Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

"I never think you should judge any country by its politics. After all, we English are quite honest by nature, aren't we?"

I've seen a fair few Hitchcocks but, shockingly, this is the first film helmed by the great Sir Alfred that I've blogged. It's an early, pre-Hollywood film, but all his gifts for suspense are already on evidence. Engaging characters, a worry script and a solid presence- an old lady mysteriously vanished from a moving train and people start denying that she was ever there- make this a bloody good film. Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave are superb as leads.

The characterisation, direction, dialogue and acting come across as fresh and mover considering the film's age, and I love the two cricket-obsessed Englishmen. The plot twist is also handled extremely well and successfully as the conspiracy unravels and peril (I love that word) ensues. This isn't perhaps one of the best known Hitchcocks but it's certainly a bloody good film.

Short Circuit (1986)

"Number Five is alive!"

I remember seeing this on video in the '80s and, being nine or ten, quite liked it. I had fond memories of the film so, I thought, why not blog it? It'll be a pleasant jog through memory lane, right?

Er, wrong. Watching it as an adult, the film isn't exactly awful but it's functional, by-the-numbers, slow and, despite the cuteness and coolness of the robot itself, not more than mildly engaging.

But there is, of course, another thing, a film that makes the film quite arse-clenching embarrassing to watch in 2015 and, surely to Hod, in 1986 as well.

Yep, it's all about the character of Ben, a character who is supposed to be of South Asian origins with an Indian accent. I vaguely remembered that the film had an Indian character but it's something to see that the character was played by a white actor, in brownface. Yep. This really happened. Ten years earlier or so you'd just sigh and reflect that this sort of thing used to happen... but this is happen 1986. And it isn't helped by the fact that the character is written and played as a "funny" foreigner with "hilarious" malapropisms. I've just looked around the Interweb and, while there are a few appalled bloggers out there, most people (then and now) seem not to be particularly concerned that all this might be just a little bit incredibly racist.

The early scenes between Number Fove and Stephanie (Ally Sheedy is rather good) are entertaining, as are all the scenes where the robot runs rings around his pursuers, but that isn't anywhere near enough to make up for the character of Ben. This is a film I once remembered fondly, but it's probably best forgotten.

We're Doomed! The Dad's Army Story

"Sometimes you need to bow to the talent!"

It's good to know that these types of dramas are still happening even though all new drama has been sadly banished from BBC 4. This particular example is merely quite good rather than great, but long may this sort of thing continue.

The main interest for most of us, of course, is the casting. Shane Ritchie for Bill Pertwee works well, John Sessions as Arthur Lowe works well (although I'm glad they used real footage from Pardon the Expression as watched at home by Jimmy Perry), although the casting of Michael Crichton as Arnold Ridley doesn't work. Crichton is a bloody good actor but he's just, well, nowhere near physically frail enough. It's Keith Allen who really steals the show, however, as sceptical BBC executive Paul Fox.

You're reminded of just how counterculture and creative the BBC was in 1967; Jimmy Perry served in the war, yet he dresses like a hippy, as do an awful lot of people. There's a nice little in joke about Jon Pertwee turning down the part of Mainwaring because of money; shades of how he left Doctor Who there.

This isn't exactly a televisual highlight of 2015, but it's a pleasant way to spend an hour, with plenty of in-jokes for British TV nerds like me.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Dr No (1962)

"Tell me, does the toppling of American missiles really compensate for having no hands?"

Time for my first Bond film, I think. I'll blog them all as and when, but in order. I'm not really a hardcore Bond fan, but I've certainly seen and enjoyed a lot of Bond films and I'm expecting to have a lot of fun along the way.

My first observation is that Sean Connery is superb, and oozes charisma: all the other British characters are very, very public school, yet Connery manages to pull off the character of Bond, comfortable in casinos and colonial gentlemens' clubs, while maintaining his working class Edinburgh accent, and pulls it off. In an age of strict actorly RP he's unique, and he pulls it off brazenly and brilliantly. This film is a triumph in no small part to his charisma.

My second observation is that all the women seem to have been written by fifteen year old boys but, hey, that's Bond. No Bechdel test here.

My third observation is just how long ago this film was made. Yes, everyone dresses as though they're in an episode of Mad Men but, even more evocative of just how long ago it was, this film is set in a Janaica that's still a British colony, with a Governor General and seems the Winds of Change haven't reached gale force yet. Still, the film deserves credit for not being particularly racist for its time, although I notice that, in the case of Quarrel, the trope of the black guy getting killed is present and correct.

It's a reasonably faithful adaptation of the novel- a more cinematic spider is substituted for the centipede, but this is a much more straightforward adaptation than what came later. There are no gadgets: Major Boothroyd (not called Q) only appears in a rather pointless scene where he replaces Bond's gun. One thing is present and correct, though: "Honey Rider" is (titter) the first of many, er, hilariously naughtily named Bond girls. And Dr No is the archetypal Bond villain from the start, with the lair and arch dialogue down pat.

I suppose I have a hard time believing that anyone could have believed that "dragon" was a flesh and blood creature, but other than that very minor pint the film is superb, and it's easy to see why the Bond films continued.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Third Man (1949)

"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Yes, it had to be that quote. Predictable but necessary.

This film is, essentially, superb. It tends to suffer somewhat from the overly high expectations one tends to have for films as critically acclaimed as this, but I won't discriminate against it for that. The film didn't choose to be so hyped. In truth, this film may not be quite amongst the best ever made but it is, nonetheless, utterly superb.

I won't recount the intriguing plot with its twists and turns and the gradual reveal of the story of Harry Lime, played with splendid charisma by the great Orson Welles. But the script paints as dark a picture of human nature as one would expect from the typewriter of Graham Greene. Vienna is made to look awesome by Carol Reed in its monochrome splendour, and the cast is superb. This is a Vienna still under occupation by the four powers, where even minor aristocrats resort to the black market to survive. This once-great imperial city has fallen very far indeed, with its grandiose Habsburg architecture seeming to mock it. 

Above all this film has atmosphere, pervaded as it is by a sense of doom and pessimism. And above it all floats that zither tune. This is a film that everyone should see.

Daredevil (2003)

"I want a bloody costume!"

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.

I remember seeing this at the pictures when it came out. As far as I can recall I didn't hate it. I may not have been overwhelmed but I was, at least, moderately whelmed. This time, though... oh dear. I'm afraid this review is going to be quite the spanking.

Please understand that this film isn't awful merely because it stars Ben Affleck, which is never a good thing, or even that Affleck is in even worse form than usual. Jon Favreau is awful (he should stick to directing), Jennifer Garner phones in her performance, and while Michael Clarke Duncan is a good actor he's miscast as the Kingpin. He has a kind face. You just can't cast him as a baddie, although it doesn't help that the Kingpin's lines are the worst in the film. Only Colin Farrell manages to shine by, wisely, chewing the scenery with gusto as it's the only thing you can do with lines like that.

And that brings us to the script, a steaming pile of dung. It beggars belief that anyone seriously thought this script was ready for production. It's clear from the performances that the cast doesn't exactly believe in it. None of the characters are well-developed. Far too much time is spent on a totally unnecessary recap of Daredevil's origin- why are superhero films always doing this?- and Daredevil doesn't act or feel like Daredevil. He kills. He beats people up and generally behaves like a homicidal Batman. It just feels wrong.

At least we can keep ourselves entertained by counting all the names of comics creators here. I'm not sure how Joe Quesada feels about giving his name to a rapist, but Kevin Smith gets a cameo as "Jack Kirby" (and Frank Miller gets a brief cameo as, naturally, does Stan Lee) and Jack Murdock has recently fought "Miller, Mack, Bendis" and is seen fighting John Romita.

Still, this film is a turd. It's not even entertainingly bad. For the morbidly curious only.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song

"What's that? Are you... thinking? Stop it. You're a man. It looks weird."

The Moff ended the series just gone by subverting the Big Epic Season Finale through rejecting all of the epicness in favour of a more human, character-based episode. Here he uses the Christmas episode to give us a perfect little character piece, albeit with plenty of entertainment along the way. This is almost certainly the swansong for River Song, and an extremely fitting one, and rumour has it that it was almost- but not quite- the Moff's last script for the series. Long may he reign, say I.

The plot is a glorious Christmas caper, but we shall say little about it other than to note the nice little nods to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and The Brain of Morbius. There are some splendid comedy turns from Matt Lucas and (in a part that must have been enormous fun to play) Greg Davies. Oh, and I love the way the Doctor defeats Hydroflax's body by using the fact that the stock market is so utterly incomprehensible. But the episode is essentially both a screwball comedy and entirely about the relationship between River and the Doctor. So let's proceed to talk about nothing else, shall we?

The main conceit, of course, is that River spends the whole episode failing, rather amusingly, to notice that the man she's with is the Doctor. In a lesser script this could have made the character look stupid, but not here; it's nicely counterbalanced by River being portrayed as cool and resourceful. Indeed, the Doctor/companion relationship is essentially reversed to the point where River holds the Doctor's hand and runs and, in the episode's funniest scene, the Doctor pretends to be amazed that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside, seizing the chance to do it "properly". Both Kingston and Capaldi are superlative, and so is their chemistry together; the two of them on screen together work wonderfully well as a believable couple. Capaldi's ongoing moments of annoyance at River's other "husbands" are a joy, as is River's casual comment that she's always "borrowing" the TARDIS without the Doctor ever noticing.

And yet.. River is sad. Her diary is running out of pages, and the man who gave it to her would have known how many pages she needed. Silence in the Library beckons, especially as the Doctor here gives her the sonic screwdriver that she uses in that story. A nice touch, although the sonic trowel is cool and perfect for an archaeologist, as my fellow Time Team fans would know.

The scene where the penny finally drops for River ("Hello, sweetie"- more role reversal between them) is wonderful, as is her passionate speech about the Doctor; she loves him with all her heart, but you don't expect a phenomenon as big as the Doctor to love you back as a mere mortal would. And she's fine with that.

Their last ever date before River's death (I love the revelation that River's last night will last 24 years!) is wonderfully written with dialogue that sings like the towers, which are themselves a metaphor for the awesome monolith that is the Doctor. It's the perfect ending to what may well be the finest ever Christmas episode.

But how long will we have to wait for more Doctor Who?

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

"Is there a garbage chute? A trash compactor?"

Well, that was a little bit awesome. First point: this is going to be a very positive review. Second point :SPOILERS. This is going to be one very spoilerific blog post. If you don't want to see the scores, look away now.

We see lots of Han and Chewie, a fair bit of Leia, some of Threepio, less of Artoo and only a final glimpse of Luke. And, unlike the prequels with its forgettable characters, here we have the very likeable and interesting Finn and Rey, and it is the success of these two new characters, above all, that makes J J Abram's sequel such a triumph. He's also realised what good Star Wars should be: not so much science fiction but the feel of myth with the trappings of science fiction.

It's brave to hold off the appearance of any familiar characters for the first part of the film while we get to know Rey and Finn, but it works. Rey is a deliberate parallel of Luke on Tattooine, poor but noble and waiting for a family that will never come- but the Force is strong in her. Finn is a stormtrooper with a conscience, already a rich and powerful background for a character. It helps that both of them are played so well.

And then Han and Chewie appear. It's so good to se them, and Harrison Ford is so amazing you forget how old he is. He gets a huge role and gets to be really heroic- and at the endowed see why, narratively, it had to happen: killed by his own evil son. Whose mother, Leia, now leads the Resistance and is as cool as ever.

The First Order, who have taken over from the Empire, are superb baddies and... well, they're Nazis, aren't they? There were so many punch the air moments with the reveal of various old faces- Admiral Ackbar! Nien Nunb! Yes, lots of the plot beats feel familiar, but so they should. The plot feels completely Star Wars. Everything looks good, with a proper, finely balanced Star Wars aesthetic for all the aliens and all the decor. J J Abrams has done an amazing job.

The Longest Day (1962)

"Cor, stone the crows!"

I'm not a particular fan of war films, but I'm not prejudiced against them either. After The Dam Busters and Battle of Britain it's time for this epic saga of D Day which, shockingly, is the first film I've blogged to feature John Wayne, Henry Fonda or Robert Mitchum. Those are three omissions I'm certainly glad to rectify.

John Wayne doesn't get all that much screen time as Colonel Vandervoort, but he dominates the film. He's sort of the David Bowie of acting (those are two names you don't often hear together!); Bowie has a restricted vocal range but sings well within that and is careful always to stay within his range; he's primarily a songwriter and musician, not Freddie Mercury- as "Under Pressure" demonstrates. John Wayne may not be the most versatile actor, and he has presence and charisma rather than talent, but in the right role he can be truly extraordinary. This is one of those parts.

Films like this don't always quite work (hello, Battle of Britain), feeling disjointed and lacking in spirit, but this film is both masterly structured and full of heart and pathos. Little vignettes like the American shooting a surrendering German and then asking what "Bitte, bitte" meant, or the poetic scene late on with the lost American soldier and the crippled and philosophical British parachutist whose painkillers are wearing off. It's a nice touch that the German and French characters speak in their own language with subtitles and, while the Canadians are insultingly  downplayed, both British and American forces get a lot of screen time, with the slight bias towards the USA being understandable because of Omaha Beach being the bloodiest and most dramatic.

It's a long film, but manages not to drag, balancing the large scale with the human experience well. The ending feels sudden, but I suppose that's realistic. A much recommended film.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Kick-Ass (2010)

"How do I get hold of you?"

"You just contact the mayor's office. He has a special signal he shines in the sky; it's in the shape of a giant cock."

This is a brilliant, quotable, comics-literate film, adapted by Jane Goldman from the graphic novel by Mark Millar and, er, I like to think of myself as comics-literate- I mean, I've read most things by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller when we all thought he was good, Garth Ennis etc, but I haven't read much by Mark Millar. I'm impressed, though.

It's a witty and knowing look at the super hero trope from a writer who knows these tropes. It's also highly metatextual and you know how I love that sort of thing; I particularly adored the bit where Dave points out that we shouldn't assume he survived just because he's the narrator. And Mindy. Mindy is the coolest thing ever, and possibly the finest exponent of extreme swearing in cinematic history. Yes, we could finally have the first genuinely brilliant film since Leaving Las Vegas that Nicolas Cage (brilliantly cast) has appeared in.

The concept is brilliant: what if someone in the real world tried to be a superhero, without powers and where punches do actual damage and stabs mean extensive hospital treatment? This is done with wit and charismatic performances, making a film that whizzes by most enjoyably. And a bloke even explodes in a microwave at one point.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Captain America: The First Avenger (2012)

"I finally got everything I wanted- and I'm wearing tights."

Yes, I'm finally starting to go back to the Marvel films that I've seen but never blogged. Captain America: The First Avenger may not be among the very best of Marvel's recent efforts but it's a damn fine film, with a proper and well-thought through usage of Cap's origin to tell a good story while remaining faithful to the spirit of Simon and Kirby's original. It's usually a bad idea for superhero films to begin with the origin story but this is an exception.

Oh, and there are also a couple of fun cameos from Jenna Coleman and Natalie Dormer.

We begin, after a brief establishing scene of something found in the ice in the present day, in Nazi occupied Norway, with a nice scene involving David Bradley, the Red Skull and some dialogue that firmly ties the Cosmic Cube (as it isn't called here) to Norse mythology as a nod to the recent Thor. We then move on to establishing the personality and, importantly, the heroic character, there already, of the 90 pound weakling version of Steve Rogers, rattling through the origin and the super soldier serum stuff while also establishing the excellent Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, here shown as a sexy ice maiden frustrated by the glass ceiling. She really ought to get her own series.

We also, interestingly, get the origin of HYDRA: a faction of Nazi scientists led by the Red Skull that, in an interesting twist, "declares independence" from Nazi Germany. That's a departure from the source material which shores up HYDRA much better as a long-term antagonist.

It's a nice touch to have Cap initially reduced to a performing monkey selling war bonds, giving a credible reason for the costume and also allowing us to see the actual original costume from Captain America Comics #1, a copy of which is actually seen in-universe!

It's nice that the Red Skull's, er, red skull only gets revealed halfway through, to dramatic effect. And interesting that Cap's shield is pure vibranium here: it seems that adamantium belongs to Fox.

This is a brilliant film: it has the script, the characters, the action sequences and the pathos to be, if anything, a slightly underappreciated gem. Cheeky of them to give Samuel L Jackson such billing for such a tiny cameo, mind.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Grimm: Maiden Quest

"I think we're grasping at feathers..."

A bit more of a genuine story of the week, this, with a relatively interesting and chivalric "a" plot in which three contenders compete to kill a rather nasty individual for the honour of a lady's hand in marriage and there are, for once, no links with this season's Big Bad. There's even a nice twist in that the test was really intended for the "maiden", not the suitors. It's a good episode as always, if not a standout one.

Main plot thread aside, Reggie Lee continues to be perfect as Wu, here on even more than usually wry form. We also see Nick and Adalind continuing to bond over parenthood, the awkwardness perhaps a little less each time. Sean is invited to support a friend's bid to be Mayor of Portland, which is bound to be significant. 

But the big event comes at the end, as Nick finds a hurt Trubel, presumably escaped...

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Daredevil: Shadows in the Glass

"You're my son! You should be a king, not some fat little pussy."

At last we get an episode about the very interesting figure of Wilson Fisk, played interestingly by Vincent D'Onofrio as a crimelord who believes himself to have noble aims and who is, against type, an introvert. At last we get to see the childhood experiences that made him this way, a take of poverty, debt, extreme '70s-ness, domestic abuse and child cruelty, all on the part of Wilson's father, Bill. Who, incidentally, he kills with a hammer and, in a nice touch where we see his daily morning routine, he always wakes up to memories of that day.

In the present, though, Fisk is slipping a little, as Madame Gao kindly reminds him, and it's only with Vanessa's love and support that he's able to end the episode with a more or less firm grip on his mojo.

Incidentally, Fisk speaks both Mandarin and Japanese, which seems to point to an extended history in Eastern parts of the world of which we do not yet know.

Karen and Foggy end up having to confide in Matt about the whole Union Allied thing and he agrees to help them, directing their researches into areas much less likely to be physically risky for them- rather hypocritical of him.

Importantly, Daredevil finally talks to the magnificent Ben Urich, telling him about Fisk and everything he knows. But Urich's subsequent article is somewhat ruined by Fisk's coup de main in stepping out from the shadows. It's yet another superbly paced and crafted bit of telly throughout. Daredevil just gets better and better the further in you go.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Gone

"There was a voice, before. It made my coffee dance."

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a serious and harrowing episode of Buffy must be followed by a silly and light-hearted one. Hence this little romp where Buffy has a lot of fun being invisible and eventually even cheers up to the point where she no longer has a death wish.

Not that the whole episode is silly, though: Willow may be a magnificent sleuth here, but this is where her cold turkey from the crude drug addiction metaphor of recent episodes really begins. Buffy gets a visit from a social worker at the worst possible time, and her custody of Dawn is under threat.. but, fortunately, due to hi-jinks the clock us reset on that one. Phew. 

The sex scene between invisible Buffy and Spike is fun (once again it seems Buffy is rather rough and dominant in bed: wonder if Riley is visiting dominatrixes now?), but what happens afterwards is new: Spike actually kicks Buffy out because she's just using him for sex. Wow.

And we end with the Scoobies finally realising that Andrew, Warren and, of all people, Jonathan seem to be this season's big bad. Enough to make you miss Glory...

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Daredevil: Stick

"In my experience there are no heroes, no villains, just people with different agendas."

I've only read parts of Frank Miller's fabled run on Daredevil, so I'm not too familiar with Stick, the Hand and all that. So I came to Stick pretty much for the first time here. I found the character (and performance) fascinating, and this very different episode (placed just after a turning point) to be one of the finest so far. It's time to give the arc a bit of breathing space- although Karen and Ben Urich make progress in their investigation into Fisk's misdoings, and include Foggy in their plotting- for a bit of a flashback and a bit of a character piece for Matt.

We first meet Stick in the title sequence as he carries out a rather cool assassination, establishing that, unlike Matt, he has no qualms about killing.  Then he and Matt meet up, establishing that Stick once meant a lot to Matt, but that he just upped and left, twenty years ago.

Cue flashback, Matt as a kid, Stick's training of and impression upon the young boy to whom he's given hope, and how Matt's natural affection for this gruff new father figure drives him away,disgusted at the young boy's sentimentality. Our old blind Spartan does not much care for sentimentality, or baggage.

Twenty years on they set out on a mission together, looking for a MacGuffin called Black Sky which is being delivered to Fisk. But this is a background in front of which Daredevil's good liberal conscience clashes with Stick's more cynical ways. This "Black Sky" weapon seems to be a little boy and Stick, to Matt's utter disgust, has no qualms about just killing him. The ends justify the means.

An excellent episode, mostly because of Stick, but it's also firmly convinced me how much I really like and respect Ben Urich as a character.

Grimm: Lost Boys

"Two things I know about kids. One: they're the future and should be cherished. Two: they're lying little bastards."

There seems to be a theme developing: are all this season's episode titles going to be based on films?

Today's story of the week is tragic: a bunch of homeless kids, all different kinds of Wesen, who periodically kidnap women who've been kind to them- in this case Rosalie- to be their "mother". This situation can hardly be allowed to continue: in a very true piece of social commentary, the kids are just swallowed back into the care system, which is crap.

Except... this isn't quite a "story of the week", as the governor of the kids' new children's home is chanting "Occultam Libera". So far every episode is tying in. 

In other news Sean receives news about the Royals: it seems that Viktor has killed the King and seized the throne like the badass he is. So I assume, after whatever behind-the-scenes stuff led to his abrupt departure last season, that Alexis Denisof will be back, and kicking arse.

It's also interesting to see Nick's and Adalind's, er, charming new home, and to see them bond a bit- she was the first woge he ever saw! But there's an awkwardness there. Adalind seems to feel awkwardly indebted to Nick and never expected him to step up as a father like he had- and had to; the character would never have retained our approval otherwise.

And yet, randomly, on the street, Adalind is approached by a former work colleague: she can have her old and rather highly paid job back whenever she wants it. This gives her a hell of a lot of security.

Oh, and that Royal bloke who visited Sean to update him on the gossip? It seems he has Trubel...

Anyway, good stuff.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Grimm: Clear and Wesen Danger

I'm "Not even a Grimm can stop what's coming. Occultam Libera!"

The second episode of the season seems at first to be settling into a story of the week but, of course, those never happen these days. So this episode isn't really about murder and embezzlement: the point is that the particular type of Wesen that did it causes marks with its four claws that are just like those on the symbol found on the wall at the scene of Chavez's death. It's all there to seed the season arc.

There's one little retro nod to the old days of stories-of-the-week, though: Sean assigns Hank a new partner who knows nothing of Wesen and who can't be told everything. Hank is frustrated, essentially taking the role of Nick (still on gardening leave) during the first couple of seasons.

Nick, Adalind and little Kelky move into Nick's home and, yes,it's awkward. Perhaps parenthood will bring them together as a couple now? Or would that be far too obvious? Either way, Monroe drops heavy hints that they should maybe leave that house after all that's happened.

It's an entertaining episode. Still have absolutely no idea what to make of this season, though. It already feels so different...

The Human Centipede 3: The Final Sequence (2015)

"These films risk causing harm! They should be banned!"

Oh yes. Here we are again. There was absolutely no way I could ignore this film. And in glad I didn't. It's gloriously awful, and easily the best bad film I've seen all year.

The acting has more ham than a ham sandwich, with Dieter Laser chewing the scenery with gusto as disturbingly sadistic US prison governor William Boss. Boss is a believer in mediaeval torture for prisoners, and is horrible to his pretty secretary Daisy, whom he bullies terribly and forces to give daily blowjobs, and swallow. Oh, and he abandons her to the mercies of rioting prisoners, and ends up accidentally including her in the human centipede.  He's not a nice man, or stable.

His accountant, Dwight, is a truly awful Laurence R Harvey, horribly miscast. Dwight has a bright idea based on a certain two movies he's seen, and we inevitably end up with a massive human centipede as penal policy.

This is a very silly film that revels in its B movie status, completely different in tone from its two predecessors and especially from the rather serious second film, with its social conscience. I suppose there's a bit of satire there aimed at the American attitude to capital punishment, but if so it doesn't run very deep. But it's a fun way to spend ninety minutes. Well, except for the castration scene. That was gross.

Kidulthood (2006)

"You can put it in my arse as well. It hurts, but I don't mind."

This is an extraordinary debut from Noel Clarke as a writer and, which is sort of the point, a bloody good film. Doesn't half make me feel old, though, and I'm only 38.

Are teenagers really like this in London, with the bullying, the drugs, the incomprehensible slang, the relentlessly hard gang mentality, and the horrifying level of bullying? I'm 38, and I feel old. I don't live in London, fortunately, but I'm still terrified about the bullying my daughter could experience when she starts school.

It's a brilliantly directed film, with some wonderful touches, and a superb script is brought to life by a largely unknown cast, although Cornell John and Alison Newman are both familiar faces from Eastenders. It deals with bullying, gang culture, teen suicide, teen pregnancy, and, in a subtle way, racism, although this seems to be one issue which is actually shown to be less of a problem than one might expect. Most depressing, perhaps, is the universally subservient attitude the girls have towards the boys: it's as if feminism never happened.

All this builds towards a tragic and dramatic ending which leaves us wanting more. This isn't necessarily the sort of film is usually watch, and I only watched it because it was written by Noel Clarke of off of that Doctor Who, but I enjoyed it immensely.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Doctor Who: Hell Bent

I"I insist upon my past!"

This is a brilliant season finale and a brilliant proper farewell to Clara, yes. That would be enough to make it brilliant. But there's more. Much, much more. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I much prefer the littler, more character based stories to the big overblown epics: give me The Rescue over The Dalek Invasion of Earth any day. And Moffat clearly agrees. So much so that he takes the big, epic Gallifrey story we've expected for so long, only to swat it away in favour of a nice little intimate character piece.

And it's blatant. Yes, we have Gallifrey, the Citadel, the Chancellery Guards and the Matrix. We even get Donald Sumptrr, no less, as Rassilon. Except... the first twenty minutes of the story consists of the Doctor emphatically rejecting the epic power of the Time Lords in both the narrative and the wider mythology of Doctor Who: his relationship with his companion is far more important than all this fanwank.

Hence the Doctor assumes charge in Gallifrey through doing did all, by his Time War reputation alone. Hence the fact that Rassilon, that iconic figure of Time Lord mythology, played by Donald Sumpter in a real casting coup... is casually expelled from the narrative at a very early point on the episode. This episode is about Clara's death, the Doctor's hubris at refusing to accept it (very The Waters of Mars), and how this is making shades of the old War Doctor seep through. And it's Clara who saves the day. "Run, you clever boy, and be a Doctor".

Not that there isn't some glorious fanwankery, of course. Most brilliant is our first male-to-female regeneration, which has a nice transsexual subtext. Also, Ohica and the Sisterhood of Karn are back for absolutely no reason other than that they're cool, which is absolutely right. It's 2015, and Doctor Who still shows the unmistakable influence of Terrance Dicks, as it should.

The real emotional and dramatic centre of the episode is its second half, from the point at which Clara is extracted to the Matrix from a point just before her death. She's trapped between moments, with no heartbeat, and will eventually have to be returned to her timeline, and death. From this point, Gallifrey and all its flummery are but a MacGuffin in the service of Clara's relationship with her mortality and the Doctor's hubris in bending the laws of time in forever postponing her return to her death.

Clara is horrified to hear that the Doctor spent 4.5 billion years in the confession dial. For her. She, unlike him, appreciates that she has to die. It's in the nature of things, and she has had an amazing life.

The ending is inspired. The Doctor and Clara run away in a TARDIS just like throne he stole all those years ago, with an uber-retro interior exactly as designed by Peter Brachaki, right down to that thingy off the ceiling that was quietly dropped after An Unearthly Child. The Doctor has no solution to Clara's mortality other than procrastination- but isn't that the case for all of us? None of us know how much time we have, so we need to make the most of what time we have.

The Doctor doesn't understand: he just wants her to live. He intends to wipe her memories of him so she will have a better chance of survival, but that misses the point: our memories are our life. And it is better to die young with strove of amazing memories than to die old after a life unlived. 

And this is the bit where we find out what the framing device with the diner was all about. The climax happens at the very end of history, where the Doctor and Clara meet, inevitably, Ashildr. It is she who points out that this is the prophecy referred to as the Hybrid. Pleasingly, it's left open whether or not the Doctor is actually half-human (shudder!) or whether the "Hybrid" refers to both the Doctor and Clara. 

We end with the Doctor in a retooled TARDIS, with a new Sonic Screwdriver, adventuring again. Meanwhile, Clara and Ashildr have their own retro Type 49, its exterior stuck as an American diner...

Oh, and it's just occurred to me: the diner in The Impossible Astronaut was Clara's TARDIS, parked a few feet away...

I can't even tell you how brilliant a piece of telly this is. I'm utterly floored by it.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Grimm: The Grimm Identity

"Do you have Trubel or not?"

"I can't say."

"You just did."

In a sense, this episode wraps up the end of the previous season, the elephant in the room being that everyone needs to adjust to the fact that Juliette is dead. But there's a real sense of a radical realignment to an entirely new story arc, stopping the Royals entirely as an antagonist for a while. Chavez dies in this episode, but it seems the dramatic purpose of the character was always to seed the story arc for Season Five.

Chavez worked for some kind of mysterious organisation, but she and her colleagues are dead, and Trubel is still missing. Chavez' last words to Nick are to "be prepared" for "what's coming". Apparently "they're rising everywhere" and "it's war". That'll be the focus of Season Five then.

Aside from this, Sean has put Nick on gardening leave as he so obviously needs a test and, oh yes, there's the small matter of Nick becoming a father at the most awkward moment possible. It's a boy, and Adalind wants to call him Kelly, after Nick's mother. It's a sweet gesture, but am I the only one who likes proper, traditional names...?

A very interesting episode and s totally new direction. I've no idea how this season is going to go.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Doctor Who Pubcast

Here's a bite size Christmas Pubcast from Nick and myself...

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

"Now, in those days, I had hardly any trouble with the Sixth Commandment..."

This is, I believe, the blog's first Ealing comedy, and it's certainly a fine one to start with. It's a gentle comedy, witty, original and a highly entertaining way to while away a couple of hours. Dennis Price is an excellent star, Alec Guinness plays all his parts with aplomb, but the real star is the script.

This is a very British film about class, as the impoverished yet high-born Louis d'Ascoyne plots to bump off his relatives, all of whom look suspiciously like Alec Guinness, so that he can become the 10th Duke of Chalfont. This is done via some entertaining and delightful murders, a witty script, a clever twist at the end involving a love triangle and Arthur Lowe, and a superbly effective non-linear structure as Louis, to be changed in the morning but nevertheless fawned over as a duke, writes his memoirs from his condemned cell.

There's a startling use of the "n" word towards the end which jars somewhat, but there's little count in criticising a film made in 1949 for racism when all involved are long dead. It's a witty and delightful film which should be seen by all, and has made me keen to see many more Ealing comedies.