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Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers 4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters
I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.

Romulan ale should be illegal.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
(SPOILERS) Out of the ST:NG movies, Star Trek: Nemesis seems to provoke the most outrage among fans, the reasons mostly appearing to boil down to continuity and character work. In the case of the former, while I can appreciate the beef, I’m not enough of an aficionado to get too worked up. In the case of the latter, well, the less of the strained inter-relationships between this bunch that make it to the screen, the better (director Stuart Baird reportedly cut more than fifty minutes from the picture, most of it relating to underscoring the crew, leading to a quip by Stewart that while an Actor’s Cut would include the excised footage, a Director’s one would probably be even shorter). Even being largely unswayed by such concerns, though, Nemesis isn’t very good. It wants to hit the same kind of dramatic high notes as The Wrath of Khan (naturally, it’s always bloody Khan) but repeatedly drifts into an out-of-tune dirge.

Fear not, for ‘ere this day is done, you shall have a hole in one.

The Avengers 4.16: The Thirteenth Hole
A strange one this, for the first twenty minutes The Thirteenth Hole looks as if it’s going to be the most generic of all oddball Avengers scenarios – super villains up to murderous acts on the golf course, and Steed and Mrs Peel must investigate – but turns things around for a highly entertaining last half as Steed engages in a tournament filled with dirty tricks (many of them courtesy of Mrs Peel, aiding and abetting him).

What god made these things?

The Great Wall (2016)
(SPOILERS) I’ve seen comments that The Great Wall isn’t a great white hero movie, as Matt Damon is only a supporting character. Who are they trying to kid? Sure, he isn’t the character extending ultimate authority in Zhang Yimou’s latest foray into the realm of colourful, stylised martial arts choreography, but the emotional beats undoubtedly revolve around him, as does the unrefined arc of an archer for hire discovering a higher cause.

You have to be incredibly relaxed to use a cheese grater right.

Toni Erdmann (2016)
(SPOILERS) It’s easy to see why Maren Ade’s rambling, rumpled – it rather resembles its protagonist in form – tragi-comedy was instantly snapped up by Hollywood (or more especially by Jack Nicholson, promising to come out of retirement for a golden role; we shall see…), as, with a few minor tweaks and a directive to over- rather than underplay, it bears all the hallmarks of a classic uplifting Hollywood narrative. I’m not sure I buy into its miraculous hype, however (including a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination and Sight & Sound’s best film of 2016). The performances in Toni Erdmann are top notch, the scenarios often funny, sad, excruciating, but it’s also content to meander and overly devotes itself to the idea that vérité equates to depth.

A body’s a body.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
(SPOILERS) AndréØvredal’s previous film Troll Hunter was an unlikely delight, succeeding in taking the generally moribund found-footage device and coming up with something both wickedly funny and disquieting. This follow up is an altogether more routine affair, expertly stitched together but relying on its choice of lead actors for what juice it has.

This breaks the world.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
(SPOILERS) It was a questionable thing for (Sir) Ridley Scott and Alcon to go ahead with a sequel to an all-time classic that wasn’t screaming for one, and whose very pervasive influence makes any attempt appear immediately defensive. How much credit they should get for pulling off the seemingly impossible is debatable, however. Ridders was certainly right to go to Hampton Fancher for (co-)screenplay duties, but the clincher was probably delegating directing to Dennis Villeneuve; the Ridley of today just couldn’t direct a slow-burn, immersive piece like his original, and would have turned Blade Runner 2049 into something serviceable but generic; would you want a sequel to Blade Runner that at best stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Prometheus or Alien: Covenant (and I ask as an apologist for both)? I don’t think Blade Runner 2049 surpasses the original, or even equals it, if that must be the yardstick, but it manages to be a worthy successor to an extent no one co…

I think there’s more behind these walls than just a ghost.

The Avengers 4.14: Castle De’ath
A splendidly atmospheric episode from the pen of John Lucarrotti, his last for the show, brought to vivid life by James Hill, his first, Castle De’ath is one of the highlights of the fourth season, incorporating as it does some surefooted misdirection as Jock McSteed and Mrs Peel investigate a death in the loch.

But one soldier, against seventeen. What are you going to do?

Soldier (1998)
(SPOILERS) Now that a bona fide Blade Runner sequel has arrived, we can stop clutching at straws of movies that may/not be set in the same universe. Ridley Scott, growing more senile with each passing minute, considers Alien to exist in the same continuity, but David Webb Peoples got there first with “sidequel” Soldier, enthusiastically partnered by Paul WS Anderson. Unfortunately, no one benefits from the association, as Soldier is a downright terrible movie.

Kill Elton John.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
(SPOILERS) Matthew Vaughn may have talked a good game when highlighting those successful follow-ups, and their winning ingredients, he aspired to for his first home-grown sequel, but unfortunately he falls prey to the worst excesses of typical bigger, baggier, more bloated studio fare. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is more Die Hard 2 or Iron Man 2 than John Wick Chapter 2 or The Empire Strikes Back. Not that I think trying for the latter kind of model works on this kind of movie anyway. Kingsman hews closer to the Austin Powers side of Bond than the Bourne, so pasting the beats of an earnest one over an essentially frivolous enterprise leads to, well, indulgence and excess.

Shame isn't a strong enough emotion to stop us from doing anything at all. Believe me.

Elle (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven certainly loves courting controversy, and in a year’s time he’ll still be courting controversy as a rare octogenarian filmmaker (rare enough that there are octogenarian filmmakers who aren’t Clint Eastwood, rarer still that there are ones still fanning the flames of outrage). I didn’t find myself outraged by Elle, though, I suspect mainly because I was constantly aware of how calculated its provocative elements are; in a way, this is as precisely designed to elicit a response as his earlier Basic Instinct (with which it very loosely shares a genre bracket), with streaks of black humour and irreverence running through subject matter that usually (rightly) elicits the most respectful and cautious treatment.

So, um... You think we can get to the Moon?

Hidden Figures (2016)
(SPOILERS) The second biggest hit (worldwide) out of this year’s Oscar nominees, Hidden Figures seems to have stuck around in theatres the longest, perhaps because of its “educational” content. This tale of NASA’s black female mathematicians is the kind of movie mind instantly goes to when looking for an example of palatable Oscar fluff (see also A Beautiful Mind), socially progressive but entirely without a spine, the kind of movie you come away from thinking all is good with the world, as we’re all heading in the right direction. It’s banal, aspirational and inoffensive (unless you find its very inoffensiveness offensive).

One hour of their lives gone, just like that. And they don’t remember anything.

The Avengers 4.14: The Hour That Never Was
Roger Marshall pens and Gerry O’Hara directs a memorable episode, big on location work and atmosphere, and small on guest cast members. At least, for the majority of its duration.

The only things I care about in this goddamn life are me and my drums... and you.

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
(SPOILERS) The final entry in John Hughes’ teen cycle – after this he’d be away with the adults and moppets, and making an untold fortune from criminal slapstick – is also his most patently ridiculous, and I’m not forgetting Weird Science. Not because of its unconvincing class commentary, although that doesn’t help, but because only one of its teenage leads was under 25 when the movie came out, and none of them were Michael J Fox, 30-passing-for-15 types. That all counts towards its abundant charm, though; it’s almost as if Some Kind of Wonderful is intentionally coded towards the broader pool Hughes would subsequently plunge into (She’s Having a Baby was released the same year). Plus, its indie soundtrack is every bit as appealing as previous glories The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.

Mention of the latter highlights Some Kind of Wonderful’s greatest boast; it’s a gender swapped Pretty in Pink, only this time Hughes (and his directing surrogate Howard…

Kill the earthworm, Steed, and ultimately you kill everything. Soil, birds, animals, man.

The Avengers 4.13: Silent Dust
Revisiting Season Four, several episodes have fallen slightly in my estimation, but Silent Dust (along with Dial a Deadly Number) is one that has gone up. The plot isn’t all that, continuing the horticultural (and pesticide) theme of Man-Eater of Surrey Green, but it has a great supporting cast, and in Avengers terms that’s often the difference between a hit and a dud.

Why are you painting my house?

mother!
(SPOILERS) Darren Aronofsky has a reasonably-sized chin, but on this evidence, in no time at all he’ll have reduced it to a forlorn stump with all that stroking. And then set the remains alight. And then summoned it back into existence for a whole new round of stroking. mother! is a self-indulgent exercise in unabated tedium in the name of a BIG idea, one no amount of assertive psued-ing post-the-fact can turn into a masterpiece. Yes, that much-noted “F” cinemascore was well warranted.

Imagine a plant that could think... Think!

The Avengers 4.12: Man-Eater of Surrey Green
Most remarked upon for Robert Banks-Stewart having “ripped it off” for 1976 Doctor Who story The Seeds of Doom, although, I’ve never been wholly convinced. Yes, there are significant similarities – an eccentric lady who knows her botany, a wealthy businessman living in a stately home with an affinity for vegetation, an alien plant that takes possession of humans, a very violent henchman and a climax involving a now oversized specimen turning very nasty… Okay, maybe they’re onto something there… – but The Seeds of Doom is really good, while Man-Eater of Surrey Green is just… okay.

This isn't fun, it's scary and disgusting.

It (2017)
(SPOILERS) Imagine how pleased I was to learn that an E Nesbitt adaptation had rocketed to the top of the US charts, evidently using a truncated version of its original title, much like John Carter of Mars. Imagine my disappointment on rushing to the cinema and seeing not a Psammead in sight. Can anyone explain why It is doing such phenomenal business? It isn’t the Stephen King brand, which regular does middling-at-best box office. Is it the nostalgia factor (‘50s repurposed as the ‘80s, so tapping into the Stranger Things thing, complete with purloined cast member)? Or maybe that it is, for the most part, a “classier” horror movie, one that puts its characters first (at least for the first act or so), and so invites audiences who might otherwise shun such fare? Perhaps there is no clear and outright reason, and it’s rather a confluence of circumstances. Certainly, as a (mostly) non-horror buff, I was impressed by how well It tackled pretty much everything that wasn’t the hor…

You better watch what you say about my car. She's real sensitive.

Christine (1983)
(SPOILER) John Carpenter was quite open about having no particular passion to make Christine. The Thing had gone belly-up at the box office, and adapting a Stephen King seemed like a sure-fire way to make bank. Unfortunately, its reception was tepid. It may have seemed like a no-brainer – Duel’s demonic truck had put Spielberg on the map a decade earlier – but Carpenter discoveredIt was difficult to make it frightening”. More like Herbie, then. Indeed, the director is at his best in the build-up to unleashing the titular automobile, making the fudging of the third act all the more disappointing.

Don't worry about Steed, ducky. I'll see he doesn't suffer.

The Avengers 4.11: Two’s A Crowd
Oh, look. Another Steed doppelganger episode. Or is it? One might be similarly less than complimentary about Warren Mitchell dusting off his bungling Russian agent/ambassador routine (it obviously went down a storm with the producers; he previously played Keller in The Charmers and Brodny would return in The See-Through Man). Two’s A Crowd coasts on the charm of its leads and supporting performances (including Julian Glover), but it’s middling fare at best.

Have no fear! Doc Savage is here!

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)
(SPOILERS) Forget about The Empire Strikes Back, the cliffhanger ending of Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze had me on the edge of my seat for a sequel that never came. How could they do that to us (well, me)? This was of course, in the period prior to discernment and wisdom, when I had no idea Doc Savage was a terrible movie. I mean, it is, isn’t it? Well, it isn’t a great movie, but it has a certain indolent charm, in the manner of a fair few mid-‘70s SF and fantasy fare (Logan’s Run, The Land that Time Forgot) that had no conception the genre landscape was on the cusp of irrevocable change.

Captain Freedom to wardrobe. Captain Freedom to wardrobe on the double.

The Running Man (1987)
(SPOILERS) Now here’s a Stephen King/Richard Bachman adaptation that could do with a remake. The actual date of futuristic dystopias clocking round is usually a cue to compare and contrast, and no doubt in two years there will be legion Blade Runner articles doing precisely that (and damning/feting the worthy/tragic sequel). Actually, they might be doing it with The Running Man too, since it’s only a worldwide economic collapse announced in the opening crawl that occurred in 2017; the events of the movie also take place two years from now. Nevertheless, it has garnered some attention (most notably an Empire article) this year. Working against celebrating its anniversary on either date is that isn’t much cop, nor was it ever considered to be.

You can look dope, can’t you? Sure you can.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017)
(SPOILERS) Is there a new “Vin Diesel model” for movie successes? The xXx franchise looked dead in the water after the Vin-less 2005 sequel grossed less than a third of its predecessor. If you were to go by the US total, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage was a similar flunk. And yet, a sequel is guaranteed. The key to this rehabilitation appears to be borrowing from the Fast & Furious franchise rule book (or the one operating since entry No.5, at any rate): bring on the international casting and sit Vin at the top as their leader. The only difference being, here Diesel is having appreciably more fun.

Believe me, our world is a lot less painful than the real world.

Nocturnal Animals (2016)
(SPOILERS) I’d heard Marmite things about Tom Ford’s sophomore effort (I’ve yet to catch his debut), but they were enough to make me mildly intrigued. Unfortunately, I ended up veering towards the “I hate” polarity. Nocturnal Animals is as immaculately shot as you’d expect from a fashion designer with a meticulously unbuttoned shirt, but its self-conscious structure – almost that of a poseur – never becomes fluid in Ford’s liberal adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel, such that even its significantly stronger aspect – the film within the film (or novel within the film) – is diminished by the dour stodge that surrounds it.

It could have been an accident. He decided to sip a surreptitious sup and slipped. Splash!

4.10 A Surfeit of H20
A great episode title (definitely one of the series’ top ten) with a storyline boasting all the necessary ingredients (strange deaths in a small village, eccentric supporting characters, Emma even utters the immortal “You diabolical mastermind, you!”), yet A Surfeit of H20 is unable to quite pull itself above the run of the mill.

Now, Mr Steed, you’re going to have to work for your supper.

The Avengers 4.9: Room Without a View
If The Gravediggers’ eccentricity feels entirely natural, Room Without a View’s seems plastered onto a standard issue spy plot, one that wastes the talents of the majority of its cast and leaves Steed polishing off the best table leavings.

What is that young woman doing tied to the railway line? She’ll break my engine!

The Avengers 4.8: The Gravediggers
Do you dig The Gravediggers? Yeah, it’s all right. Actually, it’s more than all right. While the series has been up to its eyeballs in eccentricity prior to this, this episode furnishes us with the particularly eccentric eccentric living in his own private fantasy world, and as part and parcel of this, stylistic conceits entirely take precedence over any notions pertaining to logic or naturalism. It’s an episode that revels in its absurdity.

Let the monsters kill each other.

Game of Thrones Season Seven
(SPOILERS) Column inches devoted to Game of Thrones, even in “respectable” publications, seems to increase exponentially with each new season, so may well reach critical mass with the final run. Groundswells of opinion duly become more evident, and as happens with many a show by somewhere around this point, if not a couple of years prior, Season Seven has seen many of the faithful turn on once hallowed storytelling, and at least in part, there’s good reason for that.

Some suggest the show has jumped the shark (or crashed the Wall); there were concerns over how much the pace increased last year, divested as it was of George RR Martin’s novels as a direct source, but this year’s succession of events make Six seem positively sluggish. I don’t think GoT has suddenly, resoundingly, lost it, and I’d argue there did need to be an increase in momentum (people are quick to forget how much moaning went on about seemingly nothing happening for long stretches of previ…