Monday, 27 February 2017

Grimm: Trust Me Knot

"Whatever happens to Nick is gonna happen to you!"

Wow. Firstly, that was awesome. Secondly, it was clever, with a last minute twist that upends everything. Thirdly, as I suspected, this final short season is blowing apart the tradition of epic stuff for a season's first two episodes and then the arc plot taking a back seat to stories of the week; this episode's climax utterly blows apart the status quo.

The "previously on", by emphasising the fact that Rachel Wood's room had Renard's fingerprints all over it, sort of gives away what Hank and Wu are going to do; dramatically arrest Renard for her mirder and use him as a bargaining chip for Nick's seemingly inevitable reinstatement into the police, with all charges dropped. That this doesn't happen, and that Renard ends up free, powerful and with everything he wants, is deeply unexpected. And the question of how Hank and Wu can continue to work under him is suddenly answered; they're fired. It seems that Grimm is no longer a police procedural.

There's some interesting stuff about the stick, too, and hints at some unholy origins, whether from the symbols hidden on the cloth or the fact that Nick seemed reluctant, Gollum-like, to part with it. More is clearly set to be revealed about the season's MacGuffin. Diana is scary, too; she may be a sweet little girl but she's powerful, and it's only a matter of time until she surely ends up as the season Big Bad. Oh, and Rosalie ends up publicly announcing her pregnancy, in typical TV fashion, at a moment of high danger.

There's a long way to go, though; Nick is still on the run, Hank and Wu are no longer cops, Trubel has buggered off, and the city's establishment is right behind Renard and Black Claw...

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Grimm: Fugitive

"You chose the wrong side, Sean."

Things keep on moving fast with no sign of a new status quo emerging; normally we can expect things to settle down after the first couple of episodes of a new season, but this season is both much shorter than usual and the final season. Anything can happen.

Nick is a fugitive with Sean using the full weight of the Portland police force to "shoot to kill". Things don't look good for Nick, especially after the cliffhanger, and a big question mark hangs over both Hank and Wu; how can they carry on as cold when their boss is such a blatant baddie? And yet... there are signs that Sean isn't really sure that he's on the right side. One thing is sure; Adalind is definitely still with Nick.

There are other curiosities; Eve is still Eve but is losing her powers and seems to be getting more and more Juliette-like. And why did Renard shoot Bonaparte instead of Nick at the end of the finale? Could it have been Diana controlled by her own father? That little girl is getting creepier and creepier. And this is a compelling start to the season.

Although apparently the artist formerly known as Bitsie Tillich is now going by "Elizabeth". That's buggered up all my tagging...

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Friend Request (2016)

"Why did you accept my friend request?"

I wasn't expecting much of this film; it's part of what seems to be establishing itself as a new genre of horror film based on something evil in social media. It seems to be evolving it's own tropes- dead people maintaining an active online presence, not being able to turn things off onscreen and, of course, rather blatant social commentary. All this is predictable. What's less predictable is how good and genuinely scary this film is.

Our protagonist, Laura, begins the film normal, popular and happy until she befriends the awkward loner Maria, fatefully accepting a friend request yet not treating this very odd girl as her friend. Maria, unfortunately for her, is descended from a long line of witches who use "black mirrors" (no Charlie Brooker connection other than an interesting search engine result onscreen) to wreak terrible revenge on those that wrong them. This makes for a surprisingly good film.

Let's start with the cinematography and the direction; nearly all modern horror films are overly glossy, which robs them of atmosphere. This isn't. And, just as rarely, it relies on suspense rather than gore, finding new ways to do this with the social media conceit and managing to be genuinely scary in a way few modern films are. If I was twelve this film would have scared the pants off me. There's a clever ending too; I can honestly recommend this as one of the best recent horror films out there.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Dark Knight (2008)

"Let me get this straight, you think that your client, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante, who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands, and your plan is to blackmail this person?"

I may have changed my mind about this film a bit. I first saw it about eight years ago (in Los Angeles!) and my impressions were that it worked well as a film but not so well as a part of the Batman myth is, being more interested in pursuing the then-contemporary themes of terrorism, civil liberties (which are, don't get me wrong, important) and surveillance, hence the rather. crowbarred-in scene with Batman and Lucius Fox monitoring the people of Gotham on a bunch of monitors.

That's still, I think, a concern. But eight years on it seems not to loom so large, and the film seems a much better experience. Heath Ledger is a magnificent Joker, intelligent in his madness and articulate in his pursuit of chaos. It's perhaps a very idiosyncratic take on the character, but just about close enough to the original. Again it's a complex plot, weaving the tragedy of Harvey Dent into a tale of how the Joker grows from minor sideshow beside the important work of going after the mob to existential threat to Gotham itself. All this and we find time for a trip to Hong Kong just to find a mob boss. A lot gets packed into these Christopher Nolan Batman films.

It's odd to see Maggie Gyllenhaal as the recast Rachel, but she does a splendid job. Christian Bale is adequate as always and Gary Oldman was still born to play Jim Gordon. Aaron Eckhart and Michael Caine are superb but, yeah, the film belongs to Ledger. It would even if he hadn't died so shortly afterwards. He's the James Dean of our generation, but it would be much better if instead of that he was still around.

I enjoyed the film this time around, and felt as though it respected the characters rather better than I previously thought. Behind all the spectacle there's some real depth to a film that really seems to have divided the fan from the general viewer..

Monday, 6 February 2017

Batman Begins (2005)

"What chance does Gotham have when the good people do nothing?"

Yes, it's odd to see Ra's al-Ghul used in this way, conflated with Henri Ducard from the Blind Justice arc back in '89 and bearing absolutely no relation to the character we know and love to the point that he doesn't even seem to be an Arab; Ken Watanabe's decoy character seems to hail from much farther east. Still, there are hints as to the Lazarus Pit, perhaps. And, more to the point, this is a brilliant film tacking Batman's origins and a triumph for both the fan and the general audience.

Essentially this is because of both David Goyer's perfectly judged script and the always impressive direction of Christopher Nolan; Christian Bale is a perfectly good Batman, although no more than that, and the film is very well cast indeed, with Michael Caine being a particular master stroke. Still, were I an American I'd probably raise an eyebrow at the suspiciously high number of Brits in this film based on an iconic American character and directed by a Brit; I'm surprised this isn't more often commented on. It would be a reasonable objection in my British eyes. Still, Gary Oldman is the perfect Jim Gordon.

I can't fault the film though. Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow is chilling and brilliant, with that mask and some splendidly trippy direction making a hugely effective villain. And the time and thought given to Batman's origins is clear; it is both faithful and innovative, with a focus on Bruce's relationship with his philanthropist father and his childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes, a new character. This, as well as the more jovially sarcastic edge to Alfred, works very well indeed. The theme of fear is developed throughout, with the figures of Ra's, the Scarecrow and Batman reflecting different uses of it, for good or ill. And I like the way Batman's moral scruples against killing are contrasted against the gang 'em flog 'em stupidity of Ra's and his gang, the Daily Express of terrorist organisations.

Yes, there's also a fair bit from Batman: Year One, but that's no bad thing; it's nice to see Colin McFarlane as Commissioner Loeb. And, on the subject of actors, we even get an appearance by the great Shane Rimmer! This is a long film, yes, but a dense one, with a lot going on from the evolving relationship between Bruce and Rachel to Bruce's takeover of Wayne Enterprises. It's one of the finest superhero film ever and almost (but not quite) makes me rethink my opinion that superhero films should eschew origin stories.

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 9: Triggerfinger

"Rick? I keep you safe!"

These last episodes are a contrast between Rick and Shane as rival alpha males; Shane as the volatile and guilt-ridden disturbed individual who would do well as an analogue for Trump, and Rick as the decent man burdened by a conscience, honest enough to try and reason with a bunch of hostile gunmen having killed their friends in self-defence, sympathetic to Herschel and willing to save the life of an injured man whose friends had tried to kill him. It's a straight choice between them in a world where other humans can be as deadly as zombies. So far Dale is definitely for Rick but Andrea, horrifyingly, is under Shane's spell. Lori is coming to see through him very easily by now, but he wants her and is convinced the baby is his. I have a good idea where the season is going.

Meanwhile Glenn continues to be horribly immature about Maggie declaring her love for him, and Herschel is beginning to return to his old self, although he's certainly no friend of Shane's.

This is an episode of foreboding-laden set-up for Shane doing something bad; it's clear that he's the big bad of the season. This is the best episode in a while.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Class: The Lost

"I would quite like to kiss you now."

Here we go then: the season finale. Hope it's not the last ever episode. I came to Class with middling expectations but have been pleasantly surprised by just how good it is. And the season (series?) ends on a high.

The gang are all dysfunctional with each other after the last episodes' argy-bargy, and this is naturally the time that Corakinus decides to come back and get revenge on April on all her mates. And then there's the tension about what the newly freed Quill will do when she wakes up. Oh, and she appears to be pregnant. And Quill young eat their mothers. Lovely.

Things get very serious when Tanya's mother is shockingly killed, followed by Ram's dad; these events will have consequences. And the pressure keeps growing on Charlie to use the Cabinet. Cue much arguing. It's all well written, though, and catharsis brings the gang together a bit. But good old April saves the day. Phew. But not all is well; it's too late and Charlie has used the Cabinet of Souls.

Dorothea has therefore failed. And we see through that mysterious door to where the school governors dwell. In an entertaining scene they do that super villain thing of killing Dorothea for failure. And the big boss is revealed to be played by Cyril Nri in a moment that leaves you wanting more. This was a brilliant bit of kids' telly.

Class: The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did Next

"Coal Hill provides. It always provides."

So here we have an episode that takes place simultaneously with the last one, give or take some timey-wimey strangeness, as we find out what Quill was doing (the kids hardly appear) to regain her free will at last, albeit painfully. We know from the start that this unlikely occurrence is going to happen as we saw the Arn die last episode; we don't know how.

I'm not entirely sure this episode works; there's an awful lot of padding. It's interesting to get more background on Quill and her species, and even more interesting to get more hints about the mysterious Dorothea, but I never really invested much in the shape shifting alien Ballon, who is far too removed from normal human reality to be at all relatable without a hell of a lot more introduction than he gets in this short episode. The episode drags at times and is the first real misfire for Class.

It's an odd lead-up to the season finale. Still, the first five episodes of the season were superb and I'm confident we will end on a high.

Class: Detained

"Sometimes action isn't pretty, you big Polish giraffe!"

Interesting bottle episode, this one. It's obviously the season cheapie, with a tiny cast, no location filming and limited sets, and Miss Quill is clearly off having her own simultaneous adventure elsewhere- obviously involving the removal of the creature from her head. Isn't detention a wonderful plot device?

Essentially the classroom is moved to nowhere and no time, a bit like The Mind Robber except the nothingness is black. This is a harsh alien prison but, more to the point, it revolves around a MacGuffin which causes people to be both angry and uber-honest, thus getting the gang to say loads of hurtful things to each other which give the episode it's emotional beats and break up the team somewhat. Thus we learn that Matteusz may love Charlie but is also a little bit scared of him, that Tanya fears insecurity from being so much younger than the others, we get a bit of valid criticism of C.S. Lewis for his authorial agenda in the Narnia books, and Ram feels that he loves April more than she loves him back, which is devastating.

As a bottle episode it works, and genuinely advances some character stuff, but bottle episodes always show their working a bit and so does this; it may shake up the format a bit but this is by necessity rather than creativity, and the limitations, well, limit things. This is not one of the greatest episodes. Still, it works well within its limitations while not quite transcending them as the best bottle episodes (Midnight) often do.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Class: Brave-Ish Heart

"How do you have an army?"

Unlike Buffy I don't think we can say this increasingly awesome series uses monsters as specific metaphors for aspects as teenage life, but it's hard not to see April's huge responsibilities here- conquering an entire world of Shadow akin and usurping their king's throne, and she's a being a whopping great metaphor for how being a teenager is hard, especially if the challenges of school, puberty and romantic feelings are made harder by family problems. And April's family problems are enormous.

It's tempting to say that this episode is, to a large extent at least, about April's relationship with her mother and the beginnings of reconciliation with her father, who has truly sinned. Then again, it's also the episode where Ram describes the Lord of the Rings trilogy as "some old movie" so, you know, I feel awfully old watching this.

Meanwhile, our mysterious new headmistress gives Miss Quill a bit more exposition about the equally mysterious board of governors. Oh, and that creature will be removed from her head if she forces Charlie to use the Cabinet of Souls against those nasty otherworldly petals. This leads to the inevitable row between Quill and Charlie, as the petals begin to attack people. Fortunately April is able to return to save the day before the Cabinet has to be used... but Quill has still fulfilled her part of the bargain; it looks as though she will get what she wants...

Yep. This is still far better than I ever expected it to be.