Category Archives: DVD reviews

A pot pourri of reviews

Dark Mirror.

Dark Mirror is a series of one-off stories about modern technology, either how it affects us or how it might affect us in the future. Charlie Brooker (sometime Guardian wit) does his best work with political satire (the first and last episodes) and strains himself to get sufficient material for the rest, none of which were worth more than a ten-minute vignette.

Mrs Brown’s Boys (Third Series).

I knew of Mrs Brown’s Boys, but was at a disadvantage, having never seen it before. Once I got to know the characters, I was on a sounder footing with it.

The programme revolves around Mrs Brown and her family, which is not wholly boys, neighbours (well, the slightly dozy Winnie), and friends, with everything shot at home or in the pub. The performances appear to be done live, hence they film through the spontaneous retakes that sometimes interrupt.

I don’t know whether there’s ever been anything else between Father Ted and Mrs Brown’s Boys, but the latter has the same sort of surreal humour as the former. Must see if I can find the first two series sometime.

Witchblade.

I’m trying to recall how it is I read the comic on line many years ago, but I can’t, and I certainly read it long after the TV series (2000) had come and gone.

Sarah Pezzini is united with the Witchblade so that she can go on cut-price adventures in New York, battling supernatural forces, Mr Blond (who may or may not be on her side) and Mr Blond’s minion (or son), who is in love with her.

I’m not surprised the series didn’t last even if Yancy Butler’s alcoholism hadn’t been a contributory factor in its cancellation. It didn’t help turning the second series into a reboot in which Pezzini has visions of the events which happened in the first. Another problem, I think, i that it took itself a bit too seriously. Mr Blond being outed as a cross-dressing Nazi in suspender belt and stockings being leaked on the Internet in some colossal rant about predictive texting on mobile phones might’ve been just the shot it needed.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

This time it’s contemporary satire. Shield has been infiltrated by the NSA Hydra, led by Robert Redford (who also leads Shield). Only Captain America can save the day, but he has to fight the Winter Soldier, who’s actually his old friend, Bucky, who was captured by the Germans and given a metal arm with, strangely enough, a red star on it.

There’s a big fight on some flying battleships, which are reprogrammed to shoot each other down. Oddly enough, where the other two blast each other’s engines to pieces, the third only sustains a minimal amount of damage so that it can crash into a building.

Another competently done action flick in the seemingly endless Marvel series which has plenty of fighting and explosions for Third-World audiences, and a bit of satire for good measure.

Pacific Rim.

Most of the few comments about this which I’d seen on line were dismissive. It’s the live-action version of RahXephon or Neongenesis. One after another, the kaiju have been coming through a wormhole and wrecking havoc on Earth. Humanity responds by building giant mechas which can only be adequately controlled by two people who happen to be compatible. But the construction of a massive wall around the Pacific is seen as the ultimate, but rather wrong answer.

It may not exactly be how the Japanese would do mecha anime, but a lot of the elements are there such as the nitwit scientists who discover that the attacks are a prelude to an invasion or the somewhat shy Japanese girl who wants to be on the team (and gets to be without the unnecessary ado which would be found in the American version).

A film for anime fans, but won’t make a lot of sense to anyone not familiar with this sort of thing.

Lucy.

Lucy has to deliver some blue powder to some Korean gangster (no, I think this one comes from south of the 38th parallel) who then decides to use her as a drug mule by shoving the drug, which is some sort of baby-grow powder, inside her. The bag leaks, and Lucy develops superpowers, eventually turning herself into a computer and transcending time and space.

There were times when the film was reasonably engaging, and times when it was just being overindulgent because it had nothing of consequence to say.

Jupiter Ascending.

A sci-fi faerie tale about a girl called Jupiter Jones who happens to be the reincarnation of the mother of the galaxy’s ruling family, whose various ageing, but eternally young offspring all want to use her or kill her. Don’t worry. She has a space werewolf to protect her. The family’s especially dirty little secret is that they harvest planets inhabited to create the elixir that keeps them perpetually young. Well, there you go – satire on the parasitic consumerism of the tiny minority who have most of the money.

Having started life as a cleaner on Earth, even though Jones may own the whole planet, she goes back to being a cleaner, and she doesn’t quite hate her life so much. So another message – common people, know your place.

Last Knights.

A fantasy romp in which Morgan Freeman is executed for clashing with a corrupt official and Clive Owen pretends to be an alcoholic while secretly plotting his revenge.

Good triumphs. Well, sort of. Good gets massacred and improbably survives a twenty-foot fall off a balcony on to some fairly hard-looking flagstones to give the corrupt official the lumps he richly deserves. But the emperor decides someone needs to be punished because an attack on his officials is an attack on him.

Another of those weird fantasy films where everyone has a different accent.

Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Samuel L. Jackson is some nutjob who wants to kill off a lot of people to save the planet from being destroyed. It sounds like the same sort of weird logic that fuels Intelligent Design. Only the Kingsmen can stop him. Perhaps.

In the meantime, some new recruits are being put through their paces to see which of them can ultimately shoot a dog and become part of this elite band.

At the end of the day, Eggsy thrashes the chief henchman and the villain, saves the world, and snogs a princess before he pops home to give the local bully a smack or so.

If the film had focused on one side (the main plot) or the other (the selection of a new recruit), it might’ve worked a little better even though the two parts were eventually melded together as Eggsy took up where Harry had left off.

Deep Space Nine

[20.08.14. This post was extracted from an entry from 2008.]

Deep Space Nine, Series 2

I finished watching the second series last night. If the Dominion hadn’t made an appearance in the final episode, I probably would’ve given up on DS9 when it was first shown all those years ago. The episodes were, once again, very TOS/TNG and probably averaging about a C. There were potential story arcs such as political issues on Bajor; the election of a new kai (the Bajoran spiritual leader); and the maquis, but nothing got going because none of these stories were really Space Opera™ material. The maquis were potentially romantic as settlers defending their lands against the evil railroad company the Cardassians, but they came across as whiny nuisances.

On this occasion, I couldn’t help but note that the series seemed to be more like a Western set in space. If some new race turned up, they were farmers. If anyone went to Bajor, their dealings were frequently with, er, farmers. Obviously the writers have no idea what modern farming entails because it’s not some guy tilling the fields by hand. It’s mechanised, computerised, deodorised. All right, perhaps not deodorised. But it’s a business. And by the 24th century (or whenever this is set), you’d expect things might be a little more sophisticated. I quite like the style of steampunk, but this isn’t even agripunk, which might redeem the general ludicrousness of this conception of agriculture.

If the future is full of farmers in space, then the military are a bunch of cave dwellers. Pretty much every planetary base (secret or otherwise) is in a cave because the military always operates in hills where there are caves. I’m sure that somewhere in The Art of War, 孙子 must’ve written, “Secret bases in caves are kewl.” Now if you’re part of the resistance, you probably don’t have the money to spend on something techie, but it seems that as a rule, the military are cheap bastards. The general wants a new uniform; his troops have to live in caves.

In retrospect, it was probably clear fifteen years ago, if you considered the matter carefully, that the Trek universe needed a Russell T. Davies to overhaul it. I recall noting more than once in the reviews that I posted on my original website that a lot of the ideas for DS9 and Voyager seemed to come from The Big Book of American Clichés.

Now arriving from 2006

Arrested Development.

I had thought I would’ve posted an entry about Arrested Development here seven years ago when I first watched the original three seasons, but since I can’t find an entry, I can only assume that I either wrote nothing (which would be unusual at the time) or the entry was on an old Live Journal blog of mine.

The story is about the wealthy, dysfunctional Bluth family. George Sr. is arrested for embezzlement and then, apparently, treachery for building houses in Iraq.  His wife, Lucille, is an alcoholic socialite with a contemptuous regard for her children. G.O.B. (pronounced like the biblical Job), the utterly tactless eldest son, is a hopelessly bad magician who’s always looking for his father’s approval. The middle son, Michael, is the only responsible member of the family, although not above being as undermining with his own son, George Michael, as his father has been with him. His allegedly twin sister, Lindsey, is lazy and married to the obliviously gay Tobias. Between them they have a daughter called Maeby, who cons her way into a movie studio as an exec. The youngest brother, the immature and clingy Buster, is actually the son of George Sr.’s twin brother, Oscar.

In spite of the entertaining cleverness of Arrested Development, the writing seemed to be on the wall by the third series because the story lines were rather rapidly cleared up. It was shown that George Sr. had been unwittingly working for the American government in Iraq; the story about Rita Leeds, the MRF (Mentally Retarded Female), was disposed of in a rather cursory fashion; and there was a flurry of other stories such as the revelation that Lindsey had been adopted or the visit from the Japanese investors which set up a Godzilla parody.

Arrested Development was a clever and entertaining series, though why it got killed off, I can’t say. However, there is YouTube footage (see here on gawker) of David Cross, who plays Tobias, wondering how the programme, which was so highly acclaimed, could be so badly marketed.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever see the fourth season. One review I’ve seen declares it to be a hit-and-miss affair which doesn’t quite live up to the original.

Downton Abbey, Series 3

Lord Grantham, financial wizard.

One of the things I did in New Zealand was watch the third series of Downton Abbey, although I never got round to watching the Christmas special.

Matthew and Mary finally get married, though not after some ridiculous last-minute drama between them.

Edith finally got to the altar only for her aged and partially disabled beau to leave her at the altar, but she ended up writing a newspaper column and taking a fancy to the editor, whose insane wife cannot grant him a divorce.

Sibyl had her baby, and then died because of the incompetence of the Harley Street specialist who her parents had brought in. That led to questions about her husband and the baby’s religion. He was assimilated to the family, but the baby, also called Sibyl, was baptised as a Catholic, much to the horror of Lord Grantham and his mother.

Meanwhile, Lord Grantham had invested all of his money in a dead cert in Canada. “Bye bye, money,” said Lord Grantham’s solicitor. What was the earl to do? “Hello, money,” said Matthew. “Well, not ‘hello money’ because you’ve come from my other fiancée’s dead father, and I’ve got annoyingly large scruples. Also, I’m not going to read this letter which will chase my scruples away.” Fortunately, Mary did read the letter, and all was well, although it made Matthew part-owner of Downton.

Below stairs, Bates finally got out of prison after sufficient evidence came to light, which cast doubt on the original conviction. Thomas almost got nobbled after O’Brien sabotaged his gaydar. Daisy fancied Alfred, Alfred fancied the new kitchen maid, the new kitchen maid fancied the new footman. Daisy did get promoted, but had an even better offer from her father-in-law. Mrs Hughes bought an electric toaster.

Matthew’s mother took to saving fallen women and encountered Ethel, who had been on manoeuvres with an infantry captain during World War I and got pregnant. She relinquished her son to his grandparents, but eventually found a job which allowed her to be near him.

The series ended without any major cliffhangers and was comparatively free of some of the more idiotic story lines of the previous two series.

When is a review not a review?

When it’s this review.

I watched Little Deaths last night. It was one of the DVDs I found in the shop round the corner from Vanguard and Suyou, and because it was British, I thought it might be worth a glance. Oh dear, was I quite wrong.

The two themes of the six stories were sex and death. How very novel. I would never ever have thought to put them together. [I think this is sarcasm. –ed.] They were all unrelentingly bleak and not for people with weak stomachs or readers of the Daily Mail. Presented consciously or otherwise, the stories were clearly metaphors for the economic crisis, employment, unemployment, etc.

Ultimately, none of this was, I think, material of any great quality, and it looked like the sort of thing which would appear on C4, E4, BBC 3/4 late at night when no one was watching; and there’s a conclusion – no one need watch this stuff.

From silly to sinister

3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy.

I heard about this film a few months ago because it’d been getting imperial citizens overexcited. It starts as a silly Hong Kong sex romp about a man who is under-endowed in the trouser snake department going to see the sybaritic Prince Ning as a consequence of his little problem.

But eventually the film turns violent, unpleasant, and tasteless, and what­ever little sympathy I had for it evaporated. The whole thing ends up being tacky and vulgar.

I don’t know what the film’s message is meant to be, but it appears to be that there can be enduring love without sex. It ends many years later with our hero, who lost his donkey-sized transplant during the final con­front­ation with the Prince of Ning, and his wife, still in the unremovable chast­ity belt (though that’s ridiculous because they would’ve been able to recover the key easily enough), still together and no less fond of each other, much to the surprise of the newly married couple seeking their blessings.


Lost Girl.

I wasn’t certain what I was getting with this, but it turned out to be one of those Showtime TV series. Bo has been drifting from one place to another because every time she gets hot for someone, she sucks the life out of them. She rescues a chancer called Kenzi from a date-rapist, but is then caught by the police who, as it turns out, are not your ordinary boys in blue.

Bo is informed that she’s a fey called a succubus, and is forced to undergo a test before choosing whether to join the light fey or dark fey. In the end, she chooses neither, and ends up living with Kenzi in a dilapidated old house from where they run a P.I. business. Cue adventures.

Dyson, one of the two policemen who caught her, is a werewolf and her kiss-fight-kiss-fight boyfriend. Seriously, one moment they’re together and the next moment they’re not, and it even becomes the subject of a bet by Dyson’s partner, Hale, and Kenzi. There’s also Lauren, the human doctor who works for the light fey leader called the Ash, and would like to be Bo’s girlfriend, but that also goes pear-shaped.

Meanwhile, there are lots of hints (Trick, the barman, and Dyson both know, and then predictably start arguing about whether to tell Bo) that some of the fey at least know exactly who Bo and her parents are.

Bo still wants to find out who her parents were and eventually meets another succubus who calls herself Saskia, but is, in fact, Eva (Efa? The medial consonant was definitely voiceless), her mother, who was handed over to the dark side to bring a war to an end, but subsequently tormented, which has driven her stark, raving mad.

The series ended with mummy maddest trying to start a war between the light and the dark fey while Bo seemed to throw her brain out of the window by gushing about how she wanted to get to know her mother even although she knew the woman was a couple of thongs short of a knicker drawer.

This felt like some cheap, fantasy fun that didn’t try to take itself too seriously, but overall felt too much like it’d been phoned in.

Here be monsters

Sanctuary, Series 1-3.

Dr Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) runs the Sanctuary project, which offers a refuge for creatures called abnormals, which display unusual abilities or fall into the Loch Ness monster or yeti category. She has her own gang of scoobies, including Nikola Tesla, Jack the Ripper, and John Watson from her past, and some bright young things from her present. You see, Dr Magnus is 159 years old, having been made immortal by a simple injection of pure vampire blood because that sort of thing so works.

Every week there’s some monster or  villain to be dealt with, and on several occasions, some old friends from Stargate SG1 have turned up (Michael Shanks, Walter [who puked up a bug], Samantha Carter’s top secret boyfriend, Maybourne [now promoted to a general]; and all the extras are probably the same guys who were the jaffa in SG1).

This is cheap sci-fi (or should I say Syfy?) in which Tapping plays a slightly different version of Samantha Carter, being a scientist first and foremost. It lacks the space opera grandeur of SG1 and has no permanent villains like the goauld.

I missed most of the first series because disc one only had the first three episodes, downloaded piecemeal from the Net. However, I don’t feel I’ve missed out, and won’t be too bothered if I never see series 4.

Wine in the close

Cougar Town, Series 2.

I forget what I thought about the first series of Cougar Town. Perhaps it was “Wine-guzzling people living in a close in Florida re-enact Courteney Cox’s version of Friends, where she’s the centre of attention”.

That just about sums it up. It might be a little better if it wasn’t, ap­par­ently, aimed at an audience of slightly stupid or drunk or stupid and drunk adolescents and twentysomethings.

Well, I needed something to watch.

Are all wives of such a kidney?

Desperate Housewives, Series 7.

With the villain of series 7 obviously being Paul Young, who had turned up at the end of the 6th series, the new arrival on Wisteria Lane was Renee, played by Vanessa Williams, an old friend of Lynette Scavo’s and very wealthy divorcee. Time for a recap.

Financial problems forced Susan and Mike to move away from Wisteria Lane, which was why Paul Young was living in their house. Susan took a job doing erotic cleaning performances on the Internet until Paul discovered her secret and she had to tell Mike, who took a job in Alaska. Meanwhile, as a result of Paul’s machinations, Susan lost a kidney and the surviving one was defective, which forced her to undergo dialysis until a donor could be found. There were two matches – Bree, and Paul’s wife, who killed herself so that she would be Susan’s donor. Susan turned Paul into a project, but Felicia Til(l)man, who had been nicked and imprisoned, having been given compassionate release, was using the opportunity of Susan’s goodwill to poison Paul and frame Susan for it. Of course, the truth was revealed, and Felicia suffered death by artic. All this time, Susan was forced to drive around in a Volvo XC60 (worth a mere £25,000-£37,000).

Bree and Orson went their separate ways, and she started going out with her interior decorator, a man supposedly 17 years younger than her even although he didn’t actually look so young. Eventually, the relationship failed when a former girlfriend turned up with their son in tow. Next man at the batting crease was a policeman who was temporarily supposedly gay until the truth came out. In the meantime, Bree’s son, Andrew, had been suffering from alcohol problems and wanted to tell Carlos that he was responsible for his mother’s death. Carlos eventually learnt of this by accident and while he forgave Andrew because of his youthfulness at the time, he forbade Gabrielle from seeing Bree ever again. That, of course, led to clandestine meetings.

Lynette demanded a nanny for the new baby and got Tom’s old fashioned mother, who was suffering from senile dementia. She also started an interior design business with Renee. She tried to get rid of the twins, who moved into Mrs McClusky’s place as lodgers until she kicked them out. Her attempt to manipulate Tom into taking a much better paid job backfired when she found herself being treated as a +1 at a major business conference and resenting it. Finally and at long last, this mismatched pair have decided to separate.

Carlos and Gabrielle learnt that Juanita was not their actual daughter, but had been swapped with another baby by mistake. Gabrielle had to meet her real daughter, who had been raised by illegal immigrants from Mexico. (Of course, why would their other daughter also be fat if their actual daugher was thin?) Thanks to Gabrielle’s imperious behaviour, the father got deported and the mother had to go on the run. Gabrielle went off the rails as a result of being separated from her real daughter, but this led to a new revelation – that she had been abused by her stepfather when she was a teenager. But she also discovered that she was worshipped in the town where she’d grown up, where she also confronted the nun in whom she had confided after being raped. But her stepfather wasn’t dead and had started stalking her only for Carlos to bash him over the head with a candlestick and kill the man. It also meant that just as Carlos had some dirt on Bree, she had some dirt on him. And that was how the series ended.

The overarching story was about Paul Young’s return to the lane and his attempts to destroy it. He had been released from prison after Felicia turned out to be alive and insane. Using the compensation money, he bought up several houses and planned to open a halfway house for offenders, which led to a riot. His wife turned out to be Felicia’s daughter, Beth, whose loyalties ended up being in conflict, and rejected by both him and her mother, she killed herself. That led to Felicia being released and although she pretended to bury the hatchet with Paul, she started poisoning him via Susan’s cooking until Paul discovered the truth. Thwarted, Felicia attacked Paul directly, and knowing that he was probably going to die, he finally admitted that he had killed Felicia’s sister, Martha. But even after Susan rescued him, Paul confessed to the police.

Although the 8th series is scheduled for later this year, the 7th had an air of finality about it. Unlike previous series where the final episode usually came with a hint of what was to come (new arrivals on the lane), the Paul Young story has come to an end, and Gabrielle’s abusive stepfather was thought to be dead anyway, which means that his body can be easily swept under the carpet (although I’ll bet good money that the storyline is revived with the arrival of someone trying to track him down).

So where next for Desperate Housewives? The creepy new neighbour storyline has been thrashed to death, and I’m not sure there are many secrets (like the death of Carlos’ mother) left to be revived from earlier series. Oh well, I expect I’ll probably have seen series 8 somewhere around this time next year.

Only a few years late

Extras, The Christmas Special and Series 2 (in that order).

When I went to Suzhou last weekend, I took the opportunity to go to a DVD shop because there, such places are not the pale shadows they’ve become here. Among other things, I got Extras, the first series of which I probably watched years ago, but I hadn’t seen any sign of the programme on the Mainland.

In series two, Andy Millman has his sitcom, When the Whistle Blows, which is the lowest of low-brow catch-phrase comedies. Like Kenneth Williams, he wants to do something serious and arty, but he finds that beside A-list celebs such as David Bowie, who sings a scathing song about Millman, his star is very dull, and although he despises his audience of cretins, he at least has their adulation.

I think the star turn in the second series was Daniel Radcliffe playing himself as a sex-crazed adolescent trying to score with anything female, including Maggie, who had already not fancied Orlando Bloom. The best scene was at lunch when Radcliffe is waving around a condom which he pings away only to find that it’s landed in the hair of Dame Diana Rigg.

A special mention has to go to the BAFTA ceremony, including the coke-snorting Ronnie Corbett and Millman’s never-ending humiliation in front of everyone else during the awards.

At the end of the series, Millman has the chance to meet with Robert de Niro, but does the right thing by visiting a sick child in hospital. de Niro doesn’t say much in the scene with Stephen Merchant, but he is fascinated by one of those pens where the lady is dressed one way up and naked the other way up. And thus his big chance has passed.

I watched the Christmas special first because I assume the second series was on the second disc. In the special, Millman is in the Big Brother house. Months before, he burnt his bridges by announcing the end of When the Whistle Blows in an endeavour to do something more serious, but he has to become a profile-promoting celeb to do it, and that means a part as a slug in Dr Who and roles various things which he doesn’t want to do. But it’s his candid speech before he leaves the Big Brother house which raises his profile, and it seems that real fame and stardom is waiting.

Instead, Millman legs it with his friend, Maggie, in her 2CV.

I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. Possibly, I’m suffering from middle-age hysteria, but there were some brilliant moments. There were also some poignant ones as Maggie’s life got progressively worse. Stephen Merchant continued to do his brilliant turn as Millman’s completely hope­less agent who, along with Barry from Eastenders (Shaun Williamson), ends up working at Carphone Warehouse after he’s been sacked.