Friday, 30 December 2016

Grimm: Lycanthropia

"Yeah... but who attacked whom?"

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

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

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

Wanted (2008)

"This is me. Taking back control."

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

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

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

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

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

For Fans of 1960s Doctor Who...

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

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Grimm: Silence of the Slams

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Grimm: Into the Schwarzwald

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 December 2016

Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 23 December 2016

Grimm: Key Move

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

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

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

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

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

Commando (1985)

"I can't believe this macho bullshit!"

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

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

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

Humans: Season 2, Episode 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Humans: Season 2, Episode 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humans: Season 2, Episode 6

"I had sex with him."

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Christmas Pubcast

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

Friday, 16 December 2016

Humans: Season 2, Episode 5

"I believe the man has ejaculated."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Humans: Season 2, Episode 4

"It's Qualia!"

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

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

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

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

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

Humans: Season 2, Episode 3


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Odessa File (1974)

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Daredevil: Daredevil

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Daredevil: The Ones We Leave Behind

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

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

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

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

Friday, 9 December 2016

Daredevil: The Path of the Righteous

"We're going through a rough patch."

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

"A very rough patch."

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 5 December 2016

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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


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

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

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

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

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