Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 6: Gelignite

"There's no such thing as a blameless party in a divorce!"

So this is the one where Margaret isn't allowed to marry the man she wants because he's divorced (his wife left him) and, frankly, because he's a commoner. And all because the Queen is allowed, through the Royal Marriages Act 1772, to veto any of her relatives.' marriages before they're 25. It's hardly fair although, of course, the same could be said of hereditary succession. Being in the Royal Family is a (very) gilded cage. To be royal is not to be free. We end with the two sisters very much estranged.

That takes up most of the episode, but we also get some foreshadowing of Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal courtesy of Ed Stoppard, who played Brian Epstein in Cilla; Stalin dying in the background; and Princess Margaret delivering a speech in Rhodesia at the end which is staggering in its casual racism. And it seems that Philip is spending less and less time with Elizabeth.

Dramatic and unusually self-contained as the episode is, it feels very much like foreshadowing...

Monday, 27 March 2017

X-Men (2000)

"Well, what would you prefer- yellow spandex?"

I've blogged so many Marvel films but, Deadpool aside, no X-Men ones. The reason is simple, of course: my film-watching life didn't start when I started doing films for this blog back in 2011, and by that point I'd already seen the first three. But I now remember very little of them and it's time to go back to what was arguably, with Blade not being seen by the general public as a superhero film, the beginning of the Marvel cinematic age we live in.

And it's good, faithfully showing both the premise and the characters from the comics  Patrick Stewart is an obvious choice for Professor X, although it's odd that he doesn't adopt an American accent, but Ian McKellen was born to play Magneto. But what really works, I think, is the decision to use Rogue and Wolverine as POV characters to justify all the exposition, odd though it is to see a very young Anna Paquin as another Southern belle so soon after marathoning True Blood.

The film keeps the plot simple and allows the characters to breathe, benefiting, I think, from the fact that Chris Claremont's run on the title set a style of almost soap opera, with characterisation a strong point. In that sense, I suppose, you can argue that the franchise is more suited to TV than film, but the richness of the characterisations cannot be other than a benefit. Wolverine and Rogue are well-sketched here, and it's noticeable that there's only time to hint at the depths of the likes of Storm or Cyclops.

It's an interesting choice for Magneto's character to have an early Holocaust flashback, evoking Schindler's List by use of monochrome, but it adds texture. And the treatment of bigotry against Mutants is designed well to evoke homophobia rather than the original Civil Rights era metaphor for racism. It's gruesomely fascinating to see Senator Kelly get his heavily CGI comeuppance, mind, and turning him into a kind of mutant evokes the creepy conclusion of Freaks. But it's a solidly constructed film, with a suitably visual finale at the Statue of Liberty and a sequel-hunting coda with Xavier and Magneto. It's a fine beginning to the franchise.

Oh, and on an actor-spotting note... the Toad is played by the same actor as Darth Maul!!!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Grimm: Breakfast in Bed

"He won't let you sleep."

Hmm. Nice central idea- a Wesen that's a kind of cross between the Sandman and Freddy Krueger, that eats your sleep and drives you mad; potentially a ripe grounding for a good horror tale. But it never quite comes off, and the episode just ends up being a rather predictable whodunit with a fair bit of CGI. With this season I'm getting less and less tolerant of the stories of the week, especially mediocre ones like this. Still, I liked the literal red herring.

Arc-wise there's not much going on. Most interesting, probably, is Sean saying straight up that "I'm done with Black Claw". This leads to Meisner's ghost later saving his life because "This time you chose the right side, Sean". That Anselmo Baledin bloke looks a bit miffed, though. I'm sure he'll be back.

The only other event of any interest is the gang managing to decode those strange makings that Eve put in the basement; it's a kind of astronomical calendar and it points at a date: 24th March- in the future...

But, aside from those two things and the red herring joke, this episode is eminently skippable.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Genghis Khan (1965)

"It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."

Oh dear. This film is not very good, Where to start? Well, how about with the arse-clenchingly awful fact that all but a very few characters are played by white actors in yellowface, with James Mason's jaw-droppingly stereotyped performance as Kam Ling being quite something to behold. No amount of accounting for the different social mores of 1965 can let us escape from the fact that this is all incredibly racist.

Oh, the location filming looks impressive and epic, and you can tell that the film is trying to be Lawrence of Arabia. But this is somewhat undermined by the fact that this is a film about Genghis Khan that focuses mainly around inter-Mongol squabbling, the extensive interlude in China doesn't particularly involve him conquering the place, and there's a general lack of conquering going on. In fact, late on in the film, a quick burst of narration jumps smoothly over the conquests of China, Russia and India and jumps unconvincingly into the conquest of Khwarezm. Where's all the stuff we want to see in a film about Genghis Khan?

I accept that a film like this has to show a certain amount of historical inaccuracy, but making the film mostly about the rival between Temujin and his Mongol rival Jamuga is such a waste. And so, ultimately, is the film.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 5: Smoke and Mirrors

"Borrow it, Ma'am? From whom? If it's not yours, whose is it?"

And so we come to the coronation, that watershed in British television history where a ceremony both elitist and inclusive (Phil let the TV cameras in) finally made telly a true mass medium. It was also, as we see here, a battle of wills between, inevitably, tradition- the Dukes of Norfolk have arranged all coronations since James II- and the radical modernising zeal of, er, Prince Philip. In 1953 he was very much the outsider, and has the fear of revolution of a continental royal..

It;s nice, then, that we begin with a flashback to 1937, as George VI lets little Lilibet help him with practising for his big day. It's also a brilliant showcase for David as a character- forbidden from the event, he may host a small party in Paris, mocking the ceremony as it is screened, but he is not so cynical as he seems; he is wounded that he never lasted long enough to have a coronation of his own.

This is also the point where Queen Mary dies, a very present link with the Victorian past. The same could be said of Churchill, who now sits during his audiences with the Queen. But the centrepiece is the ceremony itself, much of which is simply shown as was, complete with the Archbishop of Canterbury (Ronald Pickup) fluffing his lines. It's a deeply moving and powerful piece of mumbo-jumbo. But we end with Elizabeth and Philip's marriage in an awkward place.

More very good drama, as we can expect from Netflix. The Crown is, perhaps, in the "very good" caegory rather than being one of the all-time greats, but at the halfway point I'm very much enjoying it.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 4- Act of God

"Be careful out there. It's a real pea-souper!"

This episode is interesting in that it deals with the great smog crisis of 1952, where a mixture of weather and pollution caused 10,000 deaths and the elderly Churchill, interested only in foreign policy, showed no more ntetest until his job was seen to be in peril; this isn't widely know today, much like Churchill's second ministry as a whole.

In other news Phil takes flying lessons with the man who's shagging his sister-in-law- Elizabeth manages to get Churchill to agree to this as a quid pro quo- and Queen Mary is dying. This shouldn't be surprising; after all, she was born in 1867, the year of the Great Reform Act and the Ausgleich, but for Elizabeth it's a race against time to speak as much as she can with the person who seems to have formed her ideological view of monarchy.

We get to know Clem Attlee a little in this episode, no longer prime minister yet, next to Churchill, seeming to be relatively young. And, most heartbreakingly, Venetia develops her hero-worshipping crush on Churchill to a peak, only to be killed by a traffic accident in the smog. So that's why the character has been so heavily emphasised.

Interesting that Elizabeth's view of monarchy is extremely conservative, an updating of the Divine Right of Kings to the context of parliamentary democracy, whereas Philip is much more modern, believing in such radical concepts as the separation of church and state. It's inter sting, too, that the constitutional question of whether she is able to sack Churchill on grounds of age and irrelevanc is never really resolved in theory; even Tommy Lascelles leaves the question open. Only Queen Mary is there to give a firm answer, and she won't be there for long.

More fascinating, cerebral stuff that avoids Daily Mail-style fawning in favour of ideas and characters. This is good telly.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 3- Windsor

"I know he's Winston Churchill and all that, but remember who you are!"

This episode plays a clever trick in constantly juxtaposing Elizabeth's first baby steps as monarch with the abdication, in flashback, and present day waspish emptiness of David, the former Edward VIII, with the now dying Queen Mary standing in judgement over everything. Alex Jennings is perfectly cast.

Elizabeth is now faced with the full weight of being Queen, dealing with her first red box still marked for "the King" and feeling nervous about her first audience with Churchill, who soon puts her right about how such things are done. But she's under pressure to ensure that the kids keep Phil's surname, and to stay in Clarence House rather than Buckingham Palace, both to please Phil and smooth her marriage, and both doomed, as we see.

It's interesting to see the character of Ernst Von Hannover, a reminder of the family's German roots who happily chats in German with Queen Mary. And it's ominous to see that Townsend's wife has left him; the affair between Margaret and himself, in the 1950s, is another thing that can only be doomed.

The unpopular David manages to do a little deal with his old friend Churchill, breaking the bad news about the surname and palace to the Queen in exchange for no cut in his allowance. Phil is not happy, feeling emasculated; these are days long before feminism. But most interesting is the chat between Elizabeth and David. He may have apologised to Albert for denying him an "ordinary" life, but Elizabeth has been denied one too. Although her definition of "ordinary" is not how most of us would use the word.

Good, well-constructed drama, and still gripping.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Grimm: The Seven Year Itch

"Check to see if there are any reports of a naked man in a park sometime last night."

"Uh, this is Portland; I might have to narrow that down."

Another story of the week and, while not as good as last week's, it's an interesting idea; an immortal Wesen, 200 years old, who only awakens every seven years to eat a fat person. Lovely. I suspect that this pattern doesn't apply from birth, as that would lead to an awkward childhood. At least this week I was a little less crushingly disappointed to be getting a story of the week. And there's a nice, trope-bending moment at the end when the baddie's putative female victim turns out to be a Wesen and eats him instead. Reminds me of the first ever scene of Buffy. Not sure it's nice to make a larger lady into a hippo though.

There's still good arc stuff, though. Meisner is seemingly determined not just to give Sean a "half-assed haunting". It's confirmed that Rosalie is carrying triplets ("I love you and we can do this" says Monroe), which made Mrs. Llamastrangler cry. And Nick is still tempted by his precious; we all know where that subplot is going.

More disturbingly, it's only Diana's intervention that saves Eve, trapped below the house, seemingly by all the writing that seems to be down there. There's clearly a big reveal coming about the writing, but there's also an interestingly simmering tension between Eve and Adalind.

We end with Sean using his engagement ring as part of a test to see if Meisner's ghost is indeed real- and the results are explosive. Literally.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Yellowbeard (1983)

"Three farthings for a lump of shit please..."

This film is, well, not all that good which, considering that two of its three writers were Peter Cook and Graham Chapman, is rather bewildering. But it just isn't much good. And it killed Marty Feldman.

That isn't to say that there are no laughs at all, of course, nor that it isn't a pleasure to see the talents of those in them tags down there, plus Spike Milligan, Nigel Planer and even an eyebrow-raising from a very Let's Dance era David Bowie. But the whole thing never really takes off, perhaps partly because the script isn't great but in large part, I suspect, to a rather flat directorial style with no comedic timing or flourishes. Also, I have to say, the constant rape jokes don't exactly make for comfortable viewing.

Still, Graham Chapman is good, as is Marty Feldman in his last film, although Peter Cook is somewhat wasted in a straight man role. And the character of El Nebuloso is superb, with the scenes of Cheech and Chong, the acid pool and the torture device being the closest the film gets to being Pythonesque. But the film as a whole is a bit of a damp squib and worth seeing only for Monty Python or Peter Cook completists.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 2- Hyde Park Corner

"I thought we'd have longer."

This second episode is a superbly crafted piece of drama, significantly better than the last one, entirely concerned with the slow but inexorable demise of George VI, the race to tell Lilibet and Phil- stuck in Kenya many decades before mobile phones- what has happened, and give us our first glimpse of the changes that must happen now that she is Queen Elizabeth II. Earlier this episode Lilibet curtseyed to her grandmother, Queen Mary; now, Mary curtseys to her.

Oh, and I've just realised why I recognise Pip Torrens, who plays Tommy Lascelles; he was Mr Cholmondely-Warner in Harry Enfield and Sons. It was the scene where he speaks sternly to Townsend about what he's up to with Margaret that made me realise. Blimey.

We also get the first of no doubt many scenes of Phil being vaguely racist as the royal couple touch down in Kenya, we get introduced to Churchill's new secretary Venetia, who will no doubt play an important role later on, and we begin to see both how Churchill is slowly losing it (except for big set-piece speeches, of course) and how frustrating this is, despite royal rebukes, for Anthony Eden, perpetual heir to the premiership and the Prince Charles of the 1950s Tory party.

But the episode centres around the urgent yet calm, uneasy yet rehearsed flurry of activity that follows the King's sudden death one morning; we see as the news slowly circulates and plans spring into action. Amongst all that are small character moments, though, with Phil facing down an elephant and Elizabeth showing her war mechanic skills. And there are hats everywhere. Lots of hats.

But there's no denying that this is a very impressive piece of telly. More please.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 1- Wolverton Splash

"I've signed myself away."

"Or won the greatest prize on Earth."

Yes, I know: yet another TV series on the go and so very many plates spinning. I eventually finish them all, you know me! Everything will be followed to its conclusion at some point. Well, perhaps not Detectorists...

Anyway, let's turn to The Crown, a new-ish (I'm slightly behind the curve, as usual) Netflix drama which has gleaned quite a lot of critical acclaim and stars Claire Foy as a young Queen Elizabeth II from the time when a pubescent Paul McCartney used to perv over her and Matt Smith as everybody's favourite casual racist, Phil. Both are rather good. The script takes an interesting tack, though: the era depicted is staid, with rationing, pre-'60s stultifying puritanism and a truly crap popular culture, but the script plays against this. King George VI in his first scene- which shows just how mollycoddled by servants monarchs are,-drops the C bomb quite casually. That's an interesting choice and drops a hint that this programme may be a little interesting to someone like me who isn't exactly an ardent royalist.

(There. I've said it; not really a royalist. That isn't to say that I want a republic right now- I don't think our age has the appropriate regard for constitutional propriety or civil liberties for such major constitutional surgery and I think we should carry on, ideally with some Scandinavian-style reform, with some kind of constitutional monarchy. But if you were making a new country from scratch then of course you'd have some kind of republic and it's silly to pretend otherwise.)

But perhaps the most interesting piece of casting is John Lithgow (the baddie from Santa Claus: The Movie!!!) as Winston Churchill. He's far from obvious until you see his extraordinary performance which strikes that difficult yet perfect balance between impression and performance. Ben Miles is good too as  royal equerry Peter Townsend, so very proper as he secretly shags Princess Margaret.

Anyway, Phil and Lilibet are getting married. It's all very grand, especially for the austere 1947. She says "obey", which raises eyebrows. The Tories "win" the 1951 election, and Churchill gets to recycle his famous line about Attlee and the empty taxi. But this episode is essentially about the warm relationship between Lilibet and Phil, his difficulty- '50s gender roles being what they are- in adjusting from naval life to the life of a royal "wife", and how the  news of the King's cancer is so slowly kept from him but how, in spite of the denial and the stiff upper lips, it's killing him.

This is actually rather good.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Grimm: El Cuegle

"We live in a world full of, you know, people with shoes."

As stories of the week go, this is a good one: a baby-eating Wesen that sees the future and only eats future Hitlers and serial killers. It's just that the last thing we want after the last few episodes of high excitement is to go back to another story of the week. Perhaps, in fact, this isn't a good time for one of the better stories of the week to happen as it's likely to be unappreciated although, I suppose, I can hardly argue for a bad one.

On to the arc stuff, then. Sean gets bollocked by his Black Claw bosses and he takes it out on the newly reinstated Nick, Hank and Wu. This new working relationship is going to be awkward. But Sean is being visited by the (literal?) ghost of Meisner. There are also some awkward explanations to a rather powerful Diana (my money's still on her for the season Big Bad) about the change in domestic arrangements (it's lovely to see Nick and Adalind back together, unless you're Eve/Juliette...). There's also a big reveal: Rosalie is carrying more than one baby. Twins? Or a litter?

We get further development of how Rosalie and Monroe are determined to up sticks to a safer place to raise their children; by the laws of TV this is bound to happen at an awkward moment. Monroe displays, with some help from CGI, his new protective fatherly urges when he discovers that this week's baddie seems to be a baby eater.

That's it for the arc stuff but, to be fair, I would have enjoyed the story of the week stuff a lot more if it hadn't been shown at this point. A good episode on its own terms but not necessarily what we want to see at this point. I suspect next week will be similar, though.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

"Do you know where you are, Bartolome? I'll tell you where you are. You are about to enter Hell, Bartolome, HELL!... The netherworld. The infernal region, The abode of the Damned... The place of torment. Pandemonium. Abbadon. Tophet. Gehenna. Naraka. The pit... and the pendulum!"

One of the first films I did for this blog was Roger Corman's House of Usher; I didn't expect it to be quite as long until the next one of his Edgar Allan Poe films which happens, coincidentally, to be the second one made. I seem to have accidentally managed to do them in order so far.

This is a far superior film to its predecessor, with the use of a blurred and tinted picture for the flashbacks being a particularly inspired directorial flourish and Vincent Price being superb. Only the very end of the film is faithful to Poe's (very) short story with a plot invented to sound vaguely Poe-like, utilising many of his tropes, not least of which is premature burial. It works, and the plot is superb with a fantastic twist.

This is a profoundly gothic film in which the sins of the past- both before and after the twist- threaten to destroy the well-meaning but helpless present generation with the sheer weight of their evil. In this case it is the tortures of the recent Spanish Inquisition which weigh oppressively on the present, and the acting and superb direction Jane this a genuinely powerful and disturbing film. I'm left to ruminate that gothic horror is fundamentally progressive: it is fascinated by the past but all too aware that bad things happened there.

I was expecting a bit of campy fun with this film but instead, in spite of John Kerr's dodgy acting, I found a genuinely excellent film. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Game of Thrones: Season 1, Episode 2 ("The Kingsroad")

"A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone."

I blogged the first episode of Game of Thrones on 18th September 2015 so... yeah. There won't be quite as long before episode three. Promise.

I'm still getting a handle on the setting; this is a fantasy world with only light fantasy elements- so far we've seen dragon eggs but dragons appear to be semi-mythical, and dire wolves seem not to be overtly supernatural. It's a gritty, realistic mediaeval world which is obviously going to focus on the power games surrounding the eponymous throne, and I've heard that this is based on both the Wars of the Roses and the Anarchy of the twelfth century. But Robert Baratheon is certainly no Henry VI; I'm not sure how strong a king he is but he appears laddish yet weighed down by kingship. I suspect he's not all that long for this world, given the apparent premise of the series.

Daenerys is interesting in the sense that she's getting a lot of screen time and her situation- marital rape in the context of semi-forced marriage- is horrific and surely would not be depicted so prominently if she were not eventually to end up powerful and fortunate in spite of it. Her brother claims Robert's throne. Hmm.

Meanwhile, Robert's only son Joffrey is a right little sod, as his behaviour towards Arya and her poor friend illustrates. Sansa is happy enough to marry him, but then she'll be queen. She's so motivated towards this that she's ready to lie under oath about her sister. But I suppose that being queen- a glorified womb- is the best a woman can hope for in this society. Certainly Arya's tomboyish ways are a fascinating way to explore the theme of what we can't really call feminism.

And then there's Tyrion. He's still a sot and a shagger, but there's a more intellectual side, too; he may be a semi-outcast just because he's a dwarf but, crude and direct though he is, he isn't shallow. And his relationship with the literal bastard Jon Snow (not yet a Channel 4 newsreader) is interesting. Jon, a very naive bastard, is off to devote his entire life to guarding the northern walls from whatever lies beyond, which none of his legitimately born relatives would presumably stoop to. Ned is proud but, when he says That "When we next meet, I'll tell you about your mother" I'm left suspecting that, one way or another, they won't ever meet again. Let's see if I'm right.

Meanwhile Catelyn Stark is keeping watch over the thankfully not-dead Bran but, after being attacked, she's off to tell her husband about her suspicions regarding the Lannisters. And, while she's away, Bran wakes- and he knows too much. Why do I get the feeling that the immediate future of the Stark family is not set to be a happy one?

Absolutely superb telly, this.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Legion: Chapter 2

"We're having a romance of the mind."

More non-linear narrative and superb acting this week as Melanie and the mysterious Ptonomy begin to uncover the secrets of David's past through "memory work". It's already clear that something big is being repressed. What isn't clear is what Melanie wants, but she's insistent that David is not mad and that everything that's happening is a manifestation of his mutant powers.

The "memory work" is both fascinating and probably a literal iteration of an unreliable narrator; I hardly think a real small child would be read such a terrifying bedtime story. And it's interesting that David's father, even in memories, always has his face in shadow.

The romance between David and Syd becomes sweeter, despite the tragedy of her being unable to be touched. We see that odd creature again. But most disturbing is what happens to David's sister Amy, the stuff of nightmares; insisting in spite of what she's told that David was indeed held at the institution, she is locked up for "paranoid delusions", bait for an obvious trap. This is good stuff- weird, but good weird.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Legion: Chapter 1

"How does that make you feel?"

I haven't read a lot of Marvel stuff concerning Legion, or David Haller, but I know he's supposed to be the mutant son of Charles Xavier whose many personalities each have a distinct power. But he's a pretty obscure character, and at first glance an odd choice to be lead character for a new TV series.

The premise, while seemingly not hugely  faithful to the source material, is intriguing: we begin with David, seemingly  suffering from disassociative personality disorder, in the Karkaesque world of a TV mental institution where trying to prove that you're sane is, as the cliche goes, a paradox. The love interest is, of course, called Syd Barrett, an appropriate nod to the crazy diamond and, with the '60s rock soundtrack, in keeping with the vaguely '60s aesthetic where it is not even clear whether all this is happening now or back in said decade, further disorienting the viewer in this intriguingly on-linear and creatively shot show. I don't know where this is going but it's cleverly done, intriguing, and has more than enough human interest to balance out its somewhat abstract visual and narrative style. David Haller's experience of the world is not straightforward, and writer-director Noah Hawley doesn't seem to see why ours should be either. I like that.

You've got to love Lenny, and although she's literally dead by the end of the episode I'm sure she'll remain a fixture. Things are getting intriguing already, too; it's quite a bombshell when we learn that the authorities know perfectly well that David is not mentally ill but does, in fact, have considerable mutant powers- is this set in the same universe as the X-Men films? What's society's attitude to mutants? Who are Melanie and all of her friends? What's the story with Syd? I'm sure we'll have fun finding out.

Grimm: Oh Captain, My Captain

"You're not my Daddy!"

Such a brilliant episode for most of its length, this. The asymmetrical battle between Nick's little gang and the all-powerful Renard, backed by Black Claw, seems to be continuing space, with desperate measures being taken against him and both Hank and Wu adapted to life among the unemployed. What a crying shame, then, that all this is so suddenly and unconvincingly overturned at the end, by deus ex machina, to restore the status quo. I hate reset buttons, especially when they come from out of nowhere like this. Looks as though we can expect a few stories of the week, then. How very disappointing.

It's a good episode while it lasts, though. And an early flashback of Nick's mother remind new us that Diana has enormous powers, for good or I'll. I still have my money on her for the season's big bad. Nick's being made by Eve to look like Renard so he can publicly resign as mayor is clever plotting, a superb piece of acting by Sasha Roiz, and a great opportunity for character moments- it's hard not to notice Eve perving at the naked Nick. And it's clever that the two are adds are wearing different coloured ties until the fight at the end, when only Roiz's performance shows us which Renard is which.

So, a good, exciting episode, with one more surprise at the end. Will Renard now reconsider whose side he's on? But it's so very deflating to face more episodes of status quo and one-off tales yet again.

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 teenager-.as 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.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

"Curiouser and curiouser..."

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

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

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

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

Friday, 27 January 2017

Class: Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart

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

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

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

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

So, yes; really rather good.

The Walking Dead- Season 2, Episode 8: Nebraska

"Get him off my land!"

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

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

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

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

Class: Nightvisiting

"Do you often see your parents after sex?"

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

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

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

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Class: The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Class: For Tonight We Might Die

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

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

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

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

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sherlock: The Final Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherlock: The Lying Detective

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 20 January 2017

Grimm: The Beginning of the End- Part 2

"Monroe, I'm pregnant!"

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

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

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

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Grimm: The Beginning of the End- Part 1

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

Nearly there now...

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Grimm: Bad Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 16 January 2017

Cromwell (1970)

"An England without a king is unthinkable!"

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

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

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

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

Grimm: The Taming of the Wu

"Did I kill him?"

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

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

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

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

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

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

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

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

Grimm: Good to the Bone

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

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

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

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

Friday, 13 January 2017

Grimm: Inugami

"He's doing this for us."

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Grimm: The Believer

"Is this a tent revival?"

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

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

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

Saturday, 7 January 2017

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

"You are now a murderer, little Alex."

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Grimm: Skin Deep

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Krampus (2015)

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

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

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

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

Yep. Definitely Die Hard next year.

Sherlock: The Six Thatchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was good. Sherlock is back.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Grimm: Lycanthropia

"Yeah... but who attacked whom?"

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

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

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

Wanted (2008)

"This is me. Taking back control."

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

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

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

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

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

For Fans of 1960s Doctor Who...

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



Thursday, 29 December 2016

Grimm: Silence of the Slams

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Grimm: Into the Schwarzwald

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 December 2016

Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 23 December 2016

Grimm: Key Move

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

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

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

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

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

Commando (1985)

"I can't believe this macho bullshit!"

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

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

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

Humans: Season 2, Episode 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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