Wednesday, 31 December 2014
Before I start drinking certain alcoholic beverages I'd like to wish all my readers a happy and prosperous 2015 as well, of course, as a suitably merry last few hours of 2014
Expect January to start with much blogging. It's a big year for me, though- we're expecting our first baby in early Feb, and it's likely that blog posts may be somewhat less frequent. Fear not, though- the blog will go on and on for as long as blogs are a thing!
Saturday, 27 December 2014
"I'm her father, not you!"
And they end it there?
Wow. What a half season. Trip is dead. Mack may not be. Whitehall is dead. Ward has been shot, by Skye. And that's just the start. It isn't just crammed full of incident because it's the end of the half-season, though; all episodes are like this at the moment.
Let's just say it: Cal (Skye's Dad) is Mr Hyde, and Skye ("Daisy") is Quake as well as an Inhuman. Exactly who Raina is, besides an Inhuman, is unclear, and the same is true of that mysterious bloke at the end, with another Obelisk and no eyeholes. A lot gets explained to Skye by her father, much of which we have already have worked out; it's hard to hide spoilers when there's a pre-existing Marvel mythos.
Regarding the regulars, it's clear that Slye has come on leaps and bounds as an agent, and Fitz continues to recover slowly from the brain damage. May is a genius pilot, while it seems Ward's whole agenda was to take Skye to her father and her destiny, for which she shoots him. The scenes where Skye receives much exposition from her father are the fulcrum of the episode and, indeed, the season so far. We've been waiting for this.
I'm still stunned from watching that. What will happen next? How long will we have to wait? Will any UK channel be showing Agent Carter? So many questions. Agents of SHIELD is on fire. I keep saying it because it's true.
Friday, 26 December 2014
"Blast this Christmas music. It's joyful and triumphant!"
Ok, I'll admit I never encountered Dr Seuss as a kid (he's quite popular in the UK, but not as ubiquitous as he is in America), and I essentially watched this because my wife has fond memories of it. But I rather enjoyed it, much as it may not be a great film. I'm no fan of Jim Carrey but here's a film where he really works (and you can recognise his distinctive facial mannerisms through all the layers of make-up), and it's pleasingly random to see a young Taylor Momsen from the Pretty Reckless, a band I'm a little too old to appreciate. Give me Hole, L7, Bikini Kill and Daisy Chainsaw any day.
Apparently we get most of the original verse spoken aloud, which is a good thing, as is the dreamlike look of the film, overseen by the not-always-reliable Ron Howard. The weird hairstyles are great. And yes, it's fluffy and kid-friendly, but the Grinch is funny, with Carrey getting some fantastic lines, with just enough cynicism to undercut the sentimentalism of the message.
I enjoyed this film. And that's a good thing; very imminent fatherhood means I will be seeing many more like it over the next few years!
"So that's 22 million children per hour. That's impossible! So, obviously, I've got a second sled?"
Could this be the best Christmas episode ever? It really could be, although I'm glad that an episode questioning the existence of Father Christmas happens before my daughter is born. We combine the real strengths of Moffat's storytelling- an imaginatively conceptual monster that revolves around our perception of it and intricate plotting- with real heart, wit and fun. Naysayers beware: this blog post will consist of 100% gushing.
I love the whole concept of dreams within dreams, and the dream crabs themselves, which look like face huggers from Alien (as we're told, by Michael Troughton's Albert!) and always attack you when you think about them (that is sooo Moffat), anaesthetising you with nice dreams as they melt your face off. Lovely.
Oh, and Santa is in it. With all the best lines. Nick Frost is perfect casting, and all the scenes with Santa and the elves are hilarious, leavening what could otherwise be the grimness of the base under siege format.
The plot is a marvel to behold and, wonderfully, any conceivable plot hole can be justified that the whole thing (including the very end of Death in Heaven) is a dream except the last few minutes. It's not a dream without dramatic consequences, though; the Doctor and Clara finally admit that they lied to each other and parted for absolutely no good reason. Oh, and we seem to get to know Shona suspiciously well for a one off character. Could we be seeing her again?
(Shona, incidentally, gets the best metatextual moment of the episode as she wakes up in her drab flat; her Christmas to-do list includes three DVDs- Alien, The Thing from Another World and Miracle on 34th Street- which are the clear influences for the episode. Nicely done.)
Obviously, Clara dreams about Danny (will he stay dead?) in a lovely character scene in which Danny, wonderfully, insists that he didn't die saving the world; he died saving Clara. The rest of us were just along for the ride. And Moffat cruelly wrong-foots is at the end, showing the Doctor returning to an elderly Clara (nice age make-up for once), having squandered the chance forever to travel with her again. But this is all a dream; the Doctor and Clara get a second chance, and we end with them travelling together again.
A really nice touch here, incidentally, is the fact that the Doctor can't tell the difference between old and new Clara. Another nice touch is the description we get of the Memory Crabs: "We're getting hacked. The visual input from your optic nerve is being streamed to their brains". I have to marvel at how Moffat, as he did in The Bells of St John, describes an alien threat perfectly in terms of very contemporary technology. The only death (Albert) is shown figuratively by having him pulled into a screen, some excellent nightmare logic. And the Doctor has a line in the sand: "Santa Claus does not do the scientific explanation."
Best Christmas episode ever!!!
Wednesday, 24 December 2014
Monday, 22 December 2014
"One crisis at a time!"
Oh my God, they killed Mack! The bastards. On the one hand he's a minor character from the comics who, I believed, never got killed on that medium but, on the other hand, Henry Simmons happens to be black and, as the trope goes, the black guy dies first. Hmm. Is that a little uncomfortable? I suppose sometimes character deaths are racially neutral in intent, but it looks awkward.
Still, great episode, even if we spend ages on the edge of the newly-found alien city and never really see it. But there are still exciting revelations- Raina even uses the word "Kree" to Skye, revelling in how in-demand she's become for her knowledge. Skye is also told that she, like Raina (Inhumans both?) can touch the Obelisk without harm. Bet she does so at some point.
I love the jokes about how many Koenig brothers there are, and Coulson's quick statement that SHIELD found out all about the Bermuda Triangle back in the '80s. I also love the continued use by HYDRA of Agent 33 with May's face. And it's intriguing to see Mack (before he dies, obviously) referring to a secret that Bobbi is hiding from Hunter even though they're shagging again.
Before we go to the city, though, HYDRA arrive, led by Ward, seizing Raina and (against Whitehall's wishes) Skye. Ward also declined to blast the team out of the sky. What is his agenda?
Never have I been so impatient to see the next episode, even with Christmas Day (and Doctor Who!) coming before then!
Sunday, 21 December 2014
"We all got our demons..."
On the surface this is a fun, fluffy little season finale in which the bad guys running Pylea get overthrown and everyone is happy ever after. But there are all sorts of little character moments suggesting problems ahead and, of course, the fluffy mood is instantly undercut at the end with the bad news from Sunnydale.
Even at the start, none of the gang want to be in Pylea any more, not even Cordy who begins to realise that, like today's European monarchs, she is nothing but a puppet in a gilded cage. Angel's initial enthusiasm for Pylea, with its straightforward black and white morals and disdain for all shades of grey has faded; he may be all white-hatted human hero, but his vampire side is all demon, whatever faith Fred may have in him. Meanwhile, Gunn and Wesley keep nearly dying in comical ways which neatly undermine Wesley's credentials as a leader.
In fact, Wesley's talents as a leader, or lack of them, are something of a subtext here. His revolutionary plans involve the sacrifice of the lives of some under him, and a particularly cynical usage of Angel. How very, well, Macchiavellian. This, along with hints to his kinkiness, seem to point to a deepening and darkening of his character to come.
But for now all is fluffy, Groo is in charge of Pylea and all the doubtless horrible stuff is still to come. But all that's for another season...
Saturday, 20 December 2014
"How many apocalypses now?"
"Six, I think."
It's very clear from the start that this was originally supposed to be the last ever episode and not just a season finale; the "Previously On" is a tour through all five seasons, and the opening scene is a call back to the first ever episode- Buffy saves a boy from a vampire (how long since we saw one of those?) in the exact feminist statement that is the raison d'être for the whole show.
Still, this is also (and, as it turns out, only) a season finale, so we then turn straight to the plot. The plot involves some waiting around, however, so we also have time for a bit of character stuff first. Hence a bit of friction between Buffy and Giles about whether to kill Dawn (as though that's going to happen!) and Xandet suggesting, to his immediate shame, that they could just kill Ben (er...!). Hence Dawn being so very, very brave on what is to be the last day of her life. Hence Buffy and Giles getting a nice, quiet moment together. Hence Anya actually having some good and practical ideas about which McGuffins to use against Glory. But essentially the plan is just to keep Glory occupied so that the moment passes and the appointed time passes and it's too late to kill Dawn and unleash Hell. As plans go, it's rather desperate. And Buffy makes it clear that, if Dawn dies, she's quitting as Slayer. It's clear that there can be no simple return to the status quo.
Amongst all this, though, is a funny yet sweet scene of Xander proposing to Anya in an act of defiant faith in the future, just after they've had sex during which Anya, as she so kindly informs us, had "the pleasure moment".
After this, things seem to speed up. And, well, I've never much enjoyed action scenes or found them that easy to follow, but the second half of the episode seems to be too fast and too much action, robbing Buffy's death of its impact. Yes, the resolution at the end is obvious but that's not actually a problem as its a nice and neat way to end things, and the emotional impact should make up for the lack of surprise. Yet the emotional impact is strangely blunted.
Still, none of that takes away from the fact that this has been a fine season. The best, in fact, since Season Three. So let's see what happens in two more seasons on a different network...
Friday, 19 December 2014
"Numfar! Do the Dance of Joy!"
Yes, that is indeed Joss Whedon playing Numfar. That alone is a good argument for this episode of Angel being the best ever.
It looks as though Cordelia has been made Queen because of her prophetic powers, which connect her to the Powers That Be. There's a catch, however. She has to "Com-Shuk" with a creature called the "Groosalugg". I've never heard it called that before.
Here we continue the theme of Pylea allowing Angel to embrace his heroic nature fully, with Landok warmly welcoming him as part of the family while Lorne... er, Krevlornswath of the Deathwatch Clan... Is comically belittled by his bearded mother. All this is suddenly undercut, though, by his being invited to "swing the Crebbill" or behead Fred. Naturally, he rescues her, big old hero that he is, and makes himself an outsider.
The ensuing scenes with Angel and Fred serve both to emphasise how likeable and tragic Fred is and what an awesome actress Amy Acker is.
It takes a while for Fred to accept that "the handsome man" did indeed save her from the monsters, LA is still real, she's not dead and there is indeed hope. She's having a very bad time in Pylea. Cordy seems to be ok, though, as it turns out that the Groosalugg is an even handsomer man who has fought an awful lot of monsters. He's a true, archetypal, uncomplicated hero and an obvious parallel of Angel, with all his doubts and shades of grey.
Doesn't he look a bit, er, wet in comparison? Still, that's something he has in common with Cordelia at the moment...
"Who has handcuffs?"
"Well, I... wouldn't know..."
Oops. I thought I only has two episodes of Angel left and not three. I thought I'd alternated Buffy and Angel right through their respective seasons but I must have done two Buffys in a row at one point. Oh well. Here we go.
The last few episodes of this season are weird, bizarre, fluffy and delightful, a bit of fun after the heavy themes of the season so far and, indeed, of the closing episodes of the sister show. Plus, we now have Amy Acker as Fred. At last the gang's all here. This now properly feels like Angel.
It's a while before the non-Cordelia contingent gets to Pylea, and Cordy isn't having a nice time, what with her being enslaved and the apparent attentions of the Inquisition. A lot of this time is spent with comic relief about the Host's (or Lorne's, of Krevlornswath of the Deathwatch Clan's) reluctance to leave the dimension that once had Aretha Franklin in it.
There's one slight intrusion from the overall arc- Wolfram and Hart sniffing around the hotel, threatening to snap it up in six months after the lease ends- but it's all about Pylea. There's an interesting serious chat between Gunn and Ange, slightly diverting from the light mood; Ginn isn't coming to Pylea as he has responsibilities in LA. But so does Angel, and he's dropping everything for Cordy. It's obvious that he loves her. Oh, and the dialogue quoted at the top there is our first hint of Wesley's kinky tendencies. He's suddenly getting a lot of development.
We end with the whole gang (including Gunn) arriving in Pylea in Angel's car, like Marty McFly in Back to the Future III in an obvious visual reference. There are two suns, but Angel isn't set on fire, something which he may mention once or twice. This is a bit symbolic, of course; in this world of black and white Angel is free to unleash his inner unambiguous white hatted hero. Apparently.
We end with the finest cliffhanger ever- Cordelia enthroned as Queen of all she surveys. Looks as though I'll have to blog another episode of Angel next, then...
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
"I'm willing to wager, when all's said and done, Buffy likes it rough..."
Just one more episode after this, and Buffy's all catatonic and flashbacky. There's a certain amount of treading water until the finale here, but it's well enough executed to make a passable episode, if not a great one.
The theme here is guilt; Buffy's guilt for subconsciously giving in and, worse, momentarily wishing her own sister dead so that all this will just go away. Meanwhile, even Glory gets a bit of guilt leaking through from Ben. Buffy's the important one, though; she's the one with the brains and, indeed, character traits.
So we get Willow going inside Buffy's head, and a bit of trippy symbolism passes the time. There are clues and, indeed, misdirection over the meaning of "Death is your gift", as the first slayer told Buffy. We will, of course, find out in the finale.
We end with Giles telling Buffy that there's only one way to beat Glory: kill Dawn. This is slightly undermined by our knowledge that you could also just kill Ben. But let's see what happens...
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
"I remember when a few bob got you a good meal, a bottle and a tavern wench."
Yay! It's Fred! Er, for a few seconds. In a blurry flashback. Er... roll on next episode.
I love the end of this season. Most of the season arc stuff is all wrapped up, so we can spend the last three episodes doing something else. That's not to say that things aren't carried on; this episode is an extended example of how Wesley is entirely lacking in leadership skills, for example. And again we see Cordelia symbolically abasing herself for fame, humiliated by a slimy, woman-objectifying advert director who is himself nobody much. And Gunn experiences the most acute conflict of loyalties between his old and new friends, culminating in the pointless death of an old mate and, perhaps, a permanent estrangement.
But this is all about the Host. Or perhaps I should say Lorne. Or perhaps I should say (snigger) Krevlornswath of the Deathwatch clan. This revelation of his origins, in a plane of heroes and villains and nothing in between, is both an hilarious contrast with the splendidly camp Lorne and a perfect fit with Angel.
There are some nice moments here; Alexis Denisof is superb during Wesley's phone chat with his censorious father, getting ever more deflated- and his father, while not exactly nice, is probably right about his lack of leadership chops.
And the looks on Angel's, Gunn's and Wesley's faces as they ponder a semi-naked Cordelia is priceless.
But we end with everything all wrapped up,the Drokken slain by Angel, and Lorne's cousin safely home. Except... Cordelia went through the portal too...
What an episode. And I'm sure the next two are going to be fun.
Monday, 15 December 2014
"Running away? Finally, a sensible plan..."
Ahem. Yes, I know. Blog-wise, this is the longest season of Buffy ever. It will get quicker, honest! Anyway, things are getting pretty bleak here.
Buffy's at the end of her tether. This season has been a constant stream of pressure put upon her young shoulders, both as a slayer and as a young woman. As she confides to Dawn, "It just keeps coming. Glory, Riley, Tara, Mom...". This season Whedon has decided to just throw hardship and responsibility at his eponymous protagonist and see how she responds. By simply shutting down, according to the end of the episode. Things are far beyond serious.
This is the episode where the Scoobies run away; there is no hope against Glory. And yet this is also the episode where, in the midst of a load of exposition about Glory from the captured general of those bizarre mediaeval clerics, still using swords, bows and chainmail in 2001, we learn that she has an Achilles heel; kill Ben, and Glory dies. That's a bit of a hint as to how the season ends.
This exposition also explains what the Key is- a device to mingle all the dimensions, freeing Glory and unleashing Hellish chaos- and Dawn hears it all. An adolescent girl, already with self-esteem issues, hearing that she's something unspeakably awful. Oh, and at one stage it almost feels as if Giles is going to die. And, at the end, Ben turns into Glory, and takes Dawn away. She's won. It's over. And through it all Tara is still heartbreakingly hobbled on the brain. How very bleak.
There's other stuff too, of course; Ben talks to the camper demon ever, and realises that his only hope is to kill Dawn- so what's that he injects her with at the generals insistence? The general, and the clerics, also want to kill this innocent teenage girl, in the name of God, for the greater good. Like Buffy, we're appalled. It's fitting that they dress and act like crusaders, standing for the very worst side of Christianity.
Willow again goes all proto- Dark Willow (and is made to look very dark) in constructing an invisible force field. But that's next season. This season looks daunting enough. Just two episodes to go in what's shaping up to be the best season since the third...
Friday, 12 December 2014
"Paddington and Time Lord are closing in!"
Well then. It's all coming out now. Daniel Whitehall is a hundred year old Nazi war criminal who seized eternal youth from Skye's (Inhuman?) mother, a timeless Chinese peasant who looks uncannily like Sierra from Dollhouse. And, much more importantly, Hunter and Bobbie finally shag. As my wife said, there was far too much sexual tension.
Things are looking much bigger in terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe- we have many flashbacks featuring Hayley Atwell, preparing the way for her imminent spin-off and references to the Red Skull. We are told of "blue angels" in the distant past who wish to erase humanity- and, incidentally, I may not have read the comics for years but I know my Marvel comics continuity up to 1994-ish. I'm certain that this is a reference to the Kree genetically engineering the Inhumans. It looks as though Skye may be an Inhuman through both parents, although her father's notices become ever more interesting. We almost get told Skye's real name, and there's a strong hint that her father's true hatred is for Whitehall.
On the characterisation front, Fitz is coming along nicely, entrusted by Coulson with an important task and acquitting himself well. It's clear that his brain damage won't be a permanent thing. Bakshi, well, dies. And there's a fascinating scene between Grant and Christian Ward in which Christian finally confesses that it was he who nearly killed the youngest brother. And yet, by the end, Christian and their parents are dead in an apparent "murder-suicide" and Ward is getting pally with Whitehall. That's another person with a rather opaque agenda.
There's a big cliffhanger at the end, though... has this mysterious city been found? Whatever. Agents of SHIELD. On fire at the moment. You know the drill.
Thursday, 11 December 2014
"It's one of them things. They dropped one."
This is, sadly, one of only two episodes of this six part serial that I will be blogging; the others don't exist. They will never be found, whatever Philip Morris has been up to, as they were never telerecorded in the first place, which is a shame. Television in 1953 was a very ephemeral medium, all of it live aside from a few pre-recorded film sequences. For repeats, the actors would simply repeat their performances. You saw it once and it was gone.
1953 was a long time ago and looks it; the picture quality, naturally, is rubbish and the long scenes are there because it simply wasn't possible to include more than two or three different scenes. Television was very much theatre with a camera pointed at it. There's a scene break here where the picture fades to black and stays black for what seems like ages.
Nevertheless, this is a superb piece of television scripting and production, dripping with atmosphere, however limited the live performers may be, and a reminder of the brilliance of both Rudolph Cartier and the great Nigel Kneale. This is a world in which science is admirable and scientists great men, but only because science is a desperate and fragile attempt to impose order on a terrifying world in which dark things lurk at the edges, not least human nature. It's refreshing, though, to see the scientific talk isn't being dumbed down in any way. And this is an era, what perhaps we can call the Dan Dare era, when it was possible to imagine Britain as a space pioneer. Sputnik lay four years ahead. To people in 1953 the achievements of the British Experimental Rocket Group were scarcely imaginable.
The plot is simple enough- a rocket has been sent into space, gone missing, but has now returned under mysterious circumstances. There is much tension in this scenario, later to be lovingly ripped off by Doctor Who in The Ambassadors of Death. Only in future episodes will it become apparent that something else has come back with Caroon.
And yet, the real unpleasantness is very much on Earth. A useless civil servant busybody is there to annoy and to serve the plot function of being exposited at, while newspaper columnist Jimmy Fullalove (a very young Paul Whitsun-Jones) exhibits all the cynicism of today's red top tabloids. (And this angle, that of the press,would also come to be lovingly ripped off by Doctor Who in The Web of Fear.)
We also have some comedy working class characters and a dear old lady played by Katie Johnson of The Ladykillers fame. She is truly from another age; IMDb tells me she was born in 1878 and made her stage debut in 1894!
Sadly, as but one more episode exists, we won't get to consider the whole thing. We can only judge the first two episodes, but this at least is a brilliant episode. One more to go, though...
"That's the Mormon Tabernacle Choir doing their annual obscene phone call."
This film is so refreshing- one of the earliest slasher movies from before any of the tropes were truly established and so not weighted down by them. It also has that certain look that you find in the best films of the mid-'70s, all shot on proper film, brilliantly shot, naturalistically acted and with an emphasis on realism rather than glossiness of sound and picture. Oh, and Margot Kidder is in it.
The film is both very '70s and very Canadian, from the clothes to the sexual free-for-all to the ice hockey. At it's heart, though, its a well-rounded slasher which succeeds because of good characterisation, from the comical Mrs Mac with a bottle of whisky in every nook and cranny to the amusingly strait-laced Mr Harrison and from the realistically and terrifyingly misogynistic attitude of Peter towards Jess to the contrast between the virginal (and first to die) Clare to the deliciously naughty (and therefore doomed- tropes have to start somewhere) Barb, played by the brilliant Margot Kidder. The performances are as good as the characterisation, although perhaps Olivia Hussey is somewhat lacking in charisma. But even the police officers come across as individuals. It's a good slasher because it's a good film.
Best of all is the inconclusive ending; it isn't the red herring, but a semi- supernatural "Billy" in the attic, still reciting those creepy lines about "baby Agnes" and "what we did". That's how to do scary; undefined menace sitting there inexplicably in a world of realism.
Friday, 5 December 2014
"I have to know!!!"
So, it seems that in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2014, it is still acceptable to name young boys "Graham". Oh dear...
On a more positive note, Agents of SHIELD continues to be on fire as we finally learn that the alien script is in face the skyline of an inhuman (or, indeed, Inhuman- I've seen the clues; that alien is probably a Kree, and we're told it's been dead for millennia) city. Oh, and Ward casually mentions that the boss of HYDRA is one "Von Strucker"- last seen, I believe, at the end of The Avengers.
We learn a lot about the Tahiti project, and the team finally learn what their Director has been up to. Coulson, it seems, is cured of his compulsion. Is the Tahiti stuff all wrapped up and replaced by a quest for this city? We shall see.
Meanwhile, Ward has indeed escaped and is being both good at what he does (he immediately spots Bobbi as an agent) and a bit dodgy (bordering suicide bombing). He shows he's not entirely bad by neatly delivering Bakshi to Coulson, but his last scene is nicely ambiguous. What's he up to?
Oh, and there's a good scene between Fitz and his new mate Mack, metaphorically indicating that Fitz may eventually recover. We will see. There's only so much story mileage that can be wrought from his condition. Personally, I think Whedon will have him start to recover and then kill him. It's what he does.
So, this season. On fire.
Wednesday, 3 December 2014
"I'm telling you I have your brother in a basement!"
Another gripping episode, in which SHIELD goes smoothly from Public Enemy Number One to seemingly in the clear. But a lot of other stuff happens too; both the season arc stuff and the character development are on fire this season.
The big new character is Senator Christian Ward, a man whose apparent duplicity is shown to parallel that of his brother, especially given the juxtaposition of Christian Ward trying to convince Coulson while Grant Ward tries to convince Skye. The whole effect is undercut by the revelation that Coulson and Skye were both planning to sell out Grant to his brother anyway, but we're left not quite trusting Christian, a Machiavellian type if ever there was one.
(Oh,and is that Grant escaping at the end? We still don't know the truth about who exactly tortured the younger brother either.)
There's also a hint of sexual chemistry between formerly married couple Bobbi and Hunter. Are they going to get back together or is that too obvious? I like them both; Hunter has the best lines while Bobbi had the best moves. We end with Hunter about to leave, maybe. Somehow I doubt it.
May, it seems, has been married before. And she still doesn't like Hunter. After what he did, I'm not surprised.
Meanwhile, there is much awkwardness between Fitz and the returned Simmons, culminating in a simple revelation during a chat between Simmons and Mack: she left because she knew she was "bad for him". She's right.
I think our heroes learn at this point that HYDRA has the Obelisk, which is something of a problem. Oh, and Belgium is HYDRA territory. But who's surprised?
Oh, and that HYDRA assassin Scarlotti- is he Blacklash?