Thursday, 31 March 2016

Grimm: A Reptile Dysfunction

"You still think you're talking to Juliette?"

The story of the week here is solid: a Loch Ness style tourist attraction hires a Wesen to be a real life monster and it all goes horribly wrong- although that bloke who stupidly took a gun while boating on a lake gets no sympathy from me. On this level it's a good episode. But there's far more going on than that. 

The gang now all know about HW, about Eve, that Trubel works for HW, so what to do? All agree, as Rosalee suggests, that they should all decide together. But that's all: Rosalie continues to ignore letters from her past that are clearly leading up to something, and all sorts of current events in places like Syria and Pakistan are actually just caused by Wesen, just like Nazi Germany. Hmm. Not sure I like this: it pushes a dangerous apoliticalism. Current affairs are complicated and we should resist simple explanations, even in fiction.

Still, it's a gripping storyline. And Eve is awesome. Both the arc stuff and the story impress, with subtle references to both Jaws and The Creature from the  Black Lagoon. Yet another extra-judicial ending, though...

Sunday, 27 March 2016

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

"What truly is logic? Who decides reason? My quest has taken me to the physical, the metaphysical, the delusional, and back."

A superb film, this, with a surprisingly subtle starring role from Russell Crowe as schizophrenic genius mathematician John Nash, whom we see from his brilliant if asocial youth, through the barbaric horrors of asylums and insulin shock therapy, to respected old age where, through sheer force of reason, Nash is able to accept that the delusions he still sees are false, and ignore them.

It's a deeply affecting film, although Nash's mental instability is rather cleverly demonstrated through some clever twists that I shall not spoil. Some are obvious from Ron Howard's obvious "dream sequence" directing; one in particular I didn't see coming. But this is a deeply affecting portrait of an incredible man, supported through everything by his loving wife Alicia right through to recognition by the Swedish Academy and his status, until recently, as the world's most famous living mathematician.

Sadly, John and Alicia Nash both died last year in a car crash, both in their eighties, but it seems their lives were well lived. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

Octopussy (1983)

"You must be joking! 007 on an island populated exclusively by women? We won't see him till dawn...!"

Now that's more like it. Exotic locations, high stakes, great set pieces... the Bond franchise has got its mojo back. Well, unless you happen to be a coulrophobe, that is. Then you'd have problems.

It's the early '80s, the Raj is all the rage and Bond hasn't done India yet, so Octopussy gets a fantastic setting with Delhi, the Taj Mahal, and even a massive hunt riding elephants during which Bond meets a tiger. For a baddie we have Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince who, for some reason, is working with the Soviets, his natural enemies or so one would have thought, but it makes for a good film. The real baddie has a Cold War flavour for once in the shape of Steven Berkoff's nuke-happy Russian general, Orlov, although our old friend Gogol is around to stop things going too far. 1983 is a somewhat appropriate year to raise the spectre of nuclear annihilation, of course...

Roger Moore is 55 and looks it, but he just about gets away with it: his charisma and acting chops are as impressive as ever. Maud Adams is an ok Bond hgirl too, although for once the set pieces tend to outshine both the sex and the baddies.

This film is absolutely the least like the source material of any so far (the Fleming short story is actually about an octopus), but how can you dislike a film where Q turns up in a hot air balloon? After two duds, Bond is back on track.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Forbidden Planet (1956)

"Sorry, Miss. I was giving myself an oil job."

Wow. After all the '50s sci-fi B movies I've seen so recently this is a revelation. It's a fiercely intelligent updating of The Tempest that looks superb and actually makes you think. This isn't what I was expecting at all. I was so surprised that it took me embarrassingly long to work out which one was Leslie Nielsen.

Every aspect of the design is sheer class, right down to the lettering in the opening titles, and this film defines the look of American TV science fiction for years to come or, in the case of Lost in Space, gets shamelessly ripped off. It's also worth mentioning how, in 1956, it was still quite unusual for films to depict humans exploring other planets.

But even more extraordinary is the soundtrack, which is brilliant and adds so much to the atmosphere. The sound effects are outstanding and the music- an eerie, alienating, theremin-infused score that evokes Stockhausen and other contemporary composers- is incredible.

The plot is, of course, basically The Tempest with a bit of Freud thrown in, but the way it's told is riveting, based as it is on characters with actual traits and personalities, a rarity in '50s sci-fi.

Yes, I know it's the planet of the matte paintings, there's some misogyny directed at Alta, the crew are all disturbingly white, and I rolled my eyes a bit at the characters boasting about their IQ's, but there's not much to complain about in this extraordinary film. I can't believe I waited so long to see it.

(As a Doctor Who fan it's clear to me just how influential this story has been. It clearly inspired all of Planet of Evil, right down to the costumes, and it's now obvious where the invisible beasts attacking the perimeter came from in Face of Evil.)

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Marvel's Agent Carter: Smoke & Mirrors

"You can be whatever you want."

At last we have an episode which is directly, rather than implicitly, about the misogyny and glass ceilings present in 1947 and, let us not be complacent, today. It does this by means of a structural parallel between young Peggy (Margaret Elizabeth Carter!) and young Whitney Frost (Aggie) as they grow up as girls and young women in a man's world.

Peggy never was "ladylike" as a girl but learns to confirm, turning down the chance of a really cool job with the SOE to marry a dull bloke, be a housewife, be boring. It's her brother (Edward Seymour from The Tudors) who convinces her otherwise, albeit in large part by getting shot, and she never looks back.

Aggie grew up in much more humble circumstances, her genius-level intellect irrelevant as her mother shagged a creepy bloke ("Uncle Bud") in order to keep above watt. The harsh lesson she learns is that no one cares about women's' brains, just their looks, and she exploits this to become a Hollywood star.

Meanwhile, Sousa, Peggy and Jarvis discover that the whole conspiracy extends deep into the establishment, deep enough to (officially) stymie their investigation. Now it's just the three of them, although Sousa is justly annoyed at not being included from the start.

The attraction between Peggy and Wilkes continues to grow ("Still, it must be very... frustrating!") as the script acknowledges, without explaining, the mystery of how he can survive without food. He feel tired, drawn to give up and be taken to... where? Meanwhile, Whitney reveals to Calvin exactly what has happened to her. This season just gets better and better.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Watchmen (2009)

"Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.

Never have I been so favourably surprised by a film. Yes, Alan Moore refused to be associated with it for the usual (understandable) reasons and yes, Watchmen is as much about its form as its content, and form doesn't translate to other media. But that doesn't make it unfilmable, and I'd say this is the best possible cinematic version of Watchmen. The characters, the plot, the aesthetic- barring a major departure for the ending of the film it's an extremely faithful adaptation.

The cast, none of whom are huge stars, are perfect with the exception of Matthew  Goode, whose American accent is deeply unconvincing- and I'm a Brit. Jackie Earle Haley, so rubbish as Freddy Krueger in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, is a revelation as Rorschach, seemingly born to play the role.

I won't comment on the plot other than to urge people to read the original, but the film made me ponder the contrast between the Comedian and Rorschach, both dangerous Far Right borderline Nazis but very different. Not only is the Comedian a completely amoral bastard but we're further alienated from him by the fact that his place in the narrative is to be seen and understood through other characters, not on his own terms: we see his exterior actions, and subjective versions at that. It's quite a contrast from the way we are made privy, through the device of the diary, to Rirschach's interior monologue. Both are psychopaths but we are made privy to Rorschach's poor and unpleasant upbringing, while his misogyny and distrust of sex strongly imply that he is, definitely unlike Edward Blake, a virgin. And yet... both are equally reactionary and equally psychopathic. So why does Moore allow us to, if not like Rorschach, feel empathy for him, and accept him in the narrative space of the hero? I suspect it's because of the gulf in terms of social class and status between the two.

On a more prosaic note, the shifting patterns on Rorschach's face look amazing. As does the whole film, brilliantly realising Dave Gibbon's visual aesthetic. It doesn't quite have the depth of the original- that would be unfair to expect-but there's still so much to say about authoritarianism, about misogyny, about nuclear weapons, about poverty, about how superheroes in real life would be Nietzchean Supermen, not a liberal wish fulfilment figure dreamed up by two Jewish creators in the year of Kristallnacht, sadly.

This is easily the best superhero film I've ever seen, but then, the source material is sublime.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."

"That's putting it mildly, 007."

This is very odd for a Bond film. There's nothing awful about it but it's oddly small scale and unambiguous, lacking in glamour, wit and oomph while remaining competent. Still, I suppose it's a natural and predictable reaction to the excesses of Moonraker.

The opening titles are perhaps the oddest thing- it's nice to see Tracy hasn't been forgotten as Bond leaves flowers at her grave, but Blofeld is bizarrely back in a very silly sequence that rather undermines the character.

(Oh, and Tracy's gravestone makes it explicit that she died in 1969, the year she died on screen. Stating this nakedly may be increasingly wise as the years go on!)

The ending is awkward, too. After two films that end with Bond and the Bond girl in question being seen shagging on screen and a gloriously terrible sex-related pun, this time we get a ridiculous skit with a parrot and Margaret Thatcher. There's a distinct lack of polish to this script. Even the set pieces are less dramatic than usual, although I liked the extended riff on the Winter Onympics.

Still, the Greek locations are good, as is Julian Glover as the bizarrely small scale baddie. It's off to see Charles Dance in such a tiny part, though. And it's the '89s now- Moonraker was just two years ago, but the cars and the fashions make that seem a long time ago. This is a decade that suits Bond aesthetically so much more.

One nice touch is the refusal yet to recast the part of M after Bernard Lee's demise shortly before filming his scripted scenes. But overall this is a film which makes no huge missteps but is strangely lacking in ambition. It may not be the worst Bond film but it's certainly the most forgettable so far.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Night Manager: Episode 4

"To the victor... and to the blind man who can’t see the human bloody hand grenade in front of his bloody eyes,”

This is where things really heat up. Jonathan and Jed finally shag, and about time, too- by this point your practically shouting at them to just get a room. Jonathan finds himself at the very centre of Roper's web and closely implicated in his dealings of not quite fully trusted. He's the coming man, at Corky's expense- and Corky is dangerous, knowing as he does that Jonathan is sleeping with Jed. He's playing a dangerous game.

And it gets more dangerous as Jonathan refuses to abort the mission in spite of the very real risk of being found out, even pointing out to Roper that they're being watched by "cops". All this plus Angela discovers that Roper is supported by corrupt elements within M16.

But the emotional centrepiece of the episode, with an extraordinary performance by Olivia Colman, sees Angela recounting a school sports day in Iran where the children were horribly killed by chemical weapons- and that Roper, psychopath that he is, responded to this by adding said chemical weapons to his stock for sale. For him, this atrocity was just business.

Things are getting serious. Not only is Roper playing with fire by getting involved with Jed but corrupt elements in M16 are getting dangerously close to discovering that there's a mole in Roper's organisation. This is gripping telly and Hugh Laurie continues to be amazing.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Marvel's Agent Carter: Better Angels

"Have you quite finished fannying about?"

So Dr. Jason Wilkes isn't dead after all. Oops. He merely lacks physical substance, which is concerning. How can he eat? Does he need to? Does he get hungry or thirsty? Does he get horny? He and Peggy are certainly getting on well these days, not good news for the very married Jarvis, who holds a torch for Peggy with his employer's blessing.

Ah yes, the magnificent Mr. Howard Stark, who turns up like a hurricane and immediately takes charge. Wit, ladies' man and scientific genius, he oozes charisma and coolness, effortlessly dispelling all by himself the trope that scientist are nerds. He is, in effect, exactly like his son but in the 1940s. He's also pleasingly non-racist, bonding very quickly with Jason.

Stark's cool cleverness allows Peggy to get very sneaky and cook inside a snooty and dodgy posh club, but her and Sousa's corrupted boss isn't having it. They're being taken off the case and Peggy summoned back to New York. Whitney isn't happy either: her infection is spreading and she's just killer her well-connected lover, Calvin. Oops. Another excellent episode.

Oh, and this episode's geekgasm is Kid Colt! All we need now is the Rawhide Kid and things will be perfect.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Moonraker (1979)

"I think he's attempting re-entry, Sir!"

Meh. This is Bond by numbers. It's just a collection of barely connected set pieces,  some of them admittedly rather good, leading up to a silly and implausible finale. Hugo Drax must have the resources of a G7 nation to build six space shuttles and a space station. The fact that Michael Lonsdale makes a dull and charisma-free Drax doesn't help either.

At least Roger Moore is on good form. He seemed a little old in The Spy Who Loved Me but he seems a little rejuvenated in his sixth decade. It's also good to see a bigger role for M in Bernard Lee's final film, with a suggestion that, deep down, he always had a high regard for Bond. The return of Jaws is a mixed bag; he gets some superb action sequences but the scenes of him falling in love at first sight are just silly. And he finally gets to utter four whole words!!! Still, I love the way hired him after Chang dies, the suggestion being that there's actually an employment market for henchmen!

But this is all very obviously influenced by Star Wars and very silly, at a time when peak human space travel had already given way to the age of the space shuttle and the Moon had given way to the brilliant Voyager spacecraft. And worse: it's very worrying to see a Bond film be quite as formulaic as this.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Marvel's Agent Carter: A View in the Dark

"Good Lord! Is that a mirror?"

Jason getting unexpectedly killed at the end here is uncomfortably close to the trope of "the black guy dies first" but the fact the writers seem to have felt they had to highlights another uncomfortable truth: people in 1947 LA would have been incredibly racist, and depicting that would make the characters unlikeable. On the other hand, failing to depict casual racism- and we have a little here, although there are like bed that are not crossed- would be unrealistic. So it often happens that black characters are marginalised in order to avoid either of these two pitfalls. But that isn't ok either. It's a difficult one.

Anyway, the plot thickens with "Zero Matter" (we all know it's Darkforce, right?) and Whitney Frost, and the characters sparkle. I love Jarvis's attempt to look hard, the awesomeness of Mrs Jarvis and the fact that Daniel Soysa's girlfriend is Princess Mary from The Tudors.

Also, there are parallels with Agents of SHIELD in the hints that Darkforce can open portals- is this what happened to Simmons? I rather suspect so. But we end with the intriguing revelation that Whitney is infected by it. Are we looking at the origin story for Madame Masque? It's hood, entertaining telly either way.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Night Manager: Episode 3

"Becoming a man is realising it’s all rotten. Realising how to celebrate that rottenness – that’s freedom."

This is where it really gets interesting. High Laurie's extraordinary and revelatory performance as psychopath Richard Roper continues to enthrall as Tom Hiddleston's Jonathan Pine cunningly inveigled his way into Roper's organisation at the expense of his rival Corky, whose fondness for the bottle and nubile (is that the right word?) young men is ruthlessly used against him.

Incidentally, Tom Hollander is also superb as Corky, by far the most quotable character and likeable in spite of both his cynical amorality and his right wing proclivities. But this episode is the best so far. Shockingly, it begins with the suicide of an apparently spoiled rich girl on her 16th birthday- raped by Roper?- but it builds into a fascinating game of cat and mouth in which Pine uncovers secrets of, yes, dastardly arms dealing, but also of secrets abounding. Jed and Roper are not getting on and, indeed, I suspect the two of them will grow closer in future episodes. Jed is a sympathetic character, not without a conscience and with a deepening realisation of what a monster her paramour has become: witness the hair that Jonathan finds in Roper's secret study.

But what's this? Dastardly dealings at MI6? Again, a brilliant piece of television.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Black Knight (1954)

"I know I'm not a knight, but is it impossible to become one?"

I only sat through this film because it had Patrick Troughton, Peter Cushing and Andre Morell in it. I wish I hadn't. I can honestly say that this is the worst film I've blogged thus far. Even Teenagers from Outer Space was better than this.

The historical inaccuracies... where to begin? Obviously you accept a certain amount of artistic licence for the Arthurian genre, with the early sixth century setting typically being depicted as the High Middle Ages, but here we have Patrick Troughton as King Mark of Cornwall, leading an anti-Christian alliance of pagan Vikings and druids(!) with "Saracens" who apparently prefer associating with pagans than people of the book. Hmmm. One of these "Saracens" is Knight of the Round Table Sir Parmenides, who has his own castle in the English countryside. 

But that's not all. The centrepiece of the film sees our very silly alliance of baddies perform a comedy pagan ceremony of sacrifice at a matte painting of Stonehenge. After their defeat Arthur orders the monument to be trashed, a bit like Daesh in Palmyra. This is appropriate, I suppose, as Arthur spends the entire film behaving like a twat. Oh, and he's depicted as a King of "England"  the very country that any real life Arthur would have devoted his life to strangling at birth. Arthur didn't like immigrants much, a lot like most Britons today. This Arthur seems positively encouraging of diversity, notwithstanding his twattishness.

Even disregarding these frighteningly ignorant depictions of history- children actually watched this film!- the plot is annoying and relies on Arthur being stupid and thick-heatedly disbelieving for the plot to work.

Patrick Troughton gives us some top class moustache twirling but Alan Ladd phones it in as heroic blacksmith John. Then again, with a script as hopeless as this, why wouldn't he? A film not worth bothering with.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

"Just keeping the British end up, Sir..."

Ah, 1977. The year of my birth. No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones. The two sevens clash. And any number of punk allusions you'd care to make. It's also the absolute nadir of men's fashions: every single bloke in this film looks absolutely awful. It's difficult to understand why men bothered to wear suits at all in 1977 because they all, without exception, look shit. You can see how punk was so very necessary, for fashion as much as music.

Still, The Spy Who Loved Me is another triumph. I'm a little puzzled as to why The Man with the Golden Gun was so no pulse with both critics and public- I rather liked it- but I'll not argue with the consensus here. The taut plot, the awesome action sequences, the wittiest script yet, all of this makes for one of the finest Bond films yet, even if Roger Moore is perhaps, in only his third film, beginning to look just a little too old for the part.

Neither Moore nor Barbara Bach )Mrs. Ringi Starr!) will ever win any Oscars, but they somehow work perfectly together. Curd Jurgens, taking a break from playing 75% of all Nazi officers in the history of cinema, is the finest Bond villain yet. He has it all; the underwater lair, the hare-brained scheme to bike the world so humanity can start a new life under the sea(!); and the sharks beneath a trapdoor to eat treacherous underlings. 

Meanwhile Caroline Munro is there to look sexy, and Richard Kiel is a splendid if mute presence as Jaws, suspiciously soon after a film after the same name, also featuring a shark. Hmm. There's also a staggering number of British characters on display- George Baker, Edward de Souza, Vernon Dobtcheff, Nadim Sawalha and Cyril Chaps. The American submarine commander is played, inevitably, by Shane Rimmer. It could never have been otherwise.

The film is full of brilliant, stylish action sequences from the opening ski chase (love the parachute) to Bond's best car yet. By this point we know all the tropes and the film can have real fun with them.
The double entendres ("Well, tell him to pull out immediately") are superb. There's even a moment of wit for the incidental music: the familiar refrain from Lawrence of Arabia is heard as Bond and Anya traverse the desert.

The locations- Cairo, the pyramids and Karnak- are the best possible. Carly Simon's theme tune is the best yet and surely unsurpassable. Can this be the best Bond yet?

Friday, 11 March 2016

Notorious (1946)

"I am married to an American agent!"

I'm not entirely sure why German spies should still be up to no good by April 1946 when the film takes place, but this is a justly celebrated classic with magnificent dialogue, splendid performances from Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant- whose chemistry is electric- genuine suspense, and some absolutely astounding directing, specially towards the end when the camera shows us just how disoriented Alicia is.

Behind all this, though, is a pleasingly progressive message: the superbly hard-drinking Alicia is brave and patriotic for infiltrating these dangerous Nazis as she does, making the sacrifice of even having regular sex with Sebastian, their leader, yet the men (all of them are men) who are "running" her simply dismiss her as a whore, with only Devlin to defend her honour. Such are the double standards applied so depressingly often to women even today, but Hitchcock is to be applauded for addressing this in 1946.

The plot is like clockwork, the final few minutes electric, and the conclusion deeply satisfying. This is a truly fine film.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

"See the amazing cinematograph- the wonder of modern civilisation."

Francis Ford Coppola gives us a lush, gorgeous Dracula. While the film doesn't entirely work- it's bloated and over-detailed- I'd actually blame the source material rather than this excellently made film which, in spite of what is often said and in spite of some obvious and welcome homages to James Whale's 1931 film, is if anything a little too faithful to the novel.

The casting is full of big names, although an oddity is that very few of the big names are using their own native accents in one way or another. Gary Oldman is a splendid Dracula, while Winona Ryder- who, it being the early '90s, had to appear in this film- is well cast as the sexually repressed and innocent Mina, whose repressed desires are soon teased out. Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker is, as ever, Ted, while Anthony Hopkins is a convincing and amusing Van Helsing.

The film makes explicit what is implicit in the novel: it's all a metaphor for sex and sexuality, as numerous scenes make clear with vampirism always portrayed in an obviously sexualised manner. Another nice touch is that all narration us epistolary in nature, paralleling the firm and structure of Stoker's novel. But Coppola also adds a prologue in which Vlad the Impaler turns against God and (in a process not entirely clear) towards vampirism after the Juliet-like suicide of his wife, who thought him dead. In lesser hands this would have been corny and embarrassing, but Coppola makes it work.

The direction is beautiful: I love the change in texture and camerawork during the cinematograph scenes. The only real criticism I can find is Richard E. grant phoning in his performance; the film is beautifully made and bloated only because Coppola is clearly such a huge Dracula fanboy, something I'm well prepared to indulge.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

"It's me legs!"

This is the third version of The Quatermass Xperiment I've blogged, easily the shortest and, to be brutally honest, the third best. It's a very perfunctory, rushed version with none of Nigel Kneale's subtleties and Brian Donlevy's Quatermass (no characters comment on the fact that either he or Judith Carroon are American) is unsympathetic and entirely devoid of charm.

Still, in spite of the first half of the film actually being quite dull with the absence of the interesting bit (the alien is just possessing Carroon, not a gestalt entity, and Judith hasn't been sleeping with Gordon), the second half becomes more interesting as it suddenly turns into a horror film, and Richard Wordsworth clearly basing his performance on Boris Karloff: there's even a scene with a little girl that strongly evokes James Whale's Frankenstein.

Other interesting performances are a comic turn from a cockney Thora Hird and a young Gordon Jackson as a to producer, but the film never quite takes off. 

It's strange that this is considered the first of the Hammer horrors; having seen this, X the Unknown and The Abominable Snowmen I wouldn't really consider any of them as such, not really being "horrors" and not necessarily featuring the cast and crew we would expect. Still, from little acorns..

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Time Bandits (1981)

"Four foot one! That is a long time, isn't it?"

This isn't really all that brilliant a film, in spite of some splendid individual bits of comedy, but it's a fascinating record of Terry Gilliam at this point in his career, with stylistic signs of his later directorial career yet with one foot very much still in Python- the film just feels very Monty Python, not surprisingly as Gilliam co-wrote it with Michael Palin, and both Palin and John Cleese get some splendid cameos: I love Cleese's version of Robin Hood as Prince Charles. And, as with the Python films, the owner of Handmade Films, one George Harrison, is involved, in this case providing a rather good song.

Also brilliant are Ian Holm's height- obsessed Napoleon and Sean Connery's noble and charismatic Agamemnon, complete with the Caledonian tones which were, I'm sure, de rigeur in ancient Mycenae. David Warner is, as ever, a magnificent baddie and the great Ralph Richardson is, literally, God, although he phoned in his performance somewhat.

The whole concept of a portal in young Kevin's bedroom, a portal into other realities that does not abide by the laws of science, is so very reminiscent of British children's fiction, from Alice to Narnia. The dwarves, put in charge of shrubbery by the Supreme Being, remind me a bit of Slartibartfast from the then-recent Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, while also providing a good employment agency for dwarf actors.

It's not as good as I remembered; individual scenes are good but as a whole it drags a bit. Still, it's a fascinating film to look back on.

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

"I admit it's a little kinky..."

It says a lot for the recent high standards of Bond films that, while The Man with the Golden Gun is a splendidly enjoyable film in which both Roger Moore and Christopher Lee are excellent, it is in comparison not as good as many of its predecessors, merely very good rather than superb. Still, the run of good Bond films continues.

Lulu's stab at theme tune is a perfectly good one even if it's no one's favourite and she's so Shirley Bassey. And those lyrics... "Who will he bang?" Oo er!

Q is back, this time paired with a ballistics expert played by the superb James Cossins, who I will always remember fondly from a certain episode of Some Mothers do 'Ave 'Em. But it's an unusual Bond film, the villain being an assassin whose grand scheme to monopolise solar power seems almost an afterthought. But seeing solar power as a panacea? And one has to raise an eyebrow, given the current price of oil, that supplies of oil and gas were thought to be exhausted back in 1974, even if the central point is true.

The film is a splendid series of entertaining set pieces, this time in various parts of the Far East. I was a little perturbed to find Sumo wrestlers in Thailand, though: it's almost as though all eastern Asian countries and cultures are considered interchangeable. Our agent in Hong Kong even has convenient relatives in Thailand. Still, schoolgirls kicking ass with martial arts are cool.

I'm not sure about including that annoying sheriff from the last film as comic relief, but the film is another triumph. We get the first of the formulaic endings, too, with M phoning Bond while he's otherwise occupied with Goodnight ("She's just cumming, Sir"). The Roger Moore era is in full swing already.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Live and Let Die (1973)

"There's no sense in going out half-cocked..."

Well then. It seems there's a possible new candidate for best Bond film so far. Live and Let Die is brilliant, crammed with set piece after set piece, Roger Moore is charismatic and compelling from the word go- he is Bond, straight away- and Yaphet Kotto as Dr Kananga may be the best Bond villain yet. All this and we also get Jane Seymour as a decidedly quirky Bond girl. Where's Q, though?

I'll leave others to decide whether or not the depiction of black Americans and the Carribbean is racist or not (sooo many afros!), but Baron Samedi and the snake are cool, and I love the killings with the coffin that make a great pre-titles sequence. Unlike On Her Majesty's Secret Service, this time we don't see the new James Bond until after the opening titles, dragging out the suspense.

So much cool stuff- alligators, Tee Hee's hand, tarot cards,  boat chase across the Louisiana bayou and a comedy sheriff: this is a very different but very impressive Bond film.

Again, though, why are so many MI6  agents operating in America when, you know, the CIA exists?

Friday, 4 March 2016

Marvel's Agent Carter: The Lady in the Lake

"It's the flamingo, isn't it?"

"It is indeed the flamingo."

This first episode just sparkled; the characterisation, wit and well-placed humour are a delight. This is the best scripted episode so far by miles and, if that's not enough, the new Los Angeles setting makes things seem fresh and new. It's the Golden Age of Hollywood!

The story of the week is actually pretty damn great- a murder disguised to look like the work of a serial killer to protect the conspiracy that's really going on, a police detective with mysterious powers who dies before squealing, and behind it all is one Whitney Frost- although at this point she is far from disfigured, unless her mask is very good indeed. I wonder if Count Nefaria and the Maggia exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Jarvis is fantastic as ever: I love his comments on LA and, especially, the revelation that the thus far mysterious Mrs Jarvis (first name?) is both nothing like we expect and clicks immediately with Peggy.

Other interesting little titbits for the rest of the season are the reason for Sousa's avoiding Peggy- he has a girlfriend- and the introduction of likeable physicist Jason Wilkes who, being black, is likely to experience some very 1940s racist attitudes. It'll be interesting to see how this is handled. And then there's this strange otherworldly material he seems to have...

Best of all, though? Whitney Frost has starred in a film called Tales of Suspense, the very comic book in which she first appeared. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Night Manager: Episode 2

"Just remember one thing, honey; you're nothing but a dirty whore."

So this is where it gets good.

Stuff is finally happening and Jonathan gets to be undercover, badass and, at last, likeable. Hugh Laurie is simply amazing as Richard Roper; we've sadly missed out on all the great villains he could have been playing all these years. We also get action, excitement, a bizarre serious role as MI6 top brass for Neil Morrissey of all people, and David Harewood with a decent American accent. This has suddenly become bloody good telly.

We see just how much Jonathan mourns his lost love- prepared not to risk just his own life but to accept frequent violence and the need to abandon his old identity forever. He is magnificent, and I suppose the contrast with the old, obsequious Jonathan is the point.

Olivia Colman is just as electrifying as the tenacious Angela, just likeable enough while having a very hard edge.

That cliffhanger looks ominous, and this serial looks as though it's going to be fun. What a difference a week makes.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

"When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capital, we don't meet him with tea and cookies!"

This film is a magnificent spectacle of flying saucers courtesy of the great Ray Harryhausen, with loads of great action sequences and even a reasonable plot and a stab at characterisation. It's one of the better films of its type and definitely not Mystery Theatre 3000 territory. Even the acting is largely adequate.

It's still very '50s, of course. The sexual politics raise an eyebrow. And it's interesting to watch the early part of the film, predicting satellites, knowing that next year the Soviets will launch Sputnik and the Space Age will begin.

And then you look at the aliens and their silly walk and think "Oh dear".

Still, this is a visually impressive flying saucer flick that looks good even today. It's probably as good as a '50s sci-fi B movie is going to get.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Doctor Who Pubcast

Here's the latest Pubcast, courtesy of Nick and myself..,

Hellboy (2004)

"Plus, you're nine. You're not old enough to be giving me advice!"

I cannot applaud highly enough the excellent decision to give a big Hollywood comic book blockbuster like Hellboy to art film maestro Guillermo Del Toro to direct; in his hands the film looks gorgeous, atmospheric, stylised, perfect. So much so, in fact, that it threatens to elevate a somewhat so-so script into excellence.

The basic concept isn't very original beyond the character of Hellboy himself: occult Nazis are all very Indiana Jones while the monsters look suspiciously Lovecraftian. Nor is the concept of a secret government agency gratifyingly original and, indeed, Professor Broom and his super powered team of mutants look awfully like the X-Men. But the story, and characters, are nevertheless worth following.

You don't need you to tell me how magnificent John Hurt is, but Ron Peelman is also magnificent, and the cast as a whole has nary a weak link. And the ending is particularly effective, as Myers fulfils his destiny as the virtuous Gakahad-type hero while Hellboy proves that not only can he use his free will to be a hero in spite of being a demon, but also gets the girl.

This film hasn't got an original bone in its body. But dammit, it's fun.