatra. This is a truly excellent film, one of surprisingly few screen versions of the play.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Batman: Poison Peril

 "Oh Bruce... you're impossible!"

The cliffhanger is soon resolved by, er, simply having the plane crash into the ground but with Batman and Robin both surviving. Ok then. This is how they're playing it.

The plot thread with the Japanese submarine and plane plans is abruptly and hliariously dropped at this point as we move towards a radium mine and prospector, one Ken Colton, introduced in some exposition as Linda visits. I can't for the life of me see why this working girl should be interested in the apparently flaky, lazy, unreliable Bruce Wayne... oh, yes. The money.

There's an obligatory seqyence in which a henchman suggests that Bruce and the Batman must be "one and the same". a phrase which only ever comes up in the context of superhero secret identities, but Daka says that "That simpering idiot could never be the Batman".

We then have some bugging of Bruce's front room, some exposition, and Daka now knows that Colton has a claim to a, er, radium mine, the most 1940s movie serial concept ever. So Alfred, ever the comic foil, is made to dress up as Colton as a decoy only for Batman and Robin to spiring into action when he starts to be roughed up. Hmmm... surely the baddies would realise that the only way they could have found out about their plan was from finding the bug, which makes their secret identities rather obvious.

Never mind. Nice explosive cliffhanger here...

Sunday 18 February 2024

What If... Kahhori Reshaped the World?

 "Welcome to the New World..."

This, motre than any other episode, has only the most tangential relationship to the rest of the MCU. The conceit is that Surtur destroyed Asgard long ago, and the Tesseract ended up in Mohawk lands, roughly northern New York State and southern Ontario to us. Yet this is a superb piece of television.,

There's a forbidden lake, and a hidden world, a place of paradise, plenty, immortality and, perhaps, a little too much ease. Meanwhile, in "our" world, there are Conquistadors, as terrifying as any monster. I've just looked up the history, and Isabella of Castile died in 1504, a little early for contact with the Mohawk, who presumably lie quite far inland for a time when Columbus had only just found the West Indies... but no matter. This is wonderful stuff. 

There's a deep subtext here. Colonialism, obviously. The greed of the Spaniards versus the wiser attitudes of the Mohawk, with Kahhori's confrontation of Isabella being deeply satisfying. The amazing land beyond the lake, reduced by the Spaniards to a mere "Fountain of Youth". The fruit hunt. We have wonder side by side with real darkness. This episode is a thing of beauty.

Assignment to Kill (1968)

 "I'm just calling to say I loathe and despise you and everything you stand for, and what time are you taking me to dinner tonight?"

At first this little film seems to be ripping off James Bond, what with its vague spy theme, its protagonist's great chemistry with the female lead and love interest, and the time it was made, I suppose. But instead it's something very different and, despite the at times pedestrian direction and the low wattage of its stars- although Herbert Lom and John Gielgud, both excellent, provide some heft- very good indeed.

Patrick O'Neal plays Cutter, an investigator of fraudulent insurance claims who finds himself in Zurich and a web of rather deadly intrigue. There he meets Dominique, with whom he establishes a rather delightful little romantic rapport with lots of Steed-and-Mrs-Peel type wit between the two of them. O'Neal is fine, but Joan Hackett is utterly superb.

Great though the characters are, though, this is a clever, complex thriller which has a highly satisfying ending, fully paying off all the intricate twists and turns. And yet, despite the film being essentially a puzzle box, at no point is it difficult to follow and the characters, wthin the limits of the genre, feel like real people.

And it's a real revelation seeing John Gielgud as a crime lord.

This is an odd little film with B list actors for its stars, but the script and most of the performances are superb, and the location of Zurich and the Swiss Alps is perfect. Highly recommended.

Saturday 17 February 2024

Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

 Like Robots and Empire, this novel can very much be seen as continuity-driven, tying up loose ends in what Asimov has decided to make a single universe of Foundation, Robot and Empire novels and stories. In a sense, it's a kind of self-fanwank. It just so happens to simultaneously be a bloody superb novel. You'll noticed I read it rather quickly after my last Asimov despite working full time and having rather a lot going on. This novel is a Class A substance. It's dangerously addictive. You have been warned.

Part of the reason it's so damn satisfying, of course, is the fanwank. Everything is resooved- where the Solarians went; what happened to Earth; why Galaxia is necessary; why women seem to find the rather annoying Golan Trevise so damn irresistible. You can tell that Asimov, in his sixties, is rather enjoying being able to reflect in his writing some rather more relaxed sexual mores than he would have known in his youth.

The ideas are not so central as earlier novels, perhaps, but they are there. The society of Solaria reaches its logical extreme.And there are thrilling moments- Comporellon is Baleyworld! Aurora has literally gone to the dogs! And on the Moon is... ah yes.

This ties everything up rather neatly. I'll get round to the other Asimov novels eventually but for now, I think, I'll diversify my diet. But this novel, while obviously not self-contained and with a lot of required pre-reading, is a real joy.