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Black Mirror: San Junipero (2016)
My favourite one yet, and the standard is stupidly high
This is as close as Black Mirror gets to feelgood. It's touching, creepy, surreal. The eighties schtick has been done to death over the past few years, but this episode nails it. I can't think of anything else that deals with nostalgia, desperation and the nature of reality as well as this. I don't want to spoil the story for those who haven't seen it. Just watch it. Utterly, utterly incredible.
Battlestar Galactica (2004)
this is pretty good, actually
This is how I like my sci-fi - dark, a bit twisted, with real humans instead of idealised 2D hero types. Star Trek, for all its noble intentions, does not have the same handle on human nature as this does. These people argue, make mistakes, commit acts of treachery and cowardice, but also have the capacity for astounding acts of heroism. BG showcases the admirable and despicable aspects of the human condition, without committing to either, and it is this honest approach that gives it its edge. It's not perfect - the constant use of the synthetic profanity "frak" only serves to highlight the hypocrisy of an industry that thinks nothing of showing people committing murder and treachery on the largest possible scale, but quails and splutters with moral indignation about cuss-words. Some of the stories are wobbly - the season 2 sub-plot about scriptures and prophets was plodding, silly, and had no place in a supposedly serious sci-fi show. But the underlying drama, and the human and political relationships are what make this work. Some people have claimed that BG is drama, not "real" sci-fi, but such a lumbering attitude towards genre definitions misses the point. The best sci-fi examines the human condition within a few speculatively altered scientific parameters, and this includes social science as well as physics and technology. It's not always as deep as it'd like to be, but it registers far more hits than misses.
I was sick with disgust
The collective groan which went round the audience every time another hideously misplaced song started up told its own story. Musicals have never really been my thing; musicals where the protagonists scream at each other like underfed babies is a whole new level of hell. I went to see this toxic slurry on a Valentine's Day date. Fortunately, my girlfriend and I are now attending therapy, and with a bit of selective memory erasure, we will be able to put this terrible period behind us and move on. Eight Oscar nominations. Dear God. Doubtless, this movie will win loads of Oscars because it ticks every box: dull clichés masquerading as intense drama, saccharine-laden barfage purportedly illuminating the human condition, over-the-top melodrama and under-the-bottom-of-the-barrel script-writing. My hatred for this film is only matched by my utter contempt for the Academy that it should even consider this shallow piece of sewage-pond flotsam worthy of eight of its increasingly devalued gonks.
The Armando Iannucci Shows (2001)
diminishing returns, but still quality
It seems as though this series passed under the radar of just about everyone in the country when it was released five years ago. I loved this at the time - it was fantastically inventive and full of wonderfully surreal notions. I particularly liked the "Dead of Scotland" sketch where the Scottish dead have their own area of Heaven. The East End thug threatening the washing machine is great. But I just watched the DVD last night, which is the first time I've seen it in five years, and it doesn't seem quite as good anymore. Too many sketches seemed flat. "We're good at telly" and the drivel-talking barber quickly become annoying. Having said that, I am very picky when it comes to comedy and Armando Iannucci is one of the few people who can consistently raise the bar - the terrific "In the thick of it" is proof of this. Give this one a go. It's patchy, but it's streets ahead of most other stuff.
Only a Golgafrincham would like this
This film stinks. It has clearly been designed and executed by focus groups who either have no sense of humour or who have cynically removed or dumbed down all the clever bits to appeal to this fictitious "target audience". Why there are fans of the original work who claim to like this is utterly beyond me. If you've heard the radio series, read the books, and seen the TV series, what else is there in this abominable version that adds to the story? Nothing. Apologists for this steaming dung pile of a film are forever pointing out that Douglas Adams gave it his approval, (particularly the vomitous love story which was inserted at the end for no good reason whatsoever) as if that justifies it. Whether Adams approved it or not is irrelevant. If you think this film is good, then you should spend your life painting hexagonal wheels, destroying trees and having meetings in the bath.
Man Stroke Woman (2005)
This is just the latest in a long line of programmes that have started off life on BBC3 and then been promoted to BBC2. The idea is that non-digital viewers will be so entranced by what they see that they'll go out and upgrade to digital so that they can get all these wee gems as soon as they come out. It's a good tactic, undermined by a small flaw: most of the programmes are rubbish. This one is no exception. It's all over the place. No cohesion, no central binding attitude that stands it out: it's hard to avoid the feeling that every idea put forward during the initial production meeting was included in the final script, however risible it might have been. It's not as bad as Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps (which is actually so bad it has made the reverse jump back to BBC3), but only in the sense that Mussolini was not as bad as Hitler. If this is the standard fare, I'm going to stop watching television as soon as the analogue signal is switched off. Getting more crap for your licence fee is not a reason for upgrading.
PREQUEL REPUTATION: Aren't you a bit sh1t for a Star Wars film? ROTS: I'm Revenge of the Sith, I'm here to rescue you.
At least, that's what I'd hoped. And Lucas almost got away with it. There were good bits: Order 66 was relatively moving. Anakin's dismemberment and subsequent surgical upgrading was brutal and effective. And the transformation of Palpatine was one of the few moments in the prequels that felt like a bona fide Star Wars experience. There were frustrating bits also developments that started promisingly but never went anywhere: General Grievous; the political tension between the Chancellor and the proto-rebels; the attack on the Wookies' home world. Then there were the bad bits. Darth Plagueis the Wise? The utter down-scaling of Padme as a character. The dialogue: "I'm so in love with you. No - I'm so in love with YOU." There's just no forgiving that disgraceful writing. Particularly when you've watched the extras on the DVD and you realise that there are better and more important scenes which were cut to make way for this arse-dribble of a love story, which Lucas insisted on crowbar-ing into the plot. And I can't believe that none of the film's editing staff didn't take Lucas aside and tell him that Vader's final line was the worst idea since William Shatner decided to take up singing. You can see Ian McDairmid laughing in the background. How will history remember Star Wars? "Two out of six ain't bad"? The legacy is starting to curdle, George.
the genesis of Gilliam
There's been lots said about this film in relation to Python on IMDb already, so I won't bother making comparisons. Jabberwocky is a messy, but extremely entertaining film, full of sly satire and crass scatological slapstick. It's an extremely grotty movie - everything is squalid and grotesque. Even the King's palace is falling to bits, and all the characters are either stupid, violent, or both. The film spends a long time farting about, exploring various daft notions and barely-related events, before getting down to its titular business in the last 20 minutes or so. But there are some sublime jokes in there and it's an interesting Gilliam "period piece". You can see the twinkle that later grew into the likes of Time Bandits, Brazil, Baron Munchausen etc.
Watch out for Terry Jones doing a ludicrous cameo as a poacher, pulling some of the most ridiculous faces ever seen on screen.
Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)
Am I the only person who finds this hilarious?
Nosferatu the Vampyre is an extremely strange movie experience. It's weirdly haunting and hysterically funny at the same time. I get exactly the same vibe from every Dario Argento film I have seen, so maybe it's a feature common to European horror films. I just cannot take the vampire seriously. I daresay if I met him in real life I would soil my underpants but onscreen he is just a feeble old man and not remotely scary. The halting delivery of dialogue in the English Language version, and the tuneless violin playing by the strange boy in the castle (a scene missing from the English Language version) also give the impression that this is a shabby, shabby film. Having said that though, I find it very enjoyable. It does veer wildly from hamfest to surreal dreaminess, and it shouldn't work, but it somehow gets away with it. Worth watching, if only out of curiosity.
The Village (2004)
Atmospheric but hollow
I am still in two minds about this film. On the one hand, the atmosphere created was fantastic - off-screen rustlings and growlings combined with unnerving violin music and some fine cinematography created some wonderfully suspenseful moments. And some of the performances were spot on - Bryce Dallas Howard was flawless, Joaquin Phoenix was nicely understated almost to the point of simplicity at times and it was nice to see William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver again, after what feels like ages. But the story? What a pile of s***. I felt really cheated by the ending. The plot was contrived and unconvincing, and to all whose who praised its genius - go back and see. Subsequent viewings will reveal just how ramshackle the story actually is. Someone should tell M. Night Shyamalan that he doesn't have to include an audience-confounding plot twist in every film he makes - he's got more than enough talent to make perfectly good movies without resorting to such manufactured mindf***s.