Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year!

Before I start drinking certain alcoholic beverages I'd like to wish all my readers a happy and prosperous 2015 as well, of course, as a suitably merry last few hours of 2014

Expect January to start with much blogging. It's a big year for me, though- we're expecting our first baby in early Feb, and it's likely that blog posts may be somewhat less frequent. Fear not, though- the blog will go on and on for as long as blogs are a thing!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: What They Become

"I'm her father, not you!"

And they end it there?

Wow. What a half season. Trip is dead. Mack may not be. Whitehall is dead. Ward has been shot, by Skye. And that's just the start. It isn't just crammed full of incident because it's the end of the half-season, though; all episodes are like this at the moment.

Let's just say it: Cal (Skye's Dad) is Mr Hyde, and Skye ("Daisy") is Quake as well as an Inhuman. Exactly who Raina is, besides an Inhuman, is unclear, and the same is true of that mysterious bloke at the end, with another Obelisk and no eyeholes. A lot gets explained to Skye by her father, much of which we have already have worked out; it's hard to hide spoilers when there's a pre-existing Marvel mythos.

Regarding the regulars, it's clear that Slye has come on leaps and bounds as an agent, and Fitz continues to recover slowly from the brain damage. May is a genius pilot, while it seems Ward's whole agenda was to take Skye to her father and her destiny, for which she shoots him. The scenes where Skye receives much exposition from her father are the fulcrum of the episode and, indeed, the season so far. We've been waiting for this.

I'm still stunned from watching that. What will happen next? How long will we have to wait? Will any UK channel be showing Agent Carter? So many questions. Agents of SHIELD is on fire. I keep saying it because it's true.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (2000)

"Blast this Christmas music. It's joyful and triumphant!"

Ok, I'll admit I never encountered Dr Seuss as a kid (he's quite popular in the UK, but not as ubiquitous as he is in America), and I essentially watched this because my wife has fond memories of it. But I rather enjoyed it, much as it may not be a great film. I'm no fan of Jim Carrey but here's a film where he really works (and you can recognise his distinctive facial mannerisms through all the layers of make-up), and it's pleasingly random to see a young Taylor Momsen from the Pretty Reckless, a band I'm a little too old to appreciate. Give me Hole, L7, Bikini Kill and Daisy Chainsaw any day.

Apparently we get most of the original verse spoken aloud, which is a good thing, as is the dreamlike look of the film, overseen by the not-always-reliable Ron Howard. The weird hairstyles are great.  And yes, it's fluffy and kid-friendly, but the Grinch is funny, with Carrey getting some fantastic lines, with just enough cynicism to undercut the sentimentalism of the message.

I enjoyed this film. And that's a good thing; very imminent fatherhood means I will be seeing many more like it over the next few years!

Doctor Who: Last Christmas

"So that's 22 million children per hour. That's impossible! So, obviously, I've got a second sled?"

Could this be the best Christmas episode ever? It really could be, although I'm glad that an episode questioning the existence of Father Christmas happens before my daughter is born. We combine the real strengths of Moffat's storytelling- an imaginatively conceptual monster that revolves around our perception of it and intricate plotting- with real heart, wit and fun. Naysayers beware: this blog post will consist of 100% gushing.

I love the whole concept of dreams within dreams, and the dream crabs themselves, which look like face huggers from Alien (as we're told, by Michael Troughton's Albert!) and always attack you when you think about them (that is sooo Moffat), anaesthetising you with nice dreams as they melt your face off. Lovely.

Oh, and Santa is in it. With all the best lines. Nick Frost is perfect casting, and all the scenes with Santa and the elves are hilarious, leavening what could otherwise be the grimness of the base under siege format.

The plot is a marvel to behold and, wonderfully, any conceivable plot hole can be justified that the whole thing (including the very end of Death in Heaven) is a dream except the last few minutes. It's not a dream without dramatic consequences, though; the Doctor and Clara finally admit that they lied to each other and parted for absolutely no good reason. Oh, and we seem to get to know Shona suspiciously well for a one off character. Could we be seeing her again?

(Shona, incidentally, gets the best metatextual moment of the episode as she wakes up in her drab flat; her Christmas to-do list includes three DVDs- Alien, The Thing from Another World and Miracle on 34th Street- which are the clear influences for the episode. Nicely done.)

Obviously, Clara dreams about Danny (will he stay dead?) in a lovely character scene in which Danny, wonderfully, insists that he didn't die saving the world; he died saving Clara. The rest of us were just along for the ride. And Moffat cruelly wrong-foots is at the end, showing the Doctor returning to an elderly Clara (nice age make-up for once), having squandered the chance forever to travel with her again. But this is all a dream; the Doctor and Clara get a second chance, and we end with them travelling together again.

A really nice touch here, incidentally, is the fact that the Doctor can't tell the difference between old and new Clara. Another nice touch is the description we get of the Memory Crabs: "We're getting hacked. The visual input from your optic nerve is being streamed to their brains". I have to marvel at how Moffat, as he did in The Bells of St John, describes an alien threat perfectly in terms of very contemporary technology. The only death (Albert) is shown figuratively by having him pulled into a screen, some excellent nightmare logic. And the Doctor has a line in the sand: "Santa Claus does not do the scientific explanation."

Best Christmas episode ever!!!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas

In advance of tomorrow's festive episode of Doctor Who, I'd like to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas (to all of you at home...) from myself, Mrs Llamastrangler and the bump!!!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Ye Who Enters Here

"One crisis at a time!"

Oh my God, they killed Mack! The bastards. On the one hand he's a minor character from the comics who, I believed, never got killed on that medium but, on the other hand, Henry Simmons happens to be black and, as the trope goes, the black guy dies first. Hmm. Is that a little uncomfortable? I suppose sometimes character deaths are racially neutral in intent, but it looks awkward.

Still, great episode, even if we spend ages on the edge of the newly-found alien city and never really see it. But there are still exciting revelations- Raina even uses the word "Kree" to Skye, revelling in how in-demand she's become for her knowledge. Skye is also told that she, like Raina (Inhumans both?) can touch the Obelisk without harm. Bet she does so at some point.

I love the jokes about how many Koenig brothers there are, and Coulson's quick statement that SHIELD found out all about the Bermuda Triangle back in the '80s. I also love the continued use by HYDRA of Agent 33 with May's face. And it's intriguing to see Mack (before he dies, obviously) referring to a secret that Bobbi is hiding from Hunter even though they're shagging again.

Before we go to the city, though, HYDRA arrive, led by Ward, seizing Raina and (against Whitehall's wishes) Skye. Ward also declined to blast the team out of the sky. What is his agenda?

Never have I been so impatient to see the next episode, even with Christmas Day (and Doctor Who!) coming before then!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Angel: There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb

"We all got our demons..."

On the surface this is a fun, fluffy little season finale in which the bad guys running Pylea get overthrown and everyone is happy ever after. But there are all sorts of little character moments suggesting problems ahead and, of course, the fluffy mood is instantly undercut at the end with the bad news from Sunnydale.

Even at the start, none of the gang want to be in Pylea any more, not even Cordy who begins to realise that, like today's European monarchs, she is nothing but a puppet in a gilded cage. Angel's initial enthusiasm for Pylea, with its straightforward black and white morals and disdain for all shades of grey has faded; he may be all white-hatted human hero, but his vampire side is all demon, whatever faith Fred may have in him. Meanwhile, Gunn and Wesley keep nearly dying in comical ways which neatly undermine Wesley's credentials as a leader.

In fact, Wesley's talents as a leader, or lack of them, are something of a subtext here. His revolutionary plans involve the sacrifice of the lives of some under him, and a particularly cynical usage of Angel. How very, well, Macchiavellian. This, along with hints to his kinkiness, seem to point to a deepening and darkening of his character to come.

But for now all is fluffy, Groo is in charge of Pylea and all the doubtless horrible stuff is still to come. But all that's for another season...

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Gift

"How many apocalypses now?"

"Six, I think."

It's very clear from the start that this was originally supposed to be the last ever episode and not just a season finale; the "Previously On" is a tour through all five seasons, and the opening scene is a call back to the first ever episode- Buffy saves a boy from a vampire (how long since we saw one of those?) in the exact feminist statement that is the raison d'être for the whole show.

Still, this is also (and, as it turns out, only) a season finale, so we then turn straight to the plot. The plot involves some waiting around, however, so we also have time for a bit of character stuff first. Hence a bit of friction between Buffy and Giles about whether to kill Dawn (as though that's going to happen!) and Xandet suggesting, to his immediate shame, that they could just kill Ben (er...!). Hence Dawn being so very, very brave on what is to be the last day of her life. Hence Buffy and Giles getting a nice, quiet moment together. Hence Anya actually having some good and practical ideas about which McGuffins to use against Glory. But essentially the plan is just to keep Glory occupied so that the moment passes and the appointed time passes and it's too late to kill Dawn and unleash Hell. As plans go, it's rather desperate. And Buffy makes it clear that, if Dawn dies, she's quitting as Slayer. It's clear that there can be no simple return to the status quo.

Amongst all this, though, is a funny yet sweet scene of Xander proposing to Anya in an act of defiant faith in the future, just after they've had sex during which Anya, as she so kindly informs us, had "the pleasure moment".

After this, things seem to speed up. And, well, I've never much enjoyed action scenes or found them that easy to follow, but the second half of the episode seems to be too fast and too much action, robbing Buffy's death of its impact. Yes, the resolution at the end is obvious but that's not actually a problem as its a nice and neat way to end things, and the emotional impact should make up for the lack of surprise. Yet the emotional impact is strangely blunted.

Still, none of that takes away from the fact that this has been a fine season. The best, in fact, since Season Three. So let's see what happens in two more seasons on a different network...  

Friday, 19 December 2014

Angel: Through the Looking Glass

"Numfar! Do the Dance of Joy!"

Yes, that is indeed Joss Whedon playing Numfar. That alone is a good argument for this episode of Angel being the best ever. 

It looks as though Cordelia has been made Queen because of her prophetic powers, which connect her to the Powers That Be. There's a catch, however. She has to "Com-Shuk" with a creature called the "Groosalugg". I've never heard it called that before.

Here we continue the theme of Pylea allowing Angel to embrace his heroic nature fully, with Landok warmly welcoming him as part of the family while Lorne... er, Krevlornswath of the Deathwatch Clan... Is comically belittled by his bearded mother. All this is suddenly undercut, though, by his being invited to "swing the Crebbill" or behead Fred. Naturally, he rescues her, big old hero that he is, and makes himself an outsider.

The ensuing scenes with Angel and Fred serve both to emphasise how likeable and tragic Fred is and what an awesome actress Amy Acker is. 

It takes a while for Fred to accept that "the handsome man" did indeed save her from the monsters, LA is still real, she's not dead and there is indeed hope. She's having a very bad time in Pylea. Cordy seems to be ok, though, as it turns out that the Groosalugg is an even handsomer man who has fought an awful lot of monsters. He's a true, archetypal, uncomplicated hero and an obvious parallel of Angel, with all his doubts and shades of grey.

Doesn't he look a bit, er, wet in comparison? Still, that's something he has in common with Cordelia at the moment...

Angel: Over the Rainbow

"Who has handcuffs?"

"Well, I... wouldn't know..."

Oops. I thought I only has two episodes of Angel left and not three. I thought I'd alternated Buffy and Angel right through their respective seasons but I must have done two Buffys in a row at one point. Oh well. Here we go.

The last few episodes of this season are weird, bizarre, fluffy and delightful, a bit of fun after the heavy themes of the season so far and, indeed, of the closing episodes of the sister show. Plus, we now have Amy Acker as Fred. At last the gang's all here. This now properly feels like Angel.

It's a while before the non-Cordelia contingent gets to Pylea, and Cordy isn't having a nice time, what with her being enslaved and the apparent attentions of the Inquisition. A lot of this time is spent with comic relief about the Host's (or Lorne's, of Krevlornswath of the Deathwatch Clan's) reluctance to leave the dimension that once had Aretha Franklin in it.

There's one slight intrusion from the overall arc- Wolfram and Hart sniffing around the hotel, threatening to snap it up in six months after the lease ends- but it's all about Pylea. There's an interesting serious chat between Gunn and Ange, slightly diverting from the light mood; Ginn isn't coming to Pylea as he has responsibilities in LA. But so does Angel, and he's dropping everything for Cordy. It's obvious that he loves her. Oh, and the dialogue quoted at the top there is our first hint of Wesley's kinky tendencies. He's suddenly getting a lot of development.

We end with the whole gang (including Gunn) arriving in Pylea in Angel's car, like Marty McFly in Back to the Future III in an obvious visual reference. There are two suns, but Angel isn't set on fire, something which he may mention once or twice. This is a bit symbolic, of course; in this world of black and white Angel is free to unleash his inner unambiguous white hatted hero. Apparently.

We end with the finest cliffhanger ever- Cordelia enthroned as Queen of all she surveys. Looks as though I'll have to blog another episode of Angel next, then...

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Weight of the World

"I'm willing to wager, when all's said and done, Buffy likes it rough..."

Just one more episode after this, and Buffy's all catatonic and flashbacky. There's a certain amount of treading water until the finale here, but it's well enough executed to make a passable episode, if not a great one.

The theme here is guilt; Buffy's guilt for subconsciously giving in and, worse, momentarily wishing her own sister dead so that all this will just go away. Meanwhile, even Glory gets a bit of guilt leaking through from Ben. Buffy's the important one, though; she's the one with the brains and, indeed, character traits.

So we get Willow going inside Buffy's head, and a bit of trippy symbolism passes the time. There are clues and, indeed, misdirection over the meaning of "Death is your gift", as the first slayer told Buffy. We will, of course, find out in the finale.

We end with Giles telling Buffy that there's only one way to beat Glory: kill Dawn. This is slightly undermined by our knowledge that you could also just kill Ben. But let's see what happens...

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Angel: Belonging

"I remember when a few bob got you a good meal, a bottle and a tavern wench."

Yay! It's Fred! Er, for a few seconds. In a blurry flashback. Er... roll on next episode.

I love the end of this season. Most of the season arc stuff is all wrapped up, so we can spend the last three episodes doing something else. That's not to say that things aren't carried on; this episode is an extended example of how Wesley is entirely lacking in leadership skills, for example. And again we see Cordelia symbolically abasing herself for fame, humiliated by a slimy, woman-objectifying advert director who is himself nobody much. And Gunn experiences the most acute conflict of loyalties between his old and new friends, culminating in the pointless death of an old mate and, perhaps, a permanent estrangement.

But this is all about the Host. Or perhaps I should say Lorne. Or perhaps I should say (snigger) Krevlornswath of the Deathwatch clan. This revelation of his origins, in a plane of heroes and villains and nothing in between, is both an hilarious contrast with the splendidly camp Lorne and a perfect fit with Angel.

There are some nice moments here;  Alexis Denisof is superb during Wesley's phone chat with his censorious father, getting ever more deflated- and his father, while not exactly nice, is probably right about his lack of leadership chops.
And the looks on Angel's, Gunn's and Wesley's faces as they ponder a semi-naked Cordelia is priceless.

But we end with everything all wrapped up,the Drokken slain by Angel, and Lorne's cousin safely home. Except... Cordelia went through the portal too...

What an episode. And I'm sure the next two are going to be fun.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spiral

"Running away? Finally, a sensible plan..."

Ahem. Yes, I know. Blog-wise, this is the longest season of Buffy ever. It will get quicker, honest! Anyway, things are getting pretty bleak here.

Buffy's at the end of her tether. This season has been a constant stream of pressure put upon her young shoulders, both as a slayer and as a young woman. As she confides to Dawn, "It just keeps coming. Glory, Riley, Tara, Mom...". This season Whedon has decided to just throw hardship and responsibility at his eponymous protagonist and see how she responds. By simply shutting down, according to the end of the episode. Things are far beyond serious.

This is the episode where the Scoobies run away; there is no hope against Glory. And yet this is also the episode where, in the midst of a load of exposition about Glory from the captured general of those bizarre mediaeval clerics, still using swords, bows and chainmail in 2001, we learn that she has an Achilles heel; kill Ben, and Glory dies. That's a bit of a hint as to how the season ends.

This exposition also explains what the Key is- a device to mingle all the dimensions, freeing Glory and unleashing Hellish chaos- and Dawn hears it all. An adolescent girl, already with self-esteem issues, hearing that she's something unspeakably awful. Oh, and at one stage it almost feels as if Giles is going to die. And, at the end, Ben turns into Glory, and takes Dawn away. She's won. It's over. And through it all Tara is still heartbreakingly hobbled on the brain. How very bleak.

There's other stuff too, of course; Ben talks to the camper demon ever, and realises that his only hope is to kill Dawn- so what's that he injects her with at the generals insistence? The general, and the clerics, also want to kill this innocent teenage girl, in the name of God, for the greater good. Like Buffy, we're appalled. It's fitting that they dress and act like crusaders, standing for the very worst side of Christianity. 

Willow again goes all proto- Dark Willow (and is made to look very dark) in constructing an invisible force field. But that's next season. This season looks daunting enough. Just two episodes to go in what's shaping up to be the best season since the third...

Friday, 12 December 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: The Things We Bury

"Paddington and Time Lord are closing in!"

Well then. It's all coming out now. Daniel Whitehall is a hundred year old Nazi war criminal who seized eternal youth from Skye's (Inhuman?) mother, a timeless Chinese peasant who looks uncannily like Sierra from Dollhouse. And, much more importantly, Hunter and Bobbie finally shag. As my wife said, there was far too much sexual tension.

Things are looking much bigger in terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe- we have many flashbacks featuring Hayley Atwell, preparing the way for her imminent spin-off and references to the Red Skull. We are told of "blue angels" in the distant past who wish to erase humanity- and, incidentally, I may not have read the comics for years but I know my Marvel comics continuity up to 1994-ish. I'm certain that this is a reference to the Kree genetically engineering the Inhumans. It looks as though Skye may be an Inhuman through both parents, although her father's notices become ever more interesting. We almost get told Skye's real name, and there's a strong hint that her father's true hatred is for Whitehall.

On the characterisation front, Fitz is coming along nicely, entrusted by Coulson with an important task and acquitting himself well. It's clear that his brain damage won't be a permanent thing. Bakshi, well, dies. And there's a fascinating scene between Grant and Christian Ward in which Christian finally confesses that it was he who nearly killed the youngest brother. And yet, by the end, Christian and their parents are dead in an apparent "murder-suicide" and Ward is getting pally with Whitehall. That's another person with a rather opaque agenda.

There's a big cliffhanger at the end, though... has this mysterious city been found? Whatever. Agents of SHIELD. On fire at the moment. You know the drill.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Quatermass Experiment: Part 1 ("Contact Has Been Established")

"It's one of them things. They dropped one."

This is, sadly, one of only two episodes of this six part serial that I will be blogging; the others don't exist. They will never be found, whatever Philip Morris has been up to, as they were never telerecorded in the first place, which is a shame. Television in 1953 was a very ephemeral medium, all of it live aside from a few pre-recorded film sequences. For repeats, the actors would simply repeat their performances. You saw it once and it was gone.

1953 was a long time ago and looks it; the picture quality, naturally, is rubbish and the long scenes are there because it simply wasn't possible to include more than two or three different scenes. Television was very much theatre with a camera pointed at it. There's a scene break here where the picture fades to black and stays black for what seems like ages.

Nevertheless, this is a superb piece of television scripting and production, dripping with atmosphere, however limited the live performers may be, and a reminder of the brilliance of both Rudolph Cartier and the great Nigel Kneale. This is a world in which science is admirable and scientists great men, but only because science is a desperate and fragile attempt to impose order on a terrifying world in which dark things lurk at the edges, not least human nature. It's refreshing, though, to see the scientific talk isn't being dumbed down in any way. And this is an era, what perhaps we can call the Dan Dare era, when it was possible to imagine Britain as a space pioneer. Sputnik lay four years ahead. To people in 1953 the achievements of the British Experimental Rocket Group were scarcely imaginable.

The plot is simple enough- a rocket has been sent into space, gone missing, but has now returned under mysterious circumstances. There is much tension in this scenario, later to be lovingly ripped off by Doctor Who in The Ambassadors of Death. Only in future episodes will it become apparent that something else has come back with Caroon.

And yet, the real unpleasantness is very much on Earth. A useless civil servant busybody is there to annoy and to serve the plot function of being exposited at, while newspaper columnist Jimmy Fullalove (a very young Paul Whitsun-Jones) exhibits all the cynicism of today's red top tabloids. (And this angle, that of the press,would also come to be lovingly ripped off by Doctor Who in The Web of Fear.)

We also have some comedy working class characters and a dear old lady played by Katie Johnson of The Ladykillers fame. She is truly from another age; IMDb tells me she was born in 1878 and made her stage debut in 1894!

Sadly, as but one more episode exists, we won't get to consider the whole thing. We can only judge the first two episodes, but this at least is a brilliant episode. One more to go, though...

Black Christmas (1974)

"That's the Mormon Tabernacle Choir doing their annual obscene phone call."

Er, merry Christmas, folks.

This film is so refreshing- one of the earliest slasher movies from before any of the tropes were truly established and so not weighted down by them. It also has that certain look that you find in the best films of the mid-'70s, all shot on proper film, brilliantly shot, naturalistically acted and with an emphasis on realism rather than glossiness of sound and picture. Oh, and Margot Kidder is in it.

The film is both very '70s and very Canadian, from the clothes to the sexual free-for-all to the ice hockey. At it's heart, though, its a well-rounded slasher which succeeds because of good characterisation, from the comical Mrs Mac with a bottle of whisky in every nook and cranny to the amusingly strait-laced Mr Harrison and from the realistically and terrifyingly misogynistic attitude of Peter towards Jess to the contrast between the virginal (and first to die) Clare to the deliciously naughty (and therefore doomed- tropes have to start somewhere) Barb, played by the brilliant Margot Kidder. The performances are as good as the characterisation, although perhaps Olivia Hussey is somewhat lacking in charisma. But even the police officers come across as individuals. It's a good slasher because it's a good film.

Best of all is the inconclusive ending; it isn't the red herring, but a semi- supernatural "Billy" in the attic, still reciting those creepy lines about "baby Agnes" and "what we did". That's how to do scary; undefined menace sitting there inexplicably in a world of realism.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: The Writing on the Wall

"I have to know!!!"

So, it seems that in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2014, it is still acceptable to name young boys "Graham". Oh dear...

On a more positive note, Agents of SHIELD continues to be on fire as we finally learn that the alien script is in face the skyline of an inhuman (or, indeed, Inhuman- I've seen the clues; that alien is probably a Kree, and we're told it's been dead for millennia) city. Oh, and Ward casually mentions that the boss of HYDRA is one "Von Strucker"- last seen, I believe, at the end of The Avengers.

We learn a lot about the Tahiti project, and the team finally learn what their Director has been up to. Coulson, it seems, is cured of his compulsion. Is the Tahiti stuff all wrapped up and replaced by a quest for this city? We shall see.

Meanwhile, Ward has indeed escaped and is being both good at what he does (he immediately spots Bobbi as an agent) and a bit dodgy (bordering suicide bombing). He shows he's not entirely bad by neatly delivering Bakshi to Coulson, but his last scene is nicely ambiguous. What's he up to?

Oh, and there's a good scene between Fitz and his new mate Mack, metaphorically indicating that Fitz may eventually recover. We will see. There's only so much story mileage that can be wrought from his condition. Personally, I think Whedon will have him start to recover and then kill him. It's what he does.

So, this season. On fire.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: A Fractured House

"I'm telling you I have your brother in a basement!"

Another gripping episode, in which SHIELD goes smoothly from Public Enemy Number One to seemingly in the clear. But a lot of other stuff happens too; both the season arc stuff and the character development are on fire this season. 

The big new character is Senator Christian Ward, a man whose apparent duplicity is shown to parallel that of his brother, especially given the juxtaposition of Christian Ward trying to convince Coulson while Grant Ward tries to convince Skye. The whole effect is undercut by the revelation that Coulson and Skye were both planning to sell out Grant to his brother anyway, but we're left not quite trusting Christian, a Machiavellian type if ever there was one.

(Oh,and is that Grant escaping at the end? We still don't know the truth about who exactly tortured the younger brother either.)

There's also a hint of sexual chemistry between formerly married couple Bobbi and Hunter. Are they going to get back together or is that too obvious? I like them both; Hunter has the best lines while Bobbi had the best moves. We end with Hunter about to leave, maybe. Somehow I doubt it.

May, it seems, has been married before. And she still doesn't like Hunter. After what he did, I'm not surprised. 

Meanwhile, there is much awkwardness between Fitz and the returned Simmons, culminating in a simple revelation during a chat between Simmons and Mack: she left because she knew she was "bad for him". She's right. 

I think our heroes learn at this point that HYDRA has the Obelisk, which is something of a problem. Oh, and Belgium is HYDRA territory. But who's surprised?

Oh, and that HYDRA assassin Scarlotti- is he Blacklash?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Monsters Inc (2001)

"Kids these days... They just don't get scared like they used to!"

I'm somewhat winging it with this one; I wasn't going to blog this film and so I didn't make any notes. But here I am, a week later, deciding to blog it after all. I haven't done that since Drop Dead Fred. So here's hoping for some semblance of structure.

This film is, let us lay it out at the start, amazing. The animation, the voice acting and the witty script raise this up to something special, but best of all is the concept; a city of great looking monsters who get all their powers from the screams of frightened children. Sully is the most celebrated of the scarers, who enter inter dimensional doors (a fantastic image) to scare kids. But all this comes crashing down once a little baby girl and a dastardly plot enter proceedings.

One has to raise an eyebrow, I suppose, at a fairly contemporary looking society with an energy crisis which is able to use doors as interdimensional portals, but the whole concept is so cool that I simply don't care. The dynamic between Sully and Mike is fantastic, as it has to be for the film to work, and Boo is so very, very cute.

There's not much more to say; I'm not going to dig too deep for subtext although there are probably things that could be said about corporate greed. Just go and watchful. It's great.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: A Hen in the Wolf House

"I prefer you blonde!"

Right. You know how last week I gushed about how brilliant last episode was? Well, this episode knocks it into a cocked hat. Awesome stuff keeps happening. We find out stuff about Skye's father. And Mockingbird!!! And she is Hunter's much discussed ex-wife is a well-earned reveal that had me laughing out loud.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. This is a big arc episode full of bombshells. We get a closer look at Skye's dad, an unstable, self-loathing "monster" with superhuman strength and a medical degree who ends up giving the Obelisk to HYDRA at the end, which is not good news. We get an end to the secrecy between Skye and Coulson and, interestingly, we get it confirmed that out of the three who were injected with the GH formula, only Skye has not been doing the weird writing. Could she be a bit alien to start with? The alien was blue-Kree? I seem to recall from my comics reading days that it was the Kree who genetically engineered the Inhumans...

It's startling to see Raina so desperate; who is she? It seems she was pretty much raised by Skye's father. It's cool to see the previously intimidating Bobbi Morse kicking arse while rescuing Simmons, and I can't wait to see the dynamic between her and ex-husband Hunter.

The heart of the episode, though, is Simmons' awkward reunion with Fitz, which made my lovely wife cry a bit with the understated and very British emotion. Bring on next week. I'm loving this series. It's a proper Joss Whedon show and no mistake.

I'm Going to Be a Dad!!!

I think it's about time I announced to all my adoring fans that my wife is 29 weeks into her pregnancy and our first baby, a little girl, is due in early Feb! We are very excited and wondering whether there's anything we still need to add to the pile of baby stuff we've been steadily acquiring. I can't wait to be a Daddy.

So what does this mean for the blog? Well, it's here to stay for as long as blogs are a thing. But I'd be surprised if I managed to keep up anything like the same level of output. Don't be surprised if large breaks between blog posts start appearing from Jan or Feb, but the blog goes on and on.

And yes, you can expect an excited post about the birth!!! :D

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A Friend to Die For (1994 TV Film)

"I never really liked her..."

This is one of those things I would never have seen if not for my wife who, bizarrely, has fond childhood memories of this rather serious and weighty drama! It's a quality work, though- well scripted, shot and acted, and a serious treatment of some weighty themes without sensationalism. It's just s pity that the only available DVD lacks subtitles.

The names are changed, but this is based on a real murder from 1984 in which a popular and bitchy cheerleader- essentially Cordelia from early Buffy and a familiar trope of American high school drama- is murdered by a jealous classmate. The film questions the hierarchies in such places, where the popular ones always seem to come from money and popularity always has to involve bullying those who don't fit in.

I'm a foreigner, but I've always found cheerleading creepy, a disturbing cult and blatantly sexist. And don't get me started on sororities, fraternities and those stupid, awful-looking jackets that the popular boys wear. But here we have a principal who, true to Reaganomics, exhorts his teenage students to "be the best" and praises survival of the fittest and to Hell with the weak. The priest may may question the role of capitalist 1080s values in this murder, but he flat out refuses to consider it. This is a mitder that arises out of a complex interplay of class, gender and hierarchy. 

The whole thing is brilliantly structured, starting with the murder itself from an outsider's perspective, then turning to the perspective of Angie, the killer, up to and beyond the murder itself, and then towards the community itself and an unnecessary show trial which echoes The Scarlet Letter. It may be obscure, but this is worth seeing.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Face My Enemy

"It didn't work out because interspecies relationships are hard. I was a human, whereas she was a demonic hell beast."

Wow. What an episode. Agents of SHIELD is on fire this season. I hope they can keep this up.

Agents Coulson and May are on an undercover mission at a posh do in order to recover this week's MacGuffin, a 16th century painting with some of that alien writing on the back. Having those particular agents on the mission accomplishes several things. Firstly, the fact that Coulson is on a mission at all emphasises SHIELD's reduced circumstances; he's supposed to be Director. Secondly, we get to see the amazing chemistry between Ming-Na Wen and Clark Gregg which suggests, perhaps more so than the dialogue, that they may have been a couple in the past. This isn't something I'd ever assumed before, but I certainly assume it as a possibility now because of the acting choices made.

Thirdly, of course, there's the fact that Coulson tries to spend the whole episode trying to get May to agree to kill him if his episodes of alien writing lead him to go full-on Garret. She's reluctant, and has a contingency plan to avoid this; beneath the hard exterior she cares for him deeply. There's a lot still to come out about their history together.

On a funnier note, though, I love the team's reaction to May's attempt at laughter. And I love how she just walks through the laser grid.

In other news, Hunter seems to be slowly bonding with the team, although Skye seems impervious to his charms (they're definitely going to get together), while Fitz proves his usefulness by, well, saving the whole damn team. He's still far from recovered, though, and still very much the outsider.

Arc-wise... well, HYDRA have suddenly become masters of disguise. Coulson's interestingly nuanced relationship with General Talbot continues. And we end with Raina in deep trouble; she has 48 hours to recover the big bad MacGuffin fircthev disturbingly sadistic Dr Whitehall or he will torture her quite horribly...

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

My Girl (1991)

"Feel my aura!"

"I don't think I'm allowed to..."

Just to make it very clear; the wife cried. I didn't. Heart of stone. I deny everything.

This is a nice little coming-of-age story starring a very young and brilliant Anna Chlumsky (who I only know, much older, from In the Loop), a typically charismatic Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd playing against type as man whose approaching middle age seems set to be defined by his underlying sadness and mild neglect of his delightfully full-of-life daughter, and Macauley Culkin, that walking advertisement that being a child star doesn't always end well.

The whole thing hangs on Vada's unique personality- a hypochondriac, terrified of the dead bodies she sees all the time, what with being an undertaker's daughter, and bring rather brighter than her peers- and that in turn hangs on the young Anna Chlumsky, who really makes this film. As does, yes, the sad twist, which hits like a sledgehammer.

This is also a nice little glimpse into the middle America of 1972, with hippies at the creative writing class using phrases like "right on" without irony and phrases like "women's lib" being hurled around. This isn't a big film, but it's a pleasant way to spend ninety minutes.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Doctor Who- Death in Heaven

"Typical officer. Got to keep those hands clean."

Wow. That was quite possibly the best season finale ever. Looking over the season, in fact, it's possibly the best treatment of season-long plot threads in Doctor Who, in terms of both plot and themes. And yes, I'm calling it: this is the best season since Philip Hinchcliffe left, a time when Jim Callaghan was prime minister, I was just about to be born and Elvis was alive. Basically, expect a positive review. 

We begin with a clever feint- Clara trying to convince the Cybermen that "Clara Oswald" never existed and she's really the Doctor. This is clever; we've been primed, by a female Master, for a female Doctor, and there's been a season-long theme of Clara being Doctorish; think Flatline. Still... the Doctor is four times married, and has multiple children and grandchildren, all presumed dead. Interesting.

Still, back to the actual plot, UNIT appears, in the form of Kate Stewart, Osgood ("Bow ties are cool!") and a nice reference, via a version of Handles from the late '60s, to The Invasion, later to be echoed with the plane as HQ. It's good to see the Doctor, like Sulla, being appointed dictator of Earth; this is such a great bit of plot economy and is a great way of avoiding so much tiresomeness.

The scene with Clara in a graveyard about to erupt with zombie Cybermen is terrifying, but this is immediately eclipsed with an awesomely scripted and heartbreaking scene between Clara and a Cybernised Danny that brings home the true body horror of Cyber conversion in a way which, for me, eclipses all previous attempts. Wow. Again, wow.

I like the revelations- as expected, it was Missy who rang Clara in The Bells of Saint John and brought her and the Doctor together in Deep Breath. But Michelle Gomez is a brilliantly insane Master, and gets a fantastic showcase scene in which she, sob, kills Osgood! Moffat, YOU BASTARD! Yes, Kate lives, and yes, it's a touching scene with the Brig, but let's be honest, who really likes Kate, and Jemma Redgrave's utter lack of charisma? It's Ingrid Oliver's Osgood who makes UNIT cool, and she's dead!!!

Just as good is the debate between the Doctor and Danny, which pays off another theme of this season- is the Doctor like a military officer, getting others to kill and die for him? Here, he fails to see the humanity present in Danny, seeing him again as a pawn.

Then Missy arrives, all Mary Poppins with her flying umbrella, and reveals a plan which underlines the same theme; the Cyber army is to be put at the Doctor's disposal for him to put to universe-saving purposes. This is for him to realise that the two of them are not so different. And here we get the expected flashbacks to "Am I a good man?" and "You are a good Dalek!" And the Doctor's epiphany; he is not a good man, a bad man, a hero, a president or an officer- just a traveller who helps people out. And, with that, he steps back and let's Danny save the world like the hero he is. And then seems to actually kill Missy. Hmm. Not sure I like that. It's awfully close to endorsing capital punishment.

The story ends with the Doctor and Clara parting, each misunderstanding and lying to each other; she thinks he's found Gallifrey, but he hasn't, and he's devastated, while he thinks that she's found Danny when, in fact, he gave up his one shot at resurrection to the child he killed in Afghanistan, like a true hero. Wow.

And then, tragically, it ends there. The end credits start... and are interrupted. By Father Christmas. Played by Nick Frost.

What? What? WHAT???!!!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Making Friends and Influencing People

"How is everyone?"

"Fitz is ok. He's hanging in there."

Three episodes in and we have loads of exciting season plot threads simmering nicely; it's going so much better than this time last season. It feels like a proper Joss Whedon show.

The plot is essentially that both SHIELD and HYDRA are after Donnie Gill (Blizzard) from last season, but so much is woven around this. The first big reveal is that Simmons is working for HYDRA; the second (rather less surprising) revelation is that she's a double agent, reporting directly to Coulson. But this is rather cleverly handled, having Simmons be HYDRA's negotiator with the proud Blizzard, in competition with SHIELD. Her cover is blown with her old mates, but not her supposed new ones; in fact, she ends up promoted. She's far from safe, though. As Skye says, she's a terrible liar.

We learn more about HYDRA's brainwashing techniques- the episode is bookended with a certain Agent 33 (a character we know from the comics?) starting her brainwashing and having completed it. HYDRA are certainly terrifying, and once again it's emphasised that the stand for fascism and oppose liberty.

Fitz is making progress; he shows self-awareness, realising that Simmons is just a figment of his imagination and that things are being hidden from him. His confrontation with Ward is both cathartic and a means for him to help the team. Coulson seems to show him greater respect afterwards.

No one trusts Hunter, unsurprisingly, although he seems to show early signs of incipient bonding with Skye, who still has no time for Ward. We end with a bombshell, though; Skye's father is alive, and Ward knows where he is. 

This was brilliant, and Agents of SHIELD is on fire with a first rate script and a superb cast. Long may this continue.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Beetlejuice (1988)

"You know what they say about people who commit suicide- in the afterlife, they become civil servants!"

Heaven forbid. What an awful fate.

I can't believe I've never seen this strange yet brilliant film before, a Tim Burton film from before he had quite settled on a particular style. It's delightfully quirky, and has the best stop motion effects I've ever seen in a film not involving Ray Harryhausen. Who needs CGI? Not the young Tim Burton.

It's also arresting to see Michael Keaton being brilliant in a comic role, and a very young Winona Ryder showing that she was the Dakota Fanning of her day. Best of all is the premise; a silly look at the haunted house genre from the perspective of those doing the haunting.

The whole things screams "late '80s", from the weird landscapes outside the house that look just like a contemporary music video to the fact that Lydia is an actual Goth who listens to Bauhaus rather than Evanescence. Along with the opera, that is.

There are some nice touches (I noticed the nod to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) to both the premise and the design, but probably the best thing is the bureaucracy after death. I'd better get used to it- I'm already a civil servant...

But the one thing I'll remember above all is the stop motion. It's glorious, and cartoonish, and, well, ripped off somewhat by Drop Dead Fred three years later. This movie rules!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Penny Dreadful: Season One, Episode 8 (Grand Guignol)

"Why do you think I want to be saved?"

Well, that was eventful. Quite the season finale, with many threads coming to an end, but it's pleasing to see that the episode opens as many doors as it closes. We end with the prospect of Frankenstein using Brona's body to make a bride for Caliban (that'll go well), with Ethan shown to be some sort of werewolf, able to rip his pursuers to shreds (is this why he left America, leaving tears and "a whole mess of blood"?), and with Vanessa contemplating the long, hard road of exorcism. There's plenty to fuel a second series.

In the meantime, though, there's a first season to wrap up. Obviously, there's the climactic hunt for Mina, ending in the revelation that Mina is loyal towards "the master" and the shock of Sir Malcolm shooting his daughter. Still, the hints continue that he sees Vanessa as his daughter.

It's fun to see Vanessa dumping Dorian in the same arbour where he first properly seduced her. And yet, symbolically, the flower is no longer in bloom. We, like Vanessa, are amused Dorian Gray is made to feel rejection for the first time.

Brona's death is heartbreaking, although Frankenstein's smothering her is somewhat unexpected. He's complex; on the side of the goodies yet capable of being so callous. And yet this callousness is done out of a paternal affection for Caliban.

Calibans tale is the most tragic; once menacing, he is reduced to a pathetic figure. He misinterprets Maud's kindness in making up his face and visiting her room, and is stunned by her rejection, forcibly kissing her and burning his bridges with the theatre. Maud may have sympathised with him, but she also looked down on him. He can never be attractive to a woman... except perhaps one like himself?

This is a superb finale, but it's fantastic to see how much time is spent setting up the next season.

Penny Dreadful: Season One, Episode 7 (Possession)

"Do you value cleanliness?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

"That's why you're a virgin!"

This is a very claustrophobic episode, set entirely in Sir Malcolm's house as he, Victor and Ethan debate what to do with Vanessa's increasingly horrible possession. Above all, though, it's a tour de force of acting from Eva Green, who out-Exorcists The Exorcist. It seem that the Earth did indeed move for her after last episode.

This causes friction amongst the gang; Vanessa wants to die, but should they let her live? For Sir Malcolm there is but one answer; he needs her alive to find Mina, and that is all that matters. This claustrophobic episode is talky yet gripping, depending entirely on its subtle and brilliantly crafted characterisation.

Ethan is himself briefly possessed but, in being the one who quietly cures Vanesda in the end, he hints at yet more hidden depths. There's quite a cliffhanger too, pointing towards the imminent finale, from the cured Vanessa: "I know where Mina is..."

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Doctor Who: Dark Water

"My heart is maintained by the Doctor!"

Wow. Just wow. This episode has two jaw-dropping moments. One of them (spoiler alert!) is the revelation that Missy is the Master, but my wife worked that out years ago. No, the big reveal is what the Cybermen are up to- the idea of the dark water showing only organic material and so hiding the Cybermen is clever. I only knew for certain when Murray Gold gave us that snippet of the Cyber theme and those doors closed, showing those Cybermen teardrop eyes. It's all cleverly done, and the episode ends on a cliffhanger as The Tomb of the Cybermen becomes The Invasion.

Moffat has a lot of fun with the afterlife as bureaucracy, and the casting of Chris Addison was a masterstroke. I enjoyed the Thick of It in-joke, too, with the line about all the swearing on the Doctor's psychic paper. But the ultimate revelation of the afterlife just being a bit of the Mayrix from Gallifrey is awfully, ingeniously clever. As is the idea of all Earth's dead being turned into Cybermen.

Just as important, though, is Clara's emotional devastation at Danny's death, enough to make her threaten the Doctor into helping her. He helps her, clearly, out of love, although he would never admit that. And the last conversation between Clara and Danny is both devastating and masterfully written.

At the back of my mind is the slight criticism that the Doctor would never have been present for any of this if not for the coincidence of Danny's death, but this is superb. And the parallel cliffhanger, with Danny about to sign away his emotions, is the perfect end to an extraordinary episode.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Heavy is the Head

"HYDRA has one thing on their minds; world domination, which is so 1945."

Hartley and Idaho are both dead, but this episode introduces us properly to Hunter as a full member of the team, a man with depths which are hinted at, mainly during a chat with Skye, and whose de facto initiation consists of actually betraying the whole te to General Talbot. This isn't exactly going to endear this wide boy to the team, and he has a lot to do, but this soldier-turned-mercenary seems to be an interesting character. 

There's also Coulson, whose responsibilities in building a fugitive SHIELD and leading the fight against HDDRA are leading him to become stressed, secretive, and not quite his usual affable self. On top of this, every fortnight or so he has "episodes", known only to May, in which he draws those bizarre diagrams that we have seen before, not least from the changed Garrett towards the end.

The revived SHIELD is slowly growing, with two Quinjets and those cool virtual screens as seen in all Marvel films featuring Tony Stark, but it is wounded by the absence of Simmons and the slow recovery of the tragic Fitz, who is still sidelined but, perhaps, a little less so. May and Skye are their usual selves, and Trip once again shows himself to be superbly confident, the consummate SHIELD agent.

Interestingly, Crusher Creel (the Absorbing Man!) may have a HYDRA handler, but it turns out that Raina, our old friend the girl in the flower dress, while interested in what's going on, is not working for HYDRA but has an unknown agenda, and not necessarily a hostile one. Interesting.

This is looking to be a very strong start to the new season which seems set, like many Whedon shows, to transcend it's somewhat rubbish first season.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric (Special Edition)

"Just because you've never been swimming..."

Yes, I know, I've done The Curse of Fenric. But that was during the Marathon, all those years ago. This is the movie format Special Edition from the DVD, and it's sufficiently different for me to do another blog post about it. It has, after all, been described by Andrew Cartmel as the definitive edition.

Ian Briggs is an extraordinary writer, and one with a great deal of thematic depth. He didn't come to Doctor Who with a genre background but, frankly, who cares? It's not much of a spoiler to say that I'm going to praise this to the skies.

The early scenes flow much better in their new order, and I'm reminded once again how the Seventh Doctor was too cool for psychic paper, calmly strolling into a top secret military base at the peak of the Second World War, casually forging the signatures of both Churchill and "C" with both hands just in time, like an uber-cool Leonardo da Vinci.

It's possible to tell the extended scenes, as the grading's a little off, but this version is so much better in terms of pacing, atmosphere and plot comprehension. This Doctor is extremely intellectual, quoting Nietzsche to the Reverend Wainwright. 

The story is full of metaphors. Maiden's Point is transparently about losing one'a virginity, and there's a clear subtext that Jean and Phyllis may have symbolically known each other in the Sapphic sense while swimming. Ace, of course, stays firmly on dry land at this point.

There is, perhaps, a more overt gay subtext for Judson and Millington but they are too bitter and ossified for such metaphors, which are broadly linked with adolescent sexuality and self-discovery.

I like the new CGI with the revelation of the inscription within the crypt. And, once again, I marvel at Millington's genocidal plans for post-war Moscow with his Fenric juice. But it all comes back to the water, with swimming a metaphor for arc; Jean and Phyllis are turned into vampires, a monster with obvious sexual connotations, and are sexually alluring in the same way as Dracula, tempting a man into the water.

The fight scenes around the church are much extended, but only provide a brief respite from the ever-present metaphor. Ace even seduces a guard to distract him, speaking entirely in the most oblique and impenetrable metaphors, discussing "undercurrents, bringing things to the surface". That's a fair description of what this story is about.

The Doctor being revealed to have trapped Fenric by means of a chess game just underlines how cerebral a story this is. We have the Ancient One as a fairly obvious ecological metaphor. We have the brilliantly handled revelations about Ace's past manipulation by Fenric. We have the equally ingenious twist of the Doctor's apparent betrayal of Ace. And always we have the subtext of the water, of the feelings beneath the surface, of sexuality, of the subconscious, of Ace's final, cleansing swim, symbolically entering adulthood.

Is this the best Doctor Who story ever?

Angel: Dead End

"Back in the '50s we all thought life would be like The Jetsons now..."

I'm rather enjoying this ongoing and deadly competition for corporate advancement between Lila and Lindsey. Pity it ends today, and Lindsey seems to have some kind of epiphany and buggers off just when it seems he's won, but it was fun while it lasted, this episode included.

The early scenes, using ready- tied ties to emphase Lindsey's reduced mobility with his hand gone, also emphasise both his alienation and the awfulness of fashion in 2001. But the stakes soon rise as we realise that one of either he or Lila will be confirmed on post and the other one "cut", which sounds ominous.

It's hinted that Lindsey is indeed the golden boy, however, getting a hand transplants, no less, and that poor Lila is utterly buggered. After all, Wolfram & Hart are investing a lot of money and dark magic into Lindsey. 

It's a bit of a plodder, this one, and yes, it's hard to take an evil hand seriously. It's also hard to emphatjose with Lindsey's rebellion, which is too little, too late and motivated by self- indulgence rather than conscience.

In other news, it's becoming increasingly clear that Cordelia, not being half demon, sinky can't handle the visions for much longer. But how can the gang help the helpless without her?

Curse of Chucky (2013)

"It's a doll. What's the worst that can happen, eh?"

This film is genuinely bewildering. After two comedy instalments the franchise returns to its roots with an absolutely first class straight-up horror film. So why on earth did this triumph of a film go straight to video? A pen pusher somewhere has some explaining to do.

We are first introduced to the characters trapped inside this particularly large house, none of whom are likeable aside from the wheelchair-using Nica who, according to the grammar of these sorts of horror films is fated to be the only survivor. The snobbish, grasping  and unpleasant Barb, we know from the start, is due a particularly nasty death. She's a bad sort, plotting to put Nica in a home so she gets the house. Still, she's really struggling financially; she and her odious partner Ian may have to send their daughter Alice to state school. Grr! Oh, and Barb is having an affair with Alice's nanny Jill. As the only sexually active couple in the film they obviously have to die. Nice bit of misdirection, though; we're initially led to think it's Ian.

The scene with the rat poison in the food sets the tone nicely; this is how to do Chucky, with humour, yes, but real menace. On top of this, like any good slasher this is grounded in solid characterisation of the potential victims
The ending is excellent, too, with a flashback connecting things nicely to the first film, and if that's not enough we even get a particularly nice cameo at the end. This is one of the best slashers ever. Really.

Grimm: Blonde Ambition

"Not quite finished!"

Here's the dramatic season finale, then, and thus ends my frantic attempt to get up to date with Grimm before Season Four airs in the UK. Like all TV drama weddings it's dramatic, with Nick seeming to lose his Grimm powers, and Sean Renard, shockingly, presumed dead.

We begin with the intense preparations for Monroe's and Rosalie's wedding, but there's a cuckoo in the midst; Adalind has made herself look like Juliette and snagged Nick senseless, leading to all the discord between them that one might expect, and all this on the morning of the wedding. I have to give credit to Bitsie Tulloch, mind; she has to play Adalind playing Juluette, and nails it.

That's not all, though; "Juliette" also seduces Sean, kisses him and runs, after which Adalind rings up the real Juliette to further stir the pot, stating that Sean still carries a torch for her. All this is far more dramatic than Rosalie's sister getting pissed and ruining Rosalie's horrible wedding dress; the omens don't look good at this point, and as yet we've hardly mentioned the Grimm best man at a Wesen wedding. Bloodbath, anyone's?

On the plus side, Nick and Trubel bond a bit. But it all goes horribly wrong. Sean gets shot, but that's ok because Trubel beheads the FBI agent responsible. Juliette begins to wonder about her relationship with Nick. Woo has a flashback to the Aswang. The wedding vows are juxtaposed with Sean apparently dying. You can't say that the episode lacks drama.

In the end it's not Nick being a Grimm that causes chaos at the wedding, it's the panicked arrival of Trubel, also a Grimm. Nick isn't, though; his powers have gone. Is this permanent? Is this why Trubel was introduced?

It's been a very memorable wedding, and the season ends with Adalind flying away and Sean seemingly dead...

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Right. Let's get the story out of the way before we can talk about Lon Chaney Sr, shall we? Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel is the perfect basis for a Grand Guignol melodrama, which a silent horror film necessarily has to be.

The Phantom himself is, basically, the abusive and controlling boyfriend made into the basis of a horror tale with a gothic overlay (not a bad idea). Christine is a thick peril monkey from a time before feminism. Raoul is a thick aristocrat from central casting who is too stupid to save the day without a bid of deus ex machina from, er, a secret policeman. Yep. The secret police are apparently the goodies.

Anyway, Chaney is superb, and the make-up is everything it's made up to be. Of course, health and safety would never allow such things these days, and that's a good thing, but such things are part of the joys of silent cinema.

The whole thing is well paced and well shot, with good use of tinting; I like the use of red for the less glamorous underground locations, and the highly appropriate use of grey for that posh wet drip Raoul.

Incidentally, I'm pleased to have watched a DVD including the original live score. For a film based on an opera house, and with Christine's singling being integral to the plot, the soundtrack sort of matters, silent or not, 

This is truly superb, one of the finest horror films of all time. London After Midnight may now be lost to us, but it's brilliant that this example of Chaney's genius survives.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998 TV Pilot)

"Guys like you tend to stick to the bowl no matter how many times you flush!"

I'm stuck at home with a sprained ankle and, alas, am reduced to watching this. Yes, this was indeed made as a TV pilot in 1998, probably the last of the, er, less than stellar Marvel films and TV pilots that were made before it all took off with Blade and X-Men. We shall never see it's like again. I think.

The casting of David Hasselhoff says it all; they're going for the same camp feel of the legendary 1960s Batman series but not pulling it off; instead we have a bog standard, cliche-ridden 90 minutes of action adventure. We have the hero being grudgingly coaxed out of retirement. We have a splendidly over-the -top baddie in Sandra Hess as Andrea Von Strucker, for some reason conflated with Viper, who appears to have an orgasm at one point while shooting a bloke dead. We have conflicts with pen-pushing superiors, we have James Bond gadgets, we have an android duplicate of Fury being used for the predictable plot function of making us think that Fury is dead. We have a poisoned hero going into action to save his life. And, yes, we have Andrea Von Strucker threatening to unleash a deadly virus over Manhattan in return for "one billion dollars". This in a pilot made after the release of Austin Powers.

Thing is, though, the script isn't actually that bad. With better actors and a bigger budget (the helicarrier, in particular, is rubbish, and the whole thing looks like an episode of Knight Rider), the same script could have sparkled. The self-consciously camp directorial style, especially, fails utterly to serve the script.

Hasselhoff himself is exactly as arse-clenchingly embarrassing as you might expect, but everything else sets a tone to patch. We have a character, Alexander Pierce, who seems to be modelled on Hugh Grant and looks utterly implausible as a SHIELD agent. And why, for crying out loud, does Andrea choose to kill Fury by kissing him with poisoned lipstick instead of, you know, shooting him?

This is, basically, rubbish, and should be watched for ironic purposes only. You have been warned...!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Duchess of Malfi (Dominic Dromgoole, 2012)

"We are merely the stars' tennis balls, struck and bandied/
Which way please them."

It's been a while since I blogged a play screened on BBC4, but at long last (thanks to a sprained foot keeping me off work) I've finally found the time to put aside two and a half hours to watch this. The performance, to open the Globe's new indoor theatre, was televised and, oddly, is introduced by Andrew Marr, describing John Webster as the "Quentin Tarantino" of Jacobean theatre. It's a valiant attempt to introduce the private, candlelit indoor theatres such as Blackfriars which started to pop up for the posher audiences once Elizabeth had snuffed it.

Much as I love Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson, and have a passing acquaintance with Thomas Middleton, this is my first taste of John Webster. First impressions are, well, that this is a typical Jacobean tragedy in its structure and its tropes, but a good one. It's rather less violent than might be expected (and I was led to expect), but for all its Jacobean tragediness (er...) this play shows a splendid insight into the human psyche; even in their stratified society, punctuated by religious ritual, these people's inner lives are so very recognisable. In that sense Webster is closer to Shakespeare than to Jonson and Marlowe (the latter could be slightly more accurately compared to Tarantino, with added religious irreverence!), and it's not surprising that they seem to have collaborated.

Anyway, the production... the staging is a triumph, as are the cast, led by Gemma Arterton. Much as I love imaginative and thematic stagings, it's also good to go back to the costumes and sets of the original productions, and the play flows and breathes magnificently, bathed in candlelight. 

This a magnificent production of a play which, even if you can't quite get drunk on the poetic language as you can with Shakespeare, is well worth seeing, and much neglected. It's not hard to come up with feminist readings (there's quite the patriarchy going on, to put it mildly) and Marxist readings; Antonio not being posh is the cause of the brothers' rage, although there are also hints of incestuous desire and the old-fashioned patriarchical desire of men to control women's bodies. No doubt academia has much to say about all that; my own uni years doing English are frighteningly long ago.

I hope BBC4 carry on doing this sort of thing. I really do.

    Monday, 27 October 2014

    Holy Flying Circus (2011 TV Film)

    "You're not the nicest man in the world; you're a very naughty boy!"

    I know- odd time to blog it. But I'm off work with a hammy leg and I needed something to watch, having Sky plussed this month's ago.

    It's sobering to note that, in a sense, 2011 is another age; BBC 4 used to makes its own one-off dramas back then, invariably excellent. This, I think, was one of the best.

    This is a comedic dramatisation of the initial reception to Monty Python's Life of Brian, leading up to and beyond the notorious "debate" between John Cleese and Michael Palin on one side and a sneering Malcolm Muggeridge and a waspish queen of a bishop on the other. Naturally, the focus is on Cleese (Darren Boyd steals the show here and Palin (Charles Edwards). Cleese is played, for comic relief, as Basil Fawlty, but his abrasiveness and annoying tendencies are leavened by the fact that he's always, always right, and votes Lib Dem... er, Liberal, to boot. I particularly love the blatantly anachronistic bit about why the Pythons didn't go after Muslims.

    Palin is, of course, portrayed as the nicest main in the world, the audience identification character and only semi-serious bit of a drama long on surreal and humorous assaults on the fourth wall, although his wife is portrayed, magnificently, by Rufus Jones, who also plays Terry Jones. This is a decision of sheer genius, given Terry J's habit of playing the "pepperpots", but it does lead  to a troubling my oestrogen-lite cast.

    Steve Punt plays Eric Idle as a money-grabbing bastard, but the other Pythons recede into the background of what is a magnificently silly drama. It looks very 1979, and has some sharp points to make about both then and now; the bombastic producer in 1979 is contrasted with the Head of BBC 4. Both are rather less prim than the splendid Head of Rude Words, but the point about BBC bureaucracy, with all these unnecessary heads of this and that, is well made.

    The debate itself is based on true events; the bishop and Muggeridge were as smug and childish as the drama shows, showing exactly the sort of undergraduate humour that the bishop effects to dismiss. It's quite realistic that the public, even the People's Church of St Sophia, would side with them.

    This is really quite brilliant, and it's a crying shame that BBC4 won't be doing any more.

    Sunday, 26 October 2014

    Grimm: The Inheritance

    "If I didn't know you better if be in love with you..."

    This is a bit of a bombshell; an old dying Grimm, played by Holland Manners off of Angel (Sam Anderson) can't pass all his stuff on to his normal son, so is desperate to bequeath it to Nick before the Royal-aligned baddies get it. And amongst these goodies is a key, another part of the map to the buried MacGuffin from the Sack of Constantinople, which our Scooby friends acquire at the end. Oh, and it's the season finale next week.

    Meanwhile, Trubel seems to be delightfully awkward and teenage, exhibiting no social graces whatsoever. There are hints towards her past, a past of being disbelieved and thus slow to trust. She's a very interesting character.

    While the plot proceeds as cat and mouse, finding the necessary pretexts for Nick and the old man not to meet and throwing in a bit of action while it's at it, Rosalie goes a bit mad with wedding stress although, of course, obviously nothing bad is going to happen. 

    And then Adalind strikes. Getting inside Nick's and Juliette's home, she is caught by Renard but quickly renders him unconscious. Ensconced in their home, she brews a potion which makes her look exactly like Juliette...

    These last few episodes are exciting and bloody good. Finale next...

    Grimm: My Fair Wesen

    "She's a murder suspect?"

    "Well, not technically a suspect, because we know she did it...!"

    The arc is in its final phase before the season finale, but we still get a story of the week, in this case based on The Ugly Duckling. The theme of families and the one that stands out, though, is rather appropriate to Trubel. So is the episode title, with its allusions to Pygmalion. Can the wild girl be tamed? I certainly hope not. She is such a teenager.

    Trubel gets two alternative new homes here. One is with Nick and Juliette as adoptive parents- after, that is, Juliette comes to terms with this sudden addition to the household. The other is this nasty, authoritarian, patriarchal shoplifting cult which preys on vulnerable young women, ruled with a rod of iron by the rather creepy and sexually abusive "Ken".

    Trubel shows herself to have strong investigative skills but, being a teenager on television, is impetuous. Her rebelliousness, though, wins the day.

    Meanwhile, Adalind learns she is to inherit very little as her mother was a naughty tax evader. She does, however, get her clutches on her mother's spell book. And we end this rather good episode with a revelation of an old man with another key, just like Nick's. This old man is played by Sam Anderson, our old friend from Angel...

    Doctor Who: In the Forest of the Night

    "It would be slightly awkward if the world were destroyed at this point..."

    I'm glad I delayed blogging this episode (I sprained my ankle rather badly last night in the Pets at Home car park and have spent a surreal couple of hours, in a wheelchair, in A&E- it's a long story), as it only occurred to me this morning that the whole episode, superficially a bit like Kill the Moon in its use of a big natural phenomenon as an apparent but not actual threat, is in fact entirely about William Blake's The Tyger

    Not only is there the episode title, and the appearance of a single tiger, but we have innocence (the children, sort of, but at least Maebh), and different kinds of life experience (the Doctor, Danny, and Clara in-between. I'm nowhere near enough of a Blake scholar to prove much further; for that, I suspect you may wish to look up the excellent Phlip Sandifer's blog review as he is very well versed in Blake indeed, and there's no way I'm looking at his review until mine is done.

    This is an excellent script from Frank Cottrell Boyce, whom I mainly know from 24 Hour Party People. The scenario is weird enough to give us a vivid pre-titles spectacle of London landmarks among bagsy a great forest, mysterious, and perfect as a way to bring Clara, the Doctor, and Danny together. The Gaia-like conclusion, that the sudden appearance of trees is nature's way of protecting the planet from asteroid impacts, is ingenious (what about the impact at the end of the Cretaceous, though?), and the way that "Class project- save the Earth" involves the kids is cute but just manages to avoid being too trite. This is a script that manages to be both intelligent and kid-friendly, however, and this is a very good thing. Long live quality children's telly.

    I note that, once again, the Doctor explains to Clara that, although they may have seen many parts of the future, they still may never come to pass. This, again, echoes Kill the Moon and, again, uses much more evocative and poetic language than simply referring to "fixed points in time". I'm impressed.

    This is also a great episode for the characters, and I don't just mean the Doctor's splendid declaration that "Even my incredibly long life is too short for Les Miserables". Yes, Danny finds out that Clara has been continuing to travel with the Doctor, butchers philosophical about it; all he wants is the truth. And Danny is very heroic here, his first thoughts being for the children even in the face of certain death. And, in declining the chance to see the solar flare, he explains that "I don't want to see more things. I want to see the things in front of me more clearly." He's a wise, damaged man who has seen and done terrible things in war, and who has had enough of excitement. He just wants to cherish the world he knows and to love Clara. It's a touching viewpoint, and a powerful critique to the ideology of the Doctor and, indeed, the programme.

    The trailer for next week looks a bit spoilerific but I, for one, can't wait for what looks like a truly epic finale, a two parter as in days of old.

    Saturday, 25 October 2014

    Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Shadows

    "Do not abort. Proceed as planned!"

    It's back! And what an opening episode. This confidently retools the show to be about a small, under-the-radar outfit led by Coulson gradually rebuilding, expanding and, after the end, even pootling about in their very own Quinjet. All this, and the Absorbing Man too. And I love the visual effects in play with "Crusher" Creel.

    We begin with a flashback, from 1945, guest starring Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter, in scenes both reminding us of HYDRA's Nazi roots and introducing us to what seems to be a significant and ongoing MacGuffin, the first ever 0-8-4. This is also, of course, a teaser to a certain sister series we can expect later. Oh, and there's Dum Dum.

    Let's do a tour of the characters, shall we? Coulson is calm, controlled, organised, brilliant and in his agent, but May is there to remind him that he has issues- and to do little else. Fitz is genuinely tragic, like an elderly person with dementia. His damaged brain has made him forgetful, with words forever on the tip of his tongue; as my wife says, it's as though he has a stammer inside his head. Yet he retains his intelligence, and he knows exactly what's happening to him. Worse, he's isolated; at the end we learn that, far from talking with Simmons all the time as we thought, she is all in his head. Simmons left a few months ago.

    And that's the point, I suppose; months have passed since the end of the season. Trip, for example, is clearly a fully integrated member of the team by now, and pretty awesome. I hope we get to know him a little better.

    Coulson has been busy recruiting and plotting. He hints at "allies" in London who, no doubt, will be revealed later in the season (dare I hope for Captain Britain and MI-13?), but right now we see him recruit ex-SHIELD mercenary, the soon-to-be-one-handed Hartley, with her two mercenary mates: Cockney wide boy Hunter and Idaho, of whom we know little for now. Wonder which state he hails from?

    Ward, still held prisoner, has become bearded, philosophical and perhaps even stoical. He seems quietly determined to redeem himself, and to prove himself to a still-disgusted Skye. (And he seems to know of her father.) This seems an interesting character trajectory for what already looks to be a splendid season.

    If all that isn't enough, who is the mysterious character at the end who is important enough to be played by Reed Diamond? I can't wait to find out.

    Friday, 24 October 2014

    Grimm: Nobody Knows the Trubel I've Seen

    "She's a Grimm!"

    Only a few episodes left of the season, so naturally they choose now to introduce a new character. 

    Teresa Rubel is a feral Grimm who doesn't know she's a Grimm, your stereotypical delinquent teenager set for an arc of gradually increasing, maturity, responsibility  etc etc. I like her; she changes the dynamic of the Scoobies in a positive way.

    Meanwhile Renard is drinking alone in a bar, which seems to be an American thing, and Adalind is confronting Nick and Juliette at their house, as she obviously would. She's distraught, naturally. Equally naturally, everyone lies to her. I can understand why, but this is still not very nice. She's the baby's mother.

    Prince Viktor, meanwhile, is visited by his uncle, a new character, symbolically reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall. Bring the father of both Etic and Sean(!), he applies no little pressure. Interesting.

    Viktor, equally interestingly, learns that Adalind still thinks he had the baby. Interestingly, he allows her to continue to believe this. Plans are clearly afoot...

    We end, as always, in media res, with Teresa coming to live with Nick and Juliette in a happy little family.

    Grimm is on fire!

    Grimm: The Law of Sacrifice

    "I was too nervous we'd be killed in our sleep to... sleep..."

    Nice ending; Nick and co give the baby to Prince Viktor, but it ultimately ends up with Nick's mother. But Adalind doesn't know that last part...

    This whole episode is essentially a game of cat and mouse between the "Scoobies" (I'm a Buffy fan) and the Royals, in the person of Prince Viktor, with the baby (now called Diana) as the MacGuffin, and ends in a classic feint. On top of all this, there is friction between Nick and potential father Sean.

    Oh, and the FBI are after Nick's mum. And Monroe and Rosalie are having TV-friendly fully clothed sex. It's that sort of episode. I'm enjoying this last run before the finale.

    Grimm: Synchronicity

    "Did you kill the driver?"

    "Why would I do that?"

    "Just checking..."

    There's a lot going on with Adalind and the baby in Mittel Europa, and this time Nick's mum is involved. I like her a lot; the outlaw figure, played for laughs, and her relationship with Nick is rather amusing.

    She takes Adalind (doesn't know her) to a plane headed for São Paulo, but with a certain inevitability there is a diversion to Portlamd. Thus do all the important characters end up in the same general area. How very convenient.

    Meanwhile, the problem of Nick being a Grimm best man at a wedding full of Wesen is conclusively solved; he will just wear sunglasses. No problem, then. Things will obviously be fine, and not a bloodbath at all.

    There are amusing scenes of Prince Viktor killing an incompetent underling, and cute scenes of Rosalie deciding to wear her grandma's wedding dress, but the real excitement hinges around Nick's impending proposal to Juliette... which is rudely interrupted and doesn't happen. Thanks, Mum.

    We end with Adalind running away, with theocracy, to Sean Renard, who starts getting all paternal. 

    I like this episode; seems as though the season arc is hitting up for the finale...

    Sunday, 19 October 2014

    Prozac Nation (2001)

    "It was an accidental blowjob..."

    I remember when Elizabeth Wurtzel's book came out in '94 and was reviewed in all the papers. That was 20 years ago. And looking back, it was a world away in terms of attitudes towards mental illness which, even today, are far from advanced. This film is very much a chronicle of such attitudes in the 1980's, with its protagonists facing bewilderment and misunderstanding from family and acquaintances who see only her affluent upbringing and her writing abilities.

    I love the way this film evokes an alternative 1980's, with Elizabeth working in rock journalism and Lou Reed even making an appearance. At one point we even have "I Will Dare" by the Replacements  on the soundtrack. But this isn't the only clue that we are in a different time. Elizabeth's pushy parents, oblivious of her self-harm, do not understand what is happening at all. Her mother is pushy, her father absent, and neither see her for who she truly is or even care. Her mother is living life through her daughter, thereby putting pressure on her to succeed where she failed.

    Things seems to start well, however. Although as alienated at Harvard as she was at school, Elizabeth makes friends with her room mate and absorbs herself in writing. Christina Ricci is magnificent. She's a great actress, and I don't really understand why her only big films happened in just a few years at the turn of the Millennium. It's strange seeing Jonathan Rhys Meyers with an American accent, and equally odd to see that annoying bloke from the American Pie films in a serious role as a rather earnest character. Both actors play prospective sexual partners for Elizabeth, one she loses her virginity to and the other rather more serious, and soon coming to learn just what is involved in being someone who has depression.

    Things start to go off the rails before long, as her unhealthy obsession with writing gives way to debilitating depression, which is made so much worse by her mothers interference. The key scene in the film, I think, occurs on Elizabeth's birthday as her mother and grandparents mutually pretend that nothing unusual is happening. Things always end with guilt piling up on Elizabeth.

    She finds refuge in the arms of Rafe, but constantly worries about his commitment ultimately ending in an acrimonious break-up. It is at this point that Lizzie loses faith in the constant quackery of her counsellors, taking Prozac instead.

    The film winds down with Lizzie's mum, elderly, in decline, and in reduced circumstances because of the costs of Lizzie's medication, needing to be looked after by her daughter. The worst moment of the whole film sees Lizzie's grandmother, uncomprehending of mental illness, blaming her for the whole thing. Eventually Lizzie recovers, but this is because of the Prozac, and she is left well aware that Prozac is just a plaster and the drugged Lizzie is not the real Lizzie. This film is outstanding and much, much under rated.

    Grimm: The Show Must Go On

    "Oh my God, why is it always Blutbad, that's not cool!"

    This is a good, if inevitable idea. There's a circus, ruled with a rod of iron, where the performers use the fact that they are Wesen for entertainment. Apparently, the Wesen council doesn't object to this, but it is nasty exploitation. Monroe warns us that the Wesen side can take over. We all know how this is going to end. Still, at least Rosalie get to run away to the circus. The circus is very old fashioned; it reminds me of the 1932 film Freaks.

    But we open with one of our clubbable Scooby Gang's wine-fueled dinner parties. Monroe asks Nick to be his best man, which is all nice an that. Only later does it occur to Nick that having a Grimm at a wedding attended mostly by Wesen could be a little bit risky. Still, nothing bad will happen. Right?

    Back in Europe, Prince Viktor is in pursuit of the rebels and keen to show what a dastardly person he is. He's the evil baddie that the series needs. He may be the big bad, but I like the ringmaster as villain of the week. the final sequence feels exactly right, with the cast ganging up on the ringmaster in the hall of mirrors. Naturally, after the ringmaster is dispatched, the show goes on. Another brilliant episode.

    Our final scene consists of Rosalie dressing for sex with Monroe... 

    Grimm: Once We Were Gods

    "But we were gods once...!"

    This isn't the first time we've seen Egyptian mythology in Grimm, but it is the first time it has been extensively woven into the mythos. It seems there is a race of Anubis Wesen that were once worshipped as gods and immortalised in hieroglyphs.

    Before we get to that, though, Woo is still in the asylum with his fate uncertain. Nick and Hank are still undecided about whether to tell him. by the time of his release at the end of the episode, it would seem that have blown their chance. I can't help but think that this decision will have consequences.

    Adalind is experiencing her first few hours of motherhood, but there seems to be some confusion. Has she had twins? Or is the baby simply in more than one place? This is, obviously, no ordinary baby. And the resistance are on the trail.

    Back to the main plot, we get first class Egyptian-style thriller, complete with a curse on the sarcophagus and, of course, a mummy, plus a skeptical scientist to boot. This is another quality installment in another quality season.

    Grimm: Mommy Dearest

    "This could be anything that climbs trees; bigger than a squirrel, obviously."

    It seems that Woo's first name is, er, Drew...

    This is an excellent episode, and a rather important one. We begin with Adalind giving birth, somewhat supernaturally, but that plot thread can wait until later episodes. This episode is concerned with another baby, that of a friend of Woo's, which is being milked for amniotic fluid by a mythical Filipino called an Aswang! This is the episode where Woo first becomes aware of supernatural going-on in Portland. But we end with Woo in a mental home recuperating. Can he handle the truth?

    The Aswang itself looks gloriously horrible as it sticks its long tool into the womb via the bellybutton. It is one of the most effective-looking Wesen so far. It's also nice to see some development of Woo as a character. In particular, it's bittersweet to learn that he harbours unrequited feelings for an old friend who is now married. It is also interesting to see Nick and Hank spending the entire episode chickening out of telling Woo what is really going on.

    This is an unusually serious episode, and one with an uncertain ending. I'm sure I'm not the only one with quite a bit of affection for Woo.