Sunday, 16 July 2017

It's Jodie Whittaker!

So the new incarnation of the Doctor under the Chibnall era is to be Jodie Whittaker. I'm not too exercised by her gender- it's a positive step, yes, but "generic female" was never going to be on the audition list; it has to be the right individual, regardless of gender. And on that criterion, well, I've hardly seen anything with Jodie Whittaker in. So I'm afraid that, other than to register my equanimity at the prospect of the Doctor being a woman, I've little much to say other than a vague intention to see her in something soon.

We know little of the Chibnall era of Doctor Who yet. Writer's rooms? Season-long stories? Let's see what emerges.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

"I'm gonna get mediaeval on your ass!"

This is, quite alarmingly, the 384th film I've done for this blog. Just as alarmingly, it's the first of those 384 films to have been directed by Quentin Tarantino. The odds were against this- I'm quite a fan of his, and this is THE film for those of my generation- but here we are; I've finally got around to blogging the finest film of the '90s.

So what makes Pulp Fiction so superlatively good? Well, part of it is just bloody good directing- take the syringe sequence- but there's more to it than this. Tarantino famously appeals both to the Cannes-attending intellectual crowd and to those who just like to be entertained by a couple of hours of violence and cool, two things which Tarantino is very good at. How does he keep both groups happy?

Well, I tend to say that Tarantino is the Jimi Hendrix of cinema- a true virtuoso, but you could never call him pretentious. Clever though he is, he always retains that lightness of touch. There's a line he doesn't touch. So Pulp Fiction may have a non-linear narrative and a complex ensemble plot with multiple perspectives, but at the same time it manages to be easy to follow, an achievement in both scriptwriting and directing which is not easy. Also, the allusions to cinematic history may be many, but they never overshadow the film itself.

But, I think, what Tarantino does with Pulp Fiction in particular is to use dialogue differently. It's not just that the dialogue is cool and quotable, although it's both of those things, but that it is allowed to breathe. Conversations are allowed to meander and reach a natural end, as per real life, from that first conversation between Jules and Vincent about Amsterdam through the entire film. They are not truncated to fit the narrative and rhythm of the plot; rather, the dialogue sets the rhythm and is used to make sudden moments of action more dramatic.

So many performances deserve praise- Uma Thurman as the tantalising Mia, Samuel L. Jackson as the compelling Jules, comeback kid John Travolta actually being quite good (and getting top billing after all those years of obscurity), Harvey Keitel doing the cool character that probably inspired those recent insurance adverts (something I've only just realised). Not only that, but even Bruce Willis manages to be more-or-less acceptable.

This is one of the greatest films ever, end of. It shouldn't be so long until I blog my next Tarantino film...

Saturday, 15 July 2017

My Girl 2 (1994)

"It's not easy being a woman!"

It's sometimes good to see and blog a film not in the usual genre, without all the explosions and CGI I'm used to, and see a nice little 90 minute drama about our old friend Vada and her dad, stepmum and soon-to-be baby sibling. No Thomas J for obvious reasons, so no Macauley Culkin to provide a big name '.this time; we'll have to make do with Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd. Still, I'm not sure Macauley Culkin was still a thing in '94 anyway.

It's interesting that this isn't, given the absence of Thomas J, really a direct sequel at all but rather a tale of Vada, a couple of years older, travelling to Los Angeles to research her late mother and to undertake a sort-of romance with the awkward and very teenage Nick. In its quiet way it's a nicely done drama, with Vada's search for answers providing a nice structure to it all.

The script and acting are both superb, and there's just enough wallowing in the fact it's 1974 to be fun without overdoing it. There are some nice cameos with Aubrey Morris as a jaded, elderly poet ("Don't be a poet. Be a TV repairman.") and Keone Young as a nerdy cop. A quietly satisfying sequel that's just as good as its predecessor.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Blair Witch (2016)

"The Sun is not coming up!"

I wasn't expecting to like this film. I really wasn't. After all, both The Blair Witch Project and its somewhat unloved sequel are quite good but hardly seminal films and the law of diminishing returns did not seem to bore well. So I was surprised to find myself watching a fairly standard but well-scripted and directed found footage movie which, again, will grace no "Best of" lists but is rather good and, arguably, superior to its two predecessors.

It help that one of the protagonists, James, is the younger brother of Heather from the first film, and that we are restricted to a small cast of two sympathetic couples and another couple who are somewhat dodgy, a dynamic that works. The storytelling beats and plot structure are formulaic but done well, and there is just enough characterisation. No new ground is broken here but it's a solid example of the genre which the first film popularised.

It's nice to get the modern touches such as social media and drones, and to get some more historical backstory for the Witch. Best of all though is the interestingly directed final sequence in the house. An unexpectedly good sequel, then, which doesn't try to be clever but delivers exactly what is wanted.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Circle (2017)

"Secrets are lies!"

It's a surprise to see that Netflix are making films (and this is a film, with a cinematic release) with such stellar casts; here we get Tom Hanks, Karen Gillan, the late Bill Paxton and John Boyega, although Emma Watson, playing American, underwhelms a little as Mae. Still, the film, an adaptation by Dave Evers of his own novel, is superb and thought-provoking.

Mae takes a job at "The Circle", an organisation that seems to be inspired by Apple, Google and Facebook in its culture, employment practices and messianic leader Eamon (Hanks), clearly based on Steve Jobs. At first things are great, with a high salary, a friendly culture on "campus" and plenty of fun and ties. Then we get our first sign of the company being something of a cult, with compulsory "optional" recreational activities and an expectation that employees will maintain a heavy presence on "TrueYou", a thinly veiled Facebook analogue. Mae realised things have gone too far with chips being planned to go into children's bones so they can be monitored and connects with reclusive and disillusioned TrueYou inventor Ty Laffitte (Boyega). Yet her ill-advised cry for help has horrific circumstances.

Mae's persuasion by Eamon to go "transparent", to have her entire life broadcast to the online public on the grounds that "secrets are lies", privacy is bad and we need to be watched to stop us doing bad things is deeply, deeply sinister. Things go predictably wrong very quickly but Mae has her revenge on Eamon- yet it isn't a happy ending as the onward march of social media to trample over our right to privacy is unimpeded, with the Circle able to track down any person for any reason and, now compulsory, delivering electoral information and public services in the ultimate corrupt privatisation. Even the Circle's claim to oppose tyrannical regimes is somewhat undercut by the fact that sending "frowns" to a dictatorship is a pretty impotent thing to do, just like all forms of clicktivism.

The film is marred, perhaps, by a strange blandness on the part of Emma Watson, but the ideas played with in this film are superb. It's worth seeing this script being performed in spite of the film's faults.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

An Update...

Let's just say I'll be rather busy in real life until 25th July, hence the reduced frequency of posts lately. Things are hectic, but there's a definite end date; I have a rather big exam coming up, and at 40 I have to actually revise properly. Plus Mrs Llamastrangler isn't well and someone has to look after Little Miss Llamastrangler. Rest assured things will soon be back to normal, and in the meantime there will still be the odd post.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Theory of Everything (2014)

"While there is life, there is hope."

I'm quite familiar with Stephen Hawking's career from reading both his biography and A Brief History of Time, both a considerable number of ears ago and t was inevitable, I suppose, that a major film should be made about his life and relationship with Jane; as we can see from A Theory of Everything, the events of Hawking's life are extremely well suited to being dramatised; it's not surprising that the film is bloody good. But what is surprising is that the performance from then-newcomer Eddie Redmayne is so utterly transcendent. At last I can see what the fuss was about. The Oscar is well-deserved.
Redmayne excels both as the awkward young man and as the older Hawking in his iconic chair.

The film starts with a shot of said iconic wheelchair and then immediately flashes back to the young Hawking riding a bicycle through the colleges of Cambridge in 1963- quite an effective contrast- on the day he meets Jane, and the film shows the development of his relationship with Jane, his meteoric career and the terrible gradual progress of his motor neuron disease. He's given two years to live, and that seems normal for the condition; I'm led to wonder why it is that he's fortunately survived for all these years.

The film shows us Hawking's stubborn, ambitious, attractively humorous and non-self-pitying personality but also the awful pressures on Jane of looking after Stephen with three small children in tow. The pressures on their relationship are shown with sympathy. It's also wonderful to see his colleagues treating him as normally as possible, a real sign of respect.

There are some nice directorial touches, with a cup of coffee symbolising a black hole, but the film rightly stands on its performances and the emotional heart of its story. This is a superb film.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

"They call me... Swamp Thing!"

I looooved this. Am I allowed to say that? In fact I, er, actually prefer it to the first film.

It's interesting to see a sequel made in 1989, after Alan Moore's acclaimed run on the comic book and even opening with some of Steve Bissette and John Totleben's more famous panels to the splendid and inevitable tones of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Would this film reflect that justly famous run? Well, there's a scene where Swamp Thing feeds Abby a suspiciously phallic seed from a certain part of his body. But, er, no. This film doesn't at all try to be poetic but goes full on B movie and isn't afraid to be silly. Thing is, it works.

I've seen this film described many times as overly silly, which puzzles me; wit and humour are part of life, and are well balanced here. Many potemtially po-faced and dull action films would be improved by this sort of humour. And, er, it's funny. Even the casting of Heather Locklear as a very valley girl Abby works somehow. It isn't just that though- the direction is technically inspired, the casting may be eccentric but we get entertaining performances just the right side of camp, Sarah Douglas is in it, and Swamp Thing gets his own little '80s fanfare. We even get some very '80s porn-loving kids as the chorus. What more do you want?

Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls

"Is it wrong that I..."

"Yes, very!"

Wow. That was an emotional rollercoaster and no mistake, and probably the best Doctor Who season finale since the institution started back in 2005. It's also an episode chick full of fan lore, Moffatisms and, well, stuff. There's a lot to talk about.

We begin with a typically Moffat pre-titles with fields, skies, farmhouses and horse-driven carts all inside the same spaceship (a Moffat trope right from The Time of Angels), and the terrifying spectacle of partly cybernised people being used as scarecrows. The Doctor, Nardole the Master and Missy share a few witticisms before they, and Cyberman Bill, end up together in the farmhouse where the two Masters exchange some glorious dialogue in some truly joyous scenes while Bill (shown as she sees herself) comes to terms with the awful body horror of what she has become. These two sequences showcase two separate types of superlative writing prowess from the Moff.

There's a superb reason why they can't all return to the TARDIS- time dilation; if they travel the full 4,000 miles then the Cybermen will have had millennia to prepare, so there's nothing for it but to sit and wait for the inevitable assault, and for the Doctor to be heroic for the sake of it- "without hope, without witness, without reward." The Doctor gets another one of those magnificent soliloquies that Peter Capaldi first showed himself to be so good at with The Zygon Inversion, and it's interesting to see that the Master doesn't care but Missy is, at least, equivocal.

So the Doctor and Bill, who knows her humanity is slowly being eroded and doesn't want to live without being her (there's a thought, and a horribly modern one- Cybermen as a metaphor for dementia), agree to the suicide mission of staying behind to blow up with the Cybermen while Nardole gets everyone away to survive for a while until the next attack.

The Masters get a delightfully mad ending as Missy fatally stabs the Master with a hug and he shoots her after she reveals she's off to join the Doctor. The Master is off to his TARDIS to regenerate; she is apparently too dead to regenerate, as some ways of being killed, apparently, just arbitrarily do that. This is fooling no one, of course; the Master's been deader than this. (S)he'll be back.

So we come to the Doctor- also fatally wounded, although we saw a flicker of regeneration energy even earlier- and Bill in their last stand against the Cybermen, some of whom, disappointingly, have "evolved" to be more modern like and use the existing costumes. But we get a moment of pure fanwank as the Doctor names "Telos, Voga, Planet 14". There's also an earlier bit of retcon that makes me uncomfortable while we're on the subject of fanwank; the Doctor seems to say that the Cybermen arose independently on "Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14" and, yes, Marinus, in a bizarre and gloriously fanwanky reference to the DWM comic strip The World Shapers, penned by Grant Morrison, no less. Not sure I like this suggestion that not all Cybermen are fundamentally Mondasian, and the idea seems to contradict dialogue in Tomb of the Cybermen anyway.

Still, Cyberman Bill dies and... Bill still exists, because of some clever and retrospectively well-seeded long term plot cleverness from way back in The Pilot meaning Bill gets to be herself again and travel the universe in a puddle with the girl she loves. It's clever, it's superbly written, it made Mrs Llamastrangler and me cry and it's essentially brilliant. But, well, it feels like a cop out. After Clara this is twice in a row that Moffat has stepped back from properly killing off a companion at the last minute and it feels like a lack of bravery. Perhaps I'm being unfair; it's still rather brilliant, and would probably feel different if it wasn't for Clara, not to mention that a companion dying would have overshadowed a busy episode. Nonetheless, there's a slight feeling of cop out.

And so we come to what all the signs are telling us is a regeneration; the Doctor recites his predecessors' last lines, he's lying in the TARDIS as he was at the end of The Tenth Planet, the Cloister Bell is sounding. And yet the Doctor is resisting regeneration through sheer willpower and has, I suspect, been doing so for quite some time. And then Moffat throws a curveball as (in the Doctor's head?) the bloody first Doctor appears, played by David Bradley. This is, to put it mildly, hugely exciting, and may indicate that the Christmas Special may be a leisurely examination of the concept of regeneration, i.e. mortality, casting the Doctor as a kind of Scrooge figure? Whatever, I can't wait.

And yes, I know I have a couple of little criticisms, but they in no way detract from the sheer brilliance and genius of one of Moffat's finest pieces of writing. Yes, like all prolific writers he has his tropes, but that's a strength, not a weakness. Steven Moffat is right up there with Whittaker, Holmes and Davies as one of the finest writers ever to grace this programme.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

iZombie: Looking for Mr. Goodbrain, Part 2

"Well, at least it's not just us with our wangs hanging out..."

Oooh boy. This is quite the eventful finale. Hard to believe this all managed to fit within 41 minutes. Where to start...?

It's a downbeat beginning as Major and Justin briefly (41 minutes!) mourn their dead friends and Liv's confession to Justin about sleeping with Chase Graves leads to him, quite reasonably, being very upset and dumping her, knowing full well that resisting the urges of a particular brain is far from impossible.

But there's scarcely time to breathe before we get straight on to the web of intrigue and revelations that pretty much defines this episode and which I'm certainly not going to summarise; this is not a synopsis.Suffice to say there's been skulduggery within the ranks of Graves' underlings, Baracus was always a red herring and what seemed to be a nefarious genocidal plot turns out in fact to be a plot to seize control of Discovery Day so that humans and zombies can live together in (theoretical) harmony; scenes towards the end indicate that reality is not quite so idyllic.

The role of Johnny Frost in all this is both hilarious and inspired- I love how he uses the fact he's reporting on live television to jump the queue and get vaccinated- and it's heartwarming that Clive is finally able to be fully truthful to Dale, and equally heartbreaking that he's just too late to stop her being infected. But a short, silent scene shows that they're together, and he's staying with her, even though sex is now seemingly out of the question.

But nothing is more moving than the final scene, as Liv sees the final stages of Ravi's truly splendid lab experiment with many vials of bubbling liquid all connected intricately. It seems Ravi has concocted a vaccine and is testing it on himself. Liv is quite moved by this and the two of them have a deeply moving conversation in which they each declare their (platonic) love for each other. And Liv scratches him...

Wow. THAT'S how to do a finale. And tonight it's Doctor Who's turn...

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

iZombie: Looking for Mr. Goodbrain, Part 1

"It was a grudge boink."

Into the two-part season finale, then. We begin with Ravi admitting to Liv that he's the source for the story with the big front cover photo of her in full-on zombie mode on the cover and getting away lightly. He gets less lenience from his old boss Katty Kupps. That's his last ever such bollocking, though, as Katty is promptly murdered and Liv spends the episode on what turns out to be her rather promiscuous brain. For this late in the season the form of the episode, at least, is closer to story-of-the-week than one might expect.

It's bizarre to see Liv made up to look human, at last worried about her anonymity; she looks so unlike herself. But the investigation proceeds as usual, with a nicely written scene where Ravi discreetly calls out a witness for her racism. Liv's flirtiness is anything but, though, and we're left feeling a little uncomfortable about what this means for her relationship with Justin.

Most tragic, though, is Major's rekindled relationship with a besotted Natalie, who invites him to Italy to live happily ever after. This automatically means that everything has to end in tears, and the episode ends with an explosive finale as the zombie Harley Johns kills everyone at Major's goodbye party except for Justin and Major himself. Dramatic stuff, and there's still the finale to go...

Monday, 26 June 2017

IZombie: Conspiracy Weary

"Did we just have a three-way?"

It's a dramatic opening, as both Liv and Blaine rescue Ravi and Don E from the zombie truthers while Fillmore Graves clear up; that's one problem that seems to be well and truly solved. This leads to a hilarious scene with Liv, Blaine and Don E all munching on truther brain and proceeding to spend the rest of the episode as wild conspiracy theorists.

Meanwhile, Peyton continues to investigate the dominatrix killer's death and makes some interesting deductions, not least that his daughter Tatum is a zombie. And what's up with Shawna, putting her sex life with Major all over social media?

The episode climaxes with Liv and Clive investigating Harley John's cabin where they find a secret underground hideaway- and the deep irony of a zombified Harley. But worst of all is that Ravi's apparent friend from the zombie triggers turns out to be a reporter and she has a full expose, and the photo is Liv in full-on zombie mode. Is the secret out?

This is, again, superb. At this stage of the season it's all arc, arc, arc but the show is never too busy for wit and fun.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Doctor Who: World Enough and Time

"Hello. I'm Doctor Who."

Wow. Not sure what the Andrew Marvell quote has with anything, and I did English at uni, but this episode is extraordinary from the initial teasing (apparent) regeneration sequence, with us knowing full well that Peter Capaldi is around until Christmas, to the final, utterly wrenching body horror of our discovery that Bill has been turned fully into a Tenth Planet Cyberman.

The episode starts, though, with a few minutes of fantastic dialogue between a TARDIS crew that has never had such chemistry, and the addition of a seemingly reformed but utterly magnificent Missy is the icing on the cake. Her dialogue is witty, metatextual and glorious. But then the storytelling is equally and non-linearly magnificent as the Doctor tests out Missy's Doctoring skills with a distress call from a 400 mile long ship falling into a black hole, where time passes more slowly at one end of the ship than the other. We get alot of necessary exposition, Bill fulfilling the companion's narrative role here, as the Doctor explains his history with Missy in flashback, Bill gets shot, and... for those of us who've listened to some Big Finish, it all goes very Spare Parts, in the best way possible.

This is, of course, revealed to be a Mondasian ship, and the (ahem) genesis of the Cybermen, as it's very nicely put by John Simm's Master, superbly revealed after having played a friendly character in prosthetics all episode long without fooling me. It's all done quite brilliantly, and John Simm's Master looks positively Delgado for the first multi-Master story. The implausibility of Mondas being Earth's twin planet is nicely glossed over too. Thi is an episode to truly remind us of Steven Moffat's considerable talents.

All this and we get Venusian Aikido too. We're being spoiled. This is, and I know I keep saying it, extraordinary even by the very high standards of what we can surely start calling the best season since Season 27.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

iZombie: Return of the Dead Guy

"So, you know, discipline me!"

I know I've been away a bit; I moved house last Tuesday. But last night I binge watched three iZombies and it's Doctor Who tonight. I'm back, even if we are all surrounded by boxes. Myself, Mrs Llamastrangler and Little Miss Llamastrangler are all loving the new house, even if our conveyancer has been an absolute tit throughout.

Anyway, iZombie is already moving away from the stories of the week as the finale approaches. The zombie truthers have Don E, whom they plan to starve into Romero state while torturing him, all live over the Internet. Meanwhile, Ravi is trapped while Major spends the entire episode having sex with the somewhat odd Shawna. In other news, Blaine speaks fluent Bengali(!) and we get an interestingly kinky scene between Liv and Peyton. But the whole episode is about the zombie truthers and what Liv discovers from eating the brain of the dominatrix killer; it seems it was indeed him after all, but the hanging was murder and not suicide.

We discover that Clive likes Dark Side of the Moon and, it seems, does not share my opinion that, after The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Syd Barrett's solo career was far more interesting than that of Pink Floyd, who became cold and impenetrable when then abandoned their whimsical English psychedelia phase. Ooh, controversial.

The return of Mr Boss, and Blaine nonchalantly turning the tables, is fun. And the end, with Liv and Blaine going full on zombie mode to rescue Don E, promises more fun to come.

This was good. More than usually good.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light

"Death by Scotland!"

Usually my Doctor Who blog posts are fairly long ones as there's always something fannish for me to carp on at length about, but for once this time there isn't: we have a proper story of the week with very few returning elements, which is nice. It's often, as here, the stories that aren't trying to be "big" or "epic" that are, quietly, often the best ones. Instead we just get some bloody good writing from the only real returning element, Rona Munro.

Munro is, of course, the only writer to have written for Doctor Who, on proper telly, in both this century and the last, and after the 28 years(!) since Survival she again delivers a mystical, feminist, magnificent piece of writing exploring the themes of colonialism, gender, and sexuality in the rich historical setting of first century Pictland, where there's the mystery of the 9th legion and the temptation to quote Tacitus' famous "They make a desert and call it peace" is simply impossible to resist. We are shown proud, thoughtful and very young warriors on both sides and given a beautiful fairytale touch as we learn why crows make the sound they do. This is, quietly, one of the best episodes of the season. Even the CGI monster is brilliant.

Once more the chemistry between Bill and the Doctor is wonderful- I love Bill's explanation that the Doctor "always ends up being the boss of the locals"- and Nardole is as entertainingly sardonic as ever. But most intriguing is the sexual tension between the Doctor and a Missy who may actually be a reformed character, something which desperately needs to be explored in depth.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

"He would have an enormous Schwanstucker!"

Ok, so Gene Wilder excels, in the best performance I've ever seen by him, as Victor Frankenstein's grandson Frederick, who he plays in a delightful pastiche of Vincent Price. Gene Hackman is great too, and ends his scene with a splendid ad-lib. But the film is really about Marty Feldman, whom we must all worship. I mean, one of his ad-libs even caused Aerosmith to write their most well-known song. That's impressive.

The film- in monochrome, utilising the same sets, using deliberately similar opening titles- is a superb pastiche of James Whale's two Frankenstein films. The humour is classic early Mel Brooks, but the sense of a cast having fun, and the ad-libbing, make the film. Marty Feldman, though, shows again what paragon of comedy he is.

There aren't as many laughs per minute, perhaps, as later Mel Brooks films, but the jokes are funny, and just as gloriously Jewish. This is a pastiche specifically of the Universal Frankenstein films by James Whale, in monochrome, using similar opening titles and even using the same lab equipment, with riffs on several scenes. But this is a world where you can get on a train in New York and get off at a "Transylvania Station" where things are still very Mittel-Europe and Ceaucescu's regime is nowhere to be seen. It's the world of Mel Brooks at its very best.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA It's Called Whiskey

"Ok. So there's you, me, the big green dude and his crew."

It's an eventful third episode as Jessica and Luke bond over their superpowers, taking the chance to give us a bit of exposition on what they can both exactly do in between extremely frequent bouts of the kind of sex you get between a woman with super strength and an invulnerable man. That bed stood no chance.

Jessica half-tells Luke about Killgrave before mutual lust interrupts. And we get our first "Sweet Christmas!". But the set piece is Trish arranging a phone in from prison with poor Hope, believed by no one, in which the idea is thrown out that Killgrave exists in a hope that other victims come forward. But the whole thing comes to a distinctly menacing end as Killgrave himself Rings in with threats.

Trish, incidentally, is Patsy Walker, not (yet?) Hellcat but with a comic and fans, although it seems Killgrave "always thought her television show was shite". That's quite a revelation. After a significant alteration with a mind controlled cop, though, Jessica manages to trace Killgrave to the luxury apartment where he's staying in the inevitable early confrontation that the rhythms of storytelling require. She looks through a window and sees Killgrave- and that's when we see: it was Jessica who pushed Luke's wife under that bus, killing her, at Killgrave's order. Not wonder she breaks up with him at the end. Awfully, though, he thinks that she just simply can't deal with being with a widower.

Creepier than all that, though, are the many stalkery pics of Jessica, put there for her to find, with "See you later" written on one to make it clear that the whole show was for her benefit. Killgrave has plans for her. This is gripping telly.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Doctor Who: Empress of Mars

"We're British! Mars is part of the Empire now!"

You can always rely on Mark Gatiss to bring a good bit of fanwank, but this time round he does a splendid tale of post-colonialism in the format of a mummy film (shades of Tomb of the Cybermen crossed with Zulu) which has things to say about the colonial Victorian mindset, war, and more about the Ice Warriors than we've ever seen. We even get Alpha bleeding Centauri back, played by your actual Ysanne Churchman. And, just to rub in that this is written by an uber-fan, we get a delightfully gratuitous rehash of Mike Yates' "RHIP" line from Day of the Daleks.

It's so delightfully steampunk, so very Space:1889, for a bunch of Victorian soldiers from the First Boer War in 1881 to come across a Martian spaceship and be taken to Mars by an Ice Warrior whom they nickname "Friday". There's plenty of room for some fun with the tally-ho Victorian attitudes contrasted with the Martian martial attitude. The happy ending for the dishonoured colonel is positively heartwarming.

The Doctor and Bill continue t have excellent chemistry too, and I can't believe they have so little time together. I loved Bill's referencing of both The Terminator and The Thing (she's one of us) while the Doctor, in a move my two year old daughter would approve, instead chooses Frozen as his obligatory pop culture reference. But the dialogue sparkles and the chemistry between the two of them is a joy to behold.

But, for this old fan, the real meat of this episode is that, however much they may have appeared five times before, we've never before seen the Ice Warriors in their natural habitat, on Mars, or had any real reference to their history or culture. But this time we meet an Ice Queen, learning of how the whole race has slept for 5,000 years (linking nicely with The Ice Warriors), and how the oxygen is now escaping and the planet will soon be lifeless. It's a splendidly fanwanky moment as Alpha Centauri, last seen in, er, 1974 in Monster of Peladon, who welcomes the entire population of Mars into the Galactic Federation, a "New Golden Age", and presumably a New Mars.

But the end, with Nardole having to enlist Missy's help to pilot the TARDIS back to Mars, ends with a hint of sexual tension between the Doctor and a reformed/reforming Missy. What's happening here...?

Friday, 9 June 2017

iZombie: Twenty-Sided, Die

"That's from an impotent proctologist, by the way. Enjoy it."

So iZombie does a D&D episode and, while not so chock full of geeky in-jokes as you might expect, still manages to be fun, engaging and give a fairly accurate (and hopefully attractive to potential newbies) impression of that splendid hobby. Mind you, not that I'm at all current, but the game they're playing seems to be using the old pre-AD&D that I, Rules Cyclopedia aficionado that I am, tend to use whenever I have a rare chance to game. Interestingly, though, the case is left unconcluded (hints of Russian cyber stuff- very topical!) and is handed over to the FBI- and, inevitably, a certain individual. Meanwhile, Peyton continues to remind us of that dominatrix case bubbling under. I'm sure both of these cases are going to lead somewhere big.

But we start with  Ravi undercover with the zombie truthers, forced to out himself and pretend to be working on a cure to prevent them kidnapping zombies, starving them and turning them full on Romero, which is, er, nice. This is obviously going to lead somewhere unpleasant.

Curiously, Baracus tries to persuade Peyton to drop the dominatrix case just before someone tries to assassinate him at his fundraiser; I suspect it's deeper than we know. Liv and Justin continue to be a sweet yet doomed couple, and we end with truther bloke showing Ravi a full-on Romero zombie- Don E, whos been on drugged WWII air ace brain. Just say no, kids.

But nothing- nothing- in even this splendid episode can top Clive and his dwarf PC, Earl. Please can we see more of this D&D campaign?

IZombie: Eat a Knievel

"I didn't get called here to present a Darwin award..."

An engaging story of the week this time as a Jackass-style prankster gets his just comeuppance in a solid whodunit which, much as though Liv on Jackass brain is overly similar to frat boy brain from a couple of seasons ago, gives us some good character moments for both Ravi and Clive in their contrasting reactions to this kind of "entertainment".

We start with a real shock though, arc-wise, as Vivian Stoll quickly realises that Major is no longer amongst the undead and then, suddenly, is killed in a car crash from right out of left field. His replacement seems rather worrying.

Meanwhile, Blaine's deliciously evil dad comes to realise that Fillmore-Graves is a largely zombie operation, while his now equally evil son is heard listening to "Nearly lost You" by Seattle's own Screaming Trees. Why does the baddie in iZombie have the best taste in music? We also get to see that Liv and Justin are a properly heartwarming couple which means, of course, that Justin is doomed.

We end with Blaine (now seemingly a zombie once again) avenging himself on his dad in a delightfully evil fashion while Liv and Ravi go undercover among the zombie truthers. We end, as we often have of late, on a cliffhanger. The season is really hotting up.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land


"Worse than that, you had history. History was saying to you, 'Look I've got some examples of fascism here for you to look at. No? Fundamentalism? No? Oh, OK, you carry on."

So at last this three or four-part mid-season arc comes to an end and it's a perfectly well-structured and composed piece of narratively interesting dystopian drama. I like it. It's good. It certainly continues this season's run of form. And yet... Toby Whithouse's script, while good, lacks a certain extra sparkle.

Not that it isn't a compelling scenario, and one with real power in our current era of "fake news"; the monks, after last week's dramatic denouement, have ruled the world utterly for six months, and have falsified all of history to force people, chillingly, to believe that things were always this way. We see first hand how those who question this new narrative are arrested and disappeared.

One of those who still remembers, much as she thinks she's going mad, is Bill. Yet the Doctor, it seems, is the Monks' propaganda mouthpiece and there's a wonderful scene where he goes full force propaganda to Bill and Nardole, convincing them, but not we of the audience who know the Doctor much better, that he really believes all that stuff. The dialogue, and Peter Capaldi, are superb here, much as the reveal that the Doctor is (duh) obviously anti-monk comes as no surprise whatsoever and is played for laughs. 

And then there's Missy, finally shown in the vault and allowed to say cool stuff while utterly stealing the episode and, interestingly, seeming to have a genuine crisis of conscience in spite of her lingering villainous habits. Is it me, or did she also remind you of the evil simprisobed sister from the last episode of Sherlock?


Yes, the whole episode inevitably feels rushed given the scale of what it's depicting, but the episode ends up working, despite the somewhat forced denouement with Bill being all heroic and cool, being a bit forced. It's a good episode. The fact that an episode like this should be my least favourite of the season so far just goes to show what a bloody good season it is.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Blue Velvet (1986)

"Why are there people like Frank?"

It really is about time I got round to blogging a David Lynch film, frankly. It's inevitable when you review a large number of films (Blue Velvet is my 377th, quite shockingly) that certain omissions get more and more embarrassing, and David Lynch was at the top of that list.

Blue Velvet is, of course, at once very, very good and very, very weird. It may not break the fourth wall or break its linear narrative beyond a few minor flashbacks, and it may make narrative sense, but that uncomfortable sex scene with Dorothy and Frank goes beyond just weird and deeply uncomfortable into just plain weird, and just as weird are the whole scene at Ben's and, well, the entire characters of Dorothy and Frank. Into this very odd world come the picket fences and more or less wholesome characters of Sandy and Jeffrey.

But Jeffrey is no innocent, literally driven by morbid curiosity and having an affair with Dorothy at the same time as he tries to woo the very innocent and very vulnerable Sandy. It's tempting to see this as a film about the male gaze, centred on Jeffrey's spying voyeuristically from Dorothy's closet but essentially driven throughout by Jeffrey asserting his male gaze on the female sexuality and female life that surrounds him.

There's a lot more going on here than I've spotted, of course, not least the significance of the music, but there's no doubting that this is a splendidly shot, deeply multilayered and utterly superb cinematic classic. With some very '80s decor.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

IZombie: Dirt Nap Time

"Maybe you should explain my boyfriend history to him?"

"It is a bit like being a drummer for Spinal Tap."

A fairly good murder mystery this week as Liv and Clive investigate the death of a pre-school teacher with a fatally tangled love life while Rose McIver is, as ever, hilarious after consuming pre-school teacher brain in a much-needed comedy episode. It's a satisfying A-plot, yes, but let's just leave it there and talk about the arc stuff, shall we?

It turns out, in spite of Major's big confession, that Liv is not so much mad at him as mad at whoever stole the other 15 cures. Is it Blaine? Is it Don E? It could be either, although both deny it. Yes, it could be a third party, but it would be just like iZombie to suddenly reveal that it was Blaine all along. We also have further developments in the dominatrix case, surely still unresolved, as the "killer" is suspiciously leaned on by someone and ends up hanged in his cell. But Peyton has a favour to ask- will Liv eat his brains to find out what happened?

Major is hiding his non-zombie status from everyone at work except Justin and is getting away with it so far. After all, he's a former suspected serial killer; who would employ him other than Fillmore-Graves? Still, it's interesting to see the gang in Don E's zombie speakeasy. But the episode ends with acute drama as Blaine has been shot, courtesy of his father, and seems to be nearly a goner, while our favourite zombie-hating racist has footing of a very zombie Justin...

This isn't even a particularly stand-out episode but it had me hooked.iZombie at the moment is superb and hotting up.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Tank Girl (1995)

"I'm gonna need a microscope and tweezers, it's like, uh..."

Don't get me wrong; this is a B-movie, with all that entails, even though it feels strange to be talking about B-movies as late as 1995. But a B-movie can still be awesome, and this splendid feminist cult classic is no exception.

Yes, the budget looks cheap, but that doesn't stop future Doctor Who helmer Rachel Talalay from directing it stylishly and not being unafraid to use bits of comic strip and even cartoon to transition between scenes. I haven't read the original comic book but the film certainly sells it well, much as this post-apocalyptic future of water scarcity and feminist subtext feels very 2000 AD.

Lori Petty is superb as the wittiest, most double-entendre spouting pro-sex feminist hero in all of cinema, and Malcolm McDowell chews scenery as only he can, but Naomi watts is also superb as the initially beaten down Jet Girl who slowly learns how to kick ass in this world of cruel and unimpressive men. The soundtrack, which boasts the likes of Devo, Hole, L7, Portishead and Richard Hell and the Voidoids, is as awesome as they gets, much though it leads me to reflect mournfully on how plugged in I was back in '95 and how these days I'm, well, not.

The film is superb, at its heart a film about real darkness, cruelty, abuse and despair yet rising above it with the power of joyful wit. It has the feminism of Riot Grrl, "bollocks" in an American accent , pimped-up tanks and Iggy Pop as a silly masked mutant. What more can you ask for?

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World

"We must be wanted. We must be loved. To rule by fear is inefficient."

In just a couple of episodes the character of the season has shifted smoothly into what looks much more like an arc- or mini-arc at least- and there are ominous signs that this Doctor's days are numbered, as he first appears with a monologue which, I suspect, applies as much to himself as the situation as he ponders mournfully that "The end of your life has already begun", surely referring to more than the juxtaposed footage of two scientists having an off-day. This kind of thing is our first hint that Peter Harness and Steven Moffat (he'll be missed) have excelled themselves here.

This is a sequel both to last week, when we discovered how the monks have been running a deeply accurate simulation of Earth in order to conquer it, an to the Zygon Invasion two-parter which established both the fictional nation of Turmezistan, a (presumably) Central Asian hotspot where war threatens to break out between the USA, China and Russia, and the precedent that the Doctor is President of Earth during alien invasions, a conceit that saves us so many potentially tiresome scenes of the Doctor not being believed by the authorities. It's also nice to see a doing over of Bill's date with Penny, this time interrupted not be the Pope but by the Secretary General of the United Nations.

The big visual centre of the episode is, of course, the 5,000 year pyramid that has suddenly appeared, at an acute global flashpoint, but it's really all about ideas, as all the best ones are. The conceit of the doomsday clock helps to mount the tension, as does the monks' confident assertion that force is not necessary as they will simply be invited to assume absolute global power. The alternative is that life on Earth will soon end "by humanity's own hand"- and the truly clever bit is that the threat of nuclear war is just a very big red herring; there's a reason why we keep following those two scientists and their increasingly bad day.

All this is narrated superbly in a tightly written and philosophical script, and I love the concept of the threads.

An added layer of brilliance is that the monks need the true consent of someone on Earth with power- but any motive other than love won't work, and the supplicant summarily dies. And so we come to the deliciously horrifying ending; the doctor tracks down the lab in Yorkshire, saves the world, but is doomed to die because he's blind and can't use the combination to escape from the airlocked room. At last he has to confess to Bill that he's been blind, he's been lying to her, and her response is to surrender Earth to the monks and save the Doctor's sight, and his life. The moment arrives with a crushing inevitability and leaves us waiting impatiently for next week.

Wow. This season!




Friday, 26 May 2017

IZombie: Some Like It Hot Mess

"But... it also turned you into a baby?"

Odd episode, this: simultaneously awesome with the story of the week, as we shall most certainly discuss, but the story of the week is again a little meh and this week's brain for Liv, typically awesome performance from Rose McIver notwithstanding, is just a little bit on the "meh" side. And, for what it's worth, I'm British and I only know half of those puddings that Ravi mentions. And, incidentally, my gamer wife rather impressively recognised the video games that Major and Ravi were playing.

We join the episode as Major has just taken the cure and, it's soon clear, his memories are slipping away, which is rather a bummer because it seems quite a memory was made with Liv the previous night. It's not the most appropriate time, then, for Liv to be saddled with the brain of a chaotic, irresponsible party girl who fails to look after him and allows the amnesiac Major to slip away.

The murder mystery, for once, is somewhat sidelined by an unexpectedly huge amount of arc stuff happening, not least that Peyton is working on last episode's dominatrix case- I'm sure we haven't heard the end of this, and it was left inconclusive for a reason. Then we get the big, unexpected, enormous reveal that Blaine has, as Don E has been saying all along, been faking his memory loss. That's a big deal, and leads to Peyton well and truly rejecting him. And then we get a second bombshell; as memory loss lasts only a few days, Major is fine and at his Mum's.

It looks as though Liv is going to be cured, but all of Ravi's cures are stolen by persons unknown- almost certainly not by Don E who, having been offered a lot of money for a cure by a rich young zombie, is looking suspiciously like a red herring. But Major still has a phial.. no, wait; he gave it to Natalie. Suddenly Liv's hopes are dashed and iZombie can continue.

Excellent arc and character stuff. It's just that the story of the week is a bit underwhelming.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

"Even Buddha has to conquer evil."

'70s Hong Kong martial arts films are a genre which I freely admit I know nothing about; I'm only even aware that the Shaw Brothers are a thing because of a bit of Googling. But I'm aware it has a cult appeal as a genre, and it has influenced Quentin Tarantino, so this is me watching what seems to be the most well-known of the genre. It's dated, yes, but I rather enjoyed the experience.

I'd need to see a few more films in this genre but I found it well made, entertaining and visually stylish, and the highly stylised acting style works. It's all very "boy's own" with barely any women characters and the emphasis on years of tough ordeals to learn kung-fu skills, but the historical setting- early 18th century China, and everybody hates the Manchu "Tartars"- is fascinating.

Also excellent are the fight arrangements, as you'd expect, and the pacing of the film, There are attempts at communicating Buddhist ideas but the film doesn't really pretend to be philosophical and, probably wisely, sticks to the boys' own stuff. It's a hugely entertaining film, which even manages to give us a satisfactory ending where the baddie gets his comeuppance and we almost forget that the Manchu will remain in charge for another 200 years.

I won't pretend I'm suddenly a massive fan of the genre, but this is probably not the last '70s martial arts film to appear in this blog.

Monday, 22 May 2017

iZombie: Spanking the Zombie

"Draw the nipples, Jimmy!"

This is a somewhat odd episode, albeit a fun one with a heartbreaking ending. Peyton and Blaine take an episode off as Liv entertains us while on dominatrix brain while a couple of the more amusing supporting characters (and, indeed, the zombie who's running for mayor) turn out to have been submissive clients of the late lady, sadly strangled by her own whip. But the whole murder-of-the-week seems to get resolved awkwardly quickly and awkwardly unsatisfyingly, unless it turns out there's more to come.

In arc news Liv and Clive are warned off their illicit zombie killer investigation but there is further intrigue as Harley Johns, our racist gun nut, is bugged by the paramilitary zombie people. None of this stuff is particularly outstanding. But the awesome ending makes up for it all as it's finally time for a very sick Major to take the cure. There are emotional scenes between Liv and Major as they finally make up in advance of Major losing his memory, and make love to the splendid sounds of Pearl Jam.

We end with Major getting the injection. Something tells me it won't be as straightforward as his being cured and having his memory wiped. Will he die? Or something else?




Sunday, 21 May 2017

Doctor Who: Extremis

"Do not, under ANY circumstances, put the Pope in my bedroom!"

This is something of a gear-changing episode, obviously. shifting suddenly from story-of-the-week mode into a much bigger foregrounding of the season arc in ways we both did and didn't expect. It's also perhaps our last chance to get one of Moffat's "clever" episodes while he's still showrunner and without a season finale looming. The result is a triumph on those terms, yes, but also in terms of both character and spectacle.

The episode concerns a text, the Veritas, within the Vatican's secret library of forbidden texts (yes, that old stand-by), the Haereticum, which causes everybody who reads it to kill themselves. This is, as you might imagine, rather concerning to our red-hatted friends, so much so that the Pope himself personally arrives to ask for the Doctor's help, leading both to the unfolding of the plot and comments from the Doctor about his old 11th century friend Pope Benedict IX (a real person, incidentally) being a "lovely girl". And it's also an irresistible chance to have Bill's date with a lady she rather fancies being rudely interrupted by said Pontiff emerging from the TARDIS. It's a great start.

But all this is juxtaposed throughout by scenes of the Doctor setting out to execute none other than Missy by Max from Humans, ending with his sabotaging the execution to be non-fatal. (We can't have the Doctor endorsing something as barbaric as capital punishment, and nor can River Song, who conveniently sens Nardole with a message to that effect which also happens to explain how Nardole happened to be travelling with the Doctor- but didn't the Doctor resurrect him?) The result of all this is that Missy's 1,000 year sentence takes place not, as originally intended, with her being dead, but with her being the mysterious figure the Doctor's been guarding in the Vault and, yes, as fans we were sort of expecting this, but we should remember that the general viewer probably hasn't.

Oh, and the Doctor begins and ends the episode still blind. It seems that they're running with this.

The big reveal is, I think, not supposed to dwell on the metatextual angle which is, if anything, downplayed, but the horrible truth is that the world is literally not real, just a very good simulation created by a badass-looking race of alien monks who are practising their invasion of the real Earth- they are literally all just characters in a video game. It's a glorious and very Moffat idea, good enough to mean that we necessarily have a great big reset button being pressed as the simulation Doctor warns the real Doctor that the monks are coming next episode. This already impressive season has, if anything, just got even better.


Friday, 19 May 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA Crush Syndrome

"You should kill yourself."

"Probably. But I'm the only one who knows you're innocent."

The quality doesn't let up in the second episode as Jessica, spurred on by the need to prove Hope's innocence, resolves to go after Killgrave in spite of her extreme fear. Pausing only to impatiently suffer an interview by a cop played by Clarke Peters from The Wire, she spends most of the episode investig... er, blagging her way to some initial answers, which is compelling viewing in itself.

But it's the characterisation that really keeps you hooked, with the subtext that Jessica is a domestic abuse survivor never far from the surface. We start out with awkwardness, though, as Jessica has to tell Luke Cage that she was only ever interested in him for business reasons as a client thought his wife was sleeping with Luke. He understandably feels used and disgusted. But, after this inauspicious beginning, Jessica spends most of the episode being quietly awesome piecing together how Killgrave survived, forcing a doctor to perform the surgery as a random bloke is forced to donate both kidneys and ultimately spend the rest of his life as a vegetable in thrall to his overbearing and religiously in-your-face mother. Ouch. That's dark. But Kilgrave has a weakness; anaesthetic.

Meanwhile, we get introduced to Jessica's twin neighbours, who seem to be yet another abusive relationship. And we get our first, horrifying glimpse of Kilgrave as he simply knocks on the door of a random home and orders the family to let him stay and do as they are told; it's horrible to see him sending both kids to the closet. But we end on an interesting cliffhanger as the super-strong Jessica and the invulnerable Luke both "out" themselves to one another by accident. Now that they have something in common will the awkwardness last?

Another impressive bit of telly and a very promising series.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA Ladies Night

"New York may be the city that never sleeps but it sure sleeps around."

I should start by saying that, although I read a lot of Marvel stuff as a kid and a teenager, I'm rather vaguer about anything later than '94-ish, from which point my comic book collection took a definite second place to my record collection. To put it simply, I have no prior knowledge whatsoever of Jessica Jones as a character (although I certainly recognise both Luke Cage and the Purple Man when I see them), and am coming to this fairly cold with my only expectations being to expect a variation on the noir tone of Daredevil. So it's a pleasant surprise to find a mix of very Raymond Chandler PI tropes (I love the narration) and a very feminist subtext.

We're told little of Jessica's past frm before she became a hard-boiled, hard-drinking private eye other than a hint from Trish late on that she used to be some kind of "hero", that she has super-strength that she doesn't advertise too widely, and that she's a year beyond a relationship with a sinister may called Killgrave, whose power to make people want to obey him is used mainly on the opposite sex and, it's implied, for extensive sexual purposes. This is a clear and deliberate metaphor for spousal abuse, and the way we're gradually shown how Jessica is still dealing with PTSD shows the very real trauma of spousal abuse and the very real courage needed to confront it. In a world where most Avengers merchandise fails to include Black Widow because blatant sexism it's good to have a Marvel series, with a female showrunner in Melissa Rosenberg, that deals with such issues.

It's a brilliant intro, showing us Jessica and her world and beginning the season arc, all while working as an episode of telly in its own right, with that shot ringing out in the lift being a truly shocking moment. We meet Jessica and the various characters who inhabit her world, including the interesting and nuanced Luke Cage, with whom she has some hard sex and an awkward parting. It's a very promising start to a series that promises to be a very different kind of noir to Daredevil.

Doctor Who: Oxygen

"Do people ever hit you?"

"Well, only when I'm talking."

In some ways this is very much a story of the week- a tale of outer space capitalist exploitation as a corporation jealously controls oxygen for profit, even for its own employees and (as the Doctor discovers) is prepared to extinguish its own employees if they cease to be profitable. A bit of a hint that Jamie Mathieson may be no Tory, then, in another excellent script from him which, while not up to his best, is nevertheless impressive, keeping up the quality in this excellent season.

There's more development of the wonderful rapport between the Doctor and Bill, and for once Nardole joins them on their travels, attempting to keep them on Terra Firms; apparently it was the Doctor himself who told Nardole to prevent him leaving earth for fear of leaving the mysterious Vault unguarded. It can't be long until we find out more about this because, simply, this episode turns out not to be a story of the week- the Doctor ends the episode, it seems, permanently blind.

It's a splendid episode yet again, though, and again old-fashioned in its style, with some leisurely exploration of the space station and things feeling very Troughtonesque and, indeed, recalling The Wheel in Space for obvious reasons and even mentioning (and undercutting as a MacGuffin) the fluid link. There's a nice riff on racism ("Some of my best friends are bluish"), great dialogue and some nice directorial touches from the returning Charles Palmer as Bill loses consciousness. It may not stand out in what is shaping up to be a great season, but here's a fifth top notch episode in a row.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

"Yeah, he's right. Peter Cushing does that all the time.

It's been twenty-odd years since I last saw this film and it is, in hindsight, even better now than it was then, courtesy of some truly splendid direction and a sparkling script from the premier exponent of metatextual hyper-violence, Mr Quentin Tarantino.

The film is, of course, famous for feeling like typically Tarantinoesque crime caper until the final forty-five minutes of the film where it suddenly pivots genre and introduces a load of vampires and magnificently rattles through a load of vampire tropes like a boss. Throughout it all both the dialogue and the delightful levels of violence make the film an absolute pleasure to watch, and the acting (Clooney excepted as the pretty face but Tarantino very much included) is top notch throughout.

The whole thing really does come across as just effortlessly masterful and splendidly cinema-literate to boot, and that's before a particularly alluring Salma Hayek and all her mates at the Titty Twister (love the name) turn into vamps. But the final scene provides a superb explanation of exactly why the place has always been home to vampires leeching off the public. Magnificent in every way.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Grimm: The End

"I want the people I love to live again!"

I.m sad to see the back of Grimm, satisfying it is to finally complete a series what with all the different telly shows I'm currently juggling. This is an improvement from last week's awfulness, which is a relief, but in spite of a few nice touches it's hardly a worthy finale for the series, which is a shame.

Hank and Wu are confirmed to have died. And slowly Eve, Monroe, Rosalie and Sean are killed by this great big Zerstorer, a big bad we haven't even known for that long. Then there's some guff about the staff of Moses and the ghosts of Nick's late mum Kelly and Aunt Marie help him Trubel to kill Zerstorer in an epic battle... and then a big red sodding reset button is pushed meaning that no one died, including Wu and Hank, and all that we have seen is rendered meaningless. It's a crashing disappointment, however cool the coda with a young adult Kelly and Diana may be.

Still, the epic blood spell is pretty cool. The deaths are dramatic when they happen. But the fact that we had a final episode like this goes to show that a programme that, episode by episode and arc by arc, was rather good, was perhaps not that great at world building in the end.

Babs

"Queer as a nine bob note!"

I've always been fond of old British comedy, from Carry On to Round the Horne to Beyond the Fringe to Monty Python, and a biopic of Barbara Windsor of exactly the kind that used to be on BBC4 is very much my thing, especially with Tony Jordan writing, and this doesn't disappoint. Anyway, I've always liked Babs, dodgy opinions about the Kray twins (who were scum) notwithstanding.

It's a cleverly written teleplay, which feels at times almost to be written for theatre in its use of space as figures from the past (mainly her Dad) visit Barbara in an empty auditorium. But we start in 1993, with Babs at a low, pre-EastEnders ebb in her career, and the whole thing is a structured examination of Babs' life, loves and daddy issues. Samantha Spiro and Jaime Winstone are both superb, and we even get a few appearances from the lady herself. Plus we get Harry from The Black Adder as a divorce judge, so all's good.

The personal stuff is beautifully written, and both parents come across as very human. The script does a nice little balancing act in not shying away from Mr Deeks' habit of sodding off when things get tough or from the fact that there was at least a degree of spousal abuse. It's not hard to see her serial relationships as a search for the father figure of her early childhood.

But I particularly loved the parts with Zoe Wanamaker as the eccentric genius Joan Littlewood, whom I respect hugely, as Babs gets to grips with her eccentric ways of working. The Kenneth Williams scene with the ever-wonderful Robin Sebastian is also a joy. As, indeed, is the whole thing. Not to be missed.

IZombie: Wag the Tongue Slowly

"I will juice you like an orange, my friend."

This episode is, for iZombie, relatively story-of-the-week, but with a show as on fire as this that's no bad thing. It's difficult finding bad things to say about it at the moment so I shan't even try.

For Ravi, unwisely and unkindly having a one night stand with his hated ex-boss while he's supposed to be getting back with Peyton, and getting caught, it's the morning after the night before in a scene played for laughs as it need to be; Ravi's been quite the love rat and yet we still need to like him, so his share of the good lines is even higher than normal, even when paired with the razor-sharp Blaine.

But the episode soon moves to the inevitable murder as the body of an office gossip is found by two bad actresses (Hah! I found something bad to say!) and a splendidly clever plot, very Agatha Christie for a forty minute episode, ensues, with a nattily directed denouement where Clive gets to be Hercule Poirot as he explains that They All Did It. And Liv as office gossip is both hilarious and disturbingly useful to the investigation.

Meanwhile Ravi and an increasingly sick Major further deepen their unlikely but convincing friendship as Major cleverly furthers the plot and ultimately finds out where Natalie (remember her?) is being held. The relationship between Peyton and Blaine continues to develop post-cure as he is relieved to find his memories of being a baddie not returning. Blaine is a bit of a walking philosophical treatise on redemption; if he can no longer remember his bad deeds, and is no longer capable of repeating them, to what extent should he be held accountable?

We end with Liv and Clive following up clues from that anti-zombie message board and coming up an ominous, very racist and extremely nasty dead end. The secret is out and it's not going to be pretty.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Doctor Who: Knock Knock

"Landline??? What is this- Scotland?"

So that's four good episodes in a row for this quietly impressive season; we get a solid bit of teatime horror from Mike Bartlett, a writer new to Who but not to telly, more top chemistry from Bill and a bizarrely Tom-like Doctor, Hercule Poirot being splendidly sinister, and a satisfying and emotional conclusion. It's a story-of-the-week, yes, but that's what Doctor Who should be.

As with Clara, Bill maintains her life when not travelling in the TARDIS- a bit of a Moffat-era trope- and we're introduced to her uni housemates; it's interesting to ponder whether we'll be seeing any of them. It's too soon to get to know any of them yet, though, even if one of them is supposed to be Harry Sullivan's grandson. We know, of course, that this spacious luxury house offered as a student house at a knock-down price is going to come with a catch, but the fun is in the finding out, and fun it is. We get a kind of slasher narrative with the big alien woodlice (Are they alien or not? For the second episode in a row it's left deliberately ambiguous whether or not the monster is in fact just an undiscovered terrestrial beast. Is this an arc thing?) picking off flatmates one by one, but the fact they are all restored keeps things nicely kid-friendly. And the resolution is genuinely excellent. The episode as a whole is a subtle masterclass in how to write and structure an episode of television.

I like the obvious throwback to Susan early on, with Bill pretending the Doctor is her "grandfather", and her embarrassment at his hanging around in her fourth-wall breaking way ("Basically this is the bit of my life that you're not in"), and I love Bill's characteristic skewering of Time Lord pomposity as soon as she hears them mentioned. It's a good opportunity to seed the idea of regeneration early in the season though.

The end contains a half-revelation: the Vault appears to contain a person, or at any rate something both able to play Beethoven on the piano and with an interest in gory stories. I think I may have an idea of who it might be...

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Grimm: Zerstorer Shrugged

"And the hitch-hiker didn't need some guide to the galaxy. He just needed a Grimm."

Bloody Ayn Rand references. I hate any references to that stupid crank. This gets the episode- the second-to-last ever, remember- off tp a bad start. And it doesn't get much better.

We begin with a rushed resolution to last week's exciting exploits in the Hell dimension (fircthats what it appears to be, according to Monroe's family Bible, Wesen version) in which Nick, Eve and a far more boring and Aryan-looking Zerstorer are removed back to Portland and said baddie predictably ties amok. Yep. The final two episodes ever are going to focus on an apparently mute and very recently encountered Big Bad which has vague connections with all sorts of end-of-the-world myths and is suddenly linked to that prophecy from several episodes ago.

The episode is talky, entirely composed of exposition for most of its length and, frankly, dull. Even Trubel being back with longer hair struggles to evoke any interest. We get a revelation that the Zerstorer is after Kelly as well as Diana (is it me or have the last few episodes forgotten to show Nick's relationship with his son?), Nick and Diana declare their love to each other- ominous- and then we get a scene in which Hank and Wu are suddenly killed, without warning, in a rubbish episode where they've hardly done anything.

Not happy. Not happy at all. The finale better be a big improvement on this.




Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Sausage Party (2016)

"We need to unite and stop focusing on each others' differences. Especially in immature and outdated ways."

Yes, this film is puerile, expletive-ridden, sex-obsessed and filled with lowest common denominator bad jokes, as its critics often point out. That is all perfectly true. What is equally true, however, is that it is also witty, intelligent, delightfully cheeky, politically aware and... well, what exactly is wrong with sex and swearing? Any film which essentially solves the notoriously intractable Israel/Palestine problem by having a Palestinian chap and a Jewish bloke have rigorous and gloriously gay sex is fine by me.

The idea behind the film- food is sentient and suffers when we prepare it for eating, but is kept blissfully unaware of its fate by a made-up religion, is brilliant, followed through and milked for every possible ounce of humour. And we get all sorts of humour, low-brow and high-brow together. The sense of humour is very Jewish American which is, for reasons unknown, pretty much the same as British humour.

I love everything about this film. I love the lyrics of the song ("...Where I'm sure that nothing bad happens to food"), I love the political commentary, I love Gum, I love the way it goes mad and orgiastic and fourth-wall breaking at the end. Don't be put off by the negative reviews: this film is clever, funny and wise.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

"The world is a cruel place."

Let's begin by acknowledging not only that this is the best fantasy film I have ever seen, perhaps of all time, and that it transcends its genre to deserve consideration among the very best films ever made.

It's well directed, of course, by Guillermo Del Toro. The fantasy sequences are imaginative and superbly realised. The largely Spanish cast is superb. But the script, the characters and the themes are what give this film its greatness. It's 1944, and General Franco is consolidating his iron grip on Spain.  For those who oppose him there is little hope and much cruelty. Life is hard. And for little Ofelia things seem particularly bleak. Her pregnant mother, Carmen, has had a hard life and has been forced, through desperation, to marry the thoroughly unpleasant Captain Vidal- sadistic, chauvinistic, uncaring and serving as a narrative symbol of Franco's Spain with all its violence, stupidity, inhumanity and lack of any imagination whatsoever.

So it's no surprise that Ofelia seeks escape in fantasy and fairy tales, which offer her a much better world than the one she inhabits. Immediately we have the value of escapism, but we also have the rich possibility of metaphor which, gloriously, is left ambiguous enough throughout the film to be interesting. And most central of all is the question, also gloriously ambiguous, of whether the fantasy sequences are real or just in poor Ofelia's head; does she end up dead, murdered by her cruel stepfather, or a princess with her real parents? Either way, the film cleverly leavens some very dark scenes and themes- involving torture and worse- in the real world with some truly wonderful fairytale concepts.

Patriarchy is a theme, and explicitly linked with fascism and inhumanity. Vidal cares only for his unborn son- and it must be a son- and not for the comfort of his wife, whose death leaves him unmoved. Love as an emotion seems alien to him (his regard for his dead father is not love but worship of masculine tropes) and he regards women with contempt. All that matters is his family name being passed on so it is a just punishment when, just before he is shot, Mercedes tells him that his son "won't even know your name."

There is hope, though, in the integrity of people like Mercedes, a strong woman who defies the tyranny of patriarch, and Doctor Ferreiro, who died a gentleman's death after an act of brave mercy. And we are allowed a reminder that, as these events are taking place, the beaches of Normandy are being stormed. Fascism is decadent, empty, and ultimately weak. Decency will outlive it.

The title of the film in English is odd, though- there's no suggestion that the faun (another patriarch demanding obedience, just to add another layer) is supposed to be the Greek god pan. But the labyrinth... I wonder if this is a reference to Borges? There are so many layers to this beautiful film, and it is one that everyone should see. If you don't usually watch subtitled foreign films then please make an exception for this one.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Doctor Who: Thin Ice

"Bit more black than they show in the movies!"

"So was Jesus. History is a whitewash."

In a sense this episode hearkens back to RTD; we have an episode in the present day, an episode set in the future and then, as here, an episode set in the past, namely the very last Thames frost fair of the Little Ice Age in 1814. The actual plot, with the splendidly dastardly cartoon baddie Lord Sutcliffe using sea monster poo as a source of energy and cynically allowing countless people to die for profit- oh, and he's racist too- is actually very much secondary to what's really important; this is Bill's first trip into the past so there's a lot of focus on her wonderful reactions and, again, lots of fun with the fact that we have a sci-fi literate companion, hence the stuff about stepping on butterflies. It's great fun to watch.

And yet, in a sense, this episode (and season so far) has harked back just as much to the early Hartnells, not just in the sense of the nice mini-cliffhanger between episodes as in how the episodes are structured, with the leisurely exploration of the fun little environment in which Bill and the Doctor find themselves this week, allowing the mystery to build and finally letting the threat present itself. It's a simple idea that's worked since 1963; adventure. That's all it is. It works. And so we get well-written episodes (Sarah Dollard impresses again) which follow a simple structure to spin an entertaining tale. Timeless stuff in a very modern style, and, my God, the dialogue sings. Again.

(Oh, and the TARDIS scanner signalling danger after Bill and the Doctor have already sallied forth is also very Hartnell, specifically very The Fire Maker, or An Unearthly 100,000 BC of Gum, whichever brew you happen to prefer.)

Nice touches; I'm glad the possibility is left open that the massive beast and its fish buddies may not be alien life but simply unknown species native to Earth. That would make it Doctor Who's first real sea monster. Either way, it certainly looks a lot more convincing than either the Skarasen or the Borad. Nardole (naughty Nardole actually disparages tea, the blasphemer!!!) drops heavy hints about the Doctor's "vow" to remain on Earth and guard the Vault. But what's that knocking...?

Oh, and the Doctor's speech? Wow. A quietly impressive episode from a quietly impressive season that succeeds by not trying to be big and epic or, indeed, structurally clever, but just doing the basics well. Showrunner, who are you and what have you done with Steven Moffat?


Grimm: Where the Wild Things Were

"I suppose this is what Alice felt like falling down the rabbit hole..."

So, here we are, at the start of the three part finale, as predicted. It's exciting, highly watchable telly in which you're very much aware that the status quo isn't safe. It's just that, well, another dimension full of prosthetic humanoid monsters, load of trees and mediaeval technology feels awfully similar to the end of the second season of Angel.

It's all go from the start as Nick, Adalind, Monroe and Rosalie work out where Eve has gone, and how. Police work is no longer a focus (and probably won't be), so Hank and Wu are worryingly sidelined but efforts are made to include them, however much they may look like spare parts. Nick is able to follow Eve to the Narnia-like dimension, where permanently woged Wesen lord it over primitive, Teutonic humans. He does so using the stick, but the stick itself does not follow- again echoing the end of Angel's second season.

The most narratively predictable even ever finally occurs as Sean who, despite being active in the first few episodes of the season has been treading water ever since as a character, is finally allowed to actually do stuff as the gang finally inform him of what's been going on for all this time. And they learn some disturbing stuff: that skull thing is Zerstorer, perhaps the Devil, and a prophecy indicates that he is supposed to marry someone who may be Diana (not herself the Big Bad after all- I was wrong) and sire loads of demonic children. Lovely. It's all done well enough to get away with it, and it still good telly, but Grimm seems to be concluding with what feels like a load of recycled Angel tropes.

We have time for an interesting chat between Nick and Eve, seemingly mandated by the need to close off dangling plotlines for this truncated season, as Eve tells him bluntly that she isn't Juliette, in spite of earlier episodes signalling a different authorial intent, she's just too busy with all that Eve stuff, and that "being happy doesn't interest me any more, Nick. Happiness just gets in the way." Wow.

We end, naturally, with a cliffhanger, as a fully woged Eve and Nick come face to face with the Zerstorer...

Monday, 24 April 2017

Buried (2010)

"You American?"

"Yeah."

"Then you soldier!"

I imagine that this, a thriller set entirely in a cramped, poorly lit coffin with only one visible actor and all drama conveyed by means of a mobile phone with a slowly diminishing number of bars, would have made a good short story. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's a good script. It could even, with cuts for length, have made a good TV play. But, much as it's always nice to see films experimenting with the form of the medium, well.... cinema is a visual media. And that's why this film fails.

Not that Ryan Reynolds is anything but outstanding here in what is a real showcase for his talent, but the camera pointing at one an in a cramped space was never going to make good visuals, and good visuals are essential. I can understand the purist motives for doing it this way, but every single other actor is but a voice on the phone or brief video footage on the phone. Can we not at least have had flashbacks, perhaps of Paul's various romantic liaisons, the dirty bugger?

The tragedy is that the script is good- the final ten minutes or so, the false hope, the realisation that Paul's bastard employers have found an excuse to fire him and dodge paying his insurance, meaning he dies knowing his wife and son will inherit nothing but poverty, even the implicit satire of a world where we're forever being put on hold- but the idea of doing a film this way, however cool it may seem on paper, could never have worked without some kind of compromise with the format. And that's a real shame.

Ok, there's the scene with the snake. But this is an odd example of a film where it's probably better to read the script than to watch.

iZombie: Eat, Pray, Liv

"Can we get rid of this fixation of who did what when?"

"It's a murder investigation!"

Blimey, iZombie is a bit good at the minute; this may just be an episode doing a bog standard "story-of-the-week while advancing the arc", but it does so to absolute perfection. Have we reached a golden age that's analogous to Season Three of Buffy?

The murder this week, and hence Liv's lunch, is a trendy hippie Buddhist type, so cue some more excuses for a bit of top comic acting from Rose McIver, although Malcolm Goodwin continues to get better and better as Detective Clive Babineaux, the most deadpan person who ever lived, exhibiting some subtle yet superb comic acting as Clive rummages around in a bin.

This is one of the better episodes when judged as a whodunit, with the resolution being both clever and hard yet possible to guess (Mrs Llamastrangler did; I didn't). But it isn't all fun; Ravi gets a right bollocking from Peyton and yet, somehow, manages to use his Ravi-esque charm to snog her anyway, setting up an intriguing little love triangle with the amnesiac and reformed Blaine. Said ex-zombie is introduced to the somewhat nasty father he doesn't remember and is given a disturbing idea of the Very Bad Man he used to be, pre-amnesia.

We're clearly getting to the crunch point for Major, though; he may have only days to live unless he takes the new untested cure, potentially losing his memory for good. And yet, shockingly but logically, the reformed Blaine agrees to act as guinea pig; he's horrified by the man he used to be, and sees no downside to having no memory of his past.

In other news, Don E and Blaine's dad are setting up a new club for zombies as a front for zombie-esque crime, while we get to know Major's zombie mate Justin a little better- a potential love interest for someone? But the end is heartbreaking as Peyton catches Ravi, who thought his chance was gone, with another woman. This is proper good telly.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Grimm: Blood Magic

“I suppose if any place is gonna have a giant assassin bug, it’d be Portland.” 

I suspect (and hope) that this is Grimm's last ever story-of-the-week, what with three episodes left, but it's a good one, and addresses both the real life issue of euthanasia and the in-world question of what happens to Wesen if they get dementia which would mean, of course, uncontrolled and violent wogeing. It's a difficult one, and Nick and Hank end the episode with no alternative but to let the Gevather Tod do his thing. It's a truly heart wrenching episode, although Mrs. Llamastrangler would like it to be known that she definitely didn't cry. Heaven forbid.

We also get Sean, who's been strangely detached and sulky lately, demanding answers about the tunnel from Nick, but at least the only way forward, plot-wise, is surely for the two of them to latch up their differences and collaborate. But what makes it certain, I think, at the very end, is where Eve, alone, practised some "blood magic" and strides determinedly into the mirror to the plane of those nasty demon things. I suspect there won't be time for stories of the week from now on...

Bring on what must surely be the concluding three-parter...

Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment

"You could roll this out worldwide..."

There hasn't been a bad episode of Black Mirror so far but, well, this is the closest we've come. While a collaboration between Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker may seem attractive it's nevertheless true that this is a script from (the excellent) Nathan Barley that didn't make the cut. So alarm bells are ringing already. And yet... the roots may be showing, and the message may be verging on mere "all politicians are corrupt, duh" fatuous nihilism, but this isn't a bad bedrock standard for a relatively poor episode.

The conceit- perhaps influenced by Ali G, H'Angus the Monkey being elected Mayor of Hartlepool and, less blatantly, by all that UKIP silliness that, in a rare positive consequence of Brexit, seems no longer to be a thing- is a rude cartoon bear (think the teddy bear Ronnie Corbett character from Bo Selecta) running in a by-election. There's a smarmy Tory, a sympathetic but careerist New Labour lady, and a lot of the cheap gags at the Lib Dems' expense that were fashionable in 2013. It's all very scattershot and isn't saying anything very deep, but it's watchable.

What elevates it, I think, is the eventual message (signposted by a sinister American from "the Agency") that political cynicism can be harnessed for authoritarian purposes and that things can get very, very dystopian. But such a thing could never happen in real life. Right?

Doctor Who: Smile

"Who needs loos? There's probably an app for that.

After the somewhat cheaply made In The Forest of the Night we get another script from the well-respected Frank Cottrell-Boyce and it's an excellent one, as well as the sort of intelligent and lightly satirical (Black Mirror satirical) script that feels as though it's written by someone who doesn't often get to write science fiction and is jumping at the chance. Wee also get more very good banter between the Doctor and Bill with a fantastic dynamic already evident between them. And it seems that Moffat is wisely following the RTD template of showing a new companion an example of both the future and the past as their travels begin.

Yes, the conceit- be happy or die- recalls The Happiness Patrol, but this time it's just machines gone wrong who, in the big reveal, are just AI that are learning and trying to be helpful. They want you to be happy, grief makes you unhappy, so why not put the grieving out of their misery? It is, as the Doctor says, grief as plague, and it's both a splendid concept and a nice little riff on both our over-dependence on technology (very much described in contemporary terms) and the forthcoming Singularity. I love the emojis.

Actually, this whole concept of what is called the "early days" of human space exploration reminds me of the Spacers on Isaac Asimov's robot novels. Except... I think this is supposed to be the same time period as The Ark in Space, which is set in the much further future?

We begin though, with more exposition about the mysterious "Vault" on present day Earth that the Doctor is supposed to be guarding- clearly a big season arc thing. Nardole seems to be mainly concerned with that- he doesn't come along traveling with the Doctor and Bill. And it's nice to see a Hartnell-style cliffhanger before the next episode. This is splendid stuff,

Great to see Ralf Little in Doctor Who, but Mina Anwar gets an oddly small role...

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Black Mirror: White Bear

"I think this is my daughter."

Wow. It's hard to discuss this without revealing the twist so, if you don't want to know, look away. SPOILERS. Lets just say that this seems a fairly anodyne episode until the point where the revelation of the huge twist alters everything. Charlie Brooker has done it again.

The episode is, in retrospect, extremely well-constructed but also hugely evocative of the dark, fearful power of the mob, from the writer of Daily Mail Island. Lenora Critchlow plays, in effect, Myra Hindley and her punishment is to have her memory wiped and relive the same day for the rest of her life, as we eventually discover- the moment where everything collapses into a clapping crowd is deeply surreal, and the ride of shame in front of a baying crowd is truly horrific. But Victoria isn't going to her execution but to something worse, from the deepest tabloid id of the British population.

It's clever. So clever. It's eve signposted early on with Victoria's "Mystic Meg" predictions, but I defy anybody not to be surprised.

I've missed this.