Sunday, 31 May 2015

Saturday, 30 May 2015

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

"Daisy Johnson. Huh."

Oh, such a complex web of allegiances: we have two competing visions of what SHIELD should be, Skye's loyalties to both SHIELD and her fellow Inhumans- and her complex relations with her loving yet Machiavellian mother Jiaying and her unstable yet honest father Cal, whom her mother plans to betray, and Skye knows it. Skye has a complicated lifestyle these days.

Fitz, meanwhile, at last joins up with Coulson and Hunter, still in possession of that prime MacGuffin, Nick Fury's toolbox. Coulson is doing a deal with the devil, working with Ward and Agent 33 in order to further his plans.

 Bobbi, in Gonzalez' rogue SHIELD, is beginning to worry that they may be somewhat neglecting the still operating HYDRA, which by the laws of television drama must mean that said baddies are about to do something nefarious.

But the heart of the episode lies in Skye learning to connect with her Dad in a Milwaukee that has changed, even though she realises she must betray him. There is much pathos in Cal's disappointment that so many of the things he wanted to show his daughter are no longer there as a sad metaphor of how time disappears. But we end the episode in a flurry of unexpected developments: HYDRA are tracking Gordon's teleports, and are able to arrive just as Coulson turns up to arrest Cal. Both Lincoln and Mike Peterson are captured, and Skye and Coulson fleetingly meet before Gordon takes her away.

If that wasn't brilliant enough for this fast-moving piece of television, we end with Coulson unexpectedly surrendering to Bobbi and Mack. What next? I, for one, am becoming obsessed.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

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

"I moved a mountain!"

At last we get the backstory to all this "Cavalry" stuff that Agent May did in Bahrain. The truth feels a bit like backtracking- what she actually did tends to underwhelm after all the hints- but this episode is nonetheless quite as brilliant as they all are at the moment. I'd expect nothing less.

What a difference seven years makes: Melinda was still with Andrew, and seemingly much more comfortable in her skin as she sets off with Coulson on a mission to retrieve a "gifted" individual in Bahrain. Unfortunately, things soon get out of control. This contrasts with the present day, in which Skye is slowly learning to tame her powers. She also finally learns that Jiayang is her mother, "put back together" by Cal after being vivisection by Whitehall, and also learns the circumstances of her birth right down to her actual birthday, which she now finally knows. It's a deeply emotional moment but one fraught with danger for Jiayang, who cannot be seen, as leader, to be favouring her daughter. I bet she will be outed as doing so by the end of the season.

Meanwhile, May impresses on Simmons that Coulson has been keeping many mysterious secrets, and she now wonders whether he should be trusted. Most prominent among these are the mysterious Theta Protocols.

There's a nice structural moment as Jiaying recounts to Skye of a woman, seven years ago, who stole Terrifen crystals and explored her powers without help, juxtaposed with footage, seven years ago in Bahrain, of May dealing with the fallout. The twist is that the powers- to gain power from others' pain- are not those of the target but of her daughter, whom May is forced to kill. This devastates her, damages her marriage, and leads her to abandon combat operations. She is now the distant Melinda that we know. All of this fits the facts as we know them, but it doesn't quite satisfy after all the build-up of the "Cavalry".

We end with Fitz proposing to join Coulson and Hunter, and he's bringing Fury's secret box of tricks... 

Cinderella (1950)

"Bibbidi bobbidi boo!"

Hmm. This film is ok, but, well, it seems to drag out s very short fairy tale to film length with a lot of only mildly funny stuff with cartoon animals and, well, fails to really soar. Is it me, or does this film lack the sparkle either of recent days or of the golden age of Bambi and Dumbo?

No, that's too harsh. It's a simple fairy tale for kids and, as such, it works, but without the charm or heart of Disney's early films or the adult appeal of their late ones, but it does a good job. I'll tell you one thing, though; it isn't made by cat people. The characterisation of Lucifer is a bit harsh to this avowed cat person. It's also disappointing that the wicked stepmother and stepsisters don't get any sort of comeuppance in a rather rushed ending. Still, it's nice to see the animals playing a pivotal role towards the end.

It's a short film and, I suspect, enjoyable for its target audience, although they may prefer Tom and Jerry for the cat and mouse stuff. In a couple of years I'll see what my little girl thinks!

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Parent Trap (1998)

"I have class and you don't!"

This isn't exactly the greatest film ever made or anything. Nor is it a particular favourite, and to be honest it was Mrs Llamastrangler who instigated watching it. But I've already blogged the original and may as well blog this. After all, it's very much a rarity to get a sequel that's better than the original.

The main reason for this is the pacing; this film zips along and doesn't drag in places as does it's predecessor. Also, a very young Lindsay Lohan is rather good as the twins- here renamed Hallie and Annie- and, indeed, knocks Hayley Milks into a cocked hat. And that, I'm sure you agree, is an arresting image.

The main difference from the original is that one of the twins, Annie, is British, and from London rather than Boston. Not the actual London, though; this is very much the London of Hollywood, a tourist-friendly place where people cross the zebra crossing at Abbey Road and where the La's (from, er, Liverpool) provide the soundtrack.

Another plus point is the splendid comic acting of Natasha Richardson, and the rather sweet romance between Martin and Chessie. Also, this time around,there's modification of Mum (Elizabeth) having physically abused Dad (Nick) way back when, which is always a plus. Oh, and the pranks are much bigger and better.

This is the perfect remake, with little improvements everywhere. The sweetest thing of all is that Martin and Chessie get married at the end too. So, yes, not exactly the best film ever, but the rare distinction, at least, of one remake which isn't pointless.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The C Word

"I'll tell you what, mate, right. You stand up, and I'll rummage around in your nuts."

Let's get all the superlatives about Sheridan Smith out of the way first, shall we? She's simply awesome, as always. So much so that we shall overlook the lack of any real attempt at a Derby accent. Sheridan Smith is probably the best actress on telly today.

This time she plays Lisa Lynch, real life cancer sufferer and author of the eponymous book. We start off by establishing how nice and normal Lisa is, as we would expect, and then the C bomb is duly dropped. It's an awful moment and, like everything, beautifully scripted and played. All of the big moments- mastectomy, chemotherapy, death sentence- are perfectly judged. And Mrs Llamastrangler and I were glad of this, as the subject of the C word is raw; earlier this year it took Mrs L's uncle, one of the nicest and coolest and most rock 'n' roll guys you could ever meet, get a bit sloshed with or compare beards with. He was only 44. The C word is indeed a C word.

There's an ironic contrast in that Lisa doesn't want to talk about the elephant in the room and can't be surrounded by drama, preferring to talk about other things. Hence the blog. It's all very human and very real.

The blog leads to a book, ironically recommended to Lisa after her second, terminal diagnosis, and the awful heartbreak of the cancer is juxtaposed throughout with humour and humanity. Like life, I suppose.

This is a most affecting piece of television and, what with my having just turned 38 and knocking on the door of middle age, as pleasant a way as any to confront my own mortality. We will all die, and it's usually painful and unpleasant, but at least we have each other, and our pleasures.

Sheridan Smith will win yet another award for this, mark my words. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

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

"Seriously? I was only gone a week!"

My God, there's so much going on in Agents of SHIELD these days. That's why I love it so much.

Skye is beginning to explore this mysterious Inhuman base to which Gordon has brought her, with the help of an Inhuman bloke called Lincoln with electrical powers (an actor from Neighbours and Home and Away, Mrs Llamastrangler tells me). Are they on the Moon with Black Bolt and that lot, I wonder? There is a reference to "elders". Be that as it may, it seems most Inhumans are jealous of Skye; most of their powers are only potential, and they long for exposure to the Terrigen mist. Skye has what they dream of, and never particularly wanted it.

We soon learn that Cal is there too, locked up by Gordon and longing to see his daughter. Not only that, but Raina is there too, predictably enough in a building which was pooh-poohed away earlier. Skye is furious to find said tormented baddie, but she is persuaded that all Inhumans, bar none, are to be helped here. She is also assigned a guide who, unbeknownst to Skye, happens to be her mysteriously not-dead mother. Looks like a bigger role for Dichen Lachman.

Elsewhere, the rogue SHIELD run by Gonzalez continues to have the upper hand, although there are perhaps the beginnings of a rift between Bobbi and Gonzalez. Fits, it seems, is leaving out of loyalty to Coulson, with an especially personal feeling of betrayal from Mack. But Simmons, it seems, is staying. 

Coulson and Hunter are on the run and, seemingly, doomed, but they have an ace in the hole in the form of Mike Peterson, who has been secretly working for Coulson for all this time. It's good to see J August Richards again. 

We get two shocks at the end: Gonzales offers May a seat on the new SHIELD's board as Coulson's advocate- and she accepts. And it seems that Jemma never betrayed Coulson at all. And Fitz is walking calmly away with Fury's actual box of tricks while Simmons "investigates" a decoy. 

Is Agents of SHIELD ever going to not be brilliant again?

Grimm: Bad Luck

"You learned to understand me. Now I have to learn to understand you."

We're back after the season break, although we in the UK, following Grimm on Watch, have just carried straight on. This episode is all about the aftermath of Nick finding out that Juliette is now, permanently, a Hexenbeist. He's supportive, yes, but that isn't quite enough for Juliette; he won't kiss her in Hexenbeist form, which she seems to insist on. As Hexenbeist faces are generally quite revolting this seems quite harsh of her, but this is probably a metaphor for something. Nevertheless, their relationship is suddenly strained. It certainly doesn't help that the first person she turned to for help was not Nick but Sean.

Interestingly, Nick hears from Henrietta herself that the transformation is permanent and that Juliette is not only formidably powerful but that this power is sexual in nature. Attempts at monogamy, it seems, will be futile. 

In parallel with all this we have a rather good story-of-the-week about a type of rabbit Wesen(!) which is hunted for its foot, apparently a good luck charm meant to induce fertility. There's an obvious metaphor here about the similar use of rhino horns and such forth, and more broadly about animal rights and endangered species, and human beings being dicks. Oh, and it's interesting that the baddie is a Welshman. This episode may not be one of the best but it's good nonetheless, and the season arc continues to enthrall.

In other news, Adalind has a clandestine meeting with Sean to discuss their baby.she wants him on her side. He won't bite, but I wonder about what is in store for his allegiances, especially as he's been hiring a private eye to follow Kelly Burkhart.

We end with a much bigger reveal than last time- Adalind is pregnant again. And the baby can only be Nick's!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

"They're breeding like Catholic rabbits."

Because Samuel L Jackson always gets the best lines. It's the law.

Obviously, I enjoyed this muchly, and I'm not just saying that because it was both a nice birthday treat and the first time I've been able to go out with Mrs Llamastrangler to spend some time alone together since we had our beautiful baby- thanks to my lovely mother-in-law for babysitting! We just about managed to survive a few hours away from our little girl, and enjoyed ourselves.

The film is superb. Joss Whedon writes and directs. Those are two different ways of writing the same thing. We should appreciate how narratively difficult it must be to come up with a script which both works and gives substantial parts to (deep breath) Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, Scarlet Witch and the Vision, with substantial cameos from War Machine and (new Avenger!) the Falcon. Joss Whedon accomplishes that, along with giving us thrills, spectacle, emotion, and the best Stan Lee cameo yet. I can't stress how much of an achievement it is to serve all these characters well script-wise. Whoever follows on from Whedon has big boots to fill, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

There are a couple of downsides, however. The death of a certain character comes as a surprise, which I suppose is the point, but also comes across as a pointless waste. And, as most of the Internet correctly points out, this, like all Marvel films, serves female characters rather poorly. Black Widow, up till now the only kick-ass female character alongside all the boys, spends much of her time pining after Bruce Banner. This is not a film which comes close, I suspect, to passing the Bechdel test. I'm not going to give Whedon a hard time over this- his feminist credentials are as good as anyone with a Y chromosome's- but Marvel needs to find a better gender balance, at least. Still, Scarlet Witch now gives us a second female Avenger.

Oh, and I love the fact we get to see Scarlet Witch, and the Vision (budding romance ahead?). And Ulysses Klaw, no doubt to return in Black Panther. And am I reading too much into Tony Stark's guilt at creating Ultron, what with seeing signs of a future storyline based on Armour Wars? Be that as it may, I'm liking the conflict of values between Stark and Steve Rogets from film to film. 

Essentially, this is a bloody good film. Go and see it. Now.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Daredevil: Rabbit in a Snowstorm

"Used to be if you killed a man you sent his wife flowers. Now you send his wife with him."

This is the first episode with no introductory stuff, and it's an episode with no real heroics. Instead, it's an episode where Matt and Foggy make a moral compromise in representing a dodgy client with even dodgier backers. It also introduces us to Ben Urich, a principled journalist in a cynical, Murdochian world. It's not hard to see him as a parallel to Matt, both of them principled Philip Marlowe figures floating in a world with moral anchor. Yet both must make compromises.

Set against this is Karen's decision not to compromise. In showing Urich all the stuff she knows from the first episode she is doing the right thing, not the smart thing. 

Oh, and we get our first proper introduction to Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. He's a villain with power, presence and charisma and will, no doubt, stay in the background for a long time until he and Matt meet.

What we don't get, despite the displays of Matt's superpowers, is any costume stuff. No doubt there'll be some of that next episode. As for this one, it's perhaps better thought of in terms of set-up, mood and character development for the long term, and may seem better in hindsight, but it perhaps underwhelmed slightly.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: One Door Closes

"Who's coming for me?"


More big things happening this week; Agents of SHIELD is swiftly reminding me of Chris Claremont's long run on Uncanny X-Men in that events are always  in flux and there is no status quo. 

One of those things is the belated revelation that Fitz has a first name: Leo. Rather bigger is Coulson finally confronting Mack on exactly what he's up to: Coulson is no fool and knows damn well that something is going on. Mack, though, keeps insisting that he works for "SHIELD". Meanwhile, May is having a similar confrontation with Bobbi, only with an awesome fight scene thrown in: it looks as though the plotters have been caught.  

Skye, meanwhile, is visited by the eyeless Inhuman, Gordon, in her prison- er, safe house- which was originally built by Dr Bruce Banner to contain the Hulk. She, and we, are left to ponder the extent to which her SHIELD friends want to help her and the extent to which they wish to catalogue, prod, and restrain. He leaves, having given him an open offer to come with him to a place (Attilan?) where there are others like her.

There are further flashbacks here, one featuring Hartley, intended to give us the background to Bobbi's and Mack's motives, but it cuts little ice with Fitz, betrayed by his friend, and Simmons, running rings round Bobbi. Just when it looks like our heroes have the upper hand, however, Gonzales and his rogue SHIELD arrive and take over. Coulson is taken prisoner, and everyone else is offered a place with the usurpers. Fortunately, May has time to warn Skye to get away.

Everything is turned upside down by this massive twist, promising an exhilarating end to the season. 

Efforts are made to get us to sympathise with Gonzales' motives- he mistrusts the motives of the secretive Nick Fury, and doesn't accept his right to simply anoint Coulson as his successor- but we're not exactly rooting for him or his faction. 

We end with a cornered Skye taking up Gordon's offer, while an escaped Coulson meets up with fellow escapee Hunter in a bar, who finally accepts that permanent position...

Agents of SHIELD is bloody good right now.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Grimm: Trial By Fire

"So the fire had a mind of its own?"

The strong run of stories-of-the-week continues, this time with an arson murder mystery involving a Wesen Human Torch. This time there's a twist, though: bent Bauerschwein cop Orson from way back in Season One is given leave from prison in order to help, leading, of course, to the inevitable confrontation with Monroe. This serves both to highlight the Blutbad/Bauerschwein feud and to contrast Moneoe's feelings towards Orson with the inter-racial harmony shown by his relationship with Rosalie. After a bit of dramatically expected friction between the two of them their relationship is underlined, as well as their mutual commitment to inter-Wesen tolerance. This is clearly not a theme that has run its course.

Elsewhere, Sean receives reports from a private eye regarding Kelly Burkhart's whereabouts, but Prince Viltor is using the same private eye. Meanwhile, Wu is still loving being part of the Wesen stuff- I'm still sure it won't end well for him- and there's quite an ending, just to remind us that we're just before the mid-season break: Adalind,not having an inkling either that Nick is a Grimm again or that Juliwtte is a) a Hexenbeist and b) well hard. There is a lot of property damage in the ensuing fight, following which Adalind runs away with her tail between her legs.

This time it can't be explained away. Juliette has to tell Nick and that's where, of course, it ends. It's a big cliffhanger but, it must be said, not so big compared to earlier seasons. Still, good episode.

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Parent Trap (1961)

"We're twins, aren't we?"

The main selling point of this veeeery sloooow paced film is the technical wizardry of getting Hayley Mills to play a pair of twins on screen at the same time for much of the film, and I'm duly dazzled. It's a pity, though, that Mills' American accents are somewhat comically unconvincing even to my British ears. We're talking Dick Van Dyke levels of unconvincing here.

The film has its moments, pacing aside, but there's a disturbing social conservatism at work in that we're supposed to see it as desirable for the divorced parents to get together even though it's explicitly said that Maggie has been violent towards Mitch in the past. Still, the film may be slow and reactionary but it's entertaining enough for most of its length, and it's a pleasure for this blog to finally encounter an actress of the stature of Maureen O'Hara. It's also nice that we have a child's eye view through most of its length.

Oh, and I like the funny vicar.

Freaky Friday (1976)

"Male chauvinist pig!"

This is one of two back-to-back old Disney films I will be blogging, mainly because we wanted them off our Sky Plus. They're both fascinating artefacts from another era, though, especially this one.

Obviously this is notable for featuring a very young Jodie Foster, but it also displays an instinctive slant towards gender roles that would never be seen again; phrases like the above quote are bandied about as a joke, but this is a world in which women stay at home to cook and clean, unless they are forced to work as secretaries because their husbands are out of work. It's a fascinating artefact of the social mores in 1970s America, perhaps all the more revealing in that this is a Disney film.

It works quite well as a comedy in spite of it's leisurely pace: the central conceit-another and a daughter switching bodies fortresses best left unexplained- is full of potential, and gives us a fascinating peek into what 1970s American high schools were like, with their marching bands and electric typewriters.

Everyone smokes. Annabel's dad reminds me of an American version of Reginald Perrin. This is the most 1970s film I have ever seen.