Monday, 29 February 2016

Men in Black (1997)

"No, Elvis is not dead. He just went back home."

Here's a heretical opinion for you: Men in Black is a bit pants.

Yep. You read that right. It's pants. The central idea is good but the story is meh, the script isn't funny and the only reason it sort of works as a film is because Woll Smith can always lift a poor script into acceptability by doing his usual schtick. And I must admit that, while he always plays the same character film after film, he plays that character well, with charm and charisma.

Oh, and it's always good to see Rip Torn. But these sorts of things do not a good film make. I mean, yes, the underground base and hordes of men and women in black are incredibly cool, but the humour is all very basic slapstick and there are far too many annoyingly cute CGI aliens for me. Sorry. This is just a forgettable Hollywood comedy that pretty much got away with it purely through Will Smith's charm.

Memento (2000)

"I have to believe in a world outside my own mind."

This film still blew me away sixteen years later. The concept- the story of an amnesiac told in reverse- is an ingenious use of both form and content and a story that can only be told through the medium of cinema. The twist is staggering. Christopher Nolan well and truly announced his arrival with this superb piece of cinema.

Credit also goes to Guy Pearce, given the heavy burden of carrying the entire film, all of which is told from his perspective. The film works because of the ingenious script, however and, while I'm not going to simply recite the plot.. SPOILERS!

The film is gripping, a very clever puzzle that it's fun to see unfolding, but it's also tragic. Leonard's "system", as we see, simply doesn't work, and he is constantly being cruelly manipulated by the likes of Natalie (particularly nasty) and Eddie. But, worst of all, as we see the twist, we learn that he's manipulating himself to give himself a continuing mission. He is simultaneously the villain and one of his own victims.

He's a truly tragic figure, though, a Sisyphus sentenced to never-ending labours by himself. This is a mind-blowing film on many levels and one of the finest I have ever seen.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Prisoners of the Lost Universe (1983)

"Please take your hand off my butt!"

Now this is what I call a proper B movie.

My good friend and host Nick pointed out, while we were watching this film, that B movies today- Sharknado and the like- are done with tongue in cheek, intended to be silly and camp. That isn't the case with Prisoners of the Lost Universe: this was honestly intended as a good film and was made by the same director as Hawk the Slayer, a film that people have actually heard of.

So what makes this a B movie? Is it the generally dodgy acting? Is it the cheap and eyebrow-raising costumes? Possibly. But more than anything it's the sound effects. Good sound effects shouldn't be noticed; this is s film where the sound effects alone made me laugh out loud on several occasions, with various silly "boings" and so forth. Then there's the fact that this other dimension looks suspiciously like Southern California, and Richard Hatch's worrying habit of copping a feel with every woman he interacts with for more than five seconds. Still, John Sacon chews the scenery splendidly as out bearded baddie. 

It's cheap, it's cheerful, it's an incredible coincidence that everyone in this other dimension seems to speak English, it's unmistakeably a B movie. They just don't make this kind of film any more.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Night Manager: Episode 1

"The most evil man in the world..."

I suppose I should reserve judgement on this. Yes, it's an episode of set-up, but it hasn't really impressed itself on me yet. These are early days, yes, but Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, another Le Carre adaptation from another age, was electrifying from the first scene in a way this is not.

Still, Tom Hiddleston and an unexpectedly Northern-sounding Olivia Colman are great, and Hugh Laurie is a delicious baddie. But there isn't much else to say yet other than reciting the plot. And so far it's just a matter of Jonathan meeting Angela, both of them being very displeased with the mysterious Richard Roper, oozing Bullingdon Club confidence as he deals in weapons and murders those who get in his way. 

Not much to go on yet, then, but I'll keep watching...

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

"The lesser of two weevils!"

It's been far too long since I read Patrick O'Brian's superlative tales of Captain Jack Aubrey and his particular friend Dr. Stephen Maturin, and watching this unexpectedly excellent film adaptation has reminded me that I really need to start reading all twenty(!) novels all over again. It's a magnificent series of books, with both intense psychological depth for the extraordinarily well-rounded characters and a dizzyingly perfect evocation of time and place. A crude analogy would be Hornblower as written by Jane Austen, but the novels are much more than that. The language alone I can just get drunk on. Patrick O'Brian was a man of the Regency out of his time.

I've seen the film before, but it's only now, having read all of the novels rather than just the first few, that I can truly appreciate its excellent. It's odd to base the film around The Far Side of the World, one of the later novels, but that's a suitably representative plot of Jack captaining the Surprise in pursuit of a French privateer. Naturally this isn't really an adaptation of a specific novel; a franchise of twenty films was clearly not going to happen so they did the sensible thing and made a greatest hits album. Hence we see Maturin doing his famous bit of surgery with the coin, Maturin directing his own operation, Jack's anecdote about Nelson and the above joke from Jack. I'm surprised we don't get Stephen's "cur-tailed" joke which Jack brings up every bloody novel but you can't have everything! But the approach works; the plot, cobbled together from some of the best set pieces from the novels, makes for a gripping film.

I'm not generally a huge fan of Russell Crowe but he was seemingly born to play Jack, and David Threlfall deserves particular praise as the perfect Preserved Killick. Paul Bettany, though, seems to lack charisma somewhat, although I can see little actually wrong with his performance. But this is nevertheless a superb adaptation which has certainly succeeded in directing me back to the novels.

Friday, 26 February 2016

First Men in the Moon (1964)

"Not married?!! Kindly leave the room!"

It rather pleases my geek sensibilities to see that Ray Harryhausen worked on a film co-written by Nigel Kneale. Harryhausen isn't really called upon to do much in comparison with some of his other work, but this is still a damned fine adaptation of H.G. Wells' little parable on the evils of capitalism.

I note, of course, that the baddie is a Mr. Bedford- sounds a well dodgy type, although I have no idea why "Julius" was changed to "Arnold" for the film. Rather spoils the "Caesar in Gaul" subtext.

It's 1964. The late St John F. Kennedy of blessed memory has alteady vowed to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and both superpowers are quite visibly and excitingly progressing towards that age. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, when the future was not yet passé. They would have been appalled to discover that, as of 2016, no one has set foot on the moon for a staggering 44 years. It was a very different age, but also a very different age from 1901 when the novel was published. So it's good to see the story bookended by modern day sections in which astronauts discover evidence of Cavor's exploits. It's rather utopian to propose a multinational UN mission, though. And rather fanciful to suggest that the Yank and the Russian would be joined by a Brit...!

Still, it frames the film nicely. It's surprisingly late on until our (anti-)heroes reach the Moon, but the design and effect is fantastic much they do. I'm reminded visually of The Daleks, a Doctor Who story of the same year: must have been something in the zeitgeist.

It's an excellent version of a much under-utilised novel, in spite of it's largely unknown cast. That ending, though? Shameless rip-off from The War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells should sue himself.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Predator 2 (1990)

"Ok, pussy face. This is your move..."

Meh. After the glory that was Predator this is such a let-down. It's not a bad film, per se: it's adequately shot and acted. But after the first film's brilliantly maintained atmosphere and superb ensemble cast it's missing that spark.

It isn't Danny Glover's fault; he plays his bland cipher of a character well. But the whole thing seems so uninspired. The opening titles seem dated in a way the previous film's didn't, and the overuse of the creature's POV shots dates the film terribly. And then there the uninspired setting- a turf war in LA in the dim and distant future (1997). Yawn. A future where crime has spun out of control is both a cliche and vaguely right-wing as a concept. It does at least give us the character of King Willie, who is glorious: Calvin Lockhart's magnificent chewing of the scenery is the best thing about the film by far.

Still- Jamaicans doing voodoo? Er, that's Hairians, chaps. Some would say that mixing up your Caribbean countries is a wee bit racist.

Anyway, the Predator looks good. This film can't take any credit for the design, but at least we eventually see more of it, and the film admittedly does a good job of keeping it semi-hidden for the first two thirds of the film. But you can see why they tested the franchise for a while after this. Eminently skippable.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Predator (1987)

"If it bleeds, we can kill it!"

The fact that this film is so good didn't surprise me; I knew that, ever since I hired out the video in the late '80s. I haven't seen it for, well, twenty years, though. And this time I was flabbergasted by Arnold Schwarzenegger's performance. As a departure from the norm he's actually called upon to act rather than just be Arnie. And he pulls it off superbly, anchoring the film successfully through his acting, not just through his physical presence. It's a shame he hasn't been called upon to do that more often.

The film is excellent all-round, though. The suspense; the brilliant design of the creature, its face being revealed towards the end to great effect; a claustrophobic rainforest setting; and most of all a credible and nuanced set of three-dimensional characters to get picked off one by one.

The film is fairly long, but justifies its running time through characterisation, suspense and a superb final duel between Dutch and the creature. The fact that we have only vague glimpses of the creature in the first part of the film makes the reveal so much more effective. What a shame the film doesn't have too happy an ending: after that mushroom cloud Dutch will end up with cancer, methinks.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

"I absolutely forbid it!"

Oh dear, this just isn't any good, is it? The script is for kids in the worst possible way, casually tossed out in the belief that, if it's for kids, it doesn't need to be any good. Richard Greene is crap, hammy and over the top, possibly suitable for live telly in the '50s, but not for the big screen. And Peter Cushing, while he's hardly phoning it in, is wasted on a part that asks very little of him.

Nigel Green's casting as Little John is almost as ridiculous as, well... Nigel Green's casting as Hercules in Jason and the Argonauts. It says a lot that a young Oliver Reed is the best thing in the film, and he's bloody dubbed. Still, at least we get a speaking cameo from a pre-Q Desmond Llewelyn.

There's not a lot else to say though: perhaps Hammer should have stuck to horror.

Monday, 22 February 2016

The Evil Dead (1981)

"The trees! They're alive!"

This film is magnificently gory, far gorier than I expected for 1981, even given the film's reputation. It isn't just the gore, buttressed at the end by some excellent stop motion animation, that makes this a superb example of its genre, though: it's both a splendid example of using supernatural horror in what is, structurally speaking, a slasher film, and exceedingly well directed to bring out the suspense.

All the tropes are out in force: five teenagers visit a mysterious cabin in the woods which is in the middle of nowhere, in the American South, and accessed by a dangerous bridge. One by one they are picked off and killed. 

But Sam Raimi has fun with this, using suspense to tease us for the first part of the film about whether characters are going to die or not. Then he has real fun with loads of blood and demons straight out of The Exorcist.

The film is fun, yes, but for once it's genuinely creepy. This is sooo far above the likes of Friday the 13th and one of the best of its kind.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Deadpool (2016)

"I'm gonna do to your face what Limp Bizkit did to music in the late '90s..."

I can honestly say that no film has ever given me so much difficulty in choosing the quote. Also in the frame were the line about David Beckham and the one about the fourth wall, but there had to be a winner. That alone tells you, and let's make no bones about it, this is going to be a pretty damn glowing review.

This is the first Marvel film under the auspices of Fox that I've blogged although, as I think you'd guess, hardly the first I've seen. I'm aware of the controversy about them and, yes, I side with Marvel over that, particularly Fantastic Four-gate. But I see no reason to boycott the films because of that, as some do. They can be good, they can be bad or, as in this case, they can be awesome, but they were all made by creative people who deserve to be thought of as more than pawns in the game of movie studio politics.

Anyway. The film. It's awesome. You knew that, because I just said it anyway. It's a gloriously violent film with devastatingly witty dialogue and a truly charismatic central performance from Ryan Reynolds, whose comic timing is perfect. The metatextual fun (you know I love that sort of thing) is everywhere, not only in the plot and dialogue but in the opening titles, the freeze frames, every stylistic quirk. Tim Miller's direction is no less witty than the script, and that's saying something.

Ed Skrein makes a good and bizarrely Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels-type baddie, and it's fantastic to see a major Hollywood part for the excellent Morena Baccarin a decade after Firefky.

This stands a very good chance of being declared my best film of 2016 when I get to the end of the year. Already. A truly awesome film.

Daredevil: Speak of the Devil

"You don't need sight to appreciate art, but you do need honesty."

"Sight helps..."

This episode, yet again, is another penetrating character piece on Matt, this time through his Catholicism, and a brilliant exploration of the themes of the show. It also had a stonking cliffhanger. Daredevil is brilliant.

The philosophical chat about the Devil between Matt and his priest is compelling, even for those of us who don't believe in such a being. The chilling take from Rwanda ensures that. But for the purposes of the episode the Devil I'd Fisk, and the central theme is the morality, or not, of Matt killing him. It's the classic dilemma: to kill someone who is evil, or to allow evil to happen by not doing so.

And yet... Fisk is not straightforwardly "evil". He loves Vanessa, and she loves him. He means it when he says he takes no pleasure from ordering the death of poor Elena. And he has, in his own mind at least, ultimately idealistic motives for all the things he does. A bad man, yes. An abstract theological evil, no.

But Elena's death brings home, to Foggy at least, what looks like the futility of trying to do good when evil owns everything, including the police, and good has no agency. He's drunk, and not in a good frame of mind, when he shockingly unmasks Matt at the end of the episode in a shocking and original move.

Oh, and there's a big and epic fight between Matt and Nobu. Nobu dies but Matt barely survives- and, cruelly, Fisk gains from Nobu's elimination anyway. We end at a low point for Matt. Time for Act Four.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)

"I always have a small one before I operate..."

This early Hammer is a bit odd: the opening is genuinely atmospheric, the style of the titles is very Hammer and it feels like an early Hammer. But it's not really a horror film in that there little suspense- and the lack of suspense makes for a short film that feels so much longer. It really drags.

Christopher Lee is good as Pierre, the dignified hero (yes, he plays a hero!), while Anton Diffring phones it in as evil surgeon Georges, who is 104 but looks about 35, having achieved immortality by means of murdering a woman every ten years, and has an inexplicably German accent. Hazel Court impresses as Janine, the female love interest who... well, that basically sums up the character.

The basic plot, from a play by Barre Lyndon, should in theory make a good film in the same way Jekyll and Hyde has several times and yes, there's atmosphere, but the problem is there's never any suspense- and Diffring just doesn't have the charisma to carry the film. The result is a distinct lack of excitement, a rarity with early Hammer when the quality was generally high.

The film's riff on immortality achieved by the murder of others is hardly original although, with its murders of women including a prostitute in the Paris of 1890, and given Robert Holmes' fondness for Hammer, it's a probable influence on the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

X the Unknown (1956)

"It's on it's way for the biggest meal of its life."

Yes, Mr. Kneale. We realise you refused permission to use the character of Professor Quatermass in this film. What's that, Mr. Kneale? Oh, no. Heaven forbid. The character of Dr Adam Royston is in no way a thinly veiled carbon copy of the good Professor. And the odd similarity of the format to your own work is just coincidence. Small world, isn't it, Mr. Kneale?

Suspicious coincidences aside, this is a good and entertaining film, if a rather shirt one. Not bad for the first ever Hammet horror, or not, depending how you define these things; to me this is very much science fiction.

Oh, it's a little odd that none of the characters seem to notice that Royston is American, and the young Frazer Hines' Scottish accent is a bit rubbish at this stage although, to be fair, give it ten years and he'll get a lot of practice. Also, it's the '50s, so everything is radiation this and radiation that. 

This is a fairly inconsequential diversion, but, if you can stand the sight of Leo "Rumpole of the Bailey" McKern bring indecently young, it's a fun and entertaining film.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

"I was just walking my rat and I seem to have lost my way..."

This film really has no right to be as brilliant as it is. On paper it's worryingly retro even at the time, with not only the bringing back of Sean Connery, which seems desperate, but even getting Shirley Bassey to do the theme tune. And there's that boggling thought of why on earth a British agent is working in the USA, where both the CIA and FBI exist. Plus, it's suddenly the '70s, and the fashions are suddenly rubbish. And yes, against the odds, for the third film in a row we have a work of absolute brilliance?

How do they manage it? Well, the script is superb, a never-ending series of brilliant set pieces. Connery is brilliant, too. Oh, at 41 he suddenly looks much older than he should, certainly too old for the part, and you can't believe it's only been four years since You Only Live Twice. But he's still Connery.

Then we have the splendid Messrs Wint and Kidd, however godawful the cut of their suits. We have the splendid Jill St John. We have Charles Gray, fresh from a bit part in You Only Live Twice, as a fine Blofeld, albeit with a puzzlingly full head of hair.

Oh, and the great Sid Haig is in it somewhere, although I'm buggered if I know where. Joseph Furst is in it, fellow '60s Doctor Who fans. We get Vegas, lots of the Nevada desert, Bond in a moon buggy, an epic car chase with American cop cars (something the Bond films had to do!) and more of the now traditional space stuff by Blofeld. It's also nice to see the character of Q being used as outright comic relief, cheating at Vegas with gadgets. It suits the character perfectly and Desmond Llewelyn is brilliant.

Surely Blofeld is really dead? And surely this run of quality can't last? But for this film, at least, the series is in rude health.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

"Because it's a legend, you numbskull!"

I must have read Patrick Suskind's novel back in the late '90s, so my memories are hazy. I remember liking it, but little else. Huge Nirvana fan that I am, though, I'm well aware that "Scentless Apprentice" on In Utero is entirely about the novel, the only novel that Kurt Cobain ever wrote a song about.

But what of the film? Well, they did the best they could- it's well-shot, well-acted, well-made- but there's no getting around the fact that the book is unfilmable. The visuals are sumptuous, yes, especially of Provence, but it is the olfactory, not the visual, that is the point. A film cannot convey smell in the way that words on a page can. This is a valiant attempt at the impossible.

Still, as I said, it's a well-made film. Ben Whishaw is very good, John Hurt's narration is excellent, Dustin Hoffman gets a fun little part, and the harshness of eighteenth century France is conveyed well. But the very oddness and creepiness of Jean-Baptistery Grenooulle as a character leads to a lack of charisma at the centre of the film, something that matters less to the novel. However gorgeous this film looks it is, ultimately, a failure.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: A Wanted (Inhu)Man

"Trust is a strong word for a psychopath..."

It's still early days, and what we're seeing is still just set-up for the main arcs of the season, but it all continues to be entertaining and watchable.

Simmons is back, but she has a long recovery ahead of her, naturally. Fitz is doing his best, but it takes time to recover from the trauma of being marooned on another world. We learn little, yet, of what happened to her, but we discover at the end that she wants to go back for something. Why...?

Hunter and May (she's fully on board) continue on their slow plan to get Ward, for the moment acting as comic relief. It's good to get some development of these two together: they have good comic chemistry. I loved the scene of the two Brits being "incomprehensible" with subtitles- but were they really that hard to understand?

Hunter, touchingly, is staying in touch with Bobbi, and it's also good to see Bobbi slowly recovering. But the episode is ultimately about Lincoln being hunted by Rosalind's lot, his admittedly rather tiresome angst about his Inhumanity, ethical disagreements between Phil and Sk- er, Daisy, and Phil's decision at the end to do a deal with the devil. Intriguing..

Thursday, 11 February 2016

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

"This never happened to the other fella!"

Well, a couple of days ago I praised You Only Live Twice to the skies and queried whether it would ever be topped. Has it, with the very next film? Well, it's impossible to say. This is an excellent film, but it's so completely unlike its predecessors that I simply wouldn't be comparing like with like.

First things first, though: George Lazenby. Well, I quite liked him. Oh, his acting is awful- his line deliveries are dull and clearly not thought through. And yet.. he hadn't got charisma exactly, but he has presence and is likeable, albeit a softer presence than Sean Connery, even when slapping Tracy across the face...! He was blatantly just cast for his looks, he can't act, but against all the odds he manages to carry the film. Never mind the very odd fact that all his lines when pretending to be Sir Hilary Bray are dubbed by George Baker...!

Speaking of George Baker, this film is extremely well-endowed (er...) with British character actors, boasting James Bree, Bernard Horsfall, a very young Joanna Lumley and Catherine Schell. But it's Diana Tigg, fresh from Mrs. Peel, who dazzled as Tracy, and Telly Savalas is similarly superb as Blofeld.

But this is a very strange Bond film. It may reassure heat the start with the reassuring faces of M, Q and Moneypenny before we see the new Bond, but it's not just Lazenby who's odd here: it may be magnificent, but this is a bloody weird Bond film. There are action sequences, yes, and bloody good ones, but they're surprisingly infrequent. Instead we get romance- we even have an extensive montage where Bond and Tracy fall in love. The middle of the film is an extensive farce sequence with a kilted Bong ("It's true!!!") and a sequence of nubile young ladies. And Bond gets married!!! The ending of the film is truly tragic, with Bond in a state of denial that his beloved is dead from the bullet of Blofeld's pet fraulein.

The sexual politics here raise a bit of an eyebrow ("What she needs is a man to dominate her" says Tracy's doting father), which is typical Bond. Otherwise, though.. c'est magnifique. Mais ce n'est pas James Bond. This is one of the finest films in the series, but one that stands aloof.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

"The mind of man had thought of everything- except that which was beyond his comprehension!"

Yesterday's long film review is today followed by a short one. This is a '50s monster B movie, no more and no less. It's fun, but there's not a huge amount to say about it. Still, let's try, shall we?

The most famous name associated with the film is Ray Harryhausen, but he's young here, and won't have an executive producer credit for many years yet. His stop motion giant octopus is brilliant, yes, but at this early stage of his Hollywood career it barely scratches the surface of what he's capable of.

It's interesting that Professor Lesley Joyce, portrayed as an eminent and respected scientist should happen, in a 1955 film, to be a woman. She's young, she's glamorous, and she's the Jeff Goldblum character. There's some tension in the film's attitude towTds her gender- she is given absolute professional respect, yet in terms of her romance with Pete the sexual politics are rather primitive. Still, you get the sense that the film's heart is in the right place.

The plot beats are exactly where you'd expect them in this sort of film but it's all competently done; this is far more fun than The War of the Worlds. There's a very '50s obsession with radiation but that's all part of the fun, and the atomic age even has its own atomic submarine. This is a short and entertaining diversion of you just want to switch off your brain and enjoy.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

You Only Live Twice (1967)

"Well, at least he died on the job..."

Well, it's quite the contrast. Thunderball was a pile of pants, an incoherently directed film with little in the way of charm or entertainment, whereas You Only Live Twice is superb, and easily the best Bond film so far. What went right? Well, the straightforward direction by Lewis Gilbert helps; Thunderball may be much artier (It has wipes, for Christ's sake! In a James Bond film), but it fails to make the narrative clear. Here we have no such problems. What we do have is a well constructed and paced film courtesy of a script by the great Roald Dahl. Yes, that Roald Dahl.

Even the opening sequence is innovative-the image of a NASA space capsule being eaten by another spacecraft is delicious, as is Bond's apparent death before the titles. And the image of a spacewalking astronaut drifting helplessly through space to what he knows will be his death has all the existential horror of the late David Bowie's "Space Oddity" a couple of years later.  All this before we even get to the theme song from Nancy Sinatra, who gives the great Shirley Bassey a run for her money.

We then move straight to the Americans blaming the Soviets for the swallowing of the spacecraft, with both of them portrayed as squabbling juvenile warmongers, leaving the British (naturally) as the voice of reason. This is a little uncomfortable to watch from a distance of fifty years, however. In the wake of Dean Acheson's famous comment Britain is being portrayed here as a "Greece to America's Rome", which smacks very much as a consolation prize for a wannabe superpower. Even this film, which portrays the clever British as in control and saving the world, can't hide the fact that the Americans and Russians of 1967 are sending people into space and we are not.

The fact that M and Moneypenny are in a submarine is brilliant, as is the recognition of Bond's naval rank. The two superpowers are at loggerheads and world war beckons if all this is not sorted out before the next spacecraft is launched. Fortunately, there's a lead pointing to Japan. Also fortunately, Bond took a First in Oriental Languages at Cambridge.

It's interesting that the film's inevitable misogyny (as ever, women are seen through the eyes of a fifteen year old boy) is somewhat obscured by the presentation of all this in the context of what Japanese culture is supposed to be like. There's also the question of ethnic stereotyping, and while this can't be dodged the film gives a broadly positive image of Japan, perhaps remarkably so less than a generation after the War. We get Sumo wrestling, geishas and, of course, ninjas. The tropes are all here to play.

Is impossible at this point not to mention the cute and willing Aki ("I think I will very much enjoy serving under you") who is killed, while Bond's initially more modest "wife" is not. Hmm. Still, this Japan is cool, and I love Tanaka.

The bit with "Little Nellie" looks suspiciously as if it was just crowbarred into the film to give Desmond Llewelyn something to do, but it isn't long before the Russians launch a rocket of their own (Norse pagans will be either pleased or outraged that the Russian for "three" is "Odin"), which is duly swallowed again. Cue more recriminations and a reminder of the stakes, although it certainly makes me wonder how credible it is that a criminal organisation like SMERSH could have the resources to send a rocket into space capable of doing this. Best to banish such thoughts.

This film is possibly the most influential Bond film in popular culture and certainly for Austin Powers: the volcano base is brilliant, and Donald Pleasance's splendidly hammy performance as the now-revealed Ernst Stavro Blofeld is blatantly the inspiration for Dr. Evil. And the piranhas, and the collapsible ramp above them, are perfect.

This is an incredible film and easily the best so far. I'm genuinely unsure if anything will top it.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Purpose in the Machine

"To the plane! Am I allowed to say that?"

I love this episode in so many ways. Not only do we get a delightfully unexpected return from Randolph, everybody's favourite Asgardian, but we get Simmons unexpectedly back and, most brilliantly, Fitz- a geek if ever there was one- gets to be the hero and get the girl. I love it.

We begin, though, at a castle in Gloucestershire in 1839, establishing not only what is to come in the episode but that the obelisk is an artifact of great age and power. Much of the rest of the episode consists of Fitz proving that it's an interstellar portal and the team deciding, as one, that now they have proof they will save their friend. And they do, and it's triumphant and wonderful.

But we also establish that Hunter has been tasked with killing Ward, and is setting about the job with enthusiasm. Less enthusiastic is May, still sulking, who refuses Hunter's request to help him. Ward himself, meanwhile, is busy taking over HYDRA with the help of young Werner Von Strucker, who definitely has daddy issues. Brett Dalton is a bloody excellent baddie.

Another superb and brilliant episode, then. I suspect this season's going to be good. But what was that alien world? I'm still wondering if it was Hala.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Grimm: Eve of Destruction

"Is this another Back From The Dead thing?"-

Phew. This episode is a big one and probably a bit of a turning point. Juliette is alive! She's still a Hexenbeist! She's weird and has an odd hairstyle! She's strangely emotionless! HW did weird stuff to her! Etc! Etc! And an awful lot of other stuff happens too.

The mystery grows throughout the episode. Nick finds out from Trubel that Juliette didn't die but was instead taken away to be turned into "a weapon" and later in the episode, at a pre-arranged meeting with Nick in a restaurant, we get to see her in action. She's an enigma, but an intriguing one. Such a radical change for such a major character reminds me very much of Fred in Season Five of Angel

The treacherous Xavier speaks more of the conspiracy: a revolution that all Wesen must join, a conspiracy that ultimately ends in his murder while in custody by a Wesen unafraid to Woge in public- is this the point of "Occultam Libera"? For Wesen to step out of the shadows? Is this why Billie Trump's upper middle class parents seem so strangely proud of her?

Things then go up a notch as these conspirators- called Black Claw, we're told- shockingly assassinate the entire Wesen Council, with one possible survivor, in The Hague. The entire status quo has shockingly changed.

On a more personal note, Nick and Adalind kiss, which is awkward. Their relationship is fun to watch. And suddenly the season as a whole, after a poor start, has become enjoyable too.

Friday, 5 February 2016

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

"You've been spying on me?"

"I looked at your Facebook page."

So, a new season, a new status quo, and we begin in media res. Coulson has lost not only his left hand but also his right hand in the person of May. Skye is vigorously looking for new Inhumans with a real sense of purpose, and calling herself Daisy. That'll take some getting used to. Bobbi and Hunter are slowly reconciling as a couple. And, of course, Jemma Simmond is still missing after being swallowed by the Kree obelisk, which is driving Fitz to extremes and Iain de Caestecker to some amazing acting.

(Oh, and it may not be the done thing to start with the last scene, but... is Jemma on Hala?)

The immediate problem, though is that a person who remains mysterious is killing various Inhumans who are uncovering their powers since the release of the Terrigen into the sea at the end of last season. Both SHIELD and a mysterious government organisation called ACTU, lead by the mysterious Rosalind, believe each other to be responsible.. But now. It's this half-hidden figure who looks a bit like a blue Blanka from Street Fighter II...

In other news, Bobbi is stuck doing science rather than field work since her leg got done in, and Lincoln now wants nothing to do with either SHIELD or the Inhumans, preferring to go and be ado totin a hospital. In no way will some sudden crisis later in the season force him to change his mind.

This is a brilliant, intriguing opener, setting up a lot of stuff for what promises to be another splendid season.

Grimm: Wesen Nacht

"The majority of street riots are instigated by Wesen..."

Well, that's much better. And it's a heavily arc episode, which is no coincidence.

We get introduced to this Wesen secret society who wear black and seek to create discord and chaos within the Wesen community by engineering a Kristallnacht of sorts; this and the black uniform marks them as yet another Nazi analogue.

On an apparently separate strand of plot Trubel is awake, lucid and telling lots of things to Nick and Adalind. Chavez knew all about Nick and was trying to recruit Grimms left, right and centre, including Trubel. Chavez's lot are an international government agency called "Hadrian's Wall" or "HW", a name with interesting allusions for a blogger whose Geordie wife is from Wallsend. It seems they're working to prevent some kind of nebulous Wesen uprising which quite clearly forms the basis of this season's arc.

They're paying Trubel a lot of money, and have a "Q" branch to supply her with gadget-fitted motorbikes, but for now that's all we know. So it's that, Sean's mate running for mayor of Portland and Nick and Adalind's budding relationship that are the main arcs so far.

Oh, and Trubel admits to Adalind (why are the two of them not more awkward with each other?) that she wanted to kill Juliette, and that Nick mustn't know. Well, I 'm sure that Adalind will in no way break that confidence at some point.

We end the episode, after some exciting twists and turns, with our heroes all saved from certain doom by someone who looks awfully like Juliette, and suddenly this lacklustre season seems to be looking much better. This is a fine episode and by far the best of the season up to this point.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Grimm: The Rat King

"The legend; it's true."

A fairly ho-hum story of the week, this, with a bunch of rat Wesen baddies who are persecuting a family of cat Wesen (aww!) turning out to be able to combine into a massive CGI rat monster. Reminds me of Transformers, and is on paper a good idea, but the realisation is a little awkward.

Still, as ever the arc stuff is much more interesting. Trubel spends most of the episode unconscious in hospital with a conspiracy of Wesen medical staff trying to do her in, so we don't see what she's been up to. What we do see, though, is that she has a motorbike full of the kinds of gadgets usually fitted by Q branch and has recently visited places such as Dublin, Malta, and Madrid.

Also we have Sean again being persuaded to back the mayoral campaign of his mysterious mate Andrew Dixon, who looks to be a distinct possibility as the season's big bad, almost certainly connected with all this "Occultam Liberas" stuff. We shall see.

Still, none of this disguises the awkward fact that this episode is a bit sub-par. And I have to say, so far, that this season isn't all that impressive either.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Thunderball (1965)

"Sorry, old chap. Better luck next time."

I think I can put my finger on why this film is do rubbish: it's the direction. Oh, it's fancily shot with wipes, etc, but the director does a terrible job of telling the story clearly, especially as there are so many silent aquatic sequences. The result is a confusing mess. You have to blame the director for the performances, too: yes, Adolfo Celi is rubbish as the baddie on general terms (they had to dub his dialogue), but the performances are flat all round, and when that includes the likes of Sean Connery you just have to blame the director. The film is not only incoherent, but also charmless.

And it's a pity. On paper the film should have been good. It has SPECTRE, with an embezzling underling being buzzed beneath a trap door to his doom. It has a pool full of sharks. It even has Q, now already a fixture, supplying Bond with gadgets which end up being suspiciously and exactly what he needs.

The pre-titles sequence is good though; I love the jet pack. And Tom Jones' theme tune is superb. But I'm sad to say that this is one Bond film I've no desire to see again. Long, plodding, charmless and forgettable.