Monday, 28 April 2014

"Penny Dreadful" TV review, Season 1, Pilot, Episode 1, Showtime/Sky Not cheap, not dreadful, great gothic fun

Victorian England seems to be in fashion. This lush production promises lots of scares, gore (the first confrontation with the nest of vampires was spectacular) and camp silliness. More graphic than NBC's "Dracula", more fun than "Ripper Street" (this show doesn't take itself too seriously).
 I am reminded of the patchy but rollicking flick (2003)/graphic novel "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" with its 19th century horror characters. In this show we have vampires and Mina Harker, Dr Frankenstein and like the aforementioned film, Dorian Gray.
All the Victoriana staples are here: opium dens, Egyptologists, foggy gaslit alleyways, ritzy gentlemen's clubs, Ripper-like mayhem.
The cast is terrific: retired Bond, Timothy Dalton as the intrepid explorer; Eva Green (another Bond link) as the cool but gutsy Vanessa Ives (with the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes) and Josh Hartnett as the troubled sharpshooter/adventurer.
Sam Mendes is the executive producer, John Logan (Skyfall), the creator/writer (two more links with James Bond).
The idea of a "demi monde" is an intriguing one.
More please. Looking forward to seeing Rory Kinnear as The Creature.
PS. the camera isn't shy with the male nudity.

Stephen King "Doctor Sleep" A return to form?

Don't you love a page-turner? This is a return to form for Stephen King, as good as his horror classics from the seventies. You don't need to have read "The Shining" to appreciate this sequel, though.
Danny Torrance, the little boy with the shining, is now in his thirties, battling alcoholism as well as his psychic powers. King's own experiences with alcoholism makes this novel stronger and more pertinent than other recent efforts. He explores near family ties, death and the plight of the elderly (obviously close to King's heart). The hospice scenes are extremely well handled. The final chapters show King in a more compassionate and contemplative vein. It was over 35 years since he wrote "The Shining".
Abra, the feisty 13 year old with mega-shining is a likeable and well drawn character. The travelling vampires (masquerading as retirees/grey nomads) who feed on children for their life force is amusing as well as terrifying.
Some of the most disturbing passages are derived from sordid real life (e.g. the soiled diaper toddler crying "Canny"). Rose, the head of the vampire clan, is a worthy adversary for Dan and Abra.
Stephen King writes: "Watch out for those Winnebagos and Bounders. You never know who might be inside. Or what."
A great curl-up-by-the-openfire book.

486 pages, hard cover, Hodder & Stoughton.

Friday, 11 April 2014

"The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" (1970) From the Video Vault

Billy Wilder's flawed masterpiece (United Artists insisted it was cut from 3+ hours down to 125 minutes) is rarely seen. It has impeccable credentials. Co-written by longtime Wilder collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond), sumptuous sets (check out the London club and the street scenes), beautiful Scottish scenery; classy Maurice Binder titles; sublime, melancholy Miklos Rozsa score; perfect English cast (Irene Handl as Mrs Hudson is priceless), Christopher Lee (who at the same time was king of Hammer Horror) as older, smarter bro Mycroft.
Critics were lukewarm when it was released in 1970, making a lot of fuss about the homosexual element (Russian ballet, first story). Now, nearly 45 years later, this film (even though only 2 or the 4 tales remain) compares favourably to recent Holmes remakes: Guy Richie's overkill and BBC's "Sherlock". The 7% solution (cocaine) reference pre-dates the 1976 film of the same name.
The witty, ingenious script has Holmes regretting his biographer's efforts in "The Strand Magazine", grumbling about having to keep up with his image, coming off second best with superspy Mycroft (compare with BBC's "Sherlock"), encountering Queen Victoria, dead dwarfs, gravedigger Stanley Holloway and going all steam punk in Loch Ness.
What about the missing sections? A flashback to Sherlock's university days, 2 more mysteries (one concerning a corpse in an upside-down room, which remains in the Laser Disc edition) and a present day scene. Tantalising, but tragically lost.
From a deleted scene, Sherlock in a fez...delicious fun

Monday, 7 April 2014

Things I like about "Da Vinci's Demons" Season 2

  • Leonardo doing a credible Risario impersonation in Episode 3, complete with his signature camp sunglasses (though the wrong shape)
  • The Pope's Bond-villainesque lair, atmospheric lighting, flashy art direction (all villains must have posh British accents, this is a prerequisite)
  • The show soars whenever Leo brings on on of his inventions (usually inspired by nature - e.g. submarine in Episode 3 - even though a row boat at night probably would have sufficed)
  • Clarice Orsini (Medici's take-no-prisoners, gutsy missus) has a beefed up role in the second series
  • It never takes itself too seriously - each episode usually has some nice throw away lines (often delivered by Leo or Zoroaster).
  • All that green in Episode 5, now Leo has reached South America. Don't know how he ended up in the Andes and what looks like Machu Picchu but hey, who cares? This is such enjoyable claptrap and Risario is there, too.
  • This season gets nuttier each week. Episode 7 looked more like Indiana Jones, plus we had "Carry On, Constantinople"

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

I love "Bluestone 42" Series 2/3

Isn't it great when the second season maintains the quality of the original series? I reckon the second was even an improvement. Funnier, richer characters (e.g. Bird, Nick, the Lieutenant-Colonel), great new characters (Tower Block) as well as suspenseful situations. What about that cliffhanger final scene?
Series 3 loses cynical Nick, gains keen-as-mustard Ellen, but it is the strongest and most consistent series so far. The puerile but lovable Scottish pair (Mac and Rocket) have developed a great comedy double act. Episode 5's the-net-beats-all-weapons was priceless.