Sunday, 29 January 2017

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

"Curiouser and curiouser..."

Alice in Wonderland was a very Tim Burton film, and Tim Burton is a director with a very distinctive individual style. It's extremely odd, then, that this sequel should have gone ahead without being directed by him. It seems somewhat humiliating to ask a director (James Bobin is best known for the recent Muppets films) to adopt the style of someone else. The result is perfectly diverting but not entirely successful.

Like its predecessor, this film is entirely original, with only nods to the source material in scenes involving chessboards, Humpty Dumpty and the love me while essentially telling a tale about Alice travelling back in time to save the Mad shatter, who's feeling a bit down. It's a visually arresting film, as you'd expect, but it tends to drag somewhat. Johnny Depp's relative lack of screen time doesn't help, and nor does it help that in those scenes where he does appear the plot doesn't really allow him to be entertaining. Still, Mia Wasikowska is again superb as a splendidly feminist Alice, and the moral of the film is that women can indeed be sea captains, patriarchy be damned.

Highlights are Sacha Baron Cohen as Father Time, a rare example of his playing a character not created by himself, and Andrew Scott as a sinister Victorian doctor obsessed with locking women away because of "female hysteria", reminding us of the dark realities of the time. But best of all is Helena Bonham Carter as the gloriously mad Red Queen. Her eventual reconciliation with the White Queen may be absurd and corny, but it's supposed to be.

This film is uneven, mildly disappointing and nowhere as good as its predecessor. But in spite of this it remains a glorious visual spectacle with a splendid cast and is worth watching in spite of it all.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Class: Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart

"Have you noticed no-one under the age of 35 is called John?"

Poor April has to share her heart with a bloodthirsty alien shadow king thingy. Being a teenager is certainly complicated. Add some lethal pink flower petals and the return of April's dad (played by Con O'Neill who was the lawyer in Cucumber) and you've got another splendid bit of telly. Mrs Llamastrangler and I are well and truly hooked by this intriguing cross between Buffy and Torchwood.

We also get a replacement head for Coal Hill in the person of Dorothea, who seems to know an awful lot and is working for the school's mysterious governors, adding another nice little intriguing arc thread. We also have Miss Quill overhearing Charlie talking about the Cabinet as a weapon of mass destruction; by the iron law of Raymond Chandler, a gun seen on the table in an early scene is bound to go off. This weapon is going to be used before the series ends, I'm sure.

Anyway, the script keeps shipping April and Ram to the point of April's mum catching them having sex(!), and Ram loves April enough to follow her through the wormhole on an apparent suicide mission at the end. Aww. Meanwhile those innocent little flower petals threaten to wipe out humanity but Miss Quill can apparently help Dorothea to avert this- and have that creature out of her head which is restricting her free will into the bargain. She's understandably both sceptical and tempted.

So, yes; really rather good.

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 8: Nebraska

"Get him off my land!"

It's the morning after the night before, and the shocking events, as the second season recommended in sober mood- although not necessarily with literal sobriety in the case of Herschel. Carol mourns poor Sophia, with Daryl also pretty damn upset. Shane continues to be a dangerously arrogant twat whose presence Herschel cannot tolerate, yet Herschel is desperately needed so that Lori's pregnancy can not be a death sentence. Fortunately Rick connects a little with Herschel in a bar; the formerly teetotal farmer has fallen off the wagon with the realisation that zombies are, in fact, not curable people but monsters, and that there is seemingly no hope.

Interestingly (foreshadowingly, perhaps, if that's an adjective), the main threat here is not from Zombies at all but from two random blokes in a bar and, of course, from Shane. Civilisation has broken down, a terrifying thing in itself.

On a more pleasant note Maggie declares her love for Glenn, but the young man seems not to be mature enough to deal with this. I expect that, after the birth of Lori's baby, she'll choose to leave with the gang. But Fort Benning is gone; where can they possibly go to?

We're clearly leading up to a massive showdown with Shane, who surely cannot survive the season. I fear, though, for Dale. I also wonder, well-written though the characters are, how we can possibly fill another four episodes before this happens.

Class: Nightvisiting

"Do you often see your parents after sex?"

This time the spotlight falls on Tanya as her late father seemingly returns to her, in her bedroom in the night, with a long, long stalk erupting from his back for hundreds of metres. Less foregrounded are others in the same situation- including Miss Finch, all experiencing the dangers of temptation. This is a good 'un.

Obviously we get to know Tanya much better, beginning with a montage of her growing up; now the entire ensemble cast has been well fleshed-out and are good, strong characters. We also learn more of Miss Quill ("Andrearth") and her very non-human species and this is all mixed into a somewhat metaphysical tale of "souls" and what looks awfully like the offer of Faustian pacts. Meanwhile April and Ram get to know each other better, reminding us that this is not exactly a gang of close friends to begin with. April's mum is paralysed because her alcoholic dad crashed the car- and he's coming out of prison soon; April shares some very personal stuff with Ram- and they kiss.

It's a nice touch that the Lan Kin are only on Earth because of the cracks on Amy's wall way back in The Eleventh Hour, connecting things to the parent programme. But Class is shaping up to be an unexpectedly superb bit of telly in its own right.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Class: The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo

"He's from Ofsted. Of course he's evil."

Still no subtitles. Grr. Still, it's the last time I'll be watching the programme by means of Sky catch-up. Murdoch hates deaf people, folks.

Anyway, on the surface this is a fairly ho-hum tale about a PE teacher of little brain who gets a sentient dragon tattoo, thereby annoying its rather big and powerful beloved. But beyond that it lets our newly established team bond a bit and gets us to know Ram, not a focus for the first episode, much better. He's good at football but far from what Il Duce Trump's new subjects call a "jock", being intelligent, sensitive and, indeed, mourning the deaths of both his girlfriend Rachel and his original not-alien leg.

Once again the episode is well-written, shot and acted. But Katherine Kelly is particularly superb with some brilliant material about a sinister Ofsted inspector who turns out to be a robot in the most obvious metaphor ever. I already love Miss Quill.

We get to know Tanya a little more, too, and learn that she's only 14 but three years ahead because she's very bright, and that she sadly lost her dad to a stroke two years ago. Oh, and Mr. Armitage dies; I wonder how the headmaster survival rate in Coal Hill will compare to Sunnydale High? This is already showing distinct signs of being very good telly. Two episodes in and I'm gripped and invested in the characters.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Class: For Tonight We Might Die

"Look at you all. The cream of the crop. High achievers. No wonder this country only exports Downton Abbey."

I must begin this enthusiastic review, I'm afraid, with a condemnation of Sky; their catch-up feature does not include subtitles and this is NOT even remotely acceptable.

More happily, though, this is an effortlessly brilliant first episode, introducing us to April, Tanya, Ram, Charlie and the mysterious Miss Quill while also benefiting from an entertaining and well-judged appearance from Peter Capaldi as the Doctor encourages them to act as a Scooby gang. This is appropriate; the script even references Buffy by referring to the rift at Coal Hill as a "Hellmouth". First impressions are that it is well written, well shot, has a banging title sequence and is centred around a strong cast of characters, with the awkward relationship between Charlie (interesting Jane for a prince) and his pretty-much-slave (and physics teacher) Miss Quill, who is cool. Both, interestingly, are the last of their kind. This episode focuses mainly on Charlie and April, though; I hope that Tanya and Ram get some attention too before long.

This debut episode is a very nice interweaving of exposition and death at the school prom (an American import that was only just starting over here in my day) at the hands of the Shadow Kin. I'm intrigued and want to see more.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sherlock: The Final Problem

"I wrote my own version of the nativity when I was a child. "The Hungry Donkey". It was a bit gory. But if you're gonna put a baby in a manger, you're asking for trouble."

I've not been quick in blogging this episode so I've not failed to notice the divided reaction which seems, anecdotally, to be more negative than not. And one of the main criticisms I hear- that this is yet another non-whodunit- is a valid one in that Moffat and Gatiss are certainly not writing what their audience wants and expects from Sherlock. But here lies, I suppose, the question: are writers mere hacks hired to give an audience what they want, or are they artists who may transcend such considerations? There is, of course, no easy answer, and I do not claim to be firmly on either side. But I will make the obvious point that giving the audience what that want connects very awkwardly with giving them surprise and unexpected events. I will also note that I enjoyed this episode very much. And that Mrs Llamastrangler was deeply affected, to the point of tears at the end.

This episode is a series of interlocking puzzles and fun little intellectual games, all with a touch of the macabre, but it is of course really about the character stuff, an excuse to explore the psyches of not only the fascinating Eurus but also Sherlock, John and the pleasingly foregrounded Mycroft.

If there's a disappointment it's the relative lack of Moriarty, whose games from beyond the grave do not come close to living up to expectations and whose screen time is painfully limited. But Eurus is a superb creation and Sian Brooke gives an incredible performance. It's so very clever that, after all the misdirection hinting at a third Holmes brother called "Sherrinford", this is simply the name of the prison where Eurus does her Silence of the Lambs stuff.

There are clever nods to The Musgrave Ritual and The Three Garridebs, but here we are quite moving away from a Holmes canon that the series may have outgrown. Certainly, each character- including Mrs Hudson, Molly and Lestrade, gets what would work as a final scene, suggesting that this may have been intended as a possible finale. I suspect no one connected with the show really knows whether or not Sherlock will ever be back, what with everyone being so very busy, but that this was designed as a fitting finale if need be. I hope it isn't, and I'm sure the creators do too. After all, we end with Sherlock and John both back in 221B Baker Street, and The Dancing Men...

And yeah. Mrs Hudson vacuuming to "The Number of the Beast". Awesome.

Sherlock: The Lying Detective

"I'm the widow of a drug dealer, I own property in central London, and for the last bloody time, John, I'm not your housekeeper!"

The character of Culverton Smith is, at one level, the embodiment of an idea explicitly referred to in the script: what if all the serial killers we know about- mentally subnormal, odd and marginalised- are just those who get caught? What if, every so often, there is a rich and powerful serial killer who simply kills with impunity? There's a blatant subtext here: Smith stands for Jimmy Savile, and that obviously informs Toby Jones' (excellent) performance; he even has his "own" hospital. There's a reason why Sherlock Holmes declares Culverton Smith to be the very worst and most despicable adversary he's ever met.

This is a plot by Steven Moffat which is surprisingly straightforward and relatively free of his usual narrative tricks, although the camerawork remains as clever as is usual for Sherlock. It isn't really a whodunit, either; like Columbo, the tension lies in whether or not Sherlock can prove the guilt of the obvious killer.

No; the narrative tricks lie elsewhere, in the interplay between Sherlock and John, and in their interactions and slow reconciliation. And yes, Sherlock is almost... nice, at times here. He certainly reacts sensitively, for him, when John confesses that he is not the man Mary thought he was, and had been flirting by text with another woman. It is here, with the character stuff, where we see the more traditional Sherlock narrative cleverness. And it's good telly. And yet- it's about time we had a proper, clever whodunit, don't you think?

Nice cliffhanger, though,,with Sherlock's sister, whom I assume to be a baddie...

Friday, 20 January 2017

Grimm: The Beginning of the End- Part 2

"Monroe, I'm pregnant!"

We know what Grimm season finales are about by now. Anything goes, the status quo is not safe, some things will be resolved but many won't, there'll be a big cliffhanger and the whole heightened mood will carry over to the first two episodes of the next season n until some kind of status quo is established- although with the much shorter final season to come I suspect we'll be getting a lot of rushed emphasis on the arc stuff, much like the second season of Dollhouse.

Anyway, the quote above gives us what is probably the main bombshell here. But there's so much activity and so many that nag happening; By nap after is desperate to get that book from Prague that Nick has and willing to use his possession of Kelly as leverage, the bastard. There's a big fight between Eve and Bonaparte which leaves Eve seemingly dying, until she's healed by the stick- and, it seems, Juliette again. I can't wait to see how this plays out, with potentially a very awkward love triangle.

The baddies are all coming for the gang at Nick's after finally getting the address from Adalind, but all but Nick manage to escape into the tunnels. And then there's the shock ending- a shootout between Nick and Bonaparte after which Renard shoots Bonaparte to save Nick. Whose side is he on? What's going to happen now? Fortunately, with my inadvertently getting to the second half of the season late (Sky Plus issues back in the Spring), we don't have long to wait...

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Grimm: The Beginning of the End- Part 1

"You better get used to it. Because this is a position you can't quit..."

Nearly there now...

I think there's an interesting subtext going on here. Adalind has no choice; she is being forced to undertake the role of trophy wife and mother to show Sean to be a "family values" politician while he carries out whatever policies Black Claw wants him to. This is the episode where the threats get truly explicit; Bonaparte (any relation?) is a very sinister personification of the patriarchy as he makes clear to Adalind that she is to marry Renard and that is that. Men have spoken.

All of this is writ large as Black Claw seek to infiltrate political positions everywhere, a sort of Wesen Militant tendency. And they really are suddenly  everywhere, especially in the previously unseen Portland North Precinct. Much of the episode consists of Hank being framed and set up but this quickly unravels into chaos; none of this is done by the book. The targeting and kidnapping of Hank is done purely to distract Nick, Trubel and especially Eve away from HW so Black Claw can attack and carry out one of their signature massacres, and there are no survivors. Not even Meisner. This is shocking, and clearly means war.

After a clearly miffed Diana has Rachel suffocated to death (what a lovely child!), we end with a furious fight between Nick and Renard which ends up with Nick being arrested. And there are Black Claw marks on his cell...

This is awesome stuff, finally getting to pay off various arcs in a season which has had a particularly good season arc even if some individual episodes have been variable. More please...

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Grimm: Bad Night

"You're gonna be the one who's self-winding tonight..."

The end of the season is so close you can almost taste it.

Hank is with Zuri, blissfully unaware that she is working against him. Wu is learning to control his inner beast. Nick is fruitlessly looking for Sean, who is (as usual) in bed with Rachel. But there's a definite feeling that things are moving fast; no more stories of the week now as Nick brings Monroe and Rosalie fully on board. And so we begin a chain of events that I'm certainly not going to try and summarise.

For Hank, of course, it's a trap. And we're back to the old days of tension and mistrust between Nick and Renard; it's fascinating how Renard's character has shifted from sinister to ally to once again being an antagonist. He's complex. I like that.

The stick is interesting, too: the point is made that it's significance is not its healing abilities, not directly, but that it proves (or, as Douglas Adams said with the Babel fish, disproves) the existence of God. That's big. No wonder the crusader Grimms hid it.

As we wait for the election results Adalind won't tell Bonaparte where Nick is; she isn't there of her own free will and still has loyalty. She's in a horrible position but I like her. But Bonaparte holds all the cards as we end with the revelation that Hank was just being used as a distraction so HW could be utterly destroyed and it's people massacred-  including Meisner. A bad night indeed.

And it gets worse. Not only does Renard win in a landslide but he rubs "his" family in Nick's face on television. This episode is awesome and Earth-shaking. On we go to the two part finale...

Monday, 16 January 2017

Cromwell (1970)

"An England without a king is unthinkable!"

I watched this film principally because I wanted to see two great actors- Richard Harris and Alec Guinness- play two iconic roles from history; Oliver Cromwell and Charles I. And they are, indeed, magnificent. Their performances- Harris as a principled sociopath slowly descending into a dictatorial sociopath and Guinness as a politely arrogant congenital liar- are superlative and alone enough to make the film worth watching. The film succeeds brilliantly if seen as a character piece based on its broadly valid idea of Cromwell- a man who can honestly give everything for the supremacy of Parliament and then simply dismiss it when it does not live up to his expectations. For this reason the film succeeds as drama in spite of being so incredibly rush and in spite of its ending so suddenly.

And yet... no film set in the past can be historically accurate in full. I accept this. Events must be compressed into a shorter period of time and simplified to fit the medium of cinema. And yet... here we have Cromwell as one of those MPs whom Charles tries to arrest in January 1642. We have Cromwell present at Edgehill. We have the Earls of Essex and Manchester making speeches in the Commons. We even have arch-republican Henry Ireton (a shockingly young Michael Jayson) trying to persuade Cromwell to take the crown, in spite of having died during the (glossed over) Irish campaign in 1651. All this is a little much to swallow; these are not small things.

I'm also uncertain about the dialogue; a film set in the mid-seventeenth century should either use modern dialogue or contrive to use contemporary speech but contrive to favour those sentence constructions and that vocabulary that would be understood today, preferably the second. Instead we get a bizarre mish-mash of speech which mixes archaisms such as "withal" with modern coinings such as "international". The effect is clumsy and distracting.

Still, it all looks magnificent and, in the final analysis, it's all about the acting. And, judged by this criterion, the film is superb.

Grimm: The Taming of the Wu

"Did I kill him?"

I love Wu episodes; he's probably my favourite character. And now he has superpowers. Not because he's a Wesen, but because he got bitten and now has a superpower disease. Cool. And, if the ending is anything to go by, he's going to learn to control it. Awesome.

Meanwhile, we learn the true sinister scariness of Diana and those CGI eyes; this is the "creepy child" trope in all its glory. Adalind, of course, is now being made to choose between her Black Claw captors and "the Grimm". And she at last manages to tell Nick about her He enbeist powers returning after all this time. And through it all there's a constant background of the mayoral contest as we slowly work out what's happening with Wu.

We end with a cliffhanger as Nick finds both Adalind and Kelly missing from his home and Adalind has left a note. The finale is sooo close. This is really getting good and exciting.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

"And it rides up in the crotch a little bit too."

Hmm. Still not entirely enamoured with Sam Raimi's take on Spider-Man in spite of having to admit that it has to be considered, objectively, as a very good couple of films so far. It's stylish, well-directed and acted, a faithful recreation of the style of the early comics from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko with a student Peter Parker. And yet... where are Spidey's funny quips?

At least this is the sequel and therefore not another bloody origin story; it's nice how scenes from the first film are used during the opening titles but this is a film which is, yes, about Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina is very good casting), but really about both Peter's roller-coaster relationship with MJ and the increasing disintegration of Harry Osborne- and the fact that Peter may be a hero but he and his Aunt May are struggling with very real poverty, which is brave to show. It's 2004, but Peter must use a pay phone because he has no mobile. We even get a funny cameo from Sam Raimi perennial Bruce Campbell and, of course, a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance from Stan Lee. And, indeed, a minor role for Daniel Dad Kim, who plays Gavin Park in Angel. J. Jonah Jameson is awesome ("Guy names Otto Octavius ends up with eight limbs. What are the odds?") to the point that J.K. Simmons was surely born to play him.

Ok, it's a good film. Very good, in fact. The central romance is brilliant and, yes, it's faithful in many ways to the source material. Not being an origin story allows this film to breathe and grow, and it lacks a lot in without ever feeling too long. But... where are those quips?

Grimm: Good to the Bone

"Then someone took his wallet, phone, keys and bones."

A quote which, rarely, I recognised- from Julius Caesar- starts off a gloriously gruesome episode in which the big bad beaked Wesen sucks out people's bones to feed his parents. It's gloriously weird, CGI-heavy and violent. Lovely. I like it. And the story of the week also intersects nicely with the arc stuff as we find out what's happening to Wu. Meanwhile, Hank is approached in a supermarket after all this time, and it seems she wants them to get back together.

Eve tells Rosalie about Adalind's Hexenbeist powers returning; the secret is spreading. Meanwhile Adalind tells Nick about Sean contacting her and having Diana, and he finally tells her about Renard and Black Claw. But I think this is a bit late for them to start communicating. Indeed, Adalind leaves Rosalie to babysit as she goes off to an appointment with Sean of which Nick would not approve.

The story of the week, meanwhile, concludes with the baddies attacking a transformed Wu instead of the intended bait; something is definitely happening. And a superb episode in terms both of arc and story ends with Adalind effectively having been kidnapped by Sean and a very involved Diana. It's all getting very tense and exciting...

Friday, 13 January 2017

Grimm: Inugami

"He's doing this for us."

A very odd, Japanese-themed story of the week this episode, dripping with such stereotypical themes as honour and obligation. Still, the murders are visually interesting and the killer unexpected. Oh, and there's origami. But the A plot doesn't particularly impress in an episode where we're looking for the arc stuff to provide the main entertainment value.

Arc-wise, Nick finally learns that Adalind is getting her powers back- but only from Rosalie, which isn't good. Rachel sleeps with the real Sean this time, and encourages him to marry someone else (presumably Adalind) as some rather unconventional pillow talk. It's becoming increasingly clear that something is happening to Wu, and Adalind is hired for her new job (weirdly, she's allowed to keep Kelly in the office) precisely because she's a Hexenbeist.

Rosalie and Monroe explore that tunnel leading out of Nick's and find, as well as some delightful skeletons, evidence that it leads out into the open air. But Monroe overhears Eve taking to Adalind, warning her a at from doing anything to hurt Nick. It's almost as if some of Juliette is still in there...

The cliffhanger is Rachel visiting Sean alongside a fast-aging and very striking Diana. This is all very exciting; who cares about the story of the week when so much is happening? I'm loving the arc stuff but I wish they'd do something interesting with the general format of the show.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Grimm: The Believer

"Is this a tent revival?"

A story set in the disturbing world of religious brainwashing this week as an evangelical preacher uses the fact that he's a somewhat devilish-looking Wesen to expand his flock. The old Wesen council would not have approved. The story does a good job of exploring the ethics here, though; is he doing any harm? Most of his "flock" seem to be reformed ex-criminals, after all. But a gang of religious fanatics led by his wife, alas, end up murdering him because he's "possessed". Still, the lack of didacticism is commendable.

Behind the A plot there are constant reminders of Renard's ongoing mayoral campaign, but Eve is determining bed to get to the bottom of his possible connections to Black Claw, going as far as to magically impersonate him and hear what's going on. Little does she realise that she's expected to have sex with Rachel. Oops.

Aside from this, though, and an analysis of the cloth holding the magic stick from a professor friend of Monroe's there's not much arc stuff this week, a situation I don't suspect we are likely to see again this late in the season. But the story of the week is one of the better ones.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

"You are now a murderer, little Alex."

Anthony Burgess may not be a fashionable author but I'm a huge fan of his. I've read a large amount of his work, from A Dead Man in Deptford to Earthly Powers and while, yes, there's certainly a fair amount of Catholic guilt in there as subtext, you can't reduce him to that as a writer; he has such fun playing with ideas in gloriously erudite prose. A Clockwork Orange is no exception- a treatise not only on sin but also on civil liberties vs. law and order, on free will, on the awkward fact that one can appreciate high culture and still be evil, whatever F.R. Leavis may think.

So how does Stanley Kubrick handle it? Well, with great aplomb. The entire film takes place amongst the brutalist architecture of the third quarter of the twentieth century, even the scenes set outside, with rose horrible associations not yet of decay (as I'm sure the same locations would have evoked a few years later) but of a brutal, soulless totalitarianism of the mind, which fits the totalitarianism of what happens to Alex. Yet law and order truly has broken down and totalitarian mind control is proposed as a solution; there is no role for decent liberals here, whom the script even seems to mock as elitists. It's a chilling echo of modern times. The fashions- while boiler suits, bowler hats, fake eyelashes- are striking and succeed in giving the film a sense of timeless in spite of the inevitable 1971-ness of various things, not least the police brutality.

The film would not be the triumph it is without a stellar central performance by a young Malcolm McDowell, who is not only convincing but successfully manages to imbue the psychopath Alex with sufficient charm to leaven the darkness of the film. McDowell is ably assisted by a strong cast including a startlingly young Warren Clarke. The directorial style is just as awesome as we might expect.

After a couple of crappy films it's such a relief to be blogging a true masterpiece like this. A truly seminal film.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Grimm: Skin Deep

"You may have the face, but I have the boobies!"

A metaphor for plastic surgery and other dodgy quackery in the beauty industry this episode as we get a story-of-the-week about an elixir of youth with bad side effects which is acquired through killing people. It's a ice idea, even if the execution is a bit ho-hum.

In more arc-related news Nick learns from Eve what's been happening with Sean and all the dodginess surrounding his rather sudden mayoral campaign. And then Sean himself announces to Nick and Hank that he's running, and asks for their support. How very awkward.

Also interesting is that Eve seems to be dreaming of being Juliette. But the end is particularly arresting as Eve manages to assume the appearance of Sean...

As a cog in the machine that is this fascinating season, the episode does its job. But this isn't one of the episodes we will be remembering after the finale, I suspect.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Krampus (2015)

"Because that's what family is. We have to get along with them, even if we don't have much in common."

This film was suggested for me by Mrs Llamastrangler in a particularly evil moment as the Christmas film to blog this year. Next time I'm doing bloody Die Hard.

The German legend of the Krampus seems not to have travelled to this country with Prince Albert alongside Christmas cards and Christmas trees, but it seems to be impinging more and more on popular culture, particularly in the United States; I first heard of the legend from an episode of Grimm a couple of years ago. I suppose it's calling out for a good horror film but, well, this is not it.

Let me tell you the plot, shall I? A family squabble a lot. A kid wishes for it to stop. The Krampus arrives and offs them all. The kid regrets it and the adults all come back, except for those who really don't deserve it. And that's it. No stars, no wit, no fun. You don't care about any of the characters and it's boring, boring, boring.

Yep. Definitely Die Hard next year.

Sherlock: The Six Thatchers

"Don't you dare! You made a vow!"

Oh my. Well, spoilers abound, obviously. You have been warned.

The episode starts out so light-heartedly. There's a nifty cover-up for Sherlock so he can not go to prison, and he's all happy and stimulated in the knowledge that Moriarty is back. Sherlock even seems to be channelling Matt Smith's Doctor for much of the first part of the episode ("Are those ginger nuts?"), and there's much fun to be had throughout. Hence the shock at the end. But let's look st the whole episode as Mark Gatiss has utterly outdone himself with a superb bit of telly.

It's fun seeing Holmes rush through a fun series of cases in what has become typical Sherlock style, with John's blog superimposed on screen, all the wit and fun of the birth of little Rosalind and the addition of a baby to the dynamic, and especially the way that John and Lestrade manage to bond by taking the piss out of Sherlock. And then, almost in the background, we're introduced to the busts of the Evil One that give us our modern version of The Six Napoleons. At first this isn't foregrounded but, after a bit of fun with Toby the uncooperative bloodhound (never work with children or animals) we discover that there are six of them, made in Tblisi. And I for one knew, having read the short story, that the significance was likely to be the contents of one of the statues. But that isn't the twist; the twist is that this isn't to do with Moriarty at all, or the magnificent red herring that is the Black Pearl of the Borgias. It's about Mary's past.

We get a flashback to an embassy hostage rescue gone wrong, with one of the four agents being Mary and another being our antagonist whose name, we learn, is Ajay. And Ajay seems to think that Mary is a traitor and wants her dead. That's awkward. Yet Mary denies this to Sherlock and, after a fun few scenes in which she tries to leave for exotic shores to sort it out herself, she ends up explaining herself both to Sherlock and an understandably peeved John. Poor Ajay ends up dead but it seems that Mary is not the "Englishwoman" who betrayed them all. So who was it?

What is awful, and will of course become even more awful, is that John has been exchanging sexy texts with another woman, and it's even left ambiguous whether he's had an affair. All this while Mary thinks he's perfect. So the final scene arrives and the baddie turns out to be Vivian Norbert, the secretary- and we have, obligingly, been provided with a few clues to that effect. The crime is solved, the case is over- but Sherlock can't resist gloating over his adversary and, horribly, Mary ends up taking a bullet for him, and John's whole world with it. And the guilt must make it even worse.

So we end up with John cutting Sherlock out of his life utterly even as Mary implores Sherlock from beyond the grave to "save John Watson". The gloom is leavened only by a neat little reference to The Yellow Face and Mycroft making a call to "Sherrinford"....

That was good. Sherlock is back.