A week in film – 2016, week 21

There isn’t the clearest of through-lines to follow this week. A jumble of TV shows – the weekly updates, the series, and the classics – and films which don’t form an easy double bill (they’re both set in time periods other than now?) doesn’t make for a particular neat blog post. I have tried, though!

As I mentioned last week, the timing’s ripe for an Agent Carter rewatch. However shitty the reason behind it – I HATE that it’s been cancelled – going back has served as a reminder that we really didn’t deserve Agent Carter. The pilot is wonderful, giving Hayley Atwell every possible opportunity to cover the basics of Peggy’s situation in those forty minutes. She’s mourning for the loss of the love of her life (i.e. Steve Rogers, actually the love of all of our lives), steadfastly resisting ’40s misogyny, and she’s adept at fighting with a stapler. Oh Peggy. You were too good for us.

Agent Carter’s less successful but longer-running cousin, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., was borderline forgettable though. The mysterious orb (the introduction of which I apparently missed) now has a purpose, bringing the Kree responsible for the creation of that first Inhuman crashing to Earth. There’s a lot of gore – or at least, there’s a lot of gore and then some implicit gore – in this episode, what with at least three people melting alive and one spine being torn out. Also, Daisy’s reached new levels of persuaded, in what might be the episode’s stand-out scene (apart from thirty seconds of Fitzsimmons, which was charming as hell). Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is no Netflix series, but it hasn’t ever been particularly bothered about brutally attacking its central characters – and, by using another principle to conduct that attack, it made an already-grim situation even more uncomfortable. I appreciated it for going to that place, but in terms of its overall arc I don’t know how much further we’ve gone. We already knew Daisy was turned, that Hive couldn’t be killed and, obviously, that Fitzsimmons are adorable. Not much else, though.

No Supergirl this week (I haven’t really got a proper reason for not watching it), so my DC consumption has been purely The Flash-based. The Flash is very close to its season finale now, and it’s relying really, really heavily on a concept I’ve never fully been able to get behind. The ‘Speed Force’, the inexplicable thing which gives Barry his powers, became a place in which Barry is trapped following the Unfortunate Incident of last week. This strange, sort of alt-reality, was then only populated by the Speed Force, manifesting itself as Joe, Iris, or Barry’s dad. It’s also there as another separate physical entity; something that needs to be caught for Barry to get his powers back. Outside of its own realm, it’s capable of fixing all problems. Got an injured youth in a coma? No problem, the Speed Force will sort that right out. It even reanimated a corpse. I might have gotten the wrong end of the stick and some of those things weren’t down to the Speed Force at all – but, if I’m on the right track, has this just become a slightly boring way in which the writers work their way out of corners?

Turning to the universally dependable, I ended up watching an episode of second series Parks and Rec. Obviously, this episode was ‘Greg Pikitis’, an episode I’ve been a really, really big fan of since I (eventually) saw it. That episode is perfect. I have no more to say. But, on its fifteenth anniversary, there was no better time to watch ‘Two Cathedrals’ – the greatest episode of The West Wing, and I’m pretty sure of all TV. Every aspect of ‘Two Cathedrals’ works perfectly. The casting is spot on, the acting universally brilliant. It’s got that amazing monologue in the National Cathedral (“You’re a son of a bitch, you know that?”) and at least two incredible dialogue scenes, both involving Mrs Landingham. The West Wing and its season finales are always something to behold, and while the first series conclusion might be the episode which made me sit up and pay attention, ‘Two Cathedrals’ is the one after which I knew that I’d never shake The West Wing.

Silicon Valley and Bill have worked their magic too, deftly combining smart comedy with some vomit jokes (I always want to say ‘vomit gags’, but I feel that’s too much). Bill’s undoubtedly sillier – and much, much more family-friendly – as it piles on as many universally funny lines, situations, characters as it can handle (which is a lot). It then plays this alongside a bunch of historical and literary references (it’s ‘Bill’ as in ‘Shakespeare’, after all): in my favourite scene, there’s a series of gags about each conspiracy theory surrounding Marlowe’s death, which is nothing short of nerdy genius.

Then finally there’s Looper, which was my new film of the week – adding to the list of 21st Century sci-fi movies (and the only-slightly-smaller list of 21st Century sci-fi movies starring Emily Blunt) I’ve seen. I might not have enjoyed Looper as much as I did The Adjustment Bureau or Edge of Tomorrow – it’s slightly too bloody for me – but it’s certainly given me more to think about. In the world of Looper, time travel was invented, it was outlawed, and so it’s only used by hardened criminals to dispose of their rivals. Loopers, the people who do the actual disposing, work until their loop is ‘closed’ – when they, thirty years in the future, are sent back to be killed by a Looper themselves.

This is about as deep as it delves into describing how this time travel works: at one point Bruce Willis’ character says, “I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.” This approach is probably for the best, because time travel’s one of the messiest, most easily unravelled concepts there is. It makes for a really interesting film, and its slightly erratic approach to story (scenes end fairly abruptly; a montage covering thirty years has to, by its own nature, loop back to the beginning) works really well, rather than becoming a distraction. There is a distraction, though, which comes in the form of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s face – I’m guessing it’s intended to make him look more like Bruce Willis (for reasons), but it works about as well as if they’d left his appearance alone. Still, some images are genuinely, positively arresting – I’m thinking in particular of the realisation of telekinesis in the film’s third act – and some I won’t be able to shake. That kid is terrifying. I’m anticipating all the nightmares.

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