Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Wire, Season 5 (2008)

Frustration mounts in the Baltimore police department as budgetary constraints force investigations to be closed for lack of resources to pursue them, and severs the flow of overtime that most cops rely on to get by.  Reporters at the Baltimore Sun are also feeling the financial pinch, with enforced layoffs and cuts to departments.  Resentment mounts everywhere, and it is surely only a matter of time until people in both organisations start to step outside the rules ...

The final season of The Wire is widely considered the show's weakest, and I can see why.  It's a couple of episodes shorter than those before it, and it has the largest cast of characters to date - including several new faces from the newspaper.  Things get stretched a bit thin at times, and some of the story arcs intersect in only very minor ways.

That said, even at its nominal worst, this remains one of the best shows on TV.  Sharp writing, a great ensemble cast, sympathetic-but-flawed characters on all sides of the equation, and a continued rejection of easy answers.  Perhaps most impressively of all, it frequently puts characters you like on opposite sides of an argument and allows you to at least understand and empathise with both positions.

Heck, it even manages to land a solid ending.  How many long-running TV shows can say that?

Friday, 26 May 2017

Creep Creepersin's Frankenstein (2009)

Victor lives alone.  Well, alone except for his pet rat Frankenstein, and his occasional hallucinations of his mother, all of which appear to involve him being verbally abused.  Lonely, not too bright - he's unable to grasp that the women putting their phone numbers in magazines are actually adverts for phone sex operators - and barely socially functional, his life mostly consists of watching old public domain horror films, talking to Frankenstein, and eating a whole lot of scrambled eggs.

Eventually, however, Victor's viewing habits provide him with an idea for how he might ease his loneliness: he could literally make a friend, just like the good Dr Frankenstein did.  Because as we know, that went well.  The minor fact that Victor doesn't actually know anything about anatomy surely won't be any hindrance ...

The general tone of Creep Creepersin's film oeuvre was eloquently summed by by 1000 Misspent Hours as "cheap gore and off-duty strippers", but this - his first film - is actually pretty tame on the sex and violence stuff, and seems to be making a genuine effort to explore themes of loneliness and disassociation.  In this regard I think its ambition significantly outreaches its creator's actual capabilities, which may be why his later efforts have focused on schlock.

I can't really recommend Creep Creepersin's Frankenstein overall - I don't think I could recommend any film that runs less than an hour and still feels too long, as this one does - but there are a handful of moments in the picture where you can see the glint of something interesting.  It's a shame they're buried in so many long stretches of nothing much.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Weeds, Season 4 (2008)

There are people who'll tell you that you should quit Weeds after season three.  I can see where they are coming from.  The show shifts location, jettisons many well liked characters in favour of new ones, and embarks on a pretty thorough Flanderization of some of those who do remain (Doug especially, but also Celia and - the few times he turns up - Dean).  The combination is bound to put a few people off.

On the whole, however, I feel comfortable with giving this season a qualified recommendation.  The show's still blackly funny - and most definitely not afraid to make you uncomfortable as you're laughing.  I like the new setting, and I think the show was right to shake up its location since the whole "soccer mom deal pot" angle was looking pretty played out by the end of season three.  This season pushes Nancy into a new and frankly much more dangerous world as she gets tangled up with a cross-border drug and people smuggling ring.  These new associates are into heavy stuff that makes pot-dealing look like a kids' game, and they're commensurately ruthless and violent.

Now Nancy's never been the most cautious or careful of people, and she's figuratively and literally in bed with these people before she really comes to understand what kind of operation they have.  When she finally twigs to it, she's caught between her abhorrence of what they do and her need to stay alive.  Which, of course, leads to more of her usual seat of the pants improvisations and escapades.

Weeds is a changed show in season four, and not always for the better, but there's still a lot to like, in my opinion.  And keep an eye out for Cesar if you do watch it: he's a relatively minor new regular, but he's an intriguing character, very well performed.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

Mrs Brisby is a small mouse with a big problem.  In a few days, her home will be destroyed by the farmer's plough.  Normally she would just move her family until the danger has passed, but her youngest son is in bed with pneumonia and cannot be moved.  Her only hope for help is the mysterious clan of rats that live in the farmer's rosebush ...

As I've mentioned before, I'm not intrinsically opposed to movies making changes from the books on which they are based.  Unfortunately for The Secret of NIMH, all three of its big changes misfire.

The first change is one that in principle is a sound idea.  The novel that inspired the film pretty much entirely lacks an antagonist.  There are threats, for sure.  The farmer's plough, his vicious cat Dragon, and even the mysterious organisation known as NIMH are all out there, but they're environmental dangers, not a scheming adversary.  The film introduces one in the shape of Jenner, a malevolent member of the rats who schemes to murder the current leader and take over the rosebush.  Having an active villain is a solid concept, but Jenner's introduced too late and given too little to do to actually be an effective one.

The second change is again a sensible enough idea gone wrong.  Horribly wrong, frankly, since the idea is "let's have a comic relief character, since the original story is a pretty sombre one", and the execution is "let's have Dom DeLuise do his tiresome well-meaning buffoon schtick all over the place".  Ugh.

The third change, though.  Oh lordie, the third change.  That's the kicker, because it's simply a terrible idea to begin with.  The film invents a magic amulet that provides a supernatural solution to Mrs Brisby's problem, rendering much of what has gone before completely pointless.  It's a terrible, tonally discordant ending to the film.  So disappointing.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Marvel's Agent Carter, Season 2 (2016)

Peggy Carter's second adventure takes her to Los Angeles, where former sort of love interest Daniel Sousa now runs the west coast division of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (which is rather like the FBI, but focused on the kind of weird cases that tend to crop up in the Marvel Universe).  The reason for Peggy's journey is the body of a young woman, which has turned up in a lake that is somehow frozen, despite it being the hottest day of the year.

The case quickly escalates beyond the matter of a single - albeit odd - murder, however.  It's not long before more frozen bodies are hitting the floor and words like "atomic weapons test" are becoming relevant to proceedings.  Naturally Peggy and Daniel are in the thick of the action, reuniting their old partnership, but there are a couple of new LA faces thrown into the mix, including the handsome and charming Dr Jason Wilkes, to complicate any extension of that partnership beyond the professional.

There's plenty to like about this season of Agent Carter: the cast is excellent (both good guys and bad), the costumes cool, and there's plenty of great banter.  On the other hand, it's got a few wobbly bits.  The pacing is one issue: the middle few episodes feel a bit padded, and then the ending a bit rushed.  The other major misstep, at least for my personal tastes, came in the way they developed Daniel Sousa's character arc.  Suffice it to say that after episode 5, I lost any respect for him.  Which is a shame, since I liked him a lot back in season one.

Also be aware: they set up some stuff for season three at the end of this series, and the third season will never happen.  So if you hate dangling plot threads that'll never be resolved, then I am afraid that's going to irk you here.

Friday, 12 May 2017

The Day the World Ended (2001)

Dr Jennifer Stillman is quite excited about her new job as the school therapist in a small town, but she quickly finds that the locals aren't very welcoming to strangers.  Though what can you expect of a place that elects the Mayor from Buffy to be sheriff?

In any case, as cool as the townsfolk are toward her, Dr Stillman can't help but notice that they're flat out hostile toward local boy Ben McCann.  He's picked on at school - and then blamed by the school nurse for the altercation - and seems to be constantly being told to sit down, shut up and not look at anyone.

Naturally, the Doc wants to help young Ben, but it does have to be said that there's something a little odd about the situation.  Nobody wants to talk about his mother at all, and then there's the fact that the boy seems to believe his father was a from another planet.  It'd be enough to make you think about moving back to the city even before the murders start ...

This is one of five cable TV films in the 'Creature Features' series.  The gimmick of the films was that they used the names of cheap 1950s Science Fiction movies, and then crafted new scenarios of their own to match the title.  Or, as I suspect happened in this case: dug up old scripts and slapped on whatever title was least inappropriate.

The Day the World Ended is not by any means a terrible film.  The kid playing Ben is surprisingly good and the creature effects are solid enough given it was made for the small screen over fifteen years ago, but it's also not a very memorable one and Nastassja Kinski is not really up to the task of being a leading lady.  Frankly, there are plenty of other, better movies in this niche, so I can't recommend it.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Burn Notice, Season 4 (2010)

Last season was a 'one step forward, two steps back' kind of deal for Michael Westen, which resulted in him being pushed into partnership he didn't want.  Troublesome team-ups are actually rather a thing for the season, as Westen's team grows by one new member: another burned spy whose presence may well complicate Michael's already tempestuous relationship with "ex" girlfriend Fiona.

Of course, in addition to all this Westen has to maintain not only his ongoing efforts to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the CIA, but also come to the aid of the various friends of friends who find themselves in need of his unique skillset.  Whether it's a woman taken for all she's got by a con man, or a doctor whose clinic is being targeted by drug dealers, it seems Miami is never short of folk who need Michael's help.

The formula of having both a 'villain of the week' as well as ongoing, season long arcs gives Burn Notice plenty of opportunities to have guest stars, and the show has certainly never been shy on that front, with plenty of genre-TV alumni like Tricia Helfer and Lucy Lawless turning up for episodes.  Season four ups the guest star game still further with Burt Reynolds making an appearance as a retired spy, former T-1000 Robert Patrick showing up a few times, plus appearances from Richard Kind (though admittedly that guy is in a lot of stuff).  There are also a couple of alumni from The Wire here, which I didn't know back when this show was first airing.

Burn Notice continues to work its formula well in season four.  If you've enjoyed it to this point, you should continue to have fun here.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Scooby Doo! and WWE: Curse of the Speed Demon (2016)

Evidently Scooby Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery did well enough that a follow up was justified.  Which I am pleased to see, because that was a fun film.

This is also a fun film, mind you, though like a lot of sequels it tends to retread a lot of the same basic material as the original, but writ a little larger.  So instead of a major wrestling show, we now have a three day 'extreme off road race' with personalised vehicles for the WWE superstars participating.  The whiff of Wacky Races is more than a little obvious.

The film's premise is that WWE is holding this extravagant race for a million dollar prize, and various of their personnel are taking part.  The cast is rather an eclectic bunch.  Major figures like the Undertaker or Triple H having prominent roles is no surprise, but the prominence afforded to Los Matadores certainly seems to indicate that WWE expected the tag team to catch on with their audience (spoiler: they did not).

In any case, Shaggy, Scooby and the rest of the mystery-solving gang are present at the event, and wouldn't you know it?  An apparently supernatural menace appears to threaten the race.  This is Inferno, who it must be said has by far the coolest ride in the film.

Though I do also have a soft spot for Rusev's locomotive-themed car

Naturally enough, WWE Chairman soon puts "those meddling kids" on the case, and hijinks ensue.

While lacking some of the freshness and charm of the first Scooby/WWE crossover, this is a harmless bit of goofy entertainment for the younger set.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The L Word, Season 6 (2009)

It would be hyperbolic to say that the only two reasons to watch season six of The L Word both happen in the pre-credits teaser of the first episode.  But only just.

Explaining why is going to require pretty major spoilers, so if you don't want to read 'em, you should leave now.

Okay, so the first of the two reasons I mentioned above - and a good example of how weak  this season is overall - is that Lucy Lawless has a guest spot.  She plays Detective Sergeant Marybeth Duffy, who is introduced to the show as a result of the second reason: someone has killed Jenny Schecter.

Now if you haven't actually watched The L Word, you're not likely to understand why Jenny's murder would matter so much to long time viewers.  So just trust me when I say that the fandom hated her with a white hot fury, and that the sentiment was pretty thoroughly justified.  Schecter - especially since season three - is a narcissistic, self-centred prima donna who never once gets called for any of the frankly terrible things she does to her supposed 'friends'.

Now you might be wondering how a season that starts with the death of such a character can go so very wrong, and the answer is simple enough, and also comes in two parts.  Firstly, because after this intriguing opening, the writers jump back several months and then put us through eight episodes of hair-pulling frustration as Schecter's behaviour becomes more and more ridiculously heinous, to the point where it is completely unfathomable than anyone still voluntarily associates with her.

And secondly, because having set up the entire season as a murder mystery, the show refuses utterly to discuss who did it.  Everyone has a motive, due to Jenny's abhorrent behaviour, and the last episode ends where the first began, right after Detective Duffy arrives at the crime scene.  So basically, a complete cop-out on actually providing an ending, challenging even The Sopranos in lacking closure.