Film 2018: Preview Night: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

53 single film DVDs does not go into 52 Sundays, but when one of them is a Xmas present as yet unwatched, then let us have that as a Preview.

My second impressions of Valerian… aren’t any different from my first ones. for which see here. It is still a good fun, visually splendid, feisty and funny film. Yes, it’s pretty much mindless, but that’s really the point of it, to go and have a good time.

On the smaller screen (of my laptop) it doesn’t lose too much of its visual splendour, and it’s once again interesting to note the vast difference between American CGI and European. Valerian makes no pretence at realism, especially in colour, preferring to adopt the vivid, metallic colours of the Christin/Mezieres comics.

That lovely intro, played over ‘Space Oddity’ still brings a lump to the throat at its depiction of greetings, of peace and harmony, and Cara Delivigne still brings a lump elsewhere: the lady is not merely gorgeous but perfect as Laureline: whether she can act or not, she brings the irrepressible lady to life. If only she had red hair.

The Rihanna bit is still a bomb: clever but it kills the momentum and will look unbelievably dated in five years time.

Otherwise, the pacing is great, and the criticism the film had back in August was still wrong-headed. More of this sort of thing, I say, more of it.

So a great time was had by one, if not all. Next week, we get serious.


Retro Xmas Revisited

Obviously, I spoke too soon.

Although technically today saw the unveiling of the New Year’s Day no. 1 (and it’s still Ed fucking Sheeran), people have still been buying the old Xmas songs. I couldn’t believe my eyes and had to count, and these are the official, Crookall-authenticated figures:

40 (yes, that’s 4-0, forty Xmas singles in the top 100.

17 in the top 30, which is more than 50%

And no fewer than 6 Xmas singles, all of them oldies, in the top 10, and that includes ‘Fairytale of New York’ gaining two places to reach no 5, and it hasn’t been that high since 2007, and only higher three times..

Even ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ has reached no 16, and it hasn’t been that high ever since the very first time it was released, forty-four years ago.

I don’t know what they put in the water this Xmas, but they’ve my permission to do so again eleven months from now.

Doomsday Clock 2

Before we begin, I’d like to apologise in respect of one aspect of my review of Doomsday Clock 1. In it, I recorded my suspicions about two new characters introduced into the Watchmen universe, going under the names of the Mime and the Marionette. This pair meant nothing to me. However, I quickly learned that they were based on two other Charlton characters, creations of Steve Ditko with David Kaler, Punch and Jewelee.

In my defence, I have only read one story featuring this less-than-illustrious pair, but I still should have got the connection. I therefore apologise.

In every other aspect, I stand by what I said, and issue 2 only amplifies my concerns.

This issue is more plot-oriented, and the first half of the book weaves backwards and forwards between the Watchmen universe and the DC Universe. Over extensive scenes of Mime and Marionette getting into their respective costumes, coupled with an equally extensive flashback of their last, psychotic but still bumbling job before being captured by Dr Manhattan (cue a near direct tracing by Gary Franks of a classic Dave Gibbons panel, although please note that Dr Manhattan will NOT be seen full-frontal naked in this series), we get a plodding recap of the set-up.

Incidentally, for some reason explained at this stage only by the word “Babum” (a Google search turns up a Sumerian King and a warrior from World of Warcraft, though I think it’s got something to do with baby food), Manhattan decided not to disintegrate the pair into their component atoms.

Since the sight of Laurie Juspeczik with Dan Driberg will only upset the once and former Jon Osterman, Qzymandias wants the Marionette along to manipulate Dr Manhattan into coming back.

Unfortunately, since someone overlooked setting pseudo-Rorscarch’s watch, the gang only manage to get out of Watchmenland into DCville even as the bombs are disintegrating New York people.

Meanwhile, in the DC Universe, we are caught up with Batman, or rather Bruce Wayne, and not Clark ‘Superman’ Kent as last time. Wayne’s caught up in a war with Lex Luthor over the superhero metagene and the disturbing theories that superheroes are actually covert American weapons (if this is actual current DC continuity, forgive me, but I don’t read that kind of superhero comic any more so I don’t know). People are in the streets of Gotham, marching against the Batman and he’s ignoring it because the Batman has to punch out a couple of crooks.

Enter our intrepid quartet. Ozymandias and pseudo-Rorscarch (aka ‘Reggie’) split up, each to visit the two smartest men in the world, to try to track down Dr Manhattan’s whereabouts. Mime and Marionette are left behind, handcuffed to a metal post, though it’s so damned obvious that they’ll free themselves as soon as they’re left alone (which they do).

Ozy takes Lex Luthor, Rorschach takes Bruce Wayne. Ozy explains himself and his purpose to Luthor, who summarises the masterplan from Watchmen in pejorative terms, Rorscarch eats Wayne’s breakfast then discovers the Batcave.

We close on a triple cliffhanger: Mime and Marionette’s empty handcuffs, Rorscharch confronting Batman, and Veidt/Luthor facing off against an unexpected assailant who has already wounded both of them with one laser-pistol shot: the former Eddie Blake, aka The Comedian.

So much for the plot. In terms of story, there’s surprisingly little in there until the cliffhanger. The flashback/exposition scene at the beginning is stodgy and space-consuming, the idea that Marionette can be used to manipulate Manhattan into returning has very little to justify it yet, but I’ll give that one time and as for the ending: Ozy has gone on record in this issue as suggesting that once Osterman/Manhattan reached this world, with its multiplicity of super-powered beings, he may have adopted a new superhero identity, and merged into the crowd.

Frankly, I find that psychologically completely implausible when it comes to the Dr Manhattan of Watchmen, and it’s also utterly trite when you remember that one of Moore’s central ideas in that series was to explore and demonstrate a more ‘realistic’ approach to how and why people would dress up and play hero. It’s another example of Johns twisting the Watchmen story and its world to convert it into a normative superhero story, with motivations and actions out of the conventional playbook.

Then there’s that sneer at the big story of Watchmen. Luthor doesn’t even try to conceal his contempt for it – and Ozy – and whilst we know that Moore was no great shakes as a plotter, and that this is Lex Luthor speaking, the fact that it’s a sneer directed at the original material from a position of self-assumed superiority says to me that it’s very much coming from Johns as well.

I’ve said it last time, and I’ll repeat it: consciously or sub-consciously, Johns’ agenda is to tear down Watchmen and the edifice built around it, and determinedly put the bog-standard DC Universe comic above it.

Other commentators, who are more impressed with Doomsday Clock and Geoff Johns than I am, are falling upon this ‘Superman Theory’ (here taking up the entire copy-Watchmen-back-pages) about just how come 97% of all metahumans are American as leading to a retcon of the entire DC Universe (oh, FFS, again?), and are getting very excited. I am comfortably able to contain myself on this subject, as well as the one about exactly which metahuman Dr Manhattan has been pretending to be since 1986, but promise to keep an eye out for this in future instalments.

Oh, and ‘Reggie’? I got nothing on that.

Boy, this stuff is pissing me off.


Film 2018: Introduction

I have an uncounted number of DVDs, both TV and film. In order to make maximum use of minimum space, these are packed neatly into plastic bags, stacked one on top of another, with other things stacked on top of them. This means that I can barely see my DVDs, let alone choose to play them.

This has long since given me cause for concern, along why-have-them-if-you-never-use-them lines. But no more. I have decided that in 2018, I shall watch at least one film per week, probably but not definitely on Sundays. And, being a card-carrying blogger, I shall blog these films as I watch them, one by one.

Yes, my dear, card-carrying audience, once again you are to be guarantors to my promise, holding me to my commitment, ensuring that I do not break my word, for to do so would break our solemn covenant. Some of you may even care.

Shortly, I will delve through the bags and start to build a pile. Films only, single affairs, no box-sets (unless I’ve got too few to last me a whole year). Ideally, I would like a Film-Selecting Elf to come in once a week to shuffle something to the top that I have not personally chosen but in the absence of anything so useful, I intend to try to make the choice as random as possible.

Some of this stuff hasn’t even been watched a second time since I got it, you know.

So, welcome to Film 2018 (if the BB|C aren’t using it, I will). Bring your own bags of maltesers, milk shakes and bottles of caffeine-free Diet Coke, don’t drop the straws on the floor, and anyone caught trying to sneak in popcorn will be handed over to Sauron, ok?

Later: Well, would you credit it? Discounting box-sets, there are exactly 53 films to watch, counting the one I got this Xmas and haven’t sat down to yet. So, if I watch that before 2017 leaves us, that’s one a week. Sounds like a plan to me.

American Gothic: e09 – Resurrector

Not very sisterly…

Now I am confused.

Some of this is down to the fug of several days with a cold, too much Blackcurrant Lemsip and overdosing on Fox’s Glacier Fruits, which left me unenthusiastic about an episode of American Gothic when my powers of concentration are pretty minimal. But most of it is that, after commenting last week about the wholesale change to the credits, we were back to the original theme. Which tells me this DVD is not laid out in production order, and I’m not watching the season arc the way it should be. If this is in broadcast order, then it’s going to make the rest of the season a bit of a fuck-up.

In my zeal to avoid spoilers, I’ve not looked ahead on the remaining episodes until now, but a quick check reveals that at least in one respect the DVD isn’t running everything in its true order. Though Channel 4 broadcast all twenty-two episodes of American Gothic, four were ‘lost’ in America, and never shown: these four are tagged onto the end of Disc 3, after the show’s finale.

One of these should already have been featured according to imdb, another is the one I’m most eager to see again. So come the New Year, I’m going to have to start a bit of jiggling around to slot these episodes, as best I can, into what may be the proper running order.

Meanwhile, ‘Resurrector’ consisted of two almost completely detached stories, one of which I recalled in its closing sequence. The first, which occupied the time of Sheriff Buck, Deputy Nick and the seductive Selena, was a one-off about corruption and temptation, involving guests Mel and Gloria (Greg Travis and Irene Ziegler), a husband-and-wife radio talk show team.

The second was Caleb, growing concerned at how Merly has left him alone for a week (which might well hark back to the end of ‘Strong Arm of the Law’), taking advice from Loris Holt (the boardinghouse owner who is his temporary guardian) on dealing with ghosts, and in particular on providing Merly with a second funeral, to enable her to move on, though Caleb doesn’t want that. This story has a cameo from Dr Matt, but no place for Gail, who just doesn’t appear this episode.

We start with Mel, seeking Sheriff Buck’s patronage to get him and Gloria onto the local TV network. They’ve tried themselves, but been turned down for not being ‘telegenic’. It’s a reasonable call: they’re both good middle-aged people, but they’re not pretty enough for TV, especially Mel. Unfortunately, Buck refuses to use his considerable influence to assist the ambitious Mel, because Mel’s got no viable quid pro quo. Frustrated, Mel threatens the Sheriff, which is not the way to go about things in Trinity.

And when Deputy Ben is forced to put a bullet into the hip of a crazed, gun-totin’ man who owes money to Sheriff Lucas, Mel sees his opportunity for leverage. Selena slinks around Ben, keeping him preoccupied whilst Buck offers Mel a deal. He’ll get him on TV, but only by himself, without Gloria. Mel’s been married to Gloria for seventeen years. He still loves her, as she does him. But if Mel wants his TV shot, it has to be alone, and if he doesn’t want Gloria dragging him down with divorce…

Mel’s appalled. But in the end, not appalled enough. He can’t do it, but when the chance presents itself by accident, Gloria falling out of a boat in the middle of a late-night date on the lake, he ensures his downfall by rowing off and abandoning her. A fair exchange is made, one refusal to thoroughly investigate a dodgy claim for one cassette of dodgy words from Ben.

Then it’s off to the studios with sultry Selena to massage those shoulders, until Mel’s had just enough to drink to blurt it out. On video-tape, for the cameras. Enter Gloria, who didn’t believe Sheriff Buck when he told her what Mel planned, but who agreed to ‘test the waters’: she’s a very good swimmer. I remembered nothing of this nasty little tale of greed until that very late scene, when it became obvious that Gloria wasn’t going to be dead, and then I remembered whole images of it. Funny thing, memory, isn’t it?

That part was at least simple. Caleb’s story was another matter. Lucas Black, the boy actor, is brilliant in this series. His conviction, his utter straightforwardness as Caleb, carries the show almost as much as Gary Cole’s ruthlessness, and helps us believe in the two weird scenes that resulted from his attempts to lay Merly’s ghost for her own benefit (which he never really seemed to see might not be for his benefit).

First, at night, he burns a map, an invitation and two of her favourite foods on a charcoal brazier, with Boone to assist. Nothing happens, but when Boone leaves, the fire springs up in a sudden blaze that contains a vortex. Merly is trapped inside. She’s corporeal enough to seize Caleb by the throat, for a time.

This scares Caleb but makes him determined to try harder. To do the job properly, he needs brimstone, or sulphur to be scientific. In the one moment of crossover between the two stories, Sheriff Buck manifests himself in the garden shed to seize and smash the glass of sulphur, to keep Caleb away from harm, but fails to foresee that the determined boy could scoop up a double handful of it from the floor and sprinkle it on the brazier.

Caleb then reluctantly sacrifices the locket that holds the only photo of his mother. Instead of burning, the locket wriggles below the ashy surface. A column of smoke erupts, in which Merly appears. On her breast is the locket. Somewhat sadly, she says, “Thy will be done, Caleb,” and then she repeats those words, but this time in a deep, bass, slowed-down drawl of the kind usually used to indicate the presence of a demon…

Smash cut into the credits and a very big Oh Shit all round.

The next episode on the DVD seems to follow directly on from this one, as it does in imdb, so we’ll have that next, but then I’m going to have to start looking more carefully at those ‘lost’ episodes, of which at least one needs to be viewed sooner rather than later.

Can I afford to wait?

Back in April 2016, I ordered a forthcoming DC Graphic Novel via Amazon. This was the collection of the 1992 ten-issue Justice Society of America series, written by Len Strazewski and pencilled by the late Mike Parobeck. I have the original issues still, but I am always in the market for an upgrade to Graphic Novel.

That was, as I have already said, April 2016. Twice, to date, publication has been set back about six months. Currently, it’s scheduled to appear on 2 January 2018. It hasn’t been postponed yet, and this is the closest we’ve got to an actual date without anything collapsing. Yet.

Of course, there’s still a week to go in which another postponement could be put in place, and you may therefore wonder why I am tempting fate by even opening my mouth about this.

I am doing so because, this week, I have read about another Graphic Novel collection of this ten issue series, except that this one is not only going to be in hardback, but it will also include the earlier eight-issue limited series Justice Society of America title, also written by Len Strazewski and pencilled by a variety of artists, which originally came into being as make-work project for the artists contracted to work on the delayed !mpact (sic) Comics project. For which I have those original issues still, and it would be even more attractive to collect both in one volume.

There’s just one thing. The publication date for this hardback is 1 January 2035.

To purchase this book (which I have placed on pre-order anyway), I would have to live to the age of eighty.

I’m not expecting to get the paperback much before then at this rate.



The publication date for the hardback has been brought forward to 15 May 2018. I have put it on pre-order.

I think I can last that long…

Uncollected Thoughts: Doctor Who – Twice upon a Time

Since the high point of the 50th Anniversary special, and Matt Smith’s ending close behind it, I have gone a long way from Stephen Moffat’s Doctor Who. From the little I have seen of her in the role, I think I have done a disservice to myself over Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts, but how would it have been possible to enjoy a single, however delightful, character/actress when I found the writing so tiresome and ridiculous, and the direction it has meant for Peter Capaldi so meaningless and irrelevant?

This year’s Xmas Special marks Moffat and Capaldi’s departure. It’s always intriguing to watch a new Doctor emerge, to try to guess from the seconds of time they are allotted in such Specials what they might possibly be, to wonder if a lost enthusiasm is about to undergo its own regeneration.

Of course, the decision to break with tradition and go with a female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, for the first time has attracted controversy and much head-full-of-shit predictions of doom from a large part of the Whovian audience. One particular YouTuber has poured out a stream of videos castigating the decision, predicting that the show will be killed off, this time forever, and generally being completely Cassandra about the whole thing.

I use the term ‘head-full-of-shit’ for this gentleman and those who flock to ‘like’ his pronouncements of doom because their reasoning is full-of-shit. The key moment came when he said that he had no intrinsic objections to there one day being a female Doctor, providing it was done for the right reasons: apparently, the selection of Jodie Whittaker is solely due to a stridently feminist agenda, crossed with fervent Social Justice Warrior preoccupations.

Do you recall that episode of Yes Minister in which Jim Hacker decides to spearhead the promotion of women within the Civil Service, in an attempt to bring parity forward? This led to a glorious scene where the Private Secretaries all meet to welcome the scheme, to heap praise on it as a worthy intention and one to which they would all lend their support, before going on to explain why a female Private Secretary would be completely unsuitable for their particular Department.

Yeah, full-of-shit, like I said.

In condemning this bozo-esque response, I’m not maligning those with genuine, and reasoned concerns about the idea, or about what we already know of how it’s to be executed, and in particular those who, for some strange reason, plan to actually watch the new series before making up their minds. Weird bunch, aren’t we?

In the end, and of course it literally was the end, Capaldi regenerates, the camera does everything it can to actually prevent us seeing anything of the Thirteenth Doctor, except that her left and right eyeballs are definitely surrounded by women’s eyelashes, then there’s one facial shot, two words (“Oh, brilliant!”) and the usual cheap melodramatic chaos. The Tardis goes haywire (why do they always regenerate inside the Tradis when they know it always wrecks the bloody place?), turns on its side, opens the door and, after a bit of desperate clinging to run out the last of those measly seconds Moffat left to Chibnall, she falls out. Into the raw timestream. And the Tardis vanishes.

Oh, of course I’ll watch the first episode of the next series. But it’s hardly encouraging.

After that long digression, what of the story? What of the meeting of Two Doctors, of Twelfth and First (a lovely performance by David Bradley, echoing my distant recollections of William Hartnell to gentle perfection), both determined to resist Regeneration and die?

Twelve’s got the better excuse. He’s been doing this for so long, he has seen so many people come and go, and that goes for versions of himself too, he’s tired beyond endurance of saving a Universe that never gets better for it, that only wants saving all the more for his doing so. Is he never allowed to seek rest?

One is  the anomaly. He’s the hard-headed, practical Doctor, the rebel who left Gallifrey to learn why Good, with everything it’s got stacked against it, always beats Evil. He wants to claim the right to live and die as himself. If he does so, all that everyone from Troughton to Capaldi will cease to exist. But One doesn’t yet know that he is why Good wins every time (little bit megalomaniacal there, Moffat, but we’ll let you have that one).

The story’s about One learning to accept his future, which comes as a lesson learned from how Twelve resolves the practical problem before them, a case of Frozen Time for which their joint decision to commit Time Lord suicide at the South Pole is responsible. You can read that as a bit of reflexive ego from Moffat, propounding NewWho’s superiority over Old… sorry, ClassicWho, teaching it a lesson: I certainly didn’t miss that implication.

How it’s worked is this: a First World War British Captain facing a scared German Soldier in No Man’s Land, both wounded, both with a gun pointed at the other, neither able to speak the other’s language, is about to die. With the stiffest of upper lips, he is prepared for it, accepts it. Instead, he winds up at the south Pole, with the two Doctors, kidnapped by a barenakedlady made out of CGI glass.

To save confusion, this is not an enemy. This is Testimony, an organisation created in the 5 Billionth Century, that reaches through time to people at the moment of their death, extracts and copies their memories and returns them to that moment, so as not to upset the flow of history. In short, they are granting immortality, to everyone, who’s names, faces, bodies, personalities can be recreated on these women of glass. The dead, all of them, can live again. Including Bill Potts.

Much of the hour is taken up with working through this plot, to find out who Testimony are and learn they’re not baddies. In the end, Twelve and One have to take the Captain back, to the crater, to the frightened German, to his death. By then, hope of a miracle has undermined his stoicism.

The Captain is played by Mark Gatiss. In a way, he’s a stereotype, almost but not a caricature. Gatiss plays him note-perfect, in every quaver and semi-quaver. He may be a type but he’s a human type, quiet, determined, incredibly brave. He breaks your heart just standing there, so clearly baffled by what has happened to him, yet accepting of his fate. He goes without a name until the moment he has to return to his position in the crater, and then that name is both so obvious and yet so heart-achingly perfect: Captain Lethbridge-Stewart.

But Twelve has a trick, one impossible trick.bTime can be cheated, but only because of the day this is, the one impossible day in all the history of War. He moves the scene forwards in time, two hours. From the German trenches, the sound of singing, Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. From the British trenches, Silent Night, Holy Night. It’s the Christmas Day Armistice, the troops spreading out into No Man’s Land, shaking hands, sharing food and drink, booting a football around. And two wounded men in a crater receive first aid, and don’t shoot each other.

Of course, it’s all a Moffat cheat, it’s the complete upset of everything Testimony do, it’s changed time, and I can see that even as I’m swept up into the great big swirl of emotion, and I give way to the sentiment being evoked, and to the stoic, quiet man who accepted his duty, who trusted his wife to carry on, whose love for his sons was evident even as he was accepting that his removal from them was the natural way of things, who gets to go home after all. Goodwill and tidings of joy to all Lethbridge-Stewarts, whenever you are.

He’s pulled it off, or enough of it for me to give Moffat credit for a beautifully judged finale, only he’s Stephen Moffat and he can’t help himself, he has to go and blow it completely with some twattishly stupid, overwrought, overdrawn-out writing that Capaldi has no alternative but to go Over The Top with, as he rants around the Tardis shouting instructions to the next Doctor as to what he’s got to be, like the next Doctor doesn’t already know after twelve times round the houses, sounding for all the world like Stephen Moffat trying to stamp an indelible stamp all over Doctor Who and tie Chris Chibnall into a strait-jacket.

Then Chibnall gets his, what was it, ninety seconds? and chucks poor Jodie out of the door still wearing Capaldi’s clobber (her own is nothing to write home about either).

So, behind the running around, the outrageous appeals to sentiment (I so did not need Jenna Coleman popping up to play Clara-the-Calamity, even for sixty seconds) there was a deeply affecting story that deeply affected me. Only it wasn’t the Doctor’s struggle with himself to accept Regeneration, which was a hideous piece of ghastly hamming, it was Mark Gatiss and Captain Lethbridge-Stewart, and the understanding that no matter how alien they seem to us now, such men were real, and what they thought and felt was real, no matter how much they had to mask it.

And that made this hour worthwhile to me.

Spinning Wheels…

As I write this, it is almost 7.30pm on Sunday evening, Christmas Eve. I am still at work, with the prospect of another ninety minutes before me. The last bus home left the bus station fifteen minutes ago.

As it happens, I live close enough to be able to walk home, if I want to do so at 9.00pm on Christmas Eve, on Sunday. In terms of distance, it’s not too far, although 90% of it is uphill, and it involves walking through a district that may not be the least salubrious where I live, but is definitely in the top three percentile.

And this is before I factor in my arthritic right knee. And hip.

However, courtesy of the holiday spirit of a colleague who I’ve never spoken to before, I am guaranteed a lift home. He’s said home and he means home, but I’m going to get him to drop me off outside the chipshop, which is a little bit nearer than the bus stop anyway, and much as I appreciate the gesture, I’m not going to drag him all the way down to the bottom of my road, when he’ll then gave to drive all the way back and turn right across whatever traffic there may be at that point.

No, it’s the fact that I’m still here at all, that they’re requiring us to stay until our shifts end at 9.00pm, even though we’re not getting any calls for our team’s discipline, and we haven’t been getting any all day, and after 7.30pm on a Christmas Eve Sunday, there’s absolutely fuck-all we can do to help now.

So I’m doing everything I can to get through the intervening time and reach 9.00pm and get out of here.

And now I am home and the world is locked out, and my kingdom may be small, in fact, the word is usually use is pokey, but it belongs to me, and me alone. Peace, if not on Earth then on the small section of it I call ‘home’. I raise a glass to all of you who read here, and wish you the Xmas Day that gives you the most.


I’ve already been awake for more than six hours and I no more know what to do with myself now than I did in the dark hours before 5.00am when I knew that I wan’t going to get to go back to sleep. It’s Xmas but it’s not yet Xmas and I’m restless over the fact that I have nothing really to do except wait out the last couple of days.

The cold I’ve been suffering the last week has taken its toll, mainly on spirit and purpose. It’s denied me the concentration to do things in more than small bashes, especially writing, for which I’ve had ample opportunity. I’ve blown out gallons of mucus, coughed incessantly, sniffled and snuffled and when I have absolutely had to do something, the least amount of effort has exhausted me.

But, weirdly, there was this moment on Thursday evening when, as if with the throwing of an actual switch, my head came back on and I was suddenly clear and lucid. I was still dead on my feet, going back into work yesterday, and not at my most active.

It didn’t turn out to be a Retro Xmas after all. It’s Ed bloody Sheeran at no 1, with Wham! at 3, Mariah Carey at 4 and the Pogues and Kirsty at 7, with none of the others moving more than one position or two. We talked about Xmas songs at work yesterday, and about the nest eggs they’ve been. I remember that first year, 1973, Slade and Wizzard and Elton, when the idea of pop groups doing Xmas songs caught on with a vengeance. Before that, it was bloody novelty songs, like ‘Grandad’ and ‘Ernie’ and ‘Two Little Boys’, which used to set my teeth on edge when I was fourteen, let alone now.

But that was forty-four years ago. Forty-four years I’ve been listening to ‘I wish it could be Xmas Every Day’, and Lord knows I loved it and it’s massive fun but if I never hear it, or Slade, again I won’t feel deprived, because I’ve just heard them too many times now.

I’ve got to go out, before long, to complete the Xmas shopping. That’s carrots, brussells, an apple pie and a tin of Quality Street, plus whatever other chocolate I decide. I’ve worked it out in my head and on e-mail too many times. I’ve got everything else, I am prepared, I am efficient, I shall get the turkey out of the freezer tonight, but I am still desperately worried that I have forgotten something that I won’t remember until I’m in the middle of cooking on Monday. I must have forgotten something. Only what?

On Xmas Eve I’ve one more final day of working and I really don’t want to contemplate that, finishing at 9.00pm, technically, when the buses stop running at 6.00pm, and the way home is all uphill. In the meantime, there’s time that only can be killed, slowly, painfully, one second at a time, because it’s all about waiting until the Day, when all those things bought can be removed from their packaging, their suspension, my suspension.

Two more packages have been delivered today. I have no idea what they are, I have lost track, I have been assembling that pile all month. I need to ensure I don’t run out of electricity in the meter whilst it can’t be topped up. I can’t concentrate, I don’t know what to do, I’m restless.


American Gothic: e08 – Rebirth

The enemy is happiness

I have to admit that I found this latest episode of American Gothic disturbing, not for its contents, which told a Kazantzakis-influenced story of the temptation of happiness, but for the fact that, only eight episodes in, the show underwent an abrupt change of credits.

That’s rarely a good sign. True, Person of Interest, in its later seasons, would change its credit sequence and voiceover almost weekly, but that was deliberately to reflect the changing positions the show advanced to. Remember that Tales of the Gold Monkey did a similar thing, late on. It’s usual done to try to rebrand a show, to attract more viewers, be more blatant in its attempt to keep them from changing channels.

Out went the eerie, creepy, soft music of the episodes to date. In came a new series of clippings, from episodes seen and as yet unseen, emphasising the horror aspect and, most disturbingly, in came a voiceover from Gary Cole, smooth, bland, putting his point of view about Trinity being a nice place to live as long as everybody plays by his rules, and presenting Merly, in particular, as a rebel against that.

It threw me, especially coming so early in the run, only a third of the way. And given that the new credits included at least one scene as yet unbroadcast, it causes me concern about whether I really am watching the series in its intended order. CBS really fucked around with the show, changing times, dates, dropping it for weeks, not publicising its return, showing episodes out of order, all of which played a massive role in preventing the show getting, and keeping, the audience it deserved. I’m having to assume the order of episodes on the Region 1 DVD Box set I’m watching is ‘correct’ in terms of the arc and that imdb’s listing is broadcast order, under which ‘Rebirth’ was episode 11.

With that in the back of my mind, I took a long time to settle into an episode of great darkness. It begins, for once, in darkness, Caleb mooching about on the trestle bridge, and being taunted about the ‘Temple Curse’ by a bunch of teenagers on the river. Merly appears, fretting and frustrated about how she can’t help him as she wishes, can’t even hug him. Her ethereal state, her passionless, friction-less existence, is getting to her. She says its unfair: she didn’t even get to do any of these things when she was alive. She’s less use to Caleb than Ray, the laid-back, cheerful biker, who hurls a tyre into the river, soaking the taunters.

And that’s the root of it. Marly wants to come back, wants to feel again, wants to sit on a porch with her little brother on a hot summer day, supping a cold drink. She wants sensation. And she works out a way to do it.

Her re-birth is marked by weird weather, sudden, violent winds, lightning crashes, but eventually she arrives at the boardinghouse door, as Hallie Monroe.

There’s a catch, however. Merly can do this because she is Borrowing another’s life. how she does this, what happens to the Borrowee, is not explained, nor does Caleb question this, overjoyed as he is to be able to spend time with his sister: that is, until she falls in love with/has her hormones twanged by biker Ray, and starts spending all her time with him instead.

But we the audience knowwhat’s going on. It’s no coincidence that Gail has a guest on hand, her fellow reporter and friend Christie. Christie is eight months pregnant and fretting: it’s her third pregnancy but she has two miscarriages behind her. Amy Steel is particularly good in this role, especially when complications arise out of the blue, or should I say upon the wind? Yes, Merly is using the unborn life of Christie’s baby-to-be, who she plans to name Hallie.

What of Trinity’s fly-in-the-appointment, Sheriff Lucas Buck. As usual, he knows everything, and more than ever in this episode, he’s popping up out of thin air, wherever you go, looking moody and portentous. He’s already hassling Ray even before Merly arrives, he knows who Hallie really is, he’s trying to get Caleb to doubt her and cost him his spiritual protection. And most of all, he wants Hallie/Merly to stick around. To stay alive. To enjoy the happiness of experience she is currently jonesing on.

Because if Merly stays, Christie’s baby will die, and maybe Christie too, Caleb will be estranged from her and she will be neutered in both senses, both as his guide and, by remaining corporeal, in whatever ‘powers’ she has. No doubt a young, unprotected girl can be dealt with as any man wishes?

So it becomes an ethical decision. Can Merly overcome having what she fervently wants and go back? Ray, who has been ‘bought’ by Buck to beguile her, attempts to take the moral step by running away but is intercepted by Buck, and is destroyed by being made to dig up Merly’s coffin, and see her as-yet-undecayed corpse. The final confrontation is between Buck and Merly, back on the trestle, whilst Christie is giving birth.

Marly sees the trap at last. She has the courage to do the right thing, to hurl herself from the trestle despite Buck’s attempts to stop her. Merly falls and dies again. ‘Hallie”s body dissolves. Christie’s baby is born alive. Sheriff Buck roars and angry “Nooooooo!!!” into the night.

And we abruptly cut into closing credits, with a new, undistinguished slice of swamp funk guitar replacing that eerie music of before.

I think I’ll leave it at that. I’m still not sure if the change in atmosphere I’m sensing is down to the framework or if there were things within that felt off. Certainly, the abruptness of the ending, and the absence of any scene in which the angelic Merly appears to Caleb and is blessed by him, is a change of pace. I’m anxious to see how, or if this is carried over into next week.