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Friday, 30 May 2014

Green Lantern (2011).


Green Lantern (2011).


How do I … Is there any way to code for sparkly neon … Does Blogger have that …

Okay, no, no, it does not, right.

This is the best DC comics film of recent years.

There. Okay. I said it. It's probably not a popular opinion, judging by the fact that this film is one of the worst box office bombs in history (which is how I picked it for my review, actually), but it's one I hold. This is better than Man of Steel. This is better than Nolan's Batman trilogy. This is better than – have there actually been any other DC films lately? Er, answers on a postcard, I suppose.

It's not even as if I don't like those films, but the common thread in all of them is that they seemed ashamed of their source material. They were constantly cringing back on themselves, going 'Oh god, I'm sorry, I'm really sorry about Superman being so silly, oh god, I know, I know, it's stupid, just bear with us and we'll bring you some explosions and – I mean that not killing thing is silly, right? It's silly, we're silly, please don't hate us.' 

The entire Green Lantern Corp is judging you, DC.

Jesus Christ, DC, you are one of the largest comic book companies in the world, grow a spine. Look at Marvel, they don't do this: By jove, they revel in the inherent absurdity of their premises. They wear it like a badge of honour, because why shouldn't they? It's awesome in large part because it's silly, and over the top, and runs off the Rule of Cool.

Green Lantern is not like that. Green Lantern knows what it is – a silly, explosion-filled action film with some good opportunity for swarms of really alien looking Lanterns and a likeable protagonist. It knows it's dorky. It preserves its dorkiness. The silliness of it works, too. The whole film works, actually. It's never going to be on anyone's Top Ten Best Movies List, but it's a lulzy action film that you don't have to think about, and it plays that role well.

I liked Hal, I liked Carol, I loved Sinestro and thought Mark Strong was a stand-out performance amongst an already strong cast, I thought Parallax was a surprisingly effective villain for essentially being Giant Evil Doom Face Satan, I thought the special effects were adequate and sometimes stunning, and I thought the scenes on Oa were superb, with some pleasantly alien designs for many of the Lanterns. 

Guys, have you noticed that Sinestro looks like the Devil, is
played by a villain actor, and has an evil name?

There was a lot I did like about this film.

But there are things I didn't like. Let's run through those, quickly.

One. The first fifteen minutes of this film is intolerable dross and I would blame not a single man, woman or child if they walked out of their cinema and ate all the staff in Hannibal-esque fashion before it was over. It is every exhausted, painful cliché rammed into quarter of an hour and tacked onto the front of the film with an expectant expression. It has a dramatic opening narration with glow-y visuals, it has an ancient evil being accidentally freed by being walked over, it has the hero as a child being given life guidance by his father, it has that same child receiving a memento that he's told to keep safe just before his father dies tragically in front of him, and good god almighty did I want every single character in this entire section to be decapitated by flying rubble before their bodies were lost forever in the fiery burning fire flames of the air strip.

It is bad. It is some of the worst film-making I have ever seen, and I watched The Wolverine literally last week. If the opening of a film is meant to be that film putting its best foot forward, this film put its worst foot forward, and that foot is a meat-grinder, and it steps on your toes and then, screaming its apologies, tips forward into a clumsily executed somersault and kicks you in the face.

It's also an entire eighth of the film. One eighth is a lot of a film's run time, and it was spent sapping my energy with some of the dullest storytelling this side of The Last Airbender. 

1.5, people with huge foreheads scare me.

Two. Who is that random child that Hal knows? I'm sure they mention it at some point, but everyone is mumbling and then he never shows up again, leaving me to assume that upon wandering out of that bedroom where he and Hal had a chat, he was devoured by a whale.

Three. Why on Earth would Sinestro bother with the Yellow Power Ring, which he only wants to defeat Parallax, after Parallax was defeated? Actually, if Parallax can be defeated by throwing him into the sun, why didn't they just do that in the first place instead of sealing him in the most easily escaped prison of all time?

Did suns not exist when he was sealed away? Were there no suns?

Four. Actually, just in general, there are plot holes everywhere here. Everywhere. You could fit the entirety of Oa through them.

Five. Jesus, those first fifteen minutes are literally never relevant again. Never. Okay, they turn up in an early scene in a plane as flashbacks, but the flashbacks serve almost no plot purpose.

Six. You know, you set up the Core as an energy force powerful enough to defeat Parallax if he didn't eat some fear to power up halfway through the film, why not use that to defeat him instead of the sun? Do you Chekhov's Gun, bro?

Well. That was nice to get off my chest.

I don't think the negatives outweigh the positives this time, though. It's not a perfect film, by any means, and I did go in with very low expectations, so satisfying me may not have been all that tough, but I enjoyed it. A lot. I would watch a sequel.

With more Hal, and no Guy Gardner. Maybe John Stewart too.

On DVD, though, not in the cinema, I'm – I'm not willing to put that level of effort into seeing it, it wasn't that good. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Orphan Black S2E6: To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings.


Orphan Black
S2E6
To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings.


Roadtrip!

I've never been on a roadtrip. This is because I live in the UK, and if you're in some manner of motorised vehicle, chances are you'll be at your destination within eighteen hours, even if you started at Cornwall and are trying to get to Dunnet Head. Even if the traffic's bad from literally start to finish, it's not going to push twenty-four.

Canadians are so lucky.

Anyway.

We left our intrepid adventurers after an – uncomfortably non-consensual sex scene between Rachel and Paul, as Sarah and Helena set off for Cold River, which for some baffling reason I just wrote as 'Cold Falls,' to find 'Swan Man.' Meanwhile, Cosima is retrieving treatment for her Mysterious Clone Respiratory Disease – which should probably now be called Mysterious Clone Uterine Disease.

As the episode opens, Sarah and Helena are in a tent, doing some sisterly bonding. It's a sweet scene: Sarah is concerned over what the Proletheans did to Helena, and Helena wants to know if she could have children, as well as complimenting Sarah on her mothering abilities. Eventually, Helena distracts Sarah with a shadow puppet of a happy wolf and they go to sleep. Just in time, it turns out, for Paul to break into their car and rifle through their stuff. 

Your shadow wolf powers are strong, Helena.

I'm really starting to hate Paul. I'll hate him more by the end of the episode, mark me well.

I'll say this for Sarah, though, she has the patience of a saint. I mean, I'm a pretty irritable person, so maybe I'm not the best measure of this, but I think after about ten minutes of Helena switching radio stations and singing and I would just deliberately crash the car. I am quite strongly of the opinion that unless you're a professional singer, you should not sing in cars, because everyone else is trapped in a fast moving metal box with you, and it's just cruel.

As this is all afoot, Cosima finds out that Nameless Geneticist Lad has now joined her science team, and she's not pleased. She becomes even less pleased when he announces that he knows about the clones.

Meanwhile meanwhile, Alison is at a rehab group therapy session, where she is told she has no choice but to share. Has – has there ever been a rehab group that works like that? Really? Because that seems to be a strategy not liable to produce accurate results or genuine improvement. I'm really doubting the efficacy of this rehab centre. I – I don't think the staff are doctors, I think they may just be random people who wandered in off the street.

At this group, she meets … she meets … Oh, god, what is his name? I can't even call him Sarah's douchey ex, people will think I mean Paul.

Right, his name is Victor. Alison meets Victor, who coincidentally is going to the same rehab group. He's apparently gained some intellect in his absence, as he realises that she's not Sarah, and asks if they're twins. She informs him that they're clones and, naturally, he doesn't believe her. He also appears to have become a Buddhist, but not a fun Buddhist, an annoying Buddhist whose conversations all devolve into grabbing you by the lapels and screaming 'I AM A BUDDHIST' at you.

Alison, understandably, has little desire to associate with him, due to his being the kind of person who hits women, and also probably due to his having a very nasally voice.

Long story short: They bond, become friends, Victor is actually working for Angry Ineffective Police Detective, who continues to use the methods she apparently learned at the same police academy as the cast of Hawaii Five-0 and stranger seasons of The Bill. Good, with that out of the way, let us never speak of this subplot again.

(I really don't like Victor.) 

Could you tell? I thought I was being pretty subtle about it.

As this is happening, and as Art and Felix begin what I can only describe as a beautiful partnership in crime-solving, Sarah and Helena arrive at a small village with a church – the last place Swan Man was seen. Sarah goes inside and quickly finds what she was looking for: Records in the church's archive from the Cold River research centre.

She finds, as you might expect, horrifying but nondescript stuff – stuff that isn't really plot relevant, but does indicate that there were a lot of failures before they had their success with the clones. She contacts Cosima about it, leading to a nice scene in which Sarah's all concerned about Cosima's welfare, and they vow to get Alison out of rehab when they come back. I like scenes which show the clones being friends with each other: A lot of shows seem to forget to show that their characters actually do care about each other, so it's pleasing to me that Orphan Black never does.

Meanwhile, I am – nearly as creeped out by what's afoot with Helena as I was with Rachel and Paul last episode, as she is having a romance subplot! With a dude who we shall call Hatman, but whose name is Jesse, as his hat helpfully informs us. It's a very sweet romance, I'm not going to lie. He seems like a nice lad. But if there's one thing this episode has been showing us from start to finish, it's that Helena has the maturity of a child. She's hyper-competent at killing things, but in all fields except murder, she is mentally in single digits, which just makes a romance weird.

You're adorable stop it right now.

I mean, one of her conversations with Hatman perfectly sums this up, as she claims to have been a police officer who then left the force to become a brilliant scientist before coming to Canada after her marriage broke up for reasons of substance abuse. It's the kind of fantastical story an admittedly very warped kid would tell.

Other characters seem to acknowledge this: Sarah, Felix and Art all treat her like a child, because that's functionally what she is. So it makes a romance plot, especially one that eventually culminates in her making out with the be-hatted dude in question, a bit weird.

It's in the bar where this subplot is taking place that Paul encounters – dear god, the number of characters whose names I don't know is frankly shocking – Weird Eyed Prolethean. They flirt, they cajole, and Paul, being a tremendous idiot, says that he'll happily let said Weird Eyed Prolethean abduct Helena, and he'll just wander off and abduct Sarah.

Actually, I think the term he uses is 'you can take yours, and I'll take mine'. Good job, Paul. In a conversation with another man, you've just referred to two women as property, and yes, recent events in the news have made me more sensitive to men acting like women belong to them, why do you ask?

Another man starts a fight, and Helena proves her Random Murder Generator chops by gouging out his eyes – or trying to, I don't think she actually succeeds before she gets dragged off him. She's arrested by the police just in time for Sarah to see her being arrested.

This part confuses me slightly. When we next see Sarah, she's on the road again, having called Art to ask him to pull some strings and get Helena released. But wouldn't you want to stick around until she was released so that you didn't have a murder specialist with impulse control issues running around some sleepy Canadian town having dalliances with random men and gouging out other men's eyes? I would.

The fact that she doesn't ultimately leads to problems, as Gracie arrives from the Proletheans and convinces Helena to come with her, which is an impressive feat when you consider that she tried to kill Helena, although attempted murder is how Helena greets people, so maybe not.

On the road, she discovers from Art and Felix that Swan Man stole the identity of a dude named Peckham. With address in hand – well, in mind – Sarah sets off to find him. 

I'd watch the buddy cop show.

Meanwhile, Gawky Geneticist Lad tells Delphine that the stem cells being used to treat Cosima must have come from a close relative – which in this instance, probably means that they come from the child or grandchild of the woman who was the original genetic template of the clones. Since Leekie said only last episode that said genetic template was lost, Delphine is understandably shocked. What she does next makes me question if she's actually evil even more, as she asks Gawky Geneticist Lad not to tell Cosima.

Sarah reaches the house in question, and upon the door being opened has the reaction that we probably all had at this moment: Oh god, it's Mrs. S, how does she do this, how does she manage to be everywhere, are there like twenty-six of her all representing different letters and they just swarm about Canada being moderately diabolical.

Luckily, Swan Man is there too, being all harmless and old-man-ful and apparently not realising that the 'S' in Mrs. S is increasingly likely to stand for 'Satan'. As Sarah talks to him, he rambles about the science involved, and she pushes for him to help her, bringing up how badly Rachel has turned out, Cosima's illness, Alison, and how he has a responsibility to them. 

I'm including this picture mostly because it looks like he has
a bird perching on his shoulder.

Meanwhile, Mrs. S goes outside and meets with Paul, still following Sarah. I actually really love this scene, more for Mrs. S (who I adore) than Paul (whose actions in this episode have left me feeling rather sour towards him). Mrs. S is just so wonderfully, cheerfully super-spy-ish, while at the same time offering him tea and biscuits. She also wins the award for best line in this episode, as when Paul says he's working for Dyad, she immediately shoots back 'Hardly an answer, Dyad's a hydra,' while offering him his cup of tea. 


I love you, Mrs. S, but you're literally the devil and you
will kill us all.

Eventually, she seems to convince him to side with her, though, while in the house, Swan Man reveals why he went into hiding: The explosion that killed his wife (Rachel's adopted mother, remember) and was presumed to kill him was actually a murder, orchestrated by none other than our friendly neighbourhood scientist, Aldous Leekie.

Dun-dun-duuu wait, didn't we already know that Leekie was evil?

Pretty sure we already knew that.

I mean, he killed a man for failing him once, that's a pretty sure sign. 

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Wolverine (2013).


No Game of Thrones this week.

Yeeeaaah, I actually only found that out yesterday. Cue rummaging through the pile of films I've been meaning to review to find something to replace it.

So, what could possibly replace the blood, intrigue, and sharp dialogue of a good episode of Game of Thrones? 

...

Well. It has blood, I suppose.

The Wolverine (2013).


I have just watched The Wolverine, and I'm staring at an OpenOffice document entitled 'Untitled 4' and the only thing I can think to say is 'by the end of this film, I wished only for death' about twelve times.

This film is bad. This is a worse film than Spiderman 3. It's a shame, because actually there are the seeds of something good here, that you can spot here and there, but they're drowned in a sea of incoherent writing, half-cocked fanservice, and abject racism.

Let's cycle through those backwards and start with 'abject racism'. I kept a count of how many times the film made reference to the rather strange idea of 'Japanese men are small and weak, Western men are large and strong' and came out with eight times. That's more than once every twenty minutes. You wouldn't even be able to fit an episode of X-Men The Animated Series between all the lip service paid to that one particular and strange idea.

I also kept count of how many times the film attempted to draw a contrast between the virility and sexual prowess of the Japanese male characters compared to Wolverine. It was nearly constant: Doctor Green purring that if only Attractive Ninja Dude could satisfy her, she'd be so glad; about three different references to 'Japanese men are sexual deviants'; constant snide cracks about Japanese men being 'pretty' or feminine.

It's relevant, because an element of sexual anxiety has always been a part of racist narratives: Both historically and presently, the narrative woven by white men about ethnic minorities includes as an almost omnipresent element the idea that men of ethnic minorities are sexually inadequate, less virile, et cetera, ad nauseum. 

Stop posing in the rain, lad, you'll catch your death of cold.

In case it seems like Japanese men are the only targets of this film's spleen-ventery, I should clarify that they're not: The women don't get treated much better either. There are three female characters: Mariko, Yukio, and Doctor Green, and by the end of the story their own motivations have fizzled away into nothingness, leaving them as satellites in Wolverine's orbit. Wolverine actually has a romance with Mariko – a rather strange romance that comes barrelling out of the left field, to the point where I literally looked away for a minute and when I got back, they had gone from 'reluctant allies' to 'lovers', and I had to rewind to find out how that happened. But Mariko is repeatedly contrasted with Wolverine's hallucinatory Jean Grey, with the obvious subtext being that she is an inadequate substitute. That doesn't have to be a problematic subplot, but Mariko never calls Wolverine out on it, and Wolverine never has any kind of self-reflection about it. They're still romantically involved when the story ends.

It's also more than a little skeevy to take an East-Asian woman, often fetishised by white men, and frame her as both an object to be fought over – and by the end, that's exactly what she is, with Attractive Ninja Dude and Wolverine literally fighting over her – and as a lacking substitute for a white woman.

As for the rest of it – the film is indulgent in throwing things that are archetypally Japanese at you. 'SAMURAI' it yells as you put your toast on in the morning, lobbing an action figure of Oda Nobunaga at your head. 'NINJA. LOVE HOTELS. BULLET TRAIN.' But it's all very shallow. Cartoonishly so. It is Japan as seen through the eyes of an anime fanboy or a tourist. Pacific Rim, a film not set in Japan and with a single Japanese character, did a better job of convincing me that the writers had any idea of how to write Japanese culture than this entire film set in Japan did. 

KIMONOS! ARCADES!

But let's put that aside. Let's strip away the problematic issues of gender and race that this film has. Let's look at it as if it was cast entirely by faceless, formless dummies wandering an empty room. Frankly, given the quality of acting at some points, that's not the gigantic stretch it could be. Does it work? If you peel off everything I've just talked about, are you left with a solid action film?

No, to be honest.

The film isn't well-written. It's not well-paced, it's not competently structured, plot points are very poorly established and followed through in a frankly lacklustre fashion. The best example of this is the story element that loomed large in trailers, that of Wolverine losing his healing factor. He does indeed lose it, and – you honestly wouldn't know it if he didn't sometimes look ominously down at his wounds. 

That slightly unhappy look is the only problem resulting from
being shot.

It never affects him for the worse. He can still get shot and stabbed about a dozen times and the worst that'll happen is he'll feel woozy. He can cling to the top of a bullet train without any problems, even when wounded in multiple places. His ability to fight is never hampered by his growing amount of injuries. The fact that he has sharp claws now protruding through his hands which aren't healing is never even touched upon. When he eventually regains his healing factor, it's meant to be a triumphant moment, the start of the fight back against the villains, but it falls utterly flat because his not having a healing factor was never presented as a particular issue in the first place.

Even things like the appearance of the Silver Samurai, arguably the film's main villain, is done about as well as the arrival of Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That is to say, it doesn't come completely out of the blue, but it's not far off, and it lacks any dramatic impetus. The writers may as well have dropped a random giant space flea into the scene – it would have packed approximately the same amount of punch. 

What a well designed villain for me to not care about.

Which describes this film down to a T, really. Take away everything that makes it offensive, and what you're left with is just dull. Extract that which makes it terrible, and you've got something that is just tired, bland, and uninspired. It is bad both in the sense of being 'offensively awful' and in the sense of 'lacking anything good'.

There are seeds of something that could have been good, here, a dumb action flick with ninjas and mad scientists and robots. But to see that realised, you'd need a much more adept writer and you would have to remove Wolverine entirely. It wouldn't be a massive loss: In spite of the film's best attempts to have the universe revolve around Wolverine, he feels completely unnecessary already. But if you excise him from the story, making Yukio the main character, you might have the beginnings of something not great, but good.

As it is, this film was torturous. It was a trainwreck from start to finish, and the only part of it that didn't make me want to set myself on fire was the mid-credits scene. Because nobody can be sad when Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart are on screen. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Agents of SHIELD, OUaT, Supernatural, The Blacklist, Arrow, Star-Crossed, The Tomorrow People, Hannibal


Right. Yes.

So.

A lot of US TV series have been ending in the past few weeks - 'tis the season for it, it seems. I could give them all separate reviews, which seems ... daunting and liable to take so long that they may have actually started airing again by the time I'm done. 

Instead, let's round them all up into one single super post: Eight reviews of eight series in no particular order. Some are good, some are bad, some are merely okay.

Without further ado, let us get on with the megapost.

Agents of SHIELD.



I'm told that Agents of SHIELD actually wasn't very commercially popular, although fandom still seems to adore it. To be honest, I'm not entirely surprised, but I do think it's a mistake on the part of the unwashed masses to not have thrown themselves heart and soul into loving this show.

It's very much a show of two halves, and the first half is, while not genre re-defining or striking, certainly a very competent demonstration of episodic storytelling, with strong characters, plots that hold together well under scrutiny, and a larger plot brewing in the background.

The second half is a lot stronger than the first, a lot more serialised, and contains some genuinely surprising plot twists. The last five or six episodes, particularly, can easily contend with The Blacklist, Arrow and Hannibal for quality, although it's a markedly different style to any of those. Agents of SHIELD may not have been all that people dreamed it could be, but I'm more inclined to place the blame for that at its detractors' feet rather than on the show itself – it was all it realistically could have been, I think.

It's been renewed for a second series, which for a long time it seemed like it wouldn't be, but is a good decision on the part of the network. Four stars.


Once Upon A Time Series 3.



For my sins, I do like Once Upon A Time. It's not good, anyone who says it is might well be a Once Upon A Time producer trying to cunningly trick you, but god help me if it's not entertaining. This series is no different, as much as I take umbrage to Disney and ABC milking the Peter Pan IP, a property historically used to fund a children's hospital, for every drop they can get out of it.

It feels like there's been more than three series, though – in fact, as I write this, it feels like we're limping past the fifth series, and I attribute that mostly to how long this series has felt, and how plot threads are already starting to curl in on themselves and wind themselves into tangled snarls that make very little sense, which is generally a sign that something has gone on too long and it's time to end it for good of one and all.

This hasn't been a bad series, not at all, but increasingly I feel like Once Upon A Time's spark is starting to die, and that it may be time to lead it towards a graceful ending, so that it can be remembered fondly in years to come. Three stars, but I considered giving it three and a half.


Supernatural Series 9.



Speaking of things that have gone on too long and who feel like they're dying, dear god does that statement apply more to Supernatural than it does to Once Upon A Time. For me, Supernatural hit its peak during Series 4 and Series 5, and should have ended somewhere around Series 7. But here we are, two years on, with what I can only describe as a very blah series, that has felt directionless from start to finish, with very little sense of an actual threat and very little sense of an actual goal.

Even now, looking back at the series, I have trouble reconciling each individual plot point in my head, as if they don't quite fit onto the same timeline.

But it has the strengths that any Supernatural series has – a strong if rather markedly sausage-ous cast, a good sense of humour, a fairly developed understanding of spectacle and form. Those are all things that go a long way, and it'd be remiss of me to overlook them. It also had a very strong series finale, which sets up the events of the next series in such a way that, in spite of what I said above still holding true, I'm actually really looking forward to seeing it.

Three and a half stars.


The Blacklist.



The Blacklist is one of those series I was really looking forward to, and it more or less lived up to expectations. It had interesting and often quite stunning episodic plots and a series-long plot that maintained my interest well, because I'm a sucker for espionage plotlines, criminals being criminal-ish, and ongoing mysteries. Megan Boone and James Spader are superb as the series' leads, and Harry Lennox, Parminder Nagra, Ryan Eggold and Diego Klattenhoff also put in excellent performances.

It's a very well made series that I would recommend to any fans of either police procedurals or spy fiction, although it's not really either – it shares elements with each, but it's difficult to sum up exactly what The Blacklist is, in terms of genre, so I'm not going to try too hard.

If I had one problem with it – apart from the fact that it very occasionally dips in repetitiveness – it's that I found the ending of this series deeply unsatisfying as far as the answer to the mystery of Berlin's identity. It's difficult to describe how truly unsatisfying that answer was, but perhaps I'll change my mind a little way into series 2.

Four and a half stars. I wavered between that and four and a quarter, but at that point I think I'm just splitting hairs (or stars, as the case may be).


Arrow Series 2.



Arrow has surpassed all of my expectations in its two series so far. Granted, my expectations were fairly low, somewhere between Smallville at its worst and The Dark Knight Rises, but it surpassed them fairly stunningly to become one of my favourite television shows. It's a very well-made show, to be honest: It has an excellent and well-acted cast of characters, it excels at both episodic and serialised storytelling, it has strong emotional conflicts at its core balanced with strong external conflict.

The first series was a flawed but highly enjoyable beast, and the second series builds on that foundation and delivers a much improved story. Manu Bennett's Slade Wilson can easily match John Barrowman's Malcolm Merlyn for villainy chops; Several of the best characters, such as Felicity Smoak and Moira Queen, are given more time to shine; The pacing is much more even than that of the first series, with a steadier build towards what was a fairly flawless climax. Even the backdoor pilot for the Flash spin-off, something I was a little concerned about given that Barry Allen in the comics is about as interesting as cardboard, was a very well-made piece of television.

I am struggling to name many flaws with Arrow, except maybe that it wants to be Batman a little too much. I'm only going to give it four stars, though. It loses an entire star for making Amanda Waller, (one of the few older, overweight women in fiction) a conventionally attractive and slender woman in her twenties. It was annoying when the New 52 did it, it's annoying here, and I choose to demonstrate my distaste via withholding symbolic stars.

It demonstrates remarkable self-restraint that I didn't cut it down to three and a half stars for that blunder, actually. So close to a perfect set of stars, Arrow. So far.


Star-Crossed.



Errrgh.

I didn't hate this? I actually quite happily watched all of it and wouldn't have minded a second series, so it can't have been all that bad. I suppose. Grudgingly.

Thing is, if you want to have a metaphor for racism and segregation – and that's what the Atrians are – then why on earth would you have your oppressed group composed almost entirely of trendy white Americans trendily whiting about, except one of the villains and one antihero? Not to mention led by Matt Lanter, no less, a man grown in a lab to be the trendiest white American dude to ever step foot upon the earth.

There are other problems too. For instance, if you're going to risk being accused of shallow pretentiousness by using Romeo and Juliet quotes as episode titles, at least make a token attempt at capturing the spirit of Shakespeare's work. Maybe reference it in show once. Something. Anything that'll convince me you didn't just do it to annoy me personally.

Alternately, if your premise involves 'seven Atrian students', let us get to know all seven, not four of them. Maybe give your leads more personality than bricks – you can clearly do it, your supporting characters are fine, and I actually really liked some of them.

Just. Three stars. Three stars. Watchable, very much so, but filled with strange choices and wasted potential.


The Tomorrow People.



Le sigh. Le mew.

I actually watched the original The Tomorrow People - not when it aired, obviously, I hadn't been born, but later. Yes, indeed, this is not an American program, this is that thing we all hate: A British program transplanted clumsily into the US because apparently Americans explode if they encounter people from other countries on their televisions.

You know what the original was about? Mutants fighting shapeshifting alien robot Jedikiah, and evil alien plant Spidron, with the help of a Galactic Federation. You know what this remake was about? Well, me neither. Mutants. An evil government agency, with Jedikiah now as apparently the most unfortunately named regular human dude. That guy from Spartacus, who's moved on from crushing slave rebellions and now wants to stop time and murder all humans. Lots and lots of sex and love triangles. Incoherent plotting propped up by bland characters.

Maybe I'm biased, but my main thought while watching it was 'couldn't you have just slapped a different name on this? Like The X-Men, since that seems to be what you're desperately emulating more than the beloved British children's TV series you've actually chosen to remake? Couldn't you have just not made this at all?'

If there had been a single spark of anything remotely interesting in this show, I would maybe be a little more kind to it – but there wasn't, it was like a group of fifty year old men had been asked 'what appeals to young adults these days?' and then thrown everything from their terrible, terrible brain-storming session at a single television program.

It's not been renewed. It should never have been made in the first place. Half a star. That's me being generous.


Hannibal Series 2.



Hannibal is a bit of an odd beast to review, and I mean that in the best way possible. It has always reminded me more of a stage play than a television series, akin to Woman in Black, Attempts on Her Life or Heart Play – with that sometimes nuanced, sometimes crude use of symbolism, lighting, noise and silence, analogy and misdirection that is the natural by-product of a medium where the acute physical presence of your performance limits the reach of your artifice.

It's a bit like a Frank Miller play filtered through Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty - Almost painful realism passed through a violent shattering of reality, leaving you with something very surreal and dreamlike, this passionate and convulsive conception of a story. It's inspired, though: The language is measured, precise and poetic, the cinematography the kind of stunning that will be studied by students of film for decades, the storytelling excelling in both episodic and serialised forms in a way that is only matched on this list by Arrow, the costuming and set design muted but gorgeous.

There were some questionable choices this series, that much is certain: The fate of Beverly Katz chief among them (I'm still vexed by that), along with the application of plot elements reserved in the books for Clarice Starling to Will Graham (which also vexes). I can't in good faith give the series five stars knowing that those choices were made, so instead I'll give it four and a half, which I think is still the best score on this list.


It's higher than The Tomorrow People at least, har har de har. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Orphan Black S2E5: Ipso Scientia Potestas Est.


Orphan Black
S2E5: Ipso Scientia Potestas Est.


Have you ever spent a week getting so little sleep that by the time it comes to writing your Orphan Black review, you actually look like one of the characters, and it isn't one of the pretty, healthy looking characters, it's Helena in all of her crimson panda glory, and you don't know why you now have blond curls and blood on all of your clothes?

Yeah.

Halfway through! So far this has been a very good series, but the latter half is going to be more difficult than this first half was, just because audience expectations for a series rise as it approaches the end: That's just a basic function of narrative structure, after all.

So, the episode opens on Rachel, Leekie and Paul examining Rachel's hotel suite, where Daniel was murdered by Helena the previous night. Rachel is visibly disturbed by it – she apparently had at least some genuine affection for Daniel – and Leekie is quick to tell her that she brought this on herself, which seems a little bit unfair. Helena was murderous long before Rachel ever got involved, after all. She was so murderous and so unpredictable that she was essentially a Random Murder Generator who could at any moment decide to kill or mutilate someone based mostly on whim.

You're more to blame for that than Rachel, Leekie, you were actually involved in creating her.

The theme song plays, and we're at Felix's flat, where Sarah has dropped Helena off to be chaperoned, telling her that she's not to harm Felix, because he's her brother and/or sister. Felix once again wins the award for best line in an episode – the championship title is between him and Cosima at this point – with “You're right, you shot your twin sister dead only for her to rise up and gut Rachel's henchman, how could I capture the nuance?” It's a struggle all painters face at some point, I'm told.

Felix is just done with all of these shenanigans.

Meanwhile, Cal and Kira are having a father-daughter bonding moment, where Kira may have realised that Cal – who has a fake ID and a gun – is essentially Mrs. S Mark II and thus about as trustworthy as Vladimir Putin at a Ukrainian election booth. They continue to have totally-trustworthy-father-daughter moments later by jointly deceiving a policeman with the use of a fake ID and a gas mask. Gosh, Cal, you really are just the regular guy you keep claiming to be, aren't you.

Oh, don't look so tortured, nobody on this show can be trusted.

Back with Rachel, Leekie, and Paul, Paul is given an offer he can't refuse – literally, as he points out that he doesn't have a choice. With Daniel dead, Rachel needs a monitor-slash-personal-bodyguard-slash … er. Well, judging from what Daniel and her did, and what happens between her and Paul later on, other person in a somewhat skeevy arrangement. Rachel also asks about Leekie's stem cell tests, which he says are promising enough to use to cure Cosima: She orders him to shut down the tests, saying that if Sarah won't come back into the fold, then Cosima will suffer. Leekie is obviously displeased, as most people would be at the idea of murdering a promising young scientist/massive investment.

That plan falls through pretty quickly, as Delphine is accidentally sent the stem cell cultures. They're quick to break into Leekie's office and, naturally, are discovered. Delphine angrily confronts Leekie, and he agrees to give Cosima the treatment. Which is all a bit too easy, so I'm not entirely convinced that something isn't going to go horribly wrong and Cosima's going to explode into confetti or something equally alarming and liable to traumatise me.

Felix delivers Helena to Art, and to be honest, I'm surprised the man survives for more than about three seconds in the same room with her. He touches her when she tells him not to, restrains her, is repeatedly short-tempered and brusque with her. I mean, he's treating her like a criminal – which she is, she's murdered so, so many people at this point, but I'm pretty sure the only reason she hadn't randomly generated a murder for him by the end of this scene is because she remembered that he helped her escape the Proletheans.

Art's attempts to question her are – unsuccessful, at best, and while plying her with food helps, he apparently doesn't notice that she's eating things in tins with sharp edges, and it's not long before she's escaped, leaving Sarah to discover Art and a riddle that leads them to – I'm actually not entirely sure what it leads them to. Some manner of Helena-oid hidey hole. Oh! A lock-up. Where – where things are locked up. Yes.

While this is all afoot, Rachel questions Paul about Cal, and asks him to make a choice. Apparently, the choice he makes is 'interrupt Felix's dalliance with the geeky mortician', which seems like a bit of a harsh move on his part. He's there to frame Felix for murder, putting his fingerprints on the gun Daniel used to kill that policeman a few episodes ago. Which – dude, Paul, do what you have to do, but at least wait until Felix isn't entertaining guests. It's not urgent, right?

It's also not a very effective plan – I'd ask if anybody else noticed this, but Art actually points out when told that it's not that easy to frame somebody for murder. I say this partly because fingerprints on a murder weapon do not an automatic conviction make, but largely because Felix has an airtight alibi. He was at Alison's play. She saw him. She saw him the next morning too, as did a host of other people. We know that that's at least a day's journey away from where said police officer died, so it's not as if he can't easily prove to the police that there's no way he could have committed murder. Not to mention that Cosima can probably vouch for him too. 

"Felix is about to be arre - ..." "Paul, I don't think you thought
this through."

But it's apparently enough to drive Sarah into fervently attempting to purchase his innocence, which is what Paul wants. In Helena's lock-up, her and Art find all manner of exciting things: Lots and lots of doll heads, pictures of the Virgin Mary with her eyes stabbed out, and a photograph labelled 'Swan Man', which Sarah immediately connects to the story of Leda and the Swan that Cosima told her last episode.

'Swan Man' turns out to be Rachel's adopted father, one of the two Doctor Duncans, having apparently not been killed in an explosion as previously thought. Sarah at last has something she can trade for Felix's not-entirely-at-risk freedom, but any further discussion on that is cut off as they realise that there's a sniper rifle missing from the lock-up, and Helena has gone to kill Rachel.

What follows is – well, not the most skeevy sex scene I've seen, because I watch Game of Thrones, and there's only been about two sex scenes in the entirety of that that haven't made me intensely uncomfortable, and two out of four of the parties involved in said scenes are now quite dead. But it comes close, primarily because whether Paul can really be considered a consenting party in his dalliance with Rachel is highly questionable at best. 

Dental health is very important to Rachel.

Some people have been comparing it with Daenerys and Daario's scene in this week's Game of Thrones, and they are superficially similar – but that scene is wholly consensual, and Daario's submission to Daenerys is not just willing but eager. There's a marked power dynamic at play in which Daenerys is the more powerful one, that much is certain, but the act is wholly consensual, and it's clear to the audience that Daario could walk away at any point without consequence. The same cannot be said of this scene.

That's not the face of enthused consent.

Of course, at the same time Helena is pointing a sniper rifle at Rachel's head, and why she doesn't just fire, I have no idea. Maybe she's enjoying the show. But it gives enough time for Sarah and Art to arrive, and for Sarah to talk Helena down, saying that without Rachel they can't save Felix.

As the episode ends, Sarah meets with Leekie – the meeting having been organised by Cosima – and gets his support in finding Rachel's father. Or so it seems, at least: Paul arrives a moment later, and Leekie instructs him to keep an eye on Sarah.

Next week: Road trip! Woo! Woo.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Game of Thrones S4E7: Mockingbird.


Game of Thrones
S4E7: Mockingbird.


This is one of those episodes that I'd call a bridge episode, which rather erroneously makes it sound like nothing really happens – in actuality, this episode is more dense in plot than a lot of the ones we've had this series, but much of that plotting is connecting tissue meant to bind one major story beat to another. There is one large story event, though, at the end of the episode, so we'll get to that later.

The story opens on Jaime berating Tyrion for choosing a trial by combat, and saying he can't be the one to fight for him, as he only has one hand and isn't very good at fighting any more. Tyrion makes a joke about how it would greatly spite their father, which, to be honest, kind of hits the nail on the head as to why Jaime should by Tyrion's champion: Tywin and Cersei are not, in a thousand years, going to allow Jaime to die. If Jaime became Tyrion's champion, they'd find a way to call off the trial.

This seemingly doesn't occur to either of them, possibly because it turns out that Cersei's champion is The Mountain, Gregor Clegane, now played by his third actor in four series. It's fine, so long as someone is bearded and huge we all know who they're meant to be, there aren't really many huge, bearded men in Game of Thrones, except as background characters played by Northern Irish heavy metal fans. Either way, though, with Gregor Clegane as champion, it's understandable Jaime wouldn't be keen to take part in that cunning ruse, given Gregor's problems with self-control and cutting the heads off things he really shouldn't.

Tyrion's search for a champion continues, with his second choice being Bronn. But Bronn has no desire to fight Gregor either, especially as Cersei has rather kindly set him up with a minor but be-castled noble. I'm assuming there are eleven other suitors and some kind of audience vote, that just seems like the kind of thing both Cersei and Bronn would go for. If I'm being honest, it wouldn't surprise me if this is the last we see of Bronn: There was an air of finality to this scene, the ending of his relationship, both working and affectionate, with Tyrion, especially as Bronn now has everything he wants, and it would be odd if we saw him again after that.

Quite possibly our last Tyrion-Bronn scene?

Tyrion's out of potential champions, the list having apparently consisted of his one-handed brother and his mercenary mate, which just seems like poor planning to me. As he's stewing in his dungeon cell, Oberyn Martell visits him, and by torchlight they discuss their first meeting. Tyrion was just a baby at the time, and Oberyn describes how everyone talked about him as a monster, but when Cersei showed him to Oberyn, he was just a regular baby. Oberyn goes on to talk about how child!Cersei had said that Tyrion had killed her mother, and that she hoped he died soon.

It's a brilliantly acted scene, I'll say that. Pedro Pascal is measured and calm, charismatic enough to drag your attention towards him, and fills the speech with understated emotion and gravitas, and it's only helped by Dinklage's pained, bitter expressions as Tyrion. He genuinely looks like he's about to burst into tears.

As the monologue ends, Oberyn remarks that everyone he needs to gain justice for his sister is here, and that he'll be starting with Gregor Clegane – and volunteers to be Tyrion's champion, thus setting us up for the fight mentioned in the next episode's title: The Mountain and the Viper.

Much of the other viewpoint scenes are just short, single scenes, or sometimes sets of two scenes.

We see Jon return to Castle Black, where Lord Commander McObviously-Evil commands that he cage Ghost, and then proceeds to shoot down his suggestion to block the castle's obvious weak point in preparation for the siege, thus proving himself to be not only obviously evil but also obviously not very good at his job.

In Essos, we see Daario appeal to Daenerys to let him be her personal assassin, and she has the slightly odd but really not entirely unexpected response of 'or we could have sex' and commands him to strip for her.

Is someone playing Barry White music?

The morning after, Daario encounters Jorah, now wearing a fedora and a t-shirt saying 'NICE GUYS FINISH LAST', who then gives Daenerys yet another lecture on not murdering slave-owners, and pointing out that he was once a slaver, which probably explains why Jorah is the most popular Game of Thrones character in the states of Texas and Arizona. He does manage to sway Daenerys, though, and she has the unnervingly pretty man from last episode sent with Daario as her ambassador instead.

Melisandre has a discussion with Stannis' wife, in which she mentions that she often uses powders and poitions to trick people, using them to create illusory effects to guide people towards conversion. It isn't long until the true reason for their discussion emerges: Stannis wants his adorable scaly daughter to travel with them when they leave Dragonstone. His wife, chagrined at their daughter's refusal to worship the Lord of Light, disagrees. Melisandre dismisses her concerns and tells her to look into the fire, where she will see the truth of why they need their daughter to come along – as ever, we don't see what happens in the fire, but Stannis' wife looks pretty perturbed by it.

Or maybe her eyes are just hurting. Flames are bright, man.

Arya and Sandor – who I'd usually refer to just as Clegane, but since there's a multitude of Cleganes in this episode, I'm stuck being incredibly informal and referring to the lad by his first name – meanwhile, kill some people. Some are willing, others aren't, but the two are becoming great murderbros, with Sandor asking a man for his name so that Arya can comfortably stab him.

I usually complain about Arya and Sandor's scenes not really moving the plot along, and I'm not going to make that complaint here. Their second scene doesn't really do anything, but their first scene demonstrates something very important about Arya: She's not just becoming a killer, she's becoming somebody who worships death, not unlike Jaqen did, and anybody who saw the end of Series 3 can probably see that that's going to be important later.

Speaking of Arya, Brienne and Pod are meeting an old friend of hers, who not knowing his name I shall refer to as Chatty Wolf Bread Boy.

Quick, ask me why.

Chatty Wolf Bread Boy chats at them for a while, and suspiciously denies knowing anything about the Starks – but does eventually come around, finding them in the morning and telling them that he's never met Sansa, but Arya was in the hands of the Brotherhood, who intended to sell her for a ransom. He doesn't know, obviously, that Arya is no longer in their clutches, but it sets Brienne and Pod on the right path anyway, towards Lysa Tully and the Vale.

What does Pod even look like? We just ... I can't remember ... everything is ... faint ...

Which brings me neatly to the last viewpoint, and probably the meatiest of the episode, as it's in this viewpoint that we encounter this episode's one major story event. Sansa is at the Eyrie, enjoying ('enjoying') the hospitality of her psychotic aunt, psychotic uncle, and equally psychotic cousin/potential future husband, the last of which has an inordinate fondness for throwing people off cliffs. Seriously, it's like his favourite thing, and as he comes upon Sansa building a snow model of Winterfell, he seems shocked and alarmed that they have no portals leading out onto sheer drops through which to fling people.

He's quick to destroy her model, she slaps him, and he runs away crying and screaming (what the hell, kid, you're like fourteen. Which is odd, because in the first series you were about five, are you and Tommen related?), much to the approval of a watching Littlefinger. Sansa apparently wasn't fooled by his earlier explanation of why he killed Joffrey, and asks him for the real reason – as we all knew, Littlefinger loved Catelyn, and he tells Sansa as much, asking her what they do with those who hurt the ones they love?

Sansa's smile is positively diabolical in this scene. It's as if she's just realised that not only is she smarter than one of the most dangerous players in the game, she also has an emotional hold over him, and she can see a way to use that to her advantage. Sansa is rapidly becoming one of the game's best players. 

Sansa Stark, plotting the murder of everyone who annoys her.

The scene quickly turns creepy, though, as Littlefinger kisses Sansa. She pushes him away, much to, I think, everyone's relief, because Littlefinger is quite old and Sansa is a teenage girl, and even knowing that Littlefinger is one of the creepiest and most evil people in Westeros, this is a whole new low for him.

Lysa saw, however, and in the next scene she's quick to go from calm to screaming, holding Sansa over the Moon Door and threatening to throw her out, ranting about how everyone stood in the way of hers and Littlefinger's Great True Love. She's stopped by Littlefinger, who in a display of uncharacteristic steeliness for one so generally slimy, demands that she let Sansa go, saying that he'll send her away.

As soon as Lysa does and Sansa is a safe distance away from the massive hole in the floor, Littlefinger is all slime and charm again, rushing forward to embrace his wife. I think this is the moment when everybody, whether they'd read the books or not, realised what was about to happen, but if it wasn't, then when he eased her into a standing position, horrible realisation probably set in. There may have been flashbacks to his discussion with Sansa. Mostly, there was probably the horrible awareness that there's a gaping hole right there.

Don't play coy with me, Baelish.

It's one of the best lines in the show, though, and definitely the best line in the episode. As Littlefinger murmurs to Lysa that the one woman he ever loved was her sister, you can just see Lysa's heart break and, then, a second later, she catches up with what the audience has already realised is about to happen.

So now Lysa's gone, which is a pretty major thing. It means that Sansa and Littlefinger now control the Vale, because heaven knows Robin isn't up for the task. So Sansa and Littlefinger now have the only intact army in Westeros, and an impenetrable fortress from which to operate out of.

Good going, guys.

You're still creepy, Littlefinger.



Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Amazing Spiderman.


The Amazing Spiderman.


Through science, I managed to wipe my memory of the Tobey Maguire Spiderman films. It's useful, frees up space for other things, but it does mean that whenever I mention Spiderman 3 to someone, and that haunted, horrified look passes over their face like they're remembering the time their uncle got shot, I feel compelled to grab them and hiss 'Who are you?! What did you see?!' at them.

*strangled sobbing noises*

I didn't see the Andrew Garfield film until – well, yesterday, actually. It's not that I was deliberately avoiding it, it's just that, like so many things, I had never found myself well-positioned to actually watch it. But I said a while ago that I'd review it, and its glorious sequel The Amazing Spiderman II has just been released, so this is a fine time for me to sit down, watch it, and review it.

My first thoughts?

My god, it's been a while since I've seen so many cliches stuffed into one film. I think the last time was when I watched Never Back Down, which was pretty much just every cliche the writers could think of strung together into a narrative.

Mysterious missing parents whose fate is somehow tied to the hero's superhero origin? Check. Awkward, bullied teenager is assisted by eventual love interest who for some reason fails to appear in sufficient time to stop aesthetically pleasing bruising? Check. Wacky side-effects of powers scene? Check. Montage in which powers are mastered? Check. Scene in which hero gets one over on the boy who bullied him? Check. Scientist tests his serum on himself, leading to disastrous effects? Check. New Yorkers band together to help out the hero? Check. Hero must reject his love interest to keep her safe? Check, but pleasantly subverted towards the end.

Is that a bad thing? Well, no, not really. Okay, this film is not going to surprise you, not at any point, not ever. You will see every story beat coming a mile off, because you've seen them a dozen times before. It is a film that if I were being nice would say 'borrows from a long cinematic tradition' and if I was being less nice would say 'is formulaic.' All that having been said, though, it's competently made. I have seen films that were more original and at the same time much, much worse – more than I can count. This is not a film that stretches any boundaries, to be sure, but it's well-made, and there's something worth celebrating about a film that might not be high art, but is a very well-executed demonstration of the form.

This, incidentally, was a problem with the Tobey Maguire films. They also didn't stretch any boundaries (in fact, they used almost the exact same cliches, so it came as no surprise to me to learn that they shared a writer with this film), but they weren't competently built enough to balance it out – some of their flaws were the result of circumstance, like the hamfisted patriotism shoved in to appeal to an increasingly insecure post-9/11 audience, but most were just compositional flaws like poor casting, lacklustre and often inconsistent and nonsensical writing, uninspiring cinematography, and painfully obvious executive meddling.

Obligatory Stan Lee cameo picture.

Let's talk about casting, for a moment, because there's a lot to talk about there.

Tobey Maguire never felt like Spiderman, he felt like a caricature of Spiderman, often a very cardboardy one. He kind of bounced from character moment to character moment in an almost turgidly bland way, and this was not helped by having a frankly uninspiring supporting cast of That Guy Who Would Later Star In The Weird Men's Rights Activist Wizard of Oz Film And Who I Remember Literally Nothing Else About and Kirsten Dunst, for whom I don't have any good jokes about right now because it's genuinely a struggle to remember anything about her.

This is not true of Andrew Garfield. He makes an excellent Spiderman – he captures the essence of Peter Parker in every way: How he speaks, how he moves in and out of suit, in his expressions. Some of the credit for this should also go to the scriptwriters, who wrote in Peter Parker's wit, his wisecracking, which is a large part of the character and which the Tobey Maguire films often forgot.

Garfield is also assisted by a very good supporting cast. There's no Harry Osborn in sight, although I gather he's in the second film, but Emma Stone makes an excellent Gwen Stacy, being sharp and witty and thoroughly interesting to watch. I enjoyed every single scene she was in, and my heart skipped a beat when Peter threw her out a window and caught her with some webbing because, um. Er. That's – less said about scenarios involving falling and webbing lines the better.

Quick, a distraction!

She's not the only one, either. Denis Leary plays the role of her gruff father perfectly, Chris Zylka makes a perfectly adequate Flash who I hope to see more of, and Rhys Ifans … is Rhys Ifans. Rhys Ifans is always excellent, and he does very well at being both 'benevolent scientist' and 'angry lizard creature' here, although his accent is – um. I didn't actually realise he was trying to put on an American accent until several scenes in, let's put it that way.

'Am I from Wales or Florida? You'll never know, Mister Parker.'
- Doctor Curtis Connors.

I always feel a little guilty saying that a film is 'solid' or 'competently made', because it feels like a back-handed compliment, a way of saying 'there is nothing special here, but it was enjoyable.' The Amazing Spiderman is solid, though, and competently made, and that's special in and of itself, because making a good film is really hard – harder than we often give film produers credit for. People have been given easier material to adapt and failed miserably at making even a passable film before, cough 2013 Romeo and Juliet, cough The Lorax, cough cough The Dark Knight Rises cough. It's a fun film with a lot of genuinely touching moments, and I think that's all you can ask for from a Spiderman film. He's a fun character, after all, that's his point, and it's a large part of why he's such an enduring figure in pop culture. It's a large part of why it's such a shame he's not going to be joining the Avengers, they could use someone else who's good fun.

I'm still bewildered as to why there's no good Spiderman video games, though. I played Spiderman: Edge of Time, it was – it was not good, guys.

How does that even happen?