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Life in Squares (2015)
Bloomsbury Set in aspic...
I TRIED (I really did) with the first episode of LIFE IN SQUARES but after twenty minutes my brain started to dig a tunnel through my spine and tried to escape the UTTER TEDIUM of this smug little series. Worse, the episode moved with all the speed and urgency of a glacier, unlike my brain digging the escape tunnel.
It was like being trapped in a room with a gang of self-regarding teenage Hipsters and Emos all moving in slow motion because of clinical depression.
Frankly (and this is rare) I gave up after that twenty minutes and I won't be returning.
Were the Bloomsbury Set a significant collection of artistic types who paved the way for the freedoms we enjoy today or a bunch of tedious and ultimately irrelevant posers only of interest to similar posers who write long serials for the BBC? Discuss.
Thunderbirds Are Go (2015)
Thunderbirds are a dud...
THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO, what a disappointment. While I liked the up- dates on the machines and an active role for Kayo, the character CGI was absolutely appalling. Their decision to deliberately make the characters skin look plasticky is ridiculous and the movement is primitive beyond belief. The NEW CAPTAIN SCARLET reboot was miles better and that was using 2005 technology.
The next problem was stuffing so many missions into the hour, presumably on the assumption that kids today suffer from attention deficit disorder. Thus no tension whatsoever was generated in any of the missions whereas the original concentrated on one disaster at a time and twisted the tension almost to screaming point.
Finally, the disappearance of Jeff Tracy. I thought at first they were suggesting he had died (a nod to reality and the passing of time) but it soon became clear that The Hood had caused him to disappear. So any chance that the Tracy boys WON'T find him at some point? Not exactly holding my breath on that plot twist.
This is a sad new wrinkle because the original showed that a father could run a family with grace and wisdom. Now his absence seems a nod to so many of the young viewers being from broken families with absent fathers. In my opinion, a step too far in entirely the wrong direction.
It says something that the best moments of the entire hour were the repeats of the original Jeff Tracy voice saying "5, 4, 3, 2, 1"
After the razzmatazz of the launch it seems ITV is burying future episodes at 8am on Saturday mornings. Maybe it will give the grownups an hour of peace on a Saturday morning which is about the best you can say for this spectacular misfire.
Pas de baisers pour Besson.....
WARNING: DON'T read this review if you have not seen Luc Besson's LUCY and still want to without preconceptions.
I saw LUCY, directed by Luc Besson, last night. I saw it so now you don't need to. It's not just that it's a bad film, it's that if you've seen the trailer, you've pretty much seen the film. On top of that Besson wants to have his auteur cake and mange it.
He sticks in vaguely appropriate stock footage when hammering home some point or other as though we can't understand his great artistic vision and winds up making a high-budget philosophy/film studies student graduation film.
At the other extreme he is so in thrall to lazy American action tropes ie huge gun fights and gigantically destructive car chases it comes across like a chic Parisien trying to pass himself off as an American in Paris. "Ca va, baby? Je suis "Hank" Besson".
These Yank tropes fill in all the bits between the French philosophising and are polyfilla in place of a solid plot. When in doubt have lots of bullets flying around.
Honestly, you could tell the whole story in 15 minutes but Besson spends the first 15 minutes just setting up the delivery of a briefcase!
As for Morgan Freeman, he's just there to be the "voice of god as infodump" again and has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of the plot. He just looks on in awe as Scarlett Johansson becomes God, basically. Presumably, while he spent weeks looking at a ping pong ball on a stick, he was actually thinking about lunch in the same way that Johansson thinks showing intelligence lies in not looking people in the face.
Most seriously, he delivers the "people use only 10% of their brain" premise as though it's a real thing while playing the world's expert on evolution. No, that's a myth. We use all our brains all the time. I suspect using 100% might be having an epileptic fit but, however it is, the 10% brain trope is appallingly bad science. If you imagine Freeman as a Creationist seriously arguing the world is 6000 years old as cutting-edge science you'd get a whiff of how bad this pseudoscience is.
All I can say in its favour is that Johannsson is mesmerising, as always, and she does at least take it seriously. It looks good on the SFX side and is tres chic, as you'd expect from Besson.
But, dear God, Besson, get a real writer in. Your self-penned juvenile comic book story sensibility just isn't cutting it in a world that has people like Chris Nolan who did your finale in INTERSTELLAR and did it better. Actually so did Stanley Kubrick, in 2001.
At last, emerging from the Whitechapel fog...
Finally, the very hazy third series clicks into focus and we get a great episode. It turns out to be largely a bottle episode and is all the best for it, as it highlights the strengths of the main characters in a battle of wits with the brilliantly insane Laura Haddock (Lady Vera Montacute) and her psychopathic husband Charles Edwards (Lord Montacute) The latter pair seemed to force the regular cast to fight their acting corners as the guest stars skillfully let their characters' mask of upper class entitlement slip by degrees to reveal the decadence and self-loathing beneath. Meanwhile Reid, Drake and Jackson got chances to show their skills as detectives rather than walking relationship disasters. The "return" of the brutal Drake of the first two series was particularly clever. Even less featured characters like Sgt Atherton (David Wilmot) and PC Grace (Josh O'Connor) and Daniel Kendrick as the slimy Tom Denton had great character moments proving that RIPPER STREET is best as an ensemble piece based on its founding principles of a Victorian police procedural. Lately it seems to have tried to cram too many characters into its expanded running time and has become flabby and self-indulgent. Even, dare I say it, maudlin and over-sentimental. In other words, you don't need to hold our attention with train crashes every week. Now, can we have a return to the wonderfully florid faux-Victorian dialogue of the first two series? What we have now is more Victorian-lite but Hollywood- friendly Dick Van Dyke stuff.
Doctor Who: Time Heist (2014)
"Time Heist" as in I'll never get that 45 minutes back.
Another duff episode from Steve Thompson who penned the two worst episodes in modern WHO i.e. "Curse of the Black Spot" and "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS". This time his mentor stepped in to add some quality in an (I assume) rewritten-by-Moffat offering but there was nothing new or exciting here, It was WHO designed by committee, bland, unexciting and already recycling modern WHO tropes. The last two of their species? That's in HIDE Season 7, Episode 10. Richest woman in the Universe? Zoe Wanamaker as Cassandra in Season 2, Episode 1 "New Earth". The rest of it was a dull retread of OCEAN'S 11. The director, Douglas Mackinnon, tried his best to hide the paucity and inertia of the material with lots of 60s wipes and jumps from the great caper movies of that period but it was mostly tired talking heads explaining the simple plot over and over again with no great sense of urgency or peril. Truly, you can't polish an info-dump.
Sherlock: The Sign of Three (2014)
Drunk on success?
Beware, Sherlock fans, if you didn't see last night's episode. Spoilers be here!
"SHERLOCK: The Sign of Three" then. What a train wreck. It ill behooves a series, written by two of the cleverest writers in the UK about two of the cleverest brothers ever plus their medical chum, to make schoolboy errors in plotting and pacing. (We know Mark Gatiss IS Mycroft so Steven Moffat must be Sherlock. Does that make Steve Thompson Watson?) Allow me to do a sort of reverse-Watson deconstruction of last night.
I doubt if even Nigel Bruce's bufferish Watson would have been as baffled for as long as Sherlock was but the problems started with Lestrade's subplot. First of all, Chekhov's famous dictum about a gun in act one. If you show brilliant gang getting away with it at the beginning, justice must come at the END. Just hinting that Lestrade's trap had finally worked as he runs to be with Sherlock is weak and confused. Then the leaving itself. Lestrade is a driven copper, a real one in the story. He would never leave the "collar" in his assistant's hands for so little reason. It was a cute gag but the gag was seen coming a mile off, like a weak American sit-com sting.
Then there was the interminable drunk section. First of all, why only two of them? They have enough male friends, especially from John's side, to go on a Stag. Why no Lestrade especially after last week's unexpected big hug? I appreciate we now have two big film stars headlining a series, their fame having grown since the series started. The drunk acting was, consequently, brilliant. A master-class. Very funny. Too LONG. Too self-indulgent. Gattis and Moffat. Kill your babies. This was flabby.
It also padded out a childishly simple plot. Oh my. Who might be the target in a room of wedding guests? If it isn't Holmes and Watson, might it be the battle-scarred soldier with his campaign ribbons whom no-one expected to show up but who gets "more death-threats than even you, Holmes?" Given part of the plot was the almost murder of ANOTHER soldier? Could it possibly be him? Given that, the drunk scene looks like smoke and mirrors to pad the mystery out by clouding Sherlock's intellect.
Finally, the humanisation of Holmes. Don't go there! The love was so palpable at the end I expected the Famous Four (Holmes, Mr. and Mrs Watson and the Watson baby (aaawwwwww) to laugh off the previous days of terror and freeze-frame like POLICE SQUAD.
There was hardly enough plot here for sixty minutes let alone ninety and now we really must address the Elephant in the Room. (See what I did there?)
Benedict Cumberbatch's old sparring partner, Jonny Lee Miller, is playing Sherlock in the American series ELEMENTARY. In that series, what Sherlock is and does has consequences. His Lestrade has suffered for his alliance with a high-functioning sociopath. Another supporting character was shot saving Sherlock and still can't forgive him as his hand is paralysed. His Watson is pulling away from him, growing both as a woman and as a detective.
My point is, Gatiss and Moffat, is that you are acting like Mycroft and Sherlock. You love the puzzles but your grasp of human motivation seems tenuous at best. You go for the easy laugh and expect your talented stars to hold the screen while you work out what to do next. Your brilliant creation is in danger of becoming a Fabergé Egg, scintillating on the surface but empty inside. Time to put Sherlock back into that cold and frightening space that is his and his alone. The operative word is "alone". Time to get serious about your writing.
PS: Yes, I'm aware that the third writer was Steve Thompson, responsible for two of the worst DOCTOR WHO episodes of the modern era but this series has your names above his. You are responsible. Fix it.
A sesquipedalian cornucopia.
Not since the golden era of THE GOOD OLD DAYS (a BBC variety show purporting to be set in a Victorian music hall) and the seemingly endless and convoluted vocabulary of its master of ceremonies, Leonard Sachs, has there been such a shameless wallowing in the obscure and fascinating sub-pathways of Victorian slang, in this case gay and sexual.
At times I was sure the writer was sitting with a dictionary opened to the most obscure and forgotten of terms for homosexuals and various sexual practices, striking out any that were still in common usage. Thus I heard "manticore" again and "mary-anne" and "rantipole" which shows just how impoverished our vocabulary has become recently. Why, there was even "gamahuching", a term I haven't heard since delving into a reprint of "The Pearl, A Magazine of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading" published in 1879 which I was perusing purely for research purposes (of course).
Actually it's extremely difficult not to slip into this style of writing after an episode of RIPPER STREET. The love of language goes hand in hand with a subversive political anger that powers every episode. All the characters have a curlicued style of speaking that comes straight from Victorian novels. Why, even a lowly GPO telegraph boy accessed a deep well of sexual slang in order to get arrested that made me think he had at some time been one of the panthers Oscar Wilde had feasted with and who had gained more from the encounter than a mere half-a-crown.
What distinguished this episode however was not just the immense erudition of the slang or the sensitive exploration of the Victorian gay underworld. It was the clever unfolding of a plot that exactly mirrors our current relationship with our broken and crooked financial institutions. People were ruined and many were murdered to keep a bank from crashing and every trick in the book from blackmail to extreme violence was used to save the reputations of the monsters at the top of the social ladder.
However, for all its wonderful attention to detail (everyone looks dirty!) and its historical accuracy (some GPO telegraph boys WERE notorious as rent boys on the side) there is a telling moment that tells you that RIPPER STREET is, in the final analysis, fiction.
In the end, the banker is punished.
That tips RIPPER STREET over from fiction to fantasy.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Asset (2013)
The Man From S.H.I.E.L.D?
Fans of MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. won't be disappointed with this week's third episode. Aside from some nifty "playing around with gravity" sfx you're going to see Agent Coulson get SERIOUSLY bad-ass in a way you might never have suspected from the quiet voice and the twinkly smile.
More and more this series seems to be moving in on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.'s format, with Skye as a permanent "member of the public" draftee instead of U.N.C.L.E.'s guest star draftee gimmick.
Plus more hints about Coulson's death and resurrection. For some reason Coulson seems to be missing his muscle memory. Now why might that be, I wonder?
My review of ATLANTIS was going to consist of just one word.
However I will rouse myself from my torpor to add these other very good words: flat, uninspired, derivative, boring, predictable and seemingly written from precepts created from a computer programme. Just crass and desperately DULLLLLLLLLLLLLL........
With so much better fantasy on TV to study as a template and inspiration (DA VINCI'S DEMONS, GAME OF THRONES) why did the BBC waste time and money on this?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)
Hits the ground running.
For those of you in the UK waiting to see MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. on Friday, you can relax. I've seen the pilot episode and it is fabulous. In fact, I don't think I've seen a more confident and fully-formed first episode since, possibly, BUFFY and ANGEL. The Whedon DNA is all over it. It references AVENGERS ASSEMBLE and IRON MAN 3 and even features J.August Richards who played Gunn in ANGEL. It is clever, witty, has some laugh out loud moments and just the right amount of pathos (Richards' speech about being ground down by the recession is so now it hurts). All through I was thinking this is what TORCHWOOD was trying to be but never was. You'll see the parallels very easily but S.H.I.E.L.D. is the real deal. Hallelujah!