I’m being interviewed for a possible promotion at work on Wednesday next week so I won’t be blogging at the usual pace while I’m preparing for that. I’ll still try and get some blogging done before then (certainly Saturday), but things won’t return to normal until Wednesday night.
Tuesday, 22 June 2021
"I mean,the future could have been a lot of fun. Provided the price of a pint hasn't changed."
This is an unusual third episode, essentially consisting of shoving an extra character into the mix and seeing what happens. Johnny Jack seems at the start to be the Big Bad, but he's just some kind of creepy cockney carnival performer with a dodgy attitude to women and a creepy rhyme, an exemplar of the fact that childlike things can be scary. Johnny Jack, "and all the children on his back" gives us some weirdness and menace, but rather less mystery than intended.
He's from 1957, a different time period again, although everyone seems to be from within the last sixty years or so. and there's a third, bearded, figure.
But things only get more intriguing towards the end, as the woman from 1948 wants to talk... and it seems everyone is like Sapphire and Steel, with similar powers somehow. This is a trap, and it's a random yet ending to an episode that really seems to go off at right angles. Who is this "higher power"?
Monday, 21 June 2021
"Time to go to work..."
An impressive, and very different, second episode here in which Sam and Bucky finally meet up again and immediately, action sequences or not- and the action sequences are good- have great comic chemistry as the kinds of friends who constantly insult each other. I particularly love the extended riff on Sam's theory about "androids, aliens or wizards", and Bucky's boast about having read The Hobbit... in 1937.
This episode also gives us our first look at this version of John Walker- from Custer's Grove, Georgia as Mark Gruenwald originally wrote him but this time less of an obvious redneck, although he's still something of a jock and naive square jawed conformist type. It's notable how this version of Lemar Hoskins is considerably brighter than this John Walker.
There's lots of tension between all of these characters. As we find out at the end, Bucky resents Sam for spurning the shield as Steve Rogers' hand-picked successor and, of course, both of them are wary of the initially friendly new Captain America and Battle Star. The subtleties of this awkwardness are well handled. There's some nice political subtext, too, in the context of American racism- Sam is only not abused by racist cops because of who he is, and we meet Isaiah, a black super soldier from the Korean War who seems to have been treated abominably by his country.
And the learn more about the Flag Smashers- this time most certainly not a bloke but an organisation much less organic, and its leader is a young woman (with a nice bit of misdirection as we meet her) called Kari Morganthau. Her "imagine there's no countries" ideology is channelled through "the Blip" here, and the whole gang appear to be super soldiers. This is very interesting, as is the mention of Gruenwald perennial baddie the Power Broker.
This isn't quite up there with WandaVision, or indeed Gruenwald's splendid run on the Cap comic. But it is, nevertheless, very good.
Sunday, 20 June 2021
"The hell is a MILF?"
This second episode is just as good as the first but, fascinatingly, very different. Walter has got his hands dirty, started cooking crystal meth and committed his first murder. I'm reminded of Macbeth in that our protagonist, a seemingly decent man, makes a few decisions that seem to make sense and suddenly there's no going back. And yet, serious though the underlying themes are, on the surface the episode is basically slapstick comedy about disposing of a body (the Denis Nielsen way) and killng someone whose existence is somewhat inconvenient.
And it's good comedy, with Jesse dragging the corpse upstairs and, yes, the incident with the bath. Jesse is clearly being treated as the Stan Laurel to Walt's Oliver Hardy here- yet he's also Walt's mentor into how the business works.
We get some nice contrasts between all this and Walt's home and work life, and another partly comedic sub-plot as Skyler gets suspicious and ends up getting the wong idea about Walt's secret being weed. Yes, the scene where she confronts Jesse is hilarious farce, but Walt's face and manner to her after his "confession" shows a new, menacing side to him. And then there's the scan, as the couple discover the sex of the baby Skyler is carrying, and the look on Walt's face as he hears the words "when she's sixteen, when we suddenly remember the inoperable cancer that is the catalyst (See? I can do chemistry allusions too!) of all this.
I love the slower pace here, as we see how Walter slowly adjusts to the consequences of his actions and his slow yet inexorable descent into villainy. This is, yet again, first class telly.
Thursday, 17 June 2021
"We happen to be running away, that's all."
The second episode of the final story, like the first, consists of further intrigue and revelation along with tension rather than action as such- and this is no bad thing. I continue to be gripped, and P.J. Hammond's problems with pacing are not so far in evidence here.
So we begin with a little relatively tame intrigue as it's confirmed that our curiously taciturn couple from 1948 are adulterers running away from their respective spouses. They're defensive, despite the fact that adultery is no crime and "They can't hang you for it". More intriguing is Silver's statement that, if they were both to drive off in a straight line, they would simply return to where they started.
Then things move up a gear as Sapphire, Steel and Silver questin why they are there with so little briefing. And why was Silver, a technician, sent early to "watch"? Could it be some sort of trap. Even more curiously, they again see the old man from last episode. Except this time he's not a ghost- they are. In 1925. Ooh.
And we end with the clock moving on ten minuts, mysterious footsteps, Steel seeming to disappear- and a myserious, shadowy, behatted tramp...
This is good stuff.
Wednesday, 16 June 2021
"Every time something gets better for one group, it gets bad for another."
This may not be as high concept as Wandaision and, I'm guessing, won't have been as popular. From this first episode is looks like fairly standard Marvel superheroics fearuring several Captain America supporting characters in Stee's absence with a few nice fan touches- it's nice to see Georges Batroc, although sadly there's neither any leaping nor any facial hair on this upper lip. We'll have to satisfy ourselves with the outrageous accent.
I haven't read a Captain America comic since 1994, so there may be allusions to more recent runs that go above my head, but so far it looks as though there's going to be an exciting amount of linkage with the late Mark Gruenwald's seminal yet underappreciated run on Captain America from 1985 to '94. We have Flag Smasher, presumably (so far shown as a group, although perhaps with a super strong leader) and we end with a new Captain America- presumably John Walker?
This is a good first episode, though, giving us a lot of introductory exposition and showing us Sam (with his nifty robotic Redwing) and a pardoned Bucky in a world six months after the "blip". Sam is clearly the star, bequested the shield by Steve: we begin the episode (after an awesome Falcon action set piece) with his declining to be Cap and returning the shield to the US government- only for th episode to end with someone ese being appointed Cap. But we also get to see his family, and his sister's financial struggles, as well as facing both the question of just how Avengers support themselves and what dying in the "blip" does to one's credit rating.
For Bucky we get both his coming to terms with his past actions and the weirdness of living in the present day at the age of 106 with a young body: his only apparent friend is a man close to his own generation, and he struggles with both relationships and friendships. But Sam is very much the focus.
It's a promising start, although this was pretty much a busy first episode full of exposition. But I bet the series ends with John Walker anding over the shield to Sam after failing in a similar way to Cap #350?
Monday, 14 June 2021
"Your power exceeds that of the Sorcerer Supreme. It is your destiny to destroy the world."
Now that's how you do a series finale. Satisfying, action-packed, eventful, and full of several little geeky Easter Eggs.
The main A plot is, of course, the battle between Wanda and Agatha, which is epic, cool and full of revelations. The Darkhold makes its MCU debut, and Agatha claims that the Scarlet Witch has her own chapter... and gives the above quote. Ominoud. As is the fact that we end up with a maturer Wanda, having accepted what she's done and the people she's hurt (the scene where the citizens of Westview literally beg Wanda is both powerful and necessary), flying away to explore the full extent of her magical nature. Agatha's fate is an act of almost fairytale cruelty, forced to live indefinitely as her sitcom character.
Then there's the white Vision. Those of us who remember John Byrne's run on West Coast Avengers at the end of the '80s are well aware we need to be alarmed. But in the end we get a fight between Visions which is both cool and satisfyingly resolved.
It's a busy episode, perhaps. Darcy skewers naughty old Hayward but that brief moment is pretty much all that we see of her. Woo gets to look cool in the end, and Monica (still not Captain Marvel- yet) gets a nice little post-credits sequence with a Skrull. But it is, in the MCU way, perfectly balanced between story beats, action and character.
It's true that Wanda (and Vizh) seem to get over the twins not being real a little too easily. But overall this is a superb ending to a magnificent series.
Saturday, 12 June 2021
"I you can fly a Sopwith Camel... you can fly anything..."
Let us be equally clear that this an utterly bonkers concept. I remember naff all now, but I read two or three of the '50s publications of the W.E. Johns novels inherited from my dad in my childhood. That someone decided to make a cinematic tribute to Biggles by doing all this sci-fi stuff about a sonic weapon and, indeed, random and unexplained time travel, is enough to restore one's faith in human eccentricity. This film is both silly and wonderful. It knows damn well that ir's a B movie, as all the best B movies do.
Alex Hyde-White is superb. So is Cushing, who nevertheless looks much older than 72. So is the direction, from an old Hammer veteran. The opening titles and, in particular, the music, are both magnificent and from no other conceivable year than 1986. This so splendidly of its time. There's even a moment where Biggles gets to see a load of proper 1980s punk rockers and declare them "inconceivable"
This is wonderful. I don't care how silly it is. I don't care that airmen are inexplicably doing missions best suited to ground troops. I'm not going to criticise a B movie for this or that moment of implausibility. Just watch this film.
Thursday, 10 June 2021
"I suppose it's how the future would feel..."
It's back to P.J. Hammond for the final four parter of Sapphire & Steel, and this time it's yet another highly intriguing conceptual first episode. Yes, once again it's about weirdness with time, but it feels fresh. The setting- a petrol station in 1981- is nicely different, even if it is all rather obviously in studio. It's well shot, too, with a nice tracking shot at the start, and Silver is back along with all he brings to the dynamic between Sapphire and a jealous Steel.
But the concept is nicely nuanced and original. A couple from 1948 are displaced in time to 1981, and 1948, with its ration books and newspaper headlines such as "OPERA NATIONALISED", was only as long ago as 1988 was to us, which feels weird before you reflect that the filing caninets, smoking paraphernalia and cash registers are obviously closer to the 1940s than the 2020s.
It's not just the fact that the couple are displaced, though- they are secretive, and may be running off together from their respective spouses.Time is rerunning the same few seconds as heard in traffic noise and the radio. There was a mysterious old man in 1948. There's a feeling of fear and violence. And it's allways 8.54pm, but the clocks are working... until time jumps forward a few minutes at the end.
It's an intriguing start. Let's hope this final serial, hopefully not overlong at four episodes, lives up to it.
Wednesday, 9 June 2021
"The only way forward is back..."
This penultimate episode is, in its metatextual way, a flashback episode, and thus full of exposition. It's also rather serious, being full of the trauma of Wanda's tragic life, meaning the metatextuality can't be allowed ro get too fun- although Kathryn Hahn is a hoot (in a good way) as Agatha. Nevertheless, the episode is necessarily formulaic and, while well-executed, was never going to be the highlight of the season.
There's good stuff here, though, starting with Agatha's origin in Salem, Massachusetts in 1693, hinting at unseen depths of MCU magic lore. Wanda's tragic life is necessary to be seen, and her childhood love of American '50s and '60s sitcoms is cute. It doesn't really matter that the events leading to Wanda creating sitcom magic Westview through awesome power ("magic on autopilot" as Agatha says) are pretty much as we expected: it's all about the emotional beats.
And then there's the revelation at the end from Agatha: Wanda uses "chaos magic" and (let us old Marvel Zombies forget we knew this of old) she is the "Scarlet Witch", which no doubt means something in terms of MCU magic lore...
This was worthwhile. But bring on the finale...
Monday, 7 June 2021
"Would you have me be the man who destroyed the human race?"
A fitting ending, then, to probably the finest serial so far- and yes, the only one not to have been written by P.J. Hammond. Where Hammond is full of ideas but not necessarily great with plotting or pacing, this serial may not be full of original ideas beyond letting the ravages of Time loose on the events of an Agatha Christie novel, but the execution of the plot is confident and assured.
In the end this final episode hinges on the question of who originally murdered George, as we see suspect after suspect almost kill George, only to turn out to be misdirection. It's amusing, but not so much as to be silly or to undermine plausibility, as much as one can use the word with a story like this. The same goes for the amusement value in George desperately trying to work on his breakthrough while his two women fight over him.
One cannot really defend the portrayal of Emma as a dim and gullible man-obsessed female who resents men and their work which distracts them from shagging here: it's certainly sexist, much as there are also undertones of her being a spoilr aristocrat. But 1981, let alone 1930, was a different age.
This is a satsfying finale, setting time back on track via Sapphire's well-established powers and concluding all the plot threads elegantly. It's a joy to see that being done for once in Sapphire & Steel.
Sunday, 6 June 2021
"Actually, it's just basic chemistry, Jesse. But thank you."
Fear not: my existing series will continue to be blogged as normal. But Sundays will (usually) be Breaking Bad for the foreeable future. So let me start with the executive summary: this is sublime, as good a first episode as The Sopranos and Deadwood managed and a very similarly arthouse directorial style. The first things we see are a cactus (the New Mexico locations are magnificent) and a pair of trousers floating in the breeze like that plastic bag in American Beauty.
This episode is, basically, art, while still functioning as entertaining drama. On both counts it's rather helpful that Bryan Cranston's acting is simply incredible. Already it's quite plausible that Walter While could be a role as complex and multifaceted as Hamlet. His moral situation is exquisite.
I don't think it's the premise, superb though it is, that makes this as good as it is, though. Yes, the concept of a fifty year old chemistry professor, struggling to support his wife, disabled son and another baby on the way on his chemistry teacher's salary suddenly developing inoperable lung cancer and deciding to cook crystal meth to raise money is a bloody good one. There's an awful lot of subtext there, from the absurdity of the world's biggest superpower settling for a third world health system to the implied criticism that crystal meth dealers are crap at chemistry.
Yet it's the handling of White's interiority, more than the concept itself, that this programme reaches sublimity. Is he a good man, this meth maker in a pinny and a pair of pants? Is he, er, breaking bad? Was he always a latent psycho underneath? There's a fascinating late scene where some kids mock his son and he threatens them with violence... and all three of them sod off. It's a little microcosm of the benefits of being bad. To misquote Blackadder's Christmas Carol, sometimes we want more from life than a Bible and one's own turnip.
It's also interesting that he can't get it up early on during a delightfully awkward hand job scene but later pounds the missus properly after killing a couple of violent thickos. There's also a moment at the end where Jesse finally realises that his new partner may well have what it takes.
Excellent stuff. More please.
Thursday, 3 June 2021
"Agatha all along..."
This episode, like all the rest, is enormous fun. This time the sitcom fun comes from The Office-type mock documentary comedy, which fits perfectly with the theme of a depressed Wanda as her reality seems to fall apart- with even Billy and Tommy seeing, worryingly, to have disappeared by the end.
Meanwhile there's fun with clown Vizh and escape artist Darcy at the circus, followed by his feeding him much-needed exposition as Wanda's subconscious seems to delay them. The two of them make a great double act.
But the real hero- and in some ways the real star- is Monica, who heroically manages to fight her way into Westview once again, and it's hinted that she may have gained her Captain Marvel superpowers along the way. Her confrontation with Wanda is magnificent, and would have been the highlight of the episode... were it not for the revelation of Agnes as being Agatha Harkness, and that she has been the baddie all along... as attested by her awesome theme song.
Fourth wall... who needs it? I'm loving this.
Tuesday, 1 June 2021
"Are those cultures...?"
It's rare for a fifth episode of a six parter to be interesting in its own right, or for it to introduce or develop new ideas: usually it's all just about moving the pieces on the board into position for the finale. Not this time.
We break the pattern a bit as Annabelle (the youngest remaining guest) is killed halfway through, while Felix- the last guest standing to have been born after 1930- dies at the end. Everyone believes by now that this is 1930. There's a rather clever scene juxtaposing a game of bridge with some telepathic exposition as Steel telepthically discusses things with Felix, now brough into the confidence of our titular couple.
Yet what makes this superb is not only the masterly progression of the plot but the concepts. George opens and walked through a door that is locked for everyone else, but not him. The guests quockly forget the deaths. There was a fire in which George was killed, as reported in the press- yet the physical evidence shows there wasn't. We begin to see what the bacterial culture does to people as Felix's face is horribly dissolved.
This is a superb episode within a superb serial, easily the finest so far. I'm excited for the finale.
Monday, 31 May 2021
"Don't go past Ellis Avenue!"
It's clear by now that this is a phenomenal series, based around a superb central concept and oozing all the dramatic goodness out of each angle week by week so that each episode is better than the last. But never mind that: it's Halloween, so Vizh, Wanda and Pietro, for one week only, get to dress up in their proper costumes as Vizh, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Hooray!
Also, Pietro is quickly becoming my favourite laddish waster in television, in a very Nick Frost version of the character. And, if Tommy has his powers, does this mean Billy will be casting hexes?
But the plot continues to move in fascinating ways. Vizh has noticed that, in the fringes of town, people are ill-defined and can move less and less- and he sees one poor woman repetitiely performing the same action, Sisyphus-like, as a tear rolls down her cheek. It's a poignant contrast to Pietro's bro-like approval of his sister's handiwork in their heart to heart. And Vizh is spurred on to escape, especially as he comes across Agnes as, in a scene to give one the shivers, he frees her mind as he dis last episode with Norm- to be told that he's an Avenger, he's dead, and "No one leaves. Wanda won't even let us think about it."
Meanwhile, outside the literal Westview bubble, Director Hayward is proving to be such a dick that Monica, Jimmy Woo and Darcy are forced to leave and start their own gang- following which, interestingly, Darcy tells Monica that going through the barrier twice has altered her molecular chemistry. Please tell me she's going to get her Captain Marvel superpowers?
But the end is magnificent, as the Vision attempts to escape the bubbe despite the fact it means his death- of course, he explicitly said he never wanted to be resurrected in the first place. But Wanda expands the bubble to grab all of SWORD and turn them into a circus (ha!)- including a handcuffed Darcy, but not Monica, Jimmy or a Hayward who flees like a rat. Wow. I'm loving this.
Sunday, 30 May 2021
"You can't depend on servants at all these days..."
We get another fascinating episode in which the murder mystery plot is developed- Emma may, in 1930, have been having an affair with George, while Howard was blackmailing George, who had been embezzling from the company. And the structure is maintained with the ciffhanger being another death- in this case Howard, who hasd earlier come under suspicion, as seems to happen to the next to die.
Yet things are, of course, working on another level. Sapphire casts doubt on whether the dead are truly deceased. The secretary, in another room (and another time period) sees text on her screen about a fire at the house. And whatever presence is there almost makes Sapphire stab herself- and shoot Steel.
This is brilliant stuff. Yet it also finds time for little things like Steel not knowing which way to pass the port, or the difference between cynical womanising and love. And then there's the playing with murder mystery tropes, and the sly digs at the idle rich of the early twentieth century. This is quietly brilliant.
Friday, 28 May 2021
"She must die..."
It hints at Expressionism in several shots, while not really being an Expressionist film. It is most certainly European rather than Hollywood in feel. It is extraordinary to think that this little artistic throwback is a contemporary of the Universal horror films: it feels utterly unlike them.
I feel bad saying this of a film with such visual excellence, and which generates such an atmosphere... but it feels like style (and the style is truly very good indeed) over substance. The film is short, but feels interminably slow, and I say this as someone who is very much used to slo pacing and, indeed, the grammar of silent cinema. The acting is, well, irrelevant, as the camera tells the story while the cast is asked to do very little. This is a film that very much relies on ots dreamy visuals, and makes no concessions to the audience in terms of follwing the plot.
But there's no subtext beyond the usuall generic sexuality found intrinsically in the vampire as subject matter. This is an artistic film with no real artistic point to make and, given what it is, it can hardly fall back on populism. It's a gloriously made dud, perhaps, but nevertheless a dud.
Thursday, 27 May 2021
"Just make her stop!"
Just when it seems WandaVision has peaked, it becomes clear it hasn't. After last episode departed from the format to give us an explanation, sort of, we now get another sitcom episode (it's the late '80s, with yet another theme tune), but with scenes of Monica, Darcy and Agent Woo outside of Westview. And, interestingly, the Vision is starting to notice the flimsiness of the fourth wall.
Outside of Westview we are gratdually seeing how Monica and Darcy make an awesome double act, and that Hayward may well just be a bit of a dick. But inside Westview the twins are growing up fast, and Vizh is beginning to notice things like the lack of other kids in Westview , how Agnes always seems to turn up with a solution at odd moments, how inconsistently time passes- and that the neighbours are all brainwashed, and suffering. We begin to see a rift developing between the supposed spouses. It feels like a pivotal episode, and it's utterly riveting.
And that's before we get to the final scene: Pietro is alive and well, and back! And they've recast him... with Evan Peters, who played the character in the X-Men movies. It's the perfect type of fourth wall-breaking way to cross over. This is simply inspired.
Wednesday, 26 May 2021
"And then there were nine..."
And, with the third episide, things get even better. I'm loving the conscious Agatha Chrustie spoofing here- an isolated country house, suspiciously cut off from the outside world; yet another cliffhanger ending with a murder (Tony), intrigue as Sapphire reads suspicious behaviour in Tony's recent past, and Steel soing his very best Poirot impression in the most Agatha Christie setting possible- and in 1930, the time of peak Christie.
And yet the weirdness ramps up too. The collective amnesia seems to deepen, and it seems the house is on a ley line- and on the Summer Solstice too. And yet, as Sapphire explores, there seems to be something about the late George McDee at the root of it. He was working on a vaccine when he died (very topical), and he died just before unleashing a deadly virus or bacteria (the script has it both ways!) which would have destroyed humanity. This may be scientific nonsense, and in 2021 is comes across as more anti-vaxxer than was probably intended, but this is fascinating. I'm enormouly impressed with the writing here.
There's even an unusually fancy camera shot here, as we are drawn back through a linear tableau of all the "suspects". This serial becomes more and more impressive.
Tuesday, 25 May 2021
"So you're saying the universe created a sitcom starring two Avengers?"
Wow. Three episodes of teasingly and ingeniously bizarre fourth wall shattering weirdness made bloody good telly regardless, but it feels like such a satisfying rush to get so much of an explanation as to what's going on.
The first reveal is that Geraldine is in fact Monica Rambeau, complete with a couple of audio clips from Captain Marvel! Captain Monica Rambeau, no less, to remind us that (to my generation at least, it is she- not Carol Danvers, not Mar-Vell, not Billy Batson- is the real Captain Marvel. But here she is, in flashback, in Endgame, jus after Bruce Banner clicked his big green fingers into a world where five years have passed and her lovely mother Maria died five years ago.
Ever curiouser, Monica is sent on a mission to the New Jersey town of... Westview. And the town seems to have been erased from local memory, while there's a barrier around this mysterious town. This is wonderful stuff. And then we see Monica get inside, as a team of boffins (led by the rather awesome Darcy from the Thor films, a nicely female twist on the maverick scientist trope) discover the sitcom being broadcast... and so they see the three episodes we've already seen. And it's very clever indeed how different certain things look in context.
As Monica says at the ens, "It's Wanda". And Wanda, with her scarily powerful hexes, has everything under control. This is simply amazing.
Monday, 24 May 2021
"I think his Lordship's taking this joke a bit too far, Greville, don't you think?"
In a departure from Sapphire & Steel tradition, an intriguing episode shows promise in developing a seemingly lacklustre first one. Suddenly I'm hooked, despite very little happening other than the appearance of two more guests. I'm not even bothered by the fact that the announcement of a game of sardines makes it perfecty obvious that poor Veronica is going to be killed while hidden. This seems to be getting good.
And I can't really say why; I think it's just that this episode succeeds more in leveraging the increasing confusion between 1980 and 1930, with everyone's memories getting increasingly foggy- until the sudden appearance of a very alive George McDee shocks everyone. It's an effectve scene.
Interestingly, too, and despite my not spotting it last episode, this story is written by someone other than P.J. Hammond- Anthony Reed and an uncredited Don Houghton, both well known to us Doctor Who fans. Suddenly, this serial has become rather interesting.
Sunday, 23 May 2021
"Think you may have taken the hedge trimming too far there, old buddy!"
This is, on the one level, yet another episode of a retro comedy that is yet another deconstruction of an old-fashioned sitcom staple- in this case the pregnancy episode. Suddenly, while no one has aged and the supporting characters are the same people we're slowly getting to know, it's the '70s now- and a particularly exaggerated '70s where Geraldine has Pam Grier hair and the opening titles have gone all hilariously Brady Bunch.
And it works well, as comedy, on multiple levels. Yet the pretence that reality is slipping. There's a moment where Vision starts to work out the plot holes in his life so Wanda just rewinds things; this entire reality is clearly all here as wish fulfilment for her on some level.
And it is this that casts a disturbing light on Wanda's pregnancy and the birth of Billy and Tommy. I can't comment on any similarities with that '80s The Vision and the Scarlet Witch limited series (Bill Mantlo?), but I certainly remember what John Byrne would later do to the twins in the pages of West Coast Avengers. I fear for Wanda. Especially with what she seems to do to Geraldine (through a wormhole into what may be reality) when she blurts out that Wanda's brother Pietro was killed by Ultron.
I have thoughts about what may be going on. This is all a bit Life on Mars, but I suspect the resolution wont be simple. This is bloody good telly.
"Stupidity has saved many a mind from going mad."
What makes this film great isn't necessarily the superb direction by Powell and Pressburger- many films are well shot. Nor is it the charismatic performance from David Niven. It's impressive, but hardly the only excellent performance from a star that there ever was. It's well made, well acted, well-written and all the things one usually praises a film for. These things explain why it's good, but not why it's great.
No; what makes this possibly the greatest film ever made is... well, the wit, yes, but it's better than that. The opening line "Space. Big, isn't it?" seems to presage Douglas Adams in four words. The parallel between Peter's operation and his trial in the gloriously bureaucratic afterlife is exquisite and, in hindsight, much imitated. Kim Hunter is sexy. The use of poetry, and not just the usual F.R. Leavis-approved stuff, is glorious. One has to admire a film that, in 1946 and at the height of Sir Walter Scott's unfashionability, slips him in among the Marvells and a nicely obscure work from Ralegh.
The dialogue is lierature. The people are real. This is the greatest film ever made. Possibly.
Saturday, 22 May 2021
“You give me apple. Herman give you nice soft bat."
On paper it should at least be fun, if not necessarily good. Fay Wray is the leading lady, albeit in an underwritten role. Yet Dwight Frye, such a cult favourite that Alice Cooper wrote a rather good ballad about him, gets a nice and juicy part which shows how stereoyped he has become as the Renfield figure, but he's bloody good at it. He's the best thing in the film.
And yet... Lionel Attwill and Melvyn Douglas give passable performances, but the burgomeister is shocking. And, while there is some good visual stuff, the film is sloooow and dull, with appallingly functional dialogue. I suppose it's a plus to focus on vampire bats from South Ameirca somehw biting people here in central Europe and turning them into vampire-like people, but the resolution at the end is silly.
And so is the film as a whole, worth seeing only for the sake of the lovely Fay Wray and the splendid Dwight Frye. Not all of these '30s horror films, alas, are any good.
Thursday, 20 May 2021
"Why did it choose this house?"
The penultimate assignment begins: there's only so much left of Sapphire & Steel. On first glance this story appears to be some sort of metaphor on the dangers of excessive nostagia and the dangers of dwelling overly on the past. This is an interesting observation to make while discussing a forty year old television programme from a time, shockingly, when 1930 was fifty years ago and very much in living memory.
So far we have a dinner party held by self-important tycoon Lord Mullrine, who seems determined ti make everything as much like 1930 as possible. Yet it seems time is taking the hint and, in places, making this literal. There are a couple of nice and subtle illustrations of this, with the radio and the green door, but so far these light hints are all we're getting, as we spend the first episode getting to know the various guests. The posh dinner setting, the country house and the sort of 1930 setting feels a bit like an Aldous Huxley novel.
It's certainly an intriguing start, but thus far there are few truly new ideas. We shall see.
Tuesday, 18 May 2021
"Are you using your night vision, Vision?"
For a second wek in a row we get a genuinely funny piece of retro comedy... bt it's becoming more obvious that none of this is actually reality, and that it may represent a world that Wanda has retreated into in order to avoid an unpleasant reality.
The comedy is similar to last time, and represents more of '50s suburbia, and we're introduced to more of Wanda and Vizh's neighbours as they try to fit in. The comedy is great, with a stage magic act going all Tommy Cooper in entertaining fashion. Emma Caulfield from Buffy has a great part, too.
And yet... things from the real world are blending in. For the second episode in a week we get a mock advert- this time not Stark Industries but Strucker. And there's a scary moment at the end where the menacing noises from the start seem to be caused by a bloke in a hazmat suit emerging from a manhole... until Wanda seems to panic and alter reality. Hmm.
And Wanda is, impossibly, pregnant. Tommy and Billy, from that '80s Bill Mantlo limited series? Leading potentially to... well, what John Byrne went on to do in West Coast Avengers?
Regardless, this is magnificently original, brave and superb telly.
Monday, 17 May 2021
"A few cheap tricks to impress the ladies!"
"Well, at least he bothered to impress them..."
And so the serial ends; there are a few fantastical leaps of logic, but the concept makes this appropriate, and it's a satisfactory conclusion. The faceless baddie even gets a final monologue intended to scare us, P.J. Hammond-style, as the evil spirit is trapped in a container until the day it is released. It's episodes like this that remind you that Sapphire & Steel is really horror fairytale fantasy with scientific trappings. It's about exorcists and evil spirits.
The stuff about how Williamson's trickery summoning the spitit makes little sense, but it doesn't have to. It works, odd though it is in 2021 to see such a focus on analogue photography. The whole episode drips with atmosphere and dread, yet there's time for a heartbreaking couple of lines from Liz where she realises her lot in life will never improve.
This is the best conclusion so far, and easily the best serial. Let's hope the high standards continue.
Sunday, 16 May 2021
"Oh, what kind of housewife would I be if I didn't have a gourmet meal for four just lying about the place?"
Yes, I know: I have loads more of the Netflix Marvel series to do (although apparently Kevin Feige has de-canonised them and there is bad blood), and I will do so, but the new stuff on Disney Plus is extremely zeitgeisty, so I'll do that firs. And WandaVision is a brilliantly brave and creative choice to be the first Marvel series on Disney's own streaming service- weird, genre-busting, metatextual and wonderful.
On the surface, this is an I Love Lucy-style '50s American sitcom episode, set in '50s middle American suburbia, in black and while, with the Vision doing an undefined (and lampshaded as such) job while Wanda stays at home as exactly the sort of housewife Betty Friedan was talking about. We even have a standard retro sitcom plot in that the boss is coming to dinner.
The comedy really works, especialy with the addition of Wanda's magical powers and Vizh being a synthetic being capable of phasing through matter. It's a fun, if short, half hour. Yet already there are hints in the background of something very odd. The titular couple can't remember anything about their pasts when pressed. Lots of detail about their lives are hazy. It's all quite deliberately made so as not to feel quite real.
So far I think it's all in Wanda's head, the grief of someone with hex powers. But we'll see...
"Life has a way of moving you past wants and hopes.
And now we have a sequel. And, despite Jeff Bridges being superb; despite an impressive performance from Olivia Wilde;despire a nice little part for the great Michael Sheen... the film really is utter pants.
Partly, I suspect, it's the dull cinemtography and sleepily blue colour palette, that does the film no favours. But the script isworkmanlike and predictable and, moreover, the Cybrpunk themes just don't have the futitistic resonance in 2010 as they did in 1982. The entirety of not only the aesthetics but the concepts look both retro and quaint. It so doesn't work, however much Michael Sheen may evoke Ziggy era David Bowie in his scene-stealing appearances which certainly manage to liven up a dull film somewhat.
The narrative is fairly exciting, and I'm left suspecting that the workmanlike script, while not setting the world on fire, may have led to a significantly better film if the visual style for this sequel were not so tired and derivative.
A poor and disappointing sequel, but then again a late sequel to a film so very much of its time was always going to be a doubtful proposition.
Saturday, 15 May 2021
"OK, you big hunk of a man. Come and get me!"
I've reached the seventh film on eight years. The pace at which I'm watching the Friday the 13th film is a bit of a blatant clue in how bored I've been with them- although the fourth on was nicely metatextual.
Perhaps part of the problem is that ever since Scream, and certainly with The Cabin in the Woods, we've thought of the slasher genre (and it is a very trope-driven genre) in a very fourth wall-breaking way- sex means death; drugs mean death; nerdiness means death; going out in the dark means death... and that's all just literally from this film.
Halloween wasn't the first slasher film, as late as 1980. Psycho and Black Christmas were predecessors, and so the first Friday the 13th film turned up and proved to be a fairly perfunctory recital of previously established tropes. The sixth film stands out for the fact that it does as much violence to the fourth wall as to the characters, but the franchise is mostly meh.
And yet... this film cheerily announces its cheesiness with the voiceover during the opening recap. The conceit is that Tina, a telekinetic teen a la Poltergeist, has resurrected Jason through her passionate guilt at killing her father (who hit her mother and was thus irredeemable scum) and the shifty doctor who is "treating" her. There are no stars, as one woid expect for the seventh film in the franchise, but Tina's mum is Susan Blu- Arcee from Transformers: The Movie.This film doesn't pretend to be anythng more than a B movie. But it's a sound, an fun, example of ts genre, far more so than it's firsr five predecessors. Even the writing is hack-like but solid. This is ctualky, and by far, my second favourite film after the sixth. However, I must confess that I have just imbibed a splendid bottle of classy Rioja.
Thursday, 13 May 2021
"Perhaps you could tell them that. When you join them..."
This third episode may echo earlier stories, very much indicating that P.J. Hammond is a writer who ery much likes his favourite tropes. The old-fashioned rhymes made to feel creepy. The prospect of being trapped in an image. Yet it all feels fresh, and this episode adds a lot of tension in advance of the conclusion.
A surprising amount happens here. The faceless man has a civil but creepily threatening parley with Sapphire and Steel, toying with them as a cat toys with a spider. We learn that Liz's old landlord, as well as her friend Ruth, have been trapped in a photograph from the 1890s. And Liz finally gets to understand the true nature of those creepy children. We learn a bit more, if nothing concrete, about what is going on. And it'sll rather nostalgic to see scares that reflect the anxieties of pre-digital technology.
This is superb, and the cliffhanger- the faceless man sets fire to a photo with two people trapped in it, one of them conscious- is uniquely horrifying.
Wednesday, 12 May 2021
"You are not a Mandalorian."
"Never said I was."
SPOILERS ABOUND. You have been warned!
This is the perfect finale, and would have been so even without the fanwank, which itself was nonetheless the cherry on the cake.
The character of Dr Pershing is used, at the start, to up the ante by blatantly foreshadowing the entire platoon of droid Dark Troopers (whom we have seen before) that await our heroes as they plan their assault on Moff Gideon's "light" Imperial Star Destroyer. There's some nice character stuff as a baddie goads the good Marshal about being on the Death Star when the Grand Moff Tarkin destroyed Alderaan. This is the sort of little touch during an action-packed finale that shows real quality.
Bo-Katan and her sidekick are tagging along for the Darksabre- with a little light racism aimed at Boba Fett for being a clone along the way. But the assault goes to plan... until Mando unexpectedly comes across the Machiavellian Moff Gideon, in a superb performance from Giancarlo Esposito. He has three aces up his sleeve. He's got what he wanted out of Grogu; there are hordes of Dark Troopers about to attack against whom they have no hope; and, in defeating Gid and unwttingly claiming the Darksabre, he is forcing Bo-Katan to fight and kill him for it in order to regain the throne of Mandalore, because it's not the sabre that matters, it's the "story". I love this. Perfect plotting.
And then the mysterious Jedi arrives, slicing through the Dark Troopers with his green lightsabre, although interestingly only through screens within screens. This turns out to be highly appropriate when said figure turns out to be a CGI Luke Skywalker, with Mark Hamill's face rejuvenated by a cheaper version of the process used for Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel. The parting betwen Mando and little Grogu is heartbreaking, as he removes his helmet(!) and allows his baby to touch his face. He's a proper dad.
This is magnificent stuff, even before we get to the post-credits teaser for Boba Fett's forthcoming series, as he and the uber-cool Fennec Shand enter Jabba's old palace, kill Bib Fortuna (my first ever Kenner figure back in '83) ad take over.
This is simply superlative telly.
" I never saw your face..."
The penultimare episode... and it's a superbly taut and brilliantly made action thriller in which our heroes brave all sorts of dangers order to find out the location of Grogu next season. Boba Fett and Fennec Shand are now confirmed members of Mando's gang alongside Cara Dune- and our old friend Mayfeld is sprung in order to get inside the Imperial base. It's a nicely rich mix of people with some excellent characterisation on display.
The opening scene, with its CGI-enhanced depiction of a New Republic prison, is amazing. So is Boba Fett's ship Slave-1 (friends of mine had the Kenner toy of this when I was a nipper), which appears rather a lot though the magic of CGI. There's some awesome action with some pirates. There are tense scenes with a total bastard of an Imprerial officer.
But the episode focuses around a fascinating conversation between Mando and Mayfeld in which the later points out that Mando is happy to bend the rules about removing his helmet when something he cares about is at stake- over the course of two seasons we've seen the grizzled, taciturn bounty hunter turn into a devoted father. We see him first bend then break this rule, a rule that means a lot to him. For such an undemonstrative man this shows us that Mando cares a lot for this kid.
And so we see at the end, as Mando sends a threatening message to Moff Gideon. This is simply superb telly.
Tuesday, 11 May 2021
"It's like a cupboard that's been shut for two hundred years..."
Second episodes, by their very nature, are unlikely to be as crammed with awesome ideas as first episodes. It is to be expected. Yet the amount of creativity here is impressive. The faceless man is able to make a face appear where needed. And, of course, we begin to understand the nature of the phenomenon after Sapphire turns back time a bit: "I can only borrow time", she says. "I can't keep it."
Brilliantly, the suggesrion is that something got into the very first photograph in the 1820s and is somewhere within every photograph- either partly seen or completely hidden. This is an ingenious and very P.J. Hammond concept.
What isn't very P.J. Hammond at all is a character like Liz, very demotic, earthy and normal and a nice contrast in a very conceptual series like this.
So far this is holding my attention and enthralling me, and we are already halfway through.
Monday, 10 May 2021
"They're back. The empire. They're back."
It's all go in this very eventful episode: Grogu goes to do that magic Jedi thing on the planet Tython but, awkwardly, Mando is attacked at the worst possible moment by a not dead Fennec (the ageless Ming-Na Wen) and... a hooded Boba Fett. Who claims that Mando's Beskar is his armour. Oh dear.
All this is a side-show, of course, to the clever bit of misdirection with stormtroopers from a more than normally moustache-twirling Moff Gideon who, finally, manages to nab cute little Grogu, who now faces an immediate future as a "donor". Brr. And those "Dark Troopers" are cool.
Yet there's another big reveal going on- Mando's armour is indeed his, and Mando eventually accepts that: honour succeeds where battle failed. It's a nice touch, that the esteemed Mr Fett agrees to help return the child as a quid pro quo. We also get a nifty bit of subtle retconning: Jango Fett was a foundling. This is the Way.
The script from the dependable Favreau, the direction from the Hollywood guest helmer, the performances, the whole damn thing... it's excellent. I'm loving this.
Sunday, 9 May 2021
"Would you like to play with these children? Shall I bring them?"
Wow. I've criticised Sapphire & Steel in the past for its glacial and plodding pace, which goes way beyond the generally slower pace of television drama circa 1980 into some very poor sttucturing. Yet the ideas have always been awesome to the point of genius, and it's clear that the programme could have been great if P.J. Hammond as the ideas man had had an experienced writer as a collaborator- a Gerry Davis to his Kit Pedler, if you will.
That said, it must be said that this episode can't be faulted on pace, although perhaps first episodes generally don't, precisely because of their place in the narrative. I know that Hammond, like Steven Moffat, has his favoured tropes- and both Assignment One and, indeed, Hammond-penned episodes of Torchwood have shown his fascination woth individuals within images coming to life. Yet the opening teaser of Edwardian(?) children stealing other children from old photograths to play with is eerily effective, however much the nursery rhyme treads old ground.
The cool stuff then keeps coming thick and fast. An old pawn shop is full of memories, which Steel calls "triggers". Time breaking through again. A distinction between "specialists" and "operatives" like Steel (and implicitly Sapphire, with "specialists" being the likes of Silver?) and some amusingly banal-sounding workplace whingeing.
And then, suddenly, we get a real person, a young woman, who speaks of ghosts, a missing friend and a mysterious new landlord. And then we see- he's the pied piper for all these kids. And his face is just blank.
This is amazing. More please. And please, please, please stay this good.
"Anyone could take over the place with the right set of mammary glands..."
It's the same director. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (in that order this time) are just as superb, and Rosario Dawson no less so. It looks much the same, although with much more CGI. Admittedly it benefits from a world already built.
Yet the comedy is much better written. Smith and Jones get to actually be the splendid comedy double act that they are. There's a sense of peril. The plot is much more coherent, and links hilariously to a simulated 1970s documentary with retro special effects.
The concepts are delicious- a locker containing an entire culture. A CGI Venus flytrap princess. A post office in rural Massachusetts staffed entirely by aliens just to provide a sinecure... and yes, it is indeed joyous to see Kay get his memory back.
This film is so very underrated. It deserves so much more love. It's just that you have to watch the first film first.
Saturday, 8 May 2021
"We've become a race of Peeping Toms."
It's not that this isn't a masterpiece. The very concept is inspired- the claustrophobia and boredom of beng stuck in a two room apartment leads Jeff (a too old but neertheless excellent Jimmy Stewart) to spend his time spying on his neighbours, until he thinks he's witnessed a murder.
And there is such mastery in how the visuals are handled, from the design of the neighbourhood (deliberately complex, three-dimensional and amost Escher-like) to the moment where Thorwald eventually meets Jeff's gaze, and the tension that follows. The future Princes Grace of Monaco is superb, as is good old Hollywood stalwart Thelma Ritter. There's a rather nice theme running throughout of marital harmony or its absence.
And yet... it takes ages to get going and, clever though it is ad as charismatic as its stars may be, the film is just too slow for most of its length for the suspens to realy work: the concept ad execution don't really maage to fill the film's length.
Still, none of that takes away from the fact that this film is a super technical achievement.
Thursday, 6 May 2021
"He's formed a strong attachment to you."
Yeah, this is a bit good. My mind is blown.
We know from the start that Mando is on Corvus to find a Jedi to train Baby Yoda- or Grogu, as we now learn his name is. And, excitingly, we see said Jedi- Ahsoka Tano, played by Rosario Dawson from the various Netflix Marvel series- in the first scene, as she heroically pits herself against an evil local dictator who twirls her, er, moustache rather nicely. It's an interesting choice not to hold back this moment, but it sets the scene nicely.
We then get an episode which is awesome for several reasons. Ahsoka is, of course, coolness itself with those awesome lightsabres. The basic plot of Ahsoka and Mando teaming up and defeating the Magistrate is awesome, as is the lightly humorous relationship between them as they both see the irony in a Mandalorian and a Jedi, ancient enemies, working together.
There's a mind-blowing moment, though, as it's revealed that the Magistrate's "master" is one Grand Admiral Thrawn. I'm not at all familiar with Star Wars media outside this, the films, the Kenner toys of my '80s childhood and those two '80s Ewoks TV films, but I did read a novel by Timothy Zahn back in the early '90s- wasn't Grand Admiral Thrawn the baddie? But surely this novel can't be canon now the recent trilogy at the pictures has contradicted it?
There's more geekiness, too, as Ahsoka examines Grogu, confirms his past- a survivor of the massacre at the Jedi temple on Coruscant in Revenge of the Sith- and, fulfilling a Jedi trope, refuses to train him as he's too full of fear and anger. I'm sure we all saw this coming- but there's hope in the shape of a magic mountain on yet another world...
The script here (not Favreau) is perhaps a little less polished than usual, but there's just so much cool stuff going on. I'm loving this.
Wednesday, 5 May 2021
"They're learning to bless, groping for goodness."
The final instalment of The Oresteia is, of course, what gives it its thematic power: the cycle of endless power can only be broken by justice, by the rational weighing of evidence rather than hot-headed revenge, an eye for an eye until everyone is blind. There's a lot of weight to a literary work so old as this which seems to articulate, and with such exquisite prose, such a fundamental tenet of civilisation- although, perhaps, we should try not to dwell too hard on the misogyny on display here, especially the belief that patricide trumps matricide because he father is "the only true parent"and mothers do not pass on anything, only acting as the vessel. This may have been widely believed, or so we're told, but presumably by those who happen never to have noticed the extremely common phenomenon of children who resemble their mother.
Still, this is a superlative translation, a superlative score, and a superlative production, for all the reasons previously mentioned. This time we get to dwell on Tony Harrison's depiction and descriptions of the main Greek gods, and it's amazing.
It's hard to see how any other production of this trilogy can match this one. The authentic style and Harrison's gloriously earthy translation combine to make something intoxicating.
Tuesday, 4 May 2021
"I lost everyone."
The Mandalorian just keeps getting better. This episode has everything: action, humour, strong characters whom by now we've come to know well, and hints at even more stuff going on arc-wise.
At first it looks as though this is going to be another story of the week as Mando has to stay on Nevarro while his ship is repaired, so we can see how Cara Dune (now the sheriff of this frontier town) and Greef Karga (the mayor) are getting on and Mando has to join them in a mission to fill out the episode. I wouldn't have objected much- the mission is cool, to one remaining Imperial base left on the planet, with lots of action and lots of humour, including Baby Yoda using the Force to steal some sweets from another kid. Nevertheless, it seems at first as though all this is a story of the week in order to kill time entertainingly before we visit the Jedi mentioned last episode.
Except there's a lot more going on than that as the base is more than it seems. Mando discovers that rumours of Moff Gideon's death have been much exaggerated, and we uncover the fact that Baby Yoda's blood was being used in some bizarre blood transfusion experiments. These are big revelations, and there's also a subtle undercurrent of the New Republic trying to push their authority a little closer to the Outer Rim frontier- this Space Western is almost starting to echo Deadwood at times.
The final revelation, though, is that Cara is from Alderaan. Everything and everyone she knew is gone, which seems partly to explain how she has become what she is. Ouch. This is such good telly.
And yes, I blogged a Star Wars related post on May the 4th. Yay me.
Monday, 3 May 2021
"Bloodshed for bloodshed, keeping the blades red..."
And so Peter Hall's version of Tony Harrison's translation of the Oresteia trilogy continues, in similar vein, with masked actors who would have been bloody terrifying to any children watching. It is, of course, no less sublime than the first part.
The Libation Bearers is quite simple plot-wise: Orestes returns to plot with Electra, and gets into the palace by deceit where he promptly offs Aegisthus and then his mother, and the Furies are a bit miffed. That's it. It's basically Hamlet with added matricide and much less faffing about although, of course, in the case of Hamlet the whole point is the faffing about.Yet as ever it's not so much the plot as the philosophical and imagery-strewn verse that is the point, again translated by Harrison in a way that evokes, to me, nothing so much as Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf.
Once again the use of masks anonymises the actors, erasing their role and drawing our attention to the verse alone. Birtwistle's score, too, underlines the rhythm of much of the metre, to magnificent effect but utterly unlike any theatre I've ever experienced before. It's a profounly rich experience in so many ways.
I'm excited for the last play but I'll return to The Mandalorian tomorrow.
"I'm no more a breaker of bed-bond than, as a woman, I wield a man's weapon..."
I did The Oresteia at University... some twenty years ago. Watching this first instalment of the trilogy- Peter Hall, for the National Theatre, in 1983, now happily available with subtitles on YouTube- I'm reminded how little I remember of the details, alhough this is a very different translation from what we used in the module I studied, covering ancient Greek drama in translations for we English students as offered by the Classics Department.
This production is the first in a trilogy that I will be alternating with The Mandalorian before returning to Sapphire & Steel. It's an extraordinary production. For a start, it's made by a supergroup of culture as it existed in 1983. Aeschylus' words are translated by the superlative poet Tony Harrison, a working class lad from Leeds who managed to get the Classical education he needed to insulge his natural poetic talent as possibly the finest poet this country produced in the last quarter of the twentieth century. It's directed by Peter Hall. And the soundscape is by Harrison Birtwistle, the greatest British composer of the twentieth century and a man whose delightfully atonal compositions never trouble the Daily Mail reading acolytes of Classical FM.
The result of this is a fusion of the very ancient and very modern which fuses magnificently. On the one hand it's a brutally authentic production of Aescyhlus' play, from the very alien culture that is the Athens of the 4th century BC. The all-male actors- John Normington excels as Cassandra- and the masks worn by all players transport us back to Athens in its Golden Age and how theatre was done in those distant and murky days, by people we cannot understand. The masks, in particular, make me glad for the subtitles.
Yet the words are poetry you can get drunk on. I know little of poetic style in ancient Greece, but Tony Harrison's translation, with its kennings and alliteration, calls to mind the warlike muscularity of Old English poetry, and mixes cultural allusions with the demotic and, indeed, the earthy.
The masks, and the rigidity of the metre, are perfectly ec hoed by Birtwistle's unremittingly atonal score which, alongside Harrison's words, fuse ancient and modern with profound effect.
It's striking, perhaps, how much of this play is taken up with philosophical and actually quite rich philosophical discourse about Troy and about the costs, and pointlessness, of war, before stuff actually happens and Clytemnestra- offstage- does the bloody deed and avenges poor Iphygenia. As a father of a perfect daughter, I side with her.
This is exquisite. And more is to come...
Saturday, 1 May 2021
"They have crosses? And stakes? And axes?"
On the surface it's an obvious crowd pleaser. There are the two rather attractive twins themselves to offer a bit of soft porn with titties briefly on display. Both actresses are decent, but mainly there for their sexiness, which is considerable. Mmm. But it's also a bloody well made and splendidly scripted horror film, gripping throughout, and with possibly Peter Cushing's best and most nuanced performance.
And yet, while pushing all the buttons to appeal as a bit of top notch early '70s vaguely titillating horror fun, it's acrually a lot cleverer than that under the surface. The twins Maria and Frieda are good and evil respectively, yet the society they live in is less clear cut. There are two equally evil villains. The first, Count Karnstein, is an obvious baddie, a bored and decadent aristocrat who becomes a vampire (from a fanous ancestor we recognise from the prequel!) for fun. Damien Thomas, an actor so often underused, makes a superb villain.
Yet no less evil is Gustav Veil, a man who leads a gang of witch hunters who persecute any woman who shows and degree of independence and burns her alive without due process and the maximum of cant. They perform at being religious, and no doubt believe themselves to be so, but their religiosity is shallow, authoritarian and no less evil in its murderous fanaticism. This is made clear in the opening scene, and the fact that the opening titles run over the sight of a woman being burned alive. Yet Cushing plays him superbly, as a villain driven to evl by his fanatcism and reaising to his horror that he is not the good man he believes himself to be but an unwitting servant of Satan.
It is therefore appropriate that Veil should die fighting the Count and that the baddie should die instead at the hands of Anton, a decent, questioning sceptic who is not blinded by fanaticism- a moderate, a liberal, a centrist dad. Good man.
Karnstein and Veil would probably vote Tory this coming Thursday if they happened to live in Leicestershire. I'm sure Anton would vote Lib Dem. Be like Anton.
"Their laws are simple: the strong take everything."
There are some awesome monsters in here- a family of pterosaurs; a giant tortoise, a saurapod, a tyrannosaurus and a triceratops being the highlights.They all interact with humans, so... yes, let's gloss over the histotical accuracy and move on to briefy praise the location filming. I suppose there's also amusement value at the start as we see Robert Brown, a future M to Roger Moore's James Bond, as a Palaeolithic chieftain. But that's literally all the positives.
Because this is an awful film. Other than some cringeworthy narration at the start there's no dialogue. The plot consist of M's son beng banished, encountering various monsters, joining another tribe where Raquel Welch's character likes him for some reason, being banished again, fighting more monsters at the end, and finishing off with a bit of natural disaster action. There's a lot of visual spectacle. The film looks good.
And yet... it's just dull. Without dialogue, it simply isn't possible for any of the characters to be interesting, or for us to care about them. And without charactesr to care about we have nothing to watch but empty spectacle.
Thursday, 29 April 2021
"Pushing women's work at me? You keep that to yourself!"
So this is it. The final episode, complete with a final philisophical and setimental coda about all the violence in the world as a parting gesture from Jeremy Brett's undoubtedly definitive Sherlock Holmes, much as health problems clearly led to much less physicality in his later years.
And the final episode is a good one, if not exactly standing comparison with the excellence that was routinely reached in earlier, better seasons. An adaptation of a fairly obscure Conan Doyle short story, it still suffers from the overly foregrounded attempts at narrative cleverness that have been too prominent of late: non-linear storytelling certainly has its place, but not here.
Nevertheless, this is a decent send off with a decent cast and a solid story, anchored by the conceit of two severed ears given as a birthday present. It is ulimately a tale of passion, social class, adultery and murder which is told well, much as the trope of the temptress who corrupts a simple man into ruin is worryingly present. This is also, however, a warning against the killjoy busybodies of the temperance movement, who could certainly all do with a drink.
So this is the end. No more Granada Sherlock Holmes. It's now clear that, despite high spots, the once superlative quality has not been so apparent as late, but the series- and the late, lamented Jeremy Brett- will be much missed.
Wednesday, 28 April 2021
"No, I have enough pets..."
Right, the Granada Sherlock Holmes has nearly finished, with one episode left (tomorrow), so it's time to alternate Sapphire & Steel with some other unfinished business and finish the promising second season of The Mandalorian. It's an impressive episode to return to, ad a reminder of how Jon Favreau has created an impressive piece of television, and quite conceivably a better space opera Western than Firefly.
Compared to last episode, which was essentially about getting from A to B with some excitement on the way, this episode is quite evantful. Yet the bare bones of the plot- Mando arrives on Trask (home of the Quarrens and Mon Calamari- it's great to finally see the planet, with its AT-AT cranes, dodgy mechanics, piracy and living squid soups) in search of other Mandalorians in order to get directions to a Jedi so he can take babby Yoda where it belongs- barely scratches the surface of what is going on here.
Those three other Mandalorians, led by the enigmatic and dangerous Bo-Katan are not as expected. It;s shocking to see them remove their helmets- but we now learn that most do; it's only the extreme "Chid of the Watch" faction, to which Mando belongs, that hold on to "the Way". This is quite a revelation and a superby done twist. Moreover, while Bo-Katan happens to be broadly aligned with the goodies, she is ambitious and power-hungry, and prepared to twist her promises. I wouldn't be surprised if she were to turn up one day as an antagonist. However, Mando now has a place to head for in order to meet a Jedi.
There's also plenty of action, plenty of humour and plenty of action, plus of course plenty of the usual Imperial dastardliness. I've really missed The Mandalorian and it's time to catch up completely.
Tuesday, 27 April 2021
"You know my methods...
What a very odd episode, which I uppose we could dub "Holmes-lite", given that Jeremy Brett hardly appears in his penultimate episode- was this perhaps forced upon the prosuction team by Brett's health?
It's also odd that this is a mash-up of two diparate Conan Doyle short stories- the less than classic The Mazarin Stone and the far more intriguing The Three Garridebs- with one allocated to Watson and the other allocated to a Mycroft Holmes who is drifting further and further from his Diogenes Club personality. It's good to see Charles Gray again, of course, but this simply doesn't work, especially as both stories are tied together at the end. This sort of thing is a far cry from the original mission statement of adapting all the stories.
There's also that syndrome again of directorial touches that are in practice meaningless and simply don't fit into an ITV detective show. This is an episode which simply fails. Without Brett, they should simply have made one less episode.
I really hope the final episode is a good one.
Monday, 26 April 2021
“Please don't despise me!"
Around the time of the film's release I recall the critics were mildly disparaging of what they saw as a film about titillation and in which Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman exhibited suspiciously little chemistry for a married couple.
...All of which is utter bollocks, and a quick glance shows me the ritcal consensus has thankdully shifted somewhat. This is perhaps the pinnacle of Stanley Kubrick's career, a film dense with subtext far beyond what is apparent to me on a first viewing, and a film which actually treats sex as a serious part of life as opposed to something to giggle at.
The first half of the film is a meditation on monogamy vs polygamy, as the naive Dr Bill is tempted by various opportunities for extra-marital action while Alice confesses to her own sexual fantasies. The pivotal scene, a stoned bedroom argument, sees them both being somewhat naive and unwittingly purotanical as they skirt around the old gendered ideas that sex is something men, being active, do to women, who are passive. This is, of course, nonsense: even if we look at heterosexual coupling only, desire is no different between the sexes, just society's expectations.
And then Dr Bill, constantly awkward with women, moves into the world of the elite, into what looks like a cross between a ritualistic sacrifice, a BDSM club, a religious ceremony and a dodgy secret society. There is much coupling, but Dr Bill is excluded. He, a medical doctor, is successful and well-off- yet he exists on a different plane from the decadence of the elite. And the scene where he is found out by men in truly terrifying masks is truly terrifying, as is the sense of tension that follows. So is the implication that a girl whose life he saved dies so that he may live- although he is offered a comforting fiction to believe.
The cinematography and direction is sublime, with wonderful use of colours to contrast the world of the mundane with the dark ways of the elite, and much in the way of disorienting use of the camera at appropriate momnts. The score, and that repetitive piece in particular, is not only very good indeed but perfectly integrated with the visuals.
There's so much going on here- musings on monogamy; the objectification
of women; the intersection of sex with money and power; so much more. This is cinema of the very first rank.
Sunday, 25 April 2021
"We have no use for them..."
So that's it. Only in this final episode are the threads finally drawn together, with Rothwyn and Eldred finally interacting with Sapphire, Steel and Silver... and it's all over quickly. It's an anti-climax. And it turns out thos is all the result of cruel experiments on animals. I'm all for political subtext but this is bit crudely blatant didacticism.
There's a bit of fun with the fact time has been reversed and the unfortunateness of the last episode has been erased, and a bit of fun with how rude Steel is to the future couple versus Sapphire being at her most aloof and Silver blatantly flirting with Rothwyn. There's also horror, with that horrible brief glimpse of the doll baby, and the revelation that both other future households- children included- died by suicide in order to protect others. Brr.
Yet the conclusion is quick, anticlimctic, overly didactic and leaves us with a six parter which is oddly paced and, while it has some good ideas, just doesn't draw them together well enough to hang together by the time we reach the conclusion.
I shall plough on, but I'm not too impressed with Sapphire & Steel right now.
"They were all evil, and remain evil after death."
This film, like its predecessor, is a fairly faithful adaptation. yet it is fascinatingly different, and not only because of the greater emphasis on the lesbian attraction between Carmilla and Emma which looms large over the entire film. To begin with, there is no red herring, or at least not for the audience; the characters may suspect Kate O'Mara's governess, but we know Carnilla is a vampire from an early stage as we are made aware of an earlier victim. This is far less of a straight character drama and far more of a sensationalist horror grand guignol with sex and violence as the selling points... and it works. This is a significantly better film.
It helps that the cast is so superb. Ingrid Pitt and Cushing excel as ever, but they are ably supported by a very young Kate O'Mara ad an almost unrecognisable George Cole. The direction and production similarly recreate the familiar Mittel-European setting (this time rural Austra in the 1780s) with real aplomb.And yes, of course there's a tavern full of suspicious locals.
Yes, this is the start of '70s Hammer horror, using sex and sensation to sell in a way they'd never so explicitly done before. It has to be said, though, that it bloody well works.
Saturday, 24 April 2021
" Doesn't anything work around here?"#
Michael Crichton writes and directs, and the strength of thefilm lies in his strong premise- realistic robots, "designed by computers", areused to create three realistic theme parks- Westworld, Medievalworld and Romanworld, the latter of which seems to be based on decadence and is therefore barely seen.
Interestingly, the plot needs no great twists as the premise is explored and the threat- the robots going wrong and killing people, is simply allowed to happen wthout too much focus either on why this is happening or the backstory behind it.
The whole thing is pretty much just played out straight. The premise is the premise, and that's that. Even though the technology level is implicitly futuristic the fashions, attitudes and even computers are completely and utterly 1973. Exposition may be obvious- we begin with a TV advert for the resort and we have a room of backroom technicians to act as chorus- but it works. Even our two protagonists are used to do plenty of obvious exposition, with John being a veteran and Peter new. Again, though, this works.
This is an example of a film which works by virtue of a superb premise, and has the confidence to simply let it be itself and play out. There's a certain amount of playing it safe here, but there's no doubt that the premise is bloody brilliant, and the film is very good indeed.
Thursday, 22 April 2021
"I have impeccable origins."
This episode is no less full of padding- in essence it consists of Sapphire, with Steel, faffing around as they wonder what tricks in their armoury they can use to bring back Silver, who is their only ticket out of the capsule. This time, though, it's entertaining padding.
Partly it's that the ideas get some development- the mysterious creature behind all this seems close to omnipotent, and can prevent Sapphire reversing time a few minutes as she usually does. This sequence subtly allows our protagonists to review the story so far including the bits with Rothwyn and Eldred that they were not previously privy to. We also have an odd description of the creepy, nameless grown baby as the "Changeling" complete with a description of the folklore around the concept, which seems to have no bearing whatsoever.
It's weird but cool, too, to hear that Silver has been taken back to the "beginning". That's the thing about Sapphire & Steel; it doesn't half drag on a bit, but the concepts are frequently awesome. And we end on a high, even if again there's no real cliffhanger, as our protagonists finally meet a rather composed Rothwyn and a hilariously freaking out Eldred. It's nice how they used the baby as a loophole.
Let's hope the finale is good...
Wednesday, 21 April 2021
"Please vanish, both of you!"
Two superb episodes in a row: that's more like it. It looks as though there's hope for this final series after all.
I fear I recall little of the short story, but this is a nice little stiry about a very thinly veiled Mafia which manages to handle the tension well and to generate real fear. Never has the Granada Sherlock Holmes felt so much like The Godfather, but this is well written, and extremely well shot too.
Not only that, though- the cast is extraordinary. John Hallam makes an excellent villain, but it's truly delightful to see the lovely and talented Betty Marsden, as well as Kenneth Connor, both in straight roles- although sadly, for Connor, a posthumous one.
Yes, I know I've been critical in the past of adaptations of stories which are not really whodunits, or end up as something else following the adaptation. Yet The Red Circle, while abandoning all pretence of being a whodunit halfway through, still contains a gnuine mystery, and the shift to more of a suspenseful action thriller is, for once, handled well.
It's a nicely subtle ending, too: for once Holmes can't override the law and prevent a man ho acted in self-defence from being arressted for murder, even if we know damn well he will be acquitted.
Monday, 19 April 2021
"There are no others..."
Here we have... a rather uneventful episode. There's some fascinatingy touchy-feely stuff between Sapphire and Silver hinting at a present or former romantic relationship, much to Steel's jealous annoyance. There's a bit of a revelation that Silver is "just a technician" whose forte is transportation and machines. Aside from this there's just a lot of vague exploration to fill the time in which our now reunited proagonists learn various things about the capsule(s) that the viewer already knows or has probably inferred.
The former baby is creepy though. And there's a fascinating debate about whether it's a baby or just a machine. But that's literally it.
At least we get a cliffhanger next time. But can some stuff actually happen next time, please?
Sunday, 18 April 2021
"Or must I pluck another from the chicken's arse?"
This second episode is every bit as good, and every bit as Blackadderish, as the first- and just as unashamedly geeky about Shakespeare lore. This is a sitcom which has the likes of Henry Condell and Robert Greene (the truly excellent Mark Heap) as characters and where the plot turns on factors such as the Stuart James VI of Scotand being the likely next king of England and how he is the son of Mary Queen of Scots.
Exhibit A for both of these points is the use of Christopher Marlowe here. On the one hand, by saying Shakespeare wrote all Kit's plays, the script is taking the mickey out of those nutters who for some reason think the Earl of Oxford (who died in 1604, before many of the most famous plays) wrote the whole Shakespeare canon. On the other hand they cheerfully show Kit as being a laddish "roisterer" who seems to love neither tobacco nor boys, and bears an uncanny and certainly deliberate resemblance to Lord Flashheart.
There are so many little in-jokes, too, which make this series particularly enjoyable for the Shakespeare geek. Roll on the next one... but first, several days of other stuff.
"But Kate, you know very well that ot's illegal for girls to do anything interesting."
Ok, now this isn't me making a habit of blogging sitcoms- there are all sorts of reasons why they don't lend themselves as well to a proper episodic blog post, at least for me. So this is just a few brief witterings per episode, rather less content than usual, but we'll see how it goes.
Essentially, this is bloody brilliant. Yes, it's basically the world of Shakespeare in the style of Black Adder II, with the lines very Blackadderish indeed and with Will Shakespeare (a perfectly cast David Mitchell) performing the same narrative function as good old Edmund. But this is by Ben Elton, someone who has every right to do this. There's something to be said for getting a writer to do what he's good at. Sometimes it's good to be in one's comfort zone.
The cast is superb, and the assortment of regular characters introduced here are at once redolent of Blackadder (aspiring actress Kate is quite deliberately based on "Bob") and based on Shakespeare's real family and regular actors- I love how Will Kemp is used to take the piss out of Ricky Gervais. This is roughly based on the young-ish Shakespeare of the 1590s, but let's not be too fixated on historical accuracy. Let's just say that, as someone who sees Romeo and Juliet being, in large part, the still young-ish Shakespeare, whose earlier work consisted of such violent crowd pleasers as Titus Andronicus and the Henry VI trilogy, taking the piss out of Italian romances by having a deliberately bathetic ending, I enjoyed this immensely.
"What's done cannot be undone..."
On paper it has a lot to recommend it. It's a fairly faithful adaptaton of one of Shakespeare's finest plays. It's a realistic evocation of 11th century Scotland (look, no kilts!) with authentic accents, a shockingly rare virtue which adds a lot and hides many faults elsewhere. It stars Michael Fassbender, a very good actor. The cinematography is bleakly artistic, with subdued colours and severely bleak locations.
And yet... this bleakness doesn't serve the play. Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are excellent but their performances seem to lack charisma here in ways they don't elsewhere- perhaps Justin Kurzel is not an actors' director? The gloriously poetical lines seem to be cancelled out at every turn by a crushing dullness that pervades everything.
The locations are haunting. The performances good and often excellent. The film beautifully shot almost if not wholly on location... yet I find myself yearning for a stagey old BBC 1970s style production with multiple cameras.This fim seems to please the critics, but it disappointed me.
Friday, 16 April 2021
"The victors stood guard over a kingdom of rats..."
The word "inspiration" is a considerable understatement, I think: I'm in two minds myself over whether or not Twelve Monkeys ought to be considered a remake. Yet the film is a masterpiece in its own rights regardless. The still photographs, and the masterful ways they bleed into one another, perfectly encapsulate the theme of both the emotions and subjectivity of memory, dependent as it is on still, lingering images.
The narration is extraordinary, too. I'll confess to being less than quite fluent in French, although I can speak the language up to a point, but the prose was beautiful in translation and even more poetic in the original French.
This is, I suppose, at once very French and very Atomic Age science fiction, with its mushroom cloud and post-apocalyptic dystopia, yet both the time travel romance (the couple's relationship reminds me of The Time Traveller's Wife) and the future weirdness are brilliant. And the twist at the denoument is done with such admirable elegance.
If you haven't seen it, it's less than half an hour long, and easy to find.
Thursday, 15 April 2021
"May I shake your hand, Sir?"
"What? If you must."
Now that's more like it. This is the first solid episode in ages from the once-dependable Granada Sherlock Holmes. After a few episodes that were, essentially, not whodunits, at last we get an adaptation of a solid Conan Doyle murder mystery with a genuinely surprising and unpredictable twist. This may not be a highlight of the series, but it's an enormous relief to encounter an episode like this. Let's hope it represents an overdue return to form for the final stretch.
This is a broadly faithful adaptation, with the changes making sense with the casting- and the cast is truly excellent. The episode is notably missing Edward Hardwicke as Watson, of course, but it just about works having the superb but noticeably older Charles Gray return as Mycroft. The interplay between the two brothers is fascinating- Holmes archly notes that it os "ironic" that their late father left his magnifying glass to the sedentary Mycroft, although there's just about enough sleight of hand to excuse his not being so sedentary here.
There's a nice little red herring with Suffragettes too, and some wry social commentary on Edwardian attitudes to female suffrage, which Mycrofy is very much seen to share. The opening and concluding scenes with nihilists in Russia in the 1880s are well done, too- shades of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II.
Please let this not be the last good episode...
Wednesday, 14 April 2021
Tuesday, 13 April 2021
"Mr Holmes, you are the very worst tenant in London!"
Sigh. This second episode is better than the first. Jeremy Brett is, of course, superb as the strangely indifferent and, eventually, ill Holmes- or seemingly so. The cast is unusually strong, even if a very young Hugh Bonneville is going by "Richard" here. Roy Hudd is delightful as a ne'er-do-well. It all looks very good. And yet... it's all fundamentally misconceived.
The Dying Detective works well as a short story, but the short stoty works only because it essentially consists of what we see as the final scenes here, as Holmes pretends to be dying so the gullible Culverton Smith can, like a Bond villain, confess. To fit a fifty minute episode we need to have a long, awkward, preambe to establish the context. This is unfortunate, and not only because the denoument becomes rather obvious if we understand what has led up to it. Holmes behaviour, too, in refusing to suspect Culverton Smith (until he does) feels awkward and too blatantly plot driven. It's odd, too, that he would take up the case of yet another opium addict husband; the apparent encouragement of hs cousin would not make the case sufficiently interesting.
As a result, the episode may be well-made but fundamentally doesn't work. The short story needs to be a short vignette in order to work. Expanding it to a full fifty minute episode simply doesn't work.
Still, I'm glad they kept in Homes' apparent fear of oysters...