Sunday, 30 March 2014

Married...!

Just very quickly....

As of yesterday I am a married man. The whole day was awesome. I love my new Mrs Llamastrangler very much. That is all.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Grimm: The Bottle Imp

"It's our daughter...!"

Ok, one more blog post until I get married...

Another Grimm fairy tale, this: The Spirit in the Bottle. It's also one with (spoiler alert!) a massive if predictable twist in that it's the little girl, not the father, who's the killer. There's also a lot of arc stuff going on.

We begin with a dream sequence which makes it clear that Juliette isn't going to get her memories back for a long time. There's comic relief with Monroe, still the beating heart of this show, making a total hash of minding Rosalie's shop. The title sequence continues to be utter cack. Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man, unexpectedly, gets namechecked. A grandfather clock is chainsawed. But, more importantly, Claire Coffee is back, briefly, as Adalind. And she seems to have a lot to do with this very intriguing mutual attraction between Juliette and Renard...

Also intriguing is Hank's first time in Nick's trailer; he's getting deeper into the world if the Wesen. And he now knows that it was Monroe who fired that shot. By the laws of television drama, there must be consequences...


Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Forever

"I fell apart. That's how good I am at being a grown-up."

Joyce is still dead. The shock is beginning to wear off but the horrible reality is sinking in; Buffy will have to live with being an orphan with a sister to look after. Buffy is still so very young, yet she is suddenly left to live in the harsh, harsh wield on her own, with crushing respobsibilities and, of course, she breaks down. One again we have a superb and devastating episode.

There is, of course, a genre sub-plot with Willow and Tara's attempt to resurrect Joyce going horribly wrong and making her a zombie, but this us not dwelt upon and Buffy never sees the zombie Joyce. That would not have been in good taste. And, although this moment is clearly a stepping stone in Willow's increasing obsession with dark magic, this is not really the moment to discuss that. 

There's one moment in this rather harrowing episode that made me smile and felt perfect; we know if Spike's connection with Joyce, but his bringing flowers, and his insistence that Joyce was "the only one of the lot of you I could stand" is perfect. There are other little moments, too: we're reminded of Buffy's neglectful father, and Buffy is briefly reunited with Angel; they are no longer an item, but there is still a deep emotional bond. There is some great, and much-needed, comic relief with Anya. There's a rather nice bit of stop motion animation that looks to be some sort of tribute to Ray Harryhausen.

But ultimately the theme here, as with the season as a whole, is adulthood. No generation really feels as though they are real, proper grown-ups, so they try to wing it. And then, one day, they realise that all previous generations felt the same.

Finally... I may not be around much for the rest if the month, as this is very possibly my last blog post as a bachelor. Yes, I'm getting married on Saturday...!


Saturday, 22 March 2014

Grimm: Over My Dead Body

"Can you do it again?"

For once there is no murder of the week; this episode is pleasingly unformulaic and delightfully arc-heavy. Yes, it's based on a Grimm tale (The Three Snake Leaves), bit it's all about the arc stuff. For this precise reason it's one of the finer episodes. Well, that and the fact that we get to see some quality between Monroe and Hank, the two best characters, as Monroe shows Hank the two ways he turns into a Blutbad. These two characters are still far more interesting than Nick.

Angelina dies here, but not without being the centre of a target tragic tale where, just because she defends herself against a man who tries to tape her, she ends up forced to kill Monroe or die. Being that she makes the decision not to murder him, she ends up violently dead. This is very unfair, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the story's treatment of male sexual violence against women.

Still, it's a very good Monroe episode, like all the good ones; I love the scenes in which he has to stop Nick and Angelina from physically attacking each other.

The attempt to kill Monroe, it seems, is because he hangs around with "the Grimm", and was possibly ordered by "a royal", meaning, we viewers know, that recently arrived British woman who has been hanging around with Renard.

More interesting than the main plot, perhaps, are the two dates early in the episode; Juliette, remembering nothing, is still trying to connect with Nick, there is awkwardness, but there's a kiss. With Monroe and Rosalie there is an easy connection, but their kiss is frustrated by Angelina's rude interruption.

Still, there may be loads of arc stuff, but where is it all leading...?


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

"You have got to put that away..."

At last. Not only is this the best episode do far by some way, it's also the only one so far to stand comparison with the best of Joss Whedon's other shows. You know, the ones he was actually involved with.

At last we get to see the S.H.I.E.L.D Academy of which we have heard so much or at least the scientific one. This is the alma mater of Fitz (whose first name, we learn, is Leopold) and Simmons, not to mention Bucky Barnes, who gets a namecheck. Here there are mysterious goings-on with people turning to ice, which turns out to be the doing of a brace of alienated prodigies. 

There's a lot else going on, too, though, and a lot of arc threads that get developed in a huge way. We get mentions of AIM and HYDRA. We get a boiler room bar that looks awfully like the Bronze from BuffyWe get Agent Weaver, played by Christine Weaver who was Cathica in the The Long Game episode of Doctor Who.

Most of all, though, we (and she) finally get to hear of Skye's origin: she began, mysteriously, as an "0-8-4", retrieved as a baby by S.H.I.EL.D and causing the horrible deaths of all who came near her until she was, ultimately, hidden from sight. The only Agent to survive warns Coukson and May to stay away from her because  "Wherever she goes, death follows".

Coulson, conscience-stricken, tells all to Skye, a devastating blow to her. Yet she reacts with positivity, seeing the good in that S.H.I.E.L.D has always looked after her, and is in effect her parent. There are both parallels and contrasts here with Coulson, who is now finally able to access the files surrounding his death and resurrection. We know not why, or how, he was revived, or whether it was for good or ill. We also know not how Skye came to be an 0-8-4. Questions, questions.

Oh, and while this is all going on May tells Coulson that she's shagging Ward. As you do. The relationship is now known about; it's bound to end in tears.

Fitz gets a bit of development here, as we see in the bond he shares with Donny (of whom, with his phenomenal intelligence and Bobby Drake style powers, we are bound to hear more). As a student he was a loner, awkward, more at ease with his experiments than with people. It figures, but also serves to humanise him. Hopefully, this is a step towards Fitz and Simmons becoming more developed characters and not just comic relief.

Oh, and we also have the mysterious, and deeply selfish and anorak, Ian Quinn. And his parting words to Coulson are that "The Claurvoyant says to say hello"...




Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 4

"I married my brother's wife, and God has punished me."

There's a lot going on here; Margaret's first shag with her elderly and moribund new husband takes place surrounded by bishops and prelates and whatnot: the best bit is "Did His Majesty...?" followed by clapping...! Henry becomes steadily more besotted with Anne Boleyn and more alienated from the Queen. And Wolsey promotes a talented young man (and fellow commoner) called Thomas Cromwell, about which there is no irony whatsoever.

(Incidentally, fact fans, the stuff between Margaret and the elderly King of Portugal really happened, sort of, except it was to Henry's real life sister Mary, in 1515, with Louis XII of France; our old friend artistic licence strikes again.)

There is also much intrigue on the European stage; Francis of France is now the prisoner of the Emperor Charles, following fighting near Milan, as if he wasn't powerful enough already. Earlier in the episode he had requested English financial support (meaning taxes, meaning Parliament), and an alliance between Henry and the Emperor is popular; both rulers are good Catholic and Charles is, after all, not French.

And yet... Charles is the nephew of Catherine of Aragon, a daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. Charles has the Pope by the balls, and is the reason he will never be granted a divorce. Even if it were not for the power imbalance, the two of them could never be friends in the long term. Anne Boleyn may be playing hard to get, returning the king's gifts, but he has a wandering eye. And, following an unfortunate jousting accident which he barely survives in spite of the efforts of 16th century medicine , his near-death experience makes him realises that, should he die now, he would do so without a son. He's had too much of pleasure; now he plans to be serious. Yeah, right. Oh, and this is not good news for Catherine.

Still, at least he's a good Catholic, right? After all, the Pope has given him the title of "Defender of the Faith."

Wolsey, meanwhile, cheerfully appoints himself Bishop of Winchester and carries on embezzling loads of moolah, failing to comprehend how the Boleyn tribe has it in for him. The King, it seems, is a fan of Thomas Wyatt's poetry. And, still on the subject of art, one Thomas Tallis turns down a threesome with three luscious babes because "music means more". Hmm.

Catherine of Aragon has a letter for the Emperor; I think the battle lines are drawn in what will become the divorce saga. Charles Brandon, in shagging Margaret, is technically committing capital treason against the kings of both England and Portugal. The King knights his mates, William Compton and Anthony Knivert. And we learn that Cromwell is a secret Protestant. Well I never.

We end with Henry instructing Wolsey to get him a divorce. I'm sure that will go down well...

Grimm: The Good Shepherd

"It's like a recipe for lunch!"

This is, fairly obviously, based on The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. I suspect we will be getting a lot more of Aesop as the series slowly uses up the Grimm tales. But I suspect this episode was not exactly written by a regular churchgoer: the preacher is a wolf, which is one thing, but the congregation are, er, sheep. Yes, this episode seems to literally state that practising Christians are sheep. Oh, and they are also portrayed, and described by Monroe, as a baying mob. It's not hard to see a certain subtext. In fact the subtext is barely even "sub", and I'm left wondering if anyone complained. I mean, I am myself firmly unapologetic in my atheism, and it should be absolutely fair game for atheist subtexts, however forceful, to appear in popular drama. But there seems to be a whiff of insult about this.

Still, the subtext is well-executed, even if it soon becomes obvious that the preacher is, in fact, an actual baddie, and not just an incredibly obvious red herring. And it's an interesting background to have Monroe do some undercover work for Nick and Hank, something that is now becoming a regular thing; his reluctance feels a long time ago. 

This is an above average episode, and the simplicity of the plot allows us to explore the now awkward relationship between Nick and the amnesiac Juliette, who now is made aware that she turned down a marriage proposal from Nick. The awkwardness is realistic, I think; she doesn't think to tell Nick that she's going out, yet she feels guilt towards him.

It's an amusing conclusion, with all 25 churchgoers admitting to Calvin's murder. This is the best episode for some time.

Monday, 17 March 2014

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 3

"That will make me happy."

"It will also make you King of France..."

Occasionally history must be changed or distorted to keep a coherent structure to the drama, and Henry's sister Margaret, a composite of two of his real life sisters, is one of these. Here, she is married off to an elderly and distinctly unsexy King of Portugal, whereas, in reality, one of Henry's sisters married a King of France in similar circumstances, but this happened years before the series started. It therefore follows from this that Brandon's being tasked to follow her to Portugal, his being made Duke of Suffolk, and his illicitly marrying the king's sister and getting a ticking off, didn't happen exactly like that. But they're the sort of thing that did. And I don't criticise Michael Hirst for doing this sort of thing to knock out a structure for the season. Let's just go with it.

Meanwhile, the Imperial ambassadors and Sir Thomas More discuss that nasty man, the heretic Luther, who is, we're told, a thoroughly bad sort. Henry thinks so, too, and he's written a pamphlet to prove it, in his own hand, no less. He's such a good little Catholic. For now.

Plans are aoace for Mary to marry the son of Charles V, much to the chagrin of Cardinal Wolsey. And Sir Thomas Boleyn, splendid father that he is, continues his plotting to pimp out his daughter Annecto the King. That's what I love about The Tudors and, indeed, the Tudors; there's just so much skulduggery.

We get to meet the young Charles V, who is awfully keen on doing something about France's occupation of the Duchy of Milan. The Emperor's other job is, of course, King of Spain (well, one of his other jobs, the moonlighting little scamp...), and the ambassadors of said Kingdom are making themselves extremely popular with his Auntie Cathetinez, who just so happens to be the Queen of England. It's complicated. Such was Sixteenth Century Europe.

Henry, meanwhile, wants more ships for his navy, lots of them. He's not parsimonious like his Dad; he wants to spend, spend, spend. He also wants Anne Boleyn, who is to become, er, one of the Queen's Ladies in Waiting. Awkward. Anne, meanwhile, seems to be shagging the poet Thomas Wyatt. I'm fairly sure that last bit is artistic licence but, again, it works.

Charles V gets on awfully well with Henry, and seems to be a very similar character: power obsessed and an expert in the dark arts of early modern international politics. Yet he paints on a larger canvas than Henry, King of little England, speaking of the Americas, and the "treasures of Montezuma" unlike with Francis I lady episode, the position on alpha male isn't up for grabs. It's Charles.

And here we come to the point; if Henry should ever wish to divorce Catherine, a purely hypothetical situation at least, then there is no way that her loyal nephew Charles would allow it. There's a moral here, and one with relevance to politics today: England's fate is bound up with Europe. We must be at the heart of it, or we will have no say in it.

We end with more plotting: Sir Thomas Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk seem to have it in for Wolsey...



Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Human Centipede- First Sequence (2009)


"I don't like human beings!"

I first heard about this film many years ago in that Channel 4 quiz show presented by Charlie Brooker, and instantly became aware that it was likely to be a gentle and cute film, ideal for young children and a delight for all the family. I've been meaning to see it for many years simply because it pops up so often in pop culture.

So what did I think? Well, I'm at sold to see why it has such a reputation for gore and controversy; as far as the visually disgusting is concerned, I've seen far worse. If anything, this film is relatively old fashioned in that most of the really stomach-churning stuff is implied, rather than seen; in particular, the scene in which the Japanese man poos into the feisty American woman's mouth is implied through acting penny. Well, it's also implied by the lines "Swallow it, bitch!" and "Feed her! Feed her!", but you take my point. 

The acting, admittedly, is pretty piss poor, except from the magnificent Dieter Laser as a modern day Joseph Mengele. And, given that there are three languages in the film (German, English and Japanese), all if which get a fair bit of dialogue, the lack of subtitles was a surprise. In particular, the long scenes in which two police officers interview the nefarious doctor are hard to follow without them. And the characters are, of course, ciphers; personally I didn't even catch their names.

It's also a very cliched film, with trope after trope bring aired. American tourists in Europe coming a cropper? Check. Two girls having their car break down and unwisely venturing up to a creepy house to ask for help? Check. The two of them falling out? Check. This plot, nastiness aside, could be that of a Universal horror film directed by James Whale.

The bit where the doctor gives a presentation to his three victims, via OHP(!), is suitably and camply sinister. Even more horrific, though, is where the more feisty of our two American ladies, is told that, because she tried to escape, she will be the middle segment. The fact that the poor lady who makes up the rear segment is dying of septicaemia is more horrific still. But the ending, with the middle segment being the only one left alive, is gloriously dark.

This is a fun little film, playing with the tropes of its genre and, I think, exhibiting some very Dutch stereotypes about the Germans. The concepts are disgusting, yes, but there's relatively little visual gore, and I have to praise the film for being, at ninety minutes, a proper length. It's only a bit of fun, be warned, with little in the way of subtext, but it's well made, well shot and enormous fun.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011)


"You've been raising him like a pig to the slaughter!"

And so it ends. At last. Deep breath.

It's no secret that I preferred the earlier films in this franchise, more whimsical and childlike in their charm and the fun they have with the concept of a school for spellcasters. I didn't exactly welcome the shift into being Big, Serious and Epic. Still, I supplies by this point it had to happen. And, to be fair, it really really works.

We begin on a downer, after Dobby's recent death, and the whole effect of the cinematography, the colours and the mood of the film is to tell us this. Harry and his friends have such a steep, uphill calm ahead of them. 

There are still a good few Horcruxes to go; I've lost count. And there's also another MacGuffin, the Sword of Gryffindor, which now falls into Harry's possession. If that isn't enough, there's Draco Malfoy's wand, now loyal to Harry. And there are, of course, the three eponymous deathly hallows: the elder wand (Voldemort's), the invisibility cloak (already Harry's) and the resurrection stone. That's a lot of MacGuffins.

The scene in the bank vaults, with the besuited goblin scribes, is visually beguiling, reminding me for some reason of the sort of thing we tended to see during Walt Simonson's amazing run on Thor back in the '80s. If that isn't enough, we get to see a dragon, first guarding treasure and then being ridden all over London. Awesome.

But the focus, inevitably, has to turn back to Hogwarts, where Snape truly seems to have instituted a reign of terror. Much violence ensues there, but a Horcrux is ultimately destroyed. There's a big, epic fight but, more importantly, Harry and Ginny finally kiss. At this point we know they're going to be together. Aaah!

There is still one last Horcrux, though: Voldemort's snake. There's also a boy revelation: Snape is killed by Voldemort, and it conspires thatcher was secretly a goody all along, inspired by his love for Harry's mother, and that killing Dumbledore was always part of Dumbledore's plan. I knew it! Not only that, but the Malfoys were always in on it, too. That I was not expecting.

But, ominously, Harry must die for Voldemort to be destroyed: it seems he always was a sacrificial lamb, which puts Dumbledore and other "goodies" in quite a different light. 

However, a dream Dumbledore has a way out, and rumours of Harry's death have been much exaggerated. And Neville Longbottom, no less, is positively inspiring. Harry's return turns the tide; I never thought I'd ever see Helena Bonham Carter being killed by Julie Walters. Voldemort dies at the "hands" of his own wand, Neville kills the snake and gets the girl (Luna, in his case), and we flash forward a generation to see everyone with age make-up.

I hate to say it, not liking my Potters to be too epic, but that was bloody brilliant, with the plot twists reaching absolute perfection. A triumph of an ending.








The Tudors: Season One, Episode 2

"I have a son!"

The Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, in land belonging to English Calais (writing those last two words felt weird), is often said to be the first time two European monarchs met for diplomatic purposes, and for that reason is often called the first international summit by those fond of meaningless sweeping statements. It's fascinating to see how the event is dealt with here, with Henry and Francis I circling each other warily but being outwardly nice to each other. Mary and the Dauphin, both toddlers, are betrothed, there is a pie from which birds fly out and there is much lechery, much of it from Charles Brandon, with much of it focusing on one Mary Boleyn. But, as Sir Thomas More warns Mary, King Henry has "noticed" her...

There is something of a rivalry for the position of alpha male between the two kings, in which their competition for Mary's favours is but one aspect. The fact that Francis wins the royal wrestling match, then, enrages Henry. But he calms down as he wants the treaty, this making him the supplicant.

There is what seems to be a slight historical inaccuracy regarding the nature of how Mary Boleyn used to pleasure King Francis at the French court. I would not be so indelicate as to what it is, but I would perhaps point my readers to Christopher Hitchens' history of a certain sex act...

The treaty is signed, but Henry is none too pleased, particularly not with the suspiciously pro-French Cardinal Wolsey. But, back in CGI Whitehall, he finds himself being pleasured by Mary Boleyn. Thing is, there's also Charles V, only 20, who is yet another candidate for alpha male, and one with a far bigger, er, empire. It's enough to make a young King of England feel quite emasculated. Wolsey is ordered to treat with him at Aachen; our little Francophile won't like that.

Henry and Thomas More, bond over the treachery of the Duke of Buckingham and the education of their respective daughters, a rather progressive idea for the time- although not so progressive, of course, as to threaten Henry's power. They also discuss Machiavelli's The Prince, so different from More's Utopia (which I read back in Uni and of which I remember nothing) yet so appropriate to The Tudors. The King, naturally, is veering towards Macchiavelli, and hardening in his views. We are observing a change in character from the young, athletic, cheerful stud to the more cynical player of games of power.

Lady Blount, meanwhile, is well up the duff with her little Fitzroy and her husband, naturally, is paid off. This is proof of Henry's virility and manliness but, on the other hand, doesn't say much for the Queen's fertility.

Buckingham, meanwhile, is deep into plotting his treason and that, and receives the allegiance of his underlings. This can't end well. We see that Wolsey is worldly and More is not, interesting in the light of later events, and Christmas and New Year come and go. 

Buckingham, the lady gasp of the "old" aristocracy, is arrested by the King's "new men". He stands for the old, the mediaeval, a survivor of the old aristocracy that was much reduced in numbers in the Wars of the Roses. They are now gone, to be replaced by new families of social climbers, not least by a certain Welsh family known as the Ap Twdyrs. He must die, as did his father under Henry VII, and the scenes of his execution are nicely juxtaposed with scenes of the King going hunting.

Of course, it goes without saying, the Duke is beheaded, not hung, drawn and quartered. He's far too posh for that.

Wolsey's ambitions on the old Pope's death; he went to see Charles V, and thus will no longer have the French votes at the conclave. So it goes. His ambitions, as the King's soon will be, are shaped by events on the continent. If that isn't foreshadowing then I don't know what is.

Catherine, meanwhile, her fertility and raison d'ĂȘtre as begetter of heirs in doubt, is humiliated and alone as the King celebrates the birth of his bastard. There is a new air of unease as the sweating sickness- that most Tudor of illnesses- sweeps the land, and the newly  elected Pope offers more foreshadowing as he denounces the influence of "that heretic Luther"...

We end with a triptych of Machiavellian acts; Anne Boleyn is groomed by her father and uncle to become the king's lover, Henry gangs up with Charles V against Francis, and Henry sinisterly "persuades" Wolsey to give him the magnificent Hampton Court. The King has noticeably become darker and darker as the episode has progressed, and it won't end here...




Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: The Magical Place

"I trust the system. They keep secrets for a reason."

This is quite obviously the big, mid-season "event" episode; the status quo is temporarily changed with Coulson captured, and Centipede are further built up as the season's Big Bad, with the mystery deepening over the identity of "The Clairvoyant". There are also further hints that S.H.I.E.L.D is not an entirely cuddly organisation; Agent Victoria Hand, now the teams boss, cares a lot about "taking down" Centipede but very little about Coulson.

This is, essentially, a Skye episode, though, confirming her status as the series' favoured character as she gets to save the day by being not only brilliant but independent, as Agent May has kindly arranged for her to get chucked off the plane. Skye is so cool here: she follows the money trail, bluffs her way into interrogating a dodgy lawyer and gets not only information on where Coulson is being held but also a rather swanky car.

Coulson, at first, is horribly tortured for information on his resurrection, but the Clairvoyant is clearly not impressed; he has the torturer casually killed and replaced with the familiar Raina, our woman in the flower dress, who gets what she wants through more civilised means. That is, before the team arrives to rescue Coulson and arrest Raina. Her interrogation is bound to be interesting.

We learn some little bits of information about Coulson's interrogation from a doctor played by Ron Glass; the false memory of Tahiti was implanted in order to blot out the unimaginable agony of his resurrection. He was dead for days. His resurrection was a strange decision, made because for some reason he was deemed important. Samuel L. Jackson gets the briefest of cameos as Nick Fury.

This still leaves many questions. Why was Coulson deemed worthy of resurrection? How was it done? Who ordered it? What was the price, for the trope has it that immortality always has a price? They're stringing us along, the bastards. And now I want to know about the Clairvoyant, too.

And if that's not enough, Mike Peterson is still alive. And Centipede are controlling him through his eyes...

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 1

"Be a pigeon and shit on everything!"

So, the first episode of a brand new series. Been a whole since that happened, hasn't it? In fact, I've actually watched all of The Tudors and made all my notes; the blog is in serious catch up mode at the mo. But fear not; all of the ongoing serieses (er...) will continue on to the end.

So, we have a 2007 series which, being an Irish/Canadian co-production, uses mostly actors for those two countries, a refreshing change from overly obvious casting. Although many of the best American actors are in fact Canadian, while many of the best British actors are in fact from the Irish a Republic, despite their stage-schooled RP accents, such as Michael Gambon and Peter O'Toole, of whom more in another season.

Anyway, in spite of the dynastic title, this is a series about the reign of Henry VIII only, beginning in 1520, on the eve of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. This cuts out Spurs, Flodden and, more to the point, the entire period during which Henry was far too young to be portrayed by the excellently menacing Jonathan Meyers, who convinces perfectly as a spoiled brat born to power.

The series begins, though, with the continental power games between Francis I's France and the Holy Roman and Spanish Empires of Charles V. This year' pawns are the city states of North-West Italy, and the ambassadors are all a kerfuffle. The English envoy has been killed, and possible war looms. Yet the king's chief advisor, the wily Cardinal Wolsey (the solid but somewhat miscast Sam Neill), seems suspiciously pro-French. He couldn't possibly be corrupt, n'est-ce pas?

Henry is, of course, thoroughly Catholic at this point, and happily married to Catherine of Aragon (a suitably self-pitying Maria Doyle Kennedy) as long as he can have his bits on the side and sire his little Fitzroys. And the future Bloody Mary is just a cute ickle girl. Catherine, of course, wants war with France. She is a Habsburg, after all, and cheering for Dad to gain yet more territory.

Yet Henry is not sleeping with her, which upsets her, not because of any apparent libido, but because of her supposed Christian duty as a wife and all that. The seeds are all there.

It's weird to see a thoroughly Catholic England, with all the trimmings, but that's how it was, with cardinals and everything. It's also weird to think that Europe, in 1520, was still a place of lances and jousts, although this would change as the decade wore on. One such jouster, the priapic Charles Brandon (Superman himself, the moderately wooden but pretty Henry Cavill) is a close friend of the King, and something of a semi-invented character. History must, after all, be shaped into drama-friendly form.

The King jousts against Yorkist plotter the Duke of Buckingham, whose accent is inexplicably northern. Being a dynastic rival the duke is, of course, somewhat akin to a turkey in mid-December. Rather safer, for now, is Thomas More, a sympathetic humanist, intellectual and friend of the King, who grounds him and symbolically calls him "Harry". The King agrees with his humanism although, of course, only as far as it suits him to do so.

That, then, is our dramatis personae. We can now move on to your actual Field of your actual Cloth of Gold, in English Calais, which is presented as a kind of proto-European Union, with "collective institutions" and that. How very anachronistic.

There is tension as the King fathers a Fitzroy but has no son with Catherine; is it because she was once married to his late brother Arthur...? I think this one might run and run.

Not long after this we first meet Mary and Anne Boleyn (the superlative Natalie Dormer), while the King and Wolsey share a wonderfully symbolic chess scene. Buckingham's eventual treason and death is somewhat inevitable; his father, of course, was the right hand Man of Richard III, as we well know from Shskespeare's play.

The pieces are set. How will the game play out...?



Saw 3-D (2010)


"Game over."

Before we begin, and celebrate with huge relief having been through em the whole damn franchise, a point of order; I saw this on DVD, and thus both in glorious 2-D and under a different title. That aside, we have a puzzle, a film that, despite its box office success, has been panned by critics both professional and amateur. I have no idea why this should be so, other than a preconceived desire to bash the franchise; this may be no classic but it's a neat resolution and a good little film in its own right.

We begin with a spot of nostalgia, as we return to Cary Elwes as the surviving Dr Gordon  from way back on the first film. Perhaps, given that this is the first sign of the franchise beginning to eat it's own mythology, this is a sign that now is a good time to stop but, for now, the intrigue of Gordon's return works, as does the inevitable eventual realisation that he's been working with Jigsaw all the time. And it's fitting that he should be the one to finally dispatch Hoffman and bring the killings to an end.

Even the opening ordeal, with the two men and a woman in the shop window, is almost nostalgic in its basic structure and the use, once more, of that cute little puppet. On a bike, no less. In sure the children love that scene.

Oh, and the woman, Dina. Dies. Painfully, via her intestines. With loads of blood. How charming. 

Still, the film is mainly about the comeuppance of fake Jigsaw survivor and purveyor of typically vacuous self-help shite Bobby Dagen, a neat concept, as he has to navigate a typically ghoulish series of traps which result in his and others' deaths. Again, lovely, although not as satisfying as Hoffman's eventual comeuppance at the hands of, fittingly, Gordon. It's a very neatly plotted series of events. That's a good thing, I suppose, but it strikes me that we never ever seem to find people surviving Jigsaw's little traps by thinking outside the box that is his narrow little mind. That, I think, would be truly satisfying. My main criticism of the films is that they operate entirely within Jigsaw's rules, which could be said to be a sort of endorsement of said amoral psychopath.

That's not all; a bunch of neo-Nazis are tortured in the usual way, too; only with neo-Nazis do I have to actually remind myself that Kramer and Hoffman are both equally psychopathic bastards with no redeeming features between them.

The ending is ironic, and sort of justifies they franchise's increasingly inaccurate title: Hoffman is put in to the same trap as was Gordon at the end of the the first film. But this time there is no saw...

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Remember Me (2010)

"What if I die eating my vindaloo?"

This drama, ironically half-forgotten, might be best known for starring Robert "Twilight" Pattinson in a proper film. And its theme- that we could all get run over by a bus tomorrow so, like, carpe diem and that- may be a bit of a truism with a "shock" ending which seems less and less clever with the benefit of hindsight. But this is actually a pretty good drama, well written and acted, and not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

Death is ever present. We begin as Tyler's family gather round his late mother's grave, ten years after her meaningless death and, and we establish Tyler's fraught relationship with his stuffed shirt of a father, Charles, played against type by Pierce Brosnan. The film charts his romantic ups and downs with Ally, his death-obsessed on-again off-again girlfriend, his brother's recent suicide, the bullying of his sister Caroline and the comparison with his less angst-ridden friend, Aidan.

The film is full of signifiers. The opening scenes around the grave are grainy, full of muted colours and Tyler smokes, a sure sign of youthful rebellion, at least in 2001. (He's 21 but, this being the USA, he's only just started drinking, which seems bizarre to us decadent Europeans.) 

His relationship with Ally is complicated by his getting off on the wrong foot with her police officer father, but the central theme is their date in an Indian restaurant (are they a thing in America, where is always thought Mexican food filled the same cultural space?), and her ideas of living for today. This means more than she imagined to Tyler, whose brother committed suicide following the same pressure from Charles to put the family business before music that Tyler is now feeling.

Things come to a crisis after Alyssa dumps Tyler, he clashes with his dad over his neglect of Caroline and, finally, the poor girl is horribly bullied. But Tyler's furious reaction this eventually leads to a rapprochement of sorts with his dad. It's a straightforward sounding plot but the script does a very good job of developing the characters.

I know the ending, with Tyler in the Twin Towers on September 11th, 2001, has been criticised on grounds of taste, but I'd say this sort of reaction was somewhat kneejerk; it works in the context of the film, although it doesn't exactly achieve the pathos intended. This isn't a classic of cinematic drama by any means, but it's a good script performed well. It's well worth seeing.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Exiting the Factory (1895)

I think, at forty-six seconds long, this is not only the oldest but also the shortest film I will ever cover on this blog and, more to the point, an easy blog post to make in a snatched spare moment such as this one. Still, it is generally considered the first ever film to have been a commercial cinema release, although this is disputed.

The film consists of no more than Louis Lumiere's employees leaving his factory at the end of their shifts on three occasions. There seems little point, given what it is, in discussing the quality or style, but it's a bizarre and interesting historical document. We are used to seeing Victorians in stiff and stern-looking photographs, with everyone looking rather pissed off at having to stand still for so long. But here there is much running, jumping and prattling about; a much more accurate portrayal of what people were actually like. 

The other noticeable thing, aside from the dogs(!), is how very overdressed everyone is for a shift in a factory, especially the women. 

It's worth spending 46 seconds having a look: the film is up on YouTube and is, obviously, on the public domain.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Despicable Me (2010)

 "Are these beds made out of bombs?"

"Yes, but they are very old and highly unlikely to blow up."

I love Minions. Probably my favourite t-shirt is one with Minions and the TARDIS on it. I am writing this on a smartphone with a Minion cover. They are now ubiquitous, and seem to have much outgrown the film from which they sprung.

Still, this is a modern family Pixar-style animation film like any other and, as expected, while it has both stuff for the kiddies and metatextual stuff for the grown-ups, it is weighted much more towards the latter. It is a perfect concept for a film; a comedy about a supervillain. And Steve Carrell is rather good as Gru, our suburban Dr Evil who is getting a little old, past his best and threatened by younger supervillains.

The main thread of the film- our evil baddie learning to be a big softie as he develops paternal feelings for three little girls he adopts- could easily have been overly soppy, but the tone remains sufficiently silly for this not to happen. It's a very funny film, mashing mundane domesticity with over-the-top supervillainy to great effect.

I love the whole riff on the Bank of Evil- there is, of course, no other sort, and that's part of the subtext of this post-crash film. I also, of course, love any scene involving Vector. 

It's a light and fluffy film, if full of lots of clever little jokes, and it's enormous gun to watch. Let's make one thing clear, though: I did not cry. No. Definitely not.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Saw VI (2009)


"What am I supposed to learn from this?"

It's a little odd, perhaps, to see a Saw film with a left wing message. Like the Punisher and Dirty Harry, these films have always carried a transparently reactionary attitude to crime and punishment in which brutal revenge matters and to hell with due process, rehabilitation or the unjustly convicted. Yet here the left wing, communitarian message is combined with these reactionary views on crime and punishment. This reminds us of two things: firstly, the social democratic left has never been particularly liberal; and secondly, people in real life are more complicated in their politics than to adopt the standard left wing or right wing package of views as a whole.

This film concerns how the recently late and unlamented John Kramer was unfortunate to live in a first world country with a third world health system, one in which, instead of the government buying in everything wholesale with huge discounts and passing the price on to the taxpayer, there is mostly a reliance on the private sector, the profit motive and dodgy insurers.

We know that William Easton,the health insurance bloke who turns down John, is inevitably facing a grisly fate. He may, strictly speaking, simply be a cog in a larger machine, but the plot takes care to emphasise both his personal culpability for, in effect, sentencing John to death, and shows him to be the sort of cad who cheats on his wife on her birthday for good measure. He's doomed.

Meanwhile, in the present day, our old friend Hoffman finds himself investigating his own crimes, and the scapegoating of the late Strahm seems to be going perfectly. And, of course, Jill has been left a box by her serial killer husband, no doubt intended as some sort of "lesson". Sensibly, she has some red wine before opening it. Oh, and Perez (remember her?) is awkwardly still alive. We know full well that Hoffman is going to get rumbled. He deserves it; flashbacks reveal his involvement from a very early stage.

Hoffman and Jill are working together. There are envelopes. There are frightening views expressed about drug addiction (and wrong- look at Amanda). The plot, meanwhile, is as delightful a puzzle as always, and as usual the saving grace of the film.

William's test is, I suppose, grimly appropriate; he is pitted against a Man who neglects his health, and forced to restrict his breathing. William is the one who lives and, of course, learns nothing from this pointless ordeal. I'm beginning to suspect that, for this film at least, the authorial voice agrees with me.

We are not done with William; he has to choose, arbitrarily, which of his staff lives or dies, and he gets a philosophical chat with John. His penultimate test is to suffer physical pain to help an underling, or she dies. It is he, as the boss, who has the agency here, the power of life and death. Naturally, he refuses, what with her being an expendable pawn, and there is a fight, the unfettered free market red in tooth and claw. The left wing subtext here is extraordinary; it is interesting that this film was released shortly before Obama's still rather right wing health reforms became a thing.

William's final test is a massacre of his entire staff, except that he can save a maximum of two by painfully giving up his hands. Lovely. This is a nice little microcosm of what he does for a living, of course, and naturally they all die. In the final twist, his death comes atcthechands of a woman who holds a grudge against him and is not, as we assume, his wife.

We end with the usual stream of revelations, and Hoffman's fatal comeuppance at the end of Jill. I like this film a lot; Jigsaw remains a psychopathic, sanctimonious shit, but at least this time the film was about something.