Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Tudors, Season 4 (2010)



The final season of The Tudors tracks the downfall of Henry VIII's fifth wife, and the course of his sixth marriage.  In addition to Henry's marital roller-coaster, the show touches on the siege of Boulogne, the ambitions of the Earl of Surrey, and the ongoing strife between the 'High' and reformist elements of the Church of England.

As with season three, this season suffers from packing rather a lot into its run time.  This is particularly notable here given the show's inconsistent depiction of time.  Henry himself suddenly ages noticeably in the last two episodes, for instance, and there is dialogue about the length of his last marriage (which in reality was only four years), but almost no other character looks appreciably different from the start of the season.  Well, except the dead ones, obviously.  And there are rather a lot of those.  Henry VIII was not good at moderation.

I definitely think this show's best days were over once the second season concluded, but it remains solidly acted, opulently decadent melodrama, if that sort of sex and murder shenanigans are your thing (and given the success of Game of Thrones, it seems like it is a lot of people's thing).  Just don't watch The Tudors thinking you're getting a documentary: it puts accuracy a very distant second to drama.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Johann Karlo's Gun Driver (2016)



It is 2017, ten years after the great Nuclear-Biological-Chemical War.  Those with the means have escaped off-world to the Martian colonies, while those unfortunates left behind are forced into containment zones.  These zones keep them safe from radiation and other fallout of the war, but also put them at the mercy of any thug with the muscle to take over and run things.

I always raise my eyebrows when I see a film billed as being a specific person's.  Making a movie is a collaborative effort, after all, not the work of a single auteur.  On the other hand, Johann Karlo has no less than fifteen credits on this film, touching pretty much every aspect of the movie, so perhaps he has a better claim than most.  Certainly, it's clear this was a passion project for him.

Alas, you can have all the passion in the world and still make a bad film, and that's very much the case here.  Karlo is clearly a fan of The Road Warrior - and probably of that film's many cheap and nasty 80s knock-offs - and riffing on them pretty heavily here, right down to digging up plenty of era-appropriate technology.  Unfortunately, his reach far exceeds his grasp.  Even if one sets aside the community theatre-level acting and the sometimes near-unintelligible sound, one is still faced with major problems.

For example, there's the laughable 'action' sequences, which are perhaps best epitomised by the 'chase' scene conducted at literal walking speed, or the climactic encounter with the bad guy which is basically just two groups of guys pointing guns at shooting at something off screen.

Then there's the script, which features such gem-like lines as "You can't trust anyone these days, but somehow I know you're different", and a super-awesome-mega-car that doesn't actually matter for the plot.  I mean, yes the hero drives it at the end, but he doesn't do anything with it that he couldn't have done with any other vehicle.  If you make a point of how awesome your car is, film makers, then you need to show the car being awesome.

If you want to watch something that's riffing on 80s apocalyptica, you're much better off seeking out Turbo Kid instead.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

House of Cards, Season 1 (2013)



Francis Underwood is the House Majority Whip in the US Congress.  He's just been instrumental in helping the new President win election, and he expects to be rewarded for his efforts by being appointed Secretary of State.

The President has other plans, however, and Underwood finds himself left in his current role, ostensibly because his skill in getting legislation through the house makes him "too important" to leave Congress.

For an ambitious man with almost no moral scruples, this is like a red rag to a bull, and Underwood sets out to advance his own interests, whatever the cost to those around him.  Of course, there are others who will oppose him, and even his own allies can become threats over time ...

Back when I reviewed the original UK House of Cards, I remarked that I thought this US adaptation was better.  It's longer run time allows more depth to the characters and also for Underwood to face more setbacks and challenges than his UK counterpart ever did.

The show is also helped by excellent performances.  Kevin Spacey is a powerhouse as Francis Underwood - both he and Robin Wright definitely deserve the Golden Globes they later won for the show - and the rest of the cast is very solid as well, without a poor performance to be seen.

I guess some people might find Underwood too unpleasant to be a compelling protagonist, but for everyone else, this is cracking stuff.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)



This sequel to 2014's The Maze Runner begins with the teenage protagonists apparently being rescued from the clutches of WCKD.  Because yes, the books were the kind of fiction where the bad guys' name is "Wicked".  Of course, this is YA dystopia, so the apparent deliverance is nothing of the sort, and these "rescuers" are merely the next stage of their captivity.

Thanks to the aid of another teen, our heroes pretty quickly work out that things aren't on the up and up, and bust out of the facility where they're being held.  Their plans beyond that point are in theory pretty simple: head for the mountains and find an organisation called "The Right Arm", which is reputed to be at odds with WCKD.  Of course, WCKD isn't likely to just let them go, and there's also the minor issue that the whole planet's descending into a fast zombie apocalypse, to complicate matters.  Plus, can they really trust all of their number?

The novel The Scorch Trials is one of the (presumably unintentionally) silliest books I can recall reading, and significant props must go to screenwriter T S Nowlin for turning in a script that eschews the most contrived and arbitrary parts of the original work while still maintaining the same basic "shape" to the narrative.  The resulting story might be more conventional in its details than the source material, but it's also a lot better constructed and delivers satisfying action/drama antics.

Production of the third Maze Runner film was delayed due to the main actor suffering an injury during filming, but I'm pleased to see that both the writer and director of this film are returning: I'll be quite interested to see their adaptation of the trilogy's final chapter.  In the mean time, if this is your sort of thing, check it out.


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Season 4 (2011)



The final season of Secret Diary of a Call Girl sees Belle/Hannah trying to juggle even more plates than usual.  Not only does she have a new relationship starting up, and her usual gaggle of clients to handle, but she's also forced to become a stand-in madam when her usual boss has a little trouble with the law.  It's not a job Belle particularly wants, and some of her co-workers are more than ready to try and undermine her now she's doing it.  Oh, and there's talk of a big screen adaptation of Belle's book, as well.  Sooner or later it seems inevitable that some of these 'plates'are going to fall and get broken.

This final season delivers much of the raunchy but wry comedy of the previous series, as well as a number of broader, more slapstick style comic elements.  This is offset by even more Drama (with a capital "D") than before, all of which gives the supposedly light entertainment a slightly stressful and ultimately somewhat melancholy tone.

I've enjoyed all four seasons of this show: it's certainly been refreshing to see a program that takes a very clear "as long as you're all consenting adults, have at it!" approach to sexuality.  Even this show is not perfect on that score, but I doubt you'll find many other programs which sympathetically portray wrestling fetishists, say.

If you've got an open mind about sex, and don't mind a pretty big dose of angst with your laughs, then Secret Diary of a Call Girl delivers to the end.

Friday, 28 July 2017

626 Evolution (2017)



Two young women - one a badass parkour ninja, the other a middle schooler with a terrible foster dad - are secretly under surveillance by a shadowy organisation.  Neither is initially aware of this, but as things in each of their lives begin to spiral out of control, it is only a matter of time before they find each other ... and the truth about who they are.

One of the main things that I liked about Arrowstorm Entertainment's Survivor, which I reviewed several years ago, was that it had a (mostly) very capable female protagonist who was played by an actor who had the physical chops to convincingly pull off the role.  No "really, Kate Beckinsale is an action star!" awkwardness here.

Said actor was Danielle Chuchran, so when the same production company launched a kickstarter in which they promised a science fiction thriller were "Dani's back in fighting form, kicking butt and taking names", well I figured it was worth dropping fifteen bucks to check it out.

It wasn't.

There are three main problems with 626 Evolution.  The first is the omnipresent and very annoying narration.  I'm sure it is supposed to be sardonic and witty, but mostly comes across like a 14 year old desperately trying to be sardonic and witty, and utterly failing in the process.  To be fair, the narrator is a 14 year old character, so I guess it could be deliberate.  It's still awful, though.

Then there's the action scenes  Much of the parkour and fist-fighting stuff is fine, but there are some gunfight scenes that are ... really not good.  The use of CGI in place of more costly and difficult practical effects is really obvious, and the action has no flow.

Third, there's the acting.  The performances - including from Chuchran, who I have seen be capable in other works - are uniformly poor.  They're not helped by some occasionally murky sound, either.  Some of the problem might be the film's use of a lot of POV shots, which means characters are often talking directly at the camera, but I also wonder if the filming schedule was highly compressed.  It would explain the lack of polish on the delivery.

Ultimately, 626 Evolution is a step backward for both Arrowstorm and Chuchran.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Magnum, P.I., Season 6 (1985)



Like season 5 before it, this series of Magnum P.I. is widely considered one of the weakest in the show's eight year run.  In fact, the folks over at the Magnum Mania forums ran the numbers and this season came out bottom in terms of average episode rating, and fewest "great" episodes.  Though, they hastened to add, even a bad season of Magnum is pretty darn good.

I'm not a Magnum Maniac myself, but I can agree with the basic sentiment that even a weak season of the show is still pretty enjoyable light entertainment, on the whole.  Like season five, I think this series does suffer a bit from being a bit too heavy on the humour vs the drama.  Some of the funny episodes are genuinely amusing, but one of the strengths of early Magnum was its willingness to mix things up in terms of tone, and season six leans heavily on the funny stuff.  It's probably no surprise that the episodes rated most highly by the Maniacs in this season are the ones that buck that overall trend: the more sombre episodes, such as the espionage-themed Blood and Honor or the gritty Way of the Stalking Horse.

While the tone tends heavily to the somewhat-silly, the actual scenarios themselves remain quite diverse, as Magnum has to deal with spies, dolphins, carnival workers, castle rustlers (in an episode with a Wild West style arrangement of the theme tune) and a South Pacific coup.  Not to mention yet another of Higgins's many half-brothers.

Basically, if you like the basic light entertainment PI show feel that Magnum is all about, then you should enjoy this season: but it's probably best to watch it at staggered intervals, rather than binge watching it, as it's certainly not designed with the latter approach in mind.