Saturday, 29 April 2017

Who Is Walking On Thin Ice

What lies beneath the Thames & should we care?

A somewhat out of place elephant greets Bill and The Doctor as they find themselves and the TARDIS have landed smack bang in the middle of a wintry 1814 with the River Thames frozen over and a Frost Fair on top of it. But before they have time to sample much of the local delicacies they quickly discover some of the locals being eaten by something underneath.

Thin Ice by Sarah Dollard is part a fishy monster of the week tale and part the obligatory new companions first experience of the past. Unlike previous passengers Bill is most fearful of the butterfly effect and has a very difficult time dealing with an innocent boys death.

Melanin and historical whitewashing are nicely referenced in an episode that doesn't do much in terms of action or horror but has a fair bit to say about the human condition and occasionally the Time Lord condition too.

Mackie is settling into things very well and bounces of Capaldi in both the funny and more dramatic moments. Even if The Doctors status shifts awkwardly from teacher to apparent subordinate.

Yet again though the main plot feels very inconsequential and seemingly just there to string  a couple of nice talky scenes together. The sequence involving everyones favourite Time Lord, the psychic paper and a dimwit in authority is a slight twist on something we've seen done many times previously.

It just lacked much of a dramatic punch for most of the episodes length and it is something that has become a recurring theme with the show.

I'm having a bit of a problem with this series so far (if I'm honest its been the last series or two too) and it is becoming more frustrating as a long time fan of the show. Every week I still have that wide eyed hope that the subsequent 45 minutes are going to be a roller-coaster of emotions with ideas, concepts and developments that I could never expect or predict.

So far the series feels like it is coasting. Just having a new person by The Doctors side is not enough. Where is the imagination? The warmth? The genuine wit? There are still moments but they're all so fleeting they feel like afterthoughts for a show that should be must see and not "oh yeah, I nearly forgot it was on".

The vault mystery subplot could be a step in the right direction. Although if it just turns out to be The Master I'm going to be a little pi$$ed.

In conclusion, not great, not bad, just run of the mill although it does get an extra point for including The Doctor punching a racist ar$ehole right in the kisser and losing one for not letting Bill be the one that does it.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Difficult Second Volume

Have the Guardians turned their sequel up to 11?

Heroic manchild Peter "Star-Lord" Quill, smack talking critter Rocket, rock hard straight man Drax, butt kicking extraordinaire Gamora and the teeny tiny incarnation of Groot are back. Having saved the galaxy once now the Guardians must do it yet again.

But in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 it isn't going to be as easy the first time as family woes in all shapes and forms cause rifts within the group and if they're not careful the universe may end before the mix tape of 70s and 80s tunes even gets going.

Follow ups are hard, expectations, hopes and pressures following a success, especially somewhat of a surprising one can often lead to disappointment.

For a studio often cited for being too safe at best or dull at worst Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy was a bold and brash affair that flipped two V's with a cast of lovable rouges. Much if not all of the credit goes to James Gunn, a film maker known for a nice line in irrelevance and anarchy. From the opening credits many fears and worries are quashed as Volume 2 kicks off with a beautifully realised set piece using Mr Blue Sky and Baby Groot that sets the bar for the remainder of the film quite high.

Sadly it is a little too high.

The first two thirds are a wild romp with frequent scatological and wonderful LOLs to be found care of practically every single character. However the final reel is somewhat exhausting and the plot struggles to fight its way through all the on-screen chaos. In comparison to Volume One all their set pieces perfectly blended action with character development they felt necessary.

Thankfully the pure fun and roller-coaster ride of the sequel complete with all the goodwill built up over the previous 90 or so minutes it is a minor blip.

The returning cast are having a ball and all are given multiple moments to shine, be it in comedy beats or knocking seven shades of whatnot out of anyone or anything they disagree with.

New characters fit into the mad world well, in particular Pom Klementieff as naive empath Mantis, a perfect contrast and foil for Drax and Kurt Russell is the most Kurt Russell he has been for quite some time as absent father/living planet Ego. Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and her fellow golden conceited douchebags are used sparingly and are less a true threat to the Guaradians and more used to mine even more humour in a film already filled to the brim with it. Extra points for the nerdy use of retro gaming sounds used into their remote piloted spaceships.

With three whole Marvel movies out in 2017 fanboys and fangirls have much to get excited about and things have started off very well with James Gunn's beautifully chaotic cosmic part deux.

In conclusion, a bigger, bolder, brighter follow up that doesn't rely on setting up anything more than a potentially kick-ass third volume and will have fans laughing a lot.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Who Puts On A Happy Face

Emojis are still a thing in the future, be afraid :-(

Warning: Minor Spoilers.

While Nardole (Matt Lucas) is busy putting on the kettle, wide eyed and eager new companion Bill (Pearl Mackie) sets out on a spin in the little blue box with everyones favourite Doctor to the far flung future.

They end up in a vast but unoccupied human settlement. Well unoccupied except for the Vardy some diminutive and deceptively cute automotons with a screen for the face that communicates in emoji. Has The Doctor landed on the planet of the vacuous teens?

The time and space traveling duo quickly discover that the people that had been killed presumably due to lack of smiling, which forces one of the grumpiest Time Lords to force a smile or die trying.

Episode Two, Smile is Frank Cottrell-Boyce's second tale for Who and the umpteenth tale about a human colony being terrorised by something. For all it's shiny production values and witty dialogue this feels like another treading water episode for the show that resorts to a turn it off and on again resolution.

The threat isn't that interesting, the creepy concept of being forced to smile regardless of the harrowing situation isn't really mined for all its worth. Any sense of mystery is lost due to the audience being told exactly what happened at the start of the episode, the plotting is slow without any real sense of momentum and the story is lacking anything really original to say about the human condition. The kernel of a thought provoking concept of the opposite of the hope and happy elements of exploration is there but it gets swallowed up in a little bit of corridor running and the lazy third act arrival of some gut totting humans complete with a rushed conclusion.

Thankfully it is saved from utter boredom by Capaldi making the most of things, I really am going to miss him when he hangs up his sonic screwdriver. Sadly aside from a somewhat wasted moment where her character is shown the sad fate of most of humanity, Mackie isn't given much more than obligatory companion dialogue, "Where?" "What?" "How?" "Why?" and feels too much like Rose Tyler did way back in the first series.

If anything the episode feels like a box ticking exercise as part of the characters induction. Step one meet Doctor, step two go forward in time for first adventure proper, step three go back in time to firmly establish understanding of all the timey whimey malarkey. At this rate the next episode will include Bill filling out a Personal Development Plan.

In conclusion, sadly there isn't much chance of turning this Who related frown upside down. Better luck next week hopefully....

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Who Runs Like A Penguin With His Arse On Fire

Time for more running away from scary monsters methinks.

Warning: Some mild spoilers ahead.

Everyones favourite Time Lord is back and since his near year long absence he has found himself working as a University lecturer when he isn't busy rocking out on guitar in his office and protecting a typically mysterious vault in the bowels of the campus.

An inquisitive young woman who works in the canteen Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) gets his attention and before you can say "It's bigger on the inside" a new time and space traveling companion is found.

It hasn't been the easiest few years being a Doctor Who fan. The show hasn't been firing on all its cylinders for quite some time yet there isn't another series that I find myself as hopeful and expectant each and every episode to be good if not great. I'd never call myself an optimist but with Who I'll make an exception.

Episode One The Pilot written by Steve Moffat and directed by Lawrence Gough is the beginning of the end of Capaldi's tenure as The Doctor and Moffat's reign as show runner. Yet with the introduction of a new partner in crime this episode is also a sorta kinda reboot of the show. Which it sorta kinda definitely needed.

The plot on the surface is a rather run of the mill tale of a mysterious liquid based lifeform that devours one of Bill's acquaintances and chases Bill and her new found TARDIS chums in a presumably murder, death, kill way. It also feels oddly familiar using elements seen previously in The Waters of Mars, Midnight and more.

However the point of The Pilot isn't about the big bad of the week it is about setting up who Bill is, everything else, Doctor included, is secondary. Of course the now traditional introduction to the small blue box is given another spin. The Doctor's big and bold "Science beyond Magic" monologue is nipped swiftly in the bud with Bill asking to "Go to the toilet". Nicely bursting the bubble of the scene before it's grandeur got too grand for itself.

Mackie has all the qualities expected of a Nu-Who companion. Smart, witty, able to give a good scared face and bounces off well with whomever is holding the sonic screwdriver. Bill is a modern character more from the mould of Rose Tyler but with better awareness of science fiction tropes and a Netflix account. It returns the dynamic back to the good ole days where the companion wasn't quite as knowing about The Doctor and his ways but is also able to call him out on things.

Also if anyone has a problem with a gay character being front and centre in a show featuring laser firing pepperpots and whatnot really needs to sort out their priorities in life. This is a show that should be speaking to an audience that wants to see themselves reflected on screen in some way or form. It is quite literally about frickin' time too.

Obviously things are a smidge different with the duo's dynamic as Matt Lucas's Nardole is also joining in the fun and frolics and mixing it up a little making a Trio of Travelers of Space and Time. Hopefully his addition will be more than mere comic relief no matter how funny the odd bit of toilet based humour can be.

Where the introductory episode works is in how it deals with establishing Bill and what makes her tick. A simple crush on a girl causes ripples that will likely affect the likable characters story arc this series. Where it fails is the fan service inclusion of the Daleks. Seriously can we just give these big bads a break this series and get on with new, fresh and ideally more interesting threats?

Typically of Moffat there are questions and plot threads dangled at the start of things that will ideally lead towards satisfying answers and all that malarkey. If not I expect I'll end up bitching about them here over the next few months dear reader yet I for some strange if slightly deluded way still remain optimistic...

In conclusion, a nice if slightly unremarkable start but saved by adding a character that should be a breath of fresh air for Capadi's final hurrah.

Monday, 3 April 2017

City of Tiny Lights

A modern day Marlowe?

When a seemingly straight forward missing person case lands at the door of smart talking, hard drinking and quick thinking private detective Tommy Akhtar (Riz Ahmed) little does he realise what skeletons it will unearth. Still haunted by a childhood trauma Tommy is tasked by Melody (Cush Jumbo) to locate Natasha.

How difficult could it be?

Tommy wanders the bustling multicultural streets of London to find her but it doesn't take long for his snooping to uncover a dead man in a hotel room. The more Tommy digs the more he discovers old friends and new enemies are directly linked to something so much bigger than a missing woman.

Given current events and the state of the political climate in the UK a lot can be read into the people and places seen within Patrick Neate story of secrets and lies in a post Brexit Britain. His script centres around a bustling complicated city dealing with religious prejudice and gentrification. The City of Tiny Lights feels like an updated film noir for the Instagram generation. Riz Ahmed carries the entire film with charm and confidence. He plays Tommy like a streetwise Phillip Marlowe. With dialogue like "I didn't know you were the sensitive type" "Only when I shave" it contains multiple laugh out loud moments. For a drama it doesn't take itself all that seriously which makes for a pleasant change.

The film actively goes against stereotypes and certain expectations of the genre while still crafting a straight forward occasionally predictable yarn. Billie Piper is great if a smidge underused as childhood sweetheart Shelley but you'll never hear me complain about seeing her on the big screen.

Pete Travis's direction is at times a little too flashy for its own good yet he creates a nice amount of tension and gets great performances from his cast.

In conclusion, let down ever so slightly by a guessable third act The City of Tiny Lights is a very relevant and entertaining British slice of film noir and hits cinemas from the 7th of April.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Free Fire

Finally a proper shoot-em up flick.

A late night gun deal between sharp suited Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and charming Chris (Cillian Murphy) in a warehouse in Boston in the 70s starts out awkwardly thanks to a palpable level of distrust between them and the associates that are with them.

It doesn't take much for things to go south very quickly.

The deal breaks down and a shoot-out erupts between the two sides that include Justine (Brie Larson), Ord (Armie Hammer), Frank (Michael Smiley), Harry (Jack Reynor), Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), Stevo (Sam Riley), Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Vernon (Babou Ceesay).

Free Fire Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump's follow up the brilliant and bold dystopia of their adaptation of High-Rise with a smaller, grittier tale that plays out as practically one solid hour long set piece as the small rag tag bunch of armed crazy people become more bullet riddled. Put simply it's bloody brilliant.

With the state of Hollywood movies being predominantly constructed to tell their tales with epic set piece followed by epicer set piece followed by epically epicer set piece filled with mass devastation in computer rendered glory that rarely relies on plot or character development Free Fire is a breath of fresh retro air.

The cast clearly are having a whale of a time as the bullets and banter fly. Plotting care of the slick editing is tight, the cinematography is gorgeous and the sound design will make you duck from the ricochets and chuckle at the dialogue.The smartness of the film is in the minor details, the smaller moments and the intensity in the surroundings.

While the violence is at times extreme and a little silly, when a character hits their head or slams their hand on a needle the pain feels real and a million miles away from comic book movie yarns.

More accessible than some of Wheatley/Jump's previous work Free Fire still feels very much in keeping with their style of blending the dark with the humourous.

In conclusion, Free Fire is a beautifully crafted action comedy drama that will make you fall in love with a gun-totting Brie Larson.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Logan

Snikt snikt no more.

Given that the previous two solo flicks featuring everyones favourite X-Men were rubbish and not terrible the hopes and expectations for Hugh Jackman's final turn as Wolverine should by all rights be gosh darn low. However director James Mangold's second crack at the character is a far more different take.

For one, this isn't a comic book movie.

Okay, technically it is a comic book movie, but it isn't one with all the obligatory overblown set pieces and filled with far too many characters that we've all come to love/hate and always expect.

Logan is a stripped down tale that focuses on an older, world weary Wolverine aka James "Logan" Howlett is left to care for a 90 year old Professor X (Patrick Stewart) suffering from a significantly more harmful version of Alzheimers. Logan attempts to keep a low profile on the Mexican border. But our adamantium infused hero is introduced to Laura (Dafne Keen) a young girl with her own set of anger and metallic claw issues. It quickly turns out that Laura is a highly valued individual by a bunch of heavily armed soldiers led by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).

Logan is forced to be a hero just one more time.

Playing more like a western Logan is a lone gunslinger in a world without heroes the film is a dark, sweary and very bloody affair. Yet unlike the equally hard-R rated Deadpool the tone is sombre and one of finality. This is presumably the final time we'll see Jackman and Stewart in these roles. Which is an obvious shame as they're both brilliant. The bigger surprise is how wonderful Dafne Keen is, definitely a young talent that is worth keeping an eye on.

It isn't a perfect film by any stretch but it thankfully ignores much of the convoluted back story of the previous X-Men movies and gives fans a stripped down road movie with added murder/death/kills and some genuine thrills and spills.

In conclusion, after 17 years of a mixed bag of flicks Logan is a fine swansong to good ole Wolverine.