Oscars

The Oscars just don’t seem as hyped up this year, do they? The Academy Awards are always significant because they’re the creme de la creme when it comes to movie award ceremonies, but this year just doesn’t seem as important. Perhaps its because the nominations really seem to be lacking any big commercial features. Previous years have included films such as The Wolf of Wall Street or Django Unchained in their number, and while those are entertaining and artistic in their own right they also have a broader appeal than many of the films that we’re seeing on the 87th Academy Award nomination lists.

An argument could possibly be made for American Sniper or The Imitation Game to fall under that category of stylistic films with wide appeal. However, both of those are still biopics. That’s not to say biographical films can’t appeal to a large audience but, generally speaking, someone isn’t going to pay to sit in a cinema and watch a film about a real life figure that they don’t know. Interest in the figure usually precedes their interest in the film. The Academy doesn’t have to garner to the average viewer but it does seem a bit out of touch when all of the nominations are given to artistic, specialist subject films.

Enough of what’s wrong with the nominations, let’s get started with who deserves to win what out of the big four. First up, as always, is Best Picture.

The 87th Academy Awards Oscars logo

A white logo for a white-washed nomination list

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

The above problem makes it a little difficult to really decide which film the academy will go for. There are a number of choices here that could feasibly win. For my part, I’d like to see either Birdman or The Theory of Everything take the prize. American Sniper and The Imitation Game can be eliminated because they are the films with the widest appeal and those kinds of films generally don’t win. They just there to round out the nominations. It would be funny to see Selma win after the white-wash controversy, but I can’t see that actually happening. Boyhood will probably win some direction or cinematography awards, but the pieces aren’t all quite there to warrant a Best Picture win. So that brings it down to Birdman, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Birdman is probably a little too weird and Whiplash might be too youthful and involved with modern culture (like The Social Network) to appeal to the Academy. They’re dark horses though and I could see one pulling out the win if they can’t come to a consensus on the top film.

I’d give the nod to The Theory of Everything. Birdman is a better film, but it and other films might divide the academy, which will benefit a decent film with good acting like The Theory of Everything. On to Best Director;

The Theory of Everything stars, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones with the real Dr. Stephen Hawking.

Opposing opinions on other movies could give The Theory of Everything the edge to win.

  • Wes Anderson
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu
  • Richard Linklater
  • Bennett Miller
  • Morten Tyldum

I could forgive the Academy for not giving the Oscar for Best Picture to Birdman but Alejandro González Iñárritu deserves the award for Best Director bar none. Richard Linklater is probably his biggest competition as both films are very creative and stylistic in their use of filming and editing. But for me, it was the direction and the cinematography that really made Birdman. The acting and script were strong but it might have fallen flat if it weren’t for the stylistic choice of shots that Iñárritu uses. It’s Alejandro González Iñárritu or nothing.

And the Oscar for Best Actor goes to…

Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and main actor, Michael Keaton promoting the Academy Award nominated, Birdman.

Iñárritu, and Keaton are the combination that elevates Birdman.

  • Steve Carell as John Eleuthère du Pont
  • Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing
  • Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson / Birdman
  • Eddie Redmayne  as Stephen Hawking

Michael Keaton has already won a number of awards for his role in Birdman so he could be poised to do the same here. Special mention certainly has to go to both Steve Carell and Eddie Redmayne for their performances and just how indistinguishable from their characters that they became. I’ve also heard praise for both Bradley Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch. Any one of these nominations would be a good choice. Michael Keaton is probably my pick here. Birdman might not have worked the way it did with a lesser actor in the title role.

Last of the Big Four, but by no means least, is the award for Best Actress;

Rosamund Pike plays the psychotic Amy Elliot in the psychological thriller, Gone Girl.

Rosamund Pike is the only clue of Gone Girl’s abduction from the Oscars.

 

  • Marion Cotillard as Sandra Bya
  • Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde Hawking
  • Julianne Moore as Dr. Alice Howland
  • Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliott-Dunne
  • Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed

Julianne Moore has been winning this award at other shows but I would much rather see Felicity Jones or Rosamond Pike take the award here. Jones certainly helped sell the emotion of the Stephen Hawking biopic as much as Eddie Redmayne. Pike too did a great job, excelling in a dark thriller that really sank or swam based on her performance. Pike possibly deserves it more given how both Gone Girl and David Fincher have been overlooked in this year’s award nominations. It’s really a long shot, but I’ll stick my neck out and go with Rosamond Pike.

So, those are my choices for the main four awards. For Supporting actor and actress, J.K. Simmons will take home the award for his role in Whiplash and…I genuinely have no idea for supporting actress. None of them really strike me as having made the films that much better for being in the role they were in, bar possibly Meryl Streep. She’s already got more nominations than anyone else in the history of the Academy Awards and she’s won a few times, so why not share the wealth.  So I’ll pick Emma Stone because I like Emma Stone.

Find out if I’m right or wrong by tuning into the 87th Academy Awards on ABC tonight. Or, if you really disagree with my choices and want to let me know, fire off a message with your thoughts or predictions in the comments below.

LWYRUP

It feels like an age since rumours of a Saul Goodman spin off began circulating. In fact, mentions of the spin-off can found as far back as 2012, so the debut of Better Call Saul has been a long time coming. That’s not to say too long. Good things come to those who wait and Better Call Saul is a good thing and it’s been worth waiting for. It’s still hard to believe that Breaking Bad ended a year and a half ago. Watching Better Call Saul felt like slipping into an old, familiar bed.

Creating a spin-off of one of the most popular shows on modern television could have been a disaster. It’s not that I don’t have faith in Vince Gilligan’s abilities as a writer and director. But telling such a dramatic and captivating story can be hard to recreate, especially when treading back into the same universe and setting. Having seen Breaking Bad and becoming acquainted with Albuquerque, viewers come to expect a certain level of storytelling and character development. There will obviously be backlash if the latter doesn’t match up to the expectations created by the former.

Good news all round then. Fans of Breaking Bad and Vince Gilligan can collectively breathe easy. Better Call Saul is good. Only time will tell if it even glances the same greatness that Breaking Bad became but it is certainly off to a good start. It feels familiar without being a complete retread of previous material. This is the same affable, loquacious Saul Goodman that we know and love, but his name is James McGill and he hasn’t quite broke bad yet.

Bob Odenkirtk reprises his role as Saul Goodman in the Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul on AMC.

Before Saul Goodman, there was Jimmy McGill.

It’s interesting seeing Saul Goodman try to be an honest lawyer, defending his clients to the best of his legal ability rather than his criminal abilities. There’s shades of the man he will become, such as the scam he attempts to run on Betsy Keller to manipulate her into giving him their business but there’s still a conscience in there. Even knowing that he owes his life to Nacho, Jimmy refuses to participate in stealing the one point five million that the Kellers allegedly stole. The man he is then is a far shot from the man who helps Walter and Jesse distribute their meth and launder their money.

Furthermore, this is not a man trying to figure out where he went wrong. This is a man looking back at the good times. Let that sink in for a moment. Gene, the former Saul Goodman thinks of standing the desert, talking Tuco down from a death sentence to a couple of leg breakings, as a nostalgic moment. The opening to the first episode is some of the best cinematography that I’ve seen in any television show. Without a word, we see Saul Goodman as he is now, out of the game and hidden in Nebraska, baking bread and longing for the man he was. Maybe he’s looking back and wishing he’d never met Walter White, but he still wishes to be Saul Goodman with the cheesy late night commercials.

Better Call Saul casts Breaking Bad in a whole new light. It’s the ‘in media res’ of Saul Goodman’s story. We don’t have the full picture yet. We have the middle and the end but beginning is lacking, and that’s what Better Call Saul aims to tell. And in the telling, Breaking Bad becomes Saul’s comeuppance. Before, Saul was just some sleazy criminal defence lawyer, looking to make a fast buck any way he could. Here we see Saul on the straight and narrow, sitting at the crossroads to a darker path. It’s riveting viewing in the same morbid way that a trainwreck is fascinating.

Michael Mando stars as Nacho, Tuco's friend in crime, and a possible ally to Bob Odenkirk's Jimmy McGill on the drama series, Better Call Saul, on AMC.

What happens to Nacho between the events of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad?

Breaking Bad told the complete story of Walter White and his transformation from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, whose life wasn’t what he had anticipated and felt he’d never got what he deserved, to a drug lord with a meth empire, willing to poison children and kill whoever he felt slighted him. From season one to season five, that was the progression. With each passing episode, Walter became more morally corrupt and eventually just became Heisenberg. But in the end, we saw that come back and bite him on the ass. His family were terrified of him, his son told him to die, his brother in law was killed due to an association with white supremacists, his partner was being held hostage and forced to cook, his former business partners were discrediting him on television and his cancer was back. Saul Goodman was a casualty of Walter’s downfall, forced into hiding at the same time. Now it seems that Walter’s downfall may have just coincided with Saul’s own.

It’s not without it’s flaws though. For one, the show does lack tension and intensity. While the series does seem to be a little more humorous in tone than Breaking Bad, it’s still not meant to comedic. The old Shakespearean category of ‘romance’ seems to fit best. Moments such as Jimmy, kneeling in the desert, begging for his life, are obviously meant to be dramatic and exciting but we know that Jimmy can’t die here. Tuco too, has to survive. That said, I did like the twist by having Jimmy haggle for the lives of the skaters, thereby keeping the peril of death in the scene and still maintaining Jimmy’s culpability.

With this creation, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have shown that they are as talented as Breaking Bad made them out to be. They weren’t just fortunate to hit a run-away winner. And with Better Call Saul, they have the potential for another. It’s really good viewing, interesting and enthralling in imaginative ways, and it doesn’t require any previous viewing. It stands alone from Breaking Bad, intriguing because the implications but quality viewing in its own right. With a debut of 6.9 million viewers, Better Call Saul is the show to watch right now.

Presenting a Special Guest-Ian Williams

Originally posted on Jessica's Book of the Month:

Interview with Ian Williams, author of Transitory: 

Ian Williams’ Transitory was book of the month for January. This was the first month of this club, and the response and enthusiasm was tremendous.

Ian Williams is a science fiction writer from the United Kingdom. Transitory, which is about a businessman who travels to a distant planet and finds out that he is the target of a hitman, is Williams’ first novel. He recently released a second novel called The Sentient Collector, which is first in a dystopian trilogy.

To check out Transitory: http://www.amazon.com/Transitory-Ian-Williams-ebook/dp/B00LACOVU2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423431456&sr=8-1&keywords=transitory

Here are what some reviewers have said about Transitory:

1. “The author, Ian Williams, took me to a fantastically different location without the normal dreary travel time evident in some science fiction books. His characterisations were brilliant. They made me care about Nate, the main character, and also the others who were helping him get to the truth.”

2…

View original 1,613 more words

Family

Between the mid-season premiere returns and the new shows such as Agent Carter and Better Call Saul, you might have missed the return of another well known, award winning show. Whether you noticed or not, The Americans has returned for it’s third season with its unique blend of family drama and covert espionage. Few other shows can boast that kind of breadth of television drama. Yet, compared to The Walking Deads and the Game of Thrones of the world, The Americans is one of the less talked about, under-rated shows on TV.

The action in The Americans isn’t always as fast paced or as violent as you might see in other shows. It has its moments, of course, such as when Keri Russell’s character, Elizabeth Jennings, fights off two FBI agents, but much of the suspense comes from characters listening to messages, intercepting American intel, and relaying information back to Moscow. It doesn’t make for the most riveting viewing experience but there is a subtle, intensity to such scenes. It’s a very trivial action but its a matter of life and death. In that way, the show really encapsulates the essence of the Cold War.

I do feel bad for Keri Russell. Elizabeth Jennings tends to get the rough side of the deal in most of their missions. She gets shot and nearly beat up and what does she get in return? She loses the precious intel. Meanwhile, Matthew Rhys’ Philip Jennings is going around getting blowjobs and Kama Sutra sex and blackmailing Pakistani intelligence officers. Clearly things are not easy for women of the KGB and if that’s the kind of life that awaits Paige, it’s understandable that Philip may be a little reluctant to allow her to follow them down the same path.

Keri Russell and Holly Taylor star as the covert Russian spy living on American soil and the daughter that doesn't know about it, Elizabeth and Paige Jennings, in FX's original drama, The Americans.

Is Paige the American born Russian spy that the USSR have been waiting for?

Despite agreeing not to allow the KGB anywhere near Paige last season, Elizabeth does seem to have taken a step back to consider it. The Americans has been very clever with this Elizabeth and Paige storyline. The dynamic between mother and daughter and relating to your children as they grow up and develop their own, sometimes differing, ideals is a major theme in most television shows with families. But The Americans has broached the theme from a very different perspective. Elizabeth is trying remain close to her daughter and understand her as she grows from a child into a teenager and she’s doing it as a KGB agent. She’s actively trying to figure out if this is a person who would be interested in what the Soviet Union can offer.

It’s easy to forget, among all the politic and spying, that this is what the idea of sleeper agents was really all about. Yes, they wanted KGB agents acting as Americans but it was their American born children, indistinguishable from the kids next door, who were to be true agents. There would be no need for subterfuge. They are exactly who they say they are, except their loyalty would lie with Russia. In theory, that’s fine. As parents, that must be a difficult call to make. Elizabeth and Philip are on opposite sides of the fence, or so it seems. Elizabeth is such a skilled liar that it’s difficult to know who she’s telling the truth to. No one has asked Paige what she wants but I doubt anyone cares.

Along the same mother-daughter theme, Elizabeth’s mother is dying. Of course, we don’t see her because she’s back in Russia and Elizabeth can’t see her, but even seeing Elizabeth’s tears as she listens to a recorded message about her is enough to convey the levity of the situation. Often, Elizabeth can come across as hard and unemotional, who generally thinks of her country (her actual country) first. Over the course of the show, she’s begun to think more for herself and her children but she still commands a rather tough presence. This storyline has given her some vulnerability, which is nice to see because she takes getting face planted on a car like a champion. It’s also clear from her story about becoming an agent that it was her mother who instilled that ‘country first’ idealism in her mind. It’ll be interesting to see, when her mother does die, if Elizabeth can take the emotional punches in the same stride that she takes the physical.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys' characters, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, assist Rahul Khanna's Yusef Rana in covering up the death of Annelise.

This is not part of the Kama Sutra.

Despite that hardened outer demeanor, it’s clear that Elizabeth is very affected by her own mistakes. She internalizes them. Having lost the list of CIA names, she rushes to correct the mistake at the first opportunity. Philip is much more likely to display his feelings but he’s also a big picture kind of guy. If something bad happens, he makes the best of it. Elizabeth doesn’t take failure well and is much more likely to take a risk to fix it. That’s probably why the FBI have her picture while Philip manages to sleep with an FBI supervisor’s secretary with no one being any the wiser.

Oleg is trying to save Nina from a Soviet labour camp using his familial connections, whilst Stan Beeman continues to deal with the separation from his wife. Both are foils for the Jennings and their family relationships. Of course, there are other storylines, such as the FBI housing a defector, but those political plots are side stories to the main heart of the series which is all about family. Family relationships and how those influence the actions of parent and child. It’s easy to imagine that the revelation of her parents will horrify Paige, but there’s also the notion that she won’t want to disappoint her family. It’s natural to want our parents approval and to make them proud.

If The Americans was a straight political thriller it might never have reached its third season but the theme of family that runs through the series gives it heart and meaning beyond its Cold War setting.

Angles

Coming out of the Marvel Entertainment vault, Disney’s new superhero flick is the animation, Big Hero Six. Having plumbed the depths of Marvel’s known works, and Marvel selling off the rights to its biggest franchises long ago, Disney is now content to adapt the more obscure teams and heroes for the big screen. Guardians of the Galaxy was obscure, sure, but at least it had vague connections to the greater Marvel universe and related works. Big Hero Six has none of those connections and is probably as out there as Disney could probably go. In all fairness, it seems to be working and Big Hero Six is no exception.

Big Hero Six follows kid genius, Hiro Hamada, and the inflatable robot carer, Baymax. Despite being a genius, Hiro doesn’t have much ambition. He’s happy to illegally battle in robot contests, that is until some brotherly motivations drives him to make something that could truly change the world. A tragic event occurs, his technology is destroyed and Hiro becomes griefstriken. Well, that’s not quite true. His technology wasn’t destroyed and when Hiro learns that it is being used for a more nefarious purpose than he intended, he, Baymax and four of his brother’s friends use their intellect to become superheroes.

Big Hero Six doesn’t revolutionise the genre, either in terms of superheroes or animation. But it is funny and it is charming. There are a lot of familiar tropes in play here, such as the loss of loved ones as a origin story, and most of the plot points and twists are easy to predict, but the writing never feels lazy. The story itself is simple but what gives it depth is the characters. These characters feel more alive than some of the characters in live action movies.

T.J Miller, Jamie Chung, Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Génesis Rodríguez and Damon Wayans Jr. voice the Big Hero Six team of Fred, GoGo Tomago, Baymax, Hiro Hamada, Honey Lemon and Wasabi in the Disney film of the same name.

A more diversely flavoured Marvel superhero team.

It helps that the central message of the film isn’t about learning to work together as it too often is in ensemble films. At times it feels as though the film is going in that direction, especially when the team don’t communicate in one fight and end up taking out each other rather than the target. Part of the main idea of the film is that friends are good and help keep us sane but there’s also a nice echo in the film about looking at problems from another angle. This is a film that encourages creativity and innovation in the youth. That’s a refreshing point from a superhero film.

Where Big Hero Six really excels is the portrayal of Hiro’s loss. His grief and depression are depicted with tact and with the perspective that this isn’t something he can just get over or easily treat. It’s something that it really takes the entire film and a friendship with Baymax to overcome but it doesn’t come without its setbacks. Some might argue that it is unrealistic. It’s not like people who suffer with depression can simply make friends and become a superhero team. But that’s kind of missing the point. It’s not the process of becoming a superhero that helps him overcome his grief. It’s the compassion and kindness of everyone around him that eventually brings him out the other side.

Diversity is also a major plus for Big Hero Six. The majority of the team isn’t white, which is extremely progressive when you consider that The Avengers won’t officially add a black member until phase three. An argument could be made for Don Cheadle as War Machine/Iron Patriot but that’s why the word ‘official’ is in there. DC are doing a little better, with an Israeli Wonder Woman, a black Cyborg and a Hawaiian Aquaman, but we won’t see Justice League until 2017, so Big Hero Six has it beat by a solid 2-3 years. Considering the recent controversy regarding how white-washed the Oscar nominations are, I can see the diversity of its characters being a huge draw for Big Hero Six.

Baymax serves as Hiro's inflatable healthcare companion and the team's pillow.

Yet another thing that doesn’t exist that movies have made me want.

Will Big Hero Six be a money maker like Frozen? Unlikely. It’s family friendly and Baymax is adorable though so it will definitely appeal to kids. Adults too, because I personally would love my own personal Baymax. If that technology is a bit too advanced some kind of massive plushie would be great. But most of the money will come from kids and parents of kids buying the merchandise. Fans of the comic book will likely enjoy the film because its a good film, regardless of its source material, but might be slightly disappointed. Their comic book counterparts, from what I know, are different and had connects to mutants and X-Men. Baymax for instance was not a carer and could morph into dragon-like creature. The X-Men connection was obviously cut to avoid issues with Fox but Baymax’s change into the loveable, inflatable, health care assistant was surely done to sell toys.

At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Marvel and Disney can make Big Hero Six appeal to the general public. Before the superhero genre really took off in film, Marvel’s biggest cash cows were Spider-Man and Wolverine. All of the rest had their fair share of fans and readers but those two were major players. Tony Stark wasn’t even close. But Marvel and Disney have made household names out of Tony Stark, Captain America and Thor. They’ve done the same with Big Hero Six. It’s unique blend of progressiveness and charm make it a joy to watch.

American readers will already know this since they got to see Big Hero Six back in November of last year. I don’t know the reason for the delay to the UK but I’m not too bothered by it. Disney have more than made up for it by delivering Avengers: Age of Ultron to the UK a whole week before it’s due in the states.

Carter

As I presumed, Agent Carter was miles more entertaining than Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That comment is intended more as praise for Agent Carter than a criticism of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. To be honest, I can’t criticise Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because I haven’t watched it since the first season ended. I found that first season so sanguine and unfocused. It was too self referential and too Whedonesque; they had this modern concept and premise and for some reason they decided to go old school with it. It’s my understanding that some of those problems have been rectified with the second season but the first season failed to engage with me so much that I have little interest in watching the second. That’s one area where I feel that Agent Carter differed. It engaged with the viewer.

One could argue that Agent Carter has it’s moments of self reference, such as Howard Stark making an appearance and undergoing trial with the same glibness that his son would in Iron Man 2. Or Stark having a butler whose name is actually Jarvis. Or Peggy Carter taking advice from Anton Vanko on how to dispose of an explosive device. But these are all smaller ties to the larger picture and there is the benefit that we actually get to see Jarvis and Vanko. They aren’t just names bandied around for credibility. If you’ve kept up with the movies, those will more similar to revelations than shout outs, such as ‘ah, that’s where Tony Stark got the name Jarvis from’.

Hayley Atwell, Shea Wigham, Chad Michael Murray and Enver Gjokaj star as Peggy Carter and her co-workers in ABC's "Marvel's Agent Carter.

The answer to what Eli did after Nucky died.

It helps that Agent Carter feels like its filling in a significant, untold story in the Marvel universe. The post-Captain America world and how S.H.I.E.L.D. came to be is a tale that we’d heard snippets of but haven’t heard all the details. Of course, it’s not going to really affect anything because it’s the events here can’t influence Thor: Ragnarok. But Agent Carter is informed by the events of the future films, or in a way informs them. Events that happened in the films are shown to have roots back here in the pre-S.H.I.E.L.D. and its is exciting to see the beginnings of the feuds and fights that shaped the films.

The Spy genre is also largely untouched by Marvel, which allows Agent Carter to stand out from the many other Marvel projects. In the same way that Captain America as a political thriller contrasts to the high fantasy of Thor, Agent Carter can utilise spy tropes and it can feel fresh because we haven’t seen it done in the Marvel universe yet. And it is rather fun to watch Peggy make use of gadgets such as lipstick that put the recipient to sleep. Sure it’s a little silly but it is amusing too, but because of the genre and the time period. That kind of gadget is exactly the kind of thing they would have thought of in the 40s and 50s, had they got the technology. That and the long distance typewriter that types out replies with the keys moving along. I have no idea how that works but it’s cool. It reminds me of the Fallout Video Game series, a post apocalyptic series where technology has marched on but science and perceptions are stuck in the 1950’s way of life. Agent Carter manages to be just as quirky and fun.

Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter is also very likable. I have the feeling that a lot of fans will like her because she’s a badass woman with sass and heels. Good reasons to like her, certainly. Fighting on top of a moving milk truck is definitely cool. But I don’t like Peggy Carter because she’s a strong female character, I like her because she’s a strong character period. In the aforementioned milk truck fight she sustains a wound to her leg and Jarvis sews it up for her later. On the one hand this does askew typical gender roles but more than that it simply shows that although she is tough, she’s not invincible. In another scene, she tries to retrieve something from an evidence box and stumbles upon a picture of Steve Rogers. The memory brings tears to her eyes. In the same episode, Peggy is shown to be strong and vulnerable thus creating the picture of a well rounded character, regardless of gender.

Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter puts on a disguise for some covert action in Marvel's Agent Carter on ABC.

Hiding in plain sight.

The contrast between the show and in-show radio dramas hasn’t escaped my notice either. The drama annoys Peggy Carter,  though whether that’s because the woman is a damsel in distress or because it’s a constant reminder of Captain America is hard to say. On the one hand the drama paints a contrast between Peggy and the female in the drama who needs a man to save her. Alternatively though, one could say that the drama is made up of flat characters. Captain America shows up and fights Nazi’s and that’s the extent of his involvement. The Nazi’s are evil and do evil things because they’re evil and like doing evil things. The contrast here isn’t strictly between the women. Unlike the radio drama, the characters in Agent Carter are deep and developed. No one ever needs rescued in the show but Peggy benefits from the independent intervention of Jarvis. It’s nice juxtaposition that shows that well written characters are dynamic and have changing roles.

Much like Gotham, Agent Carter succeeds where Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. faltered because it’s plot isn’t dictated by some wider world. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe and sharing that world allows for a more organic build between movies. But for a TV series its soul crushingly limiting. It can’t go too big or the real heroes would intervene and it can’t go too small or viewers would wonder why they even bother. Agent Carter has carved out a niche in that shared world but off to one side where it can do its own thing without being too imposed upon by the big daddy shared universe. If you like The Americans and early James Bond films then give this a shot.

Return

Hello readers. Welcome back. Following a peaceful break, I’m back. How was everyone’s Christmas and New Years? Mine was quiet and uneventful, just the way that I like it. Really, with all the television and films that I watch, more drama is the last thing that I need. Hopefully all of your holidays were as relaxing and refreshing as mine and that you spent a lot of happy times with family and friends. And for all of you who didn’t, well, at least preposterprose is back to brighten up your weeks.

As usual, there’s a lot of catching up to do. Just because I take a break doesn’t mean that the world stops turning. First on the list is the Doctor Who Christmas Special. I can’t really say I was looking forward to it. The half-assed attempt at making Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor seem morally ambiguous paired with the forgetful character writing of Clara and a rather underwhelming finale left me just a tad apathetic towards the Christmas Special. I didn’t watch it on Christmas. Mostly due to the presence of family but I wasn’t bothered by putting it off for once. I didn’t watch it on Boxing Day either. In fact it was a full four days before I sat myself down to view the Christmas Special.

Last Christmas is a fun and interesting episode even if it does tick off the checklist of Moffat’s literary trademarks like a grocery list and most of the end game is predictable as soon as the word ‘dream’ is uttered. It is perhaps one of the most festive Christmas Specials in recent years. Most of the specials have the exchanging of presents, Christmas dinner or utilise Christmas imagery in an unsettling fashion. Last Christmas is no different, this time employing old Saint Nick to rescue the characters from extraterrestrial dream insects.

Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor squares off against Nick Frost as Santa Claus in the Doctor Who Christmas Special, Last Christmas.

There are a lot of similarities between Santa and The Doctor, apparently.

The side characters really make the episode enjoyable. The small snippets of their lives after the dangers has been averted made me want to know more about them. They’ll never show up in the series again I’d bet, but the story was effective in getting me invested in the characters and their lives. Especially how their lives affected the dream. So I was a little disappointed when the Doctor wrote them off as ‘collateral’ to him and Clara. I get that the Doctor doesn’t care about people anyone. That’s fine, sort of. He’s like Gregory House now, chasing the mystery rather than the human connection. But in this case it felt like a cold shoulder towards the characters we’d spent the entire episode with.

Not to mention, it doesn’t make much sense. Following the Doctor’s logic, the dream bug latched on to him, found Clara through his memories, and then just picked up four other random people just to round out the picture. Why did it need Clara at all? Danny Pink pops up in Clara’s dream for no other reason than to pacify her. Couldn’t the dream bugs have conjured up Clara to fly around with the Doctor forever while they ate his brain? Oops, I think I just spoiled the next season.

Of course, Moffat is terrible at explaining anything that happens in Doctor Who. He has an easier time than usual in this episode by using the dream fills in the blanks excuse and then ties it into the plot. Phrases such as “It’s complex” and “it’s a long story” indicate that they’re dreaming but at times it feels like Moffat is taunting the viewer by saying choosing not to viable answers and then working it into the plot. It seems like Moffat is one of those people who believe that not knowing is better than knowing. Which is fine, but it can be frustrating when you’re watching a science fiction show about a time travelling alien and dream bugs from space and you want to know the space bug’s motivations. It can’t just be eat all the brains because they target a very small sample. Maybe they’re just picky eaters. We’ll never know because Moffat won’t tell us.

Jenna Louse Coleman as Clara Oswald in the promotional material for the Doctor Who Christmas Special, Last Christmas.

A lot of the tension hinged on whether or not Jenna Coleman would return for a new series. 

Another quirk you might notice is the “don’t [insert action here]” obstacle that Moffat has been employing ever since the first appearance of the Weeping Angels. Blink is a very good episode, and the Angels moving when Carey Mulligan was genuinely suspenseful. But Moffat has used a variation of that trick a couple of times now, including this festive special, and it’s becoming a bit tired. Significantly so here because it lacks any real depth and doesn’t really help to save them. Maybe it’s Moffat fatigue. He has been writing episodes for Doctor Who since 2005 and running the show since 2010. That’s almost a decade of Moffat.

A final little thing that bothered me was that no one was supposed to remember the dreams. Maybe the Doctor could remember because he’s a Time Lord, but Clara remembers even when everyone else forgets. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except that The Doctor and Clara reveal their lies about Gallifrey and Danny in the dreams. Shouldn’t that all be forgotten by the time they wake up?

As I said, those are all little things and even with those in mind, this is a strong Christmas episode. Not quite as engaging as The Snowmen perhaps but it is more exciting than The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe and isn’t depressing, like The Time of The Doctor. And, as it turns out, rumours of Jenna Coleman’s departure weren’t true, likely a ploy by Moffat to get viewers invested in Last Christmas. I don’t know how well that worked since I wasn’t in any rush to watch. However, this is a good episode. I did laugh at The Doctor balking at a film called Alien. Though, if Inception gave you a headache you might want to give it a miss.

2014

And that’s me for 2014. I’ll be going on a short hiatus now until…sometime in January. Thank you to everyone who viewed the site and read the posts. I hope you enjoyed the content and I hope you stick around to see what comes up in 2015. Until then.

I'll be back in the New Year. Thanks guys.

Not that I’m Iron Man or anything…

Round-Up

With Christmas just around the corner and both The Apprentice and The X-Factor ending soon, this is a good opportunity to assess how their respective finals are shaping up. I’ve done this in years past, just not at the same time. However, The Apprentice was shifted to a winter timeslot to avoid clashing with World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, which means, in the festive spirit, this week’s blog will be a two for one deal. First up are the Apprentice’s Final Five who will have their business plans dissected by Lord Sugar’s advisors; Claude Littner, Mike Soutar, Claudine Collins and series 8 winner, Ricky Martin. That’s right folks, for the second time in Apprentice history Margaret Mountford has left us. Will Ricky Martin channel some of his wrestling background to strike fear into the candidates? I certainly hope so.

Bianca Miller

I’m sorry but Bianca once sold six boardgames to a small retailer and allowed them exclusive rights to sell the game within Westminster. I feel like that hasn’t been brought up again and that it needs to be. I was legitimately surprised Lord Sugar didn’t fire her on the spot for that error. While Bianca hasn’t made any major mistakes since week six, and even led her team to victory in week seven, I don’t think she has really stood out either. That isn’t necessarily a sign of her demise, because Lord Sugar is looking for a business partner, not a character. But the success of other candidates might outshine her middling progress. An argument could be made for her business plan being where she will truly shine but after selling six board games exclusively to a small shop in London her business plan will probably have a big pothole when it comes to the numbers.

Daniel Lassman

Every year there are candidates who make wild boasts about themselves. More often than not these boasts are not backed up by the candidate’s actions on the show. This years’ resident over confident candidate is Daniel and true to form when it came time to sell Daniel’s sales figures didn’t match his mouth. But I believe it’s a matter of perspective. On the high street, on a personal basis, Daniel can’t sell. In professional pitches though? That’s a different story. In that environment, he’s generally been better received (though telling potential clients that he wouldn’t wear their wearable technology in week two was a notable slip). Nick even remarked this past week that the supermarkets liked Daniel’s pitching style when it came to shilling their premium puddings. Not that anyone is willing to let him show it. After those early mistakes, it seemed like all of the other candidates repeatedly pushed him to the side in tasks. Lord Sugar must see something in him to keep him around and I think Daniel has shown that he can change and grow. When it comes to winning though, I think there are stronger candidates.

From right to left, Roisin Hogan, Bianca Miller, Solomon Akhtar and Daniel Lassman pitch their tea inspired cheesecakes on the 2014 series of The Apprentice.

Roisin loathed Daniel’s deviation from the plan from the supermarkets liked it.

Mark Wright

This guy is a favourite for a lot of people but I really don’t like his style of business. I haven’t seen a task yet where he wasn’t underhanded and manipulative and the pudding task showed that it’s not just towards Daniel. Daniel has gotten some criticism for lacking integrity but I think there’s far less honour in Mark’s style. From what I’ve seen, I think he’s a better seller when it’s one on one with people but hasn’t always been the best in pitches. He’s been known to lie as well,  such as fluffing up his actual job, which leads me to wonder how sound his business plan is. His track record says that he might have a chance of winning but I hope not.

Roisin Hogan

Roisin was my favourite. She is still my pick to win but I’ve gone off her business style lightly after watching her play down Daniel and Solomon’s accomplishments in the boardroom following the pudding task. Her comments weren’t terribly derisive but watch her face when Nick and Karen undercut her and you’ll see what I mean. I don’t know if she’s intentionally trying to sabotage their chances or if she just doesn’t like them. And while she is very productive and to the point, sometimes her organisation and strictness can be a detriment. Its notable that the one pitch where they didn’t sell any puddings was the one without the guys with just Roisin and Bianca. I think she needs to relax a bit but this is a stressful competition so I can’t blame her really for trying to get things done right. At the moment I’d say she has the best odds but her business plan will really decide whether she sinks or swims with Lord Sugar.

Solomon Akhtar

Otherwise known as a poor man’s Tom Pellereau. Solomon has made himself out to be an idea man whose strengths lie in branding but his abilities haven’t stood out in the same way that Pellereau’s did. But I don’t think Solomon has any major weaknesses either. His track record for just about everything is decent. That may make him a jack of all trades and a master of none. The larger concern for Lord Sugar will be the business plan as that’s where it will become clear whether Solomon can focus those various abilities into a successful concept. There are stronger candidates but Solomon is the dark horse of this years final five.

The X Factor 2014 finalist Fleur East performing on stage.

Singer, Rapper and Dancer: Fleur East continues to impress.

On to The X-Factor final now. Andrea Faustini took third place in the episode last night so we’re now down to Ben Haenow and Fleur East. Either way, Simon Cowell has mentored the winning act. Speaking of the judges, as much as I dislike her style and generally disagree with her assessment, it was a pity that Mel B couldn’t be there for Andrea. I was glad to see Tulisa Contostavlos return, though I have to say, in an ironic turn, she was prettier before the beauty work. On to the finalists….

Ben Haenow

I like Ben Haenow. I don’t like that everyone, especially Mel B, seemed to be forcing him into a soft rock route despite that blatantly not being the kind of singer that he wanted to be. His voice was good too, though some songs could be hit and miss. It is his likeable personality that has kept him in the competition when his singing hasn’t always been up to scratch. He’s a good contestant but at the end of the day, he’s just a contestant.

Fleur East

The unique selling point for Fleur is that she has taken her performances to the next level. Yes she can sing decently, and rap sufficiently, but she dances and has stage presences that the other contestants just don’t have yet. Maybe it will develop later for them but Fleur in recent weeks has shown that she can do concert worthy performances. I would say that Fleur’s solo performance from last night was better than Meghan Trainer’s performance of her son ‘All About That Bass’. Winner or not, she’s ready for a career in this music industry.

So there we have it. My picks for the winners are Roisin Hogan and Fleur East. If you disagree with any of my comments or choices, voice your opinion in the comment section below.  Tonight we find out if Fleur takes the top prize X Factor but viewers will have to wait a full week to see if Roisin becomes Lord Sugar’s next business partner. And then it’s only four days until Christmas.