Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Nikita, Season 4 (2013)

Nikita got a fourth season of only six episodes, leaving it well short of the  "magic 88" episodes needed for syndication, but allowing the show's storyline to be wrapped up (albeit in an extremely abbreviated form).  Was this a gesture of good will from the network to the show's remaining fanbase?  A ploy to make the program more attractive on Netflix (which was forbes.com's theory), or was it just one of those "who knows how The CW decides what to cut and what to keep?" moments?

At the end of the day, I guess the why of the renewal isn't that important: what really matters is if the episodes of season four actually deliver a satisfying ending.  And on that point, I can honestly say that it does a pretty great job of nailing its last five minutes.  The denouement of the whole series, where we see the characters moving on into the next stages of their lives?  That's pretty great.

The 5.9 episodes leading up to that point, though?  Eesh.  I mean, I know it's got to be hard to compress what was presumably meant to be a full season's arc into roughly one quarter of that length, but you know, maybe take the shorter length as an opportunity to really focus on the core of your program and excise the rest, rather than just trying to jam everything in at four times the usual pace?  Nikita's last season is a succession of blink and you'll miss it plot twists and double-dealings that ignores the show's greatest strength (the chemistry between the "core four" characters) in favour of a murky scripting mess with contrived revelations and coincidences that simply don't hold water.

Those last five minutes really are pretty good, though.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Jubilee (1978)

Elizabeth I directs her advisor, John Dee, to summon an angel.  This Mr Dee duly does, and the queen bids the holy messenger to show her a vision of England's future.

She's not going to like what she sees.

London is half in ruins, with roaming gangs of punks committing random acts of violence and robbery, or being themselves the targets of equally random violence by the police.  Many of the future scenes revolve around a group of mainly female punks who have, among other criminal acts, recently mugged and murdered Elizabeth II.

About the only functional - if that is the right word - aspect of this future society appears to be the entertainment industry, and while I hesitate to use the term sub-plot in relation to a movie that is largely plotless, there are a number of scenes which revolve around the world of popular music.

Jubilee is not what I would call a "good" film, with a meandering script and dialogue that is often rather more purple than the actors can convincingly manage, but the circumstances in which it was made make it a culturally an interesting one.  It was filmed at the height of the punk movement, and seems to earnestly - if not necessarily successfully, based on the response of some prominent punks of the time - attempt to reflect the attitudes and politics of the subculture.  Those attitudes included a substantial dose of nihilism, and when you realise that the rubble-strewn areas of London shown in the film actually looked like that, including some areas that were still not cleaned up from World War 2, you begin to have an understanding of why some people of the time felt there was "no future".

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Archer, Season 5 (2014)

Going into season five of Archer, I knew two things about it:

  1. It was generally considered weaker than the preceding 4 seasons; and
  2. It saw Archer and his colleagues shift their activities from espionage to organised crime. 

Now I'm not sure if it was lowered expectations from the first point, or simply not being blind-sided by the second, or perhaps a combo of the two, but I had a thoroughly good time.

I mean sure, I can definitely see why you might get whiplash if you went in blind.  The changes could easily be pretty jarring if you aren't expecting them.  Not only do the gang move into a new industry but three of the characters go through pretty major changes (while at the same time, paradoxically not actually changing at all).  The status is not quo, and yet it is.

There are certain jokes that are ridden a little too hard and too long in this season, and I can also see that being an issue, as well, but even those I ultimately felt mostly had pay-offs that worked.

Crass, brash and not afraid to mercilessly lampoon its main cast (who, let's face it, thoroughly deserve every bad thing that ever happens to them), Archer season five is more of the same thing they've been doing all along, while at the time being not at all what they've been doing before now.  That's worthy of the tip of my hat, I think.

Friday, 5 January 2018

2035: Forbidden Dimensions (2013)

All the children born on the night of a solar eclipse around 1980 are special.  They're also, with one exception, all dead.  The last of these "Solar Eclipse Kids" is Jack Slade, who had the ability - though he can't control it - to move back and forth between the "current day" of the late 1990s and the blasted wasteland that is 2035.

You see, it seems that some evil doctors got a hold of alien DNA and used it to create vicious mutants.  This somehow led to everything looking like Mad Max, except with a lot more topless women dotting the backgrounds.

The film hops back and forth between these two time zones - not in chronological order within either of them - in what's presumably meant to be a "mysterious" manner, but is actually mostly just incoherent except when one character or another is delivering a massive info dump of exposition.  And sometimes even then.

Christopher James Miller wrote and directed this film, and also has six other credits on it.  Or seven others, if you count both the on-screen roles he plays as separate credits.  No doubt the film was a labour of love for him, and he certainly shows an ambition that stretches well beyond the obviously tiny budget he was working with.  Unfortunately, based on the final product here, it's also an ambition that stretches well beyond his talents.  The film he's delivered in a plodding narrative mess with wildly uneven acting and effects.

I'd be interested to see what Miller can do if he tries to deliver half as much, twice as well, but in the meanwhile I certainly won't be recommending this film.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Breaking Bad, Season 4 (2011)

This is a review of season 4 of a show, so it's going to be somewhat spoilerific about the earlier seasons.  If you want to watch the show - and overall, I think it is worth seeing - and you want to do so unspoiled, you should probably bail now.

Walter White is raking in the cash as a top tier crystal meth 'cook', but his arrogance and anger has put him at serious odds with the ruthless criminals for whom he works.  The only thing that's saving him is that no-one else can make the product like he can: a protection White will go to extreme lengths to maintain.  After all, his life is on the line.

It feels to me the Walter White we see now is a much more authentic character than we saw in the first couple of seasons.  "Ordinary man driven to extreme measures to provide for his family" feels more and more like it was a not very convincing act and the ruthless narcissist he's become is the real Walter.  He's still physically weak of course - he is after all a 50 year old cancer survivor with a sedentary job - and he still makes plenty of mistakes because his arrogance gives him big blind spots.  But I'm very glad that the awkward physical humour and "fish out of water" spots from early seasons are in the past.  The show feels more focused in this season than it has before now, and I found myself thoroughly engaged even though I continue to think Walter is a terrible person.  It helps, I think, that the show is no longer trying to make Walter a sympathetic character.  There were times last season where they were trying to build up a sense of jeopardy about his safety and my reaction was "damn it, stop taunting me with the possibility he'll get what he deserves".  The absence of that irritating niggle allowed me to simply enjoy the bastardy displayed by all and sundry.  Which is as it should be in a show like this, I think.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Goodbye World (2013)

"Goodbye World".  The message flashes from cell phone to cell phone, propagating out to people's address books without their consent.

At first the phenomenon seems to be just a curious exploitation of a flaw in the cell phone system, but then cyber attacks strike at the technological infrastructure of the modern world.  As cities devolve into riots, eight people - most of them former college friends now estranged to greater or lesser degrees by the events of intervening years - gather in the isolated mountain home belonging to two of their number.

This home has its own well water, enough solar panels to be totally off-grid, and a huge supply of food and medicine on hand.  It is, in other words, the perfect place to hide out from the collapse of society ... assuming said collapsing society leaves you alone.  And assuming that your group's own unfinished business won't break you apart.

Goodbye World has pretty mediocre ratings on IMDB, and I suspect that's at least in part because it presents as an 'end of the world' type tale, but the apocalypse is frankly just a backdrop for, and occasional motivator to, a relationship drama.  The characters tend to be much more interested in their personal grievances with each other than with the end of civilisation as they know it, despite the ever increasing signs that the end of civilisation is interested in them.

Benefiting from a strong cast (Gaby Hoffman is particularly good), this is a pretty low-key film on the whole - certainly that DVD cover is highly misleading - and I can see why plenty of potential viewers would be upset with the movie they actually got.  But if you go in with an openness to the idea of watching a film about how people (often fail to) engage with sudden and seismic change, it may well be worth your time.  Certainly I don't regret seeing it.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Magnum P.I., Season 7 (1986)

A couple of times recently I have seen people refer to the 'Kirk Fallacy'.  This refers to the fact that the conception of James T Kirk in popular culture and the actual character who appears on screen are actually rather different.  We all tend to think of Kirk as some interstellar Lothario who roams the galaxy seducing beautiful women, but he doesn't actually act that way in the original Star Trek TV series.

This is relevant to a review of Magnum P.I. because there's a similar fallacy in popular culture about the nature of this show.  It's remembered as a very light dramedy notable mostly for the weekly parade of beautiful women romanced by the lead, while he wore a very small pair of shorts.

And to be fair, the shorts were short

But Magnum P.I. was actually much more diverse than this popular conception suggests, and nowhere is that more noticeable (at least so far) than in this seventh season.  Initially conceived as the final year for the show, the season has a decidedly more mature tone than is commonly associated with the program, such as the case that starts with the rape and murder of a child, or the episode where a major character's loved one is suffering from Alzheimer's.  And then there's the final episode of the season, which as I said was originally intended to the final episode ever.  While it has its moments of humour, it's most definitely not "light dramedy".

Not every episode of the show is a winner, but Magnum P.I. was a more ambitious and inventive program than people remember.