Sunday, April 23, 2017
      ( 2:57 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

The world may seem like it's controlled by powerful, invisible, malevolent forces. Much of this impression may be mere paranoia, so the best answer is investigation and illumination. This is what Peter Cushing believes in 1965's The Skull, a simple but pleasantly garish horror film directed by Freddie Francis based on a story by Robert Bloch.

It may come as no surprise that eventually Christopher Maitland (Cushing) bites off more than he can chew in the form of a skull, supposedly the skull of the Marquis de Sade. The filmmakers don't seem particularly interested in the particulars of De Sade's life beyond the fact that his name is the origin of the word sadism. So the skull is cursed, possessed by a demon that makes its owners commit murder.

Cushing is a collector of bizarre, demoniac paraphernalia from all over the world, surrounding himself with these items and books about them in his study where he spends most of his time alone with the things. Naturally, he neglects his wife (Jill Bennett) in the process.

When a dealer (Patrick Wymark) from whom Christopher purchases many objects stops by, she pleads with Christopher to give up his obsession. She's worried he's tampering with dangerous forces. He smiles indulgently and patiently explains, "It's because people, all through the ages, have been influenced and terrorised by these things that I carry out research to try and find the reasons why."

We frequently see Christopher at ease in his study, relaxing amidst his nightmare sculptures, completely assured of his control. With the introduction of the skull, this sense of control is undermined in different ways. In a possible hallucination, he's dragged out of his study by two men who claim to be police and taken to a place where he's forced to undergo some simple, sadistic trials.

This movie mostly works on atmosphere and performances. In addition to Cushing, Wymark is great as his shady dealer and Patrick Magee is memorable in two brief appearances as a police surgeon. But next to Cushing, of course, Christopher Lee makes the biggest impression, despite being only credited as "guest star"--he's actually pretty prominent in the film as the former owner of the skull who cautions his friend to stay away from it. It's just great watching these two talk about this while playing billiards. I could listen to them discuss occult artefacts while playing and drink cognac all night.


Saturday, April 22, 2017
      ( 5:01 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

To-day's new episode of Doctor Who, "Smile", is certainly a step up from the last one Frank Cottrell-Boyce wrote, but considering the last episode he wrote was "Forest of the Night", that's not saying much. To give it more of the credit it deserves, "Smile" has some entertaining dialogue that's also thoughtful regarding social media to-day and potentially emerging AI. And in removing the overblown sentimentality of "Forest of the Night", "Smile" feels much more like a Doctor Who story--in fact, maybe too much because the episode is basically The Happiness Patrol meets The Robots of Death. One could argue whether Happiness Patrol is the better story but I don't think there's any question "Smile" falls well short of Robots of Death.

Spoilers after the screenshot

By coincidence, I watched Robots of Death again a few weeks ago, after which I wrote this about it in my blog:

Robots of Death is halfway between a story about slavery and a story about technology. There are pitfalls in treating another form of life as an allegory for human race relations, which the writer, Chris Boucher, seems conscious of in creating the villain of the episode as a human deluded into thinking he's leading a race of people into rightful rule over the galaxy for their physical and mental purity. But these aren't Daleks.

This is not a pitfall Cottrell-Boyce successfully avoided. Just because emerging sentience in AI might seem like a malfunction doesn't mean every malfunction is emerging sentience. The robots in "Smile" were established as killing people because their programming mistook grief as an enemy to happiness. How do we leap from that to thinking what the robots want is to negotiate with the humans to share space on this new world?

I did enjoy the early dialogue between the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Bill (Pearl Mackie) in the episode. Her asking what the point of chairs were that can't reach the console was funny. I wonder if someone keeps a list of questions new companions have asked the Doctor before.

Mainly the episode feels like Contrell-Boyce had a few nice big ideas--well, ideas from Happiness Patrol and Robots of Death--and then connected them badly. The story is filled with the characters doing odd things to move the plot where Cottrell-Boyce wants it to go, particularly near the end--why did the Doctor and Bill forget about the little kid? Why didn't the Doctor explain right away to the waking colonists what was going on?

Seeing the show repeat itself does make one appreciate how infrequently the show has done that in past fifty years. And maybe there is value in having these stories translated into concepts from our era. The eerie imperative to be happy is certainly an aspect of social media. I suppose Contrell-Boyce would've been better off focusing on that aspect, maybe making it a bit more like "The Bells of Saint John". I was intrigued by the idea of giving robots the imperative to enforce a concept like happiness which human beings themselves famously have trouble defining.

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Peacock collars crowd the message out.
A piece of order languished for the pie.
A king acclaimed the fury of the doubt.
A flattened glade advanced the growing lie.
A boon inside the well approves the stone.
In time, my language girds a cedar plank.
A faceless sand took up the cheeks of bone.
Unwary candy left from Easter sank.
Incisive heels alarm the cooking legs.
On tables told to tallied men were motes.
A centre held the shell like splitting eggs.
A thousand crews mistook their sep'rate boats.
In faces seen in older glass are ears.
An E for A can turn the bears to beers.


Friday, April 21, 2017
      ( 2:58 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

I've been working my way through the new season of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 over the past week and four episodes in I'm starting to enjoy it more. After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the new season premièred on NetFlix last week, resurrecting the show which ended in 1999 after having been on air for just over a decade--the show involves a comedian and two robot puppets making wisecracks or "riffing" on cheesy movies. You may recognise the famous silhouette:

The series has been brought back by creator and original host Joel Hodgson. Hodgson is not hosting in this relaunched series and has recast all the roles without ever giving a satisfying explanation, particularly after at least one cast member complained on Twitter publicly about the fact that he was not given a chance to return to his role. Hodgson's explanation is that he intended the show to be like Saturday Night Live and stay fresh because of its changing cast for new generations. However, I think if Bill Murray or Steve Martin said they wanted to be a regular cast member to-day, I don't think Lorne Michaels would say no.

In the first episode, new host Jonah Ray didn't really impress me and neither did the new voices for the robots, Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn. I read that Hodgson, who directs the new episodes, intentionally increased the pace of the humour and maybe it's a sign that I'm too old that everyone seems to talk much too fast on the show. On the other hand, I don't have this problem with any other new shows. The host segments, where Jonah and the bots leave the theatre to do bits throughout the show, in particular feel oddly rushed. But four episodes in I am starting to warm to Jonah whose voice and style seem like a cross between Norm Macdonald and Bill Murray. The robot voices still just disappoint me, and I particularly feel the absence of Kevin Murphy as Tom Servo. The voices of the new Tom and Crow are sometimes actually a bit hard to distinguish.

Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt as the new mad scientists, King Forrester and Max, respectively, are much better and have a nice rapport but a bubble effect that allows their scenes to be broken up suggests they can't seem to do long takes for some reason. I guess it's not a big deal though it makes me appreciate more how hard the original performers worked every episode to accomplish those invention exchanges and host segments. Of course, the rough production qualities were always part of the show's charm and it extended to the performers, particularly with Joel who made you laugh with him when he stumbled over his lines. I heard one of the reasons Joel left in the fifth season of the original run was his conflict with Jim Mallon, who directed and produced most of the series. I don't know anything about that but so far, from what I can see, Joel is a much better performer than he is a director. The first episode of the new series, where Jonah is introduced and the explanation given as to how he became the new host, is muddled and a bit hard to follow. The running gag that he has to re-enact the whole thing every episode for the theme song stops being funny after the second episode--and if you for some reason decide to dive in at a later episode, it's confusing. However, the commitment to puppets and practical effects is wonderful to see and much of the new designs are amazing.

Mostly, though, I miss Mike Nelson. Not necessarily as host, though I liked him as host, but Nelson was head writer from the show's second season to its 1999 season so inevitably the show has a different feel without him. The new head writer is Elliott Kalan, former head writer for The Daily Show. I don't know if any of the jokes I've laughed at so far are his--the writing staff for MST3k is huge as it's always been--but I do sense a difference in the voice at work with the humour. I'm not sure how much that might also be due to the fact that the show was previously a idiosyncratic product of a Minnesota comedy scene and now has a cast with much more of a standard L.A./New York feel.

Of course, if I really want more Mike, I can just watch RiffTrax. Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff, the original mad scientists, are touring doing their own riffing performances, too, and one can't help wondering how this MST3k diaspora came into being, further making me wonder if yet another cast was really necessary. But, okay. It's done. I'll try and enjoy it.

Speaking of crowd funded projects, my friend Iain Marks, director and cinematographer and contributing writer to American Cinematographer, has launched a page to fund his upcoming Cyberpunk film Harsh Reality. He has a cool trailer up on the page which you can see here.


Thursday, April 20, 2017
      ( 11:14 AM ) posted by Setsuled  

The pendulum swung the other way on the question of justified violence in last night's good new episode of The Expanse. Featuring some nice action, suspense, problem solving, and a cameo from Adam Savage, it also occurred to me that for a show that's not half as popular as The Walking Dead its special effects budget certainly seems a lot better, in that the effects actually support the story really well. I don't know, maybe animating a tiger is a lot more expensive than what we saw last night.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I only just realised it was the season finale. It really didn't feel like a season finale somehow. I guess that's why Naomi (Dominique Tipper) had that montage narration at the end. I would rather have had Bobbie (Frankie Adams) saving Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and Cotyar (Nick E. Tarabay) without the distance created between us and the scene by the narration. Still, it was all reasonably satisfying.

The episode was written by the writers of the novels the show was based on, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (their collaborative pen name is James S.A. Corey), and veteran Star Trek writer Naren Shankar and I liked everyone brainstorming how to deal with the protomolecule soldier, that felt very Star Trek in a very good way. Amos (Wes Chatham) coming up with one solution and Prax (Terry Chen) coming up with another, better one after being inspired by his plants. That was right out of the old Star Trek: The Next Generation playbook.

Ever since I saw Samuel L. Jackson, in talking about Get Out, criticise the tendency to cast British actors over American actors under the belief that British actors are better trained, I have to admit . . . generally I've been noticing how the American actors aren't as well trained. This doesn't include exceptional performers like Thomas Jane, who I'm missing more and more, but the rank and file like Wes Chatham and Steven Strait. Aside from Aghdashloo, no-one on the show of any nationality has what might be called star quality but the British, Australian, and New Zealander actors seem to have a greater repertoire of facial expressions and vocal intonations to draw on. I guess with Amos it at least makes sense since he's supposed be emotionally numb. But Nick E. Tarabay was particularly bad last night as Avasarala's injured right hand man, Aghdashloo having to carry almost all the emotional weight of his possible betrayal with her reaction shots. She is equal to the task, though, more so than Steven Strait reacting to Dominque Tipper at the end. I can almost hear the actor thinking, "Do I switch on Good Holden or Evil Holden?"

Evil Holden seems to have more of a southern accent. I wonder if Steven Strait and Andrew Lincoln spent a lot of time watching De Niro in Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear.

Before it got diluted by the narration at the end, I was really enjoying Bobbie's segment, though, as much as I do like Frankie Adams, I wish she'd move more like a soldier. But considering all this show does manage to do maybe I shouldn't quibble.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017
      ( 7:42 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Most people don't see any drawbacks in trying to cure cancer, many don't consider the process might produce a new species of rapidly multiplying slime creature that sucks all bone matter from human bodies with its proboscis. For the edification of the scientific community and sober contemplation of the general public 1966's Island of Terror presents the possible nightmare resulting from what many presume is a perfectly innocent and noble endeavour. This Terence Fisher movie starring Peter Cushing not produced by Hammer actually features a moralising coda warning the viewer against the dangers of science gone to far. You have to love such sincerity. Less charming is the film's misogyny but the film's mainly enjoyable for its odd succession of cosy, chatty scenes and Cushing in a very affable mode.

After establishing a super high tech lab hidden on a small island off Ireland's east coast, the film becomes a mystery unravelled in scenes of people going to visit other people who in turn go to visit yet more people with their own questions. This sort of relay of concern is kicked off when one of the villagers on the island visits the constable (Sam Kydd) complaining that her husband is three hours late getting home and he's not at the pub. The constable investigates and finds the man's body turned into a squishy, rubbery mass.

So he pays a visit to Dr. Landers (Eddie Byrne) who is confounded after doing an autopsy of the boneless body. So Dr. Landers goes to England to pay a visit to Dr. Stanley (Cushing), one of the leading men in his field.

Stanley doesn't know what to make of it so the two of them go and pay a visit to Dr. West (Edward Judd) who's even more of a leading man in this field it seems. He's also a sort of knock-off James Bond, trading corny sex jokes with a beautiful woman named Toni (Carole Gray) who's wearing only a shirt.

This was the only truly insufferable part of the movie. To get to the island on short notice, Toni offers her rich father's helicopter on the condition, imposed with a mischievous smirk, that she be allowed to come along. Throughout the film, she insists on joining the men for every adventure and then panics and cries and fouls up everything every single time. It occurs to me the wrong way to write women might be exactly the right way to write children.

By contrast nearly all the men are uncannily cool throughout the film, which is sort of fun. I liked the cosy, relaxed vibe of Peter Cushing and Edward Judd poring over notes in an inn after finding a massacre of boneless scientists at that lab. It's a little while before they meet the creatures.

It's not the most inspiring special effect--not quite having as much fascinating weirdness as the creatures in movies like Fiend Without a Face to make up for being unconvincing but they are pretty fun. I liked how they seemed to slowly secrete spaghetti whenever one creature divided to become two.

Twitter Sonnet #984

Pineapple juice adorns the leaden brick.
The vault's computer dust's too full to-day.
As runners tread like graves they'll slowly stick.
In thoughts triangles pin a bad delay.
In batt'ry temples acid sips the scalp.
Condemned for plastic hair the men retreat.
Repeating slogans captured Pez for help.
The webs of wardrobe finalise the street.
A bubbling counterfeit collects a car.
Divested hands compose an itch to sleep.
A fading laugh obliged the comic's bar.
In radios the signal carries deep.
Forgiving paws disrupt the leaves outside.
When phones make ghosts our hearts'll coincide.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017
      ( 5:28 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

And it was another exciting episode of Mike watching things. We watched Mike in the new Better Call Saul watch a guy from an overpass, we watched Mike watch from across a street, and we finally saw Mike outsource watching to Jimmy. I like a good procedural but, honestly, if I'm going to watch a Mike watching something from now on his last name better be Nelson. The episode had some good moments but mostly, like last week, it felt like it was killing time.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Jimmy and Kim picking out a receptionist was fun and I liked the Cracker Barrel joke. And the ending of the episode where Jimmy confronted Chuck was very nice. But it was a long way to go for a . . . oh, what objective should I use? How about a chicken sandwich. It was a long way to go for a chicken sandwich. Which brings me to Gus Fring.

The promos for this season were really coy about teasing the appearance of the Breaking Bad character in this season of Better Call Saul. Watching Gus appear blurry in the background of Jimmy watching in a shot that, like many others . . . was held . . . for a . . . long . . . time, I couldn't help thinking Vince Gilligan overestimated just a tad how excited people were going to be about Gus. He's a cool character, I like him, but he's not so exciting when he's sweeping and digging through the trash for someone's watch. This episode definitely demonstrated that sometimes less is most emphatically less. I guess it's fitting this episode actually involved paint drying.”


Monday, April 17, 2017
      ( 7:32 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

The ends and outs of virtuous crime may have gotten more complicated four hundred years after the time of Robin Hood, but the eighteenth century set 1961 Fury at Smuggler's Bay is a pretty satisfying swashbuckler. Featuring two effective rogues, one handsome lad, three comely maidens, and Peter Cushing, the film's surprisingly morally shaded plot is an intriguing enough garnish for a fun landlocked pirate adventure.

In late eighteenth century Cornwall, it seems virtually everyone's livelihood is dependent on smuggling so Squire Trevenyan (Cushing), the local magistrate, has always looked the other way. But then a group of rogues lead by the vicious Black John (Bernard Lee) become "wreckers"--luring ships to wreck so they can steal their cargo.

The Squire's son, Christopher (John Fraser), is in love with Louise (Michele Mercier), the daughter of a Frenchman and smuggler named Francois (George Coulouris). Francois finds he's helpless to combat the threat posed by the wreckers--he can't complain without exposing the fact that the wreckers are a problem because they're impeding his own criminal activity.

There's also a virtuous highwayman called simply The Captain (William Franklyn).

The film takes these basic elements and uses them to find excuses for Christopher to wield a sword, for the Squire to brood in moral conflict, and for Louise and a barmaid (Liz Fraser) to be menaced by Black John, while each is on desperate missions that require them to run alone through the forest. Harry Waxman's cinematography is a gorgeous mix of shadows and lurid colour and the performances are all good. John Fraser looks like a young Jean Marais but a little leaner; Michele Mercier is absolutely luscious, particularly in red.


Sunday, April 16, 2017
      ( 7:13 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

I hope everyone's having a nice Easter. I thought I'd take the time to-day to create a definitive ranking of rabbits, the top five best and the top five worst. Careful consideration went into these rankings and if you wish to dispute any rabbit's placement or omission you must lodge your complaint in the form of an essay of no fewer than ten pages and you must cite a minimum of five peer reviewed sources.

Keep in mind this is a ranking of rabbits and doesn't necessarily reflect on the quality of the books, television shows, video games, or movies in which these rabbits appeared.

Let's get the worst out of the way first.

Fifth Worst: Steven Spielberg

The maker of some of the finest popular films of the past fifty years, Spielberg is arguably a bad rabbit because he's not a rabbit at all. But I'm specifically referring to an incident on the set of Close Encounters of the Third Kind where Spielberg took on the form of a rabbit to manipulate child actor Cary Guffey. From TCM:

Spielberg got the wondrous expressions on Cary Guffey's face, in the scenes where his character sees the UFOs and aliens, by using visual aides, such as slowing unwrapping toys at a height that made it look like the boy was peering up at the sky toward the UFOs. In the scene where the boy looks into the kitchen, Spielberg had a make-up man in a gorilla suit on one side of the set. The boy's expression revealed a certain alarm when he saw it, then a partition on the other side was dropped, revealing Spielberg in a bunny suit, making the boy smile but still wary of the gorilla. The make-up man took off the gorilla mask and Guffey, seeing his friend there, began to laugh.

Through this ingenious method Spielberg was able to capture genuine reactions from a child for his film but in the process made himself a bad, bad bunny.

Fourth Worst: The Rabbit of Caerbannog

If body count were all that mattered for this list this one would be unsurpassed. Vicious and unstoppable, terrifyingly quick and possessed of a capacity for destruction that defies human imagination, this rabbit must be counted among the foulest, the most dreadful.

Third Worst: American Rabbit

Maybe he's not such a bad guy but roller skates are kind of an underwhelming power and, let's face it, he's kind of wishy washy, which in its way is worse than the more impressive examples already listed.

Second Worst: Eden Prairie Centre Easter Bunny

Everyone knows the Menlo Park Mall Easter Bunny is more convincing. And really, what's worse than a guy who's supposed to be there, transporting children to a magical world where hope and imagination are alive but who chooses instead to phone in a lacklustre display?

The Worst: The Ice Cream Bunny

I don't think anyone with any serious knowledge of bunnies could have imagined this spot could be taken by any other. Introduced to the world by Rifftrax--we can safely assume Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny was not widely distributed--this dead eyed, nightmare chauffeur seems to constantly scream even as he makes no audible sound. But more than any mediocrity or sense of physical threat the most horrible thing about the Ice Cream Bunny is the impression he conveys to us of life's worthlessness. Somehow this misguided and poor rendering of a rabbit in a peculiar way makes everything else seem equally pointless, like a personification of a black hole.

Okay, enough of that, onto the good stuff. Here are the five best rabbits:

Fifth Best: Fran

Fran represents the ultimate in evolution for the bunny girl, far removed from the concept origins at Playboy. In Japan, bunny girls have long had a life of their own and in Final Fantasy XII Fran brought an elegance and dignity to the classic, undeniably fetching silhouette.

Fourth Best: Bugs Bunny

A lot of excellent cartoon rabbits are absent from this list. With such a wide field to choose from, I chose the first bona fide cartoon rabbit star who remains, arguably, one of the best. Crafty and insolent, Bugs could also switch to taking pratfalls with the best of them, without question a versatile performer who's never been equalled.

Third Best: Harvey

Demonstrating handily that less sometimes really is more, this pooka's presence is felt entirely by the reactions he inspires. Hints of Harvey's actual existence are so few that one is forced to contemplate the nature of reality and the worth of fiction. Harvey selflessly forsakes the spotlight so that we can more clearly see the power impression can have to enrich human life.

Second Best: The White Rabbit (Carroll/Tenniel)

The events of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are famously instigated by Alice's irresistible urge to discover just why this fellow is in such a hurry. He has something of Harvey's light touch in his creating so much presence with his absence but also manifests the subtle logical conundrums that make Carroll's work so endlessly delightful and intriguing.

The Best: DAICON IV Bunny Girl

Triumphing over Darth Vader, the xenomorph, the starship Enterprise, the entire roster of Marvel and DC's Superheroes, as well as over copyright infringement, the girl created by the fledgling GAINAX in 1983 has a power beyond time and space. And she owes it all to an enormous radish. I think.

Twitter Sonnet #983

In opals stirred beyond the pale to stand
Reflections flounder gasping from the space
Permitted in by stewards rash and bland
Too dull to press against a gleaming face.
Availing hay encrusted pleas the horse
Refrains affronting tamer chows for pens
Appointed ink in tubes along the course
Where lightning breaks the greenly feathered fens.
Internal yellow shells reflect the yolk
Of passing jaundice danced in time for saints,
For clovers ranged in even eggs we broke
Revealed in purple beer and mad complaints.
Important rabbits pillage with regret.
On days like these messiahs hit reset.


Saturday, April 15, 2017
      ( 8:49 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Finally, a new episode of Doctor Who, the first one, not counting Christmas specials, since 2015. "The Pilot" sees the return of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, the best incarnation of the Doctor since the 2005 relaunch, with a story based on Echo and Narcissus--kind of an odd coincidence not long after I'd read a Sirenia Digest story based on Ovid's tale of Narcissus, the man obsessed with looking at his own reflection, and the nymph who loved him, Echo, who could only speak in repetitions of what another person said. The episode gives us a very sweet version of the story but I would have liked the relationship between Bill and Heather developed more. Though by itself it works well as a sort of metaphor for a longer relationship, the danger of Bill getting attached to the reflection like someone obsessed with a relationship. I'm a bit annoyed that apparently no-one else liked how last season was composed entirely of two part episodes--that was a big improvement to my mind. Oh well.

Of course, another big thing with this new episode, something everyone's really excited about, is the Doctor's new companion--Matt Lucas as Nardole!

Okay, no-one really seems to care one way or another about Nardole. I thought he was a nice, amusing, not too obtrusive presence, there offering some funny reactions to instructions and info. So thumbs up, Matt Lucas.

And I thought Pearl Mackie was really good as Bill. I like how she dresses like a gymnast from the 80s. There's something kind of Mork and Mindy-ish about her attire too.

In addition to the nice reworking of Echo and Narcissus, the reflection thing was of the nicely subtly weird variety. It's kind of become standard, these stories about things that seem slightly off-kilter in the world ending up having an alien explanation, and maybe they are getting a little tired. Though the new companion learning the basic details of the TARDIS and the Doctor also had the feeling of a well worn song and dance at this point, too. I do like Steven Moffat and I liked this episode but I left it feeling, yeah, it's time for some new blood.

It was nice they went to Australia. Though it reminds me, is anything happening with Peter Jackson (I know, he's a Kiwi, not Australian) directing an episode? There was that clip of him with Capaldi and a Dalek and then nothing. What gives?

I like the idea of the Doctor being a university professor for 50 years. I wonder if it's Steven Moffat subtly suggesting that Class isn't canon--I'd be whole heartedly in support of that.


Friday, April 14, 2017
      ( 2:59 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Normally gangsters only need to worry about cops and other gangs but one ganglord suddenly finds another, formidable thorn in his side in 1979's The Long Good Friday. The film obviously intends to use its story as an allegory for British politics and foreign relations in the late 70s but it's more entertaining now as a straight-forward gangster film dominated by a vigorous performance from Bob Hoskins.

The film begins with two seemingly unrelated sequences of scenes. One sequence in which Paul Freeman in an unspeaking role picks up a guy who gets beaten up by unidentified assailants before Freeman himself is beaten and killed by a guy pretending to flirt with him, and sequence in which gang lord Harold Shand (Hoskins) is getting ready to meet some U.S. mafia guys in the hopes of starting a partnership. The film is set during Good Friday and Harold's mother attends a church service where a bomb destroys her car. Eventually we learn than Freeman's character is named Colin and is Harold's best friend and associate so, along with the attack on his mother, it's starting to look like someone has a vendetta against Harold's operation right at the time such instability would look bad to his prospective American partners.

The fact that Harold knew Colin was gay and apparently had no problem with it seems remarkably progressive for a gangster, particularly in the 70s, which makes me wonder if a homophobic audience was meant to be repulsed by Harold's acceptance of his friend. Director John Mackenzie presents Colin and the first man he flirts with without any apparent condemnation, though, so it just comes off as normal, except one wonders why so much time is spent with Colin when he doesn't even have a speaking part. It might be part of the film's intended political allegory representing toleration in Britain. The police are almost totally absent from the film, even in scenes where one figures the police must have shown up and been something Harold would have to deal with. It seems a deliberate attempt to separate the story from reality and with a speech Harold gives at the end where he talks about the difference between Britain and the U.S. he seems as though he was meant to be a personification of British identity or administration.

Helen Mirren gets second billing but her part is relatively small as Harold's lover and second in command, Victoria. She's very good, of course, her best scene being essentially a miniature thriller film where one of their lieutenants, Jeff (Derek Thompson), seems to be threatening her in a lift.

But the main event in this film is Hoskins. Just watching him getting increasingly pissed off and violent as things go further and further south is great. He's short but his thick arms seem powerful and he moved very quickly, his wide eyes and flaring nostrils and the way he used his bottom teeth, he's like a were-badger on speed but restrained, like a kettle of rage always just on the point of boiling over.


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