BBC’s PC Bodyguard

body1At the risk of sounding like some kind of dinosaur, what was going on with the BBC’s opener of its new drama Bodyguard? I only caught up with the first two episodes yesterday, and yes, its a well-crafted, tense thriller with some intriguing plot-lines going on, but crikey, its like it was written by a committee on a Political Correctness vendetta. It threatened to derail the whole thing for me, spoiling what could have been an absolute classic.

Our hero, special protection officer David Budd (Richard Madden) is on a train back to London with his two children when his sharp senses deduce trouble afoot. He is soon embroiled in a tense stand-off with a terrorist bomber threatening civilian casualties, but my word, the show gets awfully odd awfully quickly. The guard on the train (I think they are called ‘train managers’ now but that may have slipped by) is a woman, no problems there. The firearms officer leading the anti-terrorist unit waiting for the train is a woman, okay, wee bit unusual, but no problems there, its nice to portray women in positions of  authority/power. But then credibility starts to waver when we cut to a sniper preparing to take out the bomber and… its a woman. Yeah, another one. Okay. I’ll go with it. Our hero confounds the anti-terrorist bunch by ensuring the sniper can’t get a clean shot and so they will have to defuse the bomb and take the bomber alive (a woman coerced/forced to be a suicide bomber by her husband, because men are bastards and cowards). So the bomb defusal expert boards the train and credibility finally snaps- its another woman. FFS.

It doesn’t stop there. Budd is the hero of the hour and is summoned to his superior, and yes, his chief superintendent is a woman. Her boss is the Metropolitan Police head of Counter Terrorism Command, who, is, you guessed it, another woman. I’m beginning to wonder why David Budd wasn’t written as a Diane Budd and be done with it. At least then it could have had some LGBT credentials with a lesbian affair between Diane Budd and the Home Secretary (yes another woman), Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes) when Budd is rewarded by being put onto the Home Secretary’s security detail and the inevitable sexual tension ensues.

I don’t know. Perhaps it should be construed as very bold and forward-thinking, but it all seems distracting to me and spoiled it somewhat. We’ll see where the drama goes as it unearths a theme of corruption in the corridors of power (the Home Secretary is described as a sociopath intent on the PM’s job and is clearly in cahoots with a shady Intelligence Chief), but I do hope it tones down some of its progressive agenda. Sometimes it can be taken just a bit too far, and people tell me Star Wars is far-fetched….

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Cardinal Series Two: Blackfly Season

card2.jpgCardinal returns for another six-episodes of murder and intrigue. Readers may recall my post last year about the first season of the show, which was very impressive but distracted me with a ‘where have I see that face before..?’ mystery that was only solved at the end when I realised series lead Billy Campbell was the Rocketeer from Disney’s 1990 movie.  The soft-spoken, craggy, life-worn John Cardinal and his internalized emotional turmoil is a long way from the fresh-faced innocent hero of the Disney adventure, and Campbell is again brilliant as the core of this drama.

Based on a series of books by author Giles Blunt (season one based on Forty Words for Snow), Cardinal is a detective drama in a similar mould to so many others on tv. What perhaps helps set this aside from others is its setting, in the fairly wild landscapes of Canada and the urban sprawl of Alonquin Bay, a fictional version of North Bay, Ontario.

While the first season was set in winter, its icy locale a perfect setting for the chilling murders it depicted, this second season is set in the summer, which immediately both distinguishes this season from the other but also lessens the show’s mood and impact that helped set it apart. That said, I did find it helped the show feel fresh and surprising. The wide vistas of snow are replaced with landscapes of green, and characters plagued  (as the season title and book it is based upon, Blackfly Season, would infer) by summer flies and procedural investigation of forensic studies of maggots in decaying flesh of victims. Yes, this is gruesome stuff in places. So the show feels a little different due to the change of season, but much of the rest remains the same, and there’s not much wrong with that when it all worked so well first time around.

If I had any fault with it, maybe it would be the odd behaviour of some characters who were just annoyingly stupid and irritatingly weak in places, but that is possibly fault of the original literary source rather than the show-runners, and hey, maybe its all just to serve the drama when we shout at the television screen at crass dumbness and smugly watch its inevitable results.

Fairly concise at just six episodes, this is a show that feels similar to BBC dramas over here that run a similar length – it doesn’t outstay its welcome and rewards inevitable binge-viewing. I’ve read that a third season has already been shot and a fourth has been greenlit, so there’s more to look forward to, which is good news indeed. John Cardinal is a fascinating character well-realised by Campbell and considering the closing events of this season, I am very curious about where the show takes him next year.

Extinction (2018)

ext1Oh dear. Irritation would be the better title. Okay, I’ll admit it- its the kids. They were driving me NUTS. The youngest has a cuddly toy which you just know is going to be left behind at the most inopportune moment and cause a trip back into danger to go back for it, the eldest daughter is a sulky teen who seems to live in an elevator until all hell breaks loose and the screaming starts. Actually, I would imagine the casting process basically involved a line-op of budding child actors asked to scream and cry on-camera on request. Shed enough tears and scream and cry until you go purple and and chances are you’ve got the gig.

Coupled to the children from hell are the stupidest adults I’ve recently witnessed onscreen. Even the nominal hero of the film, Peter (Michael Pena) is pretty dumb throughout- maybe that’s an attempt at realism on the screenwriter/directors part, because lets face it, people are generally stupid, and tend to panic under stress, but hey, we’ve all seen plenty of alien invasion movies, haven’t we? When an alien invasion force comes out of the sky with searchlights stabbing at windows for signs of life, and starts shooting the shit out of anything they see that moves, you don’t stand there gawping out of the panoramic window for ages, right? I mean, you’d also head for ground level too once you saw the rest of the city in flames, you wouldn’t head for the roof to find that, once there, there is nowhere else to go except, er, down.

Okay, I should cut the film some slack. Its maybe refreshing, even, to see people doing stupid stuff and being generally useless at fighting aliens. I probably would if not for those bloody kids.

extSo anyway, the premise is fine for a movie that is actually more Twilight Zone than Independence Day. Peter, an engineer, is having trouble sleeping. He keeps having nightmares that are fairly apocalyptic and its effecting his marriage and his work, where anything seems able to trigger a waking ‘vision’ (a desk lamp flickers the wrong way and boom he’s back in Doomsday). It gets so bad he’s walking out at night and he sees lights moving in the sky and no-one else can see them. Is he going crazy?

Just when the jury is in and he’s destined for a visit from the bug-squad, the sky lights up late one evening and an alien invasion force arrives, blasting the shit out of everyone that moves and laying waste to the city. So Peter’s visions were of the future, somehow?

So the majority of the film becomes a family Die Hard/Irwin Allen disaster flick, with Peter having to get his family and some freinds to safety (thankfully Peter’s wife is an architect or planner on the council and knows about some tunnels hidden beneath the city). They of course have to get past homicidal aliens and through the ruins of the building and the city plaza beyond and somehow keep the wailing hysterical kids quiet for more than five minutes.

There is, thankfully, a mildly diverting twist that sort of explains much of what precedes it and almost saves the film. But by then the execution of it all has just sunk it. I won’t go into that twist for the sake of it spoiling the film for anyone who hasn’t yet watched it, but if you’ve seen any of Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone’s you’ve probably seen something much like it before.

Not the best Netflix Original then, but likely not the worst either. I would just note an observation that, again, the film ends in a fairly open-ended manner just begging for a sequel (although perhaps not quite so abruptly as the ironically-titled How It Ends), which is either mirroring how theatrical releases seem to be structured these days, particularity blockbusters,  or that the origins of this project lie in the television series arena.

 

Big Bad Mama (1974)

bbm6Wow, I really enjoyed this, but feel guilty for doing so. A bawdy sex-comedy/crime drama set during the American Depression, its a trashy Roger Corman b-movie from 1974 full of geeky pleasures, not least being Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk, William Shatner, and Alien‘s Captain Dallas, Tom Skerritt, featured in a film together. Its just so bizarre seeing them sharing scenes, Shatner with Star Trek a few years behind him and Skerritt with Alien a few years in his future. My inner geek screaming out ‘its Kirk and Dallas- together!’ as if its some majorly important cinematic event.

But there are plenty of other things going for it. For one thing, it stars Angie Dickinson in a genuinely great ‘I’m better than this movie’ performance from just before her role in the seminal ’70s tv show Police Woman– but I’ve never seen her in anything quite like this before. Although in her early forties at this point, she features in several nude scenes in this film which get progressively more graphic as the film progresses- it’d be a brave career move for any woman today, never mind one back in 1974, which seems an unusual decision as she was already a well-known actress, but it probably makes this one her more famous/infamous movies. The film also features genre stalwart Dick Miller, who is always a pleasure to see on film, as an increasingly frustrated FBI chases our heroine throughout the movie.

bbmSo anyway, we’re in Texas in 1932, and Wilma McClatchie (Dickinson) is so frustrated by her life of poverty and wanting more for her two daughters, that she stops her youngest daughter’s wedding during the wedding service.  They race away from the Church with her bootlegger lover but during an encounter with two FBI agents, Wilma’s lover is killed. Wilma and her daughters carry on her dead lover’s bootlegging business and progress onto an ever-daring crime spree. They get caught up with a bank robber, Fred Diller (Skerritt) and they commit several robberies together, and Wilma and Diller become lovers. During a later robbery, Wilma meets a charming but disreputable gambler William Baxter (Shatner) who falls into the gang and replaces Diller as Wilma’s lover. Diller is annoyed but turns his attentions to Wilma’s daughters, eventually bedding them both and getting the youngest pregnant. Wilma decides she has to make one last con to set her daughters up for life which involves kidnapping a wealthy heiress, but the FBI are closing in.

bbm1So there’s lots of sex, and lots of violent gun-play and chases. Its tawdry stuff filmed with a very low budget but it somehow has a lot of charm too, particularly from its ‘seventies feel with lots of actors familiar to anyone who saw much ‘seventies American television shows. Indeed, its a surprisingly strong cast all round, but I have to wonder what Shatner was doing in this. He is very good though, and cast rather against type, as a no-good scoundrel who’s a coward and a liar, albeit hindered by a not very good wig. I suppose Star Trek was years behind him and was just an old sixties tv show at that point; back then the show was clearly in the past and never going to have any future and Shatner had to get acting gigs wherever he could. There is good fun to be had here though- considering Kirk’s weekly amorous encounters in Trek, its a bit of a chuckle here to see him in bed with Dickinson and she declining his advances in favour of a book.

bbm5Skerritt by then had a few minor movies behind him but was still very much trying to work his way up the ladder to stardom by whatever role he could get, and while there’s little here to suggest what awaited him, there is indeed some fun seeing him being such a lothario bank-robber, bedding first the mother and then her two children. Career-wise the best was yet to come for both of the male leads, and of course Dickinson herself was soon to land a major acting part in her television show Police Woman. So this exploitation b-movie is almost a time-capsule, a moment in time in all three careers that stands out almost like some kind of reality check- actors have to eat, as they say.

Big Bad Mama is currently available ‘free’ to Amazon Prime members, and I stumbled onto it completely by accident, having never even heard of it before- maybe this is the biggest plus for streaming services such as this. There’s lots of old rubbish on Amazon but a few little gems like this one that I would miss completely if not for them sitting hidden away for me to stumble on. After a long day at work it made for a perfect Friday night viewing, its not a great movie by any means -its pretty lousy, really, but the amazing cast and the unique style of those old ‘seventies movies makes it an enjoyable 90 minutes (the cinematography alone is lovely). I see there’s even a sequel on Amazon Prime, that was released in 1987, but considering how the first film ends I cannot figure out how Dickinson manages to star in it too- something tells me I’m going to have to find out by pressing that ‘watch now’ button some night soon…

Scarlet Vol.4

scarlt4

Well, it seems such a long time since the first volume came out, but Network have finally released the fourth and final volume of their HD Captain Scarlet releases. And what do you know, they saved the best till last- for what I believe is a limited time, this volume is available in a deluxe version with a box for all four volumes, with some art cards and a comic (oh well) but most importantly there’s a bonus disc full of extras; some documentaries, 1960s commercials, and the first episode of Joe 90 remastered in HD for its own release in a few months time. Up to now each volume has been devoid of any extras and although the remastering for HD has been fantastic its been weird having no special features of any kind to put the series in context. Anyway, at last that issue has been resolved. Its a handsome package to celebrate the show’s fiftieth (I’m old!) anniversary and the set of four volumes look great together as a box set. Just have to make time to watch the darn things- my third volume is still wrapped in its shrink-wrap, horrors!

Sci-Fi Short: FTL (2017)

Here’s a YouTube link to a 15-minute sci-fi short, FTL, that won a few awards last year. It isn’t wholly convincing- its really more a tech demo, I think, a proof of ability on the part of the writer/director Adam Stern who has a visual effects background from some tv stuff like Almost Human and Childhood’s End. So inevitably it works more as a tech exercise than a dramatic one. It features Ty Olsson in the lead, a face you will likely remember from all sorts of tv stuff over the last few years. Sort of a cross between Gravity and Interstellar, maybe its something that might have been expanded into a movie if some studio saw sufficient promise in it. On the other hand, it just goes to demonstrate that fairly ambitious stuff like this is no longer the preserve of major studio blockbusters as it was back in the Original Trilogy days of Star Wars. Worth a look, anyway-

Cosmos series 2

Well here’s a surprise, some Comic-Con footage on YouTube this morning led me to the discovery that a second series of the Cosmos reboot from four (that long already?!) years ago is in the making and scheduled for airing in March 2019. While it had its faults, the Cosmos reboot was pretty good and a fitting successor to the Carl Sagan original from 1980. Here’s a teaser trailer for next year’s offering; looks like they have dropped the animated segments, or maybe they haven’t been completed as yet-