Friday, 24 May 2019

I, Clavdivs: Hail Who?

“Drusilla! I’m dying!”

So this is it; the big one. Claudius, amongst chaotic schemes, and while protesting that he wants a republic, is made emperor. And the whole thing, really, is played like a farce.

Caligula is still dangerously mad and capricious, of course, bu the shock of all this most definitely peaked at the end of last episode. Not that we lack spectacle, or John Hurt being superb; on the contrary we get several minutes of Caligula in a dress performing as Dawn in a weird dance to Homer. But the focus has moved to Claudius. So the palace is a brothel at the start, but the focus on Claudius, the butt of the joke but managing to save a couple of women from being raped. Caligula plays at being campaign and makes war on Neptune, yes, and his booty is a load of shells, but the focus is on how court jester Claudius saves two messengers from death by beheading, and later the entire senate, by acting the fool. How the old and clumsy Claudius is married to the young and beautiful Messalina- as a joke.

Just as chaotic is the plot to murder Caligula- ultimately caused by his silly habit of giving Cassius suggestive phrases to use as the watchword of the day. Nothing goes right, and the surviving Claudius is almost killed before he is declared emperor by a Praetorian Guard who want to keep the cushy life they have.

Less amusing, of course, and a brutal contrast, is the murder of Caligula's wife and baby daughter, a reminder that Cassius is no saint either. It is, as usual, a splendidly written and acted piece, although the range of settings- on camp near the Rhine, at the Gams- make it more than usually obvious how studio-bound it all is.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

I, Clavdivs: Zeus, By Jove

"Don't go in there..."

In a sense this episode just goes to show an increasing sense of depravity in Julio-Claudia Rome, as Tiberius’ depravity and tyranny is followed by something even worse- a madman emperor who considers himself a god. Yet there’s a certain loss of the subtleties of character here as things go very Grand Guignol. The tone becomes less subtle and, although there are superbly written character moments such as Antonia’s commentary on all the depravities leading to her blunt, matter-of-fact suicide.

I’ve never read Suetonius but I understand Graves’ two novels were a toned down version of the garish details found in The Twelve Caesars. But I understand historians tend to view all this as much exaggerated, and there’s a view that Caligula may have been a bit of a troll, yes, but perfectly rational. That’s not what we see here. When he recovers from his coma he tells the sycophant who promised to give his life if C├Žsar may be saved to carry out his promise. He openly cavorts with his sister Drusilla. He has his nephew be headed because of an annoying cough.He declares himself a god. And then, of course, there’s the shocking ending. It’s all very entertaining spectacle but compared to all the previous episodes it’s very one note, superlative though John Hurt is.

Also worth singling out is John Rhys Davis who, while being an utter wanker in real life, does an excellent job as Macro, an ambitious man who has gambled his own future on Caligula and worries about the nature of the horse he’s shackles himself to. And, of course, Margaret Tyzack owns the episode with her blunt words to Claudius just before her suicide. Claudius, as she says, survives everything.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

I, Clavdivs: Reign of Terror

“Do you know him personally?”

“No, but I have slept with his wife several times.”

This time I, Clavdivs channels the Ben Jonson play Sejanus His Fall, and does it much better. This is telly of the very first rank, and a classic study in tyranny.

We begin with Sejanus’ control over Rome deepened and Tiberius, with his mother and son dead, utterly oblivious to his own manipulation. He is being pushed further and further to remove potential threats to Sejanus’ rise- Aggripina is banished to the island where Julia was exiled with a similar fate for her eldest son, and when she refuses Tiberius’ sexual advances she is flogged. Her second son is arrested and starved in his cell, with only his depravity and closeness to Tiberius saving her theirs son Caligula- shown as delightfully decadent throughout the episode- from a similar fate, and Sejanus has plans for him too. This, Livilla’s affair with Sejanus, and Claudius’ distance from his own wife, lead Antonia to decry the modern world in reactionary style- but she has a definite point.

Tiberius, though, forbids Sejanus from marrying Livilla, instead suggesting he marries her daughter Helen, to which Livilla reacts with predictable fury, driving a wedge between them. This is the first crack in Sejanus’ armour. His tyranny continues unabated but the cracks widen, and Antonia discovers more and more, including that Livilla is poisoning her own daughter out of jealousy. And it is Antonia who manages to warn Tiberius over in Capri, behind Sejanus’ back.

In a wonderfully perverse scene, it is Caligula who suggests to a suddenly frightened emperor that he can use the ambition of Sejanus’ deputy Macro to get rid of him, and talk of the ensuing purge becomes instantly horrifying. We aren’t shown much other than the bodies, but what we do see and hear is sickening. Senators quietly flee the senate as Sejanus is denounced. And when a soldier complains to Macro about killing Sejanus’ children, with the girl being a virgin, he is simply told to “Make sure she’s not a virgin when you kill her”. We see Sejanus’ fatal stabbing from his own POV in a nice piece of camera work, the last thing he hears being that his children are dead. He is a monster, yet he is human, and the script allows us to feel for him.

This is, once again, superlative, and I’m already running out of ways to say that. Interestingly, Claudius’ wife, Sejanus’ sister, begs Claudius to protect her and, although he is busy expressing his revulsion at what is happening, he refuses. She survives in the end, but we are reminded that Claudius, while saner than his relatives, is no saint.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

I Clavdivs: Queen of Heaven

“He’s building a prison here, stone by stone.”

Damn all this current telly and it’s distracting me from the antics of those naughty Julio-Claudians. Now where were we?

Cleverness, that’s where. This episode is really all about plot, plot, plot but it does so with wit and gusto. The opening scene has to tell us that Tiberius’ reign has now reached its later point of extreme decadence and tyranny, but it does so by showing the hostess of an enjoyable dinner party, attended by characters we know such as Agrippina and Claudius himself and has the gracious hostess (Judith Caroon from The Quatermass Experiment) dramatically reveals the circumstances of her rape by Tiberius- and then stab herself. BBC2 In 1976 cannot show these depravities so it must simply tell- but it does so dramatically, and gives us some spectacle anyway.

It also develops how Sejanus is slowly assuming power from Tiberius, encouraging him with his treason trials for such things as “treasonous utterances” and already ruling Rome as a kind of proto-totalitarian state. And he is deeply ambitious- in a hilarious scene Claudius slowly walks across a room while Sejanus gradually gets him to divorce his estranged wife and agree to marry his own sister. He is also having an affair with Livia which, it is implied, consisted of some rather rough sex, and the two of them contrive to bump off Castor, who happens to be Tiberius’ son and likely successor. All this is done with humour and style, and in no way feels like exposition.

We also meet Caligula, or Suetonius’ version at any rate, played with absolute sublimity by the great John Hurt. Already utterly depraved, he bonds with Tiberius over porn and ends up as the likely next emperor simply because Tiberius wants his successor to be worse out of sheer vanity.

But the episode is about the death of Livia, aware of her many crimes and desperate for deification to save her from eternal torment, with another extraordinary performance from the great Sian Phillips. Interestingly, a lot of the meat of the episode revolves around Thrasyllus’ horoscopes, with a lot of very intelligent people believing in this woo woo. But, in an age before our present conception of science, astrology was not necessarily a stupid way to try and understand the world. Interestingly, though, the Sybilline prophecy, and that of Thrassylus, are shown to be true. Caligula and Claudius will indeed be the next to rule, and one who is going to die soon will indeed become the only God worshipped in the Roman Empire one day.

Bloody superlative stuff.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Years and Years: Episode 1

"Don't know if I could have a kid in a world like this."

RTD is back, after last year's superb A Very English Scandal, with the start of a new six-part drama which seems to have the critics wowed but is, well, very good (this is RTD) but not quite up there with The Second Coming.

We have four Lyons siblings- Rosie, Daniel, Stephen and the globe-trotting polemicist Edith, all glued together by their irascible, politically incorrect gran, and it is through them that we are to experience the next few decades, beginning here and now in 2019- so contemporary that a cleverly last mo ute piece of dialogue references the death of Doris Day. All of these characters immediately come to life as RTD gives them very real and very relatable dialogue, as always. Yet the constant backdrop of ominous news, and the little soliloquy of Daniel (the author’s representative?) makes it clear that this is a world where the future looks anything but bright- and yes, he’s not the only one who feels that something has been very wrong ever since the banks buggered things up in 2008. And through all this we see the slow rise of the blunt populist politician Vivienne Rook, played superbly by the great Emma Thompson.

We then go through the next six or seven years, through Trump’s re-election, through a new king, through nuclear tensions between China and the USA, and through a refugee crisis caused by an, er, Soviet (what???!!) invasion of Ukraine. We also see such things as Snapchat filters moving to the real world and Stephen’s daughter coming out as “trans”- by which she means “transhuman”; she wants to go to a Swiss clinic, destroy her flesh and upload herself to live forever as data. Wow. This would, of course, be literal death; the data uploaded would just be a copy. You would be gone. But I’m sure there will be those who think this way and it’s a clever thing to include. And this helps us get to know bewildered father Stephen and his very middle class wife Celeste.

We also see the gradual collapse of Daniel’s marriage to his stupid husband Ralph, who embraces silly internet conspiracy theories and decries those who won’t consider that the Flat Earthers, 9/11 triggers or Moon landing deniers “could be right” as closed minded. This kind of stupidity is, it can’t be denied, the main bad thing about the internet. And these people vote, usually for populist bullshit. This sort of thing isn’t harmless. We also see some staggering ignorance about Ukrainian refugees- “I voted Leave.” Grr.

And then there comes a siren, nuclear war between China and the USA, chaos, family recriminations and Edith dying in Vietnam with a big mushroom cloud. And fade to black. This is very good stuff indeed, it’s just that RTD can do much better than “very good”.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Scream and Scream Again! (1970)

“That bloody chicken wasn’t killed- it died of old age!”

 This is an odd film, not at all what the marketing, title and poster lead us to expect, but unexpectedly a rather good one.

The film's selling point is, of course, that it can boast the holy horror trinity of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the same horror film. But instead we get an utterly bonkers science fiction conspiracy thriller in which Cushing has but a brief cameo and the other two are not exactly in starring roles.

This is a gritty, realistic police procedural with slickly gritty direction, naturalistic acting and a basis in the more down-to-Earth end of science fiction. The plot may be utterly mad but pays off well, with the two apparently unrelated subplots- people being kidnapped and having their limbs surgically removed, while a sinister man with apparent superpowers commits a series of murders to climb up the greasy pole in a dodgy, unnamed, military dictatorship.

This all works rather well, as does the "A" plot of the pursuit of a serial killer with vampire-like attributes who kills girls whom he meets in nightclubs, which takes up an awful lot of the film. The film is, I suppose, rather disjointed, but it doesn't feel like it and is all drawn together in an effective climax. The overall effect is of a film which defies expectations in hat type of film it turns out to be, but in fact turns out to be surprisingly good.

iZombie: Five, Six, Seven, Ate

“Nobody puts Ravi in a corner!”

Another bloody strong episode here that continues to set up plot threads for the final season while still managing to function as the season’s first murder of the week.

Said murder is fairly banal if seen simply as a whodunnit, perhaps, but it’s based on a competitive samba dancing telly programme and has Liv on dancer brain. Even better, it has Liv and Ravi going undercover as new contestants on the show, at one point spending a lot of time on a rather hilarious sequence as Ravi very slowly learns to dance by the most efficient means possible- montage. It’s an utterly hilarious sequence and one which both highlights how great Rahul Kohli is at physical comedy and shows how the programme still knows how to balance humour with the darkness.

And darkness there is- Dolly Durkins May not appear but her baleful attempt continues as a school identifies and isolates its zombie pupils, causing yet more intra-community friction, and threatening to drive a wedge between Peyton and Major. On a more personal note we learn that not only is Dale pregnant with Clive’s baby but Michelle, whom he dumped last season, is also pregnant with a baby who may be his.

We end on a note of hope, though, as Liv, as Renegade, agrees to adopt the late Jordan’s two orphaned brothers, and they start to learn that humans among the gang can be wonderful people. Unlike last week’s very dark episode this one is full of humour, and ends positively. But I still think this season will take a turn for the Hobbesian.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Inhumans: Something Inhuman This Way Comes

"This is my office!"

So we begin with an amusingly post-coital Karnak, somewhat confused as to the feelings he has for Jen. The connection between them only deepens as Jen’s friends turn on her and they have to fight and flee for their lives, consoled at least by the deaths of the other two blokes until their replacements turn out to be bigger and even nastier fish. This subplot, at least, is somewhat entertaining.

Meanwhile Louise is acting as chauffeur to the royal couple, with Locus in the boot. There’s a presumably foreshadowing remote chat between Medusa and Maximus in which she relays the fact that Black Bolt threatens to have “a few words”, but these scenes revolve mainly around dialogue skirting around the hot topic of just how legitimate royal rule is, and the caste system which it supports and which Maximus, even accounting for his motives and tyrannical behaviour, is abolishing. One is reminded that even Caligula’s tyranny to the ruling classes didn’t prevent him being a popular and successful ruler for the masses. Black Bolt and Medusa are decidedly ambiguous figures and, if only Maximus twirled his moustache a little less, he’d be the goodie. Still, one can’t help thinking that a better script would have explored this more.

Crystal, with Lockjaw healed, has a bit of a holiday this episode as she frolics in the beach with the laid back Dave, presumably a love interest who will, ahem, teach her about humanity, bring her out of her shell and teach her an Important Lesson which she will apply back home. It’s clear that both she and Medusa are set to question their rejection of their parents’ radicalism, annoying though Medusa May be about it.

Gorgon rescues the captured Karnak and Jen and is surprised to see his cousin has become somewhat less arrogant, a reaction somewhat crudely set up by a series of flashbacks. We end up with the two of them reunited with Black Bolt and Medusa, although for some reason Jen has to bugger off. Meanwhile, on Attila, rebellion erupts...

Sigh. This is all very by the numbers. Still, as Magnus Magnusson used to say, I’ve started so I’ll finish.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Slender Man (2018)

"Once you see him, you can't unsee him."

This is certainly a contender for one of the worst films I've ever blogged. It's shockingly poor.

Slender Man is one of those computer game characters that the kids find utterly terrifying in spite of the character being but a decade or so old and whom I, at 42, am far too old to know anything about. The concept and appearance of the character seems quite terrifying, however, and you'd think it would make a good basis for a horror film, although perhaps not best released so soon after the well-known murder by two American schoolgirls of their classmate supposedly inspired by the character.

This is, to put it far too mildly, not that film. It's not just that the film is boring and talky, that we never get to know about the characters, or that the plot is simplistic and drawn out. No; the direction is so poor, even if you forgive the overly dark lighting in which you can't bloody see anything, that it fails to clearly tell the story and it's far from clear what's going on. Even if this were not the case, though, the film is shockingly dull, Mrs Llamastrangler fell asleep. Even the CGI sequences where Slender Man actually bloody appears are not worth waiting for. Avoid.

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

"Why do you think Twitter and Facebook are free?"

Yes, I know; I use the above two social media platforms to plug this very blog. The irony is not lost on me although, unlike AJ, I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories; Facebook and Twitter are free because your personal info is the product, and advertisers are the customer, not you. All conspiracy theories are dangerous bollocks that leads to the election of dodgy demagogue. Vaccinate your kids. Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. There is no Illuminati. The real world cannot be boiled down to such simplistic fantasies.

Anyway, this isn't a sequel in any meaningful sense. It doesn't feature any of the same characters and is made by different people. What it is, though, is another very clever example of the rather fresh and welcome new horror genre initiated by the first film, where all we see is one person's screen as something supernatural or weird unfolds and everybody dies. It's a fresh and, indeed, superior take on the found footage genre as the possibilities are much wider.

In this case the added ingredient is the current fashion for dark web boxes, more conspiracy theorist bollocks but great material for films like this. The conceit of Matias, through whose screen we see everything, having stolen the laptop through we see everything from a criminal network named after Greek underworld mythology which kidnaps and tortures young women while manipulating others into taking the blame, is deliciously evil and utterly gripping.

It's also good to see, for once, a serious attempt at a deaf character. It's well-written and structured and the characters are compelling. This is a superb and underrated film, and I for one prefer it to its predecessor.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

The Ghoul (1975)

”She never came out. None of them ever do.”

This is the second film I’ve blogged by Tyburn Films, an abortive successor to Hammer which uses much the same crew to make similar types of films but sadly didn’t last long. This film, alas, is rather perfunctory and forgettable, in spite of being shot well and a fine performance from Cushing as a man who, like himself, had lost his wife and missed her terribly. It’s chiefly of interest as a novelty, for Cushing’s performance, for a young John Hurt being excellent as a lecherous henchman, and for looking very suspiciously as though a certain Doctor Who story owes a lot to it.

Non-Who fans, please indulge the next couple of sentences, but Black Orchid, I’m looking at you. 1920s setting? Yep. Big country house? Yep. Son kept locked up in a room, having been turned into a crazed killer while in an exotic faraway place? Yep. There’s even a policeman. And a fairly big role for Professor Cliff from The Green Death.

There’s a lot of promise here, especially with the setting of a country house surrounded by mist and marshland, but the plot is clumsy and loses momentum as soon as the major character gets killed halfway through. The film never quite recovers from this and feels somewhat disjointed. Ultimately the problem is the script, and more specifically the awkward plotting, which feels at times like a first draft. There are also some opinions expressed about the Hindu religion, presented as a dark pagan cult, which certainly raise eyebrows. But ultimately it’s a shame that such splendid acting and direction are wasted on a half-hearted script like this.

iZombie: Dead Lift

”You ever feel like you’re an unwitting tool of the prison industrial complex?”

It’s still all about the arc as we start the episode with last week’s supposed murder victim instead having a druggy affair with “Glenn from accounting”, the three kids being smuggled dodge arrest, and Major continues to receive flak for his hearts and minds approach from hardliners at Chase Graves. But he has a point- they NEED humans to be on side or New Seattle will collapse into anarchy. And, this being the final season, that happening is a very real possibility.

Of course, there’s a lighter sign. Liv on fitness guru brain gives us a splendid example of the usual humour, and if anything the script is even wittier than usual. But there’s a very real sense of doom as Dolly Durkins’ Dead Enders foment outrage for immigrants... er, zombies among the human majority. It turns out that her lot have fakes the viral video of the woman being murdered by zombies but, after a drive-by shooting in a Dead Ender hangout by zombies affiliated by Chase Graves, Major allows fake footage of their “execution” to go viral. Both sides are using fake news already. This feels very much like Trump’s America, complete with the moral dilemmas on how hard to punch a fascist, whether one should act with integrity when the enemy has none.

Peyton is trying to run Seattle in spite of bureaucratic inertia but Ravi provides not only great sex but also a great idea: an online comedy called “Hi, Zombie” to try and improve relations. It’s such a good idea that Peyton commits fraud in order to fund it, something which again muddies the waters and will in no way come back to haunt her. You can see not only the threads but the themes developing.

Of course, all this pales in awesomeness next to the sublime D&D scene. But this season has got off to a very strong start.

Inhumans: Make Way for... Medusa

"Well, how did you guys get here?"

"My sister's teleporting dog."

So this is the episode where Medusa “heroically” manages to rescue Black Bolt and his mate from the new scientific prison in which he finds himself and we are, I think, supposed to see her as a hero. But she isn’t, is she? She speeds up and jumps a red light, thereby attracting totally unnecessary attention from the police, and she needlessly alienates Louise, whom she needs. Her people skills are crap and she’s completely charmless and unlikeable.

I wouldn’t go so far as to describe this episode as that, but there’s a sense that, plot-wise, characters are just being moved around the board for no good purpose and simply killing time until the inevitable showdown in Attilan. Yes, Gorgon gets close to his human friend’s and considers them “brothers”. Yes, the overly logical Karnak gets to learn about romance and have sex, but there’s no real depth to any of this, no wit or heart, and there’s no suggestion the Inhumans are learning anything here. The subplot with Crystal, the vet and her ex-lover, and the injured Lockjaw feels particularly like treading water.

Meanwhile, on Attilan, Maximus twiddles his moustache and disbands the Generics Council. This, at least, is interesting; his motives may be selfish, but undermining a genetics-based caste system has to be a progressive move. Thing is, if Black Bolt and co support this system, are they the good guys? Medusa especially cones across as a total bitch for rubbishing her parents’ idealism.

Four episodes in, and I’m worried that we may already have witnessed a leap over a fish of the genus carcharias.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)

“People don't realise that there are killers among them"

 This is, to put it mildly, a controversial film, in spite of the way its execution (er, no pun intended) seems to be widely praised. In the wake of, I think, #MeToo, our culture is currently rethinking the practice of using fictionalised biopics of serial killers, who are invariably killers of women, as entertainment. And there is, I think, a point there. Not that we should in any way ban or censor the use of this naturally dramatic subject matter, of course; it intrinsically says a lot about the human condition, and specifically male violence. Exploring this sort of thing is precisely what art is for.

All the same, though, we should be wary of how we treat the subject, where a straightforwardly lurid approach can show the male gaze at its most problematic. This biopic of Ted Bundy tries a different approach, framing the narrative from the point of view of his fiancee Liz, from the time they met in a bar (did Bundy at first mean to kill her, and relent only upon discovering her baby?) until his final admission of his guilt on the eve of his execution. We spend much of the film, unless we already know the facts, doubting Bundy's guilt. Only at the end do we unequivocally learn of his guilt. His persuasive charm allows Bundy to gaslight us the way he did to Liz, to Carol and to all those women who rooted for him during his trial. That's clever. It's also a treatment that doesn't need to focus on the spectacle of the murders themselves. We are also reminded, too, that those complicit in the use of capital punishment, from the judge to the bloodthirsty sheriff, are every bit as evil as Bundy himself.

The film is superbly structured, and everything looks very convincingly of the '70s. There's a smallish role for scarcely recognisable James Hetfield too, appropriate for a film shot by the director of Some Kind of Monster. Jim Parsons also valiantly struggles against his typecasting as the Florida prosecutor as The Big Bang Theory winds to a close. But it' is, in the end, al about the extraordinary performances of Lily Collins and a swiftly maturing Zac Efron. Highly impressive.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Ed Wood (1994)

"Nobody cares! These movies are terrible!"

That Tim Burton would make a biopic of Ed Wood is delicious. That it should be so bloody good is even more so. Monochrome, stylised and deeply evocative of both 1950s Hollywood and the schlock genres, this is a well-structured, good-natured and fun look at one of Hollywood’s more eccentric “talents” with an extraordinary performance of Johnny Depp at the centre of it all.

The opening titles, with the parade of ‘50s genre tropes and the glorious theremins, are wonderful, and set the mood perfectly. Then we move to setting up who Ed is, his transvestism, and the story of Glen or Glenda, complete with lots of 1950s trans people including the aristocratic but delightfully camp “Bunny” Breckinridge, played to perfection by Bill Murray. We then follow Ed’s, er, career right through to Plan 9 from Outer Space and see him happily married to a fellow geek- and then we stop, before we get any hint of his decline, alcoholism and early death.

Instead we see the tragedy of the great Bela Lugosi’s final years, forgotten by Hollywood to the point of appearing in Ed’s films, alone, homesick for a Hungary to which he can never return, behind an Iron Curtain. Martin Landau plays him with skill and much pathos, but also not without humour (“Karloff does not deserve to smell my shit!”).

We also see Juliet Landau (nepotism; fun for all the family), bizarrely using her native accent, and a superb cameo by Vincent D’Onofrio as the great Orson Welles. But this film belongs to Depp, and to Burton, who has conjured up perhaps his finest cinematic world.

Friday, 10 May 2019

iZombie: Thug Death

"This is the spot where lazy murderers who don't want to fight traffic dump their victims.""

So it's the fifth and final season and we're a few months into the new status quo- Peyton is, effectively mayor and Major is the new commander of Fillmore Graves. But lonely is the head that wears a crown and Major is already feeling the tension between his principles and what is likely to help him maintain his position. Meanwhile Liv and Ravi are doing the same job as ever while Liv continues to moonlight as Renegade, and "real" brains are becoming scarce- for all except Blaine, who is incredibly rich from the brain business and has a fridge full of the bloody things.

This episode has two main strands. The first is that this time it's Ravi, not Liv, who's on the brain of a thug, and bloody hilarious, showing us that Rahul Kohli is every bit as good at this sort of thing. But the other strand is, of course, that the zombies of New Seattle rely entirely on the goodwill of humans, and things are precarious beneath the surface. One viral video of a woman being ripped the shreds by a zombie has led to the end of the brain supply and, while Blaine can solve this problem with threats, the potential remains. Worse, we have a new anti-zombie demagogue, Dolly Durkins(!), who is also running an anti-zombie suicide bomber network which is sure to keep Major stressed. And, as we find out, her first volunteer is the eviscerated woman's husband.

Elsewhere we have Clive being as deadpan witty as ever, a new scientist character in Dr Collier who, to Ravi's relief, turns out to have ethics, and three abused ill kids who Liv's network are trying to smuggle in. Already there are a lot of balls in the air and the fact that this is the final season suggests to me that this feeling of precariousness will grow and grow. But this pisode on its own is as fun and witty as ever. More please.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

I, Clavdivs: Some Justice

"That child is a monster!"

This episode takes what is perhaps an unexpected turn as a courtroom drama unfolds. This courtroom drama has wider implications, though, and acts as an ingenious frame around which to explore Tiberius' early rule- he is bitter, resentful but not yet depraved or tyrannical in spite of the baleful presence of Sejanus. However, the elderly Claudius' narration at the beginning (a rare bit of narrative clumsiness) makes clear that this is to change after Germanicus' death.

And the death of the dutiful, popular, republican Germanicus shapes everything here, from the raging desire for revenge of his widow Aggripina on the parts of Piso and Plancina who, as we shall see, are guilty of persecution but not murder, and were acting on Tiberius' orders in any case. Unknown to all, the real killer is the infant Caligula, who horribly terrorised and murdered his father by poisoning and a superstition which the genuinely clever and civilised Romans simply accept, to the incredulity of Herod, speaking for our own culturally Judaeo-Christian worldview. Nevertheless, Aggripina want revenge and the crowd id with her, and it becomes slowly clear that the appearance of justice is only a figleaf for what is politically convenient. Piso must die to save Tiberius, and he becomes increasingly doomed as the episode progresses. Deliciously, Plancina manages to do a deal with Livia, still at the centre of the web, to save herself and her children, and ends up "assisting" her father's suicide. This is delightfully, entertaining cynical. And we Doctor Who fans get the added thrill of Lady Peinforte wanting Monarch dead.

We also see how, thankfully, Claudius now has friends in Aggripina, Castor, Herod and others and, while hardly a confidant of the Emperor, has a degree of respect. Antonia, of course, despises him as much as ever, wishing he had died instead of Germanicus. So does Livia, who is increasingly exasperating her son with her antics and whose scene with fellow poisoner Martina (Nursie from Black Adder II) is a hoot.

This episode essentially sets the scene for the new reign, then. Hugely enjoyable though it is, it hints at much depravity to come. Utterly superb, as though that needed saying.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

I, Clavdivs: Poison Is Queen

"Don't touch the figs..."

Well, even by the high standards of this rightly praised drama, that was exceptional. And this, more than anything, proves that the great Brian Blessed was an actor of incredible depth and subtlety, if not necessarily softly spoken while doing so, and it's such a great shame that he very shortly after became typecast as shouty barbarians.

So Germanicus returns to a warm and brotherly reunion with an unhappily married Claudius, and at last hears and believes the news about Postumus' framing for rape and Livia's misdeeds- although, I'm glad to see, not without a very #MeToo nod to the fact that actual rapists use such excuses all the time.

In the very next scene Augustus clearly knows everything, and is very cagey about Livia. Rightly so; his eyes may now be open, but will soon be closed forever. His secret reunion with Postumus is deeply emotional for both men, yes, although Augustus' tears are self-indulgent as ever, but they must tread with care and it is, in truth, far too late. Livia is running rings round them throughout, whether secretly getting access to Augustus' altered will, ensuring the despairing Tiberius is not far away, or finally managing to poison the rightfully paranoid Augustus to death. Too late. poison is queen, and Postumus is doomed, although in the process we meet the ruthless Sejanus, played with icy steel by a young and only very slightly balding Patrick Stewart. It's all moving towards an inevitable conclusion, but you can't take your eyes off it even if the whole thing looks absurdly studio-bound at times.

But Livia, blinded by her cruel dismissal of Claudius. never suspects his part in revealing the truth, and she constantly humiliates him throughout, culminating in that final scene where a somewhat pissed Livia, having achieved what she wanted, mocks Claudius while telling him too much. Sian Phillips is one of the great villains of television history. And what an episode.What writing. What acting. 

Mamma Mia! (2008)

“Nurse! Donkey testicles, quickly!"

Ok, I suppose after the last few years I can't quite say I don't like musicals. No, I'll never be a huge fan of show tunes, but the genre is much broader than that. But anyone who knows me will know that, open-minded to all sorts of delightfully weird music that I am, I have pretty much zero tolerance for chart pop, which is cynical, depressing, exploitative, unlistenable and vile. So why do I like Abba?

Well, Abba are the poster girls and boys of a more innocent time, when "pop" encompassed a broader range than today's horrible world of girl bands and boy bands, wankers like Cowell and his fellow amoral svengalis, and horribly compressed, autotuned, incredibly narrow "music" that no longer appeals to ordinary people. But Abba? They wrote their on songs, played their own instruments, hurt no one. It was a very different world.

Hence the joyous stage show, and this rather fun film with its inexplicable number of stars. I mean, Meryl Streep? She's incredibly classy, garlanded with Oscars, appears only in the most serious films, is pretty much America's answer to Dame Maggie Smith... yet she deigns to appear in a bit of fun like this. And no, she most certainly cannot sing. But, frankly, who cares? She's giving it a go, as is Pierce Brosnan, whose singing looks good only next to hers.

The plot, bizarrely, with its farcical moments and rigid structure, only needs a bit of crossdressing to look suspiciously like a Shakespeare comedy. But this kind of structure works, and the plot is very cleverly woven around the songs and, while there is conflict and drama, things always remain suitably light and fluffy. A delight.

Bonding: Season One

This is a new (last month) series from Netflix, but it’s seven episodes long with each episode being only sixteen or seventeen minutes. This means the whole season is about as long as a film, split into a series for pacing and structural reasons although, naturally, Mrs Llamastrangler and I binged it. The point is, though, I’m not blogging individual episodes as I otherwise always do with series because that would be silly. Here’s the whole thing...

Old Friends, New Names

“I don’t want any connection with your bum hole, Frank.”

So Tiff is a dominatrix under the name of “Mistress May” and her gay best friend Pete, an aspiring but nervous stand-up comedian, signs up as her assistant. This is the premise, and one with plenty of scope for humour and indeed seven episodes of exploring these two characters, their pasts, their relationship with each other and others. And right away, in spite of the first episode need to set things up, it’s hugely entertaining. We have a bloke with “Barney Rubble” as his safe word, and a bloke who gets off from Pete mocking his tiny penis.

Most refreshing, though, is that we can have a comedy treating the full range of sexuality as healthy and normal, something which, even ten years ago, would have been unthinkable.

Pete Shy

“I made your soul jizz.”

More character development here as Pete chickens out of a comedy gig, yet accidentally pulls Josh in a urinal, and we get a sense of the texture and depth of Tiff and Pete’s thirteen year friendship. Most interesting, though, is Tiff’s discourse on how the patriarchy oppressed everyone- “masculinity is inherently constricting” and what she does as a dominatrix helps to free men from the constraints of their gender roles. We also get hints about an oppressively religious background.

We end with Pete peeing on a client, in a scene shot like a Rammstein video..

The Past Is Not Always Behind

“It takes two to tangle genitals...”

Three episodes in and time for some revelations about backstory. And, er, Pete fingering his flatmate’s butt. Interestingly, Tiff’s fellow postgrad Psychology student Doug gives a presentation about his past that reveals an unexpected sensitivity and self-awareness about how the conventions of masculinity have constricted and emotionally repressed him, echoing Tiff’s thoughts from last episode and hinting that he may not be the arse we have so far been casually encouraged to believe him to be. We also meet Chelsea, an old school “friend” of Tiff and Pete who is outwardly successful, with a job in advertising, yet who spends her evenings drinking alone, trapped in twentysomething ennui.

Eventually Pete makes Tiff and himself don masks so they can symbolically speak of their shared past with a kind of anonymity- and they had sex, many years ago. It was bad sex. And there is nothing so arse-clenchingly, soul-destroyingly embarrassing as bad sex.

Let’s Get Physical

“Well, here we are, looking at dicks with coffees.”

Speaking of embarrassment, stereotypical housewife Daphne’s has invited Tiff and Pete to her house, as a birthday treat for her husband... to mercilessly tickle him. This is something Daphne can’t do herself because she’s disturbed by all things non-vanilla, and damagingly repressed.We can certainly see the themes developing here.

Daphne is, naturally, incredibly jealous as things unfold, far more so than she had naively expected. So much so, in fact, that a very considerate Pete allows her to vent her frustration by punching him in the face. Which is, er, nice.

Pete, meanwhile, has a date with Josh, besides whom he is himself the repressed one. This whole subplot is extremely sweet. Significantly less so is where Tiff catches her professor when he's just about to sexually abuse her friend Kate. But just when one man turns out unexpectedly not to be a dick, there's the nice and self-effacing Doug, who gets Tiff to agree to a date. This is, unexpectedly, rather subtle character drama.

Double Date

"I'm sorry I fingered your boyfriend."

We begin with a big row between Pete and a still-upset Tiff, understandably outraged at her male professor's behaviour and the patriarchal structures which lie behind it, so much so that she says some uncomfortable things which dismiss the experience of growing up gay in society so being female. It's a bitter parting, and Kate carries her mood to her initially disastrous date with Doug. But he' essentially by being nice, ensures she has a good time. And that's it, really; we live in a world full of patriarcgal structures and we are all part of it- but men are still free to choose not to be dicks.

All this is, of course, juxtaposed with a much less awkward date between Pete and Josh, who continue to be sweet together. It's clear that the Tiff plot has had more thought, with Pete being a character whose existence is somewhat tied to hers, but this is impressively written.


"You look like Wonder Woman at a funeral."

I shouldn't mock people for their harmless fetishes but, well penguins...?

Anyway, after an establishing shot of a blissfully post-coital Pete- in contrast to Tiff masturbating but being unable to cum- it's back to, er, work. But this is an episode of healing, as Tiff opens up to Doug while they, ere, sit on public toilets, while Pete is now able to use his experiences as assistant to a dominatrix to perform a rather good comedy set. We then move to Tiff's postgrad class- where she gets the lecherous prof reported... and opens up to everyone, climaxing by tying Doug to a chair. Wow.

Into the Woods

"Oh shit..."

So, with all good again, complete with a quadruple date including both Josh and Doug, and with Tiff and Pete best friends again, where is there to go for the season finale? Well, there's a flashback to prom night, and that bad sex, in a cramped car, ending with both of them running into the woods to escape the police- separately. In the present day, after a comical second meeting with Daphne and her put-upon husband, they find themselves trapped in the home of a rich psychopath, forced to fight their way out, and again pursued by cops- and who will be believed, the rich, white, straight male or two sex workers? Satisfyingly, though, they now run into the woods together. They are best friends whatever happens.

This falls a little short of the very best drama, perhaps, with the two leads not quite getting equal treatment. But it's well-written and thoughtful in how it treats its characters and themes, and it's good to see this kind of subject matter treated with respect, but with humour. More please.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

I Clavdivs: What Shall We Do About Claudius?

“Are you sure this girl will marry him?”

“What’s it to do with her?”

In a sense, I suppose, you could say that this episode’s plot is largely a continuation of previous episodes in that Livia is still scheming to get rid of all rivals to her sullen son Tiberius so he can succeed Augustus- in this case Postumus, played here by a frighteningly young version of the baddie from RoboCop 3.

But it’s not about the mere plot, of course, entertaining though the scheming may be. No; it’s about the people, the acting, the clever scripting. It’s about the way Livia traps the charmingly thick Livilla (a young Patricia Quinn just after Rocky Horror) into betraying her lover Postumus, running rings around her. It’s about how Postumus blurts out Livia’s entire catalogue of murders to Augustus just before his exile to a tiny island, to the Emperor’s scorn- but manages to reveal all to Claudius first. This smells very much of foreshadowing.

It’s just as much about little moments, too. Augustus appreciating Horace but disparaging Ovid for “smut”. Augustus shouting “Quinctilius Varus, where are my eagles?” as three legions are massacred in the Teutoberg Forest; it’s 9AD, and Augustus is an old man with a lot on his shoulders. Livia’s hilariously psychopath is speech to the gladiators- “These games are being degraded by the use of professional tricks to stay alive, and I won’t have it!”, along with the entire imperial family being perfectly fine with the gruesome spectacle, in scenes more obviously set in a small studio than most. At the Games, we are so very obviously looking at a theatre set with a camera pointed at it, but we are far too engrossed to mind.

But the main purpose is to introduce the young adult Claudius, with Derek Jacobi appearing for the first time without prosthetics in an extraordinary performance. Humiliated, belittled, despiser by his own mother and an embarrassment to all, he causes laughter at his wedding to a woman who dwarfs him . But he is an intelligent and principled young man, as devoted to the republic as his father. And the historian Pollio encourages him to play up his infirmities in order to outlive those who threaten him. It’s an artfully constructed episode, building up Claudius within the flashback narrative alongside plenty of wit and black humour, while moving Livia’s plotting to a point where next episode has to give us some kind of climax.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

I Clavdivs: Waiting in the Wings


Sometimes it’s hard finding a quote. Today is not one of those times.

We ended last episode with Tiberius in exile for violence against his wife, Julia, Augustus’ daughter, while Caesar’s grandchildren Gaius and Lucius were being groomed for power. Well, Gaius has already had a “sudden and unexplained death”; I’m sure Livia was shocked. Now, as she spends the episode plotting to have Tiberius recalled, I’m sure she’s anxious for poor Lucius. It would be a shame if anything were to... happen to him. All very similar in shape to last episode, then, except that Claudius is now a limping, stuttering child thought a fool by everyone. Like Tristram Shandy, it’s taken a while but he’s got past his own birth in his autobiography.

Last episode I failed to note a few actor spotting moments, not the least of which was Granny Pig from Peppa Pig (a key cultural touchstone to we parents if young children) discoursing on anal sex. Well, Julia is now, having been told last episode to lay off a bit, shagging around with wild abandon and her terrible downfall and exile is, I suppose, the central plot line of the episode, giving us a chance to see some splendid plotting by Livia and leaving Julia both sweating revenge against Livia and with a fairly clear idea of what’s been happening. It’s all very clever plotting at the same time as giving some superb actors a chance to have some real fun with some delightfully scheming characters. Sian Phillips is deliciously evil here, with loads more to come. But BRIAN BLESSED, beneath the SHOUTING, give a wonderfully subtle performance of avuncular bonhomie which can switch to menacing in an instant. Livia may manage to manipulate him on family issues, but this is a believable, power-hungry Augustus, albeit one who has long grown used to power and is now saddened by the tragedies that seem so inexplicably to befall his blood descendants.

In the middle of the episode is an odd omen that seems to predict Claudius’s rise, followed by some wonderful dialogue between Livilla and Antonia as she wishes herself dead before Claudius should ever come to power and is promptly send to bed without any supper, an appropriate prefiguring of Livilla’s own manner of death.

There’s also a lot of witty commentary in the dialogue on Rome and its ways- Julia and Antonia bemoan the unreliability is slaves these days, while Augustus forces his knights to get themselves married- “And don’t try to get round it by getting engaged to nine year old girls. I know that dodge”. But all this is overshadowed by Julia’s exposure, and by THAT scene. It may be a famous shouty Brian Blessed scene. It’s also an extraordinary piece of acting. Although personally I also love Kevin Stoney as fraudulent astrologer (but I repeat myself) Thrasyllus as Tiberius shares with him a dramatic reversal of fortune and is unexpectedly recalled to Rome. Their fit of laughter as they hear of Lucius’ seemingly natural deaths is utterly wonderful.

But now stage young Postumus is joint heir with Tiberius. And he’s intelligent to know this probably isn’t good for his life expectancy. So ends another magnificent episode, but I suspect I’ll be ending all the rest of these blog posts with similar sentiments.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

I, Clavdivs: A Touch of Murder

"It never was what it was..."

It's 20th September 1976. I am as yet a very small collection of cells in my mother's womb, a bizarre thought, and on BBC One there begins the first feature length episode of I, Clavdivs, the BBC's new prestige drama adapting Robert Graves' novels I Claudius and Claudius the God, both of which I recommend heartily, or at any rate at least those parts of the novels that don't require any location filming.

Because that's the thing; there are no locations, no handheld camerawork. Instead there are small sets where you can tell the sets dressing extends no further than is visible on screen. It's theatre with a camera pointed at it, with only lip service made to realism. It relies only vaguely on spectacle; it's entirely about the acting and the script. And, my God, it's magnificent. I would never want them to take away today's location filming and handheld cameras, but we shall never again see the likes of I, Clavdivs.

We begin, after a title sequence that I'd quite forgotten would later inspire the titles of Black Adder II, in the present day in, I think, the 50s AD, with that young Derek Jacobi aged up as the elderly Emperor Claudius as he prepares a framing device, Greek chorus to his own autobiography with the added Greek touch of a riddle from the Sibyl. Then we are in flashback, the seventh anniversary of Mark Antony's defeat at Actium so 24BC, where there is dancing with boobies and our dramatis personae- the splendid Brian Blessed as Augustus in a large yet subtle and nuanced performance that is the highlight of his career, and rivals Herod Agrippa, the old warhorse, and young favourite Marcellus. We also have Augustus's sister Octavia mother to Marcellus, and his wife (and Caesar's only child) Julia- keep up at the back. And at the centre of the web we have Livia.

So we're all set for a long game of- well, definitely not thrones, that's for sure, because Rome doesn't do kings. Oh no. Definitely not. Because Augustus can't wait to lay down his temporary burdens and the republic will be back again like it was in the recent past, right? But before this we get an extraordinary fourth wall-breaking moment as a Greek orator and an actor playing an actor have their faces foregrounded over the main characters and lament how the theatre is not what it was, and never was  in th first place. We are deliberately reminded of the artificiality of all this, that Suetonius may well have been writing out of his arse, and even (by Augustus) that history is not being told as it was but with poetic licence. All this is quite wonderful.

We see the early power games between Agrippa and Marcellus, until first the latter and then the former are fatally poisoned by Livia, whose choice of words is exquisite as she "helps" her sick victims, in order to maneouvre her glum and awkward son Tiberius to the top spot. We see the contrast between Tiberius' weakness and deep depression versus his heroic and cheery brother Drusus, who hopes for a republic but, alas, has a mother who hates him and happens to be Livia.

Augustus is the consummate psychopathic politician, a mafia don, whose every act is politically calculated and whose calculated bonhomie covers a terrifying ruthlessness. And Rome is a goldfish bowl where marriages, divorces, sex and happiness are but political tools. Power pervades every action. Tiberius' self-loathing is quite understandable.

We end with Drusus' suspicious death, with deeper darkness engulfing both Tiberius and the widowed Antonia, a crying baby, and Claudius in the present day with his food taster, suspicious that his wife and stepson are trying to kill him, because such is Rome. It's a richly written, superbly acted bit of telly history and I don't care about the very 1976 hair of young Gaius and Lucius, Livia's next victims. I'm loving this already.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Angel: Not Fade Away

"Good night, folks."

This is it, then. The end. And, my God, that was magnificent.

The plot of the episode could be reduced to “the gang kill every single member of the Circle of the Black Thorn, and some of them die” but, of course, the plot is not the point. This final episode lives and breathes character, feeling, and the positively existential message that yes, doing good may make no difference in the long run in a world that will always be corrupt and unjust, but we do it anyway, with joyous defiance, as something much bigger than our lives. That message lies beneath everything in this final episode.

Angel must keep up appearances, of course, and early on he is made to sign awY the Shanshu Prophecy. But then he is, of course, a hero. Heroes do good because of who they are and not because of any reward, just as one does not need to believe in a Heaven to be moral. Neither does Angel, and neither do any of his friends.

But it isn’t all grim; the gang get to spend one last day doing what they love before they probably die that night. So Lorne sings. Angel spends time with Connor, and sees what a well-adjusted and happy young man he is. Spike gets drunk and performs at a poetry slam. Gunn, wonderfully, does charity work with our old friend Annie who, as much as anyone, articulated what the episode is about- if there are, indeed, corrupt forces ensuring that there will never be justice or an end to suffering, the proper response is to get to work and comfort the suffering. Hopelessness means nothing, however justified. We do good regardless.

Wesley, tragically, has no possible perfect days; spending it with the god king inhabiting Fred’s body is the best he can do. There is no joy for him, only grim determination and, anyway “I don’t actually intend to die tonight.” Like Hamilton later, this is something he probably shouldn’t have said.

The Circle are all killed, but not without cost. Wesley does in Illyria’s arms as she lies to him, his last words being to tell Fred that he loved her. Alexis Denisof is simply magnificent in portraying a character who has had a rich and deep character arc, and the same must be said for J August Richards, as Gunn’s arc this season has been deeply satisfying. We are shocked to see a dejected Lorne murder Lindsey before walking away forever. We are less shocked to see Harmony betray her boss and then ask for a reference, but that kind of juxtaposition is something I’ll miss enormously.

And so the survivors gather to face the consequences, with no hope of survival but happy against the odds. And then it ends. Has any season finale ever been better than this?

RIP Angel. RIP Buffyverse. You were loved.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Angel: Power Play

“You’re my hero.”

“I may not always be.”

The penultimate episode. We’re scarily close to the end.

This is an episode of set-up for the grand finale, yes, but it’s also a suspenseful piece of self-contained drama in its own right as we wonder whether Angel truly has been reduced by the dark side, by a taste for power. Only with Nina, in hindsight, is he truly honest, if oblique, about his desires and feelings, and the way he dumps her is even more heartbreaking once we realise why. But much of the episode shows him indifferent to the suffering of the little people, agreeing to destroy the opponent of an evil senator, and generally doing things that seem to be evil in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the Circle of the Black Thorn.  Only at the end so we discover his true purpose- to strike a blow against evil which will not stop it, or apocalypse, in the long run but will be a worthwhile gesture, from which there is no coming back. And Wesley, Gunn and Spike are all with him.

It’s worth comparing Angel’s earlier speech about power to what he says here. Yes, the world will always be controlled by the powerful. Yes, evil can not be stopped and fighting it is in a sense futile. But that’s not the point. One can choose to be good as a glorious gesture, and give one’s life meaning. This is not a religious argument for morality but almost an existential one. And it’s glorious.

The Circle of the Black Thorn includes many people we have met before- the Duke of Sebassis, Cyvus Vale, that devil bloke that Angel plays squash with, a useful shortcut for the viewer. We also see Illyria being subtly humanised a little. Various characters play Crash Bandicoot, which Mrs Llamastrangler introduced me to a few years ago, and Illyria sees it as a metaphor for life- annoying but addictive. There’s still room for humour, and humanity. An epic episode, as ever for Angel, is leavened with humanity. That’s a big reason why I’m going to miss this programme.

But it’s time to look forward, nervously. Forty-odd minutes to go...

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Angel: The Girl in Question

"How did she ever fall for a centuries-old guy with a dark past who may or may not be evil?"

This is the last ever fluffy episode of the entire Buffyverse and it’s utterly hilarious, as well as giving us what are probably last flashbacks of Darla and Drew- and also Andrew, and sort of Buffy. It may not get the praise that the serious episodes around it may do, but it’s equally brilliant in its own way.

There are three things going on here. One is the conceit that the Immortal, who is very big in Rome, is constantly seducing and, er, satisfying any woman he wants, frequently including Angel’s and Spike’s desired, both in the present and in flashback, and it’s all comedy gold. I especially loved Darla’s glowing little monologue. (“Oh, darling! It was just fornication. Really great fornication...”

The second is the surprise arrival of Fred’s parents, and Illyria’s unexpected ability to impersonate Fred perfectly, something which freaks Wesley out deeply, and makes him tell her in no uncertain terms never to do it again- but we can tell, in spite of her defensive arrogance, that Illyria likes him.

But the third thing is essentially to transport the whole concept of the programme to an Italian (and to a limited sense European as a whole) context, complete withVespas everywhere and an identical Wolfram & Hart offices with Angel’s very Italian counterpart, Ilons, with her casual racism against gypsies prefiguring Italy’s current openly Fascist government. There’s a bit of social commentary here- Angel and Spike want to use violence to get the MacGuffin of the week, where their Italian counterparts resort immediately to bribery. “Oh, look,” says an Italian demon, “the Americans are relying on violence to solve their problems. What a surprise!”

There’s a lot going on here, I think. This is 2004, after all, the time of Afghanistan, Iraq, wars on abstract nouns and the re-election of an American president who we all though at the time would be the worst ever. So there is, I think, an implied self-criticism I’d American War willingness, but also an implication that violence has integrity, that diplomacy is corrupt and appeasing. It’s not necessarily the self-effacing joke it may first seem.

The ending is perfect- a sulking Angel and Spike hearing words of wisdom from Andrew, who then reveals himself to have been changing into a fix and proceeds to go out with two gorgeous women. It’s a wonderful and fun episode. We shall never see its like again.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

See No Evil 2 (2014)

“I’m more of a cake and cadavers kind of girl...”

This may be a by-the-numbers modern slasher sequel, it may have no stars and it may be a bit obscure. But it’s a perfectly decent film and far better than any Friday the 13th I’ve seen so far.

It’s a direct follow-on from the first film, set in the morgue to which the dead are taken, including Jacob, who of course is not actually dead for reasons that solid genre convention allows to go cheerfully unexplained. Working here are Amy, Seth and Holden plus a bunch of interestingly flawed individuals invited for an unorthodox birthday party. It’s a solid basis for a slasher.

The film is, of course, like all the best of its ilk, winking at us with regards to the cliches. Hence the couple who have sex next to Jacob Goodnight’s apparent corpse are doomed. Hence Amy signs her death warrant by offering to stay and help with the nine incoming bodies rather than take her chance to leave for her birthday piss-up. And there are, of course, no survivors, with Seth seeming to get away until the last moment where Jacob gouges out his eyes- we need to have some kind of nod to the title, after all.

This is a classic, well-constructed, traditional but delightfully self-aware base under siege slasher that benefits from a strong setting and good characterisation. I rather liked it.

Monday, 22 April 2019

The Incredibles 2 (2018)

"I renounce my renunciation!"

 I watched this film over the weekend with Mrs Llamastrangler and Little Miss Llamastrangler, who is now rather obsessed with Elastigirl. This is, of course, a rather fun little film which has similar fun with superhero tropes as the last movie. It’s a splendid film, this time focusing on Elastigirl leading the heroics while Mr Incredible struggles with handling the domestics at home.

So, yes, one point for trying to be feminist and minus one for continuing the trope of men being hapless in the domestic sphere. Still, it’s funny, witty and charming and had us all entertained. The plot, revolving around the villainous and Saw-like (in a kid-friendly way) Screenslaver, and the tantalising prospect of superheroics being legal again, is also fun, even if the real baddie’s identity is rather obvious if you happen to be 41 rather than four.

Oh, and Jack-Jack now has an astounding number of powers. Good luck with raising that child, although the scenes of Bob trying to control the little sod are rather amusing. You finish the film rather satisfied by an entertaining and well-constructed piece of entertainment. Maybe one day we will have a real Fantastic Four movie that’s this good.

Is it me, though, or does tycoon superhero fan Winston look just like Lee Mack?

Saturday, 20 April 2019

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

"He's a very queer looking gentleman, Sir."

This isn't the first time I’ve seen this film, of course, but it’s been a bit of a while. It’s as good as ever this time round, of course, one of cinema’s great sequels, but a different experience after so many years. It’s a lot more noticeable this time, for one thing, how the delightfully camp Dr. Pretorius, making Henry Frankenstein look even more neurotic by comparison, strives to separate Henry from his heterosexual relationship so the two of them can do things together of which society disapproves, for which Pretorius has been banned from academia, and which are generally considered (it being a vague Romantic period or 1935, depending on how diabetic we wish to be) to be going against God. Hmm. What are we saying here, Mr Whale? Incidentally, I love the little people with their silly costumes.

The other thing that surprised me this time round is just how late in the film the “Bride” appears; just for the last four minutes. Elsa Lanchester looks and is superb, however. And it is of course the real tragedy that the monster, having known a little friendship from a blind man rather keen to push smoking on to him (“No, no, this is good. Smoke- you try.”), is hated by all and the fact that his intended mate is terrified of him too is simply the final straw. He can have no connection with others, thus no happiness, and so he wants to die- bringing Pretorius and the Bride with him. There’s a hint of violent male attitudes towards rejection by women there, I think. It’s also hard to keep my inner Alan Partridge in check as both the title “Bride of Frankenstein” and the fact that Pretorius says the line for no diegetic reason at his moment of triumph seems to call the monster “Frankenstein”. But it’s hard to deny what an absolute work of genius this film is.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Angel: Time Bomb

”She still thinks she’s the god-king of the universe.”

“So, she’s like a TV star.”

“No, nothing that bad.”

In a way this episode is a way to get from A to B- Illyria is clearly too powerful to have around so her powers have to be sharply reduced for the final few episodes so the upcoming apocalypse can have some sense of threat. But not before she uses said powers to rescue Gunn, of course. He made it quite clear last episode he’d repented and there’s no narrative need to keep him in that rather unpleasant basement when he has far more interesting things to be doing as a key member of the cast.

We also start getting comments- especially in the rather interesting conversation between Gunn and Lorne- about how Wesley is coming across as increasingly unhinged and obsessive, something portrayed superbly by Alexis Denisof. Lorne, meanwhile, seems to be departing from his entertainment brief to revert to his old role as Greek Chorus-cum-comic relief. And Spike, despite the jokes at his expense, is increasingly being accepted as one of the gang. Oh, and Mercedes McNab finally makes the titles.

There’s an interesting early gene where Marcus castigates the gang for blowing so much money on Gunn’s rescue and obliterating their previously huge profits- “It’s business, boys, not a Batcave”- which makes an interesting contrast with Angel’s later decision, to Gunn’s horror, to allow a baby to be given to a bunch of demons for eventual sacrifice. We’re left to wonder whether Angel is indeed starting to be corrupted, and what this has to do with the apparently ongoing apocalypse.

Of course, the bulk of the episode focuses on Illyria speechifying at Wesley and various others as her human frame struggles to hold her power, and only after a load of very weird times-windy stuff does Wesley cure her. As Angel hints towards the end she may now be ready for the team, if she can dual back the conquering urge a bit.

Again, superb stuff. The timey-wimey stuff is a bit bizarre, though.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Angel: Origin

"In gratitude, I grant you three wishes."


"Nah, I'm just messing with you."

Connor, inevitably, is back for an episode. This shouldn’t surprise us. What does come as a pleasant surprise, though, is how well it’s done, and how the fact that Angel altered reality and everybody’s memories acts to drive a wedge between him and Wesley in particular.

Connor’s life may be a lie, and his memories false, but these lies have made him into a healthy, pleasant, well-adjusted young man with a strong relationship with his family and a place at Stanford. He still has superhuman endurance, though, which brings him to the attention of Wolfram and Hart, and although Angel initially, to the gang’s confusion, runs away from the problem, he can’t keep himself away. He soon learns from Marcus that the Senior Partners have nothing to do with putting Connor back in his life- instead Cyvus Vail, the demon who changed Connor’s memories, no wants to use Connor to kill Sahjahn as is, of course, prophesied. Although why Vail didn’t try to do this earlier I have no idea.

I like Cyvus Vail. He’s a witty, likeable character as is Sahjahn. It’s a shame that one of them has to die, and so Sahjahn adds to this season’s growing body count. It’s a fun and entertaining set of scenes, paralleled with the horrifying Wesley discovering the truth about the reality shift, and restoring everyone’s memories.

This will, I suspect, affect Wesley’s trust for Angel, especially as early dialogue to Illyria highlighted how much he trusts his boss at that point. But the interesting effect on Connor; at first he seems to become his old, wild self and kills Sahjahn, only to return to his well-adjusted self. And the final scenes hint that, although he has his old memories back and knows the truth, he remains the man his new memories made him and chooses his current life- a mature, healthy response.

Meanwhile, Gunn is being regularly tortured in the cellar in a quest for redemption. So keen is he to redeem himself that he turns down an offer of release from Marcus- no more deals with the devil for him, no matter what the cost. This scene is here to show he’s learned his lesson; I suspect his days in Hell are numbered.

Another great episode, then. But aren’t they all at the moment?

Monday, 15 April 2019

Inhumans: Divide and Conquer

“Giant cow dogs do not exist.” A better episode this week as the need for exposition diminishes, we know the characters and the story can feather. It still feels a bit like that final season of Torchwood, though.

There’s a series of flashbacks here with Black Bolt and Maximus as children where a pre-mists Black Bolt expresses reluctance to be king as Maximus glowers, and we see both his parents’ trust in him to control his power and Avon gently telling Maximus that he’s a simple, vanilla human. Nice to have all these, I suppose, but the flashbacks don’t tell us anything we can’t infer, which makes their inclusion questionable. I suppose at least we have Agon explicitly telling Maximus he can never be king.

We also see Black Bolt threatened with violence in prison but making a friend with (Inhuman?) powers and connections with whom he manages to escape. I’m not sure how his friend manages to interpret his apparent muteness as a superpower though. He’s followed  throughout by the tenacious Louise, who manages to witness their helicopter escape- which just misses Medusa, whose own subplot has been treading water up until now.

Crystal manages to defy Maximus, find Lockjaw and escape to Hawaii, while Gorgon and his Hawaiian nationalist mates fight away an attack by Auran and her gang, including the mysteriously powerful Mordis. And Karnak, powers still damaged, is suffering a crisis of confidence and throws his lot in with some weed farmers.

We have a cliffhanger ending in which Lockjaw is, er, hit by a quad bike. All this is watchable and just about ok, but it’s awfully slow with a lot of treading water. Can we have a bit less of this boring old Earth stuff please?

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

“You better watch out for the snake that’s going to crawl up that crapper and bite your ass.”

This is the film in the franchise that everyone hates because Jason isn’t in it. You’re not supposed to like it. And, let’s face it, I haven’t much liked the Friday the 13th franchise so far which so far has consisted of a series of increasingly formulaic and by-the-book slashers. So, although it would be heretical to start liking this of all films in the series, chances are slim, right?

Well, sorry. Grab your torches and pitchforks and start laying siege to my castle. I like this film. It’s quite good. Now, let’s not exaggerate: I wouldn’t use a stronger phrase than “quite good”. But quite good it is. It’s well structured, well shot, the deaths may be quite similar and mostly done with knives but they’re well done with lots of suspense. And, even better, with Jason out of the picture there’s a real mystery to the killings. Tommy from the last film is all grown up and ready to be the red herring here, carefully kept away from the murders until revealed not to be the killer at the climax... until he shows himself to have a Jason mask and actually sets out to be the second Jason copycat killer. It’s all quite clever and asks as a rather good origin story for Tommy/Jason which, I’m fairly sure, will never be followed up on.

The identity of the real killer is cleverly done, too; a real surprise but the clues were there, fair and square. As a film about the legacy of Jason rather than Jason himself it, er, actually works better. Sorry. Also, the characters are actually likeable and have personalities, even if one of them does look rather creepily like Michael Jackson, who in 1985 was known as the “King of Pop” rather than as a notorious child molester- that’s one thing that’s dated. But no review of this film would be complete without a mention of the splendidly sweary Ethel, who deserves a film of her own.

So, yeah, I quite liked it. Soz.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

"Holy mackerel!”

This is the second time I've seen this film; twenty years ago it blew me away and I'd still say it's superb and a uniquely thoughtful '50s flying saucer movie with a lot to say. But perhaps this time my eyebrow as a little more raised. I still love the film, but I can see its flaws.

It's still a very serious moral fable, with flaws that I'll get to later, which comes across as thoughtful and is superbly directed, with oe of the most effective flying saucers in all of cinema. But the characterisation... well, Klaatu is a bit of an arrogant dick (I'll get to that later too) but otherwise we have a bunch of characters who are essentially just ciphers, along with the most "gee whiz" kid in the history of cinema. And, well, let's just look at the plot, shall we?

Klaatu is from 250-odd miles away, so within the Solar System, if a little further than the suggested Mars or Venus, both plausibly inhabited by what was known in 1951. That being the case, you can sort of see how the fact that Earth has nukes and is starting to explore space travel might be seen as a threat. But expecting humanity to entirely expunge all aggression or face genocide? I mean, come on. I'm as big a wishy-washy liberal as they come but aggression will never be removed from human nature, nor is it necessarily always a negative or violent thing. And in threatening to destroy us Klaatu is not exactly occupying the moral high ground. That would be collective punishment, as blatant a war crime as there could possibly be.

Oh yes, and then he is killed by violent humans and resurrected by Gort in an obvious Christ parallel, something that has to be done thoughtfully to avoid being pretentious and, while I'm certainly not religious, I have to observe that nowhere in the Gospels, or so I believe, does Christ threaten to destroy the human race if they refuse to follow his teachings.

That aside, though, I genuinely enjoyed the film, honest! it's extremely well made, watchable, and while its message doesn't quite work it is at least about something. It also gave us the names for no fewer than three denizens of Jabba the Hutt's sail barge...

Friday, 12 April 2019

Ready Player One (2018)

”Ninjas don't hug!"

 Well, that was certainly superb. Who'd have thought it; a film from Steven Spielberg with no didactic music, no real stars and a very fresh feel. This film is hugely entertaining and so very 2018.

Superficially, perhaps, you could say this film is a bit like Tron, being set mainly in cyberspace with a corporate baddie. But, in truth, the film goes so much deeper, and has so much more to say, than the cool visuals and the myriad, admittedly awesome, pop culture references. And that isn't just about today's gamer, streaming and Twitch culture (Mrs Llamastrangler knows much more about all this than I do) in spite of the many obvious references.

It's 2045, and what we see of the world (well, Ohio) is grim and poverty-stricken aside from a few corporate bigwigs. People live in "stacks", trailer parks stacked on top of each other, and escape their lives through ubiquitous VR and, in particular, through the Oasis, a VR oasis invented by the late James Halliday and his mate, played by the superb Mark Rylance along with the ever-splendid Simon Pegg, both bizarrely with American accents. Through this world we follow Wade, love interest Art3mis and the slightly undeveloped rest of the gang as they try to complete the online quest left by Halliday to gain control of his empire.

Put like that it seems almost pedestrian, a kind of cross between Tron and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it’s so much more than that. The commentary on escapism into an online world, a kind of VR Second Life where capitalism continues to operate as avatars depend on “coin” for how they look and what they can do, is acutely clever. So is the hint that not only has pop culture become, well, culture, but that the immediate access to cheap music and films will mean the pop culture of the late twentieth century will remain relevant and new pop culture will fail to be supported. There’s IOI with its “loyalty centres”, or debtor’s prisons, a serious potential future problem if debt laws are not reformed. There’s a reminder that reality is what actually matters and that being online is but an extension of this. There’s s love story. There’s the Holy Hand Grenade. There’s MechaGodzilla. This is easily the best new film I’ve seen for a long time.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Angel: Underneath

"This isn't Hell. It's the 'burbs."

This is an excellent finely crafted piece of television drama. The script is superb; I feel I haven’t praised Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft highly enough so here’s me doing it now. They are brilliant, whether it’s characterisation or plot, and their dialogue may not have the playfulness of a Joss Whedon but has a delightfully wry wit. I’ll miss them, and am puzzled at how little else they seem to have written.

This is a pivotal arc episode, of course; Lindsey is rescued do he can tell Angel what the Senior Partners are up to, namely corrupting him and his friends to keep the distracted from “the” Apocalypse, which is apparently the actual one and not one of those common or garden apocalypses that happen at the end of most Buffyverse seasons. It also sees Eve sign away her job, and her immortality, to a new liaison from the Senior Partners played by none other than Adam Baldwin, another Firefly alumnus. It’s cleverly done how he’s presented as an unstoppable threat who arrives implacably in front of Eve and produces... a pen.

Lindsey’s “holding dimension” is fascinating, reached by a magical car that evokes KITT from Knight Rider- we are primed to expect a Hell yet our first sight of him he looks very post-coital with his beautiful wife. Lindsey has a beautiful family in an enormous picket fence house but he seems to be afraid of the cellar. Only later do we find that he’s tortured there daily.

And here, of course, lies Gunn’s redemption. I love Angel’s pep talk to him as one who should know- yes, Gunn will forever be tormented by what he has done and yes, he should be. But he’s a good man and needs to atone. And that’s what he does- by taking Lindsey’s place in full knowledge that means daily torture. Redemption indeed.

But Lorne is headed in no such direction. Having run away unable to face Fred’s death he’s been drinking himself silly, depressed and disillusioned. He may have decided to  return and pretend to be functioning but he’s clearly shocked to see Angel and Spike without Gunn.

All this and we get done nicely scripted interplay between a very grim Wesley and an Illyria horrified at her relative weakness. We still don’t like her yet, but the script is gamely trying.

Absolutely first class telly.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Inhumans: Those Who Would Destroy Us

”I have to wait here until they send someone to bring me back.”

“Back where?”

“The Moon.”


Episode 2 and, while the Hawaiian locations are visually sumptuous, I can’t help noticing that, after front loading the visual excitement of Attilan and all the awesome-looking Inhumans, we now have a shorn Medusa, less screen time for Lockjaw and most screen time either on Earth or in grey Attilan corridors.

We have four Inhumans on Earth: Karnak appears to have damaged himself; Gorgon has found some friends who accept what he is; Medusa is on a tourist bus; and Black Bolt is in central Honolulu being a damn fool. I can forgive the traffic incident which was beyond his control, but really- stealing clothes and assaulting a security guard? No wonder he gets himself arrrated on what threatens to be a tedious sub-plot.

Things are more interesting on Attilan, as ever, as Iwan Rheon shows himself to be superb as ever, with Maximus playing his little power games with that classic mixture of charm and threats to try and get Crystal and the Genetics Council onside. His flirting with political radicalism, with there being an existing underclass, is interesting. He’s playing with fire here but the grievances appear genuine. It’s interesting, too, that Crystal’s own parents were political radicals who opposed the royals.

Also interesting is Auran, agent and assassin working for Macimus who appears to be able to come back to life after being killed. So far there’s a lot of potential promise here in the ply lines, but it’s becoming clear that, Maximus and Black Bolt aside, few of the characters exactly ooze charisma and there looks to be a worrying amount of Earthbound treading of water.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

From Hell (2001)

“You’re not going to see the twentieth century...”

I first saw this at the pictures when I was at uni back in 2001, long before I first read Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s magnificent graphic novel. I quite enjoyed it at the time, I remember. This time, not so much. Is it because a whodunit which only hints at the depths of the graphic novel seems much shallower in comparison, in effect meaning that the film is unfairly disadvantaged in my estimation because I happen to have read the source material? Or is it that watching graphic entertainment based on the murder and misogynistic disembowelling of women is perhaps a more unsettling viewing in 2019 than it was in 2001?

Perhaps a bit of both. Certainly the film works well as a whodunit, although it skates close in the early scenes a couple of tones to giving away Jack the Ripper’s identity. But the real meat of the graphic novel, the long monologues by Gull and especially the stuff about Freemasons and “Juwes”  (how true is what Moore claims?) is dealt with only superficially. But perhaps there are only so many depths you can reach in a two hour film.

Beyond the simple script the film is well shot, well made and well cast with a pre-Jack Sparrow Johnny Depp convincing as a cockney copper, bizarre though the decision to have Abberline chase the dragon may be; the original version of the character is very different. Heather Graham impressed as Mary, Ian Holm is superb as Gull, Robbie Coltrane is the perfect sidekick and the late Ian Tichardson is a good laugh as Abbeline’s stupid Freemason boss. It’s a perfectly decent film in many ways, although inevitably it dwells on the horrible murders of women. But I think inevitably it looks shallow, perhaps unfairly given what can fit into two hours, than the source material.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Angel: Shells

"My world is gone."

"Now you know how I feel..."

Killing Fred was a brave move and a huge one. She was a hugely likeable and universally adored character, killed much as Tara had been in Buffy- Wes, like Willow, had only just go together with the love of his life before her cruel and pointless death the following episode. So far, so structurally similar. But Wes is now a harder character, not in a dark Willow sense but in the sense that something inside him has died. Worse, Fred may be dead but her body is now occupied by Illyria, an Old One seemly fond of the east coast of the Adriatic. And, just to rub it in this new character is played with chilling effect by Amy Acker, showing her phenomenal range as an actress.

Illyria is, of course, a baddie, and naturally she has an evil plan which this episode consists of her trying to execute. But, of course, her kingdom and her army have long gone, and she has no purpose. Her resurrection, and Fred's death, were both meaningless, much like Knox's life, shaped by his empty faith that brings him nothing. It's all very bleak. But, bravely, the episode ends by trying to get us to emphasise with Illyria along with Wesley, who has as much reason to hate her as anyone.

It's certainly courageous to make such a bold move as killing Fred and then tr y to get us to emphasise with her killer, who is played by the same actress. Certainly the main cast are devastated. Lorne can't deal with it at all. Wesley is changed, cold-hearted in a world without Fred, shooting Knox dead and stabbing Gunn when he finds out the truth. As for poor Gunn... this is where his betrayal is exposed, and he's devastated.

This isn't an episode to like, but one to hugely admire. Extraordinary television.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Big Hero 6 (2014)

 "That is both disgusting and awesome..."

A somewhat unusual Marvel film here, but an inevitable consequence of said comics giant being swallowed by the greedy jaws of Disney. Awesome Stan Lee cameo aside, the obscure Marvel origins are minimised in order to make a Disney kids' film, and the result works well.

Hence there's no Silver Samurai and no Sunfire. The setting is not Japan but the amusingly named "San Francokyo". But it's all very Disney with the plot, characters and humour having all the kid-friendly charm we might expect. So Hiro inevitably becomes the, er, hero while Baymax becomes the kind of cute robot we might also expect from Disney. I don't know the source material myself (I Googled it; 1998 is well after my comics-reading days) but it adapts amazingly well to the modern house style of a Disney kids' film.

There are some awesome ideas, like the Microbots (wasn't there something like these in the Bob Budiansky Transformers comics in the '80s?), Alan Tudyk as the (spoilers) red herring and all the cool robotics. But it's a heartwarming tale of a boy coming to terms with grief at its, er, heart while at the same time, with the character of Professor Callaghan, showing us the terrible things that grief can make us do. Plus, of course, Hiro gets five, yes five, comedy superhero sidekicks (because that's what they are) with powers.

It's definitely a Disney kids' film which will appeal mainly to kids (not Little Miss Llamastrangler, sadly; it is apparently lacking in princesses), but is a charmingly different little superhero film.

The Gifted: Season 1, Episode 12 and 13- eXtraction and X-Roads

“I’m the only person in this family who’s actually proud to be a Von Strucker!”


“The X-Men made a mistake. This is who I am”

The finale was broadcast, for some reason, as a feature length double bill, so I’m treating it as such. And... well, it had a few surprises, but... meh. I’ll probably end up seeing the next season before too long but only because Mrs Llamastrangler is happy to watch it with me. It’s lucky to have that reprieve, because a promising start has been wasted in becoming a predictable, plodding, repetitive programme in which the characters never seem to actually drive the narrative.

The penultimate episode focuses on the Mutant Underground trying to kidnap Campbell at some anti-Mutant event in North Carolina while Reed and co try to find his mother, Cagney from Cagney & Lacey, to keep her safe from bad old Sentinel Services. But not much happens other than the usual angst- Andy is increasingly wondering whether his ancestors had the right idea, putting him at odds with the rest of the family, while Lorna and Marcos continue to clash over ethics as Lorna gets constantly reminded of who her father is. It’s all somewhat tedious aside from an in-joke about Sentinel Services originally intending to use robots but not doing so for, presumably, budgetary reasons.

We also have hints that John and Clarice are going to get together as at first he berates her over her Brotherhood ("of Evil Mutants") past, and then apologises later and gets a snog. I bet they will. We end with the attack on the conference going all wrong.

The final "episode" concerns the siege of Mutant Underground's HQ by Sentinel Services and later the Hounds while Polaris nips off to assassinate Campbell and his nasty senator friend and, praise be, the reset button remains unpressed. Stuff actually happens. The Struckers all save the day, evacuating everyone; Marcos, with Blink and John, fails to stop Lorna from dramatically turning a plane full of people into a fireball; Jace quits. All this and a face with "J. Kirby" written on it. And then we get the dramatic finale in which Lorna and the Frosts turn up and convince half the mutants to join them... including Andy.

It's an effective finale, yes. But it feels as if the series has been treading water for episodes upon episodes and only because it's the finale are things actually allowed to happen. That isn't in the grand Chris Claremont X-Men tradition; nor is it good episodic television. Please do better next season. A writer's room can be a creative thung but this very much feels written by committee.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

“You... you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head, you."

This film may be a remake, and I may have a policy of not seeing remakes before originals, but you have to draw the line somewhere; the original version of this is ancient and obscure, and in any case I’d say both are just different adaptations of the same novel so the argument doesn’t apply.

This film is, I hope you’re not surprised to read, jaw-droppingly good. I’m well-verses with the works of Raymond Chandler, but less so with Dashiell Hammett whom I haven’t read at all. The genre, and Spade himself, feel very much straight out of the splendid novels of Chandler, though; femme fatales; a jaded, cynical, witty but secretly moral hero; people trying to get along in an imperfect and sinful world; hats and/or cigarettes everywhere. And at the centre of it all is the sublime Humphrey Bogart. To my shame, this is the first film of his that I’ve seen. It won’t be the last.  And the entire cast is superb.

The film is brilliantly shot, too, by the young John Huston; there are some particularly brilliant shots. I noticed that when Sam picks up the phone to hear of Archer’s death we first see only the phone, then his hand. Only later do we see Sam’s face.

The plot is complex but clearly told and engaging; the dialogue is amazing; the characters gripping; the conclusion deeply satisfying. This is a movie everyone should see.