Friday, 30 December 2016

Grimm: Lycanthropia

"Yeah... but who attacked whom?"

It's a neat and elegant, if simple, story of the week this episode as we inevitable get the Grimm take on werewolves: they're the result of an incurable disease for Blutbaden. All this plays through as the A plot for the episode,  it a nice little twist at the end raises this from the unremarkable to the rather good.

In more arc-related news Sean meets with Adalind but doesn't have a lot to tell her about what happened to Diana. They part awkwardly, but at least the series is acknowledging that this is a dangling plot thread that will have to be dealt with at some point.  What's more intet sting is how Sean noticed how Adalind's Hexenbeist powers seem to be returning. How will he use this knowledge?

We also have Eve telling Nick and Hank about Sean being made to run as new candidate for mayor by Rachel Wood, and how all this has to have been planned before Andrew Dixon's assassination. All this stuff is fascinating, and that's the point; the stories of the week on Grimm right now are perfectly decent but the arc stuff is what we're really interested in and it just isn't foregrounded enough.

Wanted (2008)

"This is me. Taking back control."

Grr. Don't talk to me about "taking back control". I'll be glad to see the back of 2016.

I watched this film at the suggestion of Mrs Llamastrangler as she hates it and wanted me to administer a good spanking in my blog. The things we do for love, eh? This is the most awful film I've seen since The Black Knight, and that's saying something.

Actually I suspect that the original comic book (which I haven't read) is likely to have been quite good; there's nothing wrong with the intrinsic concept of a beaten down, cuckolded office drone finding out that he's connected to a rather cool secret society of assassins and at last gets to be cool. The twist is pretty effective, too, and, in fact, I don't think the script is the problem at all here.

No; it's the awful direction from the enfant terrible of Central Asia, a man who comes with a certain reputation and from whom I expected better. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with an ever-moving camera or even with the things that happen with bullets in this film, but here it's just style over substance. The curved trajectories of the bullets (er, yes) and the  over-use of the same CGI tricks give an impression of style over substance, of a strongly emphasised visual style which doesn't actually mean anything and gets in the way of both the characters and the story. The visual style isn't just annoying; it's actually a barrier.

Also, it's noticeable that Angelina Jolie's character, Fox, is there only to look cool and spout exposition rather than have a character as such or, indeed, a first name, which is a shame. Still, at least we get Nine Inch Nails on the soundtrack and the performances are good. It's just st that the direction has to spoil everything and turn a film that could have been something into... this.

For Fans of 1960s Doctor Who...

MrVortexofDOOM has been busy with his recon of The Smugglers. Here are Episode 1 and Episode 2 with more coming soon...

https://youtu.be/cj8jG1_YpT0

https://youtu.be/FvJsmpi9eF4




Thursday, 29 December 2016

Grimm: Silence of the Slams

"There's a ceremony for everything..."

We're back to a regular story of the week, albeit with arc elements, about a masked Mexican wrestler who tries to make it big by getting a magic mask (Wesen-related), for which innocents died and which will give him glory for a price- if he follows instructions and only uses the mask in the ring. Predictably, he doesn't. Take away the particular context and it's a typical fairytale, one that works well, particularly where the protagonist, as here, is well written and acted and imbued with proper tragic flaws. I won't pretend I enjoy these one-off episodes as much as those which are more arc-based, but this is a good one. And I have absolutely no interest in Mexican wrestling.

It's still interesting how both Nick and Adalind are keeping secrets from each other- the magic stick and the return of her Hexenbeist powers respectively. This isn't at all healthy for their budding relationship and is bound to explode at the worst possible moment, probably in the finale. And now we have Eve watching the footage of Andrew Dixon's assassination and noticing Rachel Wood's odd behaviour; her confrontation with Sean hardly lessens her suspicions.

We end with Sean ringing up Adalind and claiming to have news about Adalind. The arc stuff is still there and still developing, and for an episode of the week this is a good one but, well, can we foreground the arc stuff a bit more please?


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Grimm: Into the Schwarzwald

"There's something we're not seeing..."

It's a dark, dank catacomb and we get an entertaining opening few minutes as Nick and Monroe work out where the treasure is hidden. Soon they find the treasure- which conveniently can't be opened until they're back in Portland- and, after a spot of bother with the locals, off they go out of an Indiana Jones film and back into an episode of Grimm.

Meanwhile Rosalie gets an unpleasant visit from Tony, a nasty figure from her dodgy, forgotten past whose letters she has been avoiding and who wants money off her. Fortunately, Adeline is there to help her- with some unexpected Hexenbeist powers. Are her old powers returning? If so then not only would Nick not like it but her personality will turn nasty again. This could be a problem.

Meanwhile, Eve has managed to bug the assassin's phone but Sean rather inconveniently kills him.  This causes some annoyance. But when Rachel later visits Sean for a post-assassination shag, as you do, he confronts her. Not only is she some kind of Wesen, but the assassination of Andrew Dixon was all planned in order for Sean to take over. He is to be the new pawn. But whose...?

We conclude with the gang opening the treasure chest. It's... an old and gnarled wooden stick. That's it. But it just turns out that, conveniently, Monroe has a really bad wound that it heals so we can find out what it does. It's an exciting ending to an exciting episode that shows just how much is going on this season. Grimm may not be great drama at the moment but it's as entertaining as anything.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

"Brains with minds of their own? No one will believe that. This is America."

From the very beginning- a joyful pastiche of the comic strip intros to the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies- to the equally joyful ending, this was one of the very best Christmas specials and perfectly pitched for early evening on Christmas Day when everyone is a bit sozzled. Ironically, though, the fact that this was my best Christmas Day ever (I have a 22 month old little girl, and every moment was truly magical) means I didn't open the bottle of wine I have just consumed until she had gone to bed. So this review comes early.

At last Doctor Who does superheroes. What took it so long? Much of this film riffs on the romance between Superman and Lois Lane in the first Superman film, and the referencing of superhero life is joyful; I love the Doctor's deconstruction of Spider-Man's origin, and the joke about Clark Kent being Superman. We even get a reference to "Miss Siegel and Miss Schuster". It's amazing, in retrospect, that Doctor Who has taken so long to do the genre. Here it truly embraces it, and Steven Moffat's background in romantic comedy serves him well in handling the beautiful love story between Grant and Lucy.

The unnamed baddies are the same ones from The Husbands of River Song but still unnamed; curious. I suspect we will see them again. The Doctor, it seems, resurrected Nardole (Matt Lucas works surprisingly well as a companion) because of his upset over losing River; the 24 year date is explicitly paralleled with the 24 years of Grant having his powers. Grant and Lucy are brilliant characters, incidentally. Asa father I love the message that real men look after children, and of course Lucy's usage of Mr. Huffle is beyond cool.

This episode rules. We get proper use of the superhero genre. We get evil brains in jars, even if they're more The Keys of Marinus than The Brain of Morbius. We get an episode of truly entertaining fun for all the family rather than the more intricate episodes that, much as I may love them, don't appeal to the kids. It's a appropriate tale for Christmas and it's right that the seasonal references are perfunctory.

This is Moffat's best Christmas special, easily. And the teaser for the upcoming Season 36- for inc narrated, by the already engaging Bill) looks fantastic. As far as I'm concerned 2016 can just go away (Brexit and Trump can both just do one) but this is at least a positive ending to a horrible year.


Friday, 23 December 2016

Grimm: Key Move

"This is really good. For something completely illegal...!"

At last Watch are showing the episodes I wasn't able to see earlier this year because of Sky Plus issues. Hallelujah. And we jump straight into the first episode after the half-season break where Nick and co have found a map to the mysterious treasure in the Black Forest that was buried by those seven mythical Grimms after the Sack of Constantinople. We get a rather fun sequence where everyone works out the puzzle and decides the treasure must be buried somewhere under an old church. So Nick and Monroe are grabbing a flight to Stuttgart while everyone else has further adventures in Portland.

Meanwhile, Sean loyally and unethically drips on a rival mayoral candidate to his mate Andrew Dixon, and Adalind ends up declaring her love for Nick, they have sex while both knowing whom the other actually is, and it feels right! But the main plan to in Portland is an assassin in Portland,hunted by both HW and the police. Who is his target? From a very early stage it looks to be either Dixon or Sean.

In Baden-Wurttemberg Nick discusses his burgeoning relationship with Adalind but can't answer Monroe's question of whether he loves her. But soon they're deep into their investigation as Wesen priests and churchwardens get wind that there's a Grimm About and whip up a little mob. And in Portland our assassin's bullet finds Dixon. Is he dying?

An eventful and hugely exciting episode ends as Nick and Monroe fall into some ancient catacombs. Is this the treasure? This is a hugely promising start.


Commando (1985)

"I can't believe this macho bullshit!"

My wife and daughter are away and I'm alone in the house this evening; I'll watch a totally boy film with lots of guns and killing in. Preferably from the '80s, and something Mrs Llamastrangler doesn't like. Preferably something with Arnie in. I'm in a none-too-serious mood but I want something I can laugh at rather than laugh with. So what's available on Netflix tonight? Ah.

This film is increeeeedibly '80s, from the music to the plot to the very, very slight knowing winks that haven't quite developed into irony. You can switch off your brain for the duration of the film, which consists solely of Arnie (the character is Colonel John Matrix, but let's just call him Arnie) being macho and going after the thugs who have kidnapped his daughter while the plot does elaborate somersaults to stop them knowing what he's doing so they don't just kill her. Still, it must be said: Arnie's acting range may be limited but he has charisma, and that charisma carries the film. Along with, obviously, all the guns and killing.

You know the best bit? It's the cliched moment at the end where Arnie tells the General that no, he's not going back into special forces because he's retired, dammit. An entertaining and splendidly brainless ninety minute film that doesn't outstay it's welcome.

Humans: Season 2, Episode 8

"You're not going to lose me, Niska. You've got me."

It's the end, then, and inevitably we will end with all synths everywhere being conscious. A truly historic event; the Singularity. And that leaves rich potential themes for next series. Never mind how society is ever going to cope; surely this means the end, violently or just as much otherwise, of humanity as a biological species?

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. We start with reconciliation between Max and Leo, while Laura and Joe are divided again between her social conscience and desire to do the right things for people or who happen to be synths, while he just wants to retreat and defend his family. There are a lot of Joes in the world, sadly.

Athena has to admit to Karen that it simply isn't now possible to give her a human body, thereby destroying all her hopes and dreams. And there's a heartbreaking scene as V explains to her "mother" that's she's far more than just Ginny and is leaving the network to explore, and that mother and "daughter" will never meet again.

Laura is in trouble as Hester sneakily lies her way into the house and they have a philosophical chat about the role of violence in resolving social injustice. It isn't long before a hostage situation develops and it's Leo and Mia to the rescue. Its interesting to see just how protective towards him Mia is. Meanwhile, Toby's relationship with Renie is finally going well and Sophie, whose story is left unresolved,is taken by Joe to a kids' party with a synth clown. Brr.

The real action, though, is between Hester and Laura,who strikes a nerve in telling Hester that she is what she is because of abuse, reacting just as a human would. This doesn't go down well with Hester, who proudly announces that she has killed four humans and their lives mean nothing to her. This is chilling. And the lack of regret means, of course, that she isn't going to survive the episode.

Hester and Leo have an emotional reunion, but she suddenly stabs him just after he has declared his love, which is nice. In the end it's Mia who kills Hester, along with herself as an heroic sacrifice. Only the arrival of Niska, just in time, saves them both, and it's right that it should be Niska who sort of redeems herself by killing Hester.

We end with Leo seemingly comatose and all synths worldwide becoming conscious, including Sam who seems to avert Karen's attempted suicide. It's a truly magnificent individual episode of television and elevates a series that had started out without as much promise as the last one into something truly special.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 7: Pretty Much Dead Already

"Enough risking our lives for a little girl who's gone!"

This is the half-season finale. Knowing this tells us it's going to be heavy and dramatic. And it is; from the moment at the start where Glenn cracks and tells the whole gang that there's a "barn full of walkers" it's inevitable that the two groups are going to be sundered apart and it isn't going to be nice.  But the final moments are not predictable at all.

Things are downbeat. Rick has to beg Herschel to let them all stay; childbirth on the run without medical supplies would be a death sentence. But with Shane around and the inevitable upcoming conflict it's all hopeless. And even Carol is losing hope in finding Sophia, much to Daryl's discuss. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

Yes, Maggie argues with her dad to let them all stay and yes, she sort of reconciles with Glenn, but these are slim pickings in a gloriously doom-laden episode. Shane is increasingly unhinged and,hearing about the baby, is sure that it is his. That's bound to cause friction later. There are signs of John st how far gone he is as he hands out guns in open defiance of the principled Herschell's wishes, and there's an atmosphere of deep foreboding until Shane starts to shoot and kill all the zombies in the arm. The most horrible thing is saved till last, though- one of them is Sophia, and Carol has to watch as Rick shoots down the thing that she has become...

This half-season has gone on far too long. But this episode, at least, is magnificent.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Humans: Season 2, Episode 7

"It's time for them to fear us..."

We start with Mattie being interrogated about her code to make all synths conscious, but fortunately she's able to stonewall and leave because Mia and Leo are essentially nice. Hester isn't, but for now she's just the new girl. It's Mia who now takes charge.

The media are beginning to notice "bizarre synth malfunctions"; we're entering the endgame. Synths are becoming conscious more and more. But Odi, tragically, is not among them as a devastated Mattie reads what is in effect a suicide note from Odi, who is rebooting himself because he hates being conscious.

A direct contrast is Karen, who outs herself as a synth to Athena and asks for her consciousness to be uploaded into ahuman body so she can have the one thing she's always dreamed of.

Laura and Pete meet and compare notes as Mia's plan to rescue the synths at Qualia proceeds. The raid is magnificent, bold and a tragic failure, leading to the casual deaths of many conscious synths which is devastating for everyone but especially Leo. This leads to Max reconciling with the others, but that is small comfort. These are powerful scenes.

This is yet another emotionally powerful episode as Revie, hearing whatSophie has to say about being a synth, emotionally abandons her lifestyle: "It was fun, but you can get lost in it." At least there's happy news that Niska is back with Astrid- if she survives. The ending is devastating, though, as a rogue Hester tries to kill Athena and manages to kill Pete in the process. Poor Karen is inconsolable. Finally, in the penultimate episode, this season is really coming together to be magnificent. It may have taken a long time to get going but a good finale would elevate the season to magnificent.


Humans: Season 2, Episode 6

"I had sex with him."

So, as both Athena and Pete know, Khoury is trying to create conscious synth children for bereaved parents as a cynical moneyspinner. And Athena will do as she's told because Khoury "owns" V, what with her being company property. Ouch.

Meanwhile Mattie finds Leo at his hideout and tries to talk some sense into him as Laura sets about trying to restore Anita into being Mia again, one of the few sequences that feel like padding and, once she manages to do this, poor betrayed Mia is heartbroken. In a moving scene, Odi confesses to a priest; his life no longer has purpose or meaning now he is free. All he wants is the life of service he remembers. This is troubling, but there will always be individuals like this.

Karen falls in love with the seraphim Pete brings her, and bonds herself to him, very clearly showing how she identifies as a human. Mattie receives little gratitude after saving Mattie's life; they are both sort of rivals for Leo and, anyway, we know that Hester hates humans. It's unknowingly cruel of her to tell Mattie she's had sex with him and then blindly ask her if she's ever been with anyone.

Poor Sophie, though; even Joe's egg fight fun can't get rid of her desire to act like a synth. It's an event-filled episode of a season that's finally hotting up, ending with Mia revealing to Leo and Hester that Mattie has the code to make all synths sentient...


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Christmas Pubcast

Nick and I have a special Yuletide edition of the Doctor Who Pubcast, sure to appeal to all Peter Cushing fans...

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/dwpubcast/episodes/2016-12-20T10_53_44-08_00

Friday, 16 December 2016

Humans: Season 2, Episode 5

"I believe the man has ejaculated."

Max makes a friend: a newly conscious synth who has been looking after some rather unpleasant children. She is given hope, and a possible future. Contrast that with Mia, who has been sold by Ed to cover his mother's care home costs. It seems MIA meant very little to him after all, and that's horrible.

Odi, too, is conscious, but with no desires of his own; he just wants to serve and be useful. This time, though, it's his actual personality. That's interesting. And a direct contrast with Leo and Hester who have definite plans for the liberation of all synths.

Athena hears that her daughter is dead and, distraught as she is, she isn't going home for the funeral. That seems to prove beyond doubt that V is Ginny and, sure enough, we get this confirmed. Things stay emotional as Mia foils Ed's plan by pretending to the prospective purchasers that she is just Anita again. But she ends up as Just Anita again. Will she ever again be herself?

Toby's wannabe synth wannabe girlfriend is called Renie and, in another heartbreaking scene, offers him sex while in role as a synth- but he wants to get to know her as a person, not just to get inside her pants. This, of course, makes her feel that her chosen persona is being rejected and she sends him away. It's an episode full of emotional rejections and heartbreak. At least we get the contrast of Hester coming on to Leo, whom she likes and wants to protect. But Hester represents the violently revolutionary Left, and he the more middle class progressive- and she's swaying him.

Probably the biggest thing in plot terms, though, is that Mattie has worked out the full code for making ALL synths conscious. Oh, and Niska realised at the climax of her consciousness test that the odds have been stacked against her... and escapes, awesomely. Again. And then we end with the big reveal of what seraphim are... little synth children!

Now the season is really getting good. I hope this level of intensity gets maintained.




Thursday, 15 December 2016

Humans: Season 2, Episode 4

"It's Qualia!"

We begin with an ideological schism as the moral Max leaves in disgust after Leo agrees to Hester's cynical plan to allow humans to kidnap a consciousness synth and follow them to their base. It works and, yes, it's Qualia. But Leo is going down a slippery slope, even condoning torture on Hester's part as long as he doesn't have to watch. The moral issues at play in this programme are fascinating.

There's an interesting post-coital scene between Mia and are; she seems about as blissful as she can get, but did she enjoy the sex? We simply don't know. More developments happen with Sophie,who has a syndrome where she starts behaving like a synth, which causes Laura and Joe to have their signature moment of angst about being Bad Parents. Fortunately this is all interrupted by a menacing synth trying to force Laura to drop Niska's case; it seems someone really doesn't like what she's doing.

Laura's secret weapon in proving Niska's consciousness is,of course, Astrid, who is lovely. It doesn't matter that Niska abandoned her, or even that she's a synth; Astrid still loves her. Astrid is wonderful, and I'm very apprehensive at how it's all inevitably going to end in tears.

The plot thickens further as a bit of hacking from Mattie shows Joe to have been fired by synths, with no human involvement; there's more than a whiff of conspiracy here. And Khoury wines and dines Athens into a full confession of what she's up to- full transfer of human consciousness into an artificial body. He decides to support rather than fire her, but her work requires the, well, vivisection of any conscious synths held by Qualia.

Odi now seems to be conscious- he misses George- while Mia suddenly collapses to give us our cliffhanger. We still aren't hitting the heights of last season but the last couple of episodes have been better.

Humans: Season 2, Episode 3

"Apricot!"

This is still a good season, but something is still missing compared to last season. Perhaps we're still in the set-up stage?

Athena has a daughter, Gin who's in a coma; the obvious inference here is that V, her artificial intelligence, is somehow linked to her daughter. I'm sure we'll find out; Athena is finally off to Blighty to join the rest of the plot. Meanwhile Laura is continuing to try and prove Niska's consciousness so she can stand trial, and Joe, humiliatingly, goes back to work as a temp for his old employer on the shop floor. Laura has a rather dramatically effective three days, and much of the episode consists of her frustratingly failed attempts. These scenes are entertaining.

Leo and co all abandon their hidey-hole, unaware that Hester killed their prisoner rather than letting him escape. Meanwhile Toby tries to get to know the girl at school who wants to be a synth, and Mia gets back together with Ed and they start a rather heartwarming relationship. The season is starting to come together, I think; a lot more is happening and I enjoyed this episode a lot.

So many plot threads, all good; Odi is now up and working, while Pete and Karen are on the trail of the mysterious "seraphim". And Athena manages to blackmail a forcibly retired Hobbs into helping her. What is she after...?

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Odessa File (1974)

"You are not even worth a bullet..."

Frederick Forsyth is one of those guilty pleasures; hardly a literary writer, prose that makes no pretensions to be anything more than functional, and (especially late on) somewhat right-wing, Biafra aside. But he's a quick, undemanding writer and, dammit, exciting, so it's no surprise that, after the previous year had brought The Day of the Jackal to the big screen, 1974 should see a second adaptation in the shape of this Anglo-German production, with Hollywood star Jon Voight parachuted in to join the largely Anglo-German cast in a film which manages to impress in spite of all the English- speaking actors putting on comedy German accents. It's odd seeing a young Derek Jacobi in such a small role, but great to see the wonderful Mary Tamm, four years before Doctor Who, playing the leading lady.

It's an interesting artifact from the year of the Watergate scandal, and I think that's a valid thing to say even if the novel was published in the year of said burglary itself, starting with a moment of nostalgia for the very recent past of Kennedy. Except the West Germany of 1963 had some very dark shadows lurks by beneath the prosperity, the flawless constitutional democracy and the Beatles in the Reeperbahn; not all of them were SS, but many Nazis had quietly integrated into society and there was a quiet determination to cover things up, to be in denial: even the head of the police War Crimes Unit attends a deeply disturbing regimental reunion. And that kind of sinister doublethink is what the film is about. Peter Miller may represent a younger, less tainted generation who is horrified by the Holocaust (at last re-emerging as an event in its full enormity into the wider culture in the 1970s) but ultimately motivated by personal reasons.

This is an entertaining and exciting political thriller, even if the characterisation is close to non-existent. But the Holocaust flashbacks- filled in monochrome- certainly stay with you.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Daredevil: Daredevil

"...Or you'd kill him. Which would probably have the same effect on someone as Catholic as you are."

The finale finds time to begin with the funeral of Ben Urich, a good man in a bad world, and it's lovely to see the widowed Doris Urich flat out refusing to blame Karen for his death. It's not lovely for Matt, though; a good man has died, as he see it, because he failed. Fisk has to be stopped now. And so the rest of the episode shows us how the house of cards can fall down very, very quickly.

 It all unravels because of a piece of hubris from an angry Fisk. And that, it seems is a weakness; he angrily kills the traitorous Leland even though said turncoat has an insurance policy in the person of Detective Hoffman. Remember him? That probably wasn't a clever thing to do. Now all Matt has to do is find Hoffman, keep him safe and get him to make a statement to the police.

He and Foggy are making a serious effort to reconcile, but Matt very quickly sets out to find Hoffman and use him to bring Fisk down. And then Fisk falls, very suddenly, to the strains of Nessun Dorma. It's a glorious sequence. And Fisk, heartbreakingly, tries to propose to Vanessa during his arrest but isn't given time. And Matt, Foggy and Karen get to celebrate.

It doesn't last. Fisk is extracted by his underlings and is soon on the run.But Matt has paid a visit to his friend Melvin Potter and we see- after soooo long- the red costume and billy club we've been waiting for. It's not Matt Murdock in a simple black outfit; this is Daredevil. Where has he been?

Daredevil gets his bloody, one-on-one showdown with a desperate Fisk. At last Fisk is finally brought down. We see a bereft Vanessa, a jailbird Fisk, and Daredevil surveys his city from a rooftop. What an episode. What a season. What a programme. After the much-mocked 2003 film at last we have a screen Daredevil to be proud of, with writing and acting of the first rank. Roll on Season Two.


Saturday, 10 December 2016

Daredevil: The Ones We Leave Behind

"It's a difficult thing, isn't it, taking a life?"

It's the penultimate episode plus, you know, that title: we can expect some deaths. And it's interesting to see how we're going to advance towards the finale because, frankly, Fisk seems as impregnable as ever at this point. Especially with Matt and Foggy so far apart, and Karen despairing. Not to mention poor Ben Zurich being fired for flying too close to the Sun.

In an episode all about killing we begin with Karen feeling guilt for killing, albeit in self defence. That is an emotion Fisk will never feel about killing those who get between him and his goals, and he's out for revenge for both Vanessa's poisoning and Wesley's slaying. It now becomes just about feasible that they might be able to wrap up the season in one more episode, but it still feels sudden.

And we also have the shock ending; Ben, about to start a blog exposing Fisk for what he is, is killed in cold blood by Fisk himself in what is a superbly written and acted scene. It's an excellent episode as an individual piece of television, as have so many this season, but surely they've left it a bit late to start wrapping up the season now?


Friday, 9 December 2016

Daredevil: The Path of the Righteous

"We're going through a rough patch."

"I found the Nelson and Murdock sign in the trash."

"A very rough patch."

Fisk shows rare vulnerability as he struggles to save the poisoned Vanessa, while both Matt and Foggy spend much of the episode lying to Karen and not saying why they've fallen out. There's a lead- Karen and Ben know that Fisk killed his dad- but the evidence is weak and it's doubtful they can use it. The situation seems to have hit rock bottom.

Meanwhile, Claire gives Matt the idea of body armour. She'll always be there to patch him up, but her heart is closed to him. He's too dangerous. And Matt's priest then mentions, as part of a philosophical conversation, the Devil as a figure to encourage sinners to find the path of righteousness. We can see where these two things are going. And so he visits Melvin Potter (the Gladiator himself!) to commission a certain set of red-hued items. Daredevil is coming.

Fisk angrily swears revenge on Vanessa's poisoners. He's a fascinating villain portrayed brilliantly by Vincent D'Onofrio. Interestingly, he isn't a psychopath. He has morals, of a kind. What he does he does from a genuine love of his city. It's just the means by which he does it that he's damned himself.

We end with Karen captured by the resourceful Wesley going rogue. She is, it seems, in very deep trouble. And yet, she's resourceful. I don't know about the state of New York, but I think English law would certainly acquit her for what she manages to do in shooting him. Go Karen...

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

"I'm staying. And I'm not buying a gun either."

I don't know too much about Westerns; unless you count the ones by Akira Kurosawa I've only seen The Magnificent Seven, A Fistful of Dollars and Back to the Future Part III, and the first two of those were many years ago. But The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has made a huge impression on me. It's the most profound experience I've had watching a film in recent months. I'm only vaguely aware of the tropes and themes of serious Westerns, but this film has so much subtext I hardly know where to begin. Plus it taught me the etymology of the word "dude", which apparently predates Bill and Ted by a century and a half. Who'd have thunk it?

Much of the film takes place in flashback and structurally would doubtlessly reward repeat viewings. Rance (a likeable and charismatic James Stewart), now a senator, returns with his wife Hallie to a town much changed by the advent of rail travel and the amenities it brings. They are there for the funeral of Tom Doniphon, a fascinating character; cue extended flashback.

A young Rance, travelling by the inevitable stagecoach, is moving west straight from law school. Immediately we have a character representing law and order moving towards an area synonymous with lawlessness, and this thematic tension informs the whole film; justice versus revenge. It's not the kind of cultural reference one usually associates with Westerns, I assume, but I'm reminded of Aeschylus' Oresteia, albeit with a much more ambiguous conclusion. But for now we simply observe Rance trying and failing to apply the rules he knows to his new environment. Liberty Valance will not, as we will see, be tried, convicted and imprisoned.

Rance's antithesis- and love rival- is Tom Doniphon, a hugely watchable and charismatic John Wayne- oh, and did his catchphrase "pilgrim", must beloved of Preacher, come just from this film? Tom is none too intellectual, very old-fashioned with the ladies to put it mildly, and at ease with the rough justice of the west. He's also obviously the alpha male, something which it seems at this point that Rance will never be.

Nevertheless, stubbornly law-abiding Rance begins to have an effect on the town, teaching literacy and generally acting as a mild civilising influence, even rousing the whole (male) town to exercise their franchise and vote in favour of statehood, which is clearly not so much a metaphor of a state of law and civilisation than, well, quite literally that. Men like Rance (and they are men at this time) have power in a state that they do not in a mere territory, and those like Valance, who thrive from lawlessness, are naturally prepared to use violence to prevent the end of their natural habitat.

Rance is slowly gaining in stature and confidence, though. It's precisely his civilising tendencies that lead Hallie to abandon alpha male Tom for him, a sure sign of the way the wind is blowing. But he inevitably ends up in a shootout with Valance... and inexplicably winning, seemingly abandoning all his principles. And yet, as we eventually discover in the film's big reveal, the shooter was in fact a hidden Tom. The character personifying rough justice eventually, despite misgivings, paves the coming of law and order. But he's yesterday's man, and all he can do is provide a future for others, not himself. He's a tragic yet compelling figure.

The flashback ends, we return to the present, and eberyone decides to ignore the inconvenient fact that Rance, who owes his popularity to having killed Valance and now feels quite firmly as though he belongs in a town which has now firmly adapted to his values, did no such thing. Everyone decides to ignore the truth and print the legend. But then, don't we all when it comes to the Old West?

Monday, 5 December 2016

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

"This isn't freedom.This is fear."

HERE BE SPOILERS

This was an extraordinary film when I first saw it at the cinema on my honeymoon and, even with the main twist spoiled, it's an extraordinary film today. The Russo brothers have done a superb job with what is effectively the spy genre of the Marvel superhero films, but Chris Evans is extraordinary too as a World War II Roosevelt New Dealer out of time, struggling to adapt to a time where nobody cares about civil liberties and the military-industrial complex has grown to monstrous proportions.

We begin as Cap bonds with Sam Wilson, another military veteran with similarly invisible scars, and we get a glimpse of Cap's notepad filled with things he needs to catch up on such phenomena as Star Wars, Nirvana (yay!) and the Berlin Wall, "up and down". It isn't long until his first exciting mission, a hostage crisis perpetrated by Cap's old for from the comics, - moustache-free George Batroc. But cracks begin to show between our SHIELD comrades as Cap and Black Widow are given markedly different mission objectives. Cap's complaint to Nick Fury leads to his being shown Operation Insight-a massive and, in Cap's view, disproportionate armoury. How can this be synonymous with freedom?

It can't, or so it seems, as there is a cancer within SHIELD, one that disdains Cap as much as it disdains liberty: HYDRA. And the revelation of this, and that Cap is suddenly hunted prey, is the most shocking and exciting part of the film.

There's so much more, though; Cap's heartbreaking meeting with the elderly Peggy, the nice bit of exposition in the bunker as Arnim Zola spends his last moments as an uploaded AI life form expositing on how HYDRA's takeover of SHIELD came to be, Natasha's general awesomeness, capped by a kick-ass session at a Senate hearing, the whole sequence with Nick Fury under pursuit in the car that leads him to fake his death. But the film is ultimately about the Winter Soldier; Bucky, Cap's oldest friend. Behind the explosions and the awesomeness the film always has a heart.

There's a lot of Marvel life here- HYDRA's targets include "Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange"- but the film is about two things: civil liberties vs. security and friendship. Hence Cap's new yet strong friendship with the Falcon. Hence Bucky being unable, when the moment comes, to kill Cap. It's an incredible film, but it ends with Bucky still at large...

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Swamp Thing (1982)

"Some of the men say it was one of those abdominal snowmen or something."

I came to this film, in spite of Wes Craven helming it, expecting a so-bad-it's-good B movie. Instead I find a film that's genuinely brilliant- pacy, stylishly shot and very well acted.  I really wasn't expecting that.

The South Carolina location looks amazing; it may not be Louisiana, but the swampy landscape certainly looks like it and fills the production with a great deal of atmosphere throughout. At the start it feels like an early '80s horror film, but it isn't; it's very much its own beast. We're introduced to Alice, the genius Alec Holland and the rest of the crew who will shortly die. We quickly get to know the witty, driven, flirty Holland and his invention, a plant/animal hybrid formula. And then, suddenly, they are all shockingly killed, aside from the captured Alice, by the thugs of the sinister Arcane. Already the characterisation, dialogue and direction are far above B movie standard.

There are little oddities- why is the bloke in charge of Alec and his mates a Yorkshireman? And yes, the Swamp Thing costume indeed looks very obviously latex, as such costumes always do and as is always priced in. I'm also inevitably reminded of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. None of this is a problem.Nor is Arcane's delightful moustache-twirling evil. Sometimes it's fun for a baddie just to be bad for the sake of it, and Louis Jourdan is brilliant; fun but stopping short of being hammy.

I think the moment I fell in love with this film was the slow-motion boat attack, which felt completely A-Team. It's a genuine classic that rises far above B movie status.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Thor (2011)

"We don't have horses. Just dogs, cats, birds."

"Then give me one of those large enough to ride!"

So far I haven't seen a bad Marvel Cinematic Universe film and this, while not one of the very best, is no exception. It may be an odd film for Kenneth Branagh to direct but he does a fantastic job, giving us Asgard in all it's spectacular glory exactly as we dreamed of. Chris Hemsworth is a splendid Thor, Anthony Hopkins a brilliant Odin, and Idris Elba an implacably magnificent Heimdall. All this and we get Sif and the Warriors Three. Most of all, we get the extraordinary Tom Hiddleston as the villainous Loki. Natalie Portman also impresses as poor Jane Foster, with her doomed love for a god.

The film strikes exactly the right balance between the fantastical and the ordinary, giving us plenty of spectacle but grounding it in just enough reality to avoid alienation. It also subtly continues the ongoing plot thread with Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson and a post-credits sequence setting up what is to come. There's an obvious basic plot, yes, as the arrogant god learns humility and becomes better, but this is a hugely entertaining couple of hours. But then, Marvel films always are.

Only one thing, though... why didn't they incorporate the theme tune for the 1966 cartoon with the closing titles?

Monday, 28 November 2016

Ghostbusters (1984)

"Do you have any hobbies?"

"I collect spores, moulds and fungus."

It's quite an instructive experience seeing a film you saw at the old Cannon Cinema in Hinckley back in '84, watched tens of times while still in primary school, but haven't actually seen since Thatcher was prime minister. You remember very little until you see it happens, and then the memories flood back. You even find yourself unexpectedly remembering dialogue from the next scene. It's quite surreal.

This is the first time I've seen the film as an adult, and so finally realise what Hittites, Sumerians and Babylonians are, and what a cad and a charlatan Peter Venkman is, and what a creep he is with Dana. But I can also appreciate what may not be laugh-out-loud funny but is a justifiably popular fun classic with a top notch cast. In hindsight it's clear how much this film owes to the then-recent Poltergeist, with lots of that kind of ghost activity, but it never attempts to be a scary film and keeps the tone light and fun.

Rick Moranis s great as the possessed Louis, but William Atherton deserves special praise for his Walter Peck, the perfect pantomime villain. But the whole damn thing justly deserves its status as a true classic.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 2- The Resident Patient

"I don't suppose you've read my monograph on cigars and cigar ash?"

Yes, you guessed it; another brilliant episode, superbly acted as ever, with a genuinely surprising twist although, of course, the Russian count was always more than a little suspicious. John Ringham deserves particular praise as this week's Inspector.

There's a striking opening, too, as Mr. Blessington has a surreal nightmare about finding his own body in a coffin. In hindsight, this is our first clue that his past misdeeds may be catching up with him. His mysterious behaviour is, we eventually learn, essentially his way of laundering the money from his criminal past, but sponsoring the career of a promising yet impecunious youth is certainly not a bad way to invest money.

The revelation is satisfying, and gives us a splendid opportunity to see Holmes do what he does best. Even if there's a convenient piece of karma required at the end.

And... that's it for a while. I've been recording these off ITV Encore and, I fear, a recording clashed and failed to record The Red-Headed League. But I will continue this little marathon as soon as I can...

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 1- The Norwood Builder

"All my instincts are one way and all the facts are the other."

A superb mystery this episode, with Holmes slower on the uptake than usual. It's also the perfect introduction to the perennial Inspector Lestrade, with a battle of wits between them shaping the whole story. The device of having the main suspect for the crime be Holmes' client is a superb one. As is the gradual revelation that the "victim" was not murdered, but simply wanted to have a man hanged just because the man's mother once rejected him.

This one makes you feel clever as a viewer; I admit I may have remembered Conan Doyle's original short story, but I guessed what was going on before Holmes did. Watson, too, plays a genuinely useful investigative role here. And the revelation at the end is truly dramatic and entertaining. I'm genuinely struggling to find a bad episode.


Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 2- The Greek Interpreter

"I'm not built for running, Sherlock!"

In what must have been one of the most long-awaited episodes we finally get to meet the legendary Mycroft Holmes, and the ever-splendid Charles Gray, reprising his role from The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, does not disappoint. The central mystery is engaging too and, again, dark.

Our introduction to the sedentary genius Mycroft is well-written, superbly acted and rather faithful to the books, although what leaps up to me is that this unparalleled genius seems to do no more for his living than to audit the books for a civil service department. No hints of espionage, then. At least not yet.

The entertainment value inherent in seeing the two brothers interacting again distracts us somewhat from the nastiness of what is going on, but there's no doubting the excellence of the episode. Two episodes in and this series is unfailingly excellent so far.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 2- The Copper Beeches

"There has been some villainy here..."

Yet again we have a governess (a young Natasha Richardson) called Violet as usual, troubled by the odd behaviour of her employer Mr Rucastle (a gleefully entertaining Joss Ackland), and a splendidly entertaining story of an imprisoned daughter that gets more than a little Charlotte Bronte at the end.

Again, though, the subtext is of the countless young Victorian girls who are being horribly oppressed by these patriarchal figures everywhere, which is really quite dark. And, as Holmes and Watson travel on the train down to deepest, darkest Hampshire, Holmes speaks of how the pretty houses of the countryside are to him a symbol not of beauty but of isolation, of "the impunity with which crimes may be committed". Behind this often light-hearted episode lies some real darkness.

There have been some fine episodes of late but, unlike the first series, the second series starts with one of the finest episodes yet.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 1- The Blue Carbuncle

"Mr. Holmes, the goose! The goose, Mr. Holmes!"

"Well, what of it, man? Has it come back to life and flapped through the kitchen window?"

A splendid Christmas episode here, with geese, snow, some first class dialogue and, best of all, Ken Campbell.

A famous jewel has been stolen and an innocent man arrested, while there seems to be an awful lot of commotion about a goose. These two plot threads dovetail spectacularly as Holmes gives us a fine example of his deductive powers and the episode ends up giving us plenty of Christmas cheer as an innocent man is freed and Holmes discreetly let's the culprit off just because it's Christmas. He may be a cold fish but no Scrooge he.

The most fun part is probably Holmes' analysis of Henry Baker's hat, but this is a particularly fine episode throughout. A fine conclusion to a fine first series. Roll on series two.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 1- The Speckled Band

"You scoundrel, Sir! I've heard of you before. You are Holmes the meddler. Holmes the busybody. Holmes the Scotland Yard jack-in-office!"

We get a variation of the trope here. Holmes is visited by a young woman living in a big house that is being terrorised by a bounder and a cad acting as patriarch, yes, but this time she's the step-daughter and not, as is more usual, a governess. The villain revels in the splendidly dastardly name of Dr. Grimesby Roylott, and is plotting to kill his step-daughter for her inheritance. With a snake, naturally.

This episode ticks all the usual splendid boxes, with some suitably Holmesian dialogue for Jeremy Brett to deliver as only he can. And Holmes handles the case superbly, with rather more actual deductive ability that he showed last episode. Not bad for a case which begins at such an ungodly hour.

And, of course, beneath it all is the awful position of the unmarried young Victorian women at the mercy of such horrid patriarchs as this. No wonder so many of them seek Holmes' help.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 1- The Crooked Man

"Whoever heard of a dog running up a curtain?"

Another excellent episode, and the debut of yet another Sherlock Holmes trope; the bitter and betrayed military man, back from India for revenge. It's a superbly done piece of telly, based on one of Conan Doyle's more memorable short stories; not strictly a whodunit, but making up for that with spectacle, a mongoose and dramatic pacing. There isn't even any real detective work from Holmes, but it's all so well done you don't notice.

It's also the debut of another trope, the extended flashback from the Indian Mutiny on a television budget, and somewhat startling to see a young Fiona Shaw so soon after her turn in Tru Blood. It's incredible to reflect at this point that we're only five episodes in. The format, the look of the series, and the performances of the two leads (Brett especially) feel as though they've been in place for years.

This is the first episode, though, that doesn't quite feel as though it's from a very different time, as it may have done in 1984. Wars in south Asia are, alas, a thing of recent memory to us too.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 1- The Solitary Cyclist

"Did I really do remarkably badly?"

"Yes."

The first example of a big Sherlock Holmes trope debuts this episodes, as a young governess in a strange big house seeks Holmes' services. We'll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing. But here we have a splendid tale of bicycles, silly disguises, lechery, forced marriage and South African skulduggery. Woodley, a true blackguard, is given a South African accent to show how nasty he is; it is 1984, after all, and apartheid is still practised.

The second best bit is when Holmes sends Watson off on a little mission and then bollocks him for his lack of observation although, of course, Watson's hunch eventually proves to be part of the solution. But the real best bit, of course, is the most Victorian bar brawl ever, with Holmes duffing up a "ruffian" whilst loudly proclaiming throughout that he is fighting like a "gentlemen". Naturally it ends in a round of applause...

It's another first class bit of telly from a series that hasn't had a misfire since A Scandal in Bohemia. The series is only four episodes in, but has felt fully formed for at least three. Superb.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 1- The Naval Treaty

"Help yourself to tobacco from the Persian slipper!"

SPOILERS

Apparent diplomatic intrigue as a treaty is stolen, seemingly by an agent of the French or the Russians; there's even a red herring with a French-sounding name. But the real culprit is, of course, obvious; he's played by the most famous actor, which tends to be a dead giveaway, in this case the sometime star of Blake's 7.

There's a lot here to remind us of just how weird late Victorian times were, though. Percy Phelps is what they used to call "highly strung", a condition not much seen nowadays. But he's posh, well-connected, and has managed to get himself a much sought-after job in the foreign office as an... office dogsbody. Yes, this posh bloke does the late Victorian equivalent of the photocopying for a living.

The tale is well told, bookended by amusing scenes of Holmes doing chemistry with a proper chemistry set complete with various weirdly-shaped glass vessels and bubbling liquids. Holmes, contemplating a beautiful flower, reveals his belief in a superior being. And we have the first of many resentful and contrary inspectors, in contrast to The Dancing Men's fawning example. And that's two superb episodes in a row.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 1- The Dancing Men

"Sherlock Holmes is cheerful, so Sherlock Holmes must have a case."

At last a proper episode with a mystery to solve- and it's a bloody brilliant one. We have code breaking (shades of Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold-Bug here in Watson's explanation; Poe looms large with the Sherlock Holmes stories), some Derbyshire local character, some Chicago underworld intrigue, a truly engaging mystery, and a gripping story through out. Mind you, it doesn't look very impressive to me that Holmes manages to get his client killed by waiting too long for a telegram. Still, never mind.

The code breaking scenes are particular god fin, as is Holmes' extraordinary rudeness to poor Hilton Cubitt. The crime scene deductions are truly satisfying, and it's amusing to see a provincial inspector so enraptured by all that Holmes says and does. This is the first time and not the last that a professional will defer to this gentleman amateur.

This, of course, is a far more accurate example of what this series is going to be like than A Scandal in Bohemia, and it sets the bar high. And those things that haven't changed- the sumptuous Victorian visuals and Brett's sublime performance- are what truly sets these adaptations apart.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Suspicion (1941)

"What did you think I was trying to do? Kill you?"

In hindsight it's easy to see why this isn't one of Hitchcock's most well-known films. Oh, Joan Fontaine and Cary Grant are their usual charismatic selves and the direction is, as one might expect, superb. Except that the story upon which the film is based is both not that good and somewhat lacking in suspense. Essentially, rich heiress Lina marries gambling ne'er-do-well Johnnie, who is irresponsible but has a good heart, ad the film comes up with unconvincing and contrived reasons for her to suspect him of trying to kill her for her money. Even the idea that he might be a killer is broached late in the film, never seems convincing even with Hitchcock;s bag of tricks as a result of the script failing to establish him as a potential threat, and the frantic ending just feels odd and at variance with the rest of the film.

It's notable how very posh the milieu of the film appears to be, just as there doesn't seem to be a war on; our couple honeymoon in Paris, Monaco and Italy- in 1941. It's engaging for much of its length, and both Joan Fontaine and Cary Grant are obviously watchable. Just... don't necessarily make this the only Hitchcock film you ever see.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Series 1- A Scandal in Bohemia

"It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data."

Yes, I know: I'm doing so many TV series at the minute, some of which are on a bit of an unfortunate hiatus (in the case of Buffy and Angel it's a missing disc in a DVD box set!). But this is being shown on ITV Encore, I have fond memories of it, and I couldn't resist. So, you know, soz and that.

And everything about it screams class. Jeremy Brett is peerless, of course. David Burke is an engaging, if traditionally bumbling and alarmingly reactionary, Watson. The way Victorian London is presented is visually sumptuous and wonderful; this programme was made in 1984, yet its depiction of the 1880s hasn't dated in the way that programmes from the 1970s often have. It all promises much. Except... A Scandal in Bohemia has always been one of the worst Sherlock Holmes stories and a well-polished turd is still a turd.

Yes, there's Irene Adler, but she isn't really any more than a plot device and the actress is pretty blah. So much for "The Woman". And what the story's really about is trying to make sure that a philandering European royal (a hypothetical "King of Bohemia"- Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary?) gets away with his awful behaviour simply because he's royal. Holmes and Watson even break the law to help him. No one seems to stop and think that the King is just some over-privileged laddish twonk. But, of course, it's the 1880's.

There are interesting titbits- Holmes cocaine addiction is mentioned from the start, Holmes as asexual (a bit of a thing with late Victorian men) is explored as an idea, and we see Holmes in disguise for the first time. But, I think, we'll have to wait a week before we see the series really start.























































































































Sunday, 20 November 2016

Superman III (1983)

"I just don't believe a man can fly..."

Well, this is a very odd way to do a Superman film. We've had two films based very much on the existing mythology but here we have a perfectly entertaining film in which Richard Pryor is superb, but there's very little about the Superman mythos here, even with the same director helming the film. Even the Kryptonite used to turn Superman nasty isn't red. And Robert Vaughn, while excellent, seems to be playing an ersatz Lex Luthor. Lois Lane conveniently sods off at the start so Clark Kent can get all romantic with Lana Lang. And the film starts with an extended sequence of physical comedy. It's a very odd instalment in the series. Thing is, though, when looked at simply as a film, this is actually rather good.

Gus Gorman is unemployed, lazy, but likeable, and when he turns out to be an unlikely computer genius (of a very early '80s type) and much chaos ensues, although the film is always careful to keep him likeable and make it clear that he isn't a bad sort. We also have a rare film appearance from Pamela Stephenson as a bimbo who enjoys reading Kant.

The scenes where Superman deals with the fire at the chemical plant are awesome, and there's some good character stuff in Smallville with Clark and Lana. But possibly the best bit is Superman straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

We end with a very '80s huge computer that Superman has to fight to avoid being turned into a cyborg, after a rather cliched fight in a junkyard between evil Superman and Clark Kent. It's a very weird approach to a Superman film, and I'm bemused as to how this script ever got to be the way it is. But, bizarrely, the film works.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Victoria: Young England

"She is not a queen. And I am not a cow!"

The final episode of this excellent series, then and... yes, it's an ex use for me to start yet another new series now that this has finished, but that's for later. For now all eyes are on the Queen, who is visited by her uncles, the kings of Belgium and (the sinister heir apparent should she do a Charlotte) Hanover. Meanwhile, Albert's brother Ernest (not to be confused with the Duke of Cumberland) arrives back in England and proves not to be quite as much of a bounder and a cad as we had thought.

Vicky may be the most powerful woman who has ever lived but she nevertheless chafes under the many little tyrannies of pregnancy, something portrayed quite brilliantly by Jenna Coleman. But it's quite a sweet episode, with a happy ending to our downstairs romance, Vicky and Albert clearly being in love, and ending with the birth of little Princess Victoria, who will later beget Kaiser Wilhelm II. It's a low-key, gentle but nevertheless well written ending to a series I've rather enjoyed.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Victoria: Engine of Change

"The Queen has requested a dish of bacon and peas."

Vicky is the Queen, and thus has privileges; personal performances by no less a personage than Georg Friedrich Handel, for example. But she has no exemptions from the experiences of pregnancy, and the first part of this episode charts the general realisation that pregnant she certainly is. Albert is lovingly overjoyed, but she is justifiably afraid; the precedent of Princess Charlotte is not an encouraging one.

Lord M may still be PM, just about, but the focus now moves to Sir Robert Peel, for he is the future; Albert likes him. The Queen is still unconvinced. This difference of views is echoed by their respective views of the railways, also the future, and a trip to a staunchly anti-progress Tory household in Staffordshire sees all this play out. Peel and the railways are, of course, aligned, with Albert being tempted from a lonely Vicky's bedside to play trains.

Annoyingly, Vicky must appoint a regent in case she should suffer Charlotte's fate; her choice of Albert is not popular with the many anti-Europeans in Parliament (they're just as uncaring of the country's true interests today), but supporting her allows Peel to curry her favour, and perhaps we can see the beginnings of a thaw.

Meanwhile there's a rather sweet romance going on downstairs involving decadent helpings of chocolate, and Vicky gets her own invigorating train ride. As ever this is history brilliantly sculpted into the shape of drama, and Coleman is deeply likeable as always.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Humans: Season 2, Episode 2

"Why do you hurt us?"

Two episodes in, and both the plot and the philosophical subtext become clearer. At one extreme we have Hester, the Malcolm X of the synths, who hates the oppressive humans and has no compunction about killing them. On the other we have Niska, synth, avid reader of philosophy and, as she's determined to be tried as a human would be for the murder she has committed, someone rather likely to have read The Outsider. This series seems to have moved on from literary sci-fi to French existentialism. I like it.

Niska is the most fascinating character- but she has competition. Mattie, for one, manages to work out what Niska has done with her disk, and that synths are slowly becoming sentient; just the odd one for now but... where will it end? Mattie is also quite brazenly restoring the late lamented Odi in plain sight, which shows an admirable amount of brazen cheek. I love her. Then we have the wise gentle Max, and the kind and loving Mia, who suffers heartbreak here from nothing but an act of kindness.And then we see Kate and Pete again, their relationship having grown rather lovely. Meanwhile, over in that country which seems to think that handing loads of power to Donald Trump is a good idea, Athena has decided to go to England and visit our old friend Hobb.

To an extent things are still setting up, and perhaps it's taking more time this series for things to really start to be sublime, but the philosophical heart is already there.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008)

"I'll be bored to death by sheep and hobbits!"

Yes, you guessed correctly; I watched this with Mrs Llamastrangler, being a 39 year old man who doesn't usually watch films aimed at teenage girls. But this was an entertaining and diverting film which held my attention throughout, however illegal I may think it should be to be that young. And it's weird seeing QI's very own Alan Davies as a father figure.

It's a standard plot for a film aimed at teenage girls, really, but I enjoyed the fact that it's set in,of all places, Eastbourne. I also enjoyed the fact that the PE teacher is Osgood from Doctor Who, and the very deliberately obvious animatronic cat. It's fair to say this isn't the sort of film I'd probably choose to watch, but it's well-acted, shot and written for its audience and even I enjoyed it.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 6: Secrets

"There's walkers in the barn and Lori's pregnant!"

This is an episode of revelations and, again, a very well written treatment of the characters but... isn't this season going awfully slowly?

We now know why Herschel wants Rick and co to leave so quickly- he's keeping his zombie family members in the barn from a heartrendingly stubborn belief that they're just sick people who can one day be cured- an attitude that has been much hinted at; he's a good man, but not the kind of good man this new world needs. Especially as Glenn is pants at keeping secrets.

There's an underlying theme here, established visually at the start, of carnivorousness and the food chain, an ominous metaphor. This apparent stability at the farm now seems all the more illusory with all these secrets. It's hard to adjust to this new world, as we see with Lori and Rick arguing over whether Carl should learn to shoot- and whether Lori should keep the baby. It's unquestionably Rick's; her angst, it seems, is far more existential. What sort of life could the baby have? Yet humanity must endure.

Maggie is furious at Glenn and therefore, this being TV drama with all its attendant tropes, ends up aggressively kissing him as the prelude to some no doubt angry sex. Shane, fresh from kissing his shooting pupil Andrea, is accused by Dale of not telling the truth about Otis; showing a truly dark side. I doubt either of them will survive the season.

It's a heartwarming ending, though, with Lori and Rick coming to terms over the baby- and he knows, of course he does, about her and Shane, and understands. Rick is a good man.

All this is plenty of evidence of good writing, I suppose. I just wish something would happen.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Doctor Strange (2016)

"What's this? My mantra?"

"It's the wi-fi password. We're not savages."

This may not be the best Marvel film ever, perhaps. It's not even the second best I've seen this year. But you know what? It doesn't need to be. Yes, it may be a fairly standard fantasy/sci-fi plot to the point that you know the Ancient One's going to die because Obi-Wan Kenobi, but it's standard stuff done very well, shot superbly with some splendidly trippy and Ditko-esque magic special effects and the perfect Stephen Strange in Benedict Cumberbatch, who not only plays the character superbly but looks exactly like him. There's no witty dialogue, which is odd for a Marvel film, but the brilliantly stylised and trippy direction and effects really elevate the film visually.

The Escher-esque weirdness with the cityscapes of London and New York is what I'll probably remember most from a film with a deliberately predictable plot, but the film just looks and feels exactly as Doctor Strange should. It feels trippy, Ditko and as psychedelic as the snippet of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" that we hear at the start. It doesn't feel like a Marvel film, but then Doctor Strange never felt much like the Marvel Universe anyway.

So, yes, an average Marvel film, if very far from a typical one. But Marvel set the bar high, and an average film of theirs is well worth seeing.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 5: Chupacabra

"Don't be too hard on yourself. We've all wanted to shoot Daryl."

Again we begin with a flashback, this time of Lori, Shane and Carl making their way away from the many others fleeing and observing as Atlanta gets napalmed. It makes you appreciate the sheer horror of events while Rick was asleep and how they were just trying to do what was best. It's a contrast to the present day where a darker, balder, nastier Shane wants to give up the search for Sophia.

Where is Sophia? This sub-plot is being dragged out so long that she can't simply be dead. Daryl is certainly dedicated to finding her, leading to his accident and his getting unfortunately shot by Andrea. Worst of all, he has a hallucination of his deeply unpleasant brother that feels, at first, as though Merle is genuinely back. Foreshadowing?

There's a fascinating conversation between Dale and Glenn which illustrates, again, how women's rights have gone backwards, subtly and otherwise, since civilisation ended. Maggie is a grown woman, but Dale is terrified that Glenn may have offended their host Herschel by sleeping with his daughter Maggie. She is, in a sense, property; that's the implication.

We end with an awkward dinner showcasing tension between the two groups, and Glenn discovering that Herschell is keeping a bunch of zombies in a hidden place. It's quite a cliffhanger, and quite a well-crafted plot line as ever, but this season is beginning to feel a little too slow-paced.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Humans: Season 2, Episode 1

"If I was here to kill you all, I wouldn't have rung the bell..."

It's always been interesting to speculate how the second season might go; the first season, after all, was based on a Swedish original. This season is uncharted territory and seems to be exploring very real themes. There's the very real threat to our jobs from robots, for a start- even Joe's management job isn't safe. And then there's the ever-present Singularity, which here has only just occurred and which, with Niska's uploading of the disk, is beginning to spread.

This in turn raises further questions about using synths as slaves- here we see a hellish Bolivian mine (poor Ten), and factory worker Hester, whose owners see her simply as property much as slave owners once did. These are rich themes.

We begin, though, in Berlin, as Niska starts an abortive relationship with poor Astrid while reading lots of philosophy- this being Germany, we naturally get a bit of Hegel. And the episode ends, of course, with Niska asking the Hawkins family to try her for murder like a human, an interesting twist. Oh, and Max is alive, a cause of much rejoicing, and still with Leo and Mia, who is as kind as ever.

Laura and Joe are still working through their relationship ship, and it's fascinating to see them with a synth relationship counsellor, played by an excellent Josie Lawrence. And the whole family is, of course, suffering with not being able to reveal what they know.

There's a new sub-plot in San Francisco, too; none other than Carrie-Ann Moss plays Athena, a professor who has secretly created an AI, eventually agreeing to help the very rich Khoury (Tommy from True Blood) to study the newly sentient synths.

As ever for a first episode this is all really set-up. But the world-building is brilliant as ever. I'm excited...

Monday, 31 October 2016

Superman II (1980)

"Well, geez, Mr. White! That's terrible!"

"That's why they call them 'terrorists', Kent..."

I'll come back to the Richard Donner cut later; this blog post is about the theatrical release credited to Richard Lester; a straightforwardly directed, action-packed and, without comparing it to the other cut, magnificent film with only two drawbacks, both of which are arguably excusable in context.

This is 1980; to produce a superhero film that is both excellent viewing for a wide audience- with romance as well as thrills- and to remain broadly faithful to the spirit of the comics while doing this is  a considerable achievement. Mario Puzo's script (what a writer to get!) respects the characters on their own terms while giving us a truly epic tale of a god who gives up his powers for love and ultimately gives up his chance of happiness for the greater good. We're halfway to the cliche that is a Christ metaphor but it isn't overdone. I'm not sure that Superman's regaining his powers is adequately explained- finding the crystal at the Fortress of Solitude is not really enough- but I suppose we don't have to be splinter anything. More problematic is the reset button at the end, both in narrative terms (it renders the romance between Lois and Clark meaningless after all they've been through and all the weight that was placed upon it) and in terms of the simple fact that the main female character has her freedom of action taken away be a man to the point of altering her memory, which is undoubtedly a kind of violation. Still... it's only 1980.

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder are superb as individuals and, just as importantly, together; they carry this film. Terence Stamp is an effective if actually underplayed villain; I would have liked a little more overacting for a part like this. It's surprising to see Clifton James from Live and Let Die here... in Idaho??? Is the state really as southern as its being portrayed here?

All that notwithstanding, though, this is easily the best superhero film up to this point and arguably for many years after. The bar is well and truly set.

Theatre of Blood (1973)

"Critics all make errors. We're only human."

"An opinion I find myself incapable of sharing!"

Before I'd even watched a frame of this it was abundantly clear that it was spiritually a second sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes; Vincent Price plays an eccentric craving revenge and drawn to carrying out a series of grotesque murders upon a particular theme. In this case, with Edward Lionheart being a bad Shakespearean actor (I wonder how Price reacted to being offered the part of a ham actor...?), the theme of the murders is Shakespeare, the Titus Andronicus one naturally being the best, the play being just as Grand Guignol as the film itself.

Such a premise cannot fail and, indeed, it doesn't. Unlike the Dr. Phibes films this is set in the present day, but otherwise it feels much the same and follows the same template. The plot may be predictable but it's all about the spectacle. Diana Rigg is superb as Lionheart's daughter and accomplice and the murdered critics include the likes of Arthur Lowe and Dennis Price. We even get a scene, Avengers fans, in which Diana Rigg and Ian Hendry are in a car together.

It may not be big, it may not be clever- although it certainly appeals to the Shakespeare geek- but it sure is fun.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Carry On Sergeant (1958)

"Your rank?"

"Well, that's a matter of opinion..."

It's almost a cliche to point out that the first of the Carry Ons is not in any way like what we would later think of as a Carry On film. There's relatively little smut, not many of the tropes and it feels very much like a one-off comedy about National Service. William Hartnell is excellent in one of his signature sergeant roles- he was horribly typecast at this point- while Bob Monkhouse is, well, Bob Monkhouse. But the film is only mildly diverting, holding the attention but not exactly a laugh a minute. What raises a so-so script from mediocrity are the performances of certain members of its ensemble cast.

Charles Hawtrey, to begin with, is a huge comic talent wherever he appears. And you know exactly what to expect from him. Kenneth Connor is superb in his major role as Horace here, and a strangely non-camp Kenneth Williams impresses in what is only a middling part. Hattie Jacques is also superb as the exasperated doctor. This is a textbook case of a film being elevated by its cast.

Yet Hartnell, too, is an excellent straight man and it's a shame this is his only Carry On. It's a film well worth seeing for the performances and the curiosity value.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Airplane! (1980)

"I haven't felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan film."

Obviously this is a true cinematic comedy classic from what would become the Naked Gun team, a harbinger of a style of humour that will prove successful and funny, time and time again. Equally obviously, it's a spoof of the many high profile disaster movies of the '70s. And, for my hat trick of pointing out the bleeding obvious, it marks Leslie Neilsen's great career shift from square jawed straight actor to the master of deadpan absurdist comedy.

Watching it today it's very funny, of course, but also very much of its time- a world where everyone smokes, Afros abound and there are copious references to disco and a recent war which is carefully not stated to be Vietnam. The cast are universally brilliant, but the standout turns are from Lloyd Bridges and the extraordinary Nielsen. The jokes about the captain being a pederast are a little disturbing, mind.

Often, as here, there's only so much that can be said about a brilliantly successful comedy, and I admit I'm probably not getting all of the pop culture references, but this is possibly my favourite comedy film not made by the Monty Python troupe. And that's high praise indeed.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Quatermass 2 (1957)

"This is the food, and it burns..."

I understand this is the first ever time a sequel was demarcated with the number "2" in the title?

It's interesting seeing this so shortly after its TV predecessor, as I was unable to do with the last film for obvious reasons; it all seems so rushed and fast paced. So many characters don't appear. The ending is more rushed than anything. No one goes into space. And Sid James is playing Roger Delgado. That's weird.

Add to that the fact that Brian Donlevy isn't at all likeable and you have a film that seems to be treading water and is disturbingly lacking in charm. Yes, it's in colour, it's often on location and it's all so much more expensive, but the sense of scale is so much less. There's only a vague sense of where the meteorites come from and the end- just firing a rocket- comes as a sudden deus ex machina. And don't get me started on all those Cockney natives of Cumbria.

Something of a damp squib, then, although I'm left wondering if I'd have liked it more if the TV series hadn't have survived.

Quatermass II: Episode 6- The Destroyers

"This should have been a great moment..."

Mere weeks after a probe was landed on a comet it's instructive to watch this, where Quatermass and Leo make a manned flight to the aliens' comet home, one without fanfare or glory. But Nigel Kneale doesn't do fanfare or glory.

It's a fitting, tension-fuelled and deeply tragic finale, as the likeable boffin Leo meets a horrible end and the final shot is of a visibly shattered Quatermass. Still, cheer up; the great Cyril Shaps unexpectedly turns up. And it's clear that there was never a time when he looked young.

There's some hope, I suppose, in that the aliens are thwarted and those who are controlled, including Dillon, are themselves again. But the price, as always with Kneale, is high indeed. Trying landmark television.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Quatermass II: Episode 5- The Frenzy

"And we've only wiped out a single nest..."

The penultimate episode is a tension-fuelled base under siege narrative as Quatermass and the striking workers are trapped in the factory by the murderous aliens whose promises of lenient treatment are horrible broken; the scene where blood drops from the pile is horrifying. This is a lesson on how to build tension and suspense without actually showing much of the threat; television as theatre rather than cinema.

Our friends win out but, as the quote says, this is just one of many nests. And we end with the aliens in control of the Rocket Group- in the person of John Dillon. 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Quatermass II- Episode 4: The Coming

"I'm not listening to reason..."

This is, of course, the episode that climaxes with the excellent Roger Delgado as journalist Conrad, infected  by the alien has, makes a desperate and probably fruitless phone call back to the news desk before he inevitably succumbs to its effects. And we end with a glimpse at the alien, which looks absolutely nothing like a kind of proto-Nestene. Absolutely not, guv.

Before that, though, we have both Quatermass theorising on somewhat dodgy grounds that the alien consciousness comes from a moon of Saturn. He seems on firmer ground in theorising that it may be a hive mind. He's brave though, Quatermass, stopping at nothing to investigate this plant and always getting away unharmed, whatever vile fate always seems to be incurred by those whose help he enlists. He's not an entirely sympathetic character, whether you consider him as written or with the harder edge as portrayed by John Robinson. He's certainly called a lot of people fools so far. I suspect he isn't, quite, the voice of the author.

Nevertheless, this is still first class telly.


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Quatermass II- Episode 3: The Food

"These questions must not be asked!"

This time round I noticed it: the father at the picnic is played by Sydney Bromley, who would (much) later play Engywook in The NeverEnding Story. Fancy that.

The plot thickens further as Bromhead is seemingly brainwashed, the picture quality unfortunately decreases (but we should be glad to have this at all), and Quatermass sneakily arranges to be let into the plant for a look. All this happens gradually, extracting maximum suspense and mystery, and allows time for Quatermass to be gloriously rude to people.

Quatermass is brave to visit the plant: it seems that most whom have visited before eventually came back... changed. The food produced seems not to be amenable to human consumption, And the domes appear to be intended to support an ammonia breathing life form in the same way as Quatermass imagined domes on the Moon. At last we have an inkling of the nature of the threat.

We end back at the lab, with asteroids approaching. Excellent, still.

Daredevil: Nelson v. Murdock

"A blind old man taught you the ways of martial arts. Isn't that the plot to Kung Fu?"

This episode is both an extraordinary character piece, earned by the way the characters has been gradually developed, and brace in making the early decision to have Foggy discover Matt's secret early on. Not to do so would have risked making Foggy appear stupid, and doing so allows for this rich examination of the relationship between the two of them, complete with flashbacks. It's an extraordinary episode. And you always side with Foggy in the brilliant philosophical debates.

We also get an interesting scene between Fisk and Madam Gao which, after the ending of the episode, looks like foreshadowing; will he choose light or dark? And we see heartbreaking scenes of the dementia of Doris Ulrich. Poor Ben. But Doris' dementia is key to an important plot development, if a rather convenient plot coincidence; Fisk's mother happens to be the person Ben and Karen visit at a care home they're thinking about for Doris. Could this be the lead Ben needs?

Fisk, meanwhile, is at a charity event of his where the wine is poisoned. He doesn't drink any- but Vanessa does. I suspect she'll die..

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Quatermass II- Episode 2: The Mark

"Dillon, there's something on your face!"

The plot thickens as Quatermass finds odd and evasive goings-on at the mysterious factory site, and Dillon is taken away without explanation. Even odder, these people have friends in high places, there are identical facilities in Brazil and the Soviet Union, and we end with Quatermass and his tenacious northern MP friend Bromhead finding that it's official representatives all have that distinctive mark.

Wilfred Brambell appears as a tramp with a strangely southern accent and a willingness to provide useful exposition. Quatermass makes a thundering speech on civil liberties- John Robinson is splendidly rude at times, and an obvious influence on Jon Pertwee's Doctor. And the meteorites, it seems, are not natural objects. The pace is slow, but this provides for atmosphere and intrigue. This is just as good as the first episode; telly of the very first rank.

Quatermass II- Episode 1: The Bolts

"Things were better when there was less government about!"

The second series of this famously pub-emptying and pioneering piece of television starts out as superbly as the first, although John Robinson, who does a good job in the circumstances, has clearly been parachuted into the part of Quatermass at the last moment. This tale of hollow alien meteorites being sent from above with nefarious purposes has been deeply influential (as we Doctor Who fans well know). Yet it obviously comes from another age, when scientists were treated with deference and the power of the benevolent State is questioned only by silly old men. Even a science fiction conspiracy theory thriller like this, in 1955, can casually have all of its heroes be public sector employees.

The early scenes with the soldiers would have had an extra resonance, too, in the days of National Service. And the flourishing and ambitious British space programme- prior to the awful disaster- reflects a very pre-Suez view of national importance.

It's a slow-paced start, full of unease and subtexts everywhere. The opening titles are, again, inspired and forward-looking. This is brilliant, first class telly.

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

"Planet, schmanet, Janet."

I'm not sure, in hindsight, that watching this film on the telly, alone, after Mrs Llamastrangler had an early night; it's a film that should be watched with others and with audience participation. Oh, I enjoyed it, but I've seen the live show- and can do the Timewarp flawlessly, he said, trying to keep a straight face- which was a much more fun experience than seeing the film. It falls rather flat when watched alone on a small screen. I've seen it, but not, I suspect, at its best.

Still, I love Tim Curry's performance. And the Charles Gray cutaways are a brilliantly cinematic touch. The design is inspired, the clothes a clear influence on punk fashion. And, well, it's Rocky Horror. And this time I get the film references. It's an inspired one-off, and it's amazing to think that such a very LGBT film was getting such a following back in 1975, just eight years after homosexuality was legalised in England and Wales- and was still illegal in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Brad and Janet, the essence of heteronormativity, are thrust into a joyously gay, bisexual, transsexual milieu which gleefully seizes control of the narrative from them- and note that Frank N Furter's sin is none of this, but the murder of Eddie; his alien executioners are as LGBT as he is.

I enjoyed this film but, well, it's not one to be watched alone.


Friday, 14 October 2016

Marvel's Agent Carter: Hollywood Ending

"I don't speak megalomaniac. Fortunately Mr. Stark does."

I've got a lot of TV series on the go and have started three more lately; time to finish one, I think. And the last episode of this season- indeed, it seems, the last episode ever- delivers in spades.

There are several types of season finales; this one, quite appropriately is a fun romp with lots of action, the good guys winning and Peggy finally getting the guy (Daniel) in a knowingly and delightfully cliched way. But the main thing is, of course, Howard Stark arriving like a whirlwind and, while not saving the day, becoming an indispensable part of the team with his wit and genius and, rather neatly, ending up with giving Jason a job; few others would in the racist 1940s. Even
Manfredi joins in as everyone uses cleverness to stop Whitney at long last. All this, and Howard putting golf balls into the portal to zero matter, as you do.

We end on a cliffhanger, as Jack is mysteriously shot dead and the dirt on Peggy stolen. Will
This ever get resolved? Regardless, this is a superb ending to an excellent two seasons. I'll miss Peggy Carter and co.


Thursday, 13 October 2016

Foxy Brown (1974)

"You pink-ass corrupt honky judge, take your little wet noodle outta here and if you see a man anywhere send him in because I do need a man."

I've already blogged one Blaxploitation film; why not, I thought, blog another, this time an iconic one that actually stars Pam Grier herself? Well, this is certainly a watchable film and possibly the most '70s thing ever. I mean, Huggy Bear is in it. And it's always good to see Sid Haig.

Foxy is, essentially, setting out to avenge her murdered cop boyfriend armed with no more than a gun, a whole lot of sass and some enormously cliched dialogue. There's not a lot more to it than that but it's enormous fun, and Grier certainly has the charisma. There are car chases, there is action, but it's all about her. And..  that's about all that can be said about the film.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Marvel's Agent Carter: A Little Song and Dance

"We walk? We walk?! This is your grand plan???!!!"

It's unusual, and refreshing, that this penultimate episode begins with a little damage to the fourth wall- well, a dream sequence at least- in the form of a big song and dance number, featuring cast members past and present, culminating in Peggy's having to choose between Daniel and Jason. Then Peggy wakes up.

We still get a fast-moving, witty and fun piece of television, though, as Peggy and Jarvis first escape and then have a character moment in which they fall out and then reconcile. But here we face the fact that, for Jarvis, this has all been an adventure and that, with Ana's injury meaning infertility, this and s the first time that he, unlike Peggy, has to face the consequences.

Meanwhile Whitney tortures Jason to get the zero matter out of him and the rest of our friends, including Jack Thompson, are forced into an uneasy alliance with Masters to stop Whitney. This leads to a wonderful moment where the escaped Peggy walks into Masters' office and starts giving him a right old kicking. But soon they're all off, with yet another MacGuffin, to stop the troublesome Miss Frost. But, in amongst these scenes of action, double crossing and triple crossing, there's a heart-warming chat between Edwin and Ana Jarvis and, in a nice touch, we only watch silently through a window as he breaks the sad news to her. We end with Vernon Masters, a betrayer betrayed, suffering his deserved fate at the hands of Whitney as Jason walks into the room and explodes...

An awesome piece of television that really heightens my excitement for the finale.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (David Kerr, 2016)

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

It's tempting to belittle the work of adapting Shakespeare- after all, the words are already written and can hardly be much improved upon- but this adaptation by Russell T. Davies, fitting into a tidy ninety minutes, reminds us that there's a real artistry to it. The words, although abridged, may be Shakespeare's, but this production is fresh and original. Top marks for the casting, too, letting the likes of Bernard Cribbins and Richard Wilson play minor roles and leaving the principals (Theseus, Titania and Bottom aside) to promising newcomers.

John Hannah's Theseus is dictator of a totalitarian state, festooned with fascistic imagery, and Hippolyta is his prisoner, the spoils of war, kept rather kinkily in a constant state of bondage. All this fits in rather well with Egeus' tyranny towards his daughter Helena, of course, and makes a nice constraint with the humanity of the "mechanicals", rehearsing in their pub with Matt Lucas being rather good as Bottom. I love everyone's hostility to Theseus on the pub telly.

The final act looks rather different with this slant on the play, with Theseus literally dying of laughter from the mechanicals' play and the end of tyranny. As a final touch we see that Hippolyta is in fact a fairy, and that Oberon and Titania have been plotting her rescue all this time. An inspired take on the play which looks magnificent throughout.


Friday, 7 October 2016

The Mouse That Roared (1959)

"Even a complete nincompoop like Tully can't spoil this war."

It's a nice idea- an obscure little English-speaking microstate, a kind of Monaco of the Alps, declares war on the USA so they can lose and receive US aid to solve their financial problems but, through a series of mishaps. Accidentally wins. Oh, and it's all against a themic background of nuclear annihilation. It's a great idea on paper, but in practice this is neither funny enough nor clever enough to be more than mildly diverting. Still, Peter Sellers is always good, if never quite as good as his reputation, and William Hartnell always does a great sergeant major.

Still, if you don't insist on your satire being too incisive, the film is entertaining enough. It looks good, it's all very Cold War and there's some nice slapstick with the bomb. But there really isn't all that much to say about it.

The Sorcerers (1967)

"Intoxication with no hangover. Ecstasy with no consequence..."

I've been wanting to see this hard-to-find film ever since I first saw Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General. And it didn't disappoint. Thank you, Keith Richards and BBC4.

Boris Karloff, in a rare British film appearance towards the end of his life, is Professor Marcus Montserrat who, with his equally elderly and bitter wife Estelle, seeks to use his invention to take control of someone young and feel their experiences, vicariously but literally, in what looks awfully like a metaphor for hard drugs and how they can harm others and not just the user. Ian Ogilvy's bored Mike is an ignorant but willing victim, casually submitting to Montserrat's very psychedelic machine and all of its terrible consequences.

And terrible those consequences are; Mike suffers the destruction of his relationship, his friendships and his life in indulging the increasingly Grand Guignol-like excesses of Estelle, whose deliciously evil nature emerges from the facade of a nice old lady. The film is both enormous fun and very much of its time- the Sixties of Alfie rather than rock 'n' roll, of ordinary '60s youths who are not particularly cool and listen to, ahem, Cliff Richard. Highly recommended, if you can find the damn thing.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Arrow- Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

"Oh, and Lost? They were all dead."

This is not the straight superhero show I was expecting; instead it's the tale of Oliver Queen spending five years as Robinson Crusoe on an island in the South China Sea, emerging as a kind of Robin Hood figure (secretly), reintegrating himself into society. And the mystery of what happened over that five years is clearly going to unfold gradually. An awful lot is deliberately not explained. It's a very promising premise, but not what I was expecting. Mind you, I know very little of the Green Arrow comics.

So Oliver is very rich, has inherited his vast wealth, has been a bit of an irresponsible playboy figure, and was the only survivor. During the accident he was cheating with the sister of his girlfriend Laurel: that's awkward. Laurel and her mate are lawyers helping little people against big bad corporate types.

Intriguingly, Oliver is briefly kidnapped by masked men who are very keen to know what happened during the shipwreck, and what his father said to him; this highlights to us, the viewer, that what was said must have been significant. And Oliver has a list from his dad, seemingly of rich had people; the first from the list has had his money transferred to the bank accounts of good causes; it seems that Green Arrow is Robin Hood in more ways than one.

And then we get a final reveal- the baddies are working for Moira, Oliver's mother! This is addictive stuff already.

The Flash- Season 1, Episode 3: Things You Can't Outrun

"He saved so many lives that day. And no one will ever know what he did,"

The A plot here is similar to last week's- a villainous metahuman created by the particle accelerator explosion (this one can become gas and looks just like Count Orlok from Nosferatu) is killing people in revenge and Barry stops him. This is, presumably, the format of the show. But there's a lot of character stuff going on, and arc stuff being seeded, beyond that.

But the episode starts with Barry and Iris at a zombie movie, and the first thing we see is an extra who looks delighted to be on television. But, by means of a "Ward Boulevard" (nice touch) we are immediately brought into the story of the week. We also see Barry and Joe begin their search to price Harry's innocence. And we see further evidence that Dr Wells is not a nice man and has both an agenda for Barry and a mysterious past- or perhaps future. So far these early episodes are masterfully constructed, so pregnant with storyline possibilities.

But we also get a flashback to the explosion nine months us ago and the tragic, heroic death of Caitlin's fiancé. This packs a heavy emotional punch and acts as serious development for Caitlin as a character. This episode is superb, but I'm a little concerned about this extra-judicial prison at STAR labs. Still, I suppose that as the state here is shown to practise judicial killing by the barbaric means of the electric chair it can claim no moral legitimacy; certainly the judge who sentenced Count Orlok to this death deserves no sympathy as, by her own twisted logic, she deserved to die.

This will be the last blog post on this excellent series for a bit as I'll be turning to Arrow until I catch up. But this is yet another superb forty-three minutes of television.