Friday, 30 September 2016

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

"I should be on that list!"

Best Stan Lee cameo EVER.

After the travesty of the 2015 film it's so good to see a cinematic version of the FF which faithfully reproduces the characters, makes them engaging, is full of thrills and action, and generally continues in much the same vein as it's excellent 2005 predecessor. There's very much a '60s feel, adapting one of the classic Lee/Kirby tales and including Reed's and Sue's wedding to boot, and even turning Johnny into a kind of Super-Skrull for the climax after an inspired sub-plot where he swaps powers with other team members, which has particular resonance for Ben. Yes, we hardly see Galactus and that's disappointing, but there's precious little that's wrong with this film.

The film is well-scripted, the cast continue to be excellent and the characters are all true to themselves, with the continuing exception of Dr Doom. The Silver Surfer is done well too, although Laurence Fishburne is a little wasted in a voice only role. I had to laugh at the set piece in London, something which is happening a lot in films I'm watching at the moment, but it works well.

Yep. That's how it should be done, Fox. Let's be more like this and less like the recent film, hmmm?

Pixels (2015)

"Don't tell anyone I killed a smurf..."

I am, to put it mildly, far from an Adam Sandler fan. Worse, this film seems to have left the critics unimpressed. But, perhaps because I'm very old school when it comes to computer games (I was born in 1977 and pretty much stopped buying new games in the early '90s as albums by rock bands replaced games in my limited teenage budget), I found this film pleasantly and nostalgically entertaining. I'll admit, though, that I'm still not particularly enamoured with Sandler as such.

The film looks great, and it's huge fun seeing Space Invaders, Centipede, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong recreated in real life. And Ludlow is an enjoyable piss-take of conspiracy nuts ("JFK shot first!"),  so insane that he actually uses 4chan. The film also makes a good point; those 8-bit games from the '80s relied on recognising the pattern, not something that applies these days.

I love the scenes in London- Hollywood certainly seems to love our visually arresting national capital, and Fiona Shaw gets a great cameo as the prime minister. There's a lot to love. But I'm a little disturbed by the treatment of Fox News as a legitimate news source and the troubling idea that it's ok for  a US president not to know big words. But there's no denying how much I enjoyed this film.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Fantastic Four (2015)

"Its clobbering time!"

This may just possibly be the worst film I have EVER seen. It really is that bad, and it's depressingly clear that Fox only made the film to retain the rights- not the only time this has happened with a Fantastic Four film, unfortunately. You can certainly understand Marvel's disquiet.

So what's wrong with the film? Well, Reed Richards is blatantly too young; the character of Doctor Doom is mishandled in exactly the same way as the otherwise excellent 2005 film, portraying him as simply an arrogant scientist who may as well be American; and it does the bloody origin again, which is something I keep banging on about as something films should avoid as they're essentially just exposition and it's best just to skip to the action.

But what's truly unforgivable about the film, aside from the cast's utter lack of charisma, is that it utterly fails to do this. It's boring. Literally nothing exciting happens until the last ten minutes. It takes a lot to make a film about the Fantastic Four that's just dull, but this has managed to do it.

I suppose you could say that the film successfully conveys the horror of Ben Grimm's situation, and it's nice to substitute another dimension for cosmic rays, but this film has no other redeeming features. This is one to be watched only for the purpose of slagging it off in blogs, which is my way of trying to justify wasting my time on this dreck.

Marvel's Agent Carter: Monsters

"He kissed me. I indulged him."

Masters has Dottie all there and ready for, ahem, "advanced interrogation techniques" but it seems she has the upper hand. What with him now being Whitney's bitch he probably isn't a very happy male chauvinist. No wonder he's out to get Peggy.

Jason is now corporeal but still not quite stable. He's still able to snog Peggy, though, adding yet more complications to her tangled love life. She's still Peggy, though, and both she and Jarvis cheerfully walk into Whitney's trap. There follows an interesting scene with Peggy and Dottie in a cell together desperately trying to escape first while Dottie makes some interesting comments about how corrupt the SSR is; I suspect that by the end of the season we will find that she was right in every detail and that Peggy will either leave or end up in charge. That's my prediction.

The big twist, of course, it that the trap is not for Peggy and Jarvis- they're only imprisoned to keep them out of the way while Whitney jabs the real prize- Jason. Which she does. And the episode ends with a shock as she shoots Ana Jarvis in cold blood to aid her escape. This despicable act rather undermines the noble sentiments she was just espousing to Jason about racism and misogyny, but she is a baddie, after all.

We end with an infra-SSR coup as the dastardly Vernon Masters seizes control from Sousa. The season hasn't long left to go but I'm certainly enjoying the ride...

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 4: Cherokee Rose

"I'll have sex with you!"

There's an uplifting beginning to this more contemplative and less intense episode as Carl wakes, and he's ok. God-bothering patrician type Herschel conducts a moving Christian funeral for Otis which includes the inevitable awkward moment for Shane. But, underneath it all, Sophia is still missing, and it's been so long. We, being seasoned viewers of television, are quite aware that so much narrative time being spent on the search for her is unlikely to end in an anticlimax, but the characters don't. So it's fitting that the title of the episode refers to a moving gesture of hope from Daryl to Melissa.

Rick manages to negotiate with Herschel for his tribe to stay there for a while, and there's a spot of bother with a zombie in a well. Lori seems to be pregnant, and Maggie and Glenn take advantage of a rare bit of privacy to have a bit of a shag, taking what joy they can from their bleak and likely short existences. Still, both of these things recognise that life goes on.

Still, whose baby is it? Another brilliant episode, and this is shaping up to be another excellent season.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 3: Save the Last One

"Call that payback for laughing about my itchy ass..."

Sophia is still missing and it's all getting rather concerning. Still, it would be an anti-climax after all this for her simply to have suffered death by zombie. Meanwhile we end the episode by seeing a very dark side to Shane, via flashback, as he shoots the brave and resourceful Otis, after many close scrapes and what seems like a genuine friendship, as soon as he becomes a liability. Shane is getting darker and darker and will surely get his comeuppance before the season is over.

Meanwhile, Dale and T-Bone join the rest at Herschel's farm as Lori and Rick debate whether, given Carl's dire situation, this is a world for children to live in any more. Is it cruel to propagate the species now that there can no longer be such a thing as a true childhood?

In the event Carl survives, but the argument still resonates. Elsewhere Glenn and Maggie seem to connect, and we see a hanged zombie with half-eaten legs, the result of a stupidly done suicide. It's the image of the episode but it is Carl's survival and Shane's perfidy that linger. Another superb episode.

Minions (2015)

"Gentlemen do not steal ladies' crowns!"

This is yet another instalment of Minion fun; by no means one of the greatest comedy films of all time but a thoroughly entertaining romp with a first class '60s rock soundtrack. It's 1968, and the pre-Gru and tragically bossless Minions seek to become the underlings of the splendidly supervillainous Scarlet Underkill (Sandra Bullock in a rare appearance in a film that isn't rubbish).

I love the gentle mockery of us Brits as unflappable and always reaching for a cup of tea in a crisis (I certainly do so, in a crisis and at all other times), however much I somehow doubt the constitutional validity of Bob becoming king by simply drawing a sword from a stone, which is apparently a tourist attraction in central London. It seems the Glorious Revolution never happened. Hmmm. I also loved the inevitable Beatles cameo, and the nice family of bank robbers who kindly pick up hitch hikers.

It ends entertainingly, with Scarlet turning into a massive Dalek and a final intervention from a very young Gru. This is a very silly film and one I much enjoyed.

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 2: Bloodletting

"Am I the only one zen around here?"

This episode deals with the awful aftermath of a traumatic event, as Rick, Shane and their new acquaintances- mainly Maggie, Herschel (fortunately and conveniently a medic) and guilt-ridden shooter Otis- struggle chaotically to save Carl's life while, elsewhere, the rest of the gang continue their increasingly desperate search for Sophia; suffer the little children indeed. Only Daryl is calm and quietly optimistic, and he should know.

It's brace to introduce new cast members under such conditions, perhaps, but this helps to flesh out Herschel as a calming and authoritative presence at a time when Rick is unable to be those things.

There's a nice contrast at the start, with a flashback of Carl having to be told about Rick's shooting being contrasted with the reverse. It's clear that the lad may not live although, you know, this is a television drama and we all know the tropes.

Meanwhile, T-Bone is injured from last episode, and we're reminded that he could die without antibiotics, a diminishing resource as the trappings of civilisation continue to slip away. Carl can only be saved if a perilous journey is undertaken to take medical supplies from under the noses of loads of zombies; this falls to Shane and a conscience-stricken Otis.

Maggie manages to find the tribe and have everyone (aside from Sophia, of course, and both Dale and T-Bone at the motorhome) arrive at the house, meaning that keeping track of the characters becomes a fair bit easier for the writer. We get a nice chat between Herschel and Rick- Herschel is confident that the zombie outbreak is just a big disease and will eventually come to an end- and an interesting revelation: he's a vet, not a doctor!

We end this typically superb episode with Shane and Otis seemingly under siege...

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 1: What Lies Ahead

"This gross bastard had himself a woodchuck for lunch"

We start the season with the tribe in a desperate situation, as we hear via Rick's walkie talkie message to Morgan (I'm sure we'll see him again, but for now this is a handy excuse for a bit of exposition). They have ahead of them an exodus of a hundred miles across potential zombie territory with absolutely no way of maintaining their vehicles other than what they can do themselves. Many, including Rick, are teetering on the edge of losing faith.

There's a great set piece for the episode of everyone hiding behind beer eath various vehicles from a passing herd of zombies, with some very close calls. And, as part of this, twelve year old Sophia gets lost in the woods shortly after Rick has saved her but had to leave to deal with the zombie. It says a lot for this show that we all feel the agonised hope and despair of the tribe as they search for her without any success, but Daryl Dixon turns out to be quietly amazing, with his tracking skills and his temperament.

We also hear of Andrea's resentment towards Dale for presuming to thwart her attempted suicide under such a hopeless background- perhaps she has a point. The gang end up in. Church where, cruelly, Sophia's mother Carol reveals in her prayer that she feels she's being punished for wishing her abuser husband dead. But the final moments are of beauty, in the form of a deer, and shock, as Carl is shot...

This is gripping and bloody good telly.

Victoria: An Ordinary Woman

"We've been replaced, Lord Melbourne."

"That's as it should be."

Getting hitched is, sadly, always a political act for a monarch, especially if one's spouse is a German prince. What should his title be? Certainly not "King Consort" says the House of Commons. What should his allowance be? Not as much as the amount King Leopold I of Belgium is getting, says Sir Robert Peel. And what, in fact, should he do as opposed to be? All of this is gendered, of course; none of these issues would be so vexed for a female consort to a king with her uncomplicated title of "queen". Here, in Victoria and Albert, we have a situation where the male appears to be oppressed somewhat by the patriarchy.

Albert is, of course, a clever and principled man; he needs to define a role beyond shagging the queen. He needs an income of his own. Vicky, meanwhile, is anxious lest he find himself a mistress as her uncles tend to do. And the Duke of Wellington makes mischievous Tory noises asking how we can be sure that Albert isn't (shock horror) a Catholic.

Still, it's cute that Albert makes use of a prostitute before the wedding, but only to ask her for sex tips.   The couple are, in the end, married, and we end with a discreet sex scene, although not before Vicky says goodbye to her faithful Lord M. Another well-produced if stylistically conventional episode of period drama.

The Walking Dead- Season 1, Episode 6: TS-19

"This is what takes us down. This is our extinction event."

This is a fascinatingly different and daringly philosophical finale, first allowing the characters a much-deserved break with safety, wine, hot showers and area scientific revelations- zombies are not the same individual as the person they replaced- but we are brought down to Earth hard; this sanctuary, like all science, technology and culture, is seemingly moribund, and this sanctuary has only a few days before, inevitably, the power runs out- and the place blows up.

It's a nice examination of the philosophy behind the show in a one-episode microcosm. Another point that arises is, of course, whether or not there's any point in continuing to live if the future is so bleak and unpleasant.  Is there any hope? Rick and Andrea are on opposite sides here, and there's a powerful scene where Dale essentially mansplains Andrea out of suicide.

We also get a flashback of the "event" from Shane's POV, and a scene where he tries to rape Lori, an act which immediately and permanently loses him the sympathy of the viewer and probably makes his death next season inevitable; that's an actual prediction. We also get theheartbreaking revelation that the French came close to a cure before- what else?- the power ran out.

This is a powerful and extraordinary episode, where the CDC building's falling apart is a rather apt metaphor. But we end with a superb and deeply appropriate Bob Dylan track...

Monday, 26 September 2016

The Walking Dead- Season 1, Episode 5: Wildfire

"I bet there isn't even a single son of a bitch out there listening, is there?"

This episode consists of a desperate exodus over dozens of miles, to an uncertain promised land (the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta) with a great deal of faith required: it's not difficult to see a religious subtext here. It's also an episode defined by moving scenes of the wounded and infected Jim  volunteering to be left behind to face certain death out of sheer selflessness. As is becoming habitual for this show, these scenes are dwelt upon, with lots of lingering for the camera, but the script is nicely restrained in letting us decide for ourselves how we ought to feel about it. That's a sign of quality.

It's a superb episode for character development generally as these individuals continue to be fleshed out more and more. Andrea's vigil by Amy's corpse, and her insistence on personally shooting the zombie as it wakes in her sister's body, is handled no less superbly than is Jim's death. Death brings out character in a way few things do. It's an episode about the human side of undeath.

We end with our friends, surrounded and seemingly doomed, being allowed into the CDC by a mysterious scientists whose desperate broadcasts we have been made privy to throughout. It seems the finale will explore new ground, but if this is anything to go by then it will probably be excellent.

The Walking Dead- Season 1, Episode 4: Vatos

"Admit it, you only came back to Atlanta for the hat."

These are still early days for this fledgling show, and each episode is unveiling more and more about this post-apocalyptic show and what it can do. This one plays a trick that can only be done once early: there's another group of humans nearby (it'll be interesting to find out how common this is) and, while at first they seem threatening, they are only being that way out of charity towards their elderly patients. They know that, in the long run, they are all doomed, but as they await their inevitable fate they do the right thing. It's all very noble.

We begin with a bit of bonding between sisters Andrea and Amy, which ought to give us a pretty strong hint that not both of them will survive the episode. Another subtext here is, of course, traditional gender roles as touched on last episode; fishing is traditionally men's work, and the sisters are causing a bit of friction with the more reactionary of the menfolk.

Meanwhile, Jim is going a bit peculiar and digging a load of graves in a vaguely supernatural
Premonition of the zombie attack on the camp that is coming at the end of the episode. This is shocking when it comes, and the death of Amy on the eve of her birthday is utterly heartbreaking. Her death, in a nice touch, is properly dwelt upon and given meaning, not least by a lingering camera, but the gang ends the episode homeless, fleeing in a motorhome...

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Walking Dead- Season 1, Episode 3: Tell It to the Frogs

"I miss my vibrator!"

After a couple of episodes of set-up we settle down and get to know our now-larger cast a little better while we explore the human dimension of how the little post-apocalyptic tribe is functioning- the reassertion of traditional gender roles, in spite of resistance, is depressingly realistic, as is the domestic abuse and the reaction of the abused party to Shane giving the prick the beating he deserves ("I'm sorry, Ed!"). We also see Merle realising the full horror of his situation and starting to escape, but his full fate is uncertain.

Rick slowly integrates himself into the community, helped considerably by the fact that his wife and son are already part of it. There is awkwardness; Shane and Lori have to discreetly end their relationship, while both Rick and T-Bone have a confession to make to Merle's hunter brother Daryl, leading to Rick doing the honourable thing and offering to join Daryl, T-Bone and Glenn on a rescue mission. It's a good narrative way for him to earn the trust of the whole tribe.

We end, as might be expected, with Merle's fate still unknown, but it's becoming increasingly clear, now that the writing has time to breathe, just how good the characterisation of this show is. I think I'm going to enjoy it.

Thursday, 22 September 2016


I sat my exam today so the semi-hiatus is over: expect the normal frequency of blog posts from now on.

The Walking Dead- Season 1, Episode 2: Guts

"You're the new sheriff come riding in to clean up the town?"

Rick isn't alone any more as we're introduced to our new supporting cast; we have Rick's saviour, the young and plucky Glenn; the cynical Andrea; the quiet and wary T-Bone; the loud racist redneck Merle Dixon, and what I presume to be a couple of redshirts . All of them are trapped in a department store in central Atlanta under siege from zombies. This is a trope if ever there was one, and a chance for Rick to prove himself to his new gang. Again, though, tropes have their uses; they cut down on an awful lot of exposition.

Meanwhile, back at camp, Lori and Carl are alive- and the assumed widow Lori is now sleeping with Shane. That's a bit awkward. At the mall, though, as needed for the narrative, Rick saves everyone by thinking outside the box. A good thing, too, as it was him who put them in danger, but it's all a good bonding experience. But Merle's racist thuggishness means he's cuffed to the top of the building as the zombies attack. He's doomed, surely?

What else? Rick sees a helicopter, which I'm sure will be relevant later. But we're still in the realm of set-up, albeit damn good set-up.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Walking Dead- Season 1, Episode 1: Days Gone Bye

"Is this real? Am I here?"

So, er... about me finishing off Buffy and Angel before I start anything else? I'm on it, really I am, but we have a missing disc from Angel season four that I suspect to be 200 miles away and... Mrs Llamastrangler and I just happened to start watching The Walking Dead. So I might as well blog it.

This is an extraordinary looking piece of television and, while pilot episodes are never the best ones as they have so many jobs to do and are setting the stage for good stuff later, you can tell that this is going to be a well-written, well-acted and thoughtful take on the zombie apocalypse

I watched Teachers back in my university days at the turn of the millennium, so first impressions of seeing him as a sheriff in Georgia with an accent to match are bloody disconcerting, but once I'd got past that barrier it was easy to appreciate his strengths as a sympathetic everyman, a hero with problems in the form of a rocky marriage- very much a hero in the Marvel mound; being a trained cop is very much a superpower after the zombie apocalypse.

Yes, this origin story, with Rick waking from a coma to find that the zombie apocalypse has happened, is more than a little Day of the Triffids, but it's also a neat short cut; we all know the zombie tropes, which also helps. It's an extra-long opening episode, but a lot of its work has already been done with the tropes being familiar. Including the cop show stuff at the start, which was pure Dukes of Hazzard.

The only possible criticism I have of this is to ask who carries a match in the twenty-first century, but that's a minor quibble. And I have to raise an eyebrow at both Rick and exposition man Morgan are American characters played by British actors, but this is brilliant, constantly and gradually revealing the true horror of the situation. We end with Rick trapped inside a tank, surrounded by the extremely large zombie population of Atlanta...

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Victoria: The Clockwork Prince

"I do not need you to tell me what to think, Albert."

"No, Lord Melbourne does."

This is the one in which Albert woos Vicky and then, being queen, she proposes to him, patriarchy or no patriarchy. He's a bit stiff but decent, kind and sympathetic to the viewer, being shown to be very progressive, more so than Lord Melbourne; he appreciates the social commentary of that young Dickens chap.

It's nice to see the penny post being introduced, and Vicky's observation that anyone wanting to send any post must lick her face! We get allusions to the First Afghan War, too, and hints of parliamentary stuff, but it all takes a back seat to Albert.

Miss Skerritt, meanwhile, comes through a test of her honesty that introduces us to her impecunious sister and niece and hints yet more at a very tough background, far from Victoria's. This sort of thing is necessary to provide a context, of course; ordinary people matter a damn sight more than royalty.

This episode may be relatively light on theme, being about a wooing and such forth, but the series continues to be superbly written, shot and acted.

Marvel's Agent Carter: The Life of the Party

"You look terrible."

"Says the woman with the rebar through her abdomen..."

Taking a chance to catch up with Agent Carter; bear with me. My wife has already seen this and I'm not around much at home on my own these days. I'll get it all done, trust me.

Anyway, we get an entertaining episode, if a but perfunctory, as a still injured Peggy is forced to rely on the decidedly dodgy Dottie in order to get a dark matter-infused tissue sample from Whitney Frost, which is rather urgently needed if Jason is to avoid losing physical form completely. It's a funny and eventful episode, just one whose function in the arc is perhaps just a little too obvious. You can see the joins a bit.

Ominously, Peggy's boss is informed by the powers that be that he's not simply to sack her but to utterly destroy and discredit her; none too nice times are ahead. And Whitney's speech towards the council goes unexpectedly- their attempt to kidnap and use her utterly fails and she takes over, killing those who stand in her way- including her husband. The episode ends with the season's big bad looking frightfully powerful.

There's room for the human element, too, as a guilt-ridden Peggy learns why Sousa's engagement has been broken off. I suspect dark times lie ahead.

Steve Jobs (2015)

"I play the orchestra."

Five years after Aaron Sorkin scripted a biopic of Mark Zuckerberg he does the same for the late Steve Jobs, another scion of the Silicon Valley aristocracy, this time helmed by Danny Boyle, whose London Olympics opening ceremony has certainly not harmed his career. The result is gripping, full of quick-fire dialogue (that'll be Sorkin, then) and plenty of zingers and little nostalgic touches. Throughout it all is a portrait of a confident- nay, arrogant, bordering on unlikeable visionary who, while not an engineer or a programmer, is the conductor who cannot play an instrument but plays the orchestra superbly.

The film is structured around the preparation to three distinct big speeches in 1984, 1988 and 1988, all big product launches. It's a brave yet ultimately successful way of limiting the palette in order to produce a cohesive narrative. Michael Fassbender is spellbinding and the excellent Kate Winslet is barely recognisable; a leading Hollywood actress actually playing a role that isn't sexualised.

The emotional centre of the film is Jobs' relationship with his daughter Lisa, starting with his denial of paternity but ending with his actually delaying his speech- a big thing- for her sake. We also see his abrasive relationship with his underlings, but he inspires loyalty in spite of everything. In the end, his vision triumphs, although it's interesting that the film ends in 1997, before Jobs' biggest wave of successes.

I like the nod to the fact that you can't get inside any Apple device without special tools, the grainy picture, the nod to the iPad's origins in Jobs noticing the clinginess of Lisa's Walkman, but at its heart this is a masterful character study. It is an artfully constructed and fascinating little film.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Victoria: Brocket Hall

"I am plagued by uncles!"

We begin with Chartist demonstrations juxtaposed with Vicky's upbeat speech; all is not well in our Vicky's kingdom. And worse, Uncle Leopold, on holiday from being King of the Belgians, has arrived to nag Vicky to marry her first cousin- yes, first cousin, uuurgh- Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. And, in commoner news, Mrs Jenkins' nephew is to be hung, drawn and quartered for demonstrating with the Chartists, which seems a bit harsh. Still, at least Vicky has got Conroy to bugger off by simply taking advantage of his greed.

The episode asks the question of whether Vicky should marry or not; the shadow of Elizabeth hangs over the episode, with the subtext very much losing the "sub" when Vicky and Lord Melbourne dress up as Elizabeth and Leicester. But she is slowly persuaded that she must marry to perpetuate the Royal bloodline. It sounds trite but is well-written and acted to give the impression of substance.

As well as finally acknowledging the sexual tension between Vicky and Lord Melbourne, the episode tacitly acknowledges the trivialities of Vicky's vicissitudes in comparison to the lives of those among the Chartists. Importantly, it still lets her be likeable as she commutes those horrible traitors' deaths to transportation to Australia; Mrs Jenkins will be relieved. Throughout it all Coleman successfully walks that fine line between naivety and sheer ignorance sufficient for Vicky to retain our sympathies.

We end, however, with Albert's arrival...

Victoria: Ladies in Waiting

"Spreading through the palace like a miasma of corruption..."

This episode Victoria learns the hard way that she has constitutional duties, Lord M will not be prime minister forever and that her ministers must sometimes be Tories as well as Whigs, and she must show no bias towards the man who may be moving from father figure to something else. All while still in her teens. And in the background lurks Conroy, plotting to impose a regency.

Sir Robert Peel's Tories don't come across here- they come close to bringing the Whig government down on the issue of slavery- but they are a fact, as they are today in our increasingly scary future, adrift, friendless and alone in a sea of tariffs and contempt. But I digress.

Below stairs, meanwhile, a metaphor for reform is played out as the attempt to introduce gas lighting uncovers a rat problem which in turn threatens to assist those who wish to label our eat-phobic queen as mad, like her famous America-mislay img grandfather, and this undercurrent provides a great deal of tension throughout. Elsewhere, Miss Skerritt's past in the "nunnery" is uncovered.

All is well in the end; there is no serious doubt as to Victoria's sanity, and a piece of parliamentary skulduggery (in real life Peel, an ambitious man, was reluctant to become PM without a solid majority) keeps Melbourne in post, for now. But has young Vicky learned her lesson?

Maleficent (2014)

"True love does not exist!"

OK, I haven't seen Sleeping Beauty yet- although, being the father of an 18 month old girl, in sure I will. But I get the point of this; to offer an alternative viewpoint of the same events from the same version of the same fairytale, just from another character's point of view, and revealing motives that are quite different from an apparent villain. It is, in other words, a massive retcon.

And it really works, much as I'm sure I'd have appreciated it more if I'd seen the cartoon. Angelina Jolie is superb in what is a finely judged performance, as is the whole cast, although why American actors seem reluctant to use their native accents in anything vaguely mediaeval is quite beyond me.

There's a hint of human corruption versus metahuman innocence; the "Moor" very much recalls the myth of Eden, and it's interesting that the very name recalls a kind of othering of their southern neighbours by mediaeval Christendom. There's also the hint of warlike masculinity versus a protective femininity; there are a pleasing number of potential subtexts here to encourage all kinds of readings.

But the climax is undoubtedly feminist; the princess is awakes by her slumbers by the true love not of a handsome prince but of a mother, and King Stefan is well and truly defeated. A fascinatingly rich and textures execution of a very intriguing idea.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Bangville Police (1913)

The first Keystone Kops film and, well, it's a very short example of fairly simple slapstick- no more, no less. It's mildly amusing but has none of the artistry of the true greats of the silent comedy era. Still, I must praise the performances of the impressive Fred Mace and the superb Mabel Normand. See for yourself; the film is in the public domain and on YouTube.

It's an odd historical document, mind. The American West of 1913 is a very distant era, yet the goatees of the male characters make them look like modern day metalheads. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Victoria: Doll 123

"I know that I am young..."

So begins ITV's big prime time eight part biopic of Queen Victoria, and it's gorgeously shot, designed and costumed, surely deliberately, to look like a contemporary painting from the 1830s. It certainly looks gorgeous and evokes the period well. I'm impressed, too, with the casting, performances and script. The juxtaposition of Victoria's coronation with Lady Flora's humiliating examination is a particular high point. But it all hangs on the performance of Jenna Coleman is a very different part to that of Clara in Doctor Who.

This is not the Victoria of the popular imagination but a young, guileless, well-meaning but perhaps naive young girl of 18, still under the thumb of her mother and self-serving stepfather, and Coleman evokes the innocence and the steel, striking the right balance between regal and naive. Rufus Sewell, too, impresses as the initially jaded Lord Melbourne in spite of being somewhat young for the part at first glance.

I also like the way events downstairs are used as a metaphor for what is happening; initially there are all sorts of "perks" and corrupt practices which are stopped, but Victoria eventually holds back from going too far. And it's nice, as a Doctor Who fan, to see Eve Myles and Tommy Knight; there's even a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance from Tom Price.

The history is, give or take a bit of artistic licence, accurate, strongly evoking an age which was no longer of the regency but not yet "Victorian", with a political undercurrent to everything, Victoria being opposed by the Tory supporters of her Uncle Ernest and supported by the Whig prime minister. It'll be interesting to see if this is followed through.

The ending is superb, as Lord Melbourne gives courage D to a Victoria chastened by her wronging of Lady Flora, saying that she has given him a reason to live after the death of his young son, and she is able to carry on and do her duty in that very strange job of constitutional monarch. This is a good and promising start.

True Blood: Thank You

"I wouldn't let you go down on me for a billion dollars!"

So we reach the final episode, and the main story between Sookie and Bill finishes predictably, with no surprises, but beautifully written and shot, as over a large proportion of screen time they come to an understanding and Sookie ends up lovingly killing him- although not, in the end, giving up her fairy powers. This leaves limited room for everyone else, yes, and some very important characters (Lafayette, Sam) are reduced to cameos, but it's the right decision.

Bill also gets to give Jessica away in a hurriedly arranged marriage to Hoyt, a beautiful extended sequence even if there is the niggling sense of an awful lot of unchallenged patriarchal assumptions going on there. Also, Eric kills Gus, and he and Pam end up as the billionaire owners of New Blood and the King and queen of vampiredom, which is nice. And Sarah ends up with a miserable but more-or-less deserved fate, pretty much as the prostitute Pam always intended her to be.

It's also nice to see Sookie advising Jason to actually sleep with Bridgette and get together with her, and the slow rekindling of the friendship between Jason and Hoyt. And it's especially lovely that Andy, who will inherit Bill's estate, agrees to perpetually rent the house to Jessica and Hoyt for a peppercorn rent.

We fast forward at the end to a few years later, and a happy community. Jason and Bridgette have children and Sookie is pregnant by a man whose face we don't see- that's the point; he isn't special. It's the perfect ending to an unexpectedly perfect final season.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Suicide Squad (2016)

"We're bad guys. It's what we do."

Well, I don't care what the critics say. Oh, this film may not be right up there with the greatest- sorry, DC, Deadpool was better- but it was stylish, cool and great fun. Here's your warning: this is a positive review.

I never read the Suicide Squad comics; Batman aside (I certainly read a lot of that) I was more of a Marvel kid and tended to read specific DC titles for the writers- Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and the like- rather than following titles religiously as I did with Marvel. So I'm not writing this as an uber fanboy and can't comment on how the film compares to the comic.

Also... I'm aware that this is the third film of the DC Universe and I haven't seen the others yet. I'll be approaching the DC films as I did the Marvels- obviously I won't watch any Batman II film before a Batman film or anything like that, but I won't be necessarily watching and blogging DC Universe films in strict order, within reason. Anyway...

This is an awesome film with awesome characters, most notably Deadshot and Harley Quinn, and both Will Smith and Margot Robbie are awesome. Jared Leto, too, was a nicely old-fashioned psychopathic Joker, rubbish though his emo band may be. I'm not sure, yet, about the brief glimpses I've had of Ben Affleck as Batman but, well, we'll see about that. 

This was a stylishly directed film, fast-paced and with plot beats perfectly laid out for maximum entertainment value as a blockbuster should. The use of its mainly rock soundtrack was awesome. And I'm genuinely puzzled at the critics' insistence on the supposedly uneven tone- I found no such thing.

Yes, perhaps this is a case of relatively low expectations making me like a film (It has that in common with Citizen Kane...) but I had a good night at the pictures tonight and I'm curious about the previous two DC Universe films. Bring it on.