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Month: June 2016

London Has Fallen (2016)

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Welcome to Bordelistan

It starts with a bang (very distinguishable India standing for the Philippines drone massacre) and after the mandatory “Two years later” card proceeds to a 40′ gleeful mayhem in which no less than six Heads of States are dispatched through a bloody carnage leaving the center of London eviscerated. After that it becomes a regular thriller for its remaining hour, albeit a violent one, its hero brutally played by Gerard Butler, not known for his lightness of touch. Accordingly, it starts and ends on very unpleasant notes. But let’s separate the grain from the chaff first.

More deserving a deconstructing recap than an analytic review, London Has Fallen is competently made by Iranian-born Babak Najafi, after some shorts, two episodes of Banshee and two feature films, first of which he directed in Sweden. Its premise is clever, if not novel: after the British Prime Minister dies “mysteriously”, leaders of the Free World congregate at the St Paul cathedral memorial service held for his State funeral. This is a nightmare scenario for logistics and security services alike. It’s also about to become a nightmare, period.

To enjoy this movie, suspension of disbelief is of the essence. You will have to accept that the London police force has been infiltrated by the personal militia of a vengeful arm dealer mourning his daughter. You will have to take at face value that even the Royal Guard has been infiltrated. You will have to be fatalist about the fact the “the most protected event on Earth” therefore becomes a fish-in-a-barrel shooting party. Your reaction will probably be “Why don’t they just blow up St Paul Cathedral once everyone is inside?”. Well, I’ll tell you why: it would be less fun.

The best moments of the movie are the Heads of State’s dispatch. Apart from the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) and the Canadian Prime Minister, no one seems in a hurry to attend church. The German Chancellor (even more poorly dressed than Angela Merkel) is gazing at the changing of the Royal Guard, the French president procrastinates on a Riva Bella motorboat stationed on the Thames river, the Italian Prime Minister treats his 30yo mistress (one guesses) to a private visit of Westminster Abbey, while the Japanese Prime Minister… is stuck in traffic with only one driver and no security.

After all are dead but POTUS, thanks to Butler, an exfiltration turns really bad, killing Angela Bassett in the process, which is inexcusable. The two last men standing will have to find a way to avoid that the president is decapitated online for the whole world to see, an exploit they achieve by killing dozens of terrorists and exchanging one-liners. “I was wondering when you would get out of the closet” says his Head of Security to the President. What are they, f*** buddies?

It ends with what seems to be an inflection in Hollywood policy about terrorism. It is unpalatable, to say the least, to show the US military in full knowledge there will be collateral civilian casualties to yet another drone strike, especially so when the Vice President ordering it is played by Morgan Freeman, aka God. No doubt it has, and will, happened. But that it appears as just retaliation in such a movie makes one wonders if the neo-cons who left the White House have found shelter in the Dream Factory.

IMDB page

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Revenge S1E11: Duress

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Happy As Clams

Dramatically opening on a fast forward beach diner scene set on Beethoven’s Piano Sonata N° 14, Duress explores its titular concept in a variety of ways before sealing Taylor’s fate right for mid-season after the foreseeable “two days earlier” card makes the viewer giggles. It seems we’re back on business after last week’s plot hiatus, with a death threat, a social event and one of Terminily’s opponent demise. Welcome back, Revenge, and congratulations for your new title card, now a CGI black sea under a crimson sky!

So, it’s Daniel’s birthday and he wants to keep it simple, so an intimate clam bake on the beach it will be, catered by the Bar Brothers, who by the way are also guests. Are the Graysons slumming or what? This is an interesting table plan indeed: Victoria and Conrad are in the throes of their “Battle Royale” divorce, Bar Jack brings Karamanda as a date, Charlotte brings Bar Declan, and Daniel looks sheepishly up to Emily, who is resolved to ruin them all if need be. Also, Ashley is there without a date, since Taylor is now non grata. But who care about Ashley anyway?

Time for a quizz: what is this episode relying on as a plot device? Come on, you know the answer! But yes, Moby Disk of course, saved from drowning by the same Taylor who threw it into Nolan’s pool last week! This allows one to make a confession: only this week one realised the whale was in fact a seal. Will this leviathan of a soap opera will be revealed as a mere dolphin in the long run? We’ll see.

Taylor’s medication is a strong anti-psychosis, so potent that it seems that missing one intake sends you right back to the loony bin. Terminily steals the pills when she takes back The Black Seal Of Fate from his luggage and he quickly unravels, burning bridges with Conrad (who he calls “Connie”, using disparaging diminutives being one of psychosis’ symptoms), stabbing Nolan (where the heck is his bodyguard?) then finally holding the clam bake party at gun point until the arrival of his brother, conveniently a neuro-surgeon, saves the day. This series definitely needed a dashing surgeon.

A couple of deliciously absurd scenes popup  before then. How not to love the moment Taylor is unable to locate The Black Seal Of Fate in Emily’s house, when he just saw on Nolan’s PC it was on the mantelpiece, or the one he hides behind an open staircase? Psychosis truly messes up with one’s head…

On the Grayson divorce front, the prenup Victoria has signed is null since she was pregnant – therefore under duress – at the time, or not, but anyway she was, since she lawyered up with a tricky bastard who refused to appeal Terminily’s father verdict. She recognises him and give him the evil eye; fooled by her new hair colour and cut, he of course doesn’t recognise her at all. Ha ha.

Fun of the week: Victoria only wants the mansion and a few pieces of art, namely “the Renoir, the Pollock and the Henry Moores”. The Kandinsky “didn’t age well”. What about the Monet, lady?

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A Man From The Future (2014)

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Science And Sex

Part of the BBC Proms 2014 programme, A Man From The Future is based on the life and work of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who broke the Enigma code, allowing the Allies to win WW2 by anticipating U-Boat position, therefore ending the German maritime supremacy. Turing is considered today a pioneer in computer programming. While worthy of a Nobel Prize, his work was hampered by two facts: he worked for the Secret Service and was openly homosexual at a time sodomy was still considered “gross indecency”. He was prosecuted and he committed suicide in 1954. Only in 2009 the Gordon Brown government apologised, a royal pardon being granted by the Queen in late 2013.

One does not know much about music when it’s not a song or a movie soundtrack, but was lured to listen to this orchestral suite as it was composed by the Pet Shop Boys, following their previous endeavours out of the pop format, like their 2004 soundtrack for Battleship Potemkin or their 2011 ballet The Most Incredible Thing. The music mixes the BBC Orchestra, the BBC Singers, electronics and excerpts from Andrew Hodges’ biography of Turing; it is more a musical tale than anything, composed as it is of eight segments.

The BBC programme has three segments, all premiering in their live version at the Royal Albert Hall. First segment is a live rendition of the rather pompous Overture to Performance, a symphonic Megamix orchestrated by Richard Niles and played in, well, overture to each live performance of the PSB eponymous 1991 World Tour. Following the tempo of 10 previous hits, the piece jumps from classical to big band, and is more a nudge to loyal fans than something able to stand on its own.

The second segment, Four Songs in A-minor has songs PSB written in this key orchestrated by Angelo Badalamenti and sung by Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. Her distinctive voice has not aged one bit and she does a great job at performing Love Is A Catastrophe, Later Tonight, Vocal and, in duet with Neil Tennant, the version of Rent previously sung by Liza Minelli. The two stronger songs are the slow ones and the two others, more recent ones paling in comparison, especially Vocal, not a great track to begin with. It is nevertheless a great performance by a very gifted singer.

A Man of The Future closes the programme, orchestrated by Sven Helbig. Once again, one is anything but a musical reviewer but what is captivating in the 45′ piece is the narration by actress Juliet Stevenson, lifted with talent from what seems to be a very clever and well written biography. The story is tells is more involving than A Beautiful Mind or The Imitation Game, two award vehicles which attempted at an Alan Turing biopic and both failed, the former by replacing homosexuality by Jennifer Conelly and the later promiscuousness by a quasi-chaste attraction to a co-worker. The piece is also reminiscent of the Paddy McAloon solo track I Trawl The Megahertz, on the album of the same name.

“Can you feel what I feel? Can you feel what I think?” is a major motive here, asking one fundamental, unanswerable question; what’s in me which is the same than the others, and what’s in me which is different? Being a mathematician and a genius,Turing couldn’t be satisfied by the unanswerable and so he dreamed of an universal machine, combining pure mathematics and mechanics, an electric brain.

He started his unholy collaboration with the British Secret Service at Bletchley Park, “the goose who lay the golden eggs and never cackles”, according to Churchill. After slaying the Enigma encryption code, he devised his own encryption system, Delilah, “the deceiver of men, turning secret words into white noise” – and Churchill’s in the process.

Turing laid the basis of computer programming by focussing on two essential functions of the human brain: memory and control. Heaven knows he would have been able to do next if a trap organised by the British police has not laid to his prosecution, chemical castration and ultimately his suicide. “A homosexual is automatically considered a security risk”, tersely stated an official, and indeed Great Britain would have its fair share of evil gay spies in its Philby period.

Brilliantly exposed as “a conflict between innocence and experience”, Turing’s predicament, conflicted as he was between the universal and the individual and feeling “a lack of reverence for everything but the truth”. The final segment features a recording of Gordon Brown’s apology, “I am very proud to say we’re sorry”, the text of the Royal Pardon, and a capella last words, “The law killed and the spirit gave life.” Tough stuff.

(The Chrissie Hynde performance is captured on a cell phone, the rest is audio only. A record and a more visual production of the show are in project.)

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Life’s Too Short (And So Is Your Dick): Outlander (2014 -)

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A Vase of One’s Own

If you are an heterosexual male, skip this review or read at your own peril: did you know that your wife/girlfriend’s ultimate fantasy was to get raped by a skirt-wearing hunk on the moors? Well, now you do. Welcome to Highland Romance, a specific chick-lit form which now trrranslate to yourrr TV screen, courrrtesy of Starz. Outlandish it is, morrre a political manifesto in the context of this Brrrexit week than just rrromance: Scottish do it better, by Jove!

Scotland, Scotland, Scotland, 1945. Reunited Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe, aye!) and hubby Jack (Tobias Menzies, in between two Games of Thrones appearances) take a second post-WW2 honeymoon. She was a war nurse and he, a history teacher, fighted bravely for freedom, democracy, and the Crown, “making doodles everywhere”, which does not sound exactly like the Somme Front. He nevertheless came back psychologically wounded and is not ready to consume their union again, in a very British, anti-sexual stance. Yes, she will soon be spirited away to 18th century Highlands and find solace with a skirted hunk, but hold your horses. There is a lot of exposition to go through first.

Empty vessel Claire is first glimpsed as a child gazing at a shop window and Freudianly musing if someday she will have her own vase. And something to put in it, one guesses. This is the start for an abundant voice-over which contrivance is only matched by its awkwardness, two characteristics also presiding over dialogues. “I had no idea Inverness was such a hot bed of contemporary paganism”, she chuckles after a mild argument about the Old Testament. Checking in at their B&B, jack delivers a crash course in Scottish folklore. Halloween is quoted as an exemple how “the Church took pagan holidays and rename it for their own purpose”, which establishes that there is no historian in the writing team, even though Jack is one. One means, there is exposition and there is exposition. This is definitely exposition.

There is a vague project of “renewing the family tree”, but our heroes are not exactly hot as coal. In a very awkward scene, they kiss standing on the bed, her willfully, him half-heartedly, and when she attempts to go down on him he kneels down too. They then jump on the bed like toddlers, to which the inn keeper smiles benignantly, recognising the healthy sound of marital sex. He asks her “Happy?”. Ahem.

And it goes on and on, in the most constipated way  possible: “I learnt to build latrines and lots of other things not suitable for a young lady of gentle birth”, she voices over. One clutched his pearls in horror. Fortunately, she “develops a keen interest in botany”, which is much more proper. At this point, one wondered if anything would ever happen under the tea-cosy. Fear not. It won’t.

Jack still enjoys doodling: he draws his wife’s palm. Excuse me, again? The inn keeper has to be a palm reader and she has never seen one quite like that before: Claire has two life lines! Isn’t that OMINOUS? Yet she feels “a bath is in order” and he pinches his nose (insert your own fart joke here). There is a ghostly manifestation, to which she reacts with “You look like you’ve seen a ghost”, in a case study of “Moron States The Obvious”. Suddenly sex is great again. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ”, she charmingly utters. Wait, what?

Some form of Enya nicely complement images provided by the Scottish Board of Tourism, and they venture to “the Ring of Prophecy”, where a druidic ritual is performed “so the sun can rise”, making one wonders if the thing is happening every day. It’s all very decent, a bunch of women (among which, of course, the inn keeper) in white dresses whirling with flowers in their hair and chanting. The couple discreetly retreats before they disturb the proceedings.

But, but, remember, Claire and her keen interest in botany? She’s puzzled by a blue flower she noticed in the Ring of Prophecy so she gets back there, appropriately dressed in a timeless white dress, touches a stone, and fades to black. While she’s out she has an unexplainable flashback to a car accident, apparently involving a… piano. She wakes up, having mysteriously lost her too-40s-for-the-18th-century crocodile belt, and wanders on the moor, doing a quite good impersonation of Kate Bush in her video for The Sensual World. Yes!

Accepting she has travelled back in time is no biggie after an attempted rape by her husband’s evil twin, a Sergeant Captain of Dragoons. She’s rescued by a Scottish guy, who knowingly asserts that “she’s not a whoorrrre”. She concurs “I am a nurse. Not a wet nurse!”. This is rather gracious innuendo.

Enter the hunk, Jaimie Fraser (Sam Heughan, hunky) whose wounded shoulder she tends to. She also saves the merry Scottish band from a British embuscade. it rains or it doesn’t, according to the camera angle. She finds refuge in Ye Olde Castle. “So far I have been assaulted, kidnapped and almost raped but somehow I know my journey has only just begun”, she voice-overs, counting her blessings.

If your thing is Heritage bodice-ripping romance, this one is for you. If you are a perv getting a kick out of bad dialogue, this is a gold mine. For all others, the present reviewer included, life’s too short.

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