Sunday, 28 February 2016

A night at Red Dwarf XII

On Friday 26th February, I attended the recording of an episode of Red Dwarf at Pinewood Studios. Having been a fan of the series for over twenty years, being able to actually go and watch the filming is a bit of a dream come true for me. This was the penultimate episode in a recording block of , which began back in December and covers the eleventh and twelfth series of the show. The episode I saw will probably go out next year, as the fifth episode of series twelve, but they might switch the broadcast order around before then. If not, though, it could be well over a year before we get to see this episode on TV.

There's a no-spoiler policy in place for audience members, so I'm not allowed to say much about the content of the episode. I will say that it's about ageing, and corporate greed. It's very much in keeping with the style and tone of 2012's series ten, and I like that Doug Naylor (who made a brief appearance before the audience to introduce the show) isn't ignoring the fact that the actors are getting older. The focus is very much on the core crew of Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn, but there are some small guest roles, including Call the Midwife's Helen George. The biggest laugh of the night was due to a well-timed sound effect.

The sets for this episode were very impressive. How much remains standing between episodes I don't know, but the bunk room must be a permanent feature, still there very much as it was in series ten as a focus for the characters' interactions. The other major set was the science lab/medibay. And that's as much as I think I can say on the episode, other than it had some very funny lines and a pretty strong, straightforward story. It should make a good episode once it's completed.

It wasn't what you'd call a smooth recording, though. Right at the beginning the safety curtain refused to open, and the mishaps continued from there. The guys cocked up so often that the recording went on for about an hour longer than expected, and they didn't manage to finish - the last couple of scenes will have to be picked up later. They did perform the final scene for us, though, even though they'll need to redo it from scratch for the actual episode. Some of the funniest moments were the smeg ups, though; Rob Llewellyn especially was great between takes. The warm-up guy for this recirding was Patrick Monahan, who did a good job keeping everyone entertained but suffered from the usual complaint of thinking he was the star of the show. It was, however, a great experience, and I can't wait to see it on screen someday.

Monday, 15 February 2016

REVIEW: DEADPOOL




Deadpool shouldn't work as a character. Created by the notoriously shit Rob Liefield at the height of his nineties excess, Deadpool is hyper-violent, puerile and deliberately offensive. As a comicbook title that repeatedly breaks the fourth wall, mocks the conventions of its medium and genre and pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable for the format, it certainly shouldn't work as a movie. Languishing in development hell for a decade, the film has been the personal mission of Ryan Reynolds since he fell in love with the character when, in one issue, he was referenced as a potential lookalike (“Ryan Reynolds crossed with a shar pei,” was the actual phrase used). Reynolds could have been forgiven for dropping the project when he signed up to play the character in the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a film that completely missed the point of Deadpool almost killed any potential the character had for screen success. Yet, seven years and a well-judged test footage leak later, here it is: a faithful, hilarious and already hugely successful Deadpool movie.


It's only February, and Deadpool is probably already the film of the year. Utterly vulgar and excessively bloody, bursting with truly hilarious moments alongside exploding guts, gratuitous nudity and, somehow, a genuinely sweet love story, the movie captures the spirit of the comics at their best. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, and it's most definitely not suitable for the tween-to-teen target audience of The Avengers and its ilk, and it's a breath of fresh air in a climate of endless and increasingly interchangeable comicbook movies. Reynolds is absolutely spot-on in the part he was born to play, silencing anyone who thinks he can't be funny. The knowing postmodernist style of the comics is present and upfront, with the story told, alinearly, by Deadpool to the audience, while he isn't ripping the piss out of himself, the guy playing him, the directors, comicbook movies as a whole and anyone who crosses his path. The decision to animate Deadpool's mask – allowing his emotions to show through, just like in the comics – is inspired. They should really do the same thing with Spider-Man when he comes back.


Deadpool's lover, Vanessa, is the second-most likeable prostitute Morena Baccarin has played, and the two leads have excellent chemistry, through each foul-mouthed yet tender moment to the next. (Although, frankly, I think their relationship develops a little on the slow side. Also, their banter almost descends into the “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch at one point.) Equally spot-on is T.J. Miller as 'Pool's best mate Weasel, as is the wonderful Leslie Uggams as Blind Al, Deadpool's elderly, coke-nosed roommate. Ed Skrein is great too; a protagonist as violent as Deadpool needs a truly loathsome villain, and Skrein's sadistic turn as Ajax, ably supported by Gina Carano as Angel Dust, is more than up to the task.

The characters I'm desperate to see again, though, are the X-Men: Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, played by Stefan Kapicic and Brianna Hildebrand, respectively. Finally, they've got Colossus right; gigantic, unstoppable, Russian through-and-through and a complete boy scout. NTW, on the other hand, is sure to be an instant favourite with everyone, a sullen goth with no time for any of this shit who wipes the floor with anyone stupid enough to underestimate her powers. If we ever get that X-Force movie, Deadpool, Colossus and NTW are all surely going to be on the team (along with Cable, naturally). It does raise questions, though. Is Deadpool part of the X-Men movie franchise? Well, clearly, yes, although it exists in its own, tangential reality to the canon. Obviously it doesn't fit with Origins: Wolverine, but that seems to have been pretty much dropped from continuity anyway. In any case, it's rather pointless worrying about continuity in a film where the main character not only references the rest of the franchise's actors and complains about the timeline being too confusing, but actually makes a fourth-wall joke whilst breaking said wall.


The action is, of course, spectacular, with brilliantly choreographed fight scenes that are both funny and brutal. It's all the more impressive when you consider that the already tight budget was being slashed even as they were filming, necessitating last-minute rewrites. Really, though, Deadpool's all about the humour, uncompromisingly, violently hilarious all the way. Deadpool winks and wanks his way through the movie, winning more fans than ever, and the sequel is already in the works. However, let's not forget the real hero of this film: Dopinder, the taxi driver. Make sure Karan Soni is in the sequel as Deadpool's exclusive driver.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

REVIEW: FLASH 2-12 & 2-13, plus SUPERGIRL 1-13

FAST LANE

The Harrison Wells/Zoom storyline is easily the most compelling part of this season. Barry seems to be dealing with Patty's absence pretty well, and maybe he should be paying for this a little more, but still, it looks like he's growing up as a character. He's far more mature than anyone else here when it comes to dealing with Wells and his, self-admittedly, inevitable betrayal. Even as they have come to accept "Harry," the other member of Team Flash treat him as if he's a version of the villain from last year, who was, in fact, a completely different character pretending to be Wells. Only Barry seems to actually be treating him as an individual, and even he keeps banging on about "the other Wells."

The other half of this episode, the West family shenanigans, is frankly quite dull. At least Iris gets to be a bit more proactive now, having vanished into the shadows for much of this season. However, I'm really finding it hard to give a damn about wannabe-speedster Wally. Tar Pit makes a fun baddy, if a minor one, but that's rather the point. Not a bad episode, but nothing stand-out either.

WELCOME TO EARTH-2

Now, that was just tremendously fun. The first episode set primarily on the alternative Earth-2 has all the cliches you'd expect of a parallel universe story, but they're cliches because they work. Pretty much everyone we give a damn about gets an alter ego in this episode. Alt-Barry is enthusiastically nerdy and embarrassing, but he's still had more luck in his love life, being married to Detective Iris West (who's rather more fun than her Earth-1 counterpart). Barry should have speed-smacked alt-Joe while he had a chance, though. Cisco is on top form here, both in his regular guise and his evil alternative self (a spoiler, yes, but surely not a surprise?) plus Caitlyn actually has a presence for the first time in a good while. Her evil self, Killer Frost, is a bit naff but she and Deathstorm make a fun team, and regular Caitlyn gets some better material than she has in some time. Good to see Jay making a difference as well. The only person I was desperate to see was Earth-2 Patty, but I guess Shantel VanSanten really has left for good.

The cliffhanger is a belter, and indicates we'll finally be moving forward with the Zoom storyline (my money is still on Earth-2 Henry Allen). There are some great little Easter eggs as well. Barry's call to his mum was beautifully played, but I was still buzzing from seeing Bruce, Hal and Diana on his speed dial. Plus, the journey through the vortex ("I think my third eye just opened!") had glimpses of 90s Flash and this young lady...

FOR THE GIRL WHO HAS EVERYTHING

Supergirl has been mining the Superman mythos heavily lately, having given Kara her own version of Bizarro last week, and now following it up with an episode based on one of the most popular Superman stories, Alan Moore's "For the Man Who Has Everything." That's a big story to be emulating, and wisely, the scriptwriters don't try to simply recreate it here. Rather, it's reworked for Supergirl, with a change of focus. The original focused primarily on Superman's imagining what might have been, had he lived on Krypton, and his realisation that it wasn't the paradise he might have imagined. Supergirl, however, remembers living on Krypton, and her fantasy is more about the life she once lived and the family she has lost. The episode is just as much as about Alex's reaction to the situation as Kara's, and the bond of family they have. There's also a focus on how life on Earth might be Kara's life now, but it's still an alien way of life to her, and something of a facade. She's neither Supergirl nor Kara Danvers; they're both characters she plays. I'd be interested to see more made of the similarity between her situation and that of Henshaw/Manhunter.

Maxwell Lord is still a weak villain; even with their preening and pompous dialogue, Non and the Kryptonians are far better foes for Kara. Not sure if I buy Hank pretending to be Kara really works, but Melissa Benoist is rather brilliant at playing Hank-as-Kara.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

REVIEW: FLASH 2-10 & 2-11, Legends of Tomorrow 1-1 &1-2

POTENTIAL ENERGY

Well, you've got to give them props for bringing the naffest villains from the comics to life in an (almost) believable way. The Turtle makes for a pretty funny baddie-of-the-week, and his slo-time gimmick works reasonably well as a minor trial for him to overcome. There's a lot of time spent on the West family and their new addition Wally, but to be honest, I'm not enamoured with the guy so far and this part of the ongoing story isn't gripping me. No, the main part of this episode is Barry trying to find the guts to tell Patty he's the Flash. Apparently he hasn't learned anything from how it all blew up with Iris. What a goon.

THE REVERSE-FLASH RETURNS

The best thing in The Flash is Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells. Or Tom Cavanagh as Eobard Thawne as Harrison Wells. So an episode focusing at least partly on him is always a treat. Here, we have the other Eobard Thawne - the original Thawne - from an earlier point in his own timeline, before he faced Barry and all that fun last year. The problem is that Matt Letscher is nowhere near as good at playing the villain as Cavanagh, and the lack of familiarity with this version of Thawne really hurts the episode. However, the main cast are still great, and it's good to see Barry get over some of his hang-ups about Thawne and let him go to maintain history (and Cisco's life).

The second best thing in The Flash is Shantel vanSanten as Patty Spivot, and it's way beyond time that she got brought into Team Flash. And what do they do? They write her out, by dint of Barry being stubborn and too afraid to take risks. I realise this was her place in the story from the beginning, but damn it, Patty is wonderful. I hope that she comes back at some point, because her presence has been a big part of why this season has worked so well.

Also: Jay's Earth-One alter ego is named Hunter Zolomon, which would seem to be a huge hint that he's actually Zoom. More likely, though, it's a great big herring.

LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (two-part pilot)

So, that's what Doctor Who looks like when made by American superhero execs. Arthur Darvill basically plays the tenth Doctor, and to be honest, he's not bad, although he's also clearly not taking it remotely seriously (which is the only way to play it). There's a big chunk of Terminator in here too, what with the devastated future America and all.

Overall... this is OK. It's all good fun, and there are some lovely moments. The barroom brawl with Captain Cold, Heatwave and Canary, to a Captain and Tennille soundtrack, is tremendous fun. There are some nice spots for fans of both the original comics and the Arrowverse shows: Damian Darhk being present at the arms deal, Chronos turning up, a brief mention of Per Degaton. But it's also mired by some poor acting and some truly terrible dialogue. It's just a little too naff and cheesy to quite work (and considering how cheesy The Flash is, that's really something).  There's way too much being introduced all at once. Even of you have seen The Flash and Arrow, characters like Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and Firestorm, are tough, confusing characters to sell.

And what have they done to Martin Stein? He's a great character, and I'm all for adding a little edge to him, but having him rohypnol Jax is just utterly out of character and really pretty nasty. The second episode, which put him up against his earlier self and gave him a needed dose of humility, helped, but it's still a bad move on the writers' part.