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.

    Grimm: Revelation

    "I don't even know who you are any more!"

    The story continues. The programme continues to use Wesen as a metaphor, with Monroe's parents continuing to reject their son's lifestyle choices. It's not hard to see a parallel with people coming out as gay to their unsupportive parents. Oh, and there's still something going around scalping cops, but that's in the background. although we do get a hilarious scene where a cop is hanging around alone, in the forest, in the dark, and is obviously going to die.

    Much of this episode consists of Monroe trying and failing to reconnect with his parents, especially his father. It is only with the final action climax against three hard baddies that Monroe's dad finally comes to understand and accept his son's choices, also throwing in a dire warning that this type of baddie means baaaaad stuff's coming.

    Meanwhile, in Vienna, Adalind learns that Sean Reynard is close to getting to the truth, and Prince Viktor discovers that Frau Peck is not the traitor. The net is closing in on Adalind. And the birth is now imminent.

    A fast-paced return, then, to the series after its mid-season break. Things are hotting up on multiple fronts.

    Grimm: A Dish Best Served Cold

    "I just watched a friend of mine die in a tree..."

    So far this season has been very arc-based, with no stories of the week. This episode continues this trend, at least at first, as a date between Rosalie and Monroe leads to her moving in with him. They declare their love for each other, they're such a cute couple. I'm sure it'll all end in tragedy.

    Nick and Juliette are discussing that bloke what he killed when he was a zombie thingy. On paper it's a good scene, but David Giuntoli is just too bland to sell it properly. Time for a story of the week methinks.

    This all revolves around a restaurant with a posh chef, and a feud between pigs and wolves (irony?). As a story of the week it is well structured, gripping, and a good reintroduction to the basic format of the show. There is, interestingly, an interesting ending with Nick pretending to arrest and shoot Monroe. This is a trick that can probably only be tried once. This would be a very good episode were it not for the groan-inducing line "and this little piggy goes to jail..."

    Meanwhile, in Vienna, Sean Reynard's agent comes into contact with Adalind. Can't be too long now until he finds out about his possible child...

    Saturday, 18 October 2014

    Doctor Who: Flatline

    "Could you not just let me enjoy the moment of not knowing something? I mean it happens so rarely."

    Hmm. This episode wasn't bad. It was really quite good, in fact. So please don't take this the wrong way, but... wasn't there a touch of Fear Her about this? The setting, the two dimensional baddie, the fact that its a season cheapie- there are s lot of similarities. Still, Fear Her was cack, and this was bog standard. 

    Yes, the conceit is great: two dimensional baddies. And it's fun to see the TARDIS shrunk, and all the cool things they do with it. More fundamentally it's good to see things being done with its dimensions for the first time since, really, Planet of Giants

    Still, I like Rigsy, and I like the fact that we're rooting for the kid on community service and left in no doubt that his supervisor, definitely the UKIP voting type, is an arse. 

    The character star stuff is good, too; Clara hasn't told Danny that she's still travelling with the Doctor! And, with the Doctor stuck in the shrunken TARDIS, she gets to spend an episode being the Doctor, and doing it well. More interestingly, as explicitly acknowledged in the dialogue, she gets to see things from his point of view, an interesting counterpoint to their big row in Kill the Moon.

    Still, not an awful lot to say about this one. It was quite good, but you can tell the crew are thinking about the big stuff at the end of the season. What's this about Missy "choosing" Clara...?

    Grimm: The Wild Hunt

    "Will you marry me?"

    Aww! Ain't it cute? Monroe asked Rosalie to marry him! And he did it with, er, a cuckoo clock...!

    This episode features the most terrifying prospect yet; Monroe's rather old-fashioned parents. They're not exactly keen on their son marrying a Fuchsbau- it's miscegenation, don't you know- and as for his best friend being a Grimm... well, they're not impressed. Or, on present impressions, very nice at all. 

    That's pretty much it. Oh, there's a main plot involving some scalping a, but our cliffhanger is Monroe's displeased parents encountering said bombshell...

    Beaches (1988)

    "I just want to get rid of us before us gets bad."

    Yes, I know; this is a chick flick. I watched it because my lovely wife wanted to show me one of her favourite films and I'm blogging it because it's quite well known. And you know what? I quite enjoyed it. I won't put it any stronger than that; it isn't superlatively brilliant in the way that Pretty Woman is (yes, I did just say that), but it's a good film.

    The film follows the lives of two women from childhood to one of them suffering a tragic, early death. CC is poor, Jewish and very much a New Yorker, while Hillary is a rich WASP girl from an established East Coast family. They bond over shared ambitions to go into musical theatre- a world of which I know nothing- but their very different natures later lead to both friction and reconciliation.

    Much as CC may struggle in her early days through lack of money, she benefits from being carefree and unrestricted, while Hillary is pressured into becoming a bored housewife to an awful, snobbish husband, and CC's telling it like it is here leads to the big clash between them that drives the structure of the main plot. Their eventual full reconciliation only comes at the price of Hillary's sad decline and death. There is a happy ending, of sorts, as CC adopts Hillary's orphaned daughter.

    It's a fairly gripping drama, and Bette Midler is superb. I won't pretend this is my cup of tea but there are many things to enjoy in this film.

    Grimm: The Good Soldier

    "I don't deserve what they did to me. I was a good soldier."

    A rather good whodunit for once, this one, and concerning the serious issue of the rape of women in the US military, once again using Wesen as a metaphor for humanity's bestial urges.

    Still, there is a counterbalancing positive narrative for the U.S. Military here, I suppose inevitably, in the person of an honourable commanding officer who pays the ultimate price for doing the right thing. The rape itself is evil, but everything else in this episode exists in shades of grey. It may be a story of the week, but this is a highlight of the season.

    They way things unfold is particularly praiseworthy, with the victims to be drinking awful lager and alluding to s terrible secret from seven years earlier. The tragic motive for the murders, and the way the plot unfolds, make this odd only the best episode yet in terms of structure.

    Meanwhile, in Vienna, the subplot continued to tread water. For once we seem to have a story that leaves little room for subplots.

    Grimm: Eyes of the Beholder

    "Get out of my house!"

    This isn't the first time that Grimm has tackled domestic abuse, but it's a topic that works well with the use of Wesen as metaphors. In this case there's the added complication that Alicia is trying to hide from Juliette the fact that she's a Fuchsbau; I love the scene in which Jukiette tries to explain that she understands about Wesen, and gets it all wrong. Her husband being a Grimm doesn't exactly help here.

    There's also a parallel plot, also including domestic abuse themes. This is Wesen-on-Wesen violence too. There's perhaps something unfortunate with Grimm implying that all social issues are really about Wesen, but then the whole concept is just a metaphor on a number of levels.

    All this contrasts with the increasingly cute relationship between Monroe and Rosalie, and the budding relationship between Hank and the vulnerable Tyler which ends, it seems, in rejection.

    I liked this episode; it flows well, and has a rare thematic unity. This is so good it could almost be a lesser episode of Buffy, and I genuinely mean that as praise.

    Grimm: Red Menace

    "Koschei are Russian, which means they're Greek to me."

    Interesting start; a jogging woman in the forest, like the first episode. Not only that, but the soundtrack is "Little Red Riding Hood" by the Meteors. Thing soon settle down, however. A medium-term arc thread is seeded as an abused friend of Juliette's, Alicia, comes to stay with her and Nick for a while. Her husband is, of course, a Wesen. Oh, and Sean Renard meets Adalind at a restaurant and learns that he may be the father of her child. Oh, and Hank gets a possible love interest in Tyler. About time. We'll see how this develops.

    The main story-of-the-week plot, however, is Russian-themed and begins, again, with Woo as one of the great Charlie Brooker's Men in the Macs who Spout Facts. Everything revolves around a Russian Wesen with healing powers which are, naturally, connected to Rasputin, his parallel. It seems the Czar's favourite mad monk was killed by a Grimm on behalf of British Intelligence.

    Things get very Russian, with affairs and vodka, and Russians speaking to each other in English for some reason. 

    A bit blah, this one, but we end with a cliffhanger; the abusive husband is outside the house in a car... 

    Friday, 17 October 2014

    Forrest Gump (1994)

    "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."

    I didn't want to like this film. I assumed it had a passively conservative agenda in that the homespun wisdom of the Deep South is a much better guide for life than those pesky liberal intellectuals. And yes, there is a bit of that. And it's not necessarily a good thing to imply that success comes to those who morally deserve it as it does to Forrest- it doesn't. But I liked it anyway. I may be a Guardian reading type and Lib Dem voter (though definitely not on Clegg's wing of the party), but I hail from the reactionary, UKIP voting rural East Midlands and, while most of my fellow denizens of this region may average some decidedly right wing views, I'm definitely proud of where I come from. Eh up, me duck.

    All of which is to say that I rather enjoyed this film and I think it would be churlish to knock it for it's fairly passive conservative slant. In any case, I'm wary that I haven't read the novel on which the film is based. So let's actually talk about the film, shall we?

    Firstly, Tom Hanks is superb, evoking both humour and pathos in a way that reminds one of the great Charlie Chaplin.
    His choice of scripts may often leave something to be desired, but as an actor he's one of the best that Hollywood has to offer. And the film is fun, riffing enjoyably on its Zelig concept to insert Forrest into footage of the likes of John Lennon and any number of American presidents. It is, perhaps, an example of a post-Cold War America, in the middle of the "End of History" era, looking back fondly over its most recent tumultuous decades of counterculture and Vietnam. 

    Forrest's homespun philosophies are, of course, silly, and the film could be accused of naïveté in having it's mentally subnormal star end up rich and successful because he's nice. But one can also, if one tries hard enough, see there an existential acknowledgement of the absurdities of life and fortune, and I tried very hard indeed. The film is worth a look and great fun, even for those of us wary of possible conservative overtones.

    Sunday, 12 October 2014

    Sharknado (2013 TV Movie)

    "We can't just wait here for sharks to rain down on us!"

    I couldn't resist watching this and, yes, I had to blog it: a TV movie on SyFy with the most gloriously and semi-ironically B movie premise. It's exactly what you expect, really, a movie that knows how silly it is and revolves entirely around some hilarious CGI. 

    We open in California, on a bar by the seafront. There are a handful of characters to get to know if you can be bothered; they're all just ciphers and the film is all about the Sharks. There is some hilarious exposition and much equally hilarious dialogue.

    It's not long before we see the first attack from some very aggressive sharks, with only short glimpses of actual physical models; the rest is all CGI.

    From now on it's all about the set pieces, with an early highlight being sharks attacking the bar, and one being killed with a pool cue. Yes, it looks a bit shit, but it's cool. And I love the Ferris wheel that's sent rolling across the ground.

    Inevitably, there's a road trip. The sharks Attack Beverley Hills, and the film takes a glorious pleasure in being cruel to the rich: this is unmistakably a film made post-2008. Probably quite wisely there is no real attempt to explain away the "sharknadoes".

    Sharks launch out of manholes. A particularly arrogant character dies horribly. The set pieces just keep on coming. There are CGI waterspouts, chainsaws, and Heath Robinson contraption. But the film really (ahem) jumps the shark when the hero uses a chainsaw to liberate his recently swallowed girlfriend from a dead shark's stomach.

    Yes, it really is that good/bad. And there is, I'm afraid, a sequel...

    Grimm: Twelve Days of Krampus

    "Hey, guys- shouldn't we be spreading out closer together?"

    Well, well- a Christmas episode, no less! And a rather good one, too, in defiance of my expectations.

    It's a fantastic concept; Santa's evil twin, who punishes bad children by ritually hanging them from a tree. And the curse comes with inbuilt amnesia so that the person responsible has no idea he's doing it. Brilliant.

    Oh, and there's whipping too. Er, kinky. And, on that theme, we later have people gleefully photographing a Santa being handcuffed...

    Monroe, of course, really does Christmas, like a proper traditional German. Rosalie doesn't, though; the festival holds tragic memories for her. Touchingly, as soon as Monroe hears about this he quietly and uncomplainingly takes down all the decorations he'd spent so long putting up. 

    In Vienna, meanwhile, Sean Renard leaves a note and flowers as an excuse to speak to Adalind, knowing that they will be watched. And, in Portland, Rosalie confides in Juliette, who is making tea wrongly, as Americans on TV are always doing, dipping a teabag in lukewarm water. (You need the water to be boiling and to bash the teabag about in the boing water do it infuses, folks; if the water is lukewarm and you don't get the tea out of the bag then the necessary chemical reaction will not occur and the tea will taste like shit. For even better results, use loose tea and a teapot, and don't forget to warm the pot.)

    Ahem. All is well in the end, as Nick uses his Daredevil powers to save the day.  There's a dilemma about what to do with our amnesiac baddie, however. Do they kill him? Tell the Wesen Council...?

    We end on a sweet note, as Rosalie has put all of the decorations back just as they were. Merry Christmas!

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tough Love

    "They'll take you away from me..."

    Something of a somber episode, this, with the consequences of both adulthood and bereavement hitting Buffy hard. And, of that isn't bad enough, something truly heartbreaking happens. And then the episode ends with Glory discovering the identity of the key. Oops.

    Buffy's academic career drifts away from her as yet another dream of her youth that is now denied to get; she's been dropping lectures and is forced to drop out, under cover of the polite fiction that she will one day return to complete her studies. The scene between her and the professor is deliberately slow and deliberately awkward. 

    In parallel, Ben is fired from his hospital job because of his frequent absences. Glory is ruining his life. She may be a goddess, a flat and one dimensional character with underlings, luxury, a flange of gorillas should she so desire, and other stereotypical superbaddie trappings, but all of the multi-dimensional characters are made to suffer because of her, and no more so than in this episode.

    There's a little comic relief as Anya discovers her inner uber-capitalist and American chauvinist, but for Buffy it's all crushing responsibility as the principal warns her that Dawn is failing at school, and Buffy is in danger of losing custody. This, of course, leads to clashes between the sisters as a panicking Buffy goes all authoritarian in a way she simply hasn't earned (she's only 20!), and things get worse and worse.

    Staying with the darkness, Willow and Tara have their first big and nasty falling out over a silly argument- and the silliness of the argument makes it worse. Horribly, Glory has got it into her head that Tara is the key and, before the couple have time to reconcile, Glory feasts on her mental energies, leaving her an infantilised and tormented she'll of a person. Of course, this completely breaks Willow's heart. It certainly broke ours while watching. Typical Whedon...!

    Dawn, after a big fight with Buffy, goes to see Spike, and doesn't fail to notice his torture wounds. He has some words of wisdom for her; just because she's the key doesn't mean it's all her fault, hard though it is for an adolescent to understand that.

    Willow goes after Glory herself, enraged, using the "darkest magic"; in many ways, Dark Willow starts here. In the end, it's Buffy to the rescued, but Willow ends up heartbroken. It's sweet, though, how there's no question but that she will care for poor Tara. That's true love. There is now another connection between her and Buffy, one whose absence threatened to cause a rift between them; they both now have a dependent.

    The end is shocking, though. Just two more episodes to go...

    Grimm: Cold Blooded

    "You ask me, it's an alligator."

    Fiddlesticks. This seems to be some sort of two-parter. I'm not sure what's happening- two directors are credited- but this episode appears to be broadly standalone, albeit with a rushed ending.

    Alexis Denisof is playing a gloriously sinister baddie, Prince Viktor, who reminds me of badass Wesley (Er, not that the blog has got to that bit in Angel quite yet. And fear not; I'm still very much blogging Buffy and Angel. Indeed, I have some notes prepared. But I'm in a hurry to finish Grimm Season 3 before Season 4 starts). He's charismatic, erotic, menacing, and has Adalind hanging on his every word.

    This week's story is based on something by John Dryden- do any of my readers know exactly what? We have a reptilian burglar Wesen and apparent references to urban myths of alligators in sewers. Meanwhile, in Vienna (it means nothing to me), Sean Renard is slumming it with his underling, forced to stay hidden in relative squalor.

    The main plot is largely solved at another one of those fabulous dinner parties round Monrie's and Rosalie's, with Juliette fully involved. Our little Scooby Gang is a rather convivial, bibulous bunch; I like that.

    The main plot is a bit blah, but interesting things happen with Sean; there's a trial taking place, and the Resistance are interrogating a suspected Royal agent...

    Grimm: Stories We Tell Our Young

    "So, I guess it's time for the "Birds and the whole Bienen-Wesen" talk. Okay..."

    On the same day as I review an episode of Penny Dreadful that largely riffs on The Exorcist, this happens. Yes, apparently this is based on Inuit mythology, but there's no mistaking the obvious influence of a certain film.

    I'm amused by the role of Woo at the start; for those of us who have been following Charlie Brooker's most amusing A Touch of Cloth, this episode sees him fulfilling the cop show standard of "man in the Mac who spouts facts" perfectly. Also, in Parallel with the Exorcist stuff, Sean Renard arrives in Vienna to begin his multi-episode sub-plot. Also in Vienna are Adalind and a new prince, played by none other than Alexis Denisof...!

    The main lot plays out, with a little friction between our heroes and the Wesen Council thrown in; interestingly, it was once again Rosalie who snitched. And we get, of course, a little lesson on the heredity of Wesen traits. 

    This episode was average, methinks. There's nothing wrong with it, but I'm getting a little restless with stories of the week.

    Penny Dreadful: Season One, Episode 6 (What Death Can Join Together)

    "You must risk rejection!"

    This one is a far more typical episode, albeit with Vanessa now a lot less mysterious. It's one of the less eventful episodes on the whole, with the exception of Van Helsing being casually killed by Caliban after telling Victor all about vampires. It's a shame; we won't be seeing David Warner any more. It's interesting to see him point to a penny dreadful featuring Varney the Vampire!

    Aside from that, well... Brona is still dying and Vanessa is still doing that thing with Tarot cards. Caliban takes a fancy to a girl. Ethan tells Sir Malcolm about Brona, and Sir Malcolm sympathies. And then they fight some vampires (which look rather like Count Orlok from Nosferatu) and actually see and speak to Mina, but to no avail. 

    But the episode is mainly about a rather hot date between Vanessa and Dorian Gray. They discuss religion and philosophy, have that sort of erotically witty conversation that never happens in real life and end up having some extraordinarily kinky sex, with Vanessa scratching Dorian to the point of GBH. All he has to do, of course, is use the portrait in his attic which we all know about from our old friend dramatic irony.

    Sir Malcolm returns home, empty-handed, to find Vanessa once again possessed, and levitating...

    Penny Dreadful: Season One, Episode 5 (Closer Than Sisters)

    "I tried to pray that night. God wouldn't answer- but another did..."

    Well, this is unexpected; an episode, told entirely in flashback and with many regular characters absent, filling in the backstory for Vanessa and explaining so many things about her. It's also interesting to get an impression of Mina, who appears in a scene which, I think, takes place during Dracula. Jonathan Harker even gets a mention.

    She and Mina were, ahem, "closer than sisters" as children, until Vanessa became possessed by a malevolent entity and betrayed her friend by sleeping with her fiancé on the night before her wedding, as you do. Cue loads of scenes of straitjackets and Victorian mental health treatments.

    Things are fleshed out; Mina is a Catholic in an Anglican world, presumably an old recusant rather than Irish, interesting in a Victorian context. Much of the second half of the episode strongly echoes The Exorcist. Except her treatment is horrifying; a shaven head, being shackled and hosed down, even trepanning. Her low point surely comes when her mother dies of shock, seeing her possessed and levitating daughter being raped by some kind of demon. This episode is very, very dark, and Eva Green is very, very good.

    We end with her reconciliation with Sir Malcolm and the revelation that, every day, this devout, damned, guilt-ridden Catholic writes a letter to Mina and files it away with the others. She loves her childhood friend very much, "enough to kill" her...

    Saturday, 11 October 2014

    Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express

    "Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones. But you still have to choose."

    What a brilliant episode. This script from newcomer Jamie Mathieson has everything: a brilliant scary premise; a solid plot with a satisfying resolution; and some satisfying character development for both the Doctor and Clara.

    The whole thing looks good, too. The Mummy looks amazing, by far the scariest monster we've seen for ages, and it looks as though this was done by good use of prosthetics, rather than the recent overuse of CGI. Good. The 1920s sets and costumes are fantastic, of course, but you expect that with the BBC. The cast is, again, superb, with Frank Skinner standing out (and I noticed, as Mrs Pitt in the pre-credits sequence, Janet Halfrey from The Curse of Fenric). And the nice metatextual touch of having the 66 seconds countdown appear stylishly onscreen as the Foretold bears down upon its victim is not only brilliant but enhances the fear factor hugely.

    Every beat of the plot is perfect, with revelation after revelation. The overall shape of the plot is satisfying and, for me, far from predictable. Even the fact that the premise of the story was mentioned by Matt Smith at the end of The Big Bang is satisfactorily explained, and simultaneously fulfils a nice little character point between the Doctor and Clara.

    I noticed, though, that the ultimate identity of "Gus" is left as a mystery...

    Clara is still upset with the Doctor, and intends this to be her last trip with him. The first scene between them has them speaking to each other but, McLuhan-like, not communicating, and this is reflected in their phone conversation later in the episode.

    The Doctor's cleverness is well and truly highlighted here, but insensitive bedside manner, his alien Aspergers tendencies meaning he just doesn't "get" feelings or small talk, is foregrounded here as never before. Several times this season we've seen him calmly telling people that he can't save them but he wants them to do something for him while they're dying so he can save others later. Here we have a premise where he does that again and again and again.

    And yet...just when he's about to do the same to Maisie he does something different, behaving like a true hero and taking her place, defeating the monster in 66 seconds ("Are you my mummy?") while being incredibly Doctorish. Clara warms to this, and chooses to believe that the Doctor was only choosing to seem heartless for Gus' sake. And she sees, interestingly, that he's probably addicted to peril. 

    For the moment, Clara is mollified enough (and Danny understanding enough) for her to keep travelling with the Doctor. I don't think the rift is even close to permanently healed, though. And I'm sure that the Doctor's insensitivity is something set up to be slowly developed in the way Colin Baker's Doctor was originally supposed to.

    The future looks interesting. But, here and now, this is an outstanding piece of television.

    Penny Dreadful: Season One, Episode 4 (Demi-Monde)

    "Is it poisonous?"

    "Like all beautiful things, I hope so."

    We begin with a mise-en-scene, Grand Guignol style, with Dorian Gray surrounded by naked beauties of both sexes. Yep; he's decadent, decidedly an aesthetic and portrayed as a combination of both his literary self and Oscar Wilde.

    Vanessa, however, is infatuated with him, as a very flirty sequence illustrates; it seems the mysterious ice maiden is capable of melting. Victor is more interested in his scientific mentor, however; Abraham Van Helsing is portrayed with typical brilliance by David Warner, and seems to know a lot about the foe they face, considerably more than Sir Malcolm. 

    Our tour of characters takes us next to Caliban, who seems quite the social Darwinian; like Herbert Spencer he believes in survival of the fittest, and sees himself as the first of a new master race. Hence the desire for a bride...

    The wolf boy is still in Sir Malcolm's basement, needing blood; he seems to be something of a Renfield character. Next, Ethan takes Brona to see the Grand Guignol, with Dorian and Vanessa also watching and Caliban working backstage. It looks as though there's a real death on stage, but no one realises.

    Our two couples meet, and Brona learns from Vanessa that Ethan lied to her about his job. She's upset, and dumps him- she's dying, in any case. We end up with a contrast between Brona, dying and now looking very ill, and Ethan, morose, being seduced by Dorian after an unpleasant afternoon's blood sports. We end on their kiss...

    Tuesday, 7 October 2014

    Penny Dreadful: Season One, Episode 3 (Resurrection)

    "You have not known horror unless I show it to you."

    So it turns out that Proteus wasn't the first life created by young Mr. Frankenstein, and that Rory Kinnear is in fact joining the likes of Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee in the pantheon of those who have played the monster. He even wants a bride! This time, though, he is called not Adam but Caliban, the name I predicted for his late brother.

    It is Frankenstein and his monster who are foregrounded here, but the transplantation of the tale to late Victorian London gives us the wonderful spectre of Caliban working behind stage in the Grand Guignol, an institution which I suspect is intended as a kind of microcosm for the series itself.

    Interesting, though, that Frankenstein's love of Romantic poetry, with its rejection of industrial sprawl, is contrasted starkly with Caliban's love of the dark Satanic mills of "an age of steam and turbines". Frankenstein is, of course, motivated by guilt. He is fulfilling the narrative role of a tragic hero; I fully expect him to eventually suffer a death to suit.

    It turns out that Brona is a Victorian prostitute; I'm reminded of The Crimson Petal and the White, which I read a couple of years ago. I'm also reminded of Secret Diary of a Call Girl, mainly because of Billie Piper. Sadly, however, this prostitute is dying of consumption, in desperate poverty to boot. It's a reminder of the extremes of wealth and poverty that existed in the Victorian age, extremes that we are slowly sleepwalking back towards as the slow, cruel dismemberment of the NHS and the Welfare State continues apace.

    Ethan Chandler finally decides to accept Eva's offer and begin working for her and Sir Malcolm. Again they go hunting for baddies, and capture a werewolf. Ethan is shocked by the cruel treatment it is subjected to by his employers, evil though it is; no one is truly good in Penny Dreadful, just various hues of grey.

    Their new prisoner longs for "all life to end and the world to live in darkness." Sadly, for Brona, this seems to be her immediate future...

    Penny Dreadful: Season One, Episode 2 (Seance)

    "Your first-born has returned, father!"

    Nice cliffhanger. The monster we saw Frankenstein creating last episode, a nice chap, was in fact the second attempt, and we see him being brutally and casually killed by his older brother, presumably the Frankenstein's monster of legend. Nice.

    Interesting that Frankenstein is, against type, a cultured man, fond of the Romantic poets and choosing a name for his "son" from the secular Bible that is the complete works of Shakespeare. Proteus is nicely chosen, and close to Prometheus, which fits. I was half expecting Cailban.

    So much else happens in this episode, though. We meet Brona Croft, a poor and dying prostitute played in an incomprehensible accent (I think it's supposed to be Ulster?) by the usually reliable Billie Piper. This is probably as good a point as any to whinge about the lack of subtitles from Sky on the watch again version; not good enough.

    There's a murder, which the police and public are comparing to the Ripper murders (although "he only did whores!)"); is this the work of the ultimate baddie or of a odd only body-snatching Frankenstein?

    Brona gets to meet, and get fucked by, Dorian Gray, quite the aesthete and fascinated by mod cons, even owning an Edison cylinder. He, Vanessa and Sir Malcolm are invited, this being the 1890s, to a seance, where he and the usually frigid Vanessa seem to hit it off. The highlight of the episode, though, is the seance itself, with Vanessa seemingly possessed by Mina's spirit and going full-on The Exorcist. This is superbly done, and Eva Green is amazing. This is also probably the finest sustained bit of swearing I've ever seen on television.

    Ethan seems to start a relationship with Brona at the CGI docks (with a nicely half-finished Tower Bridge), but it's hard to tell, as I can't understand a word she's saying and there are no sodding subtitles. Meanwhile, Sir Malcolm meets eccentric Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle, who has translated the Hierogyphs found under the vampires' skin. It seems to foretell "the annihilation of man and the coming of the beast..."

    I'm still loving this. Why has it taken is so long to get round to watching it?

    Penny Dreadful: Season One, Episode 1 (Night Work)

    "That is my mountain. There I will ant my flag."

    Yes, I know, I'm late to the party. But I'm rather enjoying Sky and Showtime's answer to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen so far. I don't yet know where this is going, but the plot is gripping, the characters absorbing, the actors magnificent and the whole Victorian world looks superb. It's beautifully shot too.

    Josh Hartnett is Ethan Chandler, our American character with whom the mainly Ametican viewers can identify, and a man with a mysterious past and a gloriously contemporary present as a performer in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Through his eyes we are introduced to the mysterious, confident and deeply religious Vanessa, who reads him like Sherlock Holmes would, and the obsessed explorer Sir Malcolm, who seeks to rescue his daughter from vampires. Vanessa resembles Mina Harker from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but Mina is in fact Sir Malcolm's daughter, snatched from the bog while having a crap. Nice.

    Oh, and a young Victor Frankenstein is in the England of 1891 for some reason, rather than the Mitteleuropa of the late 18th century as per Mary Shelley. Our cliffhanger, nearly enough, is provided by his creating a son from various bits of flesh. I like the design of the monster.

    I like Vanessa's speech to Chandler about a "demi-monde", a world in the shadows of London a la Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. And I like everything so far about Penny Dreadful and it's serious, realistic tone contrasted with a playful take on the tropes and themes of late Victoriana.

    Sunday, 5 October 2014

    Detectorists, Part 1

    "Ring pull. '83. Tizer."

    This is a nice, gentle little comedy drama from BBC 4 starting the rather good Mackenzie Crook (who also writes and directs) and the equally excellent Toby Jones. I rather enjoyed it.

    This is a gentle comedy of personal quirks, about slightly geeky, ordinary people with dead end jobs and human foibles. Lance is still within the gravitational pull of his ex-wife whereas Andy is tempted to stray from his girlfriend, attracted to student Sophie.

    I suspect this six part series will end with them striking it rich but losing much of their happiness on the way, but for now, at least, this is a nicely diverting half-hour with some good jokes.

    Saturday, 4 October 2014

    Doctor Who: Kill the Moon

    "That's what you do with aliens, isn't it? Blow them up?"

    Hmm. I didn't much like this one, and yet it got all the big things right. I loved the plot, I loved the beats of the story- and yet it didn't quite come off. The problem, I think, is that both the setting and central conceit with the fixed point in time just feel like a retread of The Waters of Mars. It must be said, too, that, yes, I quite like the more slowly paced style of this season, but this episode dragged.

    It's the Moon (played by Lanzarote) in 2049 and not, as some reading pre-publicity would have up believe, Sarn (played by Lanzarote). People have stopped going into space because they can't be arsed, a bit like The Seeds of Death. Things have been getting desperate, the moon had been getting heavier and disrupting gravity, and all humanity has to play with is one antique space shuttle, the last few nukes and some piss-or astronauts. It's a very unglamorous future. 

    Meanwhile, at Coal Hill School, the Doctor decides to take young Courtney Woods to the Moon to cheer her up, as you do. Clara is not entirely sure this is wise. The Doctor advises Courtney that there's to be "no hanky-panky", as JN-T once famously declared. Oh, and later on the Doctor gives us a Troughtonesque "When I say run, run." And Courtney became President of the USA and "met this bloke called Blonovitch". Lots of references to old stories, and the reason I mention them is to point out that they are not particularly from missing episodes, contrary to many current online theorists who suppose that this season is full of clues to a forthcoming announcement of missing episodes by Philip Morris later this year. That may or may not happen, but im very sceptical about any clues being inserted into the season's scripts. It just ain't happening, folks.

    On a more contemporary note, Capafdi's Doctor is forever being asked "Who made you the boss?". And the bacteria-spiders look good, although in close-up it's a shame they used CGI instead of a model. 

    The central moral dilemma- the moon is an egg, and humanity has the moral dilemma of actually killing the innocent baby or risking extinction, is not one I can identify with, though. What parallel with any real world dilemma is there here, exactly? And arguably Clara is wrong: surely the extinction of billions of humans and an entire planet justifies the unfortunate sacrifice of one life. 

    I don't blame Clara for lashing out at the Doctor and storming out of the TARDIS. She confides in Danny Pink, with his warning from last episode about the Doctor being a dangerously charismatic officer coming home to roost much sooner than expected. But, as Danny points out, she's angry now. How will she feel when she calms down? I don't think this is the end of her arc. This feels like unfinished business. And the scene also hints at unexplained depths to Danny Pink- again.

    Jenna Coleman, incidentally, is amazing here.

    This is probably my least favourite episode of the season so far, then- derivative, and based on a moral dilemma too far removed from anything that could possibly happen to possibly bear the dramatic weight that's been placed upon it. That's a problem.

    Friday, 3 October 2014

    Grimm: El Cucuy

    "Did she like me?"

    "For someone who was in a coma, yeah."

    This episode is both steeped in "Hispanic" (is using "Hispanic" to describe an ethnicity racist or not?) American culture, via ancient Egypt, and far more "street" than last episode, being based on robberies and vigilantism.

    Meanwhile, though, Juliette tells Nick about the email and gets given a lot of exposition about his mum, conveniently fulfilling the same function for the viewer. Appropriate, really, given the role of mothers in the episode and the unlikely revelation of whom the fabled El Cucuy actually is.

    In arc news, Adalind is due in the Spring and may be having twins. Most terrifyingly of all, Rosalee will soon be having to meet Monroe's parents, a prospect that has them both quaking with fear. On a more pleasant note, it's nice to see our Scooby gang having another of their wine and takeaway get together a, something that really endears them to me as characters. 

    This season is the best so far on present evidence.

    Grimm: One Night Stand

    "Not easy being a parent!"

    Back to the story of the week, then (aww!) and it's time for The Little Mermaid. This one's quite good, developing the mystery quite well, using the fear of being dragged underwater quite brilliantly and giving us some real pathos in its depiction of the Nyads and some real social commentary in the depiction of social conservatism as the misigynistic scourge that it is. The moral of this episode, which I applaud, is that social conservatism and narrow "family values" needs to be firmly stamped out.
    It's hard not to see parallels here with "honour killings" and female genital mutilation. 

    In arc news, we are left to wonder who will replace Eric Renard as crown prince, and Juliette reads and email to Nick that seems to be from his mother...

    Thursday, 2 October 2014

    Grimm: PTZD

    "I wish I could do that!"

    I've just thought; David Giuntoli hasn't had any lines so far this season, And his performance has been better than ever. Coincidence...?

    Nick is still a nasty zombie, stalking a family in scenes reminiscent of The Shining. The gang follow the screams and go after Nick, annoyingly gun-toting householders notwithstanding, and Hank is feeling rather left out, not having a Wesen form to transform into. Nick is captured and cured, but that isn't all. It seems as though Nick may have killed an innocent bloke during his time as a zombie. The law does not recognise zombiefication as a defence in Oregon; legally, it's murder. There is, of course, a cover-up, but this could have consequences for everyone from Captain Renard down. that's perjury and perversion of the course of justice. Nick, of course, knows nothing of all this.

    Of course, when he realises the truth his first instinct is to turn himself in, annoying goody-goody that he is. Fortunately, Hank manages to dissuade him (Sometimes justice isn't obvious"). I'm sure we'll return to all this.

    In other news, Adalind carries out a long and ridiculously extended spell that seems designed to fulfill Claire Coffee's contractual right to appear. Still, I'm enjoying this season's arc-driven format. That's going to continue, right>

    Wednesday, 1 October 2014

    Grimm: The Ungrateful Dead

    "This ain't over yet!"

    The zombie flick continues with the first episode of Season Three, and Nick begins the new season as a zombie himself. It's all action, and we end with the realisation that there's still more of this epic tale to come.

    One effect of the amount of time that has elapsed since last season wrapped is that Hank is no longer on crutches. But it's all pretty much as we expected; our Wesen good guys versus zombies. One interesting consequence of this, though, is that Renard is now clearly a fully-fledged member of the Grimm Scooby gang. There's a plane crash, lots of evidence of a bigger budget than usual, and assorted signifiers of a high stakes episode. Juliette continues to show herself as a valuable addition to the gang, suggesting making the zombie antidote as a gas.

    Giuntoli as a zombie is great, even charismatic- why can't he be like this every week? Meanwhile, Adalind, after a spell of great visual effectiveness, has her powers back...

    I like this fast-moving version of Grimm, but I bet we'll be back to the story of the week soon.

    The Runaways (2010)

    "This isn't about women's lib, kitties- this is about women's libido."

    We're all guilty of seeing rock history in terms of a fixed canon of work divorced from its social context, and I can be as guilty as anyone. This has become more acute by this new age we live in, with music of all styles and all eras available at the touch of a screen. But the social context is key to the music, and The Runaways reminds us of that.

    The Runaways may have pioneered women with guitars and begat Joan Jett and Lita Ford, but they were not some kind of proto-feminist precursor to Bikini Kill (fantastic band, incidentally) or Daisy Chainsaw. No; they were a manufactured band, manufactured by a creepy bloke set on sexualising these disturbingly young girls for the male gaze. It's disturbing watching this in the UK of 2014, remembering how young these girls were, with Operation Yewtree providing us with endless reminders of what used to go on in the 1970s. It's incredible to think that the band were all so young, yet they went on tour under the supervision of a much older man and were exposed to all of the drugs of the era in a way which surely wouldn't happen now. The golden age of rock may be over, and that may be a bad thing, but there are certainly upsides.

    The quirky Dakota Fanning is superb as Cherie Currie and the show here although it's worth noting, after the tragedy that was Twilight, that Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett can actually act. We begin much earlier in the decade, as the young Cherie dares to openly show her love of David Bowie, whose androgyny as Ziggy Stardust was far more transgressive then than it is now. The rock club she visits is just a rock club; there are, as yet, no sub-genres to speak of. Disturbingly we hear Gary Glitter, and there's a disturbingly relevant subtext that probably wasn't intended.

    The band is put together by Kim Fowley for entirely cynical, money-making purposes and he does not seem, given the hostile nature of their early gigs, to give a flying fig about the girls' welfare. Certainly he seems to care not a jot about Cherie's issues with her family. How much this reflects what really happened I cannot say, but the events portrayed are certainly a good argument for the urgent necessity of punk at this point.

    Cherie and Joan are sympathetically portrayed, although Lita Ford is shown to be quite the bitch of legend. But the band are largely shown to be at the mercy of events, subject to forces beyond their control in a whirlwind of touring, media ("These chicks can actually play!" says one patronising headline) and rock 'n' roll excess. In this age of major labels, cocaine and, in the words of Black Sabbath, killing yourself to live, the amount of agency wielded by any band, let alone one made up of teenage girls, is questionable.

    The much-needed arrival of punk is symbolically portrayed by Joan making herself a Sex Pistols t-shirt to the sound of "Pretty Vacant". Cherie is about due a bit of rebellion, bullied and overworked by Kim; is this rock 'n' roll? There is a definite message to the film in which rock 'n' roll is firmly equated with the raw capitalism of the New Right, a plausible message in a world where the Rolling Stones are actually all card-carrying Thatcherites. Sexualised pictures are taken of Cherie- a teenage girl, let us remember- while she is drugged and incapable. Feminism is here bound up with class politics, with rock stars as the downtrodden working class in gilded cages and Kim as the Gradgrind of the age.

    Joan is, of course, the strong one, but a tour of Japan in which privacy is non-existent is the end of the road for a drug-frizzled Cherie; the fans breaking through the window are a rather crude metaphor for her breakdown. It's back to reality but not, ultimately, back to the band, and Cherie has to adjust back to the banality and drudgery of everyday life. We end with a sweetly awkward conversation on a radio phone-in between Cherie and a now-famous Joan Jett, showing us that the natural selection of rock 'n' roll lets some rise and others fall. This is an extraordinary film.

    Cilla, Part 3

    "Fellas don't actually have sex together, do they?"

    And so we reach the end of this quietly brilliant miniseries, using first class writing, performances and design to show us a grottier, more working class 1960's in comparison to the showbiz, it becomes clear just how good it's been. Cilla is actually shown to be a bit of a spoilt bitch here, sabotaging Bob's potential showbiz career for purely selfish reasons, while Brian Epstein, so assured and sophisticated on the surface, is shown t be a deeply damaged victim of abuse, his suffering magnified by society's prejudice and his consequential self-loathing. There's real darkness here in what happens to (in this at least) a rather lovely man.

    While this is a story of Cilla failing to maintain the momentum of her two number one singles and the desperate need to find a replacement for an inevitably fickle pop career, there's enough charm and wonder to make up for the sad scenes of failure in London and New York. The pride of Cilla's parents, of the older generation but adaptable, is contrasted with Bob's dad, left behind in his sectarian ways and driven to his death by his alienation from this brave new 1960's world.

    As usual, Sheridan Smith is amazing, and yet again we get cameos from various Beatles and other '60s figures, this time including Burt Bacharach and, er, Danny La Rue. But behind the smiles and the superficial glamour is the cruel Darwinism of the world of showbiz.