Saturday, 4 May 2013

Doctor Who - Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS: Review

The episode Whovians have waited years for

The TARDIS is, perhaps, the place least explored in the Doctor Who universe. But this week, Stephen Thompson was given the task of taking us into the belly of the the Doctor's wonderful ship. Does he make for a convincing tour guide? 

I think it's fair to say that there wasn't a single Whovian in the land who wasn't looking forward to this episode, however Thompson's last script, The Curse of the Back Spot, wasn't very well received. However, JttCotT is several steps ahead of that story, making for an entertaining and engaging story. 

The story uses the ideas of time travel and infinity to good effect; whilst we don't see many new rooms of the TARDIS (except one, which I imagine raised the collective eyebrows of the entire nation at once), it certainly succeeds at making the ship feel big. Corridors twist and change, architecture never stays still and director Matt King makes each corridor feel individual. 

Matt Smith's and Jenna Lousie-Coleman's performances are suberb (come on, what did you think I was going to say?) The two are definitely at their best during a confrontational scene, where the two really send sparks flying off each other. Murray Gold's music keeps the pacing nicely fluid, and the script is littered with nice little references to the past (and we got to see the Eye of Harmony properly for once! Result!). 

The dialogue is perfectly fine throughout (although I don't think it's going to win any awards). The monsters of the story, the 'Time Zombies' themselves are pretty creepy and add an extra layer of threat to the story. The ending wraps up everything nicely, even if it is a bit of cheap cop-out. 

However, there are problems. The acting of the Van Baalan Brothers is 'unconvincing' at best and poor at reasonable, and their development seems to come to a grand total of nothing. And I can't help but feel like the explanation to the Time Zombies was a little disappointing; it's not a bad explanation, but it isn't what it was advertised to be. It also seems to lack the rewatch-factor - I really couldn't motivate myself more the three times. 

Overall, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is good, but I'm not sure it deserves the place which Doctor Who lore will afford it. It's definitely enjoyable, but, in my opinion, nothing massively special.



Thursday, 25 April 2013

Doctor Who - Hide: Review

Hiding behind the sofa, or is it just horrific?

The infamous cliché of 'hiding-behind-the-sofa' is one what that Doctor Who, for the most part, embraces. Many a story has set out with the express intention of scaring the kiddy-winks, but this week, it's Hide, Neil Cross's second outing into the series after The Rings of Akhaten. So does it achieve it's aim?

Hide is a haunted house story, but not one which abandons it's Sci-Fi roots. Shaggy and Scoob-, sorry, the Doctor and Clara arrive at the haunted house in the hope of doing some ghostbusting, teaming up with a professor (Dougray Scott) and a psychic (Jessica Raine). The story makes good use of its setting, with some nice references to the 1970s time period, and making the house feel very large and unnerving. Director Jamie Payne pulls off an absolute stunner with every shot, making even innocent shadows seem like a potential monster. What's more, the story does venture outside of the house a surprising amount, but Payne keeps everything together beautifully. Helping along is the acting, which is very solid, with a special mention to Matt Smith (as usual) and Dougray Scott, whose interactions are truly magnificent.

But is Hide scary? Yes. The main (or at least, original) focus of the story is on 'The Witch of the Well', a ghost constantly trapped in a moment of fear. The pictures of the Witch are very unnerving, ful lof warps and distortions.It's human, but not quite right (the thing which I maintain always made the Cybermen scary). But there is another monster, the 'Crooked Man', who is perhaps a more traditional monster. Everyone involved in the production realises that a monster is scarier when you can't really see it, so its sections are full of fast cuts and whatever the opposite of slo-mo is. This episode certainly has atmosphere.

The characterisation is pretty strong throughout the episode. There's a romantic sub-plot between the Professor and the Psychic, which is mostly believable, (although the apparent age gap occasionally gives pause for thought). Clara does feel a little to 'fresh', acting in places like she's never seen anything like this before, despite the fact she's no longer a new companion. I can forgive this though, as it was one of the earliest episodes to be filmed and JLC (as she will now be referred to) does do another very good job. The dialogue is generally pretty good, although it does sometimes lean towards to generic 'exchanging quips' setup. 

However, towards the end the story does fall down. And the ending itself makes no sense; without wishing to spoil it, the whole thing completely negates the horror of the story. What's more, there's another character, who is vital to the plot, but get's maybe three lines of dialogue. Then, to add more superfluous rubbish to superfluous rubbish, she is revealed to be the Great X7 Granddaughter of the Professor and Psychic! Why? What's the point? It's not adding anything - it's just busy work! Perhaps this a pattern with Neil Cross's work - The Rings of Akhaten was full to the brim with unnecessary additions that only made a mess.

Taking the last five minutes out of the equation, though, Hide is brilliant, accelerating to the spot of being my favourite story of 2013 so far and my third favourite episode of Series 7 so far (only just losing out to A Town Called Mercy and The Snowmen). It's scary and atmospheric, so what more could you want from a haunted house story? But it gives more - it gives character, and charm, and fun. 

Overall, Hide is great. Getting past the rather irritating ending (which, after a couple of re-watches, I found easy to forgive) this story is a great example of why Doctor Who has earned it's scary reputation. 


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Oblivion: Review

Can Tom Cruise be taken seriously?

The trailer to this film promised both huge, expansive, and undeniably beautiful visuals, coupled with a deep, philosophical story, centred around its characters. Well, it delivers on a least on of those promises...

The film is a visual stunner, leaving no environment sterile, and making a great use of practicable effects. Although it does occasionally veer close to the Avatar school of special effects, most of the time the special effects do add something to the overwhelming prettiness of the world created. The Drones (a big part of the story) make a large, booming noise that really adds to their screen presence. Director Joseph Kosinski should be commended on realising what CGI is for (that is, making what is already there even better).

The soundtrack is generic (and sounds very similar to Hans Zimmer's Batman work), but not bad. It adds nicely to the pacing, which is good, because I was never bored. However, it doesn't make up for the paper-thin story.

The only thing that surprised me about the story was how obvious it was. There are some minor twists that are abandoned as quickly as they are puked up, but otherwise, the story goes exactly where I expected it to go. Evil aliens are downtrodden humans, imperialist humans are evil aliens, et cetera et cetera. Sally, the main villain, is suitably chilling, making good use of her southern drawl ("I am your god" sent shivers down my spine), but I was expecting a proper alien reveal. Instead we get a big computer. Hooray. 

But now it's time to answer my first question; can Tom Cruise be taken seriously? No, is the answer. The acting is absolutely nothing special. Cruise appears to only be capable of resentment and breathlessness, and Olga Kurylenko really brings nothing to an already flat character. In fact, characterisation is uneven across the board, with most of them not being able to make up their mind whether their bitchy or just misunderstood. 

Oblivion isn't bad. Not really. But for all it's pretentiousness, useless dream sequences and flashy visuals that don't serve much purpose, you could be forgiven for resenting it. Overall, Oblivion is nothing special and, ultimately, forgettable. 


Saturday, 20 April 2013

Doctor Who - Cold War: Review

A good return for an old enemy?

Doctor Who has continued into this week with a return to the 'base under siege' format; one we haven't seen for a while. But, more importantly, it heralds the first on-screen depiction of the Ice Warriors since 1974's The Monster of Peladon. So, is Cold War suitably chilling?

Firstly, I'd like to apologise for the terrible pun. Secondly, Cold War is pretty good, one I'm happy to call the best from writer Mark Gatiss. Whilst it's doesn't even try to break the mould of it's format, it brings many new and interesting to the Ice Warriors. I have to say, that I love the idea of the huge piece of armour contains only a small, gecko-creature, and the fact it could change tactics almost instantly makes the Martian soldiers seem far more threatening than their wheezing, lumbering counterparts of the classic series (all right, I know, The Seeds of Death was brilliant, but it was the Ice Lord that made that story).

Director Douglas McKinnon does a great job at utilising the submarine setting, managing to make seem claustrophobic without being annoying. Some of the lighting got on my nerves, the harsh yellow of the warning lights and the flourescent blues not gelling very well to my eye, but otherwise each shot was well put together. The practicle effects team should be congratulated on the armour of the Ice Warrior, which manages to look both (almost entirely) faithful to the classic design, and yet brilliantly updated. 

The acting is, once again, all round superb. Matt Smith pulls another great performance (he seems to be getting better and better each series). The story doesn't really push the character into anywhere new, but Smith keeps the character as buoyant as ever. Jenna Louise-Coleman balances determined and vulnerable very well, once again, and the supporting cast is all very solid (with a special mention to the grandfatherly David Warner). However...

Most of the characters remain heinously underdeveloped, verging on 28 Weeks Later level. One character, who appears to be psychologically disturbed at the beginning, melts the Warrior's icy prison because 'life's too short to wait'. I assumed that he was going to somehow facilitate the Ice Warrior's rampage; instead, he only shows up once more, to be killed. Another character, a soldier wanting the Cold War to escalate, proposes an alliance with the Warrior. You guessed it, he's killed straight after. It all makes me feel that those characters are only there to facilitate plot points , and that's something I consider a writer's deadly sin.

Don't get me wrong, though, Cold War is a good watch (it is Doctor Who, after all). The plot, unlike last weeks, is coherent, and it is achieves it's goal of re-introducing the Ice Warriors to both seasoned and fresh-faced viewers. The icing on the cake, however, is Nicholas Briggs voice for the invader from Mars - it's less hissy and louder than the classic version, and captures the old soldier characterisation very well. A friend of mine pointed out it sounded like Predator (who has gone to the trouble of learning the local lingo, in this case), which can only be a point in its favour.

Some will hate Cold War for the amount of liberties it takes with the Ice Warriors. Personally, I loved them, and it makes them feel much more powerful and complex than before. Mark Gatiss has said that he would love to work with the Ice Warriors again, and even look at there homeworld of Mars. Well, Mr Gatiss, carry on like this and I have no objections.


Monday, 8 April 2013

Doctor Who - The Rings of Akhaten: Review

Singing Doctor Who's praises?

Jenna-Louise Coleman takes her first trip in the TARDIS in this divisive episode. The story is full of impressive visuals, but does the story live up its grandiose setting? 

As mentioned before, the story is a visual stunner. The amount of progress Doctor Who has made in its Special Effects Department since its inception; the fantastic CGI on the planet, great sets and fantastic prosthetics make the Rings of Akhaten truly feel like a alien world. The acting is very strong all round, with young Emilia Jones giving a performance way beyond her years, Jenna-Louise Coleman retaining her feisty, but caring traits from the previous epiosde, and Matt Smith gives one of the best performances of his career, somehow managing to capture the character of The Doctor perfectly. 

Murray Gold created some modern classics for this episode, with a couple of songs sending shivers down my spine. Songs play a large part in the story, and, to be honest, it's be entirely subjective whether you'll enjoy that part or not. Personally, I enjoyed the singing very much, and one song in particular added enough weight to a scene to nearly move me to tears (nearly. I'm still a man).  Director Farren Blackburn does a perfectly good job of displaying the episode, making good use of the sets, although, sometimes it's not totally clear what's going on. However, this is a problem somewhat more inherent to the plot.

The plot is, frankly, a bit of a mess. Ideas aren't fully utilised, plans are flimsy at best and logic appears to have thrown down the stairs by the Chuckle Brothers. What was going on with the mummy? What was the Chorister going on about? It all smacks of being rushed, and the confines of the story not being to hold all the ideas it had. The Vigil (some creepy, steampunk prison guards) get barely two minutes of screen time, a the mummy does nothing but dodder about in its cage a bit. I think this a real shame, because it's obvious some real work went into creating the costumes, and there was an absolute heap of potential that never came to anything.

The plot is rescued, however, by a truly brilliant scene of The Doctor facing off against the parasite-god. Matt Smith pours his very soul into the speech he makes, painting smiles on the faces of Whovians across the land. Accompanied by another of Gold's wonderful songs (one that rivals 'Abigail's Song' from A Christmas Carol as my all-time favourite), it makes for a stirring moment. It's let down a little towards the end, as Clara turns up to inject some forced sentiment into the situation, but it doesn't really detract from the moment as a whole.

The Rings of Akhaten is very divisive. Some will love it, others will despise it. And, as per my tradition in Love/Hate situations, I think it's okay. Whilst it wastes much of its potential, it's good to see a proper alien world, complete with culture and religion and detail. In fact, this story would most likely appeal to Star Wars fans, as both are rich in detail.

To sum up, this story is pretty good. Whilst it's held up on flimsy logic, it's engrossing enough, and littered with enough good moments to make it a perfectly good first adventure for a new companion.



Friday, 5 April 2013

Doctor Who - The Bells of Saint John: Review

Doctor Who returns, smelling as fresh as a daisy

Finally, after waiting through Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen, Jenna-Louise Coleman has fully joined The Doctor on his travels. But does The Bells of Saint John live up to the hype? Short answer: yes. Yes it does.

The episodes opening sequence is highly reminiscent of the David Tennant era; a modern-day setting with a threat taking the form of something we all take for granted. However, the fact that this setting has been used far less frequently in Doctor Who of late makes it seem far more unique than it ever did before. Director Colm McCarthy pulls a visual blinder, making maximum of use of the London landmarks and filling the screen with fun visuals (made popular by Sherlock). It's a shame that he doesn't appear to making a return for the foreseeable future. Composer Murray Gold continues his habit of getting better every year, inventing some excellent new additions to the soundtrack. What's more, the visual and special effects used in the episode are truly outstanding; only in Doctor Who could I believe that someone is actually riding a motorcycle up the side of The Shard.

Speeding up the side of a building seems somehow appropriate for this story; the pacing is like a freight train. Not a single moment is wasted and not a line of dialogue could be cut without feeling a sheer weight of guilt. Dialogue is another strong point of the story, whether it be Miss Kizlet's (Celia Imrie) aloof torments ("No one loves cattle more than Burger King" is now a personal favourite), flirty banter or Clara's caring attitude towards the children in her care. Of course, dialogue is only as good as the actors who deliver it, but there's no need to worry on that front. Jenna-Louise Coleman continues to amaze me on how she keeps her role so realistic in a world so fantastical, and Matt Smith maintains his balance of childish wonder and instrument-of-justice brooding as well as he always does. 

The plot itself is solid enough, although not as deep as writer Steven Moffat is capable of (and borrows rather heavily from the 2006 episode The Idiots Lantern). It revolves around a sinister organisation, lead by the deliciously evil Miss Kizlet, using Wi-Fi to harvest human minds and feed them to her 'client'. "But who is this 'client'?", I hear you ask. Anyone who's been following Doctor Who with even a medium of interest could probably guess it, but it's still enough to splash a smile across the seasoned Whovian's face. What's more, the reveal of the Spoonhead's (stop laughing) is genuinely quite creepy, although I do have one gripe: the actual robot wasn't shown enough. The great piece of practical design that was there barely get any screentime, and instead we were stuck with people and their spinning heads, which I found a little difficult to take seriously. 

This is only a slight niggle, however. Despite the fast pace, fun visuals and verging-on-whacky-in-places soundtrack, the story is genuinely creepy in places. As mentioned before, the opening sequence establishes a real sense of threat, and a recurring theme of people trapped in the Wi-Fi exclaiming that "I don't know where I am!" is almost overbearingly unsettling. The conclusion to the plot is also very clever, throwing an excellent curveball, but also showing off The Doctor's darker side, and the lengths to which he is willing to go to save the world.

The Bells of Saint John truly does feel like a fresh start for Doctor Who. Although the blockbuster-a-week format has been carried over from 2012, this certainly feels like one of the biggest. The new costume, new companion and new (ish) theme-tune all help to add to the feeling that this episode is ushering in a new era for the show, inevitable paving the way for the 50th Anniversary this November.

So, in conclusion, The Bells of Saint John is a fast, fun, and truly welcome edition to Doctor Who. It marks a fresh and interesting introduction for Jenna-Louise Coleman, and makes Whovians all over excited for the approaching anniversary. So welcome back, Doctor Who, we're looking forward to your stay.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Trance: Review

Danny Boyle attempts to out-weird himself in this thriller 

Ever watched a film that's not the same at the start as it is at the end? No? Well go and watch Trance, it might be a good experience. Whilst Danny Boyle's latest venture is a good enough watch, it goes through several stages of strange, leaving the watcher bemused as to precisely what's going on. 

The film begins, to all intents and purposes, as a heist movie. The story follows James McAvoy's character enacting an inside-job to steal a valuable rare painting with his criminal counterparts, led by a convincingly French Vincent Cassel. However, he receives a blow to the head, and can't remember where he hid the painting. To discover this, they take him to a hypnotist, who wants a stake of the booty for herself. An interesting, and simple, enough premise; one that got me hooked without knowing anything more of the film. However, the film decides to delve far deeper than what that would suggest, piling on levels of detail, leaving me wondering whether all of it is entirely necessary. Some elements (integral elements, in fact) are explained in one monologue, and, whilst the use of flashbacks is effective at watching the threads come together, it often poses the question: "Where did that come from?"

Focussing on the positives, the acting across the board is all excellent. James McAvoy is, as ever, a pleasure to watch, making his character feel highly realistic and tangible (even if the character itself is little implausible; more on that later). Vincent Cassel makes a character with plenty of potential to be bland engaging, and Rosario Dawson holds afloat the several layers of her character gracefully. However, character is one of the problems; it is highly inconsistent. McAvoy goes from being a low-level criminal, to love-sick puppy, to abusive boyfriend; Dawson goes from accomplished professional, to greedy schemer, to manipulative femme-fatal. Cassel is the only character who remains recognisably intact throughout the whole thing.

As mentioned before, the film begins like a heist one, but it certainly doesn't end that way. After the first act, the movie begins to get more an more surreal, full of strange dream-sequences and hallucinations. Boyle, to his credit, does a great job at capturing the weirdness, but towards the end the hallucinations, flashbacks and dreams happen practically consecutively, making it difficult to distinguish between them. Also said before, some of the detail just feels superfluous: rotting bodies in the boot and talking blown-apart heads just don't fit with the tone of the film, and the nudity was nothing more than gratuitous. It loses sight of itself, which bemused me massively, and made the whole thing come across as messy. 

The dialogue in the film is generally excellent, although the hypno-speak gets a little wearisome at times. The soundtrack to is fast and punchy, reflecting the pacing very well. But it still smacks of wanting to have it's cake and eat it; sometimes it's a heist film, sometines it's a psychological thriller, and at a couple times it tries it's hand at being an action film. If it'd stuck to being one thing or the other, this had potential to be an absolute cracker. But, alas, it spread itself too thin.

The ending tries it's hand at being Inception, and works surprising well; calling it a cliffhanger is largely overstating it, and I don't imagine there's a sequel coming any time soon (there were less than ten people in the cinema when I went to see it), but it leaves plenty to the imagination, and for once fit the tone of what the film decided it was at that point.

Overall, though, this film is a bit of a mess. In terms of tone and characterisation and development, it just can't make up its mind, making it confusing to watch. If you try not to think about it too hard, you'll enjoy yourself, but otherwise, you'll come out wondering precisely how much LSD the cashier put in your popcorn.


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful: Review

An enjoyable, if predictable, take on the classic

Ever since Tim Burton decided to tackle Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice In Wonderland, it's been a commonplace sight to see a modern, big-screen take on a children's favourite in the local cinema listings. But does Sam Raimi ruin another staple of our staple of our younger years, or does Oz the Great and Powerful do its basis justice?

The film starts out, as it should, in Kansas, following James Franco's Oz, a small time magician and deft womaniser. What defines the opening segment of the film is that it is displayed in a 4:3 ration, and in black and white (a nice acknowledgement to The Wizard of Oz, it must be said), before returning to the brightly coloured, CGI-fest we've come to expect from today's blockbusters. Offering credit to where it's due to Raimi, he does a fairly good job at using this gimmick to good effect; many of shots did feel genuinely pulled straight out of a pre-colour film. But the overall effect was diminished by the obvious green screen and screen-dominating special effects. For the next ten minutes or so afterwards, the film is just a computer generated showcase of strangely obvious imagery, much of which I'm dubious of it's placement in Oz; I can't remember River Fairies or Bell-flowers in the original.

From here onwards, though, the CGI is used considerably more tactfully. Besides a couple of overblown shots, there is a genuine sense of style to sprawling Emerald City and fog-filled graveyard. Although Zack Braff's flying monkey looked a little horrible at times, the little China Girl was aesthetically superb, and should serve as an example of how characters should be created in CGI.

The acting, for the most part, is solid enough, but no one in the cast brings anything particularly special to the table. The only actor in the pantheon that even vaguely stands out is Rachel Weisz (far right), who does inject at least some level of genuine drama into her dialogue, but is let down infinitely by the script, which was clearly written with Disney-loving kiddy-winks in mind. Some of the lines were sappy at best, and it's fairly obvious some of the characters don't believe what they're saying. What's more (though it pains me say it, given the amount of talent the girl has), Mila Kunis (far left) simply cannot pull of The Wicked Witch of The West; her performance veers violently from heart-broken heart-throb to the cackling witch so jarringly it's impossible to take seriously, and the exposed green-cleavage and tight leathers don't much help either. 

That aside, most of the characterisation is even enough. As mentioned before, Rachel Weisz keeps a definitive running theme throughout all facets of her character, and, although all of his development seems to happen in one moment, James Franco keeps Oz buoyant at least. I'm going to come back to the China Girl, however, as she is one of the best developed and used characters within the whole film: Joey King does an excellent job at supplying her voice, whilst her frailties (drawing clever parallels with her porcelain origins) make her incredibly endearing and even a little moving in places. She, too, acts as a catalyst for the development of Oz's character, and makes herself very useful towards the climax, which, if your heart is even the slightest bit soft, will bring a smile to your face.

Whilst the conclusion of the plot is satisfying enough, the ending itself is a little overbearingly happy; it'll please children, and inevitably, their parents, but it doesn't quite gel with the position Oz finds himself in the film on which this is based. But that is only a slight bugbear in an otherwise stylish, fun, and relatively clever third act, which will please those who know their Oz and not leave you disappointed. 

So, to conclude, this is an enjoyable, but entirely safe, addition to this new trend of film making. If you're in for some light entertainment, or (as is intended) going to see this as a family, you'll have a good time. Taking your inner cynic would be a bad idea, as it's not the next Blade Runner, but, otherwise, worth a light-hearted watch.



A Post of Things to Come

For better or for worse, I now have a blog

Well hello, Internet, welcome to my blog, a place where I've come to express my thoughts, opinions, and perhaps other things I find interesting. But first, here are a few things about me:

I am an aspiring screenwriter, but crippled but a huge lack of motivation. I have several projects I'm working on (which I'll come to later), however. Science Fiction is my first, and greatest, love, and if had to choose between Star Wars and Doctor Who, I'd agonise for hours, before choosing Doctor Who. I take a big interest in history, philosophy, and politics, probably making me the most boring person to grace to the blogoshpere. But hey ho. 

So, I'm sure you're looking for a reason to stick around here. Well, on Tuesday, I will be posting my review of Oz The Great and Powerful, and on Wednesday, I'll review Trance, Danny Boyle's latest venture into cinema. Also, I'll be reviewing this weeks episode of Doctor Who, and be making that a weekly. There will also be other musings, thoughts and reviews on other books and TV, as well as comments on news. 

What's more, here's a list of script projects I'm working on:
>The Phantom Menace: Reimagined
>Wonder Woman
>Skulduggery Pleasant - adaptation for screen
>Doctor Who: Teleforce (for a live action fan-series)

So, that's it, for the moment. I hope you enjoy your time on this blog, and have as much fun as I will.