Monday, 31 October 2016

Superman II (1980)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theatre of Blood (1973)

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

"An opinion I find myself incapable of sharing!"

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

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

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

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Carry On Sergeant (1958)

"Your rank?"

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

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

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

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

Friday, 28 October 2016

Airplane! (1980)

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Quatermass 2 (1957)

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

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

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

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

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

Quatermass II: Episode 6- The Destroyers

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

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

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

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

Monday, 24 October 2016

Quatermass II: Episode 5- The Frenzy

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Quatermass II- Episode 4: The Coming

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

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

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

Nevertheless, this is still first class telly.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Quatermass II- Episode 3: The Food

"These questions must not be asked!"

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

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

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

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

Daredevil: Nelson v. Murdock

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Quatermass II- Episode 2: The Mark

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

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

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

Quatermass II- Episode 1: The Bolts

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

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

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

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

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

"Planet, schmanet, Janet."

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

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

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

Friday, 14 October 2016

Marvel's Agent Carter: Hollywood Ending

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Foxy Brown (1974)

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Marvel's Agent Carter: A Little Song and Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

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

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

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

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Mouse That Roared (1959)

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

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

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

The Sorcerers (1967)

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Arrow- Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

"Oh, and Lost? They were all dead."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Flash- Season 1, Episode 2: The Fastest Man Alive

"No more heroics!"

Our first "normal" episode, then, and our first supervillain- is Damian Black, or "Multiplex" according to Cisco, a villain from the comics as I assume? I'm afraid I never read the comic; I was more of a Marvel kid back then.

Anyway, we have another first person intro, so I assume this is going to be a thing. And we have Barry gradually easing himself into the idea that his new abilities mean he can actually go and be a superhero; this is the ideal moment for an "early crisis of confidence" episode.

It's also pretty cool for Iris to become obsessed with the "Red Blip"; I like this. It's one of many little touches that give this an old-school superhero feel, like an updated and better written episode of George Reeves' Superman.

It's a nice ending, with Joe finally able to encourage Barry to be a hero, and Barry accepting that Joe is indeed another father. The characterisation and character relationships are already strong in what seems set to be a masterful show.

The Flash- Season 1 Episode 1: Pilot

"You're not a hero. You're just a man who got struck by lightning."

Yes, I'm jumping straight into the Arrowverse, as though I didn't already have enough ongoing TV shows, but bear with me. I'm not necessarily going to start watching them in strict order but I'll get it sorted before any real crossovers, if you'll please ignore Green Arrow's cameo here!!!

This is a very assured pilot episode, especially as superhero origin stories are notoriously difficult to make narrative sky interesting. This manages to be both gripping TV and to set up a premise with lots of hooks for future narrative use. Barry Allen is a police pathologist who is extremely good at his job, as shown by the Sherlock-style visual narrative tricks. He also has a traumatic event in his childhood in which his mother Nora died in bizarre circumstances and his dad Henry was wrongly imprisoned for the crime; that's powerful stuff right there.

We're introduced to his step-sister Iris West, with whom he has a bit of romantic tension, and his solid detective step-dad, Joe. All this is established before the inevitable Event; a particle accelerator which gives him super-speed, and he's helped in this by Dr Harrison Wells of STAR Labs, ably assisted by Caitlin and Cisco. That's a solid set-up right there.

Issues? Well. Grant Gustin is a good actor but I'm not sure if his boy band looks are quite appropriate for a part like this, but time will tell.

Incidentally, it's a nice touch that Barry's dad is portrayed by the same actor who played the Flash back in the early '90s.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Marvel's Agent Carter: The Edge of Mystery

"Lift the chorus, speed it onwards!"

It's getting close to the end now and the level of excitement duly intensifies, although not for poor devoted Jarvis at his vigil by the bedside of his injured wife. Eventually we see her recovery but not, alas, unharmed; there will be no little Jarvises.

Whitney, meanwhile, has Jason , and eventually persuades him to side with his fellow dark matter hybrid person although, after a shocking scene where he explicitly switches sides, this doesn't seem to do Whitney much good by the end of the episode. While sinister plots are being made by Masters to accuse Peggy of war crimes (is there any truth to this, though?), Jack finally realises what side he's on and joins Peggy, Sousa, Jarvis and the ever-chippy Dr. Samberley for a showdown in the desert. And we get a dramatic ending.

Amongst all this plot stuff, though, there's still room for an amusingly Sopranos style matriarchal Italian family with a drama-addicted comic relief matriarch. But we end with Jason- not Whitney- being briefly taken through the dark matter portal. What happened? Things are, perhaps, beginning to tread water a little ahead of the finale. But this is still bloody good stuff.

Victoria: The Queen's Husband

"Ten times?"

Vicky is married, very much enjoying the bedtime activities that come with that, but rather concerned to avoid children for the time being. Abstinence is, of course, not an option, but the only options for contraception that she's made aware of are somewhat, er, Victorian.

Meanwhile, continuing Tory wariness towards Vicky manifests itself at dinner; it is not Albert but one of Vicky's uncles who must escort her every evening. Yet Vicky soon deploys her Machiavellian wiles to engineer a victory here, while Albert begins to find a role in supporting those causes that the Sovereign cannot, making a well-received speech against slavery. The history is very logically turned into a narrative structure that works, but leaves us in no doubt that the problem of Albert's role is only partially solved. He is an intelligent man, not an ornament.

Meanwhile, Miss Skerrit discovers that Francatelli's liking for her may be less creepy than she'd assumed; he risks his life to help her relatives and all he want in return is her first name this, I begin to suspect, may be a budding romance "downstairs" to balance out the events "upstairs"; ordinary people matter too.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

"There's no beauty here- only death and decay."

This short film is an instructive reminder that, before 1968 and George A. Romero, zombies were a voodoo, Caribbean thing and not somerging that would ever be done without a Caribbean connection- and yes, this being 1943, there is indeed casual racism all over the place. But what's really surprising is that this isn't an action-filled horror film as such but a small-scale character drama. The zombie in question is just a catatonic woman who may have briefly died; she isn't after you, she doesn't want your brain, and it's even ambiguous whether anything supernatural happened at all. The character of Carrefour is scary to look at, but I wouldn't call this a horror film.

Still, once you accept that this is a simple drama about a burgeoning connection between a nice girl and a man from nasty slave-owning stock who struggles with his sadistic urges. There's even a nice twist at the end. Just be aware of the sort of film this is and be prepared for the cadual