Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 - It's almost over.

This is a brief posting as the season is only halfway through and I'm waiting for the end to write anything on the show but this show is really storming towards its finale. Save one minor episode (A Disquiet That Follows The Soul) which was more quiet than bad (but could have lost a few minutes and had a bit more focus from the mid-point onwards to be honest), this show is storming towards its finale, with great atmosphere and both human and story moments (best human moment, Starbuck finding her own dead body, best story moment, Zarek massacring the entire civilian government, as one review said, someone show this to Obama). You also do get a sense of it going somewhere specific at great urgency, that no-one is safe and anything can happen, as people are getting knocked off every week, especially the characters who would normally be safe on any normal show. So many shows hove slowly collapsed towards a conclusion (I never made it to the end of The Soprano's and The Wire final season had an epilogue feel) so its good to see a show with five or six episodes left still feeling vital.

In just over a month it'll be all over. Which is horrible news, even though I want to see how it all ends.

Sublime to Ridiculous - Homicide Season 6 and V: The Series

During this credit crunch, where some of us lack jobs, you can use the free time to, if you're like me, try and write a novel, make an obscure film, and watch entire seasons of TV shows.

Let's start with the near great. Homicide Season 6 is the last great Season of Homicide. It was followed by an enjoyable yet patchy season 7, which I'll write about at another time. This was the drug war season, an escalating tale of revenge getting out of control following the questionable shooting of drug kingpin Luther Mahoney. Its about people compromising themselves to survive, the theme seeming to be about how people survive in hell.

In this season there were three new characters. Every year Homicide gains and loses characters. In the later years there was a large turn-around, not always for the best, as the characters became more like traditional TV characters and less like the confused strange types of the early seasons. This season was the transitional on that. What's angering in the progressive weakness of these changes is that is that the characters on Homicide were always the best part, more intriguing than plots. The Wire may be many great things but it's nowhere as complicated in character as Homicide at its best yet this is the season where Homicide started to lose its way. Three new characters were introduced, none of them quite working out, all looking a tad white-washed compared to the more established types. It was a writing problem mostly, writing becoming more broad-stroke and less specific to character failings and moments of honesty, arguments starting to state judgements and not as part of a character neuroses. The best new character was Ballard, a female cop from Seattle who was interestingly off but was never really developed beyond that slight oddness. That was frustrating as the character seemed to be very fresh at the start of the run. Gheraty was a older cop seen to be a coward and was stuck to type. He was enjoyable but not really necessary (unlike the Polito or Beatty characters from earlier seasons). Falsone was the most troubling character. He wasn't as annoying as some writers suggested at the time of airing but was meant to be the voice of justice, someone who knows that something is wrong within the unit, which doesn't work as the character is very unsubtle and never seems to grasp what is going on beyond the basics. Which might be the idea but its done gratingly and without an interesting tie to the main drama.

Luckily the wide canvass has enough passion to make up for this and has enough old-school characters to make up for the flaws. The situation set-up, of the drug war, created partially by actions by Detectives Kellerman and Lewis, is of a sin that destroys all around it, is powerful and is left to linger for an entire season before it explodes, in a police office shooting and all-out drug war that sees many police dead and careers ruined. It is wonderful. It allows you to see characters in detail, under pressure, sometimes not seemingly reacting but giving subtle indications of doubt, guilt, yearning for some kind of redemption or release. But they never get it. Kellerman is paranoid and cynical, tragically forced to be the opposite of what he once was a a man, almost begging to be caught out of his sin due to guilt which he can't acknowledge save cynicism that would have appalled his earlier self (whistling happy birthday to a corpse is the best one, in an episode where every Kellerman line is misanthropic genius). His actions indirectly lead to the shoot-out, as do Lewis', who uses police information, while on suspension, to spark a drug war. Kellerman is forced to resign, Lewis allowed to stay, even though Lewis' crimes following the original shooting, are actually far more extreme and troubling. Lewis' avoidance of responsibility and distance from his actions becomes one of the more haunting aspects of the story.

The other cops caught up in this mess is Pembleton, once the great, all-knowing judgemental super-cop who is slowly developing unwanted emotions on his cases, who is forced, in one of the show's all-time great scenes, to ruin Kellerman and get the confession, then watch the confession be covered up, have Lewis get away with all he's done, ruining Pembleton's faith in his job. What's terrific about this character arc is that Pembleton's pride is ruinous and unrealistic, is what destroys him, yet has noble aspects. Also oddly noble is the decision to hide the crime, the questionable shooting of a psychopathic drug dealer and killer in a truly messy set-up, as its a mess where nothing can be gained from more trauma's revealed. Revealing the crime would be destructive to the city and thus is necessary. It's a fascinating problem. During the final moments in this season, you find yourself on both Pembleton's and Kellerman's side. Its a tragic ruination of two complicated men.

The show never got better than this. They were other good episodes (such as Kellerman PI, which shows Kellerman out of the police, surviving) that were wonderful but the momentum was lost after this season. Essentially the firebrand characters were gone, leaving the calmer types, like Bayliss and Lewis, who came alive against the extreme characters like Pembleton and Kellerman (characters who could start a problem in an empty room). There was a lack of propulsion afterwards that no plot could really fill. The show never really had the spark to cause unwarranted trouble after this, which was the unpredictable life of the show. It was a show about the irrational under the supposedly rational investigations.

Now to the silly. V: The Series. Oh what a guilty pleasure. So many stupid plot actions (catching a killer by fingerprints when they are actually lizards in human masks and body coverings, Lizard brother of dead character recognised while human masked and then told you look like your brother, I wish I were making this up), insane alien rituals, an ability to kill off or write out any character played by someone with talent while keeping the uninteresting around. This is a show that writes out Michael Ironside, who keeps the first half of the season afloat, and keeps around Marc Singer (a man of a thousand strange moves during action scenes). This is a show that can be campier than Adam West's Batman when dealing with the psycho aliens, who wear human disguises even in private yet the entire world knows they are lizards. Everything they do with the aliens kill off any possible threat, as aliens are always easily defeated, are moronic at best. This is a show that changes what it is every two weeks, have people written in and out with bewildering speed, a show that has the crazy clone episode (a signifier of doom for any show) early in its first and only season. Yes, it's kind of depressing in how bad a lot of it is, especially as the mini-series aimed so high, yet is a lot of stupid, stupid fun. And the dialogue, oh the dialogue. I can't remember any of it but its all bad. Yes I watched all of them. (Link to Homicide is that Homicide fell only slightly, this is how bad it could have been)

So there we go. I am planning to write more another Homicide season, as well as The Wire. have promised that before but will try and actually do it this time.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Hammer Horrors

I've been buying up some Hammer Films recently, in a Dracula set and the Ultimate Hammer box set (yet doesn't have Vampire Circus. Shameful.) I have my eye on another box set by the way, then I should have most of the films that I want.

So below is a brief run-down of the films seen, informing if they are worth a watch. Not all are.
Blood From The Mummies Tomb - A stunner of its type. A Hammer & Mummy movie must means something good on the prowl and this delivers. The plot is odd but the script by Chris Wicking is loads of fun. It concerns re-incarnation, a man sacrificing his own daughter to an ancient evil and objects that come alive to kill. That may make it sound bad but its the way its done that really works. It has a great villain spouting lines such as "The meek shan't inherit the earth, they wouldn't know what to do with it." The director of this film died during the making of it. Its a cynical, nasty movie.
Demons Of The Mind - Its a late-era film that has more than a hint of incest. Another script by Chris Wicking, this time taking on the idea of family madness, inherited misogyny in people and culture, the rich preying on the poor, as well as the evolution of treating mental illness. Its also has some great murder scenes in a rose garden. It's one terrific film that sneaked by hammer as they didn't pay attention that more or less attacks most of the conventions of their other films.
The Devil Rides Out - Early era Hammer, based on a Dennis Wheatley novel. An under-seen top-level entry by Terrence Fisher, which has Christopher Lee as the good guy and has some creepy astral projection sequences (I know how that sounds but its done very well). Its one of those films where the plots not very good but the atmosphere is so terrific that you don't care.
Horror Of Dracula - I wrote about this on best of year. In short, its amazing, has stunning colour schemes, suggested sexuality and pacing, as well as a great final chase. One of the great screen Dracula's.
Dracula Prince Of Darkness - Needs no introduction- Best Dracula movie in lots of ways. Dracula is brought to life due to the blood of a traveller and preys on his friends and family, stalking them even to a church. Is cut to the bone in narrative, has amazing anamorphic atmosphere, and just keeps going a fairy story gone wrong fashion.
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave - Another film I wrote about before about on best list. This is slower than earlier films and does mark the point where the Dracula films went from being great to interesting but has some terrific moments and well worth a viewing, even though there are slow spots.
Taste The Blood Of Dracula - The best of the later sequels, although the end is rubbish. Dracula is reborn due to the actions of three bored, rich hypocrites, Dracula stalking them through their children. Its a full-on attack on Victorian repression and mores, and has sympathetic victims to make the suspense horror work.
Scars Of Dracula - In lots of ways its kinda stupid but I like this one, mainly for the production design, which has many blood reds and light blues. Its got great atmosphere and many nice moments, that makes up for the fact that its not really any good at a story level, or that the leading men are woeful.
Dracula AD 1972 - The worst of the bunch. Just dull, awful film with black masses yet no pace. A film about youth made by people in their fifties, its a film with no atmosphere or tension, and has the dullest deaths you could ever find in a vampire film.
The Satanic Rites Of Dracula - The final Dracula film is a surprising return to form. Its not a great film but is a solid b-movie with some nasty moments with Dracula preying on the weak and stupid, as well as his apocalyptic designs for humanity. Has a great final section and a wonderful final death scene for Lee's Dracula.
Frankenstein Created Woman - Peter Cushing as Frankenstein experimenting on women. Where do I start watching? Its actually fun but start and stops in pace and interest throughout. I don't have much to say on this as it a b-movie Frankenstein film. There isn't enough atmosphere nor incident to really get it going but it is enjoyable.
The Horror of Frankenstein - A rare non-Peter Cushing Frankenstein. Ralph Bates takes over. Its really bloody, funny and vicious. I love it. Its got a bad rep but is in need of re-evaluation.
The Plague Of The Zombies - Top-notch zombie flick which has a great reputation. Its one of those films that any zombie fan will love and a film fan should find a lot through its atmosphere and subtle build-up. Anyone who doesn't like this film ought to be shot. Its a simple statement, isn't it.
The Reptile - From the same team from Plague Of The Zombies, another great film. Same rule as above applies. Its a must see and saying what its about would only put you off.
One Million Years B.C. - This one is really stupid. Not exactly a surprise from the title but it has Raquel Welch as a prehistoric bimbo, getting pawed at by ugly brutes. This film has dinosaurs (a combination of Ray Harryhausen monsters at best and animals blown up to look huge at worst), cavemen and essentially 2001-like apes all in same time period. The film is awfully slow to get going, only really works during the action but does have some great photography, shot on Spanish deserts, which frankly belongs in a proper film, not this one. Best bit is cavemen verses a giant turtle, who eventually goes for a swim (might have just been going for a walk and wondering why these scruffs are attacking him.)
Prehistoric Women - It's about a tribe of beautiful blonde women enslaved by their brunette queen in a hidden paradise. Ah, the delights of prehistoric women. Man goes into jungle, man trapped by many black men, man transported into a world dominated by women in lioncloth due to the magic of the white rhino. Man is fought over by many a slut. White women scared of masked black man. White women chain their own men into manual labour and no sex. Women dominated by a crazy bitch. The entire film is a checklist of stupid ideas, basic racism (the big scare, white women approach by masked black men). Its both deeply awful and truly wonderful. The first ten minutes are stunningly awful, then the women show up and you don't care. You're trapped by the madness of this thing, by the inescapable fact that the leading man is stupefyingly awful in ways not usually seen even in Western cinema but that's not where your attention is. It's with the women. Even Steven Berkoff shows up at the end. You must see this film. Its a catalogue of the bad and wayward. In the world of Obama as president this film cries out for a remake.
Quatermass And The Pit - Great version of an even better 3 hour TV show. Loads of fun, even the now bad effects. Can't say anything beyond its a must-see film.
Rasputin The Mad Monk -Christopher Lee is Rasputin, a drinking, whoring man of god, who can bend all to his will, even the Russian royalty (you know, before that embarrassing revolution). Its great, especially when they keep trying to kill Lee and he won't stay dead. Lee is great, being the dangerous life of the party rather than a shadow figure.
Now we are on to the weak films.
She & Vengeance Of She - Pretty dull, unintentionally hilarious films. The first one has a budget, the second has not. Both are watchable but most notable moment is in the first film, where Peter Cushing and Bernard Cribbins dance with belly dancers in post-World War 1 Palestine.
To The Devil A Daughter - A weak but odd late hammer film. Its not as bad as reputation suggests but is a guilty pleasure due to a story that can't be saved by any stylisation or script (which are actually competent), an ending that doesn't make much sense, and in Richard Widmark, a terrible, terrible leading man. Christopher Lee shows up and lends it a bit of class.
The Witches - Joan Fontaine as a woman going mad in an English village. Now this should work. It has a decent cast, a solid script by Nigel Kneale but truly terrible, dull direction that never suggests any terror until late in the day. Hammer made great b-movies with dodgy plots such as Blood From The Mummies Tomb (where, let's remember, the director actually died) but this one gets killed by the direction when it should have been one of their best. There's a middle-aged lesbian subtext between Fontaine and the villainess which really helps keep the film going at times.
The Viking Queen - Worst film I have ever seen. Worse even than an Ed Wood film. Ancient Britain's versus Romans, Romans led by an American. Terrible, terrible script, tedious direction and acting that's beyond atrocious and enters a new realm in itself. Its one of those films that are difficult to properly describe in their awfulness. Not even Uwe Boll bad covers it. Best worst line of dialogue "I understand your problems, Nigel."
Fear Of The Night - Kind of a weak film. Not offensive but not really very good. The first half is best, as there is a build-up of unease that could go into the territory of is she mad or not but once the plot kicks in (a rip-off of Les Diabolique) it gets a bit dull with fun asides. This is the kind of film where the duff elements run the good stuff for you. Yet the film is a good candidate for a remake as there are elements and settings that could be made unique, if explanations are made to be less obvious.
Straight On Til Morning & The Nanny I haven't watched and may be some time to get to them as they are lesser hammer. But I'll see them eventually.
That's about it. The Hammer films I'm still dying to see/own are Curse Of The Werewolf with Ollie Reed (as the werewolf), Brides Of Dracula (apparently an amazing film, rarely shown, Peter Cushing hunting down female vampires, what can I say), Vampire Circus (title says it all, except its terrific fun, way better than it should be) and of course Legends Of The Seven Golden Vampires (vampires and 70's kung fu. Okay I can't defend that one)

Coming Soon...

Am still alive. Have been putting together my film again, after a full system crash. That and some other family situation have taken up a lot of my time.

Have also been watching lots of Hammer films and Homicide Season 6. So expect write-ups on them soon.