Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Battle of Britain (1969)

"So don't threaten or dictate to us until you're marching up Whitehall. And even then we won't listen."

Well, that was strangely underwhelming. I'm British. I hate the Nazis. The real, historical Battle of Britain puts fire in my belly. So why is it that this film leaves my belly distinctly cold?

What's especially surprising about this is that the film has an extraordinary cast- Lawrence Olivier is particularly superb as the drily realistic Hugh Dowding. Yet none of the characters have enough screen time, or are sufficiently fleshed out, to make a difference. Michael Caine, in particular, is wasted on s role that doesn't give him anything to do and then suddenly killed off. The only exception to all this is Curd Jurgens' charismatic general, and he's a bloody Nazi. Still, at least Ralph Richardson gets a magnificent speech in his cameo.

It must be said, too, that this film is a little deceptive in implying that Britain would have been finished if it had lost the Battle of Britain. It wouldn't. Just Google "Operation Sealion" for why. Large parts of the country are out of German bombers' air range, for a start, and there's the entire Home Fleet waiting at Scapa Flow, in an age where accurate bombing of ships was simply not a thing.

There are a couple of nice moments- I like the bit where German POWs are made to clear up their own mess- but sadly this is a film that fails to raise my patriotic heckles. A slow, meandering missed opportunity.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Daredevil: World on Fire

"Could be the machines plotting, but I don't speak computer overlord..."

At last. Five episodes in and Daredevil clicks for me. I get the programme, I get the characters and I'm enjoying the ride. And yes, the fact that this is a superb hour of television certainly helps. I knew I was right to have faith and stick with it.

The episode is structured around three budding relationships, all very different in terms of wealth and terms of the morals of the three men. Our first couple- and, indeed, the least dwelt on- is Matt and Claire. Here we have no date, but an admission both that she's falling in love with him and that she has grave concerns both about the ethics of what he dies and, of course, his safety. They kiss. She's living with him. But there's some discomfort there. That's to continue in future episodes, though: the rest of this episode consists of Karen slowly falling in love with Foggy because he is, simply, a good man with integrity beneath the self-deprecating quips. Vanessa, in direct contrast, consents to a relationship with Fisk (there is no talk of love here) in full knowledge that what he does is morally murky, to say the least, that he had hurt and killed before, and he will hurt and kill again. 

Fisk, incidentally, is not himself right at the top of the food chain by himself: he is, it seems, one of a consortium of four, all of which we will no doubt come to know further. He is powerful nonetheless, though: in the episodes most disturbing scene a criminal gives his name to the cops and is simply killed by them, making it look like self defence. That's how far Fisk's tentacles can cover.

Foggy, though, gets a contrasting scene where he gets the better of his opponent's lawyer, from a fancy law firm, utterly devoid of ethics and, if all that wasn't enough, his ex. I'm sure Karen thought he was awesome. I know I did.

The two respective dates are a blatant contrast- Karen and Foggy in the tiny, ruined apartment of a poor but grateful client; Fisk and Vanessa in the most opulent surroundings imaginable. But one is about real attraction and the blossoming of real love, whereas the other is all about the lure of the "bad boy" and the seductiveness of power. Still, the scenes with Vanessa and Fisk are truly electrifying.

This is a masterful exercise of structure, theme, characterisation and dialogue. Superb. Quite the cliffhanger too...

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Doctor Who: The Witch's Familiar

"So... anyone for dodgems?"

Wow. That was unbelievably good, and indisputably the first truly epic Dalek story of the twenty-first century. I suppose I still have concerns about how the general viewer is going to react to a direct sequel to a story from 1975 but, dammit, this is one exquisitely written, made and acted work of art. The Moff has done it again, and as for Julian Bleach's extraordinary performance... there are no words.

We begin with a delightfully metatextual sequence. We all know (er, in spite of what I said last week) that Missy and Clara are not really dead, so we begin with them, after a nifty bit of upside down camerawork from Clara's POV. Missy has control of the tied-up Clara, which symbolises the fact (see the title) that she has control of the narrative, particularly here but also throughout: Missy is a character not limited by the rules of the text, and delights in finding holes in Moffat's plot. She is also, of course, a delightful unreliable narrator. Oh, and Michelle Gomez? Best. Master. Ever.

The Doctor, by contrast, doesn't have control of the narrative, as Missy does: the scene at the end where Missy almost tricks him into killing Clara is mostly there to emphasise that. He doesn't know, as we, the audience, know, that Clara is alive, and duly pulls a gun on the Daleks in a clear shout-out to Resurrection of the Daleks. He still gets to be cool, though. That's what all the fun with Davros' chair is there for. Personally, I love the cup of tea.

Oh, and I love the questioning of whether or not the Doctor ever uses weapons. I know I always bang on about it, but this whole thing with his never using them as a matter of principle is quite recent. Pertwee used to shoot Ogrons all the time. Go back and look. It's simply that he refuses to carry one himself. All the cool people do.

It's a delight to see the peerless imagination of Steven Moffat let loose on the planet Skaro, so much described in all those weird '70s Dalek books and annuals. His contribution- elderly Daleks that can't die of old age but that simply ooze angrily in the sewers- is ├╝ber cool. It is also, of course, a nicely placed plot point, like Raymond Chandler's revolver.

That's not the coolest thing he does with Skaro, though. That would be Davros' line about the effort he went to in order to get the Doctor "the only other chair on Skaro". Metatextual, again. I'm loving this.

The best thing about the episode, though, and where it is an exact thematic sequel to Genesis of the Daleks, is the whole extraordinary conversation between Davros and the Doctor, in which each word is loaded with weight and significance. It begins with Davros explaining that the cables are in fact a conduit for the Daleks, motivated by a filial respect which Davros calls a "defect", to nourish Davros with part of their life force. This process could be reversed to drain energy from the Daleks: once again the Doctor is handed the option of genocide: this couldn't be a more blatant reference. Once again, of course, he doesn't directly take it while, quietly, also masterminding their being hoist into extinction by their own metaphorical petard. The ethical distinction is important to him.

(And yes, I know the Daleks will be back, but my point still stands.)

Meanwhile, Missy and Clara are escaping by means of Clara homaging Ian in The Daleks, except here we have 50 years of Dalek behaviour thematically distilled through the device of having the Dalek change the words Clara says. Firstly, having Clara inside a Dalek in this way can only be a deliberate bit of body horror in harking back to Asylum of the Daleks and poor Oswin. Secondly, as explained by Missy (mistress of the narrative, remember?): while Cybermen repress their emotions utterly, the Daleks don't. They are very emotional indeed. And they channel that emotion into hate. And their guns.

But the more interesting stuff is still on that cosy chat between Davros and the Doctor. I'm not sure that stuff about why the Doctor really left Gallifrey really works, especially as there is never any real risk of this Dalek-Gallifreyan hybrid actually amounting to anything, but we can explain that as Davros' hubris. That wasn't why he left Gallifrey at all. Still, Davros is right to say that just being "bored" doesn't cut it. Future story arc once Gallifrey is found, perhaps?

More interesting is that Davros is genuinely pleased for the Doctor that Gallifrey survives: for this old racist, no man should be without his ethnic fellows. It's both perversely touching and a significant yet appropriate deepening of Davros' and the Doctor's relationship. Also, Julian Bleach is amaaaaazing.

Oh, and then Moffat goes and deepens the thematic depth (or "semiotic thickness" as we old fans like to say) by having Davros parallel the current Doctor's own "Am I a good man?". I don't care that this is more artful structure than actual thematic depth. It's awfully clever.

Speaking of clever, Davros cleverly uses the Doctor's compassion against him but, of course, the Doctor is cleverer, by means of Raymond Chandler's pistol, which we discussed earlier. But none of this lessens the pathos of the Doctor's concern that the ostensibly dying Davros should live just long enough to see another sunrise. And, if that's not enough, we learn the true context of last episode's cliffhanger: the Doctor goes back to save the young Davros.

Look; I'm prejudiced against "epic" Doctor Who stories. They promise much, and tend to deliver lots of bangs and very little real content. None of my favourite stories are epics.

Until today.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Neighbours (1920)

This is only my second foray into silent comedy and, a couple of programmes presented by Paul Merton which I saw many years ago aside, my first experience of the great Buster Keaton. I've no idea whether this film is particularly well-regarded or not: I just happened to see it.

This is very much like a Warner Brothers cartoon, or rather Warner Brothers cartoons are very much like this: the laws of physics are very much the same, and trees even a company called Acme. I very much get the sense, though, that behind the humour lies the harshness of life for the have-nots of the early twentieth century. The physical comedy is masterful: Keaton himself is a comic genius, and the slapstick is awesomely choreographed and arranged. I can see why, on this evidence, that visual comedy has never reached these heights since the advent of sound.

And yet.. this sort of humour isn't really my thing. Still, I'll try a few more silent comedies before I write them off.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

"What kind of fiend are you?"

"The kind that wins, my friend."

What a disappointing sequel, especially as The Abominable Dr. Phibes was so damned entertaining. How can what is pretty much the same bunch of people come up with such a desperately disappointing follow-up?

Part of the problem is that the set-up is not so much fun- instead of a series of amusingly outre murders we get a plan to use Egyptian mumbo-jumbo to rejuvenate the good doctor and his wife- yes, undiscovered ancient secrets in an early '70s film. Erik von Daniken, anyone? There's a trope for you right there.

On top of this the celebrity cameos are dull. Yes, the splendid Beryl Reid gets to chew the scenery for her brief scene, but Peter Cushing (prominently billed) gets a dull and functional cameo role. Still, at least we get to see a young John Thaw being horrifically killed.

The relationship between Peter Jeffrey's  Inspector Trout and his apoplectic boss, so funny in the previous film, is taken too far here- why should a police superintendent follow one of his inspectors on a jaunt to Egypt?

I suppose there area couple of entertainingly grossly deaths, the best of which involves scorpions, but this really is a film that can safely be avoided.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

"No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees."

I was expecting to write about Syria, Iraq and the current turmoil in these countries, partially under the yoke of the so-called Islamic State. But I'm not going to. Sykes-Picot gets a cursory mention, there's a definite implication, not dwelt on, that Britain and France are going to end all hope of an independent Arab state, yes. But that's not what it's about. This is a film about soldiers, not politicians, about T.E. Lawrence as a man, and about how David Lean's camera, like a certain type of Englishman, loves the desert.

Why, there are even a couple of crowd scenes where you can actually catch a glimpse of a woman or two. I think. This has to be, by a large margin, the most oestrogen-deficient film I've ever seen.

So what if Lawrence? We begin, in a nice bit of structure, with his death in s motorbike crash in 1935, and we hear from various characters, whom we will encounter later, at his push Westminster Abbey funeral. Our impressions from this are that Lawrence, while capable of great things, was hard to know and just bloody weird. The rest of the film does nothing to dispel that.

Peter O'Toole puts in a truly great performance of a personality so nuanced it can only be real. Lawrence's peculiar type of masochism and obvious homoeroticism are shown, not told. This is clearly a sexual orientation that can only be described as "public schoolboy". This is the inevitable result of fagging, boarding, cold showers and regular savaging by the school leopard. But I think there's a tension here between modern psychological understanding of mental conditions and the literary abs epic tradition of heroism.

Omar Sharif, too, is awesome. So is Alec Guinness is, too, but he's also, er, white. Now, it's easier not to be racist in 2015 than in 1962 when popular culture largely confined practices that make us squirm, but that's not to say we can quite let them off the hook. Still, let's not dwell on that. Let us instead observe that a white actor in a sea of real Arabs stands out rather awkwardly. 

Still, that's not enough to prevent the film being awesome; the epic desert landscapes alone see to that. This is a truly epic film- with an intermission!- and one of the finest ever made. It's also the longest I've ever blogged.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Doctor Who: The Magician's Apprentice

"Pardon my sci-fi..."

Well, there's me floored. At last Steven Moffat, in what is possibly his last full season as showrunner, writes a proper, epic Dalek story. Awesomely. And... I really wouldn't be surprised if Clara turns out to be actually, irreversibly dead. We know she leaves at some point during the season, and it would be just like Moffat to unexpectedly have her not leave after all in Last Christmas and then just kill her off in the next episode.

Anyway.. we begin on ancient Skaro, in the trenches outside the Kaled citadel, only we have CGI now, unlike in 1975 when they did Genesis of the Daleks, so we can now have biplanes firing laser beams and hand mines with actual hands, with eyes in them. Bit scary for the little ones, that, and part of me worries if all this continuity may perhaps alienate the casual viewer, but let's go with it. How long, I wonder, until someone does a version of Episode One of Genesis where Harry stands on a hand mine?

I knew the boy was Davros before we were told- what other dramatic purpose to the appearance of a little boy in No Man's Land could there have been? And, of course, I knew that the Doctor wouldn't save him, and would be ashamed. It's awfully clever of Moffat, later in the episode, to have Davros play a clip of the Fourth Doctor's musings to Davros in the ethics of killing a child who would grow up to be a murderer. Nice foreshadowing of the cliffhanger, too.

Colony Sarff is an awfully cool idea: a colony of CGI snakes in, as the Doctor later says, a dress. Sarff is essentially used to drive forward the plot by telling us that a dying Davros is looking for the Doctor, who is missing. We also get nice, nostalgic cameos from the Shadow Proclamation and assorted moderately old monsters. But by the time we get to the Sisterhood of Karn I again wonder how the casual viewer would take all this continuity. Yes, it's done well- this is good writing, not Attack of the Cybermen- but I somehow suspect that the next showrunner may react against all this dense reliance on the show's own mythology.

Anyway, Clara and Missy are on the trail, but not without some fascinating little character moments for them. Clara not only pretty much behaves like the Doctor in her approach to the mystery of the suspended planes, but is actually treated in the same way as the Doctor by UNIT. Here is a companion with nowhere further to grow.

Missy is her delightfully witty, evil old self, of course, casually refusing to explain how she somehow isn't dead, an old Anthony Ainley tradition done in a delightfully metatextual way by Steven Moffat. Fascinatingly, it is her, not Clara, to whom the Doctor has sent his "confession dial", traditionally sent by Time Lords to their closest friends on the eve of their death. Never more has hers and the Doctor's fascinatingly ambiguous relationship been proved and explored in some fascinating dialogue.

The Doctor's eventual entrance is, of course, awesome, but it isn't long until the trio are teleported by the Colony to the hospital on a space station where Davros is spending his final hours. The conversation between the Doctor and his archenemy Davros (Missy's reaction to the Doctor's use of the word is priceless) is electrifying. This story is, in several different ways, a kind of sequel to Genesis of the Daleks.

Moffat, having explored the characterisations of most of the recurring characters in Doctor Who, finally turns to Davros' own psyche. (Although, I fear, the canonicity of the I, Davros audios may be in danger.)

The big reveal, of course, is that they're not on space at all but on a hidden, reconstituted Skaro, with a landscape that recalls Destiny of the Daleks and an awesome modern riff of the Dalek city. I notice, also, that we get Daleks from all eras, which is well cool. It looks as though the cliffhanger is going to be Missy offering to show them how to use the TARDIS but no- they quickly and shockingly just kill her, and then destroy the Ship. I just hope the Doctor remembered to set the HADS.

What happens next is slower, agonisingly so, as Davros verbally teases the Doctor with the inevitability of Clara's death. But, inexorably, killed she most certainly is. And that still isn't even the cliffhanger.

No- the cliffhanger is the Doctor crossing his own time stream (naughty) and seemingly about to kill Davros as a boy...

I can't pass final judgement yet, really: this was an episode of set-up, albeit awesome set-up. But I'm buzzing. Oh yes, I'm buzzing.

Finally... this is my first live episode of Doctor Who since becoming a father. So what did Little Miss Llamastrangler (seven months) think of it? Er, she didn't really notice it was on.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Game of Thrones: Season 1, Episode 1 ("Winter is Coming")

"Do the dead frighten you?"

Doctor Who starts again tomorrow. Yay! And I'm blogging so many other series at the moment, some at an embarrassingly slow pace- Sherlock, Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, Marvel's Agent CarterBuffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Grimm, the Quatermass serials, Daredevil, and Penny Dreadful. There's nothing else for it: I'm going to have to start blogging another long-running series.

A few words before we start: you know that feeling of missing out on an important piece of popular culture by not being there at the start? And then, year by year, the season's roll along and there are more and more episodes to catch up on. And yet... how can I call myself a geek if I don't at least make an effort with Game of Thrones? Breaking Bad can wait. Especially as the first episode features a beheading, incestuous sex and a dwarf receiving a blow job.

I start out almost completely unspoiled; I'm trying to read the novels at the same pace to see how things diverge, but at this point I know nothing except the "red wedding", a massacre of unknown characters at someone's nuptials which I know will occur at some point. I also know that it's loosely based on the Wars of the Roses and will be looking for signs of this. Other than that I know nothing. So let's start.

It's an HBO show, so we can expect quality, and it certainly looks awesome. The cast is impressive, too: there are only so many tags at the bottom there and I've not been able to include the likes of Roger Allam or Donald Sumpter.

We are in the land of Westeros, ruled by a King Robert I. This land looks like mediaeval Europe and peoples' names are almost, but not quite, English. We begin in the northernmost province of Winterfell, ruled over by Lord Eddard Stark, played by Sean Bean in his native Yorkshire accent. It's a nice conceit, done consistently, to have the "southern" characters speak RP while the northerners speak in such a way as to make it very clear that this planet has a North.

We're clearly meant to feel that ominous tidings are afoot. Demonic and undead creatures are seen at the northern edge of the world, while Eddard Stark keeps banging on about the fact that "Winter is coming" which, I suspect, is meant to be both literal and metaphorical.

Plotting and skulduggery is rife at court, with the king's "hand" having recently been murdered, probably by Queen Cersei's brothers, Jaime Lannister and Teyin Lannister who is, incidentally, a dwarf (a short human, not the bearded, digging kind), and received said blow job. The king (and entourage) this visits Eddard to offer him the position, which he eventually accepts in the full knowledge that he is headed into a pit of vipers. 

He certainly has: Eddard's younger son Bran, seeing Cersei and Jaime, who are twins, shagging each other, is suddenly defenestrated to death, which is not a phrase I've ever had previous cause to use.

Meanwhile, across the sea, Luke's Prince Viseys, who also claims the throne. He's a thoroughgoing bastard, and we are most certainly meant to think so: his first act in the programme is to force his sister to marry a brutal and lecherous warlord.

This is pretty faithful to the novel, looks good and is very fast moving. I'll need a while to get to know the characters but this is a promising start.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Stepford Wives (2004)

"And I'm gonna attach a pine cone to my vibrator and have a very merry Christmas."

Before anyone says anything... no, I don't blog remakes of films I've not already blogged. But this isn't a remake, just the second cinematic adaptation of a novel. Right? Right.

The critics didn't like this film. Frank Oz directed, and vilified he was. Stick to playing Yoda, he should. Or that was the general gist.

I can see why purists would be put off: this is hardly a faithful adaptation. A gay couple is rightfully included, in a bid to modern sensibilities. And the brainwashing of the Stepford womenfolk is no longer left as a creepy mystery but explained in detail, with Glenn Close's Claire (gosh, a woman!!!) behind it all, and to top it all off the film has a distinctly comedic tone.

But if you judge the film for what it is- a satirical comedy- instead of what it isn't- serious, hard sci-fi adaptation- it becomes rather enjoyable. Nicole Kidman, not usually my favourite actress by any means, is great, although of course completely overshadowed by the great Bette Midler. The script is laugh out loud funny. The skewering of reality TV at the start is delicious. There's even a robot dog, for crying out loud. What's not to like?

Try it. You might like it.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Planet of the Apes (1968)

"The vet's going to geld him."

Wow. I know this film is famous, but I wasn't expecting it to be so good. So good, in fact, that I'm going to ignore the awkward fact that all the apes speak English. I can be nice that way.

The opening of the film both sets up the premise and gives us a bit of misdirection; we expect the film to be about Taylor and the two surviving crew members, but in fact they both die early on- Dodge first, of course. We expect this: he's black.

Our three astronauts have travelled in an interstellar craft to another star system, it seems. Incredibly from our vantage point we have dialogue establishing that they're from the twentieth century: Landon graduated in the "class of '72". Still, although only eighteen months have passed for the crew, time dilation now means that the year is now 3978. Everything and everyone they ever knew or lived is dead, as Taylor delights in telling his crewmates.

I had to raise an eyebrow that the female character was essentially put there to be a brood mate(!), but both the set-up and the establishment of world are good. Taylor is a fascinatingly nuanced character, a cynic on the surface but with some high ideals hidden deep down.The real depths of his character are a real credit both to the script and to Charlton Heston's superb performance.

The plot unfolds slowly before the big reveal: this is a world where sentient apes rule and humans are mere beasts. Technology and social mores, it seems, are about a century behind the world which Taylor left. Powered flight remains unknown and theories of evolution are controversial. 

The ideological contrasts between the apes are shown through the characters of Zaius- a fundamentalist anti-evolutionist with a real contempt for human "beasts", the scientifically curious Zira and Cornelius, who holds heretical theories about humans being more advanced in the past. The big reveal at the end- and Heston's performance makes it pack a punch even though popular culture has long since spoiled it for all of us- is, of course, that this is Earth. Humans destroyed themselves in some sort of self-inflicted (nuclear?) disaster, and the senior apes know this. Zaius's speech to Taylor at the end is crushing: humans are warlike and murderous while apes are not,and paid a just price. Suddenly we can no longer see Zaius as straightforwardly prejudiced. This links back cruelly to Taylor's speech in the first scene as he speculates on whether humanity has become less warlike and cruel. This is a masterly piece of structuring.

Everyone should see this film. It's certainly the best I've seen this year.

Monday, 14 September 2015

When Worlds Collide (1951)

"If our calculations prove correct, this will be the most frightening discovery of all time!"

Oh dear. I'm no scientist; I did English at uni. But my BAD SCIENCE sense is tingling. Yes, I know this is a cheesy '50s sci-fi B movie, but, well, here's the premise: a star (Bellus) and its planet (Zyra; both of these are very '50s sci-fi names) are spotted on a trajectory to Earth, headed straight for us. The planet will hit first, causing all sorts of cinematic and rather impressive-looking natural disasters, followed ten days later by its parent star, which will end all life on Earth. That's a bit of a bummer, really.

But fear not; there's hope, for a select few. An Ark is to be constructed which is to land on the offending planet, somehow still in one piece after its collision with Earth. We end with (some of) our All American (and, er, all white) heroes safely landed on this planet, a paradise of grass, strange vegetation and matte paintings. Yep. You heard right. Zyra  magically turns out to have a breathable oxygen atmosphere in spite of the collision and in spite of the influence of our Sun. Hmm.

Amongst all this the film gives us a bit of human drama, a love triangle, and a rather superficial attempt at exploring how humanity would react to impending Armageddon and only an elite few (mainly scientists, naturally) being saves, but there's never any real depth. The effect of this is that the film is too superficial to be serious and too preachy to be fun. I prefer my B movies to be much less po-faced.

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

"What would you call that hairstyle you're wearing?"


At long last I get to see this film; I've no idea why I hadn't seen it before. It's great, of course; it has no it as such but it has laughs, great dialogue, plenty of great Beatles tracks including the classic title track, and the superb comic performances of all four Beatles themselves, none of whom are trained actors. And all this at a time when they were insanely busy.

Wilfrid Brambell is also great as Paul's discreetly gay Irish "grandfather", and George gets a great scene where he puts the boot into the fashion industry. It's not just the Beatles themselves who date the film; you can tell the film was made at the tail end of the satire boom, and there are lots of little digs at the class system to echo John's quip about the rich people rattling their jewellery at the Royal Variety Performance.

As the film ends, with absolutely nothing having happened, you're left with a nostalgic smile on your face. I love this film.

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

"I should have drowned you at birth!"

"Thank you, father!"

Interesting that this enjoyable Hammer romp is pre-George A. Romero, if only just. But it's fascinating to see that, as late as 1966, zombies were still very much associated in popular culture with their Haitian origins. Thus we have voodoo dolls, and a rather incongruous-looking Haitian butler in a Cornwall country home. It's striking to see the negative portrayal of voodoo here, though: it's referred to, in Christian terms, as "witchcraft".

It's also amusing to reflect on how class-ridden the society in this film is. The baddie is the local squire who, naturally, firmly rules the village. Meanwhile our delightfully grumpy hero, Andre Morell's splendid Sir James, is a posh medical professor to whom everyone defers and whom all working class characters call "Sir". He even gets essentially let off when caught grave robbing by the fuzz because of how posh he is.

It's amusing to see a very young Jacqueline Pearce here. Servalan, it seems, was a Victorian/Edwardian zombie before she rose in the ranks of the Federation.

This is peak Hammer by numbers, but peak Hammer by numbers is a great way to spend ninety minutes. I enjoyed this film hugely.

The Quatermass Experiment: Part 2 ("Persons Reported Missing")

"Don't. Don't comfort me."

OK, confession time. When I blogged Part 1, last year, I was somehow under the impression that only the first episode existed. Oops. I now realise, having seen it, that the second episode exists too, and is awesome. And I have to admit that  it's even worse than that; I watched all of the original three Quatermass series years ago, except this episode. Oops.

Moving swiftly on, this is a fascinatingly dark episode, as you'd expect from Nigel Kneale. The main plot chugs along as we slowly discover that the surviving astronaut nay (mostly) have the body of Victor Carroon, but he also seems to contain the minds of all three.

All this is grounded in the mystery of whatever horrific thoughts Quatermass is so obviously suppressing, the conflict generated by Paul Whitaun-Jobes' tenacious journalist, Jimmy Fullalove, and most of all by the big reveal that Jusith Carroon had been having an affair and was about to leave her husband. Now she faced a future as a guilt-ridden carer to a man she doesn't love.

This is superb drama, made four years before Sputnik but giving us a believable depiction of space travel even if, being pre-Suez, it shows a superpower Britain as the pioneer. Extraordinary.

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

"You're the first king we haven't eaten."

This is a psychologically brilliant and delightfully weird film, as you'd expect from the creative team of Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers. It's an odd commercial proposition at first glance, though; it doesn't seem particularly kid-friendly for a film based on a children's book. Still, apparently it did well. And is, incidentally, brilliant.

The creatures are, primarily at least, based on prosthetics rather than CGI, which is in itself a triumph. And both the direction and the cinematography are both highly accomplished and rather subtle, making this film look, stylistically, a bit like an art house flick.

But the real triumph is the characterisation of the creatures, which is quietly very dark and more than a little Lord of the Flies. None of them are happy. At least one of them, Judith, is clinically depressed. They are childlike, in a way, but the contrast with Max's innocent enthusiasm is stark. They pay a heavy price for their wildness.

Even the island they live on is slowly turning to desert; entropy. This links thematically to the lesson at school, earlier in the film, where Max is taught about how the world will inevitable end. What, then, is the point? 

There's political allegory, too. Max is appointed king on the basis of his imaginative claims, but, inevitably, the reality is that, like all politicians, he governs in prose.

This is an extraordinary and unexpectedly deep film, and well worth seeing. Just don't expect a typical Hollywood kids' film.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Lady Chatterley's Lover

"She's a servant. It's not as if she's a person."

That's how you do it. Unlike the recent The Scandalous Lady W this is a perfect example of how to do an adaptation of a classic novel in a time slot of only ninety minutes without sacrificing any thematic depth or characterisation.

A confession first, though: I've read a fair bit of D.H. Lawrence- even The Plumed Serpent- but not Lady Chatterley's Lover. It isn't known as one of his best, and it's generally better known for the 1961 obscenity trial than as an actual novel. So I'm experiencing the characters and plot here for the first time. I'm rather impressed. 

The earlier scenes, setting up Constance and Sir Clifford's relationship, his injury in the trenches and subsequent emasculation, and their gradual growing apart, are done with an admirable economy of storytelling while still making time for subtle character moments. We slip into Mellors' POV as we meet him, get to know him and see his being emotes as gatekeeper, his relationship with Constance being spiky at first. Their early scenes together are full of chicks, flowers, and other obvious fertility symbols, which is very D.H. Lawrence.

The story of their affair doesn't quite go as expected, though. Her chat with her sister is revealing; what is shocking is not that she has taken a lover- this is more or less expected in this situation, upper class mores being what they are- but that said lover is a commoner. For the characters, the controversy here is all about class, not sex. This is underlined by Sir Clifford's clumsy attempt to get a friend- the "right sort", naturally, to father a child with her, more or less confirming that privileged upper class women were more or less expected to be brood mares. Patriarchy looms largest when families have money and stuff to pass down. Feminism, too, is a class issue.

I've no idea how much has been expunged from the novel, but I was rather impressed by this.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Twins (1988)

"Actually, I hate violence."

"But you're so good at it!"

How '80s can you get? We even get a montage, for heaven's sake. 

This film is a silly old piece of fluff, of course. It's 80s Hollywood comedy by the numbers. But it's fun. And it features the always excellent Danny DeVito, Chloe Webb from Sid and Nancy and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger in a comedy role.

Arnie is the revelation here. He can do comedy, and he can do it well. Comedy is hard. This means he can actually act when he puts his mind to it. People are shocked. Also, I must admit, this may be no one's favourite film but it's entertaining to watch, with a decent if silly plot and sufficient laughs to get away with calling it a comedy. Arnie's even gets to say "I'll be back" at one point. The film's best moment, though,  is Arnie's face after he pops his cherry. Yep. He can do comedy. 

In fact... I say this through gritted teeth, but the straight man in a comedy double act is often underappreciated and, well, Arnie is great at it.

What next, then? Kindergarten Cop?

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Doctor Who Pubcast

Nick and I have another edition of the world-renowned Pubcast for your delight and delectation, this time focussing on the late Anthony Ainley in honour of his recent (excellent) biography...

The Scandalous Lady W

"I belong to no man!"

It's almost a cliche to say that the BBC could do a costume drama in its sleep. Unfortunately that's what it seems to have done here.

Oh, it all looks good. You expect that. And Natalie Dormer is good and not to blame for her underwritten character. But given the huge themes at play here- the fact that women, in 1782 as here and for ninety years after, were legally their husbands' "property" and, of course, our old friend those sexual double standards- the script doesn't really involve us much inter characters, or get us to understand or care about them.

The concept is huge here: a woman isbeing persuaded by her husband to indulge his cuckolding fetish by shagging other men while he watches through a keyhole, thereby meeting another man with whom she elopes. She wins s victory of sorts by successfully fighting in court his attempt towin punitive damages against her new lover, but this comes at the terrible cost to herself of a shattered reputation, ultimately costing her access to her daughter and the very lover for whom she sacrificed all.

This is a heady brew. Why, then, do I not feel emotionally engaged? Perhaps this is not a story that could have been told over a mere ninety minutes; it feels extremely rushed, to the point of being hard to follow. Why not a six part series?

There are a couple of lines that made me smile- Lord North tells Sir Richard that "Lady Wortley will no more give up her independence than will the American colonies": rather witty for such a terrible prime minister. But beyond this there isn't much historical depth. The role of Lord Mansfield, presiding over the trial, in the ending of slavery on English soil is not even remarked upon, and neither is anything except plot, plot, plot.

This is a wasted opportunity of a story that could have made great telly. Hopefully one day it will.